We walk home in comparative silence, until Vic asks, “What could we possibly do against her? She’s got everybody we know on her side, Aneira. With people like Irene, there isn’t really anything you can do.”
“I don’t think there’s anything to do but go talk to her.”
Two boys push past us. “You do know she’s never gonna listen, right?” one of them says.
I whip around. “It shouldn’t be any of your business,” I lash out.
“Sorry, sorry,” the second one says, with his hands raised like he’s surrendering.
But all they’ve done is speak my worries. Irene has enough friends to make me look stupid. Calling her out would only make me look sillier. I turn to Vic. “Or, you know, we could not?”
“I mean, she’s right there.” Vic shrugs. “We might as well just do it.” I look across the street to see where she’s pointing. Irene and Kay are talking to the two boys that just passed us. You’ve got to be kidding me.
“Considering who’s she’s talking to, she probably already knows.” We watch with apprehension as she walks across the street, alone.
“So. They-” Irene turns and points at the boys now leaving.“-told me that you think I’m gossiping about you?” She fake-smiles hugely. “You do know everything I’ve said is just the truth, right?”
“You’re expecting me to believe you, when I’ve had so many other people tell me what you really are?” I give her a smile that is just as fabricated as hers. It hides a long-developing hatred.
Vic shudders, but continues my rant for me. “I mean, this morning- this morning!– you teased me, and you whispered about Aneira. I’m not gonna lie like you and say I know what they were, but I heard enough.”
Irene’s face transforms into one of regal annoyance. “I said I told the truth. I never said the truth was kind.”
I flinch, almost in unison with Vic. But it’s me who recovers first.
“You need to stop. I don’t think you realize what you are doing.” My voice rises with each word, to the almost to the point of yelling. “Every time you insult someone, it’s worse than a slap or a punch because it’s hidden.” I speak the truth as fast as I realize it. “It’s hidden, and it’s never just the first impact. Even after you’ve stopped, it never stops for whoever heard. We live with it every day. It keeps us awake at night, and it keeps us from finding peace. You don’t have to deal with the effects, we do. You don’t understand!”
Irene steps back, as though pushed. Her face shows the tiniest fraction of guilt before smoothing into a condescending expression. “You’re delusional.” But I saw the crack in the porcelain, I saw the falter in her step. I know that Irene is not as perfect as anyone thinks.
Vic and I walk up the hill to our homes together, in silent solidarity.
No, the world didn’t immediately fix itself. My life isn’t a fairytale, no matter how much I wish it was. There aren’t any rainbows or sparkles or unicorns in the future for me. There was blood and ragged mountains and and unpaved road, but Vic and I made do. There’s a little more brightness in the world with each sunrise. Every new day is a new beginning for someone. With each beginning, we become a little less broken.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s a happy ending.