Day 224 of 365 Days of Writing Prompts: What are your character’s biggest insecurities?
Shannon: I’ve always been insecure about my height. I guess it started when I was younger, and taller than all of the other kids in my class, which maybe wouldn’t have been so bad if I was boy, but as a girl it wasn’t ideal. There were times when I felt out of place, and I felt like some kind of freak show. I wanted to blend in, but it’s hard to hide when you feel like a giant. Nowadays I don’t feel so out of place, because more people have caught up, but I still have moments when I’m afraid to stand up and I’m afraid to stand out.
Erin: She had the weirdest things she was embarrassed about: her laugh, which was adorable; her hair, which was a beautifully texture; and her demeanor, which warmed everyone around her.
What does your character worry about?
“I am afraid, Peyton, that your reputation precedes you in this particular case,” she replied to my unasked question curtly, appearing to skim through the form on her heavyset desk before she set it down gently. Tipping her thin glasses down her nose to peer over them at me, she spoke without an ounce of sympathy for my situation, “We cannot, in good faith, accept your application due to the extenuating circumstances laid out by our faculty before you even sent in the letter. We simply cannot allow you entry, Peyton.” For a moment I thought she might make an unregretful apology, but instead she placed my application into a file folder, set the folder into a drawer and placed her arms on the desk in a show of finality. “You may go now,” she added, gesturing lightly toward the door to her office and forcing a slight smile at the edges of her lips.
Sighing deeply, I grabbed my fabric slouch bag from where it had sat waiting beside my feet for the better part of our surprisingly short interview, and stood up from the firm wooden chair. When I had my fingers resting on the door handle, I turned back to see the woman bent over another sheet of paper, the fine print mere squiggles at this angle. “I just need to know if you read through my application first,” I finally demanded in a small voice that reminded me of a child.
With a deep, pitiful sigh, she answered, “Yeah, I read it; you’re good, but with a rep like that, no one’s going to take you. Too much of a liability,” she added, dropping her gaze again. I turned with the back of my eyes prickling uncomfortably as she perused the next candidate’s likely perfect scores and positive reputation in their community.
It had been the same story in the last five colleges; I had great test scores and I was ahead of the pack until they started digging deeper into my life and extracurricular activities. At that point all hell would break loose and, if I did get an interview at all, it was the same story about being a liability to the school. As I passed a cluster of cabinets showing off gleaming trophies and brilliant ribbons for everything from mathematics to basketball, I considered momentarily adding to my negative image in the secondary education system by stealing one of their precious medals, but thought better of it. It would have been too easy anyway.
Rounding a corner and heading down a short flight of stairs, I was suddenly taking my first steps outside in the bracing sunshine of March with not a cloud in sight. Everywhere there were students chatting and wandering around in the first sunlight any of us had seen in months, enjoying their first-rate educations and breathing in the knowledge that permeated the air at college campuses. On the other hand, there were also small clusters of kids taking the opportunity to goof off and take a break from their, possibly, hard work and studying to take in the fresh air. As I stalked toward my car, I could feel the eyes of the dean on the back of my head; watching me from her office surrounded by other teachers who’d heard of my reputation and wanted to see what a bad influence looked like. I always felt insecure about how people viewed me based on what they knew of my mother and, later, what I’d done to prove their assumptions right.
In my youth, the “who cares” attitude had been my saving grace, but after all this time and people still looking at me, but seeing my mother, I couldn’t grip that motto firmly enough for it to stick around. Shivering as a light breeze rustled the leafless branches around me, I unlocked my tiny car and threw my bag in the passenger seat, sliding into the driver’s seat and leaning my head against the headrest.
I sat perfectly still in the lobby, eyes shut and ears piqued to noticed every miniscule noise in the expansive room as I waited. With the waiting area sunk into the floor and the counter up a few short stone steps, it felt as though I was about to battle a minotaur for a well-dressed audience. Couches had been set up in a circle around a common coffee table that held a tank of what appeared to be small sharks, so that any two applicants had to sit facing each other; I could see that as being a solid technique to weed out the nervous ones during their busy times. Unfortunately for them, I was here during spring break when everyone was out getting wasted and pretending their lives didn’t exist in the real world. I didn’t look back on those times fondly.
Blinking, I glanced around at the pale alabaster stone columns and jet furniture that contrasted the clean white lines stunningly. “Peyton?” called the secretary, standing up from her chair to peer at me over the slab marble desk with a sly grin. “She’ll see you now. Please head through the second door on the right,” she added, pointing toward a small bank of painted wood doors. Standing up in my heavy boots, I clunked my way up to the second door, knocked gently and pushed it open.
If I’d been expecting anything, it certainly wasn’t what I found. Inside the door was a snug, oak office with a bulky cabinet behind the office, taking up way too much real estate in what could have been a comfortable space. Instead, the furniture choices in there made it feel very dark, dingy and dated beyond measure; I shut the door while longing for another breath of the fresh, clean air outside.
“Ah, Peyton, come take a seat,” smiled a slender, angular-faced woman with a severe cut to her black-and-white hair and a fur coat hanging from her emaciated shoulders. Yellow teeth peeked out from between a pair of bee-stung lips and the crinkles around her eyes were barely bird tracks in the sand. “Come, come, dear girl, I don’t have all day,” she added in a thick accent that flowed through the air like a fish swimming in molasses.
Nervously I paced to the chair and took a seat, resting my bag on my toe as I always did, and leaned back against the plush back. “I guess you’re going to throw me out, too?” I asked sourly, glaring at a chip in the corner of her ancient desk as though it was the reason for my misfortune.
With a dark chuckle, the intimidating woman leaned forward across the desk and breathed acrid, smoky air into my face. “Well, I can if that’s what you’d prefer, but I’d like to offer you something no one else is going to; a scholarship,” she answered, dipping an old-fashioned quill pen into a pristine ink well and scribbling something on the page laid out before her. “We have several courses that you will be required to take to prove that you want to be here, but other than that you are free to take the program you wished.” When she looked at me with her eyes wide, I noticed that her irises were a strange shade of alabaster with grey specks and black hole pupils.
I nodded and her attitude of cold disinterest melted into a pool of sticky joy.
“Oh, that is just perfect, see, I’ve been searching for someone with your kind of reputation to use as an example of our program’s true extent of power. No one who applies here is every willing to go through the courses, but you are and that is simply marvelous,” she chatted, her pen continuing to race across the form at a breakneck speed. Finishing a line, she admired her work and turned back to me with the scent of cigarette smoke rolling over the top of the desk in overwhelming waves. “Now, you will have to attend several sessions with our councillor as well, just to make sure you’re adjusting and the courses are working as they should. Please sign here, Peyton,” she cooed, turning the page around for me to read, along with her pen so I could scribble my own signature on.
I’d never seen a scholarship contract before, but I assumed it was standard, skimming the finely-printed writing with sweat beading under my collar. Finally picking up the pen, I put it against the page and let my name swirl out from the point of contact like some kind of animate drawing. “There we are,” I spoke lightly, setting the expensive writing utensil down and taking my seat again with a low sigh.
“Brilliant, brilliant,” she muttered, glancing down at my signature as she slid the form into a folder at the side of her desk and beaming down at me. Sucking in a breath, she narrowed her eyes and added, “Now, as soon as you have completed the training, I mean required courses, we will begin to rebuild your reputation around a newly-minted persona you will be required to retain for at least ten years after your graduation. This is just so exciting! Please, tell my secretary that I’ve admitted you and that you need a key to the student building. Oh,” she shook her head and nodded curtly to herself, “you’ll also need to be assigned to a dorm room, so have her set that up. Off you pop,” she ended in an impatient tone, waving me off like an insolent child.
Hesitantly, I rose and headed for the door before I turned on my heel and smiled widely, “Thank you so much for taking a chance on me. I have always been insecure about my reputation, even the parts that are false, and it means a lot to have someone want to help clear that up. So, thank you,” I ended with a short bow, letting myself out through the door and back into the light.
As I reread the numbers off the old-fashioned brass key, I stood in front of a hand-carved doorframe that could have come out of a heritage home; I couldn’t help but remember an article I’d seen some years ago about institutions tearing down old houses and using parts of them to keep the city happy. Some small part of me felt this extravagant entranceway was a travesty, but the rest of me was simply excited to have been let into an institution at all. I marvelled at the key in my fingers for a moment before sliding it into the keyhole, taking in a deep breath of calming air and turning it gently. Within the solid wooden door, a mechanism turned quietly, releasing the latch and letting me push the door into the room.
What the door opened on surprised me; I was standing in a short hallway with intricate wall sconces lining the walls, a door on one side and a large sliding-door closet on the other. Since I didn’t have a coat, I shut the door behind me and walked down the shiny parquet-floored hall and into a massive living room and modern kitchen. Though the living space was devoid of any personal touches, the kitchen counters were strewn with soiled dishes and rotten food; clearly my roommates weren’t the cleanliest bunch.
After a quick inventory of doors leading out of the shared living space I determined there must be at least three others involved in this particular program. When I was about to start trying doors to find my personal space, I realized that there were no windows in the room, even though we must have a pretty spectacular view being up this high. Glancing around at the solid walls, I noticed a switch beside the modern fireplace, and decided to try it; I didn’t want to meet the other candidates until I knew a little more about my surroundings.
Flicking it into the on position, the walls on two sides of the room changed as hidden blinds turned to show off the view of the cityscape and sunset. Chuckling in spite of myself, I marvelled at my luck; I was gonna like it here.
When Blaze comes to a full stop, August and Noah hold onto one of Heather’s arms. They lift her down to the ground. She puts most of her weight on her right leg, until she’s handed her crutches, she pats Blaze’s muzzle, then walks to the beach. The small beach is just for them, just outside the farm property.
“Hey!” August calls. Josh looks at them, waving in return. The cars are tucked into the trees next to the gravel road. Josh is finishing putting beach blankets down for the group.
Heather sits down on the mess of blankets, watching everyone else. Jacey is making sand animals, her hair tied up under a bandana. Finn is swimming already, only his nose and eyes above the water. Nikki is by the coolers on the grass, putting on sunscreen.
Finn attacks Jacey, pouncing on her, only to disappear into the water again. Jacey chases after him, abandoning a partially finished sand bunny. Steve, Sam, and Wanda are all there, chatting but just standing around. Nat is suntanning in a chair, but Clint is sneaking up to her with a water gun. Her grandparents are content to watching the others, and Tony is setting up the portable grill.
Heather notices that while the rest of the Novelty, Rick included, is in the water, August is sitting on the blankets with her in sweats and a t-shirt. “Aren’t you going in the water?” Heather asks.
August shakes his head, “I don’t want to. You can’t.”
“…Then at least, you know…” Heather sighs, “you’re going to bake. It’s almost seventy-eight degrees out.”
August shakes his head, putting his head down a little.
‘Right his scars…’ Heather doesn’t look at him, asking, “Did you bring swim shorts?”
“Yeah. But… I changed my mind once we got here.”
Heather looks out at the water. Josh has paused and is watching his brother. Even from that distance, Heather understands the concern.
She looks at Nikki, “Can I use the sunscreen next?”
“Uhh… sure.” Heather then grips her t-shirt hem and pulls it over her head. August notices, seeing the scars crisscrossing over her back. There are knife wounds over her arms. Heather then unties the wrap around skirt, revealing her brace and other scars along her hairy legs. Nikki helps her with her back, then lets Heather cover her arms and legs.
Heather is uncomfortable with this, but she did promise August that if she’s willing to open up, he needs to do the same. Heather finishes, then offers the sunscreen to August.
He looks passed her arm to the blue and purple two piece she has on, which shows her back with the halter top neckline. The colors make a tiger stripe like pattern. August takes the bottle from her. He sighs, then takes off his shirt.
Once again, Heather sees the claw marks over his ribs and stomach, as well as the bite marks along his right side. He puts lotion over his arms and front, then tries to put it on his back. He looks at her, then mumbles, “Can you help with my back?”
Heather nods. He turns so she can reach and she finishes quickly. Then he stands and reveals his dark green swim shorts. He puts sunscreen on his legs. Josh gives him three seconds before he starts chasing his younger brother down the beach.
Heather chuckles at the antics a little, but noticed there are more claw marks across August’s legs.