I once asked myself why I wasn't more like my sister. Worst thirty seconds of my life. Yet, then again, there were certain things I learnt from it: I had this newfound respect for myself and my existence, and how very much my sister wasn't as "good" as everybody thought. She was older and prettier, smarter and wiser - because, of course, they were two very different qualities. She was also the favourite in the family, walking around like a princess dressed in a puffy pink gown with a tiara placed perfectly in the center of my head. I cringed at the thought of me in the same outfit; mud and grass stains up the skirt of the dress and my long, untamed hair cascading down my back with the tiara tangled and lopsided on my head. Not only was there the fact that we were so completely different, but the contrast was actually funny. Or maybe I was the only one amused by our dissimilarities. My parents apparently found me as an embarrassment to the family, the ugly duckling, the mistake that shouldn't have happened and came out the wrong way. The stories had never grown old: I'd been heavy and crying as soon as I'd entered the world, a loud, wailing potato that never slept and wouldn't stop kicking. My sister, on the other hand, had been quick and sleepy, falling to rest in my mother's child like the most beautiful cliché.
Her name was Elizabeth, pretty much destining her to be the favourite. With a firm bob haircut and neat clothes, she looked like the President's wife next to me. Elizabeth and Mindy, a name that reminded me more of the annoying puppy that couldn't take a hint. Her name clogged the walls, music and academic achievements plastered up every surface, and pictures of us together basically contained her sitting straight and smiling at the camera while I screamed and covered my face, covered in a thick layer of dirt and dodgy tops I'd bought for three dollars.
'You out of your daze yet?' Jace hit me lightly on the side of my head, smelling strongly of sweat and nasty men's deodorant.
A daze? Or a living nightmare? Honestly, I wasn't sure Jace had the mental capacity to know the difference. All he knew was the weight and size of a basketball and how to shoot a three-pointer with flawless precision.
'It wasn't a daze,' I said quietly, zipping up my bag and following him through to the back entrance of the school. He towered over me, bending down to hear what I had said with an unfortunate look on his face.
'Sure, it was,' he replied, grinning. 'You're face goes all...' And then he tried to demonstrate, pulling a face that had his eyes gazing right through me and his mouth hanging slightly open. I slapped him and shrugged my bag higher up on my back.
'I do not look like that!' I argued.
He snorted and wrapped an arm around me. 'If we weren't such good friends, I wouldn't have told you truth, would I?'
'As my friend you are supposed to tell me I look "hot" when I day dream.'
'Ok, then,' Jace said, jolting to a stop. He tilted my head up to meet his and I could see the smile in his eyes. His joy resonated through me like the vibrations on a struck drum.
'You look gorgeous when you zone out. An image of total perfection. I bet every girl in this school wants to be you.'
'And now you're being sarcastic.'
He frowned, apparently offended. 'I really don't understand girls. Maybe I should have more guy friends.'
Jace did have "guy friends" - it wasn't that he didn't. He played basketball in a team full of the male gender on a court swimming in testosterone. I was even pretty sure he'd kissed a guy, for a dare at his first party that he couldn't have avoided.
Yet, he chose to hang out with me the most; the girl that was boy everywhere except for her physical features. He knew almost everything about me, even teased Elizabeth with me, and knew exactly how to act around my parents: not himself.
'Actually, I think I'll ditch your house for Wren's tonight,' Jace announced. 'Thoughts?'
I pointed to myself. 'Homework.' I pointed to him. 'No homework...or avoiding it.'
He shrugged. 'What can I say? Schubert pissed me off again. Why should I have to follow his orders?' He cleared his throat, beginning in the low, croaky voice of Mark Schubert. 'No, sir, I will not find your "x" because I think if your love was that good, you should find her yourself. I'll send you a congratulations card on your engagement while I'm partying in Tahiti. Good day.'
I suppressed my laugh as he reached across me to open the door. It let out a squeak when Jace had to tug it open, flexing his impressively large arm muscles.
'Wren told me the spots for Tontus College are up. I'm going to go for a scholarship.'
I glanced him up and down. He didn't look like college material, yet his excitement suggested otherwise. I had always imagined Jace would be one of those guys who would pull out his finger in the last year of high school, suddenly Mr Schubert's best student. But I should have known him well enough to realise that he wanted nothing more than to be the next Michael Jordan.
'And does Wren encourage you to have a backup plan?'
Jace pulled a face. 'That's not supportive.'
'Having your best interests at heart is better than supportive. Don't you think you should have something you can fall back on when all else fails? Like an apprenticeship or something?'
He was quiet for a moment, either because he was processing my words or spending his time ignoring them completely. Either way, I couldn't tell. He had his head inside of his locker, searching for his house key underneath piles of torn up exercise books and lose paper forms for excursions he hadn't attended.
'Look, Mindy, I think I can become a little more than a cashier for the rest of my life.'
'Apprentices don't lead to being a check-out chick, Jace!' I argued, hoisting my bag over my shoulders. The girl beside me pushed me sideways to get to her locker and I had to bend over her to hear how Jace had replied.
He was frowning when he said, 'The officials at Tontus have been watching me for the past three seasons. I'm practically in the books already!' He shook his head, sighing. 'Besides, what are you going to do? Become a lawyer like the rest of your family? Run for President?'
'I don't know how many times I have to tell you,' I said emotionlessly. 'Elizabeth is not running for President.'
'Sure she isn't,' he retorted with a wink, nudging me in the side with his elbow. 'You know, I've always wondered what it would be like to be in one of her dreams. What do you 'reckon would happen?'
'She'd be standing over my dead body with a stake in one hand while her journalist boyfriend covered me in moist dirt.'
Jace laughed and slammed his locker shut, clicking on the lock mindlessly. We walked only inches apart, hands brushing casually every now and then. I knew girls envied me, though not for the reasons I wanted. To everyone else, we were a couple. For that reason, girls were jealous of how much we shared with each other and the connection we had.