"Hey Mom? Can I make a large sculpture?" Mary asked Monday morning.
"Is it for school?"
Mary shook her head. "I was talking to Ben, and he just finished this cool phoenix that he's going to exhibit at an art show. He invited you, Ba, and me to it, by the way. Wanna go?"
Mom took a slow sip of Her favorite chamomile tea. "I'll have to check. I might need to work."
"Okay. But if you can't, can I take Ba?"
"I don't see a problem with that. Just as long as you get her back in time for her curfew."
Mary nodded. "Anyway, about this sculpture. I'll need a big space and some tools. Ben said I could use his workshop and he can get me the materials at a discount."
Mom set her cup on the table. "I don't think that's a good idea. I don't feel comfortable with you going over to a stranger's for hours."
Mary wrinkled her brow. "Ba and I have been buying stuff at his shop for years. He's not a stranger. Maybe it's because you've never met him. You should go there with me one day."
"There's also the matter of money. You remember how Ba was recently switched to a stronger medication? It's almost double the cost as the old one. I don't know if we can afford it, even at a discount."
"Oh.” Mary thought for a moment. "Do you ever think that maybe I should just go to public school?"
“Why do you ask that?"
"Well, we'd have more money. We could live in a nicer place. Maybe Ba could come live with us again and we could hire one of those home care people so that she wouldn't have to be at the retirement home all the time."
"Perhaps," Mom said. "But you're forgetting about something important."
"Your future. Your school is one of a handful in the whole state where a hundred percent of the graduates go to college."
"But lots of people who go to public school go to college, too."
Mom chuckled. "Yes, but most of them don't get into the colleges that you will be able to. Remember, Ba went to Agape because she wanted to. She has friends there and she sees us regularly. And she knows that by doing things this way, you'll have a better shot at being successful."
Mary poked at her cereal. "You're successful."
Mom smirked. "Only after I did things the hard way. I'm sorry, Sweetie. I wish you could do your art project. I really do.”
"It's all right. I understand." She got up from the kitchen table and hung her bag on her opposite shoulder. Her bruised side was still not ready to bear the burden of her schoolwork.
"I need to go to the library after school, but I'll see you tonight."
"Don't be late. It's bánh cuốn with Ba tonight," Mom said.
She kissed her mother. "I'll be there. Love-you-buh-bye."
Mary headed out. On the first floor, Bruce was fixing a cracked tile.
"Hi Bruce," she said.
"Hm," he mumbled.
And that was the extent of their conversations. Except when he yelled at her for running down the stairs. Mary thought about talking back to him, but Mom told her not to. Otherwise, their maintenance requests would definitely be ignored.
On the bus ride to school, Mary paid unusual attention to things.
The convenience store on the corner.
The newsstand near the bus stop.
The ugly fire hydrant with the years of dog piss it had endured.
At school, people in the halls said hi and asked how she was. She answered, "Fine," but never went into details. Mary didn't normally talk much to anyone at school anyway.
She stopped by the girls' restroom before heading to Pre-Calculus. After finishing at the toilet, she set her books by the sinks and washed her hands, glancing up at the mirror out of habit.
A boy stood behind her.
It was Carter.
Mary spun around. Her heart raced as she scanned the room.
But she only saw the plain tiled walls and the puke-green stall doors. (For a school that cost an arm and a spleen to go to, you'd think they could afford to change those doors out.)
Mary went to each stall, pushing the doors open.
But no one was there.
She returned to her bag and pulled out the bottle of painkillers. Dizziness and anxiousness numbered among the side effects. But not hallucinations.
Had she just imagined seeing him?
The water in the sink was still running. Mary shut it off and looked in the mirror again. Only her reflection stared back at her.
Suddenly, she remembered the movie on TV a couple days ago, where the dead kid's ghost tracked down and killed the ones who tried to cover up his death.
"He died," she mumbled to herself. "He died, and now he's haunting me."
The bell jolted her back to reality.
Mary looked at the painkillers in her hand. The word "anxiousness" stood out on the label.
"That's stupid. I'm just imagining things." She shoved the pills back into her bag and headed to class.