By Lauren, age 16, California
In my younger years, I once made the grievous mistake of invading a birthday party for an Invitronite. Embarrassment was not a common emotion for anyone then.
Upon entering, they stared. That was all. Their glares - harsh, demanding, deserving of answers - marked the first time I'd been looked in the eyes by their kind. I, a normal child, never gained their attention, their scrutiny, in ordinary circumstances. Meekly I asked if the teacher was in.
"She's gone," responded a male with black hair. He turned around and resumed talking, along with the others, though some still glared at me. Guilt encased my being, then shame as I left.
It was, after all, my error. What business did I have in their celebration, when I did not exist in their eyes?
These are my thoughts as I watch a brunette walk into the calculus classroom of the Delandia Technical School. Her hair is newly curled, a contrast from her usual, bone-straight locks which have been made fun of, despite how beautiful she is. I wish I had the courage to say that aloud, but I don't. It would sacrifice whatever place I have in the caste of society.
I've heard every manner of things since transferring here - that the school drops half of its population in each successive grade, that Invitronites dominate all things from within the system, and that the best students are always named Casey. This girl, the one now in curls, has the scorn of my classmates for some past failure. I feel for her. I would feel for her more if my mind weren't focused entirely on Einstein's theories, getting an A, and the test in the following period.
No one else notices this change in her. As soon as she sits down people turn, realize it is her, and turn away. I suppose I'm lucky. New, naive, they befriended me upon my transition here. I have a boyfriend, an Invitronite of the highest order, brilliant in every manner. Whispers have gone around about that, but I ignore them.
The answer is thirty-six thousand, two hundred and eighty-one. There. The exercise is over. I glance at the girl, who wears a melancholy expression. Her clothes are better than most I've seen, despite how cheap the quality. She could have been an artist, instead of stuck with numbers here, I think. Here, no one compliments her. Here, people turn away. On the side of my paper, I write out a note and tear it off.
You look beautiful.
I don't sign my name - if it spread anywhere else, I will be labeled an outsider. I fear this because of the impact on my grades - there is truth to the statement that Invitronites control the system. Like her, I wish I were one of them, but nothing can change DNA after the fact.
"Maddison Remiks, what is the answer?" the teacher asks, tilting her head at the curly-haired girl, who swallows, stares at her paper, then back at the teacher. The class giggles.
"It's ... 36,283," she answers, blinking hopefully at our teacher, who spins around to face the class.
It's cold, harsh, brutal, dead. It's a fact. She failed. It's a reaffirmation of what the world believes, that she is a mistake, that she failed, that she will fail again, that relying upon her is inviting disaster. Smiles are exchanged between classmates, and someone whispers, "and that question was so easy, too!"
My heart sinks. It wasn't easy for me, though I'd never say that, either.
The teacher turns around again. "Why don't you give it another try, Ms. Remiks?"
Insult to injury, knife to bone.
"Please work it out on the board so that all of us can understand your thinking," the teacher adds. The class giggles again, a chorus of whispers rising.
I wish I could shout out the correct answer for her, but the point is moot. Her beautiful curls bounce as she stands proudly, walking forward to the board. Face unchanging, she takes the marker, uncaps it, puts it to the board. I gulp involuntarily.
"There is your mistake. Your multiplication is incorrect. Ms. Remiks, I suggest you revisit your multiplication tables."
Now the class is laughing. The girl doesn't turn around, doesn't face them, and I know. It's too hard, too hard to fight the noise, the thirty opinions against yours, the urge to run screaming from the room and hide in the restrooms. With the teacher's shushing noises, the class finally quiets down, and the girl passes by my desk on the way to her seat.
I hand her the note. She stares at me in surprise, and I smile, heart hammering. She sits down as the teacher writes the correct answer on the board.
Hurriedly I correct the number on my paper, derogatory words running through my head, that critical voice that fills each silence. I can't turn to the others, can't lift my head now, despite the fact that I am not the one whose flaws are engraved upon the mistake board of fame. The bell rings. I release the deep breath I've been holding and pack my things. It's gone, over, I tell myself.
Outside the door, I see three redheads and two blondes gathering around a sandy blonde, equipped with a "Happy Birthday" balloon and surrounded by giggling devotees with gifts, fighting over one another to deliver the best compliment. I shout Happy Birthday to her. Why not? They do not shun me anymore; after all, this isn't a repeat of elementary school. On my other side, I see the girl in curls walking off, her head down just slightly.
Someone runs up to her. A friend. I smile, because it makes all the difference. The friend is a brunette, too, with freckles like sprinkles all over a donut, hands empty, but eyes asparkle. Maddison smiles, the cutest thing I've seen in my thirteen years of life, looking like a supermodel from the magazines I used to read. It's just wide enough to show one dimple by her cheek, and looking back at the other group, I hurry away to see my boyfriend.
Between her fingers is the note I gave her. I doubt she believes a word - I certainly wouldn't. Yet I hope she does. I hope, because if I am the only one who believes, there is nothing I can believe in myself. With everyone around you blind, what is the use of sight? So I glance back.
"Happy Birthday, Maddison!"
And I mean it. Every word.