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Imagining Something Worthwhile

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“Wow. These kids are going to be some of the luckiest students in the world.”

Anne Shirley sat, considering the bookcase before her, a wall of books that contained so many possibilities, so many choices, so many stories. Beside her was a small pile of books that she was also considering, unsure of the decisions she had made. She picked up the book on the top of the stack and slid it back into its rightful place on the shelf.

Anne sighed, expression grim. “I suppose so, as long as they’re actually interested in reading.”

Diana Barry stood behind Anne, hands on her hips. Anne had been sorting through her books for the past hour, and it was beginning to try Diana’s patience. “They’re in eighth grade. I’m sure they enjoy reading. Remember? You and I were constantly reading when we were fourteen.”

Anne’s expression remained unchanged. “Yeah, but we weren’t exactly average students in class. I’m pretty sure not everyone has an entire wall of their apartment set aside for their book collection.”

Diana’s silence confirmed that Anne was right. With a huff, Anne stood and grabbed a book off of one of the higher shelves. “What about Harry Potter- do kids still read Harry Potter?”

“It couldn’t hurt to add them to your classroom library,” Diana answered.

Anne looked down at the books she’d previously chosen, beginning to gnaw her lip with nerves. Maybe she wasn’t ready for this. If she wasn’t even able to pick out some books for her classroom, how could she expect herself to be able to teach and connect to her students?

Diana knelt down and went through the stack. “A collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, A Wrinkle in Time…,” Diana listed off the books in the stacks, then looked up at Anne approvingly. “These aren’t bad choices, Anne. I don’t see why you’re so worried.”

“I’m not worried,” Anne replied, her lie clear as day. Diana shot her a stern look, and Anne added, “Fine, I’m terrified, okay? These books are either dated or seem too popular. No one is going to want to read these.”

Diana stood, her confusion evident by the look on her face. “Wait, don’t you have a ton of recent teen literature? What happened to those? I distinctly remember us discussing this on multiple occasions.”

“Yeah, but… they’re mostly gay fiction. I can’t just….”

Anne turned away from the bookcase and crossed the room, pulling out a chair from the dining table and falling into it disgracefully. She covered her face with her hands, groaning, then leaned back against the chair, a long look on her face. “It’s my first day at a new school, as a brand new teacher. I don’t know what kind of school this is; what if I upset some parents by having those books on my shelves?”

Diana drifted across the room, laying a hand gently on Anne’s shoulder. “That isn’t going to happen.”

“But it could!” Anne countered, her eyes meeting Diana’s, voice raised ever so slightly. Anne swallowed hard, moving her gaze to the coffee mug stain on the table. “I just...I don’t want to take any risks. You should get it, Diana; we’re from a small town, we both remember how they treated us.”

For a moment, Diana said nothing, running her hands through her own brunette hair. “Well,” she said slowly. “As their teacher, you have the ability to show them what’s okay. That someone’s sexuality isn’t a joke, isn’t a- a sin.” Diana paused, swallowing hard, and then, “Someone in that class is going to desperately need that fiction, Anne. Screw the critics; I say add those books.”

Anne met Diana’s eyes; they shared a small smile, and Anne found herself remembering their early years of high school, the good things for once resurfacing rather than the bad. Memories of walks to the park, of shopping trips, of sleep overs and study sessions. Her throat thick, Anne swallowed. “Thank you,” she said softly.

Diana wrapped her arms around Anne tightly. “No problem,” she whispered back, into Anne’s ear. “Now come on; let’s go through those books.”

----------

The apartment was small and certainly overpriced, but it was what Anne and her friends could afford, and they were making it work. Three tiny bedrooms, one bath, and an open spaced area that was their dining room, kitchen, living room, and library all in one. There was a laundry room several floors down in the apartment building that they shared with everyone else, with machines almost always either in use or broken. Still, the apartment was in a good location, with a park nearby and a lot of restaurants. The nearest grocery store was only two blocks away, so if necessary, they could walk to it. For now, it was exactly what they needed.

The walls were a light brown color, a pale tan that Anne felt lacked heart and was uncreative. The color lacked imagination; Anne dreamed of the day, sometime in the future, when she would have her own house and be able to paint the walls whatever color she pleased. Perhaps a shade of blue, robin’s egg or one of the likes.

That’s what Anne liked the most about her wall of books; it gave some dimension to the room, added some color that was much needed to the walls. The last time she had counted, months ago, her book count had been at nearing four hundred. Anne supposed that, were they ever in need of money, she could sell some of her books, although she didn’t like the thought. She was proud of her collection, and she’d rather not part with any of it.

Her room itself was a cluttered mess; in recent months, she’d been too busy and too stressed to clean, her clothes and shoes spreading everywhere. Her full bed sat in the center of the room, with a lamp on the side table beside it. Across from the bed was her dresser, also cluttered with knick-knacks and items she couldn’t bear to part with, and on the door of her closet was a mirror.

Anne stood in the kitchen, her red hair tied back as she chopped up carrots to cook with the pot roast she was making for dinner. Marilla had taught her the recipe, and while she hadn’t quite perfected it, she was getting close. From the tv, Anne could hear the stringy music of an old game show, left on only for the sound, an attempt at creating company so that she didn’t feel alone. Diana had left to go pick Cole up from work, and Anne couldn’t wait for them to return and soothe away her anxieties and fears.

She added the carrots to the pot then covered it with the lid before opening the oven and placing the dish on the rack, closing the oven door with her hip. She set a timer, then left the kitchen, collapsing onto her sofa in an exhausted manner.

Six years of college, not to mention six years of crappy waitressing jobs, had lead her to this moment, and yet…. Anne exhaled heavily, closing her eyes tight and attempting to block out the nerves. Was she actually ready for this? The last time she was around a large quantity of eighth graders was when she was fourteen herself, and what she remembered of that time was rough, to say the least. Middle schoolers were mean, ruthless; Anne opened her eyes and turned her head, looking once more at the stack of books she had picked out. These children are going to kill me, she thought with a snort.

Her wallowing ceased as she heard keys enter the slot, and then seconds later Diana floated in as she always did, as if she was walking on clouds. She moved gracefully, so much more graceful than Anne could ever manage. As always, Diana looked beautiful.

Followed behind her was Cole, with a look of exhaustion on his face that seemed the polar opposite of Diana’s expression. Anne’s face fell instantly, a look of sympathy replacing the small smile she had been offering them as they entered the apartment. “Bad shift?”

Cole huffed, falling into the sofa besides Anne. “You have no idea.”

From behind them, Anne could hear Diana riffling through the kitchen cupboards. Anne ignored her. “What happened?”

“Oh, just the usual,” Cole replied, eyes glued to the TV not with interest but rather fatigue. “A table or two screwed me on tips, like a 5-per-fucking-cent tip, and then this old lady made me take her dish back twice….”

Cole trailed off, forcing his gaze off the TV screen and onto Anne. “I really hate being a waiter. How the hell did you manage to do this for like, five years?”

Anne chuckled. “I have absolutely no idea.”

Diana entered then, holding a bottle of wine with a smirk on her face. “Obviously, there is only one thing that can fix this.”

Cole’s expression changed almost immediately, a large grin replacing his formerly flat expression. “Diana, my dear, you are a lifesaver.”

Diana plopped down between them, reaching for the remote as she handed Cole the bottle of wine, turning on an episode of Project Runway that they had recorded. Diana watched it for the fashion, of course, as an aspiring critic and writer hoping to eventually run her own fashion magazine. For now, she was an intern at a magazine called Appliqué Monthly, a small fashion magazine with limited distribution as it was fairly new. Cole seemed to watch for the designs and fashion as well, although it was clear to Anne that he adored the drama. Meanwhile, Anne enjoyed the creativity expected to be expressed in each episode. She missed having time to be that creative.

Anne stood and checked on their dinner before snagging two wine glasses from the cupboard, handing them to Diana and Cole once she reached the couch. Diana took the glass, glancing at her before looking back at her with a frown. “You don’t want any?”

Anne shook her head. “No, I think I’m good. I don’t want to wake up with a hangover after over-drinking tonight.”

Cole and Diana shared a playful look. “As if you get drunk that often,” Cole replied. “I don’t think I’ve seen you tipsy since New Years.”

Anne silently mulled over this. They were right, of course, it was unlike her to get drunk, especially after that incident she and Diana had when they were kids. Teens? Anne made a face, realizing that was back when they were in eighth grade themselves.

“Fine, fine,” Anne finally sighed. “I’ll have a glass, but only one.”

She returned to the cupboard and pulled out her own glass, returning to the sofa as she chuckled, “I still can’t believe we were dumb enough to not realize that was Marilla’s wine.”

Diana paused for a moment, remembering, before releasing a loud laugh. “What can I say, we were dumb! And honestly, perhaps in denial as to what we were drinking.”

Diana filled up Anne’s glass and she took down her red hair from the messy ponytail it had been in. Cole had already managed to down half of his glass before Anne had even brought hers to her lips; the taste was off, or perhaps it was just a cheap wine, but she wasn’t necessarily drinking for taste. She needed to relax her nerves, but the line between being relaxed and tipsy for her was a fine one, and she was going to be careful that she didn’t trip over that line.

Tomorrow would be the first day teaching for her, and she wanted to ensure that she didn’t make an ass of herself. After all, half of the time she was in middle and high school, practically all she did was make a complete, total ass of herself, and she really didn’t want that to relapse. Anne took another sip of her wine, the drink feeling rough against her throat as she swallowed it down hard. She couldn’t let her anxiety get to her, her fears about returning to an atmosphere that treated her like shit for years.

It was an atmosphere that made it nearly impossible for her to make friends. Even now, the only two people she still spoke to from school were Diana and Cole, and that was because they were still her closest friends. She desperately hoped things would be different, that being a teacher will allow her to befriend the kids who seem most in need of a friend. Perhaps a larger school would be different; their own school was incredibly tiny, with everyone knowing everyone. It was one of the many reasons why Anne only had Diana and Cole.

Anne frowned, locking her eyes on the television screen. If she made a list of the top ten worst moments of her life, at least five of those moments occurred while she was in school. Why the hell was she going back?

-----

Anne walks arm-in-arm with Diana to the library, purposely getting to school a little early on Thursdays so that they can look at books and study for the vocabulary tests they were always given on Fridays. Not that Anne worries about these tests (she usually aces them), but Diana asks her for her help, and as Diana’s girlfriend, it is her duty to oblige.

The library is large, despite the high school only having four hundred students. There had been even less her freshman year, but in the past two years the school has been doing their best to grow, despite not providing the resources. They’re three weeks into their junior year, and Anne still has to worry about getting to her classes on time in order to actually get a desk. The school claims that they’re working on it, but since when have they ever done anything in a timely and orderly fashion?

Diana sets her things down at a table, laying out her flashcards that she makes every Monday evening and begins flipping through them while Anne walks over to the bookshelves, glancing once more in Diana’s direction and smiling at her concentrated expression before turning towards the bookcase.

Anne runs her hands down the spines of the books, tracing some of the lettering on the covers. Each book feels like an old friend, although she would never admit that to anyone other than Diana or Cole. Anne pulls out an older copy of Pride and Prejudice, all worn and torn up from years of belonging to the school. She stares at it for a moment, soaking in the feeling the book gives her, as if she’s experiencing the plot all over again for the first time, before sliding it back into the case.

She leaves the books behind and makes her way back to the table, stopping in her tracks when she sees someone standing beside it, so close to Diana that without even seeing her face, Anne knows she’s uncomfortable. She steps forward, and inwardly groans when she realizes it’s Billy who’s messing with Diana. Her legs feel like dead weight as she forces herself forward, gaining Billy’s attention as he looks up at her, a smirk on his face.

Anne’s blood runs ice cold, though whether the feeling is from fear or rage, Anne isn’t sure. She swallows, hard. “Step away, Billy. Can’t you see she’s busy?”

Billy smiles, but the look is sinister and leaves Anne feeling on edge. “Relax, Carrots, I was just asking her a simple question.”

Billy’s gaze shifts back to Diana, and Anne’s eyes follows, immediately tensing at the look of disgust and offense that Diana holds in her eyes, her brow wrinkled in anger. Anne stands still, her fists clenched beside her as Billy smiles down at Diana.

“Seriously, it’s just a yes or no question,” he says, his voice purposely loud, an attempt to make a scene in what is usually a nearly silent place. “All I want to know is whether or not you two are-”

The bell rings while Billy is mid-gesture, and Anne has never felt more relieved in her life. Billy straightens and Anne crosses her arms. “Get to class, Billy. Don’t want to be late, do you? Mr. Jones doesn’t put up with tardiness, remember?”

He lingers for only a moment before grabbing his bag with a roll of his eyes, leaving their table. Anne watches him go, then turns to Diana, whose cheeks are red and eyes are filled with tears; Anne’s stomach twists itself into a knot, and she slides into the chair besides Diana.

“Are you alright?”

Diana nods stiffly, wiping roughly at her eyes before beginning to gather her flashcards. “Come on, Anne. We should get going to class.”

Anne stops her, gently placing her hand on Diana’s arm. “Di, our first class is gym; we’ll just need to dress out faster. Take a minute to calm down.”

Diana breathes in and out slowly, giving Anne a small smile as Anne’s hand entwines with Diana’s. Anne leans forward and presses her lips lightly against Diana’s forehead, keeping them there for only a moment before slowly pulling away.

Her eyes meet Diana’s and they share a smile, but movement several feet away catches her eye and Anne’s gaze shifts, locking with a boy’s eyes, one who she realizes now has been staring at them.

Her first impression is to stiffen and go on defensive mode, but something about his stance tells her he has no qualms or issues with her and Diana. His hair is dark, wavy on the top of his head, and his eyes seem soft. She doesn’t recognize him.

He smiles at her, something gentle to his expression: it’s sympathy, or perhaps pity, but regardless she returns the look before looking back at Diana.

“Come on,” she says softly. “Let’s go to class.”

-----

Anne blinked, and suddenly she was back in her living room, listening to her roommates yell at the TV. Anne and Diana’s relationship had ended long ago, but their friendship had only grown stronger.

Slowly, Anne stood; she’d forgotten that memory, forgotten that he had been there. As she walked towards the stove, a small smile crept over her lips, suddenly confident in herself, no longer worried about whatever was going to happen tomorrow. Huh, Anne thought to herself as she turned off the oven. Maybe school wasn’t all that bad.