Annie Edison has no friends, no life, and no tits.
Instead she has a 4.0 GPA, a cat named Cheddar Paws, and a pill addiction.
Being perfect is hard work, and Annie isn't even all the way there yet. She's still a bit chubby in the face, and she doesn't have a boyfriend named Troy Barnes. Her mother often reminds her that having a boyfriend isn't Priority. Things that are Priority include (but are not limited to): getting into an Ivy League, becoming a doctor, having a mortgage, etc. Husbands came after careers (though her mother isn't one to talk, marrying at eighteen and all).
Annie has her entire life planned out. She shouldn't have to worry about anything. Worry should drip off of her into little pools of someone else's anxiety. So why does she lay awake at night, staring at the boy band posters taped neatly to her ceiling, panicking about science tests and after school activities and college acceptance letters?
The only thing that calms her down are the pills. The bottle is hidden in her underwear drawer, and it eases her mind knowing it's there. She can just pop a few pills and everything changes. She feels capable. She can study and write essays and read fifty pages of her history textbook in just one night.
Sure the side effects can be awful - the pounding headaches, the insomnia, the mood swings. But it's worth it. It's worth knowing her future is perfect and clean and beautiful.
She feels invincible. Like nothing can hurt her. For once she feels in control.
Annie has eaten lunch alone for three years of high school. In the past the other loser girls had joined her in an act of solidarity, bringing gossip about so-and-so's new hair extensions, or what happened at a party they weren't invited to. These days they don't want anything to do with her. Annie knows the rumors. She's heard all of them. Read them scribbled on bathroom stalls in black Sharpie ink.
You know Annie Edison, right? Well I heard she slept with the chem teacher to get a higher grade last semester.
Really? I heard she's selling drugs to middle schoolers.
Aren't her parents sending her to reform school?
One day she's a slut, the next a geek, or a delinquent on the verge of dropping out. Annie's always wanted to be popular, but not like this. Everyone knows who she is, but the reasons are all wrong. Everything is wrong. It's a nightmare, high school, and the only thing that keeps her sane is the thought that college will be better. She'll get into that Ivy League she's been dreaming about since grade school. She'll become the greatest doctor in the world, and she'll be famous. It'll be right. It'll be better. Her clean, beautiful future.
Annie glances around the cafeteria. Troy Barnes is sitting with his current girlfriend, a pretty blonde bobble head, and Annie cringes. He's supposed to be with her. Her mother always said boys preferred the more intelligent girls. What's the point of going with someone who doesn't know how to spell their own name?
Troy shrugs off his Letterman's jacket and places it around the blonde girl's shoulders. Annie feels sick. That's her Letterman's jacket. That's her boyfriend.
She looks down at her boring tuna sandwich, her stomach churning. She's going to throw up.
Annie doesn't reach the girl's bathroom in time. She vomits in the hallway near the English rooms, and someone sees. They shout out, "Sick! Edison ralphed!" And there's laughing and moans of disgust. All directed at her.
Annie runs. She can hear a teacher calling for her, but she can't go back. She's mortified and upset and crying, her mascara bleeding down her cheeks. Not even makeup can help her feel pretty. She's a mess.
Annie runs. She runs out of the school and down the street, not bothering to look where she's going. It's fine if she gets hit by a car. It's fine if someone abducts her off the side of the road. It's fine if she trips and splits her head open and dies. No one will care about her. Life at Riverside High will continue as planned with a homecoming she wasn't going to anyway.
Annie runs. She finds herself at the park. The park her dad used to take her to before her parents went through that awful divorce four summers ago. There's a fountain where you can make wishes, and Annie would always wish for friends and tits and a life. It took her a long time to realize wishing was a hopeless endeavor.
She finds the oak tree her kites used to get stuck in a long time ago. Annie sits at the base of the tree, and reaches into her skirt pocket for the pills. Her comfort. The only thing that'll keep her from exploding.
They aren't there. She has a few pennies and a dime, but no pills. Her palms start to sweat, and that familiar feeling of intense nausea starts up again. Annie takes in a deep, shaky breath. She won't cry. She refuses to let herself cry.
"You're having a rough day too?"
Annie squeaks, jumping violently. There's a boy sitting next to her, tall and lanky with a bloody nose. Annie's stomach flip-flops at the sight of the goopy, dark blood dribbling down his chin, but she does her best to look calm. The runny mascara and quivering lower lip don't help much.
"Excuse me?" Annie says, wiping away tears and glittery eye-shadow with the back of her hand. "Are you okay?"
Her first instinct is to help the poor kid. His nose is gushing blood, and he doesn't seem to notice this.
"Uhhm I'm fine," the boy says, shrugging. "Some older kids beat me up in the parking lot, and they took my Batman mask."
"Why were you wearing a Batman mask to school?"
"It looks cool." He says it in a way that makes her feel stupid for asking.
Annie bites her lip. "Turn around for a second, okay?"
The boy does what she says without any questions. Annie stares at the back of his head for a moment, taking in how peculiar the situation is, before reaching into her bra, removing some of the tissues she had stuffed in there.
"Here," Annie says, handing him the crumpled tissue. "Tilt your head forward."
"I thought you're supposed to tilt it back."
"No," Annie shakes her head. "No. If you do that the blood will go down your throat and into your stomach. That's not good."
The boy nods, actually doing what she instructed. They sit in an awkward silence until Annie speaks up.
"Do you get beat up a lot?"
"Not all the time," the boy says. His voice is nasally from pinching his noise with her bra tissues. "Usually they throw me in a locker, but today I decided to fight back. Like in those spaghetti westerns, right? When the bad guys challenge the hero to a duel. I'm the hero in this case, but I got beat up in the end."
"Well that's okay…" Annie replies. "It's not really interesting if the hero defeats the bad guys on the first try. He has to work for it in order to make the story more satisfying."
As soon as the words leave her mouth she's embarrassed. But the boy isn't laughing at her or anything. He nods thoughtfully. "Yeah, you're right. I'll win one of these days."
"Um why didn't you go home?" Annie asks. "Why did you come here instead of going home?"
"My dad doesn't like when I get blood all over the falafel. It's a health hazard."
Annie perks up. "Oh! You're the Nadir's son?"
Annie knows about the Nadir's falafel stand. Her mother is always giving it dirty looks when they're out shopping. Annie's seen a kid in there once or twice, and she now realizes it's Abed, the boy with the bloody nose.
"I get bullied in school too," Annie tells him. For some reason his quiet presence puts her at ease . Her headache is gone, and her hands have stopped shaking. She doesn't feel sick anymore. "There's all these stupid rumors about me sleeping with teachers, and dealing drugs. I hate it."
"Then why don't you tell them they're wrong?"
"Because they'll laugh at me," Annie sighs. "And then they'll make up even more rumors."
"People at school think I'm an alien," Abed says. "But I like that story. I don't like when they call me retarded."
Annie's eyes widen. "That's awful! That's so mean! Why would they…? That's so mean!"
"I act funny, I guess."
"You're different," Annie blurts out. "You're different, and it scares them. You're so wonderfully different. They don't know how to handle it!"
Why is she saying these things? She just wants this boy to feel better, though she's not quite sure if he feels sad. He doesn't look upset or anything, but it must affect him, what those stupid kids say.
"You're wonderfully different too then," Abed says.
Annie stares at him with wide, wet eyes.
"You have any change on you?" he asks, ignoring her bewildered reaction.
"Y…Yeah." She gives him the pennies and dime from her skirt pocket. "Why?"
Abed takes her to the wishing fountain. He gives her a penny. "Make a wish. Close your eyes."
Annie feels silly standing there with her eyes closed. She feels like a child. But she remembers her father, how small her hand felt in his, how tall he seemed, like a giant. She missed him. She missed when things were easy, and she didn't have people to please. She missed when she was a kid, thinking wishes could come true.
I wish I had friends.
She tosses the penny in the fountain. Splash! When she opens her eyes Abed is looking at his reflection in the water, the tissue away from his nose. He notices Annie staring and smiles at her in this roguish James Dean way. She looks at her shoes.
"Do I look like John McClane?" he asks.
Annie doesn't know who that is, so she says, "What did you wish for?"
"If I tell you it won't come true," Abed replies. "First rule of Wishing."
"But I'll tell you, if you want."
"I wished for friends."
She has a feeling in her stomach. Not nausea. Not aching.
A flutter of something.
"Now I have to make another wish," Abed sighs. "I'm not going to tell you this one."
He stands there for a moment, eyes closed, nose bleeding, and tosses the penny. Splash!
"They're playing Short Circuit 2 at the theater downtown," Abed says. "You wanna go?"
And skip the rest of the classes? The idea is horrifying, and yet...
She sees her clear, perfect, beautiful future. The school, the career, the house. It's so far away. She can take one day to just have fun. One day where she doesn't have to worry about anything.
"Yeah," she says, nodding eagerly. "Yeah, let's do it."