The gentle breeze picked up its constant pace as I hustled across the lawn, the air smelling of fresh cut grass and earthworms plucked by naked hands… yuck.
I felt the sharp, itchy weeds get stuck between my toes as I went back and forth with my lawn mower in the early morning sun. I took a peek at the ravishing light that illuminated the whole world even when it was thousands of miles away, barely reachable by human kind. The rays were the color of a burning forest as it merged into a yellowish red. Kind of like an over-ripen mango that mom always bought when she visited the supermarket that was located downtown.
I picked up my speed to finish the work quicker, my motive? Having ample time to dog-sit Chloe; Mr. Flench’s little chihuahua that I adored.
Her wet, hazel eyes would flicker to the slobbery, tennis ball I held in a tight clutch. Her saucer eyes would open wide as she would wag her lengthy tail in every direction, expressing joy and excitement.
“Mom, I’m done… gotta go,” I left the mower inside our cramped, disorganized garage. I could barely breathe inside the jam packed storage.
“Don’t be late,” The aroma of basil, oregano and cinnamon waver delicately near my nose. I could just imagine sitting near the dusty fireplace, cupping my hands together, rubbing them constantly to keep warm. Drinking dad’s hot cocoa, with mom’s homemade vanilla cookies for the dipping as we would be famished from our heavy dinner. I was surprised mom decided to make enchiladas on a Monday night. Usually she would only prepare them on special occasions. I wondered what could possibly be the reason. Not to complain… occasion or not… I loved enchiladas!
“Her food’s in the pantry, snacks in the basement… my number’s on the fridge if you need anything… did I miss something?”
I shook my head, cracking a small smile as Chloe wagged her brisk tail with no intention of stopping.
“Well, thanks Kennedy for coming so early… I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
I flushed deep crimson, my fingers tapping against the side of my sweats.
Mrs. Flench bent down and kissed Chloe’s puckered face as Chloe showered her with kisses, I couldn’t help but admire the bonding between them, feeling like the outsider I was.
“Bye honey-bunny, be a good girl,” With that Mrs. Flench closed the door behind her, leaving her heavy perfume still stinging my nose and making me woozy.
I tapped my knees, something that I’d seen on TV when you wanted your dogs or babies attention in general.
Chloe ran off upstairs, leaving dirty footprints on the carpet.
I sighed, sitting down on the ivory colored sofa, crossing one leg over the other. Browsing youtube on the flat screen TV.
This was life.
I didn’t realize when I’d closed my eyes until I felt the warm, wet tingle on my leg. Giggling, I woke up to see who ticked me.
“Aww girl, sorry if I’m a bit down, I… I’m just nervous for the first day of school,” When have I started to talk with a dog?
Chloe remained unblinking, her fawn colored tail had stopped wagging as if she understood my dilemma.
“I… I don’t know why, I can talk normally to you but to the world… I can’t,” I fought back the intention of tearing down. Not now, not with Chloe watching.
She whimpered, jumping up to snuggle against me.
“Wish you’d come with me,” I ruffled her thin fur, she trembled from my cold touch. Her spine shuddering under my fingertips, I traced the outline of her bone, breathing in the scent of her lunch; bacon and kibble.
She cooed, shutting her eyes droopy.
I did the same.
“Kenny, did you pack your bag?”
I nodded, my expression filled with worries.
“I… I scared.”
“Kenny,” Mom placed a confident hand on my shoulder, meeting me eye to eye, “I know it’s hard to interact with people but daddy and I aren’t going to protect you forever, you have to learn to get along with everyone.”
She placed a quick kiss on my cheek before unlocking the car door.
I could feel mom’s pain in her tone, ever since my parents found out I had alexithymia. Something only 1 out of 10 people get.
The reason why I can’t express my emotions to anyone. The reason why I was homeschooled for all my life until now.
The reason why I’m shivering is not from the cold but agitation… that I’d be ridiculed for who I was.
I arranged my messy chocolate brown hair into a ponytail, grabbing my backpack and slinging it over my shoulder, grabbing my shoes from the rack and tying the laces rapid fast.
Mom drove slower than her usual, constantly checking the rearview mirror to see my blanked out expression but she didn’t comment on it.
I saw the blurring trees pass by with a flicker of my eyes. I saw kids of all shapes and sizes walking in groups, chatting happily like they belonged here. Girls swinging their joined arms together, boys messing around with a football. Yet, everyone seemed to have someone to talk to about their feelings. Something I can’t share with anyone. Something I felt was missing from my life.
I looked straight again.
“Have fun, remember Kenny… you got this.”
I nodded, biting my lower lip in hesitation to abandon mom’s protection shield and go to the unknown.
“B-bye,” I felt mom’s warm kiss on my forehead, wrapping me with the love she shore over me all these years.
I grabbed my things, opening the door as I let the cold, autumn air sweep inside the heated car.
The leaves crunched under my shoes, the wind pushed the leaves that made scratching noises, paining my ear.
Hands tucked inside my pocket, I made my way to the office.
“H-hello?” I whispered inaudibly, my voice cracking like fireworks on 4th of July.
“Oh hi… may I assist you?” I turned towards the cat-eyed women that stood beside the help desk. Her name tag wrote; Helen Jacy.
Her green tinted hair fell over her golden eyes, she had tattoos covering her arms as much as I could notice… a dragon, a hat, a lion. I couldn’t see the rest as it was covered by a heavy
“I… I new,” I felt my face blush, I hoped Mrs. Helen understood my jibber jabber.
Mrs. Jacy gave me a thumbs up, running over to the room marked; files as she plucked a red file on top of the file cabinet.
“Mrs. Vel?” She asked, glancing at my bio.
Again, I nodded. The bell rang, I knew that school had started, great… I’m the new girl and I’m late on my first day.
“Sweetie, here’s the map of the school and a brand new P.E t-shirt… good luck.”
“T-Thanks,” I was going to need all the luck.
Mrs. Jacy went back to typing away on her computer, her nails making click-clacking noises with her long hot pink nails, emblemed with tiny fake jewels.
Sighing, I pushed the heavy door frame to escape the office. I was breathless to see the school… my school.
Buildings spread as far as my eyes could see, all in different shapes and colors.
Tardy kids were running around to their homerooms, clutching a tardy slip tightly to their chest. I could feel the breeze pick up, my hair danced around me, insisting I pluck the strands out of my mouth.
I looked down at the paper; number 20. I saw right away, the facade was built for any weather, bricks were still exposed from long ago half-done constructions. Blue graffiti was spilled across the wall.
Taking a deep breath, I stepped forward.
This was a challenge.
And I must overcome it.
I slipped inside before the next gush of wind chilled my bones, turning me into an ice sculpture.
I could feel the faint murmur of the weary class, talking about how their weekend went, the beach party next week, who’s birthday it was… I took a peek inside from the small window.
Too many people.
I could hear my faint breathing; uneven. My heart was pounding, my head throbbing from a recent headache.
Too many strangers.
I dismissed the thought. The look on mom’s face showed she would not be pleased if I fled school like a coward. She would be disappointed in me for giving up without a fair fight.
I was a fool, a weakling…
Maybe I could run away to Alaska?
I could almost muster up the courage to face the class. Yesturday I talked my heart out to the dog, why can’t I talk to a few kids my age?
What was the difference?
Chloe won’t judge me.
“Hello... may I help you? I jerked back, my hands slid from the classroom door that I hadn’t realized I’d clutched with a tight fist. My eyes fled to the direction of the voice.
“Are you ok?”
I managed a small nod. Seeing her name tag; Mrs. Dulce.
I remembered seeing that name.
“Are you supposed to be here?” She asked, a worried expression held her eyebrows arched upward.
Again a nod.
“Well… welcome then dear, come inside and we’ll get you settled in,” I felt a flush when Mrs. Dulce had to hold my hand to lead me inside.
The class was a disaster
Paper airplanes flying from one side of the room to the other, girls painting their toenails, gushing over the colors, flapping their hands frantically for the polish to dry before the teacher could begin her lecture.
“Class,” I could see the kids shuffling back to their assigned seats, crossing their arms or tucking them to their sides. Girls flashed an annoyed look at me while the boys gave me a bewildered expression, some snorted.
“This is…?” I didn’t realize that Mrs. Dulce was waiting for me to pitch in and introduce myself like any other newbie… only I wasn’t any other newbie.
“Kennedy Vel,” I pronounced my name clearer than before yet I could feel the butterflies erupt in my stomach.
Girls around me rolled their eyes, sighing over another boredom school day while boys seemed eager to know more, edging out of their seats. One girl… the only girl that sat at the very end gave me a hesitant smile. Her pink braces showing off.
I felt pressurized but managed to utter a few words about myself that didn’t need any mental breakdowns.
Mrs. Dulce let me slip away when the attention was diverted from me. I settled myself near the window, able to get past the irritated popular girls and look out to see my future.
“Hi!” My head abruptly turned to her voice, clear as day… she didn’t seem to have any problems… of course.
I managed a fake smile, only I felt it was real this time.
“Oh… I’m Mia,” She held her hand, waiting for me to shake it eagerly.
I nodded again, taking her smooth hand into mine.
“Pleasure to meet you Kennedy… I wish you luck, this class is bonkers,” She chuckled under her breath, making a twirling motion near her head with her other hand.
I faked another smile.
Hands clasped together in an almost prayer pose, I waited for the teacher to begin her lessons.
Maybe this wasn’t so bad.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Junior, Unorthodox is spelled incorrect in your summary… didn’t you check the word reference I gave you?”
It had been only an hour since I had been stuck here with total strangers that looked at me like I was something to chew on.
Shivers ran to my spine.
“Oops… sorry,” I felt Junior murmur under his breath.
Mrs. Dulce sighed, something she did frequently. Taking a deep breath and a pill that she had ready in her duffel bag she relaxed, her tense face was gone.
“Class, please stop what you are doing and pay attention to the board,” Mrs. Dulce picked up an erasable blue marker, popping the cap off and started to write something with the blunt edge.
“Here is how to spell Unorthodox… I saw lots of your summaries had spelling mistakes so we will have a review of our vocabulary.”
“R-t-h-o-d-o-x,” I finished, almost satisfied to know the spelling by heart.
“Kennedy?” I heard Mrs. Dulce called me out, she had stopped writing Unorthodox after o.
I felt my face heat up with embarrassment, I’d spoken up when it was unnecessary.
“Have you learnt these words before?”
I shook my head, “D-Dictionary, I-I look-up words.”
“Well, well,” I could feel Mrs. Dulce beaming, “Can I have a word with you after school?”
I froze, seeing my classmates fake a cough when in reality they pitied my state, some snickering with a scornful glee behind their teachers back.
Crossing my finger together, I nodded. Something that came naturally to me.
It’s not like I had any other choice.
“Nice knowing you,” Mia whispered, fear tingling her throat.
This was not what I expected.
Not at all.
Detention on my first day.
“Kennedy is it… my niece’s name is Kennedy, what a lovely name,” She gushed.
I looked out the window, seeing kids line up to the school bus. Kids waving bye to each other.
“Ah, I was hoping you’d be interested in this,” She handed me a flyer from her desk.
I gave my thanks without looking down at the sheet of paper.
I walked to the parking lot, kids scurrying around me, some getting on late buses while others walking, hand in hand.
I noticed mom leaning against our old, dingy chevy. She looked worried but changed her expression at the sight of me approaching.
“So?” Mom inquired, her tiny frame shore with pride and an enthusiastic smile pasted on her face.
“It- was… ok?” I racked my brain for a vocabulary to impress her that I was learning something all these years but I just can’t say it out loud.
What I should have said.
Nerve Racking… yes.
Mom parked the car in the sidewalk, opening me door.
“Come inside… I wanna hear all about it.”
I groaned inside my head. Talking wasn’t my strong suit.
“What’s that you’re holding?”
I had been sipping some warm milk to soothe my uplifting nerves, the moisture flooding into my mouth, warming my hands against the toasty ceramic mug mom had made herself at art collage.
#1 Superstar was written in the front.
I shrugged as mom carefully pried my fingers away from my strong grip.
She gasped, her eyes lit with both happiness and discomfort.
“I…” I stuttered, her hands found a way to mine, “This is a great opportunity.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Come on sweetie, think about the future, this could help you get college credit?” Mom asked in a bittersweet tone.
I shook my head, folding my hands.
I was being adamant.
And I loved it.
“Kennedy,” Dad chided.
I braced myself for the worst.
“Kennedy,” Dad tried softer, “You have a raw talent in you my miha… don’t let anything stop you, cultivate it before it’s gone.”
I didn’t face him.
Mom hugged me, her warmth exploded every part of my body with the fragrance of roses and lilacs.
I saw their love shore in their eyes.
They cared for me.
I couldn’t let them down.
Now or ever.
“F-Fine,” I whispered, the word hurt to utter but I did it.
My parents exchanged amused looks but slowly a smile like the crescent moon appeared.
“You’ll make us proud.”
I really hoped so.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Spell Thoughtfulness,” I narrowed my eyes to see Mia’s blank expression, she constantly fiddled with her fingers, sweat dripping down her forehead.
She gave me a half-hearted smile and gave the audience her correct answer.
The crowd clapped at the final two in the spelling bee.
I couldn’t believe I’d come so far.
A girl who’d lost hope since the beginning of her journey was given a second chance.
I couldn’t lose it.
I saw my parents smile like there was no tomorrow, like I’d just won the olympics. Like I was being a regular girl.
Someone who didn’t need to worry about being the odd man out.
Someone who just…
Belonged in this world.
Mia’s whole family caught my eyes, her three sisters and two brothers cheering her on. Her parents seemed very proud of their daughter, giving her a thumbs up often.
Mia looked almost sad.
It was this one round that will determine the winner.
If I get this correct… I can finally have my place in this world.
“Kennedy… please spell affectionateness.”
This was my ticket to success.
I knew this word by heart.
The words uttered from my mouth, everyone standing up and clapping for me.
I could feel it.
“My parent’s hope I’d go to a good college one day… that I’d be a role model for my little siblings,” Mia’s words rolled through my brain.
We had become great friends, I was grateful for her to accept me for who I was.
She deserved it more than me.
“A-F-F-E-C-” I could feel everyone gagging at me, their hearts beating but not as fast as mine.
“That… is incorrect, the winner is Mia Tardes, congratulations.”
I saw Mia give me a huge smile, nodding at everyone who congratulated her, shaking hands, thanking everyone.
She seemed so happy.
I was glad to be the cause.
I blushed with humiliation.
“You made us proud… I saw what you did there.”
I couldn’t wait, running over to embrace them.
“I lo-ve… you mom and dad.”
I had finally said it.
The magic word.