A/N: Written for hc_bingo, the prompt "telepathy (always there, but sudden trauma). Which was another one of those prompts which was REALLY HARD to write. I did the metaphor-y thing. And it didn't actually wind up all that h/c-y, because I got distracted and it became Emma Making a Point (me Emma, not Ms. Pilsbury Emma). So... enjoy.
One For All
"Let the good of the people be the supreme law."
- Seal of Missouri
"Social man is a somnambulist."
- Gabriel Tardy
"That social influences shape every person's practices, judgments and beliefs is a truism to which anyone will readily assent."
- Solomon Asch
Most of the time, she can do this.
Most of the time, when she hears them laughing at her and sees them pull their eyelids up to look like her, she can ignore it. Make it stay out of her brain. Stop the images crawling all over her skin.
She hates oral presentations; everyone does, but it's worse for her. Whenever they make her do it, it just feels like she's been placed on a table for them to eat her; picking bits off and covering them in ketchup while she just lies there, screaming.
She could hate them a lot more than she does; she knows that. She doesn't understand what it is about her – her quietness, her knowledge of the answers in class, her already formed love of dark clothes and death-related things (her mom seems to freak out at that one), her yellow skin (which isn't actually yellow, but skin color names have never made sense to her) – that makes them thing she's a freak.
However, they all say it, so she thinks it must be something. She's looking at herself wrong. Which makes sense, because she's her, and duh her perspective on her personality's going to be different to most people's. Still, she knows this must be caused by something – something about her that makes them all laugh. Because they can't all be wrong, right?
She just wishes school would stop making her go up and present it.
She unsteadily stands on at the front of the class, and they're all giggling. She can't hear distinct words, but somehow they still seem clear as daylight to her.
...Freak's got a project...
...Think she'll puke all over the front row?...
...You think that red title's written in blood?...
...Ching-chong chang li; like we understand what she says anyway...
Tina breathes in heavily, hands shaking on her paper. She squeezes her eyes shut. She can do this; she knows that because she has always done it. She's always been able to tell exactly what they think of her, and it just makes her worse. Admittedly, they've never fought that hard to conceal it, but even if they had – even with the few who do – she can tell. The avoiding her eyes, the body language, the disbelieving looks when they think she can't see – of course she can tell. They want her gone. She feels that every second of every day, and it just makes her feel terrible for being there.
"Hey, Chang! Hurry up!" Jack Parker yells from the front row, but she knows what he's really saying.
She wants to go away.
"The M- the M-m-m-m..."
It starts as an accident. She's just so nervous. But they laugh and suddenly she's not talking for a little. It's good.
More laughter. Tears stinging her eyes, both with pain and relief. She looks at Mrs. Fletcher, who narrows her eyes in suspicion.
Mrs. Fletcher's eyes go from annoyed, to wide and believing. She buys it, thinks Tina.
She looks down at her classmates, who are still laughing their heads off, and obviously believe it's all one hundred percent accurate. It hurts, but it's good. She's doing this for their sake as much as hers. They don't want her there and she wants them to leave her alone.
"Hey, give us a full word, will you?" yells Aaron Armstrong.
"Enough, Aaron," barks Mrs. Fletcher. She then looks nicely at Tina. "Tina dear, why don't you go sit down?"
Tina nods and walks back to her seat. The girls on either side of her look nervous and unsubtly shuffle away from her, but they're not leaning in to whisper cruel comments in her ear like usual, so Tina considers it all a successes.
Doesn't mean she can't hear them thinking.
...Are you retarded or something?...
...She can't even talk...
...Is she going to go all Bride of Frankenstein on us?...
...What the fuck is wrong with you?...
It stings, but she's used to it. This is half for them anyway; they don't have to put up with her like this.
The recess bell rings and the class shuffles out. Mrs. Fletcher asks her to stay back.
"What happened there, Tina?" she asks, voice somewhere between kind and suspicious. Tina pulls the best move her eleven year old brain can come up with.
She bursts into tears.
"Tina, Tina!" Mrs. Fletcher calls out, immediately wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Hey, it's okay, it's okay."
"I – I – I'm s-sorry, Mrs. Fletcher," Tina stutters, but she knows at this point it can still be considered to be due to things like her crying, or her classmates' jeering like before.
And part of her is telling her to drop the act now, but the greater part of her feels like she has a duty.
Mrs. Fletcher thinks to hell with it, and pulls the small girl into a hug (Tina can tell her thought process by the flickers in her eyes). Tina cries into the woman's shoulder, but it's taking more effort than usual to keep the tears coming.
(She's an eleven year old girl, okay; she's practiced crying to get what she wants.)
Still, she pulls back, letting her sobs subside.
"Tina," says Mrs. Fletcher, "I'm so sorry. I should do more about those–"
"It's okay," Tina says (okay, a little bit because she doesn't want to here the official 'we'll make it better' teacher speech). "It w-w-wasn't that, r-r..."
Mrs Fletcher sighs and holds Tina's shoulder firmly. "Do you want to go see Eileen with me? I think she might know something about your, uh, speech difficulty."
That's the school counselor. Tina's been to see her once or twice, but nothing's really stuck in her mind. Still, it gives her a better chance of keeping this up.
"O-Okay," she says.
And as Mrs. Fletcher leads her out, hand in hand, Tina can hear the woman thinking:
You poor, crippled thing.
Tina smiles somewhat.