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I’m one of those guys who honest-to-god hates people. Everyone, every teenager has said they hated people multiple times in their life, but no one has said it and actually meant it as much as I have. People are assholes, judging bitchy assholes who stare and whisper about things they don’t completely understand.
Things like kids without ears.
My mom kisses me on the cheek. “Bye sweetheart! Have a good first day at your new school!” she calls at me as I climb out of her tiny black electric car. My face stretches into a wry grin before I slam the door shut. I watch her drive off for a bit before gaining enough bravery to turn around and face my new public school - Susan A. Brian High School. Best school in the county, one of the worst in the country. What does that say about South Dakota?
Kids were already staring at my headband-like headset, whispering in their best friend’s ear about the weird looking new kid with his malformed ears and fanny pack holding his battery pack that powers the headband.
Stupid teenagers. Stupid mom for making us move away from home where people knew what the fanny pack and headband was for. Stupid company for laying her off. Stupid dad for leaving us on our own. Stupid people in general.
My doctors tell me I have Misanthropy, which is basically where you hate everyone. I tell them to shut the f*** up and diagnose someone else, even though I know they’re probably right. People just irk me, like how cats or messes annoy other people. Basically, I want them to go somewhere far, far away where I never have to see or deal with them.
I walk up the center sidewalk that leads to the three to four story main building, shrugging my black backpack higher up onto my shoulder and adjusting the black fanny pack to sit on my hip instead of on my crotch. It is cooler, and less awkward there, according to the only girl I didn’t completely loathe back home in Atlanta.
Eyes of almost every person loitering in the courtyard are stalking my every move, watching me, waiting for me to make a mistake so they could dub me Weird Headband Guy With No Ears. This is who I was in the city I stayed in before this one: Washington D.C, the capital of our absolutely wonderful country.
I stalk into the office, letting the glass door slam shut behind me. The secretary looks up, and then begins to study my headband and nonexistent ears, unabashed. Gritting my teeth, I clear my throat and immediately she looks down at her computer, blushing.
“You must be Derek Bennett?” the secretary says loudly, pulling her blonde hair in front of her face.
“Yup,” I respond, popping the p. “But you really don’t have to yell. See the headset? I can hear like a normal person because of it.” She blushes deeper and begins to type furiously, still refusing to look me in the eye.
The printer starts to whirr, and my schedule squirts out. She grabs it and holds it in front of her. “Here you go,” she mutters. “We have a guide for you to help you around school as well, because she has a near identical schedule.” I shake my head as I grab my schedule and head towards the door.
“Don’t need one, I’ll be fine,” I call over my shoulder. The sound of her voice calling me back reaches my headset, but I ignore her, letting the glass door shut behind me. God, I hate special treatment. I’m pretty much normal in every way except for the ear thing. Why can’t people accept that?
The bell rings, and I sigh, but glance at my schedule. 3-104. Miss Becknell. I hoist my backpack up higher onto my black t-shirt clad shoulder and walk out of building one and towards the square building with the gigantic black three on it. People continue to stare, and one person even runs into a silver pole holding an awning up. I bite my lips and attempt not to laugh. At this point, I’m used to the stares, and the stupid things people do, even though it does piss me off. Once, when I was riding a train in Washington D.C., a guy started screaming at me, asking if I wanted his seat. I just acted like I couldn’t hear him specifically to make him feel like the idiot he was. Just because I have no ears doesn’t mean I’m incapable of standing.
I waltz into my homeroom class and immediately walk to the back, dropping my backpack on the floor beside the desk. There are only two other kids in the room, and they are too busy making out to notice me. The room slowly fills up with other sophomores, sparing me quick glances every once in a while, and then proceeding to whisper about how hot I could be if I didn’t have the non-ears and the headband and blah blah blah. Insensitive asses.
One girl, a pretty brunette with short curly hair, walks straight towards me and sits down in the desk in front of me. I raise my eyebrows at her.
She sticks her hand out, her arm extended. “Hi. I’m Marie, and I’m supposed to be your guide,” she says. I just stare at her hand until she puts it down. “Well, anyway, can I see your schedule?” she asks.
I continue to stare at her.
She sighs inwardly. “Look, I know you told the secretary that you didn’t want a guide, but just let me help you for one day and then you’ll be free,” she says.
I clench my jaw. “I don’t want your help, or your pity,” I growl, my upper lip curling upwards in a sure sign of disgust and aggravation.
She recoils a bit. “Look, I understand why you don’t want special treatment-”
I interrupt her. “No, you don’t. Have you been stared at your entire life and judged by vulgar, crass people?” I say, and then continue talking before she can answer. “Somehow I doubt it,” I snap and then stand up to move to another seat.
This is another reason I hate everyone. The way they try to empathize with me, try to tell me they understand my ‘inner pain’. Actually, those are the type of people I hate most. The fake sympathizer type, I mean. They just want to fix me, make me “Normal” so that they can tell all their little friends that they made the angry, depressed guy happy again.
Yeah, that isn’t happening anytime soon.
I sit down in a desk on the other side of the room and refuse to look at her, although it’s inevitable that I hear a guy ask her what she did to “piss of the new Alien-looking kid”. This comment sends another wave of irate frustration through my body, even though I am used to it. A slap echoes throughout the room, and then the squeak of a chair follows it which hints that Marie doesn’t like his name for me either. This surprises me more than anything else today, more than it really should.
The teacher, Miss Becknell, walks in just as the late bell rings two long beeps. She glances at me and her eyes unconsciously open wider before looking away. “Class,” she says loudly, “we have a new student. Meet Derek.” She motions widely for me to raise my hand. I roll my eyes but do so. She smiles in a way in which she probably thinks is encouraging, but really, is just patronizing.
“Would you like to say anything about yourself Derek?” she asks, still yelling.
I run my hand through my black hair in exasperation. “Only one thing,” I sigh, grinding my teeth again. “Please, god, don’t yell. I can hear fine.” Her eyes widen in shock, but I know she won’t say anything because of the whole ‘disabled kid gets special treatment’ thing.
“O-okay,” she stutters, and then proceeds to take roll call. Teachers are the worst of all-second to fake empathizers, of course. They try so hard to be considerate that they end up making an idiot of themselves.
The bell rings and I quickly stand up, hoping to avoid Marie. Chances are she is going to have her first class with me, but I’m doing my best to avoid her. She seems like the psychoanalyzing type as well, and I have to deal with enough psychobabble from my therapists, doctors, and mom.
My three classes before lunch go almost exactly like homeroom. Teacher starts out by yelling they have a new student and did I want to say anything. I proceed to tell them off, and then they leave me alone for the rest of class. The girl from homeroom is in every class that morning, and every class she offers to show me around. Of course, every time I refuse by ignoring her. I hope she’s giving up now; I’m really getting sick of her face. I guess.
I walk onto the field and settle under a tree, pulling out my brown paper bag from my near empty backpack. My teachers have been telling me to get my textbooks after school, not now, they don’t want to pressure me on my first day, blah blah blah. Special treatment. Again. That’s all it is, special treatment. They’re supposed to treat us like everyone else, promise they will, but they never do. It’s a part of their human nature, or whatever. That’s what all my psychiatrists say anyway.
I take a bite of my peanut butter sandwich and begin to chew as I watch Marie walk outside the cafeteria and look around. Her eyes meet mine and she grins and walks over to me and my tree. I grind my teeth and put my sandwich back in the container.
“What, are you stalking me now? Like a f*ing creeper?” I snarl as she sits down on the partially dead grass next to me.
She scrunches her tiny nose and frowns. “No, I was just-”
“Sitting with me so I’m not alone. That’s okay, I don’t need your sympathy.” I scowl, and then began to stand up.
“I was born with a bad heart,” she says tonelessly, interrupting my getaway.
I stop walking.
“I had three surgeries in the first week of life, and then a transplant when I was three. Two years ago, when I was fourteen, I had a heart attack. I had another four surgeries within the month after that, and was added to the transplant list again.” She looks me in the eye, her blue eyes piercing. “You said in homeroom that I had no idea what it was like to be you. I do have a vague idea.”
“You can’t possibly know what it’s like to be the kid with no ears,” I say flatly. ‘
She smiles wryly. “No, but I do know about the special treatment, the way people stare at you with no shame, how everyone treats you differently even though you just want to be treated like a normal kid,” she says matter-of-factly.
I hesitate. “At least your problem isn’t obvious. Only people who know treat you different. Plus, everyone is used to your problem,” I respond after a while.
She laughs one loud booming laugh. “God, you’re stubborn. And kind of an asshole.”
I stare at her. “What?” she shrugs. “You expecting special treatment?”
I continue to stare. “Because you aren’t getting any from me.” She stares at her toes and refuses to stare back, an uncomfortable look on her face.
An out-of-character surge of guilt washes over me, and I bite my lip. My first apology since I can remember forms in my mind, and before I can talk myself out of it, I’m speaking.
“I feel like I should apologize for being such an asshole,” I say, “which I have never done in the history of anything.” I laugh quietly. “Y’know, my multiple therapists diagnosed me with misanthropy. I always thought that was amazingly accurate, even though I told them they should go die in a hole. They almost always reassigned me to some other therapist after that.” I laugh again. She looks up at me curiously for a bit, and then stands up, brushing the dirt off her butt and then holding her hand out.
“Hi. I’m Marie Sleet, the girl with the screwy heart and who has a tendency to be incredibly annoying,” she says in a professional tone.
I look at her incredulously. “What?” I ask, confused. I already know this; why is she telling me again?
She sighs and shakes her head sarcastically.
“We’re starting over, obviously.”
I smile a bit before putting my hand in hers. “Hi. I’m Derek Bennett, the guy with no ears and who is an asshole.” She laughs loudly. The loud sound coming from such a small girl makes me grin for real, the first one since I can remember.
This girl is making me happy. She’s making me smile, and talk, and laugh, and forget. Actually forget about the stupid people in this world.
I sit with her for the rest of lunch and laugh more than I have in my entire lifetime. I don’t understand why one girl can do what years of therapists can’t, though. Maybe it’s because we share ‘inner pain’, or something. That’s what my new therapist will say at least, because all my other ones would have said the same.
Maybe my new therapist won’t diagnose me with misanthropy. I don’t exactly hate all people any more. Just 99% of them, which I think I can call progress.
“Hey,” Marie says, poking me in the side. I flinch and roll over on the grass. It has been eight weeks since that first day, and Marie and my stupid therapist have helped me make progress. I now sit with more than me, myself, and I at lunch. Marie, her friends Violet and Rose, and another loner like myself I made friends with, named Shamshad, are joining me under my tree. In fact, just as I’d hoped, my new stupid therapist hadn’t diagnosed me with misanthropy. Just social issues.
“Hey yourself. What do you want?”
She purses her lips. “How much do you hate your whole non ear thing? And how does it work?”
I raise my eyebrows at her. “What brought this on?”
She sighs and sits up onto her elbow, scrunching her eyes at me. “Just answer the stupid question, dumbass.”
I grin. “Well then, bitchface, I guess I have to answer since you brought out the names.” She slaps me playfully across the face.
“Answer!” she yells, sitting up onto her heels excitedly.
I laugh a bit and shake my head. “Okay, um. I used to loathe my ears but I’m sort of okay and accepting of them now, I guess.” I make a face. “How it works? Like what’s exactly wrong?”
She nods, rocking back and forth on her toes.
“Basically, I have all the inner workings, but I don’t have ear canals or the right formed cartilage. I’ve told you this before. Why?” I ask suspiciously. She grins even wider, if that’s possible.
Suddenly she’s standing and pulling me up with her. “Remember that surgery you told me you wanted? The one that would let you get rid of the ugly fanny pack and the headband? That would give you normal ears?” I nod hesitantly. Now she’s literally jumping up and down. “My aunt is a plastic surgeon, and I got her to do that surgery for free. Her Chief of surgery agreed to add this to their pro-bono budget,” she says.
I just stare at her in shock. She did not just say what I think she said. There’s no way. What are the chances of her aunt being a plastic surgeon and agreeing to do a free surgery without even knowing me?
Marie frowns a bit. “Did you hear what I just said? If your mom agrees- which I’m sure she will, she loves me- you’re getting ears!”
I shake my head in shock. “I heard you; I just… can’t believe it. Why? How?”
She blushes suddenly. “W-well, I just talked to my aunt, told her all about you, and she said yes,” she stutters, staring at her toes, completely out of character from her normal cute, confident attitude. But mostly cute.
“But why? That’s what I don’t get,” I say. She blushes harder.
“B-because you want it so badly an-an-and you, um, seemed s-so nostalgic when you, err, t-t-talked about it…” She trails off. She then huffs loudly. “Fine! I like you okay?” she yells loudly and then turns around, her spindly white arms crossed against her chest. Violet, Rose, and Shamshad stop their conversation and look over in shock. Violet motions at me to walk over to her and I widen my eyes, but do so.
I don’t even realize she’s crying until I hear the sniffles. Hesitantly, I place my hand on her shoulder. “Marie-”
She interrupts me, and shrugs my hand off her shoulder. “No, you don’t get to ‘Marie’ me. Just… go away. I just made an idiot of myself so please… just go away.” I smile at our ignorance. I had no idea she liked me, or would even think about liking me. Who would like the kid with the non-ears and the people-hating issues?
“Marie-” I try again. She just interrupts me.
“Go away!” she screams.
I grit my teeth and spin her around, and then shake her shoulders. “Marie!” I yell, and then kiss her, right on the lips.
I hear the others gasp, and then the crunch of a chip. One of the twins whispers, “This is better than a soap opera.”
Marie giggles against my lips and I pull away, bending over a bit to rest my forehead against hers. “I guess it’s good I like you too, huh?” She smiles a bit and laughs breathily.
“Wasn’t that your first kiss?” she murmurs.
I half smile. “Yeah. Was it that bad?” She laughs again and pulls her head from mine, shaking it.
“The exact opposite, actually.” I grin hesitantly. I’ve always worried about my first kiss, how it would go, who it would be with, what it would feel like. God, I sound like a girl. Maybe I’m a secret girl or something. Probably from all the Disney movies my mom made me watch as a kid so I would be ‘the perfect gentlemen.’ My mom had strange ideas on how she was going to raise me. At one point, she was trying to convince me to go to ballroom dancing lessons, another idea she got from Disney movies, specifically Beauty and the Beast.
It kind of fits, now that I think about it. Marie is Beauty, and I was obviously the Beast.
Marie snaps in front of my face. “Earth to Derek, earth to Derek. Anyone there?” She knocks gently on my forehead.
I shake my head and then grin. “There we go, sarcastic Marie is back,” I say and she laughs, gently whacking me upside the head like she usually does when I say something like that. I laugh too and then step back, grabbing both her hands.
“Let’s make this official,” I say. Her eyebrows knit together in confusion but she goes along with it.
“Okay?” she says.
I smile reassuringly at her. “Marie Jessica Sleet,” I say, and she winces when I say her middle name. For some odd reason, she hates it. I hear Shamshad say something about now knowing her middle name and she hears it too, grimacing and scowling at me. My tongue pokes out through my lips before I continue. “Will you be my official girlfriend?” Her eyes widen in shock and for a second, I’m afraid she’s going to refuse.
My worries are unnecessary however, because she wraps her arms around my neck and jumps, screeching yes. I hear the others clapping and Marie laughing, but all I’m paying attention to are the lips on mine, and the amazing girl attached to them.
Maybe being the Alien, or Weird-kid-With-No-Ears-And-A-Headband, or whatever else I’ve been called behind my back isn’t so bad. I mean, I did get the girl in the end, right? How many people can say that?