On the crowded, lonely bus ride, Andi couldn’t help but think about what awaited her at school, and how much of it was her mom’s fault. Mom had done it all: cheerleader, marching band, student council, UIL, and a whole host of other activities. Andi, pretty and outgoing, had followed in her footsteps, jumping into every school elective available; even if she never stayed at any school long enough to make a dent. Such was life with geologist parents. They went where research took them, and the ever-burgeoning oil business in Texas kept them moving from town to town, forever surveying new patches of land for their corporate paymasters.
But even as she bounced from town to town and school to school, Andi learned one indelible lesson: the higher you climb, the further you have to fall. And here, where they’d managed to stay for three whole years, Andi had worked her way up the ranks of every activity she engaged in.
And now that she had the stink of scandal about her, she could see the bottom was a long, long fall away.
All because she wanted to be like her mother.
She should have followed her own muse, whatever that may have been. She didn’t think she could ever have come up with something like Voidville, but playing it opened her world, and her mind, more than she’d ever thought possible. And it planted a seed in her that she clung to and nurtured as the bus ate up the city blocks on its way to school.
The seed was simple: don’t care what other people think. Benjamin and the others dressed up like it was Halloween every day and played their games in the front yard, out there before God and everybody. And they didn’t care what anyone thought. Andi remembered earlier in the month, passing by on her bike, slowing but not stopping, watching the spectacle of it all.
It made her think of her last friends, in her last town.
Little Andi had a lot of energy to burn, so her parents made regular use of a nearby park, where she could run and climb and generally be a tearaway. And her last summer in that town, she encountered a couple school friends of hers for the final time.
She’d been hoping to build up enough kids for a big game of freeze tag. She had roped in some younger boys and girls when she spied her friends sitting on a bench near a small duckpond.
“Hi!” she shouted, waving and running up to them. Jules, a blonde, and Peri, a brunette, looked up from their conversation like Andi had just asked them for spare change.
“Uh, hi,” Jules said.
“Where have you been?” Andi said, a little winded from the hard sprint. “I called your houses, like, a jillion times this month.”
“We’ve been in Dallas for a month,” Jules said, indicating Peri, “visiting her aunt.” She pronounced it ‘awnt,’ which sounded quite funny dropped in the middle of her otherwise north-Texas accent.
“My awnt’s traveled everywhere,” Peri said. “She’s so sophisticated. She smokes with a cigarette holder.”
“Cool,” Andi said. “So do you want to –”
“I can’t wait to grow up and live somewhere like Dallas,” Jules said.
“And smoke,” Peri added.
Jules nodded at her friend’s sage observation. “And smoke. Awnt Gillian looks so cool.”
“Oh, I bet,” Andi said, thinking of how much her own aunt stank whenever she smoked. “So, do you want to –”
“And we ate at some fancy restaurants,” Peri said. “Not like the dumps around here.”
“Awnt Gillian calls the places around here ‘greasy spoons,'” Jules said, sniffing. “That’s about right.”
“So, yeah, yeah,” Andi said. “Listen. I’ve got some kids ready to play freeze tag. You want to play?” She smiled at them. It was so good to have them back in town, even if they were acting a little weird.
Even weirder after Andi had spoken. They stared at her, mouths open, for a good ten seconds after she’d said her piece.
“Tag?” Jules asked.
“Play a game?” Peri asked.
“A game for little kids?” Jules finished off.
“We don’t play anymore,” Peri said. “Playing is stupid.”
“Yeah,” said Jules. “Grownups don’t play.”
“Oh,” Andi said. “Uh, well…”
“You didn’t actually think we’d play a silly little kids’ game, did you?” Jules smiled at Andi in a way she’d only seen mean teachers do before.
“Y…no, I mean no, I don’t…guess I did.”
“Then sit here,” Peri said, patting the bench beside her, “and let us tell you about our trip.”
Andi looked back across the park at where her raggedy little group of tag-players waited, but then turned away to listen to her friends talk.
She sat beside them and felt a small lump under her seat. A folded-up paper cone with pellets to feed the ducks. Andi had bought it earlier, stuck it in her back pocket, and forgotten about it.
As her friends talked and the ducks milled around their pool, Andi thought for a second if she might ask if Jules and Peri wanted to feed the ducks.
But just as quickly she filed the thought away with a flash of shame.
She didn’t want them to think she was silly.
She could see a tableau in her mind: the Voidville players romping through the front yard, while Jules and Peri glared at them from the sidewalk, radiating scorn.
Andi wondered which side of that lineup she’d stand on, if forced to choose.
It wasn’t as if she fit the stereotype of a mean girl. She was popular enough to get into teams and committees and the student council, but she didn’t engage in any of the sport-hunting of other students her peers did. She had, perhaps, been vaccinated against that particular disease in her last hometown.
But being immune doesn’t stop other people from sneezing in your face.
She wanted to talk to Benjamin right then, or Cy, or even that quiet, weird Jason kid. Even Eddie, who looked at her in a way that made her uncomfortable and self-conscious.
They’d understand what she was going through. Wouldn’t they?
The bus pulled to a halt in front of the school, its doors hissed open, and the kids started to disembark.
Andi, in one of the backmost seats, bided her time as long as she could.
Today’s Words: 1071
Total Words: 22207
Notes: The four of you who have been reading these posts will notice this one is five days late. Well spotted!
I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information or Day One to read from the beginning, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!
(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)