“Miss Simmons, will you please come up and present your project.” Mr. Blake gestured to the front of the room as he walked back to his desk. Grace had been working on her project for the past month and she was very proud of it, she even made a scale model of Cuba as a visual for the class. As Grace walked up to the front of the room, a foot stuck out in front of her. Before her foot even made contact with the other, she knew what was going to happen. As her toe slammed against the protruding foot, a scene flashed across her mind; she just knew that if she didn’t catch herself, her model and her dignity would be crushed. Grace felt like a trapeze artist, if she let herself fall there was nothing else that could save her. Grace ignored the whispers and giggles as she struggled to regained her balance. Once she had, Grace continued the gut-wrenching walk up to the front of the room, her confidence beginning to waver with every step. Once she made it to the front of the room she set her model down and turned to face the class.
“C-c-cuba is an island country in the C-carribean,” Grace’s eyes shifted downward as embarrassment took hold of her. She heard a couple snickers throughout the class.
“It’s okay, Grace. Keep going,” Mr. Blake said sympathetically. Grace clears her throat and begins talking once again.
“Havana is the capital of C-cuba and it’s l-l-largest city,” Grace’s eyes glance upward just as Mr. Blake covers his mouth to stifle the laughs threatening to escape from his mouth. The papers fall from her hands as tears start rolling down her cheeks. She expected her classmates to laugh at her, but not her own teacher. Teachers are supposed to be there to support you; and what just happened was far from support. Grace ran out of the room, the pounding in her ears completely drowning out the desperate calls of her civics teacher. The laughter followed her down the hallway, but Grace barely noticed. All she wanted was to get out of this nightmare. Fast. Grace ran down the steps of her school, the brightness of outside momentarily blinding her. Once she regains her eyesight she looks around wildly making sure no one has followed her. Grace’s house is just three blocks away, she breaks into a jog as she crosses the street. The tears rushing down her face blur her vision, so she doesn’t see the blonde hair girl in the cheerleaders’ uniform walking towards her. She closes her eyes for a moment trying to clear the tears from her eyes, praying nobody important saw her in her time of weakness, when she bumps into the girl. Coffee flies everywhere staining her shirt and the girls’ uniform, Grace feels the hot liquid begin to soak into her shirt.
“Ugh! Watch where you’re going freak!” the girl screeches, “I’m going to have to get this dry cleaned now!” Grace recognized her as the head cheerleader at her school, Sarah Jenkins.
“I, um… I-I’m so sorry. I g-got to go!” Grace runs past Sarah as the blood rushes to her head.
“I’m gonna get you for this, freak!” Sarah stomps her foot and whips out her phone.
“Brad, can you come pick me up, you will not believe what just happened!” Sarah whined into the phone. Before she was out of earshot, Grace briefly heard the name, Brad. Grace stopped abruptly, THE Brad? Brad Whetherford, the quarterback on their high school football team. Brad, the boy Grace has had a crush on since the first grade, but he was dating Sarah, and there was no way he’d ever go after a girl like Grace. She sighed and walked the next two blocks in complete silence, thinking about her stutter, the burden she was cursed with since she was little, weighing her down like a sack of rocks.
As Grace walked up the driveway, it dawned on her that she had no way to get inside her house. Both her parents were at work and she forgot all her stuff in her locker. Grace realized that if she left now, she could get back to the school before the janitor locked up for the night. Grace turned around and broke into a run. Halfway there, she encountered Sarah and her posse.
“What ya running from, freak?” Sarah laughed along with her friends. “Didn’t I tell you to stay out of my way?”
“E-excuse me,” Grace tried to squeeze past the girls, but they blocked her path.
“Put this on,” Sarah threw a garbage back at her feet. “Now!” Grace walked behind some bushes, her hands were shaking uncontrollably as she tried to untie the bag. Inside all she found was a little black dress and some heels. She put it on she walked back out, standing behind the girls was Brad and some guys from the football team. Somebody whistled.
“Lookin good, Simmons,” an unidentifiable face said as everyone laughed.
“Not for long,” Sarah giggled. “Hand me the maple syrup.”
Grace walked home pulling sticky feathers from her hair, typical, she thought. Grace walked through the door as a tequila bottle sailed through the air and shattered on the doorframe right by her head. Grace ducked and ran to the stairs. Not this again.
“SHANNON! I told you that I wanted the dishes done when I get home! DO THESE LOOK CLEAN TO YOU??” Her father bellowed while flinging his hands in the air.
“I’m sorry, honey. I just had so many chores to do, it completely slipped my mind,” Her mother said quietly. Her father grunted. He grabbed a bottle of Bourbon and stomped downstairs. Grace slowly started making her way upstairs. The stair under her right foot creaked as she shifted her weight. Grace closed her eyes, mentally pinching herself. Her mother glanced her way with a look of confusion on her face. Suddenly, the look of confusion turned to anger as remembrance took place.
“Just where do you think you’ve been? It’s almost 10 o’clock! What do you have to say for yourself?” Her mothers’ raised voice getting higher with every sentence.
“You know what, doesn’t matter. Just go do the dishes, and I don’t want to hear another word from your mouth for the rest of the night. Am I clear?” Her mother turned to walk upstairs. Rage surged through Grace’s body. Not knowing where it was coming from, maybe it was the project disaster or the chicken prank; but what Grace did know, was that she was mad.
“N-no! Mom I have homework,” Grace said, louder than intended. Her mother whirled around, hatred flashing across her face.
“NO? Did you just say NO to me?” Her mother brought her hand back, but Grace dodged her mother's’ arm and ran upstairs before her mother could strike her.
“GRACE!” Mrs. Simmons screamed after her. Grace scrambled up the stairs and locked her bedroom door. She fell onto her bed and screamed into her pillow. Why does my life have to be so hard, she thought.
Grace woke up the next morning with a mix of dried drool and tears on her face. She walked to the bathroom praying her mother wasn’t awake and in the bathroom. Grace always wakes up an hour before her mom so she can get ready while avoiding the uncomfortable chit chat after an argument. Grace looked at her phone, it said 9:46. School started more than an hour ago! Grace looked around wildly for her backpack. She’s just going to have to go to school in the clothes she wore yesterday. It’s not like anyone is going to notice. Grace found her backpack and dashed down the stairs and out the door. If she ran the whole way there she could get to school just in time for second block. As she was turning the corner she found herself face to face with her worst nightmare. They boy she was in love with, and the girl that hated her guts. Sarah and Brad were screaming and yelling at each other. Grace gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. They turned to look at her, and they were furious. Grace was mortified, she spun around and took the long way to school. Avoiding as many people as possible. When she got there she was panting and out of breath. Once she collected herself she walked through the doors. What had she just witnessed? Were they about to break up? Would the boy of her dreams finally be available? Woah, woah, woah. Calm down, Grace. Even if they did break up, why would he even want you? You’re just a dork with a stutter.
The rest of the day went by in a blur, all she could think about was Brad. On her way home she saw something she never thought she’d see in her life. Brad. Sitting all alone. Without Sarah. Grace tried to walk as silently as possible as not to draw attention to herself. Didn’t do any good. Her footsteps made noise no matter how hard she tried. Brad looked up. Grace held her breath.
“Hey, you’re that girl that Sarah’s always hating on. Ginny, Gabby, something like that,”
“Grace,” Grace mumbled sheepishly.
“Huh? Oh right, sorry. Listen, I’m really sorry about the whole feather, syrup thing. It wasn’t my idea, it was all Sarah’s. You know how she can get, if you don’t do what she says, she can make your life a living-”
“Yeah, I-I know,” Grace interrupted, “I’ve felt her r-rage at full blast, a h-hot, w-wet blast at that,” she stuttered while remembering the coffee fiasco.
“I know, I know. That’s why we broke up,” Grace’s heart leaped into her throat.
“B-broke up?” Grace whispered, can’t believing what she was hearing.
“Yeah, she dumped me for Bryce, the linebacker,” Brad glared at the ground. “I was going to dump her anyway, but she always has to have the upper hand,” Grace cleared her throat, and Brad looked up. Their eyes made contact for a brief moment before Grace looked away.
“Just out of curiosity, do you have a date to homecoming?” Brad asked. Grace’s eyes got wide and she felt butterflies in her stomach. Was he serious? Brad’s question seemed genuine.
“N-no, why?” Grace’s hands were shaking uncontrollably. She hid them behind her back to prevent Brad from seeing her nervous tick.
“Well, now that I don’t have a date, I was wondering if you wanted to go… with me,” Grace felt like she was about to throw up. She couldn’t believe THE Brad was asking her out! Not in a million years would she think this could happened. Grace was a nobody, things like this never happened to people like her.
“I’d love t-to.”
Grace calmly walked away until she was out of sight from Brad, then she ran. She ran, and ran, and ran. She had never been happier in her life! It felt like all her best birthdays wrapped up into one big birthday. Aaah, homecoming! Grace was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn’t realize when she got to her house. Grace felt like she would never stop smiling. When she unlocked the door, her head started to clear, and reality hit her. Like a brick. Homecoming was tonight… and she didn’t have a dress! Grace walked upstairs and into her mothers’ room. She went over to her mother’s closet and looked inside. While she was glancing around the closet her eyes fell upon a beautiful, white, lace, dress. She ran her fingers along the hem and a shiver went up her spine. It was perfect! Grace wiggled into the dress and strapped on her cream-colored wedges. She swiped a little eyeliner on her eyes and ran a comb through her hair. Tonight was going to be amazing, she just had a feeling. Grace checked her watch and realized that if she wanted to get to the dance on time she’d have to leave pronto. She heard a click. Grace stood still, and held her breath. She heard another click and a creak as her front door opened. Oh God. Her mother was home.
“Hello? Is anybody home? Grace? Harry?” Her mother seemed like she was in a good mood. But she has a short temper and if Mrs. Simmons saw Grace wearing her clothes… she wouldn’t be in a good mood for long. Grace tiptoed to her room as silently as possible, avoiding all the squeaky floorboards. Once she got to her room and knew her mother was downstairs, she started shaking. And with shaking came panic attacks. Oh no, not now. Please not now. I have to get to the dance! But how? she thought. Grace scanned the room until her eyes stopped on the window, Of course! She’ll just climb out the window. She pulled open the window and stuck her head outside to check that her mother wasn’t there. Then one leg over the other she climbed out the window and down the fire escape. Once she was down she checked her watch again. 7:56. Grace had four minutes to get to the dance without looking like a jerk and ruining probably her only chance with Brad Whetherford. She unstrapped her wedges and hiked up her dress.
Five minutes later she made it to the school. Sweaty and out of breath. Well, that’s better than late. The second she walked into the gym her eyes found Brad. He looked so handsome in his white tux. In his hand he held a corsage. Her eyes lit up. He bought her a corsage! And it went with her dress perfectly. She bent down to fix her shoes, when she looked up her heart plummeted. There was Brad, and there was Sarah. He was sliding the corsage onto her wrist. Grace fought back the urge to cry as Sarah kissed Brad on the cheek and they walked to the dance floor. Grace turned around and stumbled out of the gym. She ran out of the school tears fighting to spill out of her overused tear ducts. Grace just wanted to go home. She felt her makeup start to run down her face. This was supposed to be the perfect night. Her head was throbbing and those two bright lights and blaring horn didn’t help at all. Grace stopped and turned to see where--