"Dude.  John.  Dude.  Come on, you're going to make me late!  Dude!"  The shrieking, prepubescent voice nails at my head like a hammer.  I shoot up only to see Alex leaning over my face, the words inking themselves across his nose.  With a natural reflex, I stick my hand over his face and shove back so hard he ricochets away and smacks into the wall.  


"Dang it!"  He spits the words and I almost feel bad.  "What's your problem?!  Just get ready!  If you're not upstairs in ten minutes we're leaving without you."  He turns away, lumbering for the door.  


I honestly didn't mean to shove him.  But there's been too many times where a roommate or other patient has woken me with intents much more sinister than standing in for an alarm clock.  Through a sleeping stupor, I manage to pull on a fresh shirt and brush my teeth.  Rubbing freezing water over my face, I purposely avoid the mirror.  I'm not looking forward to what I might find there.  I couldn't even tell you what my hair color is. They buzz it off anyway.  I also happen to be terrified to see any of my mother staring back at me in the mirror.  


Upstairs, Karen shoves a notebook, cheap mechanical pencil, and a granola bar into my hands.  She's already dressed in a navy skirt and blouse, makeup impeccable.  Thank goodness I'm not a girl.  


With a forced smile she informs me, "Write down what supplies you'll need and we can run to get them tonight.  They do know you're in incoming junior and they already took care of getting your grades transferred... You're in advanced placement English for sure.  I managed to pull that..." She trails off, her face melting into a faux smile again.  "Have a good day, John.  I'm glad this worked out."

From somewhere outside the kitchen, a horn blares.  "That would be Jenna."  Karen rolls her eyes and slings a small brown purse over her shoulder.  "You'd better head out there or she really will leave."

I'm greeted by two scowling faces in the front seats of a compact car next to the station wagon.  Alex just points for me to climb in the back.  "We're not waiting--"

Jenna holds out a finger.  "Lay off," is all she mouths, but it feels like a small victory.  It's funny how two words supporting you can feel like an army.

She rounds a few bends and drops Alex off at a middle school about five minutes away from Karen and Dave's.  As soon as he joins the other dejected lumps slumping into the dejected-looking building, she plugs her phone in, something by Jaded Ultimatum coursing through the car speakers.  I'm still in the backseat and it makes me feel even younger.  Just some kid who hasn't even earned the right to sit shotgun.  "Come up," she mouths to me through the mirror.

My eyes bug out of my head.  Did she really say that, or am I hallucinating?  It wouldn't be the first time.  Did she-- "Hey!  You!  Get up here!  Or are you scared or something?"  A sinister smirk spreads across her painted lips.  

I scurry over the dash, sinking into the ripped seat like it's made of lava.  Her eyes lock on me as her body shakes with silent laughter.  "Are you okay?  You look like you're dying."

I manage to nod.  Nodding is good.  That means yes, right?  I can't even concentrate on thinking while she's sitting here.  I could literally touch her elbow if I put my mind to it.  Here I am, with a strange girl who also can't talk, who just happens to be the most stunning creature I have ever seen in person.  It's not like she exactly has much competition, but still.

Her dark hair is piled into a messy bun, tendrils escaping on the back of her neck.  She's like vanilla, smells great but bitter to the taste.  Placed within reach, but forever running.  "Who wrote this?"  I manage to ask.  Music is one thing I get.  Maybe I won't sound like a moron.

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