Chapter 1: Annabeth and the Spaghetti that started everything
Tick tock. Tick tock. I looked at the clock. It was moving slow. I wasn’t even supposed to be in this class. It was my free period. But my best friend was about to give a presentation, and she was a terrible public speaker. She always stuttered and got clammy and freaked out. Her anxiety had a habit of getting the best of her. So instead of enjoying my study hall, I was watching terrible presentations put on by average middle-class American teenagers, talking about things that mattered to them, that really didn’t matter at all.
“Alexandra Marks.” Mrs. Johnson called out, after the clapping of the last presentation ended.
Lexy stood up slowly and straightened out her sweater before turning back toward me with a nervous smile.
I nodded encouragingly at her, but I knew there was really only one way this was going to end. I had sat through every presentation she’d given in English this semester. I had helped her practice each one. I knew she knew the stuff she was talking about. But I also knew it would be painful to watch.
“The common reasons many teenagers turn away from their parents and start trying to practice magic or other supernatural things.”
A mouth full in itself, but Lex rushed through it. She was always that kind of person who didn’t like boring. And she had been fascinated with the supernatural world since 7th grade when we discovered my house was haunted.
Now, we were freshmen, and her obsession had tampered off a little, to only watching Ghost Adventures on Saturday nights, a show that only terrified me, but had been our tradition for 2 years now.
But this project had opened a whole new can of worms. If I had thought she was obsessed in 7th grade, that was nothing. This was her project for the next four years. This was her baby. Bringing to light the similarities between religions and fables and cultures. Anything and everything, she had 100 pages already. It was what she loved to do in our free time. Some would call it crazy, but I knew it was because there was something different about us, and she just wanted answers.
Finally, she stumbled to the end of the presentation and the bell rang.
“You did great,” I told her as we picked up our books and made our way to our lockers.
“It was disaster.” She replied with a sigh. “I should never be allowed to speak in front of anyone ever again. This was a thrilling project that should have had everyone’s attention, but instead those who did pay attention were laughing at me, and everyone else was thinking about random stuff that was totally irrelevant and way less entertaining than my presentation.”
“You listen to people’s thoughts while you’re up there?” I laughed as I traded my books for my lunch.
“Well, I can’t block them when I’m trying not to throw up.” She answered, her tone defeated.
“Maybe that’s your problem.” I told her, nudging her as she closed her locker.
“Well, I hope not,” She let out a chuckle, “it’s not a problem I can fix.”
I shook my head as she put her headphones in. We were headed to the cafeteria, and if the noise level there wasn’t bad enough, I couldn’t imagine how loud Lexy’s head used to get.
I used to wonder why she sat alone during lunches, just listening to her music. I always thought it was weird. No one ever sat alone during lunch. I mean, even the weird kids seemed to have a group. But I learned later that it was because she couldn’t bear the flood of thoughts. There were too many people to block out and she couldn’t handle it. Music though, could drown it out. A trick she had figured out forever ago. If she turned it up loud enough, she could ignore the thoughts protruding her head.
Now though, I didn’t allow her to sit alone. But we had an agreement. In winter, we would go make an appearance in the cafeteria then eat in the library and when the weather was warm enough, we would eat outside. The cafeteria affected me too, so I was never opposed to eating away from it. Not since I discovered I could feel other people’s emotions. That’s how I learned about Lexy’s problems. I felt she was upset one day. We weren’t even in the same class, but I could feel someone was upset, and then when I closed my eyes, I saw her crying in the bathroom.
Me, being young and stuff, didn’t understand, so I went to the bathroom only to find out her dad was having health problems and she was in a tough spot. Of course though, that was only the beginning for us. Neither of us told the other about our gift for a while. But the closer we got, the easier it became to talk about it. The more we understood that we were different.
I nudged Lex as our mutual friend passed us in the hall, and she immediately pulled an earphone out so we could talk to them a moment.
She made it look so natural, you would never have guessed she even had headphones in to begin with.
“How did the presentation go, Lexy?” Marianne asked.
“You already know.” Lexy answered, making it sound like a joke.
Marianne laughed at the joke.
“Are you guys eating in the café today?”
“Nah, we gotta hit the books.” I answered. “Grabbing drinks and going to the library.”
“You guys are no fun!” She called back at us as she walked away.
Lexy smiled as we turned back toward the café, but her headphones were already back in.
The cafeteria was louder than usual when we walked in. I turned toward Lex to make a comment about it, but she had her game face on, and her music loud. Sometimes, I forgot she wore the headphones. We had signals that if I needed her, I could get her attention. But most of the time we could be together in a comfortable silence.
We then separated like we normally did, where she would go buy her meal, and I’d go buy the drinks. But as soon as I got out of line and started walking to our meeting spot, some idiot was not paying attention and ran right into me, dumping his spaghetti all over me.
I let out a sharp gasp and looked up to see who the perpetrator was. A guy with jet black hair and the greenest eyes I had ever seen was looking down at me. In other words, Jake Graening spilled his lunch all over me.
“You have a noodle in your hair.” He laughed.
“Yea thanks to you!” I exclaimed in frustration.
“Annie,” Lexy gasped, coming out of the meal line herself. “What happened?”
“Can we go?” I mumbled.
She looked at me confused but nodded. “Come on, let’s go to the bathroom and get you cleaned up.”
I could feel the stares of everyone as we walked away. But I didn’t turn around. Knowing it was happening was enough.
I heard Lexy sigh as she picked the noodles out of my hair. Only a real best friend would spend time picking noodles out of my hair rather than eating the ones on her tray, which had disappeared into the trash before I could even stop her.
“How bad is the damage?” I asked.
She gave me a smile that made me almost instantly feel better.
“I think you’ll recover.” She answered, taking a wet paper towel to wipe the sauce off my face. “Your shirt on the other hand, I’m not so sure about. But lucky for you, your best friend has a fear of not being prepared enough and has one right here for you. I know it’s not your style, but it will have to do.”
I smiled too, as she reached into her backpack, pulling out a t-shirt with some sports logo on it.
“Thank you, you’re the best.” I responded taking the shirt gratefully.
“I know,” She replied, laughing, adding a hair toss in there.
She wasn’t a cocky person, but she liked to pretend she was sometimes. Like she was out of this world or something. And maybe, in a way, she really was. I mean, I didn’t know, even back then, many other people who had her patience or kindness. It was sometimes a dreary world out there, and if you didn’t think your best friend wasn’t something else, they weren’t your best friend at all.