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Just An Act

“And, our second ranking student of the year . . .” Mrs. Anderson announced in her entirely too perky voice, “Claire Barnett!”

I mentally rolled my eyes at the fake, cheerfulness of Mrs. Anderson, the insincere plastic smile plastered to her face. I could see through her mask, could see the real her hidden underneath, and judging by the way her eyes looked tired, exasperated, I could tell that she was wishing that she was anywhere but here. I hated how false she looked up there, putting on her happy, “I love everything!” face just for show, but I knew that I was just like her in that way. Living life under a shield, a veil covering the true me, never to be removed.

“Congratulations Claire!” she exclaimed, clapping robotically, her smile so huge it looked on the verge of cracking her face.

Claire Barnett skipped up to the podium in the center of the auditorium, a superior grin on her face, taking the trophy from Mrs. Anderson with a knowing smirk. As she bounced off the stage, she waved to the crowd as if she was some movie star, as if she were the smartest person in the world.

Yeah, right.

She’d gotten second place. Which meant that she was second best.

“And now, drum roll please,” Mrs. Anderson exclaimed, banging her hands on the podium in front of her, “For our number one ranking student of the year . . .”
This was it. She had to call my name. She had to.

My hands shook with nerve-wracking anticipation, knowing that I had to be number one. I had too many people to disappoint, too many people to let down, and I just wasn’t strong enough handle the weight of losing.

“Congratulations to . . . Miss Reeba Francisco!”

That heavy, unbearable weight was lifted off me, and I couldn’t wipe the huge grin off of my face. As I maneuvered my way through the bleachers, my back erect and my hands at my sides respectively, I caught a glimpse at Kenna out of the corner of my eye. I couldn’t help but feel superior to her as she looked back and forth from me, to Mrs. Anderson incredulously, and then scurried toward the exit of the auditorium, with a hand over her mouth as if she may get sick any second.

Ha, I win.

I stepped up onto the stage, absorbing the loud applause, the feeling of acceptance overflowing me, the feeling of perfection coursing through me.

Because that’s what I was – what I had to be.

Perfect.

I smiled at the crowd graciously and shook Mrs. Anderson’s hand, thanking her.

“Would you like to make a speech?” she asked, smiling at me warmly.

No. Please no. I hate crowds.

“Yes,” I said, because this is what the perfect girl would do, “You know I can’t resist an opportunity to share my intellectual mind with a crowd.”

I grinned at her sweetly as she handed over the microphone, making sure to thank her again, because that’s what I had to do.

I peered out into the audience, everybody sitting there with expectant faces, waiting for me to say something brilliant, something unforgettable. I took a deep breath, trying to calm my jumping nerves, the microphone almost slipping from my sweaty palms.

“Hello, fellow students of 2012!” I cheered, making sure to project my voice, but not shout, in fear of riling the crowd up. I couldn’t be responsible for a gym full of cheering animals, banging their feet against the bleachers, acting anything but civilized.

“I thank everyone for this amazing opportunity! I thank my mother, my fellow peers, and teachers like Mrs. Anderson, who’ve helped me in the best way possible. I’ve worked so hard to get here, and me, standing right here, proves that dreams do come true!”

With that, I gave a little bow, and one more, “Thank you,” making sure to keep my speech simple and sweet, not wanting to bore the crowd, and have people get sick of me.
“Thank you, Reeba,” Mrs. Anderson beamed, as I passed the microphone back to her, and she handed me the trophy.
“Of course,” I smiled at her once last time, before turning around and walking off of the stage, down the stairs.
“Isn’t she a delight?” Mrs. Anderson laughed into the microphone, and I took in the reaction of the other teachers – the way they nodded in agreement, looking wistful. I beamed as I moved through the sea of students, making sure to say excuse me, as I found my way back to my seat.

“I thank everyone for coming today!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands. “I thank the parents for taking time out of their busy schedules to come join us. And I thank the students, too, for supporting you’re fellow students and coming to this celebratory engagement!”
“We didn’t have a choice!” yelled a student from the bleachers, earning disapproving glares from teachers, and agreeable laughs from the students.
“I didn’t ask for comments from the peanut gallery,” Mrs. Anderson warned, glaring at the bleachers filled with snickering students.
“Again, thank you everyone for coming today! And have a wonderful night!”
The gym erupted in cheers and hollers, probably because it was over, and I clapped loudly, but not too loud, as that would be irrespective. Mrs. Anderson took a bow, and smiled at the crowd, her plastic mask in place, as always.
As I filed out of the gym, following in the footsteps of those before me, I quietly smiled to myself, so happy I won. One step closer to perfection.
“Reeba!”
I spun around, wondering who could possibly be calling my name.
“Reeba!” I heard again. I searched the crowd, feeling hope building up inside of me, thinking that maybe my mom had decided to show up after all.
But I knew that I was way off as a woman with short brown hair framing her chubby face scurried toward me at an awfully fast pace for someone who looked pretty over-weight.
“Hi!” she exclaimed, sticking her hand out, smiling at me.
I shook her hand firmly, and grinned warmly back at her.
And who are you again?
“Hi,” I echoed sweetly, pretending not to be confused at all.
“Hi,” she said again, “I’m Domonica,” she explained, grinning up at me as if I was a dream.
“It’s such a pleasure to meet you,” she exclaimed, shaking her head as if she couldn’t believe she was standing in front of me.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, too,” I laughed, giving her my innocent smile.
I still don’t know who you are.
“I’m head of the Princeton Program,” she told me, and my whole body stiffened at just the name.
Princeton.
My posture was straighter than ever, and I prayed to God that my hair was still slicked back in the neat, low pony tail I had styled it in this morning.
“Surely you have heard of us, we have very high praise,” she laughed, her hands waving in the air, flailing all over the place. I nodded, because that’s what I knew she expected me to do, even though I’d never heard of the program before.
“Of course I have,” I laughed, as if it were obvious, “I love you’re programs.””
“That’s good,” she pondered, grinning, “Great, actually, because we would be just delighted to have you attend.”
My whole face lit up, but then I remembered – stay calm. No one likes a bragger – and I tried to get a somewhat normal expression back on my face.
It didn’t work. Not at all.
The happy, giddy grin was still taking up my whole face, and it was all I could do not to squeal and jump up and down like a little girl who’d just discovered she was a princess.
“Wow,” I said, clearing my throat, still trying to get my emotions in check, “I’m honored.”
She smiled at me, “Oh, we should be the honored ones, if you choose to attend one of our programs.”
“Thank you,” I grinned, “You have no idea how much this means to me.”

Domonica nodded, and looked over my shoulder, “Where are your guardian’s, if I may ask?”

“Oh,” I laughed nervously, even though it wasn’t all that funny, “My mother actually couldn’t make it tonight,” I said, nodding, “She has a lot of paper work and what not.”

“Ah, I know that goes,” Domonica nodded understandingly, chuckling quietly, “Well, it is a shame she didn’t get to see this wonder, beautiful young woman up on the stage,” she smiled warmly, “Hopefully she’ll make it to the next one,” she said, somewhat jokingly. But I knew she wouldn’t ‘make it to the next one’. She’s never made it to one before, why would she start know?

But all I said was, “I sure hope so – it is very unfortunate she won’t be able to get a chance to meet you tonight.”

“Oh!” Domonica laughed, waving her hand in the air as if it was no big deal, “We’ll have to schedule a meeting sometime soon. Just call my card,” she told me, plucking out a business card that seemed to manifest out of thin air, “anytime. I have a tight schedule, but for you, Reeba, I think I can find some time.”

“Why, thank you, Mrs. Mayville,” I said, shaking her hand one last time to show her respect.

“My pleasure,” she grinned, holding my hand firmly.

“It’s been great talking to you – I’ll be sure to call you – but I’ve got to go; I have a very important test tomorrow, and I need to start studying tonight,” I told her, smiling again.

“Oh, of course,” she said breezily, “It doesn’t surprise me, considering how much you value you education. It is just lovely,” she proclaimed.

“Thank you so much,” I said, beginning to back away, “We should definitely schedule an appointment!” I exclaimed, waving to her. As I walked away, I wasn’t sure if it was just me or if she was really watching me, but I felt eyes burn holes into my back. I kept my posture straight, and my strides dainty, but not hesitant so if she was watching, she would take note that I didn’t take too big steps – or plunge into things before I thought them through – but that I also didn’t hesitate to stand it for what I believe in. I was some were in the middle – carefully analyzing things before stating them, making sure that they had facts to prove them true, that way, I’d never, ever be wrong.
Well, at least, that’s how it looked on the outside.



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