Welcome back team! If you need a refresher - it's marching band season and Summer (drumline) has a crush on Micah (drum major), but she was too anxious to talk to him or tell her friends about it. She made a profile on Chat With Me (you can only talk to people at your school and the conversations can't be tracked) and they've been talking (except Summer is pretending to be someone named Anna). They grew close, Summer finally came clean, and Micah wasn't exactly thrilled. Summer just found out that word has spread and the entire band knows what she did and she has survived a week at school but now Micah is chummy with Summer's band rival Kaila again.
At Friday night's football game I'm fully prepared to ignore Micah and Kaila and pretend that whatever is going on with them is simply not happening. There are plenty of flaws in this plan, but right now it's the best I've got.
My mom drops me off at the stadium, and I walk in to get changed and get set-up. For a second I wonder if I've slipped into the Twilight Zone or something. It's like I'm transported back to that Monday when I walked into the band room and everyone was staring at me because they found out I was talking to Micah, because for some reason everyone is staring at me.
I brushed my hair before I left, I know my wig is on straight because I checked before I got out of the car, and I haven't eaten dinner so I know I can't have food in my teeth. I'm look down to confirm I'm wearing a full outfit that's free from holes or other embarrassing mishaps. I don't understand.
I keep my head down, even though May would tell me to do the opposite, and focus on getting to the band trailer and getting all of my things together for the National Anthem.
I haven't said or done anything else to Micah. I don't understand what this could be about.
Bryn finds me in the band trailer. "Oh thank goodness I found you," She says, out of breath.
"What's going on?"
"I just wanted to give you a heads up...people..." She looks pained, like she doesn't want to be the one to have to tell me.
My stomach starts to twist in that familiar way it does.
"Summer, somehow people know about your alopecia. People are saying that you don't have hair and you wear a wig. I'm so sorry, I have no idea how it got out."
The world goes black for a second. How? How in the world did this get out? Bryn knows because we had the same private instructor in middle school and we were friends when I got my diagnosis. The only other person who knows is Micah. And surely not. Surely he didn't tell. Not after everything else I told him. He wouldn't do that to me. Would he?
"I've tried to get people to stop. Like, I heard people talking about it and I asked how they knew that and said to stop spreading rumors."
I need to...what? What do I do? Do I confront him? Pretend I'm sick and go home? Transfer schools again? Move? How does everyone know? I pinch my arm. I have to be dreaming this. This cannot be happening. Not again.
"I think it was Micah," I whisper.
"Micah? Why would he say something like that?"
I want to scream. I want to disappear. I want to melt into the floor. "I told him about my alopecia. It was something we bonded over in a weird way. He has a different autoimmune disease."
Bryn doesn't speak for eight seconds. I count them. This is my nightmare.
Katya appears at the band trailer door. "What is going on?" She asks. "Why is everyone talking about your hair?"
"It's true,” I say quickly. “I don't have any hair. I wear a wig."
She stares at me and I almost wonder if she's waiting for me to whip my wig off to prove it.
"Bryn already knew because I knew her when I lost my hair. I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner." A lump forms in my throat. "I've just never felt comfortable telling people about it because most people don't get it and I never wanted you to see me differently."
"I'm not mad that I didn't know. I just want to make sure you're okay."
"I'm not." I gasp.
Bryn immediately gives me a hug.
"Do you want me to go talk to him?" Katya asks.
"That'll just make it worse. I just wish I understood why he did it. And why now?"
And then I remember, in my last apology, I sent him a picture to prove I didn't lie to him about this biggest of things. Could he have been so angry or annoyed by my apology that he shared that?
"Is it possible it wasn't him?" Bryn asks.
"He's the only one at this school who knows outside of you two, and it obviously wasn't you guys. Does everyone know?"
"I don't know if everyone knows, but I've heard a lot of people talking about it."
I stifle a sob.
Bryn rubs my back. "People are only talking about it because it's unexpected, not because anyone sees you any differently."
"Yeah," Katya adds. "It doesn't matter that you don't have hair and you wear a wig. That doesn't make you any less Summer."
"No, you don't understand. Before I came to this school, when I started losing my hair in middle school, people thought I was diseased or contagious or something, even though alopecia isn't something you can just catch. People wouldn't sit with me or talk to me or be in a group with me, and people would threaten to pull my wig off. I couldn't stand it. I can't do that again."
"That's not going to happen here," Katya says. "That was middle school when people are stupid and judgmental."
"And you're saying people are magically less stupid and less judgmental in high school?" My voices raises to a frantic squeak. "I don't believe that."
"Would it make you feel better if I shaved my head in solidarity?"
I let out a short laugh. "Yeah, that would do wonders for the rumor about my hairlessness being contagious. I appreciate the sentiment though."
"Do you want me to ask Ethan about it? If Micah is really the one spreading it around, he would be the one who knows."
I think for a second. I'm not sure I'm emotionally prepared for that information. Rationally, I know it had to have been him, but I'm not ready to reconcile that the person I thought I knew and the person I so enjoyed talking to, could do something like this.
"I don't know if I want to know."
"Let us know if we can do anything to help," Bryn adds.
"I will, I just don't know what there is to do." I don't see a way to resolve this. I'm not sure I'll be able to leave this band trailer and face the entire band and all of the rumors.
There has to be another explanation for this. Micah isn't a cruel person, and this was cruel. For however mad at me he was, I can't believe he would do this.
Bryn and Katya give me space to try and gather my things and get ready to go out on the field for the National Anthem. How am I going to get through this whole evening?
I know May would tell me not to hide out in the band trailer and just be confident and own it because who cares that I don't have hair it's not my fault, but I can't do that. I can't feel confident while my stomach is eating a hole in itself and my hands are shaking and I feel like I might throw up. Maybe I really am sick. Maybe I can call my mom and go home.
I wait until the last possible moment to put on my uniform, harness, and drum. Luckily our hats cover most of our head, so it will be more difficult for people to speculate whether or not my hair is real. If anyone touches my hair tonight I'm going to lose it.
Bryn gives my hand a squeeze before we walk out and get in line for the Anthem. Katya gives me a look like she'll go to war with anyone who gives me trouble. I'm thankful for them.
Kaila makes a point not to look at me as we arrange our line, but no one else in the drumline does anything out of the ordinary. But, that probably doesn't mean anything because we're in uniform and we're about to take the field, and we've been trained to be serious and have a one track mind and not let anything, not even a hairless girl, break our focus. Everything will change once the uniforms come off.
I manage to keep myself together during the National Anthem and not make any stupid mistakes. We take our places in the stands for first quarter pep band, and I purposefully position myself next to Bryn. Micah, who usually stands on my side of the band in the front, switched places with Walter, so now he's on the opposite side. Good, because I didn't want to see him anyway.
No one speaks to me. I speak to no one. This is fine. Everything is fine.
Except people in the row behind me are talking. There's too much noise around us for me to make out what they're saying, but someone giggles, and I know they're talking about me. Without turning around to look, I can imagine one of them pointing at the back of my head, silently daring the other to give my wig a little tug to see if the rumors are true. I want to go home.
When we file off again for our pre-halftime show warm-up, I'm in the wrong headspace again. I should be thinking intro, poor unfortunate souls, gaston, cruella, be prepared, notre dame. Instead I'm thinking they know I don't have hair they know I don't have hair they know I don't have hair everyone is looking at me everyone is talking about me Micah told Micah did this Micah's fault why why why.
Taylor would be horrified.
But I can't shake it.
As we arc up on the field and Mr. Murphy gives us the go-ahead to go to our opening spots on the field, I can barely see straight. I have to look at Micah and this is Micah's fault because he told and why did he tell, why did he do this, why does he hate me so much, people are staring, people know.
I try to take deep breaths and center myself, but I circle back to I'm going to mess up. I'm going to fail. Again. This is going to be like that competition. Taylor is going to be so mad. The drumline is going to be so mad. Mr. Murphy is going to be so mad. Everyone will know I messed up and I can't handle this and I'll never be section leader and I'll let May down because I can't do anything right.
I will myself, command myself to stop thinking and get it together and just focus on these six songs. I can worry later.
But I'm powerless.
Micah counts off. My body moves and I hit the opening roll and manage to march, but I'm still standing in the band trailer and Bryn is telling me all over again that everyone knows that I have no hair.
I get through Poor Unfortunate Souls even though I'm in middle school when I lost my hair and everyone knew and they called me all the names in the book.
I survive Gaston even though I'm in my bedroom telling Micah my deepest, most well-kept secrets, giving them all to him hoping he would understand and then feeling so happy when he did.
I finish the show, even though I'm in my bed, hiding from the world.
As soon as we filed off the field, I feel the eyes on the back of my head again. Vultures waiting and watching for me to take my hat off, like maybe my wig will come with it and everyone can ooh and aah and gasp.
"I can't do this," I whisper to Bryn as we walk back to the band trailer. "I can't stay here."
"Why?" She whispers back.
"I can hear them talking. I know they're all staring."
"It's not just about you. We just finished our show. People are talking about that."
I don't believe her. My heart is hammering, and not because we just got off the field. I have to get out of here. I can't handle another two quarters of people staring at me and talking about me. I know May would say I need to stick it out and show that I don't care, but I do care. I care a lot. And if I stay here I'm going to lose it.
"I don't feel well," I tell Bryn.
"What do you mean?"
"I feel like I'm going to throw up. I want to go home." It's not really a lie. My stomach is churning so hard I really might vomit.
We reach the band trailer. "People talking about it will pass. I won't leave your side all night, I promise."
Micah walks by without Kaila and without noticing me at all. My stomach lurches and I dry heave, right as Taylor walks up.
"You alright Summer?" He asks. "Better showing out there tonight."
I can't even relish the compliment. "I really don't feel well." I hope he can hear the desperation in my voice. His permission is all I need to leave. Mr. Murphy trusts his decisions and opinions.
Taylor gives me a once over. My face is hot and sweat is dripping off of my forehead. My stomach churns again and I put my hand over my mouth. Maybe I really am sick.
"Yeah, you're not looking like yourself." He frowns. "Why don't you go home and get some rest. We'll see you tomorrow." He pats me on the shoulder and disappears into the band trailer to deposit his drum.
"Thank you," I say to his back.
Bryn helps me with my drum and uniform while my stomach keeps churning and my head starts spinning. I find my phone and text my mom. I'm going home.