"A 'C+'?" I look from my report on my desk back to my teacher in astonishment. I had spent hours everyday editing, crossing out, ripping apart, piecing together that essay and all I had earned was a 'C?' I detest history. It seems like no matter how much time and effort I put into it, no matter how many stressful and long nights I study I never get the grade I deserve. Anything lower than an 'A' will not satisfy me. My brothers, John and Andy, never received a 'B' in their lives. Mom and Dad eventually stopped bothering to look at the report cards they brought home because they knew the pattern of one variable: "A, A, A, A, A,..."
John and Andy always had never-ending lines of comments like, "John is so much fun to have in class," "Andy is always aspiring for self-improvement," "John really encourages other students to be interested in AP chemistry," "Andy challenges himself to reach new limits." And me? My reports are never missed by my parents. I can always see the disappointment in their expressions, the lines of worry as they crinkle up their faces and sigh as they fold the report back up and set it on the counter as a reminder to talk to me about it later. "Jane's effort is noted."
Mr. Robinson glances at me from behind his desk. "Jane, I can tell you put a lot of effort into the assignment, but you still weren't quite there."
"But I'm pretty sure I deserve more than just a 'C'."
"I gave you the grade that you earned."
It's pointless to argue or plead. I briefly consider laying on the ground sobbing and begging, but that wouldn't accomplish anything except diminishing my dignity. I bite my lip, searching for any way to get out of telling my parents about the continuation of my never-good-enough grades and toss my backpack over my shoulder as I head out the door. And then I remember: John and Andy are coming home from college tomorrow for Christmas break. Great.
I let myself in and leave the essay on the counter. Someone will notice it eventually. In the backroom, Mom is obsessing over dust in between the DVD player and the TV stand. Dad is probably locked in his office fumbling over tape, pretty paper, and boxes. The roar of the vacuum dies and a door clicks open. "Jane?"
"Yeah, Mom?" I reach for the cabinet where the dinnerware is kept thinking a cold bowl of milk and cereal would maybe help numb the dissapointed look I would no doubt receive from my mother in a few seconds.
Mom stomps down the hallway in a cleaning craze: scrubbing the floor there, wiping the wall there, dusting a corner here as she makes her way to the kitchen. "Can you take care of the bathroom for me?" She looks tired. Her eyes are bloodshot, her hair is strung out in every direction and she didn't bother with makeup.
She smiles. "Thank you. What's this?" Her eyes fall on my essay.
I sigh. "My history report. I got a 'C.' "
"Oh," Mom picks it up and quickly flips through it. Here eyes scan a paragraph or two and she points at one with her index finger. "You probably should have more supporting evidence here."
"I know." I grab my bowl and backpack and head to my room, I don't feel like listening to how pathetic I am right now. Falling on my bed, I slip into sleep, grateful that tomorrow is Saturday. But I dread my brothers' return.
Ding Dong! I set my paints down and stare at the paper in front of me. Orange, yellow, and red paint is splattered all over it. There's some kind of whirl-wind looking design in the bottom left corner and sprinkles of pink over the top right. I smile. If I'm not good at schoolwork, then at least I can have peace knowing that I'm fairly decent with acrylic paints and a brush. I whip my apron off, tear the hair-tie out of my hair, and dash to the bathroom. As I run through the hall I can hear the laughter and welcome coming from the living room. John and Andy are home. I scrub my hands so hard I almost worry that more skin is coming off than paint.
Now I'm ready to see my brothers. Walking through the hall as if I could care less about their arrival, I coolly take a seat on the armrest of Dad's chair and wait to be noticed. Andy shouts and smiles as he sees me. "Jane! Look at you!" He rushes over and grabs me in a tight bear-hug. I can't breathe. John is next. "There's our little Plain Jane!" I used to hate when they called me that. It was just another reminder of how I'd never be more than just average, never be extraordinary like them. I still hate it.
"Hey guys," I say casually, like I see them all the time. The last time was Thanksgiving, which wasn't that long ago. John puts his arm around me and leads everyone to the family room where we all take a seat. It's too loud, I liked it better with just three people in the house. It was almost silent then.
"So how have your classes been?" Dad asks the boys.
"Oh, well I took this one class that's kind of out of my major, Math 238, which is all about the elements of differential equations but it was nothing. I ended with an A in the class." I mentally face-palm myself.
"Jane," John looks at me. "Don't be so quiet. How's school for you?"
"What's for your favorite class?"
"I thought you hated science."
"I do, but it's 6th period, so I get to go home straight after."
Silence hangs like fog in the room. How dare I dislike school?
The dinner table is deafening with ten different voices echoing off the walls. I reach for a bread roll and take a bite, chewing as slowly as possible in order to avoid having to talk. Grandma and Grandpa came an hour after John and Andy arrived, followed by my aunt, uncle, cousin, and another uncle. It's too loud, and all I want to do is bury my face in my bed to hide all the shame among all the success sitting around my dining room table. Grandpa worked for NASA. Grandma got her Ph.D in medicine. Aunt Helen runs three family businesses with my Uncle Greg and their daughter attends one of the most prestigious schools in the country, like my brothers. And my Uncle Jerry is a college professor at the school my parents met at. And here I am, the family outcast, the one that, when I leave, they'll never mention to anyone else to prevent shedding disgrace on the family name.
"Dad," Andy captures everyone's attention. "I need to tell you. I took way more classes than I was required to this year, so I actually have enough credits to receive my BA now. What do you think?" Dad's smile grows even wider, and the spark in his eyes ignite the fire in mine.
"Stop it!" I scream. Ten heads turn my way. Andy's eyebrow raises in question. "I've had enough." I stand and my chair screeches, scratching the wooden floorboards. "All I ever do is try and try to match everyone else's success and no matter how hard I try, all I ever get is disappointment. Do you even realize how hard I try to satisfy you two?" My parents stares are pure shock, as if they were totally oblivious to how I felt. "And John and Andy, do you enjoy creating expectations that I'm supposed to meet when it's clearly not possible for me? I've had enough!" Tears are pouring down my face; my mascara leaves trails of pure black down my cheeks and off my chin. I trip on my Uncle's chair on my way to the doorway and stumble out, sobbing into my sleeve. I slam the door to my bedroom shut.
Someone softly raps on my door. "Jane?"
"I don't want to talk to anybody." I'm still gasping for breath, fighting back the salt water stinging my eyes.
The door squeaks quietly as John enters, followed by Andy. "I think the three of us need to talk."
"No we don't, please just leave me alone."
"Jane, if you don't want to talk then at least sit up and listen to what we have to say."
I exhale angrily, staying where I am. I can see they're not going to leave, so I pull myself up, cross my legs, and lean my head against the wall. "K."
"We didn't realize... what we were doing to you. I never realized how much I bragged about how well I do in school."
John chimes in. "Me neither. We never meant to make you feel like a disappointment."
"You don't need to, I know I am." More tears gush out but I quickly wipe them away.
"No Jane," Andy says, "You're not. John and I," he laughs a little, "we're nerds. We can tell you the square root of whatever in a split second but you know what we can't do? Anything but that. We get 'A's in everything academic like math, science, history, and english. But that's all we've ever been able to do. And look at you. You play guitar, paint, write outstanding poetry and music, and you've got an amazing voice. You create, all we do is parrot back everything the teacher's want to put into our heads. To tell you the truth, we've always been jealous of you."
"Jane, you need to realize that even though our parents put a lot of pressure on the three of us over school, you are not a disappointment." John has water in his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Jane..."
"Please stop..." My voice is soft, and I feel even worse for making my brother's hurt. John and Andy sit on either side of me and hug me. "I love you guys so much."
"We love you too little sis."
Little sis. Much better than Plain Jane. "Merry Christmas, you guys."
Did you know that Lea has shattered her big toe before?!