The Empress, Part 3 [Fiction Friday]

Yes, it's true. The agonizing anticipation I'm sure you've been experiencing is over. I've finally completed the third installment of The Empress [insert fanfare here]. To recap, I won a writing contest back in August for which the prompt was to write a modern twist on a fairy tale.

I chose to rewrite The Emperor's New Clothes. You can read the first two installments here: One  Two

Today's post is the next in the series. I'd love to hear your feedback, even (constructive) criticism from a writing perspective. I'm writing this for fun and experience, so I'm always trying to improve.

Without further ado, here is the third installment of The Empress. Hope you enjoy!

The Empress, Part 3

I frantically darted around my room, grabbing textbooks by the covers with one hand and crumpled sheets of notebook paper with the other, stuffing it all into my worn, navy backpack. I tore through the pile of laundry on my floor, searching for anything remotely resembling gym clothes. Aha! Shorts! I smelled them to make sure they were acceptable level of clean before resolving they would have to do and forcing them into the bulging front pocket of my bag.

I raced down the stairs, slipping on the next to last one. I caught myself on the banister, somehow managing to clutch my overflowing backpack under my arm. I did not have time for a backpack explosion—let alone an injury.

As I turned the corner to the kitchen I glanced at the clock. Really? 7:56? This is a new low, even for me. They might as well just go ahead and reserve my seat in detention. Better yet, they should just let me set up shop and bring my own La-Z-Boy as a permanent fixture in Mr. Borden’s classroom. That actually doesn’t sound half bad.

I heard mom rustling around in her bedroom.

“I'm leaving!” I called as I threw on my dingy gray hoodie.

A muffled “Bye sweetheart!” drifted out from the hallway as I shoved a granola bar in my pocket and ran out the door, rattling the house as I slammed it shut.

I finally arrived to school at 8:27. Incredible. 27 minutes late. If I had Improv first period, this would never be a problem. From what I hear about that teacher, I could just sneak into the background of a scene, unnoticed, and claim it was all part of the act. But no. I’m stuck in History of the Dramatic Arts 2. I barely made it through History of the Dramatic Arts 1. And that was only because Kristi found out I was failing and made me memorize flash cards every day after school before she would go do anything fun.

I creaked open the door to Room 104, hoping no one would turn to look. Of course, everyone turned to look, and I was promptly met at the door with a pink slip of paper from Mr. Dillingham. I shuffled back to my desk and slunk into my seat. Kristi leaned over and shout-whispered at me as Mr. Dillingham found his place in his lecture and seamlessly transitioned back into boring everyone to death.

“What took you so long today?”

“Oh―uh, nothing. Just...missed the bus,” I replied half-heartedly as I shuffled through the papers in my backpack

It’s true. I did miss the bus and have to take my mom’s station wagon. Again. I just left out the fact that it was because I was attempting to concoct a non-toxic, drinkable solution for an hour that could pass as a vocal elixir. At least in the eyes of someone who once thought Saddam Hussein was the president of England.

The next three periods dragged on. Lunch couldn't come soon enough.

I stared blankly at the same dialogue for what felt like days, save for the occasional glance at the clouded plastic clock on the wall. When at last the minute hand ticked to 12:05, the harsh sound of the bell tore through the silence. My stomach flipped. I looked intently at my copy of Hamlet for a few extra seconds to keep from looking startled.

Intentionally moving slower to avoid any hurried movements that would surely alert Kristi something was up, I leaned over and slid my book and binder into my backpack. I carefully slung my backpack over my right shoulder as I slipped out of my desk. My hands were shaking slightly. I put them in my pockets to minimize any suspicious activity.

I peered over to my left where I thought Kristi was sitting, which until now I had been avoiding. But she had already made a beeline for Mrs. Bridges to pester her about our test next Wednesday. I let out a sigh of relief.

The feeling didn’t last long. If I left without her, she’d know something was up. I speed-walked to the doorway and stopped to wait on her, looking at my watch every three seconds, but being careful to put my hand back in my pocket.

“Alright—well—you’ll let me know when the study guide is ready then?” I heard Kristi say as she started to turn towards the door.

“Of course, Kristi. See you tomorrow,” replied Mrs. Bridges with a hint of exasperation in her voice.

“Can you believe that?” Kristi said incredulously as she approached my side and we stepped into the hallway. “No study guide, and only a week before the test. Guess I’ll just have to make one over the weekend.”

Usually I would have groaned melodramatically and reminded her that she worries too much, but my eyes were fixed on the cafeteria door at the end of the hallway. I tried to walk slower—usually I am in a hurry to get nowhere—but my legs marched forward almost involuntarily.

Luckily Kristi was too distracted planning out her weekend out loud, scribbling in her planner and sighing loudly as she walked.

The familiar aroma of Taco Thursday flooded my nose as I reached out to pull the cold handle of the dense, metal door to the lunchroom. My stomach had now graduated from cartwheels to triple-axel backflips. Was this really worth the risk? What if she finds out I tricked her? She will make my life a living hell. But then again, she does the same thing to about 500 other people every day. And she made my best friend cry. Yep, she deserves it.

Kristi veered left towards our usual table as we stepped over the threshold. I hesitated, took a deep breath and called, “Meet you there! Gotta get something.”

Without looking up from her planner, Kristi gave a distracted wave over her shoulder and shuffled away.

Now or never. I spun around to my right and surveyed the crowd, searching for the telltale straw-colored curly hair, perfectly volumized.

My eye caught sight of the target. I slung my backpack around to my stomach and rummaged through it for the red glass bottle. My ring knocked against it with a clink, and I yanked it out of the front pocket.

I walked tentatively to Jessica’s table. Approaching the short side where no one sat, I put on my fakest smile and exclaimed, “Hi Jessica!”

“Do I know you?” she said without looking up from her US Weekly. The red lunch tray had been pushed to the side and held only a half-eaten apple and a Diet Coke.

“Um—yeah—Sam? We went to elementary school together—we talked yesterday about—er—the vocal…stuff?”

“Oh, right, you,” she said as though she had never been more bored, and slowly looked up to meet my eyes. “So?”

“Oh, um, well, I have it right here!” I proclaimed, then leaned down towards what I assumed was her ear, as a thick row of ringlets cascaded over it. I lowered my voice. “With this stuff, you’ll be the star of the showcase, for sure.”

She snatched the bottle out of my hand and turned it over in hers, examining it for a moment.

“Cool,” she said curtly, throwing it in her green patent leather tote bag and turning her eyes back to Ryan Gosling’s abs.

I straightened up and gave a sideways glance to the chestnut-haired girl sitting across from Jessica, wondering if the interaction was over. She just glared and rolled her eyes before turning away to do a lipstick-check in her reflection in the window.

I took that as a “yes,” and turned to walk back towards our table. I noticed the back of Kristi’s head from a far. She hadn’t seen a thing. This was totally going to work.