Her throat grew tight. Katie Mylady attempted to use a hot, dry tongue to moisten her lips. The sharp pain of rejection stung, causing her to almost lose grip on the pan of dirty dishes she carried. Slithering through the lunchroom, the smell of cinnamon rolls offered no comfort. She couldn’t eat one.
Teacher whistled, waved an arm in the air and pointed to a table needing clean-up. Jugie, one of Katie’s classmates made a bee line for the table, dirty silverware clanking in her dish tub.
Katie stood several feet away from a handful of girls she had known all her life, but she hadn’t spoken over five words to most of them in a couple of years. Her heart thumped hard beneath her red Veggie Tales T-shirt as her attention temporarily held to the disruptive rise and fall of Larry’s eye pulsating right over the beat. She opened her mouth, but as usual the words would not come.
She twisted her head in an attempt to free the tight hairs within the velvet ponytail holder.
“Katie, until you cooperate in learning how to brush your hair, or at least secure it behind your ears, you’ve gotta wear the ponytail,” her mother said each morning just before dropping her off at
. Leiland Middle School
Yeah, she could hear her own screams of protest as her mother wielded the brush, even though she could care less how her hair looked. Why was she powerless in getting her mind to cooperate with her mouth?
Could the numbers on the yellow sheets Teacher sent home last year have anything to do with it?
“Canary yellow,” her mother had said before ducking behind the nauseous colored paper in an attempt to hide her tears. Katie saw and felt her mother’s grief, she just didn’t understand it.
Even now, the memory caused Katie to grimace and swallow a tinge of bile.
She hated how much her mommy cried lately. Her daddy said it was because of everything that happened last year.
Like the stab of a hundred needles, the giggling girls pulled her attention back to their squeals of delight.
They were gathered around a table, the four of them, writing on sheets of paper, which they handed one by one to the smiling stranger, elbowing each other, hooking arms, and grinning so largely Katie thought their faces might pop like a bubble.
If only she could have a cinnamon roll. Allergies, allergies… she wanted them to go away. She glanced at the door, and smiled as she imagined her mommy marching through it, grabbing her by the hand and hauling her home. But she had no real hopes of that happening. Not today.
“Katie Mylady! If you don’t come pour this tea, Ms. Melbourne’s going to keel over from thirst.” Ms. Cornpepper spoke with her hand smashed into her cheek beside her mouth. That same hand found the woman’s ample hip as she shifted her weight and popped a piece of cinnamon roll into her mouth.
Katie looked from Ms. Cornpepper back to the girls. One of them, Stella, met her gaze. She sees me. Maybe she’ll walk over and ask if she can come play at my house today. Katie, again, opened her mouth.
Stella turned away, swung smooth, blonde hair over her shoulder and followed the hoopla from the room.
Katie lowered the burden she carried and turned toward the lunchroom stage where the teachers sat at a long table laughing and chatting. Loud boy voices turned her back around.
Kelsey Lee was headed in her direction with two, thickset boys on either side, a mighty evergreen and a couple of shrubs. Abram and Nathaniel were on the football team with Kelsey, and two of the many kids at Leiland that made Katie feel bad. She wasn’t exactly sure why, but she had some ideas.
Kelsey threw his head back and let loose a loud laugh.
She remembered that laugh. That was the sound he made often when at the lake. A long time had passed since his mommy had called her mommy to ask if they could all go to Willow Waterway. The ducks, she remembered the ducks.
Abram threw a fork in her pan as they passed.
“Retard,” Nathaniel said, and elbowed Kelsey.
Come on, Katie… say something. “The ducks!” she said and tried to smile at Kelsey.
He didn’t smile either.
Nathaniel doubled over laughing. “The ducks?” He straightened and gave Kelsey’s shoulder a push. “I do believe that’s the dumbest thing ol’
has ever said to you.” Moron
Katie watched as Kelsey smiled at Nathaniel and then glanced back at her, swung hair from his eyes and gave each of his friends a hearty pat on the back.
As she made her way up the steps to the stage, her grip slipped on the dishpan causing gray water to splash the steps. Here, the smell of cinnamon became even stronger. She thought about the nose plugs she wore last summer at the pool.
Teacher soon rushed from the kitchen waving a big, wet towel hollering, “Everyone stay clear of those stairs!”
In one swift movement, her load was snatched away and hurried off to the kitchen by Brandon, a lanky boy whose eager face made the task look exciting.
Katie looked back to the floor, picked up the rag tossed at her and began mopping up the mess.