I sat in my room, fourteen years old, on an October night. I lay on my bed and stared at the ceiling.
My phone suddenly vibrated; an unusual sensation, as people seldom touched base with me over text. I grabbed it off my nightstand and opened my messages. The text was from Tony Antonelli, my best friend, telling me that his parents were out of town for the weekend and I should come to a party he’s holding tonight.
Tony has been my best friend ever since I moved to Canada seven years ago and he recently became involved with a girl named Violet—one year our senior. Over the course of the year he had attempted to draw me out of my shell. I had two childhood friends that I passed time with often, but I wasn’t exceptionally good at socializing or networking. I was always passed off as a bit unusual—the kind of unusual you don’t bring to parties. Thus, I didn’t really connect much with others.
Tony was handsome, suave, funny and confident—he had all the mellow charisma of Matthew McConaughey on a hammock by the beach. I loved him like a brother, but it was hard not to look at him with some degree of envy. Still, I was thankful to share his company so closely.
He invited me to the party and I was privately apprehensive about it, weighing the pros and cons of going at all. If I didn’t go, Tony and Violet would probably be disappointed.
Besides—what has sitting around alone in my room done for me lately?
Tony’s place was a short walk away. His house was beautiful with a back patio that overlooked the river. I was never sure what his parents did, but evidently, years of doing it had paid off.
I stepped in the door, first being welcomed by the blaring music and then by Tony’s older brother, Leo. Leo was much taller than Tony and he was very fond of me for some reason. He clapped me on the shoulder with one of his massive hands and led me through the crowd of people to the kitchen, where I joined Tony and Violet.
Tony and I embraced while over his shoulder I watched a party-goer chug Hennessy straight from the bottle. Violet was quick to follow with a hug of her own. Her hugs always lasted just a little too long, but I didn’t really mind.
Upon further inspection, a lot of the party-goers seemed to be invited by Leo, but it didn’t seem like Tony had much trouble socializing with them despite. The idea of just chatting up random strangers made me feel a bit frozen up.
I nervously tried to stick to Tony, hoping I could just stand in his shadow the whole time. Like usual.
“You should try talking to other people, Alex,” he eventually told me.
“You should leave me alone, Alex,” is what I heard.
I knew Tony meant well, and I couldn’t blame him for expressing that sentiment, even though I knew he wasn’t actually saying it.
I moved through the crowd. I didn’t bring any alcohol or god forbid, drugs, but the manic energy and electricity of the crowd accompanied by the music made me feel like an electric current was running through my veins.
I tried to clumsily paw my way across social encounters with a few people in some desperate attempt to step out of my comfort zone, but my attempts were ineffectual in their aim, their duration, and their location—turns out a dance floor is not a good avenue for conversation.
It eventually became too overwhelming and so I decided to step out onto the porch. Surprisingly, no one was smoking outside. I stepped out to the very left, away from the chairs to ensure I wouldn’t be disturbed. I just needed to listen to music and recharge for a bit. I wondered to myself about how I managed to talk myself into coming in the first place and I felt sort of silly as I selected a song
They won’t want you
For who you are
So you should step outside your skin…
I didn’t live terribly far away and I thought for a moment about leaving, but I decided that doing so discreetly while going back through the house to take some of the stuff I brought along was a bit too challenging.
Something tells me love isn’t enough
But how can that be?
I heard a muffled sound in my peripherals and I realized someone may be emerging, but I elect to ignore it. If they even noticed me at all, I doubted they’d pay me any mind.
For some reason, I started to think about Violet. Perhaps it was in part to my own obstructiveness, but we definitely started off on the wrong foot. In recent months, I had warmed up to her quite a bit. I thought she and Tony were nice for each other. I seldom felt like a third wheel whenever I was with them and it made me realize that I wanted to get to know Violet better.
I found myself wondering if she felt the same way.
You’re not so evil…
This time I heard that noise to my right a little clearer and I took out an earbud. I think there’s only three people here who remember my name.
“Who’s that?” I mumbled.
I’m not so good…
“Oh, Violet. Hey there.” I said, waving. I sensed a conversation and I took the other earbud out and shut my iPod off.
“What’re you doing out here?” She asked me as she walked a little closer.
“Well, I could ask you the same.” I said, but immediately felt stupid. I know damn well why she came out. She took a box of cigarettes out of her jacket pocket.
“I just came out for a smoke.” She said, as she reached for a cigarette and twirled it between her fingers. “Is everything okay?”
“What? Oh, yeah, I’m fine. Just felt a little suffocated in there, I guess.”
“I know that feeling. Would you mind if I joined you?”
I gestured to an open spot next to me with an open palm.
“Misery loves company.” I said and I smiled for what felt like the first time in a while.
“Did you want one?” She asked, offering me the box. Violet has a habit of making really direct eye contact, and I found it unnerving. I only tend to make prolonged eye contact with people I trust, and so I tried to avert my gaze to the sight of the silver moon hanging over the pitch black water.
“Oh, thanks, Violet, but I don’t smoke.”
“Ah, alright.” She looked down at the box. I do too. There are grotesque depictions of the long-term consequences of smoking and I can’t help but notice that they’ve been modified a little.
“You vandalize your cigarette boxes?”
“Sure, wouldn’t you?” She says, grinning. “I mean, come on now. I know that smoking is bad for me and it will give me cancer and everything else. I’m just trying to relax for a few minutes—all the horrible pictures they use to try to prevent me from doing so are borderline gratuitous.”
She rearranged the lady with terrible mouth cancer so it looked like she was smiling. A little bubble said, “My teeth are all perfectly intact!”
I laugh and I can’t help but nod a little bit. We continue to chatter even as her cigarette goes out and I get a slow feeling of dread as the thought creeps into my head that she’s only talking to me out of a sense of obligation.
“…Y’know Violet, I appreciate you hanging out with me but I don’t want you to feel like you have to. I’m not the easiest person in the world to talk to. I understand that.”
Violet dismissed the thought with a wave, “Nah, I like talking to you. You’re really smart. And besides, hanging out with you is more interesting than what’s going on in there.”
I hear the spark of a lighter.
“…Wait, shit! Oh no! I’m lighting another cigarette!” She gives me a mock shrug. “Guess I gotta stay here a bit longer!” She said, speaking the last part a little muffled with the cigarette in her mouth.
I shake my head and I find myself grinning despite myself. I chuckle a little, “Well played.”
Light from both the dying flame and the moon dances across her dark eyes as she smirks. We talk for what feels like hours.
The next day, I was walking down the hall at school listening to music, and Violet greeted me, looking a bit concerned.
“Are you alright?” She asked me.
“What? Yeah, I’m great, why?” I said, chuckling a little.
“No. It’s just… You always look so angry when you walk down the halls.” She pursed her lips.
“I do not!”
“You do so! It always makes me feel like I’m bothering you or something.” Violet’s accusation surprised me.
“You are never a bother to me, Violet. I… Really like having your company.”
Violet beamed. “I really like having your company too."
We talked together for the rest of the lunch break.
I took a long hard look at my face in the mirror when I got home. I tried to smile and it looked so… Unnatural. I pushed my fingers up at the corner of my lips and I tried to open my eyes really wide. That’s how people smile, right?
I felt like I was in such a slump. I felt an emptiness in me and I couldn’t put my finger on what was missing nor how I could fill that emptiness.
Violet’s concerns really bothered me. If someone who was as important to me as her felt like she was bothering me just by approaching me then what kind of face do I really present to the world?
I wanted to show that I was smiling, even if I looked angry. I wanted to present to the world that I was someone who could be approached. I went to my desk and pulled out yellow acrylic paint and a sharpie. I was given a medium sized button-pin in class and I started to paint it yellow.
I wanted the world to look at me and see someone who could be worthy of friendship, of trust, of happiness.
“Maybe I might just be lying to myself," I thought when the paint dried and I began to draw a smiley-face on the button with the sharpie. “But maybe if I just pretend to be happy, I might just end up being happy by accident.”
I tacked the new smiley face button on the breast of my leather jacket.
I walked over to the mirror, looked at it and tried to flash a grin.
For the first time in forever, it looked correct on my face.
Operating under the nom de plume, "Legion," Alex Sundaresan is a writer/poet/cartoonist based in the city of Ottawa. He has a strong interest in, and is drawn towards, the strange—being somewhat strange himself. Hoping to gain work one day as a graphic novelist, Sundaresan spends his days in search of good stories and good company.