Kayley Goes Shopping Ch. 01
Note: This story takes place shortly after the events chronicled in "Rebirth."
The young lady walked as though she casually dominated the world even though she was simply moving through the campus along with the students as they made their way to their destinations. No one seemed to be in any particular rush on a spring day like today. The sky was blue with but a few cotton ball clouds floating through. It was just warm enough so that the breeze was comforting and forceful enough to create a bit of white noise as it rushed past the leaves. She enjoyed simply going places and seeing things and the campus was lovely in and of itself.
There was a mix of old and new, with one hundred and fifty year-old legacy buildings of rustic, aged masonry and glass and steel monuments to the size of alumni donations. They blended together well enough to be not a particularly jarring contrast to the eye. She liked to explore people as much as places and she had honed her observational skills well over months. You could tell a lot about people without even talking to them. Did they have a casual gait or did every step look like it was contemplated well in advance? Was their smile easy? What sort of clothes did they wear? A million small things came together to tell you all about them before you'd even said hello. Her lady love told her that it was very Sherlock Holmes of her, and she could see it, too. Not only was it a fun exercise, it helped her in any number of aspects of her life.
She found herself under a massive oak tree with music streaming into her wireless buds and a book on her phone. She liked tangible books but sometimes they just weren't practical. Her mother disagreed, but daughter suspected it was just because mother spent inordinate amounts of time in front of one screen or other anyway. That much she could understand, but it didn't stop some occasional generational ribbing that led her mother to roll her eyes.
"They'll fall out of your skull if you keep doing that," Kayley would say in her own matronly tone.
"Go away," mother would command and off daughter would go with a smile knowing mother was trying to hide her own grin without even looking.
Time passed and the breeze blew and it was a lazy, relaxing while. Deciding to take a break once Chapter Five was done she stretched out on the perfectly manicured landscape and looked around again. She could finish the whole book in nothing flat if she wanted, but it wasn't about reading for speed, it was all about stretching out a lovely moment in time. A jovial, but elitist group of pretty girls walked by, hair and makeup perfect, ignoring the eyes that they knew were upon them because they were who they were, while behind them a couple walked the stone path. The way the eyes of the blonde young man lingered on that of the more athletic female soul with darker hair told her there was definitely a crush going on that the other seemed oblivious to. Part of her entertained the various possible outcomes of it all and most of them were amusing. She also pondered all the ways the she could help that along were she so inclined.
Not that she would, really. But she could. It was good to have skills.
To her left off in the distance was a young woman under an oak not unlike herself, but she was hardly enjoying her time there. Rather, her knees were bent with her arms around them huddled into herself. She'd occasionally break the pose to slide a finger under her glasses to wipe away tears before the got a chance to speed down her cheeks. Her glasses were a bit thick and she didn't bother with a lot of makeup, probably just because of a strict upbringing hinted at when the lack of makeup was coupled with the very not trendy and head-to-toe covering. She had nice bone structure and could really stand out even with the thick glasses if she applied herself.
Curiosity got the better of her so she lifted herself from the greenery and crossed the concrete pathway to the tree where the young woman sat and sat next to her. "Hi there. Everything all right?"
The other shifted away, quickly wiping away another tear, smearing across her freckled cheek, causing her glasses to jump and for her to resettle them on the bridge of her nose. "Fine."
"You don't look fine, if you don't mind my saying so."
"I kinda do. I'd really kind of like to be alone right now."
She looked straight ahead huffed in amusement, "That's not true."
The other looked to her, seeing her still staring off at the tree she used to be under. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Her head lolled casually towards the other, "It means what I said. If you wanted to be alone you'd be in your dorm or somewhere else where you were actually alone. You're out here because you want to be seen."
She cleared her throat and sniffed. "Sounds like you've got everything figured out. Well, if you're so smart, why am I out here then?"
"You're looking around trying to figure out what it is in people that could make whatever happened happen. Or you want to see if anybody gives a damn, if only to confirm to your sad heart that no one does. So, to that end, what happened?"
"Like you care. Look at you."
She gave herself a once-over, "What about me?"
She recited the problems as she saw them from head to toe, "Hair perfect, makeup perfect, nails perfect, clothes perfect; has there ever been a day when something didn't go your way?"
"Quite a few, to be honest," she said. "We all go through our awkward phases, girls especially." Her eyes followed clouds as her mind followed. "My mother sat me down one night when I was a girl and feeling down. She explained that she knew how I felt and that I'd blossom as I should, as the bright, brilliant soul I already was."
She was then playfully put upon, "Then she proceeded to spend the next hour and a half laying out exactly how my face and body were likely to fill out and how I could speed that up and accent that through exercise. She assured me that it'd all work out. It did."
The distraught young woman was slightly less so now in that she was curious as much as anything else. "She diagrammed to you how you were going to fill out?"
The young woman looked over, pleased at the memory as much as the other's reaction. "In excruciating detail." She laughed at the way the other's mouth dropped just a little. "Yeah, it sounds crazy, but my mom's a scientist and that's just how her mind works. She thought she was being helpful and, after it was over and I got over all the 'Ewwww, Mom!' and time had a chance to do its thing, she was pretty much right." A few added enhancements didn't hurt either, but Amanda didn't need to know about those. She finally wondered aloud, "What's your name anyway?"
"Amanda," she said finally. "Amanda Wells."
"Kayley Samuels. Nice to meet you." She took a breath, "Let's try again; what's the matter?"
Sadness welled up within Amanda again, afraid to put words to it because it might bring the tears back. "People suck."
"For the most part," Kayley agreed as she pondered it. "Individual people can be cool or not, but people, as an all-encompassing group, generally suck. Why, in particular, for you?"
Amanda sniffed and exhaled slowly, looking up at the sky still hoping that it'd swallow her whole. "You try to fit and you can't fit because they don't want you to because it's just too much fun to screw with you."
"So who screwed with you?"
"People I thought were my friends." Amanda was sure she knew what Kayley's response would be so she beat herself up for it first, saying aloud what she'd been saying to herself for days, "I know. Just because people are being nice to you, that doesn't mean they're your friends and I know I just walked right into everything, but...it seemed like they might... And I thought she might..."
"You left your little town and that's a scary thing all by itself and you call your parents once a week. Or more."
"Mom made me promise," Amanda said a little defensively.
"But you look forward to hearing their voices after a week in the unfamiliar where you don't feel like you have any friends."
Amanda stayed silent and, for Kayley, that was confirmation enough. "That's cool though. My mom and I are close, so I get it. Strange place. Homesick. Don't fit. Want to belong. People are nice to your face, so you just want to start building something homey around here if you can."
"I really thought they liked me. God, I was so fucking stupid. I just let them walk all over me for those moments where it felt like we were friends. After a few weeks they all invite me to go shopping and, 'Hey, let's gets you some stuff that, you know. doesn't make you look silly.' That's okay, I mean, I'm not an idiot. I know I'm not dressed for the runway, and some new stuff would be nice maybe."
"I take it the makeover montage didn't have an ending where everyone was nodding because you finally nailed your look?"
Amanda hid herself in her arms again. "They posted pictures everywhere. They said the dirtiest, most horrible things and the whole world can see it. They played around with me almost from the start."
"It's not as bad as all that," Kayley said, trying to dismiss some of the gravity Amanda imbued the situation with without dismissing her pain. "Look around. You're out here because you feel like no one cares and you hope they do. They talk, they laugh, and go on with their lives. The people who messed with you posted it for themselves mostly. They'll talk about it and share it back and forth for a while until the next thing attracts their attention. It's out there so some other people will look. Other people will laugh, and still other people will think you look fine and wonder what the fuss is about."
"But, for the most part, no one cares."
Amanda sniffed again and fought back the urge to cry, "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
Kayley looked at Amanda, "It should. I know it's a big deal to you and it hurts. But you can move on from it if you choose not to wallow in it. If it hurts and you want to cry, cry in your room. Don't twist the knife into yourself by coming out here and watching all these people walk by and reminding yourself that no one cares. Certainly don't come out here and put your pain on display so that the people who hurt you and got off on hurting you can get off again watching you sob."
It didn't stop the hurt, but Amanda could at least see the point, at least about not giving them the satisfaction of seeing her cry, which helped dry up the well of tears inside, at least a little. "If no one cares, why are you here?"
"Curiosity got the better of me," she said simply. "That and you seemed like a nice girl who shouldn't have reason to cry on such a nice spring day."
Kayley patted Amanda's arm, "The first step in making it better is just deciding that it will be better. Choosing a course leads to action, and then, once you're on a roll, you'll start feeling better. Your first choice should be to accept that those people were never your friends and what they did doesn't matter."
"Just like that?"
Kayley gave a small shake of her head, "No. But it's a start and it's better than sitting out here crying your eyes out, isn't it?"
Amanda looked past her and down the walkway as the pink drained from her cheeks and her skin turned cold, "Christ, I have to go."
Kayley turned to follow Amanda's gaze to see three young ladies walking in their general direction. They were chatting boisterously, not caring about who might hear, and, judging by their demeanor, no one else mattered anyway. Kayley recognized the brown-haired girl as a social media influencer for makeup or shoes or something. She prided herself on her knowledge base, but, to be honest, she had very little time to devote to all that, and no real desire to do so. Her real life was far more interesting than clicking to see what a famous person had for dinner.
She didn't recognize the blond and brunette with her, but the three of them were perfect in their own ways, each having won the gene lottery in their own rights. They were so perfectly lovely Kayley could have fit right in with them; for about twenty minutes before what most perfect girls babbled about drove her to bash her head into a wall. Or theirs.
"Thanks for trying to help. I really appreciate it." Amanda stood and grabbed her backpack.
"We should go say hi."
Kayley did nothing to help her color return with that. "No, we totally should not."
"We totally should," she said, rising with a dancer's grace. "I'll be with you, it'll be fine. Let them see they didn't get to you. Take a hard look at them and see how petty they are. They're beneath you. C'mon."
"I really don't think..."
That was all she'd gotten out before she felt Kayley's arm hook itself around her waist and lead her down the path and on a collision course with the perfect trio. Amanda's eyes darted here and there, hoping that an escape route would appear while Kayley laughed at the hilarious nothing Amanda said as they drew close to the girls. Kayley began to respond to that nothing before the brown-haired girl interrupted. "Heyyyyyyyyyyyyy, Mandy, who's your friend?"
Kayley felt their eyes upon her the same way a predator would size up whether or not another was prey and, if they were, how best to attack, though they covered it with painted on smiles.
"I'm Kayley," she announced, proffering a hand. "And you are?"
"Constance.," she answered, shaking Kayley's hand, noting that the firm grip struck her as a little butch even if she did look every bit as girly as they did. She gestured toward the girl with darker hair and the blond in turn, "My friends, Ginnifer and Brandi."
Kayley kept her smile as she took each hand in turn. Brandi. I bet it's with an 'i,' too. She looked back to Constance, who she noted did have eyes a lovely pale green. "I could swear I've seen you around somewhere before."
Her pride oozed at the recognition, "Yeah, I work with Mystik Cosmetics. I test all their stuff online. I have almost two million followers, you know."
"Yeah, that's it. Sorry, I don't much bother with all that. I have a lot of work. I must have seen you in one of those silly quizzes. You know, ninety-five percent of people can't identify these Internet trend-setters or something."
"I don't remember seeing you here, Ginnifer began, "You new?"
Kayley waved it off, "Oh, I'm just visiting. I finished my education years ago. Just too damn smart for my own good, I guess."
The pride faded from Constance's face a bit. She didn't love the idea of just being a face in an endless stream of faces. She chose to ignore Kayley in favor of the smaller girl, and her tone almost sounded sincere. "You okay? Have you been crying?" Brandi and Ginnifer exchanged smiles.
For Amanda, the smarmy sound felt like a punch to the gut and she swallowed hard, demanding of herself that she not start crying again. "No, she snapped, the demand of herself coming out in that one word. She looked up. "But I saw what you guys did with the pictures you took. I read what you said. Why the hell would you do that? What have I ever done to you to deserve that?"
Constance looked like she'd been slapped in the face, sharing the look with her girlfriends who both decided just to mirror it until they found out where she was leading them. "We were just having some fun with you. We do it to each other all the time, don't we, girls?"
The girls turned into bobbleheads almost on cue., "Oh, yeah," Ginnifer said happily.
"All the time," Brandi added cheerfully. "Like, Ginny has this red dress with poufy shoulders that she thinks looks so great on her and it totally doesn't. I've talked that up a lot.
"See?" Her head tilted and Kayley almost expected her to actually tsk, tsk. "It's really how we talk to each other online. We get bitchy to blow off steam and have fun.. I'm sorry if it upset you, but we just wanted to show you that we liked you and you're cool."
Brandi covered a snicker with a cough. That wasn't lost on Kayley, nor was the softening in Amanda's eyes. She wanted to believe it. Kayley didn't know if she was actually buying it, but she wanted to. She wanted to bend her own mind then and there. That, and, 'I'm sorry you're upset' is no apology at all.
"How come I've never seen it?"
Constance pretended she never heard the question. "Maybe in the smaller towns people just sneak over in the middle of the night and tip over your cow to mess with you, but we don't have cows, so we use what we do have." She smiled a smile that Kayley didn't doubt disarmed any who saw it.
"I'm kidding, silly." Constance looked sorry for her. "See? You really are so touchy. No wonder you freaked out over nothing."
An idea occurred, "You know what? There's a party at my friend Trina's tonight. She lives just off campus on Mitchell. Bring your new friend if you want. Let's get a few shots into you and loosen you up. I bet you're a helluva party girl."
The conflict played on Amanda's face. It all still hurt so, but maybe that was just how they did things. Everything was so different here. Maybe that was how they did things and maybe she was being touchy. Everybody picked at each other now and then. Even friends, and especially at school. They were all older, sure, but it was still school. It's college, she thought. Everything's ramped up to eleven, so maybe that was, too.. It was all so confusing and all she wanted to do was fit. "Maybe. I don't know."
"Come on, it'll be fun." She punctuated her words by running her hand gently down Amanda's arm to her hand before clasping it. "I'll totally make it up to you."
Kayley prided herself on her observational skills, but she needed to employ exactly none of them to see how Amanda felt. She shivered under the touch and her hand clasped Constance's out of reflex before she thought better of it and took it away. The only thing that surprised Kayley was that Amanda's nipples didn't start showing through her dress. "I'll..uh...I'll think about it."
"Great. I'll see you tonight." She looked to Kayley, gave her a polite, "Nice meeting you." with that practiced smile.
"You, too." One more quick caress of Amanda and the girls were off. Once they thought they were out of earshot, Kayley's enhanced hearing picked up more laughing and "Stupid lezbo." from Constance.
"Think she'll show," Brandi asked.
"Girls who wanna fuck me are the same as guys who wanna fuck me. She'll show. Get her lit, then she'll really see some pictures to crybaby over."
More laughter before Ginnifer changed the subject. "You really think I look awful in my red dress?"
"Noooooooooooo," Brandi assured her with flourish. "It looks great. That was just for the rube."
Kayley looked back to see Amanda a few steps ahead while putting her right arm through her backpack strap as she went. Catching up in two smooth strides, she saw in Amanda's eyes that she was deep in thought. "Well, that was enlightening," Kayley said coyly.
Amanda gave her the side-eye, "What does that mean?"
"It was more than some girls you want to be friends with that hurt you. The girl that you want to be your girlfriend hurt you."
The thoughts that she had once entertained in her mind's eye flashed in front of her just long enough to twist the knife again, so she snapped at the other. The fact that a girl that had known her for all of ten minutes could see it added to her annoyance and sadness. She felt so exposed and as though it was no wonder they manipulated her. "Like that's any of your business."
"You made it my business when you sat under that tree hoping someone would care." Kayley turned down the snark. "Do your parents know?"
"That I like girls?" That actually brought with it an honest smile from the good memory. "Sure. I worried about telling them for a year. I make this big deal in my head about coming out and I announce it and wait for it all to come down around me and mom just said we were having noodles and beef tips for dinner and dad said," her voice going a couple of octaves deeper to convey the proper amount of gruff, 'If you're gonna talk through my football, you can at least tell me something I don't already know or wait 'til halftime."