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I woke up to the sound of my family singing ‘happy birthday’. Dad was bellowing out the words, mum beside him warbling shakily and my little sister Mimi screeching. After the pleasure of hearing my parents and insane excuse for a sister sing to me again, Mimi leaped on top of me and as I had absolutely no air whatsoever, I wondered for a while if I’d ever reach my 13th birthday if she would carry on depriving me of oxygen. Thankfully she got bored and started playing with my old teddy, monkey. It’s actually a stuffed bear but being a stubborn child, I refused to grasp this fact and when I did come to realise the teddy was not in fact a ‘monkey’ but a ‘bear’, I really couldn’t bring myself to change his name. So here he is today, in my sister’s arms, being strangled quite like I was just a couple of minutes ago. Nice knowing you, monkey.
After I pulled myself out of bed, washed my hands and teeth, got dressed and attempted to make something of my unruly mop of hair, I arrived downstairs to a breakfast of banana pancakes, toffee flavoured waffles and orange juice. I’ll have to admit, even though they can barely string a few words together in a song without cracking glass, they do make a yummy birthday breakfast. As I tucked into my first banana pancake, mum emerged from the living room with two parcels and a card. ‘Happy birthday Gemma’ chorused mum and dad, lobbing the first parcel over the table. I tore it open, paper flying everywhere and gasped. ‘No. Way. The designer jeans! They are gorgeous, thank you so much mum and dad!’ Let me just tell you one thing: I have been longing for those skinny, khaki coloured jeans for months. Amber Rose has a pair. Brittany Scott has two pairs: one of them in khaki and the other in baby blue. Everyone who is anyone has at least one pair of those jeans and now I, Gemma Ellis have a pair. The second parcel was less pleasing. Don’t get me wrong, I love the new headphones they got me and I know I asked for them but the one present I wanted most in the world was a mobile phone. Any mobile phone. I wasn’t asking for an iPhone. All I was asking for is something which would make and receive calls and text. Is that too much to ask? Dad noticed I wasn’t beaming after opening the second parcel. ‘Look, Gemma, I know you wanted a mobile phone but you are far too young for that sort of responsibility.’ I noticed the word ‘far’ was exaggerated and that made me wonder how old I would have to be before my dad thought of me as responsible enough to have a mobile: twenty, thirty, even fifty years old? Before launching into a full-on argument, I went upstairs to change into my new jeans. Downstairs again I picked up my bag while mum steered me towards the door. ‘I’ll give you a lift to school, love. You’re running late as it is. You can read your birthday card on the way.’
Mum was great on the drive to school. She agreed with me on the mobile phone front and told me she would try to persuade dad responsibility could be given to me in small doses. I wasn’t really listening to her long speech about cyber bullying and safety online because we’d covered that in school assemblies but at least we were basically on the same page. After our mobile phone chat, I ripped open the envelope of my birthday card and read a really nice message from my family (well, my parents because Mimi can’t write properly yet) but she did scrawl her name in giant print alongside what had the basic shape of a flower. When we reached the school gates mum enveloped me in a huge hug and kissed my cheek. ‘Have a lovely day my gorgeous girl. I watched her drive back down the road so she could get ready for her job as a helper in Mimi’s nursery.
‘Look who it is. It’s the other birthday girl’ muttered Allison to her gang of nasties (my secret name for most popular crowd in Year 8.) Brittany Scott turned round, wearing her khaki pair of skinny jeans. She eyed me up and down and grimaced as if my very being made her want to gag. ‘I know they’re skinny jeans’ Brittany stated, gesturing towards my legs, ‘but they’re not meant to stick to your skin. Maybe cut out the birthday cake this year, eh?’ Her comments didn’t faze me in the slightest even though I knew it was sort of true. I guess I am a bit on the chubby side but it’s not criminal to be addicted to chocolate digestives and cake, is it? If I’m honest, anything containing chocolate stops me going on those crazy fad diets. The gang of nasties laughed at her seemingly hilarious comment and even after I walked away, I could hear them snorting in hysterics.
The Bell rang just after I got into class. Carly, Jamie and Suzie said happy birthday to me as I was going to my seat and Carly even gave me a quick hug and thrust a card into my hands. The thing with me and Carly is that we used to be best friends but she decided not to hang around me as much when Brittany, Allison and their group started teasing me. After she gave me the card Carly hurried off to her huge group of mates and I kind of understood. Why would anyone want to be seen with the outcast? It’s not good for anyone’s image. I’ve kind of gotten to the stage where what people think of me doesn’t matter; otherwise I’d be wallowing in a deep pit of despair.
At lunchtime, I sat on the end of Carly, Jamie and Suzie’s bench. I was sitting the furthest away from Carly so I knew I’d have no chance of thanking her for the birthday card…unless I trampled over Jamie and Suzie, which I decided against. I had read the card at break time, while I was sitting in the library by myself. I was sitting in a beanbag type chair, reading the new Cathy Cassidy book when I remembered the card. Fishing it out my rucksack, I read the cute little message over and over, kind of missing being Carly’s best friend. During the whole of lunch I wanted to talk to her about it and maybe even ask her round after school on Friday night but as soon as I had the chance, the dining hall exploded into laughter and singing coming from the nasties’ table. They chorused: ‘Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Brittany! Happy birthday to you!’ And looking at Brittany’s perfect blonde curls framing her ever so perfect face, taking in the attention and adoration, I actually felt physically sick. Did people not know how horrible that real-life Barbie could be? I made myself leave the hall because I genuinely wanted to go over to their table and smack them all across their spot-free, moisturised, made-up faces and I would have been tempted to if I had to look at them any longer. ‘Aww, look at poor Gemma leaving the lunch hall. She’s jealous that everyone’s singing happy birthday to Brittany and not her. Well here you go Gem, happy birthday fatty!’ Kate snarled. Kate’s almost as bad as Allison and Brittany Scott herself. Almost.
My last two lessons were Maths and English. I was so relieved going into my English lesson because the moment I walked in, Miss Gume beamed down at me and wished me a happy birthday. I ignored the people who whispered ‘teachers pet’ under their breath. No need to tell you who they were. I think you can figure that out for yourself. Then we were allowed to get on with some silent reading until five minutes before the bell, when Miss Gume gave us the homework task of researching our favourite author, in pairs or by ourselves. The classroom was filled with chatter from that moment: Mel asked Sarah, Jess asked Zoe, Suzie asked Carly, Jamie asked Mia, Kate asked Cathy and Allison asked Brittany. And that left me. Alone. Again.
When the bell rang out loudly for the end of school, I gathered my things and started to make my way out of the classroom. As I was just about to leave, Miss Gume called me over to her desk. ‘Gemma, love, I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t pick a partner for this homework assignment.’ I wasn’t even going to bother explaining to her that no one wanted to be my partner, in fear of being called a loser for associating with the ‘fatty’ but something about the way she said it told me she already knew. ‘Gemma, you are a very able student and I know that you are perfectly capable of completing the project on your own but if you are struggling with anything, just come and find me.’ She paused when I gave her a meek smile. ‘I wasn’t just referring to the homework, you know. Now you get home and have a lovely evening.’ I said thank you to Miss Gume and headed across the playground to the school gates.
Reaching the gate, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation. It was a girl from my school on the phone to somebody. Shouldn’t she be at home by now? School had finished almost twenty minutes ago and usually everyone bolted out of school as fast as lightening. But not this one. She lingered, sitting on the wall, listening to the person on the other end of the call. She seemed really upset: almost hurt. I waited where I was to listen further. I managed to catch the words ‘always working’, ‘never here’ and ‘my birthday.’ The words ‘my birthday’ replayed in my mind and I then realised the girl whining down the phone was Brittany. At first I just wanted to leave her stranded. She didn’t deserve my sympathy but after listening more and more to her half of the conversation, I began to understand that Brittany’s model girl exterior was just an act. The real Brittany was stuck outside school on her birthday, alone while her parents made excuses as to why they couldn’t pick her up. For the first time I wasn’t jealous of her. I felt sorry for Brittany Scott.
‘Brittany’, I spoke quietly. She looked at me. Miss perfect looked straight at me without making a snide comment about my hair or grimacing at my far from 25inch waist. Her eyes were watery and even though she was trying her hardest to hold the tears back, one trickled down her cheek. Brittany brushed her hand across it to wipe it away, which revealed her newly manicured nails. For once, I didn’t see a cool, confident and composed girl. I saw a very unhappy and extremely vulnerable girl. ‘What do you want?’ Brittany asked. And then I did something I never, ever though I would. ‘I want to ask you if you’d like to come over to my house. You can stay for dinner. Do you like pizza?’ She nodded, speechless, her hair tumbling off her shoulders as she climbed down off the wall.
And we walked back to mine in silence. At first it felt awkward but soon we were chatting like normal friends. Even though she didn’t say sorry for being so nasty to me, something told me that she was. And as we reached my house and I let us in with my key, hearing Brittany Ellis whisper ‘thanks Gemma’ said it all.