The curtains were ripped back, and light flooded the space around me. I felt myself being shaken, and an all-too-perky voice telling me that it was time to get up; I didn’t respond, I didn’t want to respond, and I hugged my pillow tighter, bunching it up beneath my head. I heard whoever was trying to get me up, sigh, and then I felt my mattress move up and down, as though it was being used as a trampoline.
“Get up—get up—get up!” As my best friend jumped on my bed, attempting to wake me up, I kept a tight hold on my pillow, as I scooted to the side of the bed. The closer she got to jumping on me, the more I scooted over to avoid getting jumped on. Soon enough, I ran out of bed to scoot to, and I fell off my bed, still hugging my pillow, and landing on my side. “Good, you’re up!” Corrie said, as she jumped back up, one more time, flung her legs out in front of her, and sat down on her butt.
“Not like I had a choice,” I grumbled, getting up and looking at her with raised eyebrows, “Was that really necessary?”
“Yes, yes it was,” Corrie said, seriously, “Your mom asked me to get you up. We have school in an hour.”
“Why are you so happy about school?” I asked, but it was a dumb question; Corrie Stuart was always happy about everything.
She was my best friend, but we were as different as light and dark. She had straight dark hair, and I wheat-colored hair that fell down my back in waves. My eyes were as blue as the ocean in the Caribbean islands, and hers were as green as the grass in spring time. I stuck to darker clothes, while she tended to dress in every color of the rainbow. I was sarcastic and pessimistic, and Corrie was a nice optimist. We were polar-opposites, but we were the best of friends.
“It’s the last week, and…” Corrie paused for dramatic effect, as I walked to my closet, and pulled out a vintage band t-shirt, and some dark jeans. “…We get our yearbooks today.” Corrie clapped, excitedly, and I smiled at her enthusiasm—yet I couldn’t bring myself to even act happy.
“Yeah,” I said, as I pulled on my black jacket on over my shirt.
“C’mon Ava, it’s exciting,” Corrie said, in her usual optimistic tone.
“It’s exciting for you,” I replied, trying to keep my frustration at bay. Corrie knew that school was tough for me—she often did both our homework, because she understood it better than I did most of the time—and I would never snap at her on purpose. “You’re voted most likely to succeed, most school spirit, most helpful…the list goes on, Cor. What is there for me?” I shrugged and sat back on my bed.
“Most likely to succeed in art?” Corrie tried, coming to sit on the bed beside me.
“I don’t think there’s a category for that one,” I said, smiling.
“Well, there should be, and you’d be in it,” Corrie said, hugging me.
“Thanks Cor,” I smiled and hugged her back.
“Ava,” I looked up to see my youngest brother, Thomas, sticking his head into my room, “Mom wants you down for breakfast.”
“Tell her I’m coming,” I said, sighing, as I stood up, and Corrie and I walked downstairs to my kitchen where everybody was assembled.
My mom was at the stove, pouring pan after pan of scrambled eggs into a large mixing bowl, and then she stooped down and retrieved a pan of muffins from the oven, before she replaced it with another pan. My older brother, Ashton was piling his plate with scrambled eggs, toast, bacon, anything that he could eat, that was within his reach.
I watched him, and I was wondering how a guy like that managed to graduate. Then, I reminded myself that, just because he was the star of every high school sports team since he was a freshman, Ashton was very intelligent, even though he may not look it.
“Ava, will you grab these?” mom asked, holding a basket of piping hot muffins out.
“Sure mom,” I said, taking the basket and walking to the table with it. Before I could even set it down, Ashton’s hand shot out to grab one, but I pulled it further out of his reach.
“Hey!” he exclaimed, through a mouthful of eggs and bacon.
“Your mouth is full! Why don’t you let those of us who need to eat too, get some of the breakfast that was provided for all of us,” I said, emphasizing the last three words, and hoping that he got the point.
“Sorry sis, I have bulk up, for college football,” he said, shrugging and swallowing his mouthful.
“You’re going to college in, like, three months, why are you starting to stuff your face now?” I asked, as I plucked a muffin from the basket and started to pick it apart.
“Actually, I get a week before I need to go up to the campus and start training,” Ashton said, snagging a muffin for himself.
“The act of football, seems incredibly barbaric,” Thomas said, shaking his head, before he lowered his head to an engineering magazine.
My brother, Thomas, was fourteen and he was intelligent—even more intelligent than Ashton and I put together. He was interested in engineering, and he even has a few rewards, first place trophies and ribbons, from participating in robotics contests. There was even talk a few years ago, of moving him up in school, but he was eleven, and he elected to stay back with his friends, even if the subjects in middle school weren't challenging enough for him.
“That’s because you don’t understand it,” my sister, Courtney, stated, snickering and plucking an apple from the bowel of fruit on the table.
Courtney was Thomas’s fraternal twin. Sometimes, I wondered how they could be twins. Thomas was level-headed and figured things out as he went along, making assessments and trying to figure out why things worked the way that they did; whereas, Courtney had a temper, didn’t think about things before she said them, she never assessed anything…her I.Q wasn’t even anywhere as high as Thomas’s was. But, even fraternal twins, I guess, aren’t the same in all areas. Courtney often had her nose in every issue of vogue or any other fashion magazine that she could get her hands on—or pull up on her phone.
Courtney and Thomas hadfeatures similar to our mother’s; the same brown hair and brown eyes, whereas Ashton and I sported the blonde hair and blue eyes, like our father’s; though, their eyes were a bit darker than mine.
Corrie plopped down next to me, and took a piece of bacon from the plate that Ashton was trying to unload on his own plate.
“Mom, did you adopt Corrie without telling us?” Ashton whined, as he proceeded to stuff strips of bacon and forkfuls of eggs in his mouth, all at once.
“No,” mom said, affectionately, as she set another plate of bacon on the table. “Ava, you might want to put something lighter on, it’s summer, after all.” She added, quietly. I rolled my eyes, and tore apart the muffin, without taking a bite of it.
The relationship with my mother was…strained, to say the least. She was a homemaker—decided to be one after Thomas and Courtney were born. Before that, she was a real estate sales person, she could have sold a coffin to a corpse, she was that good. Before Thomas and Courtney came along, it was just mom and me, and Dad and Ashton.
Dad was a high-class lawyer—he was a “shark” or a “piranha” or whatever the saying was. He often got the high-profile cases, and he made good money, so we were able to live comfortably, that, I was grateful for.
“We better get to school,” Corrie said. I nodded and grabbed my messenger bag, slinging it over my shoulder, and calling goodbye to my family.
I followed Corrie to her 2015 Toyota Camry, and I climbed in the passenger seat and leaned my head back, against the headrest, and closing my eyes, as Corrie started the car and cranked up the radio; we pulled out of the driveway, listening to 80’s music all the way to school.
It was a magical place, filled with fairies, mermaids, and other mystical creatures. My favorite had always been the dragons. They were humungous, in every color you could think of. There was one, in particular; she was blue and had seafoam green scales dotting her spine, and oceanic blue eyes…
Of course, this was all in my imagination.
See, Avangard was my escape; within my own family, I often felt as though they never expected anything great from me. In Avangard, I was Princess Agatha, Dragon tamer, The Dragon’s Princess. I was awesome, and great things were expected of me.
The sun glinted off the white paper of my sketchpad, as I sketched the Avangard palace. It was a palace that sat on a lush green hill, and overlooked a great lake, which always sparkled in the bright sunlight.
“What are you working on?” Corrie asked, practically bouncing over to the bench, where I sat.
“The palace,” I responded. There were very few people who knew about Avangard; my family didn’t know about it, I didn’t want them to feel bad, like I was trying to replace them with another life.
I started working on Avangard when I was seven—when I met Corrie. The twins had just turned four, and mom was busy with them, Dad was busy with Ashton and his sports, and I was feeling lost in between. That’s when I picked up a pencil and started sketching. At first, it was stick figures, and ugly little blobs, but, as the years progressed, I had gotten better.
The day that I met Corrie, she had skipped over to where I was sitting, on the black top, my pad of paper and my blue colored pencil in my lap, and she plopped down next to me.
“Whatcha doin’?” she’d asked.
“Drawing,” I had replied, not looking up from my paper. After I had finished a set of very sloppy wings, of the fairy that I was drawing, I turned the pad and showed her the drawing. Her green eyes had gone wide and her mouth had dropped open.
“You drew that?” she had asked, obviously stunned at the sloppy drawing, “It’s really good.”
“You think?” I had asked, turning the page back to myself.
“Yeah, it’s the best I’ve ever seen!” Corrie had exclaimed, as she threw her hands in the air. “I’m Corina Liliana Stuart.”
“I’m Ava Cadence Morgen,” I had replied.
“Do you want to be my friend?” Corrie had asked.
“Yeah, do you want to be my friend?” I had replied. I had been the loner of the second grade class, and many people had avoided me because I was usually on my own, reading or drawing, so I was a little surprised when she had asked me the question, and a little hesitant to ask the same of her.
“Yes, I would! And we’ll be best friends forever!” Corrie had said, excitedly, and she grasped me in a hug, and I hugged her back, glad to finally have a friend that I could call my own. And then, I proceeded to tell her about Avangard.
I was brought out of my memories by the sound of wheels grinding over the blacktop. I closed my sketchpad and looked up in time to see my other best friend, Jaden Collins, ride up on his skateboard.
“Ladies,” Jaden said, coming to a stop, and flipping his skateboard up, into his hand. His backpack was slung over one shoulder, and he wore a white beanie on his head, in contrast with the black t-shirt that he wore. Jaden had dark hair that was not super long, but long enough that his bangs fell into his eyes from time to time, and he was tall, a good foot taller than both Corrie and me. Most girls found Jaden “Hot” or “sexy” or “Good-looking” but to Corrie and me, he’d always been like a brother.
It was funny, Jaden used to be this kid with spiked dark hair and round glasses, and he used to be made fun of because he was really smart, and he knew things about the world around us, that none of the rest of us knew.
The day that Corrie and I met Jaden, we actually saved him from a few bullies, who were picking on him.
We had gone to the local museum, and we were at an insect exhibit. Jaden had had his nose pressed to the glass, and he was spouting off information about the bugs that had been in the exhibit. Some bigger kids had laughed at him, and called him a “Bug Freak.”
I remembered that, when I watched him turn, and face the bigger kids, his gaze had been downcast. He wasn’t excited anymore, and he was quietly whispering “please stop” to the bigger kids, as the tears ran down his face, and the kids had chanted “Bug Freak.”
“Make me,” One of the kids had said, when he had finally heard what Jaden had been saying. When Jaden didn’t respond, the kid stepped forward and pushed him back, so that Jaden had landed in a heap on the floor, and they kept taunting him.
“Leave him alone!” I had said, as I stepped in between Jaden and the other kids, while Corrie went to make sure that Jaden was alright.
“He couldn’t make me, why do you think you can?” the bigger kid said, tauntingly.
“Because you’re not as scary as you make yourself seem,” was all I said, before I stepped on his foot and then kicked him in the shin. “Bother him again, and you’ll get a lot more pain than that.” I had told him, and I watched as he and his two friends scurried away.
“Are you okay?” I had asked, kneeling down on his right side.
“I—I—I’m f—f—fine,” Jaden had stuttered out, wiping the tears from his face, “Th—thank you for saving me.”
“That’s what friends do for each other,” Corrie responded, shrugging.
“Friends? Are we friends?” Jaden had asked, sounding truly surprised.
“If you want to be,” I replied, shrugging.
“Yeah, I want to be your friend,” Jaden said.
“Yay!” Corrie exclaimed, as she hugged him tightly, and made him fall to the ground again. From that day on, the three of us were pretty much inseparable.
“Hey Jaden,” Corrie and I said, in unison. Jaden sat down on the other side of me, and leaned his skateboard against the bench next to him, “Did you get your yearbook?” Corrie asked, leaning forward to ask him, as she handed me my yearbook.
Hill Ridge stood out in bold green letters, against a collage of color and pictures; it was almost as if the yearbook committee had taken a scrapbook page, added color, and used it as a cover; it was actually pretty cool.
Naturally, I flipped to the section with the art and the music—half the page being dedicated to the art class, and the other half being dedicated to music. My eyes roamed over the pictures from the other students, and I finally saw one of mine. It was a picture of the view of the Eiffel Tower, and the silhouette of a young women standing by the doorway.
“Wow, that one’s really good,” Corrie said, as she was looking over my shoulder, at the same picture that I was looking at.
“Thanks,” I replied, with a small smile.
“Why didn’t you tell me that you submitted something incredible to art class?!” Corrie exclaimed, in a shocked voice.
“Incredible?” I asked, looking down at the picture in the page. I couldn’t help but think, to myself that, that picture wasn’t incredible. Avangard is incredible. This picture? This was just an assignment, something to do, until I could create more of Avangard.
“No, what’s amazing is Avangard,” Jaden said, reading my mind. I nodded, silently, and I felt Corrie shrug beside me.
“Yeah, it is pretty amazing,” she said, “Have you worked on anything else, lately?”
“Not recently,” I said, sighing, and opening my sketchbook back up to Avangard Palace, “I wanted to get this just right, like it is in my head,” I said, as I shaded in a tower.
“It’s coming along though,” Jaden said, nodding.
“Hi, Jaden,” a squeaking voice reached our ears and I immediately closed my sketchbook to look up, in time to see Christie Banks saunter to the bench that the three of us were sitting on. I rolled my eyes at her tank top and Daisy-Duke type shorts, that barely covered the back of her butt. She was Hill Ridge High’s resident, self-named popular girl. Which was funny, because, since Christie came to Hill Ridge freshman year, and all the other students had grown up here, going to school together from grade-school on, she wasn’t the least bit popular.
She flung her family’s money around, bribed a few people, and then she rose to the top of the food chain, in the freshman class.
“Hi Christie,” Jaden said, looking up at her for a brief moment, and then looking around at the other people.
Jaden had completely changed his look the previous year. He went from being a kid with round glasses, and a big backpack, to a good-looking guy. Though she never would admit it, Corrie had had a crush on Jaden for about a week…and then she realized that it was him, and was appalled at her own train of thought. I gave her grief about it every once in a while, but we also agreed that she never, in her life, would be attracted to Jaden.
But, just because she wasn’t, didn’t mean that almost every other girl in the junior class wasn’t attracted to him. The first few weeks, we could barely walk down the hall without girls staring, or Jaden getting approached and asked out on dates.
Christie Banks was no exception to that rule; she had made it her mission to date every guy in the junior class at least once…but she couldn’t get Jaden. Jaden wouldn’t even give her the time of day, and it was very amusing to watch her try to get his attention. She has tried revealing clothes, seductive walks, seductive tones when talking to him, but, no matter what she did, he barely even glanced in her direction.
“This should be good,” I said, in a low tone, and I watched her eyes flick over to Corrie and me, and a sneer overtook her ruby red lips.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Dorothy and Toto,” she sneered. Corrie and I rolled our eyes at the stupid and unwitty nicknames that she gave us; apparently, Corrie is “Dorothy” because she’s a do-gooder and all around nice person. And I was “Toto” because I follow Corrie around like a lost puppy.
“Christie, you’re looking more hooker-ish than usual today,” I said, in a pleasant tone. Christie glared at me, but it disappeared as she turned to Jaden.
“Me and a few people are going to the river today, do you want to come?” she asked, in an innocent voice.
“Can Ava and Corrie come too?” Jaden asked, point-blank. Christie looked at Corrie and I and hesitated for a minute.
“I don’t think there’s enough room,” Christie said, giving the poorest excuse there was.
“Then I’m out,” Jaden said, and Christie’s mouth dropped open, “If there’s no room for Corrie and Ava, then there’s definitely not enough room for me. Plus, I’m sure that Ava and I have a DDR rematch at the arcade.”
“Bring it on,” I responded, looking directly at Christie, who was fuming by this point.
“Whatever,” Christie said, flipping her brown hair over her shoulder and stalking away.
“Be careful,” Corrie called, as the two of us laughed, “Rejection has a foul odor.”
“So, since we don’t technically have to be here, what do you want to do?” I asked, looking between my two friends.
“Well, we have the arcade to get to,” Jaden said, standing up and grabbing his board, “We have a DDR rematch, don’t you remember?”
I laughed, and Corrie and I got up, the three of us holding our yearbooks and walking towards the parking lot. Climbing into Corrie’s car, we sat back and enjoyed the ride to the arcade.
The Hill Ridge Arcade was a small place, big enough to fit a few games, a claw machine, and a few tables so that the patrons could enjoy a meal or two.
I watched, from our round table, as Corrie and Jaden played a third game of air hockey—to which Jaden lost, again.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Jaden said, as he sat down next to me and grabbed a piece of hot pizza from the pan that was sitting on the table, “Three games in a row?”
“I must be better than I thought I was,” Corrie said, smiling, sweetly.
“There’s no way,” Jaden said, shaking his head back and forth, “There is no way that you beat me three times.”
“Yeah, there is,” I said, as I worked to perfect Avangard Palace, “She comes here twice a week and plays random people.” Corrie nodded her head, vigorously.
“And now, I am victorious!” she exclaimed, putting both her arms up in the air. I laughed as my phone chirped in my pocket. Pulling it out, I noticed a text from Courtney.
Mom wants you home to say Hi to the family that’s coming in for Ashton’s graduation.
Courtney had written out a full text without using the usual “Text talk” that she usually uses. I sighed and slipped my phone back into my jacket pocket, putting my pencils back in my pencil case, and closing my sketchbook.
“What are you doing? Are you ok?” Corrie asked, as she watched me put my things away.
“My mom wants me to be on the Family Welcoming Committee with her,” I said, as Jaden scooted out of the booth so that I could get out. He walked up to the counter and asked for a box for our leftover pizza.
“Well, let’s go then,” Corrie said, slinging her arm around my shoulders and walking with me out the doors of the arcade, Jaden following us, holding the still-hot pizza in its box.
We clambered into Corrie’s car, and we were at my house before I was ready to be home. I sighed as I gather my things, and I opened the door, turning to tell Corrie thanks for the ride, and was surprised when she and Jaden were getting out of the car.
“What? You didn’t think that we’d let you face the family alone, did you?” Corrie asked, walking around the car and slinging her arm over my shoulders.
“I would hope not,” I said, shrugging as I walked up the steps to my house.
“Mom, Ava brought the freeloaders home again,” Ashton yelled, to my mom, as we walked in. Jaden went to go sit by Ashton, who was on the couch, and Ashton reached for the pizza box.
“Sorry,” Jaden said, in a mock apologetic tone, “For freeloaders only.” Ashton scowled as he watched Jaden eat the pizza and watch whatever was on the TV screen.
“Ash, where’s mom?” I asked, noting that my mother hadn’t been in the kitchen or the living room when we had entered the house.
“Up in her room,” Ashton replied, with a sour look on his face. Corrie and I turned, and walked up the steps, making our way to my parents’ room, at the end of the hall.
“Mom?” I asked, knocking and then opening the door. My mom was standing by her closet, holding up two sweaters, like she was trying to decide between them. “Mom, Courtney texted me, told me that you wanted me here?”
“Yes!” she exclaimed, “Our relatives will be here any time and I need your help preparing the meals, and getting everybody settled.” She was speaking quickly, as though she was frazzled by the mere thought of our family getting together; it was true that we only got together like that for special occasions—birthdays, Christmas and Thanksgiving, and, of course graduation—but every time we did, my mom went all out, making sure that everything was perfect.
“Mom, it’s going to be fine,” I said, trying to reassure her that this gathering would go as smoothly as all the others had, “We even have Corrie and Jaden to help, so, we don’t have to stress so much.”
“Ok, ok,” she said, nodding and taking a deep breath, “Will you please go and make sure that Ashton didn’t eat all of the appetizers?”
“Sure thing,” I responded, walking to the door, but paused and turned when my mom addressed me again.
“And please go find something decent to wear,” she added. I was about to open my mouth and say some smart remark that would probably get me grounded for the next twenty years of my life, but Corrie got up, hastily, and pushed me out of the room.
“Tonight’s not going to be so bad,” she said, in an attempt to lighten up my mood.
“Maybe you’re right,” I said, as we made our way downstairs. I stopped dead once I saw Ashton walking out of the kitchen with a medium sized bowl of chips, and a small bowl of salsa.
“Are you kidding me? That was for the get-together! Mom’s going to flip!” I said. Ashton just shrugged.
“We can make more,” he said, as he sat on the couch and placed the snacks in front of him.
“Deep breath,” Corrie said. I took a deep breath, trying to get my anger under control; but I knew that deep breaths were, more than likely, not going to get me through the night.