The assignments were:
- Write about a high school outcast, describe them either through stated descriptions or through a story about them.
- Write a scene with dialogue between two characters with one character expressing love for the other without using the word "love".
Natalie sprinted down the empty school hallway in a panic; she was going to be late for gym again at this rate. This would be her fifth tardy and if she ever hit seven, she’d fail the entire course. There was no way she’d let that happen, not after putting up with the malicious girls in the locker room for months on end. In fact, it was always because of those bitches that she was late to class. One time, Veronica had stolen a can of live bait from her dad’s garage and stuck it in Natalie’s old car with the lid off. It had taken her hours to catch enough of the bugs to drive home.
This time, they’d spray-painted the word “Dyke” across her locker in dripping red letters. She’d run to the bathroom to hide the scorching, shameful tears that pricked and burned in her eyes. What had started as a series of harmless, albeit hurtful, pranks, had eventually devolved into a deluge of hate aimed solely at her.
As Nat burst through the gymnasium doors, she heard the dull monotone of Coach White’s voice.
“Here! I’m here!” Natalie wheezed as she took her seat on the bleachers, making sure to stay as far from Veronica and her clique as possible. Luckily, Coach White was feeling forgiving today and Nat saw the pen clutched in his pudgy fingers make a small check on the attendance sheet.
Nat glanced up at the cluster of snickering teens, turning quickly away, her face hot with shame. She rummaged through her backpack for her gym uniform, wishing she wasn’t required to wear it everyday. The process of getting into it was always miserable.
Coach White called out the last name on the list, and then ordered the class to go get in their uniforms. Today, Natalie was ready. She purposefully strode across the waxy gym floor, straight into the pale, dingy locker room. Instead of setting her bag down on the bench in the center of the room, she padded over to the row of shower stalls in the corner of the space. She drew the stiff beige curtain shut over her stall and whipped out her clothes, finishing just as she heard the chattering of the other girls who had entered the room.
Then she just waited there in the moldy stall, dressed in her baggy gym uniform, her matted, dark hair settling on her shoulders as she stood. Nat listened to the girls changing a few yards away, remembering when she had tried to change out there with them after coming out. They had screeched in disgust, staring at her as if she was an ugly insect rather than a person.
“Get out of here pervert! You can’t get away with watching us change now that we know that you're hot for girls!”
“Yeah! Get out dyke!”
That first incident had made her break down in sobs and dash from the locker room. She’d run out to her car and cried so hard that she gagged and choked as she curled up in the backseat. This was her parents fault, not hers. Rather than accepting her choice when she told them, they’d thrown a fit and shipped her off for a summer with the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
The camp Natalie had attended was meant to cure her of her unholy sexual desires, and her parents were positive that with just a few thousand dollars and a month at camp, they could “cure the gay away”. But it didn’t work, and she didn’t pretend that it did. Everyone at school knew where Nat had gone, and they wouldn’t accept any claims of recovery.
At first, it had been hard, coming to school to find that none of her friends remained. After all, she lived in Elliott, Kentucky, and she knew that no one in her town had a tolerant bone in their bodies. It got worse as time went on, Veronica and her crew of homophobic bimbos would practically tail Natalie, pelting her with insults at every opportunity.
Nat would go home and leave her pile of work untouched. She would cry and scream, heaving with sobs so strong she would make herself throw up. Eventually, she made herself vomit voluntarily, sticking her fingers down her throat after every meal, convinced that if she were skinnier, prettier, she would find someone who didn’t hate her. But all that did was turn her teeth yellow and make her mouth burn and blister.
Now, standing in the shower stall, she remembered when her bleak look on life had changed. She had realized that a scholarship for academic success would surely get her out of Elliott, and she had vowed to strive for perfect grades, and with no social life, it wasn’t hard. So she endured every hateful comment, every snide remark, because she could take it for just one more year. Then she would be free.
Soon, the sounds of the gossiping girls faded, and Nat knew that she could leave her hiding spot. She exited the stall, instantly realizing that she was not entirely alone. A petite girl with mousy brown hair sat tying her shoes on the bench. Natalie strode briskly past, glancing sideways at her classmate. The girl looked up, and, for some reason, smiled at Natalie. It was a tiny, kind smile, not a smirk, and Natalie found herself smiling back.
It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
Margaret stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the door to the yellow hospital. As her weight triggered the automatic glass doors, a wall of freezing, sterile air hit her, making her nose burn and her eyelids flutter. She hated hospitals. They made her think of every bad experience she’d had with a doctor: searing shots for various diseases, getting her tonsils taken out. Even getting routine checkups at the dentist terrified her.
She hesitated before walking up to the nurse at the front desk.
“Um…excuse me?” She whispered, feeling guilty for speaking in the pervasive silence of the room. The spindly nurse barely glanced up from her glossy magazine, looking bored.
“Visiting hours ended twenty minutes ago, Ma’am.” She rattled off in a placid monotone. She couldn’t be bothered with Margaret, whose father was dying. She didn’t care that Margaret’s boss was an arrogant ass who’d kept her at work for an extra two hours. She opened her mouth to protest, but the nurse, who’d finally looked at her, beat her to it.
“Wait! You're Maggie right?” Margaret started. No one had called her that in years.
“Yes, that’s me,” She said. The nurse nodded knowingly.
“Your dad’s George Reeve, right? Funny guy, that one. He always talks about you, ya know? Go on back, I bet he’d enjoy a visit. Room 120.”
Margaret was shocked at this sudden change of attitude, but she didn’t argue, padding quickly down the hallway, searching for the correct room. She stopped in front of Room 120, pushing the wooden door open slowly, leaning inside to get a view of her father.
Her father lay in an emaciated heap under the sterilized, white sheets of his bed, his pastiness magnified by the dandelion color of the walls. However, as Margaret entered the room, his face brightened into a smile as vibrant and energetic as the sun. But she knew it was not for her, his smiles were never for her anymore.
“Ethel! You came to visit! How wonderful, how are you my dear?”
“Dad, it’s me, Margaret. I’m not mom. Mom’s dead.”
“What, nonsense Ethel! Maggie’s in college now, I’m sure she’ll come to visit me though, when she’s on break.” He grinned once again, thrilled by the idea of his daughter visiting him. Margaret’s stomach plummeted with the weight of his words. She had graduated from college nearly ten years ago, followed shortly by the death of her mother.
Margaret did the only thing she could to show her father that she cared.
“You’re right…George. I’m sure she’ll come visit you on her holiday, maybe at Christmas.”
“I sure hope so!” He warbled. Then he paused, lifting his fuzzy eyebrows as if struck by a memory. Maybe he knows it’s me, she thought. Then he spoke,
“Ethel, do you remember when we dropped Maggie off on her first day of grade school?”
“Dad…I—yes, I remember, George,” She said through the lump in her throat.
“You came home and cried for hours! Remember? When Maggie got home she asked you if you had a cold since your nose was so pink!” He chuckled at the memory, looking up at her in adoration. And Margaret did remember that, but at the time, the idea of her mother crying over her schooling had never crossed her mind. And although she wished now that she could give up, be herself instead of Ethel, she continued pretending.
“I remember. Maggie tried making soup so I could feel better, but she just burned her hands on the stovetop.”
“Sweet girl, clever girl. I do wish she wasn’t in school now. I wish she could visit.”
Margaret felt like screaming. I’m right here dad, don’t you see me? Don’t you care about me? Remember me! But, as usual, she said nothing, cradling her father’s insubstantial wisp of a hand, smoothing over the wrinkles with her thumb. She pressed his palm against her cheek, and he considered her quizzically.
“Ethel, why are you crying?”
“It’s nothing George,” she said, replicating her mother’s stern tone with practiced ease.