walmart version of cinderella

janus

“Hi, sweetheart.” Mrs. Herman’s soothing voice is one she’s heard so many times throughout her life. It’s a voice that’s helped her sleep after nightmares.

Noeul didn’t usually get calls from her housekeeper. In fact, she probably couldn’t tell you the last time her housekeeper called her.

Mrs. Herman had been in her life since she was born. Her mom told her that it’d been a blessing that she worked for them. Naturally, Mrs. Herman became her surrogate mom.

On the other hand, Noeul never sees her father. He was sort of around when she was young—and even that was an overstatement because after her mom died, it was as if she’d never existed to him. There were no calls, no emails, no texts—just silence and apathy. In hindsight, she should’ve just given up on winning his affection ages ago.

When Noeul leaves the library, the sun’s already midway into kissing the horizon. The numerous shades of orange made her heart sink. She hated seeing sunsets. It reminded her too much of her younger self.

A time when all she felt was powerlessness and dread and uninspired. All Noeul could do was visit her mom in her hospital room every day, and when the sun was about to set, she had to leave. Sunsets have never failed to remind her of each day passing—each day, feeling the same dreadfulness.

“We have to talk when you get home.” There’s an eerie reluctance in Mrs. Herman’s voice, which in turn makes Noeul feel an anxious tinkling in her stomach.

“How bad? Are we talking on a scale of explosive diarrhea or am I getting disowned?”

Mrs. Herman doesn’t speak, so all Noeul hears is the sharp intake of the woman’s breath. She purses her lips, and for a second, she doesn’t really comprehend the gravity of her housekeeper’s silence.

“Hello?” Noeul asks, testing to see if she could somehow fix this situation. “I was joking, um—it was a joke.” How silly. Maybe she thought she could convince herself to believe this if she spun it with a little humor.

Mrs. Herman quickly advises her to return home, and then she’s promising that she’ll explain everything. And frankly, Noeul has no idea what is going on. None at all.

And it didn’t help that Mrs. Herman completely understated the situation at hand.

Her silence had merely been a front.

Mrs. Herman hands her a letter. On the letter, Noeul notices that her father had signed it. She swallows nervously. At the very least, she planned to get halfway through the letter, but, you know, plans don’t always go her way.

Because she’s nearly a third of the way through before Noeul finds herself dropping the letter to hurl the entirety of her lunch onto the ground.

In essence, her father is an , having the nerve to abandon her over a ing piece of paper. And if she could do her best to summarize his words—basically, it went something like: Responsibility is hard. I didn’t want you. After your mother died, I couldn't look at you without being reminded of her. Therefore, I can't handle being your caregiver. Oh, and here's some money. Have a nice life.

The end.

Okay, no, he didn’t exactly write those words, but she reckoned that his lawyer intended to sound cordial about cutting her off.

It didn’t work, obviously. Noeul inhales and exhales a total of five times. When that doesn't work, she screams bloody murder and sprints out of her childhood home—escaping its poisonous grasp as fast as she could possibly go and ignoring Mrs. Herman’s frantic shouts.

Noeul liked to think that she was free from ADHD as of three years ago. And yes, without medication. But what she didn’t account for was it coming right back whenever she was overly stressed out.

So, as you could probably guess, her father throwing money at her and calling it quits made it to her top ten list of things to be miserable about.

Later, Mrs. Herman desperately tried to assuage her with the sole fact that she could keep this house.

The joke’s on everyone. Noeul didn’t want the ing house. She couldn’t name one good memory that she had anyway.

Sleep didn’t come to her that night, but intrusive thoughts did.

 

 

###

 

 

Sleep deprivation and out of sight, out of mind were a dangerous combination.

Noeul was so exhausted that she could feel her feet slightly swaying as she stood outside her first period, waiting for her teacher to open her classroom.

Junmyeon, being as perceptive as he was, immediately sensed that there was something up with her. Or it could just be Noeul aggressively telling him to shove it. And then he asked her the whereabouts of her homework.

Well, to put it simply, her homework was out of sight. Hence, it was out of mind and…not done.

For the last twenty-four hours, Noeul wrestled with her own thoughts. Each time that she tried to focus her restlessness on something, she failed miserably.

It was practically between fidgeting and overthinking. And maybe both at the same time even.

She spent hours pacing her room, and eventually, Noeul was too frustrated and left her house. It was a miracle she hadn’t wrecked her car.

When Noeul approaches the front desk of the library, she notices that Baekhyun and Mrs. Soto are in mid-conversation. Both of them were genuinely laughing, and it was to her complete surprise that Baekhyun was capable of such emotions.

Noeul does her best not to stare at him while she says hello to Mrs. Soto. She awkwardly shuffles behind the checkout desk to grab a full cart of books.

What Noeul doesn’t expect is hearing footsteps behind her and turning to find that Baekhyun has casually trailed after her. Jerking back with a hand on her chest, she stammers, “holy—, where did you even come from?”

“Where you came from,” he replies a little too easily. Then, he takes a couple of steps forward, stopping behind the book cart to run his fingers over the spines. “Need help?”

Noeul’s first reaction is to be suspicious. However, on second thought, she already had way too much on her plate. So, she decides it’s best to not fight him today. She goes over the basics, teaching him their library’s organization situation and halfheartedly answering his questions here and there.

If he knew that her head wasn’t completely there, he hadn’t mentioned it. And lesson learned—things worked out better when they didn’t speak about themselves.

Later, Noeul finds herself peering at him from a small gap through a bookshelf. He stands on the other side, focused on shelving the stack of books balancing on his left hand.

“I wasn’t sure you would come back,” she says.

He glances from the shelf to her, meeting her eyes through the gap. “You’d have to do much worse to get rid of me, doll.”

“I thought about what you said.”

“What about?”

“Everything,” she admits. She hadn’t lied. Noeul couldn’t stop thinking about what she did and analyzing her every word. It made her feel crazy. “I’m sorry that I was presumptuous. I don’t know anything about you.”

He chuckles at her honesty. “It’s fine. It’s not the end of the world.”

Her lips twitch. “And what if I tell you that I want to know everything about you?”

“I’m not sure I’d appreciate that,” he says.

“Why?”

“No offense, but I’d rather not spill my deep dark secrets to you.”

“Ever?”

He looks at her, and his eyes tell all. He doesn’t trust her. Figures. Noeul didn’t trust him either. And she’s not sure what spurred her on.

“What’s the point of doing drugs if you’re already numb?” She asks.

Baekhyun plasters a smile on his face. “There’s a difference between pretending to be numb and being numb.”

“I heard that you were on your last warning. Does that scare you?”

“Scared?” He echoes. “Being expelled is the least of my problems.”

Words weigh down her tongue, and before her impulse control can kick in, she’s already miles ahead of her thoughts.

“You look for an escape through drugs. But you never do it at school because, in all honesty, you don’t hate school. Home…it’s your hell, isn’t it? Maybe that’s the reason you’re running so fast. You’re trying so hard to leave.”

The corner of his lips lifts. “Done psychoanalyzing me yet?”

“What’s holding you back?” She asks.

This seems to have struck a nerve with him, and both his shoulders tense up. “You don’t know anything about me.”

“Why are you getting defensive?”

He levels a glowering look at her. “I don’t know. Why are you a busybody? Stay out of my ing business.”

Noeul doesn’t know what to say. She has no idea how to fix the situation that she messed up.

“I hate how you look at me,” he says, “you think that you know everything there is to know about the world. You presume that I’m just a consequence of this ed up system, but truly, you know nothing. I don’t want a single ounce of your pity. It’s invasive, and it’s cruel.”

Baekhyun makes his way over to her, dropping the remaining books in his arms onto the cart.

Then, for the second time, he leaves her standing in the remnants of her own guilt.

 

 

###

 

 

“I need all of these assignments before Friday of next week,” Junmyeon instructs when he hands her a stack of papers.

Noeul hasn’t had much sleep in the past week, so homework quickly fell off from her top priorities. It wasn’t like she didn’t feel terrible for disappointing her favorite teacher. Still, she couldn’t find her grip on her world that was incrementally crumbling away.

He sighs loudly to her nonresponse and insists that she stay after his class.

“Can you make it quick? I have to get to the library.”

Junmyeon is stunned, apparent by his mouth hanging open. “Noeul, I’m worried about you.” He didn’t use her nickname, which meant that he was completely and utterly serious.

“I’m okay,” she fibs.

He releases a single incredulous laugh. “No, you’re obviously not. Look at you. What was the last time you got any sleep?”

Noeul sincerely doesn’t want to tell him. He was her only friend, and if he saw her any differently, it wouldn’t be conducive to anyone. “My brain doesn’t shut off at night.”

“OCD?”

She shakes her head. “ADHD. I’ve really only had mild symptoms. But as of late, it’s worsened.”

“What about medication?”

Noeul stares down into her lap, fidgeting harder. “I can’t.”

“What do you mean by that?”

She swallows. “Do you remember during my freshman year when I was out for a couple of months?”

He silently acknowledges, waiting for her to continue.

“I was in rehab,” she confesses, unnerved by the shakiness of her own voice. You would think that it would be easier to talk about if so much time has passed.

But it’s not.

“I got addicted to Adderall. It was after my mom died. But even with normal doses, I felt so out of control. Sometimes, I’d just forget where I was or what I was doing. And I needed that focus for school because otherwise, I’d lose control of the one thing I had going for me.”

Noeul could still remember seeing the bright lights shining down on her. Her chest was bruised from CPR, and when the doctors reported that her bodily functions shut down from the unregulated amount of Adderall coupled with alcohol she had at a rager, she felt absolutely vile.

So far gone off the edge that Noeul couldn’t recognize herself anymore and why she was doing what she did in the first place.

She wasn’t so much afraid of dying, but at the moment when her heart physically stopped, she felt insignificant.

Fearful of the life she’s led up to that point. It made her reexamine just about everything. Did she deliberately make contact with the doors of death? Was her life that unimportant?

Surely, there was something to live for.

And yet, Noeul isn’t sure. Receiving that prognosis from Dr. Stevens did nothing but escalate her crisis. Life was so stupidly fickle.

What was the point of living if everyone you knew eventually only saw you as someone to be pitied?

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