6.14: Interlude – Partners (Part One)

The warm afternoon sun spilled in through the window, washing Harper’s face in a pleasant, warm glow. It was a comforting feeling. A relaxing one too. For a few moments, she felt so tempted to put her head down on her desk and take a nap.

She couldn’t of course. Not without getting caught. And even if she could, Harper knew she shouldn’t.

She was barely a month into school and her grades were already suffering in several of her classes. Her parents had recently brought up the dreaded subject of tutoring as an option if things didn’t start improving. It was a bullet Harper had dodged before, and she intended to do it again.

So she fought the urge to turn off her hearing aid or take a nap. Instead, she did her best to listen, much as she didn’t want to. But even with her hearing aid still on, that proved to be a challenge. Mr. Asche liked to mumble when he talked, and often walked all around the room during his lectures. Harper found that she usually missed about half of what a person was saying if she wasn’t facing them when they spoke. And teachers were no exception.

Ugh! See? THIS is why it’s a huge waste of time. Harper sighed to herself as her teacher’s indistinct words reached her ears. She had no idea what he was saying. I couldn’t even understand him if I WANTED to! Why the heck should I even bother trying?

The harsh scraping of chair legs against the linoleum floor was loud enough to break through her train of thought. She almost jumped at the sound as she looked around at her fellow classmates, who seemed to be walking around the room.

Harper rose to her feet as well, and noticed that most of the other students seemed to be arranging themselves in trios and talking quietly to one another. Guess we’re supposed to be in groups of three? Mr. Asche had begun the class saying something about a research project. Apparently this would be a group one. Oh great…

Unfortunately Nyla was not in her History class. But Sophie and Thad were, thankfully. Though Harper had a sneaking suspicion that wouldn’t help her in this case…

And sure enough, she was right.

“Sorry, Harper.” Thad looked up at her apologetically as she approached. “We’re already working with Quinn…”

“Maybe Mr. Asche will let us be a group of four?” Sophie suggested kindly. “Couldn’t hurt to ask, right?”

Harper did her best to hide her disappointment. “Yeah, okay.”

As though on cue, Mr. Asche approached their table. “Do you need a partner, Harper?” He asked.

Her cheeks felt warm with embarrassment. “Um… I guess.” She muttered.

The teacher gestured to a table in the corner of the room. “Well, you’re in luck. There’s a pair right there who need a third person.”

Harper didn’t even bother looking at the group he suggested. “I was actually wondering if maybe we could be a group of four?” She gestured over her shoulder toward Thad, Sophie, and Quinn.

Mr. Asche shook his head. “Nice try. But I’m sure the group over there would love to have you.”

Harper turned away, hoping he wouldn’t see her roll her eyes as she headed over to join her new partners.

“Hey, look… We got Rosebrook!” Rylie called out happily as Harper sat beside her and Devin at their table.

“Oh, thank God.” Devin laughed. “I was so sure he’d stick us with Bitchface or something.”

“Ha! As if she doesn’t already have a flock of her little minions just begging to be in her group…” Rylie gestured across the classroom. “Look at that. Doesn’t it make you sick?”

Harper’s lips stretched into a grin as she realized who they were talking about. They even call her followers ‘minions’ like I do… This is too good!

“Uh… Earth to Harper? Did you forget your hearing aid or something?”

“Huh?”

“I said ‘doesn’t it make you sick?”‘ Rylie repeated. “Katie and her stupid fan club.”

“Oh! I didn’t realize you were talking to me…” In fact, it was almost hard to believe. Though she’d gone to school with Rylie and Devin nearly her entire life, Harper was fairly certain this was the longest conversation they’d ever had. “It really does.” She agreed. “I can’t stand her.”

“Figured as much. Most people can’t, can they?”

“I still remember that time you punched her out during lunch back when we were like… What? Ten or Eleven?” Devin laughed softly to himself. “Fucking savage.

Harper smiled nervously at his words. “Guess I got kinda carried away.”

“Hey, I don’t blame you!” Rylie leaned forward a bit as she spoke. Harper wondered whether it was an attempt not be overheard by their peers, or to make sure Harper was able to hear her clearly. Either way, she seemed to be successful at both. “I usually try to keep my distance, just in case being a bratty piece of shit is contagious or something.” She paused, smirking. “But if the opportunity ever presented itself… Not sure I could pass it up.”

A slight chuckle passed Harper’s lips. It still felt so odd to be chatting so naturally with Rylie and Devin. Heck, part of her almost felt like she needed to introduce herself or something, for how little she knew either of them. It was strangely exciting to be talking to them at last.

“So… Ancient Greece, huh?” She asked a bit awkwardly. “Any ideas on how we’re gonna do this stupid project?”

Devin’s lips curled into a slight smirk. “Half-assed and at the last minute?”

“Same as always!” Rylie laughed as she raised her fist briefly to bump her friend’s.

“Ha! I’m so glad you guys get it!” Harper smiled at the pair of them. They definitely seemed to be on the same page as her when it came to Katie… and their lame assignment too. Suddenly the idea of doing a group project didn’t seem as terrible as it had before. “I hate wasting my time on crap like this.”

Devin smiled at her. “Same!”

“Alright, class.” Mr. Asche’s voice called out over them. “We’re out of time for today. Remember that these projects are due in two weeks.” He looked at them all sternly for a moment. “Thank you. You’re dismissed.”

There was an excited buzz of movement and conversation as the members of the class eagerly handed for the door.

One more class… So close to freedom! Harper slowly rose to her feet, grateful that the end of the school day was finally in sight. She turned to face her two partners. “Guess I’ll see you guys tomorrow?” She asked almost hopefully.

Rylie nodded. “Later.”

As she began walking away from them, Harper could have sworn she saw Devin lean in to whisper something in his friend’s ear. Unfortunately Harper’s hearing was not good enough to make out anything he might have said. Whatever. Not my business anyway.

She’d nearly made it to the door before she felt a sharp tap on her shoulder. Harper whipped her head around, her eyes falling on Rylie’s smiling face.

“On second thought… Are you doing anything after school today?” The other girl asked.

Harper shook her head. “Um, I don’t think so?” She spoke as though it was a question.

“Sweet! Rylie replied. “We can meet down in the square, by the library. At like four?” She suggested. “If you’re up for it, that is.”

The red-haired girl tried her best to hide her surprise. “Okay, sure! Sounds good to me.” She paused for a moment. “But… The library? Seriously?” Harper couldn’t help her confusion. “I thought we weren’t working on the project til the last minute.”

Rylie smirked slightly. “Oh, we’re not.” She assured her, her smile widening. “See you then!”

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6.13: Drifting

Hey guys! I just wanted to apologize for not replying to anyone’s comments yesterday! That is SO not like me!

I was the maid of honor in my best friend’s wedding yesterday (it was incredible) and though I peeked at WordPress and the forums and read all the comments, I just didn’t have time to reply. And now that there are so many comments sitting there I feel really overwhelmed trying to respond to them all (especially knowing I’ll have comments to reply to on this chapter too!)

If I don’t end up replying to your comment from yesterday, please know that I read and appreciated every single one, as always ❤ I’m just overwhelmed and tired from partying and traveling 1500 miles for this wedding haha

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Well THAT was a blast from the past.

Mom was going through some old boxes of paperwork and other crap a few days ago, and guess what she found? My first ever journal!

I hadn’t seen it in years. I kinda figured it would be lost forever. But it wasn’t.

I can’t decide if it was more fun, or more embarrassing to read some of that old stuff… Either way, it was pretty interesting, I guess.

I never realized how much time I used to spend bitching about Katie… Man, those were the days! I STILL remember that time I punched her at lunch and ended up in detention (I think Papa really regretted teaching me about vigilante justice after that one… Ha!)

Can’t say much has changed between me and Katie since then, really. I still have moments where I’m SO tempted to go over and give her a good smack… But that’s not me. I might have my bitchy moments (who doesn’t, right?) but I’d never hurt anybody.

And besides, just ignoring her is a lot easier anyway. And gets me in a lot less trouble too.

It was kinda fun reading about how close me and Nyla used to be too. Now that has changed. A lot. Ever since she started hanging out with all the jocks and talking about sports all the time…

But hey, we’re still friends at least. Just not best friends anymore. Guess I don’t really have one of those these days.

Anyway, I guess the most entertaining part about reading that old thing was looking back at some of my old stories. I’ve come such a long way since I first started writing. But man, they were pretty darn cute. Especially the ones about that character I made up. ‘Harper Hard-Heart’, I called her. Dumbest name ever, right? But I used to think she was SO cool. She was everything I wanted to be. I used to have this weird fantasy that I’d grow up to be like her someday or something…

Yeah, I was kind of a lame kid. (Another thing that hasn’t changed too much, huh?)

I mean, it’s not like I’m a total social reject or anything. Katie and her minions are still total bitches, of course. And there are some people who I think will always see me as “poor Harper” with my hearing aid. But overall, I get along with most of my classmates. I have some pretty good friends.

I just wish things were easier, I guess. I wish I felt… Gah, I don’t know the word for it!

I guess the best way to describe it is we’re all out at sea or something. And everyone else is cruising off in their big, fancy boats with their friends. The jocks are waterskiing and drinking beer on a shiny, sleek speedboat. The snobby, popular kids are having a dance party on a yacht or something. The nerdy kids are playing Dungeons & Dragons on the deck of an antique pirate ship. You get the idea, right?

And then there’s me. I’m paddling alongside everyone in a shitty little rowboat. And everyone smiles and waves at me as they go sailing by…

But no one throws down a rope. No one offers me a place on board. They just move on without me while I drift away.

And I don’t wanna be stuck drifting forever.

(Okay, that was pretty good, huh? Totally gonna find a way to work that into my next writing assignment… Miss Andrews will love it!)

Anyway, the point is, it really sucks feeling that way. And I’ve been telling myself for years that it’s gonna get better, but it still hasn’t. And I’m kinda running out of time.

I just started 12th grade last week. My last year of school. Ten months of torture and a couple huge, stupid tests are all that stand between me and freedom. I should be excited. But instead I just feel… Well, you know. The boat thing.

And my parents really aren’t making this any easier either. I mean, they’ve finally gotten a little better about this stupid “uni” thing lately, I guess. So that’s something. I think Oma actually had something to do with that.

I kinda snapped at Papa like a week or two ago, and I caught Oma talking to him afterwards. Just wish I could have heard what they were saying. But, well… I’m basically half-deaf, so obviously that wasn’t gonna happen.

But I know it’s only a matter of time before it comes up again. They definitely haven’t dropped it. I don’t think they ever really will, no matter how much I try telling them it’s not what I want and it’s not something I’d be good at. I mean, shouldn’t they get that? Of all people?

I know they mean well. They always do. But… UGH. I’m getting so tired of trying to make them see that there are some things I’m just not good at. I’m not perfect. I can’t do everything.

They always seem so convinced that when I tell them that, it’s because I’m depressed or down on myself or insecure or something. But I’m not. I’m just honest.

I don’t know. I’m probably overthinking this whole thing anyway. I tend to do that a lot, according to, well… Everybody.

I spend a lot of time in my own head, I guess. Probably more than most people… That’s kinda what happens when you have such a hard time hearing. And it’s great for finding inspiration and coming up with story ideas… But it can be pretty sucky too. It’s so easy to keep focusing on all the shitty stuff floating around in my head, instead of the good stuff.

I know its not all bad. I’ve just gotta keep reminding myself of that. My parents love me. They just want what’s best for me. And Nyla and Sophie and Thad are still great friends. We’ll have a ton of fun together this year. It’ll be fine.

And maybe drifting away in my little rowboat won’t be the worst thing in the world.

At least it’s better than sinking.

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6.12: Backstory

My Papa told me every superhero or supervillain has a backstory. That’s what you call all the stuff that happened to them before the real story starts. It tells the audience how the hero ended up where they are today. Why they are the way they are.

I figure vigilantes must have backstories too, right?

So here’s the backstory of Harper Hard-Heart.

Once upon a time there was a king and a queen, and everyone in the kingdom loved them very much. The queen was so beautiful that pictures of her face were hung up ALL over the world. And the king’s cooking was so amazing that people would come from very far away to eat it.

They were very happy together, but there was something they really, REALLY wanted. A baby.

But the king and the queen were cursed. No matter how hard they tried, a super evil power stole away all their babies, and this made them very sad.

There was one baby who was different though. She was stronger than the evil, and she was able to escape… Almost. The evil still messed up her lungs and her ears so they wouldn’t work right. It tried to make her weak.

But her parents were so excited to have their baby anyway. And even though she wasn’t the same as the other kids, they always told her that she was wonderful and amazing and special. Their Perfect Princess.

The other people in the kingdom didn’t see her that way though. They thought she was helpless and weak. All the grown-ups felt sorry for her. And the other kids ignored her or made fun of her.

This made the princess very mad. She wasn’t weak! But she wasn’t perfect either. She was… herself. And all she wanted was to prove that to everybody.

She started calling herself Harper Hard-Heart, and decided to stand up to the evil bullies who had mercilessly teased her and her friends. That was how she started her life as a vigilante, dealing out justice and not following anybody’s rules. Just being herself.

It was all so easy, at first. Especially with her friends by her side.

But as the years passed, things started to change.

Her parents still put her on a pedestal… But it became worse than ever before. They started pushing for her to go to university… Even though she really didn’t want to. And even though they were total hypocrites, because neither of them had gone to university either.

“You’re so smart, honey! Uni will give you such a bright future. You’ll see. You can do anything.” It felt like they told her that every day.

It became harder and harder to fight against all the pressure from her parents, especially when her friends began to drift away from her. They still talked to each other and hung out every now and then. But it wasn’t the same as it used to be.

Thad had found a place with the other techy, geeky kids like himself. Sophie became close with the quiet, bookish types. And Nyla spent most of her time laughing and joking with the guys on the football team.

It wasn’t their fault, of course. And Harper wanted to be happy for them. They weren’t misfits anymore. Not like she was. They’d found their place. But it started to feel like she’d never find hers.

It seemed the curse from her childhood had caught up with her once again. The forces of evil had her trapped and alone — stuck between who everyone expected her to be, and who she wanted to be.

And now, as she enters her final year of school, one question remains…

Will anyone ever come and set her free?

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6.11: Precious

I can’t believe this. My poor little girl…

Being eleven is always full of ups and downs anyway. Part of growing up, right? And my Harper’s no stranger to a few bumps in the road, unfortunately… But this is probably worse than ever.

Hope and I were speechless when we found out. Our Harper, our baby girl, got detention. For fighting!

She’s told us about this Katie girl before. We even had a meeting with her teacher once to get her seat moved as far away from her as possible. So I guess this shouldn’t have come as a total surprise… But for my little girl to actually hit someone? Be violent?

That’s not like her. At all.

But when we questioned her about it, you know what she said? “It was justice, Papa! I was being a vigilante, just like you said.”

Oh shit.

Yeah, that was a fun one to explain to Hope. I mean, I thought she was just taking an interest in superheroes or something. Working on that little story of hers. I didn’t really think anything of it when she started asking me about superheros and vigilantes.

Guess I learned my lesson… And I guess Harper learned hers too.

I understand why she got detention, of course. And we told her we’d ground her if she ever did it again (God, I hope we never actually have to do that to our little girl… but what else could we say?).

But when she told us all that shit this Katie girl had said about her and her friends, I honestly couldn’t blame her. And I’m so glad this other girl was punished too. But how the hell did the school even let things get this far in the first place?! Hope and I already have a meeting scheduled with the principal tomorrow. We aren’t gonna let them sweep this under the rug like they have before. 

Believe it or not, all this teasing was even worse when she was younger. My little girl needed speech therapy until about two years ago. Her hearing made things so hard for her. And she used to get teased pretty badly for the way she talked. But Harper is still our little fighter, and she worked so hard to get where she is today.

So why can’t she finally catch a break?

Hope and I already felt so bad for her after what happened at football tryouts. She gave it her all, just like she always does. The poor thing always has to try so much harder than the other kids. But Harper was still so sure they were going to keep her off the team… And we weren’t about to let that happen.

She kept telling us to just drop it, and saying the same thing she always does — “I’m not perfect”. But I know what that really means. She doesn’t think she’s good enough. She’s let these other kids put her down so much that it’s starting to get to her. And it kills me to hear her say stuff like that. I’m not gonna let her think about herself that way. 

It’s not her fault she has asthma. It’s not her fault she’s hard of hearing. It’s not her fault she’s weaker than the other kids. And then this other girl has the gall to give her shit for it? To tease her for being the way she is? Something she has no control over?

It was all I could do not to congratulate Harper for standing up to this bully. I mean, of course she shouldn’t have hit her. But that’s better than just standing there and taking it, isn’t it?

I never had that kind of courage when I was a kid. There were some little shits who used to tease me about my scar (or worse, “not having parents”. God, how many nights did I cry myself to sleep over that one?). I never had the guts to say anything to their faces. Looking back, I sure as hell wish I did. Instead, it was usually one of the triplets who’d stick up for me… (Or all three, in some rare cases)

Hope and I are still really worried though. I’m glad she stood up for herself, but Harper got lucky this time. Katie didn’t get a chance to fight back before a teacher intervened. But what if she did?

I love my little girl, but I just can’t imagine she’d be able to hold her own in a fight. I feel sick just thinking about what could happen to her next time… If there is a next time. I’m sure as hell hoping there won’t be!

Tante Joce has been telling us we’re worrying way too much. “She can figure these things out on her own,” she keeps saying. And I totally understand what she’s getting at.

But not worrying is way easier said than done. She’s our baby girl. After everything we’ve lost, well… She’s our entire world. She’s the most precious thing in our lives. 

We just want her to do well. We want her to believe in herself. And we want her to be safe too.

God, I’ve gotta calm down. I’d probably go crazy if Tante Joce ever worried about me this much when I was Harper’s age….

But I just can’t help it.

I’ve never forgotten what my Opa told me all those years ago… The same day we found out Harper’s hearing would never be the same again. He made me promise I’d always support her, no matter what. That I’d always be there for her, and never turn my back. And every single day, I do everything I can to keep that promise.

I’ve gotta make sure she knows that me and Hope will always be on her side… Especially when she has to deal with all the crap she’s been facing lately. Between her grades, football tryouts, and this bully of hers, it sure as hell hasn’t been easy. And I think it’s been a huge blow to my baby’s self-esteem. It kills me to hear her talking down about herself. I wish she realized how amazing she really is.

I just want her to be safe,  y’know? And happy. Screw the bullies. Screw the people who don’t believe in her. Screw anyone who’d try to hold her back.

She’s my strong, smart, amazing little girl. And she can do anything she puts her mind to.

Well, anything except dish out vigilante justice, I guess. But hopefully that was just a one time thing.

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6.10: Detention

Guess where I am right now. Just guess.  (Hint: It’s NOT a good place to be)

Give up already?

Detention. DETENTION!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m so mad. This is ALL Katie’s fault and definitely not mine!

Remember how I totally blew it at football tryouts? I guess mom and Papa ended up calling the school and told them that my sucky tryout was all ’cause of my asthma. Then they talked to Coach and asked if he’d be okay giving me another chance.

At first he said yes to a re-do, but I guess in the end he must have decided to just let EVERYBODY on the team. ‘Cause when we all got to school yesterday, the team list was up and everybody’s name was on it. Even mine!!!!

I was sooooooo happy when I first saw. I’m really, really excited that I get to be on the team! Nyla is too (so is Katie though… Ugh!). It’s gonna be really fun! I’ve never played a sport before, and I’m super excited to finally try!

But I kinda wish mom and Papa didn’t have to make such a big deal about it. I wish they just left it alone.

And I wasn’t the only person who felt that way, I guess.

It was at lunchtime. I was sitting with Nyla and Sophie and Thad like I always do. Katie and her stupid friends usually sit on the other side of the room… But not yesterday. They sat right behind us instead. That was when I KNEW something really weird was going on.

I tried my best to ignore them though… That’s usually really easy in the cafeteria. There’s way too much noise in there! It’s hard enough trying to keep up with what my friends are talking about. I can only make out like half of what they’re saying, even with my hearing aid. I usually have to guess to fill in the blanks… Or sometimes I just kinda smile and nod and Nyla tells me what I missed later.

Anyway, yesterday was different though. Katie started talking really loud, and looking over her shoulder at me a lot. I could feel her watching me, and I knew she wanted me to hear her. And I was super dumb and decided to listen. I told my friends to stop talking, and I concentrated as hard as I could on Katie’s stupid whiny voice.

I couldn’t make out everything she said, but I did hear her call Sophie a baby, and say that Nyla’s ugly! AND she said they hung out with a “loser” whose parents had to “beg the school” to get her a spot on the football team.

Seriously?

SERIOUSLY?!

I knew I had to do something!

I mean, Harper Hard-Heart wouldn’t just sit there and take it, would she? She wouldn’t let Katie say all that mean stuff about her and her friends! She’s a super awesome vigilante! She doesn’t care about rules! She just cares about what she wants. And yesterday, she wanted justice!

So I got out of my seat and shoved Katie really hard and told her to say it to my face… And she did!

I couldn’t believe it! Nyla’s way prettier than she’ll ever be, and Sophie’s way more mature than somebody who’d call people names! But when I told Katie all of that, she just laughed!

Then I reminded her that HER parents probably BOUGHT her a place on the team! She never shuts up about all their fancy vacations and all the expensive stuff her Papa buys for her. She’s way worse than me! She’s a spoiled brat!

Then she told me she’d rather be a spoiled brat than a “deaf girl who hangs out with losers and can’t even breathe right”.

That was when we both kinda started screaming at each other. I don’t really remember what we were saying…

I DO remember punching her in the face though.

Part of me ALMOST felt bad about it. I know I’m not always super nice and perfect (no matter what mom and Papa think!). But I’d never, ever HURT anybody! Or at least… I didn’t think I ever would…

But this was different! I was SO mad!!!!! It was like I wasn’t really ME anymore. I was Harper Hard-Heart.

Katie’s lucky I’m not really Harper Hard-Heart though. She probably would’ve given her a huge black eye. But I’m not strong enough for that. I wish I was, but I’m not. She didn’t even have a scratch!

We both ended up in the principal’s office, of course. It was probably the SCARIEST moment of my whole entire life! And we BOTH got detention, even though Katie started it! Miss Fiore said she’s being nice, and that we’re lucky we didn’t get suspended for fighting!

I was so sure mom and Papa were gonna kill me when I got home yesterday. But they didn’t.

They still gave me a big speech about how “violence isn’t the answer” and how they’re “very disappointed” and stuff though, just like I knew they would. I got a really long lecture about all the things I could have done differently too. Typical parent stuff.

It made me feel really bad though. I know mom and Papa don’t like it when I do bad stuff. And hitting somebody is probably the worst thing I’ve EVER done.

But they also said they understood why I did it, and that they weren’t gonna punish me for it. They said they think detention’s enough… But that I’d be grounded if I ever hit anybody again! I’ve never been grounded before EVER! And I never wanna be!

Papa told me that I’m not allowed to be like Harper Hard-Heart. I can’t be a vigilante. And he made me promise never to do anything like it ever again.

So I told him I promised.

But that wasn’t really true. Not exactly.

That sounds really bad… I’m not a bad kid or anything. I’m not! I really don’t want to hit anybody or hurt them! And I definitely don’t wanna end up in detention again! Or get grounded!

But how can I promise not to do it again unless Katie promises she won’t be a bully ever again?

This is just so dumb.  If I was a real vigilante, I’d be able to escape the law. I wouldn’t be in trouble!

But instead I’m stuck sitting in this stupid little room with Mr. Phoenix and Katie and Rylie and Devin. For two whole hours! It’s SO not fair.

At least I got to sneak my journal in with me though. We’re supposed to be doing homework, but Mr. Phoenix can’t see what I’m writing anyway.

I guess I’ve just gotta deal with not being a vigilante. Not unless I wanna get in more trouble (and I don’t!!!!!). But if I can’t BE a vigilante, at least I can still WRITE about one. Pretending is kinda lame, but it’s better than nothing, right?

Maybe I’ll try writing another story when I’m done with this… About Harper Hard-Heart’s epic escape from the Phoenix King’s prison! That’ll make me feel better. She’ll be like a ninja and sneak past all the mean prison guards to FREEDOM!

And she’ll save all the other prisoners too. She’ll bring everybody to safety and all the other vilians and vigilantes will be able to go fight another day!

Except her arch-nemesis, Katie the Cruel.

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6.9: Interlude – Vigilante

Harper held the end of her pencil between her teeth for a few moments as she waited for inspiration to strike. Harper Hard-Heart had just saved a group of innocent school children who’d been forced to take a math test. She broke in through the window, carried the kids to safety, and then laughed maniacally as she watched the school go up in flames!

But what would she do now?

She closed her eyes for a moment, letting the cool autumn breeze hit her face as her ears took in the dull buzzing of noise and movement from the playground. Loud places like the playground or cafeteria were always a challenge for her. The cacophony of sounds tended to blend together into a sort of white noise. It was difficult to follow a conversation in that sort of environment… But it was also easier to focus on her thoughts too.

“Hey, Harper!”

She lifted her head at the sound of her name. Sophie had appeared, running over to her along with Nyla. They each took a seat at the picnic table with her. So much for finishing this story…

Still, she couldn’t help a smile at the sight of her two friends.

“… a minute. Are… homework?!” Sophie asked, giggling. Unfortunately she had chosen the seat across from Harper, and her voice blended easily with the shouts and laughter of the rest of their classmates.

“Huh?”

Beside her, Nyla reached out her hand toward Harper’s forehead. “Sophie’s right… Are you sick or something?” Her words were much easier to make out, at least. Sophie’s fragmented question suddenly made much more sense.

Harper reached up, giggling as she slapped her hand away. “You really think I’d do homework at recess? Do I look like Thad to you?”

Their friend spent nearly every recess doing extra science work with Mr. Phoenix. In fact, Harper was about 90% sure that’s where Thad was that very minute. As if she’d ever dream of wasting her recess like that!

“Well, if it’s not homework, then what are you writing?” Nyla asked.

Sophie leaned a bit closer, speaking slower and more clearly than she had before. This time, Harper could almost make out every word over the giggles and conversation of her classmates. “Is it… story?” She asked. “About… supervillain?”

Harper nodded. “Of course! She just saved a whole bunch of kids from having to do a math test!” She spat the words as though they left an unpleasant taste in her mouth. “I’m just trying to figure out what she’s gonna do next.”

Sophie looked pleased, but Nyla simply shook her head. “I don’t get it.” She said.

“Don’t get what?”

“You always say she’s a villain, but she sure likes to save people.”

“So what?”

“So that’s not a villain.” Nyla shrugged. “That’s a hero, isn’t it?”

Sophie bit her lip. “She does… a point.”

Harper furrowed her brow in frustration at her friends’ words. They were wrong — Heroes were always so nice and good and perfect. All the time! And they could do no wrong, no matter what. That’s SO not me… Or Harper Hard-Heart!

“Just because she saves people doesn’t mean she’s the good guy!” She insisted at last.

“But she can’t… bad guy either, can she?” Sophie asked. “Not unless… all the time.”

Nyla gestured over toward where Katie giggled and played with her friends. “If anybody’s a villain, it’s totally them.” She said.

“Yeah.” Sophie agreed. “They’re evil!”

“Hmm…” Harper’s gaze followed Nyla’s arm toward Katie and her friends. Nyla had a point, didn’t she? If anyone was truly an evil supervillain, it would be Katie Fletcher and her little minions.

“Or what about them?” Nyla’s voice called Harper back to reality as she nodded her head toward a pair of students off to their right. “They’re always getting in trouble.”

“Yeah!” Sophie agreed. “They’re perfect villains!”

“Rylie and Devin?” Harper shook her head. She didn’t know either of them very well… In fact, she’d always been a little scared of them, in a way. They were just so intimidating! But only lately had Harper started to realize how much she actually admired them for it.

“Nah, not them. They’re…” She paused for a moment, thinking. “Different. They’re like my villain, I guess. Or my not-a-villain.” Harper corrected herself. “They’re not bad guys. But they aren’t ‘good’ either… They’re just… them. They do what they want.” She explained.

“Whatever.” Nyla shrugged. “They still seem pretty villain-y to me.”

Harper simply rolled her eyes. They just don’t get it…

Across the table, she could make out Sophie’s soft voice, but the words were all muddled together even worse than before.

Harper whipped her head around to face the other girl. “What? You gotta talk slower, Soph.”

“I said ‘what about us?'” Her friend repeated. Harper focused her full attention on Sophie, and was finally able to make out everything she was saying. “Me and Nyla. Would we be heroes or villains or whatever that third mystery-thing is?”

Harper’s lips curled into a smile. “Well, you’d be the helpless victim stuck in a burning building or something.” She teased. “Not sure what category Nasty Nyla would be in.”

Her friends took her teasing in stride, just as she knew they would. A loud burst of laughter passed Nyla’s lips. “Good one! Sign me up as a villain, I guess. That’d be fun! Except having to hang out with Katie all the time…”

“Maybe you can be like a spy or something?” Sophie suggested. “Like, go undercover to keep an eye on the bad guys?”

Harper’s lips stretched into a smile. Maybe they did get it after all. “Perfect!”

She scribbled the ideas furiously in her notebook, eager to get back inside, turn off her hearing aid, and finish her story during Miss Li’s lecture.

—————————————–

“Harper? Is that you, honey?” Zayne’s deep voice called from the kitchen as Harper dropped her backpack to the floor of the entry hall. In the quiet of the near-empty house,  her father’s voice was hard to miss, even for her.

She noticed her grandmother reading a book in the study as she passed. “Hey there, sweetie-pie.” Jocelyne closed her book and smiled as she caught sight of her granddaughter. “Did you have a good day?”

“I did, thanks Oma.” Harper gave her a brief wave and a smile before making her way toward the kitchen.

Harper was grateful her father had the evening off. When he didn’t, she had to put up with leftovers. Or worse, her mom’s cooking. Yuck! The smell of lemon and fresh herbs grew stronger as she drew closer. Clearly Zayne had gotten an early start on preparing dinner. But what would it be this evening? Chicken? Harper wondered. Fish? Whatever it was, it was sure to be delicious.

“Hi, Papa.” She smiled warmly at her father as she crossed the threshold. Her second guess had been accurate, it seemed. She saw the bright pink salmon fillets laid out on the counter, ready to be seasoned.

“Welcome home, baby girl.” Zayne abandoned his cutting board to address his daughter as she entered. He spoke to her in German, as he usually did when his wife was not home. “Did you have fun at Nyla’s house?”

“Yeah, I guess.” She smiled slightly. “She was kinda jealous that I got to come home for dinner though… I think she misses your cooking, Papa.” It had been a few weeks since she’d invited her friend over for dinner, and Nyla was still raving about his chicken stir-fry.

Her father laughed heartily. “Is that so? Well she’s welcome for dinner whenever she’d like. Just let me know ahead of time” He paused for a moment. “And how was school?”

The little girl shrugged, her smile fading. “It was okay.”

“Just ‘okay’?”

Harper nodded, but said nothing.

“So… wanna talk about it?”

She sighed heavily. I knew he’d start asking annoying questions. There was no use in trying to avoid them though, was there? “It’s just… Everyone was so excited waiting for Coach to tell us who made the team… But not me.” Harper hung her head for a moment. “No one would stop talking about tryouts. It was so annoying!”

“When do you find out?” Zayne asked. “Tomorrow?”

His daughter nodded yet again.

“Well then there’s no need to worry about it until then.” He explained kindly. Zayne seemed to hesitate for a moment before continuing. “And… You might not have anything to worry about anyway. Your mom called the school this morning and talked to your coach about giving you another chance.” He confessed.

“She did?!” Harper groaned in frustration. “Why?”

Zayne’s face fell slightly. “We know you were having a rough day with your asthma. And it sounds like your coach understands too.” He assured her, placing his hands comfortingly on her shoulders.

“Why couldn’t you just drop it?” There was no anger in her voice this time. Just resignation. “I can’t always be perfect, Papa.”

“Don’t tell your mother and I that.”  He smiled warmly at her. “To us, you’ll always be perfect, Pumpkin…” Her father’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Ooh! ‘Perfect Pumpkin’! Hey, that’s pretty good, huh? Could that be your next superhero?”

“Oh my God, Papa!” Harper couldn’t help a small chuckle at her father’s cheesiness. “Lame!

“Aha! There’s the smile!” Zayne gave her a small wink, then leaned forward to plant a soft kiss against her cheek.

“Ewwwww. Papa!

He shrugged innocently. “What?”

Rolling her eyes, Harper finally climbed up on one of the stools by the kitchen counter and watched as her father got back to preparing their supper. She knew her mother would be home any minute. Somehow, her father always seemed to time their evening meal perfectly so it was hot and fresh and ready to eat the moment Hope walked through the door.

Harper sat in silence for a few long moments as he began seasoning the fish and chopping up some of the vegetables.

As her father finally began transferring the fish into the skillet, she finally opened her mouth to speak. “Papa… I have kind of a weird question.”

“Go for it, baby girl.” Zayne smiled.

“You know a lot about superheroes, right? Like… I know Batman’s your favorite. But you know about other superheroes too? And villains?”

Her father raised an eyebrow curiously at her. “I guess I do.” He nodded.

“So like… Obviously I know what a superhero is. And a supervillain too… But… What do you call the in-between kinda person?”

“In-between?”

“Yeah. Like somebody who saves the day sometimes, or punishes a bad guy… But they do it in a kinda bad way? They don’t follow anybody’s rules. They make their own.”

Zayne laughed softly. “Sounds like a vigilante to me.”

“Vigil… what?”

“Vigilante.” He repeated. “Batman’s kind of a vigilante himself, actually.” Her father appeared thoughtful for a moment. “It’s kind of like what you said. Somebody who takes the law into their own hands… They don’t follow the rules. They believe in justice, but… Not the usual kind of justice I guess.”

“Justice? Like… revenge?”

“Kinda.”

Harper nodded. “Thanks, Papa. I think I get it now.”

A vigilante… It was perfect! Way better than a superhero, but even better than a villain too! Somebody who didn’t care about following anyone’s dumb rules or living up to any expectations… Someone who just did whatever they wanted and beat up the bad guys whenever they needed to. Now THAT’S Harper Hard-Heart!

“This wouldn’t have anything to do with that story you’re writing, would it?” Zayne asked, calling Harper’s attention back to the present. “The one with the supervillain?”

“Yup!” She eagerly returned her father’s smile. “Except now I think she’s really a super vigilante! Isn’t that way cooler?”

“Ha! I love it.” Zayne chuckled softly to himself. “So you’re a vigilante now, huh? And what about your old man? Does he get a role in this story too?”

“Sure.” Harper smirked playfully at him. “You get to be the Perfect Pumpkin.”

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6.8: Stuck

UGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

I’m SO mad right now! I blew it. I totally blew it! And stupid Katie saw the WHOLE thing! I looked like an idiot in front of everybody!

I didn’t tell anybody, but I was really, really nervous about football tryouts today. I was sorta panicking about it before I got out on the field, and I guess that was kinda when it started. My chest felt like… heavy, kinda. Like that funny feeling you get sometimes when you’re gonna cry, but you’re trying really, really hard not to.

I knew from the second I walked out on the field that I was gonna suck. And I did!

The grass was all slippery and I was so scared. I tried kicking the ball, and I actually MISSED it! I had to try again. And when I did, I still didn’t make it into the goal. It took like three tries before I did!

Then Coach gave us some directions, but I couldn’t really understand what he said. He was too far away and talking way too fast. Almost every time he told us to do something, I ended up being the last one to do it! It was SO embarrassing!

And I was running SO slow. Way slower than the other kids. My chest still had that heavy-feeling, so I was trying to “take it easy”. That’s what my parents always tell me to do when my lungs start feeling all funny. But I could see Katie giggling at me and the coach shaking his head and I knew I was doing awful. I knew I had to do better!

So I started running harder. Harder than I think I’ve ever ran in my LIFE! But that’s when it happened.  Instead of the heavy-feeling, I got that terrible tight-feeling, like somebody was squeezing my chest. Or stepping on it really hard. It’s the scariest feeling ever. I hate it!

And once it starts, I can’t stop it! Not on my own, anyway. Not without my inhaler.

Ugh! I still don’t GET it! I do okay at gym class and stuff most of the time. Sometimes I need a couple puffs of my inhaler… But I haven’t had a big attack like that in a LONG time!

At least Nyla was really nice to me. She always is. That’s why she’s my best friend.

She walked back inside with me to the nurse’s office.  I didn’t even have to ask. She just did. Then she sat with me while I used my inhaler and waited for mom and Papa to come pick me up.

I was really really happy she came with me, but I was really jealous of her too. I didn’t tell her that, obviously. But her tryout was SO good. So much better than me! She didn’t miss the ball! Or run slow as a turtle! Or end up having a stupid asthma attack like I did.

And of course I had to start crying like a stupid baby about it. And that just made it even harder to breathe! Ugh! It was the worst day ever!

I still remember when I was really little and my Ur-Opa Tobi taught me all about football. I thought it was so cool! He died when I was six, but I still remember how much fun we used to have kicking the ball around in the backyard.

Can you believe we’re related? My Ur-Opa was this huge football star, and then there’s me. Stupid, weak little Harper who can barely hear or breathe. And who sucks at football. I know that’s what everybody thinks of me.

I don’t even know what was worse. The way Katie laughed at me? The way coach looked like he felt so sorry for me?

Actually I think it might have been my parents. They did that thing they always do when I mess up or I suck at something.

They lied and told me I didn’t.

At first they were really super awesome about it. They took me out for ice cream to make me feel better (my favorite… so I kinda HAD to say yes when they asked!). I got cherry and it was sooooo good. And once they got me smiling again, that was then they started.

Oma was pretty quiet and just kinda listened while mom and Papa went into their big speeches.

They told me they were “proud of me” because I was “so brave” and “tried so hard”. And they promised me that I’d still make the team, or at least get another chance at tryouts.

I tried telling them it wasn’t just my asthma attack that messed me up. I told them about how I missed the ball and ran really slow. And I still remember what Papa told me. “You were just having an off day. You can do anything you put your mind to, baby girl. We’ll find a way”.

They’re always like this. No matter what I do or how bad I mess up, all they do is tell me how awesome I am! They always take my side, no matter what.

And most of the time, it’s pretty great.

Like, I try real hard to stay out of trouble, but sometimes I end up doing something kinda bad… like that time with Katie and the frog. But when I do, they never yell at me. Usually they just talk to me about why I did it. And once I tell them the reason, they always understand. (Sometimes they make me promise not to do it again though. And getting in trouble is SO dumb and also kinda scary, so that’s a really easy promise to keep!)

It’s not just when I get in trouble though. When I fail a test, they never get mad at me. Sometimes they even go to the teacher and ask for a re-do. And sometimes, the teacher says yes! They think I couldn’t hear the lesson or something… And a lot of times, that’s true.

But… it’s usually a little bit my fault. I really like writing stories in my head when the teachers are talking. Listening is just too HARD! I don’t think people get it. Even with my hearing aid on, I’ve gotta try SO much harder than anybody else to pay attention. It’s not fair. I hate it!

Anyway, times like that are when it’s super awesome to have mom and Papa act like that. But I guess it’s kinda starting to get a little annoying. Like today with tryouts.

Why couldn’t they be like normal parents and say “better luck next time” (or whatever grownups are supposed to say)? Why did they have to say all that stupid stuff just to try and make me feel better?

I wonder what Harper Hard-Heart’s parents would say if she sucked at football tryouts (That’s my supervillain, by the way. I started writing a story about her last night when I got home from school).  Would her parents be like mine? Would they lie and be way too nice and try to make her feel better? Or would they be honest and tell her how bad she sucked and just move on? Hmm…

But actually… Harper Hard-Heart wouldn’t suck, would she? She’d probably have an asthma attack like me… But then she’d get back on her feet and go kick butt and be the best football player ever!

Too bad that’s all just pretend. Stupid stuff I make up for fun.

I’m not Harper Hard-Heart, no matter how much I wanna be.

I’m stuck being stupid Harper Rosebrook.

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