This story is by Katie Wheeler and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Juniper awoke with a start as her arm fell out from under her head and she banged her forehead on her textbook. “Ouch,” she muttered as giggles reached her from the girls sitting behind her.
“Juniper! Honestly, now is not the time to sleep! See me after class,” her teacher spoke, quieting the ruckus.
Juniper sank down in her chair. Why was it so impossible to be invisible? She had to constantly draw attention to herself, and not the good kind. She heard whispering followed by more giggles.
“Hey, Juniper, maybe you should spend less time trying to sew your absurd outfits and more time sleeping,” she heard one of the girls whisper followed by more giggles.
“Ladies, that’s enough,” Mrs. Wilson barked from the front of the classroom. Juniper hoped that would give her some relief, at least for the rest of the period. She looked at the clock and her heart jumped. It was nearly lunch. Thank goodness for small favors. She hated algebra anyway. It never did click with her the way it did with Prudence. Prudence excelled at everything she tried, math being one of them. Juniper could never one up her big sister at anything. All she ended up doing was making a fool of herself in the process.
Finally, saved by the bell. “Alright class, make sure you remember the practice problems on quadratic equations. There will be a quiz on Friday.” A groan emitted from the students mixed with the sounds of desks shifting and books being zipped into backpacks. “Juniper, did you forget something?” Mrs. Wilson caught her as she was walking out the door.
Dang, thought Juniper. “Yes, Mrs. Wilson?” she asked.
Mrs. Wilson replied, “Juniper, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know. Why?” Juniper shrugged.
“Well, that’s the third class in a row you’ve fallen asleep during. Is everything okay at home?”
Juniper’s thoughts returned to last night’s blowout. Her mother had gotten wine drunk again and yelled at Juniper and her sister. Truthfully, she hadn’t slept well since their dad died six months earlier. Come to think of it, that was when the binge drinking and rage blowouts had started from their mother as well.
“Juniper?” her teacher asked.
“No, everything’s fine. Sorry, Mrs. Wilson. I’ll work on it,” Juniper replied.
“Be sure that you do, and know you can talk to me,” Mrs. Wilson smiled. Juniper appreciated Mrs.Wilson. She’d never tell her what was actually going on, but she did seem genuine.
Juniper turned the corner and headed down the hall to her locker. Just as she began to drift off into her own thoughts, her head jerked forward as she felt the force of someone’s hand. More laughter reached her from the queen bees standing by the lockers, her sister’s gaggle of perfect friends. She reached her hand to the back of her head and groaned, “Noooo, not gum again.”
“That’s for throwing me under the buss last night with mom,” Prudence whispered into her ear before rejoining her friends. Juniper held back the tears as she ran to the bathroom. Wishing this wasn’t happening, she ran into the first stall, threw down her bag and let the tears fall. Her thoughts drifted to her sister again, Mrs. Perfect at everything. Prudence was always the drama queen, the center of attention. From a young age, she overshadowed everything Juniper did, and people loved her. Not Juniper though, people looked at her as if she was adopted. Juniper couldn’t possibly be Prudence’s younger sister. She was so plain and ordinary. Juniper ran her tongue over her braces and wished she could have had perfect teeth like her sister, and yet short, stocky and awkward Juniper would never be loved like tall, elegant and personable Prudence.
She sniffed and wiped her tears as she pulled her stocking cap out of her backpack. “Alright. Let’s do this,” she said to nobody in particular as she left the stall. Before leaving the bathroom she pulled the stocking cap down over the gum in her hair and smoothed out her handmade skirt. Perhaps these bright colors aren’t helping, she mused. Juniper loved color, though. She liked experimenting with them. Prudence didn’t, and she always looked perfect.
Juniper headed to the cafeteria hoping to grab something to eat when the bell rang. Dang. She turned on her heels and sprinted to her next class ignoring her rumbling stomach. She had spent more time in the bathroom than she’d realized. Such is the price for getting lost in one’s thoughts. She’d always gotten in trouble for being a day dreamer. “Get your head out of the clouds and back to this conversation,” her father used to say. She really missed him.
Juniper’s feet flew out sideways from under her as she turned the corner. She slid face-first into the lockers with a bang. She groaned and turned her head to see the legs of the wet floor sign next to her. The janitor helped her to her feet. “Sorry, miss, but you’d really best not run in these halls. I’m always saying, kids are gonna get hurt running in these halls. Oh, miss, you’re uh, bleeding,” the janitor said. Juniper wondered how this day could get any worse as she dug a Kleenex out of her bag. She nodded at the janitor as she headed off to the nurse. Great. Just great, she thought as she groaned at the blood on her Kleenex.
“You’ve really got to stop running in the halls. Tsk tsk,” said the nurse as she dabbed at Juniper’s eyebrow with a q-tip. “I always say, kids get hurt running in the halls. Yep. But do they listen? Nope. Nope. Nope. There. All finished, dear,” the nurse said as she patched up Juniper’s brow with a butterfly bandage.
“Thanks,” Juniper said as she hopped down off the table. She caught a glimpse of her reflection on the metal door and cringed. “Can I get a pass for class, nurse?” The nurse grumbled as she scribbled a note and handed it to Juniper. “Thanks, ma’am,” Juniper said as she returned to the halls. Could this day get any worse?
As if the universe was trying to tell Juniper to stop asking, the speaker on the nurse’s phone rang out, “We have an active shooter in the west wing. Commence lock down procedures.” Juniper froze. Prudence had class in the west wing right now.
“Juniper, get in here for lock down,” said the nurse. Juniper hesitated. Should she play it safe and listen to the nurse or go find her sister? After a moment’s hesitation, she knew she only had one choice.
“Sorry, ma’am, no can do,” she said as she sprinted toward the west wing.
“Juniper, STOP!” the nurse yelled to no avail. Classroom doors were closing all along the hallway. Her heart stopped as she imagined the worst. Juniper skidded to a halt as she entered the west wing. She turned the corner and froze as she saw the shooter in the classroom to the right with Prudence in the line of fire.
“NOOOOO!” Juniper shouted as she ran at her sister. She tackled Prudence, and as they fell to the floor, Juniper felt a searing pain pierce her right shoulder. Simultaneously, the teacher tackled the shooter, disarming him.
“Juniper! No! Why did you do that? Oh my God, are you okay? You’ve been shot!” Prudence was nearly incoherent as she examined Juniper’s shoulder, tears escaping down her cheeks.
“I’ll be alright. It’s just my arm,” Juniper smiled.
“Why did you do that?” Prudence asked, “I’ve been so awful to you. I don’t deserve anything from you.”
“Well, that may be true, but, you’ll always be my big sister, and I love you,” Juniper replied. The sisters hugged, their tears mingling as they cried about their mother, their father, and their broken relationship.
The next day in the cafeteria, Juniper stood with her tray balanced in her left arm, right arm in a sling. She headed toward her usual lone table in the back when she heard Prudence, “Hey June Bug! Get over here! Don’t you dare sit by yourself, hero!” Juniper turned her head in disbelief to see her sister welcoming her to join her and her gaggle of friends. As Juniper sat, Prudence said, “Hey girls, this is my sister, Juniper. If you see anybody giving her any grief, I want to know about it. Now say hello.” A chorus of hello’s greeted Juniper. She figured this treatment wouldn’t last, but for right now, she was okay with that. Here she was, awkward and ordinary Juniper getting to sit with her big sister and the queens of the school. Next week she may return to being bullied and sitting by herself, but for right now, right now she felt much more than ordinary. Right now she felt extraordinary.