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I yanked at the collar of my shirt. Why were games always scheduled when it was the hottest? Never the less, I was determined to win. I raised my sweat sodden glove above my head, shielding myself from the sun’s glare. My eyes scanned the sky, still squinting in the harsh light, but the ball was gone.
Darn, the muffled plod behind me told me it had landed, probably ten or fifteen feet behind me. Pumping my legs as fast as I could, I raced toward the street. There it was, the softball, the last out and I was going to make it. The trees, the grass, the road, they all seemed to disappear, all that mattered was the ball. The soft, squishy ground disappeared from beneath me; it became hard, my cleats clicked with each step. But what was that noise? That honking, blaring siren? Never mind, I had it, in my glove, the last out, the winner of the game. My eyes looked up just in time to see the teal blue car swerve away; away from the girl in the middle of the road with the last out in her hand. Yes, the car swerved and spun, but not fast enough…
The alarm jolted me from my sleep. I slapped absently at my night table until the beeping stopped. My heart thudded against my rib cage, as if trying to break free. I took a deep breath, a dream, that was all. But why did it seem so real? I kicked the sheets back and hopped down onto the floor. Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I grabbed some clothes from the floor. The green shirt and pants would work for school, even if they were crumpled. Besides I was eager to get dressed, these pajamas were uncomfortable. I looked down at my arms, the cotton sleeves were not my usual pajamas. And this gown tied in the back. I searched my mind for an explanation; I probably just grabbed the wrong laundry stack last night. But it didn’t matter, and I was already running late.
I pushed my door open a crack. Hopefully I wouldn’t wake my mother, who usually liked to sleep in. But to my surprise she was awake. She sat at the kitchen table; her face was cupped in her hands. A stream of tears rolled down her cheeks. My thoughts instantly turned to Dad. Hadn’t he hurt her enough already? Leaving her alone with a child; Mom never really got over him. I knew not to disturb her, so I tiptoed down the hall, grabbing my backpack and heading for the bus.
What had I done wrong? It was the only question I could ask myself. Standing in the shadows, I watched my friends. They refused to talk to me, or even say hi. They didn’t offer an explanation, no “I’m not speaking to you because…” They just stared past me, chatting quietly amongst themselves. Even Sarah, who I’d been friends with since kindergarten, who used to blow bubbles with me and laugh as we dressed up in princess gowns, wouldn’t even look at me.
I blinked back tears, fighting the urge to burst out sobbing. Class after class, I was invisible. Some classmates would look my way, but they were not looking at me. They’d stare at my desk, or above my head, and they all wore the same pained expression. But I didn’t care what was troubling them, not when they thought it was okay to taunt me like this. Even the teachers skipped over my name on the attendance sheet, reading right past “Rachel Thomas” as if my name was too horrible to say. They kept my papers up at their desk while passing out all the rest.
Just as I was packing my bag for science, the loud speaker crackled to life.
The voice was choked and strained, but even with the difference, I recognized my principal’s voice. “Attention students, the m-memorial service will be held in the gym, teachers please escort your students.”
My heart froze, someone had died and no one bothered to tell me. An empty hole threatened to engulf my heart, I rushed from the room leaving my books on my desk.
Students and teachers were lined up outside the gymnasium, each with their heads bowed in silent respect. I pushed through the crowd, but no one noticed. Of curse they wouldn’t, that’d mean paying the tiniest bit of attention to me.
A white piece of oak tag was propped up against the gym wall, the top read, “In memory of…” but the rest was blocked by the crowd. Still, I worked my way through, elbowing the people out of my way, no one bothered to yell at me.
The sign was in view now. “In memory of…”
My heart simply stopped. Below it was a blown up version of my school picture, the smiling girl was wearing the same green tank-top I wore now. Cold sweat dripped down my palms. Memories came tumbling back.
The car, that teal blue car, it was so vivid now. And the pain, the blinding pain in my side, I remembered it all now. Slowly, I lifted my shirt; there on my side was a deep, long gash. I ran my fingers across it, it felt like nothing now. But I understood; I wasn’t really here. My body, my tangible body, was probably in a casket six feet underground.
I was dead.
I bowed my head in unison with all the others and entered the gym. I sat down next to Sarah, who had a stream of tears running down her cheeks. “I’m here with you, Sarah.” I whisper in her ear. I don’t care whether she can hear me or not.