Updated: Aug 12, 2019
Julia Champion had always been my most hated person. Even her name got on my nerves. Her voice was even worse. It was nasally, full of what my speech teacher called vocal fry. And, of course, she loved to talk. It wouldn’t have been as bad if we didn’t have so many classes together. We even competed for the leading roles in the drama club. On paper, it seemed as if we were always head-to-head, competing in every class, but honestly, I didn’t try. I was just good at school. Julia always thought I was cheating and would call me out in front of class whenever I got a better grade than she did. I didn’t even care about grades, but she made me want to beat her. There was nothing I hated more than the smug look on her face when she managed to get a higher grade than I did. If I’d had a choice about who I could never see again, I would’ve picked her without hesitation. But fate is cruel like that. Little did I know, her voice would be the only one I could hear for… well, maybe forever.
I wasn’t having a good day that Monday. I’d just started that time of the month, I couldn’t find my math homework anywhere that morning, and, because of that, I was running late and couldn’t make my regular cup of coffee to take to school with me. My mom had been yelling at my dad as I ran out of the house, which didn’t help lighten my mood. On the way to school, I’d run a red light while trying to switch the radio station—all of the ones I listened to were simultaneously having their commercials— and I cursed to myself when a white truck honked at me, narrowly missing the back of my car. I won’t even mention that I couldn’t find a parking space close to the school building and that it started raining as I pulled into the farthest parking spot. For some reason, as I trudged toward my first class, not even bothering to run in the rain, all I could think about was Heather’s reaction when she found out that I hadn’t turned in my math homework. I really had no clue where I’d put it. I wasn’t ready to see her acne-scarred face and blonde braid grinning at me this early in the morning. My head pounded, and I wished I would have at least grabbed a granola bar before leaving home.
“Julia!” I turned and saw my drama teacher, Mrs. Gutenheim, waving at me with an almost childishly ecstatic smile on her face. “Can you come here for a minute? You’ve got to see this!”
I sighed internally, not ready to be that close to Mrs. Gutenheim’s enthusiasm this early in the day. She was one of my favorite teachers and a mentor of sorts to me, but I couldn’t handle her chirpiness when she was this way— and when I was this way.
Mrs. Gutenheim led the way to the drama department, where, after she flung open the door, I saw Molly Steele pinning a costume on a mannequin, working overtime to get everything done by the show in three weeks. Mrs. G. waltzed over to the mannequin and gestured toward it with a flourish. “What do you think?”
I walked closer, realizing that Molly was working on my costume. It was a silky blue off-the-shoulder dress. In the play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I was Helena, and Heather played Hermia. I personally thought she’d be better in Bottom’s character. “It’s pretty,” I said, running my hand over the silk.
“Worked on it all weekend,” Molly mumbled, pins in her mouth.
“Don’t know how you do it, Moll,” I said. She was one of the most hardworking people I’d met at our school. “Thanks for giving me a sneak peak, Mrs. Gutenheim, but I have to get to class.”
She nodded and walked me to the door. “Are you doing okay, Julia? You don’t seem your normal cheerful self.”
I leaned against the doorframe. “I’m just tired. You know, practices and everything.”
Mrs. Gutenheim nodded. “I’m sorry I’ve been putting so much pressure on you lately. We’re getting close to show time, and you see how much work still has to be done. And unfortunately, our Hermia is going to be out a few days this week again.”
“Heather’s not going to be here again? She’s already missed all of last week,” I said, folding my arms. I should’ve gotten that role; she had my favorite part in the play, and now Heather was going to ruin everything.
“Yes, she’s having family issues. She said she’d be back next week.”
I gasped. “Next week? We only have three more weeks until the play. If she misses this much, that’ll put us all behind.”
Mrs. Gutenheim shrugged with an apologetic smile. “There’s not much we can do about it. It’s too late for us to find another Hermia.”
I could be Hermia, I thought, but I knew that she’d argue that then there’d be nobody to play Helena. I walked away more than upset. Not only had she taken my part, she was also going to ruin it. And she was about to see me fail my first math homework. I hurried down the hall, my shoes squeaking on the floor. It was empty, since the bell had rung minutes ago, and I quickened my pace. I hoped Mr. Young wouldn’t give me a hard time for being late.
I sat in math class, chewing on my pencil. I couldn’t hear a word Mr. Young was saying. My thoughts kept drifting back to my grandpa, and I couldn’t wait for school to be over, so I could go home to see him. I wouldn’t have many more days with him, and I hated every grueling minute I couldn’t be there. School was such a waste.
My phone buzzed, and even though Mr. Young would’ve made sure I never saw it again if he caught me, I pulled it out inside of my bag, and my eyes ran over the text. Aunt Joann had just arrived to say goodbye. I dropped my phone back in my bag and covered my face with my hands. My greatest fear was that Grandpa would pass without my being there. I would never forgive myself if I didn’t say goodbye.
Something bounced off my shoulder, and I turned around slightly. Jason gestured with his pencil at the wadded piece of paper on the ground beside my desk. I picked it up. You okay?
I didn’t answer. He annoyed me enough on the good days. He was one of Julia’s friends, and I was sure he was just trying to find my weaknesses to help Julia ruin me.
Mr. Young droned on, and it felt like the class would never end. I felt my phone buzz against my leg again, and I didn’t even try to be sneaky this time. It was from my mom. He’s getting worse.
My stomach hurt. I needed to get out of here. I stood, moving quickly to the door. I pulled it open, and walked straight into Julia Champion. Our heads knocked together, and for second, there was a weird whistling in my ears. Then everything was very silent, except Julia’s loud, nasally voice.
When our heads hit, the rage against Heather boiled out of me. “OW! What are you doing? Watch it!”
“Could you move over? You’re blocking the door.”
“You ditching class like you’re ditching the play too? Or are you too good for school?”
She stepped back, rubbing her head. “At least I’m not twenty minutes late to class.”
“For your information, I had a good reason. And please, you’re one to talk when you don’t show up for half the practices. In case you didn’t notice, the play is important to some of us.”
“I don’t have time for this.” Heather tried to walk past me, but I blocked her.
“Oh, I’m not done yet.”
Just then, Mr. Young was there, clearly yelling at us to stop. But I couldn’t hear anything coming out of his mouth. Nothing at all. For a second, we stared at him and then exchanged looks. “Can you hear him?”
I shook my head. We looked at him, his mouth still moving, as he herded us out. We walked out, still extremely confused.
“Did he go mute?” I asked Heather, following Mr. Young, who kept talking without a sound.
“I need to go home,” Heather said.
“Could you just focus for once?” My voice rose again. “I’m probably going to get detention because of you—“
We reached the principal’s office, and Mr. Young waved us to some chairs, then went into the other room. I stopped to breathe and realized that everything was silent. All I could hear was my and Heather’s panting. I looked up and saw the clock ticking on the wall. The secretary on her computer, typing, while occasionally glancing up at us with her glasses on the tip of her nose. Another kid sat on the other side of the room, fiddling with a keychain on his backpack. I looked back at Heather. She stared straight ahead, and I thought I saw tears in her eyes. She couldn’t be that upset about getting in trouble. Even I wasn’t that worried.
I jumped when Mr. Young appeared out of nowhere and touched my shoulder. Heather looked surprised too. Since when was he so quiet? His lips moved again, but no sound came out. I knew he was telling us to go into the principal’s office. We stood and walked in. Maybe the principal could tell us why Mr. Young had gone suddenly mute.
Sitting in front of the principal, Julia and I were even more confused. His lips moved, just like Mr. Young’s, but we heard nothing.
“Am I deaf?” I asked aloud, putting my fingers in my ears.
“I can definitely hear you,” Julia said. “But why can’t I hear them?”
Both Mr. Young and the principal were getting aggravated. Their faces darkened, and I knew they thought we were pretending. Julia started to panic. “I really can’t hear you, sir! Can you speak a little louder?”
He stood, and I could tell he was talking loudly, but I still heard nothing. “What is wrong with me?” I buried my face in my hands.
Julia stood up, yelling, “I don’t hear you! Don’t you get it? I don’t know if you’re trying to mess with me, or if I went deaf, or if I’m just going crazy, but I—can’t—hear—you.” Her whole body shook, and her eyes were bright, shining with tears.
“Sit down.” I pulled her down beside me. “You’re just making it worse.”
“Why can I hear you?” she whispered. “Why can I hear you and not them?”
Read part 2 here.