She doggedly attends her classes, taking copious notes, asking questions, however mundane. She turns in her work early most times, and she’s constantly doing extra credit work. A bore, her classmates say; who spends their high school years actually studying?
At home, she studies, finishes her work, picks up her room, and prepares a solitary meal. She watches the news as she eats, chewing her food methodically, as she was taught to do. If she derives pleasure from her meal, the only indicator is the tiny curve that causes a small dimple to form on her chin. After cleaning her dining utensils, she heads to her small bed, having showered and used a minimum of hot water.
Once she lies down, she pulls out her book. And the change is dramatic.
It’s a magical transformation: that strained look of concentration eases away as she is transported elsewhere, and she maintains a soft glow, a look of peace and enchantment. Here, she is girlish, almost like those classmates of hers in the presence of the school cutie. Here, she is her age: a fourteen year old who in another, less cruel world, was born to the right parents, wore all the right clothes, went to all the right parties, and had numerous friends and a gaggle of best girlfriends. Here, she was innocent.
That she was so far away from her family, that she had been torn from her little brother, that lovable slug who didn’t like to study, rankled with her. That she was no longer surrounded by familiar people made her throat catch every so often. Every time she saw the simpering teenagers she took classes with, she felt bile rising in her throat. She wished she could join them, just once, to feel normal.
But she never would. She never had the chance. Everywhere she went, she felt that cloak of shame envelop her. She didn’t want to feel that way, but it was hard not to. Everything that had happened was a blur. It was so fast, and at times painful to relive, so she tried not to think too much about it. But she wondered if when she heard whispers, that maybe they had found out. Whoever they were.
Phone calls to home were harder still. Her new parents were very nice, and she longed to love them as she’d loved her father, though that proved to be awful. The worst kind of wrong. In the background, she can hear the crying, low and pitiful. Maybe he was hungry, maybe he was hurting. He was so young, just a baby, barely a year old. Her new parents say he is okay, he’s just fussy, he’s teething, again.
She smiles and feels a little reassured. He’s normal, then. Everyone was worried he wouldn’t be. Every time she read ahead in biology, she was horrified at what she discovered. Despite the intense love she felt for him, she recoiled at the thought of his conception. Alternately, she was relieved that he was well, but the “what if’s” clogged her mind so often that she felt she would go crazy.
The last phone call reassured her even more. The father, and grandfather, was going to jail. No need to run anymore. Maybe life could go back to normal. Isn’t that all she wanted?
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