“We’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time. It’s miserable and magical.”
Gasping, she shoved past the fat lady hitting her squarely on her pot belly. “Sorry, sorry, Oh, I’m so sorry,” she murmured, with no one around listening. She had to do it, run her best, her fastest. She hurtled across the bridge and galloped down the stairs, occasionally skipping two at a time, at the risk of her life. And she saw it move. “Please wait,” she cried. Phobias, it seemed came in weird specifications. And for Amelia, the thing she feared the most, irrationally even, was being late. She just couldn’t be late anywhere, college being no exception. She jumped down the last three steps, adrenaline filing her mouth instead of saliva and dashed to the compartment. She wouldn’t make it, never would. She’d have to wait another half-hour for the next train. So disastrously late.
And then, a hand propped out. Hesitations aside, she worked purely on pulse and caught the hand, jumping right in as the speeding train left the platform. She panted. “I almost thought you wouldn’t make it,” said Becs, her immaculately straight hair today tied in a bun. Amelia continued panting, as if she had lost the ability to speak. Then she peaked into the next compartment. “He’s there alright,” Becs continued ushering her to sit. The boy had earphones plugged in, and he turned his head to look at them, the slight curls of his hair bouncing. “What do you,” Amelia was still out of breath, “What do you think is his name?” “Who knows,” Becs answered, of the boy who traveled in the same train as them everyday.
Becs took out a sandwich and began munching. You’d think for someone her size she must have been eating only one meal per year, but no deal. Everything she ate, she relished and it evaporated from her body leaving her to be a perfect size zero. “You remember the pageant I was in, right?” she said in between her bites. Amelia nodded, “YES. I was there carrying your shoes, your highness.” “Remember that girl who fell-” Amelia nodded impatiently again, “Nadia – is in my class. What about her?” Becs had been Amelia’s friend since she could remember. Even though Becs was a whole year younger, that didn’t stop them from indulging in spicy gossip. “Well, apparently the shoe stunt was not a malfunction but a sabotage!” She exploded. Becs’ anxious face sought to receive some reaction from Amelia, but found none. “Oh, okay,” Amelia began looking out of the window.
“What?” This is all I get for such a blasting news?” Becs finished her sandwich. The train was getting crowded now. “Did you know this all along?”
Amelia twisted her face in a gruesome manner, “I figured nothing is an accident in a fashion industry.” In a moment of silence, as the steady wind brushed against her face, Amelia recalled something else, “OH MY GOD!” A question mark colored Becs’ face. “I’ve been selected to write for the College Magazine! I almost forgot to tell you. The first meeting’s today!”
“Whoa! Yeah?” Becs replied. “At least something’s going right for once.” And she patted Amelia’s hand fondly.
~ ~ ~
Ideally the foyer being crowded was a good sign. However, Mira was seeking comfort in the pages of a book. There was almost half an hour to the first lecture and friends were something she found difficult to find. She still couldn’t believe what Pari had done. An entire year, Mira has spent fantasizing about Samuel, and even after knowing that Pari spoke to him and requested him to meet Amelia? Who is this girl and why was Pari being so nice to her? Mira almost tore a page of her book, out of pure rage for both the girls.
When she look up she saw Jai walking in her direction. Sitting criss-crossed on the bench, she kept her book aside and waved out to him. He hardly noticed. But when he did, he squinted as if he could hardly believe it was Mira. “Hi Jai! What’s up?” Mira asked. She wasn’t close to Jai, but at least he was a gentleman at all times, a permanent giddy smile pasted to his face. “None of yer business,” he scowled back. Wait, what? Mira looked at him confused.
Realization struck her, with a dreading companion. “Luke, isn’t it?”
Luke now smiled looking very identical to his twin brother Jai.
“I thought you were in prison. That, or the mental institution.”
“People can only wish,” Luke replied, sitting next to her. Mira shifted immediately keeping a wide gap between them. “Now, now, how can you be so repelled by me?”
“Must be the smell,” she murmured.
“Jai’s not coming to college today, gone out with that stinking girl of his, Jen-dog-fur. And I saw his I.D just lying there, calling out to me. So I was like why not.” Mira rolled her eyes. As Luke relaxed against the bench, he continued, “Listen, I’ve got some news too. Number one – Terror. That’s all I know and it’s coming. Two – Nadia won’t be the last one. Three – Pari doesn’t like you much, Mira Hallow, and you can trust that Stine had no part to play in that episode. Four – Other than that day, do not trust Stine.”
“WHAT?” Mira bellowed. “Luke, what?”
Luke turned around and saw Zeke and Kat walking. “Shut up. No one can know I’m Luke.” He got up hastily, just as Mira caught him by the hand. Touching him made her puke, but she needed answers. “How do you know all of this?”
“You believe I’m a psychopath, don’t you?” He smiled madly, “Oh, then why can’t you believe I know all of this?”
Mira ran, even though simple walking was a task for her. She climbed up to the first floor, made a right turn, dashing through the corridor and stopped in front of the Information Technology room. What was she even doing here. Was she supposed to knock, would there be a class going on? She couldn’t care less and she jolted the door open. “Ashfaq! Ashfaq-Ul-Zuah! Where are you?”
“Shut the f**k up, woman,” emerged a boy with shoulder length hair. “What the f**-”
“No time for your cursing, Ashfaq, I need your help,” she replied, going to his cubicle. “I want to know everything about Luke Walker.”
Ashfaq sustained an irritated look, “He goes to a reformatory school, isn’t that f**king enough?”
Mira drew closer to him, her voice dropping to a misty whisper, “That boy knows everything that’s going on in our lives. In this college. And I need to know how, and why. Got it?”
“Aye, I’ll work on it. Don’t go all ballistic on me.” After a moment he said, “So what if he does… don’t we all know what’s happening in each one’s life?”
“What we see is only half truths and perceptions of what could have happened. Somehow he knows the real thing-” She stopped short, her watching drawing her attention. Two minutes to the bell, she had to go. “Yeah, yeah, I’m not attending class anyway,” Ashfaq said, concentrating on his computer screen. The next second he looked, Mira wasn’t there.
The wind always blew hard on the terrace classes. Having three walls that were made of glass, an aerie of hawks over their heads and sights that could deliver any person into another world, these were among the top favorite classrooms in the college. Maybe that’s why it was chosen to house the College Magazine meeting. A pretty girl with mad curly hair skated from one end of the classroom to the other in her bare socks. The boy looked at her in amusement, the urge of telling her to wear her shoes was killing him. And then, there was the other girl, short straight hair and serious features, who was scribbling away in her notepad.
“Stop it,” the boy said to the girl. “You’re giving me a headache. Can’t you stand still for a moment?”
The curly haired girl defied him by skating even more quickly.
The other girl cleared her throat, glancing at her watch, “They’ll be here any moment.”
And she couldn’t have been more right. A group of girls walked in, panting and you could blame the four floors of climbing for that. Then they stood outside the class, hesitant and scared.
“Come in, my dear children!” the boy smiled. The curly haired girl almost collapsed at his greeting and murmured, “This is why we never get enough writers.”
“I think introductions are in place…” the other girl said, sweetly. “You…” pointing to a thin girl wearing a Harry Potter t-shirt, “must be Gwen. Your application letter comprising about Hogwarts from Draco Malfoy’s POV is rather interesting.” She quickly identified each of girl by their name – “Susan, Clara, Amelia, Izzy-” Then she stopped to count, “There should be one more-”
“I’M HERE! I’M HERE! MIRA HALLOWS REACHED HERE SAFE AND SOUND!” Came a voice. “Okay, not safe and sound. Let me tell you, the P&D – are the stupidest people of earth. I asked them where is classroom 42, and they sent me to the boy’s hostel! I mean, not that I’m not thankful for getting an excuse of going there, I even saw a guy in his towel – but Mira Hallows simply doesn’t walk that much-” Then she stopped, realizing that everyone was staring at her, uncomfortably. “I’m sorry,” Mira said, smiling weirdly. “I just talk to much.” They all nodded at her quietly, and she took to sit.
“GUYS!” Another girly voice rang into the classroom. The fair maiden stormed into the room, directly speaking to the curly haired girl, “The P&D sent me to the Hostel saying you changed the venue of the meeting! I swear I’m going to kill them.”
“Yeah, you’re not the first one,” the boy could hardly contain his laughter.
“Shush, shush, Khan, we need to carry on,” the serious girl said. “I’m Terence-Alpha and I’m also the head of this editorial team.” The juniors looked at her in surprise.
“Wow, a girl named Terence…” Amelia whispered, immediately catching Mira’s eye. She looked away.
“And I’m Terence-Sha,” the curly haired girl said. “And she’s Terence-Khan,” pointing to the fair girl.
“And I’m Terence-Ric, which sounds like terrific, and I assure you I am,” the boy said. After several moments of awkward silence, Terence-Alpha continued, “Juniors, as you know, you’ve been selected to write for the College magazine that will be printed at the end of the academic year. That means, this will be a token of remembrance to everyone who reads it. What we want from you are not simply stories, but ideas and emotions that have been born from being in this college. We want you to share your experiences of the coming year in an imaginative interpretation… Is that clear?” Everyone nodded. “Once you get an idea, check it in with us and only then start working on it. We’ll always be there to help you, and you can come meet us in the foyer.” She sighed, “I think that’s it. We’ll have a brainstorming session in our next meeting. Right now, I will need your phone numbers and e-mail I.Ds… And here’s ours, Terence-Sha, write them on the board, please.”
“How are all your names Terence? Is it some necessary prefix you have to take?” Clara asked, uncertainly.
“Oh, these kids,” Terence-Ric sighed. “All of us are named Terence by our parents. It was just mere luck that we found each other, and I’m really glad to work with my Terence counterparts.”
Suddenly, a boy in yellow pajamas and a rather unkempt hair walked, saying. “Terence counterparts?” He looked disgusted. “Oh, no, no, no. You’ll haven’t done this again.” He looked at the juniors and declared, “I am the real Terence. The cool one.”
Izzy whispered dreamily, “Oh yes, you are.”
“They always play this prank on new writers. They’re all jealous of me. Their real names are Fay,” pointing to Terence-Alpha, “Ric… then that’s Abisha,” indicating the curly haired girl, “And Zoe.”
The juniors plainly nodded their heads, they dare not speak for or against their seniors. Except Mira Hallows, of course. “I reaaaaally need to get going. My mom’s waiting outside and you don’t want to make her wait. So buh-bye.” As she got up, she called, “Coming, Amelia?”
The girl looked at her in shock, why would Mira talked to her after being angry for two straight weeks. “Can I go?” she asked her seniors. Fay nodded, “See you guys at the next meeting, where you will meet some more senior writers.” And they took off.
“So you’re not angry with me?”
“I’m just beginning to understand the complexity of thingS, Stine.”
“And what is that?”
“Nothing is what it seems to be. It’s all broken and frayed and chipped and dented. But somehow they fit in together to make a bigger picture and I can’t see it.”
“What?” Amelia stopped, vexed. “I don’t understand anything that you’re saying.”
Neither do I, thought Mira. But Amelia Stine happened to be one of those puzzle pieces, and Mira would rather have her as a friend than an enemy. In which ever case, she had to keep Amelia close. “Remember my friend Pari? I think she hates me and I really don’t have anyone to hang out with… Do you, Amelia?”
Amelia’s phone buzzed. She switched her glaze from Mira to the phone, and back to Mira. She held a finger in the air, asking her to hold on and she read the text – Sorry, couldn’t wait, gone home. Immediately, Amelia began walking to the foyer, forgetting how scared she felt every second of the day, forgetting that Mira was waiting for her, forgetting the odds were almost never in her favor. She dialed the number.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hi,” she replied.
“I’m so sorry, I went home, couldn’t find you around.”
This was the third time in a row that Zeke had stood her up. Maybe that wasn’t the term to be used, but her heart crashed. She thought she could at least be friends with him, go home with but him – but no.
“Yeah, it’s alright,” she spoke into the phone. “I’ll see you tomorrow then?”
Tears dropped from her eyes as she cut the call. Zeke Matthews was sitting in the foyer with a bunch of silly girls, right in front of her eyes lying to her through his teeth. She turned around and bumped into somebody. “Careful,” he said, softly, gently. When she looked up, she could hardly believe it was Yohaan.
“Did you just bump into His Hotness, Yohaan?” Mira squeaked from behind. All that Amelia could do was smile through the tears, wondering how weird her fate was – her heart walloped in a pain, and the next moment it jumped with excitement. “Now, now, I know he’s beautiful, but there’s no need to cry…” Mira gathered her into her arms.
“Yeah, I do.” Mira didn’t understand. “Yeah, I do want to be your friend,” Amelia said again. Mira didn’t reply. This was just another move for her in this game of chess.