Title: Strange & Beautiful
Characters: Zach, Claire, Jackie
Disclaimer: Belongs to Tim Kring and all other associated people.
Summary: The humble beginnings of Zach and Claire (they won’t give us the story, so I thought I’d make one up LOL)
Word Count: 2,195
“How’s that video coming along, Zach?”
Zach’s hands paused over the board in front of him, his eyes remaining firmly fixed on the screen. He thought he’d been alone in the editing room. He thought they would be out gossiping or doing whatever it was that made them the aspired to social norm. But there was that high pitched almost screechy voice behind him, the one that demanded attention and could not be ignored. And he wasn’t about to fall for the niceties in her tone, not again. Blonde hair tumbled over his shoulder as her face drew closer to the screen.
“Ah, I see the problem here. Not enough water running down those hot, sweaty bodies. Maybe you should have asked the football team to pose for you in the showers.”
“Jackie, it’s a post-game interview montage,” Zach bit back.
“More like an excuse to get near some half-naked guys,” Jackie said self-confidently as she straightened. Zach spun, his arm gripping the top edge of the chair he was seated in. It wasn’t just her behind him, it was practically the whole cheerleading squad. Jackie looked to her left and right at the other girls before settling her gaze back onto Zach. “Pevert.”
As Jackie smirked, the girls around her broke into hysterical giggling. Zach’s gaze followed them scathingly out the door. Trailing the group was another blonde girl he used to know many years ago, one who had stopped speaking to him after the sixth grade. She paused briefly in the doorway to look back at him.
“What?” Zach snapped.
“Next time try lifting the camera a little higher,” she said with a smile. It wasn’t warm or sympathetic, it was cruel and cutting.
Rolling his eyes, Zach turned his attention back to the film he was editing together on the screen in front of him. She was becoming one of them, one of the clones; another snippy wannabe miss popularity. The cheerleading team swallowed them up and led them to…
“The depths of teenage hell,” Zach said under his breath, voicing his thoughts.
Zach, although often forgetful, was an observant type of person. He had to be if he wanted to direct. He had to make sure when he filmed something that it was the perfect angle; that everything that needed to be included in the shot to speak the story made its appearance; that everything worked the way it should. So when the dynamic of the school began to shift, he noticed. And when Claire went from being a happy-go-lucky bouncy cheerleader to a withdrawn depressed emo-like student, he noticed that too. All the light was gone from her. There was something dark and foreboding that surrounded her now. And he had to wonder what went wrong to cause that, what could be so horrid in a life that was so sought after and privileged that her whole personality seemed to die after the event.
He’d often watch her in class, not responding, her face buried behind her hair as she stared down at the wooden surface of the desk in front of her. He was only half paying attention to the lesson, she not at all.
It was once she started playing Five Finger Fillet he began to take more notice. She’d found a sharpened pair of very pointy silver scissors inside the desk and spent the latest lesson stabbing it between her fingers. The constant tapping on the wooden surface drew his attention and he looked back at her. She was seated one row across, one row back, diagonally opposite him. Though she had only on that one occasion been mean to him, he was still concerned for her. What could make someone so beautiful act so strangely?
Zach was undecided over whether to say anything. Nobody around him seemed to be paying her any attention. The teacher certainly wasn’t aware of what was going on towards the back of her classroom.
“Claire,” he hissed, trying to catch her attention. “What are you doing?”
She didn’t reply. Instead she moved faster, the scissors diving in and out between her fingers. Finally, to Zach’s horror, he saw her drive the sharpened object right through the center of her hand. He gasped, and then saw her lift her head, looking straight at the board. She didn’t appear to be in any pain at all. She lowered her gaze again and pulled the scissors back slightly. Watching them withdraw, Zach slowly began to smile. It was a trick, a gimmick, she wasn’t hurt at all.
“Oh, I get it. Retractable scissors, yeah?” he asked. He had seen her hanging around the drama club when he was trying to recruit some actors for his film. Maybe she’d gotten them from there.
Her eyes turned up towards him. Instead of light humour, he saw there was something dark and menacing there. Something that made it look like what she had done was not in jest, was not part of some prank, but was deadly serious.
“Yeah,” she answered flatly.
As she finally ripped the scissors out his amusement immediately plummeted into fear. The back of her hand flooded with red, blood trickling down her fingers. He pushed his chair back, the screeching of his chair moving over the floor echoing around the whole classroom. Urgently he put his hand into the air, trying to gain the teacher’s attention.
“Yes, Zach?” she asked.
“We need medical attention back here, miss. There’s blood and Claire’s…”
He looked across to Claire and saw her examining her hand, but it was clean. No blood. Not even a drop. The scissors lay to the side of the desk. He could clearly see the end stained with a reddish colour, but there was no other evidence she had stabbed herself.
“Claire, are you okay?” the teacher asked.
“Fine, Miss Calendar,” Claire responded. “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”
Zach looked at her with confusion. How could she not know? She had acknowledged he had seen what she had done. The scissors proved she had done something. But he didn’t know how she had done it, it was like – magic.
“I’m sure all his blood went south,” Jackie spoke up. “He’s the one who needs medical attention thinking about all those Homo-Erotic Spartans.”
The class erupted into giggles and Zach sunk down in his chair, lowering his gaze to the table. Always… always she had to strike at the lowest point. Jackie was always the one to remind Zach where exactly he stood on the food chain – he was an outcast, and she ensured he stayed that way.
“Jackie, that’s enough,” Miss Calendar ordered. “Zachary, if you want to be a clown I suggest you do it outside of school hours, or at least out of my classroom.”
“Yes, miss,” he responded quietly.
Maybe it was just another elaborate setup for the popular kids to humiliate him in front of the rest of his classmates. This time they had got him. This time he had fallen for it. And he couldn’t help but glare at Claire as she passed uninterested on her way out.
He looked towards the girl calling his name. Claire. Heaving a disparaging sigh, he turned his attention back to the inside of the locker door, anger seething through him, his hand clenched around the outside.
“Zach, I’m talking to you,” she said, stopping beside him.
“Why?” he asked, slamming the locker door closed and turning towards her. “Want to throw another insulting comment my way? You want to set me up for some prank so I’ll look like a complete idiot again?”
“No,” Claire answered. She moved her jaw a little, like she was thinking, like what she wanted to say was hard for her. “I want you to do something for me.”
“Me?” he asked, his brows rising in surprise. He laughed, shaking his head disbelivingly. “And what makes you think I would do anything for you?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Because you like me?” she said sassily.
Zach scoffed. “Please, cause I elevated you to miss popularity? I don’t think so.”
“What if I did something for you?” she asked.
She thought for a moment. “How would you like to be popular?”
“And be frowned upon by the society of geekdom? That’s really something to aspire to, Claire.”
“So that’s a no?”
“Read my lips. N. O.” He turned away from her. Walking up the pathway, he could hear her racing behind him, her small sneakered feet pattering over the concrete. “I can’t believe you even think I could take you seriously.”
“Zach, please,” she said, tugging on his arm. He stopped and faced her, his expression revealing he’d rather be anywhere else. And from the nervous glances she gave as she looked around, she appeared to feel the same too. “I need your help. I need… I need you to film me.”
“Ah, I see, you want me to aid with your foray into a pornographic career,” he quipped. She balled her hand into a fist and thumped him hard in the arm. He raised his hand to rub it. “… or not.”
He could see now, she was serious. Something was indeed troubling her, and for some odd reason she wanted his help. He was still wary that she was up to something, but he didn’t know what it was. And he began to wonder if he should play along until he sensed danger.
“C’mon, I want to show you something,” she said.
Obligingly he followed her, wondering if he should be fetching his camera or not. She headed for the bleachers by the football field, and again his sensors were on overload. He’d heard stories about what happened underneath those bleachers. And he wasn’t about to get caught with his pants down – both metaphorically and literally speaking.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“Here,” she said, pointing again to where he did not want to go. He stopped by the edge as she crawled underneath. Pausing, she looked back to him. “Well, c’mon. Don’t you want to see?”
Zach shook his head, but lowered himself onto his hands and knees and followed her in anyway. “I don’t know what I’m even meant to be looking at.”
“Me,” she said, turning around.
Zach sat back on his heels. Here we go. You’ve walked into another trap, Zach. Prepare to be humiliated. But instead of making a move towards him, Claire reached underneath one of the seats and pulled out a broken section of metal. As Zach watched, she sank it into her neck, right above the collarbone. His expression contorted into one of revulsion and disbelief. This was not what he was expecting. And just as she finished sliding the piece in, she began to slide it back out.
“Now watch,” she instructed.
“I’m watching!” Zach insisted. “Though that’s really disgusting, Claire.”
Claire moved her hair aside, and as she removed and discarded the metal a jaggered bloody mark appeared down the side of her neck. Slowly it began to repair itself.
“Neat parlor trick. Got any others?” he asked.
“It’s not a trick. It’s real,” Claire said.
“Sure. Like the scissors. You’re just, like, magic girl!” he said, playfully waving his hands in a flourish.
“No!” she insisted, grabbing his hand and placing it against her neck. “Feel it.”
Tentatively he touched her skin and felt there was not a mark, no indication of any kind how she could have done it.
“What?” he questioned aloud. Annoyed with himself as he realized he was beginning to fall for it again, he withdrew his hand. “What am I doing? Where’s Jackie?”
“You already got me once, Claire,” he said, backing up and shaking his head. “Not again.”
“Zach, please,” Claire begged. He didn’t stop. “Fine, I don’t care if you don’t believe me, but at least just do this one thing for me. Just amuse me.”
Trying to straighten, Zach bashed his head against one of the supports above him. Crying out in pain, he sank back down and rubbed his head. Claire hurried towards him, stopping just before him.
“See, I’m injured, I’m in pain,” Zach said, pointing to his head. “What you’re trying to tell me can’t be real.”
“But it is,” Claire said. “I don’t know how I do it, but I can heal myself. For the past few months every cut, every burn, it’s all disappeared within a matter of minutes. I don’t even believe myself, Zach. That’s why I want you. That’s why I need you. I need some proof. I need to know it’s not all in my head.”
“Well why can’t you get one of your ‘good buddies’ to help you out? Why me?”
“Because you’re the only one I can count on.”
At the time it might have been a lie. At the time, she may only have asked for his help because he was the only one she knew who had a camera. But it was that very statement which would prove to be truer than both of them would know.