Color Blindness by Jaina Peveto

[[Second Runner-Up in the 2016 Hub City Teen Writers Contest]]

Honestly, the fantasies in my head are far more interesting than real life.  Though to be fair, I spend more of my time in them than I do the real world.  Like right now, even as I sit in the orthodontist waiting room, I am also in another land with Sir Connor, my best friend and constant companion. Quite possibly my only friend.

My mother interrupts my musing.  “Are you nervous?” I can hear the tension in her voice.  “Not really,” I say.  As I’ve never seen braces before, I’m not entirely sure what they are.  And it’s rather difficult to fear something when you don’t know what you’re supposed to be afraid of.  “Are you sure?” she insists, and Connor and I both laugh.

“I’m sure, Mom.  Trust me, I’ll be fine.”  I was more nervous during my first appointment, when I wasn’t entirely sure how the orthodontist would react to my vision impairment.  When I was afraid he would treat me like the last one, who had acted as though I was less than human.  I fiddle with my cane as Mom continues rambling.  “I know it’ll be uncomfortable at first, but you’ll grow used to them. And it’s only for a few years at most.”  “You sound more nervous that I am.”

“It’s a mother’s job to worry,” she says.  Feeling rather bad, I hold my hand out. She takes it and gives it a squeeze.  “But I’m sure it will be fine.  Most people have to get braces.”  “I’m sure it will be too,” I say.  We sit in silence for a few minutes, and I let myself draw into Connor’s world.  I hear whispers and feel my mother bristle, but I ignore it all.  I’m used to it.  They follow my everywhere.  After all, a blind blue-haired fourteen-year-old girl is bound to seem out-of-place.  But I have grown accustomed to it, and so I pay no attention until I feel a tap on my shoulder.  “Why is your hair blue if you can’t see it?”  The voice is a young one, maybe five years old. Though it takes me out of Connor’s world, I am not irritated.  I enjoy making up silly reasons for children.  So I lean toward her and lower my voice.  “It’s because that ridiculous dragon made it so.”  “What? How could a dragon turn your hair blue?” She sounds confused.  “It’s a really long story,” I sigh.  I lean back I my chair.  “I’m not sure you’d want to hear it.”  “Oh, yes I do!” Without any warning, I feel her crawl onto my lap.  Mom’s grip on my hand tightens. “Larina…”she says quietly.  But I pull away to hold the young girl.

“If you insist,” I say.  “Last year I was battling a dragon with my good friend Sir Connor the knight.  The nasty thing had stolen all of the chocolate chip cookies in the town, which of course made everyone very upset.  So we got on the back of Connor’s horse and rode to the dragon’s castle.”  “The dragon lived in a castle?” she asks.

“Why, of course it did!  I laugh.  “Where else would a dragon live?  Anyway, we rode to his castle and knocked on the door.  The dragon itself didn’t answer, it was much too busy for that.  But a little girl, maybe five years old, answered instead.  Her voice was soft and sweet like a light breeze, and I instantly took a liking to her.  As did Sir Connor, of course.  She asked what we were there for and I told her of our problem. She seemed greatly troubled, saying the dragon was a good master and he would never dream of doing such a thing without reason.  So she led us inside and we found ourselves in an audience with a dragon.”

“Wow!” she says in awe, and Connor squeezes my hand.  I squeeze his back and continue weaving my tale.

“The dragon’s voice was loud and booming, and Sir Connor informed me he took up half the room.  At first we tried being diplomatic, and carefully explained exactly what the problem was.  The dragon did not seem troubled one bit, claiming the cookies were now rightfully his.  We tried again, but he could not be moved.  I felt Connor stiffen at my side, and before I could react, he was challenging the dragon to a duel! They went at it for a minute until I realized the room was beginning to grow very hot.  I jumped on Connor, avoiding his sword, and saved him from the scorch of the dragon’s flame.  I began to grow angry, and would you like to know what that means?” There’s a pause, and I feel her nod. I lower my voice to a whisper.  “It activates my magic.  All blind people have it, you know.”

“Really?”

“Yep,” I say.  “But unfortunately it comes with dreadful side effects. Being angry, I did not fully think through my actions. And so I cast a spell that would make the beast the size of a kitten.  But it also turned my hair blue.”

Before I can tell her what happened next, we are interrupted.  “Helen, Dr. Yoon is ready to see you.”  “Well, that’s my sister.  I better go,” the girl says, and she wiggles off my lap. She pauses.  “Did that really happen?”

“Sort of,” I admit.  “Sir Connor is real to me, but maybe not anyone else.  And I dyed my hair blue so people would stop asking about my blindness.”

“Oh.” She considers it.  “You should write a book.”

“A book?” I repeat. “Why?”

“Because you’d be good at it,” she says.  “I know some of my friends would want to hear stories about what it’s like to be blind.”  And she walks away, leaving Mom squeezing one hand and Connor the other.  I am alone with my thoughts once again, and I think maybe not everyone is all that bad.

 

 

“Our Hands” (HCTW) by Katelyn Hogue

I groan as I walk home and look down at my nails. The black paint is already chipping off even though I just painted them the other day. I angrily adjust the pack on my back as I continue walking down the sidewalk, my boots crunching the fallen leaves that litter the path. I look up from my nails and notice a crowd of about twenty people gathered outside a house in my neighborhood. I hear them talking before I see what they’re discussing.

“What’s going on?” says some man in the crowd.

“Why’s he up there?” asks a young girl.

I walk up the path and to my horror, I see a boy standing on the rooftop of one of the homes. I know that house, it’s one of the few brick houses I pass on my way to and from school. I can’t tell who the boy is, but he’s standing on the ledge of the roof. My stomach drops, fearing the worst. I join the crowd hoping to get some information about what’s going on.

“Just some guy on the roof. Maybe suicidal,” explains a big bald guy. Thirty seconds later, at least ten more people join to watch. A few call 9-1-1, but most are just talking about the boy and asking question. Glancing at the crowd, I make my way to the back of the house. No one pays attention to me as I leave the group and enter the home. I climb up to the attic and find an open window. Assuming this is how the boy got to the roof, I squeeze through the small square space.

“Luke!” I exclaim, recognizing the boy. “What are you doing up here?” We’re both seniors in high school, and we’re in the same civics class. I would never have guessed he would be doing this. He’s on the football team, girls seem to like him, and our civic teacher can’t stand him because he talks all class period. I mean, I’m the weird girl who wears dark clothes that sits in the back of the class. I’m the one who doesn’t seem to pay attention. If you looked at us both, you would guess I would be the one on the ledge of a roof.

“Tiffany?” He looks a bit puzzled. When I try to walk to him, he warns,

“Don’t come any closer,” The crisp autumn air turns heavy as my fears become reality.

“Okay, Luke. I won’t, but talk to me. What’s wrong?”

He’s not facing me, but he must have been crying because his voice comes out scratchy. “Everything,” he mutters.

“Like what?” I asked, edging my way closer to him.

“Everything! My mom passed away from cancer, dad’s depressed, I don’t have any real friends. I barely feel anything anymore…except the pain.”

“I know how that feels, Luke. The pain. When life’s too real. I get that,” I say to him. I work my way closer until I’m a few feet away from him.

“Stop Tiffany! I’ll jump!” He shouts at me and glares back angrily, but in his eyes I see nothing but depression and desperation. I freeze.

“Luke, I get it, but I know that it gets better. It really does. You just have to push through this. I could help you!”

From down below, I hear the same man from earlier yell, “Jump already!”

Sickened, I beg, “No, Luke, please don’t!” I cry, “This doesn’t have to be the end!”

“No, he’s right,” Luke whispers. My eyes widen as I realize what he’s about to do. My heart aches as he chokes out, “It’s too late,” He leans forward, accepting his fate. Tears stream down my face and before I can even think, I run up, reach out, and rip him back from the ledge by his shirt. With a loud thump we both crash back on the rooftop. I look at his face; He’s not angry… he’s scared. He opens his eyes, looks at me, and sobs deeply. I move to my knees and hug him. He wraps his arms around me and continues to cry on my shoulder.

“It’s going to be okay. I’ll help you,”

“That’s all we say, and we just sit there.”

Eventually, he looks to me, signaling he’s ready to go. I stand up and reach out for his hand. The person in front of me is a young man preparing for adulthood, but all I see is a scared little boy. He reaches out and grabs hold of my hand. Our hands lock together, his rough and shaking, with mine small and soft. For that moment, I think, Luke isn’t the type of guy you think would end up on the roof contemplating ending it all, and I’m not the type of girl you think might end up doing anything important with her life, but I realized people aren’t who they seem to be. I’m not just some girl, I’m… a hero?

I pull him to his feet. Hand in hand, we walk from the roof to the attic door. As we make our way out of the building, the crowd applauds us. The police try to take Luke away, but I don’t let him leave my side. It’s not until I give Luke my number and tell him to call me whenever he needs help, and the police assure me they’re going to get him help that I let go of his hand. As I turn to leave, he grasps my hand again.

“Why?” he asks.

“Why what?” I respond, confused.

“Why did you run up there? Why did you save me?”

“Because…” My eyebrows furrow together. Why did I? I didn’t have to, but I never second guessed myself. It was natural. “Because it’s who I am,” I answer softly.

He nods, and with one final glance, I walk away.

“Having No One” (HCTW) by Sabrina Smith

I awoke screaming. Slowly, I calmed down as well I could before starting to cry into my pillow. I had no one. After glancing down at my wrists and the scars and scabs there I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep.

I awoke the next morning and changed out of my pajamas and into my usual black outfit, shoving an equally black jacket on over it. Then I went downstairs.

My father, a banker, glanced at me and pursed his lips, but chose not to say anything. My mother took one look at me and did the opposite.

“It’s been two months, Rosie,” she said, sitting across from me at the table. “You can come out of mourning.” I fiddled with my cereal and didn’t say anything. “I know you miss him,” she muttered. “We all do. But we need to move on.”

“I’m going to school,” I said abruptly, grabbing my bag and walking out the door. I didn’t look back at the massive house I’d exited, know mom would be watching. Instead I chose to look to the manicured lawn and the end of the driveway. Just as I arrived, the bus pulled up and the doors opened, allowing me to board.

Everyone greeted me with “Goth Girl!” I ignored it and kept walking to the back of the bus to sit, alone.

We stopped in front of the school a few taunting jeers later and I made my way to the locker I’d previously shared with my twin.

As I opened it I was hit with the realization I would have millions of times over every day: he was dead. I’d left it just the same for that reason. His things sat at the upper half of the locker, as if he was waiting impatiently for me to finish.

I filled my bag with everything I’d need for the day and closed the door.
My classes went by at a snail’s pace, frequented by the voices of those who I used to consider my friends making jabs at me.

My life was changed at lunch.

I sat in the back corner of the cafeteria, at my own table, under the flickering florescent lighting. Just like every other day, I imagined Alex sitting across from me, laughing. I unpacked my lunch. As I took a bite of my apple someone sat down across from me.

“Hello,” said a cheerful voice. “I’m Janet. Who are you?” For a moment I was stunned.

“Rosie,” I stammered. She smiled and began to eat her lunch as if there was nothing wrong. As I looked at her my eyes hurt. Even in the dim light her outfit practically glowed bright pink and green.

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said suddenly. She grinned.

“It’s nice to meet you. I’m new here,” she said, answering the question I never asked. “I only just moved from Windor.” I nodded and felt that it was my turn to make some polite conversation.

“What class do you have next?” I asked carefully.

“English with Mr. Hawthorne, I think.” I nodded, neglecting to mention I was in her class.

A week later she had grown on me. She had no idea that I like to take a razorblade to my wrists yet, and I hoped to keep it that way. Despite myself, I didn’t want to lose her.

“Why do they call you Goth Girl?” she asked one day. “Is it because you wear so many dark colors?”

I nodded. She moved on, talking at fifty miles an hour.

That night I made my way to the cemetery at the end of our street. I found Alex’s grave and sat down beside it.

“Hey,” I said. “I brought you something.” I laid a bluebird’s feather on the grave. “I know you couldn’t find one for your collection.

“I have a friend at school,” I continued, making myself more comfortable.
“Janet. I told you about her yesterday, remember? I want to tell her about- you know. I don’t know how, though. What do you think?”

“Rosie?” I started and turned. Janet stood behind me.

“What are you doing here?” we asked at the same time.

“This is where my mother’s buried,” she said, pointing to a plot a few rows down. “Cancer. Just before I moved here. Now it’s your turn, Rosie. Who’s this?” She pointed at my brother’s headstone.

“This is Alex,” I said. “He was my twin.”

“Hey, Alex,” she said softly. “I’m Rosie. It’s wonderful to meet you.”
I swallowed.

“How’d he die?”

“There was an accident. A-A drunk driver came down the road as I was crossing…. Alex was waiting on the other side and saw him. He pushed me out of the way.”

“Oh….. Oh, no. Rosie, I’m so sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too, about your mom.” She shrugged.

“We knew it was going to happen. It still hurt, but we got to say goodbye, at least.” We were both quiet for a moment.

“Jan, I need to tell you something.”

“What is it?”

“They- They don’t call me Goth Girl because I wear dark clothes. I-I’m suicidal.”

“I know.”

“You do?” I gasped and she nodded.

“I have since the first day I was here.”

“And you- you still came to sit with me?” She nodded again.

I grabbed her in a tight hug. She grinned and hugged me back.

“Thank you.”

I couldn’t help but think that, somewhere, Alex was smiling down on me.
From then on I left the jacket in my closet.

“Grime & Gloom” by Rachel Newby

The dripping of ice
is enough to drive me mad–
a wet cave floor slick

with memories is
nothing to swear by. He does
laugh sometimes, but can

not grin. I dream of
the world outside our stone walls,

built right underneath

 

purple mountains with

misty air or perhaps a

gangling forest

filled to the brim with
busy insects. My growing

mind is filled with things

I am not sure are
real. All I know are reaching

water streams and the

way his eyes perceive
my figure. I am sure more
coves hold other bits

of me, but he will
never let go of my sun-
lust hands. Some days I

do not know which of
us is guilty of capture.
I always try to

hold him an arm’s length
away, to pretend to find
meaning without him.

“From Birth” by Amanda McPherson

We are the sinners who are born with sin

And our very first sin is the act of being born itself

We come out of the womb

Already cloaked in the smell of dingy bars

Our flesh already bearing a sinners mark

Psalms 58:3 says

“The wicked are estranged from the womb;

These who speak lies go astray from birth.”

Be we never even had a path to stray from

We are born knowing that no one has paved the way for us

And we must tear through this world making our own sidewalks

Sidewalks that lead us cloudy rooms

A haze covering forgetful touches

Because the people touching forget we’re people too

And we forget we’re people

We’d rather be that lamp,

A couch,

Anything is easier than being human

But out sinning tongues are never quite silent

We never quite accept our defeat

We gather as a family

So we can read bad poetry

And listen to sad stories

And drink way too much coffee

Because out circadian cycles have never been quite right

Together we share the same bruises that the earth has given us

It has always been our birthright to bear them

We are an honorable group of misfits

Toasting our victories with coffee cups full of liquor

And mourning our losses in exactly the same way

We take society’s silver spoons

And heat them for an escape

Then morph them into swords to use

When fighting the war against war

Because we have tasted the bitterness of injustice,

Taken a bite of the forbidden fruit

And we see that there’s more to living than a heartbeat

And so we spend the rest of our lives chasing life

Chasing a life that a sinner was never supposed to have

But what these sinners are choosing to want

And we as a group with nothing to lose

Can take the world in our shaking hands

“Something More” by Savannah Shifflett

You can barely contain your excitement; you’re finally seeing your best friend in person, face to face, close enough to touch, for the first time in a year. You guys talk every day, but it’s different when you can actually hug her, draw her in close, and breathe in the scent of her shampoo, hoping she hasn’t changed it in the 393 days that you two have been apart.

 

She’s supposed to be at your house by ten in the morning, and you know she won’t be late. Taking a cold shower, you sigh in relief when you’ve finally got a break from the summer heat.

 

You pretend like you don’t take too long picking out your outfit before settling on athletic shorts and a crop top. There’s a minute after you put your hair in a ponytail where you look at all of the perfumes on your vanity, putting careful consideration as to which one you should wear, if any, but then the doorbell rings.

 

That’s the first thing that alerts you to the change in your relationship.

 

She tackles you in a hug as soon as you open the door, something you’re grateful for, and her hair smells just like it did when you hugged her goodbye last summer.

 

“You smell just like you did the last time I saw you!” she exclaims, and there is no way for you to express how happy it makes you that she remembered the shampoo she once called weird. “You’re right, that damn smell has grown on me, or maybe I just miss you so much I can’t even complain.” She punches your arm, only a mere couple of inches from your breast, and your heart stops.

 

She pulls her hand away quickly, rather than running it down your arm like she used to, and that’s the second thing that alerts you to the change in your relationship.

 

The first thing you grab before you head upstairs is food, an essential to a reunion sleepover. You two practically raid the pantry, carrying armfuls of junk up the stairs and into your room, plopping the chips, dip, cookies, and many other snacks onto your bed.

As soon as all of the snacks are laid down, she tackles you into the bed in a much warmer hug than the one you got by the door. She’s breathing in your ear, and you can hear the little hitches in her breath, a tell-tale sign of her giggle that you so adore.

 

You push her off, pretending to huff and puff as you feign anger, but she only gives you that smirk, the one that knows all of your tells when you’re acting, and you just know that there’s no way you’ll ever get away with the secret that you’re coming to terms with.

 

“Just for that, you don’t get to pick the first movie!”

 

“Whatever, you weren’t gonna let me pick anyway.”

 

You move your hand over your heart, acting flattered, “you know me so well; how did I ever survive without you for over a year?” The batted eyelashes are only added for dramatic flair.

 

“I don’t know dude, I am pretty damn awesome,” she responds without missing a beat, batting her eyelashes back at you, and you have to wonder if she’s also doing it to get the tears out of her eyes.

 

There’s a moment of silence where you’re remembering all the times that you wished she was there, and a small, selfish part hopes that she’s doing the same.

 

“Enough of all this sappy shit!” she proclaims, rolling off of you, careful of the snacks, and getting into her relaxing position on her, self-designated, side of the bed. “So are we knocking out five movies or two seasons?” She asks, tapping her unpainted nails against the bed in excitement.

 

“I’m offended that you doubt our binge-watching skills! We could definitely get in more than two seasons! The question is: do we want nitty gritty plot or a light comedic show?” You ask, going over the shows you’ve seen that fit either of those categories, but none of them stand out.

 

“Hmmm, I’m in the mood for one of those shitty romantic dramas,” she says, stroking her chin and looking off into the distance as though she’s saying something philosophical.

 

For as long as you can remember, she has been this way: hot and then cold, always changing her mind but sounding as though she had always thought that way.

 

You suppose it fits perfectly that you’re pretty set in your morals but not confident in them at all.

 

The choice of the night ends up being an ongoing TV drama, from one of those channels that are only geared towards teenagers, about this boy and girl that have been best friends ever since elementary school and once they get to high school they have to face the fact that they date other people while avoiding rumors of them sleeping together. It’s basically like every other show of its kind, but the obvious romantic tension between the friends hits a little too close to home for you.

 

Things would be a hell of a lot easier if your best friend were a boy though.

 

By the time dinner is ready, you guys are halfway through the second season, and after that, there’s only one more season you have to watch until you’re forced to suffer through a month or two of waiting for the new one.

 

Dinner is spent with your parents getting caught up with her, and you notice how integrated she is into the life of everyone in the house. You don’t think your parents would mind going to a house you share with her, your kids running around in circles, for a birthday party, or Christmas, or just to come over for a visit. They wouldn’t mind at all.

 

The both of you head to your room, racing up the stairs, and ultimately, she wins, just like always. You’re both panting, honest to god hands-on-knees panting.

 

“We’re fat,” she laughs, still short of breath.

 

“I vote we blame it on the adrenaline.”

 

You’re knocked out by midnight, curled into the fetal position, facing her, with a light blanket covering your ankles. When you wake up, it’s only two, and you don’t want to have to deal with the loud volume of the TV. You settle for watching her, trying not to feel like too much of a creep, as she breathes, in and out, in and out. In a matter of five seconds, she’s inhaling part of the pillow case. It covers her open mouth, stopping her from breathing, and just before you can pull it away, her eyes open, looking into yours.

 

“Weirdo,” she yawns.

 

“Hypocrite,” you yawn back.

 

“You look cute when you yawn.” She’s said this before but not like this, not five inches from your face, not looking deep into your eyes, not sounding 100% serious.

 

“You look cute always.”

 

She smiles, and it’s two in the morning, you’re both half asleep, so you take a chance.

 

As soon as you press your lips to hers, she yawns, and you pull away, forcing out a laugh. She frowns at you and your heart stops. “That sure as hell wasn’t an invitation to pull away.” Your mind has yet to fully grasp her words and your heart has yet to start to beat again.

 

She moves so that there’s only one inch between you two, but before long, she closes it.

 

You hold her hand as you walk down the stairs the next morning. Your heart is racing, but the pulse in her thumb is steady. It’s a comforting thought that she’s not nervous at all, that she’s 100% sure in the choices that you both made.

 

Your parents see your hands, and for a second they look confused, their minds running over everything they’ve seen from you in the past years.

 

“Do we have to sleep in different rooms when I come over now?” She asks, making light of the situation and taking the attention off of you like she always does. You love it.

 

“So long as you promise not to get her pregnant,” your parents say at the same time, and all of you laugh; that’s exactly how the two of you are together, best friends with the possibility of something more.

 

You’ve spent the whole last year without her thinking of the way her smile got your heart racing, how something that even remotely reminded you of her brought a smile to your face, and how at night, after you two had hung up, you’d cry and cross off one more day on your calendar, sad that she was so far away but happy that you were one day closer to seeing her.

 

As you sit down, laughing at the next joke that she cracks, you notice how her smile is contagious, and you know that she’ll never let yours leave.

“The Fabric of Our Lives” by Amanda McPherson

1863 The Emancipation Proclamation

1955 I will not change my seat

1963 Thousands marching for what they believe

1920 Harlem screams “We have a new beat”

2008 Welcome President Obama

1954 Separate is not equal

1963 I have a dream

 

History is not linear.

And without diversity, there is no true history

Because history is a tangle of events

That go in and out of existence

Becoming current when in the consciousness of someone’s mind

And going extinct when the world stops thinking about them.

This begs the questions,

Is history part of yesterday, or today?

 

Diversity is key to unraveling history.

Because like Philomela,

Those who’ve lost their tongue to speak

Are left with the duty of weaving the past

The world tries to hide.

And if we hide our past,

Our victories lose significance.

 

This victory is that it is 2016

The world is not colorblind!

We see the shades and flaws and beauty of humans,

As diverse and interconnected as the shades of a sunset.

No, we are not colorblind,

But we are learning to embrace the palette of humanity with open arms.

Like Martin Luther King Jr said,

“We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

And we are learning.

“Walking Toward Yes” by Mike Tucker

The author would like to acknowledge Ram Dass from whom the idea for the poem came.

 

a walk in the woods

tangle of branches

surrounded by trees

each one is different

the tall straight oak

the crooked maple

the wise and prickly pine

the one with few leaves remaining

the sickly one

the robust one

the evergreen

I love each tree

I accept each one without judgement

 

a walk in the city

crowded sidewalk

cement and neon

synthetic forest

surrounded by people

each one is different

the tall one the short one

the dark one the light one

the healthy one the sick one

the rich one the poor one

the one who has not had time to find out who she is

the one who speaks a language that I can’t understand

the one who worships a different goddess

the well- dressed one with the broken heart

the one who sleeps on the park bench at night

can I love each one?

can I accept each person  without judgement?

yes

yes

a resounding yes

I can love them just like I love the trees…

 

but the best part of being human is that

when the music plays

we can all dance together

and not only accept

but celebrate our differences

 

listen

listen

my whole human family

 

they’re playing our song

it sounds like love and inclusion

and the singer tells a beautiful truth

so gather here

and tell your own truth

each of us is on a journey

won’t you come and dance with us…

“How to Save a Life” by Stephanie Eberly

It’s the same routine every day, and today is no different. Anne wakes up to the sound of her alarm playing ‘80s rock music, slams her fist on the machine to make it stop, and slides her skinny legs out from under her warm Star Wars blanket. Her pale feet hit the cold wooden floor, sending a shiver up her spine. She grabs a pair of jeans and a graphic T that were carelessly thrown on her chair the night before and slips them on. With shuffling steps she makes her way to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. That mirror. Oh how she hates it. Sometimes she just wants to punch the wavy reflection and watch as the pieces shatter on the tile. Instead she glares at the sickly face peering back at her and goes to work uselessly trying to beautify the face she was born with. Cold water splashes, a pink towel dries, mascara darkens lashes, blush colors pale cheeks, contacts go in and come back out, glasses are placed, and the door is opened.

She walks down the creaky steps of the ancient house and into the kitchen where her mother stands over a sink full of soapy water. Anne thumps a bowl and spoon on the table and pours Reese’s Puffs until little pieces roll onto the table. She opens the refrigerator door and sticks her nose into the milk carton.

Her nose crinkles, and bile forms in her throat. “Ah, gross! Mom! The milk is bad again.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” she says without looking up from the pan she’s washing. “You can always pick some up on your way home from school today.”
“Nah.” Anne pushes the door closed and tosses the rotten milk in the trash can. “Whatever, I’ll eat dry cereal for the third day in a row.”

“You need to eat more than that. I can tell when you’re losing weight.”

“I’m fine,” she says, pushing the concern aside, and swipes the full bowl from the table, spilling little peanut butter and chocolate balls all over the floor. “Darn it.”

“What did you say?”

“Nothing.”

Her mother turns from the sink, her hands covered in suds. “I’m going to ask one more time. What did you say?”

“Nothing, okay? Just get off my back!”

“What did I do, huh?” It’s like something inside of her snapped. “All I ever do is take care of you. I cook, I clean, I work my fingers to the bone to make sure you get an education, and this is the thanks I get?”

“Mom, don’t. Just don’t”

“Ever since your father left, you’ve treated me as if I’m just a maid.” Her mom dries her hands and leans on the counter. “I’m your mother, Anne! Your mother. I’m sorry I couldn’t get your father to stay, but I’m doing the best I can!”

“Don’t!” Tears form in Anne’s eyes, and she presses her palms against her skull. “Don’t bring Dad into this.”

“But that’s what it is, isn’t it? It’s your father. You think I wasn’t a good wife to him, and that’s why he left. Isn’t it, Anne?” She turns to the window above the sink. “Come on, just tell me. I can take it.”

“Agh! I can’t do this with you right now.” Anne slings her backpack over her shoulder. “I’m going to school.”

Her mother never looks away from the window, as she clenches the countertop so hard her knuckles turn white. “Don’t forget your lunch.”

Anne grabs the brown bag sitting so innocently on the white counter, and the screen door slams behind her.

It’s always brought back to Dad. Two years ago, he up and left them one night, no warning, no note, nothing. He packed his bags and left. Ever since then, Anne’s mother has always been so self-centered, bringing every conversation back to “Oh, woe is me.” It’s pathetic. Doesn’t she see that her daughter is struggling, too? Growing up without a father isn’t exactly easy. The older kids see her as being weak, a wimp. She won’t—no—she can’t cry in front of them, so she puts on a mask to disguise the pain inside.

Anne kicks a piece of garbage along the sidewalk in an attempt to vent her emotions. But instead the garbage seems to evade her, and her leg goes out from under her, bringing her smack down onto the concrete. A couple of kids across the street point and laugh at her struggle. This day just keeps getting better and better. Sometimes she wonders if life is really worth living, to deal with all of these dumb people and their stupid ways every single day. Maybe it would be better if she just weren’t here anymore. No one would miss her anyway, and the world would move on.

These thoughts are pushed out of her mind as she approaches the front steps of her high school. Taking a deep breath, she enters the halls that are sure to one day suck all life out of her. Ignoring the crooked looks and stabs in the back, she moves through the crowd to find her locker. It’s located between Jamie, who doesn’t say much, and Josh, a football jock who only cares about his muscles and hair.

Josh is showing off his biceps to a group of cheerleaders as Anne approaches. He raises one eyebrow and nudges the blonde beside him. “Watch this.” As if Anne couldn’t hear him from a mile away.

He shoves her locker door closed, almost catching her fingers. “Hey, Anne. I’m surprised you actually came to school today.”

Anne bites her lip and clenches her fists. “Why do you say that, Josh?” If looks could kill, he’d be dead.

“Oh, you know, because the Comic Con isn’t for a couple of months yet.” Josh and the cheerleaders burst into a jostling laughter.

Anne feels her cheeks get hot. She self-consciously covers her Captain America t-shirt with her math books as she moves away from the lockers. She barely takes two steps before Josh slaps the books out of her hands and beneath the milling feet of the crowd. He proceeds to snatch the brown bag lunch from her hands and peer inside.

“What’d ya bring me today, geek?”

Kids all around her start to laugh. Little cliques chuckle to themselves and begin to murmur. They all know the daily routine. Anne brings the bagged lunch, Josh eats the lunch, and Anne goes another school day without a meal. Her hip bones protruded further out than last week.

Josh pulls out a napkin on which letters are scribbled in bright pink. “’I love you, sweetie. Love, Mom,’” he reads. “Aw, look who’s mommy’s little baby.” He puckers out his lip, tauntingly waving the paper in front of her.

She tries to snatch it from him, but he’s too quick. How could she have forgotten to take out the napkin? The one time she forgets… The napkin is pulled from his raised hand and passed around the newly forming circle of high schoolers. Laughter erupts. Fingers point. She can feel the anger boil inside of her, threatening to spill over and burn everyone around her. Jaw clenched, she leans down to pick up her books that are newly decorated with dusty footprints.

As she goes to stand, a field of white blocks her view.

“Want this, huh? Do you?” There towers Josh. He must really want to push her buttons.

Before she knows it, tearing is heard, and his outspread hands hold the pieces of what used to be her mother’s note.

Anne’s world goes blurry as her head fills with rage. Not her mother’s note. She can barely keep her body from shaking, and before she knows it, her fist digs into Josh’s chin. He slams into the lockers behind him, the shock knocking him off his feet.

“That’s how you want to play, is it?” His forehead bulges with anger as he regains his balance. “Come here, ya little pipsqueak.” He swings at her, but she dodges to the side, the books flopping to the floor once more.

She knows she will regret this later, but all she can think about now is how sweet the revenge tastes. Summoning all her strength, she lunges onto the jock’s back. Her arms wrap in a headlock and don’t let go.

Josh claws at her arms and takes a few wobbly steps backwards, struggling to get breath. Since the beginning of the fight, people have formed a circle around them, their fists pumping in the air.

Within a split second, the cold metal of the lockers slam into Anne’s back. Sharp pain shoots up her spine and numbs her already blurred mind. She feels her grip loosen, and she tumbles onto the ground.

Like an angry grizzly, Josh towers over her limp body. She can’t help but chuckle. Never has she seen him this angry, and today, it was because of her. The little pipsqueak. A surge of pride pushes out her chest.

“I’m gonna wipe that smirk right off your face, geek.” The last thing she remembers is his large fist coming at her face, then everything goes black.
——
Anne sits in the principal’s office, holding an icepack against her brand new shiner. Her head throbs with pain, but her heart beats with adrenaline from the fight. The fight. She actually fought Josh. She lost, sure, but she couldn’t help but feel a hint of pride.

The office door opens and in walks a balding, middle-aged man who looks like he ate one too many cheeseburgers. “Hello, Anne. I heard you got yourself into a fight earlier today, is that correct?” His eyes search the non-bruised part of her face in an effort to get a response. Upon receiving none, he pulls out a slip of paper from his desk. “You know we can’t let this go. There will be consequences.”

Anne continues to press the cold pack against her flushed skin. She doesn’t really care what this man is saying; she just wants to get out of the cramped quarters.

“Josh has been temporarily removed from the football team in an effort to curtail his temper.” A pause. “Anne.” He leans forward in his chair. “This little fit of yours will cost you two weeks of suspension. Do you understand?”

Two weeks. Maybe she could end all this drama during that time. All she would have to do is get the razor…

“We called your mother. She’s on her way.”

Anne snaps back to attention. “What?! My mom?”

The principal just stares at her, his hands placed calmly on his desk. “Yes, your mother. She will be here shortly to pick you up, and I’m sure she will have a few things to say about your suspension”

Her grip on the icepack tightens. “You didn’t have to bring my mom into this. She doesn’t care.”

“Oh, I’m sure she does, Anne. She’s your mother after all.”

“No. You don’t understand.” She can feel her whole face flush and her pulse quicken. “She. Doesn’t. Care.”

“Anne, now calm down.”

“No! Don’t tell me to calm down! All you people and your dumb ways. None of you understand. You don’t know me. You don’t get what I’m going through. I just want to get out of here. Two weeks to rid myself of all this crap! Good riddance!”

She rushes out of the office before anyone can stop her. Tears blur her vision and cause her to weave through the hallway. Somehow her free hand finds the door to the girl’s bathroom, and she stumbles in.

She grips the edge of the counter. From behind her crooked glasses, she scans the face staring back at her in the mirror. There she is, the good-for-nothing geek that everyone makes fun of. With that black eye, she’d be the laughing stock of the whole school—not like that’s anything new. What is the point of her life, when all anyone ever does is yell and laugh at her? No one cares that she is crumbling inside, that all she wants to do is rid herself of this pain.

She thinks back to her bathroom, to the razor blade sitting all innocent-like on a shelf hidden behind that awful mirror. Just one swipe across her wrist, that’s all she has to do. And then all this pain can be gone. She imagines it hovering over her veins, so close to taking the life from her. But the bathroom door opens, and her thoughts disappear like a vapor.

“Hi.”

Anne gives a quick start, her darkened thoughts temporarily pushed back in her mind. A short, stocky blonde girl stands behind her, peering at her with green eyes. It’s one of the “smart, pretty” girls. The ones who ace math tests and raise their hands to answer every question in science. The ones who don’t care about lowlifes like Anne.

“You’re Anne, right?” The blonde searches for a response, but upon receiving none, moves toward a stall door. ”You know, I’ve always thought your love for Marvel is pretty cool. Don’t listen to what Josh and those girls say. They’re just jerks.” She smiles softly at Anne’s reflection. “You’re really pretty…even with the black eye.”

Anne stares back at the blonde, stunned into silence.

The girl looks down at the tiled floor and searches for something else to say. “See you when you get back?”

When she gets back? News travels fast. Anne finally gets her lips to move. “Yeah.”

“Cool. I’ll see you then, Anne.” She gives her an understanding smile before disappearing into the stall.

Yeah. Maybe she will see her in two weeks. She will. And now, Anne will look forward to it