I’m weird. Everyone says so.
I didn’t used to think I was, but when enough people tell you something, you start to believe them. When the popular kids whisper as you walk by, when no one invites you to sit with them at lunch, when everything you do is somehow wrong, it’s hard not to see yourself as the resident social pariah. And when your only friends are the characters in the books you read, it’s easier to hide and try to pretend life doesn’t completely suck.
That was before Allie McAndrews took things to Instagram.
There’s a picture of me eating a sandwich out on the front steps, my cheeks puffy from chewing, my eyes intent on the open book I’m holding. I had no idea someone had written a book about Delilah McPhee’s pathetic life! #majorloser It takes me a second to comprehend what she means, but then it clicks: the book I’m reading is A Curse So Dark and Lonely .
Ha. Good one, Allie. I wish I’d thought of that first.
The comments aren’t much better, calling me a slew of things I’d rather not think about. The library is really the only place I can hide from the whispers and the laughing, from hearing people saying things like “ugly” and “freak”. I wonder if I could just curl up here, in this corner, and never come out.
I wonder what would happen if I just stopped existing.
I know things would be better for everyone if I could disappear. Allie and her friends could stop feeling bothered by me, my mom wouldn’t have to work so much, my dad...I’m not even sure he’d care, honestly, with his new family taking up so much of his time.
It hurts to think, but sometimes I wonder if anyone would care.
But Oliver would. He’d know something was wrong if I never opened the book again. He’d be devastated if he knew I was dead. The thought makes my heart lurch and I instinctively dig in my bookbag for Between the Lines , holding the faded blue leather close to my chest.
Oliver would miss me...wouldn’t he?
I let the book fall open to page 43, and there he is, six inches tall and beaming up at me like I’m the most beautiful thing he’s seen all day. I manage my own weak smile, but he knows something’s up. He frowns, walking to the edge of the page.
“Delilah? Why are you crying?”
I scrub my face with my sweatshirt sleeve, bumping my glasses up my nose in the process. “I’m fine, Ollie. It’s not important.”
“Delilah…” He sighs. “Talk to me. Please.”
Saying it out loud would be so embarrassing. He has real problems, and I’m getting teary over some stupid Instagram picture. The longer he looks at me, though, the harder it is to keep it to myself. “Allie shared a picture of me and said I was pathetic.”
Oliver’s face hardens, hands on his hips. “This Allie sounds absolutely horrible. Why does she insist on being so vile to you?”
I shrug. “Breaking her kneecaps on accident may have something to do with it.”
“That shouldn’t matter! If I were out there…” He pauses, breathing in. “I wouldn’t let her do anything to you. No one would hurt you, I would make sure of it.”
I let myself imagine Oliver here with me, holding me to his chest as I cry, sitting with me until I feel better. “I can deal with it. It’s not like I haven’t before.”
“That’s the thing, Delilah.” He gazes up at me, his eyes soft and pleading. “You shouldn’t have to.”
His words make me cry harder, and I allow the pain I’ve been holding back to overwhelm me for a moment. Every time I see that stupid picture, I feel like Allie’s stripped me raw and put me on display, the girl with no friends who wishes fictional boys were real. I feel ugly, and small, and worthless. I feel unwanted.
Oliver sits with me as I calm down, not saying a word aside from asking how I’m feeling or if I have water nearby. I can tell it’s hard for him not to be physically out here with me; several times now he’s walked forward and reached out a hand, pulling it back before it hits the barrier that separates us. Even if he can’t touch me, my chest feels warm at the thought of him wanting to. He wants to be with me, because he’s my friend. He doesn’t mind that I get tired easily when I’m around people for too long, or that I hum when we’re sitting together in comfortable silence, or that I’m not nearly as pretty as Princess Seraphima.
Being with Oliver makes my head feel fuzzy, and even after I’ve closed the book I’ve noticed I can’t stop smiling. I’m starting to think that when we get him out of the book, maybe I could ask him on a date to the bookstore across town. I don’t even know if he feels the same way that I do, and that scares me, but it’s moments like this that make me forget to care.
Before I close the book to head home, Oliver insists I keep hydrated and rest for the night. “If you want to go to bed early, I understand,” he says. “I can always see if Frump is available for a game of chess.”
“I’m always up for talking to you, Oliver.” I smile, looking at my feet as my cheeks turn pink. “Thank you for this afternoon. I feel a lot better.”
“I’ll see you later tonight, then.” He grins, and my heart beats a little faster. “I’ll always be here for you when you need me.”
As I’m walking out of school, Allie and her friends are hanging out near the carpool lane, and for a second I freeze, wishing the ground would swallow me up. But I focus on how much happier I feel now that I’ve spent time with Oliver. Nothing, not even Allie McAndrews, can take that beautiful feeling away from me.
Allie gives me a snarky little wave, her eyebrow raised as if daring me to keep my head down and feel ashamed. I do something that surprises both of us: I wave back, plastering the biggest smile on my face before turning onto the sidewalk. I don’t even have to turn around to know that she’s confused and irritated, which is satisfying. What I’m more proud of is how I didn’t let what she thought define me, even if it was just for a second.
For a little moment in time, I wasn’t some pathetic, lonely girl. I was Delilah.
And if Oliver thinks that I’m worth it, I don’t see why I shouldn’t, too.