Alphabet Soup

a story by kazoua

A is for Alternate Assignments

I washed my face carefully, methodically, mindfully avoiding getting water into my eye.

Shortly, I contemplated just holding the tap and placing my head underneath the spray, hold my breath for a few seconds, and shock some sort of awareness in me. But... that wasn't, that wouldn't be the smartest thing to do. Considering, well, that I needed to go back to class in the next several minutes. Walking in with sopping wet hair wasn't the thing to do.

"Get yourself together," I told myself in a lazy drawl, imitating one of my friends to the best of my abilities, "You are so much better than this, Spence."

Yeah. I was so much fucking better than this.

Cheap paper towel to my face, I tried to dry my face as well as possible without scrubbing it pink. That would be a bad idea also, if I wanted to think about it like that. But, I didn't want to think. So, I wouldn't. I was just going to let the paper soak in water, not thinking one bit, not one bit at all, and simply rest my mind.

"Because you're a good kid, Spence. At heart, you're a real good kid," I continued to mock, keeping my eyes shut and covered.

I let out a breath. It sounded like a shaky sigh, but I would swear that exhale was nothing but an exhale. There was no stupid connotations from the way I slouching over the sinks, paper towel pressed against my face, breathing deeply. If anything, I was just... tired.

So, sucking it up, I opened my eyes and stared at my reflection. Blotched pink skin. Blond hair curling where wet. Bloodshot eyes. Seriously speaking, I looked like shit. Complete and absolute shit.

Checking my watch and noting that I did nothing but bemoan for the past four minutes, I decided that it was probably time to get back to class. Didn't want to the teacher to worry, right? No, that wouldn't be nice.

If the teacher were to worry... then the school would probably call my father. Maybe. Perchance. Most likely.

And, if the school called my father, he'd be forced to actually talk to me. Look at me and sit in the same room and open his mouth and actually talk. Not tell me, nothing to tell me at this point that I didn't already know, but seriously talk. Have a two way, interactive conversation with me.

But then again, he could always just skip out on the paternal duties and just refuse to. That would be just peachy, wouldn't it? Father could always just stop me on my way upstairs, as usual, glare at me harder than I could glare at him, and tell me to stop all this 'bullshit.'

I narrowed my eyes at my reflection and copied my father's facial expressions whenever he spoke to me. It wasn't hard. That was why, supposing how cliche and stereotypically hurtful it could be, I immediately stopped and closed my eyes. Images still plastered to the back of my eyelids, but I tried not to mind them. I did mind them, in fact, but I still tried not to.

Fingers twisted in my hair as I blindly tried to fix the damage nervous energy and splashes of water accomplished. I could always go back to class like this, but I didn't want to fuel the machinations of the student body gossip mill any more than I usually did.

Okay. Enough stalling. Back to class.

I tossed my trash, brushed my clothes off from habit, and then started out. The trip didn't take long, it never did, so I made it back to class quick enough. Lucky for her, the teacher didn't have to send out the search squad for poor, pitiful me.

I slid back into my seat with no problem, none at all, picked up my pencil, and then stared at the blank piece of paper in front of me. Oh, not blank. It had the usual information, of course - name, date, period, prompt - but it was otherwise empty.

But... I did get my five minutes. My personal break time. I could do this. I could pretend, if only for a bit, that I was perfectly...


"Spencer?" My teacher was one of those small, older ladies. Not old, not exactly, but aging. Wrinkling, greying, shriveling up before my eyes. Considering that it was only three weeks since school officially started, and only two since it started for me, I liked her. She didn't smile much, but always talked to us students like we were people and not mindless teenage sheep.

"Yes?" I responded back quickly enough, "Ms. Conner?"

She placed a hand on the desk, edging towards the upper left-hand corner of my nonexistent essay. Because this was junior year of high school, Ms. Conner wanted to keep students writing in preparation for the SAT and for college applications. She didn't want the usual essays on novels or current world news, but she wanted us to write about everyday topics. To make the mundane fun, or something of the sort.

Parenting styles and the effect on societal norms. Bullshit like that.

I looked up at her, noticing how her mouth was pulled back in a not-quite-frown-not-quite-grimace. Slowly, she took back the original prompt and slid a completely new paper in front of me. The date read for last year.

...What was I supposed to do, at that point? Smile gratefully, mumble, 'Thanks,' and look around to see if any fellow students saw the less-than-sly swap? Acknowledge that, oh, well look here, this year I have a discreet English teacher. One who wouldn't call me out in the middle of an essay on my oh so pitifully horrible childhood and openly ask about my psychological comfort every time a 'sensitive' topic arose. Alternate assignments, constant glances, self-consciously stuttered phrases, special treatment.



It was Spencer Danielson. And the entire faculty knew about Spencer Danielson, didn't they? And half the student body knew of Spencer Danielson, didn't they? It was Spencer Danielson.

Letting that automatic upward twitch force my lips into a smile, I looked down at my new assignment and quietly said, "Thank you."