She was an outcast.
She was lonely, unloved, and unwanted. Nobody cared about her, and nobody needed her or wanted her around.
And the worst part? Drew knew it. She knew that people hated her. The things they did behind her back: calling her Drew Take-a-nap, putting on loads of makeup like she did, mimicking the way she walked, and rolling their eyes whenever she spoke.
It was like the entire world was out to get her. Drew felt like that even now, as she climbed the steps backstage and peeked out behind the red velvet curtain. The eyes of all those people out there in the audience seemed to be ready to judge her at any moment.
Somehow, even that thought was enough to make Drew want to go to the bathroom and resort to measures she'd taken in middle school; the reason she'd always stayed so skinny and "healthy" wasn't necessarily all that good for her, and was probably no better for her health than eating a bag of chips and a box of pizza. She'd done such things at moments like this, when she felt as if she was constantly being judged for being smart, despite her appearance.
And what did she do to deserve such harsh treatment? Well, she honestly didn't know. However she acted was the way she'd been raised. True, that may have not been the best upbringing, but was she really to blame?
For as long as she could remember, Drew Tanaka had loved math. She'd loved every aspect of it: algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus; you name it, she was into it. And the best part was that she was actually good at it. She excelled in school at an early age, from the time in kindergarten where she already knew her times tables up to 20 and the current day when she had just recently discovered the formula for life. She'd done all of this in secret of course; she couldn't have her spotless reputation of the head cheerleader at school and the leader of the Aphrodite cabin ruined by being pronounced a math geek.
So that's why Drew spent her nights staying up with a flashlight and the covers of her bed drawn up to write a 200-page research paper on the value of the number 2. It wasn't just that she was ashamed of her brains, (which she was), but also that there was nobody to listen to her.
First of all, her mother had been absent her entire life, so that eliminated the primary female figure present. Certainly, it was understandable, considering she was the goddess of love and all, but you'd think the lady would have enough sense to send just one birthday card. That would have made all the difference in the world to Drew when she was younger, but as she'd grown older and had realized that her mom would never be there for her, she'd turned completely to her dad for support.
Her dad, one of the greatest mathematical minds in the equation-development area of medical research at the time, was constantly gone from home. He would rarely be home for more than a few consecutive hours at a time, and would always be there at times when Drew should be at school or asleep. But she would always sacrifice the 5 hours of sleep or school (which she loved) just long enough to hug her father and talk to him for a few minutes before he had to be back at the airport and onto the next flight to Tokyo, Shanghai, or some place like those.
As much effort as she gave into loving her father, he rarely reciprocated the loving feelings. Why, he hadn't even bothered showing up here today, at what was possibly the biggest moment of her life so far.
Drew receded backstage and waited anxiously with the rest of the students awaiting to give their speeches. She paced back and forth nervously, chewing her dainty nails that had been manicured just for the occasion. Then she raced back to the curtain and poked her head around the side again, even though in her heart she knew that neither her mother or her father would be waiting to see their baby girl give the speech she'd been rehearsing and memorizing for so long.
And she was right. Aphrodite's gorgeous face did not appear amongst the bustling throng of eager parents. Nor did the round face, aided by wire-rimmed glasses, of Mr. Tanaka.
No surprise there.
But wait! She suddenly spotted someone she hadn't expected to see. Two someones, actually. Amongst the consistently middle-aged faces of the crowd gathered in the auditorium of the Brooklyn Academy of the Gifted, there were two lone teenage faces. One of the two was a girl with curly blond hair, and grey eyes so piercing as to be seen from here that Drew instantly knew she could be no one other than Annabeth Chase.
But that means... she realized with a start as she stared at the raven-haired boy, who, although she couldn't see that well, undoubtedly had a pair of gorgeous green eyes. What other boy of that description would be with Annabeth? It had to be. Yes, it was:
Drew immediately withdrew behind the curtain, and she began to feel a sense of panic. What are they doing here? she wondered incredulously. They were some of the last people she would expect to come here, especially after the horrid things she'd said to Annabeth about her and Percy's friends Silena Beauregard and Piper McLean.
In truth, both Silena and Piper had been very powerful, kind, beautiful Aphrodite girls, like herself (except for the kind part). She privately admitted that she'd been a total you-know-what to both of them, but there was something about people that happy and carefree that really upset her.
Maybe it was because they were everything she wasn't, but through no fault of their own. The playing field had been level when they were born: all beautiful, intelligent, and powerful daughters of Aphrodite who could make the same positive impact on the world. But the moment the girls were taken home to their families, the field was no longer level. Drew didn't know much about Silena's home life other than the fact that she was from L. A., but she knew that Piper's dad was the famous actor Tristan McLean. Compare Piper's rich, handsome, and famous-for-cool-reasons dad to Drew's not-so-rich, somewhat handsome, and famous-for-boring-reasons (at least according to the rest of the world) dad, and the question as to whose life was better was obvious.
But then Drew suddenly remembered something Annabeth had once said to her when she had been yelling at Piper when she first got there. The daughter of Athena had pulled her aside and advised her to be slow about judging others. "You and Piper may have more in common than you think," she said with a certain air of distinguished wisdom.
Although Drew didn't understand the similarities at the time, she certainly could see them now: both girls: had famous, distinguished fathers that weren't around much; acted a certain way to gain attention at home; were daughters of Aphrodite (obviously); could use charmspeak; and the list went on and on.
All nice feelings aside, Drew suddenly remembered that two people she had not been expecting to show up at her speech were sitting there in the audience, and would be hearing the long lecture she'd toiled over for weeks now. And not just two nobodies either: one was Annabeth Chase, the smartest girl, like, ever, and the other was freakin Percy Jackson.
Just hearing his name rattle around in her brain, Drew could already feel her pale face heating up. She tried her best to fan away the anxiety, for she knew that her heavy coating of makeup would give her a rash if her skin reacted in any way at all; but it did no good. Percy Jackson had been Drew's crush since she had arrived at camp He'd been teaching sword fighting in the arena, and, when showing her how to deflect a blow with her blade, their skin had touched, and sparks had flown. He was two years older than her, but so what? It didn't matter. And, although she'd never really had a full conversation with him, she'd crushed- not quite loved, but heavily crushed- on him from afar for many, many years.
I have to talk to him, she realized with misplaced confidence. Right now. Once he sees how smart I am, he'll start to like me even more. Him and Annabeth can't be serious about dating, can they? She reassured herself with false hope that he would like her if only he talked to her.
She spotted a mirror in someone's hands, and took it away without asking. I'll give it back. She rushed off to the side of the stage and held up the mirror, arranging her dark ringlets perfectly around her shoulders, adding more pink eyeliner, straightening her jewelry, and dabbing on more mascara and blush until she was the pink paragon of perfection.
With the knowledge that she had ten minutes before her speech and the self-assurance that she looked fabulous, Drew raced down the steps of BAG's backstage and ran back through the doors of the auditorium. She spotted the renowned couple towards the front and rushed to them with open arms.
"PERCY!" she cried with a shrill shriek. His eyes widened and he stood up, presumably to get away, but Drew was too quick for the son of Poseidon, and she tackled him into a bear hug. She squeezed him tight, and in the midst of her vice-like grip, she realized with a sigh that he smelled (heavenly) of sea salt and peppermint.
She must have forgotten to let go from her anaconda hold on him, because he started to gasp and choke for air, saying, "Drew! Let go...I can't breathe!"
She backed away obediently, expecting to see a look of jealousy on Annabeth's face, but instead she only saw a look of cool bemusement. Drew was confused. Why wasn't she upset? The girl obviously liked her boyfriend (and with good reason), but why didn't she throw a fit when Drew made a move on him? Maybe, said a sing-song voice in Drew's mind, it's because she's not threatened by you. The daughter of Aphrodite was surprised; she was always a threat. That's how she dealt with people, like Silena and Piper, who threatened her status as #1: she became an even bigger threat and intimidated them.
"Nice to see you, Drew," said Annabeth pleasantly. "What are you doing here?" Then, as if a thought had dawned on her like the morning sun, a light went on behind her grey eyes. "Are you here to support Lacey?"
Again, Drew was confused. "Lacey? No." She never spoke much to the girl, although they did go to the same school, the same camp, and were in the same cabin. The girl was just too bothersome, and, quite frankly, too nice. "I'm giving the big speech at the end, remember?"
There was a look that passed between Percy and Annabeth, and Drew could tell it was about to get really awkward.
"Um," said Percy uncertainly, "we actually came here for our friend. Maybe you know her? Her name is Sadie."
"How do you know Sadie?" Drew stared at him with an open mouth, jaw unhinged in shock, and Percy rambled on.
"Oh, well we met her the time when we teamed up with her and her brother Carter to-" He was stopped with a painful nudge from Annabeth, an obvious sign to shut up. He rolled his eyes and said simply, "She's a friend."
"Oh, okay," said Drew, somewhat shyly. "Well, I'll see you later, I guess," she offered, backing away and heading backstage again. She was embarrassed, thinking they'd come here to see her, when it was very obvious that they weren't friends with her.
And whose fault is that? said the same sing-song voice from before. Yours.
As Drew climbed the steps and entered backstage again, she was surprised how much truth the words rang in her ears. Her conscience, no matter how annoying or creepy it was, was right. The fact that she had no friends was her fault. She was always so mean to everybody for no good reason at all. If she wasn't trying to get some guy to fall in love with her or crushing hard on him, then she was wrecking his life and making him miserable. And if a girl wasn't in her clique at school (who she knew were called the "Plastic Bags" by others) or in the Aphrodite cabin, then Drew felt threatened or disgusted by her and acted like a bitch to her.
Drew suddenly knew that she could only place so much blame on her parents and her home life before it stopped being true. In the end, everything she did or said came down to who she was as a person, and, upon further reflection, Drew realized that she didn't like that side of herself very much.
So, why not change? asked the same annoying conscience. Today is the perfect day. Drew totally agreed. She needed a fresh start, and graduation was the perfect route to take. This summer at camp and the years to come at Harvey Mudd College (which was a fantastic school in Claremont, California for math-minded majors), she would be a totally new person.
"Miss Tanaka!" cried a teacher from nearby, holding a clipboard. "You're up next!"
She nodded and waited for her name to be called by the principal on the other side of the curtain. When he said her name, she parted the velvet curtains on either side of her and walked up to the podium. A spotlight was glaring in her face, and the crowd before her had dozens of video cameras and phones trained on her at that moment, parents no doubt recording the entire graduation for their kids.
Drew looked at all of the people seated in front of her. She saw the teachers, who had spent countless hours making sure that she and everyone else got to this day. She saw the friends and family in the audience, and Percy and Annabeth looking at her with wide eyes. She saw the graduates in their gowns, looking up at her with expectant faces, Sadie and Lacey among them. Lacey even waved when she saw her. Drew smiled, and it was the first sincere smile that had graced her face in years.
"Hello everyone," she said. "My name is Drew Tanaka, and I am your valedictorian this year..."