Holding the assignment in her lap, Cora tried to shake the head ache off. She wanted to fade away, to just sink and sink until it didn’t matter anymore if she was or if she wasn’t, because no one would see her anyway. The words of her textbook blurred in front of her eyes. None of it meant anything, yet still she persisted, trying again to commit the sentences to memory. She hated it even more with each time she tried.
She hated everything she did the more she had to do it.
She hated school.
She hated work.
She hated what she wore, how she talked, her hair length, but mostly the God awful smile she plastered on her face until it drained the energy out of her. It was because she had to; Cora did it because she believed that.
Blinking, she tried to reread the page; maybe this time it would sink in. Maybe this time it would mean something. Wasn’t it all supposed to have meaning? What people wrote wasn’t supposed to be pointless. Yet it all felt so numbingly routine. Sadly, though, this stupid school reading wasn’t any worse than she was. What she did, what she said, the perfection she strove for, it was all just as empty.
Perfection—a quality, trait, or feature of the highest degree of excellence
Sometimes Cora wondered why she attempted perfect when she knew she wasn’t.
Frequently, she had to remind herself that it was all for them. Every choice she made was so they could be happy, so they’d know they didn’t have to worry about her. Closing the useless book, she looked over at Brandon, his enthused eyes widening as he grinned at her. She sat still so he sat still. He was content with just watching her sit there; her brother didn’t even realize he had drool coming out of his mouth. Cora smiled at him weakly, but he didn’t notice it was fake, his face lit up anyway. Reaching up, she wiped the drool from his chin. He was perfect. Why couldn’t they see that? To them Brandon was just work, stress. A hassle. But she loved him: the way he squealed at the sound of the ice cream truck; the fact that he couldn’t read, yet he always beat her at chess; the way only half of his dinner made it into his mouth, but that was the way he liked it.
Her brother always said what he felt, and he didn’t tell Cora she was pretty because he felt obligated or had some ulterior motive, he really thought she was. The only reason she kept trying was for him. If she wasn’t perfect their parents would send Brandon away, claim two bad children was too many. And she’d lose her brother, her best friend, the thing she loved most in this world. But looking at his face, she knew he was worth it. Cora knew she’d keep doing everything she despised if it meant she got to see Brandon’s face at the end of every day. She just wondered, when the day would come, that she’d be able to stop faking perfect.