I woke up the next morning to sunlight streaming through the window and a little bird chirping. I wasn't one of those roll-over-and-hit-the-snooze-button-twice days. In fact, I beat the alarm up. It was one of those mornings where you feel like you slept like an absolute log the night before. I felt like the tiredness and stress from the past month of sleeplessness and nightmares had been wiped away by the good, undisturbed sleep of that one night. For the first time in weeks I didn't want to bury my head in the blankets and ignore the world waking up. Instead, I greeted the morning with a smile and rolled over to taste the pillow with my grin.
Max could tell something was up with me. He kept stealing little glances at me over his eggs to see if I was really ok or if this was fake sunny Isabel. As we left to go to school, he looked at me over the jeep. "Is..."
I rolled my eyes and sighed, "Max, no melodrama today, ok? I'm in a great mood." I raised my eyebrows to show I meant business, then grinned and hit his arm playfully. He couldn't resist me, he never could. He just shook his head and grinned as he started the car.
So far this morning had been relatively painless. I had even surprised Mrs. Mollar by departing from my usual apathy to raise my hand with a serious question. I could feel some eyes on my back, but they were mostly from girls who were too scared to talk to me anyway, no matter what they'd heard. I dismissed their eyes with a shrug. Then Stacy approached me.
"Isabel. What is this I hear about some sort of bizarre argument you had with Tess at the Crashdown?"
Sometimes I really wondered why I even put up with Stacy. But, the very things that drove me nuts about her were the very reason she was a safe friend to have. She was too shallow, materialistic and self-centered to really care what was going on with me, which was just fine with me! She wasn't coming to me to find out if I was ok and if I wanted to talk. She was only worried about her image and appearances. I'm sure she thought that an argument where there was some sort of lesbian context could be a detriment to her social standing. I also knew that whatever I told Stacy would be repeated a thousand times over, and as long as Stacy believed, the whole school would believe. I had to make this good.
I smiled big and tossed my hair over my shoulder. "Oh that," I laughed. "Yeah, it was sooo dumb. We had this silly misunderstanding and I totally blew everything out of proportion. I feel so stupid and to do it at the Crashdown in front of everyone... God, what was I thinking, right?"
Stacy pursed her perfectly lipsticked lips together. "Well, what was this misunderstanding about? People are saying you guys kissed or something?"
At this I let out a laugh, "See this is what I get for being so dumb! Geez, is that what people think?"
Stacy raised her eyebrows, "So you guys never kissed?"
I rolled my eyes and smiled, "Of course not!"
Stacy looked almost convinced...almost. "So, then why did you ask why she had kissed you?"
I nonchalantly replied, "Oh, it was like a cultural difference or something. You know her dad is all from France. Well you know how the French are so kissy-kissy, always kissing your cheeks and everything... well she just did one of those silly French things and I thought she was making a play at me, which totally wigged me out, cause we are supposed to be friends and all. It's creepy to think your best friends have the hots for you, I mean, I deal with that enough from guys, you know?" I rolled my eyes as I said that last bit. I could see that that piece of arrogance had finally given Stacy something to relate to.
"Well, anyway, I sort of bugged on her at the Crashdown. When she explained everything to me later I felt like such an idiot! I mean, conceited much? I can't believe I thought Tess liked me! Now I feel bad though, I can't believe people think there is really something between us. I mean, anyone who knows me should know that that's totally not possible, you know?" With that last one I knew I had gotten her. She was convinced.
Stacy nodded, "Yeah, well I figured it must be something dumb like that. But Isabel... the next time you're about to make a scene, why don't you stop and think about how it will affect your friends. I can't have people thinking I'm hanging around with some dyke." With that she turned on her heel, her hair flouncing behind her.
I had to grin a little at that. God, what a bitch! But I knew I had just successfully dispelled any rumors of Tess and I "getting it on." Thank god for Stacy! Now I just had to tell Tess that she was French. God, that was laughable. It was a good thing I'd gotten that good rest last night, that was some quick thinking that my tired cloudy mind wouldn't have been able to do. French, Ha!
As I slid into my seat next to Tess, I muttered under my breath, "You're French..."
The teacher began talking then so Tess didn't have a chance to ask me what the heck I was talking about. Instead she just shot me a confused look that said have you lost your mind? I smiled and mouthed, "LUNCH."
Unfortunately, someone else had lunch plans for me... Alex. He intercepted me on my way to lunch saying, "So...eating together didn't exactly work out last time. What do you say we give it another try?"
I was about to tell him that today wasn't a good day when something across the quad caught my eye. There was Tess, walking towards an empty table, looking around, eyes searching. Her golden curls were springing with each step she took and the sun glinted off of them. I paused mid-breath to watch her small form making its way through the lunch tables. Alex's eyes followed my gaze to Tess. He shook his head in disbelief, "Huh. Wow... ok." He turned to go, but I grabbed his arm.
He leaned in close to me and said, "Isabel... we both know that Tess isn't French. I was going to ask what was really going on, but I guess I just got my answer." He nodded again, obviously hurt, and turned and walked away.
Part of me wanted to run after him and make it better and let him know how much I cared. But, in my instant of hesitation, Tess finally spotted me. Her eyes lit up at the sight of me. Once again, I had to choose between Tess and Alex. With one final glance back at Alex's retreating form, I sighed and strode over to Tess' table.
Her blue eyes, already sparkling with the reflection of her bright blue shirt, danced as she leaned in a little and said, "Comment allez-vous, Isobel?" At her perfect accent I had to laugh. "You are very lucky Isabel Evans!" She proclaimed.
She had no idea how true that statement was. I kept my eyes trained on hers as I softly replied, "I know." Not that a table in the quad was the best place to have a moment, but it was a moment nonetheless... until Michael came crashing in.
"Let's go." He grabbed at Tess' arm a little rougher than I would have liked. I was up instantly, on my feet, eyes flashing. "Michael, let go of her! What's going on, go where?"
His head snapped over towards me, his own eyes responding harshly to my challenge. He curtly barked, "someplace where we can talk." He left no room for arguing, so Tess and I followed wordlessly, exchanging apprehensive glances.
As Michael closed the door to the dark room behind us, Max emerged from the shadows. I could feel my perfect day being ruined in one fell swoop. The color drained out of my face as I realized this was an ambush; they were going to force the truth out of me. I couldn't lie to Max and Michael. Max was about to say something, but Michael cut him off, blurting out,
"What do you mean telling people that Tess is French?"
I tried to break in, "Michael, I..." but he was having none of that. He continued to angrily berate me.
"You're just inviting people to look into her background! And you know what? There isn't any Versailles or Napoleon in it. There's only UFOs, pod hatchings, and FBI agents. Do you want people to find that out? She's not French Isabel, people are going to figure that out when all she can say is bonjour and au re-fucking-voir. Then they're gonna wonder where she's really from! Then what? Then what Isabel?!"
His voice was increasingly getting louder and he was leaning in towards me angrily. Tess was cowering behind me. She looked like she was physically afraid of Michael. I knew Michael would never hurt me, but I began to panic too. Then Max put a hand on Michael's shoulder to hold him back. I thought Max was going to defend me, but instead he said in a quiet, angry voice,
"Isabel, this is serious. We have enough to worry about without this. You're just casting suspicion on Tess and all of us. Why would you tell people Tess was French, Isabel?"
I couldn't take it. I felt like a cornered animal, with Michael menacing towards me and Max's serious frown making me feel smaller and smaller until I finally blurted out, "Would you rather have had me tell the truth Max?"
Michael snapped, "What, that she's an alien?"
I jerked my head back towards Michael, "You know, you can be really dense sometimes!"
Max turned to Michael and told him, "This is about the fight at the Crashdown yesterday. The truth behind the fight, Michael."
I could tell from Michael's face that he knew about the fight but not in detail. That didn't stop him from immediately replying, "Well, let's hear the truth, Isabel. Or are you going to lie to us too?"
They just stood there staring at me. I could hear Tess whimpering slightly behind me. I looked back at her to see tears welling up in her big blue eyes until they spilled over and coursed in rivers down her now flushed cheeks.
I had no idea what to do then. I wanted to comfort Tess, I wanted to run away, to not have to face my brother or Michael, to just have a normal life not full of secrets.
I closed my eyes to shut out reality for a second. When I opened them, Tess was standing very close to me, looking up at me bravely. She raised a hand to stroke my cheek before her mouth met mine in a breathless kiss. She pulled back from me slowly, her eyes never leaving mine.
Max and Michael stood there with shocked looks. It was impossible for me to read what they were really thinking in my worried state. Tess turned and faced them and quietly said, "That's the truth... au revoir" then turned and walked out of the room, leaving the three of us standing there in a shocked silence.