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Brace yourself, Connor.

I slipped into one of the desks in the back of the room. Through the big window to my left, I could the seniors, Camille included, in the courtyard, laughing and talking. Camille threw a daisy at her boyfriend Andrew’s head, grinned, and ran away. She hadn’t bothered to put on shoes for her free period, her scuffed black Doc Martens sat unattended to at the base of the oak tree. She hadn’t bothered to obey the dress code, either, and was prancing around in a flouncy beige and pink sundress with spaghetti straps. Her exterior, as usual, was flawless—perfect hair, arranged two sloppy braids with just enough uneven layers to make them look completely thrown together, perfect make-up, just enough to make her look like a Neutrogena model, perfect outfit.

The other freshmen in the classroom obviously already knew each other. They were laughing nervously and staring out at the seniors enviously, wishing to be as carefree as the legendary Camille McCall. Paper airplanes loop-de-looped through the air as a war ensued between two boys in the second row. A few girls watched nervously, like the planes would somehow ruin their carefully-chosen First Day outfits. Three girls in the front row were discussing Camille loudly.

“She’s been dating Andrew for, like, years.” The one in the pink and green argyle sweater announced, twirling the end of one of her bouncy blonde curls around her index finger.

“Is she a cheerleader?” The one in the blue turtleneck asked curiously, peering through the window at Camille like a tourist at a zoo. Blue Turtleneck was new in town. She had moved down a few blocks up from us at the beginning of July. Her name was Chelsea.

The third, in a pink and white striped button down, snorted. “As if.” Blue Turtleneck cocked her head expectantly. Stripes leaned in closer, like she was betraying some big secret. I knew what was coming. “She’s a total, like, anti-conformist. She was the one who painted the Save the Whales mural on the gym wall. She wouldn’t be caught dead in a cheerleading uniform.” Argyle Sweater nodded enthusiastically. I studied their matching blonde curls. Nicky and Vicky, the Icky twins. Of course they would be in my class, luring in innocent freshmen from Lake Winnipesauke.

The teacher finally waltzed in, a good six minutes late, oozing with a “Holier than thou” attitude. I already didn’t like him. He clapped once and the room snapped to attention. The three girls straightened in their seat and tittered as he crossed the front of the room. “Hello, everyone.”

“Hi, Mr. Carlton!” Nicky and Vicky chorused, and then tittered again when they realized that no one was chorusing along with them. Mr. Carlton graced them with a smile and then grabbed a black Expo marker from his desk and wrote his name on the board, then underneath it wrote SOCIAL STUDIES I. He pulled a stool out from underneath his desk and sat down.

“How about we start with some role call?”

Here it comes.

The class nodded. Mr. Carlton opened a manila folder and started to read. I squeezed my eyes shut and waited through all the Jessicas and Lucys, counting down until he reached the Ms.

“McCall, Connor?” All three girls in the front row gasped and turned around. Nicky looked particularly excited to be in the same room as—

“Camille McCall’s brother?” Vicky blurted, looking over at the huddle of teenage boys in the far right corner of the room. The boys themselves were barely paying attention until eight pairs of teenage girls’ eyes were on them. Now Mr. Carlton looked up. I realized, too late, that it had happened again. I was going to be remembered as Camille McCall’s brother. Five minutes into first period, and I was ruined.

I swallowed. “Here,” I muttered. Another collective gasp from the front row. Even the boys looked over. I raised an arm cautiously.

“But you’re a girl!” Nicky cried.

Mr. Carlton clapped again. The class fell quiet. Vicky stared at me, her mouth hanging open. I looked into my lap and tried desperately to telepathically communicate to Camille that she had to save me, now. Mr. Carlton continued role as if nothing had happened, but I wasn’t listening.
Why did my parents insist on naming me Connor? Why not Suzy or Isabelle? Why leave me with this stupid name, like they didn’t even care about me, just wanted to call someone Connor. I was the afterthought, after their little pink bundle that was Camille. “Surprise me,” Mom would have told the doctor, a smile broad across her face, a hand on her swollen abdomen. A hand on me. Dad would have lovingly held her hand when the doctor examined me, checked my heart beat, asked her questions. A few days later, Mom would be reading her Baby Names book and there it would be. Connor. And she would cry, partly from her hormones and partly from her love for me, the unborn, Connor. She would whisper to me, repeat the name over and over. Then she would call Dad at work, “And it can be a boy or a girl’s name! It’s perfect!” And Dad would just nod along, happy that she was happy. And Camille, at four, would tell Mom that no, Connor wasn’t a good name, that I should be named Princess Jasmine or maybe Cinderella, and Mom would just ruffle her hair.
Sometimes I hated her. Sometimes I loathed her. I hated my name, and Mom had given it to me. It had been the biggest part of me, my label, and that part of me was Mom. When I was ten, I decided that I would change my name when I was eighteen, mostly because I knew that my parents would never let me change it. I stole Mom’s Baby Names book and found the dog-eared page, took a bottle of White Out, and painted over Connor. Then I hid it under my bed, and every night would circle names that I liked. Alison, Ashley, Brittany, Bethany, Delilah, Gina, Hilary, Jamie, Kaitlin, Maddie, Natalie, Olivia, Rachel, Sarah, Vivian, Whitney, Zoey. And now, changing my name would never be okay. The only piece of Mom I had left, the only tiny reminder that she was my Mom, she had been there, she had named me. Now Dad never called me Con or Nora. If he even spoke to me, he would call me Connor, or even Connor Jane, if he was mad.
I watched Camille dance around the grass, unaware of how many eyes were glued to her as she shook her hips to the music blasting from the stereo at her feet. The Beatles. Andrew was laughing from his place on the ground. No one could see the cracks, the fissures beneath the surface that threaten to destroy the very foundation on which they stood.
I felt tears sting my eyes and anger gripped me, making me clench my jar tightly. I looked at the other freshmen, the Icky twins, the boys. A few still stared at me. They looked at my hair, my could-care-less expression, my clothes, and none of it matched up. Camille, the celebrity, and me, the overweight little sister. They were so perfect, with their designer blouses. I could feel them judging, like anyone cared about their opinion. Like they knew anything in the first place. I didn’t want to be here, I wanted to be home, in bed, crying. But here I was, and they thought they knew me—a loser, at best, shadowed by Camille. I was sick of it.

For someone so far from perfect, no one could hide it as well as Camille did. I stared, feeling eyes on me like I was the circus act. The period crawled along like every First Day did. When the bell finally rang, Camille and Andrew and their friends had disappeared, off to go do something even more exciting. I was the first one out of the classroom.

“Camille! Hey, Camille!” I shouted, racing after my sister’s retreating back. Her hand was wrapped around Andrew’s, gripping like she would never let go. “Camille!” Finally she turned around, a snarl curled around her lips. She recognized me quickly and a smile flickered across her face.

“Connor! Oh my God, Con, you’ll never guess who…” Camille trailed off when she met my eyes. Andrew gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and walked away, chasing after the rest of the basketball team. “Con, what happened?” She ran toward me and wrapped her arms around me.

“I hate it here,” I said into her shoulder, which muffled my words. Camille shook her head and looked me in the eyes.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re going to love it here, Con. Give it a chance.”
“I want to go home. I hate it here.”

“Con!” Camille cried. “You can’t mean that, can you? Honey.” She brushed a tear from my cheekbone gently and dropped her hands to her side.

“What? Just because you’re happy here doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten!”

“Connor, what are you saying?” Camille said, her voice lowering.

I shook my head at her. “You know what I’m saying. You know. You can forget about your problems, and be perfect, but I can’t.”

Camille grabbed my hand, like she had held Andrew’s. Her expression wasn’t of anger, but of pity. Pity for me. For her baby sister. For the sister who never amounted to anything. “Oh, Con. I know it’s hard for you. But it gets better, I swear.”

“Don’t try to reason with me!” I shouted, barely aware of how loud my voice was. “Stop! Just stop!” Now I pushed her away, and I recognized the unmistakable flash of anger and hurt on her face. It was too familiar, and now I realized. I backed away, in disbelief of what I’d done. To my own sister. How could I be so stupid? “Cam, I’m sorry, I didn’t—“

“Connor. Give it up.” Camille said coldly. She shook her head and glared at me, like I was responsible for everything. “Just give it up.”

And so she turned. She turned and walked, alone, her head held high. She had walked like that all of last year, every morning, while I stayed in bed, crying, miserable. Pathetic. At Mom’s funeral, when she strode to the front, speech in hand, without a tear or a sob. And now, she walked away from me, and my stomach sank into my knees. “Cam! Cam, stop! Please! I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry!”

But she was gone. I stayed.





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