CONSPIRACY OF HOPE
Nick slammed the car door shut violently and sank into the gray leather cushions, her gray-rimmed eyes appearing almost blue in the half-light of the afternoon. She didn’t understand why she chose to wear gray eyeliner again, but then she didn’t understand half the things she did and said and she did and said them anyway. Her shirt was still black (it would be the third day she would wear black, almost as if she was in mourning), and her hair was still a messy combination of wavy and straight, although there was a new addition of a silver-painted bang slicing across her face like a knife blade.
The driver scowled at her through the rearview mirror, but the teen girl shrugged and grabbed a navy-blue pillow that lay on the cushions. She curled up, like a cat, on the car-seat and tried to think about her prom dress, but that didn’t help. She sat up.
Annoyed, she rubbed her temples with her right hand. A tattoo of a flower-filled vine snaked its way from the bottom of her wrist-bone up her ring finger, ending in a large flower opening itself up near her nail. The nail itself was painted in clear pink with the same vine pattern lacquered on it. The finger had a prominent callus. It looked bitten through – red and raw.
“Nice tattoo.” one of her classmates (the one who had suggested she wear eyeliner) remarked. Nick didn’t thank him. She was too busy staring blankly into the distance, twirling her strands of silver hair through the aforementioned tattooed finger, a line of glitter painted on her cheeks. It was on the palms of her roughened hands too, not the hands of a pampered girl but the hands of someone who couldn’t care less. The scars on her legs were hidden with unnecessary Band-aids, big purple blotches marring pale skin.
She scratched at her wounds too much, had a twisted feeling of satisfaction when the blood ran and her nails were caked in that dark brown. It wasn’t sadomasochism, it was a disturbing habit she’d had since childhood and she’d resolved time and time again to break it, but old habits die hard.
The car kept moving, and Nick held her eyes closed, listening to the drone of the engine as it navigated the traffic-filled streets. She remembered the low drone of her own voice, quiet yet laden with strength – the threatening, masculine kind, much like Wolverine or something. It was not the sexy, smoky, “bedroom voice” she’d learned to have, pitch-perfect, with an accent if she wanted. It was guttural and threatening and somewhat…sad.
But then again, she was sad, though she fought to hide it beneath a mask of cynicism and witty comebacks that she didn’t care less. If she was averting her eyes from an annoying person (such as that boy she knew in her class with a ready cocksure, annoying, flirtatious smirk and eyes narrowed in a leer), she would pretend to look at her slightly-dirty nails. If she was crying inside, she would tamp it down to a deep, nasal breath as she closed her eyes.
She was doing that now, getting up and swiping at suddenly itchy eyes. A tear tracked its way down her cheek, an eyelash carried in the salty drop. Nick swiped it away and cursed. “Damn eyeliner.” she said, rubbing her eye then patting it with tissue and, steadying her reflection in the rearview mirror, deftly reapplying her eyeliner with one fluid movement.
She capped the pencil and tossed it back into her bag. Outside, traffic was at a standstill. She hunched over in her seat, grabbing her ears and tucking her knees to her chest. It was a frustrated gesture. A frustrated girl battling with her need to feel and her forced instinct to think. Her too young-too old face looked drawn in the mirror after another exhausting day.
She grabbed her pillow again and curled up, back to her original cat-position on the seats. She tried to mimic sleep, making her breaths even and even loosening up her limbs. The drone of the car started up again, and she could feel the movement. In her mind, she saw a flash of red-brown-gold and the memory of her swiveling her head and knowing it was a false alarm and she was being stupid and blind.
In anger, she screamed soundlessly and scrunched her eyes, little fireworks in her vision due to the pressure. She let out a breath and clutched the pillow, thinking about her prom dress and her life and all the things that it was and would be. All the rules she ascribed to.
Nick closed her eyes and pretended to sleep, ignoring the fact that the tighter she knit her eyes together, the more her eyeliner would smudge. She wouldn’t sleep that night. She’d just lie there, in her bed, the same way she was lying in the car. Just pretending, because she always pretended. She always pretended not to care.
That was part of her nature, really. She didn’t like being overt anymore. She used to, but wearing her heart on her sleeve became too dangerous. There were always seagulls to peck at it, or some other hazard, burying a piece of shrapnel into a heart she’d cultivated to only appear as if it were made of bullet casings and barbed wire.
Nick remembered that she was always the one everyone turned to. She was the one little girls went to for advice because of her listening ear and crassly compassionate comments and the fact that she loved alliterations enough to be able to spin her advice into them. How she only pretended to like violence and gore to fit in with the guys but really was a girl, somewhere, only it was buried in so deep she couldn’t remember how to be one.
All of the memories, the musings, were intensely mechanical but she didn’t care. She could live with mechanical. She could live with manufactured responses and motives behind motives, so buried that she herself could believe in her own lies. Nick was a master of deceiving and manipulating herself, and though that truth was painful it was better than what she was facing. So she screwed her eyes up tight and jumped from thought to thought frantically, wanting to sleep but not wanting to sleep because she could dream.
She would do anything to not remember that You weren’t there and I was stupid enough to expect you to be.