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     To her surprise, Alicia found that not only did Tabitha remember their conversation, the red-headed school belle of Springton High actively sought her out during lunch period the very next day. She was wearing another gorgeous top, this time an asymmetrical light blue blouse with only one shoulder—the neckline scooped down under her right arm at a diagonal over her chest, decorated with flowered white embroidery.

    “Alicia! I’m Tabitha. I’m not sure if you remember me, from yesterday?” Tabitha began, standing hopefully beside the lunch table Alicia was sitting at.

    “Uh… yeah, I remember,” Alicia said. Against her better judgement, she courteously moved her backpack off of the adjacent chair, so Tabitha could sit down. Are you being sarcastic with me? Take a glance around. There’s like, a dozen guys scoping you out right now.

    “Oh, thank you,” Tabitha said, taking a seat beside her.

    “Can I ask where you got that shirt?” Alicia blurted out before she could help herself. Stupid, stupid. Probably some rich white girl boutique at the mall.

    “This?” Tabitha looked down at her chest in surprise. “It’s a bridesmaid gown. My grandmother and I’ve been pulling apart dresses from Salvation Army. We turn them into blouses like this. Everything beneath the bust was cut off of this one, and then split it into sections. That way, we could still use the trim of the dress, as the shirt hem. Here, like this.”

    Tabitha leaned back in her seat and held out the hem of her shirt so that Alicia could see that same embroidered floral design circled the girl at the bottom.

    “Wait—did you say you got this from Salvation Army?”

    “Yes,” Tabitha gave her a knowing smile. “I think there were still two more of the matching bridesmaid dresses up on the racks there, too. Seven dollars each.”

    “Seven dollars…?!”

    “Did you happen to bring any of your artwork, today?”

    “Yeah,” Alicia admitted, pulling a small portfolio out of her bag. “Here.”

    I had my sketchbook with me yesterday, too. I just… didn’t think you actually wanted to see it.

    Carefully opening the faux-leather portfolio, Tabitha laid it out and began examining each of Alicia’s best drawings. After a few moments of study, the redhead set a notebook on the lunch table beside the portfolio—and began taking notes. The girl steadily made her way page by page through Alicia’s artwork, carefully flipping each of the plastic-sheathed drawings and then jotting down a series of thoughts.

    The hell? Alicia had been drawing for most of her life, and she knew she was talented. She’d proudly shown off her burgeoning collection of finished pieces dozens of times, and almost always she got the same sort of responses from people. Ooohs and aaahs, some smiles, and then some politely-worded praise or expectations for her bright future. That’s what Alicia expected when she’d presented the portfolio here; for the girl to flatter her and otherwise tell her how gosh darn impressed she was.

    Instead, the lovely girl was staring at each of her drawings one by one with a strange sort of intense focus, as if she was looking for something, something in particular. Tabitha was so intent on the drawings, in fact, she seemed to have lost track of everything around her. In that moment, Alicia Brooks found the strange urge to do a quick sketch of this girl’s expression. It’s like she’s looking THROUGH the drawing, trying to make out something more. She’s peering into the abyss.

    In any case, Tabitha seemed to be finding plenty, and Alicia couldn’t help but peer over the girl’s shoulder to see what she was writing.

5, figure study, female

excellent posture

good expression

shaded, uses same light source as previous figure studies!

no background

6, figure study, female

¾ angle view

excellent cloth detail!

no expression

shaded, uses same light source again

background: vanishing point and line

7, figure study, partial female

face and hands

size difference implies depth of field!

excellent expression

shading uses same light source again

no background

    “Uh… what are you doing?” Alicia couldn’t help but ask. “Were you assigned to do critiques for some class…?”

    “Oh! No, I’m so sorry,” Tabitha hastily apologized. “Your work’s phenomenal! I wanted to remember a few of these for reference later on. Do you have copies of any of these?”

    “Look, what do you want me to draw?” Alicia asked, still bewildered. “You don’t have to say all that. I can do whatever it is you want drawn, when I have some time. I’ve been in kind of a slump anyways, haven’t had inspiration.”

    “I want you to draw…” Tabitha hesitated, giving Alicia a guilty look. “Many, many things. I’m preparing a large project, and I need a lot of help.”

    “A school project?”

    “More of… a life project. I’d like to propose a partnership,” Tabitha announced, settling a thick binder on top of her notebook. “In a project I’ve been planning for... some time now.”

    “Uh,” Alicia blinked. “Okay.”

    “May I go on?”

    “Yeah. Sure.”

    “I’ve been preparing material that I’ll be writing into a fantasy story. It has a unique setting, and I have many, many ideas... but I want to collaborate with a capable artist, to help realize and improve upon all of them.”

    “You’re writing a book. And, you want… concept art?”

    “It may not have to be limited to just a novel. Illustrations could become storyboards, for an animated project, or even a film, someday.”

    “Okay.”

    “Okay? You’re interested?”

    “Um. No, I don’t know, yet. I mean, okay; keep talking.”

    “Alright, my first project is called Goblina. In the story, everyone has magic, but everyone who isn’t able to use magic becomes deformed by it. They’re considered goblins, and either cast out of society to live like savages, or they become slaves and servants. If you’re a goblin, there’s no way to escape a life of servitude and total inferiority, no way to oppose the Magi.”

    “Right. Magi. So, obviously, your story is actually about someone opposing and then overcoming them,” Alicia deduced.

    “Exactly!” Tabitha beamed. “It’s the most suggestive theme I can sell to a young adult audience. I want to use allegory to illustrate the struggle of taking that final step of personal growth out of your parents’ influence to stand on your own as a person.”

    “Uh… wow,” Alicia admitted.

    “Is it no good?”

    “No, it’s just—that’s a lot to take in, all at once,” Alicia said, not wanting to admit she didn’t know exactly what ‘allegory’ meant. I know what ALLEGATION means, thanks to dear old President Clinton, but…

    “Yeah, it’s… more and more complicated, the deeper you get into it,” Tabitha admitted, patting the binder full of notes she’d organized with a guilty look. “I have pages and pages of rules on how magic works, and the way the Mage’s society and culture fits together, and... a lot of other things.”

    “Oh! I’m not going to dump all of the exposition on the reader like that, though,” Tabitha assured her.

    “Our protagonist will be the lowest of the low— beneath the slaves, even. Everyone refers to her as a goblin. She starts with nothing, and we learn bits and pieces of everything along the way as she does. By the end, clever readers will be able to piece it all together, but it should still be a compelling story, even for those who don’t.”

    “Okay, the main character. She’s a goblin?” Alicia asked, trying to figure out what Tabitha wanted drawn. “What’s she like?”

    “She’s me,” Tabitha said, giving Alicia a slightly embarrassed look. “She’s, uh. She’s always been me. I’m the goblin. I’ve always been the goblin.”

    “You’re the goblin,” Alicia repeated, giving the beautiful redhead an incredulous look. “In the story, you’re the goblin, and you triumph over all these Magi?”

    “I… I will,” Tabitha gave her a strange look of resolve, for some reason, further confounding Alicia. “This time, I will for sure.”

    Sounds terrible, Alicia somehow stopped herself from making a face. Like YOU of all people need some self-insert power fantasy, where you impress everyone and save the day.

    “It’s neat and everything, but I’m probably gonna pass,” Alicia turned her down as diplomatically as she could. “I’m not really into all that kind of stuff.”

    “Oh. I… yeah, that’s fine. I totally understand. Would you want to… be friends, instead?” Tabitha asked, in what seemed a lot to Alicia like a shy voice. “I think it’d be really cool to hang out with someone my own age, for once.”

    Of course you don’t hang out with people your age. For a moment, Alicia couldn’t help but imagine this sophisticated-looking redhead climbing into the car of some college-age boyfriend that she surely had. Going to busy house parties, or bustling nightclubs, whatever it was girls like her did with their nights. Are there even clubs anywhere near Springton?

    “I can’t tell if you’re messing with me or not,” Alicia answered carefully.

    “Messing with you?” Tabitha looked surprised. “No, I’m not. Not at all. Was it a weird thing to ask?”

    “I don’t know,” Alicia answered honestly. “Why would you want to be friends with me?”

    Is this part of your rich white girl fantasy, having a black friend as your little sidekick? I don’t know you, I don’t WANT to know you, and I’m not comfortable around girls that are like you.

    “I feel like we could be… something like kindred spirits,” Tabitha said. “Hometown heroes.”

    “Hometown heroes,” Alicia repeated in disbelief. She’d had no idea what to expect from this conversation anymore, and found herself completely bewildered. “What does that even mean?”

    “I don’t know,” Tabitha gave her a laugh and an exasperated shrug. “I never really knew. It means us, I guess?”

    “Has anyone ever told you that you’re an extremely strange individual?” Alicia asked, trying not to lose her cool. Does she think her little quirky act is cute? Does it make all her normal friends laugh and fawn all over her?

    “No,” Tabitha said, looking down. “I… um. Yeah, I shouldn’t have said that. Sorry, that was a weird thing to say. If you ever want to talk, or hang out, or show me your drawings or anything, I hide myself in the library, every lunch period. Corner table. Sorry for taking up your time.”

    “Yeah, bye,” Alicia muttered to herself, watching Tabitha gather her things and get up from the table. What the hell is her deal?

    I never bought into high schools having that stereotypical social strata thing going on... but there are exceptions, and she definitely has to be one of them. Tabitha’s the prom queen type, I’m sure she’s gonna wind up head cheerleader or something—but she’s pretending she’s not. What’s her sudden fixation with me? Why fantasy nonsense with magic and goblins? Does she think I’m a geek because I draw, or something?


    “Tabitha Moore? Didja know they used to call her Tubby Tabby?”

    Cheek resting in her palm, Alicia was gazing out the window, daydreaming, when she heard her classmates talking. It had been several days since that unusual talk with Tabitha, and she'd almost put it out of her mind. Snapping out of her reverie, Alicia glanced over at the other students. Three girls had turned away from the rest of the class and were caught up in their own conversation. Alicia turned her attention to her sketchbook, scribbling out a doodle as she listened in.

    “Why, was she fat?”

    “She was so fat. Apparently, she went and got lipo over the summer. I guess she used to be like, two hundred pounds heavier, back in middle school?”

    “Two hundred pounds? Christ. Did she go to Springton Middle?”

    “Nah, I think I heard it was Laurel. Carrie used to have class with her, she said Tabby was basically the class retard.”

    “Haha, nice. So, what, her parents bought her lipo and a nose-job? Damn, wish my parents were rich. Must be nice.”

    “Next time you see her, be all like, how’s it goin’, Tubby Tabby? Bet she hates that.”

    “She should’ve had them put all the fat they took out back into her boobs. I heard you can do that?”

    “Damn, really? That’s dumb of her, then, ‘cause for how all high and mighty she’s always acting, she’s just basic now, you know? She’s not all that.”

    “Well, you gotta consider she used to be all fat hog. I’d want all of the fat out for good, too, if I was like that.”

    “Not me. I’d put it in my boobs.”

    “Betcha I know why she’s nowhere to be seen ‘round lunchtime. You know—she’s gotta be all blueergh!”

    “Hey, gotta keep the pounds off somehow, right? Haha.”

    “Bleeeurgh!”

    Lunchtime? Alicia glanced up to see that one of the girls was leaning forward over her desk, miming a finger down her throat to induce vomiting. Wasn’t Tabitha supposedly hiding out in the library?

    “Cut it out, that’s so gross. I heard when you do that, your breath’s permanently like, puke-breath. Is it really so hard to just not eat garbage all the time?”

    They were freshman girls, and Alicia wasn’t particularly surprised to hear them being catty... but it did pique her curiosity once she realized they were talking about Tabitha. Which was fine. Alicia didn’t particularly like that girl, either. Oddly enough, though, there was no mention of Tabitha being eccentric, or pursuing strange interests—topics that Alicia felt would have bubbled to the surface of their gossip right away.

    ...Have any of these girls ever even spoken to Tabitha?


    Later that day, Alicia found herself wandering away from the direction of the lunch line and over to the hall that lead down towards the library. She wasn’t that hungry, and the routine of waiting in line, getting her food, and finding a place to eat was starting to feel mechanical already, and they were still only in their first week of school.

    Springton High’s library center was large, the center area consisting of a small computer lab next to a series of long tables for students to sit at, which were flanked in all directions by tall rows of bookshelves. True to her word, Tabitha was hiding at the corner table behind a comical pile of books that had to be at over a foot high. The only other students in the library were a few kids playing Oregon trail or solitaire on the computers.

    “Oh, hi!” Tabitha seemed to light up upon seeing her come in, and she slid a small pile of books to the side and out of the way. “You came!”

    There was something off between Tabitha’s image and how she acted. She was putting off a friendly vibe, but it didn’t quite have any of the confidence Alicia would have expected to it. With a twinge of guilt, Alicia had to wonder how many of the rumors flying around about this girl were based entirely on everyone’s preconceptions.

    “Hi,” Alicia said, casually striding over. None of the books on the table looked like fantasy novels. “You really were hiding in here. Reading… uh… the 1996 Emergency Response Guidebook? And, this here... Law enforcement field guide? Practice and Procedure; the Police Operational Handbook?”

    “Er… yeah,” Tabitha looked guilty. “I was doing a little bit of research.”

    “On what?” Alicia asked incredulously.

    “If someone got hurt, and I had access to a police radio, I’ll know how to call it in,” Tabitha tried to explain. “You know. Just in case.”

    “...Wouldn’t the police officer normally do that?” Alicia gave the girl a strange look. “I think they keep their radios like, on them. All the time. They have that little shoulder thing?”

    “You’re right,” Tabitha winced. “That would be ideal, yes. Silly of me.”

    “Did you give up on your fantasy novel idea already?” Alicia asked. She seems so… flighty? Maybe she just doesn’t have a whole lot of common sense, and she latches onto these ideas of hers in a weird way. I think there’s a name for people who’re like that.

    “I… haven’t given up,” Tabitha said with some difficulty. “It’s just. I can’t focus, lately. At all. There’s too much going on.”

    “Like what?” Alicia slid out the chair opposite Tabitha, and decided to take a seat. Hot white girl problems? All these people talking about you behind your back?

    “I think… no, I’m sure that my uncle is going to be sentenced to prison in the near future,” Tabitha began. “His children—my cousins, I spend a lot of time with them, and I like to think they look up to me. I don’t know what I can do for them, but at the same time, I can’t stand standing by and doing nothing.”

    Huh, Alicia thought, surprised. THAT certainly came out of nowhere.

    “Also... my mother and I haven’t actually spoken to each other, since the first day of school. We had an argument. I don’t know what to do about that at all, either. Then, there’s this… uh. Thing happening, in October, and I can’t stop stressing out over it.”

    “Wow,” Alicia said, unsure of what else to say. Definitely wasn’t expecting all that.

    “But, I’m not giving up on the story, either,” Tabitha affirmed, straightening up in her seat. “It’s important to me, too. I just haven’t been making much real progress.”

    “Can I ask you a totally random question?” Alicia asked.

    “Of course,” Tabitha smiled.

    “Is it true that you got liposuction over the summer?”

    “No, it isn’t,” Tabitha chuckled. “Someone must have noticed my weight loss? I was a little over fifty pounds heavier, earlier this same year.”

    “But, you didn’t get lipo?”

    “Of course not,” Tabitha answered. “Liposuction isn’t for dramatic weight loss—it’s more of a cosmetic surgery. They usually only remove about four to six pounds at any one time. Adjusting your eating habits is far more effective. As far as I know, there aren’t any surgeons who’ll accept patients for liposuction before they’ve finished puberty, anyways, and regardless I’m sure those procedures wouldn’t be covered under my father’s insurance.”

    “Oh,” Alicia blinked. “Really?”

    “Really. I changed my diet in a significant way,” Tabitha said. “My summer was… extraordinarily active. I had to change, I really had to. I take it you’ve heard what they used to call me?”

    “Yeah, I did hear about that,” Alicia chuckled uneasily. “Girls can be mean, huh?”

    “It wasn’t hearing Tubby Tabby, that hurt,” Tabitha fidgeted with her tall stack of books, and then leaned forward to rest her chin on it. She didn’t raise her eyes to meet Alicia. “Not that much. I was tubby, they were right about that. That was only the beginning, though. As time went on, someone started calling me... a goblin. More than that, I felt like they—well, a lot of people—actually began treating me like I wasn’t even human anymore.”

    “Oh. Oh,” Alicia mouthed. “So, your story you’re writing—”

    “Yes,” Tabitha nodded weakly. “Like I said; I’m the goblin.”

    That makes things a bit different, now, doesn’t it? Alicia thought to herself. At first, it felt a little too far-fetched for this knockout beauty to insist she was the goblin underdog. But, then again, she was holed up here in the library away from everyone else, and her white girl peers did seem to all be pretty rotten.

    Laying her sketchpad on the library table, Alicia produced a pen and drew a hasty rectangle, a little wider at the bottom then the top. The pile of books; she could pencil in the specifics later on. Then, the oval of Tabitha’s face, framed within a quick triangle that loosely represented shoulders slumping on either side.

    Maybe Goblinna or whatever could be kinda cool.

    The drawing took definition inside those basic shapes as Alicia filled everything in with finer detail. Each subtle curl of her hair that fell over her face, the delicate curve of her eyebrow, the way her eyes seemed to tighten at some past memory, that slight, despondent turn that was the profile of her cheek down towards her lip… features scrawled into existence one by one with every steady flourish of Alicia’s pencil.

    “Ta-da,” Alicia finally said, spinning her sketchbook around to face Tabitha and sliding it over. “There. I drew your goblin.”

    “She’s... beautiful,” Tabitha said, raising her head in surprise and then admiring it with a wistful smile. “It’s so… somber. Almost tragic. I wish I looked like that.”

    “You do look like that,” Alicia scoffed, taking her sketchbook back and comparing it to Tabitha again. “If I’m gonna be your concept artist, then you can’t go dissing my artwork.”


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A note from FortySixtyFour

I'm a bit overwhelmed by all of the positive and negative responses. As a longtime fan of Mother of Learning from back on fictionpress, and a fairly regular reader of Savage Divinity, The Good Student, and especially The Wandering Inn, I'll be the first to tell you; RE: Trash is nowhere near as good as any of those.

At the same time, last night and this morning I keep finding I've received more 0.5 ratings. It's like... man, I really don't think I deserve those, either. Aren't those for works that are pretty much completely unreadable?


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FortySixtyFour

Bio: Avid reader, reluctant writer.

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