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Cheap Shot

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Deborah opened the doors to the Academy For Girls. She breathed through her mouth and the gold buttons on her suit jacket bulged like frogeyes. Her cheeks were wet and red from the cold outside. Two black, plastic suitcases rolled behind her. She walked towards a girl with blonde hair. She saw only the girl’s profile.

Deborah tapped the blonde one on the shoulder.

“Excuse me,” she said. Her voice was high and light. “Could you tell me where Dormitory B is?”

The blonde girl turned towards her. She pinned her hair so it would sweep and curl over her left shoulder, which is the side the Deborah saw. Neither too thin nor fat; she was just perfect. Her lips were pink and big, black eyelashes framed her dark green eyes. She was beautiful. The only thing that marred all this perfection was that her right ear was bandaged; a third of her head looked as if it belonged to a mummy.

“Up the stairs and to the right, near the founders’ paintings,” the blonde girl said.

“Thank you,” Deborah said. She went to the dormitory.

The dormitory was large. Deborah entered the sitting room, the bedrooms being further back. Red velvet carpets covered the floor, and bookshelves covered the walls. Windows covered the length of the wall opposite to the girl. A fire crackled and students sat around it in armchairs. The whole place smelled of a strange combination of mildew and hairspray.

Deborah walked towards the others. She collapsed into an armchair and put her bags next to her.

“It’s so cold outside!” Deborah said. She nodded her head towards the windows. Outside, a snowstorm raged. The girl had come at the start of the third semester, the beginning of December.

No one responded.

After a while, one girl said, “Who are you?” The girl was skinny. Her black hair was greasy and long and stuck to her tan skin. Her eyes were brown.

“I’m Deborah,” she said. “What’s your name?”

“Leslie. So, Deborah, why’d you come to our lovely school?” Leslie said. She smiled and rested her head on her chin.

“I had to do better in school.”

“Yeah, my parents just sent me here, nothing really wrong with my grades.”

“Well-”

“If you hadn’t worked hard for your grades yet, it’s sort of too late to start. I suggest you lose a little weight and play some sports. I’m sure colleges would accept you for that,” Leslie said. She stood up and swung her purse over her shoulder. “It was nice meeting you, Deborah.” Leslie walked away, and slowly everyone else did.

Deborah sat there, stunned. She gripped the arms of her chair. Her face burned. She wiped her eyes. She didn’t know what to think. Was that well-intentioned advice or…? She wiped her eyes harder.

“What’s wrong?” A girl asked. Deborah looked up. It was the girl with the bandaged ear.

“Nothing,” Deborah said. She blinked. The girl saw that her eyes were red.

“Tell me.” the girl said gently. She pulled her hair across her shoulder again.

“It’s just…someone was really mean to me.”

“What?”

Deborah told her what happened.

“Oh,” the girl said. “Was it Leslie?”

“Yes!” Deborah burst into tears.

The girl sat next to Deborah. “She’s just really mean. Not all the girls here are like that. I promise.”

“Thanks,” Deborah said. She was calming down now. “What’s your name?”

The blonde girl held out her hand. “Lucette.”

Deborah shook her hand. “Deborah.”

“Are you a freshmen?”

“Yeah, I started this semester.”

“I’m a senior. Same as Leslie; you won’t have to deal with her long.”

“Ugh! She’s so mean! I hate her!” Deborah said. She shook her head in frustration.

Lucette sighed. “She wasn’t always mean,” she said.

“That’s still not an excuse.”

“I guess it might be a little of my fault that she’s like this.”

“What? But you’re so nice!”

“Well…” Lucette said. She twisted her hair. “Let me tell you something.

“Leslie and I graduated from the eighth grade together. We were best friends, always partners in gym without asking, always lab partners, always doing homework together, did all clubs together. As a matter of fact, the only difference between us was that I was in dance.

“Then we went to high school. We were mixed in with all these kids who were older than we were, seniors and juniors; it was scary at first, but everything was fine. We especially liked the art teacher, Mr. Johnson. He was new to the school and was just a little older than we were! We passed seniors and heard them joking that the minute that they turned 18 they would tap that hot piece of ass! We laughed so hard when we heard them say that!

“Then, one gym class, we were doing a unit on swimming. Leslie was the last one to come out of the locker room. When she came out, everyone was silent. It was like looking at a stick in the midst of dozens of vases. She tied her hair up in a ponytail. It was as thin as yarn and greasy. It was the first time I saw how painfully thin and flat chested she was; I was embarrassed!

“When we went into the locker room, girls exploded with laughter. The called her ‘Mosquito Bite Tits’, ‘Rattail’, ‘Boy Bust’. I didn’t defend her. I asked her if she was ok later and she said, ‘It’s fine, I’m fine! It’s not like I have no friends, you’re my friend, so it will be ok.’

“The next few weeks, it got worse. People would trip her, leave mean notes in her locker. People would never address her by her name, just ‘Boy Bust’. I didn’t defend her once! Not once!

“She attached herself to me. Now if I went to the bathroom, she would go too; if I went with one of my other friends, she would have to come too! One day, I just blew up at her. I told her, ‘Quit following me, Boy-’ and I put my hand over my mouth. I almost said it. She ran off. I wanted to follow her, but what would I say? How could I undo what I did?

“I didn’t do anything. I felt guilty, but what could I do? She went away from me instantly. Detaching myself from her was surprisingly easy. I heard Leslie had started to take art lessons after school; it seemed like she had moved on. I started to focus more on my dancing. I asked the dance teacher for private lessons after school. Dancing soon became my life; I would dance in the halls, before class, I was always thinking of the different steps, trying to remember them, trying to perfect them. I spent all summer dancing and improving; I was even in a few shows!

“I went back to school. During sophomore year, a new rumor spread around. A rumor that Mr. Johnson and Leslie were more than friends. I laughed when I heard it, Mr. Johnson! Pedophiles were creepy old men lurking in candy shops, not young, handsome men who could have any women they wanted!

“Soon after this rumor, Leslie changed completely. She was more confident. One day, I was putting things away in my locker, and I heard some yelling. I turned around.

“I don’t remember what they said really, but Leslie called her a fat-assed b**** because she kept running into people. Called her a waste of space too. The girl finally blurted out, I remember this part clearly, “At least I don’t need to sleep with a teacher to feel good about myself!”

“The entire hall was totally silent. Leslie slapped the girl and stormed off.

“Physical violence was a serious thing; one incident and you were out, but somehow, Leslie stayed.

“Leslie soon turned into this, this… animal. She would explode when she didn’t get something; call people the meanest names, and say the most vicious things. Many of my friends left the school, they told me they were afraid to come. Toward the end of the year, I would catch Leslie looking at me, trying to approach me, but I ignored her. I stayed calm. Finally, the year ended.

“I was in my junior year. During the summer, I performed in theaters, got paid for my craft! People would praise me; tell me I had so much talent for someone so young! I decided to keep pursuing dance. It seemed so right, so perfect!”

Lucette spoke with such passion, such emotion; Deborah couldn’t interrupt.

“On the first day of junior year, Leslie tracked me down and took me aside. She told me she wanted to be friends again. I said no, of course. She looked at me. She looked wild. She slapped me and walked away.

“The rest of the year, I only saw Leslie a handful of times. Rumor had it that she was constantly in Mr. Johnson’s room, spending more and more time with him. Soon Christmas break came and I went home.

“I played a major role in the Nutcracker. After, a woman asked me how old I was, and I told her. She told me she was the admissions director of the Performing Arts Academy; she said I should apply for a scholarship. She gave me her name, number, and email address. I called and applied immediately. I was to audition next year in November.

“I went back to school. A new rumor circulated that Leslie had smuggled a BB gun to school. I didn’t think she was capable of something like that, as mean as she was.

“I didn’t see Leslie at all. It was eerily quiet.

“I was to perform in the winter show for the school. I got ready. I remember I wore a beautiful costume; it was all shades of blue and green and sparkled in the light.

“It was a fast dance. I think I was supposed to be a butterfly of sorts. I flitted about, I could feel sweat collect on my forehead, the air moving around me, and I remember, I looked into the crowd and I saw Leslie, just for an instant, she was lifting something, I looked away, then something exploded.

“I woke up in a hospital. I felt fine. I looked fine. I tried getting up, and everything turned blurry. I fell on the ground. I was in so much pain and everything was vibrating and spinning and I screamed for help. A nurse put me back on the bed. I recovered soon. “What’s happening to me?” I said.

“ “Just a little dizziness. Don’t move quickly anymore.” ”

“ “Why?” ”

“ “Someone shot you in the ear with a BB gun.” ”

“ “No moving quickly? No dancing?” At this point I held my hands like a prayer.”

“ “Well, maybe…” ”

“ “Oh. Ok.” ”

“I asked her to leave me alone for awhile. I knew she really meant there was no treatment. No, it couldn’t be true. I could get used to it, the dizziness. I would find a way.

“I danced in my room. The room would spin and spin, but I ignored it. Soon, I was used to the pain. Sometimes, I could’ve sworn I didn’t feel dizzy, that somehow, the universe would pick me up and help me dance again.

“I auditioned for the scholarship. I danced for them, in front of these people, and security took me away. They thought I was drunk. It was only a few days ago…”

“I went back to the doctor. I begged him, please, please, there must be some way, somehow…No, he insisted. He said my brain could be seriously damaged if I kept dancing. I could never dance again.”

Lucette put her face in her hands and sobbed. She tried wiping her eyes a few times but would just start crying again.
She suddenly looked at Deborah.

“No one was caught, if that’s what you’re wondering. We never found out who shot me. But I got a little off topic, didn’t I?” Lucette’s face was red. Her tears reflected the fire.

“No, it’s okay…” Deborah said. She looked at the ground and twiddled her thumbs. She reached toward Lucette a few times but immediately pulled back.

“Please, can you just leave me alone?” Lucette whispered. Her eyes watered. Deborah took her bags and walked away.

Lucette sobbed alone. Outside, the snowstorm chilled the Academy for Girls.



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