She'd begun to think of herself as The Invisible Girl.
She'd had friends--kids she'd grown up with, stumbling through the grades together, connected by the endless and complex threads of shared experiences in their small world. And many of them had continued on to the local two-year community college, just as she had. But somehow between grade-school and this, her first year of college, it was as though some spell, working so slowly as to be unnoticeable, had pulled them all away from each other--or at least from her--the threads becoming as fragile as a spider's web.
She still saw them at school, sat in the same classes, had small conversations in the hall or at lunch, but they seemed like strangers--strangers who somehow had many of the same memories she did. She no longer knew what they were feeling just by looking at them, no longer had the knowledge of their likes and dislikes at her fingertips, and she could tell that she had become impenetrable to them. They recognized her. They spoke to her. But they didn't see her.
And certainly she was invisible to everyone else there. She was an average student, quiet, who did her homework and answered when called upon, but did nothing special or troublesome enough to inspire or require a teachers particular attention.
Her looks too, she felt, made her as close to invisible as she could be and still have a face. Certainly most people had no idea of what her face actually looked like; she wore her brown hair in long bangs that came down on either side of her face and she figured that anyone looking past them would see only her glasses. Or if by chance she should smile, her braces--an embarrassment at her age. She had no clothing sense, tending towards shapeless dresses in no particular color. She was still diminutive in height although she had finally begun to 'get her figure', as she'd heard the process described. She belonged to no clubs or volunteer organizations. She went to school, she came home.
She had begun to feel invisible there as well. Her parents loved her, she supposed, but were preoccupied. Her father, once a successful member of a top Boston law firm, had been fired when his drinking problems caught up with him and now eked out a living locally doing real estate law, wills or whatever came to hand. When home he was introspective, as if seeking to hold on to something inside himself. He was with Alcoholics Anonymous now, sober well into his second year, but had done a great deal of emotional damage to his wife and daughter beforehand. He had once taken a drunken dislike to his daughter's bangs and forced her to sit in a chair while he cut them off with scissors, his wavering hand leaving a ragged, ugly fringe across her forehead. She had had to be forced to go to school the next day, and from then on walked with her face down, her shoulders slumped.
Her mother had stuck by her husband, barely. She now attended his A.A. meetings with him and they also went to a marriage councilor twice a month, down from once a week at the beginning of his sobriety. But during the bad times she had felt the need to make a life for herself and had taken a secretarial job, which turned out to be a good thing when her husband's income suddenly dwindled to a small percentage of what it had been. They were making ends meet, just, but there was little money left over for luxuries. She was also socially active, helping out at her church group and local Democratic Party functions. She looked after her daughter as best she could but she still seemed to feel a lingering discomfort when she was home, a holdover from the bad times that made her restless, want to be somewhere else. Before something happened.
To her daughter her mother's attentions seemed well meant but somehow superficial, as if her daughter was an item on a checklist. She would ask about her day at school and seem to pay attention to her answer, and yet also not, as if in some part of her mind she was reviewing the day's agenda, not really seeing the girl in front of her.
The Invisible Girl.
But being invisible was not without advantages, she had found. The little things she wanted that there was no money for could be made to vanish from a store shelf and reappear outside.
And she found ways of procuring money for things she wanted which were too big or well-protected to steal. She began attending the school functions she had heretofore avoided, the dances and sports events. Her parents, to the extent that they had noticed, were probably relieved that their daughter was beginning to be interested in having a social life, little realizing that The Invisible Girl was only interested in unattended purses and coat pockets.
The college authorities eventually began to talk about a "crime wave" and reminded students to look after their things at public events. But by then she had honed her invisibility until even the wary and cautious were no match for her powers. The money simply disappeared from their pockets and reappeared in hers. In fact after a while she stopped buying things much and just stored the money inside the torn seam of an old stuffed toy in her closet. But The Invisible Girl continued her predations.
Weeks went by. One Saturday night in late spring she was at a school dance, working her way through the coatroom. There was supposed to be a teacher on duty but The Invisible Girl knew which ones took cigarette breaks when things were slow so she merely hung around, invisibly, until she saw the teacher heading for the exit, then reached over the ledge of the dutch door and let herself in. And even if the teacher did come back a little sooner than expected, well, she had just forgotten where she'd hung her coat. Happen to anyone.
The pickings were somewhat slimmer than before but a lot of the girls still could not be bothered to keep their purses with them while they danced. She made her way along the walls, checking purses and feeling coats for potentially interesting lumps. There was Mira Barnstable's coat: a flashy red, satiny-looking thing as befit the richest girl at the school. There was only one coat like that in town. Had she left her purse? No. Too bad. But those pockets were worth investigating. She slipped her hand into one, finding it surprisingly deep ... but empty.
She had just reached into the other, the pocket reaching nearly halfway up her arm, when something in the corner of her eye made her whirl around toward the door. There was a boy there--she knew him, knew he was a second-year student though she couldn't remember his name. He was leaning his elbows on the door-ledge, looking in. At her. She thought she was standing so that he couldn't see her hand in Mira's pocket, but she wasn't sure.
They looked at each other in silence for a moment.