Chapter 15: Choose

 CHAPTER 15

There are no seasons in California. No heavy snow or beautiful leaves that change colors, none of the definite signs that define the seasons on the East Coast. But there are changes here, they come in the form of signs, brighter clothes, warmer weather or maybe an Arts Festival. The Bayat Hills High Arts Festival is our sign that things are changing, moving forward into spring. The Senior Lot becomes transformed into this wild art show with music and artwork and performances. We walk around in amazement at the talents of our classmates. I always found it cool and, unlike homecoming, I’m looking forward to this. It’s going to be amazing. I’m going to enjoy every moment. Even if it means I can’t park in the lot for at least a month. Even if it means I’ll run into Bella Rodgers.
That’s the big piece of gossip now. Bella started at Bayat. She had taken last semester off for obvious reasons, but now is part of the freshmen class. There was even an assembly when school started up again with Principal Stephens explaining that we had to be nice to Bella because she had gone through a difficult time as well. It was a long assembly and there were lots of people arguing and debating whether or not she should be allowed at Bayat, which I found strange because it wasn’t like we had a choice. Although, I’m not sure I listened to half of it and I’m not sure how much I care. Maybe at first I did but this is my final semester. It’s the year of Nicole, take two, and it has to go perfectly—and that starts with making it up to Julie Arlington.

I’ve barely spoken to her since we’ve gotten back to school. She’s in my AP English and AP History classes, yet we don’t talk. I know I need to talk to her and I know I need to make the first move. I get my chance after AP English. Mr. Dolgren had been talking about some music paper we have to write, talking about how all the songs in an album link together and tell a story and we have to write a paper on that story. Brittany and Lexie are ecstatic about this assignment, while I think it sounds obnoxious and I noticed Julie seems to agree. We share a look, a shared I-can’t-be-the-only-one-who-finds-this-stupid eyeroll. But then as quick as it happened, it was over, as if Julie realized that it was me she was having this shared moment with. Me, the girl who had yelled at her during Christmas, so suddenly she looked away, seemingly engrossed in her notebook. I need to speak with her.

After putting my books away, I slowly walk towards her. I should have done this earlier. Months earlier. My heart beats wildly as I take steps towards her. She is putting on lipgloss, staring at herself in her tiny locker mirror when she notices me coming towards her. She quickly caps her gloss and turns towards me, giving me this curious look. I hope she doesn’t think I’m going to be mean to her. I’m not Rachel. I’m nice, although the last time I talked to her, I wasn’t that nice.

“So….that’s a stupid assignment we have to do, right?” I ask. Not sure if that’s what I should start with, but it’s the first thing that pops into my head. Julie smiles.
“Yeah. It is. I don’t understand why we have to find the story in a whole album. Seems like overkill,” she says.
“Completely.”
We fall silent again. I look down at my shoes and dig my foot into the linoleum floor. I take a deep breath and look back at her.
“You know, Julie…I should have probably done this earlier but….I’m sorry. About what happened at Christmas and I shouldn’t have yelled at you and…I’m sorry.”
Julie nods. She seems nervous too. She looks down at the lip gloss in her hands, twirling it between her fingers.
“I understand.”
“You do?”
“The relationship I had with Jerrod, it really—I was lonely. That’s what it was. I was lonely and he listened. If I had known anything—”
“I know. Same here. Hey, I used to be friends with him.”
God, that’s difficult to say. But I guess it’s true, for three months one time, he was my friend.
“No, you weren’t.”
“I wasn’t?”
“I don’t think anyone ever really knew him or was friends with him. He never let anyone get that close. You weren’t friends with him. Neither was I, really.”
“I guess. Yeah, maybe. Jerrod took your little brother from you. That’s—that’s just— no matter what your relationship was with Jerrod, it doesn’t really matter if your brother’s gone. I miss Will. He was awesome.”
“Yeah, he was.”
“He was really funny and sweet.”
“True. He and Adam made quite a pair,” Julie says.
I let out a laugh as I shake my head. Suddenly, it dawns on me that Julie would get it. More than anyone else, Julie would get it. I’m kind of upset I never thought this before. Of course she would get it.
“You know what they were gonna do that day?”
“What?” Julie asks.
“Will and Adam were contemplating either stuffing my locker with toilet paper or duct taping the inside of it just because I didn’t take him to McDonalds.”
A huge grin spreads across Julie’s face as she slowly nods. She laughs a little and I know in that moment, I am definitely right. Of course she would get it. Will and Adam were a team. A terrorizing prankster team. There’s no way I was the only target. If I’m Adam’s favorite target, it just makes sense that Julie would be Will’s.

“Oh, that sucks. Hey, did you ever get the peanut butter prank?”
My eyes widen as my mouth drops open. Did they do the same pranks on both of us? That doesn’t seem very creative.
“Yes, they put it on my pillow.”
“What was wrong with those two?” Julie asks.
“I don’t know.”
“I do miss those pranks though.”
“Well, you know, I can send Adam over to your house to live with you. I’ve been trying to convince my parents to get rid of him for years. Apparently, they like him. Beats me as to why. Clearly, there is something wrong with him and it’s just sucks that no one believes me.”
Julie laughs as she shakes her head. “I believe you. You know they filled all my shoes with shaving cream.”
“They put blue hair dye in my shampoo.”
“They put fake bugs in my backpack. So when I reached in, I pulled out a very realistic looking spider.”
“They put a dead fish under the seats in my car.”
We are laughing, both us standing there in the hall laughing. I knew Julie would get it. She had dealt with Adam and Will as well. It also makes me a little thankful for both of them. I’m glad I get to bond with Julie.
“Why did they do this? What did we do?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “You know, it’s shame we didn’t team up earlier. Think of the revenge we could have had.”
“Well, we still have your brother.”
“I like your thinking.”

Standing there with Julie feels easy. Reaching out to her feels easy. Maybe there can be a friendship, I don’t know. But it would be nice. Maybe we can fill Adam’s bed with peanut butter or maybe Saran Wrap his toilet. I’ve always wanted to try that one.

“You know, you wanna go grab lunch or something? We can brainstorm,” I say.
“Actually, I kinda wanted to go check out the Arts Fest. See what they’ve got up so far.”
“I’ll come with you. Maybe we’ll get inspiration for that paper.”
“I still think I’d like to do a Greatest Hits album of an artist,” Julie says, slamming her locker shut as the two of us begin to walk down the hall towards the Senior Lot.
“But…I thought it had to tell story,” I say.
“It tells a story. It’s a story about how the songs on this particular album made a particular artist a ton of money,” Julie says, grinning which makes me laugh. I feel a bit guilty that I had never gotten to know her earlier. The fun we could have just torturing my brother alone.

Smash. Bang. Smash. Screaming.

As step outside onto the basketball courts, we hear the sounds. The loud banging sounds. We exchange a look and quickly run onto the Senior Lot, past some of the artwork towards a stage area that’s been set up. There’s a crowd starting to gather as we push our way through. Is this happening again? But it’s not a pop, pop sound. It’s not a gun sound. Then I see him. Tyler Arlington is hovering over the piano where Bella was playing. Smash. Smash. He holds a tire iron in his hand and keeps bringing it down on the piano. Crash. Bella looks afraid as he keeps yelling, screaming, smashing. Her voice carries as she tries to move out of the way but Tyler grabs her arm. Someone pushes me out of the way. It’s Brittany. She runs towards Tyler and grabs hold of his arm, yanking it back, but he shoves her away. Brittany falls back towards the ground. I run towards her and soon realize that my friends are here too. Everyone seems to be here. This time running toward the madness. Shane, Chris and Matt run to Brittany. Matt turns to try and stop Tyler but narrowly avoids getting hit in the head with a tire iron. Smash. Smash. Crash. Tyler keeps hitting the piano over and over. Brittany looks horrified. My heart is pounding as I run towards Matt and Brittany. Lexie, Kelly and Jennie are by my side. We are comforting Brittany as Tyler keeps smashing the piano while staring at Bella. Bella looks terrified.

“I called the police,” Julie says. I look back toward her as she walks toward Tyler. She wasn’t talking to me. Smash. Smash. A few more hits to the piano. He glares at Julie, his eyes wide. He lets go of Bella’s arm and I see Adam suddenly grab a hold of Bella, pulling her out of the way.
“You did what?”
“I called the police. Come on, you can’t do this. This is my school. Our school. It sucks that Will died, it does. I miss him so much but he would not want this. He would not want you hurting Bella or Brittany or….or….I dated Jerrod..”
Tyler cocks his head to the side and stares at Julie, looking almost stunned. Julie takes a deep breath as she stands, still gripping tightly onto her phone.
“You went out with him?”
“I went out with Jerrod for three months last year. I dumped him because I thought he was weird and creepy, but I didn’t know that he’d do anything like this and I certainly didn’t think he’d kill our brother. So….are you going to hit me too?”

Silence. I can hear a faint rustling of wind through the trees but no voices, and soon I can hear the painfully familiar sound of sirens in the distance. I look back at the faces of other students and gaze around the lot. I notice Principal Stephens and a few other teachers rushing towards us. There are some student paintings propped up on easels. A mic stand laying on the ground. I think back to that dumb assignment. Every song tells a story. Every picture, every note, everything tells a secret. Something happened here. Something bad. We’re not letting it happen again. A new song please. This one, this song of terror and tears and blame…that song is getting old and severely overplayed.

“You dated him?” Tyler asks again, still gripping the tire iron in his hand.
“Yeah. You were in college. Why haven’t you been back to school? Tyler this isn’t…you can’t do this. You can’t…we’ve already been destroyed. This is a new year and we’re trying to move on. What you’re doing isn’t helping. So…are you planning on hitting me? Go ahead.”
She is staring her brother down in a way that sends a chill down my spine. I wonder if he really is going to hit her. He raises the tire iron up as Julie stands frozen in place when…a new sound, a clanky sound as the tire iron hits the ground and seems to bounce a little bit with each clank. I watch it slowly stop moving when two police officers push their way through the crowd and approach Julie and Tyler.
“What’s going in here?” one of the cops asks.
“My brother needs help.”
“I don’t need help.”
“Yeah you do. Look what you did? And here? It’s Arts Fest. It’s time to…choose something else. Art. Music. Being happy. This isn’t worth it,” Julie says as she motions towards the busted up piano.

The cops move in on Tyler. I watch as Julie steps out of the way and they read him his rights before walking him off in handcuffs and just like that it’s all over. Principal Stephens follows the cops as the teachers start telling us everything is okay and we should go about our business. Our group stands frozen, staring at each other, all of us not sure what to say to each other or Julie. She walks towards us, her eyes brimming with tears. Kelly immediately hugs her. Of course, sunshine-happy-ponies-and-rainbows Kelly brings Julie into our group. Always smiling, always choosing to be happy. Right now, I don’t hate it.
“I’m sorry,” Julie says, crying.
“It’s okay. It’s over,” Kelly says.
“I have to call my parents. I should go with him. I—”
“What happened to Bella?” Chris asks.

I shake my head, realizing that in the midst of everything Bella vanished. She is no longer standing near Adam and Allie. I wonder where she went? It seems so strange. I’ve never met anyone quite like Bella. Thinking back to those times Bella joined Jerrod and I in the backyard of their house, I think I probably heard her speak, like, five times in the whole three months.
“That Bella is definitely a talker,” Matt mutters.
“Seriously,” Chris says, shaking his head.
“She definitely wouldn’t fit in with our group of girls. It’s one emotional breakdown after the other,” Shane jokes, which of course causes Lexie to smack him upside the head.
“There is nothing wrong with expressing emotion,” Kelly argues.
“Definitely not, but why do you have so much of it?” Matt asks.

I let out a laugh, pretending to be more upset than I am. But I just can’t muster the strength to be upset anymore about anything, really. Even the small things.

“How are you, Brit?” Jennie asks. Brittany is still sitting on the ground, staring at the broken piano. That same piano that she had used to play during the Winter Concert. As she struggles to her feet, our boys help her up. She walks towards the piano. The cover is completely broken, pieces of wood sticking up everywhere. She sits at the bench and presses a key. There’s music. She smiles a little as she lifts her hands to the keyboard and begins to play. It’s still working. Despite it being completely broken outside, inside it’s working. Brittany keeps playing and the sounds of the piano seem to carry with the wind as we all watch her. She’s in her element when she suddenly stops and looks up toward us.
“Lex, sing.”
“No,” Lexie says shaking her head, “it’s your moment.”

Brittany nods and continues playing. I listen carefully to the melody. Wondering what she’s playing exactly. I laugh a little as I recognize the tune. She’s not playing Mozart or Beethoven or any of those fancy composers who write complicated, classical music. No, Brittany Kaneko is currently playing one of the songs to one of the Harry Potter movies. It makes me happy. Yeah, we’re gonna be okay. We’re gonna be just fine.

 

15

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