The Tales of a Tenth Grade Perfectionist

June 1, 2008
Chapter One: A Mishap

In the early hours of a weekday morning, Arielle was already typing the finishing touches on her essay in the school computer lab. She printed it out on fine, thick paper, smoothed out the creases, neatly stapled the sheets together, and put the whole thing in a plastic cover in order to keep it from wrinkling in her briefcase. The only thing was, was that the paper was not due for another month.

Arielle still had a half hour until class. In that time, she made herself some tea in the school cafeteria, took her things to the school library, and read the chapters of Macbeth that were due that day, despite reading them twice the night before. When she was done with that, the khaki-jumper clad brunette took out her math textbook and did some sample problems from last month’s chapter on polygons. Never too late to review for the final.

When it was actually time for class, Arielle rushed to get her traditional seat in the front of the room. The class was history, and Arielle was super excited because she loved learning about the French Revolution, so she says. But in actuality, Arielle wanted the best possible notes so her paper could be the best possible paper.

Mr. Roeder, the history teacher, started to pass back an old test to the class. Arielle watched as the rest of the class got their tests before her. Some quickly glanced at the grade, and stuffed the papers into the backpack. Arielle cringed, anticipating the creases on the delicate paper of an essay booklet. Mr. Roeder approached Arielle’s desk, and said, “Nice work, Berman.”

Arielle slowly flipped the test over to reveal the grade. An 89, B+. A girl next to Arielle peered over at Arielle’s test. “Nice.”

But Arielle started to hyperventilate. An 89? This was not up to her par. She had studied for hours, in order to write the perfect essay on the African Slave Trade. She had anticipated multiple essay questions that Mr. Roeder might give, timed herself, and wrote elaborate essays on her own. She hadn’t felt nervous one bit. Over the course of the test, she chewed 5 pieces of gum to calm her angst. Arielle turned bright red.

The girl sitting next to Arielle, still waiting for a response to her comment, turned back toward the front of the room, weirded out by Arielle’s response to a perfectly acceptable grade on a test that would not dictate her total grade for the course.

During class, Arielle could not concentrate. “Am I slipping? What’s wrong with me? I won’t get into Columbia! Yale doesn’t accept B+ students.” She didn’t even take as many notes as usual on the lecture. After class, she approached Mr. Roeder.

“Excuse me, Mr. Roeder?”

“Arielle, hello! I was so impressed at the decisiveness of your thesis on the essay. It was as if you had practiced it before hand!”

Arielle was taken aback. Why was Mr. Roeder complimenting her again? He had given her an 89, B+.

“O, yes. I was just coming to talk to you about the test.”


Arielle found herself at a lack for words. What could she say? Why had she gotten this grade, as opposed to her usual 95, A? Why did he like her B+ essay? Would she still get into Columbia?

“Mr. Roeder, I was just wondering,” Arielle cracked her knuckles, a nervous habit. “What could I have done better? Y’know, so I know for next time.”

Mr. Roeder was taken aback by the question, but still answered it fully. “I thought it needed more historical content, and there was a few grammar issues. But it really was a good essay. One of the best.”

There it was. He had said it. It was not the best essay of the class. She was not his best student.

“Okay, thanks Mr. Roeder.”

Arielle bolted out of the class, trying to fan herself as she felt the heat rush to her face. “I must talk to the guidance counselor.”

Excusing herself from gym, Arielle went to guidance sector of her school. She approached the desk of her guidance counselor, Ms. Moore. Ms. Moore was a nice guidance counselor, doing anything possible for her advisees. But this year, Arielle had been a particular annoyance, coming to her with questions about college, a process she did not need to worry about until junior year, complaints about teachers, and an abundance of worries about herself.

“What’s up this time Arielle?”

“I did bad on a test, Ms. Moore.”

Ms. Moore was surprised. This wasn’t the news she was expected, not the usual complaint. She knew that Arielle was a top student and an excellent candidate for any college of her dreams.

“Well, what it is?”

“I don’t even want to say it out loud!” Arielle paced the room.

“It’s okay. Everyone misses a couple tests. What’s the grade?”

Arielle breathed deeply. “An 89, B+.”

Then it was Ms. Moore’s turn to breathe heavily. She couldn’t believe Arielle was wasting her time yet again. She had advisees who actually needed help with their grades, who were struggling to understand important concepts. She had advisees who were getting high after school, and cutting class, and smoking in the bathroom. She had advisees who were beating up other kids in the hallway, stealing out of lockers, and the other way around. This was it.

“Arielle. I’m going to say as this as calmly as possible. If you respond correctly, I won’t fume. So please, listen. An 89 is not a bad grade. In fact, it is a good grade, a grade I’m sure many in the class envy. So I’m going to ask you to go back to gym.”

“But Ms. Moore, I need to talk!”

“Arielle! I deal with your pettiness day in and day out! You need to stop! Calm down, everything you are doing is fine. In fact, it’s more than fine; it is as close to perfect as possible. You are a perfectionist, even I can relate, but please, you are driving me insane! Go back to gym.”

Without a word, Arielle stormed out of the office. She couldn’t believe that the one staff member she could talk to in all the school wouldn’t help her with her problems. It was unfair and Arielle made a mental note to request a change in guidance counselors.
Chapter Two: A Panic Attack

Arielle’s mother waited in her car in the school parking lot for her daughter to arrive. As Arielle exited the school, Lori could already see the stress written all over her daughter’s face.

“Mom, today was just terrible.” Arielle sobbed into her mother’s shoulder.

“What happened? Your locker didn’t get broken into?!”

“No, Mom, even worse. I got a bad grade. I got an 89! A B+.”

Lori tried to calm herself down as to keep her daughter from exploding. “Well, honey, it’s not your best, but it will do. Did you ask your teacher why?”

“Yes, but it made no difference. He thinks it’s a good grade.”

“That’s preposterous! Don’t teachers know they need to give good students good grades to get into good colleges?”

“No! All they care about is ‘learning’, and the ‘experience.’”

“Nonsense! Once you have a career, then have your experience. Until then, prepare for it.”

“Mom, what do I do? Am I going to get into Columbia?”

“Let’s try not to think about it now. What’s done is done. Tonight you will read up, study up, and drill, drill, drill until you know everything about every subject. Let’s just hope those pesky kids who play football on our block won’t be that loud.”

Every night, a big group of people from Arielle’s grade gathered on her block of the community to throw around a football, boys and girls alike, except usually the girls just stood cheering from the sidelines. In some ways, Arielle felt bad that she wasn’t with them, out and having fun. But in the other ways, Arielle knew their grades weren’t as good as hers, so they wouldn’t get into a fancy college, so they wouldn’t get a job, so they wouldn’t have a good career. There, that’s settled.

But tonight, Arielle’s heart began pounding as her mom pulled into their driveway. The gang was out and playing earlier than usual, and Arielle realized something. She got an 89, B+, and probably, a lot of those kids got B+’s, too. So she wasn’t better then them. She wouldn’t succeed compared to them. When Arielle stepped out of the car and put her feet on the ground, she immediately fell onto the grassy portion of her front yard. Lori went over to fan her temporarily unconscious daughter, and got her some water. Unexpectedly, many of the football-playing kids came over to see what happened to Arielle.

When Arielle was awake and alert, the group of kids still didn’t leave. One girl, named Jenna, even talked to Arielle. Arielle probably hadn’t had a real conversation with a peer since middle school.

“Are you okay? You fell pretty hard.”

“Yea, thanks. I’m fine now, though.”

“You’re Arielle, right?”

“Yea.” Arielle was taken aback; someone in her grade knew her name?

“Hey, I’m Jenna. I think we have Chemistry together? I sit in the back, but I see you at the front table with your partner.”

“Oh, yea, Damien.”

“Yea! You guys actually seem to know what you’re doing! I’m so confused!”

Arielle laughed. “It’s pretty hard stuff, though. I could help you out, if you’d like.”

“Oh my gosh! That’d be totally awesome. My mom’s getting a little sick of the C’s. And, oh my god, this last test I didn’t even show my mom! I got a 67!”

Arielle breathed a sigh of relief. She met a peer who she liked, and already had plans to see her again. Even though she was just going to tutor her in a boring subject, Arielle was excited. She was going to get out of her room, away from her desk, and talk to someone else, maybe even get involved in the latest school gossip. Not to mention, Jenna was clearly not her college competition, so Arielle felt a weight lifted from her shoulders.

A couple days after the fainting incident, Jenna Nichols strolled by Arielle’s house around 5pm on a wintry Wednesday night. Recently, Jenna had been feeling a little lonely, ever since her best friend fell madly love and is now spending all of her time with her boyfriend. She felt bad, but Arielle’s unconsciousness was the perfect icebreaker to start a friendship, and not to mention raise her less than average grades.

Jenna wasn’t the type of girl to obsess about getting straight A’s, or even straight B’s for that matter. She was aiming small, planning to go to a community college in the area, and then a teaching school to become a kindergarten teacher just like the one she had growing up. But in the mean time, Jenna’s mom wanted her to boost up the C in Chemistry, so Arielle was the perfect solution.

Jenna had seen Arielle around. Obviously, the gang played football around her house almost everyday, but Arielle always seemed to rush into her house, without acknowledging a large group of the tenth grade was right outside her door.

Jenna was approaching Arielle’s house, when she thought of a great idea. She was having a small Sweet Sixteen next Friday at her house in the basement, and maybe this would integrate Arielle into the social scene. Maybe then, it would be safer to become friends with her, because now she was a bit of an outcast.

Arielle heard the doorbell ring, and thought it was her mom with the groceries and without the key. She yelled, “Coming,” and scurried to the door, still with textbook in hand.

“Hey!” Jenna warmly smiled.

“O, hi? Hi! I was expecting someone else.” Damn. Arielle knew that sounded awkward.

“Uh, sorry, I guess we can talk some other time then!” Jenna hesitated.

“I didn’t mean it that way! I meant to say I thought you would be my mom.” That definitely came out wrong. Damn. Awkward again.

“What?” Jenna was confused.

“Uhh, nevermind. What’s up?”

Jenna was happy to move on. “Yea, so I was wondering if we could set up a time to work on chem? I mean, there’s a test coming up and all.”

“Any time works for me. I’m always here.” Damn, Arielle thought, I made myself sound as loserish as I am.

“Ha-ha, well, how bout’ now? It’s chili night at my house, so I’m happy to skip that.”

“Come on in!” Arielle hadn’t said that to anyone her age in a while.

“Nice place.” Jenna walked about the townhouse, with its plain but functional white furniture. She noticed there were barely any pictures. Arielle’s room was just as impersonal, with a dark green plaid carpet, twin bed in the corner, and a giant bookshelf and laptop computer on a wooden desk. No pictures, posters, or anything that showed Arielle had interests.

After a while of balancing chemical equations, Jenna was bored of chemistry.

“Ugh! This is all so annoying. But you’re definitely making it a lot clearer for me.”

“No problem.”

“Thanks though, really! Maybe I’ll actually do better.”

“I think you will.” Arielle smiled proudly, but knew that that would never happen. Jenna was hopelessly confused.

“Aww, really? Hey, I’m having this little thing at my house for my birthday next Friday. You’re welcome to come.”

Whoa. Arielle’s heart flittered. Was she really being invited somewhere? A party? Did she even have clothes for that?

“O gosh, thanks. I’ll check with my mom—”

Jenna interrupted. “If you do tell your mom, just tell her it’s a quiet girl’s thing. My parents don’t know about it, so I don’t want to get busted.”

O lord. Arielle was not the type to go out unsupervised past 9’o clock. And she never lied to her mom.

“Well, I’ll see if I’m free. But I really want to go.” And that was the truth.

“Alright, awesome. I think people will start showing up around 9ish. I’m five doors down, number 67. Come over whenever you want.”

“Definitely.” Arielle’s heart flittered again. She was going to a party. Of course, her mom would not let her. But she’ll lie. She wanted to live her life instead living her life through books.

Arielle walked Jenna to her door. “Good luck on the test.”

“Thanks!” Jenna called from the street as she walked home.

Arielle shut the door behind her and her knees suddenly felt like mush. She balanced herself out and silently screamed a shrill of excitement. She rushed to her room to make up the time she’ll lose studying on Friday.
Chapter 3: Midterms, but how?

It was that time again—mid-December, the end of the semester, half way through the year, when midterms took place in every subject. One out of the many times out of the year where Lori drove Arielle particularly crazy. Not to mention, the stress Arielle put on herself.

But this week, Arielle was freaking out more than usual. The party on Friday night she was planning to attend (still no word to Mom) was the night before the week of midterms! How was she to study and earn her classic A? She felt she needed this A more than ever, considering the 89, B+ incident.

During the school day of Jenna’s party, Arielle’s notes were particularly in-depth and she was focusing extra hard. She got back a 100, A+ on a vocabulary quiz, which boosted her confidence, and gave her the energy she needed to study all through lunch alone in the library. When she got there, to her surprise, she found Jenna.


Jenna looked up, feeling slightly embarrassed that she was actually eating alone in the library. But she needed to study chemistry, it was next period, and she wanted to do well. Well, as well as she could.

“Arielle! Hi! Just studying chemistry. It’s next. You ready? Wait, that’s a stupid question. You were like, born ready.”

Arielle awkwardly laughed. “I just came here to get in some midterm studying.”

“Midterms? Aren’t those like, two weeks away?”

“Next week, actually.”

Jenna paused and thought. She remembered Mr. Bennett mentioning something about a test, and now realized he was talking about midterms. O well.

“Right, next week, right. You have time! And I’m sure you’re going to do perfect as usual.”

Arielle awkwardly laughed again. How did everyone know she was a school geek? She tried to change the subject.

“Excited for the big night tonight?”

Jenna’s face immediately brightened up. This was something she actually understood. “Yes! You’re coming, right?”

“Yep, I think. What should I wear?” Arielle immediately regretted her words. That must’ve sounded stupid, and it definitely gave away that she had never been to a party before.

“O, anything is fine. I’m wearing this mini dress with tights. It’ not gonna be dressy at all.”

Arielle realized this was one of those events where girls dressed, well, barely dressed. “Cute!”

“Oh my gosh, Arielle! I forgot to tell you! I think I’m going to set you up with this guy I know!” The guy, Nate, was part of the gang, and was heartbroken from his last breakup. He was a sensitive, artsy type, and Jenna thought Arielle would be perfect for him. Not to mention that he would help her out, too, and make her relax a little!

“What? Ha-ha, nooo. I’m good.” Arielle was barely handling going to a party on her block. She couldn’t meet a guy. As much as she was excited to go out, she was planning on standing in the corner drinking virgin lemonade and pretending to be enthralled with a piece of art on the wall.

“Don’t worry, silly! It’ll be fun! He’s really nice, really cute, and you guys will hit it off, I know it!”

“I don’t think I’m the person—”

“I hate to be rude, but I have to study now. My mom will kill me if I come home with anything less than an 80.”

“Sorry, yea, good luck!” Arielle’s mom was unhappy with anything less than a 92.

After school, Arielle slammed her door shut and studied until 7. She then took a shower and went to her mom’s room to tell her that she was going to a friend’s house for a quiet dinner and girls night.

“Mom? Can I come in?”

“Yes, sweetie. But why aren’t you studying?”

Arielle paused. She knew this couldn’t ever work.
“Mom, actually, I had something to tell you. I’m going to my friend’s house for this quiet dinner and girls night, right down our street at 9’o clock and I’ll be home as quick as I—”

“O?” Lori was at a loss for words. This was midterms week now, as far as she was concerned. Why was her daughter using the time for nonsensical activities now? Did she not care?

“Mom, I have all day tomorrow and Sunday to study. I won’t even take meal breaks! My friend asked me to come…”

“Which friend? And why are you telling me now?”

“You met her actually! The one who was so nice to me after I fainted? She told me this week, and I wasn’t planning to go, but at school she said she wanted me there.”

Lori recalled the girl, but it didn’t actually make a difference to her who it was. This was no time to slack off. “Arielle. I’m going to state my opinion, and I’m giving you the choice to either follow it or not. You’re old enough now to make these decisions yourself, but I thought I taught you well. I think that you need to stay home and study. Your grades are slipping and these midterms are what you need now, so I don’t know why you would waste this time. But it’s your choice.”

Arielle wanted to be the perfect daughter. She always had been, but now her mother was making her feel so guilty. But, if this is what it takes to be perfect.

“Okay, Mom. I’ll stay.” Arielle’s heart sank.

“That’s my girl!” Lori kissed her daughter on the cheek. “I’ll bring some soup to your room.”

Arielle walked out of her mother’s room, disappointed, distressed but relieved. She knew, too, that she had to get all perfect grades on the midterms, and her mother just showed that fact to her again. But she somehow wished that miraculously her mother would say there’d be enough time tomorrow to study and go have fun tonight.

“Nate, I’m sorry I made you wait up this long. She said she’d be here.” Jenna paced back and forth across her now destroyed living room. It was 3’o clock am, and she was still hoping Arielle would come. Not just to see Nate, but to wish her a happy birthday.

“It’s okay, I live 2 doors down.”

“Oh my gosh! That’s right, and Arielle lives 5 doors down from me, which is,” Jenna contemplated. “Three doors down from you! So maybe tomorrow we’ll all hang out. Like afternoonish I’m free.”

“Yea, just call me anytime.” Nate waved goodbye and walked out.

Jenna thought that Nate and Arielle actually would hit it off, but Jenna had a more self-promoting reason in mind. She thought Nate would boost Arielle’s social status, and make it less embarrassing when they became friends. Jenna wanted to transform Arielle into her new best friend, so her old one Chelsea, would be jelly (jealous, in Jenna terms).

Arielle woke up at 7, made herself some cereal, and immediately hit the books. From 7-2, without stopping, Arielle reviewed every subject, making sure not to skim or slack. Better to be prepared for any curveballs, she thought.

At around 2:30pm, Arielle’s doorbell rang. Her mom was home, so she didn’t have the slightest clue who it would be.

“Hey, thanks for coming last night! I really enjoyed having you!” Jenna sarcastically but jokingly said. She invited herself in, and sat down on the couch.

“I’m so sorry, Jenna. My mom would not let me.”

“Even when you told her it was a girls night?” Jenna was confused—how did this girl ever get out of the house?

Arielle nodded.

Jenna said what she was thinking. “But, Arielle, I’m confused. What do you usually do on Friday’s?”

There was the question, and Arielle couldn’t let her only friend know the truth. “On Friday’s, I…” Arielle blanked. What did other people do on Friday’s? She had always known they were a special day because everyone talked about them in such a loving manner, but to her, they were like every other day, a study day. “On Friday’s, usually, my mom and I take little trips. To like, D.C., Boston, different places.” Arielle felt satisfied with her answer.

“Every weekend? With your mom? Doesn’t that get boring?”

“No, it’s fun. But last night, my mom said I had to stay home because, um, I had a slight tummy virus.” Arielle felt genius.

“O? Are you okay now?”

“Yea, it was like, a 24 hour thing.”

“Okay, good. Cause we are going to the mall, and you’re going to finally meet Nate!”

Arielle’s stomach actually felt sick now. Her mom would definitely not let her out, but now that she had just lied, she couldn’t even go ask. And besides, Arielle knew this would be a huge waste of time. To meet a guy she didn’t want to meet, to shop and eat fast food—this was not what she needed to do right now.

“I mean, I’m okay, but it’s not great for me to go out right now.”

“Awwwww, are you serious? You look fine to me!”

“Yea, but I threw up and all. So it’s just not the best idea.”

Jenna’s eyes had a look of disappointment. Jenna somehow knew Arielle was lying, she just didn’t know what about. But she was starting to think that Arielle was a hopeless perfectionist.

“Okay, fine. Just promise me you’re for real.” Jenna knew that came out weird, like she was suspicious. But she needed to know if this was the truth, or if she should stop trying to make a new friend.

Arielle was taken aback by Jenna’s frankness. And she didn’t want to answer her either. What was she going to say? That she just lied a second ago, sorry? “Yea, I’m for real. By that I think you mean not lying, right?” Arielle did her awkward laugh.

“K’, good.” Jenna walked out, much less excited then she walked in.

Jenna called Nate on her walk home to tell him that it would only be her accompanying him at the mall. She was upset, and tried to hold the tears back while her mom drove her to the mall. She couldn’t believe Arielle wouldn’t come, that she would waste an entire day studying instead of going to meet a guy and be with her friend. This was not a language Jenna spoke.

Around 6’o clock, Lori called her daughter out of her room for dinner. Arielle moped down the stairs in her robe and slippers.

“What’s wrong, honey?”

Arielle couldn’t even think straight anymore. Her eyes hurt from reading all day and her brain felt more confused than when she first started. She knew she definitely did not know anything more than she did this morning, or last night, and she should have gone against her mother’s advice and went with Jenna. She knew she probably made Jenna feel uncomfortable, but she was hoping she didn’t lose a friend.

“Mom, we need to talk.”

Lori nodded curiously.

“I need a change in my life.”

Lori laughed as if Arielle was kidding, but when Arielle didn’t budge, she stopped.

“Mom, I need to have a more balanced life, full of work and play, instead of just work.”

“Honey, work will make you get to play. You just need time.”

“No! This is not how everyone else lives their lives, Mom. Wasting beautiful days in doors, not speaking to anyone, not seeing movies or shopping or going to the park. They have all of those things because people do them, Mom. Then work. Or vice versa. Whatever. I just need both.”

Lori didn’t know what to say. She knew her teenage years were filled with more adventure then her daughter’s, but she was only cracking down on Arielle so her life could be different. Lori was not such a great student, and didn’t even go to college. She wanted things to be different for Arielle, and knew she was a bright girl whose future could be besmirched with distractions.

“Maybe I’ve been working you too hard. Maybe some balance would actually help you with school. Make you happier.”

Arielle did a double take—was her mom actually saying this? Or is this what she wants to hear?

“Really, Mom?”

“I remember me as a teenager. O, we were so different. It’s Saturday night. Why don’t you call that girl, Jenna? You’ve done enough.” Lori slowly but surely came to the right conclusion. She couldn’t grasp onto her daughter forever.

Arielle kissed her mom on the cheek and called Jenna right away.


“Arielle? Hey, I can’t really hear you. I’m at my friend’s house. What’s up?”

Arielle should have figured; of course Jenna would be out with other people. It was Saturday at 7. The night was just beginning. But Arielle was determined to put on her only party-like clothes and step outside.

“Who’s house? My mom’s letting me go out now.” Arielle could not believe her own boldness.

Jenna didn’t know how to say it to Arielle, but her friend would not want her at her party. Even she was barely let pass the front door. “Sorry, Arielle. It’s like, an invitation kind of party.” Jenna knew her white lie was for the best.

Arielle’s blood went cold. She wanted to be out so bad. “Really? A Sweet 16?”

Jenna lied again. “Yea.”

“Maybe afterwards?”

“I think it’ll an all-nighter kind of party.”

After the two said their goodbyes, Arielle went back to her mom and cried on her shoulder.
Chapter 4: Winter Vacation

Midterms were over. Arielle studied out her brains, and she thinks she did pretty well. But now Arielle was looking forward to the week off, with only a few chapters of reading. She wanted to call Jenna and make plans right away.

“It’s Saturday and it’s winter break!” Jenna and her little brother danced around the room. They had just woken up at 11, and couldn’t wait to start doing more nothingness all week long.

The past few weeks leading up to midterms, Jenna’s friend broke up with her boyfriend. She was devastated, and came crawling back to Jenna for moral support. So recently Jenna had forgotten that she had even tried to initiate a friendship with Arielle. In fact, it made her cringe that she was so nice to a loser.

Jenna suddenly heard Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music”, and knew her cell phone was ringing. Who would be calling her this early?


Jenna still had a bit of morning fog and couldn’t make out the voice. “Hello? Who is this?”

Arielle’s excitement went down ever so slightly. “It’s me! Arielle! I thought we should make up for lost time, with midterms and all. Are you free at all this break?”

Jenna didn’t know what she could say. She already made plans with Chelsea for basically every day, and actually wanted to take some alone time to watch all the shows she recorded on TIVO.

“Uhhh, actually, I think I’m pretty much all booked.” Jenna knew that sounded cold. But couldn’t lead on Arielle that she wanted to see her. She couldn’t believe she actually invited her to her party. Thank god she didn’t come!

Arielle was heartbroken. She was looking forward to a week of being normal, doing what everyone else does, like go to the mall, the movies, the park, chill out. And she didn’t have anyone else to do it with but Jenna.

“O. Well if you have an opening, let me know.” Arielle slowly hung up her phone and looked at the calendar hanging by her desk. A week off and no one to see—what was she going to do? She was going to go insane.

“Honey! It’s winter break. Maybe you and that girl Jenna can finally have plans.” Lori was now in full support of Arielle’s social life. She now wanted Arielle to be a happier teenager, as well as do extra-well in school.

“Mom, it’s over.”

“What is?”

“I called Jenna. She doesn’t want to see me.”

Lori didn’t know what to say. She could tell her daughter had been looking forward to this week and now her hopes were shattered.

“Don’t worry about it! We’re going to have a fantastic week together, then. Not to mention, Christmas at Grandma’s!”

Arielle looked up, a little happier then before. Maybe some time with her mom would do her some good.

“What can we do?”

Lori and Arielle were eating pizza at the mall’s food court. They had spent the morning shopping. Arielle got tons of ‘cooler’ clothes, got a trendy haircut of bold bangs and a more chocolate brown color, a manicure and pedicure, so the food-fuel was much needed.

“Wow! Looks like someone’s going to have to baby-sit to earn that money back. We spent a lot.” But Lori was happy, too. Her daughter looked great and they hadn’t talked about things other than schoolwork in a long time.

All of a sudden, Arielle wanted to hide in her newly beautiful hair. She saw Jenna and her friend walking toward the food court. Being seen with her mom—a recipe for an un-cool disaster.

Jenna approached the healthy salad stand in the food court with Chelsea and they both turned around to find a table in the crowded mall. Jenna spotted a girl who resembled Arielle, but with True Religion jeans, an awesome peasant top, and a haircut that totally suited her face. Forgetting her resentment toward Arielle, Jenna rushed to say hello.

“Arielle! Hey! Wow, you look great.”

Whoa, Arielle thought. Jenna came up to me and complimented me, without even acknowledging my loser status.


“O sorry, this is my friend, Chelsea.” Chelsea tiredly waved, wanting to put down her heavy tray of greens.

“Well, see you around.”

“Wait, Arielle, maybe do you want to come shopping with us after you’re done.”

Arielle could not believe her ears. Why had Jenna radically changed since just this morning? If it was because of her new look, Arielle was not interested in a superficial friendship. But Lori looked ecstatic that her advice of haircut worked. Her daughter was going to be happier.

“Yes, I was just going to tell Arielle I have to leave. But she can stay.”

Arielle’s mental message to her mom obviously didn’t go through.

“Great! Wanna come sit with us?” Jenna said excitedly. Chelsea was already moving away towards an empty table close by.


“Go ahead.” Lori pushed her.

So Arielle spent the rest of the day at the mall with Jenna and Chelsea. Truly, nothing momentous occurred. They tried on clothes, but didn’t really buy anything. They stopped for some Starbucks frappucinos, and walked through the makeup department at Bloomie’s. Jenna was…nice. Chelsea didn’t say all that much. It was truly…boring.

Arielle got home on that Saturday around 6 pm. She did some homework, of course, and snuggled up with herself watching some trash TV. It was exactly where she wanted to be.

The rest of winter vacation was pretty much filled with watching old movies, reading good books, and drinking hot chocolate on the hour every hour. Arielle didn’t mind anymore now though.

Arielle and her mom were each reading a different but equally interesting book by the wood burning fire in the living room. Arielle was reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the fifth time, and Lori was reading Lord of the Flies, the book Arielle’s English class had just finished. All of a sudden, a loud, obnoxious beeping noise interrupted the peace. Arielle reluctantly got out of her comfortable spot on the leather recliner to answer her phone.

“Hello?” Arielle answered the cell in a hoarse voice.

“Arielle? Hi, it’s Jenna. I’m with Chelsea. Say hi Chelsea…”

Arielle heard a faint “hi” from the background.

“We wanted to know if you were free later. We’re going to the movies to see Baby Mama. It should be hilarious and pointless.” Jenna felt horrible that she had been so mean to Jenna at the start of break. But now that it was almost over, she wanted to end first semester on good terms. She couldn’t believe that she had been mean when she really liked Arielle. Why should being friends again with Chelsea stand in the way? And why should Arielle’s social status matter? Jenna felt like she was in the movie Mean Girls.

Arielle’s mom was watching her daughter with interest. Arielle walked out of the room to get some privacy. She didn’t know what to do. She truly was enjoying the down time at home. But she didn’t want to push away the only girl who ever took interest in her.

“Yea, I’m free. What time do you want to meet?” Arielle couldn’t believe her words.

“Do you want to come here now? My mom can drive you, too.”

Before replying “yes”, Arielle okayed the plans with Lori, who was ecstatic that Arielle had plans.

The movie was funny and stupid, but Arielle and Jenna had a great time. Chelsea wasn’t crazy about being the third wheel. Ever since Jenna started hanging out with Arielle, it seemed to her that she was being bumped down on Jenna’s friendship list.

Arielle and Jenna had spent the night laughing at the ridiculousness of the movie, sharing popcorn and skittles, and having an amazing night. But Arielle couldn’t help think about school. Break was over and she needed to focus. She couldn’t imagine hanging out like this every weekend. How did others? She couldn’t sacrifice her grades.
Chapter 5: Second Semester

Arielle felt bad, but she kept ignoring Jenna’s invites to hang out. School was back and harder than ever, so Arielle needed to focus.

Jenna was confused. She was reaching out to Arielle, the misfit, and now Arielle was ignoring or reject her? Jenna reached her limit. At school the next day, Jenna made a trip by Arielle’s locker.

“Hey Arielle. Called you last night. Got my message?”

“Didn’t have time.” Arielle knew she was being cold. But she didn’t. Things were back to normal at the Berman household. Work, work, work.

“O.” Jenna looked at her colored-on converse.

“Sorry. Things…have been hectic.”

“Life is like that sometimes. But I need to talk to you.”

Arielle looked at her watch. There was 4 minutes until chemistry. Being late was pointless; it’s like purposely hurting your grades and relationship with the teacher. “Okay, we have chemistry. So make it quick.” O lord, that sounded harsh.

Now Jenna was infuriated. “What is your problem? I invite you here, ask you to come with me there. I’m giving you the opportunity to look back at high school and say “Those were the days.” But you refuse. All you care about is schoolwork. Guess what? There’s more to life than that. Being perfect is all you care about! God! You’re just a miserable person, a miserable perfectionist.”

Arielle felt the blood rush to her cheeks and tears to her eyes. It was now 2 minutes to chemistry and she was running down the long hallway in her uncomfortable ballet flats.

“Ms. Berman. A minute late. Unusual.” Mr. Brown nodded disappointedly in Arielle’s direction.

“Sorry, uh…the bathroom was really crowded—”

“I don’t need excuses. Just take a seat. It seems the only one missing now is Ms. Nichols.”

Jenna rushed into the doorway clumsily, with her heavy bag almost falling off her arm. Her face was bright red and her eyes were puffy.

“Nice of you to join us. Sit quickly. We are just about to start.”

Jenna walked to the back of the room without trying to make excuses.

After class, Jenna and Arielle didn’t say a word to each other. Things stayed like that for basically the rest of the year. Arielle was back in her routine. Jenna told the gang that she had found a better place to play around, so she wouldn’t ever run into Arielle in front of her house.

At report card time, Arielle always was particularly on edge. She had just received the envelope. She waited for her mom to get home so she could open it, and judge from her reaction what the verdict was.

“It’s time, Mom!” Arielle impatiently handed Lori the big, yellow envelope.

Lori delicately opened the sacred report. She flipped through the 6 pages with all the subjects.

Lori smiled. “A in English.”

“A+ in Spanish.”

“A in History.”

“A in Chemistry.”

“A+ in Math.”

Lori’s happy face turned angry in a flash. “A B+ in Physical Education. How is this possible? How does on not ace gym?”

Arielle cringed. She had skipped gym for the guidance counselor apparently more times than she meant to. “I might have…missed a couple classes for sessions with Ms. Moore. Or, I might have been…unprepared, shoes wise.”

“Hopefully, gym grades aren’t what colleges are looking for.” Lori immediately cheered herself up.

“Right. Wait, there’s one more page.”

The last page was a note from the guidance counselor.

“Hmm, what is this?”

It read:

Dear Mrs. Berman and Arielle,

Congratulations on these stunningly beautiful grades. You should be very proud.

Ms. Berman, I just wanted you to be aware of how intensely hard your daughter works herself. Sometimes, I worry about her and if she is taking academia a little too seriously. Remember, high school is just as much about joining teams/clubs and exploring interests as it is about grades.

In her two years here, Arielle had not joined a single club, team, or participate in the drama department or done any community service. This is highly unusual and concerns me. I do not want to see Arielle’s chances of getting into college hurt by her lack of extra-curricular.

I hope Arielle is using this summer wisely, by doing some volunteer work or getting a job, so there is so surplus information to add to the college applications.

Sincerely, Ms. Moore

Lori dropped the envelope with a thud. Arielle’s mouth hung open.

“Maybe being perfect in one area is worse than being good in a lot of places.”

Join the Discussion

This article has 13 comments. Post your own now!

LauraReadsYay said...
Jan. 10, 2009 at 3:15 pm
The really long comment about how this piece needs grammer-help is so ridiculous. Reading that comment is like reading a ten-year old--that person's grammer is off!!!! This story is perfectly written, Jackie.
twilightony said...
Aug. 30, 2008 at 5:54 am
A lot of the comments on this piece of writing are very positive, which is good, but they fail to address things that could be improved; that's important when someone wants to be a writer. First, it is much too rushed, and therefore seems a bit awkward. I will admit the situation and plot is interesting, but it isn't presented in a manner that is very stylistic. There are a few grammar problems, and the whole thing seemed a bit too scattered. But writing is very hard, so keep practicing and, if ... (more »)
NoraBora said...
Aug. 31, 2008 at 1:37 pm
miawrites said...
Aug. 27, 2008 at 3:05 pm
I think you did a really good job, few mechanical errors and awkward sentences and captured pretty well the thoughts and whims of a misunderstood age. However, I thought the end could have had more emotion. But all around, good job!
MelissaGlass said...
Aug. 21, 2008 at 12:00 pm
I think I discovered my new favorite author! Great job, Jackie K.!
HayGirl222 said...
Aug. 19, 2008 at 2:34 am
Sooooooo goooooooood! Love this one. Put it in the mag! It's actually a real book.
Cutler320 said...
Aug. 13, 2008 at 8:15 pm
Wow! I could like, walk in to Barnes and Noble and find so many books that I wouldn't enjoy as much as this.
tbarach said...
Aug. 12, 2008 at 2:42 pm
This story is really moving, and conveys beautifully the essence of high school drama.
poodi said...
Aug. 11, 2008 at 1:28 am
I thought this article was well written and kept the attention of the reader throughout. It was very believable, I can see people I knew at that age go thru the same thing. Great story.
Morillo500 said...
Aug. 10, 2008 at 10:09 pm
I just finished tenth grade, and I could so relate to this character. I loved this book and want to read it over and over again! It's the one story I know that shows all of the dimensions of high school. Good work, Jackie!
KramerKool said...
Aug. 9, 2008 at 9:56 pm
This was such an enjoyable read. This is really be a real book in publication right now. And I would buy it!
BernBear344 said...
Aug. 9, 2008 at 5:45 pm
I was just in tenth grade, and this story reminds me of this girl I know EXACTLY. This girl really captured the essence of pressures of high school PERFECTLY. I'm recommending this to all of my friends!
JJ2323 said...
Aug. 7, 2008 at 10:29 pm
Oh my god. I have never read such a touching, beautiful, and eloquently written story before. It is absolutely magnificent. It totally is a realistic person and I feel for the main character. This deserves more than any piece to be in the magazine in print. Maybe as the featured article.
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