The moon sent thin, skeletal, fingers of light into Esme’s bedroom. A low howling noise made her wonder if wolves were in the distance, wolves whose long yellow teeth hunted for anyone who might be foolish enough to venture into the dark. Like the wolves, she felt hunger pangs forcing her to rise from her bed.
“Wolves in Brooklyn? What an imagination I have?” Esme, short for Esmeralda Lucille Jones, laughed as she slid her bare feet to the floor. She forced on her pink, fuzzy robe and stole silently toward her bedroom door. The last thing she wanted was to be caught again.
The door’s tiniest squeaks sounded super loud to her, surrounded as she was by darkness. She peered into the hall. Nobody raced to stop her. She tiptoed across the carpeted floor, pausing outside her mother’s door. Quiet. She missed her father’s snoring. The divorce still made her angry, and that made her hungrier.
Esme felt her way down the narrow stairway. One wrong step would be disaster. She stepped over the second to last step. It never creaked for her mother, only when she put her weight on it did it make a noise like a burglar alarm.
She ran her hand along the top of the sofa to guide herself across the dark living room. She pushed open the kitchen door.
“This is too easy,” she mumbled, her eyes adjusting, seeking her target. She glanced at the clock “Midnight. Do you know where your vampires are?” She was tempted to unleash her most fiendish laughter.
She pulled open the refrigerator and dug in the vegetable bin beneath the lettuce.
“Aha,” she exclaimed, her fingers tightening on a chocolate bar.
“Aha,” her mother yelled, flicking on the ceiling light.
Esme raised her arms as if she were sleepwalking.
“Don’t try that on me,” her mother said. “That sleep walking trick worked when you were little, but now you’re almost thirteen, young lady, and I know what you’re up to.”
Esme clamped her eyes shut. Not another lecture about midnight snacking. She moved toward the pantry door, pretending she was looking for the bathroom while in her sleep.
“Esme! Don’t!” Her mother shouted too late.
“YEOWCH!” Esme let out an ear-splitting scream as a mousetrap sprang shut on her big toe. “Yeowch, yeowch, yeowch, yeowch, yow!”
“Let me help,” her mother cried As Esme frantically hopped around. “Stand still!” Her mother chased Esme in a wild dance around the kitchen. “Stand still!”
Esme knocked over a chair, fell to the floor, struggled to reach over her stomach, and finally yanked up the spring. Her mother grabbed the trap before it could slam down again and threw it across the room.
Esme fell against her mother’s shoulder, ready to burst out crying. She couldn’t let that happen. She pulled away and hid the pain. She didn’t know which hurt more, her big toe or her pride.
“You’re like the vampires on those shows you love,” her mother scolded, reaching to examine Esme’s toes.
Esme groaned, her toes throbbing. A vampire was the last thing she wanted to be.
Although, you never see fat vampires.
When Esme woke, she thought she’d dreamt the whole, humiliating, disaster. But her toes ached and her big toe looked really black. She turned to the alarm clock. Almost eight!
She rushed out of bed and pulled out a blue jumper and a white, button-front shirt with a wide collar. She hated this outfit. She thought the outfit made her look even fatter, like a fat white balloon floating over a blue sea. “This looks like a uniform! Nobody else wears a yucky uniform!” Esme had complained when her mother brought home five outfits.
“At least they fit you,” her mother replied. “When you lose weight, I’ll buy you new clothes.”
Her mother was finishing her coffee when Esme reluctantly entered the kitchen. “Did you sleep well? How are your tootsies?”
Esme’s eyes wandered to the pantry. The mousetrap was still there, a glob of peanut butter as bait. She cursed the trap silently.
“I’m off to work,” her mother said, giving Esme a quick kiss on the cheek. “Have a good day at school. And watch what you eat.”
“Are you coming home after work?” Esme asked.
“I’ll try,” her mother said. “I might have a date.”
Esme watched her mother, always slim and attractive, walk toward the door. She sighed. “What hope is there for me when someone so beautiful couldn’t keep my father from leaving?”
She picked up her backpack and slung it over her shoulders. “We’ll all look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame soon. Then I won’t have to worry about dating.” She locked the door and headed for the bus stop three blocks away.
Half a block away she saw the bus pulling away from the curb. She could see the sign, District 29, N.Y. Schools, on the back of the yellow bus.
“Stop,” Esme shouted, breaking into a trot, but the bus kept moving.
Three faces sneered at her from the back of the bus–Alexa, Latisha and Pam, the three ‘ghouls’ who always teased her and anyone else not pencil-thin like they were.
Esme’s pack slid off her back and her shirt un-tucked itself from her jumper as she tried to catch the bus. She stopped running. Sweat dripped down her nose.
“Why bother.” Her mother wouldn’t be home when the school called anyway. Her toes hurt in the tight sneakers and besides, the three girls were pointing at her through the window and laughing hysterically.
The bus stopped and the door opened.
Esme, struggling with her book bag, rushed to climb in. “Thank you,” she gasped, out of breath from the short run.
“I didn’t see you, Esme,” the driver said.
“How could you miss her,” someone shouted. Several kids laughed.
Esme pretended not to hear. “Mrs. Gordon, I’m sorry, I was late.”
“I guess you couldn’t help it,” the woman replied, “you’re always on time.”
Esme knew the woman meant to be kind, but her comment just triggered another burst of muffled laughter.
Esme sighed. Holding her back pack in her arms, she bumped her way to the only empty seat on the bus–the one Vi was saving for her. Of course, it was near the rear, the row in front of Alexa, Pam and Latisha, who watched her now with superior smirks plastered on their faces. Why did Vi always have to sit in the back?
“Hi, Esme,” Viola Washington said cheerfully. “Thought you were going to miss the bus for sure.” She slid over to the window.
Esme stuffed herself in the seat next to her. “I almost did,” she mumbled. “I had a bad night.”
“My brother’s home from college,” Viola said. “He got a scalping. I didn’t know it was him when he came in.” She shook her head and laughed. “He looks bad. You should see.”
Esme glared at the book bag on her lap. “I hate these things!”
“I do, too,” Viola said. “It’s hard carrying so much weight.”
“It sure is,” Alexa said, reaching over the seat. “I can’t imagine what it must be like carrying all that extra blubber.” She burst out laughing.
“At least when we get to school, some of us can shed a few pounds,” Latisha remarked.
“Hey, girls,” Pam said, “Let’s not add to poor Esme’s burden. She has enough to carry already!” They burst into even louder laughter.
Viola tried to put her hand on Esme’s, but Esme pulled away. She stared straight ahead, struggling not to react, not to reply, and definitely not to show they were getting to her.
“Why don’t you leave her alone,” Viola said softly. “She’s not bothering you.”
“You gonna make us,” Latisha challenged, leaning forward in her seat, her smile menacing. Her fingernails, long and blood red, tap-danced on the back of Viola’s seat.
Esme hated trouble, but was about to rush to Viola’s defense when Alexa clapped her hand hard on Latisha’s wrist.
“Not now,” the girl whispered, casting a glance at the driver who was checking the back of the bus in her rear-view mirror.
“What’s going on back there,” Mrs. Gordon called. “I want no trouble on this bus.”
Latisha hissed at Viola, “You better mind your own business.” She gave Viola and Esme’s seat a rough shaking and dropped back in her seat. “Later for you two,” she said, keeping her voice low.
Viola turned to the window, studying Esme’s reflection in the glass. Esme’s eyes were closed. She looked mad. Looking at her friend’s dark, straight hair, cut short with bangs hanging over her forehead, Viola wondered if longer hair would help hide the roundness of Esme’s face. Her friend’s cheeks always looked plump and red, like they were going to explode.
She remembered the first time she’d seen Esme. She’d tried to avoid her; afraid this fat girl was going to take up the whole seat. Esme hadn’t seemed happy sitting with her, either, but eventually the two began to talk and now sat together all the time, even at lunch.
Esme sat silently in the bus, wishing the trip was over so she didn’t have to listen to the three girls conspiring behind them. Why was she hungry all the time—even now? And her mother had found the other chocolate bars, hidden around the house, so she had no snack.
“You’re impossible,” her mother cried. She stood on a ladder pulling melted chocolate out of the ceiling lamp. “How could you hide chocolate near a light bulb? The dome is covered with melted goop. What if this had caused a fire? What were you thinking? You could have been killed climbing up this darn ladder.” She reached for the lamp. “So could I!”
Esme shrugged her shoulders. “I was hungry. You put me on this dumb diet and I’m starving.”
Her mother undid the screws that held the lamp to the ceiling. “Your father used to do this stuff,” she mumbled.
Her mom always sounded bitter when she talked about Esme’s father. Esme watched her climb down the ladder carefully, the lamp cover in her hands.
“I just don’t believe you, Esme.” Her mother sat down on the bed next to Esme, holding the chocolate coated dome on her lap. “Are there any more great hiding places?” She peered into Esme’s face.
Esme shook her head.
“Esmeralda, do I have to search your room before we have another gooey mess?”
Esme shook her head again.
“I guess not buying chocolates isn’t the answer,” her mother said. “I don’t know what the answer is any more.”
Esme didn’t know either.
“You shouldn’t let those ghouls bother you,” Viola whispered to Esme, interrupting her thoughts.
Esme nodded. “Sometimes I wish I was the only person on Earth, then it wouldn’t matter what I look like.”
Viola smiled. “Don’t think you’re the only one. But I’d make an exception in your case.”
Esme gave her a weak smile. “I’d let you stay, too.”
When the bus came to a stop, the three girls rushed forward, knocking Esme back into her seat, almost crushing Viola.
Esme fumed. Still, she also envied their lean, perfect, bodies, their pale, clear complexion, and their fine sculpted features.
They look like models, she groaned inwardly, and I look like a blimp, a big blue and white blimp.
Viola jumped up, her small fists swinging, ready to fight. “Those monsters,” she roared.
Monsters. Sounds about right, Esme thought. Suddenly, as she watched them jump off the bus, it struck her that all three were dressed exactly the same. Why hadn’t she noticed that before? What difference does that make? Maybe they like dressing in black, skin-tight, jeans and turtlenecks to flaunt how skinny they are. Maybe it’s like a club … a club I can never join.
“Bye, Esme,” the driver said, “Have a nice day.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Gordon. You, too. I won’t be late again.”
“I’ve got to run,” Viola gasped. “Library monitor meeting.”
“See you later,” Esme called, watching Viola’s small legs running like a deer across the field. Esme held the railing as she lowered herself down the steps.
“Do you need a hand with your books?” a male voice said, surprising her.
“I can help myself,” Esme said. Alan Harker was even ‘larger’ than she was. Didn’t seem to bother him, though. He belonged to a lot of clubs–math team, chorus, band and others. Maybe he was trying to trick himself into forgetting how fat and unpopular he was. She didn’t think that was a bad idea, but couldn’t seem to bring herself to do it yet.
Alan smiled. “I thought you might like to join the Seventh
Grade Service Club. I’m the new president and—”
“No, thank you,” Esme cut him off.
She spotted the three ‘monsters’ chatting with a small group of girls, and sighed.
It’s so easy for them. Why can’t I look like that?
Alan followed her gaze. “Don’t get too close to them,’ he whispered.
“Why not,” Esme asked, wondering what gave him the right to interfere.
“They’re vampires,” Alan murmured.