Wilhelmina Winters, Forty-Nine

Wil was last to reach the minivan. She slid open the side door and climbed over seats to sit in the back row.

Besides an encouraging smile after a brief glance up from her phone, Reagan pretended she and Wil did not know each other any more than they had before Wil was listed as “talented.” Wil knew the group wanted anonymity, but that didn’t prevent a sudden, small, hard lump of self-consciousness from forming in her stomach as Reagan acted obliviously.

They moved out toward home. Wil watched the gray, February landscape of commercial suburbia flash past the minivan windows. Why do they pretend they aren’t friends, except at lunch yesterday and today? She wondered to herself. Surely, the secrecy didn’t matter if everyone in the school saw them all eating together.

With that in mind, she pulled a notebook from her backpack.

Next, she withdrew half of a pencil. She tried to write, but found the tip was broken. Sighing, she dropped that pencil back in the backpack and rifled around some more. After withdrawing the same broken tool twice more, she remembered her pen was inside the folder from History class and took that out instead.

She glanced at the other passengers, and even Mrs. Crandall. Vic was engrossed in their English reading assignment; Reagan and Jorge interacted with their screens; and Mrs. Crandall was eating chips from a crinkling bag, reading a celebrity gossip article on her phone, and occasionally looking out of the windshield. Eric was looking steadfastly forward, though Wil thought she’d seen him move a few moments before she’d looked up.

With waning ink, Wil scrawled a hasty message. Then, keeping her eyes on the back of Eric’s head, she dropped the note discreetly into Reagan’s lap.

Reagan casually dropped her hand down to cover the note. After a minute, she looked at her midsection and read it quickly from a carefully-cupped hand. Wil heard Reagan sigh. Reagan rotated her head a bit to stretch her neck, then grabbed a pen from her pocket and wrote something under the original message. Looking around the car and out the window nonchalantly; she yawned, stretched her hands to her shoulders, and dropped the note back on Wil.

Impatiently, Wil picked up the note and read it. Under her own, “Why all the secrets if we eat lunch together?” Reagan had scrawled what looked like, “Speciel meetings for you.”

Wil sat in her seat, blank-faced and blinking. She didn’t even notice Eric glance back at her quickly. She barely saw another wad of paper -this one purple- drop over Reagan’s shoulder and onto Wil’s boots.

Copying Reagan’s subtlety, Wil stretched down to pick up the paper, then smoothed it out quietly across her legs. Reagan’s handwriting spelled out, “Sorry. I was supost to tell you details. Sorry.”

The minivan screeched the turn into their complex, forcing everyone to one side as their bodies stretched at their seatbelts. It bumped gratefully into a parking stall and Mrs. Crandall remembered to put it into Park before turning off the engine and getting out.

Eric, Vic, Jorge, and Mrs. Crandall exited. In the brief few seconds they were inside together, Reagan looked right at Wil and said, “I have a paper to give you, but I lost it. Stephen is supposed to sneak it to you Monday. It will explain everything.”

Reagan grabbed her things and got out. Following suit, Wil took her backpack and lurched outside. Again, she thought she saw movement; but Reagan and Jorge were almost to their street corner, Vic had almost reached her building, Mrs. Crandall was absently staring at her phone with her mouth open, and all she could see of Eric was his curling red-blonde hairs on the back of his head. He was looking elsewhere again.

Wil shook her head and walked to building four.

Eric turned to watch the retreating figure of Wil and her black scarf blowing behind. She and it disappeared around the nearest building. Sighing, he turned back to the car to retrieve his bag. His eye caught something else moving, but through the open door of the minivan. Moving forward, he saw two notes -one purple- lying on the floor of the car. The slight wind caught at their edges, gesturing to him.

 

Continued from Forty-Eight.
Keep reading to Fifty.

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty-Five

Wil walked slowly, her soft brown hair framing a small, pensive face. Her dark eyes, so full of the depth of life, scanned the crowd. Her slim yet graceful body moved ever forward as her peers stared in awe.

Boys watched and wanted from the corners of their eyes, as girls shot looks of envy. That purple cloak was stunning. Those boots were the height of fashion. The scarf was an expensive weave of black on black. The young woman who wore them was so naturally beautiful.

Although she tried to ignore them, Wil was conscious of the attention. Anyone would have to be. She pretended she wasn’t, however. She needed to reach her ride, and couldn’t afford distractions.

“I purchased these flowers for you,” spoke a timid young man with black, wavy hair. He offered them in a shaking hand. Wil brushed them aside, dusting petals to the floor.

A confident boy with blond hair and smoldering eyes tried to block her path. “Let’s catch a movie tonight, Wil.” He was sure to be accepted, but she dodged around his Letterman-jacketed arm.

“You’re coming to my birthday, right?” The Class President begged Wil. She approached with an anxious, artificially white smile; and left with a spoiled frown.

They sought her like hypnotized moths to a tempting flame. But, Wil’s heart-shaped face turned only one way. Her deep glance rested on only one person. Her body was drawn to only one other body.

He would be waiting, she knew, with more than flowers. He would take her somewhere better than a theater. He didn’t have birthday parties filled with fake people.

Wil whispered his name. “Derek.”

She reached the doors to outside, and pushed through them. A disappointed trail of admirers was behind her and the afternoon was before her. The shy sun illuminated her path to the idling minivan at the curb.

Even her neighbors stared as she approached, every other distraction forgotten in Wil’s presence. They shifted to give her the best seat as Wil ducked and entered the vehicle.

“How are you today, Wil?” Mrs. Crandall attempted. Wil didn’t respond, but no one expected she would.

Mrs. Crandall faced forward, appeared to watch surrounding traffic, and pulled into the familiar queue of cars heading home.

Reagan, pulling an earbud from her right ear, turned to Wil and whispered, “So, you’re part of our group now, right?”

Wil didn’t hear at first, as she slid in her seat at the sudden movement of Mrs. Crandall braking and honking.

She realized Reagan had spoken to her, and brilliantly responded, “Huh?”

“Our group,” Reagan persisted. “You got the notes. Derek said you’d find out about it after school today.” She looked at Wil’s face and raised her eyebrows expectantly.

“Oh,” Wil replied. “Um. Yeah.”

“So,” Reagan said, “Welcome.” She sat back, pushing her ear bud back in place and looking at her phone again. She had been reading it since first climbing in the van.

Wil blinked in the reality of the small cabin around her, and realized she ought to actually read what Derek had given her.

 

Continued from Thirty-Four.
Keep reading to Thirty-Six.

Petites Boîtes

When I was but a francophiliac teenager, we learned a song titled “Petites Boîtes.” The first stanza of lyrics is as follows:

Petites boîtes très étroites
Petites boîtes faites en ticky-tacky
Petites boîtes, petites boîtes
Petites boîtes toutes pareilles.

Translated back to the English version written by Malvina Reynolds from Graeme Allright’s fun-sounding word-rhymes, it says:

Little boxes, on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same.

The obvious gist of the song is that everyone goes through life staying in these boxes that look the same, that they’ve always been in: growing up in the same neighborhood, attending university, making children, their children follow exactly the same path; we even die and are put in boxes in the ground.

I hate boxes.

When I converse with people, I begin squirming at social categorization. Ironically, I have (of course) already placed the other person into neat little groups in my mind. Ah, he’s wearing a camouflage coat and just got out of his jacked-up pickup truck. As he strokes his mustache and stubble, I can tell he must be in favor of: hunting animals, no gun control, and (perhaps) being suspicious of all authority figures.

Meanwhile, I feel like parking down the block so no one sees that I came by minivan. I dislike discussing religion or politics. When asked about favorites, I sweat.

Thing is, I may fit into many of these boxes (petites boîtes -it’s so fun to say!). I just don’t like the idea that someone places me immediately into one, only one, and assumes I’ve all the associated characteristics of someone else who also might behave in a way that places him or her in there.

So… I tend to introduce myself in a way that shakes up typical introductory patterns. “Hi, I’m Chelsea and I can write with my toes,” or “My favorite food? Good food, definitely.” Or, most often, I’m going to just sit and nod and pretend I also like what’s-her-name-Gaines and that I actually watch TV and so they assume I can hang out in their little corner of interests.

Mature, I’m sure. Perhaps you, the reader, have a better approach.

In the meantime, I’ve got to get into my mom-van and pick up children from school, as part of a carpool. I’ll be listening to alternative music on the way and acting like I own a much different vehicle.

I’ve always wanted a lifted pickup truck and camouflage jacket…

Wilhelmina Winters: Seventeen

“Mina! Thank heavens!” Mrs. Crandall exclaimed when Wil approached and opened the sliding door. “Your mom’s at the hospital. Lynette took her this morning and I only just got the text.”

Wil was too worried by this sudden announcement to think of tactlessly correcting her neighbor. She knew that her mother would have texted Mrs. Crandall immediately, so she suspected that her lazy neighbor had been lost, as usual, in the wastes of sleeping in and perusing social media.

“Are you taking me to the hospital?” Wil asked, instead. She ignored the sullen disapproval of the car’s other occupants -at least, the ones paying attention to something non-electronic.

In this case, that was Mrs. Crandall’s son, Eric, and their mutual neighbor, Vic. Reagan and Jorge, who lived near their apartment complex, continued finger-swiping their phones as their eyes and ear buds attended the screens.

“I’m afraid I can’t, Mina,” Mrs. Crandall said, making an effort to sound apologetic. She spoke as she eased the old minivan away from the curb, glancing at Wil as she didn’t actually check her blind spot.

Another driver honked, but the effort was wasted on one so immune to courteous driving practices like turn signals or proper traffic queuing.

“I’ve got to get back home,” Mrs. Crandall continued. “I mean, I’ve got to get you all home. I think Jakob’s planning on taking you.”

Wil bit her tongue as she buckled up in the moving vehicle. If she could have gotten home faster without this self-centered neighbor, she would have spoken her mind and walked. Retorts like, “lazy,” “selfish,” and “you know that we don’t have a car…” swirled in her thoughts and quite near to her voice box.

Even if they had an extra car, Jakob wouldn’t be home yet. Plus, he didn’t have driving capabilities. He’d passed the test, of course, but they had all decided that he and Wil couldn’t be added to the insurance yet. So, Jakob had nobly avoided all extra costs and not gotten his license.

Wil gripped at her knees. She hated forced inactivity. She needed to get to her mother as soon as possible, but faced too many barriers. She closed her eyes and tried the deep breathing exercises Cynthia had learned when her troubles starting becoming unbearable again.

Wil’s heart rate and anxiety only increased. She realized the exercises reminded her of the whole problem, and certainly did not calm her or take her mind off her mom.

Luckily, Mrs. Crandall was also a fast driver. They were home in minutes, though seconds felt forever for Wil.

Wil, Reagan, Vic, and Jorge clambered out the sliding door once they pulled into an empty stall. They all headed to their living spaces, Wil in a definite lead. She headed around a building, past a naked tree stuck in the dead, empty soil, then pulled out her key at door 2 of Building 4.

As she scratched a bit at the lock to insert her key, the door was pulled open to reveal Jakob. His harried look was replaced by one of relief, even though Wil’s short scream of surprise also surprised him.

“Let’s go, Wil!” He said earnestly. He grabbed her arm and turned her back toward the way she’d just come. Her backpack swung an erratic arc as she spun, nearly costing Wil her balance. She was so surprised at his intent manner and use of her preferred name, that she stumbled outside again before her mind caught up.

Jakob pulled the door closed and checked the lock. Then, he said, “Hurry!” He ran, hastily following his own advice.

Jakob was heading to the bus stop. She realized this finally, just as she recognized the sound of the bus approaching. This would be a close race!

Galvanized to action, Wil sprang after her step-brother.

 

Continued from Sixteen.
Keep reading to Eighteen.