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posted Feb 25, 2016, 4:26 AM by Noa Shmueli

I watch her.  She sits hunched over her smooth wooden desk, pen in hand like a brave warrior wielding their weapon. Her ink-stained hands scramble over the yellowed paper, swiftly creating neat, curved letters, as if by magic. She sinks deeper and deeper into her imagined world. Silhouettes shimmer in and out of existence, occasionally looming closer as she pores over the gradually disintegrating notebook, the pages that have been filled are curled and dog-eared.

Suddenly, a tap on my shoulder. I jerk back, look backwards. Phoebe is looking at me, snatching looks at the classroom door hurriedly. “Leona... you know, we should go out now. Gale says nobody’s allowed to stay in when it’s break time.”

Gale is the queen bee of Bell Pacific High. She walks around with her freckled nose in the air, sneering at anyone that sticks out. And if stick out was a name, it would be Jessamyn's.

Other girls dance in discos, go to late night karaokes - meanwhile, Jessamyn writes stories late into the night, crossing out and rewriting. Other girls flirt, winking ostentatiously and wearing outrageously short mini-skirts - she prefers to ignore the pompous fellows who stride around, flexing their puny muscles. Other moms make cookies and Jell-O; her mother cuts up home-grown carrots when anyone comes to visit - a rare occurrence.

Jessamyn is the typical outcast. She wears long, floppy pants and long-sleeved, stifling shirts. Her limbs are too long, her face is too thin. In her free time, she day-dreams. Sometimes, when Gale is in a bad mood, she takes to calling Jessamyn The Siamese Twin - a cruel label that stuck because Jessamyn has slanted black eyes, unlike the wide blue eyes that the other girls possess. Her grades are just below average though, making her words than the typical bullied nerd.

Jessamyn works hard to try and fit in. She tries to hang out with us, the popular crowd, but her personality simply doesn’t fit.

Meanwhile, Phoebe ushers me through the door, and we walk up behind Gale. She is walking slowly, with Bruce’s muscled arm around her, the rest of her admiring followers talking incessantly.

I watch Jessamyn sidle along. It’s obvious that she’s hoping to God Gale is in a good mood and doesn’t decide to pick on her. Gale and her followers are now stalking around the football field, flirting with the jockeys who stopped their game and came over. Ten minutes pass. I see Jessamyn is still pressed against the wall. She looks terrified.

Jessamyn looks at her bulky fake gold watch. The bell will ring any minute now. She sighs in relief, and starts backing slowly towards the class. She obviously thinks Gale has forgotten about her. Don’t be funny, I think, gritting my teeth. Sure enough, Gale appears after an instant, walking slowly, deliberately. Her eyes narrow slightly. I can see her pleasure at Jessamyn’s obvious anguish. Gale approaches her slowly. Like a tiger that is assured of its prey. Jessamyn is cornered, her back straining against the solid white wall.

“So, the Siamese Twin, I see,” Gale’s sneering voice pierces the air, sending shivers down my bones. Her followers laugh cruelly, as if on cue, but my lips, for once, do not curve in a spiteful smile. I feel Jessamyn looking at me imploringly, I feel my hands are clammy.

“I wonder what she’s up to today.” Gale says to us, not looking back. She continues to look at Jessamyn steadily, measuring her under her impossibly long, sandy eyelashes.

“What’s this, I see?” She slips Jessamyn’s pad out of her pocket, Jessamyn’s scribblings horribly out of place under Gale’s manicured fingernails. Time freezes. Everyone is holding their breaths, waiting for Gale’s next move. She hands the pad back to Jessamyn, and everyone relaxes with relief - and disappointment. Then I stiffen again. “Today,” Gale announces calmly, “Jessamyn will be showing us how to burn a pad of paper until it is reduced to ashes.”

I stare at her in horror. Jessamyn is hugging the pad closer, tucking it between her arms. Gale advances slowly, and a matchbox appears on her satin white palm. Jessamyn hesitates, but takes it, her fingers shaking.

I know she has been working on her stories for seven years now. It will be gone in a millionth of that time. In an instant. Jessamyn strikes the match, its heat searing the tips of her fingers, crackling maliciously. For three years now, Jessamyn has bowed low to Gale, obeying every command. She has been bullied constantly, her life gradually becoming a total wreck.

I look up against my will. The match continues to burn, the flame progressing a few centimetres. Unconsciously, Jessamyn takes the pad out. Every detail is being etched in my mind, every expression, every tightening of Jessamyn’s mouth in an attempt to hold back her tears. Suddenly, a change comes over me. I see how pathetic this situation is, one human reducing another to tears. I faintly remember reading that my name, Leona, means lioness in Latin.

I don’t feel like a lioness now. As the thought passes through my mind, a surge of adrenaline rushes through my veins. I walk forward, as if in a trance, and yank the match out of Jessamyn’s fingers. I throw it on the asphalt, grind it down with the heel of my sneaker. I don’t care that I’ll lose my social status, I don’t care I’ll be an outcast. Risky, it’s true, but I don’t care. I don’t have a care in the world.

The match is glowing red. I stomp on it again, then face up to Gale. She looks pale. Very pale. Her prim rosebud lips show up fiercely against her wan skin. She takes a few steps back, then stumbles and runs towards the class. I stand there unbelievingly. Slowly, her followers melt away. I’m alone with Jessamyn. A divine smile gradually spreads across Jessamyn’s face, warming her features. We walk together in silence. As we approach the class, the bell rings. She looks at me again. “Thank you,” she whispers.