The class burst into applause. Becky couldnt believe it. Was she dreaming? She
knew her presentation was good, but she didnt think it was that good.
Besides, no one at school had ever cheered for her before. It wasnt like she was
popular or anything.
Becky!" Mr. Optol, her history teacher, was clapping louder than anyone else.
"Just fantastic! One of the best presentations Ive ever had. Does anyone have
Shareesh Agah raised his hand.
"How fast did you say those
Byzantine telegraph messages went?" he asked.
"Pretty fast, "Becky
answered. "The system used light signals from torches and mirrors. There were
guardposts on every hilltop between the capital and the frontier. A message sent from the
Cilician border, 600 miles away, was received in Byzantium in an hour."
"Wow," Shareesh said.
"Thats faster than most planes!"
"Yeah," Becky continued,
"and that wasnt even the longest light telegraph. Around 900 AD there was a
string of beacons along the coast of North Africa that was over two thousand miles
Beckys presentation had been
on communication in the ancient world. Her classmates were impressed with the technology
invented thousands of years ago. Mr. Optol was impressed with the quality of Beckys
research. Becky took her seat smiling.
Mr. Optol leaned against his desk.
"I hope those of you who havent had your chance up here yet will use what you
saw as an example of excellent research and a well thought-out presentation." He
smiled again at Becky. "Great job."
Mr. Optol turned towards his desk
and grabbed a stack of papers. "Okay. Lets move on. Ive graded your essay
A collective groan went up from the
Mr. Optol continued. "And I
cant believe some of the scores!"
The students brightened as they
heard the enthusiasm in his voice.
"They are absolutely...
positively... incredibly... AWFUL!"
The groan was even louder this time.
"Cmon! I cant take
this anymore! Im not standing up here for my health, you know. Youre gonna
kill me if you dont start listening! Ive decided to retire at the end of the
year if your test scores dont improve. The grades better grow, or Mr. Os
Darren Taylor raised his hand.
"My sister was in your class
last year and she said you made the same threat. Same poem too."
The students snickered.
"She did, did she?" Mr. O
said sarcastically. "Did her test scores improve?"
"Yeah, I think so..."
"Well, it worked then,
"All right, if my threatened
retirement isnt enough, Ill have to think of something better." Mr. O
stroked his clean-shaven chin. He was the youngest teacher at school and all the students
loved him. They knew there was no way he was even close to retiring. "Okay, if
everyones scores dont improve by twenty percent Ill fail the entire
class. No exceptions!"
"NO!" the class shouted.
"Please dont, Mr.
Optol!" Jenny Sloat was close to tears. "I cant fail! Like, my parents
will just kill me. They said I cant try out for cheerleading next year if I,
like, fail even one class! Theyre totally uncool... they just dont get
"Ohhhh noooo! That would be
just, like, awwwful," Darren teased.
The class burst out laughing.
"Calm down, everyone. Ill
stick with my original threat. I think that will be enough. Because if I retire, at least
half of you will be stuck with Mr. Greemes for Sociology next year." Mr. Optol
pronounced Greemes like Greeeeeeemes and said it through his nose. He rolled
his eyes and dropped his lower lip. He continued in the silly voice. "Hend
Im sshure hew whouldnt whant that, nohw whould hew? Thihnk hof hall the
whonderful fihlm strihps whed whatch. Whed hhhave so muhch fuhn..."
The class laughed.
"Good. Weve agreed then.
You study and I stay. Show me what you know, youre gonna keep Mr. O."
While he talked, Mr. Optol walked
down the aisles and handed out the papers. Beckys high spirits had dulled somewhat.
Mr. Optol said all the scores were terrible. That had to include hers and she had
been sure shed aced this test.
Mr. Optol handed a paper to Jenny
Sloat who sat right in front of Becky. Becky could see the red F scribbled across the top
in Mr. Os distinctive writing. Jenny whimpered a little and reached into her pack
for a tissue. Mr. Optol took a few more steps and dropped Beckys test in front of
He leaned over slightly and said
quietly "As usual, my perfect historian turns in a notable performance."
Becky looked down. The bright red A
nearly jumped off the page.
Becky was glowing as she walked out
of class. This was definitely the best day shed had since she started at
Bennington-Carver six and a half months ago. It had been a hard transition from middle
school. Her best friend, Kim, who shed gone to school with since they were eight,
went to Chichester High. But Becky had received an academic scholarship to
Bennington-Carver, a very expensive private school. Her parents could never have afforded
it and they were delighted. It seemed like a great opportunity, but Becky hated the fact
that shed had to face high school alone.
Most of the kids at
Bennington-Carver lived in expensive apartments in Gramercy Park or Chelsea. Some were
stuck-up, others just werent that friendly. There had been plenty of jerks in middle
school but it didnt seem to matter as much when she was with Kim. It was worse now
because she was by herself. It had been a tough year so far. But things were definitely
"Hey, Fatso! Think you can move
An arm shoved Becky aside. Her books
thumped to the floor. Three sophomores pushed past her and ran off down the hall.
Becky bit her tongue. "Just
ignore them, Beck," she said to herself. "Theyre mindless barbarians. You
know that. They make Attila look perfectly civilized." Becky collected her things and
continued to her next class. She thought about Mr. Os praise. Remembering his warm
smile as he applauded her presentation made her feel better.
It wasnt until she entered the
locker room that it struck her where she was. She was feeling so good about history she
had walked to seventh period without even thinking. How could she? It was the class she
dreaded the most each day. P.E. was the worst.
Becky was overweight. Thats
what her Mom said. But Becky (and plenty of the kids at school) called it fat. For
years her parents told her that her baby fat was just hanging on a little longer than her
friends. Her mom and dad didnt seem to mind so neither did Becky. But the baby
fat didnt go away as she got older. And over the last few years, as Kim started
getting curves, Becky resigned herself to the fact that she would always look like this.
So much so that she stopped noticing it. In the bathroom in the morning, she didnt
really see who was standing behind the comb or toothbrush. She focused on the
motion of the brush going back and forth and never looked at who was doing the brushing.
It wasnt like she didnt care.
Its just that it wasnt important to her what people looked like. She liked
people for who they were, not how they appeared. Thats why she could start up
conversations so easily with people on the subway or at the library. She cared about what
people thought. What they did. What they wrote. It didnt matter how much you
weighed if you were a great archeologist. Who cared if you were heavy if you wrote The
History of the Roman Empire? Fat didnt matter.
Except in P.E.
At first she was surprised and
amazed that all these girls could be so cruel. The looks, the whispers, the jokes; she
didnt understand why they tried so hard to make her feel bad. Why did they even
But, for some reason that Becky
didnt understand, they did. Fat mattered in high school.
"Roman emperors were
often overweight," her father told her, trying to cheer her up months ago after her
first miserable day in high school P.E. "And, you know, the bigger an Hawaiian queen
was, the better."
"But that doesnt make
anybody like me," Becky replied.
"Its who you are
that counts," her mom said, "not what you look like."
Sure, Becky thought, of
course she can say that. Shes as thin as a pencil. Her dad was pretty heavy, but
he was an historian. He sat in his study all day doing research and writing books. You
couldnt expect him to look fit. She was surprised he appeared as healthy as he did.
"Well Im not an Hawaiian
queen so Ive gotta lose weight," Becky said. Then, like always, shed go
to her room and call Kim whod tell her about the latest and greatest diet where you
only ate seaweed and guava salad.
"And besides getting thinner,
its really good for your skin!" Kim said enthusiastically.
"My skin is fine, Kim! I want
to be thin."
"Then diet, Becky. But you
know, it doesnt matter what you look like. Its who you are inside that
Becky thought of all this as she
walked into the locker room. She stopped and stared at the rows of girls. All of them
thinner then she was. All of them, in her opinion, prettier than she was. And certainly
"Yeah I know. It doesnt
matter..." she said under her breath, "...unless youre in P.E."