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Grade
9

Nicole glares at herself in the bathroom mirror. Not able to find any positive comment about herself. “Why are my clothes so frumpy? Why am I practically big enough to be diagnosed as obese? Why does my boyfriend seem to have no other ability but lying and cheating?” She splashes cold water on her face, hoping to wash away the negative thoughts, hoping to finally be perfect. But all that floods her brain are the future conversations she could have with her parents, but won’t. Her feelings are erased from her mind as she stretches her arm to answer her cell phone. Declining her mom’s call, she dials her roommate Erica’s phone number.

“Hey Erica, let’s do something today. I have a lot to get my mind off of.” Nicole sighs.

“Okay, I’ll meet you at Pressed Juicery in twenty.” Erica replies, probably preparing herself for the therapist session she’s about to have to listen to. Nicole hops into her grey Prius, and firmly presses the ON button to her radio. Every station is playing Christmas music, and the happy go-lucky jingle to every single song is the last thing she wants to listen to at the moment. The only other station not playing some Christmas remix or holiday tune, was the rap station. God only knows the day she will ever tolerate rap music, so “Baby It’s Cold Outside” it is. Trying to tune out the corny harmony piercing through her brain, she then smashes the OFF button, filling the air with silence. Nicole drives down the street, feeling nostalgia of driving down Route 34. She thinks of when her and her mom would laugh at the Australian accent of the GPS voice. Then passes by Dairy Queen, where memories of cherry dipped ice cream and dilly bars make her mouth water. Too busy remembering the things she wish she would forget, she almost cruises past Pressed Juicery. She quickly pulls into the following entrance and meets the smiling gaze of Erica, as she tries to delete the negative thoughts in her mind and let loose.

“Hey Nicole, let’s head in.” Erica declares with a smile spreading across her concerned face. As they walk in the door, the warm heat blasts into their wind-burned face, and the door jingles. They order their snack and proceed to a table in the car back corner. Erica must know I need a serious intervention, we never sit so isolated. Nicole tells herself. After they pick up their food, Erica cuts right to the chase.

“Okay, so what’s up Nikki?”

“I don’t know Erica, I’m scared. I’m always so upset about everything.” Nicole replies, just about breaking a sweat.

“I don’t think it’s everything.” Erica reassures.

“Um, my parents, school, my career, my appearance, Aaron. Everything Erica!”

Nicole runs her fingers through her hair in frustration.

“I think I know what you need.” Erica says, whipping out her phone from her purse.

“Yeah a new life.” Nicole sarcastically sighs.  

“No, I got this email for this special holiday price on small cruises that travel along Lake Huron. It looks so fun and I really think it would help get your mind off of everything.” Erica explains, a look of hope on her face.

“It sounds cool and all but don’t know, it’s Christmas break.” Nicole mutters, secretly wanting to accept right away.

“ I really think you can benefit from this. Please just take a chance.”

Nicole ponders, until she realized this is what she does too much, think. So without any more thought Nicole shouts

“Okay, I’m in.” An immediate look of happiness is plastered upon both faces.

“Pack your bags girl because we are leaving tomorrow morning!!”

 

Nicole runs home packing everything in sight. Three bathing suits, her hairbrush, ten shirts she knows she won’t need all of. She’s soon interrupted by the picture frame decorating her dresser, practically calling her name. She stares at the blue picture frame, covered in glitter and words reading “I love mommy.” She throws the picture face down, and cozies into bed trying to process the fact that this is the first year she won’t be home for Christmas. The idea eats at her, she’s then alarmed by the fact that she has to tell her mom somehow, that she won’t be home for Christmas. Nicole checks her contacts for her mom’s number, unable to remember it. She holds the phone to her ear, praying it’ll go to voicemail or be busy. Nicole has never been more happy to hear “You have reached the voicemail box of Karen Fleming, please leave a message at the beep.” Nicole mutters into the phone

“Um, Hey mom, I know this is sort of last minute but I won’t be home for Christmas this year. I hope you understand.” Nicole turns off her phone and tosses it onto her nightstand. She then throws her head onto her pillow, attempting to fall asleep. After hours of Netflix, Youtube, and eating she finally is able to fall asleep, awaiting the new adventure that lies ahead.

***

“Hey girl! Are you ready for a week and a half of tanning, the beach and more tanning?!” Erica beamed. Nicole smiles in reassurance while she peers down at her lit-up phone screen.

“Did you tell your mom about Christmas?” Erica asks, as if she was walking on eggshells.

“Yeah, I left her a voicemail, I knew all she was going to do was yell at me, so I guess I’m glad she didn’t pick up.” Nicole sighs. Immediately hit with the humid Michigan weather, they unload their belongings. Since starting college at Michigan University, this is the first time they have made their way to the Great Lakes. In awe of Lake Huron, they unload all their belongings from the car and proceed to the bijou cruise.

“This is so beautiful!” Nicole shouts, peering around in wonder. Not even knowing where to venture to first, she finds her way to the highest deck. So high up she can see Lake Erie in the distance. The cruise soon begins to set sail, and for the first time in a very long time, she finally feels free. While she stands over the edge letting the breeze blow her wavy blond hair off the back of her neck, she outstretches her arms and feels at peace. Interrupting her daydreaming, Nicole feels a vibration in the back of her jean shorts pocket. She grabs her phone and to her surprise “MOM” reads across the screen. Rolling her eyes in displeasure she puts the phone to ear.

“Hey, Why are you calling me?”

“Honey I know you’re still upset with us, but I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas! But while I’m on the phone with you, how is college going?” Her mom asks, unsure of how Nicole will react.

“I think by ‘how is college?’ you mean, ‘Let’s talk about medical school’” Nicole snaps. “I don’t care about your opinion anymore, if I want to be a sports writer, then I’m going to be. Michigan University has one of the best writing programs in the country, sorry I’m not a Harvard nerd studying the wonderful art of being an Neurological Surgeon.” Nicole barked.

“Sweetie, I am just check-” Before her mom even has a chance to defend herself, Nicole hangs up the phone and tosses it overboard into the sparkling blue water. Watching the water race past in awe, she drops to the floor, feeling a falling sensation. As she continues to turn all around, things go dark and her stomach drops while the idea of missing Mom’s ham dinner and mashed potatoes soaked in gravy whip through her mind. Her happy memories are soon disrupted by her negative memories. A life with her ex-boyfriend Aaron, still cheating, her parents not accepting her, her fat body and the shameful comments that accompany it. Everything. At this point she would rather fall into this deep hole then go back to her pointless life of misery. Soon the smell of the salty lake air morphs into the smell of burning rubber, finishing her thoughts. Nicole regains her conscience and slowly opens her eyes, unsure of what they will behold.

“Where am I?” Nicole whispers to herself. Looking around in confusion, she locks eyes on a figure that seems to be her ex-boyfriend walking over.

“Hey Nikki, wanna go to the movies later?” A tall boy with broad shoulders offered.

“Um, Aaron? You sorta cheated and kinda lied so we broke up?” Nicole grunted.

“Nikkie? We’re dating, it’s been 3 years.” Aaron says as his voice falls.

Confused and scared, Nicole runs away, leaving Aaron behind. As she continues to run everything looks the same as her hometown Briar Creek, Pennsylvania. The same fountain decorating town hall and dog park she would go to with her dog Sadie. Venturing around the town that seems all too familiar, she eventually reaches her house, stepping up to the same doormat reading “WELCOME.” As Nicole reaches for the door handle, it quickly opens.

“Hey honey! So excited for you to be back for Christmas break!” Someone who looks just like her mom excitedly exclaims.

“Where am I? I could have sworn just a few minutes ago I was on a cruise touring Lake Huron, Am I dreaming or something?” Nicole asks, dazed.

“Oh sweetie pie, you’re in your dream world, and no you’re not dreaming.” Her mom replies.

“Every aspiration you have ever had for yourself and your life has come true.”

Peering down at her now-slim waist and legs Nicole face is painted with a bright smile. Taking a minute to process what she just heard, the smile grows wider.

“Honey, how is writing going? Any offers?” her mom asks, concerned.

“Wait, I thought you wanted me to be a surgeon, you aren’t mad?”

“Oh no pumpkin, surgeons are for nerds, you can do whatever you wish to for your future.” Loving the fact that her mom has a change of heart, she skips up to her room.

Everything is perfect.

***

BUZZ, “Hey Nikkie, how about lunch today?” Nicole reads on her brand new rose gold Iphone X screen. Replying right away she types “Okay, meet me at my place in twenty.” Aaron soon walks up to the door, while she greets him she asks

“So, what are you thinking for lunch?”

“Wherever is fine.” He replies

“Well, what are you in the mood for?” She asks, following a chuckle.

‘It doesn't matter, whatever you want.” He replies again. A little frustrated with his lack of making a decision, she decides herself on Panera. They both load into his jeep wrangler, flipping through radio stations, Nicole asks

“What music do you want to listen to?”

“Whatever you want” He replies for what feels like the eighth time today. Nicole again decides herself to play Hits 1.

“You wanna put down the top?” Nicole requests.

“Of course, whatever you want.” Aaron says while she rolls her eyes. They pull into Panera and hop out. Making their way to the counter to order, they both order Mac n’ Cheese.

“So, we can sit wh-”

“I know, “wherever I want’” Nicole finishes for him. They slip into their seats, chatting away. Nicole always got bored with the real Aaron since he was so shy and quiet, so it was always awkward. But with this new “perfect” Aaron, all he did was talk. Almost to the point where she wants the old Aaron back. After she arrives back home she sits on her bed and peers over to her mirror, enjoying her stick-like body she always wanted. Changing into shorts and a crop top with confidence she once again ventures out to downtown to shop and walk around. Strutting down the sidewalk with self assurance, her eyes meet the stares of others passing by her. Nervously, she looks down at herself, but all she can see is the skin and bones consisting of her body. Why are people looking at me? Am I just that hot right now? She tells herself, accompanying a smirk. Ignoring the attention she walks into Chick fil a, she makes her way up to the counter and sees Jacob, a kid from school.

“What do you want five cheeseburgers and four fries to gain something? Anorexic bitch.” Looking at herself in shame, she runs out with tears streaming down her cheeks. As she hops into the front seat of her car she stares at her reflection in the sun visor, with her mascara running down her face. Nicole starts to sob, starting to feel grateful for her perfect body that she once shamed herself for. Now instead of saying “fat pig” or “obese roly-poly” it is “bulimic rat” and “chicken legs.” Finally regaining enough in herself to drive home, she flips on Adele radio on pandora, and cries herself home and to sleep.

“Nikkie, are you awake?” A mousy and soft voice asks. She wipes her eyes and meets the almost stalker-ish stare of her mom.

“Hey mom, uh what’s up?” Nicole replies, still groggy.

“Honey, did you watch a sad movie or something last night? There’s tissues everywhere?”

“The Notebook, haha” Nicole replies, hoping her mom doesn’t notice her lie.

“What do you want to do today Nikkie, you can do whatever you want.” Her mom asks.

“Whatever I want?” Nicole repeats.

“Yes, in this world you can do whatever you want, I’m okay with anything.”

Anything. Nicole repeats in her mind. She isn’t used to her mom being so loose with what she does. This newfound freedom is what Nicole has always wanted. The entire day Nicole goes around town completing one risky thing after another. From tattoos embellishing her body, to clothes her mother wouldn’t let her be caught dead in.

I look so badass Nicole says to herself, watching her reflection in the mirror. She slips off her new outfit, changes into pajamas and crawls into bed. Switching off from closing her eyes and looking up at the ceiling, she uses this alone time to think. Thoughts of her old life run through her mind. Sitting up in her bed she asks herself is this really who I am? She glares at her reflection in disgust, waiting for herself to transform back to her real self. Nicole always dreamed of her perfect life, and now she is finally living in it. But, is this really “perfect?” Her face grows hot and tears start to trickle down her cheeks.

“I want to go home!” She shouts, not caring who heard her. Her mom comes running in, concerned.

“What happened?” she asks, frightened.

“Oh nothing, I just want to go back to my normal life, I always thought this is what I wanted but it isn’t. I don’t want tattoos I will hate in thirty years, clothes showing my midriff, the body of a 12 year old girl, I want my old life back.” Nicole cries.

“Darling, there is no going back at this point. You wished for this life and now it is at your fingertips.” Her mom replies, being no help. She steps back, unable to comprehend anything. She turns around and runs out the house, trying to find her safe haven. She runs around town, her eyes so blurry from crying she cannot see where she is headed.  Nicole finally reaches the soft sand and beach breeze. Looking off into the horizon, she relaxes. Watching the waves crash in, listening to the seagulls blowing by. Reminding her of simpler times, right before she fell into this inescapable hole. The beautiful view of The Great Lakes, filling her eyes with hope that things will get better. Nicole closes her eyes, and just takes in the beach before her. After a few minutes she opens her eyes rapidly, things go dark, the salty sea air turns into an all-too familiar rubbery smell. The same falling sensation strikes her body. Unable to see where she is, she feels as if she has experienced this state before. The state of blindness, confusion, and cool air, all. Too. Familiar. When Nicole finally feels at rest, she slowly opens her eyes. She looks around, scoping out the room that seems to be her own. She eventually reaches the mirror and sighs a sigh of relief as she looks upon her perfectly ”too overweight” body as some would say, no more childish tattoos gotten at a time of no thought, appropriate clothes, and the smell of ham and mashed potatoes fill her nose. Creeping down the steps the smell grows stronger. Right when her foot steps onto the sixth stair down, she has never been happier to hear the annoying creak that usually irritates her. She reaches the bottom and turns the corner, right away her eyes immediately lock with her mom’s.

Dashing over, Nicole delivers a gigantic bear hug.

“Merry Christmas!!” her family shouts with smiles decorating their face. She settles into her seat and joins in on the small talk, with not a care about interrupting her Grandma June mid-way through her story. Nicole stuffs her face full with ham and green beans, guzzles down a glass of apple cider, and polishes off Auntie Linda’s mac n cheese.

“So Nicole, how’s writing going?” Her dad asks, a smile spreading across her face in her new idea of a perfect world.

 

State
Connecticut
Zip Code
06066