Saturday 27th September 2014
The day had a bite of cold to it. It was the kind of weather that definitely required coats and long pants and maybe even a scarf. Even though spring was in full tilt and the sun was starting to burn through the middle of the day, mornings and evenings had enough chill that Bonnie was more than glad to stay inside wrapped up in a blanket.
On the first day of the two week mid-semester break, this was especially true. Her friends had all gone out to the ditch, but Bonnie had decided it wasn’t a place she particularly liked. She would much prefer to sit on her couch and read with some music playing from the speakers of her dock. This was precisely the way she wished to spend her evening; it was relaxing after the stress of exam block.
It didn’t last long.
With a slightly exasperated sigh and a shiver, she stood to answer the knock on her front door. Almost, she didn’t bother, she could just ignore it. But if it was Peter or Pippa, she should probably not just leave them out there. Reluctantly, she pulled the door in.
“Hi,” Marceline muttered.
Bonnibel could only blink at her and move aside, letting her in out of the cold. Marceline seemed startled by the offer but hesitantly stepped over the threshold, hands stuffed in her pockets. She looked… cagey, the fearful animal from earlier in the year resurfacing.
For a moment, they stood there – Bonnie watching her face, Marceline watching the floor – and it was a strained silence that filled the spaces.
“Do you want a drink?” Bonnibel eventually asked her.
Marceline tensed, shaking her head. “No,” she whispered. “Thanks.”
Bonnie nearly grabbed her elbow to lead her away, but then remembered that they weren’t friends. Instead, she nodded her head toward the living room. “Come and sit down. I have blankets.”
She looked confused by that, but shuffled after Bonnie just the same, perching awkwardly on the edge of the sofa. Bonnie made sure she left most of the cushion between them when she sat on the other end. Then she picked her book back up, offered one end of the blanket to Marceline and resumed reading.
Ignoring Marceline was the only way she could communicate what she wanted to. She would not push this. It had to start with Marceline.
Or it had to end with Marceline.
“Simon said you didn’t want to be paid for tutoring me,” Marceline finally murmured.
Bonnie closed her book, setting it down on the table beside her. “I didn’t. But he insisted.”
She shrugged. “A couple of reasons. The one I gave him was that I simply didn’t want to be compensated for something that you’re entitled to. Everyone should be given the opportunity for a decent education. I didn’t need to be paid for that.”
“Maybe.” Bonnie smiled at her, wondering where this was going.
Marceline drew a deep breath in through her teeth. “I’m sorry,” she said as she exhaled. “I was unfair to you before. I… I was wrong.” Her blue eyes finally lifted from the floor to look at Bonnie’s face, searching it for… something. “I shouldn’t have assumed anything based on what dad said.” An unspoken plea hung in the air around them.
For answer, Bonnie gathered the blanket and scooted closer, throwing it across them both and wrapping her arms around Marceline’s neck. “I guess I can forgive you,” she laughed. “You are an idiot though, right? I don’t know what you think I did, but I promise I didn’t do it.”
In a shocking first, Marceline wound her arms around Bonnie too, resting her forehead on her shoulder. A laugh shivered through her. “I know. Simon told me. I’m still not sure who to trust anymore, but I guess his story makes sense. And you’re not a liar.”
Bonnie let go, sliding back, tucking her feet underneath her. This was a very strange conversation. She really kind of hoped Marceline would tell her what was going on, but she didn’t expect it. “Gee, so glad you have at least that much faith in me,” she said wryly.
Marceline tilted her head. “You’re not going to ask… are you?”
“Pretty sure it should be obvious by this point that I make it a habit not to ask you anything,” Bonnibel replied softly. “You don’t like to talk about anything, so I don’t ask. Simple.”
The expression on Marceline’s face confused Bonnie just a little. But then she smiled and it was beautiful. “You’re such a dork.” Just as quickly as it appeared, the smile vanished, replaced by something sombre. “Can I tell you anyway?”
Bonnie bumped her shoulder. “Sure. If you want.”
Marceline nodded and took another deep breath. “My mum was sick. Dad doesn’t like to talk about it, but Marshall told me once it was an immune deficiency or something like that. She got ill easily and it was more severe, lasted longer. Sometimes it got really bad. But dad loved her so much… When she had me, her immune response didn’t pick up. I don’t know details, it’s science jargon and makes my head spin. But she just kept getting worse until three months after I was born, she passed away.
“Dad blamed me. He figured that if I’d never been born, she’d still be alive. So from then on, I’d never be good enough. I could never meet his expectations, never be smart enough, talented enough, I’d never be her. He tried so hard to hide it… but I could see it in his eyes when he looked at me. I just didn’t know what it was.
“He wanted me to be something great; something like a final dedication to mum’s memory. As if I was living my life to make up for the fact that hers was cut short. He wanted me to be a doctor, a lawyer, a politician, a business woman, someone important. And I was smart. I wanted him to be proud of me and I tried so hard to live up to what he wanted. But it was a bar I couldn’t reach. It didn’t stop him from draping all his hopes across my miniature shoulders and the burden was hard to carry around every day.”
She paused, staring vacantly at the television screen, memories playing across her face. Bonnie could feel her heart breaking for her.
“He sent me to board at a private school in Blackwater,” Marceline continued slowly. “I was so young that I didn’t have much understanding of what was going on, but I knew he sent me there to try my best. So I did. I picked up music while I was there, fell in love with it and he paid for lessons, giving in to one thing in the hopes that it would encourage me to try hard at everything. He was humouring me. I learned to play all kinds of instruments and by the time he realised it wasn’t a phase it was too late.
“My teachers declared me a prodigy. They wanted him to send me to a specialised school because my talent was being wasted. He didn’t listen and pulled me from the school half way through fifth grade, hoping to discourage the spread of my musical ‘problem’.
“I realised at this point that he could never let me be who I wanted it. I had to fit this mould he’d created for me but I didn’t want to be that person. So I picked up another coping technique: failing. By sixth grade I was competent on most string instruments handed to me, but in academia I was never better than average. Transposing skill from instrument to instrument in baffling ways I could do. Science and business didn’t interest me.
“But I was smart enough to work out exactly how to manipulate my grades to make sure that I didn’t seem too intelligent. I figured dad would lose interest in me. So I let my grades slip and fell in with some… questionable kids. Ash among them.”
Marceline shifted uncomfortably, her gaze flicking to Bonnie, probably expecting to find something judgemental in there. All Bonnie could feel was pain. What a terrible environment to be raised in. It hurt her that a father would be so pushy and demanding. It hurt that her friend was so conflicted. And they were friends. She would not be convinced otherwise.
“I stopped playing music, got my first tattoo, a piercing that I regretted and let close over. I started drinking and staying out late at night. I did some horrible things. I had a foul mouth too. I got the bare minimum needed to pass my subjects and turned into a degenerate, the kind of kid that nobody wants to talk to. That’s around the time I picked up my penchant for dark make-up and I garnered a reputation for violence. My anger was normally taken out on furniture, but sometimes a person would ask for it and end with a black eye. Even though I wasn’t a very nice person, Keila stuck with me and she will always be my best friend. She saw redemption when all I could see was darkness.
“And it worked. Dad gave up. He stopped paying for tutors that I’d just scare off with a bad attitude; he pulled me from the school and seventh grade was my first year at Reich High. He stopped caring.
“For two years I went to parties on the dark side of life and drank too much alcohol. I never did drugs,” she spat hastily as if worried Bonnie would think less of her. “God, even then I wasn’t that dumb. But passive smoking happened a lot.
“Ash was a jerk, a right dick, so I don’t know why we ever dated. But there was something in him that echoed how I felt and it was a glorious match. Like sparks to gasoline. It was a terrible decision, but it started out innocent enough. We’d prank people, participate in some mild bullying, start a few fights. But it got out of hand.
“He’s… not a nice fellow when he stops pretending to be charming. To him, I’d never be anything, good for nothing but making him food and… generally fulfilling all the roles of a typical trophy. I was his shiny bragging rights.”
Her jaw clenched and her hand fisted in the blanket. All Bonnie could do was keep listening and wonder if those were tears shining in her eyes. She rested a hand tentatively over Marceline’s fist. The fingers unwound slowly, winding between Bonnie’s and holding on tight.
“I never gave him the satisfaction of… um… you know… and it always peeved him most that I wouldn’t put out. It gave me the only modicum of control I could find and it felt good, to some degree. But when everyone puts you down, and tells you ‘no, you can’t’ you start to believe them. I was never going to amount to anything worthwhile. I was well on my way to being a deadbeat and totally disgracing my mother’s memory.
“I didn’t care about rumours by this point, and when I broke up with Ash in the parking lot of the school in his last year, I didn’t hold back. I kicked him where it counts and maybe it was my fault he broke his arm.
“When Simon got a job there, I was so happy. He’d always said he believed I could become a musician; he’s been a friend of mine since I was tiny. I used to call him my uncle because that’s what he was like. And he was so nice to me that I thought maybe I was worth something after all.
“But I was a little worried when he pushed you on me as a tutor,” she admitted. “I thought maybe he wasn’t my friend at all. Maybe he was just like my dad. So I resolved to hate your guts. I hated him and dad and myself, everyone, but mostly, I just wanted to hate you.
“With your smarts and your impeccable presentation, it was a move on Simon’s part to get me to aspire to something, to want more for myself. You were the role model he thought I needed. But really, when everyone thinks you’re so great, and the teachers love you and you’re so immaculate and pretty and goddamn perfect all the time… That’s not what you were. You were a reflection of all the things I could have been. I the things I wished I was. And so I hated you.”
Marceline stared at her, waiting for some sort of accusation, but it didn’t come. Bonnie simply squeezed her hand and smiled. That’s all she could offer. After all, Bonnie had tried to hate her too. If for different reasons.
“So… I haven’t trusted my dad in a long time,” she went on. “Because he’s always been trying to make me someone I’m not. And then you… you just accepted how I was. And you let me play music, and you listened and you were patient and I accused you of working for my dad. And I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have listened to him.” Marceline sighed.
“Alright,” Bonnie muttered.
“Alright?” Marceline asked, eyebrows shooting up. “Alright what?”
She shrugged. “You’ve had some lousy people tell you how pathetic you are, that sucks. But alright. Thank you for telling me. I do think you can be spectacular, you know that?”
Marceline barked a laugh. “Yeah, I know. And you told me how proud you were when I passed last semester. Okay. So… um… Are we good?”
Bonnibel beamed at her. “Yeah, we’re good. Can we go back to being friends now?”
“Can I give you a hug?”
“Mmm,” Marceline wavered. “That might be too – oomph.”
Bonnie ignored her. “You need a hug, don’t argue with me.”
Marceline chuckled, her hands settling tentatively on the small of Bonnie’s back. “You’re pretty pushy, you know that?”
“I am not,” Bonnibel snorted into her collar. “I’m the exact opposite of that.”
“Sometimes you are. You seem to be fairly stubborn on the topic of hugs.”
“You’re just not used to it.”
“This is true.” For such a short moment, Bonnie almost thought she’d imagined it, Marceline’s arms contracted. Then she let go. It might have been illusion, but she didn’t think so. “So… now what?”
“What do you mean?” Bonnie asked her, wriggling around beneath the blanket in an effort to find a more comfortable spot. “Now…” She looked at her watch. “It’s nearly six. I think that’s time for food. Don’t you?”
Marceline beamed at her. “Pizza and a movie?”
“Sounds delightful. What are we watching?”
“How about Aliens? We could finish the series…” Marceline suggested, sounding unsure.
“That sounds excellent.” Bonnibel crawled off the sofa to kneel in front of her DVD stand. “You can order the pizzas while I get it set up.”
That gorgeous smirk spread lazily across Marceline’s face. “You’d trust me to order your food?”
“Yes. Otherwise this whole afternoon would probably have been wasted.”
“Good point.” She paused in dialling the number to stare at Bonnie in kind of a weird way. “Hey, Bon?”
Bonnie grinned, forcing down those funny electric butterflies in her stomach. “Any time.”