Authors: Nadia Scrieva
By Nadia Scrieva
Copyright © 2012 Nadia Scrieva. All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
Beneath the makeup and behind the smile I am just a girl who wishes for the world.
I was born just like everyone else, and I suppose I will die just like everyone else—it’s the stuff in between that’s uncertain. Danger lies in the tiny choices. For example, how would my life have been different if I had followed the rules and avoided mingling with the humans on this particular night? What if I hadn’t ducked into the ladies’ room to retouch my lipstick? I know so much about the flow of time in the lives of others, but my own is a complete mystery. All I knew was how I felt, and I couldn’t stand another second of that awful, repetitive Christmas music.
After spending the better part of the evening standing in a corner and watching students laughing and dancing, the nip of jealousy was like cold air against my neck. I would have given anything to be one of them—but of course, I had nothing to give. I would have loved to be a part of something like this, but I was just an outsider crashing the party because someone had mentioned it to me earlier in the week. The person who had spoken of the event was now dead. I suppose I felt compelled to come in her place and enjoy what she couldn’t—but enjoying anything was proving difficult. Instead, I ran. I escaped to the bathroom where I have been trying to occupy my hands with some mundane task. I consider splashing cold water on my face, but it would ruin my makeup. Taking a random utensil from my purse, I busy myself with going through the motions of a woman freshening herself up. I am in the middle of pretending to darken my lashes when
enters the room.
I can immediately tell that she has been crying. She is a brunette of Asian descent, only a tad bit shorter than me, with a sweet face. Glancing into her eyes through the mirror, I quickly decide that I will try to help her as much as I can; it is my job, after all.
“Are you okay?” I ask her softly.
She nods rapidly, grabbing several sheets of paper towel which she promptly presses against her face. This is about as effective as holding up an umbrella in a hurricane. As fast as she can mop up the mess, more tears and snot broke through the barrier.
“My name is Kayla,” I tell her. My own voice reminds me of a cat’s paws on carpet. I feel like I am prying, but I can instinctively tell that she wants me to pry. “Do you need any help?”
Removing the soaked paper from her eyes, she glances at me miserably. “Kayla. I am the scum of the earth. Is it terrible to break up with someone on Christmas Eve?”
Oh, humans and their etiquette! Although I didn’t fully understand the situation, I was intrigued. “I think so,” I reason carefully. “Why do you ask?”
“I have been with my high school boyfriend for years, but I just started seeing someone else,” she confesses. “College was just so new and there were so many crazy changes. I never meant for this to happen.”
Chewing on my lip to indicate thoughtfulness, I taste my waxy lipstick. “If the timing is so inconvenient, why don’t you just wait a day?” I ask her.
“I just can’t keep lying!” she almost shouts. “It’s driving me insane. It’s fine every other day, but not on Christmas—he deserves better.” She begins to blow her nose and tries to clean up her face halfheartedly.
“You seem like a good person. I am sure he will understand—you should always do what you feel is right.” I reached into my purse for a pale yellow handkerchief which I pass to her silently.
She accepts it with a surprised smile and uses it to erase her runny mascara. “Hey, thanks for listening,” she said lightly. She gives me a feeble wave as she moves to leave the restroom.
Emotions baffle and scare me, even though I’m supposed to be immune. As I watch the door swinging with the girl’s exit, I think about how volatile and unpredictable humans are. I find it both terrifying and endearing; I wish I could have friends who felt so strongly about me, but at the same time I am glad I do not. It is safer to be an outsider—safer, albeit boring and unsatisfying.
Pulling out my lipstick, I return to primping myself for nothing in particular. After the odd little encounter, I can’t help feeling aware of my own emptiness. Would I continue this way, so unconnected until my death? I can’t help considering my own mortality. I often wonder whether I am making the most of my life, and whether I should try to risk connecting with other people a little more. I can’t help these thoughts; I have seen ten people die this week.
Worst of all, it was my job to save them.
I know that I shouldn’t feel responsible, and I definitely shouldn’t get attached to my clients. This is always a busy time of year, and losses are expected. I have heard that doctors eventually become numb to seeing their patients die, but I am not a doctor and I can’t turn off my regret. These are not natural deaths, and neither are they accidental. No, they are the worst kind: intentional and by choice. Each one is a testament to a collective failure to show others a little kindness. That’s all people really seem to want in the end; kindness. That’s all I want.
Two girls enter the restroom chattering loudly and shattering my quiet privacy. I reluctantly leave, heading back into the crowded ballroom. The noisy music and bright lights are intoxicating in a way that makes me feel nostalgic and out of place. I want to enjoy myself at this party, but I’m not quite sure how. Moving among the bubbly groups of young college students, I try to smile at everyone who looks my way. A few people smile back mechanically before returning to their conversations. No one seems to be alone, and no one seems interested in connecting with me. I consider returning to the restroom—I seemed to have better luck there.
Instead, I am drawn toward the brightly-colored punch bowls. The trays of desserts are enchanting. Pretty layers of cake and fruit attract my attention, and I move forward to help myself to a serving. I am reaching for a paper plate when a large hand clamps around my wrist.
“What are you doing, Kayla?”
I turn to glance over my shoulder at the familiar face. “You’re hurting me,” I tell my attacker, yanking my hand free. I rub my bruised wrist carefully, frowning. “This body is tender, Nathan.”
“Sorry. At least it heals quickly,” he responds, indicating the bluish bruise left by his thumb. It fades away before our eyes, and the pain disappears too. “Why are you here? You’re supposed to be sleeping.”
“I’m not ready to leave yet,” I tell him. He doesn’t mean a regular night’s sleep. He means a deep and dreamless slumber that will take me away from this world for an indefinite amount of time. It is like death, but not quite. When I return, I won’t be Kayla anymore.
“You have to go,” Nathan insists. “Those are the rules. Your work here is done.”
“Maybe after I try some dessert,” I tell him stubbornly.
“What’s wrong with you? You don’t need to eat or drink.”
“But I want to,” I protest, sighing with exasperation. “Why are you here, Nathan? Just leave me alone. It’s none of your business what I do with my time.”
He shrugs. “For your information, I’m not here to bother you. I just noticed you and thought I’d come over and say something. I’m actually here on a job.”
“A job?” I ask, suddenly curious.
He lowers his voice and looks around before speaking. “Something is going to happen here tonight, very soon.”
“No one told me that,” I say, a bit upset to be out of the loop.
“Something changed,” he says, “an event happened that wasn’t supposed to happen. It triggered other events, and now there’s a job.”
“You’re confusing me,” I complain.
“It’s complicated,” he says, scanning the room. “Father said something about a yellow handkerchief.”
My head jerks down and I stare at my purse with paranoia. “Oh no,” I whisper. I turn to scan the room from corner to corner, searching for the girl from the bathroom. I finally notice her leaving the party through double doors, a hand pressed to her chest as though she is very upset. She is holding my handkerchief. “Let me take care of this, Nathan. It’s my fault.” I begin weaving my way through the crowd, but Nathan stops me.