Friday 2nd May 2014
Her phone beeped startlingly loud. Marceline rolled off the bed in an attempt to silence it. Her knees hit the carpet and her hand reached up, scuffling about across the top of her desk for her phone. Finally her fingers bumped into its hard case and she angrily tapped at its face to shut it up.
The device glared at her, the clock flashing in the top corner told her it was five past seven. She sighed, her alarm hadn’t gone off yet, she still had another five minutes before that. Grumbling about having her sleep cut short, she staggered upright, threw her pyjamas into a corner and pulled some clothes on, not paying much attention to it. On her way down the hall to the kitchen she swiped at her phone to read the stupid text that had woken her.
I’m in Blackwater today, it read. Be home around five. Left the car keys on the table. She blinked at it, confused, then had the presence of mind to check the sender. Ah, it was from her dad. That made sense then. She shoved the phone in her pocket and contemplated breakfast.
It didn’t feel right to be eating yet… She was five minutes early. Which, to be fair, wasn’t much, but there was absolutely no way she was going to turn up to school a minute before she had to. Nuh-uh, no way.
A moderately bright idea clubbed her over the head. If she hurried, she could go to the music store before class. Excellent plan.
Hastily, she cooked a couple of slices of toast, simple and edible while driving. Marceline stuck the bread between her teeth, locked the door and trotted over to her car, blinking in the quiet light of the morning. The neighbourhood was still, trapped in the last few moments of lingering slumber and she kept her car to a hush as well, it would be a crime to disturb the peace here. As always, she drove past Bonnibel’s place on her way into town. It was funny; she hadn’t paid that particular house any more mind than the rest of the dwellings in the area. Not until she met one of its occupants. Now it held personality, a little bit of a disapproving frown as she passed. It was silly, but she stuck her tongue out at it, resenting the imagined judgements it contained.
For just about a month now, she’d been forced to sit with Bonnibel in… they shared three classes? Yeah, and she had to sit with her in all of them. Chemistry sucked because it was chemistry and their spares were unbearable because she had no buffer, but maths… now that was a fun class. Marceline was moderately good at the subject so she paid a little less attention and instead expended her energy in bugging Finn.
At first she’d been fastidiously ignoring him and his white-knight ‘you stay away from Bonnie and don’t you dare hurt her, foul demon’ temperament. Was fastidiously the right word there? She didn’t really care. The point was she’d been ignoring him. He was almost over-protective of Bonnibel, like he thought if Marceline so much as touched her she’d explode or contract a violent and fatal disease.
Bonnie seemed to find him adorable, Marceline just wanted to slap him. Maybe he’d explode. Instead of being… well… herself (she had to contain her urge to hide his calculator), she drew things in his notebook when he wasn’t looking. Sharks, aliens sometimes, once a bear, and she’d often tease him in ways neither he nor Bonnie really understood. That was alright by her. It was amusing. And heaps more fun than just ignoring him.
In all honesty though, his weird chivalry thing got on her goat. Didn’t he know he was being ridiculous? No… She supposed he didn’t. One day she’d have to educate him.
She pulled into a space in the upper car park today, as far from the school as she could, and headed for the music store. It was just across the street from the library, one block away from the school, so it wasn’t far. Just to be sure, Marceline checked her phone. No, it was good; she still had twenty minutes before class started. Maybe she’d be just a trifle late. That would give Bonnie a heart attack (but only if she found out, and Marceline wouldn’t tell her).
For some reason, the idea that the science geek would be disappointed gave her a twang low in her stomach. A very ‘you stop being a twat and get to class right now, how dare you hurt her’ type twang. This worried her immensely. Marceline shook the feeling as hard as she could, throttling it until it withdrew from sight, cowering in a dark corner where she didn’t have to look at it.
A few students were walking down the street now, meandering towards school. Marceline ignored them and ducked into the store, the bell chiming above her head. Todd looked up from behind the counter and beamed at her.
“You’re here early, lass,” he said in his Scottish smoker’s voice. “Don’chu got school or summit this morning?”
“Yeah, Todd,” she said, tapping her watch. “I’m early, thought I’d pop in. Got anything new for me?”
He shrugged, moving around the counter. “Nah, not really. Nothin’ you’d be into anyhow. Mostly just pop stuff.”
“You know I’ll listen to anything.”
They wandered through the aisles together for a minute; Todd would pick up an album and flash her the cover to which she’d invariably shake her head. At the back of the shop, one wall was covered with instruments of all kinds. She’d always pause there, just to stare at them happily. She could never afford one, god no, and she had her own collection of worn but loved instruments at home. Her red bass guitar was irreplaceable, but she could use a new acoustic one. If only she had the funds. A beautiful specimen hung on the wall by one corner, a matching shade of crimson to the bass she already had. Wouldn’t they make a great duo?
Marceline glanced down at her watch and sighed, then headed back to the front of the shop. “I gotta go, Todd,” she said, hand on the door. “Might be back later, yeah?”
He chuckled, heading to the store room at the back. “Sure thing, lass,” he called over his shoulder. “Don’chu be skipping class or nothin’ though.”
“Course not,” she told him cheerily, opening the door. “Got a tutor now anyway. She won’t let me fail even if I try.”
She pushed the door all the way open and stepped out with one last wave to Todd. Then she froze in her tracks, her heart picking up speed and her feet absolutely itching to tear off down the sidewalk.
“Why good morning, Marceline,” said the most horrid person she’d ever known in an equally irritating croon. “Did I hear you say you have a tutor now?”
“Shut up, Ash,” she growled back at him, trying her best not to let her voice shake. “Get out of my way. I have school.”
He stepped across in front of her as she tried to weave past. Ash threw one arm out to block her; the other was in the pocket of his jeans. A sneer split his face, stupid bleached Mohawk flopping a little at the top. “Naw, come on now,” he purred. “What’s wrong? Don’t want to catch up?”
“Not really. Get out of my way.” She wanted to add a few choice epithets to that, but stopped herself. The last time she’d called him a horrible – albeit ingenious – name he’d escalated the situation rather faster than she could cope with and he’d ended up with a busted nose.
“You got a tutor now, eh? Is she cute? Can I meet her?”
“No. Back off. For real.”
“Aw… I just want to meet her.” His eyebrows cocked up and his sneer became more of a smirk. The kind of knowing, jerky smirk that she just wanted to wipe right off his face. “You can’t really think you’ll be any better off with someone in your ear can you? Seriously? You never were very smart.”
“Piss off, Ash.” She could feel her anger churning just below boiling point.
He kept leering. “Face it, babe, you’re nothing. No one. I don’t know why you even went back this year. Could just quit now. Either way waitressing is probably the best you can hope for.”
Almost Marceline was tempted to drive a knee into his gut, but then she caught sight of the two guys loitering across the street. He’d known she was here, he’d waited for her. Her teeth ground together painfully as she fought to maintain her temper.
“Get. Out. Of. My. Way,” she said darkly.
“Or what?” He threw his hands up and took half a step back as if to prove she was no threat. “You’re gonna do something amazing? Oh, I know. You’ll use your newfound intelligence to think your way out.” He chuckled at his joke. “You’ve got nothing.” Ash shifted his weight and used one hand to push her back into the side of the shop. He leaned in, elbow pinning her against the wall by the shoulder. “You’re nothing, Abadeer. Useless, worthless.”
“You didn’t used to think that,” she whispered back. “You used to follow me around like a little lost puppy.”
He laughed in her face. “That was before I realised how pathetic you are. You wouldn’t even put out. Not once. What kind of lame excuse for a girlfriend does that? Eh? You can’t pass your subjects, you can’t cook worth a damn and you won’t go all the way for anything. You’re a waste of space.”
“Then why do you talk to me still?”
Ash blinked at her, his grey eyes confused. Then a slow smile curled cruelly across his lips and he pressed them to her ear, breathing, “Because one day you’ll have nowhere to go. You won’t have a job, a home, no food and no one to crawl to but me. And I’ll be there. And I’ll remind you of everything you don’t have. But I’ll take you in, and you can pay for my kindness in the only way you can afford.” The fingers of his other hand left his pocket now and touched her hip. She shied away from the touch, trying to melt into the bricks behind her.
Her fingers balled into fists, jaw clenching again. She wanted to punch him, to break him, to leave him bleeding on the pavement. She wanted to scream in his stupid, ugly face, to see him torn and useless, writhing in pain. Marceline wanted to hurt him, in every way she knew he feared. Her rage finally hit that point and bubbled over the top.
But she didn’t hit him.
Because there was that little voice in the back of her head chanting, he’s right, he’s right, you know he’s right. And her walls of resolute confidence crumbled – her furious words and adrenaline gushing from the cracks – leaving her bereft. She closed her eyes, fists unfurling by her sides.
Still laughing, Ash stepped away, the backs of his knuckles grazing her cheek roughly, making her flinch in disgust. He crossed the street to his goons; they too were jesters, broad grins smeared all over their dumb faces. With one last glance he left her trembling on the sidewalk.
Marceline slid down the wall, sitting huddled on the filthy concrete, knees up under her chin, arms around them. She shook ferociously, but flat out refused to let herself cry. There would be no tears. None. She berated herself for a few minutes, hoping the anger would chase away the doubt, the fear, the horrible knowledge that she was exactly the deplorable wretch Ash had described.
She had never passed a class as more than a slightly below average student. Ever. Not once in her life. Those three words summed her up perfectly. Slightly below average.
That niggling self-doubt clung to her for several moments and she chased it down, swatting at it with bats and pipes made of anger and hate. Once she was sure the beast had been scared off and the shudders still wracking her body stemmed solely from wrath and odium only, she forced herself to her feet.
“Calm yourself down, Marceline,” she said slowly, taking a deep breath. You can hide the fear; you’ve been doing it for years. Don’t let him get to you. Breathe.
Unhurriedly, she made her way back to the school parking lot and collapsed into the seat of her car. Her hands kneaded the wheel, hoping to release the last of the tension in her shoulders. Figuring it would help, she turned on the radio and closed her eyes. About an hour later she decided she’d calmed down. Not completely, of course. She could try all she liked, that uncertainty, those qualms about herself would never really be banished. Never. Admittedly, they were mostly of her own making, but that didn’t mean it felt fine when people pointed them out. It was one thing being able to see her own demons, quite another thing when everyone else knew they were there.
Deciding resignedly that she couldn’t face a day of school after that, she keyed the car to life and plodded home. It took her shaking hand a lot longer than she would have liked to get her front door open and markedly more concentration than usual to not trip over something she’d left on the floor. Her heart was lead in her chest, a big ball of it, swirling and hot, molten, dragging her down. As she stumbled to her bedroom, she could feel wool rasping in her throat, the back of her eyes burning too; doubt lifted its head again and began to nibble on her pitiful supply of confidence, reducing it to something not even worth having.
Overwhelmed she sagged onto her bed, flopping face down onto the mattress, holding her pillows tight. She still refused to cry, refused for even a moment to succumb to this crappy feeling eating her from the inside out. Her body shut down, not wanting to face another moment. But despite her silent vow, when she woke, her pillows were tearstained.