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Fantasy Friendship Coming of Age

Life Goes On

I run through the pouring rain, despondent pitter-patters resounding around me. I’ve missed the rain, I’ve missed it since we arrived 3 years ago. I am 14 now, still a child yet far too old. I keep moving. I don’t know where I’m going, but I will soon. Somewhere I’ll never have to miss the rain.

Before, we lived in Hawaii. We had a small house next to the shore, on weekends we would walk to the beach, mama, papa and me. Back then it wasn’t crowded, just us and the neighbors. My best friend was Minna. We built sandcastles together, with walls to keep them from washing away, though they’d be devoured by the waves when we came back and we’d start over. We told stories, transforming into magical heroes on a quest to slay a dragon to save the king, and would go home having conquered the world.

When I was 11, Papa lost his job. We had family there, so we moved to Safford, a desolate nowhere town in Arizona. Papa promised we’d return to Hawaii when we had enough money, but insisted this was our home now. No. This prison of sand was never home. It never felt right. Papa lied about school too. “You’ll have fun, make new friends!” Everyone knew each other except for me. I was just the weirdo who doodled in class, the girl too lost in fantasies to pay attention. The laughing stock. The other.

By 7th grade we saved enough to go back. We rented an Airbnb a few miles from the beach, the closer houses were too expensive. Minna tried to stay in touch, but we didn’t have phones and I stopped getting letters after a while. Our parents still talked, so when we landed Minna’s family picked us up. Minna had grown, I barely recognized her, and she didn’t care to recognize me. We sat in the back, Minna playing games on her mom’s phone while I stared outside. We were silent during the trip. When we arrived, Papa said “welcome home,” but it wasn’t home. Not anymore. He asked if I wanted to go to the beach with Minna tomorrow, I said no. “Minna’s busy.” I didn’t want to see her.

We drove to the beach after an hour in the rental-car line, then another 20 minutes putting down our beach blankets. Seashells and sandcastles were replaced by tourists and plastic. I started crying, but Papa said 7th graders couldn’t cry anymore, that I should be grateful because the beach is worse in August.

 The summer before 9th grade, Papa said we had to move again. We sat silent at the dinner table, an invisible weight hanging over us I could no longer bear. I scream, like thunder erupting from my throat, and run like lightning into the rain as fast as my legs can bare, not stopping until I’m sure they won’t find me. Papa says life goes on, we must travel whatever path it takes us, but I refuse to go anywhere but my own path now. If we cannot have paradise we should make it ourselves. A world between ruby covers, I think to myself, and an idea flashes into my mind. I begin to run once more, towards a world of my own.

New Girl

They called me ‘new girl’ the first time I saw the beach when I was 5. It meant excitement. It meant new friendships, sunny days. They called me ‘new girl’ when I arrived at Safford. It meant not getting a seat and sitting on the cafeteria floor, accidentally being tripped in the hallway. It meant fake coughing so I could stay home with mama, anywhere but there.

“It’ll be a new beginning,” Papa said when we moved and moved again. “A new beginning,” I tell myself, running to school, putting it together in my head. What’s its name? I sigh, frustrated, and move on. How will it look, I wonder. It’ll have a big front yard, tons of great people, huge classrooms, kind teachers. A cafeteria with warm food and enough seats for everyone. Good friends and magical adventures, just like the books, like the beach. It won’t be Safford. 

Then before me crashes a blinding light, a chill washing over me. Before me a boundless field rises towards a cascading marble edifice. The field is flooded with people, some sitting in circles, others running around, some lurking in the shadows. The bell rings, 8:30 sharp, and students pile in through the towering oak doors. I walk past a sign at the looming gates guarding the building, a weight lifting from my smile that had forced me into a frown for 5 years. On 1540 Whenroe Street, Gaminairy Magic School. Yes. This is it, I’m home.

Magicology Class

First period I have Magicology Class. The walls are painted evening purple, islands of tables decorating the room, with a solitary desk at the front. Every chair is filled except one in the middle. “Hello, please take a seat there”, she tells me, an elderly woman with cat glasses. She claps and the room grows quiet. “Hello,” she says, “I’m Mrs. Mackenzie, your Magicology teacher. We have a new student today, please introduce yourself.” 66 eyes turn to me as I move to the front. “Hi.” I give my name. “I hope we have a great year together.” 66 hands applaud, and as I take my seat, Magicology Class begins. 

I was 5 when I first saw a bookstore. Mama had the day off, so we walked 10 minutes to the small dusty building. The words ‘clearance sale!’ were plastered across the windows, though I was too young to know what that meant. A dinging noise rang when we opened the door, and I set eyes upon the universe I would spend both the next 5 hours in and the rest of my life. The old lady at the front desk gave us a warm smile and wave as we entered. She brought us to the back corner, covered in peeling posters and pastel wall-flowers. Ruby tinted covers shone down at me from a high shelf, an inch too high for me to reach without my tiptoes. The book entranced me, transformed me into a warrior within its pages, blessed with heroic magic, and friends that would stick by me no matter what. It made me feel truly, sincerely, special.

Mrs. Mackenzie says we are special. She says all of us were invited here because we have special powers nobody else has. “There’s a reason it’s Gaminairy Magic School,” she says. “You are here to learn how to cultivate the special seeds in your hearts.” Just then, she gets a call. levitating her phone to her ears, she tells us she must leave, but to “behave like the good students we are.”

That’s when I see him, really see him, not just a passing entering-the-classroom glance. He is tall, taller than Papa, with long moppy hair and a red jersey. The boy stands and marches over towards me. I try my best to disappear. He is like sand, but not the smooth sand of the beach. He is the desert, coarse and rough, he reeks of Safford. He stops behind me. “Hey, sit up,” he says with a coarse and dry voice, but I don't. “That’s more like it.” I hear sniffling beside me. 

That’s when I see her, really see her for the first time. She’s pretty, her long brown hair in a neat braid, flowing over her white blouse. She looks like how I would want to, she is like the beach. Then a flash of lightning crashes in front of me, leaving a smoldering pink on her left cheek, and he laughs. He laughs because when the teacher isn’t here he thinks he has all the power. Anger wells inside me but I strain not to let it burst. “It doesn’t matter how many years it’s been, you’ll always be the loser new girl,” he gloats, and suddenly I am incapable of silence. “Leave her alone,” I say with fists clenched at my sides. “Or what? You’ll tell the teacher?” He smirks, a greasy shine on his teeth. “Or this.”

Don’t talk back, don’t cause trouble. I was told this when I arrived at Safford. The teachers told me when I was called to the office for fighting. Papa told me when I went home early with a bandage on my nose. I tell myself now, but my arms won’t listen to my head. I push forward and lightning crackles from my hands. Not the sudden spark of lightning he made, a colossal bolt, like comic-book lightning. He flies over a desk and collapses to the floor, his brown hair burned black. He looks up at me, eyes wide, and runs out of the classroom. Mrs. Mackenzie returns and we go through class, a nice gap in the classroom where he once sat. The bell rings, but before I walk out the door I am pulled aside. It’s her. “Thanks.” she smiles, a radiant smile, the pink fading back to a warm brown. “Nobody’s ever stood up to Cesare. He’s picked on me since 6th grade.” “Of course,” I reply. “I’m Jane. It’s short for Genesis, but Jane is easier to say. You?”

“Constance. My friends call me Connie.” 

“Well, I’ll see you later Connie,” she says, and she runs down the hallway leaving me in the door frame. I just stand for a minute and I smile. I smile because of Mrs. Mackenzie’s cat glasses and her special class. I smile because I fought back against the desert boy, Cesare, and won. I smile because even if I am the new girl, I have her with me.

Stars

We sneak in at night. It’s been 3 weeks since we met. I climb over the gates, Jane flies over. She says she’ll teach me how someday. We lie on the roof, the very top of the school, side by side. It’s a quiet night, a night only we exist. We gaze at the stars. Where’re you from? She thinks a moment before responding. I’m from a land, boundless and bare. Of endless sand. What about you, she asks, her eyes fixed on the stars like she’s mad at them. The beach. I lived in Hawaii before I moved here. Silence. The wind whistles a note and dies again. I turn to Jane. “What do you think of the stars?”

“They’re okay.”

“Just okay?”

“Stars are bland. Mama used to tell me they were homes for spirits, but they’re just balls of fiery gas we’ll never get to see, really see anyway.”

“Well, I’m glad to see them with you. You’re a good friend, Jane. “

“Me too. It’s nice we get to be together all the time now. It’s magical.”

“When I was little I read this wonderful book about magic. ‘The Mirrored Girl’. Gorgeous ruby covers. It was my favorite growing up. I haven’t read it in a long time though.”

“What’re you saying, you always had that book with you in Safford! You’d even read it in the middle of class!”

Silence, but a different silence. The wind stays dead. I turn to Jane again.

“How do you know that?”

Jane freezes. The stars disappear, like a lightbulb flickering, before returning one by one. The sky holds only half as many now. “You must’ve told me before.”

“Right.”

We lie on the roof side by side, but neither of us are watching the stars now.

The Middle of Nowhere

The night before lives in my head. I walk towards the school, dull sunlight peeking in behind the clouds. The open field looks sullen, the marble building lifeless. A handful of people stand scattered, some in small clusters but most standing alone, silent. The bell rings at 8:31, students trickling into the oak doors. I stand at the gates, my feet attached to the pavement. I want to go home, I think aloud. But as I turn to go, I see her there, standing behind me. “Where’re you going, Connie?” Jane says with a weak smile. I mutter as I walk past. “Home.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. We’ll be late.”

“I feel sick.” I walk faster as I hear her begin to follow.

“Come on, Connie. I'll teach you to fly over the gates.”

I say nothing. I run. I run as fast as I can.

I arrive in class as the bell rings, Jane just behind me. 

Mrs. Mackenzie tilts her head. “Nice of you to join us, Connie. Please, take a seat.” A sandpaper voice rings out from the back. “Come on, new girl! Or what, too scared?” Cesare gives a greasy smirk. 66 eyes stare vacantly at me, and I stare back. Jane blocks the door behind me, I turn to face her. “What?” She asks, and I hesitate. Silence, a new silence. A silence the whole world hangs onto, waiting for me to speak.

“None of this is real, is it?”

And with those words, the world shatters. 

I stand in front of the school gates, in front of school gates, the school gates. A mountain of marble cascades upwards, windowpane holes peering into nothingness. The sky is gone; an abyss of empty. The world folds in and out of itself. Featureless figures stand in pairs on an empty field. A dissonant bell rings into forever. In nowhere all that I can see, imaginary magic school. A place that never was.

I wander the barren landscape. Hollow eyes follow me from everywhere. I pass a pair of statues, a tall, stern man with an unshaved face, and a woman, wrinkling from years of stress. I turn away from the facsimile replicas of Mama and Papa, and my eyes rest on the corruption of marble building that lies ahead. Atop the tallest spire, an arc of fire streaks through the sky, then another, and another, flowing in dissonant sequence from a flickering ball of light. A light like a dying star. Jane.

I moved to Safford when I was 11. I never fit in, no protagonist ever does I told myself. But every protagonist finds loyal friends that stick by their side, no matter what. The Mirrored Girl was that. I wanted to be that too. In between the teasing and the cafeteria glares, I dreamed about finding myself in that world one day, and never waking. I imagined a new character, a girl just like me but not really. Me but better, the me I wanted to be, me in Hawaii, when I was playing on the beach with Minna. I named her Genesis, Jane for short.

With my feet placed firm on the imaginary ground, I breathe deeply. I look up at the twisted spire of school I created in my mind, that I had trapped myself within. I need to get to the top, I need to find Jane. I need to find me. I lift myself into the air, and begin to fly. I soar up the side of the building, a blur of marble and windows falling out of view, and in a moment I find myself at the top. In the center of the dying, screaming ball of light, I see a girl, sniffling, barely standing. She looks at me, a face full of sorrow.. “I see you learned to fly without me.”

I land, resolute, on the rooftop. I take a single step forward, slowly, struggling to speak. “Jane.”

“What? What could you possibly want to say, Connie? Why are you even still here?”

“I didn’t know I could leave.”

“Yes, you can, so go. The daydream’s over. You have to move on.” She collapses to the floor, her head in her hands.

“I will. But not without you.”

The light shines brighter for a moment. I step closer, only a few feet away now. She raises her head.

“What?”

“We’re part of each other. Where we go, we go together.”

‘Look around! This is what happens when you bring me with you. It’s what happened at Safford, it’s what will happen at the next school.”

Silence.

“I created this for us. So we could have all the magic and adventure we wanted, and friends that would stick by us no matter what. So we could be special. But it’s ruined.”

Jane sobs as the last words leave her mouth. I stand beside her now, engulfed in the flames with her. They eat away at my skin, but I stand determined. “I know. And it was fun. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, Jane. But we had to go home eventually.”

“I know. Then go.”

“I can’t.”

“WHY?”

“Because I refuse to leave you to die!” I yell those words, yell them like thunder to pierce through the silence. “You’re half of me, and it does nothing for the other half to walk through life without its best friend. Even if this fantasy can’t be real, we can still bring the memory. Even if stars are just burning gas, we can still admire their light. I need your light, Jane.

And with those words, the burning inferno around us will glow twice as bright, but not with a light that burns flesh, but a calm, warming light. A warmth somewhere between the dry air of Safford and the lush of Hawaii.

“Then where will we go next?” That’s what Jane will ask me.

“Who knows,” I'll respond, “but we’ll go together.”

Hand in hand we will fly, the light shining around us, fly off the building and into the brilliant sky above. Soon our flight will be over. We’ll have to move again, start over in a new world, a new school. But even if that world is dark and its sands try to cave us in, we will shine through, together. 1540 Whenroe Street will follow us wherever we go.

February 09, 2023 05:16

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