Flawed (Flawed, #1)(11)

Written By: Cecelia Ahern

Because I never cared, that’s why. Because if people have done something wrong, then I always thought they deserved their punishment. They’re not criminals, but they’re just missing being physically behind bars. If Angelina, who I believed could never hurt a fly, can so easily be considered Flawed, then perhaps this woman before me is no worse, either. I have never spoken to one before. It’s not that we’re not allowed to, it’s just that I wouldn’t know what to say. I step around them when they’re near me, I avoid their eye contact. I suppose I act like they don’t exist. They’re always in the Flawed section of the supermarket, the one that I pass through aisles to avoid, buying their grains and oats and whatever else they have to eat as part of their basic diet for their basic living. A life with no luxury is the punishment. I never thought it would be such a bad thing; it’s not like they’re behind bars. But then I never thought of having to live like that when your husband doesn’t, or your kids don’t, or the rest of society doesn’t. And then they’re not really allowed to socialize together. No more than with one other at a time. For every two Flawed, there needs to be a regular person just for numbers. I think of a Flawed wedding, a Flawed birthday party, and shudder. I wonder what they even talk about with one another. Do they swap stories of how Flawed they are? Show their brands and laugh with pride, or are they ashamed, as they should be?

I feel Art’s lips on my earlobe. “If you don’t stop thinking, your head will explode,” he whispers. His breath is hot, and it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I want to stop thinking. I really do, but I can’t. For once he doesn’t have my full attention. He’s trying to bring me back to him, but I can’t go there. I’m caught in this thought, in this moment.

The bus stops and a woman with crutches gets on. The driver helps her and guides her to the Flawed seats, which have the most legroom. The seats are deliberately set farther away so people don’t have to touch them or bump against them, reinforcing that distinction between us and them. She sits beside the Flawed woman, who smiles at her.

The other woman throws her such a look of disgust that I’m embarrassed for the Flawed woman, who looks away, hurt visible in her eyes. She senses that I’m looking at her, and our eyes meet for a minuscule moment before I look away, heart pounding from having made contact. I hope no one has seen. I hope it doesn’t look like I’m on her side.

“What is going on with you today?” Art asks, a slightly bewildered and amused expression on his face.

“Oh, nothing,” I say, trying to smile. “I’m just perfect. That’s all.”

He smiles and rubs the palm of my hand with his thumb, and I melt.

Juniper sits across the aisle from us, her body pushed so far up against the window she couldn’t possibly get any farther away from me and Art, or anyone else on the bus for that matter.

I don’t know when things became like this between me and Juniper. Photos and stories prove that we were extremely tight as children. Juniper is the big sister by a small amount, but she enjoyed mollycoddling me, taking on the role of nurturing big sister. But when we began junior high, things started to change between us. Though we were in the same year, we were in different classes and made our own friends for the first time, and the divide began. I excelled in school—I adore information and am always hungry to know more. I read books, I watch documentaries, my favorite subject is math, and I hope to study it at the city university when I finish school this year. My aim is to win the Fields Medal, the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, viewed as the greatest honor a mathematician can receive, like a math Nobel Prize. You have to be under forty to win it. I’m seventeen. There’s time. Test results so far prove that I’m on course to get into my university program with ease. Juniper isn’t the jealous type, but our differences in grades were the first thing to set us apart.

My scores were celebrated; hers weren’t. They were never bad; they just weren’t perfect. Everybody always wanted her to do better, to be better. And I understand the pressure she was under, but I could have been there to help her, not be the one she eventually blamed.

She thinks I’m a know-it-all, which she has told me plenty of times, and I try not to be one with her. I know I have a habit of correcting people’s grammar or recounting dictionary definitions, but that’s just me. Doing it does not make me feel I am better than the person I am saying it to. It is just an expression of who I am. I try to ask her questions, the meaning of things, pretend not to know something that I do know, but she finds this patronizing. She’s right, but I don’t know what else to do. My striving for perfection includes wanting to have the ideal relationship with my sister, like in the movies I see and the books I read, the stories that tell you that sisterhood is the one real true love and relationship you will have in your life.

Juniper is dyslexic. She sees this as another failure, another trait that has let her down, but I can see that it makes her view things in a different way. I’m a problem-solver. I read the signs, the proof that I see before me, and come to a conclusion. Juniper is cleverer than that. She has an alternate way of reading things. She reads people. I don’t know how she does it, but she watches and listens and arrives at conclusions I could never imagine, and usually she’s right. I look at things straight on; her perspective seems to curve around things, wind and twist, turn things upside down to reach the answer. I have never told her that I think this about her. I tell myself it’s because I don’t want to come across as patronizing, but really I know it’s because I have a jealousy of my own.

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