As I turned the corner I was surprised to see another person still in the practice area. The person was bent over into a ball on the ground, and I heard a small muffled sound. Then they turned and I saw her face. Eyes red, face wet with tears and snot, face broken in anguish. And underneath that I still recognized the face of my enemy. The face of the person I have hated since the first day.
And I could not put the pieces together. Why was Miss Perfect upset? What does she even have to be upset about? She is a natural at everything. Every obstacle she comes across she walks right over, and if she actually had a hard time all she needed to do was let her parents know and they would pay to fix it.
I turn to walk away from the spectacle, and I see her turn to hide her face again. I get five steps down the hall I had come from and I stop. I am not going back there, I tell myself. She is my enemy. I hate her. I do not owe her anything. And what would I say to her anyway? She probably does not even want me there! But she might need you there anyway. My mother's calm voice gently nudges me. Why do mothers have to be such good people? Why do they make us do the hard things? Fine! I will go back and I will be there for her. But if she does not appreciate it I will leave.
I turn around and stalk back down the hall conflicted. I see her messy face. I soften a bit and sit next to her. I wait quietly and say nothing, waiting. I have seen my mother do it with enough kids to know that patience is the way to go. You want them to talk first.
"What are you doing? What do you want?" She whispered in an empty, unattached way.
"Just sitting here, maybe if I spend enough time in the practice area the skills I need will start to come to me," I answer. "What about you?"
"I was trying to be alone." She starts angrily, "I did not realize people were still here this late" She finishes softer.
"Yeah, well it is usually just me this late however you can usually find some of the older students here until dark on weeknights. The weekends are nice and quiet. I usually enjoy the peacefulness of it. If you are often looking for a quiet place I highly recommend it. I can stick to one corner of the practice area when needed."
"Well why are you not sticking to one end now?" she snipped, a little more of her usual perfect self shining through.
"If you need quiet I can be quiet." I reply, "I don't need to be on the other side of the practice area to do that."
"Do you try to be infuriating?" she demands. "Every second of the day you are just there being nice to everyone all the time. All the other students just love you. So polite, so kind to everyone. It makes me sick."
It took me a moment to find my voice. "Do people really say that about me?"
She looks back at me with confusion and frustration all over her face. "Well duh. All the time. If people did not like you so much we both know you would not be here."
It hurt because it had a ring of truth. "You know what? I thought for a moment that you were an actual human that could use a friendly ear. But if you are just going to sit there and make fun of me, then I am going to leave."
I stand up, and turn away. Her hand grabs my arm.
"Please don't leave me." It was almost a whimper, but she was too dignified for that. "I am not making fun of you. Well, at least I was not trying to. I am just … jealous of you."
I turn to look at her, and snort. "Jealous of what? You have everything. You are a prodigy, and even if you weren't your parents could help you and get you any career you wanted."
"No they wouldn't," she whispered, as she turned her head to look away again.
Surprise kept me there a little longer when I wanted to just leave already. Why does mother make me like this? Too compassionate. Whatever, it was her problem. I did not need to stick my nose in it. But what would hurt the best student in the academy this much?
"What do you mean they wouldn't"
"They hate me, they wanted a girl that would stay home and embroider and make babies, and get a rich husband. And you and I both know that that is not my life. I try so hard to be the best there is. To show them that I might not be what they want, but I am still worth having. And I am the best, damn it. And they don't care. And no one else here really cares either. They all think that I am an emotionless creature that does not care about anything but herself. I don't have any friends, and my parents don't accept me." She paused and finished quietly, "that is why I am jealous of you, I would give anything to have what you have."
The world had slowly turned upside down as I had listened to her rant. I slid back down to sit next to her to try to stay grounded.
I said the first thing that came to mind. "But we are all jealous of you."
And then she started to laugh. It was a mess, as tears came down at the same time the strange laugh came out of her mouth. Hysterical, she took several deep breaths, and finally said "Yeah, yeah that would make sense. That is what I tried to do wasn't it?" she looked at me and her eyes looked disconnected and lost to the world. "I wanted to be the best and the best does not have friends to rely on. The best just looks down on everyone. You probably hate me too?"
Now she looked at me with a bit of pleading in her eyes. I thought about it, I certainly did not like everything I had known about her before today, but hate? Yes, I thought I hated her, but maybe not really. I disliked her in a petty, jealous way. I had never seen her be human. Now…
"I don't hate you." I start, and she looks at me with hope. "I have often disliked you, but I didn't know you. None of us do really. You just shut yourself up in your room all the time, and when we are in class together you do everything perfectly the first time and ignore the rest of us. I think all of us dislike what we have seen, but none of us know you enough to hate you… and now I think I might know enough to say that I don't dislike you."
She hiccupped, looked at her hands, and whispered, "thank you."
"For what?" I ask, confused again.
"For not hating me. I think you might be the only one, no matter what you say about everyone else. Have you seen the way they look at me?'
I pause again, thinking about how I have probably looked at her too. I feel a twinge of guilt. Then I make a snap decision.
"Well if they are going to look at you they are going to have to look at me first. I think we both need some food. Would you please come and eat with me?" I stand and stick out my hand.
She smiles, it is a small smile, but it is the first time I ever remember seeing her smile. She takes my hand. We walk back together, without talking, because we have come to an understanding. People stare, and I want them too. I know the two of us will be standing next to each other for many years to come.