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Sticks and Stones

Celeste fought a disconcerting wave of emotion. Her head had begun to throb, her stomach twisted, and anxiety extinguished all other thought. She was deeply aware that high school could be a cruel place, and that not everyone acted with good intentions, but this was crossing the line. Having stopped in the bathroom before first period, Celeste had spotted her best friend, Jenna’s name on the back of the gray stall door, followed by an extremely rude word. She knew this hadn’t been there yesterday morning, and hoped desperately that Jenna hadn’t yet seen it.

Celeste glowered darkly at the offending word. It was written in a spiky, wild scrawl, and seemed to leer at her with immense satisfaction. It was a word that she never would have uttered in public, a word that would make her parents wince, a word that stung like a slap. Celeste had deep disgust for anyone who would waste their time writing rude words on bathroom stalls—it smacked of impertinence—but especially not about her dearest friend in the entire world. Crouching to her knees, she peered suspiciously from beneath her stall door, making certain that no one occupied the bathroom with her.

The coast was clear. Celeste hurriedly unlocked her door and sped over to the row of chipped sinks. Snatching a rough paper towel, she held it under the stream of cold water gushing from the faucet, soaking the towel in seconds. She paused as a group of chattering students in the corridor passed by; fortunately, none of them interrupted her work. In three steps, she was back inside the cramped stall, ready to attack the nasty insult with water and soap. Celeste set her jaw in an angry line and began to scrub, not minding the fact that water dripped down her jeans and into her shoes. As she worked, she prayed that Jenna would come nowhere near this spot, not until the black marker had vanished from existence. No wonder they call it, ‘permanent marker,’ she thought, with mingled admiration and disgust. It seemed that no amount of scrubbing would remove the repulsive word. Stopping to rub her sore arm, Celeste puffed her cheeks and tossed her paper towel despairingly into the toilet bowl. Maybe she could sneak a bit of masking tape from the art room to cover the spot. Or perhaps she should simply tell Jenna the truth. Coming from a friend, she hoped the news would hurt significantly less.
Fate decided for her.
“Celeste? Are you in there?” There was no mistaking Jenna’s inquiry.
“Yes, but I’m almost done.” Celeste wrinkled her nose at the stupidity of her own remark. “I’m not expecting you to wait for me, or anything.”
From the opposite side of the stall door, Jenna laughed. “Of course, Celeste. I wouldn’t want to intrude on your privacy.” She giggled again. “Okay, then, I’ll see you in a few. Don’t be late!”
Celeste listened for the swish of the closing door. In the silence, she squeezed her eyes shut tight, nauseated by the pervasive scent of ink.





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