Authors: Kim Harrington
I’m not stupid. I know half of them only worship me because they fear me.
With popularity comes power and I could crush any of them with a simple text blast. Any day, at any moment, at my whim, I can change lives for the worse.
I see it, sometimes. In their too-eager compliments. Forced laughs. A smile that ends a moment too soon to be genuine. It’s not love, it’s fear.
I’d worry about retribution for the things I’ve done, but really, let’s be honest. I’m at the top of the food chain, baby. I’m untouchable.
What could any of them do to me?
olby had a secret.
I knew this from the way he was holding his lips tight, trying desperately not to smile. He was five years old, so it was probably a mildly mischievous prank, like he’d hidden Marie’s keys again. But an unusual look in his eyes made me wonder if, this time, it was something more.
Whatever it was, he definitely didn’t want Dad or Marie to know. He didn’t speak as Marie hovered around us in the kitchen, triple-checking that she’d put everything Colby could possibly need in his backpack.
Dad swooped in and gave us both kisses on the tops of our heads.
“Have fun in kindergarten,” he said, ruffling Colby’s hair a bit, but not too much since Marie had already slathered gel on it. Gel. On a five-year-old.
“Enjoy your first day of senior year, Jade,” he said to me, and winked. He kissed Marie on the cheek, grabbed his laptop case and garment bag, and left. I could tell Marie was miffed that Dad was missing drop-off for Colby’s first day of school. But he had a plane to catch. A plane that brought him to
meetings that paid for things that Marie liked. So she kept her mouth stiff, but closed.
Colby stopped staring into space with that mysterious expression and turned his attention to his bowl of Cocoa Puffs, which he stirred vigorously. He refused to take a bite until the milk had magically turned into chocolate milk. He did this every morning. On an adult, it would be an annoying quirk. On Colby, it was cute.
My mother died when I was nine. Dad remarried two years later. And then, after twelve years of being an only child, I became a sister. During Marie’s pregnancy, I was
looking forward to the addition to my new family. My life had been through enough turmoil. I sulked anytime they talked about the baby. I spent the baby shower locked in my room. Even though they knew the baby was a boy, I constantly referred to the bump in her stomach as “it.”
Then Colby was born. In the hospital, they sat me in a chair and carefully placed him in my arms. It was the first time I’d held a baby. I think my dolls weighed more than he did. He was wrapped up tight in this white hospital blanket, a blue hat on his little, bald head. His eyes were wet, glassy, and unfocused. But he stared right at me. Almost through me, in a way. And all the hatred, the anger, and my selfish, petulant feelings evaporated. They rushed out of me like air from an untied balloon. And I filled back up with love.
I was seventeen now. Next year, I’d be going off to college somewhere and Colby would have his turn to be an only child. He’d miss me, though. And I’d miss him. He was a cool little
dude. His favorite color was purple, because most boys pick blue and he liked being different. He loved to make up his own dance moves when I blasted my music. And SpongeBob made him laugh so hard he sometimes couldn’t catch his breath.
Though Marie looked like she needed a horse tranquilizer, I wasn’t worried about Colby in kindergarten. He’d have no trouble making friends. He’d beam that giant baby-toothed smile and they’d all share their LEGOs.
Me on the other hand …
“You excited for school?” I asked, my spoon clinking against the cereal bowl.
Colby’s face lit up. “Yeah! When I went to the open home —”
“House,” Marie corrected as she loaded the dishwasher. “Open
“They had a ton of toys in the classroom,” Colby continued. “Way more than my preschool back home.”
home,” Marie said.
My fingers tightened around the spoon. “He meant our
home.” I held back from adding, “obviously.” I hated how Marie constantly corrected him.
The town I’d grown up in was in Western Massachusetts, almost at the Vermont border. My house was old, drafty, and small. Our closest neighbor was a half mile away. My high school was regional, made up of three bordering rural towns, but still my grade only had thirty kids total. I’d always dreamed of living in one of those upscale suburbs close to Boston with great schools, big malls, and actual fun stuff to do. I’d begged
my dad year after year, but he’d always said moving wasn’t an option. We could sell our house but it wouldn’t be enough money to buy a house in one of
So color me surprised when Dad and Marie called a family meeting over the summer to tell us my dream was coming true. Now. When I only had a year of school left. The timing made their motivation obvious. Colby was about to start kindergarten. And our town’s school system wasn’t good enough for him, even though they’d made it plain over the years that it was good enough for me. I wasn’t bitter over the reason, though, just happy it was finally happening.
Marie got a job as a night-shift nurse at a Boston hospital, which paid much better than her old one. And Dad could work from wherever since he traveled most of the time rather than going to an office. He sold data systems. Whatever they were. But still, I wondered how all of a sudden we could afford it.
Our new house was big and beautiful, pale yellow with black shutters. White trellises climbed up either side, ivy snaking through the latticework. Our old house always had something broken, something crumbling, something needing a fix. The new house was perfect. The only change Marie and Dad made was to add a carpet runner on the main staircase. Marie thought the hardwood stairs were unsafe for Colby.
I used to watch teen movies where everyone lived in big, nice houses and threw amazing parties and prom was this
held somewhere fancy like a hotel. Call me superficial but when I watched those movies … I wanted that. Instead of
my little old house, the one party I’d been to (in a barn), and a junior prom in the school gym, which smelled like sweaty socks.
Now here I was. In Woodbridge. Living the dream. I didn’t know how Dad and Marie were swinging it, but I wasn’t going to question. Just appreciate.
I rose and rinsed my cereal bowl. Then I headed back upstairs, brushed my teeth, and took one last glance in the mirror. My long brown hair was almost to my waist. It probably needed a cut. But the blond highlights that appear every summer still glowed, so it didn’t look half bad. I wore a yellow tee that brought out the flecks of gold in my hazel eyes, and a brand-new pair of jeans.
Last night, when Dad and I were alone downstairs, he told me I looked more and more like Mom every year. I loved that. My mother had been beautiful — in that natural, graceful way that made strangers on the street stop and stare. But my delight in our resemblance had nothing to do with beauty. I just felt like, if I was walking around with her blood, her DNA, looking like her … maybe she wasn’t completely gone. My existence kept her a little bit alive.
A silly thought, I know.
She died quickly. People tell me that was a gift, considering it was cancer. She had headaches, but she’d always suffered from migraines so no one thought anything of it. Until the day she started mixing up words. She said we were going to order a toaster for dinner, when she meant pizza. I’ll never forget the look of horror on her face when she looked at me
and said, “I can’t remember your name. I know it, but I can’t say it.”
One MRI later, we saw a picture of the tumor that had been silently killing her. She didn’t survive the surgery.
Marie had been a nurse in the hospital. She’d even met my parents. A year later, she’d run into my father again and they’d started dating. It was just one massive life change after another from that point on, leading up to today, my first day at a brand-new school.
I checked my phone and wasn’t surprised to find no new texts. My only friends back home were Nicole and Elizabeth, but I’d always felt like the third wheel on their BFF bike. School had already started for them and they were so busy, it was taking them days to respond. I’m a realistic person. I knew we’d do that “slowly drift apart” thing friends do when they move. I’d just expected it to take longer than two weeks.
I turned away from the sink. Colby was standing in the bathroom doorway. “What’s up, little dude?”
“I want to tell you something.”
Ah, the secret.
“Okay.” I bent down and whispered conspiratorially in his ear, “Follow me.”
He tagged along down the hall to my room, his little legs almost running to keep up with my strides. I closed the door behind us. “What’s going on?”
“I’m worried,” he said, sinking into his favorite beanbag chair.
He nodded slowly. “What if the kids don’t like me?”
“Of course they’ll like you! Everyone in preschool liked you.”
“What if the kids are different in this town?”
I swallowed hard. Twelve years between us and we were basically worrying about the same thing.
“I was wondering …” Colby trailed off, like he was scared to ask.
His eyes went to the box I kept on top of my dresser.
“Something about my collection?” I asked.
A little pink colored his cheeks. “I was wondering if any of your pretties could help me.”
I collect gemstones. Some as jewelry pieces, some loose, some inherited from my mother, some collected on my own. I’d passed a lot of time with Colby showing him the gems, talking about their colors, their names, what meanings they each had. I first showed them to him when he was two. He called them my “pretties.” Even though he knew the word “gemstones” now, “pretties” had stuck.
“I don’t know if a gem exists that can make people like you,” I said.
“How about one that will make me stop worrying?”
The truth was that the gem he probably needed was the one my mother named me after. Jade: protector of children. But the only jade I had was a pendant. Sending him to school wearing a girl’s necklace probably wasn’t going to help.
He read the answer on my face and his lower lip turned down in disappointment. I hated seeing him all nervous. I
went to the box, sifting through the gems, avoiding the one at the bottom that no one was allowed to touch, and pulled out the jade pendant.
“This is very special to me,” I said. “You promise you won’t take it off or show it to anybody?”
His eyes widened with wonder at the dangling, smoky green jewel. “I double-promise.”
Normally, I’d trust a five-year-old boy with a delicate piece of jewelry as much as I’d trust a thief with an ATM password, but Colby was different. I knew he’d take good care of it.
“Okay, then.” I slipped it over his head and hid it under his shirt. “This jade will hang over your heart all day and protect you.”
He wrapped his skinny little arms around my neck. “Thank you, Jade.”
“You’re welcome, buddy.”
He began to skip out of the room, but stopped as if he’d forgotten something. He turned back to me with a smile. “I’ll tell you now …”
I blinked quickly. I’d thought being nervous about school
what he had to tell me. “Okay.” I crossed my arms and grinned. “What?”
He went to the doorway and looked both ways down the hall, then came back to me. He lifted himself up on his tiptoes and whispered into my ear, “There’s a girl in my room.”
“Right now?” I whispered back with a smile.
“No, just sometimes.”
“A pretend girl?” I asked, my eyebrows raised.
“No, she’s real. But I can see through her.”
An icy sensation tickled the back of my neck and worked its way down my spine. “You can see through her,” I repeated.
“Yeah.” He nodded enthusiastically. “And she …” He paused as he shuffled through his five-year-old vocabulary to find the best description. His eyes lit up as he hit on the word he needed. “Glimmers. Yeah, she glimmers.”