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I walk into my bedroom and immediately head for the stereo. My purple bed is unmade and clothes are scattered all over my room, but that can wait. I turn the volume all the way up, letting the music flood the apartment. That is something I could never do last month. Ever since I moved in with my brother Liam, I have finally been able to relax and have a little bit more freedom. Sure there are still rules, but at least they aren’t suffocating like my mom and dad’s. Be home by 10:00, homework before anything else, and keep my grades up. Simple.
That is how it used to be at home until my parents sat me down one night and announced that they were separating, or in my dad’s words, “taking a break”. Everything had seemed normal until then. They hid it well. After that, it hit me all at once. I noticed my dad began staying at work later just so he wouldn’t have to come home to deal with things. He said it was just that the store had a lot more customers. After that, they started fighting over the little things, some things you wouldn’t even imagine little kids at recess to fight over. Finally, they began to take it out on me, and that’s when I moved out.
I am so glad I have Liam here for me. We have always been close, and with an eight year age difference, he has always sort of taken care of me. He just graduated from college last year, bought his own apartment, and got a job at the pizza place down the street. That kind of responsibility and maturity is exactly what I needed to be around my senior year. Hopefully his boss will hire me soon so I can at least help pay for groceries. I would hate to be a burden. Another thing I love about living with my brother is the privacy. Unlike my mom, Liam will avoid me if he sees that I am in a bad mood. With her, she would constantly watch me like a vulture just to see if I would crack and open up more to her. I don’t miss that, but sometimes it would be nice if I have someone to vent to. It is probably unhealthy to keep everything bottled up, right?
Over the loud music, I am surprised that I am still able to hear my phone vibrate.
Incoming Call: Mom
Even though I don’t want to, I reluctantly answer my phone. What a big mistake. The conversation that occurred in those two minutes is far too hard to repeat or even think about ever again. There was crying, yelling, shouting, and finally I just hung up. My heart is racing and a billion thoughts are jumbled up in my mind. All I know is that I never want to speak to my parents again. That is the last thing you ever want to hear your mom say, especially over the phone. Her words keep echoing in my ears, and I know that no matter how hard I try it will always stay that way.
“We are getting a divorce.”
Through all of the tears and my silent sobbing, my phone vibrates again. I was about to throw it across the room when I catch a glimpse of the screen.
1 New Message: Riley
My heart flutters and a smile breaks across my face, helping me forget about my tears for a few moments. Riley is my best friend and has been since freshman year. He is the kind of guy best friend that you always see in movies. Dark hair, blue eyes, supportive, funny, and completely gorgeous. It is kind of pathetic that I’ve gone almost four years without even hinting that I like him. But I guess it doesn’t really matter. I don’t believe in love anymore. I have my ever so wonderful parents to thank for that.
I throw my phone to the edge of my bed and close my eyes to a sweet, slow song.
“Melanie, Wake up.”
I open my eyes to Liam holding my phone to my face. His blonde hair twists and sticks up in every direction and his eyes are dark with sleepless annoyance. The bright light of the screen is like the sun contrasting against my dark bedroom.
“Please answer this kid. Your phone has been going off all night!”
I look up at him, barely able to see anything but the screen less than three inches from my face.
“What? What time is it?”
I grab my phone and check the inbox.
5 New Messages: Riley
“Hey Melanie. I want to ask you something.”
“Did you do the Physics homework?”
“Just kidding, that wasn’t my question.”
“I guess you’re sleeping so I’ll stop.”
It’s only two in the morning so my exhausted brain can’t really imagine what he could possibly need to ask me. He actually called me Melanie so I’m guessing it was pretty serious. He usually calls me “Mellie”, a nickname he made up the first day we met in English class freshman year. I want to keep my eyes open and reply, but it’s a challenge. I give up and let myself drift off to sleep again. I guess I will just see at school in the morning.
The bell rings for second period and Riley is nowhere to be seen. He is usually here before me, saving us seats in the back of Ms. Johnson’s history class. So, instead I find a seat in the front, next to Riley’s friend Trevor from soccer. I spend the next hour taking notes for the two of us. Just like we have always done since freshman year, I draw silly pictures, write jokes and random phrases all along the edges of the paper. When I finish, I put our signature doodles on the top and bottom corners. His is a smile and mine is a heart. Okay, maybe I do hint at my crush a little bit.
Before I know it, there is only five minutes left of class. Everyone else is talking so I turn to Trevor to ask where Riley is. His face is blank, but I can see him trying so hard to fight a smile.
“What?” I ask. His expression is making me nervous and all I can think of that I either have something on my face or a “Kick Me” sign on my back.
“Well, I can’t really tell you but, you should follow me after class so you can see for yourself.” He doesn’t even have to try and hide his smile anymore. At the moment, he looks like a little redhead kid with freckles waiting to get on the brand new slide at the park.
“I can’t tell you but trust me, it will be worth it.” Knowing Trevor, it is probably going to be another one of his senior pranks. Hopefully this time, there won’t be any crickets involved.
Walking down the crowded hallway, I don’t see anything out of the ordinary. Same people, same lockers, same boring school. I keep walking, but realize that Trevor stopped in front of the bulletin board. Right away, I see what he is looking at. A piece of notebook paper is pinned directly in the middle. It is not just a normal piece of paper either. In the top corner is a smile, and at the bottom is a heart. In between, in black marker, FOLLOW THE NOTES is written in familiar handwriting.
“What is this? A scavenger hunt?” I ask. I know right away that it is Riley, but have no idea what could be at the end of this little game he has set up.
“More like follow the yellow brick road, but yes.” Trevor walks away, leaving it at that.
Immediately I start to follow the trail of notes taped to the lockers. Each is about two classrooms apart and each says something different. GO THIS WAY or WHY DID THE MELLIE CROSS THE SCHOOL? TO GET TO A SURPRISE. Other students are reading the notes too, but probably don’t understand them the way I do, unless they are all in on this game too. I know I haven’t stopped smiling since the first note, and I’m feeling a mixture of confusion and pure excitement. All I can think about right now is how fast my heart is beating, like a metal detector when it begins getting closer to what it is searching for.
These notes have me walking up and down stairs, around in circles and almost to a point of running just so I can see what is going on. At one note, I even have to go into a classroom to get the next one from a teacher. She just laughed sweetly, obviously knowing something I don’t. Nearly twenty minutes have passed and still nothing. I am guessing that is why Riley wasn’t in class, it must have taken him the entire time to set this up. I just hope it is worth the trouble we have both gone through this morning.
Finally I reach a note that simply reads OPEN. It is taped to the double doors that lead to the auditorium stage. A wave of relief washes over me but is immediately replaced by anxiousness. I’ve come to realize that I don’t like surprises much anymore. Especially if it takes this much time to find. I take a deep breath and put my hand on the door handle. I laugh to myself, with no real reason at all. I think it is only because I am completely clueless to what could be behind the door.
Slowly, I open the door to the stage and to complete darkness. I let it close behind me and wait. A single spotlight appears in the center of the stage and I jump back, temporarily shielding my eyes from its brightness. Beneath it, Riley is standing, looking at me with a nervous and love-struck smile on his face. In his hand he is holding a large poster. In the center of the poster, in familiar handwriting, with our signature drawings in the corners, is the perfect surprise.