They called her perfect. More beautiful than Virgil's Georgics more profound than Socrates; she was more articulate than Cicero more brilliant than a thousand suns. They all loved her.
And I couldn't stand her.
She was too perfect. Too well-dressed too pristine too demure. Yet she was too lively too affectionate too delightfully sophisticated.
It sickened me, every time I saw her traipsing down the locker-lined hall, followed closely by all her romantic hopefuls and ladies-in-waiting. The hopefuls were the hapless Neanderthals from the football team; the ladies, lined up in their ranks, were lying in wait for Adèle to choose one of the jocks so that the rest of them might have their turn.
I used to be one of those parasites, longing to be queen of the hive, center of the teenage universe, to be worshiped by all and to have the ground I tread kissed upon.
The thing about Adèle is hard to name. All I know is that there is only room for one monarch among one's peers.
They didn't call me anything, not then. It shouldn't have bothered me, really. Did I want to be labeled, like the cornerstone of an ancient Roman temple, with whatever title I would receive never to be erased? Labels remain, once stamped, in a hell-hole.
In a way, perhaps labels help. Labels are signs that hoi polloi notices you.
I think I would be a good leader. Not quite a Caesar, not a Hitler, by any means…maybe a Churchill, finally able to jockey into position, just in the nick of time. Would they have me?—If they didn't have a name for me?
But what have I to lose, without one of those labels? So running for election this year could not hurt me. I would only gain.
So much for Pollyanna's philosophy. Adèle's adorers implored her to run the great race—to compete with me.
Placing myself in the limelight, I acquired a name; Unworthy, they called me. Like a maiden sacrificed on a Mayan altar. Depraved, a piece of filth. Only, I wouldn't have chosen that name for myself.
The race flared like a bonfire. Sparks hit innocent bystanders with the force of hand grenades. "Mark Bennett seen talking to Adèle's opponent Crystal Winters!" the headline of the school Chronicle proclaimed. "High treachery to the royal court!" may as well have followed.
Mark Bennett. Poor, middle-class Mark Bennett. Someone who was college-cool in secondary school, which, by definition, made him a loser. My lab partner, Mark Bennett. Victimized for talking to me out of sheer necessity—that was his sacrilege.
There was a certain sense of fellowship that followed. It seemed so, anyway. Uniting against our now common adversary—that was Mark Bennett's wish. Who was I to deny him?
All the rumors and mudslinging would not have wounded me, if not for the obscene cave-paintings on the walls of the restroom cubicles. The drawings were offensive in the deepest sense, so much so I couldn't go about my business in there without keeping my eyes shut.
Until I heard a pair of expensive heels clack suddenly against the tiled floor; the pace followed no recognizable pattern, only fast and hard and uneven. The door of the next stall over slammed shut behind whomever it was, and the next sound rang in my ears.
Retching. Unadulterated, pure heaving, though not at all dry. I saw nothing, yet imagined everything. The odor permeated the room, forcing me to plug my nose. I had to get out, before I, too, worshiped my own porcelain throne.
I flushed, I ran for the sinks, I washed—and then something from the corner caught my attention. A carelessly-thrown Prada tote, lying on the less than sterile floor. The only shoulder I had ever seen bear such a bag belonged to Adèle.
Milton's sort of Satan inside of me smeared a scary grin across my countenance—I knew that much, looking into my own eyes in the mirror. He took delight in the failings of this nemesis of mine, so shouldn't I?
Maybe Adèle was beautiful, maybe she was eloquent, maybe even insightful, as they all claimed. But now I knew at least she wasn't perfect.
The natural conclusion must have been true. In her efforts to please the impatient Neanderthals, she had granted one of them—if not more—the chance of his lifetime. And the epitome of all flawlessness had made the most hideous mistake possible—skipped a pill, most likely. Who thinks of being careful when she has it all?
It was as if I had won the Golden Fleece, not having to sail the Argo, nor having to brave the hostile isle Colchis. Finally, this was something I could use to my advantage.
The noble part of me, deep down inside, prodded my gut. Not worth it…you know nothing…do what is right…win fair, win square.
Right, fair, square. Not a chance in hell winning would happen if everything were done fairly. The only course of action was the one God had mercifully presented to me. Whether or not He would mind me using it was something I would try not to consider.
Trying was not quite the same as doing. Maybe as yet it is unclear, but Jiminy Cricket does whisper in my ear from time to time.
The day of assembly came—the grand, contrived tradition. Still only I knew. Mark Bennett tried his hand at a pep talk. He faltered off. Lamely. He took my hand.
"Even if this doesn't end how we want it to, maybe we can hang out sometime?"
I think I blinked. Out of utter surprise. And confusion. Mark Bennett told me to think about what he had said. Then he shoved a typed speech into my clammy hands and left me on the stage.
Adèle's podium and mine were separated by another, reminding me of the first triumvirate; that of the principal's stood between us, coupled with a wall of tension. She couldn't feel the tension as keenly, for she did not know what I had witnessed in that bathroom.
Principal Smith said his words, few as they were, and posed the question of why the students should choose us. Adèle began, focusing on the improvements she would make, if elected. Better parking systems for upperclassmen, locker renovations, lifting restrictions on texting in class… My forehead dampened as she went on.
What had I to offer the students? Nothing, not a single thing. I glanced down at Mark Bennett's speech. The words swam together.
The principal turned to me then, "Miss Winters, why should the student body vote for you over Adèle this term?"
I jolted, as the world stopped beneath my feet and everyone in the auditorium stared my way with their incredulous eyes. Had I planned what came next? Looking back…I still don't know for certain…I don't know at all.
"Because…I'm not pregnant."
A collective gasp reverberated throughout the entire room. Whispers ensued. Not believing I had actually said those words, I glanced around the stage. My eyes locked with Adèle's, and I saw hers glisten with tears, a look of horror etched onto her face. She blinked several times. A flash of light pink cashmere, and she was gone.
Soon the principal dismissed us. He cornered me afterwards, but upon doing so he could find no words to speak. From then on, it seemed that he was taking a vow of silence on the issue, and with regards to me.
The elections were postponed indefinitely.
No one called me Unworthy. Not anymore. No one called me anything. No one spoke to me, not even Mark Bennett. He kept his distance, just like he should have from the beginning. A lot of good that did him now.
Adèle had not returned to school. It had been two weeks, when her first lady-in-waiting approached me. Savannah claimed to be Adèle's best friend. Part of me doubted that statement's truth. Nevertheless, I listened.
She wanted to know why I had said something so heinously untrue. I explained what I had heard in the bathroom—never before had I shared that with anyone.
Savannah's face fell. "Oh," she whispered. Almost too low for me to hear. "That."
I raised my eyebrow in question. Then came the answer. Adèle wasn't pregnant. She was bulimic. So much for perfection?
All I knew was that Adèle wasn't coming back.