Author's note: I have NF myself, so when I finally began researching the disorder, I also opened my eyes to the... Show full author's note »
Chapter 1“Ava! Damn it retard! You can’t miss the bus today. Get up already.” The loud yell of my older brother, Thomas wakes me. Groaning, I open my eyes and sit up. The harsh light hurts my eyes and I rub them, yawning. I watch Thomas storm out of the room, the door slamming behind him. The loud sound makes me flinch; my Neurofibromatosis gave me an ear tumor a couple of years ago, and since we can’t remove it, I just have to deal with sensitive hearing.
Sighing, I roll to the edge of my bed and swing my single leg over the edge of it. I push myself off the twin-size bed and fall to the raggedy gray carpet that lies beneath it. Wincing, I stagger to my foot and hobble over to my dresser. I can easily manage short distances one-footed, but I need my wheelchair for anything else.
I quickly get dressed, and then grab my purple brush off the dresser. I glance into the mirror. I look at myself and for just a moment admire my hair. ‘”Ugly bitch,” a voice teases, breaking my one moment of self-like.
“Damn it, go away.” I hiss under my breath. Annoyed, I move to my wheelchair and fall into it. My wheelchair is manual, something no one is happy about it. Unfortunately, my parents can’t afford it, and neither the school nor insurance will pay. So up until the time when we can afford a change, I will have to deal with it.
Once I am settled, I roll out of my small room and into the elevator we need but can’t exactly afford. Insurance pays for part of the cost, but still has my mom working two jobs for all the other bills, this installment being one of them.
When I arrive downstairs, I wheel into the kitchen. Thomas is hurriedly wolfing down a bowl of Captain Crunch. My step-mom, Christin is running around, preparing to leave for work. Along with her there are my siblings scurrying about collecting what they need for school. My four year-old sister, Penny, is the only one not up because she doesn’t have preschool for another hour or so. Christin has our neighbors take her most days, depending on her schedule.
“Don’t just sit there, Ava; move!” Christin barks. I silently nod, holding back an angry retort that threatens to escape my mouth. I grab a banana and head for the living room, out of the way. Christin orders Thomas to bring down Rayma and Carrie, my triplet sisters. Thomas groans and charges up the stairs. He shouts into their room, and they respond. A few minutes later, I watch Thomas, Carrie, and Rayma come downstairs. Carrie, Rayma, and I are all triplets, but I’m so different from them both. For one, I’m not popular like them, and for another, they are gorgeous. Me? Not so much.
Carrie comes down in a slim purple tank top and black skirt, a black purse slung over her shoulder. Her honey blond hair is pulled back into a bun and brings out the beautiful golden brown in her eyes. She stands at a startling height of 5’11, with the body so many girls dream of-she has the figure of a model, but not one who is super skinny. No, Carrie is a dancer she so she has the body of an athletic model. But while Carrie possess the body of so many girls’ fantasies, Rayma has the both the body and beauty.
My sister Rayma is shorter than Carrie by at least eight inches, but she is far prettier. Today Rayma’s midnight black hair-something both of us share-is straightened, and a navy blue headband is on top of her head. Rayma has on a neon green tank top with a blue checkered flannel shirt over it, and caprice. Her caramel brown eyes stand out due to the sparkly blue eye shadow she has applied.
My sisters are so…beautiful. Why can’t I be beautiful too?
“Come on!” Thomas screams at us for the hundredth time. I toss my banana peel in the trash and wheel onto the front porch and take a sharp left turn, coasting freely down a concrete ramp that we also only built because it was needed. The chilly October wind nips at my skin, so I zip up my jacket and pull the hood over my head.
As I glide down our driveway, a yellow school bus pulls up. Zemson, Lunetta, and Blaize climb aboard. The elementary school kids stare at me through the bus windows. Their eyes are wide, innocent. I simply glare back at the children, staring straight into their eyes. I do not allow their innocence past the wall I have built around myself.
The next bus screeches to a stop five minutes later. Middle school. These kids aren’t as innocent; they don’t care for me. Nearly all of them make fun of my condition. I have learned lashing back insults doesn’t work, so I become emotionless, even though their yells and laughter hurts. As Axel climbs on after Verena, he stops and looks at me. I narrow my eyebrows as I take in his expression: pity. I don’t allow this look. He has been worse than the kids who bully me: he does absolutely nothing as it goes on. So why would he suddenly start caring?
The high school bus arrives and I look at it with hatred. The kids on this bus aren’t close to being caring or innocent. I death glare each student, refusing to flinch, even as their insults float toward my ears.
“Hey, there’s retard!”
“Thomas, it’s your dumb sister!”
“Oh guys I’m so sorry you have to be seen with her! It must be humiliating!”
Thomas, Carrie and Rayma are taking their time climbing aboard the bus. I find this weird because usually they rush on, not wanting to be seen with their “retarded” sister.
My answer, though, comes at once.
A girl sticks her head out of one of the windows. She has light brown hair that whips around her face. Her eyes are slit, kind of like a cat’s. At first I don’t recognize her, but then I spot the mole on her left cheek and immediately know who it is.
“Hi. My. Name. Is. Jessica. Do. You. Understand?” She calls out, laughing when she finishes. Cheers and high-fives reply to her statement.
My best friend in elementary school; that is, up until sixth grade, the beginning of middle school. Fifth grade was when I started having a lot of surgeries. Fifth grade was the year my leg was amputated; the year I received a wheelchair because I could no longer walk. Fifth grade was the year Jessica was there for me. Sixth grade was the year Jessica abandoned me for cliques and fitting in. Sixth grade was the start of depression, bullying and little hope. Although sixth grade was different, fifth grade was the year my life changed—forever.
What happened to the Jessica I know? What happened to Jessica; the one who always stood by my side and defended me when kids began questioning my constant absence? Where’s the girl who used to wear glasses and help anyone, no matter who they were? No matter what they looked like? The one who would never, in her life, tease someone about this kind of thing?
What happened to Jessie, my best friend?
The bus leaves, with her still laughing and everyone still pointing. With me sitting here, on the driveway, alone.
I keep the jacket hood over my head, and my bus finally reaches my stop. It’s slightly bigger than the others, and bears the number 123. Which, of course, doesn’t help my situation at all.
The bus halts and as thick smoke rises out of the engine, a door opens toward the back and a heavy metal ramp clanks to the asphalt.
“Hey sweetie, how are you doing?” The bus driver, Amy, asks as she steps down the ramp.
“Okay, thanks for asking. You?” I answer, forcing a smile.
Amy grins and says, “Fabulous, thanks.” Her eyes are too happy, her smile too real. How can someone be so happy? How can someone not notice the pain behind my smile?
I don’t mind, though.
Amy helps me up the ramp and into the bus. Although it’s not as long on the outside, the bus is wide on the inside. It was built to hold large things such as wheelchairs. I slide into a green leather seat and help secure my wheelchair underneath. With a nod, Amy heads up to the driver’s seat and I buckle myself. She looks back, checking that I’m secure, and starts the bus. With a huff, the vehicle moves forward and we’re off.
I turn to my right, facing the seat beside me. My best friend Jerry is occupying the seat. He is two years older—a junior—and though we are only friends, he is insanely attractive.
Jerry is in the Special Needs class because he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. I really feel for the poor kid, too. The students don’t even know what he’s been through and yet they judge him because he’s in this class. Just like me. I can’t help but wonder what they’d do if they knew our story. Pity us? Possibly. Be our friends? Maybe. Treat us the same? That could happen. It’s hard to tell, because a good part of the students at school follow the crowd, so they will treat us in the way they think is “in”, not what is right.
“Hey Jerry,” I greet. Jerry looks up from the book he’s reading and his expression lights up. At that, joy soars through my heart. He’s happy to see me! I smile softly as my best friend flips back messy black skater hair and sends a friendly smile in my direction.
“Hey what’s up, Ava?” He replies. His speech is slightly slurred; a side effect of brain damage. He closes the book as his pale green eyes gaze at me, curious as always.
“Oh, you know. The usge,” I shrug. Jerry nods, understanding what the “usge” actually is and shifts in his seat. All of a sudden, he has a spasm. He holds his head as his body shakes and I watch the book plummet to the bus floor. I bite my lip, making the decision to help position Jerry. I unbuckle and pull myself up. However, when the bus flies over a speed bump, I find myself in Jerry’s lap. Embarrassed, I scramble to the empty space beside him and adjust his position. Two minutes crawl by before Jerry sinks back into reality.
“Thanks, Ava.” He mutters. He looks slightly embarrassed, and I understand. Spasms are something he is unable to control, and he hates not being in control. I smile and hug him.
“No prob.” I meet his eyes and for a moment, it feels like time has paused. Jerry’s eyes won’t look away, and for a second, it looks like he is about to kiss me. My eyes widen as he leans in, but then the moment shatters when Amy shouts that we are at school.
Blushing, I turn away. After a few minutes, the other buses arrive and let the high schoolers off. Once those buses leave, my bus releases us. Jerry helps me into my wheelchair and I roll down the ramp.
“Have a good day, sweetie!” Amy says as she climbs back onto the bus to assist the other riders off. I wave goodbye to her-also a thank you gesture-and begin my way toward Weston High School, the biggest school in the state of North Carolina. This school may only have two floors but it is huge and manages to hold both middle and high school. There are only two floors, but we still manage to hold 2,500 kids in all. The elementary school, which is slightly bigger, is actually just right down the road from Weston. On days my class goes outside we sometimes see morning or afternoon recess going on. The huge field that stretches around almost the whole school, stops at an encircling woods. Students often find a way to play kickball, softball, soccer, or tag there, and right now I watch them play tag. Then there’s the playground, which has all the equipment every kid dreams of. That playground, let alone the school, holds so many memories. Mostly good, up until sixth grade. That was the year which started it all.
Lost in thought, I coast along the sidewalk. Out of nowhere there is a crash of thunder and cold raindrops begin splattering on my head. Although the lagging students run inside, I welcome the raindrops because they are clean, fresh, and welcoming.
Heavy footsteps sound from behind and I twist around to see who it is. My eyes set upon Jerry…holding my backpack. Whoops.
“Oopsies, must’ve forgotten that. Sorry.” I give an embarrassed smile and nod in thanks. I turn back around and continue wheeling towards school.
“It’s fine, Ava. We’re going to the same place anyways.” My friend assures me. I was about to reply when he adds in a worried, voice,
“Watch it!” I am jerked to a stop and then released, spinning wildly and finally landing in a patch of grass. Several people exchange snickers and mean looks, which irritates and embarrasses me.
“What the hell was that-“ I stop short as I realize Jerry had saved me from crashing into the brick wall. Mortified at my outburst, I sneak a peek at my black-haired friend. He is looking down, failure clear in his light-colored eyes.
“Nice going. You know he’s extra sensitive given his mom abused him. And yet…you still screw up. “ A voice sneers.
“Sorry ‘bout that…you s-saved me Jerry. Thanks.” I mumble. I roll to the door and grab it, swinging it open. Still uncomfortable, I enter and desperately hope that I will lose him.
I cast away, trying to melt myself in with the busy hallways of teenagers trying to move about. Unfortunately, Jerry is six feet so he has a clear view of me. He is shouting my name, trying to give my bag. Normally, I would turn around and let him do so. However, I’m still humiliated, so I pretend I’m deaf. Finally, I reach my destination—the elevator.
Inside, I roll up the left sleeve of my black jacket and press one of my fingers against my wrist. Very faint bumps line up along my wrist and forearm. I can make out ugly, red slashes, slashes that are fresh, new. Thin white scars are visible from past cuts that happened months, even years ago. I think about the switchblade I stole from Thomas’s room and how it has helped me release my emotions for the past four years. The worst part is no one knows. Jerry may be my best friend, but even he doesn’t know my secret. I honestly hope to keep it that way. No one needs to worry about me.
I narrow my eyes, focusing more intensely at my arm. There are a multiple slashes on my wrist, but my forearm tells a different story. Instead of jagged, crooked lines they’re words.
The words are uneven and overlap one another. Despite their rough script, though, I don’t have trouble detecting each letter, forming each word. The elevator stops and I come back into reality. I quickly cover the markings up as the doors slide open, and I am met with a sea of teenagers. The bell rings right then though and they scurry to class. I wheel out in the middle of the chaos, and go the side. Within a minute, the hallways are empty. I head for my locker, wishing this day was already over.
“Ava, could you hold on? You need your bag!” I instantly recognize Jerry’s voice. I turn my wheelchair around and my heart stops for a second. I struggle to catch my breath, but what I’m looking at is so breath-taking it’s impossible to do so.
Jerry’s jet-black hair is slicked back, damp with sweat, which is dripping down his face. His jacket is off, revealing the plain black short-sleeved shirt he’s wearing which is stuck to his chest, also moist with sweat. His arm and chest muscles ripple with masculinity. I get the feeling he had run up the stairs just for me. Any girl seeing him would agree that he is, in this moment, just plain sexy.
I slowly reach out and barely pay attention as I’m handed my backpack.
Th-thanks,” I splutter, not taking my eyes off of him.
Jerry smiles and nods his head. He starts for the stairs, where he will go one floor down, where he has his first class. He has two mainstream classes before we eat together at lunch. After lunch, we have a Special-Needs class together, and we spend our class together in Chemistry.
“Whoa. Why the hell did you just talk to re-ah-tard, Jerry?” Someone snaps, her loud voice projecting throughout the hall: Ugh, AKA Bella Priston. Why she bothers talking to us I’ll never understand. After all, she has made it clear she loathes us both. Then again, the girl is known to be a slut and whore; even though she’d never date him, she probably finds him hot. Knowing her hormones, she probably can’t keep away.
Bella stomps up to me, her four-inch blue high heels clacking as she marches on. Today, Ugh is wearing a stomach-showing blue sweater, a matching blue skirt, and a blue arm glove. Someone wanted to be Princess Blue today.
“Fuck off priss!” I snap. My voice is only loud enough for her and Jerry to hear.
“Shut it retard. Go to your stupid class already.” Bella replies calmly. She is unaffected by my anger.
“Why don’t you just get the hell away from me? I’m not in the fucking mood to talk to a slut like you. If you hate us so much, don’t waste our time talking to us.”
Bella’s face grows red and she clenches her fist. She skitters across the hall to where I am sitting. She attempts to slap my face but I shove her away before she can.
“I don’t want to fight. But I will.” I tell her through clenched teeth. She raises her eyebrows; the disbelief is clear in her expression as well as a challenge to fight. The smirk that spreads across my face clearly says I accept her challenge.
Energized, I stand up. Ugh is standing only a foot away from me so I have no trouble striking her across the cheek. Bella yelps and staggers backward, crashing into a line of lockers. She has her hand up to her face, a fuming glint in her eyes.
“Oh yeah? Well…I can hit you!” Bella informs me. Her voice is pathetically tough; I had heard she was in karate but as of right now, I refuse to believe such a rumor.
I snort. “Okay, it’s on. Hit me. But this time, actually meet your target.” I lean against a locker for support and cross my arms.
“Ava…”Jerry trails off, unsure of my decision. I know he’s worried about my safety but I have fallen before. I send my friend an, “I’ll be fine. She can’t beat me,” look and turn back to Bella.
Bella is unproductively looking tough as she first backs up a few yards, then charges toward me. I brace myself in case I lose balance and fall. When she’s within arm length, I strike a blow to her chest. The brown-haired girl stumbles back but quickly gains balance and scuttles back toward me. Her arm lashes out and brushes my face. I instinctively snatch it and resisting every urge to just snap her arm in half, pull it toward me and twist it behind her back. She lurches forward, her face next to mine.
Shaking in anger, I whisper in her ear, “I may be in a wheelchair, bitch, but I can fight. I have to deal with you every single day and for the next four years, so be lucky if by time we graduate you aren’t dead or in several casts. Now do us all a favor and leave. Neither Jerry nor I like you, and nothing will ever change that. Got that?”
I glare into Bella’s eyes, searching for her reaction, and find it easily: fear.
“Answer me already, or I’ll snap your arm.” I threaten, tightening my grip on her arm.
“O-okay. Let me go or I can’t leave.” Bella whimpers. I roll my eyes, let go, and shove her away. She falls onto the floor, glances up at me one last time, and dashes away.
“Ava, that was brilliant.” I glance behind me. Jerry is looking at me with a smile that could light up a whole room. Then, without warning, he walks forward and pulls me into a bear hug. Jerry’s not a fat guy, but he has the body of a football player and that is just fine with me. I lay my head against his chest as his arms wrap around my torso. Breathing in my ear, he rests his head on my shoulder. Again, I feel the air between us change. I think he senses it, too, because he keeps hesitating, as though he wants to do something.
After a couple of minutes, we break apart. I hobble to my wheelchair, give Jerry a tense nod and wheel to my locker. Jerry heads off, a grim smile plastered onto his face. Even though I’m smiling on the outside, I’m frowning on the inside because something feels wrong. If he wants to kiss me, why won’t he? I shake my head, pushing the thought away. Maybe a couple hours apart are just what we need to break the uncomfortable tension that had settled upon us. Despite that, I look forward to spending my day with him.
Shaking away my thoughts, I collect what I need from my locker and slam the door shut. Then I roll away, counting the minutes until the day is over.