Smudged Mirrors

~ Part Two of Three ~

The gentle swishing of pages being turned and pens tapping on desks are background noise as I stare out the window to my left, the cars passing easily in the snow-plowed streets and pulling up to the red light on the block in front of my school. My attention is outside as I thumb the edge of my unopened notebook, but the thought of failing this class is what’s really running through my head. I should probably be listening. I open my notebook for the first time in the last thirty minutes and look up at the board, where Ms. Selander has written out several equations and a homework assignment in the upper right. None of the numbers on the board make any sense to me really but I write them down anyway in hopes that I can figure this out on my own later, I take down the pages of the homework as well but I doubt I can trust future me to do it regardless.

Math wasn’t my strongest subject throughout middle school and it’s only gotten worse now that I’m a freshman, actual algebra is definitely harder than the pre-algebra classes I’m used to. I glance up at the clock and notice we’re supposed to leave in ten minutes, which is actually wrong because this classroom clock is slow. I put away the mostly empty math notebook and take out a composition notebook instead, the one I use for writing. That’s my next class and it’s definitely my favorite, the only class I’ve managed to maintain an A in these first few months of school.

I leaf through the pages until I come to the next clean one, circling my pen around on the top of the paper making little swirls while I decide what to actually write down. I settle on a character description, a girl that I just think up on the spot. She’s tall and attractive, with perfect straight hair and her clothes hug her in all the ways that they should. She has purple eyes that I don’t know if I should explain with contacts or a fantasy theme, they are beautiful but people fear them. She doesn’t let anything stand in her way and that puts some people off, but by the ones who really know her she is adored. I can picture her clearly in my head as I describe her on the paper. She’s everything I’m not.

The long beeping tone sounds above me to let everyone know they have about four minutes to make it to their next class if they don’t want to be marked late. I quickly get up and zip my bookbag before throwing it over my shoulder, I can just carry the notebook since it’s for my next class anyway. As I make my way past the desks from the back of the room I’m blocked by a gaggle of girls who are slowly leaving the room as well but are in the way of the door. I dig my short nails into the hard surface of my notebook, wanting to move forward more and say excuse me but my voice doesn’t seem to be here right now. One of the girls glances behind them and makes accidental eye contact with me before turning forward again.

“Oh my god, I didn’t even know she was in this class with us.” I overhear her say to one of the others in a snarky tone.

I can’t tell if she’s just horrible at whispering, if she wanted me to hear, or if she just didn’t care. It was probably the latter, but at this point I’ve plugged the small earbuds that were dangling on the front of my shirt into my ears and I can’t tell what they’re saying. The headphones are strung under my shirt leading down to my pants pocket and connected to my iPod touch, both of which are not allowed to be used at all but I do pretty well with keeping them hidden. Once I finally get out of the classroom I make a sharp right and I’m free to walk the halls to the stairwell, since writing is on the first floor.

I tuck the headphones back into my yellow polo shirt just in case any of the security guards happen to be around, I could never survive the whole school day if I didn’t have my music. I make it down the stairs without encountering anyone but as soon as I get to the first floor the long beep that signals that I’m late is going off, class isn’t too far away so I start to run. The whole time I’m just hoping that security doesn’t catch me running or they will probably make me even later, I was too focused on checking for them that I didn’t see the student coming around the corner I was about to turn.

CRASH— I stumble and catch myself on the wall, my notebook on the ground next to the student I knocked over, who I recognize as a boy from my science class.

“I- I’m so sorry, shit. “ I pant slightly, a little out of breath from the running and the surprise of hitting him.

“What the fuck?? Watch where you’re— Wait. Pfft, it’s you. Just don’t tell anyone I was talking to you.” He sounded really mad at first but once he looks up and sees who knocked him over he just sounds mocking.

He dusts himself off as if I was dirty or something before leaving back down the hall, and I scowl at the ground as I grab my notebook. Why do people have to be such assholes all the time?  I walk quickly to my class, now sufficiently late so I don’t bother trying to run again since there’s no point.

I slip inside the door as quietly as I can while trying to ignore the looks from all the other students in the class, when I make eye contact with Mr. Schwarz he frowns but I turn away and get to my desk before he has a chance to say anything to me. I hear a few hushed giggles and the sliding of paper before he clears his throat at the front of the room and begins speaking.

“So, like I was saying, I hope everyone completed the reading I assigned last time. We’re going to be talking about it today in class, I know not all of you are too enthralled with Of Mice and Men but it was only one chapter so I expect that everyone knows what happened.” He says in his usual cheery voice from the front of the room, sitting on his desk facing the rest of the students.

I stop listening after that, not that Mr. Schwarz is boring, he’s far from it. He’s my favorite teacher, and the main reason that I love reading and writing as much as I do. I just zone out really easily when I’m not actively doing something, so I end up not hearing most of what he says when he speaks for the next ten minutes until I pick up on one line in particular.

“And we’ll be pairing up for this one, so everyone get up and move a chair over to another student’s desk. We have an even number since Katrina came in so I don’t want to see any trios or big groups!”

Shit. I glance around the room to people already making pairs with their friends and others calling across the class to grab a certain friend before someone else can. I don’t have anyone to grab for this, so I just sit frozen at my desk. My muddy blue eyes meet Mr. Schwarz’s brown ones and I’m silently pleading to be able to do the classwork alone, but he motions for me to go over to the only remaining student. I look to my right and see a girl with her head resting on her arm, scribbling in a notebook near the back of the class. I reluctantly take my chair over to where she is and sit down, keeping my notebook in my lap instead of trying to share the desk space with her notebook and entire head.

She looks up at me once I settle into my chair, her eyes look bored and the paper in front of her doesn’t have anything tangible on it. The room is filled with the chatter of other students talking half about the reading and half side conversations.

“Alright so what are we supposed to do now?” She says to me once she sits all the way up, her voice is annoyed as if I made a personal choice to come bother her.

“I think he said we need to ask each other the questions on the board, and we’re gonna tell the class what the other person said.” I recount in a meek voice, I only know because while I was making my way over to her desk I overheard him telling another student those instructions.

She nods and starts asking me the questions on the board, the first one being “What do you feel is the relationship between George and Lennie?”

I start talking quietly at first, but as she continues to write what I’m saying I get a little more confident. I can tell by what she has on the page that it isn’t word for word but at least she’s actually listening, this is going a lot better than I thought it would. I respond to her next two questions and give her plenty of time to write down what I’m saying, and then it’s time to switch since it’s three each. I pick up my notebook from my lap and ready my pen, asking her the first question.

“Uh, what?” She questions back at me, looking more irritated suddenly.

“I, uh, well we both need to answer them.” I stutter out in response, her response having caught me off guard.

“I didn’t read it I figured you could just put something down for me.” She states as if it was an agreement we made right when I sat down.

“I’m not doing your work for you…” I say a little bit louder, my voice is growing annoyed too at this point.

I should have known it was another one of those students who think they can just get a grade through me without doing anything. She shushed me right after my last statement, narrowing her eyes as if I’m the one doing something wrong here.

Shut up or he’ll hear you, just do it it’s not like you have anything better to do.” Her whisper is curt and sharp.

“I said no. I’ll just go back to my seat and when he calls on me to repeat what you said I’ll tell him you didn’t read it.” I spit my no back at her, feeling really smug right as I’m about to get up and go through with the plan I just made.

“You would!” She practically yells, gaining the attention of the other students who quiet down to hear what’s going on.

“Because Mr. Schwarz is like your only fucking friend, why don’t you go suck up to him some more huh?!” She continues, just as loud as before.

Now he’s coming over here and I can hear him shout “Language Elizabeth! What is going on over here?”

He’s probably reprimanding her but I’m just standing in front of her desk staring at the off-white tiled floor, I’m not really listening anymore to what either of them are saying. My face is hot all over with embarrassment, I can tell it’s probably getting red and I feel wetness beginning to well at the corners of my eyes. This is stupid, don’t cry it’s not a big deal, stop it. Through the mild humming that has become my hearing I faintly pick up on people’s hushed laughs, and I look up to see that Mr. Schwarz has been trying to talk to me. I know if I open my mouth it will only get worse, everyone already hates me for some reason I don’t want to add crying in class to the list of why.

I turn quickly with my notebook in hand, leaving my pen on that girl—Elizabeth’s desk. Once I’m out into the hall with the classroom door closed behind me the air seems cooler. I turn and walk briskly to the girl’s bathroom down the hall, mostly because I didn’t want people to see me but I also didn’t want Mr. Schwarz to come out and make me return to his class or even worse get caught by security. Once inside I take a deep breath, coughing a few times before I lose it, then I’m crying in the Science Park High bathroom.

Thankfully it isn’t loud sobbing, obnoxious sounds, or way too much snot gathering on my face. It’s a quiet cry, the tears coming out of me in narrow streams while I lean against the wall next to a sink with my eyes squeezed shut. I start to have a hard time breathing because my nose is stuffed, but I bend down and look under all the stalls before sniffling loudly. God this is pathetic.

I pull out my phone to check the time, it’s only a little longer and then it’ll be my lunch period. Then I could slip out and just go get some crappy food by myself and the security people won’t bother me. I put my notebook on top of the paper towel dispenser so I can use both my hands to rinse off my face in the sink. The cold water feels good against my eyelids and my cheeks, but when I look up at myself in the mirror I look like a mess.

My black curly hair is frizzed up more than usual, and my puffy eyes have dark rings under them that make me look even more tired than I feel. The bothersome little birth mark near my right cheek is still there and my nose is still just a little pointier than I want it to be. I’ve splashed water onto my uniform shirt and I look dumb. This is the one time I’m thankful that I don’t know how to do make-up, because it would be ruined. I move my head around and look at myself from different angels, covering one part with my hand or opening my eyes real wide. Nothing really works to make myself look any better than I always do every morning.

I know I can’t just stay in the bathroom forever so I pull out a few sheets of paper tower and dry off my face, then try to fix my shirt. It doesn’t really work but at least now I look a little bit more presentable then when I first came into the girls’ room. I grab my notebook, taking care not to get its pages wet and leave, making my way down the hall slowly.

The long deep finally sounds again and thankfully no one I see around is from a class that I have so I can’t be recognized. I linger down the hall from Mr. Schwarz room until I see him walk out and in the opposite direction of me, then I slip back inside to find my bag on my desk where I left it. I let my notebook fall upright through the top of the bag with my few other books and zip it closed, then head out the door and quickly across the building to the cafeteria.

When I go to lunch there is a table in the far back corner that’s next to a few large windows, it’s farthest from the lunch line so it gets filled up last. If I am very late to lunch then the table is usually taken by a big group of students, but if I get there first then people just come over and take chairs so they can squeeze in somewhere else. If the table is already full when I get there I usually just leave and go to the library to read before my next class. On those days I end up just eating something at my house, but it does make it even harder to concentrate during the rest of the day since I get hungry in class.

I don’t think it’s that late and I feel like shit so I’m gonna get food no matter who is at my table, at least that’s what I’m thinking as I go through the double doors leading inside. Then I see that there’s a girl already sitting there, but it’s only her. I feel like just turning back around but the rumbling in my stomach pushes me forward to the lunch line. It’s a quick process because most people are already eating it looks like, and today’s food isn’t the best. It’s a chicken patty, plus ketchup packet, with a plain bun and something that was attempting to pass as collard greens. Pretty gross but it will have to do.

I make my way over to the table that’s usually just mine, and slide my bag into an empty chair while motioning to the one next to it to see if she’s okay with me being here. She looks up at me when I drop my bag down and her grey eyes don’t show any irritation at all.

“Yeah you’re good” She says nonchalantly before looking back down at her phone, she has headphones connected but they were only in one ear.

“Cool” I mutter, surprised that my voice came out normally and not cracked from the crying but it’s still more nasally than I want it to be.

I sit down at the table and start picking at the school food, staying away from the green sludge and chewing on the patty they labeled chicken instead. When I’m sure the other girl isn’t paying attention to me anymore I really look at her, because I definitely haven’t seen her around before.

She has decently long dirty blond hair, it’s straight but it sticks out a lot around the top and the ends. Her eyes look grey from here and she has a rounded nose but a slim face. She’s sitting down and leaned forward onto the table but she looks rather slender with just a hint of top-heaviness. She has the light long sleeve button up for our uniform but it’s open to show a plain black t-shirt underneath, as well the blue-grey uniform skirt. I realize I’ve been staring right when she looks up and catches me, making very distinct eye contact.

I want to look away but instead I open my mouth and say the first thing that comes to my head. “The lunch is really bad, huh?”

She clicks her phone’s screen off and eyes my tray, that’s when I notice she doesn’t have any food in front of her. Stupid

“Yeah this is my first time in here and I saw that and decided I’ll be eating at home!” She spoke brightly, emphasizing how bad it is.

“First time? What were you doing the last three months?” I say back jokingly but I realize a second later that it might be intrusive and I’m internally kicking myself again.

“Oh I was here the first few days in September but since then I was sick and didn’t come in at all, they let me come back now cause I promised I would be able to catch up even after missing so much.. I’m not entirely sure I will though but eh.” She went on explaining herself, glancing around and making hand gestures as she talked then ending the statement with a shrug.

“Oh jeez, wow, I’m sorry? I.. well I hope you’re better now. Um. So you just came to sit by yourself then… ya know if you want they let students go to the library during their lunch period too! I do that sometimes.” I trip over my words as I respond, I wasn’t expecting to have a full conversation with her or anything, but it actually isn’t so bad.

“Yeah I’m alright now, don’t worry you won’t catch anything! I didn’t know I could go in there now, but I met the lady inside this morning when she tried to help me get my login setup.” She jokes but then falls back into a normal tone of voice right after, she was really good at that.

“Yeah I mean, you don’t have to but.. it’s an option.” I don’t really know how to respond at this point but it feels like I should keep talking to her.

Abruptly the long beep is sounding again and it’s time to get back to classes but I don’t want lunch to be over, I look down at my tray and I’ve barely finished any of it at all. We look at each as we’re standing, and I glance down at the ID holder around her neck with her school ID visible from inside. Josephine.

“Hey, I’m Josie by the way, I gotta head to my earth science class now but I’ll probably see you around!” Her voice is bright as she introduces herself and says bye at the same time.

“That’s the class I’m going to!” I blurt out before I could stop myself and I feel dumb again, she obviously wanted to get rid of me by now.

“Ooh cool, throw away that tray and we can walk there together! I… Don’t actually remember the room number anyway.” She actually sounds excited about walking with me, and then a little embarrassed at the end.

“Alright… Oh, uh, I’m Katrina— well, actually. Kat, my friends call me Kat.” I smile at Josie before leaving alongside her.

Part Three


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