The sudden shrieking laughter distracted her, shattering the world she was in. She glanced up from the book to see the source of the noise, as she looked, the general murmur became louder, more obvious. She located the source and wasn’t surprised. It was Becky, sitting with a table of boys, flirting shamelessly. Everyone had heard the rumours and Becky was doing nothing to dissuade them. Shaking her head slightly, Kara went back to her book, trying to lose herself in the words again. Someone was shouting something, but the noise was already fading, and that was good.
She watched as the characters performed their intricate dance, as they fought and clashed and fell in bed as lovers, as they laughed and played and made witty, scathing comments. It was all she had. The bell rang, its high piercing tone interrupting her thoughts. She carefully slid the bookmark between the pages, then closed the book over. Gathering her things, she moved from the lunch room, throwing away her half eaten lunch. It was Biology now, at least it was a class she enjoyed. She joined the flow of bustling students, still chatting, faster now, trying to finish stories before entering class. A few seemed subdued, disappointed that lunch was over, but most were accepting. Kara wound her way through the schools corridors, going the long way. So few others went the long way, she enjoyed it. It was quieter, more peaceful. The ground thudded slightly as her foot hit, the sound reverberating around the small corridor, it was always like that, no matter how many people walked along it. She found the sound soothing, comforting. She reached the door and entered, just as the second bell rang, she wasn’t too worried, the teacher was always a little slow getting to class. Kara went to her seat and dug through her bag, finding books and pens. With everything on the desk in front of her, she reached for her book, took the book mark from its spot and started reading.
“Kara, put the book away please.” she jumped, shocked that the teacher had entered. She hadn’t heard him at all, blushing slightly, she put the book in her bag. It was at an exciting bit too, The Corrector was just about to stumble into the heroes camp. She wanted to keep reading, but was too obedient. She would never try to read the book under the table. The teacher was writing something on the board, then stepped away, mitochondria. Great. She opened the book to the indicated page and started to skim through it. She had read this chapter already. In the background she could hear Mr. Williams droning on and on, she read ahead, after all it wasn’t like he would call on her to read. Teachers gave up on that in first year. She stumbled and mumbled over the words, talking too quietly, and when this was pointed out, too loudly. They tried to tell her to slow down, take her time, but she kept doing it. It was simple really, they assumed she was being genuine, that it was just how she read aloud. She had a nice speaking voice, clear and just the perfect volume. She read stories to her brother most nights before bed. It was a simple way of getting them to leave her alone and it worked. The teachers weren’t too bothered by it anyway, she was a good student, not excellent, but good. She snapped back to attention and tried to figure out where they were. She scanned the page, unable to find what Mr. Williams was reading. The class turned the page in unison, she looked at the top of the page, and relaxed, she had turned the page without realising it. As he continued to talk, Kara took her pen and started to doodle, hoping it looked like she was underlining. After growing bored of detailing her eight flower and trying to figure out just exactly what the weird loops and circles were supposed to be, she started to fidget. Finally, she couldn’t take it. Moving slowly and trying to be discreet, she reached into her bag and fished out the book. It had fallen deep into her bag. She glanced at Mr. Williams, his head was down. No one seemed to be paying any attention, she ducked down quickly, snagged the book and sat back up. Mr. Williams continued, never faltering. She opened it and sank back into the warm embrace of the words.
The bell rang and everyone started packing up. Kara did the same, pausing for a moment to try and figure out what class was next. She had biology, then maths, then history. She realised the day was over. She had spent the classes reading and trying not to be obvious about it. The teachers either hadn’t noticed or didn’t care. She packed up everything, then made a stop at her locker to dump some books and pick up others. She hadn’t gotten any homework in the last three classes so the evening was pretty much free. She only had to sort through some verbs for French and memorise them.
She lived close to the school, so she walked. It was only twenty minutes or so and she enjoyed it. She walked slowly, in no real rush, her parents wouldn’t be back from work until five and they would pick up Billy on the way home. If she rushed, she would be rushing back to an empty house anyway. She stopped on the bridge and looked down at the river, well, it was more of a stream at the moment. It was a habit to stop there every day for a few minutes, regardless of the weather, to watch the glimmering undulating surface of the water, to try and spot the heron that had taken up residence.
She opened the door and threw her bag on the ground, after shedding her coat, she went upstairs and changed out of her uniform, once in comfortable clothes, she dug through her bag and took out her book. When her parents came home she was just finishing the last few pages, seated firmly on the couch. When she finished the last line, she closed the book and put it down, feeling that strange sadness she always felt when she finished a book. She stood and stretched, then went to the shelves to pick her next one. As she searched, she fielded her parents questions about the day, assuring them school was fine and that nothing interesting happened. She chose her next book, then did her homework. Once it was out of the way, she was free to spend the evening as she pleased.
As she lay in bed, reading of course, something in the back of her mind spoke up, a little, tiny voice. She stopped reading and paid attention to the thought, mulling it over. It seemed like an important question after all. It was a simple one, but one she had never really given any thought, was she happy? She let the question roll around her mind, teasing it out. Was she? The question had surprised her, it was something that had never occurred to her, but now that she paid attention to it, it seemed important. She wasn’t sad, so did that mean she was happy? She considered it, she didn’t really feel happy. But wasn’t happy just an absence of being sad? Sure she felt emotions, everyone did, but maybe they felt them more often. Most of the time she felt nothing. It wasn’t emptiness exactly, it was more ambivalence, she didn’t really care. She wasn’t lonely, she knew that. That question had occurred to her, almost a year ago, when her parents tentatively brought up the question of her friends. She had her books, she had her family. Why would she be lonely? The question had first caused small tendrils of fear, oh god, what if she was lonely? But that turned into confusion. She wasn’t lonely at all and that made it a strange question. She felt something, a feeling that wasn’t quite new, but definitively unacknowledged. A small, tiny feeling that wasn’t given a chance to swell and grow. A small pang that occurred sometimes, when she saw people laughing with friends. When she saw people smiling and having fun. She pushed the feeling away firmly, and continued to read, dismissing her previous thoughts. She was happy, of course she was happy. She had her books, she had her family. What more could someone need? Not noticing, or refusing to notice the way her eyes teared up slightly, she continued to read, the words blurring slightly on the page.