Rory's expression darkens and his jaw drops open, and Oliver looks surprised and almost scared. “Are you sure? They ask almost in unison.
“Of c-c-course I'm sure! I was… I’d know that face anywhere.” I furrow my brows and clench my teeth. “Anywhere…”
Oliver’s phone chimes, thankfully breaking the tension a bit. Or so I think. “We have five minutes.” He looks up at me with an expression I can’t quite read. “Avril I hate to say this now but if we don’t go over there we might lose our chance.”
No! Please don’t make me do this!“Oliver, I can’t—”
“Yeah, I don’t want to be a bad friend but Oliver’s right.” Rory interjects. “We can’t just stand around over here forever.” He looks over at where Dayna is standing and then back at me. “You don’t have to talk to her. Or even look at her!”
“God, I feel so horrible now.” Oliver says under his breath, putting a hand to his head in embarrassment. “We can’t do this to her either.” He says to Rory. “We can’t force her to go over there or even be near—”
“N-no, Oliver.” I say, my voice still shaking. “I can’t… I won’t let one insignificant person control my entire life. Even if she used to be my best friend... Or maybe she wasn’t even my friend in the first place.” I look back to see if she is still over there, but the space in the crowd has disappeared.
I look at my teammates. “I almost can’t believe I’m saying this but… I have to face her sooner or later. And face myself. Face the facts and move on somehow.” I shake my head at how ridiculous that sounds, but also to clear my mind. “God, this is gonna suck!” I say, my voice a laugh with an edge of nervousness.
Rory and Oliver exchange unsure glances, and Rory shrugs. He lets go of my hand and starts walking towards the crowd. Oliver looks at me and then follows suit. I don’t want to get left behind, but I feel frozen to where I stand. I un-clench my fists and feel beads of sweat running down to my fingertips. I look at my palms out of instinct, only to find that the sweat is really blood. I had dug my nails into my palms hard enough to cut them open. That’s definitely a first.
Dang. I think, wiping my hands on my (thankfully) black pants, That manicure was expensive. I remember I’m wearing a headband, one of the stretchy ones, and I take it off and wrap it around one hand as the blood starts flowing again. That’ll have to do for now. I look ahead at Oliver and Rory who are both watching and waiting for me. All of a sudden, I feel my body move forward without even trying, like my brain has taken over without warning. When I get up to the two of them, we wedge our way through the crowd of tourists to an opening surrounding a bench. And there she is. Right there, fifteen feet in front of me.
Dayna looks over at our motley crew, and I tense up. It can't breathe or move or think. It feels like all of my bodily functions have stopped completely in their tracks while her gaze is on us. She looks straight at me, but her nonchalant expression doesn't change. Doesn't she recognize me?
“You must be Aquamarine.” She says, standing up and motioning for the other two people on the bench to do the same. The three of them approach us, and I shuffle back and away as unnoticeably as I can. She sticks out her hand to Oliver. “I'm Dayna. And this is Calia,” she points to the tall girl on her right, and then to the skinny guy on her left, “and Henry.”
“Oliver.” He takes her hand and shakes it almost uncomfortably before pointing to his left. “And this is Rory. You guys must be Mauve.” He left me out. That's probably a good thing.
“Yes, we are.” Calia says. She looks over at me with mesmerizing hazel eyes. “And who are you? Nobody’s said your name.”
“Oh, um, she’s kinda shy.” Rory intervenes before I can think of what to say. “This is Avril.” He hesitates for a brief moment before saying my name, and looks over at me as if to apologize.
“Avril.” Dayna’s face changes. The nonchalantness leaves and her green eyes seem to cloud over in shock. My chest tightens in fear. What’s running through her head? That pretty, pretty head? Maybe something like: Is this Avril? Like, THE Avril? Or just another girl named Avril who is literally not the person I hurt at all but just so happens to look like her but a couple inches taller than the Avril I knew and who also has dyed hair.
Without looking away, she sighs and purses her lips, and those possible thoughts fly right out the nearest window when she says almost sadly, “Avril... It’s been a while.”
I look at Oliver and Rory, and then Dayna’s teammates. All eyes are on me.
“Two minutes 45 seconds.” Oliver says, his voice sounding disconnected from the here and now like he’s on the other side of a phone call.
My brain takes over once again, forcing my conscience to sit back and watch whatever the hell this is play out. “Almost a year.”
She stands there in awkward silence and picks at her cuticles. She always did that when she was trying to find the right words to say. That’s the Dayna I kne— No! I think. I didn’t even know her at all! Just the persona she put on to sway me. Don’t trust her, Avril. You can’t.
“Listen, I…” She opens and closes her mouth a couple of times, trying to continue. After a moment, she gives up.
“You guys know each other?” Henry pipes up, gesturing to the both of us with a back and forth motion. I nod reluctantly, almost shamefully, and I glance over at her again. This time though, I don’t see the dirty blonde hair, the brilliant green eyes, the snaggle-toothed smile she would only flash for me, all the days we spent climbing trees and riding bikes and talking about anything and everything, the person I thought I knew. The friend. All I see is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Someone who doesn’t care in the slightest about a person’s feelings unless they get something out of it. And I’m angry.
Angry that she wasted six whole years of my life. Angry that I thought we really had something. Angry that the best friend I’d ever had turned out to be a fraud. The anger suddenly shifts to fury. And the fury shifts instantly to rage.
“One minute.” Oliver says. I can see him and Rory in my periphery, but my eyes are locked on Dayna. “A-are you okay, Avril?” He asks, brows furrowed.
I don’t answer. She glances at me and then away, but does a double-take when she sees I’m glaring at her.
“Avril,” She says, her voice starting to quiver, “You’re kinda freaking me out.”
“Freaking you out?” I manage to control myself enough not to yell. “What do you think you did?! What do you think you’ve done?!”
“Avril, I… I just—”
“You what? You just what?”
“I’m sorry, Avril.”
All five of them are watching me. Something stirs from deep inside of me, stronger than my urge to get revenge for Rory at the diner, and even more so than last night, when I was compelled to do anything I could to save a friendship. But this time, the feeling isn’t to save someone else, but to save myself.
Without hesitation I mutter the words I’ve wanted to say to her for almost a year. “You bitch.” At the exact same time, my hand moves up over my head. Dayna shrinks back as I go to strike, but something, an invisible force, makes my hand stop.
That force is me.
And it’s just as I figure that out that I feel the hot, angry tears on my face. I’m standing here in the middle of an art museum lobby, a sobbing mess, my hand shaking in mid air, ready to avenge the six entire years that were pointlessly wasted on someone I thought loved me but really didn’t.
I force my hand back down at my side. “No. I’m not you. I-I-I’m n-not gonna be you.” My voice is shakey again. “I’m not g-gonna hurt you.”
Dayna stares, bewildered and open mouthed. I see her glossed over eyes and watch the fire, the confidence, fade from them . Whatever she's thinking right now, I don't care. She knows.
“Twenty seconds.” Oliver says, breaking me away. I wipe my eyes with the back of my hands and turn to him. “We should probably wrap this up.”
I take a deep breath. “Yes, please.” I say.
“It was nice to meet you all.” Rory says reluctantly. His opinion is probably not a popular one.
Mauve steps back and huddles up near the bench. I take another deep breath, get a grip on myself, and turn to talk to my teammates.
“We have fifteen seconds. What's the game plan?” Oliver asks.
“I don't know. Is there a clue?” Rory says.
“I suppose when we start we'll get one. Ten seconds.”
“Do we have a map of the place?” I ask.
“Oh, shoot.” Oliver looks up and over our huddle towards the front desk, and then back down. “We'll get one, we'll get one. No worries. Five seconds.”
We stand in silence, the noise around us seeming to drain away. Every second feels like an hour. I hear Oliver whispering and slowly growing louder. “Four... Three... Two... One…”
His phone makes a loud ‘ding!’ and the timer resets to one hour. Above the timer is our clue, but I don’t get a chance to read it before he runs away and up to the desk to grab a map. He unfolds the map when he gets back and we look it over. Four floors, each one more complicated than the next.
Oliver looks up. “I’d hate to split up but there's no way we can cover all this ground and all these galleries in only an hour.” He pulls out his phone. “Or, fifty-nine minutes, twenty-three seconds.”
“What's the clue?” I ask, craning my neck to the side to get a better view of his screen.
Ignorant and sad, you poor little thing. Black and white and hidden in plain sight.
“Weird!” I throw my hands up and do what my mind can only describe as a pivot turn. “Weird, weird, weird, weird, weird!”
“This makes me afraid for what the next one might be.” Oliver says with an exasperated sigh.
“It's probably a lot simpler than it seems, guys.” Rory suggests. “It doesn't have a lot of the cues or specific details like the other ones did, but it's not impossible. I don't know, just an idea.”
A light bulb goes off in my head. It's 60 watts, incandescent, and shines a hopeless dark blue, but it might get us somewhere. “No, Rory.” I say, budging back in between them. “I think it is. What is the simplest thing you can think of when it comes to deciphering clues?”
“I—ah…” He gives me a weird look. “ Is this from a movie or something?”
“No, just my brain doing things. But think about it.”
“Uh, well… you want to understand the words… make sure you figure out figures of speech and allusions and—”
“Yes! Exactly! Understanding the words!” I look up and see Mauve walking off into the northern part of the main floor. “Shoot, they're leaving.” I mutter and then return to the conversation. “Like I was saying: understand the words.”
“What does that have to do with it?” Oliver questions.
“Words, Oliver!” I insist. “The clue could boil down to a single word! The problem is just figuring out that word.”
“Well, we better make it quick. Borderlining on 55 minutes here and we really can't waste time.” He slips his phone back into his pocket as Rory takes his phone out.
“‘Ignorant and sad’…” Rory hastily types the word ‘ignorant’ into Google and the definition pops up after a second. “Ignorant: adjective,” He reads it out loud, “ lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated.”
“And everyone knows what ‘sad’ and ‘poor’ mean,” Oliver reminds us, trying to hurry things along.
“‘Black and white’ could mean opposing forces or literally black and white, more likely the latter” I add, “and ‘hidden in plain sight’ is straightforward as is.”
“So something black and white about ignorance? It’s an art museum so that’s probably everywhere. There’s probably a sculpture titled that too.” Oliver jokes.
“All we can do now is look.” I hate to admit it, but with the time we have and the fact that we still don’t understand the clue and are probably guessing it wrong, we might as well take our chances with what we’ve got.
“You guys ready, then?” Oliver asks, his face saying ‘Sign me up for the next war!’ but his voice saying ‘When will my reflection show who I am inside?’.
“Guess so.” Rory and I say in tandem, which isn’t quite in unison, but is close enough to be considered as such.
“Let’s get to it.”
45:37 - The Mezzanine
“Sculpture, sculpture, another sculpture… this one looks like a bird and we’re getting literally nowhere.” Oliver groans.
I study an amalgamation of stuff making what the placard says is an elephant. “Maybe it’s this one.” I turn to my team, who looks ufp from reading the names of other sculptures.
The two of them come up to me and look at the piece. “You know what the rules said.” Rory says, sounding a little worried. We only get three chances and then we’re done for. You really want to waste one on an elephant thing?”
“One on each floor.” I suggest. “It sounds absolutely insane exposing our throats so much to error, but it’s our best chance.”
“Alright…” He says skeptically, and motions for Oliver to get his phone out.
“Here goes nothing!” Oliver get the coordinates and enters them into the box. He hesitates for a moment before pressing the button, and I can swear our hearts all sink when we hear a jarring buzz and see a bright red X appear above the box.
“Nope, not it.” I mutter, disappointed.
“Two chances left and so much more museum to cover. We better get going.”
32:12 - Level Two
“This has got to be it. I’m sure!” Rory looks to us for approval, but finds only our questioning stares, just like we had with his cinnamon gum obsession a couple days ago. I look at the optical illusion stretching up the wall next to me. Sir-Ris by Victor Vasarely isn’t convincing enough for either of us, but it’s the only black and white thing on this floor.
“Just go with it.” I say, which is the target of Oliver’s protest and Rory’s confusion.
“You can’t be serious.”
“One for each floor, remember? And this is the only black and white painting up here.”
Oliver rolls his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Fine. Let’s do it I guess.”
“Hey.” I stop him before he can get his phone out all the way. “You need to keep calm so you don’t bust something. When we get mad or worried we make stupid decisions that we’ll regret. Trust me, I’m trying hard.”
Phone in hand, he types in the coordinates. “I hate that you’re right.” He gestures to me with his hand very matter-of-factly.
Another buzz, another X, and a furtive glance over at Team Mauve just walking in to this gallery, Prepare to be disappointed.