• “…In the end, there are lovers, there are friends, there are liars who pretend; cheat you if they can, seems to be their master plan, to leave you with an empty hand….”

    Jade, or Maria Jade Stone to be exact, sat down at her desk and tried to ignore the burning, itching sensation that seemed to crawl over the surface of her skin. That was to be expected, she’d been told. But they didn’t tell me how annoying it would be! She thought to herself. Still, it’ll be worth it. Tonight…I hope. She tossed her long brown hair over her shoulder in an attempt to get it out of her eyes. Once she could see, she looked about the room she was in with disdain. It was a schoolroom, with rows of desks neatly lined up like soldiers on duty, the teacher’s desk acting as the superior officer. The little parts of the walls that could be seen had been painted a pale yellow so many years ago that they had faded to white. The rest of the walls were covered with brightly colored posters, chalkboards, stickers, and the walls furthest away from the front of the room were coated with the written conversations of classes long past. Jade had gotten to class early in her eagerness to be out of her house, so the rest of the desks around her were empty. Even the teacher, Mrs. Rhodes, hadn’t gotten there yet. She was probably out late last night, drinking or something. The fact that Mrs. Rhodes wasn’t much more than a kid herself hadn’t remained a secret for long after she’d started teaching. Whatever. I may as well catch up on my sleep while I’m here. With that thought, Jade pushed the books on her desk to the floor, put her head down and closed her eyes. Her sleep was interrupted not five minutes later by an insistent voice in her ear.
    “Jade! Jade, wake up. The second bell’s just rung, class is starting.”
    Jade’s best friend, Brian Marsh, flopped down into the seat beside her just as she opened her eyes.
    “Uhhhh. Brian, couldn’t you have waited another minute or so? Mrs. Rhodes isn’t even here!” And I couldn’t even feel my skin when I was asleep. Uh oh. I forgot that people would make it worse when they were close to me. As soon as Jade had this thought, her skin began to feel like it was about to give off sparks and burst into flame. She stifled a moan as Brian leaned closer to whisper in her ear.
    “But that’s just it! She’s not going to be here. I know that for a fact, and we are going to give the sub hell.” He grabbed her hand to yank her to her feet, but dropped it quickly as Jade glared at him.
    “Whoa. Ice-eyes is at it again. I’d better be careful!” He grinned annoyingly, recognizing her frustration at the nickname. Brian had dubbed her “Ice-eyes” when they first became friends. It was a reference to her frosty blue eye color, and to the fact that her glare shot daggers at the receiver. Either way, we’re in high school now. You’d think he would give up a pre-K nickname.
    “Ugh. Brian, go annoy someone else please, I can’t take it this morning. I had a bad night. “
    “Parents, huh?” Brian stood as he asked the question, complying with her request.
    “Uh, yeah.” That and the fact that I was out…learning. Jade looked up to realize that Brian had disappeared. And good riddance too. But still, that’s the good thing about Brian. He can fit in anywhere. Me, on the other hand…. She let her thought trail off rather than reach its conclusion. Just because she didn’t fit in anywhere didn’t mean she had to acknowledge it. Hopefully I’ll fit in somewhere, soon. Tonight, even. And her stomach churned in anticipation.
    Finally, I made it out of class. It was her last class of the day, and she had taken the opportunity to escape to the bathroom. Although it had the feeling of a prison, with whitewashed walls, steel gray stalls and no windows, it was better than sitting and listening to her teacher drone on about some useless subject. Jade sighed as she looked in the bathroom mirror. Her reflection mimicked her as she scrutinized her face. I’m certainly not a model. Jade had long, wavy, brown hair with a few red-blonde highlights, but those only appeared in the sun. Her cheekbones sat high on her face, and her nose was just a little too small for the rest of her features. She had thin eyebrows, and thin lips, the bottom lip being slightly fuller than the top. Her skin was olive colored, almost tan, and smooth. Her eyes, which flickered back and forth across her face, were frost blue and slightly red around the edges from no sleep the night before. Rimmed by long black lashes, they had a slanted, cat-like shape. My best feature, she decided.

    The loud ring of a bell interrupted her examination. School’s out, school’s out, school’s out! She grabbed her pile of books from the floor and raced out the door into a throng of chatting teenagers, all excited for the end of the day. Going with the flow of the crowd, she burst out of the double doors in the front of the school, blinking in the afternoon sunlight. Impatient, she weaved through clusters of kids to the school parking lot. Thank God I got my license six months ago. Tonight would be so much harder if I had to hitch a ride. Her car was an old grey Volvo, rusted in places but functional nonetheless. It was a gift from her dad, step-dad really, though he’d been married to her mother since Jade was one, and was one of her most treasured possessions. She grabbed her keys out of her pocket and unlocked the door hurriedly, eager to be on her way. She threw her books in the back after she climbed in, disregarding the mess that was the back seats. I’ll deal with it later. And it doesn’t matter that I’ve been thinking that for the last two weeks. Shaking her head, she pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road. The traffic seemed to wind along at a snail’s pace, and Jade’s frustration heightened. She barely noticed the trees lining the street, or the tall brick houses with their carefully groomed window boxes that seemed to curve over the road like spectators at an event. Jade drummed her fingernails on the steering wheel as she craned her head forward, looking for a break in the cars. My nails are nice and long now. That’s a relief. She winced, remembering her years of compulsive nail biting. Just as she thought she might go mad from impatience, the cars shifted and she was able to turn quickly onto a side street leading out of town. Slowly, the buildings made way for trees; with patches of flowering, unkempt fields scattered here and there along the edge of the road. Sometimes the limbs would part, allowing bits of a winding river to show through on the left side, and houses on the right. Gravel driveways crept away from the paved road, slinking back to hide amongst the overgrown bushes that stood sentry in front of most houses. It was onto one of these drives that Jade turned, the rocks crunching under her tires as she moved farther away from the road into the woods. A little blue bungalow jumped out of its hiding place behind the foliage as she reached the end of the drive. Home. Finally. The drive ended in a small clearing, with the house hugged close to the trees on one side, a garden in the front and a small stone fire pit in the back, almost hidden by the stacks of chopped wood that surrounded it. Other than these things, the yard was bare, and it appeared as though the forest was trying to reclaim what had been lost to the clearing. Saplings gripped the earth in many places around the yard, their roots an iron hold in the soil.
    Jade parked the car and hopped out, not bothering to lock the doors. No other cars. Hmmm. Must mean that Mom and Dad aren’t home yet. Works for me! The clearing was eerily quiet without the hum of the engine, the birdsong a thin noise that did nothing to stave of the quiet rustling of the undergrowth. She trotted up the stone steps on the side of the house, unlocked the windowless door and stepped inside. The room she entered into was a mudroom, with shoes, coats, hats, gloves, scarves and other such outdoor items scattered here and there in disarray. After adding her flip-flops to the mess, Jade picked her way carefully across the floor to the other side of the room, where a screen door rested halfway open. It creaked softly as she walked through, protesting the twisting of its hinges. She went faster now that she was fully inside, passing through the kitchen into a hallway, and then springing up the carpeted stairs.