[Outtake]: Life in Florida

Just a small (basically unedited) short that would fall in between the last chapter and the epilogue of Surviving on a Whisper


 

I strummed my guitar absentmindedly with one hand, using the other to scroll through my iPod. The glare from the sun made it difficult to read the words on the screen, forcing me to squint like an idiot while constantly turning the device left and right. Still didn’t have much luck. It was incredibly bright outside despite the fact that it was almost sunset, even when I was sitting in the shade provided by a small cluster of trees several yards away from the shoreline. It wasn’t much help.

Adjusting the earphone in my ear, I pressed play on my iPod and quickly put my guitar into place. My new favorite hobby involved trying to follow along with the song in my ear on my guitar. At first I used songs that I already knew, but that quickly grew old. Now I was going down the list of random songs I’d never heard before, playing it on my iPod, then waiting for five seconds before starting with my guitar. I tried to use the five second delay to quickly learn the notes, play them, discard the memory to learn the next five seconds, and work through the whole song.

I was pretty darn good at it too. Florida was beautiful but could also be boring. I knew I had huge brain power potential so I thought I’d put it to the test–my way, not psycho’s-like-Alexis way. It was interesting, gave me something to do, and was kinda fun.

I concentrated as the song continued, singing along to unfamiliar words that flowed like only lyrics can. It wasn’t my favorite song in the world, I decided, but it was still good. I loved that I could connect with random parts of songs that I’d never heard before, and that they could be such a relevant part of my life. No, really I just loved music in general.

The song ended in my ear, my fingers following shortly after with the last note.

Nailed it. Granted, that song was pretty easy, but still. It was cool.

I took the earphones out and wrapped them up nicely.

“What’s for dinner?” I called, a small smile on my face. I had known that Sark and Erika had been sitting behind me for the past ten minutes; sometimes I liked to let Erika think that she had the upper hand on me, but Sark always knew her attempts were pointless.

Erika came out of her hiding spot in the trees, Sark following, her expression caught off guard. She looked like she was about to ask how I knew, but decided against it. Of course I knew. My whole life revolved around knowing who was watching me.

“I threw a potato casserole in the oven before we came out here,” she answered, stepping carefully across the uneven ground to sit next to me. Sark sat on a big rock on the other side of her. His face was smooth, but his eyes were burning with curiosity.

Erika picked up my iPod, examining it as if there were some hidden compartment that she didn’t know about, before putting it back down.

“How do you do that?” she asked. “It sounded amazing! If I didn’t see the earphone in your ear then I would’ve thought you memorized it a long time ago.”

“That’s the idea,” I said, somewhat shyly. I would always love music, but I had issues with audiences from time to time. “I’ve been practicing.”

“I’ll say. I know that song; you didn’t mess up once.”

“Cool.”

She shook her head in amazement, making me a bit more self conscious. Most of the time my random freaky abilities were just accepted, which I was grateful for, but sometimes Erika needed more time to wrap her head around them.

“Well, I’m going to finish dinner,” she finally said, standing up and brushing the sand off of her legs. “Be inside in ten minutes.” Then she left.

I sighed, staring at a tree rather than Sark, who I could feel was staring at me. Eventually the silence was a little too weird.

“Don’t look at me like that,” I said, trying my best to not sound mean. “If you’ve got something to say, then just say it.”

His voice was as smooth as his face. “Look at you like what?”

“Like I’m a freak. I thought you’d be a little more used to it than Erika.”

“I don’t think you’re a freak.”

“You look like you do.”

“Then you’re misunderstanding me.”

I glanced at him sideways, seeing controlled animation now lighting up his face. My eyebrows furrowed.

What is he so excited about?

Sark gave a small grin, nodding to my guitar. “Come on, that was very cool.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at his boyish enthusiasm. “Cool, huh?”

“I had no idea you could do something like that.”

“I didn’t either.”

He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, looking at me earnestly. “I can only imagine the potential…could you do it again?”

It was completely irrational, but my gaze fell to the ground, my body tensing up slightly. Even though I recovered in two seconds, my reaction instantly shut Sark down.

He ran a hand through his hair worriedly. “No, Arie…I’m so sorry. Don’t ever think–”

I stopped him before I could make it worse. “No, I know.”

“I’m sorry,” he apologized again, his eyes sincere. “I never want to make you feel uncomfortable. I want–”

“I know.” I met his gaze evenly so he’d know I was genuine. “It was just habit; I didn’t mean it. I know you now.”

He studied me for a moment, but I think he believed me because he nodded. A semi awkward silence ensued, which I decided was ridiculous.

This is Sark. We are past all of this.

I handed him my iPod with a small smile, hoping to bring both of our excitement back. “Here, you pick the song this time. Make sure I don’t know it.”

Sark hesitated, as if waiting for permission he would never receive, but I nodded encouragingly and he finally took it. Scrolling through the list, he looked up at me when he had picked one.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Hold on.” I put one earphone in my ear, then gave him the other one, and positioned my guitar in my lap. “Okay, go.”

The song filled my ear and I picked a small pebble to concentrate on while I copied the music as best as I could. There was extra pressure now though, with Sark right there, and I found myself messing up a lot more than usual. That shouldn’t have made me embarrassed, but it did.

“That was terrible,” I moaned, slamming down on the last note. “I promise, I can do it better than that.”

Sark couldn’t care less. He pulled earphone out of his ear, handing it and the iPod to me, the animation back in his eyes. “And you’ve never heard that song before?”

“Nope. First time.”

He laughed once in astonishment, making me feel a little more pleased with myself.

“That is amazing. How difficult is it?”

“It’s weird ‘cause the more I focus on it, the more effortless it is.” I wrapped up my earphones again. “I can’t do it for too long, though, or I get a headache.”

“Wow.” He leaned back and shook his head. “How fascinating.”

“Yeah. I guess it is.”

We both watched the horizon for a moment, letting the sound of the crashing waves wash over us. No matter how many times I saw the sunset here it would never cease to be utterly breathtaking.

Hopefully I’ll see it a thousand times. Hopefully we’ll never have to leave. My mind wandered back to the thoughts I’d had earlier today–something I had been thinking a lot about lately. Every time I got up the courage to talk to Sark about it, I would always get cold feet and bail. I didn’t know why. For some reason I felt ashamed, which made absolutely no sense.

Do it now. It’s perfect timing. The longer you wait, the less chance you have of getting it to all work out.

I let out a long breath. “Sark? Can I…can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

I kept my eyes on the horizon rather than looking at him. Maybe if I pretended he wasn’t there then this would be easier.

“Um, well…I, uh…I’ve been thinking…” I twisted my hands nervously in my lap.

I saw him lean towards me out of the corner of my eye. “Yeah?”

“Well I know that the idea is to be here for a long time–which I want–but I think I could be doing something productive while we’re just here, you know?”

He waited for me to continue. I didn’t. “What do you have in mind?”

I started talking really fast. “Well…I don’t even know if it would work, but I know you have a lot of resources and could probably figure anything out, but it might not work and that’s okay. But I figure that if I’ve got the time, I could at least try. I know I’m infected and that gives me an advantage so it’s probably cheating and doesn’t really count but–”

“Arie,” Sark interrupted, waving his hand until I finally looked at him. “Just ask.”

“Could you…” I started reluctantly, then took a deep breath. “Could you help me graduate high school?”

Sark blinked in surprise. Obviously that was the last thing he would guess. “You want to graduate high school?” he repeated.

His surprise just made me more nervous. “Well technically no. I’ve been looking into it and there’s a ton of online things I could use, but I…I just want the equivalence of a high school diploma. If that can even be possible for me. And I know I was in the wrong grade in school, and now I’m infected so maybe that’s like cheating and won’t really count, but…”

Sark rested his elbows on his knees, already going through a million ideas in his head, as he watched me. “This is something important to you,” he stated as he mulled it over.

I nodded, a bit breathless. “Yeah. Yeah, it is.”

“Well…” He brought his thumb to his mouth as he thought. “There are definitely options. I think the best idea for you would be online high school courses. I’ll have all of your textbooks and supplies shipped here, and you can monitor your progress online.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Like homeschool?”

“Yeah.” He chuckled. “Kind of like homeschool.”

“Great. Does that make me a loser?”

He suppressed a smile. “Not necessarily.”

Once a nerd, always a nerd, I guess. “You’ll have to help me. I haven’t actually learned anything in forever…and I don’t remember much from school.”

“That’s okay.” He thought again for a moment, a small grin on his face. “Although Erika might be of more help on that front.”

“Why?”

“You know, technically I’m a high school drop out. I never finished either. She at least has a few years of college done, which is much more valuable than what I can offer.”

“Oh.” I guess I had known that.

“But I’ll see what I can do. I’ll try and have everything set up and here by next week at the very latest.”

A giant, stupid smile spread across my face, and I was too relieved and grateful and excited to try to reign it in. Sark was just amazing.

“Thank you,” I said fervently, tapping my hands against my legs in anticipation. “Thank you so so so much. It means a lot to me.”

He laughed again. “I never would’ve thought school work could make you so happy.”

In the distance I heard Erika calling our names. I jumped up from my spot, brushed the sand off of me, grabbed my stuff, and pulled Sark up all within ten seconds. I had to fight to keep from skipping back to the house, not able to force the smile from my face. Sark walked next to me, watching me in amusement for a moment before putting his arm around me.

“Thank you,” I said again. “You are literally the best.”

“Anything for you.” He shrugged. “Who knows…maybe I should do it with you.”

That was only the best idea I’d ever heard. “Really?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“You should.”

“We’ll see.”

“Just know that I greatly approve.”

“Alright,” he chuckled. “I’ll take that into consideration.”

We went inside for dinner and I instantly choked up again. I didn’t know why it was so hard for me to bring up–it was just Erika. Why did it make me so nervous?

We had been eating for about ten minutes when Sark decided to take it into his own hands.

“Arie has something to talk to you about,” he said abruptly.

Erika looked up at me with curiosity. “Oh, what?”

I gave him a dirty look, but the damage was already done. Twisting my fork around on my plate, I played with my food, careful not to look up at her.

“Well…we were just talking about stuff…stuff I want to do…but I would need your help, probably…even though I don’t know if it would really work or if I’m cheating ‘cause of what I can–”

Sark cleared his throat. I rolled my eyes, but kept looking at the plate.

“Would you help me get a high school diploma? If I did it here, I mean.”

I didn’t have to look at her to feel her surprise. I was on a roll today.

“Um, yeah. Absolutely.” She started gaining enthusiasm the more she thought about it. “That’s actually a great idea! I would love to help you, Arie, in whatever you need.”

Finally, I looked up at her hopefully. “Really?”

“Of course! I’m just sad we didn’t think of it earlier. That’ll be perfect for you. When do we start?”

“Sark said he could get the stuff here next week.”

“Perfect!” She beamed. “Oh, I’m so excited for you!”

I smiled, glancing at Sark’s approving face. “Yeah, me too.”


 

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