Empowerment. Engagement. Authenticity.

Cowards Among Us - Teenage Priorities

"I'm sorry," Keith said.

"Sorry for what?" I asked.

"Sorry I didn't ever say I liked you."

He'd asked me to take a walk with him at lunch, to a park away from the smokers, the boys playing basketball and the girls cheering them on. It was a far cry from the bathroom stall where I usually ate.

Face it, my brain jeered. He's making sure no one sees you together. You're still invisible.

In my palm, the origami orchid unfurled from its flamingo pink centre into pale pink petals. He'd chosen my favourite colours.

"Why are you telling me now?" My voice failed to stay level.

"Because you're graduating. We won't see each other again."

I opened my mouth to say that we could see each other outside of school but the finality on his face had the words sticking in my throat. He never wanted to see me again.

"You think telling me will get me all mushy thinking of those early mornings during our Cuba trip last year," I said. "Mornings when you walked on the beach with me and taught me to play pool and told me funny stories."

"We had fun, didn't we?" He brushed his knuckles against the back of the hand holding the orchid.

I cursed the pleasure that streaked from my heart to my abdomen. Was I that starved for affection?

"Yes, we had a lot of fun," I agreed. "Until the other students woke up and you pretended I didn't exist."

"I sent you candygrams," he pointed out.

I thought of the cheap chocolate and trite notes popular students gave other popular students on special occasions – our high school's idea of a cute fundraiser. How many times had I listened to teachers call out names of lucky recipients and wished my name would be called?

"You put them in my locker," I recalled now. "Afraid your pals would mock you for liking the blind girl?"

"I was having a hard enough time making friends," he ventured. "You think I don't know people call me Ernie and Cookie Monster because I wear the same two sweaters every week? I finally started to be part of the group last year." The pride in his voice dissolved. "I didn't want to ruin my rep."

"And since I have no rep, who cares, right?" I was way too close to tears. Not of hurt, no. Of humiliation. Here Keith was, telling me I wasn't good enough to be acknowledged and I was feeling flattered that he liked me. I straightened my shoulders. "Be glad I'm graduating a year early, then. Thanks for the flower."


(c) Kristy Kassie, 2017


Cowards Among Us

Not all characters are heroes.

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