A stack of neon chemistry textbooks weighed my hands down to my crotch. I slugged toward the double doors and shouldered them open, but the wood refused to budge.

Weird. They never locked the library. It stayed open an hour before first period to an hour after eight.

I peeked through the fingerprint smudged window. My friends hovered at their usual table, the first one on the left with four chairs circled around it. One of those chairs should have been empty, waiting for me, but a blob of red hair flowed down the back of it.

The mystery girl seesawed back and forth, the same way I tipped my chair when studying.

I rested my pile of homework on the floor and jostled one door handle, then the other. Nothing and more nothing. I pounded on the door. The librarian quirked her head, squinted at the windows where my fist hit glass, and shrugged the sound away.

With a combination eyeroll-and-sigh, I fished my phone from my crossbody purse and texted Kiara. Outside the library. Be a doll and let me in? An explanation point appeared on the screen. An error message. Unable to send.

I copied and pasted the message to Jai. Then Janvi. Same results. A bright red explanation point mocked me from my screen. For my last attempt, I clicked on Facebook Messenger, but my phone decided to be stubborn and refused to open the app.

With no other way to access to the library, I attempted to text my mother. Coming home a little early today. See you shortly! The message sent with a swoop.

What the hell? Why would one message send and not the others? Did my friends block me? Would error messages pop up when that happened? I had never gotten blocked before. I had no idea.

My stack of books wobbled on my way to the car, a red Swift with double doors and a scratch down the center of the hood. I blasted an angsty MC Stan playlist on the drive home.

After my mother plopped a dinner of boxed macaroni and cheese onto a paper plate, I attempted to study at the kitchen table, but got distracted by the lack of notifications on my phone. Even if my friends hadn’t blocked me, wouldn’t they have been texting to ask where I had been by now? We met every Monday after class since first year.

I accordioned the pop socket from my phone and typed a group message.

ME: Did you even notice I was missing today? Or did my replacement distract you?

KIARA: I don’t get your jokes sometimes.

JANVI: So how do you think you’re going to do on the chem test?

ME: No. We’re not switching the topic. Who was that redhead?

JAI: Okay. I’m confused too. What are you talking about?

ME: The redhead. In the library.

KIARA: You’re the only redhead in the school. It’s why you’re always talking about wanting to dye your hair, isn’t it? Because you hate being the only one?

I balanced my phone on the table, unable to believe they would lie to me, especially as a group.

ME: I literally saw her. Who was at the library table today then?

JAI: Nobody? Just us. The four amgios.

ME: All four?

JANVI: Oh no. If you’ve lost your ability to count, you have no hope in chem.


KIARA: Maybe you need sleep, Aanshi. You’re overtired, I think.

JANVI: Yeah, you seemed out of it during our study session today.

The term ‘gaslighting’ came to mind. We learned it in sociology class. It meant manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity.

Either my friends collectively decided to screw with me (for fun? as a prank? for a grade?) or someone else posed as me well enough to fool the people who knew me better than anyone. The latter seemed more unrealistic, which meant my friends might not be such good friends after all.

The following morning, I expected the worst from school. I drove through traffic in silence because my mind rumbled too loud for music, but the day ticked past as normal. Jai and Janvi paused their hallway make-out session to escort me to homeroom in the morning. Kiara looped her arm through mine in PE while we walked the track. We all shared a table during lunch. The only hiccups were literal ones, when I scarfed down my reduced-priced meatloaf too fast.

The weird part came after my arrival home when I noticed the front door locked tight. I shuffled through my keys and popped the right one into the lock, but a click never came. The bolt remained in place.

“That’s bizarre,” I said, trudging through bushes to reach the kitchen window. My mother had planted shrubbery around the circumference of the house to keep out intruders, which took climbing through the window off the table, but at least I could peek inside.

When my eyes refocused from the sun to the darkness of the dining table, I saw a burst of red hair with lips the same shade, a spoon dangling from her mouth like a lollipop. She looked so similar to me I could have sworn it was a reflection.

Was she the same person who stole my seat in the library? How the hell did she break into my house? How did she manage to make it passed my mother?

At least one of my questions were answered when my mother walked over and patted the girl’s shoulder. The redhead looked up at her with the same lopsided smile I saved for picture day.

Rocketing into defence mode, I grabbed a rock from beneath my feet and lugged it at the window. It bounced off, not even leaving a dent. I grabbed a handful more and chucked them at the glass, one by one, failing each time.

I bet sending my mother a text would result in a blaring red exclamation point, so I screamed for her instead. I screamed so loud my voice cracked and my throat burned. I worried the neighbours would call the cops, but nothing happened. Nothing. Not even a glance toward the windows this time.

At least in the library, it felt like only my friends were ignoring me. Now, I felt completely invisible. I felt like I was fading away.

By the time the redhead vanished and the house permitted me inside again, the sky glinted with starlight. It felt like a time jump. Like blacking out drunk and waking up in a stranger’s bed the next morning. Not that I had ever had a sip of alcohol myself.

(To Be Continued… )

Desai Thoughts MEdia.

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