Authors: Ashley Bourgeois
By Ashley Bourgeois
Rain. Rain came down in sheets, it seemed here, and disregarded the rules of nature. But the rain, like any such weather here, was a rarity. Any weather phenomenon of any sort besides sunshine was an anomaly in the Valley of the Sun, the name given to the Greater Phoenix area. There were days, though, when the rains came, and those days were what people like Aislin looked forward to the most.
Except for that one day. Aislin had sat with her mother in the hospital, holding her hand like she would disappear if she let go of the frail appendage. Her mother was only fifty, and was already succumbing to the tortures of cancer. Ovarian cancer, they said. Incurable, they said. So Aislin had no choice but to watch as her mother slowly gave in to the cancer, and hold her hand as she died. Her stepfather hadn’t even been there that day...but Aislin had. And she had remembered.
The rain, the lack of the incessant sun, gave her an excuse to stay indoors, to let herself get lost in the worlds that didn’t exist, the worlds that all the authors of her favorite books could create. These worlds brought her away from all the goings-on of today’s busy world and breathe, if only for a moment.
She had just turned eighteen that summer, the summer of her senior year in high school. Her mother always pressed her, or had before she lost her life to cancer the year before, to read as much as she was able to, to take comfort in the time-worn pages of the books that surrounded her.
“It will bring you some sanity in a crazy world,” she had said in the rich Irish lilt of her people, brushing Aislin’s hair out of her face, “And it will let you use more of your mind than you can know. If people read half as much as they should and watched the television half as much as they do, people would be too busy to think about killing each other.”
Aislin had always taken comfort in her mother’s words, and in the rain. They had always seemed to make some kind of unknown sense in a world where Aislin felt like she didn’t belong. That she should be living in one of the novels her mother taught her to read, to cherish.
That was all she had, here. Her mother’s memory, the novels that were a constant presence and the rare perfection that came in the form of the rain.
The buzzing of her alarm clock jarred Aislin out of a deep sleep, and she pulled the comforter over her head in a vain attempt to keep sleep, and her dreams, where she wanted them. It would be a futile gesture but it was worth the try if only for a few minutes. She didn’t want to start the school year this year. She didn’t want to see the stares as people watched her down the hallway, judging her, calling her names behind her back. It was the same story, every year…and she had no reason to believe that her senior year would be any different.
Her stepfather’s heavy fist on the door to her bedroom reinforced the buzzing of her alarm. He had perfect timing. With a groan, Aislin pushed back the covers, her bright green eyes flinty. “I’m coming!” she yelled to the door.
“I won’t drive you to school if you’re not ready on time,” came her stepfather’s growl in answer.
Aislin rolled her eyes before running hands through her long, curly red hair. She hated her stepfather. He had made her mother happy so Aislin hadn’t said anything, but now that her mother was gone…he made her life a living hell. She knew it was only a matter of time before he kicked her out altogether. She was eighteen, now, and legally able to survive on her own.
He hated how much time she spent with her nose in her mother’s books. If it hadn’t been for Aislin moving all her mother’s books to her room, piled in boxes where they wouldn’t fit on her ceiling to floor bookshelves, they would all be gone-sold, or worse. Her stepfather was a violent man, prone to drinking and fighting. Aislin was sure the only books he ever read were the Playboys he tried to keep hidden from her, hidden underneath his mattress like some twisted sort of drug stash. She hated him with all her being.
Unfortunately, though, trying to hide underneath the peacock feathered comforter on her bed wasn’t going to make dealing with reality any easier. Every time she opened a book, Aislin found that reality would always come crashing in to shatter whatever hopes she had created. Often she would dream that she was a damsel in one of those books, and that her Prince Charming would come take her away. Unfortunately, though, fairy tales were just those, and happy endings were just for stories.
She stretched slowly as she climbed out of her bed, being careful to pick her way through the books scattered across the floor so that she wouldn’t bend any of the pages. It was nice to live here, most days. She could sleep in a tank top and a cute pair of booty shorts without feeling like she was acting like one of the sluts in her high school, flaunting what they had in a desperate attempt to catch the eye of a boy who hopefully won’t be anything like their father. It made Aislin sick to watch their behavior. It was a gigantic orgy, all the time; the air practically reeked of sex. Self respect? Not in this day and age.
The sound of the water beating down on the tile in her bathtub calmed her nerves. The water, like the rain, had a soothing effect on her senses. One of the advantages of being the now only female in the house, and the only daughter before her mother had passed away, was the right of demanding her own bathroom; she practically had her own wing of the house! As such, she knew this was a sanctuary from her stepfather. No intruders, nothing to distract her...except the ticking of the clock. Aislin knew she only had a small amount of time before her stepfather would come beating down on the door again, demanding entry so that she wasn’t late to her first day of school this year. Like she gave a rat’s ass, truth be told.
She climbed into the shower and let the water run down her, washing away the stress that threatened to drown her as she worried about the first day of school. In Phoenix, since everything was so warm, Aislin found she liked a cool shower better as opposed to a hot one. It helped to keep her awake, and it helped to sharpen her mind. After all, a mind was a terrible thing to waste, or so her mother had told her.
The shower was done all too quickly and Aislin dried herself off with one of her towels, a deep royal blue to match one of the hues in the comforter, matching the rest of the decor in her rooms. The towel seemed dark compared to her pale skin...another gift from her mother, something that made her stand out amongst all the tan and darker skinned peoples that were natives of Phoenix. She loved looking different, but it was just something else that the vultures at her high school picked up on, trying to use it as some kind of leverage on her to get under her skin. Luckily, it hadn’t worked so far. But this year was a new year, and they would try again...they always tried again.
Because it was the first day of school, Aislin at least thought she should dress to impress. For her, though, that meant wearing a long white skirt that billowed around her feet, complete with a lacy purple tank top, a royal purple that brought out the green in her eyes, while the skirt brought out the red in her hair. It was a beautiful outfit, and one her mother would have been proud of, but Aislin knew it would only win her stares from her peers and already be a mark against her in their eyes. Soft broken in leather sandals completed her ensemble, and she wore a necklace of amethyst stones her mother had gotten her from Sedona along with matching earrings before her death. It was lovely.
She had to make sure everything was perfect. This school year was for her mother. Everything she did this year was for her memory, and to honor her. Aislin put on a quick spritz of her mother’s perfume, a mix of lilies and sweet pea, and then hurried towards the door, grabbing her satchel from where it lay on the desk and threw it over her shoulder. She grabbed the door handle and pulled it open to see her stepfather’s scowling face looking down at her, his fist raised to knock on the door. A blank expression replaced the scowl for a moment as he saw her standing there. No doubt he was looking forward to another tongue lashing. Inside, Aislin was grinning to herself. Sorry to disappoint you, daddy dearest, she said to herself sarcastically.
“What?” she asked innocently. “I was coming right down. It’s not my fault you’re impatient.”
“You push my buttons by sleeping in so late,” he growled, the scowl back in place as if it never left. “Don’t test me.”
Aislin walked by him and rolled her eyes when he couldn’t see her expression. She was so sick of him. “Let’s get this over with, shall we? Then you can continue on acting like I don’t exist.” She walked down the hallway towards the kitchen, grabbing a banana to eat for breakfast while she moved and went outside to her stepfather’s lightning blue corvette. It was always his prerogative to have the newest, most shiny piece of technology out there. Her mother’s life insurance policy had seen to it that he could live happily, and Aislin only saw a little of that because her mother hadn’t altered her will before her sickness.
She slid into the passenger’s seat of the sports car, staring at the windows at the dust and the cactus, at the desert rolling by her. Her high school was in an outer suburb, Fountain Hills, where there weren’t really very many people, more wildlife and rolling desert than anything. Aislin liked it that way, and it gave her stepfather the privacy he so wanted as well. The school was small by a city’s standards, and in Aislin’s graduating class there were 200 people alone. Aislin thought she knew maybe 15 by name, others by face...but none well enough to really call them friend. Without much preamble, Aislin’s stepfather pulled up to the front of the school and she stepped out.
Welcome to hell
, she thought to herself.
At least it’s cooler than I thought it’d be
The school building was made of red brick, with a tall iron pike fence around the perimeter. Athletic fields and recreational facilities provided a cushion between the school building itself and the fence, allowing the security personnel to keep a closer eye on the students who attended. The attendees of Desert Rain High School had already separated into their pre-determined cliques; the jocks went with the jocks, the nerds with their own, and so on as it always goes. Aislin could only roll her eyes and duck her head, determined to avoid this crowd of people.
There was only one place she wanted to be--the library. It was in a building off from the main building to protect the books it held, and it had plenty of room on the inside for the books that Aislin still hadn’t made all the way through. The old librarian, Mrs. Heinrich, had always been so sweet in helping Aislin with reading material. She had retired a year ago, though, for some emergency vacation/retirement to go to Europe and study some ancient books. Aislin really didn’t understand it, but whatever made the old woman happy. With the first genuine smile on her face she’d worn for weeks, Aislin pushed the doors open to the library. Thank God for nothing for the first two periods.
Light shone into Aislin’s eyes as she stepped inside the library. It was much brighter than she had remembered last school year. It seemed more...warm, now, more of a social space than a final resting place for the books it housed, a place where those people who wanted to could enjoy everything the library had to offer. A small half-smile crossed her features at everything that was before her. It was beautiful. Her fingertips trailed over the backs of cushioned chairs, admiring the efforts of the person who had worked on it so faithfully.