"CHRISTINA ELLA HOWE!"
A teenage girl jerked up straight in her bed, vividly alarmed.
"Get down here THIS SECOND or you're grounded for a month!"
The girl blinked.
"Yes, Auntie Jo."
She groaned as she stepped out of bed, rubbing her eyes violently, trying to wake up.
She pulled out a pair of worn-down jeans from the old dresser, then a t-shirt to match. Grazed slivers of wood fell from the dresser as she pushed the drawer back in. Flinging the metal closet doors open, she grabbed a jean jacket and threw the doors shut again. She reached for her brush, then stood, facing the dingy, darkened mirror and combed through her silky blonde hair.
This is Christy. Christina Howe, a gem among gems, treasure among treasures. She just couldn't see it yet.
She lived in a mansion, ate gourmet meals three times a day, and went to the nicest private school around. She lived with her rich relatives, and had two drop-dead-gorgeous stepsisters who shared their wardrobe with her. And on top of it all, she had a boyfriend. I mean, really, what more could you ask for?
Quite a bit, it turned out. It's not quite as luxary of a life as it may seem when it all comes with a price.
It's not quite as nice, you see, when you live in the filthy basement of the mansion, filled with spiders and cold drafts of air. Or when you have to cook all three of those delicious meals from scratch with your own two hands. And no matter what school you go to, it sucks when you make up the lowest social circle within the country.
The rich relatives, you ask? They only took her in to make themselves look good after her mother left and her father passed. The stepsisters? They were nice and all, at least if you enjoyed the company of vermin. They shared only the clothes with hopeless stains or the outfits that were horribly out of style. And makeup? Get lost.
And by the way, the boyfriend I mentioned. He was disgusting, and Christy couldn't seem to tell him: no, they weren't dating, and, to put it simply, she hated his guts.
So yep. If you still think that this ⬆️ is the life, you've got your priorities seriously messed up. And you should probably reconsider your life purpose.
What didn't she have? Everything. But what did she want? Nothing. That's what made her so incredible.
She washed the dishes, scrubbed the floorboards, mowed the lawn, tended the flowerbeds, washed the underwear, cleaned the toilets, etc. etc. etc.
In other words, she basically was the one-woman cleanup team for a ridiculously large mansion. But you would never have any idea how hard she had it, because somehow, she never complained.
Even at school, where her stepsisters pushed her down at every opportunity, Christy kept her cool. She was wicked smart, scoring perfect 100%s on school papers and tests. She may have been the least popular kid alive, but she could run three lives at a time: full-time housemaid, brainy highschool student, and guy magnet. Outside of school, where normal people lived normal lives, she constanly had guys trailing her. Whereas any girl in her class would have killed to be the girl Christy was, deep inside, Christy would've done the same to escape.
If she really thought about it; really admitted it; she hated it here. She had known a better life before. Yes, a simpler one, but one full of happiness and joy. One that was full of love.
Her mother had left when Christy was only five. Her mother had always been the somewhat flighty type, but her father, being the good man he was, had given her a second chance. He pulled her out of dirt-poverty and gave her something to live for. But within five years, she was gone, chasing some other man.
Christy had no regret over losing her mother, strange as it seemed. Her father was everything she ever needed. She thought it would be like that forever. But it was not to be.
One of the things her father had warned her of from a very early age was to never be too settled anywhere. "Good times don't always last," he had said, "And sometimes we just have to move on."
Her father wasn't a good man; he was a saint. He gave what little he had to Christy's mother, and donated all he could to charities world-wide. He gave so much that he couldn't even pay for his own medical expenses when he was diagnosed with cancer. Lung cancer, to be specific.
The doctors promised all would be well, but the cancer spread. The doctors were still saying he would be alright, he just needed special treatment now. Somehow, even at that young age, Christy knew they were lying. Finally, the cancer spread to his heart, and John Howe took his last breath on earth.
The funeral was heartbreaking. Christy was lost. Her relatives took her in as a kind of "charity work," but it was only to encourage her uncle's boss to give him a promotion in the health system he worked for. He was supposedly a "highly esteemed doctor" with "suberb medical knowledge," but Christy saw him reading books on medical topics all day, just to give his patients an answer that might work.
Christy had lived here for six years now, a bright fifteen-year-old girl... who was punished for being alive.
BANG! the door shot open.
"Young lady, just WHAT do you think you're still doing down here? We're only STARVING upstairs, thanks to the lazy, foolish girl still lounging about down in her sweet little room."
Her aunt slammed the door in her face and pounded up the stairs.
Auntie Jo. Winner of mother of the year. For crocodiles.
Let's get this straight: Auntie Jo was a living nightmare. She was a fat, puggish woman with blatently fake red hair and beady slits for eyes. Her skin was a sickly sallow color, and it sagged at every joint. At best, she was a nasty thing; at worst, a demon.
Christy reluctantly headed towards the starcase, inhaling a deep, steadying breath.
Scratch calming breathing exercises. Nothing worked in this cataclysm of a house.
She mustered up the sweetest voice she could manage.
"Yes Auntie, I'm coming."
Fast forward two hours. Math class. The only sound you'll ever hear in this room is the teacher's bland voice leading a tourture session. The other sound you'll hear is the teacher's assistant snoring in the back of the room. So much for world-class teachers.
Daleman High, my school, was supposedly one of the most elite and sought-after academies in the state. At school concerts, our principal always said it was ranked second best in the country. He was lying.
I wish I could go to public school. she daydreamed, somewhere far, far away from these elitist snobs. Public school kids were normal. They don't have to be perfect, spotless, flawless. They didn't have to act like someone they weren't. They were so lucky that they got to be... well, them.
But no, of course I can't attend public school. "Disgrace to the family" or something stupid like that.
All the other classes passed in quite the same way: boring, useless, and altogether unnecessary for real life.
Finally, the blessed ringing of the lunch bell pulled Christy out of her mourning and back into reality.
"Oh, and children, don't forget: our new student will be joining us this afternoon for history! Don't be late!" the teacher screeched, then turned away to erase the blackboard.
Christy started to get up, only to be shoved right back down by the head. By whom? None other than her evil stepsister Rosie, of course. The other one, Angelica, trailed right behind. They were never apart for long. Honestly, they were both too stupid to make it very long without the other.
"Oh Rosie, Angel, come on, I have the perfect lunch table reserved!" a bubbly voice cooed from the front of the room.
A girl with pinkish-purple hair popped her head through the door. She had hearts painted all over her face with eyeliner. This was Veronica. Veronica Pillsburg. The hands-down prettiest girl in school, and, unfortunately, she knew it. Pink followed her wherever she went, and appeared in every nuance of every outfit she owned. Today's outfit was a bright magenta crop top with a mini skirt to match. She always found a way to maximize exposed skin, especially her midriff.
She must get so cold in the winter. Christy thought, brushing past the scene into the crowded hallway.
"Chris, hey, over here!" Someone was calling.
It was Joel, with Emmy close behind. These were her two best friends in the whole wide world. The only people that she knew had her back, and the two people who shared the shame of lowest social class to be friends with her. She owed them big time for that.
"Hey, did you hear what they have in the cafeteria today?" Joel asked, excited.
"No, what?" she laughed.
"Chicken pot pie!" he exclaimed, "They're actually starting to feel us real food around here."
Emmy giggled. "What, you didn't like the crackers and cheese last year?"
Joel made a regurgitating sound. "Those were the sickest things I've ever put in my mouth." he paused. "And not in a good way."
"Thanks for the clarification." Christy said, cracking up, "One more clarification, by the way - you guys are disgusting."
Joel slung his arm around her shoulder. "You know you like it." He shot a exaggerated wink at her.
That started the first round of playful squabbling. And for Christy, it was the best part of the day.
Sitting at a table in the cafeteria a few minutes later, Emmy and Joel were still bantering back and forth. Only now, the conversation had drifted to a debate over hot sauce vs. ketchup. But Christy was world away, lost deep in her thoughts.
She looked first at Joel. Once upon a time (aka in middle school), she had believed herself to have been in love with him. And who could blame her? His rugged good looks and cheesy smile had girls chasing him left and right, but he was single, and very proud of it.
But still, even years later, though her feelings had changed, she still thought him handsome. Baby blue crystal eyes with naturally curled lashes were inlaid below firm eyebrows and a wide forehead. His features were well defined, from the straight nose to the knubbed chin. He had wide lips, and a smile was always spread across them. He played offense in soccer, which had the girls drooling even more. Besides his buddies on the soccer team, however, the only people Joel hung out with were Christy and Emmy. He was obviously content, although sometimes Christy wondered how. He could have the whole school at his fingertips, but he chose close friends over phony followers.
I guess that's what makes the difference between a jock and a guy worth hanging around. Christy thought silently.
Her eyes moved onto Emmy.
Emmy was a sweet, charming girl with gently wavy black hair and big, beautiful eyes. She could make an alligator smile with her carefree jokes and teasing. She made Christy's every day.
One of the many very special things about Emmy was also perhaps her greatest weakness. She had sympathy that would blow your mind, make you think it was just another joke, but no, it was real. She forgave, before being wronged, and didn't beg for apologies. Naturally, that leaves you getting taken advantage of much of the time, but it also leaves you with a few best friends who see the inner beauty you so clearly posess, and also treasure it carefully.
Christy was no doubt the luckiest person in the world, and just because she had these two people in her life. Two people who actually cared what happened to her, and supported her left and right. People who would tell her when she wrong, guide her when she was lost, and love her no matter what. It was the closest thing to family that she could remember.
She would've continued in her thoughts, but a voice she hated hearing snapped her out of them.
Christy knew the voice before even looking up.
It was the sickening rotten voice of the nastiest girl in school - Veronica. Yes, the pretty pink butterfly girl from earlier. She was most like a shiny, rosy-colored apple that was aesthetically perfect, but when you cut ot open, it was mildewed and rotted on the inside.
Yes, she seemed nice enough when she was around people she intended to make a good impression on, but other than that, she was a beast.
Probably why she, Rosie, and Angelica all get along so well, Christy mused.
Veronica was still standing in the exact same spot on the cafeteria floor, obviously making a statement.
"Hello, can you even hear me?" she snapped, hands on hips, "Or have you just forgotten how to use your words?"
Rosie came up behind her. "Yeah, losers. How is it sitting at a freshman table? It's ok, we know you're still middle schoolers at heart."
Joel stiffened. Christy could feel his anger rising-
Please don't confront them. Please, no-
"Especially you, Idiot." Angelica chimed in, pointing a finger in Christy's face, "I still wonder how you even passed middle school. If anyone should fail, it's you, of course."
Their despicably sweet toned voices make Christy want to puke.
"That's not true!" Joel said, suddenly standing up, face burning red.
Veronica faked suprise. "Well, Christina, at least your boyfriend stands up for you. I forgot you had one for a second there. Oh wait, you don't."
Their disgusting group broke into squeaky high-pitched laugher. This common occurance always reminded Christy of mice that had the flu.
"You're so ugly, I'm honestly not suprised no one's bothered with you," Angelica cooed, "Especially since-"
Angelica's voice stopped dead when she looked up, eyes gaping at something right behind Christy.
"Hey, what's going on here?"
I felt myself die internally. No, NO, please, not him, please don't let him get involved-
But it was too late.
"Veronica?" the voice asked.
I looked as far away as I could from the scene, pretending it didn't exist.
"Oh, well, Jason, you know us..." she sputtered.
He raised an eyebrow.
"Just... having some fun talking about our favorite bands, right guys?" she lied, playfully punching Emmy's shoulder.
"Get lost." Jason's voice cut through the excuses. "And don't try this ever again." He looked down at us suddenly.
"Hey, are you ok?"
That voice- that voice that made Christy want to faint.
Then she realized he was talking to her, and expected an answer.
"Christy?" he asked again gently, touching her arm.
He touched me. HE TOUCHED ME.
Everyone was still staring at her, though. She a managed a nod dumbly.
"Yeah, I-I'm fine. Thanks."
"Hey, anytime." Jason flashed a perfect smile and strode off.
Emmy's eyes followed him as he walked away.
"What was that all about?"
"I don't know, really." Christy admitted awkwardly.
"I didn't need his help." Joel pouted. He was brooding.
"I didn't want help from that puny, putrid little squib-"
"Oh, cmon, Joel. He's the hottest guy in the school, hands down." Emmy retorted, "You know what I think? I think you're just jealous."
"Me? Give me one good reason I need to be jealous of that jerk." he growled.
"Because he's got the head start on Chris." she said simply, pushing back from the table and rising. "And I'm not sure you can compete with a guy like him."
"Please tell me you're joking." Joel sighed, "You think I care what he thinks of Christy? Well - well, she's off limits. That's life."
"Wait a second." Christy suddenly butted in, "Who said Jason was the one at fault here? And why is my dating life being controlled by my best friends?"
"Because we know better than you." Joel shrugged, picking up his backpack, "We're more experienced with this kind of stuff, you know?"
Emmy snorted. "You've never even kissed a girl, dude. Remind me again, how exactly is that experienced?"
Christy rolled her eyes while the two went back to their bickering. It wasn't Jason's fault, after all, it's was Veronica's. Why couldn't she just bug off, even once in a while? It would be a nice and much deserved break.
But still - having Jason stand up for her, for her, out of all people... well, that was an amazing feeling in the least.
Jason was, as Emmy had said, the hottest guy that Daleman high had ever seen. Tall, with touseled caramel brown hair, he carried himself with an air of pride. His outrageous flirting and recyclable girlfriends made him the talk of the town, or at least of the school. He had large, dark eyes that complimented his light complexion. And his smile, wow, his smile...
She stopped by her locker and spun the combination before reaching in to grab her things for her next class.
And to think he, Jason Harold, the most dashing boy alive, had just flashed that exact same smile at Christy. She was in the clouds. What on earth was happening?
But before she could decide what was going on with the mad beating in her heart and the new and mildly scary thoughts running through her head, someone came crashing into her in the middle of the hallway.
"Oh my word, I'm sosorry! Are you ok?" the person asked as Christy looked up from the floor, slightly dazed.
She didn't recognize the voice. But what she saw was not what she expected.
What she saw was the face of an angel.
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