Author's note: For my three best friends in the whole world; you know who you are. I'll never be able to repay... Show full author's note »
Chapter 1:"Mia, you're up next," my teacher spits from beneath the thick-rimmed glasses perched on the tip of his nose. Dozens of necks snap toward me. Beads of sweat sprint across my forehead, have relay-races down on cheeks. My palms feel clammy as hundreds of eyes scope me out, track me down. My chair skids across the tiled floor, screeching loud enough to break one of Mom's expensive wine glasses. I stand up, clutching onto my poster-board as if I'm the girl from Titanic and it's that last floating door that saves her at the end. Except she's drowning with cute Leonardo DiCaprio and I'm all alone.
I stare hard at the floor and attempt to navigate the quickest path to the front of the room. The tiles have a repetitive checkerboard pattern and I loose myself in them. Blackwhiteblackwhite. They stretch on and on for miles. The front of the room seems light-years away. "Hurry up, now. There's only 5 minutes left of the period," Mr. Finch mutters, a hand grazing over his bald head. I'm buried under more eyes. I feel them on my body, crawling around my neck and hugging my curves. I wince and dart up to the whiteboard in the front of the room. My sneakers slip-slide past rows of adolescents, trip on gossip and tears and lies and drama; melodramatic teenage problems that don’t matter much to me. All too quickly, I'm forced to face them all. My shoulders quiver as my trembling hands lift my poster in front of my face, displaying my painstaking effort to detail the Major Turning Points of World War One.
I hear the class whisper. Sometimes, I wonder if they know.
My cheeks burn until I turn the same color as the red on Germany's flag. I contemplate slipping into some yellow pants and throwing on the black baseball cap that I have somewhere in my closet to complete the look. Hey; too many people are witches for Halloween. Why not be the German flag? They should add that to the Party City catalogue. I'm sensing a bestseller.
I begin to rattle off information that was poured into my dense brain the night before. The locations of important battles must be squished in there somewhere; dumped right beside the big-fat number that last graced the screen of my bathroom scale. I don't want to turn around my poster, even though I know everything is listed on there. I don't want them to see my face; so meek and vulnerable. I can't remember when the war finally concluded, so I begin to call out random years; when I was born, when Columbus discovered America, when Beyonce won her first Grammy, when I started doing this to myself; two months ago. Anything to be able to return to the safety of my seat.
"1997?" Mr. Finch repeats, after I tell him my birthday. His dark eyebrows dance around on his rugged skin, slithering snakes above his lashes.
My head nods behind my poster-board-shield. I battle off more eyes. The come at me like daggers, slicing through my project and stabbing me one by one. There is a drone of giggles from the back row. Am I a comedy act, or something? What if I just placed my poster down on the floor and took a bow? "Thanks for coming out tonight, ladies and gentlemen. It's been fun," I could say, waving at them all once they finish cracking up. I could, but I won’t.
"Pretty sure the war was fought quite some time before 1997," a girl mocks from my audience, her words slashing me. I try to juggle my emotions as best as I can; keep cool, calm, and collected. I just need to stay relaxed. This shouldn’t take too long. When I’m done, I can crawl back into my chair and fade into the back round of this all. That’s what I do best, anyway. “1997 was 15 years ago. There definitely wasn’t any type of World War going on then.”
"I know. I'm sorry. I just forgot," my voice escapes, clouding the air like smoke. I feel my warm breath blanket my nose before it vanishes. Insignificant. Irrelevant. Unimportant. Sometimes, I question my existence.
"It says 1918 right on your poster," a boy exclaims, and I know he’s right. I remember writing it on there; top right corner, red Sharpie marker. Laughter brews, then explodes. I feel my body start to rock, a steady back-and-forth swaying. My temples buzz and I release my grip on the poster and let it kiss the ground. An uneasy feeling chews through the pit of my empty stomach, munches on it like a dog with a new bone. I clutch onto the nearest person's desk for balance. The room spins so fast that I feel like I'm on an amusement park ride.
"She looks like she's going to throw up!" a flippant back-row-boy calls out.
"Oh, don't worry about it, then. Mia throws up all the time," I think I hear. My imagination has been getting the best of me lately. Either way; the words, or lack of words, slap my face and push me over the edge. The faces of my giggling classmates zip around in front of my eyes and soon a hazy film coats my pupils like paint. Tears drench me; drip from my hair and cause me to choke. My stomach groans.
"I find it really funny how she throws up every meal she eats and she's still fat," is the next thing I think I hear. In my mind, I'm a dartboard, open for anyone to use, and they're all experts at this game. I’m weak in the knees, but try my best to stabilize my heavy thighs. I search for Mr. Finch, but after looking at a few of my taunting classmates, I collapse. My cheek feels cool against the tile, and I catch one more glimpse at my poster before I'm out cold. I decide I now resemble the white on the French flag a bit more. Party City really needs to get on this by October.