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The Black Cardigan
Graham, move away from the window!” Her voice was abrupt as it had been forabout a year now. Graham did not seem to respond. “Come here!” Her frame was petite, yet her voice did not match that. It did not faze him. “Tomorrow is Christmas.” She added with the slightest sigh. She called herself Mary Aider, but Graham called her Mother.
Graham had a sister named Mira. Mira was fifteen with blonde curls. Her smile resembled a toy doll’s smile and her perfume entered each room before she did. Mira was included in every single picture in the den, whether was on a mantel or hanging above the fireplace.
She performed well in her classes, not outstandingly, but her work stood out from her acquaintances’. She would hum answers and nod. She walked with a sort of elegance, as if each stride was attached to a blissful cloud. Yet unlike her classmates, whispers and whistles very rarely trailed behind her. On the occasion that they did, she would walk on, undaunted.
Helena Messenger was her friend. She was a born leader. People seemed to pay more notice to her flawless hair than her actual personality. They would barely listen to a word she breathed. Mira would always follow her, claiming that they were chums, but her smiles were quite weak whenever Helena was around.
Mira was a creature of habit. She would return home from school and trot up the stairs to her room. She would sit upon her bed and listen to pop music.
Mira enjoyed looking at pieces of art, but she could never quite wrap her head around the abstract ones. She believed those artists were trying to trick their audiences and in her mind, this was quite absurd. Her friends would have never expected her to be interested in something as complex as art, even if she only enjoyed simpler works. Mira did not have a middle name, but Mary always claimed it was Crystal.
Graham ran towards the upstairs portion of the house, flailing his chubby arms. A light flickered on upstairs. The nanny, Josie walked down the stairs.
“Does this go in the dryer?” Josie inquired, holding up a white blouse. Mary grabbed it out of her hands.
“What are you doing touching that? You could stain it.” Mary shook her head, a few wisps of hair falling out of place.
“I didn’t know.”
“Well now you do, so I suppose I won’t catch you touching that again. Rita was so much better at this.” Mary whispered the last bit.
The doorbell rang and Mary waited in the dining room for Josie to answer it. “People just won’t let up today. Elections must be coming up.”
“The guest is someone by the name of Angelica.” Josie said.
“Angelica? The one next door? What could she possibly want now?”
“That’s none of my business.”
“Tell her to come in.”
Angelica sat down on the pristine black leather couch, crossing her legs. “Oh, don’t sit there, darling.” Mary grimaced and pointed to the sofa that was on the other side of the room.
“How have you been, Mary?” Angelica asked as she moved towards the white couch parallel to the one she had been sitting on.
“Fine, thank you. How have you been?”
“That’s what I came here about.”
The front door slammed open and a pair of rain boots clamored in. “Oh, Mira,” her mother called, “you are going to get mud all over the floor. You know, Josie just washed it. Did you get the mail?” Mira sat on the first step of the spiral staircase. She hovered over her blue boots, deciding not to take them off.
“Sorry, Mother, I forgot. I guess I should get on that.”
“Thanks honey. What did you come here about?”
“I wanted to come to talk about how I decided to be a host mother for an exchange student. I thought Mira could show him around.” Angelica paused.
Mary smoothed the ruffles of her dress. “My daughter will be very busy this semester. She has more to think about than simply getting some foreign student off your hands.”
“Mary, that was not what I intended. I just thought he would be able to make some new friends.”
“My daughter is not interested. Now would you like a drink?”
Angelica shook her head. “I think it is best that I get going.” She stood up and grabbed her leather purse that was sitting next to her. “If you change your mind, Tybalt and I are just around the corner. Sorry if I was any trouble.” Angelica walked out towards the stairwell and stood there for a few minutes. Afterward, she was greeted by Josie who led her out.
Mira flicked her mascara wand. She threw it in the garbage pail adjacent to the marble ceramic sink. On the television, a monotone voice was reporting the weather. It was still April and there was a chance of flurries. She hurried into her bedroom, closing the door behind her and grabbed a black cardigan from atop her desk.
“Mother, do you have any water bottles?” Mira called.
“I thought we did, but apparently Josie forgot to buy them. I’ll have her go to the store today.” Mary said as she wrapped a red scarf around her neck, eyeing her reflection.
“Well, I have to go to school, so bye.”
“Does this scarf look mediocre—Ugh goodbye?”
Mira rolled her eyes as she shut the door. She pulled the cardigan closer and fiddled with the buttons. The buttons were too large for the holes.
The bus stop for the public school was just around the corner. Mira would always observe them as she passed by. They would stand in clumps and discuss movies, music, and gossip. Her bus stop was only two blocks away, but on this side of town, that meant a mile and a half. Just as Mira was beginning to enjoy the silence, she heard a voice.
“You go to the private school.” The boy looked close to Mira’s age. He was lanky with dark hair and dark eyes. “I am not from here.”
Mira tilted her head. “I know you’re not from here. Yeah, I go to that school.”
The boy continued, “I am Tybalt.” Mira just looked straight ahead, hoping that the bus would not be late this morning of all mornings. He repeated, “I am Tybalt.”
“Yeah,” Mira swallowed, “I’m Mira.” She tucked a lock of golden hair behind her ear.
“I’m on exchange—“
“Welcome to New York.”
“Thank you.” He nodded.
“Wow, you thought I meant—never mind.” Mira could not hold back the laughter that suddenly came. “You must be new.” Mira yawned. She had not had her coffee yet and it was already six thirty-five. “Helena’s late.”
“My friend, Helena. She’s late. She’s usually here by now. Wow, I’m tired.”
“Sorry to hear.” Tybalt said.
“That’s a stupid thing to say.”
“What did I ever do to you?” Tybalt lifted an eyebrow. “We barely know each other, and you call me stupid? I was showing my concern for your wellbeing.”
“Concern for my wellbeing?” Mira snorted, “That’s absurd! Maybe it was pretend concern so you’d seem nice. Nice enough to—“
“Mira, I am sorry if you have had any experiences to make you believe that I would be so disrespectful, but in my country we believe—“
“And where is that again?” Mira’s cardigan blew off of her shoulder and she quickly fixed it. Her golden-brown eyes widened as her smile began to stretch.
“Maybe if you were not treating me with such disrespect, I would confide in you.” As the bus pulled up, Tybalt drew in a sharp breath as if he were sucking up the remnants of a milkshake.
“What? You’ve never been on a coach bus before?” Mira asked. Her stomach growled. The bus doors opened to let them inside.
Mira sat by the window on the burgundy pillow-cushioned seat, while Tybalt took the aisle seat. “May I ask why you’re sitting next to me?” She scooted over and pressed her elbow against the window, causing it to create a smudge.
“You’re the only one I know here, Mira.”
“No…No! You don’t know me. You just met me. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of friends just like you here. But for now, don’t sit next to me, okay?” After Mira had spoken, it was as if she had sucked all the air off of the bus. Tybalt did not obey her commands. The silence trickled on like the annoyance of a leaking faucet incessantly spurring out tap water.
Mira remembered when she would insist on writing on the car’s windows. Her mother would always scold her, telling her that it was messy and childish. Mira began to smile at this thought, but then caught herself.
She was getting a migraine. It was probably because she did not get her daily fix of coffee. She had Helena to blame for that. This ride seemed awfully long. After a while she began to chew her cuticles. Then, she abruptly stopped, reminding herself that she had just gotten a manicure. And the thought of biting her nails on an empty stomach made her hungrier than she already was. She should not have spent so much time ransacking in her room for her cardigan. The growl grew louder like a lion’s roar. “Was that your stomach?” Tybalt inquired.
“No, I was just talking to myself.”
He looked at her skeptically, “That’s not your voice.” Mira just rolled her eyes and sat back.
When she had seen that the bus had pulled up to the school, she practically ran off of the bus. Tybalt followed behind. “And now you’re following me like a lost puppy.” She heaved in a deep sigh. “You have your own classes, you know? You cannot follow me around all day. Do you—do you even have a schedule, yet? They probably would have mailed it to you.”
“I have a schedule and a map of the school. It is a bit confusing, though.”
“Look, I’m not your tour guide. Maybe you can find someone who can show you around. Someone who isn’t already busy. I need coffee.” Mira told him. “The cafeteria’s that way. You can follow me there if you want. Then, I’ll have a look at your schedule. But not until I drink coffee.” She did not look back at Tybalt, she just walked as if she did not even notice him. Her backpack was slung over her shoulder as if she were putting out the trash.
As she approached the cafeteria, Mira retrieved her money from her bag. Her eyes peered over at Tybalt. “Want anything?”
“No, thank you though.”
Mira’s steps were rambunctious as if they were thunder claps booming through a stormy night. The girl at the cash register smiled at Mira. “Mira, I haven’t seen you in a while! Since freshman year, probably.” Her eyes lit up as if Mira was some sort of celebrity.
“Hey, Mel. Long time no see. May I please have a caramel cappuccino?”
“Of course. That’ll be three dollars and fifty cents.” The girl said, while looking at the menu above her head. It had the prices listed next to the food items. After she was finished making the coffee, she handed it to Mira. “Have a nice day!” She chirped.
Mira walked towards Tybalt, her eyes wandering in search of Helena. She plopped herself down on a white chair and gestured for him to follow. “I’ll have a look at your schedule.” She said as she sipped her coffee. Tybalt handed her a white sheet of paper that said his name at the top.
“So, that noise was your stomach.” Tybalt said, pointing at the Styrofoam coffee cup in her hand.
“Shut up, I’m trying to figure this out for you.” Mira tried to envision the school’s set-up. “Okay, so your first class is going to be just up those stairs and to your right. Your next class is down that same stairwell again. Then, you are going to come to two hallways. You’re going to go down the one to your left. Wow, and then you go upstairs, again? You should really get this changed. It’s all over the school.” She looked at her onyx faceted watch. “I better get going. My next class is in two minutes. You probably should, too.”
“Thanks for the help.” Tybalt stood up and tried to go through the directions Mira had given him. They were oral directions, so he had to try his best to remember exactly what she had said.
Mira took her phone out of the back pocket of her dark jeans. There were no new messages. She checked her inbox to see if her phone possibly did not pick up that a message was unopened. She slipped it back in her pocket. Helena was probably just running late. Yeah, that was it.
Her seat was in the back row behind Carter Thomas. Mira nearly fell as she tried to sit down. This morning, Carter’s cologne smelled like a mixture of must and some dark forest scent. It also smelled as if he had showered in it. “Mira! Sorry I’m late. My alarm clock decided not to go off.” She was a tall girl at around five foot seven. Her black hair looked as if it had just been done at a salon this morning. It was glossy and bouncy, looking almost as if it were not real. Her eyes were almost as dark as her hair was, but not quite. “Mira, sorry I didn’t get you your morning cappuccino. Are you cranky? Or just dead tired? I should’ve called, but I figured you’d realize I was just running late. I’m alive! Why the face?” The girl spoke, rarely breathing or if she was, it was very unnoticeable.
“Nothing. I’m just tired. How’d everything go, Helena?” Mira yawned for emphasis on how tired she was.
“It was boring! You’d think they wanted to get her outta there! But no! She was there for three days. Three freaking days!” Helena’s mouth opened wide with each word.
“Sorry to hear. Well is she alright? Is your cousin alright?”
“Seems fine to me. Just exhausted and bored.”
“Well, isn’t that expected? “ Mira asked.
“How should I know? The closest I’ve ever been to a hospital is my pediatrician for an ear infection.”
“What I mean is, with any surgery you’d be exhausted. From the anesthesia and all. She’s lucky it only took three days.”
“Lucky? Oh, so you’ve spent three days in the hospital?” Helena raised an eyebrow.
“No. I didn’t mean it like that. I mean—sorry.”
“It’s fine, she’s alright now. Thanks to me. When I saw that doctor…When I saw that doctor, I was yelling. I was telling him that no human being in their right mind would leave a person in the hospital for that long. It’s just not right.” Helena’s voice rose as if she were talking to an audience at a pop concert.
“Of course, I mean, you must’ve been worried.” Mira nodded.
“Worried? You mean out of my mind!”
“Well, I’m just glad to hear she’s okay now.”