Unique Orphans

The fourth graders walk behind the fifth graders out the cafeteria doors and into the lobby where we wait with excitement for recess. The sky is finally blue again after being cloudy most of the week and the sun is shining bright on this Thursday in Spring. My friend, Morgan,and I are happy to go outside and have a little more space for shooting hoops and not feel cramped in the gym by the fifth graders who build tents with the mats. Many of us start
running like it’s the last day of school and some kids go to their little corners of the yard, but Morgan and I race each other to the basketball court.

One of the teacher’s aides dumps out a bag of basketballs. We and a few boys grab them. Morgan tosses her empty bright blue lunch box with watermelon polka dots to one end of the court and grabs two balls. Even though we go to a charter school and have to wear these boring plaid jumpers and navy blue tights, Morgan has always been a naturally colorful person.

She’s very outgoing and not afraid to stand out with her short black hair. All the other girls let their hair grow and tie it up. She’s even encouraged me to try different hair styles, like bangs and make it more flowy, as opposed to my usual straight, flat fashion. 

We didn’t become close until we tried out for the volleyball team last year. She’s super athletic and has helped me to become a better player and a happier person when I’m worried about things - things that she kind of touches on at the basketball court. Today, she comments on the wonderful weather, which I agree with, and then gets to it in a caring way. 

“So... how was play practice?” She runs and gets her rebound.“Oh... it was good. I got to sing some of Molly’s songs because she wasn’t there.”

“Wow! That’s cool.”

“Yeah. Mr. Foster said he likes my singing voice and that I could fill in whenever Molly isn’t there.”

Molly Rodgers, the school’s star student who can do no wrong. She and her friends, Sarah and Amber, are the popular girls who get away with wearing a lot of makeup (mascara,deep purple eye shadow), and bright, girly pins on their plaid uniforms and are known to have the best birthday parties in our grade. Molly has been a lead in every musical since second grade and is now playing Annie. I admit that she’s a great singer and dancer (I should know, I
play another orphan, Duffy), but she can also be a bit of a showoff. I mean I love Hairspray and Mamma Mia, but her favorites are Phantom of the Opera and Rent. There’s nothing wrong with these shows, but she can’t even name a song from them because “there are too many good
ones to just pick one”. I look over at the three of them sitting together under a tree, gossiping about someone, until Morgan snaps me out.

“That’s awesome, E.” There is a moment of silence that is broken up by the bouncing of balls. Morgan and I run to the net and back, catching the balls. After a few shoots, Morgan stays in her place. “So... what did Mr. Amado say?”

Mr. Amado is my reading teacher. Morgan isn’t in my class, but she’s usually in the classroom next door.

“What do you mean?”

She comes towards me, dribbling. “Well... I was heading to the lunch room and walked by his room and saw him talking to you when everyone was leaving.”

“Oh. It was just... something with homework.”

“What was it?”

I take a deep breath and start dribbling. “Well... we had to write something last night.” She asks what it was, and I tell her it was about what our parents do for a living and what we’d like to do when we grow up and why. My dad is a sales associate at Tommy D’s Men’s Wearhouse, which means he helps other guys find the right suit for a special event. My mom is
an actress. After high school, my parents got their own place and lived together. My mom later skipped college (which her dad still talks about when we visit him, and my mom is out of the room) and moved to New York. She got her first taste of success as an understudy as Donna (the mother) from Mamma Mia. My dad’s parents were more traditional and pushed him to go to college. When the show ended, my mom came back, got married, and got pregnant with me.
When I was a year old, my mom really wanted to perform again, so she left me and my dad until she could find something. She landed a few roles in some Broadway shows in New York and while I’m happy that she’s living her dream, I wish that she would visit us in Philly more... besides on Christmas and my birthday... and answer our phone calls... and come to a volleyball

It also makes me feel weird since my dad is always telling me to get good grades and focus on school, but my mom left school to achieve a dream. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?  I love seeing my mom happy in the programs and playbills she sends us, but sometimes, when dad goes to bed early, I want to hear her voice say good-night to me.

I told Morgan that I wrote all of that, and about wanting to be a star in some way like my mom. Just so I can feel the thrill and know why it’s always been more important than spending time with family. Halfway through, my dad got up to check the mail. I guess we got a bill as dad made one of his two usual responses, “Son of a bitch.” The other would be “that bitch”. I know a few swear words from living in the city, but my dad rarely swears. Bitch is the only one he uses when talking about money. “It’s okay, Elena. Mom’s just spending too much.”

I usually nod in agreement, but last night, I felt moved. “It must be nice. I wish she gave some of that money to us.”

“It’s okay, schmoop. We’ll make it out okay.” He came closer and rubbed my back as I close my notebook.

“Wow! That’s crazy, E!” Morgan replies. “I get why you probably feel a little weird. I wouldn’t want to tell a teacher something that personal. Maybe, Mrs. Moore... but not him.” Mrs. Moore is the school’s counselor who I’ve only said hi to when walking past her office. When Morgan says her name, a little, hopeful bell rings in my head. “So, what happened?”

“He just wanted to see if I was okay with what I wrote. I told him that I want to understand my mom better. I started to cry, but it went a little easier than I thought. I mean, he wasn’t mad at me or anything.” I shoot the ball, but it didn’t make the net.

“He was more worried?”

“Yeah. Just like last week... when I failed the reading and spelling test. I barely studied and the only word I got right was ‘forgiveness’”. He understood what I was going through but said that I should be happy that I have my dad. I have a great relationship with him and while I tend to make him a little mad by bringing up mom, I would not want to make it worse like
mom’s relationship with grandpop. I stood near his desk and tried to look around so a teacher wouldn’t see me cry. I saw a picture of him and his daughter on the beach and I wiped my eyes; imagining that was me and my dad. I was calm and he said that things will get better soon, and if they don’t, I can always talk to Mrs. Moore. So, I’ll soon be able to forgive her for not coming to see me on my Birthday this year, or not getting me a gift? I don’t know. But I let this confusion go when he tapped me on the shoulder and told me to have a good day. The bell started ringing when he mentioned Mrs. Moore, but it turns into Morgan’s voice.

“Elena!” She’s running back from throwing the ball.

“Oh! I’m sorry.”

“It’s ok. You feeling better now?”

“A little.”

“Well... let’s talk about something else. What was it like singing Molly’s song?”

“It was cool. But it was still weird without her.” Molly must have ears like a dog because I gaze over at her and her friends and see that they are heading towards us.

“Well... look who’s trying to be like a star?” she says with her friends behind her on both sides.


“I mean... you’re clearly not good enough to be on Broadway, so you think it’s okay to steal someone else’s spotlight?” she continues moving towards me with her hands on her hips.

“No. I’m not stealing your spotlight. Someone had to sing the songs, and you weren’t there. I’m sorry if it sounds weird but,... talk to Mr. Foster about it.” I go back to throwing the ball, but Molly runs and catches it before it reaches the net.

“Alright. I will.” Molly throws the ball and misses the net. Morgan and I look at each other and try to hide a laugh, but Sarah and Amber stop us with their stares. “You know... it kind of makes sense,” Molly says.

“What does?” Morgan asks.

A girl who doesn’t hear from her mom and wishes to be with her wanting to be Annie,” she replies, walking around us and dribbling the ball.

“Fuck you,” I whisper.

“I’m sorry what was that?” she asks, like a serious parent.


“Did you just swear?” Sarah and Amber gasp with big eyes, trying to make me nervous, but something inside of me is boiling hot. “Did you say ‘fuck’? I bet you heard that word from your mom. It’s what she does to get the best 
roles, right?” The temperature is rising.

“Shut up, Molly,” I whisper again.

“What’s that?”

“I said SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Molly stops right in front of me. Sarah, Amber, and even Morgan back away from me a bit. Morgan takes a deep breath and comes closer and rubs my back.

“Ah! So she does swear.”

“Yeah...,” I say losing my confidence, “and... you apparently listen to conversations... that are none of your business.” Molly says nothing but looks back at Sarah and Amber with big

“Well... look who’s trying to stand up for themselves. Bet you didn’t that get from your mother,” she replies, while her hands on her hips.

“Stop talking about my mom that way. She’s awesome. She once did a whole run of Wicked as Madame Morrable. What have you done?”

“I’ve been happy at home with my mom and dad.”

“I’m happy with my dad too!” I realize the kids on the other side of the court are coming closer.

“I’m sure you are. But... is he really your dad? Didn’t you say your mom left him? She must have found someone better, if she went back to new York after she had you.” Her friends start gasping and Molly makes a fake concerned face. “And Madame Morrable... more like,
Madame Whore-able?” I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and let it out. I push Molly away as hard as I can. Her friends catch her and as the kids are making noise, the staff comes to see what is happening. Molly rubs herself clean and then laughs with her mouth closed and pushes me back. Morgan tries to stop her before she touches me, but Molly’s friends get her out of the way. She is stronger than I thought, even as she lets out a wimpy, girly sound when she pushes me. I stop with my back against the fence that separates the school yard from the sidewalk. I want to cry and do the same thing to Sarah and Amber, but instead I slap Molly in the face and
try to run inside the school. But one of the teacher’s aide sees me and grabs both of us and take us to the principal’s office. It’s my first time in this office. The walls are a faded blue and are filled with diplomas and pictures of family and other achievements. The aide tells us be quiet
and sit in the two soft chairs.

The principal, Mrs. Johnson, comes in with a smile that looks like she’s trying to hide something nasty she tasted.

“Good afternoon, girls,” she says as she sits in her chair and rests her arms on her desk. “Elena, I’m surprised to see you here.” I look down at my sneakers; afraid that she’ll make a big thing out of me doing something bad for once. I’m already worried about her calling my dad. “So... who wants to go first?”
At first, it gets crazy with both of us trying to explain our sides at one time. But then, she tells us that it would be easier for her to find out what happened if we told our stories on our own. Molly is cocky enough to ask to go first, so I leave and sit in the hallway. I see Mrs. Johnson shaking her head yes, many times; the walls begin to shrink. I eventually get called in
and Molly leaves the room but first stops and gives me the look of death.

Mrs. Johnson must be a talented person. She can sit and listen to whatever lies Molly told her about me to make her hate me, and then I walk in and see her smiling like she did when we first saw her. She seems really calm and listens to what I know as the truth. As I go on, I believe that she likes my side a little more as I show her what I wrote and what Molly said. But
then I look out in the hallway and see Molly with a big red mark on her cheek. I feel like I have to be honest. So, I tell her that I pushed her first. She has a concerned face when I say this, and then lets Molly come back. She gives us both detention. Molly gets it for fighting when she
could have been the better person and let it go; which she would never do. 
Molly and I look at each other and have the same fear when she says that Mrs. Johnson will be calling our parents. But first, she tells us to apologize.

“Molly, I’m really sorry that I pushed you,” I say trying to sound honest, even though she made me mad. Yet, I do feel guilty that she’s getting punished with a bruise from someone else. I put my hand out.

“And I’m sorry that I pushed you back. I should have known that you were going through something and I shouldn’t mess with that,” she says, but I know she’s trying to kiss up to Mrs. Johnson. She grabs my hand and shakes it. The bell rings for last period and Mrs. Johnson tells us to go to class and that she will see us after school.

“Elena.” We both pause. “Can you please stay here for a second?” I look back at Molly, who just shrugs and goes. I walk closer to Mrs. Johnson. “I’m very sorry with what your family is going through.” She reaches out for my hand, which I give her. “It’s hard seeing other kids with both parents, and you just have one.” Gee, thanks for making me feel better. I tear up again and start rubbing my eyes. “It’s not fair. You feel angry when a kid picks on you for being different, and it’s not your fault.” I nod my head in agreement. “But it doesn’t do any good trying to hurt others. I mean... what would your mom think about this?”

“It might give her a reason to come home,” I respond, trying to be funny.

“I know, sweetie. That’s true. But it’s not good to hurt yourself, your grades, or others in order to make things better. What did Mr. Amado tell you to do?”

“He said to either talk to him or Mrs. Moore if I ever feel like this again. Actually, my friend, Morgan, said the same thing.”

“That might be a good idea.” She squeezes my hand and then lets go. “Well I guess you should get to class. I don’t want to make you late.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Johnson.” I wave good-bye.

“You’re welcome, Elena.” She waves back.

As I walk to science class, I stop at the door of Mrs. Moore’s office where there’s a poster of a shooting star that says, “You’re Special!” I roll my eyes. I look through the window and see Mrs. Moore typing. She eventually looks up at me and smiles and a wave of relief hits me. I wave back and then step inside.

“Hey! I have to go to class, but is it okay if I talk to you tomorrow during recess? It would be... seventh period,” I ask.

“Sure, Elena. You’re always welcome to talk to me about anything,” she answers in a motherly way. We smile at each other and it feels even better than having recess outside.

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