January 29th. A day everyone in Coastal High dreads. Everyone except my sister and other smart people like her. The day grades come out. These past couple weeks have been horrible. I’ve been totally avoiding both Kyle and Jaden. It’s just been so awkward. Jaden and I have been close since we were kids so it’s so weird to not be able to talk to him. And even though Kyle and I weren’t like really serious, we did talk. We would cuddle and be cute together but now it’s gone.
Gosh, I miss it. None of us have decided to make the first move to apologize so I guess it’s just going to stay this way until someone does. Amaya’s had her own problems, too, with her and her ex breaking up. It’s all just gone downhill ever since we got back from break. And… today is just going to beat all those days in the shitty factor. There are exactly four days in the school year that I despise most. That I dread. It’s the days our quarterly grades come out. I can ignore my shitty grades as much as I want until they get mailed home in a perfect white envelope. On that day, I can’t pretend they don’t exist anymore. It doesnt work that way. It makes me feel like an idiot. I look so dumb compared to my siblings. I hate it. I really, really hate it.
“Grades are in!” I heard my mom’s voice yell up and I let out my breath as the pit in my stomach grew. My siblings and I all have a deal. If we get to the mail before our moms do, we’ll just give everyone their envelope and not talk about it. It’s our little secret because I don’t think anyone really likes talking about their grades, even Sera. She’s so modest and she doesn’t like being praised by our moms in front of everyone. But of course our moms had to get to their mail first today… damn it. I swear the universe is actually against me. My boyfriend and best guy friend aren’t talking to me, my moms have my grade sheet, and you know what else? I just had to get my fucking period today. I groaned, pressing a new big-ass pad into my undies and stared at my reflection in the mirror. ‘Ready to know just how bad you did? Huh? Cause I bet it’s -‘
“Guys, come on down!”
I bit my lip, walking out of the bathroom. Doomsday. So this is what the end of the world feels like, huh? When all your bad decisions come crashing down and everyone will be pretended not to judge but you know they are, which just makes it worse. Everyone else was already down when I got there and I slid silently into the open seat next to Seraphina. I bet she knows exactly what she got. She probably checks her grades every day. My younger brothers were all talking about some middle school thing that I really could care less about – but instead, I tried my hardest to listen to what they were saying. Anything to distract me from the horrible things to come today. When they see my grades, what will they do? Looks of disappointment, I bet. The ‘We think you can do better’ speech? My family is all kind of open – at least that’s the way my moms want it to be. A share everything safe space. Well, guess what? It doesn’t work like that! Some things should be private, like grades. It’s not like I have to show the paper to my siblings, but my moms are definitely going to see it and that’s just fucking great.
“Seraphina,” Mum started with a smile. Mom leaned over and they shared a proud glance before looking back over to her.
“All A’s this quarter. Great job, Seraphina!” Mom practically beamed as Mum pulled Sera into a hug.
Mom hugged Sera right after and Sera took the sheet of paper as she sat back down next to me. My parents shuffled through the envelopes and Mom held them out while Mum pulled one out like a card game. They try to make it fun but it’ll never be fun for me. My little brothers were watching intently and making bets and all, so I guess it’s fun for them. Everything’s fun for them, they’re twelve and ten years old. Damn, life was so much simpler before we actually to grow up!
“Vali,” my mom said and I twisted my head towards her instantly. I could feel my heart beating in my chest and my eyes locked onto the simple envelope in her hand. I hate that envelope. I felt like I was going to be sick. I just can’t do it. I jumped up, surprising everyone – even myself – and yanked the simple, stupid little envelope out of my mom’s hand.
I held back the tears that were starting to well up and covered them up with a glare. I didn’t understand. I know what the sheet will say. I know that it’s going to be garbage. So, why does it feel like it matters so much to me?
“Nobody needs to see this trash!” I yelled, louder than I was expecting.
“Vali, calm down,” mum whispered, grabbing hold of my arm. I jerked away and ran out of the room before they could see me cry. I ran the whole way to my room, locking the door before falling onto the bed, the envelope still clutched in my hand. It felt like it was burning a hole in my hand. I stared at it for a few seconds before ripping it open. Nobody needs to see this but me. I unfolded the perfectly folded piece of paper slowly before reading the whole thing over. Three D’s, three C’s, and one A. I’m actually stupid. Shit. Holy shit, I’m so, so done for. Might as well plan my fucking execution now, because my moms are going to actually kill me. I’m only passing four of my classes, three of which I’m barely passing! I do not want to take these fucking classes again, but of course I can’t even get a passing grade. My only good grade is from theater class and everyone gets an A if they participate. Why can’t I even be decent?! I bit back my tears as I ripped the paper up. I. Hate. School. It’s. So. Fucking. Dumb. I stared at the ripped up clumps of paper now laying on my bed and grabbed a fistful, chucking them out forcefully out the window. I watched the pieces flutter away until I could no longer tell the difference between them and the matching white snow-covered ground. I don’t even want to see a shred of that damn paper anymore. All it does is remind me how I’ll never be good enough. Never. I threw the last bit out the window before yanking the window back down and finally letting a sob escape my lips.
I’m such a fucking loser. I can’t even pass my classes. I couldn’t do it if I tried. It’s not a surprise – but it still feels like getting punched when I open the paper. It still hurts. I turned on my keyboard and just let the music flow out of me as tears still streamed down my cheeks. I hate today. Music has always been an escape for me, a sanctuary. It’s something I’m good at. Something I feel good about doing. I just have to get lost in the melody and everything feels like it’s going to turn out okay.
I’m not like everyone else. I’m not good at the things people say you should be good at, things that it’s important to be good at. Everyone around me seems to do so easily in school and then… there’s me. I bet all my siblings are downstairs celebrating their good grades while I’m playing a sob song for myself up here. I realized now too long after school actually became learning and not arts & crafts that it wasn’t something that came easily to me. I would try to do as good as everyone else, but I would just let myself down. If I don’t try, I can’t disappoint myself, right? That’s logical. But somehow, I even manage to let myself down when I don’t try. What was I expecting? That’s a good question. What was I? I don’t really try at all, so don’t I deserve to fail? Don’t I? I just started my fourth song that night as my phone started blaring an annoying alarm. God, did I pick that sound? It’s annoying as hell. I grabbed it off my desk, silencing the alarm, but not before seeing what I had written. I totally forgot – today was our province’s annual talent show. Our province consists of Willow Creek, Oasis Springs, and Brindleton Bay, as well as the surrounding areas and all. This year it was being held in Oasis Springs, but last year it had been held here. I was too young to be in it then, though. It’s so dumb that only people 16+ can participate – there are skilled children, too! I guess they do have one for ‘kids’ but nobody older than 12 ever really goes to that one, since it feels weird to perform in a talent show that has mostly young kids in it. You know what? Why shouldn’t I go? Oasis is only about 25 minutes away, plus the unspoken 5-over rule which basically means no cop will pull you over if you’re only going 5 mph over the speed limit means I can get there a bit quicker. I might as well do something fun today after all this. I didn’t even try to be stealthy about it or anything, because at this moment, I really didn’t care. I was practically failing school, which meant I would be grounded soon enough. There was no sign of anyone, though, as I walked out the door to be met with the sharp cold air.
It’s crazy how different Oasis’s climate is to ours since it’s only 25 minutes away, but apparently all the global warming shit back in the 21st and 22nd centuries really messed all that up, which is why it can be snowing here and a nice 65° F over there. It’s important to know! I’m not gonna wear some ugly ass winter jacket if it’s practically summer over there! The drive over to Oasis was simple and calming. There weren’t many people out so late at night and the streets were nicely lit by the street lamps as well as the glow of the moon. I notice more thing when I’m sad, I guess. I’m trying not to think about school or any of that, so I latch onto anything else I can think about instead. The time went by very quickly and before I realized it, the lights of Oasis Springs’ main area were coming into view. I could see all the cars around the lounge where the talent show was being held. There was almost not any open spaces by the time I got there, but luckily, I was able to find one at the back. It’s so much warmer here! There’s actually like palm trees and all that. It’s not like hot hot, but it’s still insane. I could tell that there were a few people coming just for fun, like the cute older couple who was laughing on the couch. Others were here for a chill, fun night with their fancy outfits and spurts of laughter.
“Signing up?” I turned around, looking at an older woman with a big smile.
“Um, for the talent show?”
“Yes, what else?” She smiled, handing me a sheet. I fingered the paper for a second before writing my name down on the list. They started the show not long after that… and not to be rude, but some people just aren’t talented. Even though I knew they wouldn’t win and I wanted to plug my ears by the middle of their performance, they didn’t seem to care. They were really into the song, singing at the top of their lungs – and they oozed happiness. The people crowded around me were smiling as they finished and everyone – including me – gave them a standing ovation. They were so happy that it was hard not to smile. This whole place, while a bit dated, just had so much excitement floating around in the air. There were a few more performances before it was my turn, but once my name was called, I jumped up out of my seat, walking over to the piano. I pressed the first note, letting it hang in the air for effect before my fingers started flying across the keys effortlessly.
It seemed like the song was over just as quickly as it had begun and the sound of the last note stuck in my memory long after its sound had faded away. I stood up only to be met with loud applause and stunned looks. I guess they didn’t expect that, huh? It took a while for the rest of the performances to finish and even after that, they left us to walk around the lounge since the judges and all needed to decide who they were going to choose as the winner. I had played really well and I knew that I might have a good chance of winning, but there were a few other great acts, too.
The Solar Flare was renovated a few years ago and they really did a good job. I competed in a few of the talent shows when I was younger and one time, they had it here. It’s almost hard to believe this is the same place, even though they kept the layout exactly the same. I would’ve thought of trying some drink, but we had to put down our ages to sign up and there’s no way they would let me have any. It seemed to take them a while to finally call us back over, but once they did, the announcer started talking almost immediately.
“First of all, I just want to thank everyone for coming and participating! My husband and I started this little ‘talent show’ when our son went off to college because we suddenly had so much time on our hands and wanted to get more involved in the community. It’s hard to believe it’s been nineteen years since then.”
The room erupted in a chorus of ‘Aws’ when her husband blew her a kiss and she puckered her lips at him. They’re pretty well-known for making this talent show and also, for being flirty and cute with each other during it.
“Anyway…the winner of the nineteenth annual Neoteric Province talent show is…” she smiled as she looked around the room to draw it out, “Valentina Clemonte.”
I blinked in surprise, standing up after my body un-froze. I walked over to the woman, looking at the group of people cheering for me as I held up the award she’d given me.
She held up my hand, giving me a proud grin. “Your winner!”
A lot of the people that had been watching congratulated me and I got many compliments on my performance. It was the best thing I could’ve hoped for tonight – to win – but it still didn’t truly feel like a win. Because it will never be enough. All that matters in this world are some stupid letters printed on a clean sheet of paper sent to your parents in a manilla envelope. That’s what matters. Not what you love to do, not what you’re passionate about, but your grades. I could play music all day; I could act out scenes all day – because I enjoy that. It’s fun and different and creative. But that doesn’t matter. Having brains and being able to bubble in the correct answer on a test sheet are all that matters. And no matter what I accomplish with what I love… it will never be enough, now will it?