I had an idea and even though I’ve got two other books I’m working on writing and one I’m working on editing, I just had to start writing. So, without any introduction, here’s an idea I’m working on. Remember, you found it here first.
Karen Walker is five foot, five inches tall. On a rainy day, when her clothes are soaked through, she weighs slightly over a hundred pounds. The neon signs advertising everything from hair products to the next politician reflect in a rainbow of colors in her dark eyes. From a distance she’s just an average teenage girl, happily walking down the abandoned street with her best friend’s hand in her own. Like most girls of her time she’s been trained to look happy and cute all the time.
A casual glance would say she’s happy. From her pigtails to her anime shirt with the smiling cat to her short skirt to her sneakers with no laces, Karen Walker looks just like everyone else: happy.
“Are you sure this is a good idea,” her friend says, “we’re not supposed to be out this late.”
“Relax, Gretchen,” Karen replies. “Remember what Chupacabra said.”
Gretchen rolls her eyes and tightens her grip on Karen’s hand. “I think Chupacabra might be a little loco in the cabeza.”
“Crazy like a fox,” Karen says, smiling white teeth rendered purple from the neon lights. “He knows what he’s doing.”
“We are going to be in so much trouble,” Gretchen says. “And prom is tomorrow. Did you know Jorge asked me? I totally didn’t tell you that.”
Gretchen pulls Karen to a stop and faces her. Karen looks up at her friend and sees fear and a hint of sadness in Gretchen’s dazzling blue eyes. It’s then that it strikes her: Gretchen wants to be safe. Her shoulders are sagging, even her blonde pigtails are sagging under the weight of tonight’s mission.
“I didn’t know Jorge asked you,” Karen says quietly. “Are you excited.”
Gretchen perks up, standing upright and almost bouncing on her toes. “He’s the best,” she says. “He can shoot a basket like no one else.”
Karen rolls her eyes as Gretchen grabs her chest and swirls in place. “Did you know he once made a show of only shooting baskets from … from … like halfway across the court. Every shot made it. He’s so amazing!” Gretchen swoons.
“Fat lot of good that will do him in the real world,” Karen says. She immediately regrets it when Gretchen’s body droops again.
A hint of defiance snakes through Gretchen’s body and she says, “He’ll get a good scholarship. What do you have? That ridiculous chess club or that silly Karate?”
Gretchen pouts in the middle of the street. Karen reaches out and touches her friend’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she says, “Jorge’s an amazing athlete. It would be a pity for you to miss your date with him.”
“He is amazing,” Gretchen says and delicately stomps her foot. She looks up and meets Karen’s eyes. She expects to see disappointment or anger but finds only a friend looking sad.
“You should go home,” Karen says. “Go home and get sleep and look absolutely amazing for him.”
Gretchen nods her head, thinking of Jorge’s big brown eyes. “Can you do this alone?” she asks.
“I think so,” Karen says.
“Come with me,” Gretchen pleads. “Let’s just go home and put on our slippers and you can watch TV at my house. You know Renegades is on tonight. You love Renegades.”
“They always get caught,” Karen says.
Gretchen’s eyes plead with Karen’s. “You’ll get caught, too, you know.”
“Not tonight I won’t,” Karen says. “Tonight I am the wind.”
“Please don’t do this, Karen. I can’t live without you,” Gretchen says. “You’re, like, my best friend ever.”
Karen thinks about it for a moment. Another night of watching Renegades and thinking about dresses and doing the right thing – as if there was a choice. A sick feeling runs through her stomach. It would be so easy to just give in, to try to be as happy as she always looks, but that feeling just isn’t there and her smiles – practiced in front of a mirror – don’t go that far into her soul.
“You’re my best friend, too,” Karen says, and hugs Gretchen tightly to her. “I’ll see you tomorrow in Chem.”
“I have peanut butter chocolate ice cream,” Gretchen says plaintively. “A whole pint.”
“Seductress,” Karen says quietly. She pushes back from Gretchen’s embrace and holds her friend at arm’s length. “We’ve been besties since Kindergarten. I’ll never leave you.”
“Please be careful,” Gretchen says. “Text me?”
“I will,” Karen replies. “As soon as I get home. I’ll ask you about tomorrow’s math homework.”
Gretchen feels a tear running down her face and smiles when Karen wipes it away. As long as they’ve been friends, Karen has always seemed a little different, a little rebellious, a bit too happy to take risks. She was the girl Gretchen always wanted to be but could never find in herself. She tries to think what the world would be like with Karen but just can’t. It would be too strange.
“I’ll send you the answers,” Gretchen says.
“Don’t do that,” Karen says with a smile. “Then we’ll both be busted. I don’t want to get busted over something like that.”
Gretchen sniffles and wipes a tear from her eye. “Okay,” she says simply.
“Get going,” Karen says. “The patrol is due any second now. Remember, if they stop you tell them you got lost coming back from Karate class.
Gretchen nods, knowing it’s not too far from the truth. She got lost, but it wasn’t physically; she feels like her way metaphysically, like she strayed from the Path. If only Karen could just be happy, she’d could find the Path, too.
“Don’t lose your way,” Gretchen says and turns away.
Karen watches her friend walk away and the click of the girl’s heels on concrete feel like hammer blows in her heart. She bites her lip, steels herself, and walks in the other direction; pushing Gretchen’s fading footsteps out of her mind and focusing on the task at hand.