Don’t Look at Me

Maria smoothed the corners of the picnic blanket, erasing every imperfection she saw. She frowned as a stubborn wrinkle stayed in place. She stretched the picnic blanket as far as it would go until the wrinkle disappeared. Only then did she smile.

She leaned back, trying to relax. Maria breathed deeply, hoping the smell of grass and sunscreen would slow her rapid heartbeat.

In… two, three, four… out… two, three, four, Maria thinks, closing her eyes. In… two, three — Dammit!

Maria growled, jamming her floppy beach hat tighter on her head. She pulled the edges down, annoyance filling her chest when her hat wouldn’t fit properly. It just felt so wrong.

She yanked her hat off her head, letting her curly hair bounce over her shoulders. Maria grit her teeth as her attention drew to her clothes — it was so messed up, everything was. Her eyebrows furrowed as she adjusted her shirt, because it didn’t look as good on her as it did on her friend, Liza. Why couldn’t she feel good, just for one day? Why?

Maria buried her face in her hands, her eyes burning with frustration.


Maria looked up in surprise, her cheeks turning red. It was embarrassing enough when Liza found her like this, and it was humiliating for a classmate of hers to see this too. She could already see him, talking to his friends about that weird girl in his English class. Maria could already picture walking down the hallway, whispers swarming her ears —

“Maria, right?” he asked, sitting down on her blanket next to her.

“Yeah,” she answered, in a voice a lot weaker than she liked.

“I’m Philip,” he said.

Maria nodded, her cheeks still warm. She knew that she would only embarrass herself more if she said anything.

“Look, I just wanted to see if you were okay,” Philip said sheepishly. “I saw your little, uh — ” He gestured vaguely with his hands, and Maria’s cheeks burned brighter.

“I’m fine,” she insisted, her voice tighter than normal. Her voice quivered as she spoke, and her eyes welled up with tears as she said that. But it was okay, not even Liza noticed those imperfections in her voice.

Philip studied her face, his eyes narrowed. “You don’t look fine,” he pressed. “I can see it in your eyes.”

“Then stop looking,” Maria snapped, turning away from him. It was so unusual for someone to reach this far, and she didn’t want him to get any closer. She didn’t know if she could take it.

“I don’t think you’re okay,” he continued.

Maria curled her fingers into fists, digging her fingernails into her palms.

This can’t be happening, she chanted in her head. It can’t! It was getting harder to breathe, harder to focus. All she could think about was the way people always looked at her when they knew.

“Please. Stop.” Maria refused to look at him. She knew she’d only find pity there.

“I just want to help you,” Philip said. She flinched as he touched her shoulder. Maria could hear the careful way he talked. She couldn’t bear to have another person treat her like broken glass.

“I don’t think you can,” Maria replied softly. “So just go.”

She could sense him hesitating, wondering if he should leave or not. Maria didn’t hold her breath. She knew he’d leave; they always do.


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