Tuesday, August 28, 2018
“Alright, alright, Jesus, will you stop?!” I practically threw my bag through the window of the little gray car that had been outside my house, blasting the horn every twenty seconds, for the last five minutes. It took some serious willpower to keep from chucking the bag at the car’s driver when I opened the door, and I refrained from doing so only because I didn’t want to drive myself.
“Howdy, bitch.” The driver beamed mischievously at me from behind her oversized aviators, her grin full-frontal like she hadn’t just woken up my whole street— actually, that was probably half of why she was so pleased with herself in the first place.
I rolled my eyes and delivered a generous smack to her arm as I climbed into the passenger seat of her car. She laughed and rubbed the spot on her bicep dramatically.
“Hey, that was entirely uncalled for! I’m here at the ass crack of dawn, driving your ass to school out of the goodness of my heart, and you’re abusing me.”
“Oh fuck off, Mar. It’s nine o’clock, and somehow you’ve already managed to piss off an entire block. I’d almost call that a record.” Marley looked about as smug as I thought she would about the prospect as she put the car into gear. “Ana isn’t coming?”
“Nah fam, she is. Her mom got called in to like, cover a sick teacher or something, so she’s heading in with her.” The brunette, still smiling, cranked up the radio as she rounded the turn off my street, singing along loudly, disregarding the tune. She really could sing when she was trying, but I think she didn’t sometimes so I wouldn’t feel bad for joining her since I couldn’t. I chuckled at her enthusiasm anyway and sang along with her, badly as it was, but you know, it’s still fun.
By the time Marley was parking the car in the school lot, I’d been more than woken up by a few particularly high notes that Marley hit like a punch in the face just because she could, and I was laughing at something she said that I didn’t even remember. We were still a little early for freshman orientation to start, so we sat on top of the stone wall next to the entrance and talked about the odd or dumb things we’d gotten up to since we last hung out on Saturday (or maybe Friday; it was still summer, so really who knows).
“Yo, Tots!” Marley shouted, cutting her own story off and waving a lazy mock-salute over my shoulder to someone I couldn’t see.
“Hey! You’re early!” The brunette grinned broadly as the third member of our little group came over to join us. I twisted myself to smile at her too. Ana was, as expected, approaching us with that heartthrob of a smile and a school-spirit raglan tee shirt I was sure Marley and I would have to go put on as well for the orientation.
Once she had walked over, she leaned in and wrapped me in a tight hug. After me, she went over to hug Marley, who made a whole production of trying to escape; she rolled her eyes and leaned on the wall next to me.
“I was actually just about to text you two that I was waiting.” Ana wrapped an arm around my side and weaved her fingers through mine, putting her chin on my shoulder and grinning so brightly I almost felt it. “What have you been up to, Ace?” Marley feigned an offended gasp and put her hand on her chest dramatically.
“Doesn’t even ask me. The nerve.”
“I work with you, Mar. I haven’t seen Ace in like, how long? Two weeks?” Ana scoffed. “How are you, lovey?”
“I’ve been good. Nothing’s really been happening. Aside from maybe this one cute girl that came through my register on three different occasions. I’m pretty sure that’s some kind of courtship ritual, right?” I chuckled at the giggle Ana tried to choke. She’d never admit it, but I think she found my overall failure with girls to be top-tier humor. I don’t doubt some of it’s also because she’s amused that she’d been on the other side of the flirting once, too; how she’d gone for it, I don’t think either of us knew.
“Of course. I’m almost offended you haven’t given me a wedding invitation yet.”
“Oh, hey, shut up, sheep.” Marley shushed us loudly. “Tots, I think that girl is waving at you,” she nodded toward the slow-moving trickle of students now starting to come in from the parking lot. The one Marley was talking about wasn’t hard to find, either; there were two girls that looked like they were heading for us. One of the two was waving happily in a way that definitely looked like it was directed towards me or Ana. I couldn’t put my finger on it right away, but something about them felt out of place.
They were surrounded by other meandering students, so it was hard to make out much of their appearance, except for that they were unquestionably siblings, if not twins, and both had a sort of confidence like they were definitely not freshmen.
“Wait,” Ana lifted her head and stood a little straighter behind me; mumbling quietly under her breath, “I think I know them.”
“And I’m so entirely surprised by that.” Marley snorted in an unmistakably sarcastic drawl. “Where from this time? Pet shop regulars on my off nights? Running competition? Gymnastics? Dance? Whatever the hell else you manage to fit in your schedule?” Ana’s fingers twitched against mine, and I could hear the disgruntled purse of her lips as she hummed and shook her head slowly.
“No, actually,” she paused, her thumb running lightly along mine like she always did when she was thinking hard about something. I don’t think she even knows she does it. Marley leaned back and lifted an eyebrow expectantly. “They go to my night school.” I felt more so than saw Ana shrug off her answer. Her hands were restless.
“Well, that’s boring.” Marley pouted, “looks like they’re coming over.”
Now standing outside the crowd, the two were a lot easier to make out, and they were without doubt identical twins. Both had incredibly dark hair; on the one that had been waving, it was in a loose braid hanging over her shoulder, and on the other, it was put up into a tight, immaculate bun. The one with the braid was grinning as she got closer, while her sister followed with her lips in a thin line and her chin angled just a little more severely.
An odd sensation grew in my stomach like a cold worm writhing around in wet mud; something about the way the second girl held herself made me uncomfortable, but I had no idea what exactly the feeling was. The closer to us she got, the more intense the feeling became. It wasn’t really bad per se, but it was noticeably off, like a sense of forebode.
“I really shouldn’t be so surprised we ran into you here,” the smiley twin practically bounced over to us and Ana separated from me just long enough to give her a hug. “It’s great seeing you.” I caught Marley making a soured face, and from the expression, I think she felt something off about the quiet one too.
“You too.” Ana always seemed utterly genuine when she smiled like that.
“I’m Megan Sinclair.” Turning between Marley and me with a broad grin, the smiley twin introduced. Marley and I gave her our names in return and something like recognition had Megan’s eyes widening, though the expression was gone too quickly for me to place. Whatever it was, she took it in stride and, in a clear attempt at subtlety, nudged her sister with her elbow and muttered “introduce yourself, Zel,” under her breath.
“Hazel Sinclair.” The other twin’s jaw tightened and she leveled a steely expression at Marley, and then at me in turn. The message was fairly clear; she didn’t wantto talk to us, but aside from being very much disinterested, her expression gave no hint of any reaction beyond irritated boredom. It was, or should have been, funny how completely Megan juxtaposed her.
Hazel’s eyebrows were furrowed just a little, and below them, she appeared to watch our every move with painstaking sharpness. As bored as she looked, she had a watchfulness to her that betrayed what was almost undoubtably intelligence; she had that kind of soul-splitting glare that made you feel that to look directly at her would be to display every weakness. She felt, at an instinctual level, almost predatory, like she saw and remembered every movement you made.
Despite this, Megan rolled her eyes and continued happily with that unwavering grin.
“Excuse her. Are you all here for orientation?” I did my best to watch Megan and ignore Hazel, but I could feel her eyes practically leaving burns wherever they settled. It was like trying to ignore an itch; the more I tried to ignore her, the more aware of her I was, and the more I felt almost obligated to look at her.
“In a way; we’re seniors, so we’re here helping out with some of the tours.” Ana, who had gotten over her shock, carried on with ease, the sort that felt misplaced because Marley and I were both still tense. I guess it did make more sense for her to be more used to them since they knew each other. I still just, for some reason, felt a heavy stone, like the sense of something dark and looming, settle into my stomach.
“Right, yes, sorry, I totally forgot you were the same year as us! Hazel and I are actually coming in as transfers, so we’re here for all the freshmen stuff.” The more she spoke, and with the excited little fluctuations of her voice, I caught on to a little bit of an accent I couldn’t —for the life of me— place.
“Chill. Where are you two coming in from?” Marley cut in with a smile dripping with her best charm, and Megan looked ready to answer before Hazel raised her hand curtly and silenced her.
"That is irrelevant. I'm sure the orientation will be starting soon. Megan, we should be going." The girl hissed out with a stony countenance. Her voice was astonishingly mellow, and distinctly more accented than her sister, despite the almost condescending drawl given by her lack of effort; like snow, kind of, in its chill and deceptive softness. It was the kind of polished tone that could seduce anyone into doing her bidding, I think, if she really tried to convince them. She spoke like a cobra dancing to flute; just teetering the line between dangerous and serene enough to make you think maybe it was innocent. Like maybe the turning in your gut was uncalled for.
I felt like maybe I was filling in way too many blanks about Hazel just based on gut instinct alone, but at the same time, there was just something different about her that made me uncomfortable.
“I’m sure it’s fine. I’m sure, if we were running late, three of the hosts wouldn’t be hanging around outside with us.” Megan’s smile waned and she sighed heavily, folding her arms across her chest. Hazel’s eyes narrowed as she aimed a pointed look at her sister, and said something under her breath that I didn’t catch. It seemed to annoy Megan, though; she breathed out loudly, shaking her head and replying quietly with another intangible remark that had the inflections of finality. She looked back up at us with a convincing smile, but distracted eyes. I thought it might have been impossible for her to hide any emotion at all.
“Sorry about that. Hazel's been homeschooled until now, and people aren't really her thing." Megan added quickly, flashing a soft, though somewhat obviously diversionary, smile.
"Do not apologize for me, Megan." Hazel snapped. Her accent came on thicker when she was agitated. "I'm going inside." The ebonette walked off coolly, almost snobbishly. As she went, my eyes trailed her; she moved with immaculate poise and intention as if every motion had been choreographed.
"Hazel!" Megan called after her to no effect. "Really sorry 'bout her; she means well." The younger girl sighed deeply and rubbed her neck. "I should probably go after her." She muttered, though more to herself. She exhaled loudly again and smiled up at us. "It was great meeting you two— and Ana, you know I always love seeing you. I guess I'll catch you around." She rushed with a friendly wave as she chased her sister into school.
When both were decidedly out of earshot, Marley scoffed. Ana hummed questioningly and leaned back on the wall, her arm coiling again around my hip and her hand covering mine.
“Means well my ass.” Marley watched the door they’d gone through like she was waiting for them to poke their heads right back out to eavesdrop. “Great genes, like solid find, Tots, but damned if that girl doesn’t give me a weird vibe.” She shook her head, one corner of her lips quirked downwards just enough to show she was serious.
“She’s not a bad kid. Just,” Ana paused thoughtfully, “thorny? Esoteric? I don’t get on with her as much as Megan, to be honest.” She shrugged.
“Good, bad, whatever, something’s off with her. Grace was definitely checking her out, though, and ay, Gracie, you’ve got good taste, but yikes my dude.” Marley teased. I glared at her. She winked back.
I felt, more so than saw, Ana watch my reaction. She huffed exasperatedly.
“I’m sure. Have you two picked up your shirts?” The change in subject was obvious, but Ana never hid that she tended to shirk away from gossip.
“We haven’t been inside at all yet,” I responded, intentionally cutting off whatever Marley had looked about to say since she didn’t seem done interrogating Ana about the twins. The former pouted at me but let the subject peter out.
“We should do that now, then.” Ana stood straight and stretched her arms over her head and adjusting her hair in an almost unconscious way.
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