95 Five Lies and a Truth 1
(A/N: To be clear, Kara Geir = Carmen Rose IRL)
| Lie One - 12 Years Old |
It's Carmen Rose's first day in a new city, in a new school, in a new life.
It's also the first day she is called a bitch, but it will hardly be the last.
"We're headed to the mall. Come with us!" invites three boys from class who stop her on the sidewalk outside the middle school. They're smiling, enthusiastic, and for the millionth time, Carmen wishes her guardians weren't so overbearing and strict.
Her violet eyes pass over the other groups of kids heading off in various directions, and she wonders what it would be like to be able to hang out after school, or join a club, or have a friend.
She flashes the boys an apologetic smile. "Sorry, I can't. My parents say I have to go straight home."
"It's just shopping and a movie. They won't care. C'mon!"
The wheedling voices grate against Carmen's ears while one boy grabs her arm, and her smile slips before she can paste it back in place.
"I'm sorry," she repeats, even though she's not sure she is anymore. The apology is more a reflex this time, a way to deflect and de-escalate. "They really do care, so I really can't."
The boys aren't smiling anymore. Rejection turns them ugly.
"You're just a stuck-up bitch!"
Carmen flinches and pales, suddenly nauseous. She'd never noticed before, but "bitch" is such a violent word, an auditory assault.
The hard "b" hits like a punch to the gut, then that sharp "tch" smacks like a slap to the face.
Carmen had always thought the nursery rhyme "Stick and Stones can break my bones, but Words will never hurt me," was a crock of crap. After years of training, she could dodge physical attacks easy, but words always landed. And they had a habit of working their way deep into the tissue; bruises fade, but cruel words linger, fester.
Sticks and stones may hurt the body, but Words decay the soul.
A girl's loud voice cuts through the unpleasant tension. "Oi! Shut the hell up, you limp-dick miscreants!"
Two of the boys blanche and instinctively huddle in fear. "Gahh, it's Xiuying! Let's get out of here!"
The third boy tightens his grip on Carmen's arm and moves her in front of him.
"Are you really using me as a shield right now?" Carmen can't help but ask, disdain coloring her low-pitched voice. "Pathetic, man."
Oops. Broke Rose Family Rule #13: Never antagonize.
That one's always been a difficult rule for Carmen to follow. Her sharp tongue has a tendency to get away from her.
"Gee, I wonder why she doesn't want to hang out with you," the girl, Xiuying, says, voice dripping with sarcasm like honey from a hive.
The two-sided sass assault is too much for the boy. He flushes in embarrassed anger, and Carmen knows all too well that's one of the most dangerous kinds of rage.
It comes as no surprise to Carmen, then, when his fingers dig deeper into her pale skin and he yanks. Hard.
It comes as a huge surprise to everyone else, however, when Carmen digs her heel into the boy's foot and she twists around and flips him onto the ground. Hard.
"Sweet moves, new girl!" Xiuying exclaims, skipping to stand next to Carmen in case the boys decide to retaliate.
They do not.
They barely help their friend up off the pavement before they take off,
"Ugh, I hate both you bitches!" the third boy spits, limping away as fast as his limited edition Nikes can carry him.
Xiuying smirks, arms crossed, somehow seeming to tower over everyone even though she's half a head shorter than Carmen. "Boy, you ain't even on my hate level. If you were in the hospital, I would unplug your life support to charge my phone. Byeee!"
Then she does that obnoxious little wave where only the fingers move, and Carmen is in awe of how so much sass can fit into one tiny person.
As soon as the boys are out of sight, Xiuying relaxes her brazen pose and stretches, before turning to Carmen with a crooked smile that seems to hide all the secrets of the universe. For one idiotic moment, Carmen wonders if Xiuying might be related to the real Mona Lisa.
"Hiya, you're the transfer student, right? I'm Xiuying Lieu, one grade above you."
"Carmen Rose. Nice to meet you." She hides how much she really means that behind a small half-smile, and quirks an eyebrow. "Sooo...Miscreants? Really?"
Xiuying's almond eyes crinkle as she laughs, clearly proud of her latest spur-of-the-moment insult. Carmen really likes the sound of Xiuying's laugh; it's brash and loud and unapologetic, and it invites the entire world to laugh right along with her. Plus, it makes her gray eyes sparkle.
"It's funnier to use words they don't understand. I called a kid a nincompoop in third grade, and he cried for an hour."
Carmen laughs at that, but it's a much quieter affair. She doesn't have much practice.
Xiuying seems determined to give her plenty of opportunities to practice, however. For the next twenty minutes, the two girls walk through the neighborhood, and Xiuying regales Carmen with so many hilarious stories—mainly involving her "dorktastic baby brother"—Carmen's face hurts from smiling for real so long, and her abs are sore from laughing.
Finally, they reach the intersection where they'd need to split up to head to their respective homes.
Xiuying pushes her long brown hair out of her face. "So, do you really have to go home, or were you just making an excuse? I'd love to have you come hang out at my house for a bit, if you can? It's cool if you can't though, obvs."
It's clear Xiuying actually means that. Her face is open, friendly, and sincere. She wants to hang out with Carmen, wants to be friends, but won't hold it against her if she can't. Her desire for friendship is unconditional.
Carmen's blown away by that. Everything in the Rose household is conditional.
She bites her lower lip, and for the first time in her life, Carmen Rose decides to ignore The Rules.
"I can hang out for a bit," she lies.
The huge grin Xiuying gives her in return makes her feel like she made the right choice. Xiuying links their arms and squeezes excitedly, and carried away, Carmen squeezes right back.
She finds it isn't too hard to hold onto that comforting feeling, even for the next two months she spends grounded.