I didn’t sign up for this.
I walked up to a cop this morning and told him I was missing. Maybe he could find out who I was. I said that I didn’t know where my parents were or who they were or anything. But he didn’t believe me. I glared at the acne scars on this chin and wondered if it was because I had perfect hair and pink lips and a petite, perky ass. I should have worn something more respectable, I guess. A button up instead of that cute pink sweater. Or jeans instead of my favorite pleated skirt. The one with the pink and white flower petals along the hem. It tickles when it swishes against my thighs.
Crap, anyway, he didn’t believe me and said, “Go find someone else’s time to waste, kid.”
So I slapped him. As hard as I could.
He made me get into the cruiser and asked my name. I said I didn’t remember. “Don’t bullshit me,” he said, and I just shrugged. I crossed my arms over my stomach.
It wasn’t a lie. I don’t remember my name. Usually I tell people to call me Love. Or Amora or Darla or Tanith. They all mean the same thing. Which you know, since I wrote that big long list of them down on the 15th.
Then the cop wasn’t paying attention – he was on the radio – I went all invisible, climbed out and watched him. He made this hilarious expression when he realized I was gone. His face all went red except for the little scars, which whitened. Like he had a disease. I thought about making some pretty lady fall in love him, since obviously he’d need help, but he’d been a jerk.
There was a boy at the mall today who just stood there between Claire’s and The Gap, staring over at J.C.Penny’s like he expected Jesus Christ to walk out from the Junior section. I only noticed him because nobody else seemed to. I was humming along with “Sleigh Ride,” and sipping a Dr. Pepper when I saw him, through a cluster of girls running into Claire’s. I wasn’t about to follow them, even though I wanted a new set of bangles to go with the adorable A-line skirt I’d just bought. So I paused and surveyed my options.
And of course, this boy was cute, and those girls didn’t even see him – they totally should have. Girls that age have cute-boy radar. There he stood in his loose jeans and layered tees, with some band on the top one that I’d never heard of (and never wanted to), and his sort-of-messy brown hair fell into his eyes like an emo-rock star, and all his facial features didn’t really match – like they weren’t all smooth or strong or anything, but then this wicked-sharp nose made his Frankenstein face really just work.
I stared, ok?
But nobody else did.
They wandered past and brushed against him and didn’t flash him any apologetic glances or shrug or flip him off or anything. Just like me when I’m invisible. Only – I could see him.
I dropped my Dr. Pepper in a trashcan and pushed through the crowd. I mean, he must be like me, right? But then there was a huge commotion because a lady keeled over in Penny’s, dragging a whole display of mannequins with her, and people were yelling “stand back!” and “give her air” and “is there a doctor here?” and when I turned back, the boy was gone.
It’s easier to make people fall in love than you’d think. Or harder. I never thought about it before, you know? Why would I? I mean, I was seventeen, when this happened, and I was always concerned about falling in love myself, not playing Cupid. Which doesn’t exactly show up on Career Day.
Maybe I’m just pissy because it’s almost Christmas and everybody’s in love. Or in pain, and then they’re easy to find. I go to Walmart and spin in a circle and when I stop, there’s some lady in front of me in stretchy jeans aching her heart out while she chooses a set of sheets. They have snowflakes and penguins on them, and she’s thinking how she wants to be in love so she can snuggle under ridiculous flannel with someone, and laugh about the expressions on the penguins’ faces. She isn’t why I was in Walmart, but I reach out and touch her cheek, and she can see me. She blinks, frowns, and I smile.
It must be a great smile.
She returns it, and I just sort of brush my fingers down to her lips. Like sprinkling pixie dust. She’ll wander out of here in a really good mood and the next guy she sees who’s ready for love – BAM. So, maybe it isn’t the worst possible superpower to have. And I like how random it can be.
And yeah, definitely easier than you think.
I saw the boy again! I’m not even in the same city! He has to be like me. I watched him for fifteen minutes in the parking lot of IHOP. He was lounging on a bench outside like he was waiting for a table, but it was totally not busy. He has one of those mouths that relaxes into a frown instead of something more neutral. He’ll have major wrinkles by the time he’s thirty, unless he is like me, because I’m pretty sure we don’t change. At least, we heal way fast. I cut myself opening a box from Amazon the other day and it bled for a second and then when I sucked it away, the wound was totally gone. So maybe we won’t get wrinkles either.
But he’d deserve them, if we did.
I thought about stomping through the snowy lot to confront him, but then I realized it was freezing and he was still in his stupid layering tee shirts. Just like I was only in a skirt and boots and thin sweater. He didn’t feel the cold any more than I did. It was proof. And suddenly I was just scared, ok? Sue me, or bite me or whatever. I didn’t know what to say, so I left. I don’t think he saw me.
I’m trying to understand how this works better. Find the rules. Because I don’t have a handbook, and I can’t find anything about this in any libraries or on the Internet. Can you believe it? Something not on the internet? I found information about Venus and Cupid and weird love-magic sorts of things, and references to love-at-first-sight, which I’m pretty sure must be someone like me. There’s a lot about love potions, too, going back way far. I wonder if I can make one?
Anyway. This is what it feels like:
My heart hurts. It’s like when you see somebody super cute walk past and your heart beats so fast you can’t breath, or when you’re missing somebody and there’s an empty cavity in your chest, but you know your heart’s still there because of how sharp it is. It works like that hot-cold game, only it’s this ache that’s getting worse when I’m cold and soothing when I’m hot.
I can hear what they want or are thinking, sort of. Images, and impressions, which is how I think. I don’t think in words, I think in pictures, so maybe if somebody else thinks in words and they turn into what I am, they’d hear real words.
I was feeling light-headed, like I was in the wrong place, for a few days, and the ache was pulling me north. So I hitched up toward Maine, even though it’s cold there still and it’s weird to see all the ice and not feel it.
And I was in this little town about as big a
s an ant farm, standing in a deserted square (which I didn’t know really existed) and he was right there. The boy. Looking at me.
His eyes were gray. Layers of it. You know how some clouds are just miles and miles of cloudiness up into heaven forever? Like that.
Heavy, too, as though he was waiting for it to rain. I got that feeling in my heart, like I was supposed to be there. But nobody else was around, and he was not human. No way. But how could somebody so monochromatic be Love?
He blinked, and I was free. We still stood there, and I think he frowned even more, but it might not have been possible. I wanted to get closer and run, at the same time. Panic tightened all my insides.
I opened my mouth to yell something at him. He opened his mouth simultaneously. We both stopped.
A car engine roared to life somewhere nearby, and it broke through the quiet moment and my panic flooded up to coat my heart. He turned away and then so did I.
We’re connected somehow. We have to be in the same city. I see him all the time now, in passing. I try not to stare. Actually, I try to ignore him. Even if I used to think he was cute, he is so not my type. All emo and shit.
But the ache that I have to follow sometimes makes me follow him. And when I fight it, when I spill love all over a town or something, and run on to the next, I bet his own ache makes him follow me. Because he always shows up wherever I am.
It would be dumb if there has to be a boy and girl Cupid working together in the same vicinity, don’t you think?
It’s the last week of classes at Fieldhouse High School outside Raleigh, North Carolina. I sat this afternoon in the quad watching all the students eat and wishing it would taste like apples and peanut butter and Doritos to me, instead of ashes.
I was reading my dog-eared copy of “Romeo and Juliet” and I was at the party scene, where they meet and all-of-a-sudden fall totally in love just by holding hands and having a little kiss. It had to have been caused by a Cupid, I was thinking, because Romeo had so recently been just as desperately in love with Rosalind, when a guy said, “Hey, what ya reading?”
I squinted up at him. The sun haloed his head and cast his face in darkness. “Shakespeare,” I said, hoping he’d wander off.
Instead, he dropped to sit next to me on the grass. He had on a letter jacket, which I’d always liked. “Any good?”
Oh, so he didn’t know Shakespeare? Or was playing stupid. “Well,” I closed the thin book and leaned forward. “They all die at the end.”
He smiled, and a dimple appeared on his cheek. “You’re new?”
I nodded. That was the lie, after all. I was here because somebody at this school needed to fall in love. Soon. Too bad it wasn’t this jock. I narrowed my eyes and studied him. Maybe he could be.
“Do I have something on my face?” His grin was filled with charm. Woulda worked when I was real.
“Just a big smile.” I shifted to tuck my ankles under my ass. I held out my hand. “I’m Darla.”
“Justin.” He shook my hand, slowly, with lots of eye contact. I didn’t laugh at the fake-earnestness in his expression. I listened to what he was thinking. And surprisingly, it was all me. Seeing myself through his eyes, all pale and sparkling and super-hot, made me remember where I’d seen him before – in the thoughts of Gray Boy. This was totally supposed to happen!
“Ever read Shakespeare, Justin?” I kept his hand.
“Naw, but I –”
We both looked to where a clump of guys in matching letter jackets tossed a football amongst themselves. Two were beckoning Justin to join them. He demurred, but they made obscene gestures. I laughed and said, “I’ll still be here after the game.”
Reluctantly, he went, and I watched them throw each other down, pass the ball, dash through the quad, disrupt everyone’s lunch, laugh, yell, bow to the applauding table of cheerleaders, and generally have fun. For a few moments, I almost felt like I was part of it. I scanned the crowd for a likely partner for him, a sweet girl who could maybe teach him a little about love. With my help, of course.
And then Gray Boy was next to me.
Right next to me.
I fisted my hands in my skirt and stared. “What the hell?”
He glanced at me, and for a moment he almost smiled. His eyebrows rose, and all I saw in his eyes was sympathy. The kind you want, not like pity or distaste or anything. It was nice. And comforting. I liked his Frankenstein face when he was smiling, and I had this psychotic urge to kiss him. But he ruined it by saying, “He isn’t yours, he’s mine.”
I had no idea who he was talking about for a moment, until Gray Boy stood up and walked toward the raging pick-up game. Scrambling to my feet, I hurried after. “What do you mean? It hardly matters which one of us does it!”
Gray Boy looked back at me, and there was the pity. Scorn, even. “I think those sparkly barrettes have poisoned your brain, Love.”
And then a cheerleader screamed. I heard a thud and lots of gasping and then total silence. My stomach dropped down to the grass. Justin lay next to one of the tables; his neck bent wrong, eyes closed. Nobody was touching him.
I pressed close with the crowd, and saw Gray Boy slipping through like he wasn’t even there.
Justin’s chest rose and fell rapidly. There was distant yelling, but mostly those of us surrounding him just stared. I only stared, too, as Gray Boy knelt beside Justin. Nobody said anything. Nobody but me saw him.
Gray Boy brushed his fingers against Justin’s cheek, just like I did to make someone love. But in that instant, Justin exhaled. Long and slow. Then nothing.
I heard weeping, and mutters of fear and uncertainty.
Justin was dead.
I raised my eyes to meet Gray Boy’s. He wasn’t a Cupid at all.
NOTE: This story is some preliminary brainstorming/character development for a Not-So-Secret Project Maggie and I are starting to work on together. In all our free time. 😀
image by mademoiselle ayumi