Phobias are more common than you might think. Spiders. Heights. Public speaking.
Alex Fields lives in terror someone might do something wrong and not get caught.
“Ms. Minsky! Look at Jonathan!” he shrieks. (Public speaking isn’t a problem for him.)
The entire classroom turns to stare at me. (Except Owen, who fears blood. I don’t know how he expects to pass AP Bio with that particular challenge. Owen doesn’t look around until someone assures him my humiliation is corpuscle-free.)
Of course, what they’re really staring at isn’t me (not exactly) but it, because my Guardian’s run out of charge.
As every available oxygen molecule is being sucked into the collective lung capacity of the class, Ms. Minsky sprints to my side (pretty sure I hear a sonic boom) to get it (and me) out of her room.
She hustles me down the hallway. “Thought you were smarter than this, Jonathan. I can’t believe you’re being so irresponsible.”
“Then don’t. Maybe you’re imagining this. Maybe we both are. Maybe we didn’t see it.” Which is true, I realize. There’s nothing to see. It’s me, but not me. At that point the song lyric I’m accidentally writing fizzles out. In addition to not being it, exactly, I’m also not Stephen Sondheim, at all.
“Hone your standup routine elsewhere,” says my teacher.
“Why can’t I go to the principal’s office by myself? Just send a message I’m on my way. You know I’ll arrive.” I salute a drone passing overhead.
“You know why. What happened in the classroom was unacceptable. There won’t be a repetition in the hall.”
“Please, Ms. Minsky? Nobody pays attention to them anyway.” Well, unless somebody like Alex points it out. Then nobody turns into everybody.
I wish she’d slow down. The few people around are starting to notice. Sure, nobody can see it now. Ms. Minsky’s Guardian is making sure of that. Smart people can deduce my disgrace, though. The creepers already know, I bet. I’m not the first one in trouble for this.
Dr. Lee is waiting at her office door. Someone must have sent a message ahead—or maybe she guessed what happened. She’s in the Western hemisphere, so she heard Alex. “You can go now, Eva. Sit, Jonathan.”
That will mean it will return, since Dr. Lee’s heading back behind her desk with her own Guardian, which puts her out of my range. Before I point this out, I spot the Guardian on the chair, which I switch on before I open my mouth. “Dr. Lee, I’m so sorry I didn’t keep it covered—”
Dr. Lee stands so fast her chair rolls into the wall. “We do not use that word in that way, Jonathan. It is not covered. It is not here. And I won’t insult you by telling you how to charge your Guardian. Instead, I’m asking you why you have a Guardian.”
Here’s a chance to return to solid ground. “The dress code requires every student to wear one.”
“Because otherwise they would show. And they aren’t allowed at Havilland High.”
“Or any school. Why not?”
“Uh—” That’s the kind of question little kids ask, like why the sky is blue. I don’t remember the answer to either one anymore. That’s just the way things are.
“I’m interested in your perspective, Jonathan. Objects still have them, and animals. As for people, well, you can find all kinds of things on the Internet, can’t you?”
The Internet? I’ve seen old photographs of my grandparents with them. They won’t throw the photos out, either. “My grandmother says not showing them is a fad.”
“We don’t ‘not show’ them, any more than we ‘cover’ them, Jonathan. They are eliminated. They do not exist. Not for us. Not here. Not anywhere with a Guardian.” She sighs. This isn’t the first time she’s given this speech. “Do your parents have rules about what pictures you post to your social media accounts?”
I started ticking things off on my fingers. “No drinking, no drugs, watch what I’m wearing…”
“Colleges or employers won’t take me if they see the wrong kind of picture.”
“Exactly. Put yourself in their place. What would you think of someone whose self-esteem was so low, he allowed it to mock his body? To constantly twist and distort his image? The truth is that they can affect how others perceive you, and even how you perceive yourself. Don’t you agree?”
Well, my AP Bio class will never look at me the same way again.
“Havilland High doesn’t allow bullying, physically or emotionally. No worthwhile school does. That’s why those things don’t belong anywhere near emotionally vulnerable students.”
“Dr. Lee, I hear what you’re saying, but aren’t they just the result of having a body?”
She rolls her eyes. “And do you show other ‘results of having a body’ to people, Jonathan? Tomorrow morning, you will bring me a thoughtful thousand-word essay on this subject.”
She rustles around in a drawer, and pulls out a piece of paper. Seriously, a real once-upon-a-time-there-was-a tree-which-came-to-a-bad-end piece of yellow paper. “This is a hall pass. Since you’re feeling archaic, you can use this to return to class.” Pulling out a real once-upon-a-time-there-was-a-
“Take that Guardian until you can recharge your own.”
Back I went to AP Bio, without it, thanks to my powered-up borrowed Guardian. By now I was starting to feel a little sorry for it. (Shh! Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes at home I don’t even wear a Guardian. But only when I’m all alone, with shut shades and closed curtains. It’s one thing to walk around under the overhead lights, but even I won’t let the sun make my shadow.)