| Out of Step |

Out of Step: Chapter 21

"I’m sorry I didn’t notice. And I’m sorry you’ve felt so alone in all of this”

"So, can you?”

I wait for Atara to answer. She plays with the zipper on her jacket, brushes an invisible speck of dust off her sparkly sweater, and runs a hand through her hair.

“Start at the beginning?” she says finally, with a shaky laugh. I nod, totally afraid of what she might say.

“I guess the beginning was the end of elementary school.”

I nod, totally lost.

“For you, elementary was a breeze. For me, it was work. And a lot of it. But it was doable and passable and not only that, people thought I was smart.”

I nod again. Atara and I were often invited to study parties and get-togethers and teachers called on us in class and chose us for extra volunteer groups, knowing we wouldn’t have trouble keeping up. It was a fun status that we treasured, and perhaps unnecessarily flaunted.

“And then we started high school. And you, Bella Rena, you just continued where you left off, smart and studious, respected and teacher’s pet, and I… drowned.”

I gape at her. Drowned? She hadn’t drowned! She’d been right at my side from day one! I would’ve known if she’d drowned.

“Yes, Bella, drowned,” Atara says tonelessly, picking up on my silent disbelief.

I rest my forehead in my hands and peer at her through the cracks in my fingers.

“I failed. From that first Chumash class, up until yesterday’s dikduk lesson… I’m failing, Bella. And the worst part is that it becomes a vicious cycle of fear. And I get so anxious just thinking about failing that I get too scared to even try. And instead of studying, I just lie on my bed and try to remember what it feels like to actually be good at something. Trust me,” she suddenly barks out a laugh, “my parents are not amused.”

I open my mouth and then close it again, looking, I’m sure, like the world’s largest goldfish.

Atara’s relationship with her parents has always been something I’ve secretly coveted. They’re fun and stylish and young, and she seems to relate to them more like older siblings than authoritative parental figures, but at the same time, I know that there’s friction, that there are things Atara won’t talk to me about.

“Atara,” I say hesitantly, stretching out a hand in her direction. She makes no move to take it and it just falls limply back into my lap. “I’m so sorry. I know that’s lame and pointless and can’t help you at all, but I really, truly am. I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time. I’m sorry I didn’t notice. And I’m sorry you’ve felt so alone in all of this.”

She shrugs, but after nine years of friendship, I can see that my words leave an impression on her.

I feel like the worst person in the world. Like, maybe the worst person who has ever existed. We could’ve studied together! I could have tutored her! Okay, it’s not too late—

“And now the school is making me take remedial for a few classes. Have you ever heard of anything so mortifying? Remedial!”

Well, there’s nothing wrong with remedial, per se, but Atara has a reputation for being, well, smart. If it would be mortifying for anyone, it would be her.

I cringe, imagining it.


“And then,” she says loudly, cutting me off, “there’s ballet. Ballet, that I love, ballet that’s a part of me, ballet where I feel free and happy, ballet… where I’m always second best to you. Again.”

I open my mouth, because that’s the least fair statement in the world and then I shut it, once again, with a snap.

Not the time for rebuttals right now.

(Excerpted from Teen Pages, Issue 797)

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