On The Line
March 13th 20XX
"...I'm telling you, There's no way it was a coincidence, I even tested it multiple times, Like...why don't you all believe me if I can literally prove it.......If you just tell me yours I can even predict your grades this year..............stral objects literally have the pow........ctually pretty easy.......ncient romans even used astrol...................."
I tried my hardest to zone out while Eugene was rambling about horoscopes. He started talking about 15 minutes ago and isn't showing any signs of stopping, every time It would seem like he ran out of things to say, he'd just remember another "fun fact" or a prediction that came true. My god did it get annoying.
"Would it be rude to excuse myself to the bathroom?" I start to think.
After a few seconds, I glance at my friend Anna. It seems she's been waiting for me to glance at her for a long time because after I did, she immediately got up and broke Eugene's vocal flood.
"Sorry all, but me and Nina will be goin' now, we still haven't finished any of our homework and it's getting pretty late"
"Oh, that's alright, I'll finish the part about the Romans and head out as well" Eugene quickly replied.
"See you guys tomorrow!" Erika said. Energetically waving her arm.
"Later" Hugh said, only sparing a glance at Anna.
Anna and I started gathering our stuff and hastily putting them in our bags, Notebooks, Pens, My Samsung Galaxy 1, Everything. I was anticipating Eugene to start rambling again and prevent us from escaping, but luckily. He didn't.
We closed the wooden classroom door behind us, and after releasing a quiet sigh hoping that Eugene won't hear it and get upset, I looked at my phone to discover it's already 6:58 PM.
"What time is it?" Anna quickly, almost impatiently asked after seeing me glance at the phone.
"Oh, Uhh, It's 6:58" I stammeringly replied.
"Well...Shit, Now we don't have time to finish our homework, we'll have to do some of it tomorrow morning if we don't want to get blasted"
"It's alright. You could probably just stay over and we'll be able to finish it all if we stay awake. It was pretty fun as well listening to Eugene ta—"
"Eugene can go to hell. He spent like 30 minutes talking without even considering that no one wants to hear his bullshit" Anna said in a furious yet hushed voice.
She started adjusting her bag, probably waiting for me to reply.
I started walking to the stairs with her following, I didn't really know what to say to calm her down so I just stayed silent while looking outside at the school. The empty school playground looked quite beautiful flooded with orange light, almost like a lava pool, the occasional raspy caws of the crows, and the busier yet further away suburban dwellings beneath the hill our school was located on. It all looked really calming. I didn't mean to be insensitive while Anna is fuming next to me but I couldn't help but smile.
"You...wanna get some drinks on the way home? Maybe it'll cheer you up?"
"Nah...I'm fine. Plus, homework"
"You know you could've just told him to stop talking, Eugene isn't the most self-aware but I'm sure he wouldn't have made a fuss about it, maybe he'd even apologize"
"Yeah? Then why didn't you tell him to shut it? I could smell the boredom coming from you"
"It wasn't THAT bad, it was actually somewhat informative"
"Informative !? This sane, educated person is talking about how he can look at the sky and predict our grades or if we'll be happy after graduating yet excluding our friend group, he's a loner who's one exam away from failing!"
"Alright, cut it out. You're being a dickhead"
"I'm not! It's just that...I...it's....*sigh*"
Anna gave up talking and put her hand on her forehead, letting out a big sigh. I could only look at her and keep walking, I don't know if I should change the topic or just stay silent. Anna's been my best friend for about 10 years now yet I stand here not even knowing what I should say.
As we exited the school building, we instinctively, almost in sync, raised our hands to block the sun rays and started walking along the cobblestone pathway leading to the main gate. It was way quieter than I thought it would be. Judging by how loud Eugene can get, and that it was still as silent as a desert, they must still be talking in the classroom.
I'm starting to feel somewhat guilty for not telling him to stop talking, even if I didn't mind it, Anna certainly did.
I'll try texting Eugene when I get back and tell him to apologize, I'm sure he wouldn't mind. I take a look at Anna and she seems to be lost in thought while her unblinking eyes are staring at the ground, she's not noticing me staring at her face even though we're less than a meter apart, It's somewhat entertaining to stare at her face for so long, although it seems like she's still annoye—
"I kinda envy you, Nina" Anna said in a quiet and defeated voice, Still staring at the ground.
"Oh...Uhh...Why's that?" I stammeringly replied back, my string of thought broken.
"I wish I could tell more people how I actually felt, people who I hate or people who I love...every time it actually comes down to it and I decide to speak up, I either cover it with a neutral, universally friendly tone or excuse, Or just...chicken out completely"
"And this isn't even about Eugene" She interrupted me "So many interactions and situations that could've been smoother and not so goddamn aggravating if I had just spoken up, so much shit that could've been avoided. You know what? It IS my fault. Assuming that people will just get the hint and be able to read my mind and know how I feel is just me being dumb, Again!"
"If I was more like you, Nina, I would be able to tell people when they're being assholes" Anna said, Her pitch breaking every couple of words.
Again, Silence loomed over us, I made sure to be the one to break it this time.
"Hey, It's not about being me or not me, You could just start telling people how you genuinely feel from now on. No need to get all gloomy about it. Let's call Eugene after we get home and tell hi—"
"This isn't about Eugen—" She interrupted.
"Yeah, I know" I Interrupted back "But he's a part of a bigger problem, So we could start with him. And the fact that we're even talking about this is indicative of your progress, don't think of it as some type of twisted ties that you made that are too late to break now, Or whatever the hell is going on inside your head"
"What the hell was happening without my knowledge !?" I thought. Anna is usually the one thrilled about talking to new people or solving friend-related problems, seeing her so defeated like that really concerns me. I should probably not show my concern though, don't want her to think I'm pitying her or anything. Just gotta cool her mind a bit until we get home, even though I was getting angrier at Eugene the more I think about this ordeal, it would be way healthier if Eugene was the one to apologize, maybe Erika or Hugh called out his behavior after we left.
"Standing here and weeping will get us nowhere" I added "Let's get some drinks from Summerbee"
We already exited the school and were walking through the semi-empty road on the side of the town that I've walked through every school day up until now. It doesn't have many buildings on the sides except for a few shops for school kids to get snacks before or after school, The areas where you'd expect to see shops or dwellings were occupied by a large, usually vacant park that high schoolers go to if they want to smoke or skip class. While on the other hand, elementary kids of nearby schools tend to make rumors or stories about how the park is haunted, I wondered if we should rest in the creepy park after getting the drinks but it's probably for the best to head home as quickly as we can.
"Alright, What are you getting?" I asked while grabbing the door handle of the shop/café.
"Just get me whatever" Anna replied.
"Nah, They don't sell "whatever" flavor, I want clear instructions"
Anna looked at me impatiently yet she still couldn't help but let out a smile.
"Just get me an Iced Coffee. We'll need to hurry home"
"Aight, Gimme a second" I quickly replied as I entered the shop.
Summerbee's atmosphere has never failed to comfort me, the building's been here for over a 100 years and was reused and revamped many times across its lifespan, it has a bunker for when it was used as a shelter in WWII but also a small fenced area behind the building that was used to house livestock. The first floor had dark wooden flooring, walls filled with beige and olive patterns forming various flowers, a few small tables for anyone who wanted to enjoy their drink indoors, and a counter at the back of the shop. A yellow ornamental light above the counter was the only source of light in the entire building, and below it was a 16 year old boy named Ray, he was reading something but it seems like I interrupted.
"Good afterno-, Oh...Hi Nina, what're you doing here?" he said, almost caught off guard by my arrival.
"Sup Ray, Just wanted to order a couple of drinks"
"You came all the way here to order some drinks? Isn't there a café close to your hou—"
"Uh...yeah, I stayed a bit after the school ended, just forget about it"
"Cool...what're you getting?"
"2 Iced Coffee, please"
"Just give me a second then" He said as he got out of his chair and turned around to the table where all the ingredients were placed and started preparing the drinks.
"Why the hell is it so dark in here? People might think the shop's closed and you can't even see what you're reading"
"Nah, I can, Plus there aren't any people around, I'm gonna finish making these drinks and start closing down the shop. It's getting pretty late and no one has even passed by the shop for over an hour, I don't wanna miss class as well"
"Oh, sorry to hear that...maybe business will be better tomorrow?"
"Hah, nah, don't feel bad for me, I get the same salary no matter how many drinks I sell, and my dad doesn't depend much on the shop so he isn't even thinking about selling it. Right now, my only worry would be school related stuff"
"Oh yeah, forgot to ask you, How's night school treating you?"
"It's alright, way better in terms of teachers and off-school activities, but I'm still struggling with my schedule. If I'm not napping in class then I'm doing it at work and vice versa. A customer literally had to wake me up himself and wait for me to clean my face"
"Yikes, did he complain or anything?"
"Nah, thankfully he was actually pretty understanding, especially when I told him about me going to night school"
"And your dad doesn't want to hire anyone else, right?"
"Yup, doesn't trust anyone with maintaining the shop, even though literally anyone could come in while I'm asleep and rob us" Ray said in a blunt yet somewhat humorous tone.
The sound of the coffee machine was the only audible noise in the room, even though Ray was giving me his back, it really felt like he had more baggage to release, I just didn't know how to convince him to do so. It doesn't seem like he made many friends in night school, and with him being stuck here, I'm probably the only person he gets to talk to during his day, even if it would seem like he has nothing to say right now. I'm sure he wants to.
I slowly start to walk to the side of the counter without him hearing my footsteps, his head doesn't seem to be facing something in particular so he's probably lost in thought. As I go around the counter, entering it. I pick up whatever he was reading and look at the cover.
It turns out to be a novel called "SV-284", it's written by a guy named Reymond Phillips and on the cover, there's a seemingly stranded astronaut in space, drawn in a scratchy, monochrome style with only his golden visor being drawn in a hyper-realistic way, the book gives off very melancholic and helpless vibes.
"Oh, Ahah, didn't notice you entering the counter" Ray stammeringly said, his spacing out broken.
"What're you reading?" I asked as I held up the book.
"Oh, SV-284, it's a psychological drama/horror that I borrowed from one of the teachers, I'm supposed to write an essay about it"
"Well, does it have a plot? the back of the book is just more empty space"
"Yup, it's about a group of astronauts who went on a mission to space called space voyage 284, but after an accident on the station happens, an escape pod containing three guys gets flung through the void that is space. Long story short, after about 2 days of waiting they land on a planet identical to Earth, so identical in fact that the rest of the crew on this pseudo-Earth were waiting for their arrival. They discover that everything, everyone and every piece of history is identical to what they saw on Earth. But after 20 years of retirement and convincing themselves that they may have just hallucinated on the escape pod and happened to return to Earth, they discover inconsistencies that make them realize they couldn't be further from home"
"Wow, that was actually like...a really good pitch, now I want to read it" I said, giggling.
"Yeah, I stole the pitch from an article, since there isn't any on the book and Raymond never talks about it"
"Alright, here are the drinks," He added "maybe we'll talk about the book later or something"
"Thanks Ray, I'll pay you later since I don't have any money right now" I said as I grabbed the two drinks and fast-walked to the door, remembering just how much homework me and Anna have.
"Cool, Later Nina"
As I exited Summerbee, I saw Anna squatting beside the door, leaning on the building's wall while holding her phone, Looking like a sad blob.
"Here's the Iced coffee and sorry for the wait" I said, holding out her drink.
"It's fine...it's 7:30 by the way" She said while getting up and dusting off her back.
"We'll figure something out, don't worry about it"
Throughout the remaining 10 minutes of walking home, I somewhat eased Anna's mind a little bit more, talking about school plays, homework, teachers, etc. To be honest, I opened up any topic that came through my mind, even if we talked about it previously. Luckily we spent a good chunk of the time planning what homework we'll do first. I just hope my mom doesn't mind Anna staying over.
As we entered my humble dwelling, we took off our Mary Janes and threw the iced coffee cups in the bin. My house was as quiet and abandoned as it always feels, Mulberry painted walls, closed windows and doors, everything tidy and clean, to avoid the alienating feel that creeps up on me every now and then, I usually leave my room untidied and constantly play music whenever I can. My mom (who is currently cooking in the kitchen) usually keeps me company though since we're the only ones home ninety five percent of the time.
"Is that you, Nina?" my mom shouted from the kitchen.
"Yeah mom, I'm back, and I brought Anna with me as well" I shouted back.
My mom peeked her from outside the kitchen "Oh, it's good to have you Anna, how did school go?" she asked.
"Oh. Hi Mrs. Hamasaki, school was fine...I guess" Anna replied unenthusiastically.
"Oh really?...that's nice to hear" my mom replied, not finding any more conversation to ignite.
"Alright" I clapped my hands "Anna and I will be doing a butt-load of homework, so we better hurry up"
Not waiting for an answer, I grabbed Anna's hand and dashed to my room, closing the door behind us. As we tossed our school bags on the huge pile of clothes beside my closet, a pile of clothes that's been here for about half a year now, growing and shrinking as time goes on, we sat on my off-white carpet that's taking ninety percent of my room's floor. I rested my back on the side of my bedframe, the hard texture of the wooden frame wasn't comfortable to say the least, but I was just glad to be sitting down after a long walk. Anna on the other hand was just laying on her back with her forearm resting on her head, looking pretty exhausted.
"Aight, let's pick up the pace, it's already 7:43, Energize yourself a bit and hand me my bag, we'll change clothes when we take a break"
"What about calling Eugene?" Anna said as she lazily got up and switched to a side sit.
"We'll call him once we take a break as well, let's just start"
"Nah, I think we used the wrong formula here, let's just put random numbers instead of X and see if they add up. Does 1 work?"
"Yup, that's it"
"Pretty sure Napoleon died on the fifth of May...wait...no, the revolution started at the fifth of May, right?"
"Yeah, I think so"
"Then when the hell did Napoleon die?"
"...Screw it, I'm putting the fifth of May as well, maybe his death caused the revolution or something, I dunno"
"Here you go girls, I figured you might need a bit of a break''
''Oh, thanks mom! Are these brownies?''
''Thank you miss Hamasaki!''
''Nah, Erika didn't actually cheat, Hugh and her have been studying for two weeks straight before the exam''
"...I bet she cheated as well. Erika gets distracted faster than a toddler, Hugh's lectures would just be a background radio to her''
''Can't say I blame her to be honest, I can't even trust myself not to cheat with all these sudden exams''
''*gasp* The great saint Nina is planning to cheat? When did you get so corrupted??''
''Give me a break, I'm not gonna spend all of my youthful years studying about Napoleon''
"*yawn* when will the suffering stop?" Anna jokingly asked.
"Hnnng," I stretched my arm upward "I dunno, we have like two more tests or something. I suggest we take a brea—"
"Yup," Anna quickly interrupted me "We should change clothes as well, I'm starting to smell like a caveman" she added.
Anna strenuously got up and started rummaging through the aforementioned pile of clothes, looking for her favorite pastel green striped pyjamas that she basically stole from me. I took a second to glance at my phone hoping that Eugene would have texted me or something but he still didn't. I reached out behind me to grab the crumpled pattens blue sweatshirt and black joggers that were laying on my bed and started changing.
"Oh shit. Did you ask your mom if I can stay over?" Anna worryingly asked.
"Eh, don't worry about it, my mom wouldn't really care....The question is, did you tell YOUR family about staying over?"
"...I guess they won't care as well" Anna bluntly replied.
"Yeah...I know, I kinda meant Ren when I said 'family'"
"He'll be fine. He's used to waking up and not finding his older sister around, maybe when he grows up and realizes that his parents are airheads, he'll also leave the house more often" Anna paused to gather her thoughts "He can like...stay at the dorm with me when I go to college...we'll stay up late playing board games or cooking some random shit. Goddamn...like...just picturing me returning from a tiring day of studying or socializing to him talking to me about books he read or fun facts he discovered. That's straight up peak life"
"Yeah, it's been a long time since I've seen him. He's coming to the play, right?"
"Yup, he's already pumped and he keeps-..." Anna took a second to remove the schools shirt over her head, not wanting it to muffle her voice "...he keeps giving me advice on what to do, and it's way more helpful than any of the teacher's advice"
"Awh, that's so sweet of him, I hope he actually likes it"
"I hope it actually HAPPENS!, we only have two weeks left and the teacher's on a goddamn vacation" Anna complained.
"Yeah, which is good right? Like we have more freedom that way? I have no problem with us doing the project on our own, in fact, it'll be way easier and fulfilling without the teacher's contribution"
"Alright, then why in the hell don't you want to be the leader? Like...if you want more freedom over the play you could just claim that you're the leader now and boom, Freedom!" Anna said in a confused tone, like she's pointing at the elephant in the room and bewildered that I didn't mention it.
While talking, she handed me her school uniform that she just took off, I picked up mine from the floor and stood up.
''Again, I'm not gonna become the leader, ask anyone else" I said as I opened the door and fast-walked to the bathroom.
"Don't do us like that, Nina. The whole play could fall apart if we don't find a leader"
''Not gonna happen Anna, I'd rather quit the team than become the leader, Just find another leader, it's not that hard'' I shouted from the bathroom as I threw our crumbled school uniforms into the empty laundry bin. Hopefully my mom will have enough time to wash them.
''IT IS hard, half of the team are either newbies or just outcasts who wouldn't work as lea—"
Ring-Ring. Ring-Ring. Ring-Ring. Ring-Ring.
I couldn't hear the rest of what Anna said since my phone started ringing, I closed the bathroom door and hurried to the room, Anna was sitting on a pillow in the corner of the bed with my phone in her hands, she tossed it to the opposite corner when she saw me enter the room so I could reach it.
"Who is it?" I asked, even though I already picked up the phone.
"I dunno, just an unknown number" Anna replied.
I hit the "accept" button and raised it to my ear.
It was the voice of a woman, she sounded middle-aged and her raspy crow-like, tired voice sounded similar to a smoker.
"Good afternoon, Is this Nina Hamasaki?" She asked.
"Uh yeah, I'm Nina. Who is this?"
"This is Nina Hamasaki"
"Yes, I AM Nina, Who am I talking to?"
"Who is it?" Anna asked in a hushed voice.
"Oh, is Anna next to you?" The woman asked.
"Yes?" I replied in a creeped out, unsure tone.
"Could we please continue this call in the bathroom? I don't want Anna to listen to what I have to say" the woman politely but impatiently asked.
I took a second to gather a reply and think of who I'm talking to, Anna's mother was in my contacts and this certainly didn't sound like any teachers I know of...
"Eugene, is this some weird, abnormal prank or something?" I asked, I didn't actually think it was Eugene that much, but there was just something off about the woman's voice and I wanted to know what.
"No, this isn't Eugene" She replied.
"Then who the hell is this !?" I asked.
"What's happening? What are they saying?" Anna worryingly asked.
...the woman took a second before replying.
"Could I ask you a question, Nina?"
"What day is it?" The woman added.
"And how old are you?"
"Oh yeah, Haha. It's all coming back to me actually, you and Anna just had a studying session, Is that right?" The woman asked, with certainty in her voice.
"..." I couldn't reply, my mouth was slowly opening in bewilderment. Her voice. Her voice was familiar.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm remembering this correctly, after listening to Eugene talk about astrology, you guys went to get some iced coffee from Ray and headed home to do homework and," The woman said with a mixture of certainty yet curiosity, like she's recalling back an old fading memory "Oh right, Mom made you guys brownies as well, I'm on the correct day, right Nina?"
It was mine. My voice. My voice was coming out of this woman. It was my voice yet...completely different.
For a second, my mind snapped out of the call and focused on what I'm looking at. Anna was staring at me with nothing but worry on her face.
"Nina...Nina, what's happening? Who is talking?" Anna asked, her worry has turned into tears in the corners of her eyes. It seems my face was as baffled and worried as my thoughts.
"Go to the bathroom and lock the door. Right now" The woman demanded.
My body felt frozen, her voice, her way of talking, everything. It just felt like me. As I took a step back, away from Anna and closer to the door. My forehead sweating, my eyes wide open. I looked at Anna with equal worry and ran to the bathroom, shutting and locking the door behind me.