Kathryn Turtle never thought that learning every president of the United States would take her this long. Surely, she would do anything to get an A-plus on a test, but the clock says 4:32 a.m. and she’s been studying since six in the afternoon. She should be in bed. But then she would have to get up two hours later to get ready for school. It’s not like she’s tired, though; the television has been on to provide background noise. She probably would’ve been done a little after midnight if she didn’t look up now and then to glance at the TV.
For the last couple of hours, infomercials have been playing. Kathryn is like everyone else: she hates commercials. But she would only look up when she heard the most baffling of all things. For instance, after hearing the words “toilet tennis” in a jolly male voice, her concentration boomeranged across the room. She looked at her TV and saw a man sitting on a toilet, hitting a ping pong ball every time it bounced off the wall in front of him. Multiple ping pong balls lied on the floor around his feet, which were veiled by his fallen pair of jeans. Kathryn let out a groan of disgust then went back to reading about Franklin Roosevelt. About forty minutes later, she heard a loud woman yap about a toaster made strictly for cooking eggs. Kathryn looked up and watched the portly woman on her TV screen crack an egg into one of the slits in a toaster before pushing the lever down with her fingertip. The scene flipped over into a new scene where the rectangular-shaped omelet sprang from the toaster like a Pop-Tart. Kathryn rolled her eyes and continued reading about the Watergate scandal.
Now, she’s informing herself of every scandal Donald Trump has been involved in. Once she’s done with that, then she can go catch some Z’s. But a soft yet cheery voice prods her to look at her TV just one more time.
“Does your acne make you feel unnoticed? Unappreciated? Unattractive?”
Kathryn almost gasps. She’s been living with acne since she was twelve, and for four years it never bothered her. She got so used to it that she almost forgot about it. It became a part of her identity, her little red bumps. She hardly talked about it and so did everyone around her.
Until a couple of days ago:
Kathryn was walking to Ms. Beauregard’s classroom, early as usual. When she entered, she caught Cliff Bishop giving Corey Walters a wedgie. Enrique Carbonell was sitting at his assigned seat, laughing as Cliff stretched Corey’s underwear long enough to exceed past his head. His blue eyes crossed with pain; his long face transitioned from a soft peach color to a deep red. Kathryn left the room before either one of the boys could see her. She stood by the door and listened to the snap of Corey’s underwear as it returned to its initial state. Kathryn gasped as if she could feel the snap against her skin. Corey released an unpleasant moan.
“Dude, this is getting old,” he said.
“Not for me,” Cliff laughed.
“No, I’m talking about my underwear,” Corey clarified. “I don’t wanna have to throw these out.”
“I think it’s time for you to wear boxers and stop wearing briefs,” Enrique insisted in his subtle Spanish accent, almost as beautiful as his sparkling green eyes.
“I like how briefs feel,” Corey admitted, his face becoming peachy again.
Enrique chuckled his cute chuckle. The chuckle that warms Kathryn’s heart. The chuckle that nearly made Kathryn drop her books. She would replay that chuckle on a record if she could.
“Speaking of underpants, has anyone tried to get into your pants yet?” Cliff asked.
Kathryn knitted her eyebrows. She hated Cliff Bishop. He thought he was such hot stuff. All because he has a new girlfriend every month. She doesn’t know what girls see in Cliff. Is it the clean-cut hair? The straight teeth? The high cheekbones? The only thing that Kathryn sees that no one else seems to see is the boogers that sit in the corners of his eyes. Unless that’s what girls are into right now: beauty, brains, brawn, and boogers.
“No, Cliff,” Enrique answered after a brief pause.
“What happened to that Molly Munday chick you used to be with?”
“We went our separate ways.”
“How can you go separate ways if you go to the same school?” Corey wondered.
“Trust me, it’s possible,” Enrique responded.
“Molly.” Corey said her name as if it was the most wonderful word to say. “She wasn’t bad.”
“I know, but it didn’t work out,” Enrique said.
“Is that why you’re alone? Because you’re afraid it won’t work out with anyone else?” asked Cliff.
“No, there’s this girl he talks to,” Corey said. “What’s her name? You know who I’m talking about.”
“Kathryn Turtle,” Enrique responded.
The straight-A student smiled to herself. She’s heard her name plenty of times, but hearing it out of Enrique’s mouth was special. It sounded proud, admirable. As if he took pride in knowing Kathryn. Why wouldn’t he? She was the leader of the French club, speaking the language fluently; she was an actress, starring in many student productions; she was a concert usher; she was smart, kind, artistic. What more could Enrique want in a friend? Or possibly somebody more?
“Oh, the Turtle girl,” Cliff said, sitting in the seat next to Enrique. “I think I’ve seen you with her once or twice. What’s that all about?”
“She’s just a friend,” Enrique replied.
“Just a friend?”
Kathryn wrinkled her forehead. “Just a friend” is not the most pleasing thing to hear. Like tires screeching on a road.
“What’s wrong with her?” asked Corey.
“What do you mean?” Enrique replied.
“You said she’s just a friend. Why?”
“Because she hasn’t grown into her body yet,” Cliff responded.
Kathryn’s jaw swung down, hitting her throat.
“No,” Enrique said.
“No, that’s not the reason or no, she hasn’t grown into her body?” said Cliff.
“Then what is it?”
“Probably her acne,” Corey guessed as he tucked his underwear into his jeans. “I bet she’s real cute underneath it all.”
“Yeah, it looks like her face has pepperonis on it,’ Cliff shared before letting out a laugh.
Kathryn cringed at Cliff’s evil laugh. She clutched her books tighter than possible.
“C’mon, guys, that’s not funny,” said Enrique.
“Be real, Enrique,” cried Cliff. “Do you really think she’s hot?”
A pause ensued.
A long pause.
A really long one.
Kathryn was about to tap her foot impatiently.
“I mean, she’s not a big deal,” Enrique answered. “I’ve seen worse.”
Shock ran across Kathyrn’s pimple-peppered face. She cradled her books against her chest and rested her chin on them. Her eyes watered, but she didn’t let them leak. She sniffled; she went to the bathroom to get a tissue. After ripping one out of the paper towel dispenser, she had to look in the mirror. She had to look at it. Her acne. The thing that made her not a big deal. The reason why people wondered if she was cute. Her acne was a scar. Something no one talked about unless she wasn’t in the room. It wasn’t invisible at all; it was just treated that way to benefit her, to protect her from the truth. And the truth hit her as hard as a punch.
The woman on the TV has hot pink, feathered hair with fuchsia highlights. Which brings out her pale skin, smooth as satin. She stands with her hands on her hips and a wide smile, her eyes twinkling with delight.
“Hi, my name is Silky and I’m the acne fairy.”
Kathryn arches an eyebrow.
“My job is to help your acne go poof!” She pulls a pink, star-shaped wand from her skirt and waves it in front of herself.
A laugh nearly escapes from Kathryn’s lips.
A big, teenage boy appears, sitting in a chair with Silky the Fairy standing behind him. He is looking ahead with a somber expression. His cheeks, bespattered with zits, droop like a pit bull’s.
“Silky, the new treatment with a special ingredient that makes your pimples get out of Dodge,” says a voice, stern and feminine.
While the invisible woman speaks, Silky twirls her wand in the air, sprinkling pink glitter down in every motion. She then slaps the top of her wand on top of the boy’s head, causing glitter to splash on the screen. Once it clears up, the boy feels the new skin on his face. He lights up with enjoyment, his cheeks rounding like apples.
“Why get stuck with acne when you can stay with skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom?”
Two pictures of the boy’s face appear side by side. The photo on the left is titled “Before”, displaying his frowning face once smothered with pus-inducing pimples. The photo on the right is titled “After”, featuring his grinning mug free of any flaw.
The pictures slide out of view, revealing three sitting teens, two boys with a girl in the middle. Acne and boredom sully their faces.
“Lots of things put pressure on teenagers nowadays. It’s time to have some control in your life and control what grows on your face.”
Silky bounces behind each teen, tapping their heads with her wand, splashing the screen with glitter. Every time the screen clears up, a teen is shown with clear skin and a bright smile. They look at one another with in awe, touching their own faces and each other’s.
The scene ascends and Silky is back in her initial spot, holding her wand with two hands.
“The Silky Kit is originally $39.98.” Silky thrusts her wand toward the upper right hand corner of the screen. A big tag with “$39.98” printed on it pops up with a boing. “But if you call right now, you’ll pay this.” She swipes her wand over the price, drawing a red slash. Boing! “$19.99” appears under the tag in red letters. “Half off! And not only that, you’ll get an extra kit for free so your friends can have all the fun.”
Silky bends over and snaps back, her wand replaced with what looks like a small suitcase. Hot pink borders the edges like frosting on a birthday cake. Glitter mottles the front, surrounding “Silky”, which is written in shimmering pink cursive letters.
“So, what are you waiting for? Order now and get rid of the acne that’s ruining your life.”
“1-800-HI-SILKY” blinks below the screen, over Silky’s hips, as she smiles.
“That is 1-800-HI-SILKY,” says the voiceover. “That is 1-800-HI-SILKY.”
Kathryn shakes her head. She fixes her eyes in her textbook, then back to the TV. The phone number continues to blink, along with a descending timer: 4:58… 4:57… 4:56...
Kathryn has twenty dollars. And a cell phone. So, is buying the kit really a crazy thing to do? The craziest thing Kathryn’s ever done was wear a wedding dress to the homecoming dance during her freshman year. She had a good reason: iced tea spilled on her original dress on the day of the dance. She promised her friends they would all match and every store her mom took her to were out of white gowns. Kathryn didn’t want to be late so she and her mom made a quick visit to a wedding shop and bought a dress for $30. Her mom cut up the skirt a little to make the dress look less wedding-like, but her friends and their friends at that dance knew exactly what she was wearing. It was such a distraction that it was possible that everyone forgot about her acne for at least three hours. It’s funny how something big goes completely unnoticed when something bigger comes along. Like hiding a hotel behind a skyscraper. Kathryn likes skyscrapers; she can’t think of anyone who doesn’t. Skyscrapers take a while to build. That’s why it’s better to start now rather than later. And the look in Kathryn’s eyes says she wants to build her skyscraper as soon as possible.