The headache I’m starting to get as I sit in my trigonometry class is almost blinding. After almost four years of having strange abilities, the headaches have increased from once a month to a couple times a day. But I’m the kind of person that can push things and not let them occupy my every thought. At the moment my headache is ignored as I attempt to use a cosine formula on problem number two on the pop quiz Mr. Arnolds gave us the minute we walked in. It’s nearly lunch and I’m sure I can make it a half an hour without the headache becoming too much. So I plug numbers into the variable spaces and forget. I forget about the pounding in my temples and the slight tingling feeling in my hands. I even forget I’m different. Because what is important right now is math. And school, and pretending to be normal.
I finish my quiz before most of my classmates. I know it will be another ten minutes before the last few kids hand in their quizzes. So when I drop the paper in the metal basket on Mr. Arnold’s desk, I also ask for the hall pass. He hands it to me without even looking up, his eyes glued to the assignment he is grading in front of him. I take it and make my way to the closest bathroom in the gymnasium. It is always empty because students typically used the ones in the locker rooms attached to the gym if they were close.
The bathroom always has a funny smell, almost like it is trying to be sterile and clean smelling but can’t quite combat the mildew smell too. I walk past the stalls, making sure they are all empty before going to the sink and turning the faucet. I plunge my hand into the cool stream and feel the pressure start to fade from my temples. I make some of the water heat up and steam into the air. Next I pull a few strands loose from the steady stream. They look like spaghetti noodles floating away from the faucet head. I let them splash back into the sink and shut off the water. I am fearful that someone will enter, so I only do enough to relieve the headaches. I don’t understand the headaches, and I am afraid it means that I used my powers too much at the start. Maybe it’s comparable to an addiction. Not manipulating water or plants, every few hours is like a smoker not having a cigarette for a few hours. Painful.
As I walk back to the classroom I move toward the trees in the center of the quad that are sitting in square plots of dirt surrounded by concrete. I let my hand brush the bark before pushing my whole palm firmly into the rough wood. If anyone sees, I’m sure I’d just look like a girl leaning against a tree. But I feel the tree pulse with life. It’s almost like we could communicate, I feel it pull nutrients. I can follow its branches and roots in my mind. I know the entire tree. After a few seconds I push my power into it and it sprouts a few deep green leaves on the branch closest to me.
I go back to class and sit down, noticing that two students are still left scribbling on their quizzes with mechanical pencils. I blend in, no one thinks twice about the girl in the middle row who just returned from the bathroom. Not even my closest friends who are also in trig as sophomores pay any attention to my absence and reappearance. Instead the focus is on our teacher who is now insisting the last of the quizzes be turned in so he can start his lecture. Students pull out notebooks, some stretch their arms above their heads, Mr. Arnold flips through a battered green binder for today’s lecture notes, and I am ordinary.
Lunch falls after trigonometry which is why the class is tolerable most days. The half an hour of freedom with friends has somehow become a reward for surviving the first five classes of the day. I walk to my locker and pull out the brown paper bag that I filled this morning with fruit, a granola bar, and a peanut butter and honey sandwich. My friends Liz and Hannah are already sitting at our table and Tyler and Joel are in line for the cafeteria lunch.
I barely started eating my sandwich when Hannah dives into her birthday party plans. Every year Hannah’s parents throw her a ridiculously huge birthday party. Only children. She doesn’t think it’s anything special. When we were young the parties were at ice skating rinks and laser tag places with greasy pizza and essentially our entire grade. In middle school they became pool parties because it was still warm enough in September to swim. Now they are full dance parties. Last year some kids snuck in bottles of vodka and her parents remained blind to the entire situation. They even let us all crash in the pool guest house, boys and girls together, while we had drunk games of spin the bottle and truth or dare. Well, they. I didn’t drink. I had no idea I’d react. What if I accidentally made the pool turn into an ice skating rink while dancing nearby because the vodka altered my control? Not worth the chance.
This year is apparently supposed to be even bigger than last year. Hannah is actually handing out invitations because last year’s success had even the seniors begging to come.
“Mom and dad said only one hundred people, maximum!” Hannah pouts as though this was a tragedy. One hundred people. Sure, they live in a ginormous house, they could easily handle a group of that size, but why would you want that many people at a birthday party?
“That’s a lot of people, Hannah,” I say. “I don’t even know if I could find that many to invite.”
“Lynnette, there’s over two hundred in our grade alone!” Liz says. “How are you going to decide who gets an invite?”
“I’ve been working on a list, I have it down to two hundred and forty two right now, but I’m struggling to cut more people. I mean, what if I cut someone and then they hate me?”
I love Hannah and Liz. Sure, Hannah is spoiled and Liz lives vicariously through her spoiled lifestyle, and they both are a little too into boys and superficial things, but deep down they really care. They care about hurting feelings and being rude more than they care about their eyeliner or making homecoming court. Besides, with Tyler and Joel around, they became less girly and more silly, the way had been since second grade when we all became friends. Hannah isn’t necessarily beautiful, the way Liz was. But there was something about her that made you keep looking at her. Her eyes were large and round, dark brown in color and justified in size by her round cheek bones right below. She could be a model, not beautiful but unique. Fascinating. Liz was beautiful, round face, cat-like green eyes, ski-slope nose. She’s almost like a mean girl off of a movie set, though you’d never find her in a cheerleader skirt. The girl has as much coordination as a giraffe in roller skates.
“I am inviting Alex, Lynnette, I hope that’s okay,” Hannah says. “ I have to, he’s best friends with Peter and Ryan, and I can’t invite them and not him.”
“It’s fine,” I say. I don’t want it to be. I don’t want my ex-boyfriend there, but with one hundred other people I am sure I can avoid him.
We only dated for three months. But he was my first real boyfriend and nobody understood why we really broke up. We’d been fine our whole relationship, until one night he asked me why I never cried or got angry or anything. Alex said he thought girls were supposed to be emotional at least every once in a while, but I never did.
“It’s almost like you’re not human,” he said. He meant it as a joke. I know he did. But I couldn’t face him again. Every time we talked after that all I heard was him saying I wasn’t human. Of course I was human. But I knew I was different, and I lived in fear of being discovered. It put a lot into perspective. I probably couldn’t ever have a real relationship. I am always going to have trouble in that area. Even though I was only fifteen, I knew trust and honesty are pretty important. And that sucks.
But I have my friends, the two crazy girls next to me arguing about whether it’s more important to have the varsity football team because they were cuter or the jv team because they were in our grade on the list.
“Ty, they’re talking about birthday party stuff again,” Joel says as they both sit down with trays piled high with some sort of pasta.
“Can’t we go back to laser tag? Those were the best parties!” Ty says.
“Can’t you guys be serious, I need to get this guest list done by the end of the day!”
“I am serious, I could take you all at laser tag, it would be great!”
“Now I know you’re kidding. There is no way in hell you could kick my butt in laser tag,” Hannah says. “I definitely remember beating both of you at laser tag and bowling.” She puts the paper with the list of names back in her bag and smiles at the guys.
“I think Joel’s right. You should do something simple. Maybe like a bonfire at the lake? Just with, like, ten people,” I say.
“I already hired the dj. Besides, spin the bottle’s no fun with only ten people!” Hannah says.
“Is this gonna be the year Lynnette finally has a drink?” Tyler asks, wiggling his eyebrows at me.
“Definitely not,” I say. I take a big bite of my sandwich so I didn’t have to keep talking. They start discussing this year’s football team and their chances of making it to state. I tune them out and focus on eating my lunch. Two more classes and I can go home. Two more classes and my day is over. I already started on the homework for tomorrow, so that means I can catch up on television or finally read the next chapter in Great Expectations. So far Pip was stuck pining after Estella and I knew there was more to this story about the boy than his pathetic infatuation with the rich little girl raised by the crazy old woman in the wedding dress.
“Hey Lynnette?” Hannah says as we walk away from our lunch table toward our next classes. I have chemistry and she has art, which are on the opposite ends of campus so I know she wants to say something she only wants me to hear. “Could you, do you think you could invite Kyle to my party? I mean, I know he’s in college now and he’s probably not interested in coming, but maybe you could just suggest it?”
I know Hannah has had a crush on my older brother since middle school. She was heartbroken when he graduated last year and now she only sees him if she comes over to my house. She’s lucky he chose to commute to school instead of going out of state like my brother Leo had two years ago. He came home for summers and Christmas, but other than that he was always in Maryland, nearly 3,000 miles from our home in California.
“Yeah, I can invite him.” I never minded that she has a crush on him. Truth be told Kyle was another best friend to me. Why would it bother me that someone I count as a best friend admires my older brother? Besides, I have always doubted much would come of her crush, but it is nice that she never minds him tagging along to the movies or trips to Knott’s Berry Farm.
“You’re the best! Seriously, the best!” She hugs me sideways, the books I am holding preventing a full hug.
“Yeah, yeah. Go to art class, draw me something pretty as a thank you.” Hannah sticks her tongue out at me before laughing and walking away. I smile back at her before walking into my class.
I meet back up with Hannah for our P.E. class. Having P.E. at the end of the day is good and bad. We don’t spend our day sweaty - especially after the weekly mile run, but bad because by 1:30 PM it is a miserable temperature to work outside in. It may be September, but the days are still hovering in the high nineties by that point.
After changing in the locker room, we sit on the grass to stretch. The grass is brittle and dry, still suffering from the long drought and summer that never seemed to end. It was rough on my legs where my gym shorts ended. I hadn’t shaved in a few days, it always felt like such a hassle, and my blond hairs were long enough to see the sun glinting lightly off of them.
Gemma Frazier stretches next to me, and when I move my leg out, I can see her eyeing my leg as though I haven’t bathed in a month.
“Ew. Like, we get it. You’re a lesbian, but could you still at least practice propper hygene?”
I don’t mind the soft hairs, especially since they’ve grown past the prickly stage, but I am not surprised by the comment. The rumors that I was gay started swirling around after I broke up with Alex, and only increased when I turned down any other boy who asked me out.
“Gemma, grow up,” Hannah says next to me.
“Oh, looks like lesbian here has a girlfriend to protect her. How sweet.” Gemma proceeds to make retching sounds, which elicits a few laughs from freshmen in our class.
“You do realize it’s 2020, right? There’s nothing wrong with being gay, unless you’re a biggot and homophobe. And you’d have to be pretty stupid to be either,” I say calmly, trying to keep Hannah from getting more upset than I can see she already is.
“Whatever, lesbo. Just because I don’t want you checking me out while we change for gym, doesn’t make me homophobic.”
“Seriously, Gemma, why do you have to be such a bitch?” Hannah says before I can speak again, and unfortunately takes the wrong time to. Mrs. Klepner, our P.E. teacher is right behind us.
“Detention, Hannah! I do not tolerate that language in my class.”
Mrs. Klepner doesn’t linger by us to hear any of the protests I begin to say.
I look over at Hannah and see the tears she is trying to hold back with such force her face is beginning to turn pink. I don’t think she’s ever had a detention.
Anger slams into me with such force. Anger at Mrs. Klepner not overhearing Gemma, at Gemma for being the worst human, and mostly at myself, for not speaking first, for egging Gemma on, and for being the kind of friend that does get picked on.
Before I can calm down I feel the pulsing of the grass around me fade as I begin to kill sections of it. Panicked I try to force some seeds to sprout new blades, but our school uses cheap grass because nothing wants to grow. Mrs. Klepner blows her whistle, indicating it’s time for us to start the sport of the day, but I can’t bring myself to stand. Hannah looks confused as I stay sitting. I force my hands deeper in the grass, begging the grass below to grow enough to hide what I’ve done.
It takes a few more seconds before I feel a surge of energy as the new grass grows. My heart is racing as I focus entirely on the ground below.
Hannah calls my name and Mrs. Klepner is coming over because I am still on the ground.
I slowly start to stand up, making an effort to look a little shaky. As I move my legs, I can see the dead grass is only slightly noticeable and I doubt anyone will pay attention due to the dramatic show I am putting on.
“Lynnette, what’s the hold up?” Mrs. KIepner says when she reaches us.
“Sorry, Mrs. Klepner. I just feel so lightheaded. I thought I might pass out if I tried to stand up.”
“You do look pretty pale. Did you eat today?”
“You might be getting sick then. Hannah, you better walk your friend to the nurse. I’m feeling generous today, so if you walk her there and make it back in time to join a team for soccer drills, I’ll remove the detention.”
“Thank you, I promise I will return right away,” Hannah says.
She slips her arm around my waist and I make a show of leaning my tall frame against her average one.
“I am so sorry you almost got a detention.”
“Don’t be, I’m the idiot who said what I said, and to be honest, I stand by it. She is a - you know.” Hannah looks around for staff.
“She really is.”
We walk quickly to the nurse and I insist Hannah leaves before the Nurse even hears what is wrong. The truth is I’m feeling more energized and well than I have all day, after making that much grass grow. But I can’t let the nurse or even Hannah know that.
Hannah leaves, and the nurse makes me sip on a gatorade and contemplates calling my mom. I convince her that it was just dehydration and say I feel much better after ten minutes of sipping the sweet drink.
Since it’s the last period and my mom will be arriving soon anyway, she relents.