Well, this is the first time in forever that I've written in first person. But don't worry, I think I've worked most of the kinks out in this chapter. Beginnings aren't exactly my strong point, I've been accused of "catapulting the reader into the story", and I have a love of starting stories off with sentences ending in either ?s or !s.
The Summary (in all its comma filled glory):
Edward Elric is a fairly normal high school student who is terrified of public speaking. Aside from the fact that his fear is completely rational. You see, Edward Elric stutters. Especially when people watch him.
The Summary In Which Foxes Was Not Under A Word Budget:
Edward Elric currently hates high school. He should've been in a Speech Class. But due to the fact that Izumi Curtis's room had suffered massive water damage, Ed was place in Humanities, an English class centered around public speaking. A month into school, the school district scrapped the plans for the renovation of Izumi's room and instead moved Speech Class to the Art wing. Now all Ed has to do is give one last speech and he's free. Easy? Wrong. Ed has a severe stutter and Grand seems to be doing everything in his power to make it worse.
Will be listed in chapter two.
Warnings: First Person, Swearing, and questioning of Al's masculinity
Okay, so moving on to the vocabulary used in the chapter:
Blocking or a block: when a stutterer can't get past a word.
Disclaimer: I don't own FullMetal Alchemist or AOL Instant Messenger
The kids circled around me. All around me. Surrounding me. The reason why I hate the sixth grade.
I don't sound like that, I remember thinking. I can say 'm' words. Just because I don't like milk doesn't mean I can say it.
Leave me alone. Let go of me. Stop it.
Only the words don't come out that way.
"Lllllleave me alone."
The 'l' sound wavers like the trill of a violin. Only unlike the violinist, I don't want to make that sound. Simple, sharp, and crisp. Oh, how I wish. Instead it's wavering, timid and hesitant.
"Lllleave me alone!" they repeat back. Their l's bring to mind horse whinnies. I don't sound like that.
I can't say it.
All I can make is a strangled hissing sound.
I can't stop.
The crowd is practically rolling in laughter now. I hate them.
I can't even make a sound now. Only the odd, short 'sa' is escaping now. I probably look like some demented sea animal. Mouth opens closes, but no sound.
One of the boys recovers enough to grab at my hair.
I whirl around and my fist connects with his jaw. The sound is harsh, like the crack of a whip. The boys stare at me, stunned. Some are frightened.
"M-m-my tooth," the boy stammers, raising his hand to his jaw, eyes wide in disbelief. I stare back. I can't believe I hit somebody.
The bell rings and everyone freezes.
I remember getting in trouble for that. The kid's bracket on his braces came loose and his parents were upset. My mom was disappointed and agreed with the counselor: I should have used words. My subsequent sputtering session reminded them why that was not a good option for me.
My dad was proud though. He said he was proud that I finally stood up for myself. For the first time in my life my dad was proud and that was worth worlds.
That was years ago. Five to be exact. I'd like to be able to point to that and say "that was the last time I ever stuttered." Unfortunately that wouldn't be true. Not to mention the fact that I'd trip up on 'time'.
And since both Winry and Al want me to be more positive, I can say my name. My first name only. Edward. Easy enough. No l's, s's, t's or the god-awful combination of both of them and certainly no f's. Of course that brings us to my little used middle name that I'm changing A.S.A.P. Ulysses. Utter and complete nightmare there. Followed by Elric. What's wrong with Elric? Well, as I would like to say, it has one too many 'l' sounds.
Fortunately few people can mispronounce Elric, so I've never had to stutter through my last name in front of a whole class. Still there are other things I can screw up. Like spelling bees. I personally believe that the best thing about high school is that there are no spelling bees. Granted, the charm of that particular fact wears off within the first year. Especially considering Personal Enemy Numero Uno: class presentations.
Public speaking terrifies most juniors. The only exception is Sloth. She seems to get some strange freakish joy out of launching into completely unprepared speeches. She's also good at it. But with her lone exception, everyone is terrified of presentations. And these are the people who can speak.
I dread them.
I start stuttering the night before.
My dreams feature myself trying to present, mouth moving but no words coming out and everyone laughing at me.
The dreams normally come true.
Humanities is worst.
Its Mr. Grand fault. He hates me. He also lacks sympathy. All my presentation grades have been F's, unless it's a group project. In which case I'm left to do all the real work and my classmates present the project. Unfortunately he seems to have caught on and delights in asking me questions.
My mom does not understand. She seriously suggested explaining my problem to him. Does anyone else see the impossibility here? He hates me! He knows that I stutter. He won't let me submit the report in writing (I emailed him). He won't excuse me from it. He's actually forcing me to present in class tomorrow.
Hence the fact that I've barely been able to talk all day. And because Al insists on positive statements, this is the last presentation I have to make in Humanities. The school has finally found a classroom for Izumi Curtis, speech-language pathologist (as well as self-defense teacher), to use. She hasn't been able to teach because her classroom has been under construction since July. The district hasn't fixed it or anything. They spent two and a half months considering rebuilding before deciding that it cost too much money. So they merely shuffled an entire art class elsewhere.
I suppose that it's not so bad having Speech in the art wing. The classrooms are decorated nicely with past student projects and examples. That and its also adjacent to my next class: Ceramics. In fact I could probably just walk through the storeroom in between the classrooms. Assuming there's no stupid rule that says students can't or something.
Ceramics is one of my favorite classes. Not because I have any artistic talent, but because it doesn't involve talking or presentations. The instructor's nice too. And yes those happened to be my only qualifications for 'favorite class.'
Dinner is going to be a wreck. I know it. First of all, we're having fish sticks. I'm not even going to attempt to say that. It won't end well. Mom will want me to try. She'll probably phrase some stupid sentence that's answer requires saying fish sticks. She's under the rather mistaken impression that if I wasn't afraid of stuttering I wouldn't stutter.
I hate that.
It's not like she's ever had any difficulties speaking.
She'll want me to compliment Al's cooking and because he's so sensitive about his cooking skills, or lack thereof, I'll have to. All of the blasted things he could choose! Of course, this is probably better than anything else. He's not the best chef and I'd rather eat food and stutter than gnaw on various forms of charcoal.
"Ed! Time for dinner!" my mom calls from downstairs. I wince. I don't want to go down. Dad's not home yet. He signed out of AIM ten minutes ago and should be here by now.
I really don't want to deal with Mom today. Not with my stutter and the fish sticks and I know she's going to make me say those words or at least try to. I'll probably get stuck on the 'f' and it really won't get any better from there.
"We're having fish sticks!"
There are those damned words again.
Dinner is going to be horrible. I'm already tense, nervous, and envisioning failure. Exactly what I'm not supposed to do, according to Internet sites and Izumi. I'm supposed to be relaxing and letting myself stutter.
Of course this works, assuming the audience is willing to wait; Dad will, Al will help. Mom will do exactly what every guide to raising stuttering children advises against: relax Ed, slow down Ed, take deep breaths Ed.
What does she know?
I grudgingly walk down the hardwood stairs to the kitchen. Dad's kissing Mom on the cheek and setting his briefcase down.
Al straightens up and brings the fish sticks out of the oven. He looks utterly ridiculous in Mom's old apron. It's frilly and floral, all pastel colors. I can't believe he's wearing it. I feel embarrassed just looking at it. I don't care what Dad says about being secure in my masculinity. I am plenty secure in my masculinity. I braid my hair. Dad wears a ponytail. That's being secure in your masculinity.
Wearing a frilly, floral apron means that what ever sense of security you have in your masculinity is probably false.
"Ed!" Mom says, smiling. She's barely seen me all day. I consider this a very good thing. She'd better not ask how my day was. Al smiles sympathetically. He knows there's something wrong.
Nice sentence. Short, no difficult sounds, no stuttering. Easy.
"The fish sticks are done," Al says, beaming proudly. They're a nice dark orange color. A bit well done, but not smoking. This is an improvement from last time when Al set off all the smoke detectors. I've never understood how the smoke alarm in the basement managed to smell the smoke. Maybe it sensed that its buddies were making noise and it felt left out. Poor lonely smoke detector, all alone in the basement—
I jump. I really shouldn't daze out like that.
"Yes?" I answered. Mom is looking at me expectantly.
"How was your day?"
Horrible. I have to—wait that uses a t. I'm giving a Humanities presentation tomorrow—another t. What if I just say the name of the day. Tomorrow's Wednesday. That should work.
And here it goes:
"I'm giving a Humanities presentation on Wednesday."
"Really?" Shit. Public speaking is my mom's favorite subject. It should be. It's her career. I'll just wait for you all to stop laughing because the stuttering kid's mom is a motivational speaker. It's not that funny.
"Yeah," I say and force a smile.
Al hands me a plate with tater tots (another cruel, cruel word) and fish sticks on it. I take it.
"Do you want to eat at the table or in the TV room?" Dad asks. TV room! Please let's sit in the TV room. I don't stutter as much when the TVs on. Something about my brain thinking it's talking with other people.
"Oh, let's eat in the dining room tonight."
"Alright!" Al says brightly. He's never been particularly thrilled about watching TV and talking at the same time.
Mom turns to me.
"What about you, Ed honey?"
I shrug. 'No' would require an explanation. 'Sure' has an s. 'I'd like to eat in the TV room' won't work. It has an abundance of l's and t's. Therefore, I shrug.
"Okay then," Mom smiles and sits at that table. I sit at the table. Next to Dad, across from Mom, Al sits to my side.
"So, Ed what's your Humanities presentation about?" Mom asks as soon as everyone is settled.
"It's about the difference between a war crime and a crime against humanity," I say without stuttering.
"Really?" Mom asks, sounding interested. I shift in my seat. I'd really just like to eat now and maybe mutter a few words before fleeing to my room.
"What is the difference?"
I give her the most basic definition out there:
"A war crime is committed during a war and a crime against humanity isn't."
"Ah," Mom says. She was probably hoping for something more enlightening.
"What is a crime against humanity, anyway?" Al asked.
Shit shit shit.
"It's basically a horrendous crime committed outside of war: enslavement and murder and disappearances."
"Oh," Al says, a little put out at my lousy definition.
"It also covers st—
Okay, remember what Izumi said, I tell myself, Relax and let yourself stutter. But if I stutter badly Mom's going to know there's something else wrong. She's going to know that I'm terrified about the presentation. She's already disappointed about me switching out of the class. Never mind the fact that I have to take Speech.
"St-st-stuff that isn't appropriate for dinner," I finish. It's true. Forced pregnancy, rape, and sexual slavery aren't exactly dinner table topics.
"Okay," Al says, and I know he's going to quiz me later. That or look it up himself. Maybe I'll just give him my paper to proof read tonight. He's always been excellent at the technical aspects of writing.
"These are really good fish sticks, Al," Dad says. Al grins. I force my lips into a smile. Please don't make me say the words. I know I can't say them.
"I know, what about you Ed?" Mom says, smiling at me.
"They're good," I mutter.
Al looks downcast. Dammit! Why can't he understand I'm not trying to hurt him?
I take a deep breath and breathe out. It's supposed to help. I try to ignore the stupid hissing sound it makes.
I said it! I almost said it. I had it! I get excited.
And there it goes.
It sounds like someone's letting air out of a bike tire, stopping the hiss of escaping air occasionally. I hate this.
"Take a deep breath, Ed," Mom says, looking at me with her pitying green eyes.
I move my mouth and nothing comes out.
I look like some sort of retarded fish.
I can't say it.
It finally comes out.
I'm so stupid.
Why do I keep going with this damned sentence. By now Al's realized why I didn't want to say the word. Mom knows I'm nervous about something. So why don't I just shut up. But it's like some sort of challenge now. Who's going to win this time: Me or my stutter?
"Ssss-ss-ssst-sstt—sttti-icks are." Are comes out in a hoarse whisper. It's not my voice.
"Good," I finish quickly and look down at my plate. I stuff one of the tater tots in my mouth and promptly choke on it. Dad pats me on the back. I swallow it.
"Ed, is there anything wrong?" Mom asked, looking extremely concerned.
Just the fact that my Humanities teacher hates me, I have to stutter—I mean "speak" in front of the class tomorrow, but you already know that and you don't like it.
"Nothing's wrong," I mutter darkly, stabbing a fish stick.
"So, Trisha, where's your next speaking event?" Dad asks brightly. I know he's going to demand that I tell him everything later online. I don't mind. It's better there.
I let the conversation move around me. I don't really care what Mom's going to talk about this time. Just as long as it has nothing to do with stuttering. She once invited herself to speak at my school. It was so embarrassing. She talked about overcoming adversity and never giving up. Then she tried to have me come up and stand with her. I think I ran and hid in the bathrooms at that point. I was seven.
I finish my dinner and pick up my plate. I set it down in the sink before running water over it.
"Where are you going Ed?" Mom asks.
"T-t-to my room. I'm not quite done with my note cards," I explain before walking out of the room and up the stairs. The conversation continues after a pause. Not that I'm listening or feeling left out. It's better this way.
I sprawl out on my bed and half-heartedly write my note cards. Not that I'm going to be able to use most of them. I have three note cards completely free of all s's, f's, t's, and l's. Then they become unavoidable. Sometimes I feel like stuttering and blocking early on purpose. At least it's over fast.
Not this time. Mr. Grand is making everyone speak for at least fives minutes. If it wouldn't be so embarrassing I'd just block on the first word. But it doesn't work like that. Whenever I get up in front of people I have this stupid hope that maybe I'll be able to just talk. The words will come naturally and I won't have to worry and everyone will applaud at the end.
It's never happened.
I sometimes have dreams where I can talk. They're horrible, once I wake up. When I was little they were so realistic that I'd think I was cured. It actually worked for awhile. Then I'd talk to someone (instead of to myself or Al) and I'd stutter again. I think those episodes are why Mom thinks it's purely mental and that if I wasn't so nervous I wouldn't stutter.
It's not true.
Because sometimes I'd wake up and immediately try to say a t or s word and I'd completely block on it.
Sometimes I miss those dreams. I enjoy dreaming them. I'm always so articulate there and online. I love big words, I just can't use them.
The AIM window on my computer flashes:
MindofSteel has just logged in.
I smile and walk over to my computer.
Stutterbug: Al, will you check my paper?
MindofSteel: why don't you just give the speech to me?
Stutterbug: Just read the paper. It's better than anything I could say. And it's not it's going to help or anything. Grand hates me.
MindofSteel: Ed, remember what Winry told you? think positive
Stutterbug: Hmm. Let's see. I have to give a SPEECH tomorrow that has to last for FIVE WHOLE MINUTES. Mr. Grant hates me. He's going to give me an F.
MindofSteel: You don't know that. He might like it.
Stutterbug: I wasn't done yet. I'm going to block, I know it. I almost blocked at dinner on "fish". Since Humanities is fifth period I'll have had the whole day to get nervous. Then after I screw up my speech I have an interview with the counselor after school. I'm supposed to convince her to get me out of Humanities.
MindofSteel: your not dead yet?
Stutterbug: That's the best you could come up with?
MindofSteel: winry's not asking you to the dance?
MindofSteel: There were a few misplaced commas, but other than that you're fine.
Stutterbug: Thanks Al.
MindofSteel has signed off.
I smile at the name. It's a play on the fact that Al has a mind like a steel trap. He never forgets anything. As for me, well Stutterbug is what my dad used to call me when I was little. I don't mind it at all. It's rather cute. Which is why I've refused to tell Winry the real story. I just made up something about how some people are shutterbugs and I'm a stutterbug. She didn't believe me.
I like the sound of it.
Stutterbug. Like Katydid or Flutterbudget.
A nice little nonsense word.
It sounds a lot nicer than stutterer. That word sounds awkward even when normal people say it.
I sign off of AIM and turn off my computer.
It's time to go to bed if I want to get up in the morning.
I'm standing in front of my Humanities class ready to present. Mr. Grand gives me the signal and the stop watch starts.
"The main difference between a war crime and a crime against humanity is—
"What's that Statute?" a kid asks. I glance at Mr. Grand. He pretends not to notice the interruption.
"Is that war crimes take place during war and crimes against—
"It gives the definitions of crimes against humanity. Should you have at least mentioned it Edward?"
"Humanity can t—
I've reached the first t. I was even going to use the word 'take', it just slipped out. I wanted to say 'happen'.
I'm making a fizzing sound. Like when you open a can of coke. Except it doesn't end.
My tongue taps the roof of my mouth spastically. My stomach begins to cramp. Tears are rolling down my face. Everyone's laughing, even Mr. Grand.
"Take a deep breath Ed."
It's my mom's voice. What's she doing at school?
"Edward, time to wake up."
I'm giving a presentation I don't need to—
"Wake up, Edward."
Mom's voice again. But what's she doing here?
"It's time for school."
Right, this is a dream.
I open my eyes and sure enough I'm in my bed staring up at my ceiling. Mom was sitting next to me in my computer chair.
"Good, you're awake," she says, smiling softly before getting up. "There's pancakes for breakfast."
I'm not a morning person.
That is a fairly well known fact around here. I watch as Al carefully butters his two pancakes and carefully pours just the right amount of syrup over them. He's such a perfectionist.
I smear butter, jam, and drench the pancakes in syrup before shoveling them into my mouth. This way I don't have to talk to anyone. Dad comes down and sits at the table. Mom has to stop him from trying to eat the paper. She hands him a cup of black coffee. How on earth that coffee is safe for human consumption I do not know. I've seen it strip varnish off of wood before.
Dad normally drinks about three cups before he's ready to join the living. It's going to kill him someday, I swear.
My dad tries to offer to drive us to school. It comes out something like this:
Mom mouths 'I'll drive.'
"Sure," Al replies after swallowing. I pointedly keep my mouth full as I run over the checklist of things I need. I finished my Pre-Calculus homework in class. Again. I hate French and I know I misspelled all of those vocab words. Nothing's due in Physics or History. I have my lunch. I put my paper in my backpack last night. I have my note cards. And I don't need anything for Ceramics.
And Mom knows that I'm going to be staying late.
I'm walking to school today. Otherwise Mom will try to kiss my cheek and tell me to make good choices. It's so embarrassing. Mom's never quite caught on to the non-kiss-off lipstick craze either. So I'll have to scrub it off or have Winry think that I have a girlfriend. Which I don't. And probably never will since most of the attractive girls at my school have names that start with s, t, f, or l.
I've never explained this to Winry. And for good reason too. She thinks for some deranged reason that Sloth Peccato likes me. Which is not true. Because that would just be too weird. It's not like she's ugly or anything. She's actually fairly pretty. She just looks like a younger version of my mom.
My mom even says she does. The instant she saw Sloth in my yearbook she got out her old high school one. Aside from the difference in hairstyles, they could have been twins.
I've never introduced them. I have this stupid fear that Mom will see Sloth and realize that she's her long lost baby or something horrible like that. That and they'd probably get along great. They both adore public speaking. Granted Sloth has never talked to me about my stutter.
In fact, she's covered for me quite a bit during presentations.
Which is why Winry thinks she likes me.
"Bye Mom!" I yell, finishing my breakfast and heading towards the door.
"You sure you don't want a ride?"
Ling's going to give me a ride. He'd promised.
Unfortunately, I can't exactly tell my mom that. I grab my backpack, and sling it over my shoulder.
The air outside is cool. It's a relief after the stuffy house.
I sigh and walk towards Ling's house. I've known Ling since seventh grade when he moved here. We ended up doing some sort of presentation together. I was alone because nobody wanted to be partners with the stutterer. Russell was also sick with the flu that day, otherwise we'd have been partners. Ling was, of course, the new kid. After that we became best friends. We also got a big fat F on the project.
I turn around. It's Winry.
"I didn't know you were walking to school today," she says. "Your mom already left with Al."
"You going to Ling's house?"
"Sloth said that Mrs. Curtis has a new room and classes are going to start tomorrow."
Why does every conversion with Winry somehow include Sloth? Maybe I should ask Winry if she has a crush on Sloth. But that's not true or even possible. For as long as I can remember Winry has been obsessed with Russell. Russell of course, is completely disturbed by this. I think Winry scares him.
"Did she?" Why on earth would Sloth know anything about Izumi, let alone when Speech Class starts? It's not as if she stutters or anything. She loves speaking in front of people and Sloth's in drama. So there's no way she could be a stutterer, right?
"Yeah," Winry says. I note the sly look in her eye.
"Does she st-st-stutter or ss-ssomething?"
"I don't think so," Winry says in a sing-song voice.
"What do you think?"
"I think its cause she likes you."
"That's st-st-stupid Winry. There's no way she llllikes me."
There can't be. I know Sloth doesn't like me. I don't know how, but I do. Sure she's completely understanding of my stutter. She's never made it worse or teased me about it. Sloth also doesn't care if I can't say her name. But that doesn't mean she likes me.
"She does too."
Sometimes I hate Winry.
"She's never nervous around me," I counter. It's true. Sloth never so much as blushes when she's near me.
"She's never nervous, period."
True. We have yet to see Sloth Peccato stammer, stutter, or flush. She is composure defined.
I stick my tongue out at Winry. We're at Ling's house anyway and there's not room in the car for Winry.
"Bye Winry!" I yell, sprinting for Ling's door.
I smile widely. Ling's little sports car barely sits three people. There'd be more room if he actually cleaned it.
Okay, I'd like to introduce a little something I invented. It's called the Reviewing Form. This is for everyone who isn't quite sure what to put in a review in order to help me improve and (update faster).
Mechanical Aspects (1-10, 10 being the highest):
Areas that the Writer did extremely well at:
Areas that need work:
Chapter Question: Did Ed stutter too much?
I'll give up a cookie or some unspecified but awesome reward if you answer this correctly: Who's the other stutterer? (NOTE: the stutterer might not have been mentioned or even alluded to in this chapter)