Sometimes, on some nights, there’s a dark spot in my vision. You know the one. It’s in one eye, and it stays there, unbalancing your sight until you turn on your lamp, or your bedroom light. The instant the room is lit, your eyes are normal.
I’m sure there’s an actual explanation for it, but I have my own.
The darkness is my guilt. Or rather, our guilt. Everyone’s guilt.
When it’s in my right eye, the dark is guilt for things I did wrong. In my left, it’s guilt for things I should have done—I knew I should have done—but didn’t. And I think the guilt never really goes away, but we get used to it, and see past the empty spot in our vision until we fail again, and it intensifies. It keeps me up sometimes. Because even when I close my eyes, I know if I open them, I’ll see the spot, and remember the things I’ve done. The people I’ve hurt. The hearts I’ve broken.
Almost worse is thinking of the hearts I could have healed, or tried to heal, but didn’t. Or couldn’t. My own included.
I’ve always been very attuned to feelings, whether mine or someone else’s. But what’s the point of knowing if all I see is people wandering, aimless and hopeless. What’s the point of feeling anything if it just hurts?
Anyway, whoever you are, reading this, I hope you understand. Please don’t share this letter with anyone.
I fold the letter up, tucking it into the inside pocket of my winter coat. It’s been three days since I found it here, at the bus stop. The paper was soaked by the snow on the ground, and it was only readable after I took it home and dried it. The words on the front, “to someone” were what made me pick it up in the first place. This location, as well as the fact that it’s secret and titled to nobody in particular tells me that dropping it here was no accident.
I’ve read it so many times. I still can’t guess who it’s from. I wouldn’t even know where to start, though maybe my sister would. She’s the one that knows the kids at the high school, not me. I’ve always been homeschooled...
The bus turns the corner to our right, screeching into the morning air like a dying yellow beast. It probably is a dying yellow beast, when I think about it.
I look around for my fifteen-year-old sister, the reason I'm here. I see her over by one of the trees, scraping snow off of the roots with her teal-green tennis shoes.
“Haley, the bus is here!”
She keeps scraping for a few seconds, then turns. “I know.”
“Well?” I know I shouldn’t be frustrated with her, but if she didn’t insist on someone coming with her to the bus stop, I wouldn’t always have to hurry to my job. She walks past me, head tilted toward the ground as she heads for the bus. Said bus comes to a halt, and the door swings open.
We’re not the only ones at this bus stop. There are five other kids who get picked up here besides my sister, four boys and one girl. The boys never do anything but say stupid stuff and look at my sister as either something to be laughed at, or an object. Once, from behind a tree, I heard them talking about her, and at the time I wanted nothing more than to storm out from my hiding place and hit every one of them in their disgusting, inappropriate mouths.
My sister is growing to be just as beautiful as my mom and me. But she is no object to be played with. Besides, her looks don’t even hold a candle to those of the other girl who waits here. I feel a small pang of guilt thinking it, but it’s true. I’d never compare myself to that other girl, though. That girl is quiet, always hiding behind a sheet of sleek dark brown hair, walking past every other person as if they don’t exist as she reads whatever book she’s brought with her. She’s confident. Maybe the boys are all too cowardly to whisper about a girl who holds her head so high.
Haley climbs into the bus without so much as a wave, moving back to find a seat. The middle-aged driver, Mr. Evans, waves at me instead, shouting a greeting.
“Kennedy! How’s it going?”
“Good.” I say, because I know he doesn't want to hear about my problems.
He waves again. “Alright, well, you have a good one.” It takes me a moment to understand his words, then the door closes, and the bus rumbles away, leaving four tracks in the fresh snow coating the street. It hasn’t even gone half a block before it slows down, pulling to the side of the road again. Then I notice the girl—the quiet one—jogging to the now-stationary vehicle, stepping in with obvious relief. But before she goes all the way in, she glances at me. And if I see her right, if my eyes aren’t playing tricks on me, she also glances at the tree roots Haley was scraping.
The roots where I found the letter.
I’m making dinner when Haley comes home from school. Another glance at the clock tells me school got out two hours ago. She closes the door, dropping her backpack to the floor and kneeling to pull out a three ring binder.
“Where were you?”
“Doing homework at school.” It sounds like a lie. I don’t push her; she looks exhausted.
I stir the cooking noodles again. “I’m making spaghetti.”
“Okay. Is Mom coming home for dinner?”
I shake my head.
Haley hugs her binder closer to her. I want Mom to come home too, but seeing the pain on my sister’s face makes it worse. Mom’s job at the hospital makes it hard for her to be home, and Haley suffers the most from her absence. I want to call Mom and somehow force her to come here. The thought reminds me.
“You could always try calling her,” I tell Haley, “She sometimes has free time.”
“I know.” She starts walking away, up the stairs.
“Dinner will be ready in seven minutes!”
As I drain the water from the noodles and add spices to the tomato sauce, my mind wanders back to the bus stop. Was that girl the person who left the letter? She must be; she looked right at the spot where I found it. Then again, she might have just noticed that it didn’t have snow on it.
Focusing back on my cooking, I realize I’ve put in way too much salt. I panic for a moment, then settle for adding more tomato sauce to balance it out. While I wait for the new stuff to warm up, I add more basil, a little more marjoram. Mixed smells waft past my nose as I add a few definitive shakes of onion powder alongside a healthy amount of black pepper. I’ve already put enough garlic, so I refrain from adding more. Haley doesn’t like garlic, anyway. In the past I’ve followed recipes down to the teaspoon, but since Mom isn’t here to complain, I like to experiment. Add a little risk to my cooking.
Haley comes back down the stairs, empty handed. She’s silent as she heads into Mom’s bedroom and shuts the door behind her. I picture her pulling out the makeshift piano bench and sitting down, grabbing her single piano book and opening it to the first page. She always lets her fingers hang over the keyboard, either suspenseful or hesitant; I’m not sure. I know just how long it takes for her to do this, because I’m only a second too early guessing when she’ll play the first note. Her hands launch into the song, and the music fills our lonely house. It’s the only song she plays, and she’s been practicing it for over two months. It’s quiet, but fast, not something most beginners would even contemplate picking up.
The noodles are cooling down, so I dip a spoon into the tomato sauce, pausing a few seconds to let it cool. The familiar flavor fills my mouth as I lick the delicious redness off the spoon. It’s not specific spices I taste, but the combination. I can still pick out an excess of salt, though.
“Haley, dinner is ready!”
She plays a few more measures before stopping. Careful not to drop the glass bowl, I bring the noodles to our small table and set them in the middle. Haley appears, sitting as I grab the pan of sauce.
“This might be too salty,” I caution. “I got carried away while I was making it.”
Haley shrugs. “I like salt.”
I dish up my noodles, then drizzle the red goodness all over it. Making spaghetti is an art, and eating it is too. You have to twirl your fork just so, then scoop it up so you get enough sauce…
“So,” I say, still looking at my food, “Who’s the other girl that waits at the bus stop?”
Haley looks up. “Our bus stop?”
“What other bus stop do I ever see?” Honestly, it’s like she wants everything to be complicated.
“Her name is Julia. I talk to her during lunch sometimes.” It looks like she’s just stirring her noodles around.
“She’s your friend?”
Haley stops twirling her fork. “I hardly know her.” Her words are flat, uncaring.
“Well, maybe she could be your friend?” I don’t mean to make it a question, but it comes out that way.
“I don’t make friends, Kennedy. You can’t just make friends. I would think…”
“You would think what?” There’s a new tension in the air. Haley stares at her dinner like her life depends on it. I wait for her to speak.
After eight hot seconds, I give up, but I know what she was going to say.
I would think you of all people would understand.
“Haley, I know I don’t have very many friends. But I have Allan. And Catherine, which is surprising, because as you were about to say, I don’t interact with many people. Being homeschooled can carry a certain social isolation. Sometimes.” I’m getting off topic.
“Anyway,” I say, trying to look my sister in the eye, “You go to school. And there are hundreds of kids there. I’m sure you can find a friend.”
“I’ll try!” Haley looks up, glaring daggers. I make a motion somewhere between shaking my head and shrugging. I must've hit a nerve, because Haley storms off, leaving her spaghetti behind and taking the stairs two at a time.
I sigh and go back to eating. I guess I should apologize, but I’m right. She should be able to find friends, right? She just needs to put herself out there.
I clear the table, covering Haley’s plate and putting it on the still-warm burner in case she comes back for it. Shuffling through my coat pockets, I grab the letter and go to my own room. Maybe reading it through the eyes of that quiet girl, Julia, I’ll be able to glean something more from its words.
Laying on my bed, looking up at the ceiling, I start again.
Author Notes: So, every time I start writing something, one of the next few books I pick up to read have a very similar premise. In this case, anonymous letters. (The book I'm reading is Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer. Very good so far.) Since I'm reading a published version of something so like what I'm writing, it can cripple my stories and kill my motivation. The nice thing about contemporary fiction is that it's all about the characters, and since the plot hardly matters, as long as my characters are distinct and well thought out, the story can be its own thing.
So, this being the case, I need feedback on the characters, such as how they feel, whether they contradict themselves, what characteristics are evident in this first chapter. This short chapter isn't much to go off of, but I do need feedback on the first impressions Kennedy gives.