Month: August 2017

6.18: Relief

Finally, a moment to breathe!

I know I haven’t written in a while, but things have been totally nuts at work lately. Kelly’s still on maternity leave (only a week left to go though, thank God!) so Simon’s still running things up in Falkenburg. Which means Victoria’s holding the reigns down here, and I’m bouncing back and forth between the two trying to keep from going crazy.

Today’s my first full day off in almost two weeks… So of course Hope had an important meeting to go to this morning. Just our luck, huh?

She should be back in about an hour though, and I don’t expect Tante Joce or Harper to be back until later…

Yeah, we’ll definitely be taking advantage of having the house to ourselves for once.

Until then though, it’s almost eerie around here. So quiet and empty. It’s not very often that I’m the only person in the whole house. There used to be a time back when I was living on my own when I liked the peace and quiet. It was nice. Peaceful. Kind of a welcome change from how things used to be when I was a kid.

It’s still crazy to think of how different things used to be around here back when I was growing up. The house felt so… alive back then. Four of us kids, three of my grandparents, and Tante Joce… Not to mention the other friends and family members who visited all the time. There was always someone to talk to, or something to do. It felt like our house was always packed with people. And I always thought it was the best thing in the world.

I guess part of me has always felt guilty that my Harper never got to know what that was like. It’s always been me, her, Hope, and Tante Joce… And that’s pretty much it. So many of my older relatives have passed away by now. And the others are too busy with their own families or live too far away to visit very often. It’s just a lot more lonely around here than it used to be. And I used to worry that meant my little girl was missing out on something.

Maybe not though. I don’t think she minds it nearly as much as I thought she would. She’s never complained about it to us, at least. Harper’s never really been one for big crowds of people anyway. A few good friends has been all she needs to be happy.

But over the past year or so, it’s started feeling like she doesn’t even have that anymore. She’s been hanging out with her usual group of friends less and less… I can’t even remember the last time we had any of them over for dinner. Or the last time Harper asked to go to Sophie or Thad or Nyla’s house. She’s started spending more and more time in her room.

Hope and I were really starting to get worried, for a while. But every time we asked, Harper would just tell us everything was fine. And I guess we didn’t really have much of a choice but to believe her. I mean, it’s not like we could force her to go out and try to make new friends or find something to do. So we kinda resigned ourselves to our daughter turning into a hermit. (Okay, it’s easy to joke about it now, but I swear to God it really wasn’t funny at the time).

Anyway, the point of that massive tangent is that Hope and I had really gotten used to having our baby girl home with us all the time.

But these days, it’s like we barely see her anymore. The house feels more deserted than ever before.

And honestly, we couldn’t be happier.

Harper’s finally found some new friends! And for the past month or so, they’ve been practically inseparable. They hang out together almost every day, and it’s been the best thing for our little girl. She’s smiling more. She’s happier. Even her grades have been getting better!

Rylie and Devin are their names, and it sounds like they’re pretty amazing friends, from what Harper’s told us. They’ve been helping her out with school, they have a lot of interests in common… It’s just such a relief for us. We’d been waiting and waiting for Harper to get out of this funk of hers, and it looks like these new friends were exactly what she needed to do it.

God, I just wish they hadn’t talked her into messing with her hair! It looks so… Well… Let’s just say Hope and I weren’t too happy when we first saw it. We managed to keep our cool though, and we didn’t give her a hard time about it (I wish I’d been able to keep a better poker face though).

But hey, if some questionable hair is the price we have to pay for our baby girl to be happy, it’s one we’re definitely willing to pay… Even if we’re still not too crazy about it.

Tante Joce didn’t seem like much of a fan either, of course… But Tante Clara loved it. We’ve been seeing a lot of her ever since Onkel Florian passed away last summer. She and Tante Joce hang out together practically every day now. And when Harper came home with her new hair, Tante Clara couldn’t stop raving about it.

Y’know, I always remember admiring Tante Clara’s hair back when I was a kid. I was so obsessed with comic books and Batman back then, and with her purple hair and nose ring and tattoos… Well, I used to almost imagine her as some kind of kick-ass super villain or something. I thought she was so cool!

It makes me think of that character Harper used to write about. Her little vigilante. Could that be what she’s trying to do with this weird hair thing? (That silver does remind me a bit of Storm from X-Men…). I just don’t really know what to think of it. I mean, Tante Clara’s always been so… ‘cool’. Edgy? It’s hard to put it into words. But having that crazy hair and all those tattoos has always really suited her.

But what about Harper? She’s such a sweet girl. Quiet. Shy… I don’t know. I guess there’s a part of me that’s worried she’s trying to be something she’s not, you know?

That’s pretty much the one thing we’re not sure about with these friends of hers. It’s not just the hair thing. She’s been dressing kind of differently ever since she started hanging out with them too. And she’s told us they have tattoos! How long before she wants one too?

I’m probably overreacting, but I just don’t want her to feel like she has to change herself to fit in with her new friends or something.

Tante Joce says me and Hope are worrying too much, of course. And Tante Clara put it a lot more bluntly — “Calm the fuck down and let her do what she wants,” if I recall correctly (Tante Joce got a pretty good laugh out of that one!).

And I guess she’s right. Hope and I actually talked about it a little this morning before she left for her meeting. Why should we care how Harper’s dressing or wearing her hair these days? It’s not like she’s skipping school or doing drugs or anything crazy like that.

Sure, her new friends may not be the best influences in the fashion department… But seeing Harper’s smile (and report card!) more than makes up for that.

As long as my baby girl doesn’t end up covered in tattoos or thrown in jail, I think we’ll be okay.

——————————————————-

Hey, guys!

Back from my mini-hiatus with bad-ish news (sorry!)

As I think most of you know, I’m a teacher. And the school year is about to begin! 

While I get back into the swing of things, I’ll be cutting back to two chapters a week (on Wednesdays and Saturdays… no Sunday chapters for a while!)

My hope is to go back to the usual three a week once I’ve gotten settled in with the new school year, but I’m not quite sure when that will be. As always, I’ll keep you guys updated! Thank you for reading ❤

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6.17: Interlude – High

Hey guys! Just a quick heads up that after this chapter, I am going on a brief, one week break until next Wednesday (the 30th)

This time, the reason is for 100% practical purposes — I simply was too busy between my best friend’s wedding and having an awesome, in-person visit with Julyvee, Trip, ra3rei, and JoieWilder (it was so fun!!!!) that I haven’t been able to write anything for the past week and a half… meaning I am out of chapters! 😮

So I’m taking a bit of a break so I can get a few chapters ahead again before I start publishing them. I promise to return next week!

And now without further ado… today’s chapter 🙂 

———————————

Harper reached up for a moment, running her fingers through the new choppy layers of her hair. She stared at herself in the mirror for what felt like the hundredth time and marveled at how light and different her hair felt now. The slight dampness from the drizzle they’d caught themselves in had finally dried away, and her hair was back to looking like it had after Rylie finished styling it earlier.

“Jeez, will you stop messing with it?” Rylie cried, half annoyed and half amused. “You hate it, don’t you? You can tell me if you do, y’know.”

Harper shook her head. “I don’t hate it.” She replied seriously. “I love it! It’s just so different… I’m still getting used to it. But you did an amazing job.” She assured her friend.

It was everything Harper had hoped for. It was cute and edgy and fun and still managed to hide her hearing aid. And though she’d initially been unsure of Rylie’s plans to dye her hair as well, she was thrilled with the results.

“Thanks.” Rylie smiled for a moment. “But stop messing with it or you’ll fuck it up!” She added with a laugh.

“Yeah, stop worrying about it so much.” Devin stepped closer to the two girls as he spoke. “I know it’s different, but… You look hot!”

A pleasant warmth came to Harper’s cheeks at his words. “Oh my God, shut up!” She giggled almost nervously. Did he seriously just call her hot?

“Dev’s right,” Rylie agreed. “You totally do!

The warmth in her cheeks grew more intense at Rylie’s words, and there was a slight tickling of butterflies in her stomach. They’re just being nice. Harper told herself, willing the feeling away.

“Alright, enough stroking my ego.” She laughed brightly, pulling away from the mirror at last. “Let’s go.”

Her friends nodded in agreement. “Yeah, this place is WAY too fancy for me.” Devin glanced around the clothing store for a moment before leading the way toward the door and back into the mall.

Though the store they’d just left was pretty deserted, the mall itself was much too busy for Harper’s liking. There was just too much noise. Babies screaming, kids giggling, and a seemingly endless stream of chatter from the other shoppers. It definitely wasn’t her first choice for a place to hang out, but until the rain passed and they could go outside again, they were pretty low on options.

She hung back a bit while Rylie and Devin walked ahead, chatting animatedly with one another. It was impossible for her to hear anything they said, but she didn’t mind. Sometimes it was nice to let the dull buzz drown everything out, and spend some time with her own thoughts. Harper hadn’t been doing that nearly as much for the past several weeks, ever since she started hanging out with Rylie and Devin. Not that she minded, of course. But part of her had started to miss it a little.

Harper spent the next few minutes mentally writing part of her next chapter, until she followed her friends into yet another store and the buzz of the mall shoppers died away at last. She shifted her attention back to her friends as they started looking around at some of the knick-knacks and electronics that filled the shelves.

It was an interesting little store that seemed to have everything from electronics to boxes of old records to collectors figurines and posters. It was definitely more up their alley than that fancy clothing boutique had been.

“Hey Dev, look at this weird action figure thing… He kinda looks like you!” Rylie teased playfully, pointing to one of the ugly alien figurines as they passed.

“Ha! Bitch…” Devin shook his head, but smiled. His eyes continued scanning the shelves as they moved onward. “Hey, isn’t this that crappy horror movie you said your Oma’s obsessed with?” He asked, turning to Harper as he spoke. Devin was pointing toward a collectors edition blu-ray of the entire Moonlight Massacre series.

She nodded, smiling. “Yeah, she loves it. So did her husband… And her brother too.”

It was always interesting talking about her grandfathers… both her biological one and her adopted one. She didn’t really feel anything when she thought about them. Or her biological grandmother either, for that matter. Mark, Lucas, Hazel… They were just names to her. Old pictures and stories shared with her by family members. But a small part of her would always wish they could be more.

“Anyway, maybe I’ll tell Papa about it.” She continued at last, shrugging. “Might be a good idea for a Christmas gift.”

“Hey, look!” Rylie’s voice called out to them before Devin had a chance to reply. She beckoned the others over to her. “Aren’t you like, obsessed with these guys, Harper?” Her voice was almost teasing.

When her eyes fell on what her friend was pointing at, it was all Harper could do not to squeal out loud. It was the new 12 Minutes to Jupiter album! One of those fancy deluxe editions you could only find in certain stores… She’d been waiting for this for months!

“No way! I didn’t think it came out til next week.” Her eyes widened. “Either I’m a week off or the store made a mistake or something…”

“Well either way, looks like there’s only one left.” Rylie smiled. “Guess it’s got your name on it!”

Harper’s face fell immediately at her friend’s words. God damn it. “Yeah… Just one problem.” She sighed softly. “I don’t have any money with me.” She’d spent the bit of cash she’d borrowed from her parents to buy lunch a little while ago. None of them had intended for this to turn into an actual shopping trip. Just something to do to get out of the rain for a while. “Shit… I’m guessing neither of you guys have any extra cash I could borrow?”

Both of her friends shook their heads, just as she’d feared. “I literally have like three coins in my pocket.” Rylie replied.

“Yeah, and I spent all my money on food.” Devin said sadly. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Harper shrugged slightly, trying to hide her disappointment. “I’ll get it later, I guess. Or download it on iTunes or something.” But it won’t be the special edition… Fuck. I should have brought more money!

None of them spoke for a few moments as Rylie and Devin exchanged an odd, knowing glance.

“Sure. You could do that…” Rylie smirked slightly as she finally broke the silence. “Or…” She looked at Harper almost expectantly.

The other girl furrowed her brow in confusion. “Or what?”

“Well, nobody’s looking.” Rylie gave her friend a small wink. “Just sayin’.”

Harper realized immediately what she was implying. “Oh my God, no way!” Her eyes went wide. “You’re crazy!”

“Aw, come on.” Devin finally chimed in, smiling. “It’s really not a big deal… We’ve both done it before.”

“I dunno…”

“Don’t pussy out on us!” Rylie teased. “Just do it… Dev’s right. It’s not a big deal.”

Harper continued to hesitate. It wasn’t right to take something without paying, was it? I mean… that’s STEALING, isn’t it? She asked herself. But Harper knew it was a silly question. Of course it was stealing.

But the more important question was, did it matter?

It’s not like it would hurt anybody to take it, would it? All the employees at the store would still get paid. The greedy corporate big-wigs would still make their millions. And she was sure the band could afford to miss out on one album sale.

Who’d miss a silly little CD anyway?

Harper took a quick glance up and down the aisle. There were no employees or other customers in sight.

She reached out, took the CD into one of her small hands, and quickly tucked it into her jacket. “Let’s go.” She muttered to the others as she headed for the exit.

She tried her best to walk quickly, but not too quickly. Not enough to raise suspicion. Her heart beat violently in her chest with each step she took toward the doors. Just play it cool. You’re almost there…

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP

Harper nearly jumped as the store’s alarm sounded. Fuck… I bet there’s a security tag inside! 

Much too late, she realized she should have just kept walking… But she’d already paused in the store’s doorway. And her friends had no choice but to follow suit. Rylie and Devin’s expressions stiffened slightly, but she saw them trying their best to keep their cool. She tried to follow their lead as one of the employees approached, smiling.

“Sorry!” Harper fought to keep her voice as steady and natural as possible. “I think it’s my hearing aid… It sets these things off sometimes.” She explained apologetically, briefly pushing back the hair above her left ear to flash the bright purple device.

The next two seconds felt like an eternity as she waited for the man to respond.

“Oh, that’s fine.” He replied at last, smiling warmly at her. “I understand. Have a good day!”

“Thanks!” Harper’s own lips stretched into a bright smile. “You too!”

A second round of beeping filled the air as the trio crossed the threshold once more. But this time, they continued walking. And Harper relished in the rush of adrenaline coursing through her veins as she and her friends made their escape.

It was thrilling and exciting. It made her feel so…brave. Powerful. Like nobody could stop her.

Like she could do anything!

Her high did not fade for the rest of the afternoon.

6.16: Fearless

If you’d ever told me that being assigned a boring History project would end up making me the happiest I’ve felt in years, I’d probably think you were crazy or on drugs or something. But, well… the past few weeks have definitely proved me wrong.

I’ve known Rylie and Devin since I was seven years old. They’ve been in my class for almost as long as I can remember… But I was always too afraid to really talk to them. It’s hard to explain… It’s just this vibe they give off. Not exactly a bad one, I guess. Not like Katie and her friends have.

They’re just… fearless. They don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. They never have, I don’t think. And no matter how much I ended up admiring them for it, I was always so intimidated by it too… Maybe I still am, a little.

But it’s so different now. We’ve actually hung out together, and gotten to know each other. We’re… friends.

I know it’s only been a few weeks, but if things keep going the way they have, I honestly think they could end up being the best friends I’ve ever had (except maybe Nyla… But that ship sailed a long time ago).

They just… get me. Better than anyone else ever has.

I never realized how much we have in common before. Their parents are so much like mine… They keep trying to force them to be something they’re not. And Rylie and Devin are just as sick of it as I am. I’ve never really been able to vent about mom and Papa before. I never had anyone who could understand, until now.

That’s not the only thing we talk about, of course. We spend our time together doing more than just bitching about our parents (or Katie, even). I feel like we can talk about… Well, anything, really. That’s what we spend most of our time doing. Usually we go out and just kinda wander around the city.

Sometimes Devin brings some paint and we’ll watch him do some graffiti in the old alleyways downtown. He’s really talented, actually. His artwork is just so beautiful. It’s like, hypnotizing to watch him work (I try really hard not to stare… but I really can’t help it sometimes!).

I just love sitting there with Rylie and watching Devin create a new masterpiece. See, whenever she’s really focused on something, Rylie usually starts singing to herself under her breath. I don’t even think she realizes she does it. And God, she gets so pissed when we point it out! But she has the most beautiful voice you’ve ever heard. I could listen to her sing all day.

Jesus, I sound like some kind of crazy fangirl, don’t I? They’re both just so amazing. They’re nice and funny and smart and talented… And I never even realized it. I don’t think anyone does. They see their clothes and hair and tattoos and just assume. The same way they do with me and my stupid hearing aid.

That’s part of why I wear my hair so long and straight and boring these days. I don’t want my hearing aid to be the first thing people notice about me, so I try to keep it covered. If I was braver though, I’d love to have something short and edgy and cool like Rylie’s hair. Something that feels more… me.

I was kinda bitching about it to her the other day, and she promised she’d help me try to “do something with it” this weekend. Devin teased me about it, of course… Said I’m crazy to let Rylie anywhere near my hair with a pair of scissors. But I trust her. And I’m really excited too. I guess it almost feels like an ‘initiation’ or something, in a weird way. They both laughed their asses off when I said that.

“Nah,” Devin told me. “The real initiation’s when you get your first ink.” Then he told me his cousin could hook me up with something if I really wanna go there…

It was tempting, but I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. And my parents definitely wouldn’t be. A haircut’s one thing. But a tattoo? I’ve already heard the horror stories about how Rylie and Devin’s parents reacted to theirs.

I’m still getting them used to the idea of me having new friends anyway. I’m getting there though. Devin’s a master BS artist, so we managed a pretty decent grade on that History project. Mom and Papa were so excited. It definitely earned him and Rylie a few points. My parents haven’t been asking nearly as many questions when I go hang out with them now, ever since Mr. Asche graded our project.

My parents still haven’t met either of them though. Papa keeps trying to invite them over for dinner, and I’m starting to run out of excuses. It’s just so easy to picture my parents freaking out or something. I dunno. It’s like I said — people see Rylie and Devin and just assume all this shit about them. And I’d hate for mom and Papa to do it too.

So yeah… me coming home with a tattoo probably wouldn’t help things much.

Anyway, I’m totally rambling now. I wanna wrap this up and get started on another chapter of my story. I’ve really been on a roll with it lately. Rylie bugged me until I let her look at a couple chapters, and she says I should try getting it published or something. Devin even said he’d do the cover art for me. Ha!

I know they’re totally exaggerating about how good it is… But this is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been talking about.

We support each other. We have fun together. We understand each other. And I feel like I’m learning so much from them.

It’s like I said — they just don’t give a damn about what anyone thinks of them. They do whatever they want. They’re cool. They’re confident. They’re fearless.

And you know what?

When the three of us are together, I feel fearless too.

6.15: Interlude – Partners (Part Two)

“Hey, mom?” Harper poked her head uncertainly into the study as she spoke.

As she’d predicted, she found her mother working at her computer. Hope normally worked from home on Thursdays, and today was no exception.

“What’s up, Pumpkin?” Hope smiled as her daughter entered the room.

Harper had to resist the urge to roll her eyes. She’d given up asking her mom to stop calling her that years ago. It was no use.

“I’m going out for a couple hours.” She said at last. “Just didn’t want you to freak and wonder where I went or something.”

“Out?” Hope asked curiously. “Where?”

“Uh, just down to the library… I’m meeting Rylie and Devin there.” Harper replied. “They’re in my group for a history project.” Technically nothing she’d told her mother was a lie, right?

Her mother furrowed her brow for a moment. “Rylie and Devin? Do I know them?”

Harper shook her head. “They’re cool though.” She assured her. “So… I’m okay to go?”

“Hmm… I don’t see why not. Especially if it’s for a project.” Hope smiled. “Want me to give you a ride?”

“No! No, it’s fine. It’s not too far to walk.” The thought of being dropped off by her mother was beyond mortifying. “Th-thanks though.” She added hurriedly.

The older woman shrugged. “Okay, if you’re sure, sweetie.” She smiled. “You’ll be back for dinner though?”

“Hmm… Depends.” Harper smirked playfully at her mother. “What are you making?”

She knew her father was working the closing shift that night, which meant her mother would be the one cooking dinner. And, unfortunately, there were very few meals Hope made that came even close to what Zayne could do.

“I was thinking spaghetti.”

Harper’s eyes lit up. “With your grandpa’s meatball recipe?”

Hope nodded. “And your Oma said something about maybe treating us to some ice cream afterwards… We’ll make it a girls’ night?”

“Alright, I’m sold.” Harper laughed brightly. There was no way she could turn down ice cream. “I’ll make sure I’m back by 7:00.”

“Have fun, Pumpkin. Text me when you get there, okay?”

She rolled her eyes, but kept her smile. “I will… Bye, mom.”

“Love you! Good luck on the project.”

————————————–

When Harper arrived at the library, Rylie and Devin were already there waiting for her. She felt a slight flurry of butterflies in her stomach at the sight of them, though she couldn’t understand why. Harper did her best to will the feeling away as she sent a quick text to her mother and drew closer.

“You made it!” Devin called happily. “We were worrying you’d bail on us.”

Dev was afraid you’d bail.” Rylie corrected him. “But I knew you’d show up.”

“Too bad you didn’t bet money on it.” Harper teased.

“Ha! Maybe next time.” Rylie flashed her a smile, then glanced over at Devin for a moment. “So now that the gang’s all here… Where to?”

Devin shrugged his broad shoulders. “How the hell should I know?”

“Pfft… Fucking useless.” She laughed, punching his arm playfully.

Harper could not help but watch in awe for a few moments at how comfortable the two of them were together. It had been a long time since she’d felt that close with anyone. The thought made her strangely sad… and jealous too.

“So… I’ve gotta ask.” She began uncertainly, finally breaking the silence. “If we aren’t gonna work on the project, why even meet at the library in the first place? Like, of all places, you guys had to pick here?” Harper let out small chuckle.

Devin nodded. “Duh. Of course we did.”

“Um… Care to explain why?”

“Alright, let me ask you something…” He replied slowly. “Where did you tell your parents you were going?”

“The library.” Harper replied with a shrug.

“And who did you say you were going with?” Rylie chimed in, smiling.

Harper suddenly had a feeling she knew where this was going. “My partners for the history project…”

“So are they gonna be freaking out and worrying and wondering what you’re up to?” Rylie beamed at her.

“Nope.” Harper almost laughed at the absurd genius of it all. “And I didn’t technically lie either…”

Exactly!” Devin chuckled heartily. “Perfect, right?”

The girl shook her head in amazement. “More like genius.”

Rylie took a little bow. “At last, someone understands my true genius!” She cried in a silly, over-dramatic voice.

Harper giggled, only now realizing that they’d already left the library behind them. She’d been so caught up in their conversation that she hardly noticed that they’d begun wandering down the street.

“If only your parents understood.” Devin turned toward his friend. “Maybe they’d finally lay off…”

“God, I wish!”

Harper’s eyes widened slightly. “Your parents too?” She asked, her surprise apparent on her face. She had been secretly wondering how Rylie and Devin had ended up in such an academic program. Maybe it was for the same reason she had.

“Yup, unfortunately.” Rylie sighed. “And Devin’s too.”

He nodded. “I’ve always scored really high on all those stupid tests they give us.” He admitted. “I keep trying to tell my parents that knowing shit and liking school are two totally different things. But thy’re convinced I’m ‘hiding my true potential'”. Devin rolled his eyes. “They’ve been trying to shove uni down my throat since I was like, twelve.”

Rylie patted his shoulder sympathetically for a moment. “And my older sister’s some kind of fucking prodigy.” She explained, turning her attention back to Harper. “So my parents are convinced they can turn me into one too. Ugh. They’re so goddamn annoying…” She shook her head. “Your parents just as bad?”

Definitely.” Harper nodded. “And they’re total hypocrites too! Neither of them ever went to uni.. And my Oma’s told me my Papa hated school.” She paused for a moment. It felt a bit strange to be opening up to two people she barely even knew… But they were just so easy to talk to. It was nice finally being able to share her frustrations with someone who could relate. “I guess they just want me to do better than they did or something? I dunno.” She shrugged. “They’re always pushing me to do everything. I hate it.”

“Welcome to the club.” Rylie laughed softly. “Sorry you gotta put up with their shit though. I had no idea… I guess I never realized you were stuck in the same boat as us.”

“Me neither.” Devin agreed. “No offense or anything, but you’re kinda hard to read. I mean, I guess it kinda took a while to figure out what your deal is.”

She rolled her eyes. “Let me guess, I was basically just the poor deaf girl, huh?”

Devin shook his head. “Nope. Your family’s loaded and you’ve got a hearing aid.”

“So you’re the rich, half-deaf girl.” Rylie gave her a small wink as she finished her friend’s thought.

Harper could could not help but laugh. She supposed, coming from someone else, it might have sounded offensive. But not from them. Instead, she felt almost giddy to be part of their playful teasing.

“So… what’s that like, by the way?” Devin asked as Harper’s laughter finally began to die away. “I was always kinda curious.”

“What’s what like?”

“Not being able to hear right.” He explained. “I mean… you seem to be doing okay right now?”

“Wow.” Rylie rolled her eyes at him. “That’s not rude at all.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm. She paused for a moment before turning back toward Harper. “But, uh… I’ve… kinda been wondering too.” She admitted almost guiltily.

Once again, Harper found herself laughing. And, once again, she was not offended by their questions. In fact, she appreciated them. She could not remember anyone ever actually asking what her hearing loss was like. They always just assumed.

“It’s fine, I don’t mind talking about it.” She replied at last. “And you’re right, I am fine right now. Well, mostly fine… As long as there isn’t a lot of background noise I’m usually okay. Being able to see the person’s face helps too.”

“So can you like, read lips or something?” Rylie asked curiously.

Harper shrugged. “Kind of? I do it a little, I guess. But I’m not very good at it. Mostly it’s just easier to focus if I can see the person.”

Devin smiled slightly. “Cool. Doesn’t sound like it’s so bad then.”

“It’s not, most of the time… And I guess it’s kinda nice to be able to turn my ears off when I don’t wanna pay attention.” She smirked playfully at the pair of them.

A bright burst of laughter passed Rylie’s lips. “Where can I get one of those off switches?” She asked through her giggles. “Sign me up!’

Harper beamed at the pair of them as they continued on down the street. They had no clear direction in mind — they just spent the next two hours wandering around downtown, laughing together and sharing stories. It was amazing how familiar and at-ease it felt to be with them.

For so long, she’d watched Rylie and Devin from afar, torn between admiration and fear. But not anymore.

Instead, she felt… Well, Harper couldn’t quite think of the right word for it.

It made her think back to what she’d written in her journal, about drifting alone out at sea. She was still drifting along in her little rowboat, of course. She still had no idea where she was going or what she was doing… And maybe she never would.

But for the first time ever, it felt like she wasn’t drifting alone.

6.14: Interlude – Partners (Part One)

The warm afternoon sun spilled in through the window, washing Harper’s face in a pleasant, warm glow. It was a comforting feeling. A relaxing one too. For a few moments, she felt so tempted to put her head down on her desk and take a nap.

She couldn’t of course. Not without getting caught. And even if she could, Harper knew she shouldn’t.

She was barely a month into school and her grades were already suffering in several of her classes. Her parents had recently brought up the dreaded subject of tutoring as an option if things didn’t start improving. It was a bullet Harper had dodged before, and she intended to do it again.

So she fought the urge to turn off her hearing aid or take a nap. Instead, she did her best to listen, much as she didn’t want to. But even with her hearing aid still on, that proved to be a challenge. Mr. Asche liked to mumble when he talked, and often walked all around the room during his lectures. Harper found that she usually missed about half of what a person was saying if she wasn’t facing them when they spoke. And teachers were no exception.

Ugh! See? THIS is why it’s a huge waste of time. Harper sighed to herself as her teacher’s indistinct words reached her ears. She had no idea what he was saying. I couldn’t even understand him if I WANTED to! Why the heck should I even bother trying?

The harsh scraping of chair legs against the linoleum floor was loud enough to break through her train of thought. She almost jumped at the sound as she looked around at her fellow classmates, who seemed to be walking around the room.

Harper rose to her feet as well, and noticed that most of the other students seemed to be arranging themselves in trios and talking quietly to one another. Guess we’re supposed to be in groups of three? Mr. Asche had begun the class saying something about a research project. Apparently this would be a group one. Oh great…

Unfortunately Nyla was not in her History class. But Sophie and Thad were, thankfully. Though Harper had a sneaking suspicion that wouldn’t help her in this case…

And sure enough, she was right.

“Sorry, Harper.” Thad looked up at her apologetically as she approached. “We’re already working with Quinn…”

“Maybe Mr. Asche will let us be a group of four?” Sophie suggested kindly. “Couldn’t hurt to ask, right?”

Harper did her best to hide her disappointment. “Yeah, okay.”

As though on cue, Mr. Asche approached their table. “Do you need a partner, Harper?” He asked.

Her cheeks felt warm with embarrassment. “Um… I guess.” She muttered.

The teacher gestured to a table in the corner of the room. “Well, you’re in luck. There’s a pair right there who need a third person.”

Harper didn’t even bother looking at the group he suggested. “I was actually wondering if maybe we could be a group of four?” She gestured over her shoulder toward Thad, Sophie, and Quinn.

Mr. Asche shook his head. “Nice try. But I’m sure the group over there would love to have you.”

Harper turned away, hoping he wouldn’t see her roll her eyes as she headed over to join her new partners.

“Hey, look… We got Rosebrook!” Rylie called out happily as Harper sat beside her and Devin at their table.

“Oh, thank God.” Devin laughed. “I was so sure he’d stick us with Bitchface or something.”

“Ha! As if she doesn’t already have a flock of her little minions just begging to be in her group…” Rylie gestured across the classroom. “Look at that. Doesn’t it make you sick?”

Harper’s lips stretched into a grin as she realized who they were talking about. They even call her followers ‘minions’ like I do… This is too good!

“Uh… Earth to Harper? Did you forget your hearing aid or something?”

“Huh?”

“I said ‘doesn’t it make you sick?”‘ Rylie repeated. “Katie and her stupid fan club.”

“Oh! I didn’t realize you were talking to me…” In fact, it was almost hard to believe. Though she’d gone to school with Rylie and Devin nearly her entire life, Harper was fairly certain this was the longest conversation they’d ever had. “It really does.” She agreed. “I can’t stand her.”

“Figured as much. Most people can’t, can they?”

“I still remember that time you punched her out during lunch back when we were like… What? Ten or Eleven?” Devin laughed softly to himself. “Fucking savage.

Harper smiled nervously at his words. “Guess I got kinda carried away.”

“Hey, I don’t blame you!” Rylie leaned forward a bit as she spoke. Harper wondered whether it was an attempt not be overheard by their peers, or to make sure Harper was able to hear her clearly. Either way, she seemed to be successful at both. “I usually try to keep my distance, just in case being a bratty piece of shit is contagious or something.” She paused, smirking. “But if the opportunity ever presented itself… Not sure I could pass it up.”

A slight chuckle passed Harper’s lips. It still felt so odd to be chatting so naturally with Rylie and Devin. Heck, part of her almost felt like she needed to introduce herself or something, for how little she knew either of them. It was strangely exciting to be talking to them at last.

“So… Ancient Greece, huh?” She asked a bit awkwardly. “Any ideas on how we’re gonna do this stupid project?”

Devin’s lips curled into a slight smirk. “Half-assed and at the last minute?”

“Same as always!” Rylie laughed as she raised her fist briefly to bump her friend’s.

“Ha! I’m so glad you guys get it!” Harper smiled at the pair of them. They definitely seemed to be on the same page as her when it came to Katie… and their lame assignment too. Suddenly the idea of doing a group project didn’t seem as terrible as it had before. “I hate wasting my time on crap like this.”

Devin smiled at her. “Same!”

“Alright, class.” Mr. Asche’s voice called out over them. “We’re out of time for today. Remember that these projects are due in two weeks.” He looked at them all sternly for a moment. “Thank you. You’re dismissed.”

There was an excited buzz of movement and conversation as the members of the class eagerly handed for the door.

One more class… So close to freedom! Harper slowly rose to her feet, grateful that the end of the school day was finally in sight. She turned to face her two partners. “Guess I’ll see you guys tomorrow?” She asked almost hopefully.

Rylie nodded. “Later.”

As she began walking away from them, Harper could have sworn she saw Devin lean in to whisper something in his friend’s ear. Unfortunately Harper’s hearing was not good enough to make out anything he might have said. Whatever. Not my business anyway.

She’d nearly made it to the door before she felt a sharp tap on her shoulder. Harper whipped her head around, her eyes falling on Rylie’s smiling face.

“On second thought… Are you doing anything after school today?” The other girl asked.

Harper shook her head. “Um, I don’t think so?” She spoke as though it was a question.

“Sweet! Rylie replied. “We can meet down in the square, by the library. At like four?” She suggested. “If you’re up for it, that is.”

The red-haired girl tried her best to hide her surprise. “Okay, sure! Sounds good to me.” She paused for a moment. “But… The library? Seriously?” Harper couldn’t help her confusion. “I thought we weren’t working on the project til the last minute.”

Rylie smirked slightly. “Oh, we’re not.” She assured her, her smile widening. “See you then!”

6.13: Drifting

Hey guys! I just wanted to apologize for not replying to anyone’s comments yesterday! That is SO not like me!

I was the maid of honor in my best friend’s wedding yesterday (it was incredible) and though I peeked at WordPress and the forums and read all the comments, I just didn’t have time to reply. And now that there are so many comments sitting there I feel really overwhelmed trying to respond to them all (especially knowing I’ll have comments to reply to on this chapter too!)

If I don’t end up replying to your comment from yesterday, please know that I read and appreciated every single one, as always ❤ I’m just overwhelmed and tired from partying and traveling 1500 miles for this wedding haha

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Well THAT was a blast from the past.

Mom was going through some old boxes of paperwork and other crap a few days ago, and guess what she found? My first ever journal!

I hadn’t seen it in years. I kinda figured it would be lost forever. But it wasn’t.

I can’t decide if it was more fun, or more embarrassing to read some of that old stuff… Either way, it was pretty interesting, I guess.

I never realized how much time I used to spend bitching about Katie… Man, those were the days! I STILL remember that time I punched her at lunch and ended up in detention (I think Papa really regretted teaching me about vigilante justice after that one… Ha!)

Can’t say much has changed between me and Katie since then, really. I still have moments where I’m SO tempted to go over and give her a good smack… But that’s not me. I might have my bitchy moments (who doesn’t, right?) but I’d never hurt anybody.

And besides, just ignoring her is a lot easier anyway. And gets me in a lot less trouble too.

It was kinda fun reading about how close me and Nyla used to be too. Now that has changed. A lot. Ever since she started hanging out with all the jocks and talking about sports all the time…

But hey, we’re still friends at least. Just not best friends anymore. Guess I don’t really have one of those these days.

Anyway, I guess the most entertaining part about reading that old thing was looking back at some of my old stories. I’ve come such a long way since I first started writing. But man, they were pretty darn cute. Especially the ones about that character I made up. ‘Harper Hard-Heart’, I called her. Dumbest name ever, right? But I used to think she was SO cool. She was everything I wanted to be. I used to have this weird fantasy that I’d grow up to be like her someday or something…

Yeah, I was kind of a lame kid. (Another thing that hasn’t changed too much, huh?)

I mean, it’s not like I’m a total social reject or anything. Katie and her minions are still total bitches, of course. And there are some people who I think will always see me as “poor Harper” with my hearing aid. But overall, I get along with most of my classmates. I have some pretty good friends.

I just wish things were easier, I guess. I wish I felt… Gah, I don’t know the word for it!

I guess the best way to describe it is we’re all out at sea or something. And everyone else is cruising off in their big, fancy boats with their friends. The jocks are waterskiing and drinking beer on a shiny, sleek speedboat. The snobby, popular kids are having a dance party on a yacht or something. The nerdy kids are playing Dungeons & Dragons on the deck of an antique pirate ship. You get the idea, right?

And then there’s me. I’m paddling alongside everyone in a shitty little rowboat. And everyone smiles and waves at me as they go sailing by…

But no one throws down a rope. No one offers me a place on board. They just move on without me while I drift away.

And I don’t wanna be stuck drifting forever.

(Okay, that was pretty good, huh? Totally gonna find a way to work that into my next writing assignment… Miss Andrews will love it!)

Anyway, the point is, it really sucks feeling that way. And I’ve been telling myself for years that it’s gonna get better, but it still hasn’t. And I’m kinda running out of time.

I just started 12th grade last week. My last year of school. Ten months of torture and a couple huge, stupid tests are all that stand between me and freedom. I should be excited. But instead I just feel… Well, you know. The boat thing.

And my parents really aren’t making this any easier either. I mean, they’ve finally gotten a little better about this stupid “uni” thing lately, I guess. So that’s something. I think Oma actually had something to do with that.

I kinda snapped at Papa like a week or two ago, and I caught Oma talking to him afterwards. Just wish I could have heard what they were saying. But, well… I’m basically half-deaf, so obviously that wasn’t gonna happen.

But I know it’s only a matter of time before it comes up again. They definitely haven’t dropped it. I don’t think they ever really will, no matter how much I try telling them it’s not what I want and it’s not something I’d be good at. I mean, shouldn’t they get that? Of all people?

I know they mean well. They always do. But… UGH. I’m getting so tired of trying to make them see that there are some things I’m just not good at. I’m not perfect. I can’t do everything.

They always seem so convinced that when I tell them that, it’s because I’m depressed or down on myself or insecure or something. But I’m not. I’m just honest.

I don’t know. I’m probably overthinking this whole thing anyway. I tend to do that a lot, according to, well… Everybody.

I spend a lot of time in my own head, I guess. Probably more than most people… That’s kinda what happens when you have such a hard time hearing. And it’s great for finding inspiration and coming up with story ideas… But it can be pretty sucky too. It’s so easy to keep focusing on all the shitty stuff floating around in my head, instead of the good stuff.

I know its not all bad. I’ve just gotta keep reminding myself of that. My parents love me. They just want what’s best for me. And Nyla and Sophie and Thad are still great friends. We’ll have a ton of fun together this year. It’ll be fine.

And maybe drifting away in my little rowboat won’t be the worst thing in the world.

At least it’s better than sinking.

6.12: Backstory

My Papa told me every superhero or supervillain has a backstory. That’s what you call all the stuff that happened to them before the real story starts. It tells the audience how the hero ended up where they are today. Why they are the way they are.

I figure vigilantes must have backstories too, right?

So here’s the backstory of Harper Hard-Heart.

Once upon a time there was a king and a queen, and everyone in the kingdom loved them very much. The queen was so beautiful that pictures of her face were hung up ALL over the world. And the king’s cooking was so amazing that people would come from very far away to eat it.

They were very happy together, but there was something they really, REALLY wanted. A baby.

But the king and the queen were cursed. No matter how hard they tried, a super evil power stole away all their babies, and this made them very sad.

There was one baby who was different though. She was stronger than the evil, and she was able to escape… Almost. The evil still messed up her lungs and her ears so they wouldn’t work right. It tried to make her weak.

But her parents were so excited to have their baby anyway. And even though she wasn’t the same as the other kids, they always told her that she was wonderful and amazing and special. Their Perfect Princess.

The other people in the kingdom didn’t see her that way though. They thought she was helpless and weak. All the grown-ups felt sorry for her. And the other kids ignored her or made fun of her.

This made the princess very mad. She wasn’t weak! But she wasn’t perfect either. She was… herself. And all she wanted was to prove that to everybody.

She started calling herself Harper Hard-Heart, and decided to stand up to the evil bullies who had mercilessly teased her and her friends. That was how she started her life as a vigilante, dealing out justice and not following anybody’s rules. Just being herself.

It was all so easy, at first. Especially with her friends by her side.

But as the years passed, things started to change.

Her parents still put her on a pedestal… But it became worse than ever before. They started pushing for her to go to university… Even though she really didn’t want to. And even though they were total hypocrites, because neither of them had gone to university either.

“You’re so smart, honey! Uni will give you such a bright future. You’ll see. You can do anything.” It felt like they told her that every day.

It became harder and harder to fight against all the pressure from her parents, especially when her friends began to drift away from her. They still talked to each other and hung out every now and then. But it wasn’t the same as it used to be.

Thad had found a place with the other techy, geeky kids like himself. Sophie became close with the quiet, bookish types. And Nyla spent most of her time laughing and joking with the guys on the football team.

It wasn’t their fault, of course. And Harper wanted to be happy for them. They weren’t misfits anymore. Not like she was. They’d found their place. But it started to feel like she’d never find hers.

It seemed the curse from her childhood had caught up with her once again. The forces of evil had her trapped and alone — stuck between who everyone expected her to be, and who she wanted to be.

And now, as she enters her final year of school, one question remains…

Will anyone ever come and set her free?