“I think it would be best if I told this story chronologically,” I said finally. I leaned back in my chair and waited for one of the others to say something. They looked at me like I was nuts.
Cassie said as much. “Are you nuts?” she asked incredulously.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m talking to you all, aren’t I?” I narrowed my eyes. “Doesn’t that qualify?” Alison raised an eyebrow at my tone, but they knew I was right.
Cassie didn’t notice Alie’s movement. “Yeah, but since the beginning, you’ve always had it non-chronological. I don’t understand why—” But I cut her off with a wave of my hand.
“Last I checked, I’m writing this story, not you, Cass. It’s already going to be confusing having you in it; I don’t want the reader to just up and leave because they can’t follow the date, of all things.”
“But if you tell it chronologically, I won’t be in most of it.” Cassie did not like change. She liked being in control. She liked things to go her way, bending people to her will, as she did when I had known her. But I wasn’t going to bend this time.
Nevertheless, I sighed. “You’ll be in it more than the guys,” I said, motioning toward Sean and Nathan. Sean was leaning against the windowsill snorting some ‘enhancer’ off his palm up his nose, and Nathan was sprawled in a chair behind us, uninterestedly picking lint off his shirt.
“Stop whining already,” Victoria snapped. She turned to me, “Tell it however you want to.”
“You’re just saying that because you’re the first!” Cassie argued.
Victoria preened. She liked the attention. Any attention, even negative attention, as I had well learned when I first met her. “And you’re the third. Boo hoo hoo. Sucks to be you, Cassie,” she said smugly, and Cassie looked like she was about to throw a punch.
Finally, Alison, my peacemaker, spoke up. “Victoria, don’t bait her. Cassie, you know that the story is mostly her in college anyway, so you’ll be in it just fine.” Victoria pouted but said nothing. She and Alison had some kind of bond, I think, because they were my two childhood best friends. I idly wondered what they’d have thought of each other if they had actually ever met.
Reading my thoughts, Alison said, “We did meet, once. At your surprise party, remember?”
Cassie cut in. “She’s supposed to be telling the story, not you, Alie, remember?” she asked, mocking Alison’s words.
“Stop talking about me like I’m not here, dammit,” I said angrily. “You’re all in my head. I’ll do whatever I damn well please. And if that means telling this story chronologically, then you guys can just suck it.” Alison opened her mouth to mention that she hadn’t really been excluding me from the conversation, but I held up a hand to stop her. I already knew that—and she knew that I knew—but I could feel a serious headache forming.
I used my right index finger and thumb to squeeze the webbing between my left index finger and thumb, as Bennett had once taught me. I didn’t know if it was supposed to actually do anything useful besides getting one’s mind off an oncoming headache by focusing the pain elsewhere, but it had worked so far, whatever the case. After a moment, the pressure wasn’t enough, and I held out my hand to Nathan, half-ashamed at the unvoiced request. He took it in his large palms without saying anything and applied more pressure, squeezing the webbing of my hand until I gasped.
“Masochist,” Sean said noncommittally from his spot at the window.
“Shut up,” I said. “I don’t need to hear it from you. If it works, it works.” He shrugged.
“Jesus, why do I even bother?” I pulled my hand from Nathan’s grasp when the pain in my head had gone down. “Why did I even mention this to you guys at all?” I asked no one in particular, not really expecting an answer.
Everyone was silent.
Then, Alison said, “Because you can’t forget us.”
I blinked. For being my peacemaker, she was cruel. “Well, shit,” I said, running one hand through my hair. She was right. I couldn’t really say more than that.
But I couldn’t dwell, either, or I’d be lost in depression. Turning back to my typing, I conceded, “Well, since I can’t forget you, how ‘bout helping me out here. How should I start?”
“With me!” Cassie said immediately, still smarting from my overriding decision.
“I asked for how, Cass, not who,” I corrected. From the corner of my eye, I saw Nathan open his mouth to say something, think better of it, and close it again. For just a minute, he reminded me of a fish. I wasn’t in the mood to force the issue.
“Start with ‘I am born’!” Victoria said gleefully, oblivious to Nathan’s aborted remark. She leaned over me eagerly to read what I had already written.
I snorted. “Don’t be a smartass,” I said, dismissing her idea without even thinking about it for half a second. “And don’t read over my shoulder. It’s irritating.”
“That would be plagiarism anyway, wouldn’t it?” Alison commented.
“Yeah,” Victoria agreed, “but it’s not like it’s under copyright.”
“I don’t think that matters when it comes to plagiarism—”
“Okay, I take it back,” I said, turning back to them for a moment. “I don’t want your help. Everyone, get out.”
No one moved.
“Everyone, get out,” I repeated, daring them to test my patience.
“But I’m not even—”
I cut him off. “I said, ‘Everyone,’ didn’t I? That means you, too, Sean.” He looked like he was about to argue. “I know how you think. You’ll just distract me.”
He afforded me a lecherous grin but didn’t comment further. I rolled my eyes and turned back to my work. I sat there for a minute, and when I turned again, they were gone.