Another memory? Yeah, I still remember the day I first met him. Ethan was… still is one of the brightest people I’ve ever met.
A lot happened over the next few months. When I first walked into class, my classmates were shocked to see the makeover I had given myself. No one even recognized me at first, which I thought was great! But I wanted to make sure everyone knew this wasn’t just a new look. Oh no, this was a metamorphosis. As far as they were concerned, “Alexis” was no more. There was only “Alex the Awesome.” I even started wearing my backpack with only one strap. I'm basically the coolest kid in this entire school!
I was happy with this new me. Growing up, I was always told I was gifted for my age, but I never really knew what that meant. When I used to listen to what others told me, I never felt confident in myself or my abilities. I felt like I was doing everything wrong, and it frustrated me to no end. But now, for the first time in my life, I felt comfortable in my own skin. It felt amazing. It felt liberating. It felt… like I was the queen of the world! Getting in trouble was the best thing to ever happen to me. Now that I knew all my decisions were right and everyone else was wrong, I felt more confident in myself than I ever had before, and I was determined to show off my greatness to my less fortunate classmates.
I started getting in trouble a lot with the teachers. I did whatever I wanted in class, the cafeteria, during school assemblies - anywhere, really! I realized adults were just a bunch of condescending bullies, so I stopped caring about them and their boring rules. I mean, heck, even the homework The Hag was giving me felt like the same repetitive words and numbers. I began to realize how dumb school was, so I didn’t really care for it anymore. I was just there to try and make friends with the other kids. Preferably with a genius like myself! But unfortunately, things weren’t going as planned.
I bet The Hag was telling lies about me to the other students behind my back. I mean, why else would they look at me funny and not want to talk to me? All I ever do is try to help them with their work, like when I correct them during reading time. And I tell great jokes, like when I told Henry that his hair made him look like a girl. And I pull fun pranks, like when I pulled Molly’s chair from behind when she was about to sit down and she fell on her butt. I’m pretty hilarious! So I don’t understand why everyone makes me feel bad. I guess they’re intimidated by me, and not in a good way.
It was pretty rare for me to go out during recess around that time. As punishment for expressing myself, The Hag would make me stay in and write lines over and over again on a piece of paper. Stuff like “I will not talk in class,” or “I will not stick gum under the tables,” or “I will not throw eggs at Mrs. Rodger’s car.” I guess she thought she was teaching me a lesson, but I wasn’t gonna let her break me that easily. Nobody was going to force me to be someone I’m not. Not anymore. I wrote her stupid lines, but I didn’t stop being my awesome self, no matter how bad she tried to make me feel about it. There was nothing “wrong” with me. I was always right, and everyone else was wrong, and now I knew that better than ever! After weeks of pestering her, she decided she had enough and started sending me to the principal’s office instead.
Principal Laurance was a huge, muscular bull with large horns sticking out from the sides of his head, right under his slicked back hair. He wore a black, two-piece suit with a red tie, and he always had a mean look in his eyes, like he was trying to burn a hole through your head. I’ve heard he was a former drill sergeant and was feared by the other students. When I first entered, I would sit in front of him on the other side of his oversized desk. For my disruptive behavior, he would punish me by… giving me a stern talking to. What a laugh! I quickly realized no one here had any real power over me. I heard rumors that people saw the Hag pulling me by the hair, so the staff have been careful about not putting their hands on me or any of the other students. Stuff like that can get them in trouble if someone were to tattle on them!
As time went on, I actually looked forward to meeting Mr. Laurence in his office. I even started calling him by his first name, just so he knew I respected him as an equal. It looked like it pissed him off, but if Bill didn’t want people to know his name, then he shouldn’t be putting up his certificates all over the room for everyone to see! I remember this one funny time he went to the bathroom before I came into his office, so I decided to sit on his big chair. It was really warm and comfy, and almost big enough for me to completely lay on. By the time he came back, I had already broken it. To be fair, if you shouldn’t be spinning around on those things, then they really need to stop making them able to spin. Fortunately, we both got a huge laugh out of the silly situation. I was laughing out loud while he tried really hard to hold it in, but I saw his face turn a shade of red while he was practically quaking. It looked like he was trying really hard! But people like us have to try and keep it professional, so I understand the restraint.
This went on for a while before he gave up, too. He said he liked taking care of these kinds of issues on his own, but he ultimately decided he was going to call my father. He wanted to have a parent-teacher conference to see if he can get me “under control.” I thought I would’ve been afraid to hear that, but I was actually kinda excited! Getting in trouble didn’t bother me anymore, and I liked beating these adults at their own game. If they thought I was kidding about this new me, then they really are dumb! My dad is always busy with work, but now, he was gonna have to come to school and listen to me. This time, he was going to have to get my attention, and it was I who was gonna say no to him. I imagined exactly how it’d play out in my head, and it put a smile on my face just thinking about it. I was soooo looking forward to this.
But when he got the call, he said he wasn’t coming. Said it was a waste of his time…
Whatever, that didn’t bother me at all! Not even a little bit! Nope, nuh uh, no sir! As far as I was concerned, that was three points for me. That’s right, it was I who defeated these adults with my iron will, knowing full well it would pay off in the end. And a victory it was, because The Hag wasn’t keeping me in class anymore. I was allowed to go out during recess with the other kids despite my “bad behavior.” I guess they finally got it through their thick skulls that there was no stopping me, so they decided to stop bugging. After months of punishment, I was finally allowed on the schoolyard with the other kids.
When that class bell rang and I got to walk out, I felt the warm sun beating down on my fur, and the fresh air filling my lungs as I took a long, deep breath. Finally, I could start making friends for real without anyone getting in my way!
When I looked over the yard, I recognized Henry with the other boys from my class playing kickball, so I approached them first. I was already getting my introduction ready about how I’m the strongest kicker in the entire school. I couldn’t wait to start showing these punks who was boss!
But when they saw me approach, they started whispering things to themselves. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but before I knew it, they all began to disperse and left the field, dropping the ball on the way. Wow, that was rude! But whatever, that didn’t bother me. I bet they knew how good I was and decided it’d be unfair if I was on either team. Or maybe they were quaking at the thought of getting beaten by a girl. That’s fair!
Speaking of, I noticed the girls in my class were laughing and playing jump rope on the other side of the yard, so I saunted on over there to grace them with my presence. I didn’t really like the idea of playing with the girls over the boys, but it wouldn’t hurt to show them what a good jump roper looked like. I was about halfway there when they noticed me, which was when they stopped playing.
They began to huddle up together. I saw Molly in the middle, giving me a look of fearful determination. I was so confused. I stopped approaching and just stood there, not really sure what was going on. I don’t know why they were being so dramatic, but it became abundantly clear that they didn’t want me coming over there. I… I didn’t care! I bet they were gossiping and telling each other a bunch of lies about me. Whatever, I didn’t want to play jump rope anyway!
All the kids in my class were a bunch of dummies, so I decided to hang out with the other 3rd graders that weren’t in my class. I saw a small group of kids having a conversation, so I went and joined them. They didn’t mind me listening, so they continued talking about what Santa Claus got them for Christmas last year. One boy got a toy helicopter. Another got a new pair of heelys. When they asked me what I got, I told them I got nothing because Santa Claus is a fairytale parents made up to keep kids ignorant and easy to manipulate so we’d do everything they say like a bunch of mindless slaves with no will of our own.
After accidently making those kids cry, I decided to just sit by myself at a bench. It’s not my fault these guys are sensitive! Do they not understand me? Am I doing something wrong? I’m always right, aren’t I? I watched the other kids play as I sat there, leaning forward with my elbows on my knees. They were running, laughing, and having lots of fun... all without me. Why was it so hard to make friends? There was an overwhelming sensation churning inside me, but it wasn’t like before with Jeremy. I wasn’t just frustrated. I felt sad. Alone. Empty... Why is it so hard to make friends? Was there really something wrong with me...?
“WHO THE F-!”
I didn’t even notice when the boy approached me. He was dressed quite nicely, with an orange sweater vest, yellow shorts, and a matching baker boy hat that sat atop his curly brown hair. A particularly big curl stuck out from under his hat, and from the sides of his head hung a pair of long lop ears. I was so surprised by his presence that I didn’t even notice he had a flower in his hand. It had white pedals with a yellow center, and a single leaf on the stem - I think I recognized it, actually. And he was… offering it to me? What the-!? He smiled at me with a set of ugly looking teeth. He had large buck teeth in the middle, and a pair of crooked canines. Was he a puppy or a bunny? Maybe a hybrid? You don’t see many of them around here.
“Hey, I noticed you were sitting here by yourself. You looked pretty sad, so I came to show you this flower. It’s really pretty, isn’t it? You can have it, if you like.”
I was taken aback. “Pff, wha? Sad? ME!? No, no, no, no, no, you’re mistaken. I’M doing quite well, thank you very much.” I pounded a fist against my puffed up chest to show him how tough I was. I don’t know this kid, so I couldn’t let his first impression of me be of some… sad emo girl or something.
But I guess that wasn’t enough to convince him. “It’s alright, you don’t have to pretend. I used to feel pretty lonely too, but my mom always said to just be yourself and people will like you for who you are.”
“Wh… what the heck do you think I’ve been doing!?” Was this little kid really lecturing me? What the heck does he know? Who the heck does he think he is!?
“It’s okay, it’ll take some time, but you’ll find friends who’ll care about you very much, just like I did! Just remember to always look deep inside yourself, and seek personal growth and improvement whenever you can. I think you should maybe start with your yelling.”
“WHO SAYS I YE-!” I stopped myself, cleared my throat, and stared right back at that boy with my hands on my hips. “Look, kid. I get that it seems like I'm lonely because I’m sitting here by myself looking sorry for myself, but I actually like to hang out alone. I have enough self-love to flood this poor excuse of a school and drown every idiot here, so why don’t you take your daffodil and beat it!”
Perhaps I was a bit harsh, but I really wanted this kid to leave me alone. I know it seemed like I was struggling, but I’m doing completely fine on my own. I was just… testing the waters! Yeah, I don’t need any help, because I’m always right! This was only my first recess, after all. All I need is a bit more time, and I’ll have every student, teacher, and the principal himself treating me like a queen, as they should! Self-righteous types like this kid always think it’s their job to “help” and get in everyone’s business, but he’s just being condescending like everyone else.
“Didn’t ya hear me? I said beat it, kid!”
I was trying to tell him to leave, but he just stood there, looking at me with a confused little head tilt. He lifted the flower a little higher as he pointed at it.
“This is a primrose.”
“Daffodils have a cup in the middle. This is a primrose. It’s the first flower to bloom in early spring, and it represents youth and everlasting ex-”
“Shut up, I know what a primrose is! Are you calling me stupid!?”
“N-no! I just wanted you to know so there wasn’t any confusion. My mom always told me that everyone is intelligent in their own way, and to never make fun of others based on-”
This kid basically just called me stupid, and I wasn’t about to stand for it. As he continued berating me, I took a good look at the flower in his hand and realized I don’t actually know much about botany. However, I said that in full confidence, so I couldn’t just take it back. And if there’s one thing I learned about arguing, it’s that if you sound confident and don’t back down, then other people are inclined to believe you. So I decided I was gonna insist I’m right until he gave up, because I knew I was always right!
“-while my dad always says that ‘knowledge is power,’ and we should always seek to gain knowledge from those more experienced than us, and-”
“Okay, hush-hush.” I waved my hand at him dismissively. “So you’re arguing that the daffodil in your hand is a primrose, right?”
“Arguing isn’t nice. People should always try to come to an equal understanding. That way, there’s no hate or confus-”
“So anyway, we’re gonna stand here and debate until you realize that you’re wrong and I’m the smartest person in the world. Okay, I’ll start.”
“Why are you interrupting me?”
But he pointed over his shoulder with his thumb and continued on. “We can just go ask my teacher, Ms. Shirley. She knows everything about flowers. C’mon, you can follow me!”
Before I could interject, he spun on his heel and beckoned me as he walked towards the other side of the yard, pointing forward with his flower. Asking an expert? Well I mean, I couldn’t really argue with that logic. And I wasn’t really doing much anyway, so I just followed his lead. He was a little too excited to be heading to class during recess, practically skipping the whole way as he took a few sniffs of that flower. Seriously, who was this kid?
There was a single long path that ran through the entire school. It leads away from the schoolyard and towards the library on the other side. About halfway down the path on the left, directly across from the cafeteria, stood the 3rd grade building. We entered and walked down the narrow, air-conditioned hallway, the tile floor mixed in a random pattern of reds and yellows. I always liked walking down this hall, pretending the red tiles were lava as I hopped around and tried to avoid them. But I couldn’t do that now. Now was the time for getting serious. I’m not about to let my reputation as the smartest kid in the entire school get sullied by some… flower boy!
He skipped all the way down the hall and reached the farthest door. I was trying to take my time, but he made me hurry when he held the door open for me, the jerk.
“Hey, you finally made it,” he chuckled. “She keeps her door unlocked in case we need her help, but we have to try and keep it quiet, okay?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, yeah, lets just make this quick.”
We quietly made our way inside, and my eyes were greeted with an overwhelming amount of green. There were no curtains, so the sun shined brightly through the windows and illuminated all the life in the room. There were dozens of plants surrounding us from all sides, each with a name tag stickered over their respective pots. Every table had a skinny vase in the center with a different colored flower, while the teacher had an entire rainbow bouquet at her desk in the corner. Compared to my gray asylum of a classroom, this place looked like a garden. I’m surprised I wasn’t stepping on grass!
Behind the teacher’s desk was a young, female cheetah. She wore a big straw hat, and round, pink rim glasses. Her brown braid hung over her shoulder, and she wore a simple white dress with a floral pattern near the edges. I didn’t think her outfit would look good on most people, but she rocked it pretty well. In fact, I thought she looked rather pretty. I think she realized someone came into the room, but she just continued grading her students' homework for a moment. It looked like she actually read through each answer before marking them with her pink highlighter.
“Ms. Shirley. Ms. Shirleyyyy.”
The boy raised his arms up high and made grabby hand motions to get the teacher’s attention. He spoke with a hushed tone, but he could still be heard from across the room. We were walking towards her direction anyway, but I guess the excitement was too much for him. As the teacher looked up, I decided to hide my face and walk towards the front of the classroom while the flower boy went to talk with her. We were the only ones in here, but I still needed her to know that I wasn’t associated with this kid.
“Oh hi, Ethan! What can I help you kids with?”
I just let the boy do the talking while I further examined this greenhouse of a room. Does the school even allow a teacher to put this much color in a single space? Aside from the desks and chairs, the only things that resembled a classroom under all this vegetation were the two large rectangles on the front wall of the class.
The whiteboard filled up most of the wall space. The bottom edge of the board was covered with all kinds of colorful marker doodles, each one unique in style and quality. I’m surprised Ms. Shirley hasn’t erased them yet. Not even the bad ones! On the top right corner hung a large calendar with a picture of puppies playing in a meadow. Most of the days were filled in with various events, like "TV time" every Friday. It looks like she even keeps track of her students’ birthdays.
Next to the board was a large piece of black poster paper, titled “Good Points,’ with a column of names written down in alphabetical order. Next to each name was a row of gold star stickers, presumably to indicate how “good” each student’s behavior was in class. We have a similar system in my class, but The Hag writes our names on wooden clothespins and clips them on color-coded faceplates. She always keeps my pin on the angry face, even at the start of the week when everyone is supposed to start over on the happy face. Just goes to show how rigged the system is.
Out of curiosity, I searched the graph and found the one with the most stars in the entire class. They had more than triple the amount of stickers than the rest of the other students combined. It was like something out of a cartoon! It truly amazed me… just how much of a chump a single student can be. I bet they’re nothing more than a teacher’s pet. Just a glorified errand boy with a heightened sense of self importance. There’s no way this “Ethan” could be better than me in a billion years! Ethan even sounds like a dumb child’s name. It’s fitting, and… kinda familiar. Ethan… Ethan…
“Oh yeah, I still have that book with me. Here, you can borrow it whenever you like. I trust you’ll take good care of it, Ethan.”
I nearly choked on my own saliva. I quickly turned towards the boy and his teacher just as she was passing over a very large encyclopedia of flowers. This kid is Ethan!?
“Thank you so much, Ms. Shirley! And how’s your mother doing?”
Before their conversation could get any more personal, I quickly interjected and steered their focus back to the matter at hand. Of all the students in this school, I couldn’t believe I was being challenged by a teacher’s pet. I knew I had to take this a little more seriously if I wanted to make this kid feel sorry for trying to outsmart someone of my caliber, so I made sure there wasn’t any more time wasting.
“Nice to meet you, Ms. Shirley! My name’s Alex.” I gracefully extend my hand with all the elegance of a fellow young lady. “First and foremost, I’m sure you might’ve heard of me from the other teachers, and I just wanted to let you know that any negative stories about me are mostly untrue. I never throw the first punch, I never steal, and the incident with the bomb threat was only a joke, I have no idea how it escalated that quickly. Now, with that out of the way-”
“We’re trying to figure out what flower this is!” Ethan piped up, holding the little white flower up with his other hand. “Is it a primrose, or a daffodil?”
Ms. Shirley took a quick glance at the flower. “That looks like a primrose, sweetie. Daffodils have a cup in the middle.”
I didn't remember asking the teacher for her opinion, so I just snatched the book from Ethan and marched towards the door. “If it’s okay with you, miss, I’m gonna check this book out. I’ll return it soon!” After Ethan waved at his teacher and followed my lead, we made our way out of the room and took the back door to get out of the building. We stepped out of that air-conditioned hallway and were once again met by that warm, beating sun as we stood on those stone steps.
Behind the building, away from the other students and teachers, Ethan and I sat down on a lone, round table under the shade of a tree. I dropped the encyclopedia right in the center, letting the heavy, hardcover book slam down right before our eyes. Ethan stepped forward and climbed on the c-shaped bench, resting on his knees rather than his butt.
“It’s alright, I know exactly where to find it. I finished reading the entire book just last week!” The boy lifted up a stack of pages and smoothly flipped through them, allowing me to get a passing glance at the contents of each page. I thought this book looked boring on the outside, but each page was filled with a flurry of colors as we surfed through a sea of information about many kinds of flora. Did this kid really read this entire book on his own? Looking at his face, I noticed he was focusing, his eyes quickly analyzing the key words on each page as they opened for a moment. He slipped a digit inside the book as he flipped through, bookmarking a page with his finger before suddenly stopping at the “Primrose” section. He brought more fingers in, and flipped a large stack of pages back to where the “Daffodils” were.
“There we go! Now we can compare the two side-by-side, heheh.”
I quickly snatched the book from him, making sure not to lose where we were. I had to prove him wrong by any means necessary, so I began reading the encyclopedia. Well, more like I was skimming through it, but I wasn’t gonna correct anyone if they assumed otherwise. “Frilled-edge petals… hairy stems… tongue-like leaves...” But as we continued reading, I began to realize the huge mistake I made. A smile was slowly forming on the boy’s face. There was no fooling him. We both knew that I wasn’t right. That I was...
Instead of finishing, I closed the book and pushed it back on the table. “Yeah, well, it doesn’t matter!” I quickly cleared my throat and decided to keep it down this time. “It’s not like this means anything. Do you think you’re smarter than me or something?”
I crossed my arms and sat down on the bench, trying not to think about it. I really did try, but I felt a strange sensation in the pit of my stomach as my face filled with heat. I was breathing kinda heavy through my nose, and my eyebrows started to furrow on their own. I was feeling frustrated, but I didn't know why. I mean, it’s okay to be wrong sometimes, right? Not that I’m ever wrong, but…
Suddenly, my head started feeling really itchy. I started scratching the top of my scalp, but it didn’t feel like it was helping. I scratched faster with both hands, letting myself stare at the ground between my shoes while trying to get rid of this infernal itch. I knew I shouldn’t have let that get to me, but something about the entire situation seemed… fishy. Why did it all feel so wrong? What was going on?
But then, it came to me. No way... don’t tell me... did The Hag put Ethan up to this? Was his flower just a tool for tricking me? Was this all a ploy to make me feel like an idiot!? The more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense. There’s no way some random kid was just going to approach me out of the blue and treat me nicely for no reason. Nobody’s nice. Not my parents, not the teachers, and not even the students. There isn’t a single person in the world who likes me. Everyone’s against me. Everyone… hates me. As soon as I came to that realization, I felt my world spiraling out of control. My hands were trying to keep my head in place, but I was still feeling dizzy as my vision started to escape me. For a moment, I was in a very dark place, all by myself. I couldn’t believe I fell for such an obvious trap. I felt like such an idiot…
But then, I felt the warmth of a hand as it softly rubbed on my back, and a small voice calling for me to cheer up. It was the flower boy, Ethan. I looked up to meet his gaze, and he looked back at me with a soft expression, the edges of his smile accentuating his cheeks.
“Hey, don’t worry about it. I know it feels bad to make a mistake, but everyone makes mistakes sometimes. What’s important is that we learn from them and become wiser people. The truth is, I didn’t really know if it was a primrose after you called it a daffodil with so much confidence, but I wanted us to be completely sure. And now that we both know the answer, then that makes us both wiser. So really, we’re both winners!”
I simply stared at him, hanging on to every word as he tried cheering me up. As he finished his sentence, he opened both his arms up wide with a grin, as if what he said was the greatest truth in the world. I was left in total disbelief. Despite proving me wrong, he’s not rubbing it in my face or anything. He’d rather share in the glory than to put himself above everyone else. It was inspiring, but more important than that, it triggered a great revelation for me. This kid possessed a great deal of charisma, especially when he smiled with those funky looking teeth. It was hard not to listen to what he was saying. It felt good.
At that moment, I began to realize how much I was overthinking this entire ordeal. As rotten as she was, there was no way the Hag had anything to do with this. I felt so silly for thinking that. I realize now… that it was all HIS doing! Ethan was responsible for everything right from the start, and I didn’t suspect it for a second! Somehow, he knew I didn’t know anything about plants, so he confronted me with a flower to trap me! He took me to his class so he could show off his superiority with his gold stars! And after making me feel like an idiot, he cheered me up so I’d continue letting my guard down around him! I thought he was just trying to outsmart me, but he was making a fool out of me from the very beginning. And I think I knew what his motive was.
Ethan is undoubtedly the smartest kid in his class. Probably even the most popular and well-liked by his peers. I bet my entire life savings that Ethan is bored of being at the top of his class and started aiming higher. I bet he’s going to use his natural charm and book smarts to climb his way up to the top of his grade. Then, the top of the school. And then, he’s going to take Mr. Laurence’s job as the new principal and take control of everything! All before me! Truly, this kid was a diabolical mastermind.
As much as I respected this kid’s ambition, I couldn’t let him get away with what he did. Not only did I need to prove that I was a rival to his plan, I also needed to get back at him for making me feel like a dunce… and I think I knew exactly how to do it. As I sat there on the bench next to Ethan, I slowly began to straighten up, a new feeling of determination raging inside me. I hopped off and turned towards the boy, my fists pushing against my hips. Ethan’s hands were slowly lowering to his sides, his head tilting a bit as he raised an eyebrow in genuine confusion. I was staring at him with a blank expression for a moment, but then I gave him a broad smile, my white teeth contrasting against my black fur. “You know what? You’re right! Now we both have our answer, but you still knew it before me. You’re really smart!”
This time, he had both eyebrows raised, though he quickly reached up to grab the front of his hat and lowered it over his eyes as he put his head down. I couldn’t see what expression he was making, but judging by the way his tail was wagging uncontrollably, I’m guessing he liked the compliment. “Oh, thank you. But it’s not like it was a competition or anything.”
Yeah, sure it wasn’t. As badly as I wanted to call out his act, I knew it wouldn’t mean anything without any witnesses around. And besides, two could play at this game. I extended an open hand, smiling for longer than I ever have before. “If it’s okay, I’d like to be friends. Maybe we could hang out sometime.”
When he noticed my hand, his expression lit up as he immediately took it with both of his. His hat sat lopsided on his head, but he didn’t seem to mind. “I’d love to be friends! We’re not in the same class together, but we could still play during recess! You could meet some of my other friends too! There’s Liam, and Terry, and Charlie, and Freddy, and-”
I let him ramble on as my plan began to slowly form in the subconscious of my mind. This kid might have everyone else fooled, but I knew what he was plotting. I bet he thinks he’s so smart and superior to everyone else, but he has no idea what’s coming. It might take a week, a month, maybe even a whole year. But eventually, I’m going to prove to him and everyone else that there’s only room for one smartest kid in school.
“- Rosie, Philip, and Marco! By the way, what’s your name?”