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Authors: Melody Carlson

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BOOK: My Name Is Chloe
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Oh, maybe if I’d had a really good friend, I would’ve told her. But I strongly suspected it would do no good to tattle, and it would probably just increase my troubles. And as much as I hate those girls and as much as I wish they could get what they deserve (severe punishment and justice), I know that there’s nothing I can do to make this happen. And I suppose that makes me feel pretty helpless.

Perhaps that’s the reason I found myself finally, after all this resistance, actually talking to God. After ditching school, I walked all the way across town to the cemetery. I like to go there sometimes to think and to write poetry and songs. I know it’s weird so it’s not something I’ve ever told anyone about. But it’s quiet there and my mind can breathe.

Once I got there, I went straight to my favorite gravesite (in the old section) and sat by a headstone that reads: “Katherine Lucinda McCall,
born June 11, 1880, died December 21, 1901. Kay she dance with the angels.” For some reason I liked that part about dancing with the angels. I don’t even know why. But it disturbed me that Katherine died just before Christmas, and when she was only twenty-one, just entering adulthood. And I’ve even written a song (a ballad really) about her life (as I imagine it anyway).

But there I was, just sitting there (not really thinking about Katherine) and feeling more down than I’ve ever felt before, when I looked up at the sky and thought: I feel like a piece of crud stuck to the bottom of God’s shoe.

And then I said, “So, why don’t you just wipe me off and get it over with?”—my first words to God since those grade-school days of reciting rhyming prayers from Sunday school. Pretty weird, huh? And then, as if something in me had just been unlocked, I kept on talking. Asking God all sorts of impossible and rebellious and irreverent questions. Like “Why do you let people like Tiffany Knight and her friends even breathe the air?” And “Why is this world so messed up that innocent children all over the globe are dying of AIDS and hunger and being used for pornography or prostitution?” And “Why does it hurt so much to be alive?” And “Did you really make me? And if you did, what could you have possibly been thinking?” And “Are you really even listening to me? Are you
really there?” Stuff like that. And while I’m not exactly proud of the way I spoke to God, I’m thinking it’s better than nothing. Maybe it’s a start.

But here’s what’s got me thinking. I felt better afterward. Oh, I didn’t feel good or happy or like I could forgive and forget Tiffany and her monkeys. But somehow I felt better. Then I walked home and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drank a tall glass of milk (my own personal form of comfort food). And then I went to bed and slept until noon today. I guess I was tired. Here’s the poem I wrote yesterday, after I first spoke to God, before I came home from the graveyard.

LOOKING FOR GOD
can you see him, Katherine Lucinda
as you dance with your angel friends up above?
can you hear him, Katherine Lucinda
can you look in his eyes and feel his love?
because i am looking
looking for him
in all the wrong places
where chances are slim
looking for god
when i don’t even know
if he exists
if he will show
but i won’t give in
to the hope i can’t share
to think that he listens
to think that he cares
because i’ve no faith
and i’m stuck to his heel
like dirty, old gum
hey, god, are you real?
cm

Monday, September 16

Well, despite swearing I’d never return, I went back to school today. And incredibly, it wasn’t too bad. In fact, I almost think that Tiffany and her monkeys are feeling a little scared or guilty or something. But other than a dark glance from Tiffany during choir, none of them gave me any grief all day.

And I won’t waste any more diary time on them. Because something good happened. I saw Laura in the hall between first and second period, and I went over and asked if she’d seen the list last Friday for the small ensemble group.

“Didn’t you see it?”

“No, I—uh—had to leave.”

She looked slightly suspicious but then seemed to dismiss it. “Well, congratulations. You made it.”

“I’m sure you made it too.”

“But guess who didn’t?”

I shrugged.

“Tiffany Knight
didn’t
make the cut.” She glanced over her shoulder. “And neither did her friends.”

“Well, you’ve just made my day.”

She laughed. “You got that right.”

Then after choir, Laura caught up with me in the hall outside the lunchroom. “You know, you’ve really got a good voice, Chloe.”

“Thanks, but so do you.”

“Well, I was just wondering if you do any other kind of music.”

By the way Laura twisted the strap to her backpack, I realized that she was probably uncomfortable talking to me. Had I done anything to make her feel that way? So I smiled and said, “Yeah, I play guitar and piano and I like to write my own songs.”

“Really?” Her eyes lit up. “I play bass.”

“You’re kidding? You play bass? How’d you get into that?”

“It’s my brother’s fault. He took it up a few years ago, even played with a band. He talked my mom into getting him all this stuff, then after a while he just gave it up. Before she had a chance to sell anything, I took it up myself.”

“Wow, maybe we can jam together sometime.”

“Yeah, that’d be cool.”

About that time some of Laura’s friends were
coming up and, it seemed, eyeing me with curiosity or maybe even suspicion. Suddenly I felt as if I’d intruded into their space. “Well, I better go.”

“See ya, Chloe,” She turned to join her friends. They laughed and joked with her as if they were some exclusive society. And I must admit I felt jealous.

It seems everyone has a clique to belong to. I looked over to where Spencer and some of his friends were hanging. I suspected I’d be welcome there, but then I also knew they’re into drugs—at least he is—and that often means the rest are too. But somehow, in that instant, I just felt too lonely to care. Besides, I didn’t have any intention of snorting a line of coke right there in the lunchroom, or anywhere else for that matter. So I grabbed my regular salad and soda and went over to their table. “Mind if I join you?”

“That’s cool,” said Spencer, scooting over to make room.

“I’m Chloe,” I announced as I opened the dressing and squeezed it over my salad.

“Seen you around,” said a redheaded guy across the table. He had a tattoo of a dragon on his right arm and a pair of lip rings, one on each side, kind of like fangs. “I’m Jake.”

“Hey, Jake.” I smiled and took a bite of salad.

“I’m Allie,” said the small blond girl sitting next to him.

I studied her for a minute. “Did we go to middle school together?”

“Just during sixth grade,” she answered. “Then my folks moved out of state. They just moved back last summer. And now it’s like no one even remembers me.” She laughed. “Or at least they pretend not to.”

“I remember you. We had art together and you were really good.”

She smiled. “Thanks.”

“Do you still do art?”

“Yeah, I try.” Then she peered more closely at me. “But you’ve changed. Didn’t you used to be one of those preppy chicks?”

Now I laughed. “Maybe, it’s hard to remember that far back. But I guess I got sick of the hypocrisy and decided to try just being myself for a change.”

“Cool,” said Spencer. That seems to be his favorite word.


You
used to be a preppy?” said a guy who’d been quiet until now. And I must admit I’d been observing him from the corner of my eye. His dark Latino looks were definitely attractive, and I liked how his thick, black hair was pulled back in a ponytail—very sophisticated.

“That’s Cesar,” said Allie. “He
hates
preppies.”

“Not totally.” Cesar stared at me. “It’s just hard to imagine
you
as a preppy.”

“Hey, it’s not something I’m especially proud of. It’s sort of a family curse, if you know what I mean.”

He laughed. “Yeah, like everyone assumes I speak Spanish.”

So I sat there and chatted with these kids who seemed pretty normal to me, but I’m sure everyone else assumes they are heavy into drugs. And maybe they are. I know Spencer uses. But I guess I couldn’t say for sure about the rest of them. But even if they do, does that mean I should shun them? I don’t think so.

SAKE BENEATH
beneath our layers of fashion
and hair and pretension
aren’t we really the same?
don’t we breathe the same air?
pump red blood through our veins?
aren’t we made up of bone and flesh
and DMA?
so what’s the big deal?
why go and differentiate?
why not simply celebrate
that we are really the same
the same underneath
and our differences are only skin deep
cm

Four
Friday, September 20

After a somewhat uneventful week—although Tiffany got in a few verbal jabs that I’m trying to ignore—I got up the nerve to go to the Paradiso Café (the new coffeehouse in town) to inquire about performing.

First I ordered a cappuccino and sat down then proceeded to carefully evaluate the joint. There’s a large coffee bar off to one side with all your typical espresso and coffee machines looking sturdy and impressive. This was surrounded by a long copper-topped counter where you can order your coffee as well as other things like pastry and bagels and juice. The floor was a checkerboard of large black and white tiles with small dark wood tables and mismatched chairs casually arranged. Two of the walls have nothing but windows, and the others have large, colorful European-type posters that look like old advertisements.

And then, here’s the important part, off in a back corner is a small stage, only about a foot higher than the floor and filled with stacks of
chairs and stuff. Also there are a couple of large potted plants, palms as I recall. But all in all I’d have to describe the place as pretty cool. So finally, when no one was at the counter, I got up the nerve to introduce myself.

“Hi.” I forced a stiff smile. “My name is Chloe Miller; I’m a musician and this is my demo.” I held up the cassette that I’d recorded last week. I wanted to get this over with as quickly and painlessly as possible and to make my escape before anyone noticed me making a complete fool of myself.

The guy behind the counter looked at me as if he thought I was about twelve years old. “
You
have a demo?”

“Well, it’s just homemade, but I think it’ll give you the general idea.”

Then turning from me, he ran steam through the espresso machine to create a horrible hissing sound. “Have you ever performed?” he asked as he turned around.

“Sure.” Now this wasn’t a complete lie because I have played in front of people before, at least a few times anyway.

“What’s your style?”

“I do a variety of stuff, but the songs on this demo are kind of like Alanis Morissette or Sheryl Crow or Aimee Mann. Mind of the old stuff.”

“Old?” His brows lifted, then he nodded. “Yeah,
well, we could probably handle something like that in here.” Then he leaned over the counter and peered at me. “But are you any good?”

“My choir teacher says I am.”

He laughed and held out his hand for the tape. “Okay then. My name is Mike, and I run this place. I’ll try to listen to your tape if I can find the time.” Then he set it into a basket full of other tapes and CDs at the end of the counter.

Trying not to stare at all of those tapes, I forced another smile. “Thanks, Mike.”

“But, hey, you look more like a punk rocker to me,” he said as I was turning to leave.

“Yeah, well, sometimes I play like that. But you really need a backup band to produce that kind of sound in a legitimate way.”

He nodded. “And this place is probably too small for all that kind of sound equipment any-way.”

So, despite the basket of tapes, I feel pretty good today. At least mine is on top now. Afterward I came home and actually cleaned my room and then practiced my music for a couple hours—just in case Mike called.

On another note, I’ve been kind of hanging with Spencer and Allie and the others lately. It’s mostly due to loneliness as well as an attempt to avoid being alone in case Tiffany and her monkeys get into the violent mode again. I usually
just eat lunch and hang with them when I see them in the halls and stuff. But today, after the guys abandoned the lunch table to go outside and “get some fresh air” (I’m guessing to share a joint), Allie asked me what I was up to this week-end.

“I’m sure not going to the game tonight,” I said as I sipped my soda.

“Yeah, count me out too. Besides, I heard they’re supposed to lose anyway.”

“It wouldn’t matter to me whether they won or lost. I had to watch enough football with my two older brothers that I don’t care if I never sit through another game.”

“I’m not much into sports either,” she said as she drummed her hands on the table.

Now I’d already noticed that Allie was always kind of hyped-up. She’s constantly fidgeting or drumming her fingers on the table—as if she can’t sit still. I guess I just believed that meant she was a user. But this thought made me feel bad.

“So, do you want to do something then?” Her bright blue eyes looked hopeful. “This weekend, I mean.”

I studied her. “Can! be honest with you?”

She rolled her eyes. “Somehow I never like the sound of those words. Like you’re going to tell me to go take a leap or that I have BO or my breath
stinks.” She leaned back. “Oh, fine, go ahead.”

“No, it’s nothing like that. But I know that Spencer uses. I mean, he told me so. And the other guys probably do too. That’s not really a problem for me, but I’m not personally into that. I mean, I like you guys and everything, but I just don’t want—”

“You think I use drugs?” She laughed. “Well, you already know that I smoke cigarettes, and I’ll confess I’ve smoked pot occasionally. Who hasn’t? But I’m not really looking to get hooked on something bad, you know? I mean, I don’t judge Spencer and Jake. And I’m really not sure how much Cesar does drugs ’cause he told me he’s trying to stay clean so he can get a job with his uncle at Home Depot, and they do regular drug testing there. But I’m not really into stuff like that. I just happen to like hanging with these guys, and besides, they’re the only ones who wanted to be friends with me. So like, what am I supposed to do?”

BOOK: My Name Is Chloe
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