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karenin-elodie

Look, it’s that new blonde.

How long d’you think before the roots start to show?

Oh, I dunno…another hour?

Laughter.

Elodie pressed her forehead against the cool metal of the mint-green lockers. The coldness seeped into her brain; she lapped it up, like a sponge tossed in water. Life has made her blissfully unaware of the whispers on the sidelines, the kind of talk seeking only to provoke and enrage.

Thousand page biology textbook…check…Sketchbook…check…the little scrap of notebook paper with her lab partner’s email, in case she doesn’t get the homework…check…gym strip…gym strip?

She gave a hiss of annoyance and exasperation, slamming her fist into her forehead. The gym was all the way on the other side of the school; another ten minutes down the drain. She has no chance of catching that bus now; maybe she’ll call Lee; just to spite him.

. * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . *

The peeling mahogany-paneled doors were ajar. Wisps of soft, ethereal piano music drifted out from between the crack, like perfume particles dispersing silently throughout a room. Chopin, or was it Schubert? She took a step forward, then stopped forcibly, dragging the heel of her wrinkled brown loafer against the much-abused floor. A piercing squeal of plastic on barely-there varnish exploded through the hallways, turning several startled or bemused heads. A posse of elaborately coiffed and maquillaged girls flounced past, tossing her contemptuous looks, barely concealing the venom under the meticulously-applied Nars lipstick in Orgasm.

The ribbon of tranquil notes halted abruptly. A quiet, yet not altogether unfriendly voice called out. Yes?

She hesitated for another moment, then steeled herself and strode through the doors.

A tall, thin boy perched on the edge of the imposing grand piano; an immense book of sheet music poised open in his palms, staring at her with mild curiosity. He was pale, with disheveled black hair that tumbled across his forehead; a long, narrow face with gaunt cheeks beneath well-defined cheekbones; large, sincere eyes that were Oriental only by the clear brown tint of the irises; and a serene, rather brooding mouth. His lanky elbows stuck out inharmoniously from the regulation white uniform shirt like knots in a rope. The cavity between his collarbones caved in sharply beneath the well-worn collar and loosened tie. A second later, she recognized him from her French class earlier this afternoon.

Sorry…am I interrupting you? The words shot out of her mouth in an untidy heap, before she’s wrapped her tongue around them fully, echoing throughout the cavernous gymnasium like a game of hide-and-go-seek with her mischievous doppelganger.

He shook his head, smiling lopsidedly, revealing a silvery line of retainers. A resplendent ray of afternoon sun darted off the propped-open cover of the pristine piano, illuminating his pensive eyes. Oh no, not at all, I’m just practicing for the upcoming assembly. I think you were the new girl from my French class…Elodie, right? He smiled again, tentatively, darting his gaze downwards and clicking his right index finger against his temple.

Nodding like an obedient puppet tugged by invisible strings, she gestured towards the girls’ changing rooms. I-uh, forgot my gym strip there. I’ll leave you alone then. Sorry again. God! What a stupid thing to say!

She felt his keen gaze trailing after her as she scuttled off in the opposite direction. Cheeks aflame, she attempted to unearth his name from the handful of fresh ones that cluttered her immolated head. Calan? No. Longer. Kevin? No. Not that commonplace. Something soft, melodious, quasi-Russian, slightly erring towards the feminine side…

Karenin.

Yes, that was it.

. * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . * . *

“Leda, can you make me a cup of tea, quick?” Karenin poked his head out of his bedroom door, reading glasses askew, a Sharpie tucked behind one ear; the pungent stench of rancid eggs and petroleum wafted towards her.

“Right away, Your Majesty.” She sang. “Green, jasmine, or red? In a coffee mug or cup and saucer? Sugar, honey, milk, or cream? Though I don’t think there’s any cream left in the house…Becel instead?” She chuckled at his thoroughly horrified expression;  the mere thought of besmirching his beloved cup of tea was dastardly.

Gagging slightly, he slouched into the hallway, dragging his feet across the cream-coloured carpet. Two murky brown patches beneath his eyes gave them a skeletal, insomniac appearance. The ever-present chemical odour of tobacco clung to his ratty white t-shirt and baggy black pants. He looked like a street person who wandered into the house purely by accident.

“What time is it now?” She doesn’t keep the habit of wearing a watch, and her cell phone was buried somewhere beneath her dirty laundry pile.

He flicked his lanky wrist upwards lazily. “Eleven forty-seven. And I’ve got twelve more pages to read for chemistry.” Sighing, he brushed past her down the snailing staircase. “Cheerful, aren’t we? And shouldn’t you be in bed?”

She pranced after him. “Yea-a-ah. So what?”

“I’m not dragging you up tomorrow morning. I’ve still got that scar from last time, when you clawed me on the arm. Scary awake, scarier half-awake.” He shook his head ruefully.

She burst out laughing. “Where did that come from? Anyways, guess what happened today?” Blinking at the sudden flood of fluorescent white light that bathed the kitchen in a frosty glow, she yanked open the fridge door with both hands and peered around for the carton of cranberry juice; her favourite.

“Mmm.” The tap clicked on with a hiss of water on metal. He wiggled the circular knob on the gas stove back and forth several times. A small blue flame leaped up, followed by a ring of its siblings, and began dancing merrily, licking the bottom of the kettle amorously.

“Some girl called you this afternoon while you were still at school. Melody, or something like that, she wants you to call her back ASAP.” She watched the blood-red liquid slosh into the transparent glass, à la poorly-made TV commercial, waggling her eyebrows at her brother suggestively. “Have you finally discovered your inner pimp?”

Pausing while reaching for the teabags, he glanced at her with perplexity, furrowing his brows and drumming his fingers against the counter. “Melody? Melody who? What did she want?”

“Ah…she said something about going out for a cup of coffee sometime. Oops, my bad, the name’s Elodie, there we go.” Crossing her arms, she beamed triumphantly. “That ring a bell?”

He choked as he raised the fragile hand-crafted porcelain cup to his lips, spraying a mouthful of tea across the meticulously scrubbed counter. “Elodie? Elodie Towers? What the – ?” Snatching up a sheet of tissue, he buried his nose and mouth in its pristine surface. “What did she say exactly? Why didn’t you tell me earlier? Holy crap…it’s almost twelve, how am I supposed to call her?” The hollows of his cheeks were now the colour of their mother’s Sunday morning Bloody Mary, a rare occurrence indeed.

“Dunno.” She snickered. “Here’s her number, figure it out yourself.” Tossing a crumpled piece of notepad paper with some real estate agent’s face on the front before his stricken face, she slipped out of the kitchen, pausing only to snatch up her cup of juice; ample fuel for a sugar rush in the small hours of the night.

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