The Name Game
Esmerelda Shorte goes to the most prestigious private school in Connecticut. The teachers are perfect, her friends are perfect, and nothing could go wrong...
Until the day her teacher takes her class on a fieldtrip to Baskerville High, a school for delinquent kids that have been kicked out of normal school, and gives them a year long assignment.... to become somebody else.
In the moment of silence following, I can hear the cash register at the front of the store, the clicking of high heels across tile floors, and the gentle chatter of teenage girls shopping. And here I am, staring into the eyes of the fake blonde boy that is my partner, who is holding out probably the most stylish outfit I will ever wear.
â€œThis?â€ I stare at it, slightly mesmerized by how easily he chose it. The top is a flowy piece, striped and splatter-painted black and white, and the pants are red skinny jeans with black chains hanging on them. He holds a blue belt in the other hand and a gaudy blue necklace shaped like an owl. Itâ€™s the most colorful thing I will ever own, if I do buy it like he wants me to.
He nods. â€œYou donâ€™t really have a shape. The top will cover that.â€
My cheeks warm and I resist the urge to glance down at my chest. â€œRight. Sorry for asking.â€
He turns around and begins to scan the shoe rack behind us for a long time before picking out a pair of black combat boots that lace nearly up to my knees. Itâ€™s a bizarre outfit, even for him, but he picked it out so I figure itâ€™s his fashion sense.
â€œNow go,â€ he says, shoving all of the stuff into my arms. â€œIâ€™ll be waiting.â€
I stumble towards the dressing rooms, taking a number before entering one of the vacant stalls. Itâ€™s tiny, with a small bench and a place for hanging stuff, and a full-length mirror against the back wall. I cringe silently at my reflection.
Turning away so I donâ€™t have to see myself, I strip off the bland blue-and-gray school uniform and pull on the pants, struggling to fit the ankles over my heels, doing a sort of ritual dance in an attempt to pull them up. Buttoning the top is just as challenging. Iâ€™ve never considered myself a pudgy person in the least â€“ Iâ€™m actually pretty scrawny â€“ but dang these pants are tight.
I pull on the top and the necklace, patiently lacing the combat boots as slowly as I can so I donâ€™t have to look at myself again.
But when I turn around, I find that I donâ€™t cringe near as much as I expected. The pants have done the impossible, and I actually look as if I have legs and a butt, which has never, ever happened in my lifetime. The top hides just enough and is white and flowy, the necklace falls at just the right length. I stare at the entire ensemble in the mirror and realize that I got the high end of this whole trading-places dealio.
I try to avoid my face, with my bland brown hair and eyes that could barely be considered brown theyâ€™re so murky and hideous. If I ignore it completely, I can just barely feel good about the outfit.
I step out of the stall and walk quietly down the small hallway towards the main store, where Ash stands waiting against the wall. When he sees me, his eyes widen slightly and he steps up to me, studying the entire outfit.
â€œYou need bracelets,â€ he says, his eyes scanning me, his fingers playing with the flowy ends on my shirt as if heâ€™s studying it more carefully. â€œAnd take that ponytail out, would you? Unless your hair is in a braid, itâ€™s unattractive.â€
I glare at him, but still reach to the back of my head and tug out the old ponytail, letting my hair flow over my shoulders. Thereâ€™s an awkward bump in the back of my head now from where my hair dried that way.
â€œBetter,â€ he says anyways. â€œBut you know, I will be making you take drastic measures for this.â€
â€œMe, too,â€ I say.
â€œYouâ€™re getting your ears pierced and your hair dyed,â€ he warns, his eyebrows raised. â€œYouâ€™ll be cute as a blonde.â€
â€œYouâ€™re taking those contacts out and dying your hair back, to your natural color,â€ I counter. â€œAnd no more face piercings.â€
We stand there for a long time, staring each other down, eyes narrowed. The hatred in this room is overwhelming.
â€œFine,â€ he says nonchalantly, stepping back first. â€œIâ€™ll go take them out now, actually. Give me a moment.â€
I watch patiently as he retreats towards the back of the store, where the mens restroom is. Alone, I stare at myself in the mirror next to the shoe section for a long time, trying to even out the bad features of my face with the good ones, trying to convince myself Iâ€™m not a lost cause.
My heart stops for half a second and I turn quickly, terrified at the face that Iâ€™ll find.
I almost scream at them when I first turn around, because their eyes are outlined in makeup so pitch black that their eyes like humongous and their hair is nearly the same color. I stare into the blue of their eyes for a few more moments before finally I recognize the face.
â€œEmma?â€ I ask, my mouth open in shock. â€œWhat the heck happenedâ€¦?â€
She smiles sadly, sighing slightly. â€œMy partner was a goth girl from Mr. Livingstoneâ€™s class. Gosh, who was yours? Your outfit is amazing!â€
I glance down at the clothes that make me look like I escaped a British circus and smile slightly. â€œOh, right. His name is Ashtonâ€¦â€
â€œHIS?â€ she asks, smiling bright. The bright smile that sheâ€™s always wore around hasnâ€™t changed at all, despite her dark clothing. â€œItâ€™s a guy! His fashion sense is adorable â€“ is he cute?â€
I shrug, glancing down at my feet. â€œI mean, I guess soâ€¦heâ€™s a soccer player and stuffâ€¦â€
She squeals a little bit, and I have to glance around to see if anybody has heard.
Sadly, I regretted to notice the fake blondeâ€™s return from the bathroom.
He stands slightly off to the side behind her, leaning against one of the racks, his eyebrows raised. His eyes arenâ€™t translucent blue any longer â€“ theyâ€™re bright green, a beautiful, mystical dark green.
Emma notices my looking and turns around, throwing her hand over her mouth in surprise. â€œOh. Hi.â€
I blush so hot that I can feel my ears heating up. Emma waves a quick goodbye.
â€œGood luck, Esmerelda,â€ she whispers, turning and scurrying out of the aisle.
I glance up at him, scowling already, as if to shake it off, but I find that heâ€™s standing inches from me and I jump back a little bit.
His eyes stare straight into my soul.
â€œYeah?â€ I ask, trying to sound casual, but his voice is serious.
He blinks carefully and puts his hands behind me on the rack, trapping me in.
â€œDonâ€™t you dare say that ever again,â€ he says.
I widen my eyes. â€œWhat? Why?â€
â€œYouâ€™re not allowed to like me, okay?â€ he breathes. â€œIâ€™m too screwed up.â€
I clutch my hands to my chest and cringe back from him, scared that heâ€™s going to hurt me. â€œI promise! I wouldnâ€™t. I was just saying.â€
â€œDonâ€™t,â€ he steps back and turns back to the rack behind him, scanning again through the shirts as if nothingâ€™s happened. I keep my distance.
â€œCome on,â€ he says, turning away from the clothes. â€œItâ€™s time for your hair and makeup.â€
And I donâ€™t say another word to him until we exit the store.