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(A description of what I'm doing is here.)
23051 / 41327 words. 56% done!
There was a note on my desk when I got to Geometry that day. From Colleen, of course. She wasn't the sort of person to silently hold grudges. She was the sort to fight. To let you know, constantly, how pissed she was with you. I knew this because I had seen her get in these sorts of fights with other people before. But I'd never, ever dreamed that I would be the one on the receiving end of her sharp barbs.
The note had been folded into an origami knife. Very classy. I didn't open it. If she wanted to insult me, she could do it to my face, and I was sure she would, too. I threw the note into the trash can, still folded, wondering if Miriam had gotten a similar treatment.
Even though I hadn't read it, I may as well have, because I felt distracted and agitated the entire rest of school, like Colleen were taking real knives and constantly flinging them at my head, and I had to duck every one. Each one had a note attached to it. "Fuck you," they said, or some variation thereof. I couldn't handle this. I hadn't even gotten a handle on my confidence, yet. How could I stand up to someone with as much inherent confidence and self assurance as Colleen? Why did I have to? We were supposed to be friends. We did the stupid initial thing in elementary school and everything. Doesn't that mean anything anymore? Doesn't that have relevance?
Miriam wanted to hang out after school, and I wished like crazy I weren't grounded so I could go. The last thing I wanted to do was hang out in my room all night and dwell on all this crap we had going on between us. I couldn't even fantasize about Wake anymore, since I'd mucked that up so perfectly.
Maybe I should just go home and go to bed.
** ** **
"We're going on a trip," Mom said once I walked in the door.
"What?" I hadn't even put my stuff down yet.
"I figure since I've got you to myself this evening, you can come with me on a little errand."
"Is dad coming, too?"
"He's working late. We'll be home in time for dinner."
I tried to process the idea of going somewhere. I certainly didn't want to be holed up in my room, but I wasn't sure if a mystery trip with my mom would be that much better. Was she taking me somewhere to teach me a lesson? To sell me into slave labor? Probably not, but I had no idea at this point. I'd never been grounded before. Maybe a classic part of the grounding process is to be sold into slave labor for a day, just so you learn your lesson extra hard.
"You can change if you want, otherwise, let's get on the road!" Mom looked at me expectantly, as if I hadn't just walked in the door after suffering seven hours of mental teenage abuse. I waited a few moments for her to say, "Ha ha, just kidding!" But she didn't. So I said, "I'll be right back," and went up stairs to change clothes.
It's not like what I was wearing was particularly dirty or uncomfortable. But the time it would take me to pick out a new shirt and throw on a fresh pair of jeans would allow me to clear my head a little. Maybe focus on something other than the notes Colleen had stuck on my desk and in my locker for the remainder of the day.
I picked a t-shirt I never wore to school for fear of being found too dorky, and my favorite pair of jeans that I'd already worn three times that week. Mom wouldn't care if I was a little stinky.
I went back downstairs, taking the steps slowly, until finally arriving at the bottom. "Okay, I'm ready," I said.
"Great. Let's go!" And she marched out the door, leaving me to trail behind her.
** ** **
"Is everything okay with you, Mads?" Mom asked as we drove.
"Yeah." I sat with my legs folded up, arms clutching them to my chest, and staring out the window instead of at her. "Things are great."
"I'm only asking, because I've never known you to be the sort of girl to get a tattoo, then sneak out of the house."
I nodded. I had a feeling she'd want to talk to me about this stuff.
"Or to fight with your friends."
I jerked my head around. "How did you know about that?"
Mom pulled something out of her pocket, and I recognized it as one of Colleen's knife notes. Except this one had been opened. "I found this on the door," she said. Colleen must have managed to get to my house before I did. Or she cut class just so she could continue her tirade. I wouldn't put it past her. "Colleen had some pretty nasty things to say in here. What did you do to her?"
I dropped my head back on the seat and stared up at the car ceiling, the gloomy October day whizzing past my peripheral vision. "I didn't do anything to her. She's the one with the problem."
"How do you mean?"
"Look, mom, I know you want to help and be supportive or whatever, but I'm just not in the mood to dwell on the shit that's going on in my life right now."
"Mind watching your language there, Mads?"
"Sorry. The crap going on in my life."
We drove in silence for a while. I kept my gaze fixed on the ceiling, and after a while, closed my eyes. Mom had the windows cracked. I focused on the feeling of the crisp air blowing my hair around my face. I tried to imagine it lifting me to a new place, a place where I was the Madeline of my fantasies and I didn't have to deal with people like Wake or Colleen.
Then mom said, "Did you know I've got a tattoo myself?" Which kind of pulled me out of my reverie.
I pulled my head upright again. "What?"
She nodded. "Yeah."
"How the hell - heck - did I not know about that?"
She shrugged. "It's in kind of a...ah...private area."
"Mom! No way! You have a tattoo on your ass?" I couldn't believe it!
"Madeline, I have a tattoo on my rear end."
"Right. Sorry. Of what? Why? When did you get it?"
"Be patient. That's where I'm taking you."
That didn't really make any sense to me. How could she be taking me to when she got her tattoo? Or why she got it? Or what it was of? Unless it was of a building or something. This new information blew my mind. My mother never struck me as the type of person to have a tattoo. Not that she wasn't cool or anything like that. She was pretty tolerant of a lot of things, and generally trusted me. I had lots of friends with mothers who kept them on a really tight leash, not letting them out of the house past a certain hour, or disallowing them from dating boys until they're twenty, things like that. Still. Finding out your mom has a butt tat isn't the sort of thing you expect to hear when you come home from school miserable about life.
Another half an hour passed. I didn't ask mom any more questions, and she didn't ask me, either. Finally, when the sun had begun to set and the colors in the sky were changing from blue to orange to pink, we came to a park. It was devoid entirely of human life, save for us. A small square of rock covered ground held a small swing set, a slide, and a merry go round. Off to the side, on the grassy area, a large tree grew up, its branches shadowing the playground.
Mom unbuckled her seat belt and got out of the car. I followed her. She walked up to the tree, then began circling it, looking it up, down and around. Finally, she found what she was looking for and pointed. "There. Mads, take a look at this."
I looked. It almost seemed comical, because it was a classic symbol I'd seen in so many places in movies, in books, everywhere. Yet here it was, right in front of me: My mom's initials carved into the tree, along with another set of initials I didn't recognize, surrounded by a heart.
"You carved your initials into a tree?"
"That's what my tattoo is of."
I stared at her. "You tattooed your initials on your ass? Sorry, rear end?"
She shrugged. "I was young and in love. We thought if we got these tattoos, it would keep us together forever. Like the tattoo would have magical powers or something ridiculous like that." She laughed to herself, caressing the carving with her fingers. "Obviously it didn't, as I married your father, and thank heavens for that, because I wouldn't have had you."
"Yeah, but...why did you drive me all the way out here to see this? Why couldn't you have just told me?"
"Well, number one, I didn't particularly want to pull down my pants to show you my tattoo. But the bigger reason is this. A tattoo doesn't change you, Mads. It's just a design. Just a picture. You're the one that has to do the changing. I don't know why you felt like you needed a tattoo, but if you got it hoping it would turn you into a different person, or keep you tight with your friends or something, it won't. It's only ink."
I nodded. How is it moms always know exactly what to say to make your heart do that weird twinge thing?
"Did Colleen and Miriam get one, too? Is that what this note is about?"
I shook my head. "I'm the only one that got one."
Mom nodded. "Well, sweetie, you know I love you. It sounds like you're dealing with enough...crap...from the rest of your life. I'm lifting your grounding to just the end of the week."
"Yeah. But I want you to think about what I said. Anything you want to change about yourself, it's got to come from you. And you've got it all right in here." She poked me in the chest. "You're a good kid." She wrapped her arms around me in a tight hug.
"Thanks, mom." This time, I didn't try to choke back any tears. They squeezed themselves out on their own.
"Okay, enough of this," Mom said, pulling us apart but keeping her hands on my shoulders. "Want to see who can swing the highest?"
I grinned. "Yeah."
We let the swings carry us higher and higher until it was too dark to see anymore. Then we got in the car and drove home.
** ** **
Colleen proceeded to make my life miserable every day at school. If she was getting to Miriam too, Miriam didn't let it show. I continued to ignore the notes she left. They appeared on my desk before every class, and in my lockers between periods. Colleen folded them like knives, guns, tombstones, one time she even folded one into a scorpion. I almost felt honored that she was angry enough at me to spend so much time folding these notes. But then I remembered that she was probably just bored in class, and would have been folding paper anyway, and I went right back to feeling like crap.
"Miriam, I can't take it anymore," I confided to her before last period on Wednesday. My mental state had been so weakened by the notes that I couldn't concentrate on any of my classes, and I'm pretty sure I'd missed the homework in a few of them.
"It's ridiculous. She's acting like a child," Miriam agreed.
"Have you been reading them?"
"I read one," she said, "and then I didn't bother with the rest."
I was tempted to ask her what it said, but that would defeat the purpose of throwing them out.
"Was it hateful?" I asked instead.
Bret joined us at her locker. "Hey girls, how go the Colleen Chronicles?"
"Shitty," I lamented, letting the lockers support my weight and wishing I didn't have to get back up to walk home.
"You should get back at her," Bret suggested.
Miriam shook her head, and I followed suit.
"Why not? She's being such a bitch. I can do it. I can get some of the guys together and we can make her life a living hell."
"Bret," Miriam placed a hand on his chest, "you don't know Colleen like we do. That might work with guys, but girls are vicious. Or at least, Colleen is. It won't slow her down at all."
Bret sighed. "Fine. It's just I really want to punch her in the tit, you know? Treating you like such crap."
"I don't care if you punch her in the tit," I spoke up.
"Done. One tit punching, on behalf of the lovely Madeline." He took my hand and kneeled down, bowing. I snickered.
"Hey," he said, dropping my hand and standing back up, "Alec said he invited you to come spin poi with us, but you didn't show. I know he can be kind of quiet, but he's a really good guy, and I think you'd really like him, and I'm saying this because he's my buddy and he could really use a break, you know?"
I nodded. "Yeah, I planned on going but then I got grounded."
I pointed to my ankle and the tattoo I'd begun to loathe a little.
"Ah. Your rebellion." Bret wiggled his fingers dramatically as he said "rebellion".
"Yes, but the crazy thing is, I found out that my mom has a tattoo on her ass!"
Miriam slammed her locker shut. "What? No way!"
"Your mom? Your mom?"
"Dude, you say that like my mom's some kind of fuddy duddy or something."
"Okay, you have to tell me all about this."
So I proceeded to shove Colleen from my mind as I told Miriam and Bret about the trip to the park and my mom's tattoo.
** ** **