Have You Heard?

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As she walked down the long hall to French class, her head felt crowded with the possibilities. What if she gets a brain tumor? What if her mom marries her skeevy, loser boyfriend? What if she fails today’s French quiz after missing so much school, between hanging out at the hospital, and then the wake and funeral? It had felt to her sort of as if everyone had been staring at her as she walked from the bus. Could they tell she was now different than everyone else?

Asseyez vous, mes élèves!” sang out Mme Pierce at the front of the room as Michelle slid into her chair and stuffed her backpack onto the rack under the seat. For the next 20 minutes she pored over the questions and checked her answers. It actually wasn’t that hard.

Merci bien, Mademoiselle Harris,” said Mme Pierce, adding softly, “Comment ça va?” with a gentle smile as she came down the row collecting papers. She shrugged, tried to smile but it felt more like a sneer, and she looked away. She felt a weird sensation, almost like nausea, but more like the homesickness she felt at sleep-away camp.

“Écoutez!” From the front of the room, Mme Pierce enthusiastically launched into the lesson of the day.

She turned to the page in the book they were covering but her mind wandered. Just this morning as she was opening her locker, one girl whispered to another across the hall, “Have you heard that Michelle Harris’s dad just died of a brain tumor?”

Her face burned now with the memory. How lame! No one had said a single word to her this whole day. Except for Mme Pierce. Maybe she actually cared. A tear slid down her cheek and splashed onto the textbook.

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Namasté

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For the Daily Post

Success

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She leaned her forehead against the cold metal of her locker, wondering what she should do next. Mrs. Carter said she could go home, but her mother would be at the hospital and her little brother would be at the day care. A bell rang and kids came streaming out of classroom doors and flowed past her laughing and talking, clutching their books, animated and unaware of her. The polished floors squeaked with the rubber of their sneakers. She turned away and fumbled with the lock, failing to get the combination right until the third try. As the door opened, her mirror swung into view and she saw her face. Skin pale and wan, eyes rimmed red, hair curling wildly as it always did, mouth grimly set and devoid of color. She pulled out her backpack and found her makeup bag. She grabbed the silvery pouch, shoved the backpack deep into the locker and slammed the door. Just as she turned on her heels to head for the girls’ bathroom, she bumped into someone.

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

“No prob,” said a towering guy with bad skin and a nice voice. “My bad.”

“It’s okay,” she said and tried to smile at the boy she’d never seen before. He wore a varsity jacket. Basketball. No surprise being he was so tall. “See you,” she added, hurrying to the bathroom to get out of the awkwardness.

“I sure hope so,” came the voice as she pushed open the door and almost ran in.

She set her makeup bag on the counter and took another look at herself. The pallor was gone and her cheeks were as pink as if she’d already put on her blusher. She leaned against the counter, wondering what she should do next. It wasn’t going to be an easy day. She put her hands through her long hair, combing the stubborn curls with her fingers. She’d been brought to the office to take a call from her mother. They had this stupid rule about cells in the classroom, and she’d had hers confiscated too many times to bring it out to check for texts or leave the ringer on.

Yesterday her dad had had brain surgery and they’d all been there, except for Tommy who was too little to be allowed in. Mom, her boyfriend Bill, her aunt Mary and Mom’s best friend Alice. Dad always said they’d had a friendly divorce, and she supposed this was proof. The doctor had come out in his green scrubs, just like on tv, cap on his head and mask down around his neck. The surgery was a success, he’d told them. They’d gotten the tumor and he had an excellent chance to recover fully.

Dad had looked really funny last night as they wheeled him from post-op to recovery, wearing what looked like a big white shower cap on his head. He’d smiled at her and she’d squeezed his hand, and he’d told them he felt great.

“See you, kid!” He’d said with that funny, crooked smile.

And then Mom was leaning in to give him a sort of hug and kiss him, and they’d all said, “See you!”

But that was yesterday. Today he wasn’t doing too well, Mom said with tears in her voice. Something had gone wrong. He was unconscious and they weren’t telling her anything but acting like it was really bad. His face was swollen, her mom had said.

“You can come,” she said, “but I don’t want you to feel you have to. If something at school today is important, stay. I’ll let you know if anything changes.”

She played that over as she put some gloss on her lips and pressed them together. Yeah right. If anything changed she’d be pulled out of class again. Forget that. And she took her things and walked out and headed for her locker. Opened it in a flash, stuffed the pouch into her backpack, swung it onto her shoulder, and slammed the locker closed.

She strode down the hall, oblivious to anyone else around, and out the front door of the school. The sun was shining fiercely. She rummaged into her backpack and pulled out her Metrocard and her cell.

“Mom? I’m coming up there. Tell Dad I’m coming, okay?

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For The Daily Post