Welcome to our new occasional series, School Lunch. A youth spotlight, School Lunch is a curated bi-weekly feature offering fiction, poetry, flash prose, personal essay, YA, and CNF, from writers ranging in ages 13 through 17. Please enjoy. ~The Editors
On the last day of summer, Brynn sits in the blackberry thickets with her bare feet dangling into the shallow green water and writes a love letter.
She’s listening to The Talking Heads with earbuds and her fingers are stained purple from picking blackberries. She has too many love letters. Her backpack is full of them. It’s frayed and forest green and covered in Black Lives Matter and feminist and rainbow flag pins and she stashes the letters in the secret pocket of her backpack: six of them from ninth grade alone. One for the boy in art class she was partnered with to paint portraits of each other, one for the girl in her English class who recited her poem to everyone, one for the boy she talked to at the school dance. She doesn’t even remember the other ones. She’s bi or pan or something but it doesn’t really matter. She’s only fifteen.
This one’s for the girl who works at the Stow Lake concessions stand. Her name is Stella and she has wavy, washed-out silver hair down to her shoulders that’s been dyed three different colors this summer alone. She’s almost six foot and has blue eyes and a face full of freckles. She wears bright red lipstick and brings her film camera and walks around the lake taking black-and-white photos.
Yesterday, Brynn bought bright red lipstick. She always wears her hair braided and she’s only worn makeup once. She stares at her reflection in the water, wondering if she should.
Somewhere across the mirrorlike surface of the lake, Stella sits on the dock with her phone, gazing at her face in the black screen. She started wearing the red lipstick on the first day of ninth grade because she didn’t want to be the same perfect, straight-As kid in high school. She dyed her hair too. She can’t quite decide who she wants to be, but for now, it’s fine. She watches an old man on a park bench across from her, tossing breadcrumbs into the water and geese and ducks and seagulls float eagerly towards the shore, flapping their wings. Turtles poke up from the glossy green water.
She brings her film camera and its floral strap to the lake every day and her denim messenger bag with a set of charcoal pencils, a sketchbook, and her printed photos. She takes them out and starts to sketch a photo of Brynn, the girl with the braids and the notebook she’s always writing poetry in. Stella blurs the shading with her blackened index finger, drawing the lines of her profile. She watches her silhouette across the lake, writing. Probably another poem.
At the end of the letter, Brynn signs her name and puts it in the pocket of her backpack. She takes another look at Stella and the heavy afternoon sun, suspended in the blue sky, as clouds clear. Then she catches a bus on 21st and watches Strawberry Hill vanish out the fogged window.
Somewhere in this cracked concrete maze of rooms, he sits and stares at himself in a mirror. He’s in a band. Almost. Kind of. He’s in a week-long music camp where he was paired with other teenagers to perform a song they wrote together, and today’s the showcase at a little local theater. He’s wearing ripped jeans and fishnet tights and the band t-shirt they made just yesterday, spray-painted with navy and indigo and fuchsia to look like a galaxy. He’s too feminine. His singing voice goes too high and the vocal instructor at this music camp was the only one in his two years of vocal lessons since coming out not to complain about it. Ever since he came out as trans and put the lilac “he/him” pin on his backpack, everyone treats him differently. “If you’re going to act like that, why didn’t you just stay a girl?” He’s not a girl.
* * *
Somewhere in this cracked concrete maze of rooms, she puts lip gloss on for the first time in years. She’s fifteen and she wore it to her school dance in seventh grade and that’s the only time. She’s rejected every single stereotype. She skips school. She sneaks out of the house at night to meet her friends. A week and a half ago, she sat on the brick rooftop of a five-story building downtown at midnight after climbing up the fire escape with two other girls her age and watched the stars.
* * *
Their band is on first. He’s the lead singer and he’s upstairs for sound check, humming into the microphone and tapping his finger on the crisscrossed metal surface because he’s so nervous his voice cracks when he tries to sing. She’s behind him, strumming guitar chords and changing pickups and shifting the volume up and down.
And they’re backstage. She runs up and down the stairs getting a bottle of water and then looking over the notebook where she wrote the picking patterns. He waits for their introduction. He thinks he hears their band name twice. The bass player bites their lip. The drummer knots her band t-shirt for the third time.
A sliver of golden spotlight lands behind the velvety black curtain. He hears the opening drumbeats and chords of the song over and over and he stands in the spotlight and takes a deep breath. He stares into this glow until his eyes hurt and he’s really confident they’ll be good. Just for a moment.
For a moment, she looks at herself in a lighted mirror behind the folds of the curtain, the only thing separating her from three hundred sets of eyes. This is crazy. She can’t believe she’s here. She looks at the holographic lip gloss, glimmering when the ray of light from the stage hits it and she looks different and she actually likes it this way, with her uncontrollable hair combed out and lip gloss and mascara. She’s kind of beautiful.
And they step out into the spotlight.
This revolution is because of Disney princesses.
This revolution is because of Sleeping Beauty, the thin blonde princess rescued by her courageous prince.
This revolution is because Disney princesses can fend for themselves.
It’s not because they wear dresses.
It’s because we want to watch a movie where the Disney princess dons her fuchsia ballgown and battles a dragon.
This revolution is because we want princesses with every single shade of skin because we are different and there is no shade that isn’t beautiful.
Every single gender because there are countless and you cannot shield our eyes from people who aren’t just the stereotypes.
We are people. We are all people, boys or girls or in between and you can’t pray we don’t tell secrets because those secrets don’t belong to you.
We are everything, every variety.
Love is love is love is love is love rises above you and your stereotypes, trying to keep us all caged in because you don’t want us to bloom.
We refuse to let you suffocate us in your checkmarked boxes because take up space and we are more than these thin blonde princesses who just sit still and look pretty.
We want princesses that fit the stereotypes and princesses that don’t.
We want every variety.
We want princesses that reflect us.
We’re sick of being love interests in these stereotypical happily-ever-after scenes.
This revolution is because we want to be heroes.
This revolution is because we come in every size, shape, and color.
This revolution is because we are much more than what you think underneath the surface.
This revolution is because we’re all beautiful but we’re all more than that.
Edie Patterson is an 8th grader living in a blue dot town in Kansas. She is a photographer and plays guitar in addition to being a writer. She has been writing fiction and poetry since she was very young. She’s published poetry in Stone Soup. This is her first published fiction.