It was hot today. I had abandoned my sweater, walking solely in a collared t-shirt that stuck to my skin like hot glue. My hair was damp, and brushed my neck like a paint-brush of sweat. I walked slothly towards the school, bracing myself for the warmth inside. It felt as if a thermometer couldn't measure the temperature of this weather. It would be infinite. I heard a squeak behind me and turned around to see a polar opposite of myself. She was tall and blonde with big brown eyes laced with pink sparkly eye-shadow. Her skin glowed like a flower. She looked like she was only absorbing the benefits of the sun. While I was soaking in puddles of my own sweat.
"Hey!" Mia walked up to me, carrying a leather tote bag. She smelled like oranges.
"Hi." My arm arched into a wave and fell droopily at my side.
"I spent all night rehearsing my song. The lyrics are playing at the back of my head. I'm ready as heck."
"You're gonna win the pageant. Your voice-your voice will blow them away. They'll be shakin' in their boots."
"Hopefully." She smiled, "Abigail is really good. You've gotta see her dance. Gawd, it's good."
"I'd rather hear a good song, then watch someone move."
We walk into the library. The bookshelves are pushed to the side and the entire carpeted floor is lined with foldable white chairs. Two tables filled with jugs of iced lemonade and macadamia nut cookies flank the chairs. The stage is grand, the velvety curtains are pushed back. The floor gleams, it's just been cleaned. A girl in a lime camisole motions over to Mia. I follow her, awkwardly, staring down at the ground.
"Miaaa, I saved this seat for you!" The girl stares solely at Mia, from a peripheral vision, she glances at me. Mia turns around. It's all in her eyes. She's embarrassed. Suddenly, the heat feels immaterial. I feel goosebumps sprout up on my arms like weeds.
"Nah, it's okay. There's no space for Rowan."
"Sit, sit." I motion at the chair smiling, "You guys can prepare together, I'll find somewhere else to sit."
"You sure?" Mia asks me. No, no I am not sure.
"Yeah, I'll be okay."
I walk over to a line of chairs at the back. Every time, I start to bend over, a girl gives me a dirty look, so I continue walking. I finally see a seat edged by two brunettes. I sit down, hugging my waist, so my sticky arms don't brush theirs. I am suddenly aware of my body. The way how my mass goes over the chair while the other girls' stay tightly confined in their seats. Their thin, long legs. My short and chubby ones. I stare down at my loose jeans. Feeling so horrible, among these pretty pampered girls. The black sheep in the herd.
The girls' presentations go by, I count them down on my fingers. Starting at 20. Slowly, there is only one finger left. I look up as Mia struts onto the stage. She holds up the mic to her chin. I can hear the shakiness in her timid voice.
Mia holds herself tightly, wound up into the smallest version of herself. One arm is wrapped around her waist. Her head is slightly bent, so that her neck barely touches the upper area of her chest. Her legs are tied like string.
This used to be my playground Her voice washes over the crowd like a wave of ectasy. The water soakes me, I am under the water. Under the wave. Away from all sense of reality.
Why did it have to end As she sings her body loosens like the disentangling of a knot. Her arms are know at her side, swaying with the rhythm of her song. Now she's under the wave.
As she bows, the room fills with a symphony of clapping.
"Come 'ere, Rowan!" I look up abruptly. "Come, come!" The entire audience slowly shifts their heads towards me. I nod no, but she continues to call my name. I shimmy through the row, my cheeks red.
"I want to thank Rowan. She gave me this song and taught me to sing to my true potential."
The crowd claps lousily.
I nod my head and Mia steers me off of the stage.
"That was amazing!" I almost scream. Mia and I are walking home, under the melting pink sun.
"I feel like- I feel like you should be the one up there. Singing. Your the singer, Rowan."
"This is your day, don't make it mine!" I laugh, swinging my bag.
"Are you afraid of going up there, in front of everyone?" she asks, looking at me in the eyes.
"No, why would you think that?" Fake. That's what I am right now.
"Join the pageant."
"Join the pageant." She repeats a second time. I know this isn't a joke.
"Girls like me don't do pageants."
"What do you mean? What type of girl are you?"
"Girls with weight. Girls who are fat." I spit out the word that has haunted me my entire life. A stain on clothing that won't ever come out. A footprint that will never fade.
"Stop." she grabs my shoulders to stop me from walking, "You are beautiful. Look at your eyes. They are the prettiest blue I have ever seen in my entire life. But yknow the prettiest thing about you, Rowan. Your voice. Your voice is the most beautiful thing in the world. You have a Madonna voice."
"I don't have a Madonna body. And at the end of the day, that's all that matters."
"When someone is listening to music, do you think they care about how the singer looks. Besides that, imagine what it would be like, to win the talent show, to be up there with a trophy in your hands."
"Even if they laugh, they'll be losers laughing at a winner."
"I'll think about it." But deep inside, it's a yes.
I walk into the library with a mascara and lip gloss and a pink dress. I feel like an idiot. There isn't a difference between a black sheep in a herd and a dressed-up black sheep in a herd. A woman will high cheekbones and cherry-red hair walks up to me.
"Hi, there!" Her smile seems glued on.
"Hiya, I'm here for the pageant."
"Hmm, the pageant, really?"
"Yes really." I can feel anger rising up in my throat.
"Well, umm, what is your talent?"
"I'm going to sing." It's a statement, not a question.
"That-is-that's great. Go on and sit with the other girls."
I scribble lyrics onto a scattered paper.
I used to whisper
Now, I'll scream
So loud that everyone'll hear
I'll scream so the windows break
Not afraid to be seen
I used to hide
Used to wish not to be seen
But now I where confidence like clothing
I go over each lyric, adding notes to words and finding a rhythm for the chorus.
"Look at the fatty!" I hear snickers behind me but continue to write.
I stand in a plum dress behind a line of other girls. My hair is curled into hazel coils and my lips are a deep shade of red. I stare at the clock, cringing as the hands move around the circle. Before I know it, it's my turn.
I walk on the stairs, with my hands slightly stretched out. It's hard to balance my weight on these thin heels.
"My name is R-rowan. Today, I will be p-p-performing a song called 'Scream' by me."
I stand, staring at the rows and rows of spectators.
I used to whisper It's hard to get the words out. I feel my heart beating so fast, that I can't talk. I stop, and inhale deeply. I see people get impatient. Fingers tapping. Eyebrows raising.
Hiding myself in my shell
Away away from everyone else
I lock eyes, with Mia. Her deep brown eyes sparkle. She puts her thumbs up. I feel myself smile. The lyrics come out of my mouth without thought. I see a woman in a pale flowered dress smile.
But now I'll scream I put my anger into my voice. My happiness. My confidence.
When the last lyric flows out of my mouth, I hear claps. My cheeks heat up. Not with embarrasment. But with happiness. I look around. No one is looking at my body. They are looking at me. They are looking at Rowan Brown.