Wind whips through my long hair tangling it in the branches behind me, but I don’t care how uncomfortable I am. I’d wait in this tree forever for a glimpse of him. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.
“Bloody hell,” says a smoky voice with a thick British accent.
Chills ripple down my body as he appears on the woody path, the soft moonlight illuminating his wild spiky hair. I watch from my perch above him as he fights to light a cigarette with a golden lighter, the night breezes making it nearly impossible. It’s really him, just like the short man with the crooked nose told me.
Maybe this is my chance. Should I hop down out of the tree and stand before him? The thought of gazing into his one blue and one green eye makes me dizzy and I wrap my arms and legs around the thick tree branch to avoid falling. Making a deal with the Goblin King isn’t likely going to end well for me, but I can’t help myself. I’m drawn to him-
The bell rings. I close my laptop and shove it into my grey backpack, crushing loose pieces of binder paper and more than a dozen empty granola bar wrappers. I touch the black-inked image of David Bowie’s face drawn on the front flap. I drew it on there the summer before 7th grade and hoped someone would see my artwork and strike up a conversation. Seeing as my freshman year is half over and I remain friendless, I’d say it didn’t work.
Last night I’d written my pen name underneath his chin with tiny careful letters, VioletStardust69. My secret identity is the only thing keeping me from losing it at this horrible school. It’s a good reminder I’m not what others think I am. I have a life they know nothing about. Fuck them.
A flat piece of cheese, slimy and square, hangs at an odd angle on the back of the kid who wears the black cowboy hat. Some Johnny Cash wannabe who doesn’t understand you have to dress more neutral if you don’t want things stuck to you. I consider being kind and pulling it off, but he’s walking too fast and there’s no way I’m running down the hallway and drawing attention to myself. Sorry cheese boy—you walk the line alone my fellow outcast.
A fat angry blister screams at me as I press through the crowded hallway, trying to not get jostled too hard or stepped on. I saved up $150 to buy these custom Bowie Converse off Etsy, but I should have known better than to wear them to school. I step carefully around a broken applesauce cup, its contents smeared across the brown tiled floor looking like something from my baby brother’s diaper. Half-brother, I correct myself. He’s got the new, cool mom. I’m stuck with the old, broken one. Dad doesn’t feel too bad about it either. I think his life is easier with me only half in it anyways.
I’ve got English class next with Mr. Peters. He has fluffy blonde hair and Bowie cheekbones. I’d find him super cute if he wasn’t old and if he didn’t keep trying to talk to me. As far as teachers go, he is far from the worst.
English class is the only time I can stare at Ash without being noticed. That sounds creepier than I mean it, but I guess when you’ve had a secret crush for the last three years it’s bound to get a bit weird at times. We’ve been in classes together since 5th grade, but I’m fairly certain she doesn’t know my name.
I slide into a desk in the far right corner next to a dusty bookshelf filled with blue and gold copies of “The Great Gatsby.” The large “T G G” always makes me think about “The Golden Girls”––the show I used to watch with my grandma before she died. If F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the show I bet he’d make Blanche into a rich stalker of some mildly hot, but very self-centered, older man who works in a Miami nightclub called “The Green Light.” I start to write stupid dialogue in my head when Ash walks in.
She’s wearing a tight black dress over torn fishnets and shiny black platform docs which she somehow manages to still look adorably short in. Her hair, I’m happy to see, has returned to black. She slides into the seat beside her two best friends and they all begin laughing and talking about some senior boy with huge gauges that Mazie likes. She’s got purple hair this week. I try to pretend I’m busy, but I can’t stop looking at Ash. I wonder what it would be like to sit next to her and have her laugh when I said something.
I look down and see I’ve scribbled Ash’s name in the margin of my paper several times with some cheesy hearts around it. I quickly scribble it out, but I use too much force and tear the paper. It doesn’t matter. Nobody notices.
Mr. Peters takes the roll and when he gets to me I nod, which luckily he accepts today. I hate when he makes me say “here.” He begins talking about the Odyssey and I suddenly get an idea for a storyline where David Bowie interacts with sirens and sea monsters, eventually falling in love with a young outcast Goddess. I scribble down a few lines.
Standing on the bow of his ship, Captain Bowie surveys the rocky shoreline ahead. His loose cotton shirt blows around his body revealing a large golden medallion resting on his smooth chest. He’d been warned against entering these choppy waters, the call of the siren drives men to their deaths, but shouldn’t they really be worried about him-
“Vera,” Mr. Peters says. “I asked you what the island of Ithaca represents to Odysseus?”
I shrink in my seat and chew on the end of my pen. One of the basketball boys in his ugly yellow jersey snickers and I consider throwing my wet pen in his face. Although I know the answer, I’m never going to speak in class. My face burns hot and I slink further into my chair and stare at the laces of my shoes. I hope Ash isn’t looking at me.
“Fine,” Mr. Peters says. “Anyone else care to answer?”
Cheeky bastard, I think. For the rest of the class I say nothing, but I don’t write either. I allow the storyline to play out in my mind and realize it’s dumb. Nobody wants to read something related to a book they have to read in school.
Last year I started getting a lot more attention on my stories, and it makes me nervous it could all go away. My latest Bowie story has been ranked number one for three weeks and has over 10.4k reads and 400 votes. I don’t want to write something that will make them all suddenly stop reading. I have to be careful.
I know Wattpad is like an amateurish writing thing, but it’s important to me. My fans are my friends, they check up on me when I’ve gone silent for a day or two, and they hype me up when I’m having a bad day. I don’t want to lose it by writing something they hate.
The bell rings and I slowly pack up my things, making sure Ash and her friends leave before me. I don’t want them watching me walk by. Mr. Peters makes his way to me with a look of concern on his face.
“Vera,” he says. “Can I have a moment of your time?”
I nod because it’s not really a question. He sits at the desk beside mine, the one just vacated by some red-haired kid from the marching band who always taps his pencil on his desk. Maybe he plays drums.
“I’m worried about you,” he says. “You do very well on the writing and the tests, but I don’t see you interacting with the other students and it troubles me. I wonder if you might be interested in starting a little writing club with me.”
I don’t know what to say. The idea kind of sounds cool, but I doubt I’d get anyone to join it. I’m nobody and what would we do…write together?
“You don’t have to answer me right now,” he says. “I filled out the paperwork to start the club, but I wanted to find my president and you are the best writer in the school.”
He sets a piece of white paper on the desk in front of me. It’s a form and I see he’s written my name under “Club President.” My stomach hurts at the idea. What would he expect of me? Would I have to recruit people? Would I have to give speeches or wear some kind of t-shirt with a typewriter on it? Scanning the form I don’t see any of the answers there.
“I’d walk you through the whole process,” he says. “So, think about it. It would start after winter break, but we have to turn the form in by the end of the week. Promise me you’ll consider it.”
I nod and leave the classroom. My thoughts begin to spiral and I see all the awful ways this could play out in front of me like a horror movie. I put in my earbuds and play “Wild is the Wind” from the Live at Glastonbury album. I get chills when the crowd begins to cheer. I imagine I’m seeing Bowie stand on the Pyramid Stage at Worthy Farm in his lavender shirt and incredible floral jacket. He wore his hair long and wavy then, similar to mine now.
You touch me, I hear the sound of mandolins
You kiss me, with your kiss my life begins
You’re spring to me, all things to me
Don’t you know, you’re life itself?
I slam into someone hard and look up to see a tall, thin girl with a dark green beanie. She’s talking animatedly to me with a lot of hand movements, but I can’t hear her. There’s a bunch of stuff on the floor between us. I pause the music.
“… it’s going to be that kind of day, man, where things like happen and I’m going to have to simply accept I can’t like reorder my life. I mean like, what is life anyway but chaos, right? You can’t control anything, you know. Like it’s all a big lie. You know what I mean?”
I have no idea what she’s talking about, but I nod. She talks fast, but it’s almost melodic. She grabs my right hand and sandwiches it between both her hands and shakes it up and down. Her grip is firm and she’s smiling at me.
“Sequoia,” she says.
“It’s my name. Like the tree. My parents are like wicked hippies—they dance around the full moon and shit. They actually are cool. You’ll like them. My mom makes these little muffin things out of cacao, which isn’t quite chocolate, but she adds honey and chia seeds and I don’t know what else, and they are good. I think I have one somewhere…”
She bends down and starts rummaging through the pile of stuff I knocked out of her hands. There’s a canvas bag with a bright red mushroom on the front, several books, a paper bag full of what appears to be multicolored carrots, and a lot of paper. My mom hasn’t ever baked for me.
“You were holding all this?” I ask.
She laughs and it’s such a funny sound like maybe a cartoon cat who smokes a lot of cigarettes would make. A kind of wheezy sound that doesn’t match up with her frenzied energy. I’ve not met anyone like her before.
As she digs through the canvas bag, I notice she’s wearing scuffed brown Mary Jane docs, knee-high, knitted forest green socks, a flowing patchwork skirt, and a tight brown tank top. She’s got black inked writing up and down her arms, little drawings of mushrooms, flowers, and trees.
“Here we are,” she says.
She opens up a mustard-colored Tupperware container filled with squashy little muffins roughly bite-size. I consider for a moment they might be laced with pot but decide I don’t care. I pop one into my mouth. It’s crunchy, with bits of nuts and granola in it, but they’re also really sweet and good.
“Thanks,” I say. “These are good.”
“If you like these, then you have to, have to, have to come over to my house after school because it’s mom’s baking day and she’s super manic and makes like far too many things and then freaks out if we don’t eat them all because of planetary waste and people starving and I DO NOT want to have to go down to the river again and feed the homeless her hippie food and hear them all be like ‘what is this’ over and over.”
She smiles at me and I see she has thin wire braces. I don’t know what to do, so I stand perfectly still and hope she doesn’t suddenly realize I’m not the person she thinks I am and reconsider all her offers of baked goods and coming over. She’s staring at the Bowie on my bag and her eyes get super wide as she screeches. I jump back and she begins to laugh.
“No freaking way! Are you VioletStardust69? Tell me you are and I will die right here.”
I smile and nod. She pulls me into a hug and my face gets smashed into her breasts because she’s a lot taller than me. It’s somehow not awkward though and suddenly I find I’m laughing too.
“I love your writing! I read all your stories. I can’t write anything myself, but damn girl, you can write some good shit about Bowie.”
“I can’t believe I’m standing in the hallway talking to VioletStardust69! My mom told me the tarot was hinting at big changes for me, and damn this is it. You are it! Violet freaking Stardust 69 ate my mom’s muffin. Wild!”
“My name’s Vera.”
“Well, Vera, you are rad and now my best friend. Help me pick up this stuff because the bell rang and we are late to class and I have Ms. Johnson and she’s going to for sure make me try and explain why I’m late in Spanish and I don’t know how to say anything but ‘como estas’ and ‘muy bien.’ I think she seriously delights in making people struggle. I think it like makes her day or something. She’s so weird, you know? Who wears purple sweaters every single day?”
I help put all her stuff back into her bags and I can’t stop smiling. I’ve got monotone Mr. Montgomery next period but it somehow doesn’t matter anymore. I have a friend.
“Meet me after school by that creepy statue in the quad of the dead old white guy…you know the one covered in bird shit? We shouldn’t be honoring dead white guys who owned slaves and hit women anymore, but I guess he owned this land so we have to honor his memory or some nonsense. How about we honor the Tolowa tribe he probably gave smallpox to? Asshole. Ugh.”
I can’t stop smiling. She pulls a small crooked carrot out of the brown bag and hands it to me. It’s a dark purple color and smells earthy and sweet.
“In case you get hungry,” she says.
“See you after school, Vera!”
I take a large bite of the carrot and walk to class.
Author’s note: This was an emotional week for me in so many ways. My daughter graduated last night from the school our family has been at for 13 years. She’s been with her teacher and many of her classmates for 8 years. It was a week filled with tradition, beauty, speeches, and parties. I had very little time to write but when I did finally sit down this story came to me pretty quick. There’s nothing new or revolutionary here, but I sure do like Vera and Sequoia, and hope you did too. Thanks as always for reading.
Short Story Challenge | Week 21
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about high school hierarchy. We had to include pyramid, cowboy hat, amateurish, angle, ripple, cheese, jersey, blister, odyssey, and reorder.
Write With Us
Prompt: The main character has amnesia
Include antiquarian, satellite, cinnamon, fortune, cookie, harbor, cedar, invitation, soccer, annual, speaker
My 52-Week Challenge Journey
- What is the 52-week challenge?
- Week 1: The Heart and the Stone
- Week 2: The Biggest Little Gift
- Week 3: It Bearly Fits
- Week 4: The Claire in Clarity
- Week 5: The Family Tree
- Week 6: Through the Glass Windshield
- Week 7: The Final Goodbye
- Week 8: Sunset, Sunrise
- Week 9: Returning Home
- Week 10: The Water
- Week 11: Aw, Phooey!
- Week 12: Meeting Time
- Week 13: The Old Man
- Week 14: Dani and the Queen
- Week 15: The Golden Muse
- Week 16: Honeymoon Treasure Hunt
- Week 17: The Red-Haired Beauty
- Week 18: Playing Games
- Week 19: One Thing
- Week 20: The Child