"She's so weird!"
I knew the giggling group of girls was talking about me without looking up from my lunch. I just gripped my book a little tighter and tried not to let my face get red.
They used to be my friends: Tasha, Amelia, Jaya and Patricia. We all went to the same sleepaway camp for years. We'd sit around a fire at night with the other campers and roast marshmallows and laugh. We went swimming in the lake at the center of the camp. All that ended when The Thing happened.
I don't know why it happened; it's not as if I was trying to do it. Things just happened around me sometimes; I couldn't explain or control it. All together they decided I was a social misfit because of it. They stopped eating lunch with me, and wouldn't sit by me. I was a 10 year old pariah – untouchable.
The only one who still looked at me and smiled was Patricia. Her family lived across the street and we had been friends since we were babies. Her mum and mine got to be friendly, they moved into our neighborhood around the same time and were pregnant with us at the same time (she's one month older). There are photographs of us in diapers playing in her paddling pool. We used to ride our bicycles all over the neighborhood together after school every day; hers was bright pink and had iridescent streamers hanging from the handlebars, mine was mint green with white streamers.
Ever since The Thing, she avoided talking to me but if our eyes met, she smiled weakly. That actually hurt more than being ignored by the others. It says, "I'm too much of a lemming to talk to you, Hermione. The other girls hate you so I have to hate you, too. Sorry."
It was only the beginning of September and I knew it was going to be a very difficult year for me. I shut myself up in my room and pretended to have more homework than I actually did. Mum asked me what I'd like to do for my 11th birthday and I didn't know what to say. I didn't want her to worry, but I didn't want to pretend I still had friends when I didn't. After she asked me a fifth time, I asked her if she and I could go to the theater to see a new musical that had come out and she seemed really excited about the idea.
Then, to make things worse, one day I was in the girl's lavatory at school when I heard Amelia and Jaya talking about me at the sinks.
"Can she get any weirder?" Amelia asked.
"Probably – she actually likes reading." Jaya mocked.
"That was the only good thing about her- she always let me copy her homework." Amelia replied. "Mum asked me why my marks have gone down so low this year and I just laughed."
"Yeah, mine have gone down, too." Jaya said.
"Ooh, ooh! I know that answer! Pick me, Pick me!" Amelia said and Jaya cackled. It took me a moment to realize they were mimicking me and my face grew very hot.
I waited until their laughter died down and I heard their shoes clip clop out of the loo before I emerged from my stall. I washed my hands and put cool water on my face.
"Don't let them see you cry, Hermione. Don't let them know they've hurt you." I said to myself.
When I got home from school, Mum would ask me about my day and I'd mumble that it was fine and rush upstairs to cry. Why was I so weird? Tasha and Jaya had birthdays within a week of each other and they'd always have a big joint birthday party at Tasha's grandparent's home. Their birthdays were in November, but Tasha's grandparents were very well off and had a pool that was indoors. It was amazing to swim in the warm water during the party and watch snow fall outside at the same time.
"Hermione, aren't Tasha and Jaya having their big birthday this year? You haven't said a word about it." Mum asked me one day. I looked down at my dinner, fidgeting in my seat.
"That's right – I haven't seen much of any of them lately, darling." My dad said nodding his head.
"They are. But…I'm not invited." I said, tears ready to flow. "They're not my friends anymore." I dropped my fork with a clatter. "May I be excused, please?" I asked, wiping my eyes on my sleeve.
"What happened, Hermione? They were your best friends…" Mum said, suddenly realizing that Dad was right, my former friends hadn't been to our home since before The Thing.
"Please, Mum. May I please be excused?" I looked up at her imploringly and she nodded. I jumped up from my seat and rushed up to my room. I shut the door and cried into my favorite bear – one that Amelia had given to me for Christmas when we were seven.
His ginger fur and the red ribbon around his neck were soaked with my tears by the time I remembered that he was a gift from one of the girls who now hated me. I got so angry when all of a sudden – rrrip.
I jumped back, tossing the toy away from me on the bed. I hadn't even been holding it that hard; I certainly hadn't tried ripping its head off. It was as if the head was magically separated from its body.
"Brilliant. Another weird thing happening." I thought. "Just what I needed to make myself feel worse."
There was a knock at my door. I got up, gathering what was left of my bear and tucked him in my toy chest – maybe I could repair him.
"Hermione?" It was Mum. I pressed my hands against my cheeks to cool them down and opened the door. She was holding a cup of warm milk and it made me smile. She always brought me warm milk with a little bit of sugar when I was upset. I took the cup from her and sat on my bed; she followed me and sat down too.
"Sweetheart, what's going on? I assumed you'd had a row with your friends but you girls have always worked things out before, what's different this time?" She tilted her head and studied my face while I sipped my milk. Its warmth soothed my achy throat, made scratchy from sobbing.
"They hate me because I'm weird."
Mum sighed. "No, you're not, my love. Not at all!" she said sweetly.
"I am, Mum! Why do these mental things always happen to me? Why do the lights flicker and go out when I'm scared watching a film with Dad? Why does that black cat follow me all the way to school? I'm a freak." I started crying again, and again the light in my ceiling fan started flickering. Mum stroked my hair and whispered comforting things while I calmed myself.
"I just…want to be…normal." I said through tears.