Cherry-Red Sweater

It’s always the question you don’t know the answer to that the teacher calls on you to answer. You were absent the day they studied that topic. You ask her to repeat the question; you know exactly what she asked. You’re just stalling for time. Beside you, Kimber is bobbing up and down with her hand in the air like her chair has some sort of spring on it. You stare glumly at the cherry-red of Bree’s sweater in front of you, twisting a brown strand of hair around your forefinger. The teacher repeats the question, adding that this is going to be on the test next week.

You sit up straight, remembering your guidance counselor saying that if you failed your next test you would have to go to summer school. Summer school would mean missing the painting camp you and Victoria were going to be CITs at. You had been planning for years – staying in the CIT bunks! Getting to bring candy! Being in charge! You couldn’t miss CIT year. No way you were missing that.

But you don’t know the answer – while they were studying this, you were at home with strep, re-reading The Hunger Games for the thirteenth time. Is that your fault? The teacher repeats the question for the third time. You bite your lip. “Um, I don’t know… ” You cross your fingers and jiggle your knee, hoping that she’ll explain it. She doesn’t, but rather tsk-tsks at you and asks Kimber to explain. Teacher’s pet, you think, slumping down in your seat, your cheeks the color of the cherry-red sweater. Bree smirks at you. You stare, embarrassed, at her sweater. Cherry-red. The teacher tells you to pay attention because you don’t know this. The class snickers, and you bite your lip again, trying not to cry. Eighth-graders don’t cry. After all, you’re thirteen and a teenager now. But you’re still a ‘kid,’ everyone says. The teenager is Bree, with her cherry-red sweater, her brown curls, cherry-red lip gloss, patent-leather purse, skinny jeans, cherry-red flats, blush, eyeshadow, mascara, and a ninth-grader boyfriend. You’re still wearing that too-small sweater vest and no makeup, tall yet childish. You wish you had that cherry-red sweater. You would look so much more grown-up in it.

That afternoon, your counselor suggests you start tutoring with a tenth-grader. Your new tutor is named Brunhilde O’Byrne. You notice that both Brunhilde and the counselor are wearing cherry-red sweaters. You end up passing your test, and your parents take you out for dinner. You don’t eat your dessert: cherry pie, red guts spilling all over the plate.

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