Detention in Mr. Dillard's was hell. Dillard is a Lit teacher, and he requires a three page essay about the evils of whatever you did and how it may affect your future before he lets you go. The only other person serving Dillard's detention on the third day of school was Tom Parker, who I knew well, once upon a time in Never-Never Land. Once upon a time I really didn't like to look back on.
By the time we left detention, walking in that awkward silence that happens when you're going in the same direction as someone you really don't want to talk to, the skies had really opened up. It was pouring. And once again, I was walking home. I sighed and wished for my rain jacket.
As I pulled up my hood and pushed open the door, a quiet voice caught me.
"Do you walk home?" Aaliyah Parker - waiting for her brother, obviously - was standing by the door. A million different emotions welled up inside me. I didn't know what tone to choose. Snarky, because she'd never tried to befriend me again after she moved? Cold, to show her I was too good to want to talk to her anymore? Indifferent, to pretend it hadn't affected me when she deserted me?
She flicked her hair from her eye, same as the little girl I knew seven years ago. Same as the little girl who kept me sane for the first ten years of my life. And all my defenses were gone.
Awkwardly, I admitted, "Yes." I couldn't look her in the eye. I owed her so much.
"Do you wanna ride?" I was about to decline, when it struck me that she hadn't offered it as charity, she'd offered it as a token of friendship.
Tom bounced up, obviously happy about something, and started rattling at Aaliyah.
"I just talked to Chrissy, and she'll be out of the hospital tomorrow -" He noticed me.
"We can give Rhea a ride home, right, Tom?"
"Ssssuuuure..." He shot Aaliyah a look that clearly said "What the hell?". I suddenly felt awkward again, and blurted out, "Oh, that's okay, I can just -"
"It's fine, Rhea, it's not a problem." Aaliyah beamed at me. I looked out the door. It was still raining like hell.
We got in the car. At first the silence was awkward, but Aaliyah, true to form, got us talking about how we'd each gotten into detention that day, and by the end of the car ride we were all laughing at some stupid joke that Tom had cracked. I didn't even notice he'd driven right by my turn.
He only realised I wasn't supposed to be riding with them when we were about to turn into their neighborhood.
"Oh shit, Rhea, um, do you want to stay to supper?"
"Uhhh... sure? And, do you mind if I take some home to my mum?" I regretted it the instant I'd said it. They remembered how my mum was when we lived next door to each other, and they were bound to ask questions. It was a topic I didn't want to discuss with their family.
We pulled up to their house. Forget keeping up with the Joneses, the Parkers were the family to beat. They had a stone walkway to a formidable red set of French doors, surrounded by a vast expanse of unnaturally green lawn with perfectly manicured flower beds lined by evenly spaced towering paperbark birches. The house was of grey stone and obviously an old and respectable one.
Aaliyah caught me staring and piped up. "My mom inherited it from a favourite aunt. She hadn't any other children to leave it to."
That's right, the Parkers had always had a life straight out of a fairytale. Mr. and Mrs. Parker had fallen in love at first sight and got married nearly straight away. Mrs. Parker's family was of genteel stock and had resented her marriage to a blue collar worker, so they kicked her out and abandoned her to life on 23 Kirkland Drive with her new husband. They started out, quite literally, with nothing.
And twelve years and two perfect children later, it was rags to riches again, apparently.
I took a deep breath and stepped inside, feeling as out of place as Alice in the Red Queen's garden.
Suddenly, the sound of something expensive shattering startled us. Screaming shocked our ears to shards, and the siblings sprinted upstairs.
I was left standing alone in the foyer. Curiouser and curiouser...