FROM THE CUBE EPISODES [THE CHRONICLES OF ATAXIA] - EPISODE 16
“You ready for the fireball race? We’re going to kill them this year.” I asked Jeanie.
She looked down, staring at her feet. She clapped the back heel of her boot against her other boot, water spraying off in the process.
“Jeanie?” My voice had a hollow tingle. I didn’t think I was going to like what she was about to say,
“Um. Patrick already asked me to be his partner.” She said slowly and quietly.
She suddenly stared up into my eyes. I was about to ream her out for abandoning me but when I saw the glint of sorrow in her face the anger died in my throat. I had completely forgotten about how she felt. Kenny had suddenly been taken away. Even though I thought he was a complete arse, she had been into him. Patrick must have felt sorry for her too and that’s why he had asked her to be his partner.
“Oh. Okay.” I swallowed hard, “Misty?”
She shook her head and pointed at Arrow. Damn, I was without a partner. I turned to stare into the rest of the bunch surrounding us. My teammates had almost all partnered up. I craned my neck to see who was left. Who all had I invited to be on my team anyways? I soon found out that I would be paired with Selena. I don’t know why on earth I had decided to pick her to be on my team, other than the fact that I kinda sorta knew her. She was Misty’s roommate after all. I sighed and walked around a couple students that were talking strategy. Selena looked out of sorts, which was unusual for her. She was usually talkative and cheery; she was the all-around social butterfly, a stereotypic girly girl.
“You okay?” I asked her.
She turned and fluttered her elongated eyelashes at me.
“Yes. What’s up?”
I looked to my left and then to my right. What did she mean, ‘what’s up?’ wasn’t she paying any attention to what was going on?
“Do you have a partner yet?” I said exasperatedly, like I was dealing with a child.
“Partner for what?” She said without a clue.
“Fireball races, duh. Are you ready?”
“I suppose. Have you seen Shaylin?”
“No.” I responded quickly.
I guess Misty and I had not been the only ones to notice the absence of certain other students. Selena looked like she was on the verge of tears. Great, all I needed was more drama.
“Come on then, let’s get ready.” I cut off anything she might have been about to say and pulled on her arm. “Let’s talk strategy. Normally, when Jeanie and I race,” I glanced over at Jeanie who was too busy laughing at something Patrick had said to notice how much of a bind she had put me in, “we usually go side by side and step together. I know most people go back to back and do the sideways step, less likely to drop the fireball. Hey! Are you paying attention?” I snapped my fingers in front of Selena’s face. She blinked in shock; apparently she had forgotten that I was there.
“Okay.” She said.
“Okay? Well, do you think you can do the side to side? It’s much faster but more dangerous. If we drop the fireball, we’re out.”
“I know that.” She stated softly, staring through me.
I turned around but there was nothing interesting behind me.
“We’ve got a few minutes to practice. Come on.”
I grabbed a fireball and Selena obliged by stepping close to me. I wedged the fireball in between our two bodies, right at the curve above the waist. Selena was a little taller than me, so the fireball felt lopsided. It was a bit too high up for me and it was probably a bit too low down for her. Without being in that perfect curve to cradle it, the fireball had space to wobble around and it might fall down in the middle of the race. That wouldn’t do.
“Let’s try walking.”
Selena immediately stepped forward and the fireball dropped between us since I hadn’t stepped with her.
“Wait until I say ‘go’ this time.” I said, trying to find patience. I picked up the fireball and wedged it back in between us.
“Okay. Ready, set, go.” I spoke as calmly as I could but the words came out dully, like I was bored.
We started limping together, awkwardly managing the difference between the lengths of our legs. Selena was crimping her stride and I was opening mine up. Unlike Jeanie and me, Selena and I were booking it! Because our stride was now so long, we might have a chance in beating the others! We were going to cover more distance in less time. Boo-ya! Take that Jeanie and Patrick!
The fireball race was about to start. Selena, still heavily occupied in her own thoughts, held onto our fireball. Our race’s judge called for us to get ready. Selena placed the ball between us and I nudged it slightly lower. We pushed into each other, our faces pointed ahead at the field. All we had to do was race approximately fifty feet up the field and then turn around and come back. Small cones indicated the other end. Damn. We should have practiced the turn!
“Make sure on the way back we just walk around in a semi-circle, don’t try to swivel, okay?” I spurted out quickly to Selena beside me.
She didn’t respond.
“Get set…” The judge called out.
I set my heel into the ground, trying to feel my connection to the dirt and my connection to Selena through the fireball between us. This first step was crucial. We had to step together. If we didn’t, we would end up spending too many steps afterwards coming up with a shared rhythm. We had to sense each other right now.
Selena shuddered and then lurched forward. I tried to step with her but she rocked backward, not having taken a real step, only having leaned forward. My full stride had taken me slightly past her but when she pulled back the distance in between us increased so rapidly I couldn’t compensate. My momentum was carrying me forward and even as I tried to backpedal, the fireball had already plopped into the grass. I looked stricken down at the ground. We hadn’t even gone one step. I was about to let Selena have it but she wailed high and long and took off. Wow, she hadn’t seemed that into the race but I guess our prompt failure had really upset her. I instantly felt sorry for her. It wasn’t her fault. It’s not like we had really had proper time to acclimate to each other.
Even as I heard cheering around me for the other racers, I turned to follow Selena, bounding after her through the short grass. I caught up with her as she leaned up against a tree off to the side of the field. I started to console her.
“It’s okay. I’m not mad. We didn’t have enough time to practice. It’s not your fault.”
“I don’t care about the stupid race. Or this stupid field day.” She cried out as if in torturous pain.
I was taken aback. “Um. Then what’s wrong?”
She started to cry. I reached out and rubbed her shoulder.
“It’ll be alright.” I didn’t sound too convincing but what was I supposed to say?
“It won’t be alright. Shaylin is gone.” She whimpered.
“She would have been gone anyways at the end of the year. She gets to start her occupational training early. She’s lucky. You’ll make other friends too when you go.”
Apparently that was the wrong thing to say. Selena turned her head away from me and shrugged her shoulder away from my hand. I pulled my hand back and waited for her to say something. I was done trying to blunder my way through this.
“She wasn’t just my friend. She…” Selena trailed off, looking at me helplessly.
Then it dawned on me. I had been in my own little world for so long, thinking about my grandiose schemes and personal problems for so long that I couldn’t even see what was in front of my face anymore.
“Selena, you and Shaylin were…” I didn’t know how to put it into words delicately. Society was still not that progressive and kids were; let’s face it, cruel.
“A couple.” Selena finished and burst into tears.
I guess with finals and the holiday and everything, the pressure had been too much for happy-go-lucky party girl Selena. I felt useless as she sat there, her hands coming up to her face every couple of seconds to smear tears away. I didn’t know what to do or how to respond. I rubbed her back in a slow concentric circle.
“It’s going to be alright. You two would have been separated eventually.”
Apparently, again, that was the wrong thing to say.
“You don’t understand. We were going to elope.”
“What? Elope?” I burst out. This was strange talk. Here we were on the cusp of war, actually in the midst of a war, and she was worried about spending the rest of her life with some girl. Big deal. World would end soon anyway. So much for doomsday prepping and making a home out of a missile silo.
“Yeah.” She blubbered.
“Okay then.” I got up.
I glanced back over to the field. It looked like the fireball races were over. I squinted but couldn’t tell who had won. The sound carrying over was garbled and I couldn’t make out the names of the winners. Oh well. It wasn’t me so I didn’t really care, as long as it was a fourth year pair. I secretly hoped it wasn’t Patrick and Jeanie.
“I’ll be okay. You can go back to the events.” Selena whispered.
“Are you sure?” I immediately turned to go, relieved, but now my guilt pulled me back.
She smiled at me, a woeful crease in her face. I didn’t bargain with my guilt but nodded at her and got the hell out of there. Whew. I definitely hated it when people cried ― made me feel shifty and uncomfortable. I jogged back over to the field, just in time for the totem pole climb.