Shrinking Violet
Gavin, then she can't bother me. Besides, she joined Prank's group, and it seems like he's her latest conquest. Hopefully he'll keep her away.
    Kayla plunks down with her monstrous pink backpack. "Where do you guys want to meet?"
    "We're meeting right now," Gavin says.
    "Yeah, but that's only for half the class period." Kayla rolls her eyes like Gavin has no idea what he's talking about.
    "The project isn't due until May first. That's six weeks away," he says.
    "Great, that gives us a lot of time to make sure it's perfect." Kayla smiles. "Besides, it's spring break next week and I'll be out of town."
    Gavin sighs, then turns to me. "Have you gotten your book yet?"
    I shake my head.
    "Well, if we meet first, then we can have an idea of where the project is going. Anyway, how long does it really take to read a book?" Kayla pulls out her laptop.
    "I know King pretty well already," Gavin says.
    "And I finished Summer Sisters in a weekend." Kayla holds up the paperback again.
    They both stare at my face. Great, now it's all up to me. I bite my lip and nod.
    "We could meet on Sunday. You can get the book today and 95
    finish it by then, right?" Kayla leans in close and speaks real slow, like she's talking to a three-year-old.
    When her gaze doesn't move from me, I respond, "Okay."
    "Whose house?" Kayla asks. "My grandparents are visiting, so mine's out."
    How convenient. Well, I can't have them at mine. Mom would be hovering over us the whole time. Then after they left, she'd tell me how I should've sat up straighter, spoken louder, and acted peppier. No thanks.
    I remember once when I was in seventh grade this new girl, Daria, came over to my house to work on a science project. She talked more than a TV commentator and ended up chatting with my mom the whole time. I felt like I was invisible that day and ended up finishing the whole project myself, while Daria gave Mom a tutorial on Internet shopping. It was like I wasn't even there.
    "My mom's sick," I blurt out. "Is she okay?" Gavin asks.
    "Yeah." I twist the drawstring of my sweatpants.
    It's not a total lie. Mom could quite possibly be sick by Sunday. After all, she is sick in the head.
    A voice comes over the PA asking for Stacy Barnes to report to the main office. I hope she's suspended. Indefinitely this time.
    "My place is fine," Gavin says.
    We agree to meet at Gavin's house at three, after Kayla goes to church and plays two hours of tennis. After I wake up at
    96
    noon and watch MTV until it's time to throw on a pair of sweats.
    I wonder what Gavin's mom looks like. All I can picture is a smaller version of him with the same black hair. Maybe she has tattoos and piercings and wears all black. Too bad I can't find out in advance and dress accordingly.
    Right after school I check out Helen Keller's autobiography, The Story of My Life, from the school library. There are a few biographies, too, and a book she wrote with someone else, but I want the real deal. I want to know how Helen did it. How she conquered life being deaf and blind. It's a nice day, so I climb up the bleachers and read until it's time to catch the bus to the station. I read for almost an hour without taking a break.
    Helen has so much to say that it seems like she hardly ever had time off. She took the crappy deal that she got out of life and actually made something out of it. Even after only reading the first few chapters of her story, I already feel guilty. Guilty for thinking that there's no worse fate in life than having to stand up in front of my English class and present an oral report.
    I close my eyes as I make my way down the metal steps, but I stumble on the second step and snap them open. I don't know how Helen did it. Entered a world she couldn't see or hear.
    When I was little, around four or five, I sometimes used to walk around the house with my eyes closed, feeling the walls. It drove my mom crazy. She said it gave her the heebie-jeebies.
    That's one of the things I like about music, you

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