Chapter 10: Ugly Face

My knees are trembling, actually knocking against each other. I was good on the way up to the podium at the front of the auditorium—it felt like I was walking in a water world heavy with silence. Kind of cool, actually. But once I turn to face the entire 7th grade class and realize that I’m not dreaming, that 90-plus faces are all focused on me, life grinds to a halt.  My heart stops, then races like I’m running a marathon. I can feel that my face is red, and that my ears are hot and throbbing.  

Don't forget to breathe, Mr. Banner's frog-like voice says in my head. If a speaker faints during his speech, it's probably because he wasn't breathing.

I gulp, and air skitters like ice into my lungs. I thought Mr. Banner had been joking about the fainting part. Geeze, I'm sweating, and the air is brittle like I’m breathing outside in winter.

I look at my note cards.

I grw up in a fmihy not that ulibe the frytal wrld of Cnnerlla, yt I crted one fthe scrist mnstrs ofll tme.

I whimper and draw it out into a throat clear.

"Miss Swan? Okay?"

Mrs. Thexton is the English teacher. She's unusually pretty with thick eyebrows, laser blue eyes, and a blunt, silver white pageboy. But at this moment, I can't help but see her as The Enemy.
"I feel faint," I say in an awkward gasp.

People laugh. Rose mashes her lips together as her face crumples for me. Mike looks torn between laughter and sympathy. Jasper draws a finger across his throat.

"Inhale, Miss Swan," Banner barks from the back of the room. "Inhale loud enough that we can hear you."

I'd rather wake up in The Matrix at this point, but I do what he says. It's just a gulp, though, not an inhale at all.

His voice comes again. "Exxxxxxhale."

I force air out and stagger against the wooden podium, which slides against the floor in a screech. I can't see or hear anything other than laughter now. The room is undulating in waves with it and so am I.

My kick ass speech as Mary Shelly ends before it begins in blackness.

. . .

At lunch, I rest my head on my arms. I can’t eat. Humiliation is still at home in my stomach and I have a head ache from where I knocked it against the podium. My face and knees are also scratched and sore. Turns out it’s dangerous if you faint. And now there are a few volunteers sitting on stage with the person giving their speech. You know, just in case.

“It was like her bones just melted or something,” Jasper was telling the table. “After she hit her head, I just sat there. I thought it was a joke.”

I raise my head to glare at him.

He raises his hand and Sprock sticks his felt tongue out at me. “Jasper says he’s sorry.”
“Tell Jasper he sucks,” I say and lay my head back down.

“Let me see your face,” Edward says. He must have left his place at the table. Some girl named Lauren is eating lunch with us today. She’s Edward’s new girlfriend. They never last for more than a couple of weeks. I hate them all.

I raise my head and let him stare at my boo-boos.

“Imagining everyone naked didn’t work,” I tell him.

His touch is light on my cheek, just below the scrape. “Guess not.”

“Don’t laugh.”

“I wasn’t.”

“I saw your mouth twitch.”

“I’m still chewing my food.”


“You okay?”

“Embarrassed. Angry. But other than that, I’m just dandy.”

He ruffles my hair like Dad does. It pisses me off, so I shove him away.

Rose’s speech is after lunch. The block teachers—our English, Social Studies and Math class monsters—have combined their hours and classes for two weeks in order to torture us students. And make us give oral speeches on dead historical figures of note. Several students have gone frozen, given leaden speeches, or cried. I’m the first one who’s fainted.

Even worse?

They want me to try again.

I have to, or I’ll get a big fat F.

But first, it’s Rose’s turn. “I’ll warm them up for you,” she says.

She’s giving her speech on Florence Nightingale, the lady who founded modern nursing. Because Florence was said to have been pale, Rose patted down her skin—even her forearms—with white face powder. She’s wearing a black shirt, a white top with a black vest, and a nurse’s cap she got from who-knows-where. As she walks up to the podium, leaving a powder smell in her wake, I can’t stop smiling.

“The city of Florence, Italy was named after me,” she begins and it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. “And yes,” she continues. “Nightingale is my real last name.”

My stomach aches I’m laughing so hard.

Thirty minutes later, I’m breathing in ice again. It’s my last chance. Rose and Jasper both got through their speeches just fine. Well, Jasper paused for long moments during some of his speech, but Rose knocked it out of the park. I’ll be happy if I don’t faint or barf.

I close my eyes as soon as I get to the podium and innnnnnnnhale.

“I wrote Frankenstein! Rrrrrrrrr!” I growl.

Everyone’s laughing now, but they’re laughing with me this time, not at me.

I think.

. . .

“Why is that cheese called Laughing Cow?” I ask Edward as he slathers some of it on a Triscuit. His face contorts as he chews the cheese and the cracker. I watch him with my chin propped up on my hands.

“Dunno,” he says to my look of interest. “Don’t care.”

“I don’t think a cow even knows how to laugh. It’s a stupid name.”

He swallows loudly, then, You throw away the outside, then eat the inside, then throw away the inside. What am I?”  

“A McDonald’s hamburger?”

. . .

It’s Christmas again. Our first without Mom. It’s … awkward, but I’m determined to fill the house with Christmas decorations just like she did. Dad has never put the tree up, and Edward and I have only ever helped Mom, so it’s a bit of a struggle. Edward helps me get the tree post and all of the branches out of the box, then stands beside me as we look at it all with dread.

“Well,” I sigh. “The tree’s not going to put itself up.”

There are three row of branches and the metal tips that go into the tree trunk are color-coded. I’ve shoved a bunch of blues into the green slots before I realize this, and have to pluck them all back out again.

“This is fun,” I tell Edward. “Really gets me into the Christmas spirit!”

He laughs and gooses my butt.

It takes a long while and several tree branch finger cuts before the tree is up and lit.

“The decorations,” Edward says with a sigh.

“You first.”

He digs out the angel topper.

“No, that’s last.”

He shrugs. “Well, call me when you’re ready.”

I bend over and pull out our Lifesaver’s Men. Edward’s is Win-to-Green and I’m Wild Cherry. We made them maybe three years ago by stuffing yarn down the middle of the roll and tying the ends into arms and feet. The heads are Ping-Pong balls with shiny foil stars for the eyes, nose and mouth. They make me smile whenever I see them.

“Look, it’s Bella and Edward,” I say to him.

He takes Bella from me and hangs her up high in the tree, way past where I could reach. So I take Edward and hang him at my waist.

“They’re not getting along?” I ask.

“They’re just trying different things,” he says.

“Well, I hope she’s back in time for dinner. It’s Ritz cracker pork chop and applesauce night.”

Edward cheers. “She’ll be there.”

. . .

I’m under the tree late at night again this year. Actually, I fell asleep a while ago and woke up when Edward bent down to lay beside me because his knee cracked.

“You’re here again,” he says.

“Um hmm.”

“Looking for elves?”

“No. An angel.”

“I can’t reach her without the chair.”

“That’s just it. He doesn’t want to be reachable.”

“Ohhhh. A he?”

“That’s right. He’s been watching over me lately. He doesn’t want me to know.”

Edward shifts uncomfortably, finally getting my drift.

I roll over, scoot close, and lay my head on his chest. “He found me, though.”

His fingers are warm against my arm. “Do you still miss her?”

“Yes. I think I always will. Don’t you?”

His fingers still. “I wasn’t close to her like you were, Bella. Those last few months with her? She was a dragon.”

I close my eyes and sigh heavily.

“Plus,” he continues, “I don’t think I’ll ever forgive her for what she did to you.”

I stiffen. He sounds ominous. “What did she do to me?”

The fingers tighten, then move softly against my skin. “She bullied you. Tried to make you think that leaving was a bad thing.”

“But she didn’t mean it.”

“But she said it.”

And we’re back to that again.

“Sometimes when people are mad, they say things they don’t mean,” I tell him hotly and try to push away, but he holds me fast.

“I know that. But she was good at manipulating people, especially you.”

I shake my head against his chest. “I don’t even know what that means.”

He sighs and grips my arm hard again. “It means that she was good at making you do what she wanted. She was good at making you feel the way she wanted you to feel.”

“How could she do that?” I ask, and I’m bewildered and a little angry. If he just came here to make me feel sad, well, he can go back to bed.

“She did that by crying. By getting mad. And by saying hurtful things.”

I think about it. He’s right, but I didn’t want to hear it.

“I don’t want to talk about Mom,” I say. “And I thought you’d forgiven me for what I said.”

“I have.”

“Then why bring it up again? That’s not fair.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I guess it still hurts.”

I tighten my arm around his stomach. “It shouldn’t. You know I don’t feel that way about you.”

“I know.”

“But the words still hurt.”

“They hurt less and less,” he admits.

“Good. Then those words should be a distant memory when 2015 comes. Right?”

He flips me onto my back and starts tickling me.

“Stop,” I gasp. “You’ll make me wake up Dad.”

I’m still out of breath and smiling when he backs away and stares down at me with a puzzled look on his face. I frown back.

“What is it?”

He shakes his head, then lays back down. He’s no longer touching me. “Nothing.”

. . .

The next night, Christmas Eve, Edward wakes me up. I’ve got tears on my face and Mom’s voice in my head.

“You were yelling at her,” he said and sits on the side of my bed.

I sniff and turn on my side to face him. “She was yelling at me.

“Want to talk about it?”

“No. Will you say with me?”

He climbs under the covers behind me.

It’s not the first time I’ve had a bad dream about Mom, but it’s the first time Edward’s ever come to wake me up from one.

. . .

Dad’s big Christmas gift for me and Edward is to treat all six of us—Alice, Rose, Emmett and Jasper—to front row seats at a Komets hockey game.

I’ve never been a real big fan of hockey, but I have to admit that it’s exciting. Right now, there’s a song called Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting blasting over the speakers as the players scramble on the ice.

Down on the ice, one of the Komets must whack in a puck and score, because an air horn sounds and then people are shooting to their feet and cheering. Queen’s We Will Rock You is playing now and I’m jumping up and down with Rose and Alice. Dad and the boys are watching us and laughing, and we’re having a great time. It’s turning out to be the best gift ever.

Moves Like Jagger is playing when I notice a girl in the row behind us is leaning forward to talk to Edward. She has long, curly red hair and a couple of girlfriends who seem to be egging her on. I want to tell them to leave him alone.

“He gets all the girl’s attention,” Jasper grouses. “Just because he’s tall.”

“Nah, it’s that ugly face of his,” Emmett says. “Besides, there’s three of them. One for each of us.”

I roll my eyes, then yell Edward’s name. He turns to me and he’s all smiles. I beckon him over to me, and he comes.

“Trade seats with Alice. I need someone to explain what’s going on,” I say.

“Yeah, right,” Alice mutters, but she gets up and Edward takes her seat. I was sure he’d complain or fight me about it, but he does it willingly. I squeal and hug his arm.

“Who were those girls?”

He gives me a look. “I don’t know. They just started talking to me.”

There’s a fight down on the ice and his attention is snapped away from me. “That’s going to be a penalty,” he says.

I look back the way he came and smile at the red-haired girl. She’s shooting daggers at me, but she gets the last smile because she hands Edward a piece of paper as we leave.

“I’m Vicky. Call me.”

I don’t know why I’m suddenly uncomfortable with all the attention Edward gets, but I just am. He’s my brother.

Behind me, Dad groans. “God help me.”

. . .

That night, Rose, Alice and I study ourselves in my full length, sliding mirrored closet doors.

Rose, who’s only 14 like me, has the biggest boobs. Alice is still as flat as I am, something we are both unhappy about. Rose also has the best hair. It’s silver-blond, long and wavy.

Alice has the best nose and eyes. Her hazel eyes are cat-shaped and slant at the corners, giving her an exotic look. “I just have to wear padded bras to get people to look at my eyes,” she says with sigh.

It’s decided that I have the best legs and skin, although I don’t agree. I try and see something of Mom in my face, but the only thing I seem to have inherited from her is her mouth; a fuller upper lip and a skinny bottom one. It’s always seemed odd to me, but boys are always looking at my mouth.

“You have your dad’s doe-brown eyes,” Rose says and I laugh at the way he’d wince if he heard her describe them.

“You have your mom’s big boobs,” I say.

She lifts them in the palm of her hands. “Yep. These babies definitely came from Mom.”

“I wonder if I’ll ever get my mom’s boobs,” I say. It’s definitely past time. I bleed and suffer through cramps every month. Where’s the second part of the deal?

“You should eat more,” Alice says. “You’re too skinny. People who eat more have bigger boobs.”

“Then we should both eat more,” I tell her with a heavy glance at her own skinniness.

We start by going down to the kitchen and making root beer floats.

. . .

Edward’s riddle answer for Bella: corn on the cob.

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