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Author: winebabe
Title: How to Survive
Story: The Gemini Occurrence (Poverty Club 'Verse)
Rating: R (gratuitous swearing)
Flavor(s): Spiced Pear #9: win or lose; Strawberry Cheesecake #29: shell; Wintergreen #11: lost in the crowd
Word Count: 3,835
Summary: October 2020. It's only Day One at her new school and Mona is already making poor choices.
Notes: Mona Lively, Gina Damiano, Victor Eastman, Casey Calhoun, Olivia Meadows. (I started watching Shameless and I am obsessed...never seen such a messed-up family on TV and they remind me of the Livelys...haha. So anyway, I was inspired and this is what came out.)

"Have a good day, sweetheart!"

Mona turns back at the front door, one hand on the doorknob, to take in the sight of her aunt standing just inside the kitchen, wearing an apron and everything, waving at her with a towel in her hand. Olivia looks so much like her mother at times that it's disorienting, but in that moment, they couldn't look more like polar opposites. Cassandra never once in her life wore an apron, and Mona has to really struggle to come up with a single memory of her mother baking. "Yeah, well, I'm going to high school, Auntie Liv. No day is a good day."

The smile doesn't fade from Olivia's face, though. "Try practicing some optimism, Ramona. Things might finally be starting to look up for you."

Mona turns the doorknob and keeps her eyes on Olivia. Her comment would have been insensitive to anyone else, but they both know Cassandra had been a dead woman walking for over a decade at that point. Mona knows she's better off without her, that Cassandra had done absolutely nothing for her most of her life. Of course, things would have been better if she could have just stayed in the city with her friends, with her drugs, with her brother. "My name isn't Ramona," she tells her, and slams the door behind her when she leaves.

The sun is just starting to lighten up the sky as Mona begins her trek to her new high school. In the city, they didn't have school buses; she just hopped on a public bus, or got a ride with a friend, or didn't attend at all. Out there, there's a few Pace buses that run throughout the day, but public transportation is a thing of the past. No trains, no bus stops on every corner, no cabs. There are school buses, but Olivia lives close enough that Mona can stomach the walk, and would prefer to that instead of sitting in a loud, crowded bus every morning.

She fishes a cigarette out of the pocket of her coat and lights it, relishing in her one remaining vice. Drugs are going to be a problem, and getting alcohol might even be worse if she can't find some friends. Aunt Olivia is dry as a desert, which is no surprise considering the stories she's heard about her holier-than-thou grandparents, but it means she'll have to go outside of the house to get her fix.

The backpack on her back, stuffed full of books Mona doubts she'll ever so much as open, is starting to weigh her down and she considers just dumping it on the ground, showing up to school empty handed except for her lighter and pack of smokes. But Devyn bought her a nicer cell phone before he left, and helped Aunt Olivia pay for her school supplies, and Mona knows she couldn't do that to him. He's tried so hard, she thinks as she blows the smoke out of her lungs. He's tried harder than a Lively ever should, and Mona knows he should be a role model, but she also knows there's no way she could ever be like him. He's always had something he cared about, something to strive for, and she's always been just like their mother.

At the very least, she's got a nice new smartphone without a cracked screen, and it might be devoid of all contact numbers except her aunt and her brother, but it won't be so apparent coming in to her first day at a new school that she's someone incredibly different. As long as no asks about her family, she'll be fine, she thinks. And if they do ask, she can always lie.

"Won't be so bad," Mona says through a lungful of smoke. She can see the school building in the distance, looking as large and imposing as a prison with its rectangular layout and high brick walls. There are cars in the parking lot, the shapes of students out in the field probably doing the same as her--smoking away from prying eyes. Before Devyn had left her that weekend, he'd said, "All high schools are the same," with a smile that made her want to trust him.

She didn't trust him, but she wanted to.

A bright yellow school bus speeds past her, the wind whipping her short hair around her face as she squints to keep dust and debris out of her eyes. It rumbles away, heading off down through the parking lot, and Mona pauses at the end of the street.

She doesn't have to go. Aunt Olivia isn't tough enough to do anything to her, so she's not worried. The only thing stopping her from bailing is the fact that she has nowhere to go. Even if Cassandra wasn't home, Mona wouldn't skip school at home. She hated being in that shithole of an apartment, and she knows she'd hate being stuck in Aunt Olivia's house even more. It's full of antiques, and everything is too pristine. It looks like a bed and breakfast, and it makes Mona sick. Going to school is even better than being stuck there, with all Aunt Olivia's quilts and her disgusting period drama shows.

"It can't hurt more than life already does," Mona grumbles and grinds her cigarette out under the toe of her shoe. She trudges up to the school building just as another bus kicks up gravel beside her.


The high school looks the same as her last one, except everything isn't falling apart. The grounds aren't covered in graffiti, and she can't see a single broken window. The inside isn't what she'd call 'nice,' but it's clean for the most part and all the ceiling tiles are intact. At the very least, it looks like they actually get some government funding and use it on what it's supposed to be used for.

Mona finds her locker on the second floor, and goes about stuffing all the books from her backpack inside. Once she's finished, she stuffs her backpack inside as well and heads off to her first class, English, empty-handed.

The hallways are full of students and Mona can't help but stare at everyone. The Freshmen look like preteens, small and childlike in their jeans and graphic tees, the straightened hair and messy eyeliner. In the city, nearly everyone looked like they could pass for young adults; everyone looked older than they were. 14 year old girls accentuated their curves and wore heavy full faces of makeup every day. Nearly everyone had a cigarette dangling from their fingers and if they walked into a corner store to grab a pack, no one batted an eye at them. These kids look like they should have been in middle school still.

Everyone just looks so normal--no ripped, dirty clothes, nothing too provocative or revealing, no visible injuries. Most of the students she sees are white, too, or at the very least, white-ish. The biggest difference isn't the high school she's going to, but the people she's going with. There isn't a single person there that reminds her of anyone back home, and Mona makes her way to class thinking there is no way she'll find anyone she can fit in with. She's the only damaged goods in that building.


Mona doesn't go straight into class, figuring she can use the 'new student' excuse as a pass for being late, and when she finally does make it inside, there's only one seat open in the back of the classroom. The people sitting around the empty desk don't even look at her as she makes her way over to sit down, and Mona's relieved. She knows she'll be getting enough attention as the day goes on, and as long as it only has to be in short bursts at the beginning of her classes, she thinks she'll survive.

"I feel like I'm gonna be sick," the boy in the seat beside her groans, dropping his head down onto the desk. Mona looks at him out of the corner of her eye; she can't see his face, but he has a slightly grown-out buzz cut, two earrings in his left ear, and black t-shirt with a couple holes on the shoulder.

The girl in the desk behind him reaches out to pat his back, laughing. "I told you not to shotgun that can of Monster, you moron." Mona turns back to look at her, just for a second, and her eyes immediately gravitate to the bright flash of pink underneath her dark brown hair. The girls meets Mona's eyes, and before Mona can turn back around, she smiles. "Hey, you're new, right?"

"How'd you know?" Mona replies, keeping her voice even. If there was any amount of bullying happening in her last school, she was completely oblivious to it. Everyone was wrapped up in their own problems, and if you could spare some drugs, alcohol, or smokes you were generally cool in anyone's book. That new place, though--Mona knew she'd stick out. The last thing she wants is any unnecessary attention.

"You showed up October 19th. No offense, but that stands out." She smiles again and shrugs her shoulders. "I'm Gina."

Looks can be deceiving, Mona thinks, because underneath the dark makeup and facial piercings, Gina has a sweet smile. "Hey. I'm Mona."

"So, where you from, Mona?" Gina asks and pops the gum in her mouth. The boy in front of her makes a wet, gurgling noise in his throat and she leans forward to smack him on the back. "Gross, Vic!"

"The Monster's tryin' to force its way back out," Vic chokes, and Gina kicks the back of his chair.

"You're a fucking moron," she hisses as he stumbles out of his chair and heads for the garbage can near the door. Both girls watch as Vic ducks his head into the can and retches, loudly enough to elicit a shrill squeal of disgust from the girl nearest him. "God," Gina says and rolls her eyes, slouching back in her chair, "I'm so sorry. He's disgusting."

Mona nods in agreement and asks, "He's your...?" She lets the question hang, unfinished, because she doesn't want to offend her by suggesting that he's something he's not, and Gina sighs heavily.

"Friend. A stupid, disgusting friend, but one of the only ones I've got." Gina smiles, and Mona doesn't tell her that she doesn't even have any friends. "But you can just ignore him. Everyone else does. Anyway, you didn't answer me! Where are you from?"

"Baltimore," Mona says, opting for the truth, but doesn't offer anything more. It'd be easy to just come out and say it, let her know that she's out there because her dad got killed in a bar fight and her mom OD'd, that she's living with her aunt because that's the only family she's got left, but instead she just smiles and pretends she's a normal teenager who moved for normal reasons. A new job, a bigger house--anything but a death.

"Oh, cool! I love the city; I wish I could live out there, there's so much more to do and cooler people, right? I bet you were never bored."

Gina looks so innocent with her wide eyes and excited smile, and Mona can't find it in her to crush the idealism with the harsh reality of city life. "Yeah, it was cool." Baltimore may have had a lot to do, but she wouldn't have known with how high she was all the time. If it didn't involve drugs or alcohol, she wouldn't show up. "But this place can't be that bad, right? I mean, there's gotta be something to do around here, too."

Gina shrugs. "We have a mall," she suggests, and Mona laughs.

"Better than nothing," she replies as Vic collapses back into his chair.

"Fuck. I feel like I just puked acid."

"That's probably because you did," Gina grumbles, leaning down to fish around in her bag. She pulls out a water bottle and taps Vic on the side of the head with it before dropping it into his waiting hands. "It's not even eight in the morning and you already ruined the day for half the people in class, Vic."

He greedily drinks down the water until it's half-empty, and pulls it away from his mouth with a satisfied gasp. "At least I used the garbage," he says as he twists the cap back on.

"I fucking hate this school already," Mona mutters under her breath, and Vic turns to her with a crooked grin on his face.

"That's the spirit."


Mona melts into her seat and wills attention to stay off of her once their teacher enters the classroom, and luckily he takes one look at her and decides she's not worth making a fuss over. He's older and stern, graying at his temples and in his beard, and he spends the entire class period talking about the book everyone has been supposedly reading for the past several weeks. Mona pretends to listen, because she can't do much else with everything but her cell phone in her locker, and the 50 minute period goes about as well as she can expect.

She leaves her cell phone in the pocket of her jeans, even though she wants to text her brother and get some measure of support for the hell she's currently going through. Beside her, Vic falls asleep with his head pillowed on his arms, and Gina texts shamelessly. It's enough to make her miss the apathetic air of her old school. She figures that Vic and Gina are ignored for a reason, and because she's new and may have potential, she won't get off so easily.

She decides not to test fate.


The rest of the day rolls by slowly, and Mona only catches glimpses of Gina and Vic in the hallway. She spends the rest of her class periods alone, and unfortunately, the rest of her teachers decide to single her out as the "new girl" and force her to participate in a one-woman introduction show. By the time the day is over, she almost wants to cry, and it takes everything in her to just walk back to Aunt Olivia's instead of hopping the first bus back to Baltimore.

Being alone is so much lonelier when you don't have drugs to dull the pain of it, and Mona flops back onto her bed in Aunt Olivia's basement, holding her cell phone in two hands and willing it to vibrate. It doesn't, though, and as she scrolls through her Facebook friends, she can't pick out a single person who'd care if she messaged them. Every friendship was one of convenience, built on the exchange of goods and services instead of something deeper, and if she did choose to divulge any problems to anyone, she did so to other drunk and high girls in the bathrooms of strangers' houses. The men she hung out with gave her whatever she needed because they wanted to fuck her, and the girls she hung out with only liked her when they were drunk or high. The problem was, they were all drunk or high so often that she never realized none of them were her friends.

Not, of course, until she left and the messages stopped coming. Can't exchange drugs from the middle of suburbia, Maryland.

"Fuck," Mona says and drops her phone onto the mattress beside her. She curls into herself for just a moment, and then rolls over onto her stomach and screams into the comforter, as loud and as long as she can. Aunt Olivia is gone, still out at work, and the neighbors have to be accustomed to teenage temper tantrums by now. She has the house to herself, but there's no alcohol, no prescriptions to swipe, and so all Mona can do is scream into her pillow until she's worn out enough to just lie on the stiff mattress and focus on breathing.


"How are you adjusting?" Aunt Olivia asks her over dinner that night, as they cut up their hunks of meatloaf and sit in unbearable silence at the kitchen table.

"Fine," Mona says, and she wishes the TV was on, or there was music playing, or something. Even the whining of sirens would break up the mundane silence of the suburbs, and she can't stand to listen to little more than her heart beating. "School is school."

School isn't school, though, because at her old school, she always had a connection to someone who had drugs. At whatever suburban hellhole she has to suffer through now, she can't even read the students enough to know who's a safe bet. They all look like Barbie children, like they should be on some kind of rich kids' reality show, and she doesn't trust them. She doesn't trust any of them.

"That's what your brother said," Aunt Olivia says, smiling. "You're out in two more years; you can do it."

"Yeah, I guess," Mona says, and runs her fork over the top of her mashed potatoes. She doesn't have the heart to tell her aunt she doesn't think she'll be finishing that year, let alone getting her high school diploma.


The next day at school, Mona tries to find a new seat for herself in English, but no one looks as inviting as Vic does with his lazy smile, raising his bottle of Coke like he's making a toast. "Hey, kid," he says when she sits down in the desk next to his.

"Kid?" Mona echoes. "We're in the same grade."

"Only technically," Gina says from behind him. "Vic's 18. He should have graduated by now but he's a fucking moron."

"Why do you have to be such a bitch?" Vic growls, spinning around in his seat to glare at Gina. "I forgot her fucking name."

"It's Mona," she supplies, hoping to diffuse the tension between Vic and Gina long enough to have a normal conversation with them. There's never going to be a right time to ask, so Mona takes the opportunity once they both shut up to quietly ask, "Know where I can get some drugs around here?"

The two friends exchange a look. Vic laughs so hard that Coke comes out of his nose.


Instead of heading straight back to Aunt Olivia's after school, Mona loiters around the first floor, waiting for Gina and Vic. It's the first time in a long time that she's been nervous about going out with anyone, but she chalks it up to the fact that she hasn't been high in days. She won't allow the thought to even enter her mind that maybe, just maybe, she's nervous because they're the one shot she has at making friends, and she hasn't had to try so hard since middle school.

In the city, there were always people around. You do something for them, they'll do something for you--especially in her neighborhood. People weren't kind, and they weren't generous, but they took care of their own.

"Mona!" Gina appears at the top of the stairs, with Vic and another guy in tow, and waves at her. "You ready?"

"Yep," Mona replies, deciding not to match her enthusiasm, and watches as Vic shoves at the other boy walking with them. "That your whole crew?"

Gina laughs as she bounces her way down the stairs. "Yeah, that's Casey. He's the only one you haven't met."

Casey fixes her with a sharp look, walking beside Vic with one hand balled into a fist, like he's just waiting to need to use it. "Hey."

Mona nods at him and allows Gina to link their arms together when she reaches the bottom of the stairs. The girls head towards the doors first, leaving Vic and Casey to follow behind them. "Sorry; they're not the best company, really. Not until you get to know them."

"It's fine," Mona assures her with a half-smile. "I hung out with a lot of different people in the city, and not all of them were fun and friendly like you."

Gina beams at her and gently bumps their shoulders together. "You know, I don't really have any girl friends, so."

She doesn't have to complete the thought, because Mona understands and nods emphatically to show it. "I get it. I'm there, too." It would be nice, really, to have someone to talk to, someone to share secrets with and talk about boys, if there ever are any. Gina seems nice enough, and Mona would love to be able to talk to someone who isn't her brother.

"If they start acting up," Gina adds, jerking her head back towards Vic and Casey who are already in the throes of an argument, "we can just leave. Vic drinks beer like it's water and Casey is always trying to match him, so they'll be busy with that. Probably won't even notice we're gone."

Mona smiles but doesn't say anything. She still hasn't decided how she feels about everyone, and as nice as Gina seems, she won't let her guard down too much. She wants friends, of course, but more than that she needs to lose herself for a while. "Is this a regular thing?" she finally asks, turning to Gina. "Going to Vic's house and drinking after school?"

Gina shrugs. "Usually. It's not like there's much else to do. Casey's got a house full of younger siblings at home, and I'm sure you can tell he's not exactly the nurturing type, so it just irritates him more than life already does. If I go home, I'm stuck with my mom and all her problems--and I love my mom, but she's just too much. Vic's house is usually empty, and we'd rather hang out together than be alone, so we all just kinda head there. I don't think we ever made it a plan or anything, it just kinda happened."

Mona nods. “That was basically the way it worked in the city, too. You just kind of gravitate towards the easiest place to be.”

“And I’m guessing that won’t be your place?”

“No.” Mona shakes her head and pushes her lips into a weak smile. “I live with my aunt, and she’s too much of a homemaker. It wouldn’t be fun, and besides, she doesn’t have a drop of alcohol in the house.”

Bummer,” Gina breathes out, grinning. “Well, luckily you’ve got us. Vic’s sister has all the hookups, and his dad is an alcoholic, so there’s always something around when you need it.”

“Lucky him,” she replies, knowing he probably doesn’t feel so lucky. She almost says something about her mother, but the words dissolve before they can make it to her mouth, and she shoves her hands into the pockets of her jacket instead. “Are we walking there?”

From behind her, Vic jingles his car keys and announces, “I may be behind in English, but I know how to fuckin’ drive.”

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
lost_spook
Feb. 8th, 2017 12:47 pm (UTC)
Very vivid as always! Poor Mona (yet again).
winebabe
Feb. 8th, 2017 01:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you! And believe it or not, this 'verse is going to be much less 'poor Mona' haha.
oonaseckar
Feb. 8th, 2017 03:44 pm (UTC)
And if they do ask, she can always lie.

It's one strategy for getting through life...

Like Degrassi High or 90210 if they were real-real, with the bum notes and sour tones and flat-out tedium of lived experience. It says a lot that this qualifies for Mona as a hopeful beginning.
winebabe
Feb. 8th, 2017 04:45 pm (UTC)
Ha! I'd watched the most recent season of Degrassi about a month ago and was having shitty-highschool-nostalgia... I don't know how realistic all that junk is, but it's sure fun.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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