Broken Sunsets ~ Part 12 // and it ends…

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.

Broken Sunsets ~ Part 11

When I come out to lunch, the bright sunlight blinds me. As my vision clears, I see Vic. Vic isn’t alone.

“Hey,” Irene smirks. She has her throng of friends trailing behind her, including Kay. “So I heard that you think I’ve been gossipping.”

I freeze.

“And I just wanted to tell you that I never did anything like that.” She waves her hand vaguely. Don’t lie to me. “Choose not to believe me.” Don’t blame it on me. “But I didn’t.”

Before I can speak, the words I want to say tangle up in my throat. She tosses her ponytail and leaves.

Vic fidgets in the squeaky plastic bench. It’s obvious that they feel awkward.

“So. Does this happen a lot?” they ask. “And it wasn’t just you that they were here for. They’d started laughing at me too. ‘Weirdo,’ ‘Freak,’ all that.”

I want to answer their first question, but anger and sadness are simultaneously coursing through me. “They did that?” Be mean to me. But don’t hurt the one friend I have. I want to follow Irene and yell at her.

It is her fault, after all.

Me, the loud wannabe.

Vic, the punk girlfriend.

Countless others, labeled as something that wasn’t them.

In making us what she wanted us to be, she made herself cruel.

“Vic, I think we need to talk to her.”


Broken Sunsets ~ Part 10

By the time we get to school, I have mostly stopped crying. Vic takes me to the bathroom, where they help me wipe my face off. My dark eyes are rimmed with red and my ponytail is sticking up all over the place from Vic’s (supposedly comforting) petting. The crack in the mirror jags its way across my face.

I am broken. We are all broken.

Only some of us can be fixed.

I’m sitting in science, looking up definitions for our vocabulary worksheet when I hear Irene’s stage whisper behind me.

“She thinks she’s so cool, with her glasses and hair and her hoodies when all she is is a nerd with a punk girlfriend,” she hisses. I stiffen. Vic is not a girl. Even I, queen of oblivious existence, have understood that much. I want to tell just that much to her face, but Irene has turned around, flipping her auburn hair into my face.

I imagine her satisfied smirk. I imagine wiping it clean off her face. I imagine stopping her.

Broken Sunsets ~ Part 9

Kay comes running up to me, red-faced and out of breath. Her eyes shift around warily. “Um, so, Irene was talking about you a few days ago, and like-”

I already know what’s coming even though I didn’t know before. So many people have done this that it barely surprises me anymore. “She was gossiping.”

Kay shifts guiltily in place. “Yeah.”

I want to be angry at her, but I know it isn’t her fault. “So, can you leave me alone now, or what.” It isn’t a question, it’s an order.

She scurries off. I try to pretend it doesn’t bother me, but it’s me who has to live with it, right?

Later that morning, Irene greets me with a wave and a smile, but I don’t move. How can you look me in the eye and pretend to be kind without any guilt? With my glare, she knows. We still talk, but it isn’t the same.

It shouldn’t be the same.

Broken Sunsets ~ Part 7

I can’t concentrate on my classes for the rest of the day. With the scene at lunch playing over and over again in my head, how could I?

When the bell dismisses school for the day, my classmates jostle around me. I sit there, too dazed to do anything. Slowly, I pack up my notebooks, and get up to leave when I hear Vic calling out from behind me.

“Hey, I saw you walking to school this morning! Do you wanna walk home together?”

Frustration simmers in me. Why do they want to be friends with me so bad? “Yeah, okay,” I say, trying not to show my anger outright. “I don’t talk a lot, though.”

We walk out the gates together, with Vic prattling on beside me. I realize how strange we must look to everyone else, like a walking paradox. I’m hunching into my gray hoodie, and Vic is a shock of color next to me, with their bright purple jeans, blue hair, and rainbow backpack.

Vic suddenly clams up. “Sorry,” they mumble. “I know I get annoying sometimes.”

Instantly, I soften a little bit. It might be a ploy, a trick. But I can’t help feeling bad from them. I’ve been excluded too many times from my friends’ conversations. “Yeah, I get it.” I snort. “It might be hard to believe, but I get annoying too.”

“So you like painting? Me too,” I tell Vic. They crack a grin and continue to chatter on.

Broken Sunsets ~ Part 6

A quiet voice interrupts my reverie. “Aneira, right? Do you mind if I sit here?” Vic asks.

My voice is choked up with held-back tears. I clear my throat before saying, “Yeah, sure, whatever.”

“Sorry if I’m intruding or something…” they trail off.

I realize how standoffish my original comment must have sounded. I’m about to scoot over and let them sit with me when I realize that this could all just be an elaborate prank. I mean, I did hear Irene talking about me to Vic earlier, and it didn’t exactly look like she was saying the best things. “Um, actually, I think I’d like to sit alone.”

Vic shrugs. “Okay. See ya around.”

As they walk away, I mentally berate myself. You could have had a chance to start over with a person who hasn’t heard all the gossip about you! Why’d you say no? But inside, I know. I’m too scared of starting over to even try.

Broken Sunsets ~ Part 5

I unpack my lunch. Curls of steam rise from the thermos, which holds my lunch for the day, fried rice. My stomach growls, and I may have drooled a little bit. The rice just smells so good.

“Ew, what is that? It stinks!” a kid at the next table over yells. It can’t smell that bad. Doesn’t he go to fancy, dimly-lit restaurants just to get food with half the taste? His friends chime in jeering their own insults at me. They’re not even talking about my food anymore, instead teasing my curly hair and paint-stained jeans.

The rest of my table watches, chewing their own food, slowly, silently, like a herd of cows.

I’m blinking away tears furiously, but it’s too late. By the time I’m able to pack up my things and leave the table, there are tracks of water staining my cheeks.

I never actually hated fried rice.

Broken Sunsets ~ Part 4

My classes drift by. The teachers mostly ignore me because I’m too shy to answer and not dumb enough to be called out on. At least my teachers like me.

The person sitting next to me had moved here from Los Angeles over summer break. Ms. Garcia asks Victoria to talk about herself a bit.

She tosses her her blue hair out her face, revealing a spreading blush. “Sorry, actually, I go by Vic instead of Victoria. I love painting and reading fandom trivia.”

No one notices the second part. Instead, they whisper about how weird it is to be not use your given name. It’s not really that weird, I think. Why can’t you focus on anything else they said?

“We’re going to work on a worksheet today,” Ms. Garcia announces. “Anything you don’t finish is homework. Please work with the person sitting next to you.”

I turn toward Vic. “Hi, my name is Aneira. Um, sorry, but what pronouns do you use?”

Vic smiles shyly. “They and them. Thanks for respecting my identity. I guess I didn’t really expect anybody to be okay with what I am.”

Even so, I feel awkward. I don’t quite know how to act around Vic. At least I don’t blatantly whisper about them like the other kids in class. Vic and I barely talk, only asking each other the occasional question.

The lunch bell rings, and everyone dashes out to get a good table. There’s no one I sit with anyway, so I finish cleaning up the paper scraps the other people had left before thanking my Ms. Garcia and leaving. I walk across the muddy grass field and sit down on one of the empty benches. Unpacking my lunch, I frown.

My mom’s given me fried rice.

Broken Sunsets ~ Part 3

“Bye, Ma!” I call as I stride out the door and onto the sidewalk. She calls back a “Don’t run!”

I ignore her as I run down the hill. It’s not that I don’t want listen to her. It’s just that if I don’t run, I’ll be late for school, and I do not want to be that one out-of-breath kid who bursts into class 15 minutes late, blabbering some random excuse. (Fun Fact: that was me once. There is a teacher who remembers me now. Also kids who still tease me for it.)

I catch up to Irene, my neighbor,  who is busily texting someone on her phone. I peek over her shoulder, but she instantly puts her phone away. “What is it, Aneira?” she snaps, undisguised annoyance coating her voice. 

I cringe away a little. I just wanted to say hi. “Sorry, Irene,” I whisper. My back sags a little, and I speed up so I won’t have to talk to her. Irene’s been really uptight lately, so I decide to leave her alone.

I finish the rest of the walk to school in silence.