Agnes Lamb is your average sixteen-year-old: bored and desperate, majoring in procrastination and a hundred percent done with her current life.
Willing to do anything it takes to simply feel again, Agnes starts to explore the workings of her inner mind - but "anything it takes" is quite the gray area, and Agnes is blissfully unaware that in her struggle for self-improvement, she might very well be destroying everything else.
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A Blooming Bromance
â€œWhy did you do that thing in the cafeteria?â€
Lee looks up from a wriggling worm, seemingly puzzled by my question. â€œHuh?â€
â€œThat thing in the cafeteria.â€ I pull a dark face and quote, â€œâ€™Sheâ€™s not Asian.â€™â€
â€œOh.â€ He flicks the worm away and stands up with a grunt. Upon discovering a large green patch on the back of his pants, Lee makes an irritated noise and wipes furiously at it. â€œI was just sticking up for you, I guess. Itâ€™s annoying to hear people call you Asian all the time.â€
â€œWhy?â€ I ask. â€œItâ€™s not an insult.â€
â€œAggie, are you trying to pick a fight with me?â€ Lee demands, eyes wide with disbelief.
â€œNo,â€ I reply tersely. â€œIâ€™m just upset you feel the need to be my speech box. I donâ€™t actually need your help all the time.â€
Leeâ€™s mouth opens and closes as he tries to find the right response. A strange emotion, appearing to be at a fragile standstill between anger and mortification, settles on his features. â€œGees, Agnes,â€ he eventually mutters, â€œtake your chill pills. I didnâ€™t mean anything by it.â€
I chew my bottom lip as the vivid anger ebbs away. After two minutes of agonizing silence, I let out a remorseful and exaggerated groan. â€œGod, Iâ€™m such a dÃck.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t have one,â€ Lee points out dryly.
â€œHere I am, trying to apologizeâ€¦ and you promptly turn into a know-it-all.â€ I shake my head in exasperation. â€œWhat am I going to do with you?â€
â€œI could say the same about you.â€ Lee stares at me, his face unreadable. He reminds me of a black wolf sometimes: coy, clever and ferocious. And then thereâ€™s the gentle side to him, the dog â€“ the playful and loyal creature who likes it when I hug him, and talk and when we walk home together. Some time from now, however, in a future I can barely imagine, Leeâ€™s going to leave. I can feel that obvious truth perched on my shoulder, heavy and all-too present, and it causes me to realize that Iâ€™m going to miss him more than anyone in the world.
â€œYouâ€™ve got that look on your face again,â€ Lee says loudly. â€œYouâ€™re thinking.â€
I gasp in mock astonishment. â€œThinking? How very shocking!â€
â€œDonâ€™t laugh,â€ he mutters. â€œIt makes me feel uncomfortable. The weird look, I mean. Itâ€™s like youâ€™re expecting me to bite the dust any moment now.â€
I shrug, unsure of what to say. â€œI donâ€™t know, could be. Maybe Iâ€™m a secret serial killer.â€
â€œMaybe,â€ Lee agrees. It seems like heâ€™s about to add something to the sentence, but his face goes a little pale and he stumbles. Just before his face plummets onto the table, Lee catches himself and draws in a deep breath. Heâ€™s blinking hard, his lashes fluttering so rapidly they barely seem to move at all.
â€œWhoa there, pal.â€ I inspect him anxiously. â€œTake it easy.â€
He rolls his eyes and sits down next to me, feet dangling just above the ground. â€œYes, Mother. As your obedient child, I will obey all commands.â€
â€œGood boy.â€ I pull my knees up and hug them tightly. The emotions are gone again, as if some switch inside me has been flipped. I feel much like a random chunk of metal, just a machine without a heart. Perhaps something really is wrong with me. At this point, Iâ€™m not sure if I can even bring myself to care anymore.
â€œYou know, Agnes,â€ Lee drawls, as if having overheard my thoughts, â€œeven in your apathy, you have a strong preference for the melodramatic.â€
â€œAgnes!â€ Mom comes flying around the corner with a wild look of enthusiasm on her face, her brown hair a tower of chaos. â€œAgnes! Oh, darling, my sweet darling, have you heard?â€
â€œHeard what?â€ I ask cautiously, dropping my backpack. Terrible scenarios spook through my head, ranging from moving someplace distant to Mitt Romney taking over the government. â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€
â€œI sold the Salinitri house!â€ she cries out, forcing me into a hug. Her arms are like heavy chains, nearly ramming me into the ground. â€œTo such a lovely couple, too! Oh, they were simply thrilled to have it!â€
â€œThatâ€™s great, Mom,â€ I say gruffly, my voice muffled. Something soft is pressed against my face. I donâ€™t want to know what. â€œThe Salinitri house was the, uh, big one, right?â€
â€œBig?â€ she shouts. â€œBig? Itâ€™s gigantic! Enormous! Humungous! And its vastnessâ€ â€“ Mom stops to push me down onto a kitchen chair â€“ â€œis only half of the charm. You should see the marble tiles, the gorgeous winding staircase - twenty-four steps altogether â€“ and oh, I nearly forgot about the unique chandelier the Salinatris left hanging in the sitting room! It forms a beautiful combination with the crÃ¨me walls, which look almost golden during the sunset. Every room has at least two large windows, too, so thereâ€™s plenty of light. And a pair of gray-blue doors lead to the backyard. It seems a bit abandoned at first sight, I know, but thereâ€™s more than enough to work with. You could put a fountain, sauna or even an entire petting zoo in there!â€ She stops to take a breath and let out a fake laugh, her eyes gleaming with purpose. I wonder how that look doesnâ€™t creep out potential buyers.
â€œMom,â€ I interject before she starts again, â€œIâ€™m not a client.â€
A familiar, disappointed expression drifts over her countenance. â€œI know, honey.â€
â€œThatâ€™s great, though,â€ I say hurriedly. â€œCongratulations! Only you could have done it.â€
Despite everything, Mother looks flattered; she tucks a wild strand of hair behind her pink ear. â€œIâ€™m glad you think so, sweetheart.â€
â€œYep, no problem.â€ I focus on the cracks in the table, running my hand along them. Mom dances away, humming some old song under her breath. Her footsteps fade away to nothing and are eventually replaced by the sound of running water. Our boiler groans loudly. Thereâ€™s the tap, tap, tap of the water, the clunking of different shampoo bottles, Momâ€™s happy humming.
I lift my head to stare out of the window. A car is chugging past slowly, its driver gripping the wheel with both hands. Two kids with whitish-blond hair are sitting in the back, their bored, tan faces sticking out of the window. Eventually they disappear from my line of sight, but I can hear the tell-tale rolling of pebbles as they park in someoneâ€™s driveway. Family visit.
A soft breeze starts to blow outside, quivering its way through lush green trees and soaring over the dead grass. Our wind chime, strung from pretty shells, peals softly in response. I remember Leeâ€™s mother, Wanda, saying it sounded like an angelâ€™s laughter. I suppose that could be true, but Iâ€™m not even sure such winged creatures exist, let alone what their giggling sounds like. I firmly believe this is reasonable thinking, but it sort of made Wanda believe I am a pessimistic demon.
The world is so quiet. Itâ€™s like I can hear everyone screaming at the same time â€“ about the pain, the hunger, the passion â€“ and yet simultaneously it is all just oppressing silence. At that thought, something tugs at my heart, but itâ€™s not as deep as emotion. Itâ€™s sheer exhaustion, perhaps tinged with boredom. I have barely left my hometown, but for some reason I feel as if I have seen and heard it all, every single detail and interesting speck of this planet. I want to save the world, I want to discover the whole universe, I want to find love, I want to feel pain. I want the impossible. I am starving for it, starving starving starving starving starving starving. Still not an emotion, still not good enough. It is not quite pain, it is not quite desire â€“ although one could propose that I desire desire, that my craving to feel is an emotion in itself. Emotionception, if you will.
I must have spent quite a while pondering on such matters, because the next thing I know, Mom is back downstairs again and talking about dinner. Lettuce, tomatoes, cheese â€“ she keeps mentioning them, but I canâ€™t quite focus. Trivial things make me yawn. A lot. Why have small talk when one can discuss about stuff our minds can barely accept? It calls for a lot of headdesking.
I pick at my hair, dry as the ends of a paint brush. I should get a haircut, but itâ€™s awfully short and thin as is; I donâ€™t want to risk looking like a bald eagle, as patriotic as that might seem to some. Gosh, the mere thought of it grosses me out.
I go upstairs without another word and sit on my bed. It creaks under my weight as my hand comes to rest on the phone. Once again I feel empty and lonely, so I do what I always do: I call Lee and listen to him talking about countries, and rivers and mountains and birds, and life and death and everything else thatâ€™s worth listening to. And I know that this is what I will always be able to do, during the hard days, the happy years and the sad hours. I will always have this.
So, what do you readers think about the story so far? Any criticism or suggestions? Do you have a favourite character - and if so, who? Drumroll
That stuff being said, thank you all so much for reading, commenting and voting - you're stars! I love you all.