Hailey lost her heart. She wasn't sure of the exact moment it happened, but it was on the 26th of April. She had noticed her lack of a heart when she had tripped at the top of a stairway. She had managed to grab on to the railing and regain her balance, averting disaster. But then, she realised that her heart had not skipped a beat during the misstep, or thumped harder after the near-fall. Puzzled, she put her right hand on her chest, above the space where her heart should have been. The familiar, rhythmic beats weren't there. Knowing that she should be distressed by the loss of her heart, she searched everywhere for it. In her school bag, under her desk, under her bed back home, in her locker, in the lockers of all her friends. Her heart was nowhere to be found.
Hailey eventually gave up on the search. After all, she didn't feel any sense of loss, panic, or fear, with regard to her heartless condition. Without her heart, Hailey became a very efficient person. She was no longer prone to procrastination - she kept a list of things to be done in mind, and simply did them. She no longer felt sadness, so she didn't need to mourn, cry, or heal, when bad things happened. She simply faced obstacles as they were, and developed practical solutions. She was no longer lured by the thrill of cutting classes with friends to head to the movies or the arcade, so, like clockwork, she attended every class she had. Dates, parties and gatherings no longer held any significance or value for her - everyday, she went home immediately after school, did her homework, and revised. Weekends were no longer about trying to solidify friendships at school, or being able to laze in bed. Weekends became all about enhancing her various capabilities, and learning new skills. She no longer got angry at her parents, her sister, or her friends. She didn't feel fear in the dark, had no insecurities about herself, and had no more worries.
Within a few months, Hailey was the top student in her class. She also managed to juggle multiple responsibilities - she was class monitress, head of the student council, an organiser for sporting events within the school and editor of the school newsletter. She had no inclination to take days off, and had lost her past desire to please everyone. She was methodical and effective in everything she did.
The day Anne appeared in Hailey's class, as a transfer from another school, Hailey barely noticed. She was too focused upon her lessons, school work, and extracurricular activities. The first time she took note of Anne, was when she observed that she was no longer top of her class in a mathematics test. She wasn't upset; she simply took note of her fall in ranking, and registered the position of Anne as first. She formed plans and calculated the steps she needed to take in order to regain her position as top of the class. She would have to do one and a half hours more of revision per day, and quit her position as the sports events organiser. She did not desire to be first for pride, vanity or a desire to please her parents. She simply knew that being top of her class would get her places in the future.
Three tests later, Hailey was still in the disadvantaged position of runner-up. She was working to her maximum capacity, and was feeling the strain on her physical body. She had headaches and aching muscles from lack of sleep and too much time spent at her desk. She was less efficient with her time, and had to give up other non-academic activities. But she was still second. If she had still been in possession of her heart, she knew that she would have been inundated by feelings of inadequacy, and be experiencing the twisting, writhing stabs of jealousy. She was bemused. Anne had a heart, had her distractions and her feelings, but she was still a better student than Hailey was. She put it down to the likely possibility that Anne was simply more intelligent than she was. Or perhaps she had better strategies when it came to studying.
Not that Hailey felt any anger or jealousy. She simply understood that these were feelings that she would have felt if she had her heart. Based on the possibility that she might one day regain her heart, she knew that she needed to make sure that she was first again. She needed to protect her heart from those feelings of inadequacy and disappointment, if she got to own it again. She also needed to ensure that her future was as bright as it could be.
Hailey asked Anne out the day after another test result had been released - once again, Anne was first, Hailey was second. She expressed admiration for Anne's intellect, and humbly asked for advice as to how Hailey herself could do as well as Anne did. Anne was not a competitive person at all. She was merely academically brilliant. She was, by nature, a generous and kind person, and so she agreed to give Hailey study tips and guidance. In apparent gratitude, Hailey offered to buy Anne an ice cream.
They went to the ice cream shop on Hyacinth Hill (no one had any idea why it was thus named; There were no hyacinths on the hill), and started to discuss study strategies. Hailey would have been frustrated, had she been capable of feeling so, when she found out that Anne didn't have a superior study technique. She simply had a brilliant grasp of concepts and a photographic memory. After this revelation, Hailey changed the topic, and they chattered about the mundane, inconsequential aspects of life. Hobbies. Interests. Passions. As the conversation unfolded, Anne discovered that they were both animal lovers, football fans, avid readers, and shared the same favourite author. At least, that was the impression Anne got. The afternoon was turning out to be really fun for Anne, and she was glad to have made a firm friend in school. At one point, after bursting into unrestrained laughter at a particularly funny anecdote of Anne's, Hailey leapt happily from her seat, grabbed Anne's hand, and headed out to the balcony. The ice cream store had a nice wooden balcony that overlooked the hillside scenery. They leaned against the railing, taking in the beauty of the surroundings. After a few minutes of enjoyable silence, Hailey, in a seeming act of impulse, climbed over the railing and stood facing the view. She was one step from falling to a certain death, and holding onto the railing with her hands, arms twisted slightly back.
Anne panicked. "Get back over here!" She hissed, looking back nervously to see if anyone else had noticed. The balcony door was closed, and there were only a few patrons in the ice cream store. No one was on the balcony, and no one was seated at a position where they could view the balcony through the small glass window. Anne didn't want to get into trouble. She grabbed Hailey's shoulders, and insistently begged her to climb back over. Hailey grinned, a devil-may-care grin, and said, "this view, unhindered by the railing, right in front of me, it's amazing."
"You can just lean over the railing, it's the same thing! Get over here, I'm really worried."
At that, Hailey lifted her arms, and let go of the railing. Anne gave a tiny shriek and held on to her. "Are you crazy?!" She yelled. Hailey grinned even wider. "I trust you. I know you won't let me fall. I love this thrill."
Anne looked at her in disbelief, but also moved. "You aren't scared of falling? This is crazy." But then, she broke into a wide grin too. The girls smiled at each other, bonded by the thrill of the moment. "I think," Hailey said, "the potential of falling makes me feel alive. It makes me feel... more intensely. There's nothing in the world like this feeling." Anne looked at her, shaking her head, amused. "Try it." Hailey looked at her, smiling coyly, daringly. Anne hesitated.
In the store, the owner wondered about the two girls who had gone onto the balcony. It had been raining earlier, and the chairs and tables out there were probably still wet. They couldn't have taken a seat outside. He didn't know why they were taking so long out there. Perhaps they had wiped the chairs down. Or perhaps, and he shuddered at this thought, they were lesbians. Maybe they were making out on the balcony. Many couples did that at his store. His balcony was like a magnet for romance. He was a right-winged, judgmental and square-minded person. He knew that about himself, but he saw nothing wrong with that, and refused to change his beliefs. He started to head toward the balcony, to make sure that the girls weren't sinning in his store. They did have a weird, sensual vibe going on when they were chatting in the store, he thought. As he was halfway to the door, a patron waved to signal his attention. He hesitated, then turned back to take the patron's order.
Meanwhile, Anne had climbed carefully over the railing, and was holding on tightly to the railing as she stood, a step from falling. Hailey was giggling, apparently exulting in the thrill of the moment and the bond they were sharing. "You're right, this is great!" Anne gasped, still terrified, but reveling in the terror at the same time. Hailey held her hand, and they shared an intimate smile.
The store owner swung the balcony door open, just as Anne fell.
Later on, when answering the questions of the police, he deliberated as to whether or not he should tell the police officers what he thought he saw. For the briefest fraction of a second, he had seen Hailey retract her hand from Anne's back, as Anne toppled off the side. But Hailey had started screaming in horror, and had then reached her arms out in an attempt to grab Anne. He figured he probably imagined or misunderstood the significance of the gesture. Hailey was, after all, sobbing beyond consolation and utterly distraught. She had even blacked out for a few minutes, from intense grief and horror. She couldn't have meant to... no, he thought decisively, shaking his doubts off. She was merely a schoolgirl, who took a stupid risk and paid the dear price of losing a best friend. It had been a rainy day, and the balcony floor and railing had been slippery.
A few nights after Anne's death, Hailey lay in bed, unable to sleep. She didn't feel any remorse or guilt, but something was keeping her up. Perhaps her body was reacting the way it would have been if she had still had a heart. Maybe morality was a habit, not rooted in emotion. Whatever the reason was, she hadn't slept for seventy-two hours.
She lay still in bed, keeping her eyes shut determinedly. She counted to four as she breathed in, and counted to seven as she breathed out. The sound of her breathing started to fill her mind.
Her bed creaked, and a weight settled on her right. She froze, even though she didn't, she couldn't, feel fear. Her mind worked overtime. Her room door had a small trinket wrung around the knob, and it always made a tinkling sound when the door opened. There had been no sound. Maybe it was the lack of sleep. Her lack of sleep had led to hallucinations. She was imagining it.
It was then that she felt the cold breath on her face. She opened her eyes, and stared straight into a pair of hazel eyes. She would have screamed if she had been capable of fear. Her blood should've run cold. The face that the eyes belonged to was pale, small and held a serious expression.
She lay still, staring at the girl in front of her, waiting for whatever was to come.
The girl spoke. "I have your heart." Hailey blinked. She had not been expecting that. "I stole it from you six months ago," the girl continued.
There was a pause. "Why?" was all Hailey asked.
"You were reading an article. An article about me."
"I don't understand."
"I'm the murderer. The young girl who was sentenced to death for killing her sister."
Something clicked in Hailey's mind. Yes, she had been reading a terrifying article about a seventeen-year-old girl who had hit her three year old sister in the head with a trophy. It was the trophy she had been awarded for being the model student of the year. The article stated that she had hit her sister in the left temple thrice, then proceeded to stuff her sister's body into her school bag. She was caught when walking out of the house to dispose of the body. Her parents had thought that she was trying to sneak out of the house to go to a nightclub, and had wanted to check her bag to for a change of clothes that she may have brought. Instead, they found their child, cold and stiff.
Due to the severe nature of her crime, and the fact that she had purposefully chosen to kill her baby sister the week before she turned eighteen (to avoid the death sentence), the judge decided to try her as an adult.
The article was published after she had been put to death.
"I was born without emotions. My physical heart merely pumped life. I felt nothing. To me, my sister was going to be a burden. She was too young, my parents' relationship was too unstable. I didn't want to have the responsibility of taking care of the baby fall to me. I didn't want any future inheritance being split between us. I didn't like that I was unable to go to a better college because the new "accident" was draining my parents' finances. I was merely dealing with a problem, you see?"
The thing was, Hailey understood. She could see as the girl did.
"I heard you. I'm often at the school. I used to attend it. You read the article about my death, and you said I was a monster. That I deserved it. That I deserved to die. You said you couldn't understand how anyone could be so cruel."
"So I showed you. I showed you what it was like to be me. And you..."
The girl paused, and stroked her cheek with the back of her icy palm.
"...You did exactly what I did. Now, I'm going to give you your heart back."
Hailey's eyes widened. She knew what the girl wanted. Her heart. Her guilt. Her fears. Her horror at what she's done. They would all come flooding in. She opened her mouth to protest, but it was too late. She felt a sudden painful thump in her chest. Another thump. Then regular beating. As the fear poured in, and the terror took hold, the girl stood up and smiled.
"I've a friend who wants to meet you."
Hailey turned fearfully to her left. Anne.