*Over the course of writing Justice in a Bottle, there were many edits and cuts and rewrites. From time to time I’ll post bonus chapters that never made the final cut (all mistakes are my own, these have never been through edits). Here, Nita is determined to take on her nemesis, school mean girl, Alexis Evans. We’ll call this one, Expectations.
So I tried to take Mrs. Womack’s stupid suggestion. With deep, yoga-like breaths I summoned the strength to be kind to Alexis Evans. And no, I shouldn’t call something like kindness a stupid suggestion, but with Alexis, kindness tended to shrink up like bacon in a hot skillet.
Muscles squeezed bones when she came waltzing in like a princess just as the bell rang. Because I knew for a fact that she waited until the last second just so that she could soak up everyone’s attention. She tossed her eyes to me as she strode past. And Gandhi himself would have been proud how I calmed such a burning desire to snarl and said, “Hey Alexis.”
She just about tripped and fell on her pretty little face. And wouldn’t that have been something, actually killing the poor girl with kindness. But she recovered, keeping her little smirk in place. After some rapid blinking she nodded back to me and then slid into her chair.
Mrs. Womack stood. “Okay guys. Today we’re going to talk about expectations. All of us have expectations in this world, in our day to day lives. What is something you expect?”
Danny Pennox waved his hand in the air. “Lunch.”
He got a few laughs but his joke was dumb. Still, I didn’t roll my eyes, not because I was being nice but because the question was something that had been on my mind lately. How if I really wanted the world to be better, like people not starving or fighting or killing, it had to start small. Like me not making a face when Alexis raised her hand and said, “Decent parking at the outlet stores. We had to walk like a mile last weekend.”
She looked around the class, beckoning the others to nod their heads in agreement. Of course they did. Personally I was showing some world class self-control, because a comment like that was just tugging at my eyes to roll. I clenched my pen and got through it. That was just Alexis and her expectations, after all, and I couldn’t fault her for that.
Mrs. Womack asked Nikki Temple, then Chris Jennings. I realized she was making her way towards me and I felt the sweat pooling under my arms.
“Nita? What’s an expectation of yours?”
Most of the answers had been funny. Less homework, video games, free music. I looked up, at Mrs. Womack’s pretty brown eyes and said, “Fairness.”
She tilted her head. “Oh, okay, could you elaborate?”
Like I said, I guess everything I’d been doing the past few weeks had been preparation for what I said next. But it wasn’t like I’d rehearsed it. Actually, if I’d thought it out more I never would have said it.
“Well, people always say that life’s not fair. But why? Why can’t it be fair? And why is it we accept what we are told without question? We’re born equal, at least, according to the Declaration of Independence, but then we experience things that make us feel less equal than others. So then we expect less from ourselves. Which is not fair at all. And without equality, or the expectation of equality, how can we expect a fair shot at success?”
Mrs. Womack nodded and I plunged ahead. “That’s why I think there’s so much trouble in the world, people are struggling for equality. Dictators and leaders sometimes treat people like they’re inferior, kind of like the Nazi’s and the Jews. Or slavery, even, but if we treat everyone as equals, and expect fairness, well, I just think it would be a way to start.”
I could have kept going, as Mr. Melvin and I had discussed this very thing the other night, but then I realized that the entire class was staring at me like I had tentacles coming out of my ears. Even Mrs. Womack looked a little shocked, and I figured she’d just about seen it all.
“Nita, what a thoughtful response,” Mrs. Womack said, resuming her stroll around the class. She air-tapped a finger my way. “Class, that’s what I’m looking for, let’s think about ways to make the world better. Great job, Nita.”
She even started clapping, and some of the class did too. I closed my eyes and wiped my forehead, but like a balloon hitting one of those frosted ceilings, I heard the voice that was a sharp point to my ear drums. Alexis cleared her throat and tried to save face.
“I also think that if we picked up our trash, the world would be a much neater place.”
“Very thoughtful, Alexis, cleaning up after ourselves is a very real expectation.”
After class I gathered my stuff, still feeling the eyes on me after my big speech, which I didn’t mean to give—it just sort of happened. And apparently I wasn’t done surprising people. On the way out, Alicia brushed by me, her hair smelling like melons, and the following actually came out of my mouth:
“Um, Alexis, I liked your response.”
She kind of flinched, like I might haul off and smack her at any moment. Not that I’m a fighter, I guess she was just still a little defensive after I told her to shut it. So I added, “Oh, and I’m sorry about the other day, I was just in a bad mood, it was nothing personal,” I lied. It was totally personal.
“Oh, uh, thanks,” she said, tightening her grip on her pink L.L. Bean back pack, complete with her embroidered initials. I thought about what Mrs. Womack had said, about kindness. About peace.
Easier said than done.
Justice in a Bottle by Pete Fanning Available 3-3-2020