Getting Down with the Basics : Writing Utensils

For some time now, I have been obsessed with learning the basics, or at least about getting them right. Like a guitar player who must routinely strum and then make chords so that later they can rely on muscle memory to eventually kick in. Or as my niece says,  play without looking. It’s been six years and without a steady music teacher, I am beginning to see places where my tactics are working, and others where they have fallen short. I realize, however, that if you stick with it and do them often enough, there comes a time when it begins to feel like magic, as though your fingers are actually flying off the guitar as you move between chords: going from G to A to D. Or vice versa.

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 This is a result, like muscle memory, of something that has already become ingrained in you. This is what a writer and anyone learning a new skill aims for. Something called mastery. Effortless proficiency which is an indication that your hours of hard work has indeed paid off. And this is why so many beginner questions may seem like an affront to anyone who has already put in their hours. Or paid their dues, because the struggling writer, grappling at straws, may seem more like someone aiming to know outright, something that has taken them ages to master.

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Worry not, the answers will come.

Even to questions that at first may seem rather pesky. Questions about the very semblance of a writer’s life. Questions about routine, and schedules and writing utensils.  For me the beauty of writing has always been that all you need is a pen and pieces of paper. Yet for the beginner it becomes: Which pen? What type of paper? Or even more probing questions, like where do your ideas come from? A couple of weeks ago, I watched a youtube video where Neil Gaiman joked with an audience member that writers are awful to people who ask such questions and that such questions shouldn’t be asked of writers. In many ways I agree with him, although I am also beginning to understand the need for the question in the first place.

Remember the writer, grappling at straws, is trying to figure out just how this thing is actually done. Needing only a little bit of guidance and maybe luck. Although persistence will be the best advice in the end.

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How to learn the basics and get some handle on writing utensils? you ask. Get a good book on grammar like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Read a lot. And most definitely, write a lot. And concerning writing utensils, they tend to vary. The writer and instructor Natalie Goldberg suggests writing in a funky notebook like the ones you would get for back to school. The ones with tweety bird. I use them sometimes, but I also write on yellow legal pads (like John Grisham) and use inexpensive faber pen. Although any other brand will do. You might need to keep a stapler or binder nearby to collate everything. I like Goldberg’s suggestion because she says as writers we should try not to take ourselves too seriously, especially when what we are trying to do is be creative. So if time permits, take a read of: Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. These are two excellent books for writers at stage of their writing career. And also check out Chuck Wendig’s site: terribleminds.com. It always has lots of info for writers.

ImageUntil next week, keep reading, writing and blogging!

 

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Chapter 30: The End is Another Beginning

     Then the gong dinged.

     Brandi was no longer at the beach. Or on the shore, watching the crabs move. Instead, she was inside the beach house; viewing the projector with the Nameless One. Images flashed across the screen. Parents rushing to collect their fallen children. Trying to keep them safe.

As she stood there, she could still see Roger. Dwight leaning over the boy’s body, a hand pressed comfortingly on his arm. As if he was waiting for some motion that would never come. While Teresa’s mother nudged Brandi’s father outside the door.

A little way off, the Nameless One turned to appraise the girl. Her figure uncontrollably still, as another woman rushed through the still open door. A woman who if Brandi looked closely enough, she could almost swear, resembled her mother.

The girl blinked. Shut her eyes against the sight of undulating bodies. The sound of unruly chatter and the final stillness as the woman fell to the floor, beside Brandi’s bag. On the screen, something beeped and that sound carried her further away into the past. On another journey to uncle Ken’s hospital bed, where her mother had kept a two day vigil. Until Avery and Aunty Pam had walked in.

That had been the last time that she had seen her mother cry as she had screeched to one of the nurses that something was blocking his feeding tube. Killing him….She looked away now, feeling something well up within her throat. Feeling as though she couldn’t go on and had no reason to live, when the Nameless One walked up towards her and put an arm around her neck.

And with a voice almost as measured and controlled as uncle Ken’s she said, “This too shall pass.” The girl nodded, wiping away the stray tear, that threatened to overpower her. Dark and heavy like a flood. Sniffling, she turned her head back to the screen, forced herself to look.

At the hysterical woman who was leaning heavily against Nicholas’s arm, as though she had just received some bad news. Brandi suspected, news that concerned her own disappearance, and she bowed her head, feeling something tug at her chest. As her mother raised a hand to clamp it down over her own lips. The strands of hair that Brandi had always thought possessed a type of military precision were now flying as though, everything had been thrown to the wind. She watched her mother, hug the bag and back up into a wall, taking on the entire scene. Uncertain about what they would all call it in the end. Uncertain, about who had been brave and who would seem guilty.

She nodded towards Nicholas, thinking that he was an even better life raft than her father had been. That somehow like Roger, she knew that he would keep her mother safe. Brandi untangled herself and walked towards the screen. Stopping a few feet away, wanting to touch it, but then being unsure, afraid that like Quasi, maybe, she too would be shocked.

“Go ahead,” the Nameless One said, her voice gentle. Knowing that the girl would soon have to face her own demons and do what was necessary, for them to round up the two fugitives. As Brandi leaned forward as if considering her loss of power. The pendant glittering in Dwight’s pocket, in that other place that now seemed like something beyond.

“Everything you need is right here,” the woman said, pressing a hand to her chest. “Inside of you.”

Brandi paused as if considering the journey that she had just taken, the boy she had loved and then lost. Biting down on her bottom lip, she thought about how Roger had told her that some people could not be saved. And she remembered her uncle. Grandma Rose and Roger. He was right, she thought with a jerky movement as she looked around the room. Nicholas would see to her mother and like she’d done with Teresa, she would do whatever it was that was necessary to take care of her father. She made a step towards the Nameless One and held out her hand, “What would you have me do?”

THE END

Tune in On Monday 19th May, 2014 for the last chapter

Tune in on Monday 19th, May 2014 for the upload of the final chapter of The Way of the Seer, after which (later in the week, say Wednesday and Friday) I will present two articles on novel writing. One will be a sort of wrap up of my experience of uploading chapters and rewriting the novel over the time period that I was posting, and the next will be about naming things/names (be it character names/novel names/place names). So until next week, have a restful Sunday and a very productive week.

Chapter 29: The Thing About Reality

Her friend had tried to warn her. But there was no scathing predicament. No tumultuous outcome that could have prepared her for this. Nothing that the Nameless One hadn’t told her about half a dozen times before. To become a Seer. There are rules. Rules you must follow.

Brandi heard those last few words now and everything passed through her. Even the image of the man at the door. She shook her head. Sad that her mistake had come at such a high price. And so instead of going to the man, she rushed over to Roger, because this price was too steep. Something she couldn’t pay. Wouldn’t.

The man followed her with his head as if waiting for her to say something. Do something, as she picked up the boy’s body and brought it closer to her chest. Even as she wiped away the tears that were trying to force themselves out through her closed lids. She put her lips to her arm, trying to strangle an already muffled cry. As she kissed Roger, hoping to bring him back to life.

“It’s going to be okay,” she said, rocking him as though he were a baby. Then, her eyes went to Teresa. If it wasn’t for Teresa, she was almost certain, everything would be alright. Her eyes opened. Closed. Opened. She tilted her head down, focusing on the silver charm bracelet and bit her bottom lip. Tasted, the metallic tinge that she suspected was blood. And needing to be vindicated. She swore. The way she had heard Teresa do it over the phone, that first time, when they had been discussing Roger.

“Like a vine that grows in the deep, dark forest, may you be turned into something that no one can fix.” She held up a hand, dropping the boy as Teresa raised her head. Stricken, her eyes darting around the room, as she looked for some way to explain her actions. Brandi took a step forward. Continued. “May you forever suffer like you’ve made me suffer. May you see the world through another’s eyes.”

Teresa lifted her hands in the air. “This isn’t what it looks like.” The girl let go of the spray can. “My mother…”

Brandi raised a hand to her lips as though she had already heard too much when Stephanie rushed into the room. Her eyes focusing on the fallen boy.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid youth,” she said, her eyes going towards Brandi, who appeared too dazed to even see her.

But even as the young woman stopped to look at the brazen girl, another type of transformation had already begun as Teresa fell to the ground and groaned. It sounded as if she had been cursed.

Bringing her hands to her lips, Brandi watched the girl grow. Like vines, her hands reached out to touch the pendant, and when they connected, there was a spark. The hand drew back. Brandi smiled at the aborted attack and licked her lips as her friend’s bracelet dropped from her wrist. At her side, Stephanie changed shape, transforming into an older version of Teresa. Brandi watched her sudden appearance and realized for a second that her face seemed familiar. She took a deep breath, her mind finally making the link between this woman and the person in her parent’s wedding photograph.

Brandi felt something in her gut shift. Wrench free. As the woman took a step towards the man purporting to be her father. Like a reunited couple, they joined hands. Clasped wrists.

There would be no saving herself, she thought, watching Quasimodo assume her un-natural shape. Near the door, Lucien appeared and Brandi steeled herself as he took a step towards Roger, knelt, and placed a ball within his closed fist.

Doggedly, she gazed at them. Her face consumed with rage. It took a few minutes, but eventually she stilled herself. Yanking off the pendant, she threw it at the messenger, telling him that she had had enough of his games. When he removed the red baseball cap, everything within her shifted as she realized that she was staring into the face of Dwight. The boy she had once told that he was connected to Roger.

She looked at him glumly as if sad for the way things had turned out. While he pocketed the pendant and buried his face in his hands.

It was then that the other man, her father, stepped forward. Touching her arm as Brandi sniffled, his hands reaching around to embrace her neck. “In the end, I’m glad you did what you did,” he said, kissing her cheek. His face solemn.

She looked at him, perplexed as he too appeared more familiar. Younger. She let go of him, moving backwards to put some space between them. As she caught sight of something forming on his wrist. A string of rosary beads and a familiar pendant.

“Did you cause this?” she asked, her eyes going briefly to the other woman. The broken window. The dying fire and then at Roger.

He shook his head, touching her chest. “No. You were the one who wanted to come here.” He nodded. “The one who thought that having a mysterious object would make you great.”

She stiffened, realizing that it had all been a mistake. Because he had never been who she had wanted him to be. A mirage. She shook her head. Part of her imagination. She looked at Dwight comforting his fallen son. Roger. The boy who had tried to save her. How her mother and Nicholas had also been trying to make her do the right thing. To see beyond everything that was there. She bit her lips, knowing that she would miss them. But there was no other way. No other choice.

“You’re wrong,” she said, going over to her bag and unzipping it. She removed the document she had signed earlier that morning and waved it in the air, as if it were a peace treaty. Cease fire. Or truce. “Unlike you, I choose to forget. To move past my fantasies and step into the future.”

And she closed her eyes and imagined herself back on the beach. Certain that she would have to pay for what she had done to Teresa but almost sure that her mother at least would be safe.

Chapter 28: Putting Up a Fight

At first nothing happened, and then Brandi looked across at Teresa, wondering if the girl had some sort of protection spell, because, somehow her ex-friend always seemed to know what to do. Where she was going. Brandi glanced down. Noticing for the first time, the open bottle of water beside Teresa’s desk, and the soil, strewn haphazardly across the floor.

No, it can’t be, she thought, holding her head. She gazed through the open window and felt breeze. A shiver ran down her spine as a flash of recognition flit across Teresa’s face. There was something in her eyes. Brandi peered closer, hearing a rugged breath. The girl was up to something, she was almost certain, as the overhead light fluttered briefly and then died. Brandi kicked her school bag, up, bringing it closer to her chest, as the hissing sound paused and then she saw a flash of light and then smelt smoke.

Her eyes travelled around the room, until she caught sight of the metal receptacle and made the connection with the flames. Near the door, she could think of no way out without first getting past Teresa. She extended an arm, reaching out to capture her, but there was nothing there. Only air, smoke and shadow. She grunted aloud, her fist connecting with the wall, before she took a few deep breaths and tried to think. She thought of Roger. Tried to focus.

Then she picked up the sound of the chant beginning again.

“Darkest of night and brightest of day, help me to see with sight beyond sight.” She stiffened, trying to get a reading on Teresa’s location when a hand clapped down over her mouth. She eased her elbow back with a sharp force and heard a deep grunt, forgetting the slightly musky fragrance of the sea and the overbearing force of the chant.

“Roger. Is that you?” she asked, the bent figure.

He straightened, holding his stomach. “No. It’s your evil twin.” He motioned towards the door, turning back to her seeming cross. “Remind me never to try any covert moves when we’re dating.”

Her face slackened into a smile, before he turned her to see Teresa. Once again, standing in front of the door, the girl had her arms stretched out like a martyr, as the flames lapped around them, seeming to engulf the room.

Their classmates screamed. The teacher barked inaudible orders. And Roger yanked her arm. “Follow me.”

And then, something exploded.

The windows shattered, and she yelled for them to get down. Already forgetting about the explosion when she brought her hands to her lips, wiped and saw blood. Beside her, Roger sat up dazedly, and pulled back her hair. “I’m going to get you out of this.” He promised, his lips brushing against her cheek as he pulled her closer.

Silently, she nodded, leaning into him, knowing that they would also have to tend to the others.  Little by little, as the smoke began to clear, she could make out some of the injured students who were lying on the floor. Looking into a few faces, she saw their confusion. Fright. Remembered what it had felt like when she had been trapped in the diner and was trying to escape. How Nicholas had been the one to tell her what to do. When to move.

Beside the door, she saw the height of the flames growing taller and somehow she knew that if they waited any longer her friend’s power would become too great. She squeezed Roger hand. Stood up. This time, she told herself, she would not cower. She would not run.

By her side, Roger got to his feet, as she pointed to the desks, that were barring them from going through the windows. Roger looked at her, following her gaze. Prepared to move towards the back. “Okay,” he said, nodding at her. “This time, we’ll do it your way.” Brandi smiled, watching him go as she turned towards the door to go after her old friend. Trying her best to figure out what was going on inside her head, when she looked up through the narrow opening and caught sight of another figure, who was only a few feet shy of the door.

The small fire had spread beyond the front desk and she gave Roger a thumbs up signal, indicating that she was ready to move. He motioned to a few boys, got them to help move the injured students off to the side before they tackled the windows.

Brandi touched the pendant for luck. Breathing life back into it, as the room began to spin. She swallowed down the doubt that was rising in her throat, as Teresa took one giant step towards her. Now or never, she thought, thinking about her mother. Now or never.

Teresa dropped the book of spells. Closing her fists, she went for Brandi, swinging furiously until she ducked. Teresa grunted, stooping forward and shoving her into one of the desks. Brandi screamed, feeling a sharp pain where the edge collide with her hip. Then she groaned, staggered backwards. Her eyes never leaving Teresa’s. There was an almost satisfied smile on her lips and for a few seconds Brandi tried to catch her breath as Teresa lunged forward.

Brandi stood there waiting for it. Dropping her head a few inches, so that she could deliver her own crushing blow, as she head butted Teresa into a wall. Blood ran down her chin and Brandi felt the heat in the room rising.

“Get them out of here now!” she shouted at Roger, no longer sure that she could contain the other girl’s fury.

A few heads turned their way and someone jeered.

As Teresa reached for the can of hairspray. Brandi kicked it away under the desk, trying to placate her with a joke. She touched her own hair playfully, holding her other hand up as if it were a mirror and shook her head. “Honestly if I had known that you needed to be hooked up, I would have taken you somewhere. I mean, my mother knows somebody, who knows somebody…”

Teresa growled, her eyes turning towards Roger before she dove under the desk. Brandi looked across at the almost empty room, and let out a sigh, wondering why she still felt afraid, when there was nothing for her to be afraid of.

She heard the sound of a chain. Or something being pulled and her eyes went to the door again. “Is there someone out there?” she asked, as Teresa’s head rose from beneath the desk. Brandi frowned, concerned about the girl’s somewhat ashen pallor, as the hiss of flames began again.

Brandi fell to her knees, coughing. Closing her eyes against the acrid scent as Roger turned back to get her. Instinctively, she brought a hand up. Told him to stop, but he only shook his head, waited as Teresa raised her palm and jingled the charms on her wrist.

Roger gave her friend a disdainful look, pointing towards the door. “You’re not supposed to be here.” Teresa straightened up as if somehow knowing what she was supposed to do, her hand reaching out for the canister as she spoke a few words. Aiming directly for his chest.

Unaware, Brandi turned back, confused. “What about Teresa?”

His eyes flared open as he shrieked, catapulting himself into the girl. Brandi watched the exchange, holding her breath. Clawing at the pendant, she wondered why she couldn’t see anything. As Roger shook his head, uttering his final words, “Some of us cannot be saved.”

Brandi staggered backward, her fingers cutting through the glass, as another image appeared. Her body aching to get back to Roger as he crumpled to the floor.

Teresa looked down elated, opening the door, where an old man with a stick, had appeared, dressed all in black. His image seemed to mock Brandi as he extended a hand for her to shake.

“They tell me you’re my daughter.”

Chapter 27: Making a Wish!

The ceiling fan cluttered to a stop and someone in the back let out an exasperated sigh. Listening to them, Brandi picked up a book and began to fan herself, as other heads dropped onto desks with a loud clank. She rubbed her shoulders, suddenly feeling sticky and in need of water as she looked around the packed room. The air was almost stifling and she turned back towards the windows, wondering why nobody had gotten up to open them wider. Insanely jealous of the flowers and trees as they blew, she dropped a sheet of paper onto the desk and waited for it to take flight.

It didn’t and so she berated herself for leaving her water bottle on the counter that morning, before she had headed out. If her mother had been there, she reasoned, she would have remembered. She looked at the door again, this time distracted by the sound of feet as someone moved in the opposite direction. Going towards the gym.

She opened the book wider and flicked her wrist the way she had seen some Asian women at the market do it whenever the summer’s heat was getting to them. Up. Down. Left. Right. Not that she had a paper fan. Or knew anything about the art of fanning. But she was willing to try anything. At least once.

Sweat dripped from her brow. Collecting in pools at the base of her neck as she hung her head, suddenly remembering the 2003 blackout her mother had experienced while in New York. How her mother had said that it had been dreadful and her abuela had sworn that she had been made to climb more than ten flights of stairs. Thank goodness they had moved into a respectable brownstone after that. She shook her head, recalling her amusement at her grandmother’s plea. Now though, pulling at her collar, she could almost feel what it would have been like, as the humidity increased, and she felt as though she was being cooked.

The clock on the wall read 4:45. She could leave in fifteen minutes, if Mr. Perkins stuck to the rules and they managed to appease him. She looked down at her words on the page. They seemed more like something her mother would have termed chicken scratch. She pulled out a few strands of her hair which seemed to be going grey and then creased her brow, trying to figure out what was going on. Almost instinctively, she turned and gazed at Teresa who seemed unusually silent. And still.

“What’s up, four eyes?” Her old friend threw her an unwarranted scowl, and Brandi blinked, thinking at first that her friend had misspoken. Then she smiled, pretending that it was some kind of a joke. Jest. Rubbing her palms together, she relived their getting to know you sessions at summer caps when they had both agreed that life was better with a partner, because both their parents were single women. Back then, Brandi had almost relented wanting to divulge her mother’s sporadic dates, when Teresa revealed her mother’s propensity for bad dates. But she had kept quiet, knowing that her mother would never find anyone serious. Not until Nicholas. She held her breath, and gritted her teeth, remembering that the revelation about the glasses had come some time after mentioning uncle Ken’s illness and their plans to leave the state.

Not that Brandi hadn’t wanted a fresh start. In fact, she had been extremely curious about her father’s family and finding the family’s crest among her mother’s things, she had scoured the city’s many libraries in search of something that would reveal more. Agreed even to forgoing the summer film and music festivals in Bryant Park, which she usually went to with Jason. And his friends. Their numerous library tours also partially because she had developed an insatiable crush that her abuela had said would pass.

But she couldn’t pinpoint what was happening with Roger. Even though she felt as though they were both going the extra mile. No matter what, wasn’t she the one who was supposed to make sure that everyone else was safe?

Instead, she felt humiliated. Because the people here didn’t give her a chance to open up. Or to prove herself. And she was fed up of trying, like she had done at the party. Only to be left waiting. Stranded. And then having to deal with her mother and Nicholas. And their constant need for reflection. As if she could learn something from looking back. She slammed a hand into her head, thinking how Roger’s father had been too afraid to tell her father that he was leaving. She looked up at the door, thinking that she was stronger. That she could never do that. That all she had ever wanted was closure.

“Slow and steady wins the race,” Mr. Perkins said, looking down at her. Frowning at the lope-sided scribbles that barely resembled letters. Numbers. She felt a slight twitch on the corners of her lips and looked up as his ruler cracked on the side of her desk. He wiggled a finger. “You haven’t done much?” He looked at her, as if issuing a challenge.

And Brandi stood. Wanting him to be more specific about her errors.

He pushed her shoulders down. Made her sit up straight. “This is bad form. Who taught you penmanship?”

Brandi massaged her fingers, her mind going to her father again. She was almost certain that he was nothing like this burly beast, who questioned her skills and made wise-cracks about her form. She had attended a prep school in New York which may not have been lively or daring as this one. But at least, there she had people she could call her friends. People she could rely on. She passed a hand over her jeans and tried again. Doing her best to make straight strokes and round curves, the way her mother had taught her. Not that she had listened then. No, she had been too busy impersonating her grandmother’s doctor to notice that legibility counted for something.

And yet, the world wasn’t going anywhere. Even if she performed this one task. Silently, she grabbed hold of the pendant, hoping to whisk her teacher away. Whispering something that seemed like magic: Bring my father, home.

Chapter 26: Can you be my hero, baby?

Then the door opened and closed, sucking them in.

“Everyone, quiet down!” Mr. Perkins yelled, throwing the blackboard’s duster into the  bin; before turning to appraise the room full of delinquent students. From the door, Brandi’s eyes followed his as Roger pulled the attendance sheet and filled in their names. The P.E. teacher was a massive, six foot two jock whom she had surmised, over the years, had probably let himself go. His belly was a plump mass that seemed to stick out. And his head was almost as bald as Homer Simpson’s, although she had stopped watching the weekend cartoon after they had moved from New York. But watching her teacher now, she couldn’t help but wonder about the ill-fated attraction between the gym teacher and Mrs. Jenkins. Something the older students had insisted was legit. Even though they avoided each other in the hallway and seldom shared lunch.

Mr. Perkins grabbed the roster, as Brandi clung nervously to Roger’s arm, and then took a few giant steps towards them.

Looking at them, his eyes appeared vacant. But Brandi suspected that behind the closed doors of the staffroom, the lives of the pupils were eagerly discussed. After all, it was human nature to discuss things that were unfamiliar. Truant.

With a sweaty palm, Mr. Perkins batted a few strands of hair down. Cursing himself, for having such shitty luck. Two years earlier, in fact, his ex-wife had taken the dog, a German Alsatian, the jeep, a red jeep grand Cherokee, and his favourite chair. And this morning, he had promised his current girlfriend, Mrs. Jenkins, that he would gladly take over her block of after-school jokers, so that she could have a restful night. Evening. He scratched his head as if he was a man afflicted with psoriasis and was trying to get rid of flakes. This was the punishment he got for avoiding their thirteenth date.

He looked down at the list and then back at the two students who had just walked in. There was Roger Barnes, sports hero, if he continued playing as he had in the last six months. College jock-to-be. Maybe even an athletics scholarship. He nodded approvingly, because the kid had quite an arm and had impressed him during tryouts. He squared his jaw, taking in the interlocking fingers, his eyes on the girl. Brandi Daniels. The thorn in his girlfriend’s side. He shook his head, remembering Cindy, his ex-wife. Past supermodel. Cheerleader. Unlike her though, this girl was vile, probably even had no future.

He searched the room, trying to find two seats. Two. Separate. Seats. As his fingers dug into his pants, in search of a cigarette, although he wasn’t supposed to smoke on the premises. Maybe later, he could grab a coffee. He exhaled. A long debilitating sigh. The one that his ex-wife had said probably meant that he needed to cut back, on his two most important vices. He almost nodded, when his fingers grasped nothing, and he realized that they were probably hidden in another pair of pants, he might have dropped into the wash.

He thumped the boy on the back, thinking he probably also deserved a warning. “I’d be careful with that one, if I were you.” He rubbed his brow. “It’s never good to trouble trouble.”

Roger gave him a suspicious look, arching his eyebrows as the other students snickered. The boy watched Brandi and then glanced back at the teacher. “Thanks, but I think I’ll live.” Self-consciously, he gave the girl’s hand a reassuring squeeze.

But she covered her face with her bag, trying to avoid speculative stares. She darted towards the seat in the back that the teacher had pointed out.

Roger stood there, feeling as her hands left his; watching as some of the other boys gave them catcalls. Some staring almost maliciously at him. While Mr. Perkins dropped the roster back onto the desk and waited for them to resume their silence. He shrugged and trudged on. Knowing that this was part of the plan. Part of what he was supposed to do.

In her seat, Brandi looked at the paper with her penance grudgingly. She would never have expected Mrs. Jenkins to pull something like this, but then again, she didn’t really know her. Like a bullet train, the words jumped off the page and collided with her.

“I will not tell lies,” they said. “Even if everyone is against me and my life depends on it.” Brandi groaned, turning it over. Her eyes glancing up and searching for Roger’s. What was Mrs. Jenkins playing at? She breathed into her hands, feeling the tinge of truth or foreboding locked in the words, draining on her strength.

But Roger wasn’t looking at her.

Instead, he had started to scribble out his own text. And her face went down to her desk as she tried to figure out, what sort of a tortured existence Mrs. Jenkins thought she lived. Her eyes going outside to the lawn, where she spotted yellow daisies and poinsettias.

She inhaled, closing her eyes, retracing her steps until she was back at the beach, encountering the Nameless One for the first time. The beach had seemed so serene. That she almost wished that she could remain there forever. But it wasn’t possible. So she shook her head, wiping away the memory. Her mind settling instead on her father. Wishing that they could be together, even if it was only for a short while.

She embraced herself. Trying to communicate to him just how empty her life had been. Without him. How sad she was feeling now. Even though, a part of her knew that she still had Roger.

And in the front of the room, he coughed. Bringing her back to the present. Just as the door opened and in strolled Teresa. At his desk, Mr. Perkins consulted his list twice, before agreeing to let her stay; and she took the only other empty seat, next to Brandi.

Roger got up, hurried to the front desk as if to excuse himself. Indicating towards the restroom, as though he was a three year old, who was about to burst. Brandi watched the exchange with rapt attention as he headed closer to the door. Then a soft whistle blew and he was allowed to exit.

Brandi sat there, wishing that he would tell her that everything was going to be alright. That she would be safe. But he didn’t even bat an eye in her direction. Or blink. So there was no warning about what would happen next.

No, instead, he just zipped up his jacket and waltzed through the door, as if he was too busy preparing to end one chapter of his life, and so that another would begin.