13 and Still Playing Games This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

March 2, 2014
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I'm 5 the first time a boy kisses me and 5 the first time I feel nothing and the only time I just sit there.

5 and pretty and popular and nice. Sickeningly sweet upon reflection but I regress, 5 and pretty and popular and nice. Not yet spoiled by the hellish rat race of popularity or the endless torment of matching the perfect shade of red lipstick and the perfectly subtle eyeshadow to be the epitome of the very word.

I smile at him when he pulls away. It's only a few seconds — 6, I count. But the sweet smile will turn to coyly venomous the next time he tries and the quick kiss on the cheek before I have to leave will be replaced by a taunting wink. The innocence and sincerity of 5 is gone all too fast, after all.

At 6, the mystery that will draw them in begins to settle down. I read too many Edgar Allen Poe's and too many Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's for it not to. It's always been there though, you can look in pictures from 4 and see the not so humbly bowed head and the almost smile teasing my lips. It's solidified at 6 though.

My friends don't understand the thick books I slip out of my bag at lunch but it's not yet because I'm surrounded by superficial plastic with cracking painted lips stretched in smiles. No one else can read like I can and no one else can hide it better.

After all, I've already heard that my looks will always be shelved above my brains. And I've already accepted the true value of "pretty" and "perfect" in the world. A boy 5 years older than me tells me this is an advantage in life. I smile and say nothing. I don't yet know how potent words are or just how much power my eloquence will grant me.

Normal little girls are playing dress up when they're 7, I'm playing polygraph. Not a real one, no, I'm testing them. Lie, lie, lie again. I count the ones they tell me and see the ones I can tell them.

It's a game I learn from an older girl. I'm reluctant at first, teasing is okay, mystery is okay but lying? Mommy tells me it's bad. But here this girl is telling me it's survival. I want to survive. I really, really do. And she tells me how much better it is than admitting you aren't okay, that you aren't perfect.

I like the way she glosses it up. Maybe it's because I'd like to romanticize something after all the goddamn screaming blasting out my eardrums and telling me that life doesn't always work out.

So I become a filthy liar at 7 and everyone stops minding so much that I'm a leader ("bossy" as they whispered before).

8 isn't a pleasant year. It's the first time I duck my head into a pillow and hold my breath until my body gives out. It's also the first time I hold my breath and don't get what I want. Like death glares, it's a trick I memorized late into 5.

It's the year things begin to really go to hell. Some twisted freak backs over my dog as many times as they can so we have to euthanize him. I do the only thing I can: I write. I lie through pearly teeth that it's fiction so they won't send me to the godawful councilor, I remember hearing about Crazy Kyle going and I remember hearing him screaming. The lying doesn't make me bat an eye, I've gotten used to it.

The teacher gloats of my literary talent and I try not to puke at her awful shade of lipstick. Judgement has been drilled into my brain, after all.

In hindsight, I was always a secret keeper, but at 9, it turns into so much more. I no longer keep the secrets of my friends, I listen and search for everyone's secrets. I learn that they give away hints, subconsciously through body language and their speech mannerisms. The same girl who taught me to lie teaches me this. Or maybe my own secrets do. Who can remember?

Daddy's liquor kills him like it drove a wedge between him and Mommy but I lock it away. I can't stand to see pity in their eyes so it becomes my cover for my biggest secrets — the yelling and the ducking my head in the pillow and so, so much more.

To distract myself, I start using their secrets against them. Manipulation, I figure out later. It helps maintain order in the hierarchy I create.

10 flies by. I keep power and order and everything necessary to rule. It's a simple year and the most notable thing that happens is growing 2 inches.

At least, the most notable thing they know about. The older boy who told me what an advantage it was for me to know what "pretty" and "perfect" really mean in society kisses me. It's not "weird" or "creepy" even if he is 15. It's a game. It's all a game.

I ask him to teach me how to kiss because I actually feel something when his lips touch mine. And I just want to feel something at 10 because power, as I can tell you, is not all it's cracked up to be.

We reach 11, my sister and I, and the 5th grade is our last year of elementary school so I almost laugh. We'll be out of one rat race and into the next soon. I'm dying to get the hell out, to be old enough for the cute boy who told me how lucky I was when I was 5 because he actually makes me feel something. But I still don't like him or any boys in that way. I still feel nothing when boys kiss me out of frustration or to be spontaneous.

Whatever, I spend the year making friends with the new girl, adding to my collection of the few friends who aren't conceited in every way and superficial.

I try not to poison her with what I've learnt from the older girl. I also try not to envy her innocence.

At 12, some very, very dark secrets are buried as soon as they are made. We call the most dangerous The Fahrenheit Night Thing and That Poem. And suddenly, my best friends and I are locked as such. The secrets bind us, we can't let them get out.

They whisper of how dangerous they are. I smirk and remind them that I like dangerous.

Calm, cool, collected. All a part of being their leader, of being queen bee, and more importantly, mysterious.

But the mystery is getting out of hand.

I realize that too late. When I'm 13. Now. The game is becoming too much. I have to keep playing though. I have to win. And I will. Even if I have to tell the truth.

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This article has 4 comments. Post your own now!

Kisses-A said...
Mar. 13, 2014 at 6:39 pm
Quick thing though, you filthy liar. We both know you love Evan. Love ya, Ali.
The0dd0ne replied...
Mar. 14, 2014 at 6:38 pm
Courtney! How do you even know that?
Kisses-A said...
Mar. 13, 2014 at 6:58 am
Brilliance put to ink. There isn't a thing I would change. It definitely deserves that Editor's Choice.
LucyD. said...
Mar. 13, 2014 at 6:56 am
Whoa. The power behind each sentence and the structure shaping them is amazing. This piece gives such insight so quickly yet it's paced perfectly/
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