Jack woke up, slid his feet onto the floor and rubbed his face. Two more weeks of school until Christmas break. That was a long, long time. He wasn’t sure he could take it. School had not been easy for him lately. Jack appreciated reading all of the bullying articles in the news lately. He wondered, why not me? Where are my bullies? At least bullies would mean someone was paying attention to him. Instead, Jack drifted through school from day to day without creating so much as a ripple among the ocean of students he came in contact with.
It didn’t help that Jack was sort of small and sort of scrawny. That was Janet’s fault. Jack had not grown since his parents had divorced 19 months earlier. Literally, he had not grown a centimeter. It was like the bad feelings and the rejection he felt from his Mother leaving and Janet moving in had settled right in his spine and weighed him down.
Standing up like he was 80 instead of 12, Jack creaked over to his door to head to the bathroom.
And tripped over the advent calendar and fell, face first, onto the shag carpet.
Jack rolled over, rubbing the pain out of his toes. How, HOW, could a stubbed toe hurt like that? Janet must have left the stupid thing leaning against his door. He walked back into his room and carefully put on one sock and one shoe, on his good foot. Then he limped back out, circled the advent calendar, and kicked it as hard as he could. The wood box flew across his bedroom and crashed into the far wall.
Then Jack hobbled, lopsided on one shoe, to the bathroom.
After showering, then slouching through yet another bowl of cereal for breakfast, Jack was headed out the door to run to school – he was late – when he stepped on the photo from the advent calendar. It must have fallen out of the calendar when he kicked it. He picked it up and stuffed it into the pocket of his hoodie as he ran out the door.
If there was something more boring than seventh grade math, Jack hadn’t found it. He sat in the back row of the class and looked over the photo from the advent calendar.
It was an odd shot: an older girl, maybe Jack’s age, and two younger girls, probably around five or six. They looked at the camera with straight faces. No, it was more than that, they looked sad. People smiled for pictures, it was pretty universal, but these three were definitely not smiling.
Jack leaned forward, squinting at the picture. The older girl was palming a small piece of paper, about the size of a playing card. Jack thought that his name was on the piece of paper. The words were really too small to read on the tiny photo, but it sure looked like his name.
It wasn’t an uncommon name, but still…
“Jasmine,” Jack whispered. “Jasmine.”
The girl sitting just to Jack’s right had her iPod ear buds in and was doing a good job of pretending that she couldn’t hear Jack because of them.
Jack jabbed her with his pencil. “Let me see your ruler,” Jack said.
She handed it to Jack while continuing to stare straight ahead, ignoring his presence. It was a skill many of the girls in his school had perfected.
Jack moved the tapered edge of the plastic ruler over the photo. The details of the photo were magnified under a neon green plastic sheen as Jack moved the ruler across the photo.
Jack studied the writing on the card. It definitely said “Jack.” Under his name were two more words.