This all started because of a hospital bed. I wish I could say that I didn’t remember much but I remembered a lot from before my mother sold me. I used to think she gave me away because she was dying. It seemed natural not to have parents - the people in stories with happy endings seemed to always lose theirs. Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, Hanzel and Gretel… My favorite story was of Peter Pan. His story never ended and was always happy. I thought I was going to have a happy ending. I don’t think that way anymore.
Maybe the knowledge of my death was embedded into me so well that my face felt weighted. “Keep that frown up and you’ll definitely make no friends,” the principal said. He was also my specially assigned guidance counselor, one of the only few who knew my “secret” - if you could call it that. He seemed to be afraid of me, or Mr. Barrie, but I guess anyone would be afraid of a time bomb. “Then again, better you don’t. Mr. Barrie said the cleaner the removal process you have, the better.”
Dr. Jones - he preferred the title doctor because he had Ph.D - did everything to make sure I flew under the radar. I wasn’t allowed to choose my classes, and despite knowing that my home schooling was far more advanced than the average 12th grade level, he placed me in Band 3.
Band 3, I soon learned, as I sat in the back of the class, wondering why the teacher hadn’t come in yet, was for the rowdy or less-inclined bunch. Meaning, they had learning disabilities that the school couldn’t be bothered to deal with or they were real assholes. Either way, none of them were interested in making friends with me. And I wasn’t sure I remembered how to talk to people.
I kept my arms stretched across my desk, feeling safe and protected from the paper balls and shouting that bounced off the walls. This one boy, with an untucked white shirt, and sloppy long hair was watching the boy in front of him rock back and forth on his chair. With each sway, the boy got closer to tipping over. Just when I thought he was going to fall, he would hook his feet against his desk and slam back down. Then the boy with long hair grabbed the edge of his chair, holding it as the other one struggled.
“Seth, you asshat. Let me go.”
The one with long hair, Seth, smiled. His lips long and thin, and his smile even thinner. “Okay.”
I gasped loudly, sitting up as the boy’s chair fell backwards. It was like watching one of those movies about high school on TV. His head landed with a thud against the carpet, and Seth leaned back into his chair, laughing. He had two other friends, both with dark brown hair, that patted him on the back and laughed along with him.
“You told me to let go.”
The other boy straightened his white shirt and khaki pants before sitting back down. Just as he got comfortable, the door opened and the classroom grew quiet. The teacher was tall, and according to my schedule, known as Mr. Seme. He was a short, slightly stocky man with rectangular glasses and a red nose that rested under the frames.
“Good morning class.”
I shrunk back in my seat for a bit, wondering if he was going to make me introduce myself, but instead he wobbled straight towards his desk. As the class started to get rowdy again, a lot of things that happened before coming here crossed my mind again. During our session, I had asked Henry what to expect on my first day of school. As he held my hand - something Mrs. Barrie’s Feng Shui doctor recommended - Henry coughed a few times before he was able to get the right words out.
“You - ack - there’s nothing,” he hacked, clearing his throat like it was a broken water wheel, “to be afraid on your first day. People won’t even notice you.”
The nurse came in and told me to stop talking. It was making him worse. “Don’t talk, Mr. Barrie” she warned, her gaze never straying from the clipboard in her lap. She would write every now and then, but since Henry and I weren’t allowed to speak, I wasn’t sure what she was writing about.
Henry leaned back, his tired eyes closed and black. “You’ll be fine, Lara. And if you don’t like it, you can just quit.”
“People don’t just quit school.”
“Yes, but you’re different.”
Watching Henry breathed heavily, struggling to get air into his lungs, was the best warning I would get for the time I had left. Which wasn’t much as all. His health was unpredictable, but there weren’t many close calls until now. “Tell me a story,” he managed in between gasps, so I reached over for his phone to read one online. I was a bad storyteller. I didn’t know how to stop at the good parts. But Henry wasn’t looking for something worth re-telling, he just needed a distraction.
My father was in the hospital bed when my mother sold me. I was holding his hand, swinging my legs from the chair when Mr. Barrie came in and took me away. I didn’t cry, scream or ask for my parents. I was three, and they told me that my daddy would wake up if I went with them. Some nights I tried to remember if my mother cried when I left. I honestly don’t remember. She cried a lot regardless of my presence, and I know now she loved my father a lot more than she loved me. I have a feeling he never knew I existed. I never had a memory of him out of the bed.
I looked up from reading The True Bride when I noticed Henry was sleeping. I waited until the clock turned ten before removing my hand. ”I want to be noticed,” I said quietly. But that was a stupid wish. I was as different as can be. In blood type, in organ compatibility - every fiber of me was separated from the rest of the world that the only match was Henry.
Still, even with Henry’s words, when it came to school, I was disappointed with how transparent I had become. No introduction, no opportunity to make a fool out of myself - Mr. Seme had gone straight to his desk. His legs were propped on the table, the rest of him hidden behind the newspaper. All students were doing their own thing. I watched that one - Seth - prop his feet onto his desk and lean back, whispering back and forth between his friends. The way he smiled, at times, he reminded me of Henry, a messier, healthier, blushing version. Like a Henry with a functioning heart.
Suddenly he looked at me. I quickly bent over and pulled out a notebook from my bag. I uncapped my pen and started scribbling as if I had something very important to write. It was probably suspicious to see a girl taking notes when the teacher wasn’t teaching. I hadn’t thought it through. So when Seth came up to me and asked what I was doing, the words that came were outright lies.
Seth snorted. He snatched the notebook from my desk and started reading outloud, “Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved her father…” he stopped verbally, but his eyes scanned the rest of the page. I felt my cheeks heat up as he frowned. The way his face knotted was a mix of disgust, he looked at me like I was very strange. I knew the words on the page were pathetic. “I’m not a good storyteller…” He waved me off, dismissively. The story was bad. It was -
He looked up at me sharply.
“Why are you re-writing Cinderella?”