Sorry To Keep You Waiting
Author: Angelena Fox-Francisco

Chapter 4
be alone, always alone

  
    The secretary watched me closely as I approached the desk, her jaw moving at an amazingly fast speed as she chewed her gum. "What do you need?" she mumbled around it.
    I lowered my gaze, as if I hadn't heard her.
    "The principal's in a meeting," she murmured.
    Numbly, I shook my head. No, I didn't need him. If I wasn't being kicked out of class to see him, I didn't go out of my way to.
    "Wel, do you have a note from your parents? You got a doctor's appointment or something? Dentist?"
    I pursed my lips. Did this lady ever shut up?
    "If you're trying to answer me, I don't here a voice. Speak up, hon." She tugged at her diamond earrings, as if doing that would magnify my voice.
    Of course you don't hear a voice, I thought. I don't have one. With that, I went to the room I remembered to be Shanna's and invited myself in, ignoring the protest coming from the secretary.
    "Oh!" Shanna's eyes went wide as I burst in without permission, and she stood, a pleasant smile already growing on those glossy, pink lips. "Nice to see you, Lizzie. I was afraid you wouldn't come back after what happened on Sunday." She shrugged, as if that past scenario was unimportant, and rested her feet on the floor, making a soft plinking noise. Clickies again.
    I nodded, looking away. She'd been there through it all. She'd given me her jacket to warm me up from the hail melting in my clothes and hair, smiling at me and telling me she was glad to have met me, hoping we could be friends, promising things that not even my own father had said to me. Maybe that was I'd let her.
    Or maybe just because I'd been imagining it was Mom, and not Shanna, saying those things and keeping me warm. Hearing her voice and feeling her hands.
    I blinked to erase that from my head. Don't think about it, I told myself.
    "Oh, well, that's that," Shanna said. "Sunday was Sunday, and now it's not. It's time to move on, to forget about it. What happened happened, right? Nothing more to it."
    I flinched, feeling a change in the temperature. I rubbed my arms and stared at the floor. Had the heat suddenly switched off? Or was I just getting a chill?
    "So," the counselor said, reminding me again of her presence. "What can I do for you, Lizzie? Do you need something? Anything you want, I'll help you. So, is there?"
    Again with the many questions. Could any adult in this school wait for an answer?
    No, not from me, I thought. I'm mute. Why would they wait for something that's not going to happen? 
    And yet, I felt the urge to say something. I actually wanted to. My heart pounded and my stomach ached as I thought about it and still I wanted to, more than anything.
    "Did you need to give me something? Did your father bring some sort of note for me? Paperwork?"
    Stop it with the questions!
    Shanna's eyes suddenly looked concerned. "Lizzie, is there something wrong?"
    My face held nothing, no expression. There was no emotion playing in any of my features, even my hair. It fell in a straight mess of brown, just as normally dull as I was myself.
    I shook my head.
    "No? You don't need to talk?"
    Talk...
    There were flashes of color, voices. I pictured the water crashing over that whiteness, felt the cold numbing against soft fingertips, icy and hard and then a harder substance against my hands.
    Those hands began to shake just a little. I put them in my pockets. I stared at them, hidden perfectly in the soft, dark cloth. They were small hands, the color of milk. The skin was a little rough, not at all girly like my dad called me.
    I shrugged at Shanna, then nodded a goodbye to her, leaving the room as quickly as I had come.
    What had I been going to tell her anyway?

     
    After the first four periods, I began to see a pattern in the hallways. The popular people, the ones who played sports or had otherwise shown they had talent for something other than becoming invisible, pushed their way out of the classroom first and, laughing and bursting out in idiotic conversation, made their way down the corridor like a big parade. Then, after the danger had disappeared, the misfits and nerds and the misunderstood came through, hurrying to grab something from their locker or to get a drink from the fountain, their eyes jerking from corner to corner just in case someone bigger and better than them was still around. Seconds before the bell, they ran to their class and sat down, unnoticed by anyone except their own kind.
    Their rules: Speak little, just wait until it's clear, then go, go, go, go!
    Me? I waited until everyone was gone, then strolled alone, going as slow as I pleased, entering class before or after the bell without so much as a bother from a single teacher. In fact, if I came in halfway through class, they threw a smile toward me and told me to sit down, politely asking me to take out my notebook and pen.
    My rules: Speak not a word, walk as slowly as possible, and be alone, always alone.
    No one seemed to care less.
 
    Lunch came around and I was feeling a little blue. Not that food wasn't an option. I had my lunch. I also had an hour to kill. The cafeteria wasn't cutting it. The rumbling in my lower abdomen seemed treacherous, maybe even terminal. Standing, I took my brown bag of what smelled to be a sandwich, some chips and maybe an apple-- gee, thanks Dad-- and walked out those double doors and down, curving left, right, heading to a place I hadn't gone to since my mother's funeral.
    Mr. Jackson grinned at me happily when he saw me. No, happy was too mellow of a word to describe him. He was overjoyed, delighted, absolutely jubilant.
    "So you decided you missed playing, eh?" he asked, his eyes twinkling excitedly.
    I shrugged, wondering if he knew sign language. As much as I didn't want to open my mouth, I didn't want to burden Mr. Jackson with my silence, too.
    But he didn't even seem bothered. Nothing, probably, could bother him now.
    "Well, I'll get your instrument for you, okay? It's still there, on that same shelf."
    I watched him grab it from the familiar second shelf, blowing dust off of it and holding it out to me with a pleased smile.
    "Go on, then. Let's see if you still remember how to play!"
    I rolled my eyes and threw a cocky grin at him. Of course I still remembered. Little did he know, but I had a memory practically like a steel trap. My smile faltered. That was half the reason it was so hard to forget when I tried.
    I opened the case and stared at the gleaming, golden metal. I'd expected it rusted and needing oiled, but this looked perfect and new and clean, ready to use. My eyes found his and I searched them for an explanation, getting lost in the forever blue circles of his irises. As I looked away, I felt water slowly coming to the edges of my tear ducts. Oh, get a grip, I told myself. He probably knew you'd be a wuss and show up again, even after all this time. Or maybe someone else was using it. I swallowed a lump in my throat and smiled at Mr. Jackson.
    "Shall I leave you alone, then? I've got some paperwork to do, so I can't stay. Otherwise I would. But this has to be done. So, I'll see you later, Lizzie. Strong sound, girl, still strong sound."
    I gulped and the tears really did come. But he had already left so he didn't see them.
    Strong sound was what he used to tell me right before a concert. Always. He never forgot.
    It felt awkward holding a french horn after all this time, but I managed to remember where to put my hands and how each note was played and everything about band. Everything I had missed out on for the past three years.
    For the next forty minutes, I played. I didn't pull out any music, I just played around with the notes and listened to the rich sound, surprised I still had it. Surprised I still wanted to have it.
    The tears had stopped falling long before but it felt like they were still there when I set the french horn back in its case. I stared at the floor and waited for something to come. I didn't know what. Maybe a voice in my head again, telling me why this was so stupid, playing a french horn. What was so important about it anyway?
    I wiped my eyes and the voice didn't come. I stood and nothing was new. Just a room around me, striking up memories and driving away the ones I didn't want.
    I smiled. Yes. Music. It had always done that for me. I could be lost in it, listening and playing and singing. 
    Stop, right there, just stop!
    Oh, my mind did have a voice, after all.
    What do you think singing is, Lizzie? That's using your voice. Talking, practically! My inner self snorted, looking at me with those same brown eyes. You can't talk.
    Yes I can, I retorted. Being able to do something and choosing not to is different. I can talk if I want. See? I'll do it right now. I'll...
    I glared at the ground, chickening out. But the inner me stayed quiet, granting me some time in real silence.
    Biting my lip, I took out my lunch and finished it. The sick feeling was back again, worse.
    Suddenly, someone came into the room. I stood, shocked, then looked away. Of course he'd find me.
    "Hey," Matt said. "You left the lunch room, and I was trying to find you. The band teacher said you'd started playing again. He seemed real happy."
    I nodded, hoping there weren't any tears left in my eyes.
    He sat down in one of the chairs and pulled out his own lunch. Then he peered closely at my face. "Whoa, Lizzie, you okay? You're really green. Do you, like, need to lie down? Are you feeling sick?"
    I brushed a wave of my mud colored hair out of my face and nodded, folding my arms around myself.
    "I have some ginger ale, but I think you need it more than I do," he said, pulling it out of his bag. As he handed it to me, I realized in an odd way, we were probably friends now. Strange. I didn't want any friends. Or, I never had any good ones, at least, so I'd never seen the point in having any at all.
    Matt seemed nice, though. He cared that I was sick. He wanted to help me. He didn't think I was stupid for not talking and he didn't really seem to notice half the time.
    He'd been Grace's boyfriend. For a moment, I felt guilty for having stolen him so soon after Grace's death, but that wasn't my fault, was it? He came looking for me.
    My heart thundered. Ugh, that just made it worse, that he'd found me instead of the other way around, as if treating Grace as replaceable.
    I opened the soda and drank a deep gulp. It settled my upset stomach a little. I drank more and gave Matt a thankful glance. He smiled and bit into his pear, leaning forward and staring away at nothing. Then he turned to me and asked, swallowing, "How come you're playing again?"
    The question felt extraordinary in this room. With me in it, especially. I thought about it and pulled a pen out from my bag. I didn't feel like using paper so I wrote on my arm instead.

    Music makes up for the silence

   
He gave me a crooked grin that made me want to smile back. I'd lost my ability to move my lips, though, feeling too weak even to hold the pen properly. I sipped the soda slowly, hoping I wouldn't need to go to the nurse. She would call my father and I'd either have to pretend I wasn't really sick in order to get her not to or just let her call. Maybe she'd get a busy signal. Maybe he wouldn't pick up. Maybe I should just give her a wrong number to dial. Like my cell phone. It was never turned on. What was the point in having a phone if you never said a word?
    "Yeah, I know what you mean," he told me, his voice just a whisper. "When Grace's grandma died, she was silent for a while, too. And it was music that brought her back again. She said it made her feel better, that music just created a feeling in her that she couldn't describe. It was like the songs and lyrics were speaking to her, telling her it was okay to talk again." He shrugged. "That's why I wanted to know why you started playing again. Because Grace did the same thing, only it was with the piano. She stopped playing for a while, and then when she picked it back up again, she broke the silence."
    I was numb, listening to him. Is that what he thought was happening? That I would start to talk because music just... took the pain away and drove away unwanted thoughts and memories?
    Well, wasn't he right?
    No, he wasn't right. I closed my eyes and thought, No. I just missed playing. That's all. It's an escape, really. If I play music, I won't have to think about Mom. And if I don't have to think about her... then...
    My eyes burst open.
    That was what Grace had gone through, hadn't it? I turned to Matt and saw him watching me, saw him expectantly hanging on with his eyes, those amazing blue eyes.
    Weakly, I shook my head. I collapsed against the seat, wondering what he even saw in me. Was it just because I was the detective's daughter and he connected that to Grace? Was it because I had lost a family member and gone silent, and he connected that to Grace?
    Was I really just a replacement for his dead girlfriend?
    I couldn't help feeling the blistering hurt. I didn't want to be used that way. Used any way. It wasn't fair. It wasn't right. And it wasn't like Matt at all. But I could see, could feel, the hurt in him, too. We both were injured, limping along with no desire to have help. And yet we'd found each other and that was the reason we held on. Because we'd been found. Not sought out. Found.
    And that made a world of a difference.
    "It's okay, Lizzie."
    He placed a warm hand around mine, clutching the soda can numbly, denting the metal. I let go just a bit to embrace the heat of his touch, wanting to pull back and push him away and wanting to bring him closer so that, in the end, when I face the danger I'd put off for so long, wouldn't kill me.
    Matt smiled at me. "I can wait," he whispered.
    Well, I figured, at least it wouldn't kill me alone.

 

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