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What's Not to Love
Author: Emily Wibberley

 

 

      One


   I HOLD MY HEAD high, sitting up straight in the passenger seat of my mom’s SUV. Whatever happens, I will not vomit in the next hour.

   Mom eyes me suspiciously, like she’s reading my mind and formulating the questions she would for one of her witnesses. I stare forward, focusing intently on the sedan in front of us in the drop-off zone for my high school. In hopes of resolving my expression into one evincing no intestinal distress, I rehearse the key facts for this morning’s Shakespeare exam. Thirty-seven plays, not including works of disputed origin. Seventeen comedies. Ten histories. Ten tragedies. I try to picture the timeline I created listing each of them in order, which of course reminds me that I left the study guide next to the toilet in my bathroom between two and three in the morning. The thought brings on a new wave of nausea.

   “You sure you’re feeling okay, Alison?” Mom’s voice is wary. “You look a little off.”

   I check my reflection in the window. It could definitely be worse. My glasses, which I’m only wearing because I was too sick to put in my contacts, do a commendable job of hiding the dark circles under my eyes. My skin is a little paler than usual, but nothing out of character for someone who spends most of her time indoors studying, and though I didn’t have time to wash my hair, I pulled it into a respectable if lopsided bun. Instead of wearing the cozy Harvard sweatshirt I wanted to leave the house in, I put on a lightly wrinkled button-down blouse. But my mom’s not wrong. There’s a slick sheen of sweat on my forehead, my hair, typically a shiny dirty blond, is flat and unwashed, and my sallow cheeks don’t give the strongest impression of health and well-being.

   “I’m fine,” I say. I’m lying.

   The drop-off line crawls forward. Our car doesn’t budge. I glance over and find Mom’s hand inching in my direction. Realizing what she’s doing, I reach for my seat belt.

   I’m too late. Mom’s hand finds my sweaty forehead.

   “You have a fever,” she says, sounding worried.

   I don’t give her the chance to finish her diagnosis. Unbuckling my seat belt, I jump out of the car. The cool morning hits my skin refreshingly, soothing the dull headache I’d been fighting to ignore.

   The relief is short-lived. When I grab my bag, I catch my mom’s expression. Irritation has replaced whatever motherly concern her face held. I pause, knowing not to ignore her outright.

   My mom is fifty-seven years old, older than every one of my friends’ parents. Not that she acts her age. Unless she’s in court, defending multimillion-dollar corporations like she’s done for thirty years, she’s remarkably unfiltered. “We’re not doing this again,” she says sternly. “What is it this time? You have a gov exam today?”

   “Nope.” I fling my bag over my shoulder.

   In my defense, I don’t have a gov exam. I have a Shakespeare exam. In ten minutes. It’s completely different.

   “I feel great, and I just want to go to school like a normal person.” Despite Mom’s grimace, I pack confidence into my voice.

   The car behind Mom’s honks, which she ignores. “You’re a smart kid,” she says, “but I’m not convinced you understand the concept of normal.”

   “Like mother, like daughter,” I say with a smile, not entirely joking. It’s true she fits in on paper with my classmates’ parents. Her lucrative career, her SUV hardly three years out of the dealership, her frequent SoulCycle attendance. Having spent seventeen years with her, however, I’ve learned she’s outspoken, easygoing, and the furthest thing possible from a helicopter parent. I don’t know if it’s because she has ten years on the other moms and she’s over the whole parenting thing, or if it’s just the way she is.

   “Alison Sanger,” she says, leaning over the center console. “I am not picking you up in the middle of the day.”

   “Great,” I reply. “You won’t have to. I’m not sick.” I shut the door in one swift motion, hoping it will feel like a punctuation mark.

   I immediately hear Mom rolling down the window. I wanted punctuation, and she’s given me a semicolon. “If you had your license—”

   “Bye, Mom,” I interrupt her, waving behind me and heading for the locker hall. I know every inch of the Fairview High School campus—every bench useful for last-minute studying, every shortcut so I’m never late to class, everywhere people hang out, which is helpful when I need to hunt them down for quotes for the newspaper. I’ve walked up the stairs leading to the locker hall hundreds of times, and I could recite the names of the teachers in every classroom just like I could Shakespeare’s seventeen comedies.

   It’s 6:52 in the morning, and the heavy fog coming in off the ocean hovers over everything, coating the campus in dew. Droplets cling to the needles of the pine trees outside the front gate. San Mateo is thirty minutes from San Francisco and ten from the water, and even in the first week of March we’re fending off the Northern California winter of forty-eight-degree mornings and seawater-scented clouds.

   It’s zero period, and right now the only people here are those like me who needed an early extra hour to fit every class they wanted into their schedule. The half-empty locker hall echoes with the squeak of sneakers on linoleum, the clang of closing locker doors, and the mumbled conversations of Monday mornings.

   I head directly for my locker, where I unload my physics and government books and pull the plastic bottle of Tums from my backpack. I chew and swallow down four.

   There’s no way I’m letting the events of last night interfere with this English exam. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have gone out on a Sunday night. When Dylan invited me to sushi with her and Nick Caufman, I wanted to say no. I only went because she begged me, and because Dylan is the only person in the known universe for whom I’d forsake a few hours of important test prep. Nick had invited Dylan to dinner, and she didn’t know if she wanted the night to be a date. I was brought to third-wheel.

   Of course, fifteen minutes in I could feel the dinner veering decidedly into date territory. While Dylan flirted and probably played footsie under the table, I prodded my hamachi with chopsticks. Dylan and Nick shared California rolls. Three hours later, I ended up hunched over the toilet, puking my guts out.

   On the upside, I did plenty of studying between trips to the bathroom. I’m not the type to pull all-nighters before exams—I’m usually prepared by then, and I prefer to be well rested. While conditions weren’t ideal, I made it work.

   I close my locker, my stomach cramping ominously. Ignoring the pain, I head for class, rehearsing the history plays to distract myself. Henry VI. Richard III. Richard II. Whatever happens, there’s nothing I’m letting keep me from this exam. Not even explosive vomiting.

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