—LILY—

August 25th, 2005

North Salem High School

I’m pretty good at faking it.

No one thinks I am. They always think ‘Oh that Lily, she wears her heart right on her sleeve! If she’s sad or mad or cranky, everyone would know!’ But that’s not true, at least not always. It’s what I allow myself to feel. Usually I allow myself to be open and emotional. It’s how I like to live. Yet sometimes, when I need too, I can fake it til I make it.

I stand outside the doorway to the gym, watching hundreds of happy and excited seniors move back and forth between booths with the names “Harvard”, “Yale”, “Northwestern” and “Empire State University. Any passerby could see that I don’t look happy. That I’m not watching with shared excitement but a somber, contemplative longing of dreams and plans I once held.

I allow my outside to reflect my inside for just a moment, allow myself to be unguarded and true. No one else is around. I don’t need to put on a show. I can look as disappointed as feel.

As they do every year our school held a college fair for Seniors. We were supposed to roam around, talk to any college representatives, hear what they had to say and what majors and courses they had to offer. Throughout the day we’d each talk to our guidance counselor to get a honest prospective about what schools we’d be able to get into based on our academics, extracurricular and financial situation.

Due to some last minute heroing I had to do before school, I hardly had any time to move around the gym before it was my turn to speak to my guidance counselor.

I walked in knowing that my grades were great and my extracurriculars strong.

But my financial situation was were we hit a bump that turned into a ten car pile up. My dad had lost his job over the summer, and there was this tiny little thing where he made a really bad investment and kind of, sort of, definitely lost all my college savings and a good deal of his own savings too.

And even someone as idealistic and hopeful as me can’t deny they’re in trouble when they learn that because of some financial and tax hoopla that I don’t understand, I won’t be qualified for financial aid, that the school I wanted to go to was most likely to expensive for me, that my grades, while great, weren’t great enough for any substantial scholarship.

I had saved up a lot of money these past few years. I’ve worked every summer; I’ve worked during the year. I got tons of money at my bat mitzvah and sweet sixteen. When my grandmother died, she left me $10,000, a lot of money considering I’m not even her biological grandchild. I had planned things way ahead. The college I’d go, the dorm I’d live in, where I’d study abroad. But now everything’s changed.

I’m not giving up by any means. I don’t give up. But I know I have to make sacrifices that my fellow students won’t have to make. Goodbye social life, hello part time job. Goodbye college dorm, hello living at home. Goodbye good credit, hello loans that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

It’s not the future I envisioned for myself but that seems to be the theme of our lives lately. The future is an absolute uncertainty that keeps shifting beneath our feet and try as we might, there is no keeping up.

Still I’m going to fake it, I’m going to put on a happy face and push down all my bad feelings. I could be angry with my dad or my situation but anger is such a negative emotion, and I don’t see the point.

So I turn my frown upside down, I brush my hair behind my shoulders, and take a deep breath as I run my hands over my white dress, flattening any wrinkles.

This isn’t going to be easy.

*****

My school had gotten an impressive number of schools to come to the college fair. I spotted Ivys, baby Ivys, big Ten, popular small town schools; all crammed into our gym, each trying to impress the Seniors who still weren’t sure where they wanted to go. Rumor had it most of the universities had actually come to try and recruit Cassie, which by the look of her smug smile and the ten brochures she held in her arms, might have been true.

“I mean they all keep stopping me,” she says to Cory. She’s genuinely trying to sound modest, but as she tends to do, she’s failing miserably, “It’s like I’m sorry Dartmouth and University of Pennsylvania, but I’m not degrading myself by going to your piss poor excuses for Ivy League schools.”

Cory just nods, his eyes glossy and unfocused, “Uh huh.” He turns his head to me and gives a weak wave, “Hi…”

Cory’s downright miserable.  He has no plans to go to college. He wants to just go to New York and try to make in the music business. I worry about him. It’s so tough and I don’t want him to face rejection after rejection. Obviously, I think he’s the best guitarist and singer in the world, but others might not.

“The fact is I’m going to Columbia,” she gives a firm nod, “That was decided when I was six.,” she turns to me, finally acknowledging my arrival, “Oh hey! How’d it go?”

“Great!” I smile and nod. I have to try and think happy thoughts around Cassie. Not only does she know me better than basically anyone else, but she she’s a telepathy and a empath who I happen to have a special telepathic bond with. For her it’s not just about putting on a happy face, I have to believe I’m happy.

She stares at me, her eyes slightly narrowed and her head tilted, “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” I nod.

She doesn’t seem to believe me, her gaze intensifies, “Are you sure? You seem weird.”

“I”m not,” I widen my smile and laugh, “I’m fine!”

She crosses her arms and gives me a long, thoughtful stare. I stare back at her and shrug, still smiling, keeping my composure. Cory’s eyes are darting back and forth between us, as if he’s not exactly sure what’s going on.

“Are really fine?” shes asks again, this time her eyes fully open and emotive, soft, tender and full of concern.

It’s strangest thing. For so long I’ve wanted Cassie to be this open to me, to care enough, to be perceptive enough to appear concerned and to know when I needed her. But I just can’t burden her. Not this year, not with everything that’s going on with the prophecy and Josh.

Plus, she’d be so angry. She’d blame my dad and the government, and want to do something drastic. There would be A LOT of yelling. For now, it was best to just lie.

“I”m good!” I laugh again and shake my head as if Cassie is crazy, “Honest!”

“I think she’s good,” Cory says with a shrug.

I point at Cory, “See!”

“Oh,” Cassie raises both hands to about mid-level, “Well if Cory says it’s true, I’m convinced.” She makes a tisking sound with her tongue and rolls her eyes.

“Hater,” Cory mutters sticking his hand in his pocket.

“Where’s Josh,” I try to quickly change the subject.

“With Derek,” Cory says pointing across the room where Josh stood with his taller, more muscular friend Derek. They were talking to an admission’s counselor from Empire State University, “They’re probably talking about rooming together next year,” he sticks out his tongue as if the word rooming is something foul, “Whatever!”

“Aww,” I put my hand on the side of his face, “You’re jealous!”

“Pfft!” he waves me off, trying to be all adorably manly and tough.

“So cute!”

“And a little gay,” Cassie adds.

“Aww!” I put a hand over my heart unable to bear it, “That’s cute too!”

“Both of you shut up,” Cory blushes red and Cassie and I laugh, Cory even eventually joins in.

For a moment it really is like nothing is wrong in our world. I’m not financially destitute, and there is np prophecy that states Josh will have to die to avoid some great catastrophe. At that moment we aren’t three liars hiding said prophecy from Josh. We’re just three friends, laughing at things high school kids laugh at.

“I think we should tell him,” Cory blurts out, his laughter ending abruptly.

Well it was still nice while it lasted!

“Ugh,” Cassie tilts head up and lets out a long and loud sigh, “How many times do we have to go through this!”

“It’s not fair!” Cory says angrily, “Lying to him to like this. He deserves to know!”

Cassie fumes, her shoulders rising and her fists curling. I back away slightly, avoiding her wraith, “It’s not about what he deserves to know,” she seethes, “It’s about protecting him.”

“By lying!” Cory is getting just as angry as Cassie, which isn’t good because when he gets angry he tends to smoke…literally.

I stare at the two, clutching the brochures I have in my hand against my stomach. They’ve fought about this almost every day this summer. I’ve tried to stop them but it’s always proven fruitless. I learned to just let them get it out of their system, because well I saw both their points…

Cassie stares straights up into Cory’s eyes and despite Cory being about 6’3, about eight inches taller then Cassie, she somehow is able to not look small, “He doesn’t deserve to die.”

Cory’s steps back and his face falls as if he had been slapped, “I’m not saying he does! How can you say that to me!? He’s my best friend!”

“And mine!” Cassie points at herself, “And that’s why we’re protecting him. n.”

“So what if we tell him!?” He throws out his hands and yells maybe a bit too loud. People are beginning to stare, “It won’t kill him!”

“You know what he’ll do,” Cassie lowers her voice but it comes off just as harsh, “He’ll sacrifice himself if learns that as long as he lives, people could die.”

“Only if Apocalypse lives,” Cory stresses, moving closer to her and lowering his own voice, “We tell him to let us take care of Apocalypse.”

“Oh right, he’ll be all for that,” Cassie scoffs, “You know he won’t let us do that. You know he’ll want to fight.”

“We convince him not too,” Cory says pleadingly, his eyes watering slightly, “We tell him we can handle it, we tell him to trust us.”

“No!” Cassie shakes her head, “Absolutely not.”

“I can’t take lying to him he like this, I can’t take knowing this and not telling him,” he tilts his head down, “I don’t want to lose him either but what happens if he finds out…”

“We won’t let him,” Cassie says softly. “He’ll never find out.”

“That’s not true.”

Both Cassie and Cory turn to me, staring at me as if they forgotten I was there.

I couldn’t stay silent anymore. I was uncertainty of a lot of things but I at least knew one thing. You can’t keep secrets forever.

“He’ll find out,” I continue, “What secret has ever stayed hidden for long between us, especially one of this magnitude?” They both exchange a look, Cory’s more triumph, Cassie’s one more of shame, “But Cassie’s right.”

“HA!” Cassie brightens as pumps her fist in triumph.

“But so is Cory,” I add quickly.

Cory’s eyes widen in surprise. People rarely tell him that, “Really?”

“We can’t both be right Lily,” a visibly annoyed Cassie says, “Not if one of us is Cory.”

I shaky my head, “But he’s right isn’t he? He’ll learn eventually.”

“Not necessarily true,” Cassie shakes her head but there is uncertainty in her voice now.

“It’s true enough,” I reply, “He’ll find out eventually-”

“Maybe,” Cassie cuts in.

“But,” I stress, “He won’t find out today or tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”

Cory’s face falls and he looks at me with enough disappointment to break my heart, “Why?”

“Because we’re not ready to tell him yet,” I move to him and put my hand on his arm, “We’re not ready to handle this yet. Like you said, we’re going to need to convince him to let us fight Apocalypse and how can we? We don’t know where Apocalypse is, we don’t know his plan and the three of us are definitely not strong enough yet. We can only tell him when we’re certain we can defeat Apocalypse because that’s the only way we’ll convince him.”

“And when will that be?” he asks somberly.

“Not anytime soon,” Cassie moves to my side, “In fact, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be ready to tell him.”

I glare at her with disapproval, “Cassie…”

“I’m sorry!” she throws up her hands, “But I’m not going to let him rush to his death.”

“I’m not either,” I reply as softly and calmly as possible, trying to keep as neutral as I can, “But there will come a time, when we’re ready to face Apocalypse, when we’ll have to him. When all of us all are ready.”

“Fine, then we’ll tell him when we’re all ready,” Cassie says, sounding pleased with the outcome, “If we all feel we’re ready. That was the deal. All for one and one for all.”

I sigh, exasperated. Cassie pretty much got what she wanted in the end. But I can’t fault her. It isn’t as if her intentions are wrong. She wants to protect Josh, but she’s always so set in her ways; her way is the right way, and only her way.

Cory shakes his head and whispers so only I can hear, “We’ll never tell him will he?”

I shrug and whisper, “I don’t know sweetie…….”

Cassie stared at Cory, biting the inside of her lip. I know she feels guilty about forcing this on Cory. Her brow furrows and she sighs, “We can prepare him….if he finds out we can prepare him.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I mean look around,” she motions her hands at the booths, “We need to make hopeful for his future.”

“Oh,” I say beginning to understand exactly what she was saying, “So you want us to butter him up?”

“Huh?” Cory frowns, confusion clear across his face, “What do you mean?”

“We show him how great life is, we make him enjoy life, we give more to stuff to live for; college, friends, things outside of being a superhero. We show him how important he is to us, his parents…we show what the future holds…We show him what a wonderful positive place this world is.”

“You don’t think any of that stuff,” Cory frowns, “You hate almost everything.”

Cassie smirks, “But she doesn’t.” She nods to me.

I sigh, “Isn’t that lying again? Being deceptive. We’re manipulating him..”

“Not at all,” Cassie says cutting the air with her arm, “We’re just presenting him with all the evidences as to why he should chose life over martyrdom. All we’re doing is showing him that the future is bright and full of potential..”

Cory shakes his head, “But we don’t know if that’s true.”

“Well that’s what’s good about Lily,” she says waving a hand at me, “She’s Miss Freaking Positivity.”

That ‘s me for sure, though Cassie makes it sound like such a bad thing. When presented with the worst of things, I always try to find the positive side of it. But can I find the positive side of this? No…no I cannot.

“It still feels like I’m lying to him.”

“You’re just being yourself,” Cassie plies.

“Myself doesn’t lie,” I mutter, brushing a piece of my hair behind my ear.

Cassie smirks, her eyes baring right into me, “Everyone lies Lily.”

I try not to meet her eyes but it’s too late now anyway. She knows I’m hiding something from her.

“So now we have a plan, even though, let’s face it, we won’t tell Josh,” Cassie says in a commanding tone, holding her head high, “All of us will make him want to live, more then anything…We’ll give hope. We’ll show him his life is more then just being a superhero, that there’s more to life then fighting until you can’t fight anymore. We’ll show that there is more to his life than sacrificing yourself for the greater good.”

“But that’s what heroes do,” Cory adds fruitlessly.

Cassie’s face breaks with emotion as she stares at Cory with such determination that I’m taken aback, “He’s not a hero, he’s just a boy. He shouldn’t have to sacrifice his life for anything.”

He opens his mouth but closes it soon after, looking down at the ground and shuffling his feet.

“Why so gloomy people?”

I jump slightly and I stare dumbfound at Josh. He looks at me with a pinched expression that makes me think he thinks I’m crazy.

I try to come up with something to say, “What? No!? What no!? What…” It doesn’t go well. I cringe and then smile.

Cassie, as always, is quicker on her feet, “We were just scolding Cory for his unrealistic views on his future.”

Cory shots her a look before turning back to Josh, shrugging his shoulders, “Whatever man. Rock n’ roll.”

“Indeed,” Josh replies in a very serious tone. A smile cracks his face and he turns to me, “So how’d it go?”

“Great!” I smile, ignoring Cassie’s skeptical glare.

“I’m actually about to go to mine thing,” Josh shudders and makes a face, “Not ready to find out what a failure I’ve been.”

“You’ll do fine,” I assure him, “Don’t worry.”

“Great, just like that.” Cassie’s voice echoes inside my mind.

“I’m being genuine,” I hope I can sound annoyed in thoughts.

“I hope so,” he sighs, “Derek is really deadset on us going to ESU and dorming together.”

“Pfft,” I hear Cory mutter.

“You’ll get in,” I smile at him, even though I’m not sure it’s true.

“You’re going to apply there right?” he asks me, “You won’t make me go to school with just Derek right?”

“Allie wants me too so yes,” I fold my arms across my chest and give another smile. I’m actually not sure if I can afford ESU.

“Great!” He nods, “And Columbia isn’t too far from ESU.”

“I’m sorry, I’ll be too busy with my smart friends,” Cassie jokes with a wicked smirk.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” he points at her as he begins to walk away, “Okay I’m off. Glad your thing went well!” he called to me as he hurried away.

I watch him as he walks away, guilt swelling in my stomach.

“You’re a natural,” Cassie whispers in my ear.

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