All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
He smiles, shoving his notes just a bit further to the left and gesturing at my blank paper.
I smile back. It feels too large and open-lipped, like someone plastered a clown's heedless grin on my own tiny lips. But he nods and turns back to the teacher.
I start writing.
The pencil is uncomfortably loud in the silent classroom, the teacher trying and failing to elicit some excitement from the tired students. Some yawn. Others lay their heads on their desks, close their eyes, sink further into their seats.
He doesn't. He glances back, sees my notes, grins.
I want to say thank you. I picture myself saying it. Lips shaping, air hissing through my throat, words hovering in the air. I've seen others do it countless times. I know how I must shape my lips, squeeze my throat.
But I can't picture myself saying it, because I've never heard my voice.
I tear off the very corner of my paper and scribble for a moment. I pass it to him, eyes never leaving my desk. I feel his hand close around mine, then slide the tiny slip from my fingers.
Scratching. A pause. Then the paper is in my hands again. It reads:
The bell tolls, but I'm already outside the school, crouching on a damp metal bench until the rush of students subsides. I don't like being caught inside of them. When I'm surrounded by students, I'm surrounded by noise; chatter, screams, giggling and crying. A veritable cacophony.
And I want to join them, want to chat and scream and giggle and cry. But the air rushes up my throat, out my lips, empty.
He passes by. His dark hair is disheveled and his cheeks are flushed. A gym bag is slung over his shoulder along with the backpack.
I raise my hand. Wave. I don't think he sees.
A few moments later, he's sitting on the bench beside me, still short of breath.
"Waiting for someone?" he asks.
I shake my head. He pauses.
"Waiting out the crowd?"
He shucks off his gym bag and book bag, dropping them on the ground below us, and leans back. The scent of his cologne is sharp in the air, and I want to ask him what brand, did he just have gym, what is he doing.
I bite my lip, just as he says, "I'll wait with you."
When I smile, it doesn't feel like a clown's smile; it feels like my own, warm and bright as the words I can't say.
I sit in my bed and I write. I write all the words I would say, if I could.
Who are you?
My name's Ariel.
I go to Alexander Baker's High School.
What was the assignment today?
I like your shirt.
I love to write.
Do you love to write?
We're doing fittings for our school uniforms. Two ladies bustle around me, one middle-aged, one very young, tugging at the sleeves, adjusting the shoulders, trying caps on my head. The younger one sticks a pin at the waist, slicing through the blouse and the skirt. The further she tugs the blouse, the further the pin bites into my skin. A whimper catches in my throat and stays there.
She pulls at the sides. The pin stabs my stomach.
A low, animalistic sound escapes my lips. The woman starts, glances at me with her brow wrinkled. I gesture to my waist, and she lifts the hem. There's a trickle of blood snaking its way across my midriff.
"Why didn't you say something?" she demands, carefully withdrawing the bloodied pin. I wince. Then I gesture to my lips.
"Oh," she says softly. She glances down, and her cheeks are flushed with something akin to shame. "I think your fitting's done."
When he sees me in class, his eyes widen. I cock my head, a silent question. He gestures to my stomach.
The band-aid must have slipped, because the flimsy white fabric is stained red.
"What happened?" he asks.
I rip a piece of paper from my notebook, shake my pen, and write, Fittings. I hold up the paper.
He shakes with a small, forced laugh. I think, if I tried hard enough, maybe I could force a laugh, too. "I always knew the fitting ladies were sadists," he says.
I smile, a me-smile, and write on the paper again.
The school wouldn't hire sadists. Too high risk of a lawsuit.
He laughs, and this time it's not forced. And I laugh, too, because for now, pen and paper are my voice. For now, he can hear me.
He joins me on the bench again. This time, when he sits down beside me, I'm writing. Adding to my list.
"What're you writing?"
I lay my arm across the paper subtly, and shrug.
He purses his lips. "See, this is why shrugs are so tricky. When you answer a question with a shrug, I can't tell if you mean, Oh, I'm just scribbling, or I'm writing the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything." My eyes crinkle at the corners. "So, which is it?"
I flip the paper over, write for a moment, and hold it up for him to see.
The answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, obviously.
"Obviously," he deadpans.
The rest of our wait is silent, and I'm okay with that.
When he finally leaves, I turn to the list again and run my fingers down its columns, down to the latest entries.
I like talking to you.
I like you.
The next day in class, the first thing he says as he sits down is, "Did you know there's a pep rally today?"
He glances down at his desk, drumming it, then stopping. "Are you going?"
I wasn't going to. In a pep rally, there is nothing but sound, nothing but screaming, and written words mean nothing when you're trapped in a frenzied crowd.
But he's asking, with a small smile, and I think he wants me to say yes.
When I show him my paper it says, Yeah, I guess so.
The pep rally is loud. Beyond loud. It's one feral scream made up of thousands of voices, pressing against the crowd, pressing against the football players down below. I can feel it in the air, in the tips of my toes, and I want to curl into a ball and cover my ears or stand straight and scream with the rest of them. Standing here, lips parted, throat closed, is unbearable.
I need to find him.
The stands are packed. Every riser is full, a throng of color and waving arms and flashy posters, some on their feet, some standing on the risers themselves. It's a sea of human faces and legs, sweat and screams.
He said he'd be on the top riser. The very top.
I jog up the stairs, arms crossed around my middle. As if they can keep the sound from shaking me apart. As if they can squeeze the voice out of me.
I reach the top. It doesn't take long to spot him; he's wearing a vivid green and black hat--the colors of our school--and waving on top of the risers.
I climb up next to him, legs shaky, unwinding my arms. His grin is too wide for his face, but it's a natural grin, a grin that says he's too happy for his mouth to properly express.
"You came." His voice barely reaches me through the din.
He pans the crowd, eyes lighting upon gaudy posters, each flashing their own special cheer. "Which is your favorite?" he asks.
I don't really know; I've never been to a pep rally before. But I point to one near us, with a poison-green serpent wrapped around a tiny black and white badger with thin lines of script below.
He looks at it, nods, then looks back at me.
"I'll scream for both of us," he says.
And I smile a smile like his, a smile that spans my whole face, that makes my cheeks hurt, that feels like it could stretch across the whole stadium. I smile, and it's my smile, and I don't need my words just now.
I fish around in my pocket. When my hand comes out again, it's holding the list.
Carefully, I fold the list on either side, until only one word is showing. Then I hold it in front of me.
Thank you, it says.
"You're welcome," he replies.
And when he starts shouting with the rest of them, I take his hand.