I, Imperfect and Sarah, the Brave

April 24, 2017
By , Albuquerque, NM

I'm an idiot. I'm ugly. I'm a nobody. That's the down to earth truth about me. That says it all. No one believes that I could ever accomplish anything worth something, or anything, for that matter. They think I can never be beautiful. Everyone seems to hate me, especially since I came in the middle of the last school year, and they think I'm strange. They don't talk to me, except to drop notes in my locker or call me names. They share secrets about me in the hall, saying things like,
"What a freak-show, why did she come here, to give us nightmares?" or, "Hey look, it's the nutball!" or things I shouldn't put in writing. You get the idea, anyways.
My whole world would change before I knew it.
Sarah arrived at my middle school in November. She was cool. Maybe she would be in the popular crowd. I didn't have the chance of being friends with her. She had flawless skin, with cheeks with a pretty pink hue. Her hair was olive black, and her eyes hazel brown. She would fit in perfectly, no doubt. Another perfect face in the perfect crowd. I thought that the new kid might be like me. Different from the rest. I probably shouldn't have been so judgemental about Sarah.
At lunch that same November day, Sarah plopped herself down beside me at the corner table. She tucked her short black hair behind her ears in a gentle way, and pulled out a turkey sandwich and took the largest bite I had ever seen a perfect person take in my life. Through her full mouth she said,
"Hi, I'b Sabah!" I must've looked surprised, because she swallowed hard and apologized.
"Never seen a girl enjoy a turkey sandwich, have you," she said, half questioning and half stating this. I blushed.
"It's okay, I'm not mad."She wolfed down the rest of the sandwich, her hazel eyes searching her lunch bag for more treasures.
"Who are you?" she asked me. I blushed again.
"I'm Annabelle." I mumbled. She smiled.
"Annabelle," she whispered. "I like it!" she grinned, a piece of turkey peeking through her front teeth. I pointed, and she plucked it out. She started giggling like mad, and I knew she was a real oddball. How could this be happening?
"Oh! The bell's going to ring real soon, I'd best be off! Nice meeting you, Annabelle. See you soon!" she exclaimed, zipping her lunch bag and hurrying off to her next class.
When I wandered through the hallways, I could hear the chitter chatter of gossip spreading. They were all talking about her. Sarah. She was the strange kid, the new person to talk about.
"Annabelle!" someone whispered behind me. There was Sarah.
"What class do you have?" she asked. I hesitated. Should I pal around with her?
"Um, PE." I replied at last. She smiled.
"Me too! I have to get changed, though, and quick! I hear that if you don't, you get detention!" she huffed. I smiled.
"Who told you that?" I asked. She shrugged.
"I don't know, I just overheard that somewhere. Is it true?" her face was worried. I shook my head, trying not to laugh.
"That's only true if you are late or do something wrong. We'd better hurry, though, if we want to get there on time." She smiled.
Sarah was the last student in the gymnasium. She had pulled her hair into a sleek ponytail. Her shirt was a size too big, and her shorts a little too small. Her gym shoes were old and ratty, and were purple and blue. Every head turned towards her as she sat down on the tile floor.
"Name," said Coach. Sarah smiled her dreamy smile.
"Sarah Cooper, sir." He nodded.
"You're a minute late, Miss Cooper." Sarah just nodded.
"I know sir, and I'm sorry for disrupting your class." he seemed taken aback that she was so brave to stand up to him in this way.
"Have a seat, Miss Cooper." she sat. She looked at me from across the room, twenty pairs of eyes following hers. She smiled and gave me a thumbs-up. I returned it to her.
“Alright, kids. We’re gonna do some strength training today, you hear?”
“Yes, sir,” everyone groaned in unison. Strength training. The murderer of all students in this school.
“Jamison, pull-ups example please,” I stood. I hated my last name. It sounded old-timey and melancholy in my opinion. I shuffled to the pull-up bar and laced my fingers around it. Whispers flew through the room. My heart was racing. Why did I have to do this?
“Come on, Annabelle!” cried a voice in the crowd. I looked behind me. Did Sarah know that I wasn’t strong enough?
“Hurry up,” ordered Coach. I took a deep breath and pushed myself onto my toes. Why did it always have to be me?
I pulled myself up as best as I could. That was maybe about a foot off of the ground. That was a record for me. A couple of gymnast girls snickered and whispered about me. They could pull themselves up and do a front flip, too. Like I really cared what they could do.
“A pity, Jamison, really. Would anyone else like to prove their worth?” Coach’s lips curled maliciously. Sarah stood on her feet.
“I volunteer on behalf of Annabelle.” Those words were enough for me. She really cared about me, didn’t she? Did she actually want to be my best friend? All eyes looked from me to Sarah and back again. This is what she wanted, wasn’t it? All eyes to be on her, to see her as the sweet, caring hero that volunteered in place of the weak. But that wasn’t the look in her eyes. There was no sign of false pity, annoyance, anger, laughter, or hypocrisy. Instead, I saw hope, joy, and kindness in her eyes. I wished I could be as brave as her.
Sarah walked up to the bar and gripped it tightly. She breathed in and out and shuffled her foot. She pulled herself all the way up to the top of the bar sixteen times, a record for my class. And on she went. Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, et cetera. Up and down, and up and down. Then she reached fifty. Everyone in the gymnasium stared at her with looks of awe and envy on their faces as she leaped down from the bar. She tightened her ponytail and sat down beside me, pride spread across her face. I grinned from ear to ear. She patted my leg and said,
“Good job, Annabelle.” And I hugged her. She was amazing. Strange, yes, but simply amazing. We hung out for the rest of the semester, known as the Strange Kids, enjoying each other’s company. She was outgoing and silly and perfect. I was odd and shy and a goofus. We fit together perfectly.
I came to school after Winter break searching for Sarah’s face in the crowd. She saw me and nearly leapt out of her skin. We were best friends. She grabbed my arm and whispered in my ear.
“I missed you,” she smiled at me. “I wanted to invite you over, but it wouldn’t work out. Did you get any gifts?”  I shrugged.
“Yeah, but none of them are what I would’ve wanted.  I got a ton of clothes, stylish ones, too. I don’t like them.” Sarah laughed.
“I didn’t really get many gifts,” she grinned, like it was no big deal. I nodded.
“I have to go to math, do you want to walk together?” I asked. She nodded. We hurried off. We were the last in the room.
“Hey weirdos,” someone whispered to us. Another person sniggered.
“Sit, children,” ordered our math teacher, Ms. Michaels. We plopped down in two open seats in the front row. I had a feeling they were empty for a reason.
There was a tap on my back when it was time to do homework. I turned, and a girl with curly brown hair pulled her lips into a nasty smile.
“Hey, freaks. There’s a  party tonight, wanna come?” she asked. I hesitated. Sarah’s face lit up.
“Really?” she asked, surprised that someone would offer that to her. The girl nodded.
“Sarah,” I warned. She rolled her eyes at me.
“It’ll be fun, Annabelle. I’m sure of it.” she assured me. The brown haired girl narrowed her eyes, as if deciding whether she had made the right choice.
“I’ll email you the details, and when you get there, tell them Carly invited you.” she said. Carly tossed her hair over her shoulder and looked back down at her paper.
Sarah came over to my house on the night of the party. She was wearing a pretty red dress, cherry lip gloss, and had a coin purse pulled over her left shoulder.
“Are you ready?” she asked. I wasn’t. I had never been to a party before.
“No. I don’t know what to wear,” I admitted. She smiled playfully and led me up to my room.
“I’ll help,” she suggested. I nodded.
Sarah dug through my unorganized closet, which was littered with the new clothes I had gotten for the holidays.
“Here, put this on. That works well.” It was a denim jacket with a pretty green shirt paired with blue jeans with a hole in the knee. She handed me a pair of fur lined lace up boots.
“Brush your hair, too, you ragamuffin.” she teased. “We have to be there in fifteen minutes.”
My mom drove us.
The house was nice. It was two stories tall, with a neatly landscaped yard. The paint was fresh. Colorful lights shone, and loud music blared.
“Are you sure about this, Sarah?” I asked. She grinned.
“Of course I am, it’ll be fun!” she smiled huge, her lip gloss glittering. She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me inside.
“Looky here, it’s the freaks!” said a boy in the corner. A few kids sniggered.
“Carly invited us,” Sarah stated. I nodded, backing her up. Carly stood at the back of the room, mumbling to one of her little friends. Why was she looking at us so mischievously? Then it hit me.
“Sarah,” I warned. She shushed me.
“No, Sarah, really,” I warned again. She rolled her eyes.
“I think this is a trick,” I suggested. She smiled.
“Why would you think that?” she grinned happily. I pointed to Carly, and the smile melted off of her face. Carly’s friend wheeled in an ice chest, and I didn’t want to see what was inside of it.
“Let’s go,” she ordered. She pulled me out the door to my mom’s car that was parked down the street. The party kids chased us down the road to the car, throwing old food at us. We barely made it to the old Chevy my mom drove. I pounded on the windows, and my mom let us in as quick as a wink. Why were middle schoolers so cruel? My mom sped off as fast as she could.
“Are you girls okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, Mom, thanks to you!” I said gratefully. I couldn’t see her, but I was pretty sure she was smiling.
“Do you want to stay the night, Sarah? I can let your mom know that you’re staying,” she offered. Sarah smiled excitedly. My mom nodded.
“Annie, hand me my phone,” she ordered. I rolled my eyes. This was what we argued about.
“No, Mom. I won’t let you text and drive. I’ll send her a text for you, just tell me what to say.” Sarah looked at me sadly.
“What’s wrong, Sarah?” I asked. She sighed.
“I’m not living with my mom right now.” she mumbled. I felt a pang of guilt and embarrassment for a moment.
“Oh,” I said. Sarah looked out the window, a glum attempt at a smile on her lips.
“I’m sorry I made you go to that party with me, Annabelle.” I smiled softly.
“It’s okay, I don’t blame you. You probably wanted to fit in with them all a little more, I understand what that’s like.” Her eyes shimmered with appreciation, like a frozen lake. I wished I had eyes like those.
“Thank you,” she said. We were silent after that. We stared at the seat in front of us, waiting to arrive at my house.
Sarah was the first one up the stairs. She hated moments like tonight. I felt awful, like I had humiliated her, but she was far braver than I. She was a tiger, rough, tough, and brave. She could do anything, and I knew she would if given the chance.
Sarah went home early the next morning. She walked. She said her dad would worry about her, but I don’t believe that’s the real reason she left before the sun came up.
I wondered why she was so nervous all of the time now, it was weird. I missed my usual Sarah, full of fun, laughter, mischief, emotion. She didn’t sit with me at lunch lately, or in class. She didn’t sit with anyone. I couldn’t find her most of the time. I searched for her one day, and I she was sitting in the locker room, alone. She was already changed for PE, and she was crying.
“Are you okay, Sarah?” I asked.
“Go away, Annabelle.” What was going on?
“What’s wrong, Sarah? It feels like I haven’t seen you in a month! You’re late for classes, always missing at lunch, your grades are dropping…” she gave me the stink-eye and cut me off.
“It’s none of your business, what’s wrong.” This was strange. She never would’ve yelled at me before!
“Sarah, if you don’t tell me right now what’s going on I swear on my life I’ll…” she cut me off again.
“You’ll what?” she asked. I couldn’t find a response to her question.
“I… I’ll...Um…” Sarah raised an eyebrow. Tears swam in my eyes.
“I don’t know, Sarah, just please stop this!” I cried. She rolled her eyes, just as the bell rang for PE. Great, now I’d have detention.
After school, I went to Sarah’s dad’s house. There was a light on upstairs, and two silhouettes. They were arguing. About what, I couldn’t tell. Then the large shadow bent down and struck the other, and there was a scream.
“Sarah!” I shrieked. How could this have happened? Then front door opened, and Sarah came running out. Her dad was in the doorway, shouting horrible words and raising a fist at her. Sarah was sobbing. The door slammed. Sarah sat down on the porch swing and screamed. The scream was so loud, so painful. I wanted to cry, just hearing it. Sarah was like my sister. How could she not tell me that this was happening?
I walked up the porch steps and sat down beside my unbiological sister. I put an arm around her. She jumped, but took a deep breath and lay her head on my shoulder. There was a cut on her cheek.
“Thank you, Annabelle.” she whispered. She was so strong, so brave, so fierce. She was Sarah. She was my best friend.

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