Coming of Age Drama Teens & Young Adult

Brandon and I are sitting at the Orange Thread café. He’s ordered a caramel macchiato, I a strawberry cheesecake milkshake. It sounded disgusting as I told the cashier I wanted that, but it was too late to retract my order.

“Are you nervous?” Brandon says. He’s kicking the leg of my chair, a habit that I used to find endearing but I now just find plain annoying. “Cos you don’t look very scared.”

“I’m trying hard not to,” I say. “How long is it until we have to get to the school?”

“Forty-five minutes. Don’t worry, I visited a few days ago so I know exactly how to get there.” But it’s Brandon. Of course I should be worried. I even check the clock above the chalkboard menu behind the counter, just to make sure.

“Geez Riley, why can’t you trust me?”

Brandon’s eyes are beautiful, have I mentioned that? They’re like pools of ink, the way they draw you in and hypnotise you. You could trap an entire galaxy in those orbs. But at the moment, they’re filled with fire. I notice his knuckles are white, skin stretched taut and veins popping. He’s trying hard to keep his cool, I appreciate that, but now’s not the time for a tantrum.

“Cool it, Brandon.” I snap. Immediately, the fire goes out. He relaxes his fists, but there are half-moon crescents on his palm from where his nails cut in too deep. He smiles sheepishly at me; I stare back.

A hoard of private school kids walk in just as we get the caramel macchiato and strawberry cheesecake milkshake we ordered. Just as I anticipated, it looks chalky with thick lumps of cream and fat and gooey strawberry jam.

I can’t say the same for them. Plaid skirts and knee high socks, looking every part of a private school uniform catalogue. Grey slacks and loose ties, windswept hair and chunky watches that glint gold and silver under the fluorescent lights of the café. They’re preppy, cool, unruffled as they slide into the table next to ours, laughing up a storm while pulling in more chairs. A girl with a knapsack covered in thousands of stickers knocks into the back of my chair as she moves, bumping my chin onto the rim of my milkshake glass. 

“You got something on your chin,” Brandon says lazily.

A few of the kids get up to order at the counter, some remain at the table. I’m watching them carefully. These kids could be our future classmates. I recognise the red plaid pattern of the girls’ skirts, crisp white shirts and maroon socks from a brochure I received in the mail along with a scholarship interview letter. A few weeks ago, I would’ve never dared to watch them so openly. But now, I feel like I’m immune.

Brandon leans forward. “Are these kids–”

“Yeah. They’re from Townsend. Imagine, we could be wearing those exact same uniforms in a week by now.” And sitting at that same table. Trudging in from a party that ended at two in the morning, eating Danish pastries and drinking coffee just to wake us up for school that day. It’d be absolutely heaven.

A boy at the table is looking at his reflection from a compact mirror, mussing up his hair and checking his face for spots. A girl sitting next to him has purple bags underneath her eyes but is typing furiously onto a laptop. Another girl sitting next to her watches over her shoulder and laughs.

“You haven’t done this essay yet? I did it weeks ago. You need any help, just holler.” The girl grins, showing off a mouth full of braces with neon pink bands. And gum. She cracks her gum, the sound loud and unnatural amidst the setting of her metal mouth.

Rich kids. Oh to be rich, able to throw away nine grand so casually just by chewing gum.

The boy looking into the mirror suddenly snaps his head towards Brandon and I. I turn away too late, cheeks reddening when I’m caught. Immunity? Hah! I try talking to Brandon, trying to seem just as cool as these Townsend kids.

“I’m real scared for the interviews,” I babble nonsensically, slurping on my milkshake but recoiling at the taste of burnt cheese and artificial strawberry. “What questions have you prepared for?”

“Not much really. All I’m worried about is questions about the centre.” Brandon’s face takes on a dreamy, careless tone. “Do you think they’ll ask questions about what we did to end up there?”

“As long as you stick to the profile I made you memorise a few days ago, we’ll be fine,” I say calmly. “Don’t do anything stupid, Brandon. We’ve done so much just for this final showdown. Whatever happens afterwards…you could screw up for all I know. Just not now.”

Yes, we’ve done so much. We lied the skin off our teeth just to get the one stage closer to being the recipients of the Townsend Academy Scholarship. Our dreams of getting out of the hell hole that is the middle class are so close, I can almost taste it.

“What do you guys want?” The boy with the mirror’s voice is much more higher-pitched than I expected. It’s like a knife. 

“Bloody public school kids.” Train-tracks should just mind her own business. She cracks her gum over and over again. She raises her arms, trying to look scary and cool. “Whatchu want?”

They snicker. But girl with the laptop looks a little more sympathetic. “Just shut up you narcissistic idiots. The only reason why they’re looking at you is because you’re both a bunch of morons.”

“Really? You think we’re morons?” Mirror Boy narrows his eyes.

“No. We don’t.” I place a cool hand onto Brandon’s clenched fist. “We were just wondering if you are from Townsend.”

“Yeah, and so what if we are?” 

“We’re going for an interview at your school later on.”

“Oh, you’re the prospective Townsend Scholarship Recipients?” Girl with the laptop sits up straighter. Only at this moment I notice the Head Girl badge gleaming on the front of her shirt. “I’m Tiffany. Head Girl.”  She puffs out her chest a little more, so that the badge catches the light and stands out even more. “The principal told me all about you guys. What are your names? Maybe I could recognise them from the files.”

Train-tracks guffaws. “Gawd, you’re suck a geek Tiffany! Way to go.” Tiffany’s mouth tightens. Train-tracks and Mirror Boy must be a real pain.

“I’m Riley Montgomery and this is Brandon Day. Nice to meet you.” First impressions are the most important. I plaster on a sweet smile, lean over the table to offer a hand to shake. Train-tracks laughs even more loudly. I try to ignore her.

“Gosh, you’re real nice. You know, I do recognise your names.” Her eyes dart quickly between Brandon and I. I and Brandon. I can tell she knows a little about our sordid past from the files she’s read. But she seems cool. I don’t think she’s betray our confidence in the presence of people like Mirror Boy and Train-tracks.

“So? Spill! What juicy things are on their files?” Mirror Boy nearly wets his pants from excitement. 

“Nothing much. They went to Williams.”

Nice going, Tiffany. Keep it up and maybe we’ll let you in onto more of our secrets.

“Williams! Hey! That’s where Erica went.” Mirror Boy’s eyes take on a hazy, glazed look. Like he’s totally infatuated with the thought of Erica, girl from the wrong side of the tracks who miraculously found her way into the light that is the Townsend Private Academy. “Do you guys know her?”

“Erica.” My heart beats faster and faster. I look at Brandon’s face, warningly. “What’s her last name?”


The stone drops.

As if on cue, a girl walks in. She’s dressed in the same uniform as the other Townsend kids but it hangs off her like a scarecrow, an imposter. She walks with her head forward, as if she’s afraid of looking backwards.

“Erica!” Mirror Boy waves his arm, and I want to slap him. “Do you know these people? Brandon Montgomery and Riley Day. They went to Williams.”

I don’t bother correcting him; the more skewed our names are, the better. But good, precocious, amazing Tiffany corrects him.

“Hi. I think I recognise you, Erica.” I choose my words carefully. Instead of pretending not to know her, I act casual with her. As if Brandon wasn’t the one who ruined her life a year ago. “We were in Biology together, weren’t we? With Mr Aldi.”

Erica widens her eyes. I notice that she has the same coppery hair and green eyes, magnets to guys like Mirror Boy and Brandon. They’re just screaming, pick me, choose me, look at me

“Y-Yeah, sure.” One thing I’ve always liked about Erica, is that she never minced words. When Brandon kept on asking her out over and over again, she kept yelling and cussing him out. But now, she’s like a deer caught in headlights. She has no idea what to do.

“Why don’t you say hello, Brandon.” I want to make Erica feel comfortable in knowing Brandon has got his temper under control, like I’m the mediator and he’s the beast I’m taming. 

“Hello Erica.” His voice is careful. Only I can detect the slight waver, feel his knuckles shake underneath my hand. I rub my thumb over them, praying that Brandon doesn’t snap.

“Isn’t this great!” Tiffany smiles brightly, all Susie Sunshine. “You can show them around when they get the scholarship?”


“Yeah, Erica. Brandon and I are going in for an interview at Townsend soon for a scholarship. Honest to goodness Erica, I had no idea you’re going there. Scout’s honour.” I raise a hand in salute, trying to reassure her that Brandon is not stalking her again or whatsoever.

But Erica’s shaking. Her shoulders, head, knees, knocking and shaking. Mirror Boy notices.

“Hey, what’s wrong? What’s wrong, Erica? What’s wrong?” Oh god Mirror Boy, the way you keep pestering her won’t magically make her tell you what’s up.

“We’ll go. Let’s go.” I tug onto Brandon’s hand. But he pulls away from me, drops to his knees in front of Erica, and tries to take her hands.

““Erica! Erica. Forgive me. Forgive me?” I can’t see his face, but I can imagine what it looks like: happy and pink, like a little boy who’s pleased he’s gotten what we wanted for his birthday.

“Get away from me!” Erica’s finally gotten her voice back. She tears her hands away from his, but her feet stick firmly rooted to the linoleum floor. 

“Brandon.” I try so hard to keep my voice level, as if I’m not on the verge of completely losing it. “Cool it. Let’s go.”

“Yes. Go before you start obsessing over me again. Threatening me with dead cockroaches in boxes and love letters with promises that you’ll break my fingers apart if I don’t love you back.” White hot tears trickle down her face. 

Why couldn’t you just follow me and leave the café?

Realisation dawns upon our little crowd. But that’s not all. Want me to let you in on a little secret?

“Oh my god.” Tiffany’s fingers hover over the keyboard of her laptop. I don’t have to look at the screen to know what she’s found out.s

After Erica rejected him for the final time and I wasn’t there to comfort him, Brandon went wild. Went to a 7-11, stole some things. That’s what’s in our files. That’s it. In juvie for theft. But we chose to leave out one minor detail from Townsend.

Just before I got there, Brandon beat up the store manager. To the point where his spine broke; he’ll never walk again.

I guess Erica never told the cops on us because that was the only crime he was charged for. Not stalking or obsession over a fellow student, but grievous bodily harm. She left the school, we left to juvie. How exciting! All of us embarking on new chapters of our lives. I was determined to turn life around for Brandon and I. I never again wanted to kill mice and cockroaches to put in a box tied up with a pretty satin ribbon. I never again wanted to compose beautiful poems and lengthy paragraphs just for my best friend to get his heart stamped on again and again.

I made sure we became model students in that mind-numbing prison. We studied hard, listened well in class with our eyes following the teacher every second. Applied for the Townsend scholarship because that’s how we could shed off our old identities and become new. I wanted it so bad, I forged the juvie principal’s signature so I could pretend to Townsend that we just stole a few candy bars from a 7-11, not beat up a man to the point where he’s paralysed.

But Brandon. Erica. She’s just so perfect, so alluring, everything that he wants and I’ll never be. Right at the moment I needed for him to be perfect, he slips. All for Erica Farrow.

I grab his hand and storm out the café. Not in the direction of the interview, which should be long over by now.

The blaze in his eyes evaporates, replaced by puppy-dog eyes that just about kill me. “Oh geez, I messed it up, didn’t I, Riley?”

“No worries.” I grin at him, hold his hand a little tighter. Even though I feel the clouds darken, I say, “Just as long as we’re together.”

October 04, 2020 13:47

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