Monday after school, I start my first shift. I shadow Laura the entire time and leave disappointed when Vivian and her friends don't come in, let alone anyone from the private school. The next day is my only chance before waiting until my weekend shifts, so I nearly run to the diner after the bell rings.
Laura sends me on my own to a few customers.
"Hi, welcome in," I say in my brave voice as I hand the menu. "Can I get you started with anything to drink?"
As Laura teaches me how to make coffee again, I hear the door chime. Peering over my shoulder, I watch Vivian and Imogen walk in. A gasp escapes me and Laura turns as well. "What is it?" She asks.
"I know them."
"Okay, well give them some menus," she says, releasing me.
I snatch two laminated menus and hurry around the bar. My face is toned down to half of the excitement as I approach the booth. Imogen sees me coming and immediately says something to Vivian. Vivian turns my way.
"Hi, guys," I say and place down the menus.
"Wrenley? What are you doing here?" Vivian asks quickly.
"I got a job here. I'm a waitress. Do you guys come here a lot?"
Vivian peers through the blinds, out into the small parking lot before saying, "You work here now? Well, we stopped in to grab a napkin. Your nose was running, right, Imogen?"
Imogen grabs a few napkins from the metal dispenser on the table and stuffs them in her pocket.
"Sorry, we aren't staying. Eli and Elara are waiting for us," Vivian hurriedly explains. I watch as they get up. "We'll see you at school, though. Good luck with the job!"
And just like that the two girls are slipping out the door and out of my grasp. I take the two menus back and Laura says, "Are they suppose to be your friends?"
"I don't know," I murmur.
The door chimes again and I perk up, thinking that they may have come back in. Instead, a boy and girl in those Waindale Academy uniforms enter and sit at the bar together. I look over their uniforms before tending to them.
Back at home, I watch Grandma as she looks through her closet. "One moment, dear. They're in here somewhere. Oh—is this what you mean?" She holds up a pair of brown chino pants.
"Yeah, that will work fine."
"They might be a little big. Here, let me get you a belt."
I hold them up to my waist and hope that a belt works. "Thanks again, Grandma."
"I just hope they fit for your presentation. That's a fun idea you have to dress like president Kennedy. I'm sure the kids will love it."
The next morning passes slowly and the afternoon even slower. Once my teacher lets us leave for the day, instead of heading to the doors, I find a bathroom. In the stall, I change into my Grandmas chino pants and the academy shirt. The polo is too baggy, so I tie it back and slip on my mother's navy sweater over top. I leave through the back door of the school as to not grab too much attention.
When I reach the academy, I look to the ground and hold my school bag in front of my disguise. A few people pass me on my way toward the main doors; they merely glance my way if anything. As I had hoped, the inside of the school begins as a large hallway, dim and pretty much empty. I take it all in. There's a bulletin board on the wall, and I hurry to it.
Rugby game schedule. Tennis club flyer. A notice for some assembly next week. The air doesn't even smell like the shirt. What am I doing?
"I haven't seen you around before."
My heart skips a beat and I turn toward the voice. A guy in the school uniform walks up to me and eyes my disguise. He doesn't seem fooled.
"I was just looking for the game schedule," I mutter then subtly rush to the doors.
"You know you can't be here, right?" He says, following me.
Just then the smell comes back, drifting through the air as if a breeze flows through these halls. I spin around, not caring about the guy anymore. He says something swiftly under his breath before grabbing my arm.
"Hey!" I shout and look to him. "Let go of me!"
"You can't be here," he says again, this time louder. The guy forces me out the main doors and just before they close, I catch a glimpse of someone turning into the hallway. In a split second, the wooden door shuts in my face and a locking sound prods me.
A breath escapes my lips, and I face the parking lot.
"Do you ever notice weird things about the people here?" I ask my mom and Grandma as we sit down for dinner.
"What do you mean, dear?" Grandma asks.
"It's just, the private school students seem kinda rude."
My mom sighs. "Don't worry about them. They've always been like that."
"They're in their little bubbles of money and uniforms and tennis and they just can't be bothered, kid. It doesn't surprise me that they're still the same after all these years. When I went to school here, none of them talked to us public-school kids."
My brows furrow. "But I know people at my school who are friends with some of them. They just—they won't let me meet them or something."
My mom sets down her fork. "Maybe you need to find better friends, Wren."
"I agree," says Grandma. "There are much nicer kids."
"What about Tali's daughter? Are you still talking to her?"
"She's one of them," I explain.
My mom's face falls.
Before bed, I take the Waindale Academy shirt and throw it in the garbage outside. I don't want to think about them anymore—I don't want to care. They can hang out without me and play tennis and smell really good and do whatever. If Vivian and Imogen and the rest of them want to keep me as a so-called friend—but can't treat me like one—then I'm over it. At least I have my job at the diner to keep me busy now that I'm back to being alone.
This night is terrible. Sleepless, frustrating—I took melatonin, but it's stopped working. For hours I kick covers off, pull them on, switch my pillow, drink a glass of water, go to the bathroom, sweat through my pajamas, feel my stomach flip upside down. At four o'clock in the morning, I give up. Instead, I take a shower and finish homework. The sun rises through the windows as I sit at the table in the kitchen. Everything turns to a golden hue, and it entrances me enough to lure me outside. I walk out onto the porch with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, seeing the grass wet with dew. I look out at the empty lot across the street and watch the tall grass wave back and forth.
Something in the trees catches my attention. I squint between the trucks where something large seems to be. With my slippers on, I walk down the steps and to the edge of the road. The large thing becomes a dark thing and it's yellow eyes flash at me before sinking back. My chest begins to ache.
Without thinking, I run across the street and onto the lot. I push through the grass as it itches my bare legs. There's a sense of determination building inside of me, taking over my conscious. Entering the trees, I frantically look around, dirtying my slippers on the forest floor.
"Hello?" I call, unaware of what may answer. "Hello?"
The forest is still, no rustling bushes or crunching leaves. I spin slowly in a circle and scan everything or absolutely anything.
The smell. It lingers in the air. The smell from the Waindale Academy uniform. It clouds in my head and makes me turn back. I walk mindlessly through the tall grass, across the road, and into the house. As I close the front door and fall back against it, Grandma appears from the hall.
"Wrenley?" She questions. "What are you doing?"
"There's something out there, Grandma," I mumble. "Something is watching me."
She leads me into the kitchen. "Have you slept at all? You look exhausted, dear."
I shake my head. "I can't sleep."
"Again? But it was going so well."
"Something is out there. The dark thing. The dark thing is watching me."
Grandma says, "That's it. You're going back to bed."
"I have school."
"I'll explain to your mother. This is getting ridiculous. You just go back in bed and try to fall asleep, alright? I'll handle things from here."
Saturday I'm at the diner. Laura handles the tables while I deal with the bar. It's busier than it is on weekdays, which distracts me from how tired I am. I'll have a cup of coffee every few hours just to keep me on my feet. There have been a few close calls when it comes to spilling drinks or dropping plates, but somehow I've managed to keep the food off the floor.
Toward the end of my shift, as the lunch rush dies down, Vivian Smith comes through the door. My shoulders drop as does my stomach, but it's been doing that a lot lately.
"Wrenley," she says and comes to the bar.
She looks around at the few occupied tables before her eyes return to me. "I won't be long. I just came to tell you that you can't go to the academy, okay?"
My lips part. "What?"
"You just can't, okay? Just promise me you won't."
"What is this about? How do you even know I went there?"
Vivian simply watches me for a moment. "I want to tell you. I really do, but it's not my place."
"Tell me what? Why can I be around you guys only at school? Why can't I go to the academy? You know what, fine. Don't tell me your little secrets, but please just leave me alone."
"I have to get back to work."