take the pill. record anything you see, hear, and feel.
Side Effects
The Separation
It’s a normal Monday morning at school, and Blaine Kelly doodles in her notebook. The heaters next to her rumble as they continuously burst out puffs of freezing air (the school’s air conditioning system is whack, it’s always either too hot or too cold and never works as it’s supposed to). The clock that looks as old as time itself ticks comfortingly by and the dim classroom lights flicker briefly from above every few seconds.
Blaine’s black pen nub draws smoothly over the crisp white paper, the midnight ink drying almost immediately as it touches the air. She knows that she won’t get in trouble for not paying attention to the professor. After all, it’s hard to make a fourteen year old prodigy and youngest winner of the Nobel Prize sit straight up in her desk while taking 8th grade Chemistry.
She can feel the other students’ eyeballs on her back, like a group of marbles taped to her shoulder blades. She knows what they say about her when they think she can’t hear them. They make it seem as if she’s decided her own fate. They make it seem like it’s her choice to be friendless; she likes to be a teenager faced with pressure to make new discoveries that change the world.
Well, news flash, she doesn’t.
She loves learning, and researching and creating, yes. She is great at putting together puzzle pieces and making conclusions, true. She’s lucky enough to have a great work ethic and a good memory, correct as well. But the fact that she enjoys the art of something doesn’t mean that she likes the responsibility of it all.
She thinks of it like this. Imagine her as a youth sports player. She loves the game, she loves the practice, she loves the work-and she’s good at it too. She’s chosen to move up to the national level, to participate in tournaments and cups and important games.
She doesn’t like it. She doesn’t like the recognition or the attention that it brings. She doesn’t like the pressure it puts her under, to perform for the world. If she makes one mistake, she lets everybody down. She might like the sport, but she doesn’t like the fame.
That’s how Blaine feels about the fact she has won a Nobel Prize.
She has it stuffed at the back of her closet, wrapped by layers and layers of old sweaters and disgusting hats that her seven year old self thought were cute. She can’t bear to look at it, or anything that makes her think of it. Her magazine covers haunt her-they look like someone tried to make a bad wax figure of her face. The dimensions seem so off, her eyes look so cold, they just feel so wrong. Maybe they were photo shopped, or maybe that’s just what happens after people spend hours beautifying your face and hair, telling you where to look and how to pose-your face doesn’t look like it’s yours anymore.
A soft knock on the classroom door jolts her from her thoughts, and she looks up as a twenty-something year old woman enters the space. The lady is tall, with dark black skin and a well fitted charcoal grey suit. She quietly pulls the professor to the side and they discuss something for a few minutes.
Blaine returns her attention to her doodle. Despite how much she tries, she can never transmit exactly what’s in her brain onto paper. Her mind just seems to create beautifully perfect lines where her hands fail, the real world never living up to the one in her head. In her head, anything is possible. In the real world, there’s not always an eraser for your mistakes, or the shade of blue that you’re looking for. You just have to make do with what you have, and hope that in the end, the finished piece turns out okay.
“Blaine,” the lady from before says, “Blaine Kelly.”
The class whispers as she pushes back her chair softly (rolling her eyes at the high-pitched squeak it causes) and rises to her feet. She’s had this happen once before, and although last time she had been scared out of her wits, worried about being sent to the Headmaster for something, she feels perfectly calm now. After all, last time they had just wanted to interview her and give her a few tests to take-this time couldn’t be much different.
She readjusts her cotton starch school uniform and follows the woman out into the hall.
“Hello, Blaine,” the woman says, “I’m Mrs. McAllister. I’m a head adviser for EES. You’ve heard of it, I presume?”
Of course she has. EES, also known as the Elite Education Society, is the biggest association invested in the planet’s youth in the world. They produce all of the history books, curriculums, and test booklets. They fund all of the colleges and hire all of the professors. Almost every school is public and free to attend. There are only a few private EES schools in existence, open to only the most talented and gifted students. There is no registration, the schools hunt you out themselves, and to be a graduate of an EES private school is a humongous honor. Only the real geniuses do.
Could Blaine have gotten into an EES school? Was that interview and those tests her entrance exam?
Mrs. McAllister smiles warmly down on her.
“I’m sure you have many questions, but now is not the time. Please find your way to the drop off area where the buses usually go in the morning. A Mr. Wu will be waiting for you, and he will lead you to the bus you are going to take. Do not worry about your classes or your parents, we have sorted everything out. This is a great opportunity for you.”
There’s a playful glint in her eye, like she’s letting Blaine in on a secret. Then, she turns down the hall, her hands gripping importantly on her checklist. Blaine supposes she’s going to get another student. She can hardly believe this is happening.
She faces the opposite direction and heads down towards the bus dropoff lane, filled with good thoughts and feelings.
Little does she know, her life is about to change forever-and not quite in the way she wants it to.
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