“Perfect,” by Jennifer Diemer
Bonnie has everything a modern girl could ask for: a nice house, friends, and genetically engineered perfection. But then she meets Sylvia, and she begins to realize that perfect is only ever an illusion. Love, though, is always real.
(photo by weirdcolor)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
by Jennifer Diemer
I was made perfect. We all are now. Well, those of us whose parents can afford it. But most can, or make the sacrifices necessary to do so.
And the few who fall short… In school, I’ve been taught that there’s no sense in thinking about them—unless it’s to hand them a tip or make suggestions for improving their job performance.
Or to put in a cancel order, but that’s begun to fall out of fashion, considered by the more modern thinkers to be unnecessarily harsh.
My mother always says, “The poor things can’t help it, after all.”
Anyway, just because they’re genetically deficient…that doesn’t mean they can’t feel pain.
“My mom canceled the maid yesterday,” Lana announces around a dainty bite of chocolate cookie.
“No way!” Georgia drops her napkin, and her china doll face flushes pink.
Hillary’s eyes widen. “Did you see the Bluecoats take her away?”
“Yeah.” Lana shrugs and brushes a stray red curl behind her shoulder. “It’s not a big deal. She’s canceled lots of servants. Besides, we think the maid was stealing stuff—like, my mom was sure there was some perfume missing from her atomizer.”
Hillary scoffs, and leans back on her bare arms, her skin like gleaming copper beneath the midday sun. “What’s a maid need perfume for?”
“I know, right?” Pouting, Lana’s pretty forehead creases. “Well, whatever. We’re supposed to get a new girl tonight. Hopefully this one won’t have sticky fingers.”
“Seriously. It’s so hard to find honest help these days.” Hillary unwraps her daisy-shaped cream cheese sandwich, crustless and divided into six bite-size petals.
“My mother’s maid stole her pearl necklace, the one she wore at her wedding,” I say quietly, swallowing down a piece of banana—and the lump in my throat. “But she didn’t cancel her. She just sent her back to the employment agency.”
“That’s why stuff like this continues!” The remaining bits of Lana’s cookie are dust in the palm of her hand. “Bonnie, you’ve got to talk sense into her. I know she thinks it’s inhumane or whatever, but consider the consequences! If you let these criminals squeak by unpunished, then someone else will become their victim down the road.”
“I…guess.” I stare into the pulpy orange juice in my thermos, wishing I could float away on a sweet orange sea. Whenever my friends start talking about the genetically deficient—gene-defs, they call them—I just want to slink away, eat my lunch alone in the quiet of the library, where no one will look at me or ask my opinion.
“Want a blueberry?” Georgia holds out a handful of dark blue fruit, staining her hand purple.
I shake my head, screwing the lid onto my thermos. “I’m not hungry. I’m going back in. I have a test in gene theory this afternoon, and I want to study a little more, to make sure I’m prepared.”
“Oh, Bonnie,” Lana sighs, waving a celery stick in the air, “why do you waste your time with that class? It’s all nonsense—touchy-feely hot air.”
I bow my head and stand up, brushing grass from my skirt. “Well, it’s too late to drop it now.”
“I know why she’s taking gene theory!” Hillary stands up beside me and wraps her arm around my shoulder, bouncing. “Two words: Paul Mercer.”
Lana scowls. “Ugh, he’s so hot. Like, it should be illegal.”
“Tell me I’m right, Bon,” Hillary says, taking my hands and swinging them back and forth in the air between us. “Have you passed any notes back and forth? Ooh! You should ask him to the Spring Fling!”
“Um…” I loose my hands and take a few backward steps. “Maybe I will. I’ll think about it.”
“You know you want to!”
“You know you want him,” Lana snorts.
You don’t know what I want, I think, turning my back on my friends, drawing a deep breath into my lungs.
She has to sit at the back of the classroom. She protested at first, but not for long, because Mr. Hargrove was adamant, rapping his hand against her assigned desk. “A special exception was made for you, Sylvia,” he told her, “and you mustn’t take the privilege for granted—no matter how brilliant you are.”
Fourteen pairs of eyes followed her unenthusiastic walk to the back of the room—including my eyes, wide with surprise. I had never seen a gene-def student in school before, and Sylvia was definitely a gene-def: instead of the standard blue, her eyes were a bold shade of green, like the moss that decorates my parents’ walled garden, so bright it seems to glow in the dark.
When Sylvia sat down and lifted her shocking gaze, she looked straight at me.
And…something happened. Something deep and frightening. I felt as if I were suddenly remade, as if the careful work of the geneticists before my birth had unraveled in an instant.
I was undone.
Before she joined our gene theory class, I sat in the front row, next to Paul Mercer. But now I sit in the back row, beside Sylvia.
Mr. Hargrove hasn’t commented on it, though he gave me a funny look the first time he noticed me in a different seat, and he opened his mouth as if he were about to say something to me—but then Ms. Lindell came into the room with a form for him to sign, and he chatted with her for a few minutes out in the hallway. By the time he came back into the classroom, his face was flushed, and his attention was scattered.
Everyone knows Mr. Hargrove has a crush on Ms. Lindell. I can understand why: she is very kind, and pretty, too.
But she’s not half as pretty as Sylvia.
We meet after school in her parents’ apple orchard. I take the bus there—a thirty-minute ride—and Sylvia’s father picks her up outside of the school building. Pretending to go for a walk, Sylvia meets me at the bus stop, and then we follow back roads until we reach the far side of the apple trees.
Unlike most gene-defs, Sylvia’s parents have their own business; they don’t work for anyone but themselves. Because of that, they’ve been able to enroll their children—Sylvia and her brother, Timothy—in various schools. For a price, of course. But, eventually, parents complain about the influence of gene-defs on their perfect boys and girls, and Sylvia and Timothy are sent home, asked to never return.
I’m afraid of that happening at my school. If Sylvia were banned, I could still come to the orchard, I guess, and continue to see her secretly, but the thought of spending even one hour less with her every day makes my eyes sting.
We have so little time together already.
Hand in hand, we walk between the gnarled-looking, fruitless trees, our backpacks abandoned, along with our shoes and socks. The grass and soil are warm beneath my bare feet, and Sylvia’s hand is warm and soft in mine, and I tilt my head back to enjoy the sun’s rays on my face after so many hours spent indoors beneath harsh classroom lighting.
None of those hours—the ones I spend apart from Sylvia—feel real to me at all. They’re endless interruptions, painful sometimes to endure.
“You’re beautiful, Bonnie,” Sylvia says, gently turning me toward her and pressing her lips against my neck.
I smile at the sun, and then I smile at my sun: I place my hand on her cheek, lose myself in the green of her eyes. “And you—you’re perfect,” I tell her, and kiss her mouth. She always tastes and smells of apples, even though the orchard, now, is bare.
“Why didn’t you tell us there was a gene-def in your gene theory class?”
“Oh…” My shoulders hunch, as if to deflect Lana’s question. “I don’t know.” I remove an apple from my lunch sack and cradle it in my hand. “I guess it didn’t seem important enough to mention.”
Hillary giggles, sidling up next to me and patting my knee. “You crack me up, Bon. And I don’t even think you mean to!”
“Well, whatever.” Lana balls up a wad of aluminum foil and tosses it into the trashcan on the lawn. “Tami Hunter said it’s been all hush-hush. Like, she only takes weird classes in the afternoon and leaves before last bell. It’s not right, and I’m going to tell my mom about it as soon as I get home. She’s on the board, and she’ll do something about it, get rid of it, I’m sure.”
“She’s not an it,” I whisper, but I don’t think anyone hears me.
Then I notice Georgia watching me, her blue eyes round. She ducks her head for a moment, scribbling something onto the notepad she keeps in her purse.
Georgia is the newest member of our clique; her family moved to Springtown two months ago, after her father took a job with a law firm here. She’s an only child, kind of nervous and prone to excited outbursts. I still don’t feel as if I know her well, even though we spend every lunch period together.
Now she reaches toward me, a bunch of grapes in her hand. “Here,” she says.
“Save them for later. If you don’t want them now.”
And then my gaze rests upon the fruit in my palm—green, like Sylvia’s eyes—and I see that, between the stems, something white peeks out: a piece of paper, rolled up tight.
“Later,” Georgia says again, holding me in a stare, and then she stands up and stretches and runs a manicured hand through her perfect blonde hair. “I’ve got to go tutor a kid for chemistry credit. My mom says it’ll look good on my college applications.” She makes a face, laughing a little, though I notice that her hands are shaking.
“Ooh, have fun,” Lana smirks, as Hillary rolls her eyes.
“Hope he’s cute!”
The note had only one word on it: Cafeteria.
Pretending a stomachache, I left Lana and Hillary a few minutes after Georgia did, and headed toward the nurse’s office. But I just leaned against the nurse’s closed door as I read the note. And then I took a deep breath, walked through the halls, and slipped into the cafeteria.
My friends and I never eat in the cafeteria, because Lana hates the orange-painted walls and says the food tastes like cardboard.
But it smells nice in here—a cozy, homey scent—and I try to project calm as I scan the crowded room for Georgia’s yellow hair.
She grabs me from behind, and I make a little yelp.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“It’s okay.” I swallow, facing her. “Why did you ask me to meet you here?”
I follow her to a small table with two chairs jammed into a corner, and we sit with our backs toward the rest of the room.
“You know Sylvia,” Georgia says plainly.
It doesn’t sound like a question, but I answer her, anyway, nodding my head, my eyes on my folded hands on the table.
“She told me she was…seeing someone, but I never guessed—How could I have guessed? I mean, you’re so…” She fumbles for the right word.
“Quiet?” I suggest.
“How do you know S-Sylvia?” My voice is a squeak. I’ve never spoken Sylvia’s name out loud before to anyone but her.
Georgia glances over her shoulder. There’s no one near us, and no one paying attention. When she turns back to face me, her eyes look wild. “If I tell you something, do you promise—swear—to keep it a secret?”
“Yes. But you haven’t answered—”
“Look,” Georgia says, and she pokes herself in the eye. Or—no. I think she’s poking herself in the eye, but she’s really removing a contact; its concave shape rests upon her fingertip, faintly blue.
I have seen contacts before. My mother’s last maid wore them, because her vision was poor.
But if Georgia wears contacts…
“You,” I begin—and never finish, because we’re staring at one another, and Georgia winks at me, closing her single blue eye so that only the contactless brown eye remains open.
“Don’t say it.” Faster than seems possible, Georgia replaces the contact and blinks, regarding me with twin blue eyes once more. “You swore not to tell.”
“I trust you.” She smiles then, but there’s a tightness to her mouth. Her lovely mouth, so lovely but not perfect. It looks perfect, but it can’t be perfect, because she’s a gene-def, like Sylvia.
But not like Sylvia. Because Georgia’s in hiding, wearing a mask.
I can’t blame her. I’m in hiding, too. Hiding my feelings for Sylvia from my friends, and our parents, and the world.
“I don’t understand. Why did you share this with me?”
Her smile softens. “I wanted you to know,” she says, covering my hands with her own, “that you aren’t alone.”
I shake my head. “But I’m not a—”
“Aren’t…I?” Confused, I start to stand up, because I want to go, want to be by myself to think, but Georgia holds my hands firmly and pins me down with her brown eyes tinted blue.
“No one’s perfect, Bonnie. You can’t buy perfection, not for all of the money in the world, because it doesn’t exist. Gene-defs are no different from you, from Lana, from anyone in this school.” She tilts her head and laughs quietly. “We’re all perfectly imperfect. And that’s okay.”
“I…” I wrench my hands away and rise to my feet. “I’ll see you at lunch tomorrow,” I stutter, and Georgia just nods her golden head, leaning back in her chair.
“I couldn’t tell you. I couldn’t share her secret. You understand, don’t you, Bonnie?”
I gather Sylvia into my arms and breathe in the sweet tang of her skin. “I do,” I whisper into her hair, chestnut brown, its short strands soft as feathers. “But I’m glad she told me, because…” I pull back and gaze into Sylvia’s worried eyes. “Things make so much more sense now. Now that I know I’m not broken.”
“Broken…because you love me.”
“No.” I shake my head. “I do love you. But there’s only beauty in that. In you.”
She rests her cheek against my hand.
“I felt broken because…” I breathe out. “Because I’m not perfect.” I laugh and cover my mouth. “I always knew—always. But I was afraid…before.”
Sylvia kisses my forehead, then leans against me. “And now?”
“Now I feel sorry for them—Lana and Hillary. And everyone else who doesn’t know there’s so much more to life…than perfect.”
I find them in the usual place, nestled in the shadows beneath the oak tree on the school’s front lawn. Lana’s scowling, complaining about something, waving a banana around like a baton, and Hillary’s laughing as she picks at her small salad.
And Georgia’s watching me—watching us—as we move toward them, holding hands, holding our heads high.
Her lips part. She looks startled for a moment. Then scared.
And then…something beautiful happens.
“Glad you could join us, Sylvia,” she says, scooting nearer to Hillary, making space for both of us and patting the grass, still grinning.
“Syl…” Hillary’s jaw drops.
I worry, for a moment, that Lana’s sparkling blue eyes might roll right out of her pretty head. But then she stiffens and blinks, and the banana falls from her fingertips, breaking in half against a root of the tree. “What,” she huffs, “are you doing? With her?”
My palms are sweaty, but Sylvia squeezes my hand and presses warmly against my side. Drawing the sweet spring air—and the scent of Lana’s ruined banana—into my lungs, I meet Hillary’s eyes first (Flawless Cornflower) and Lana’s eyes last (Faultless Sapphire), and then I say, “I wanted to introduce you to my girlfriend. Sylvia.”
“I’m so happy for you two,” Georgia beams.
“Happy?” Lana stands up, narrowly avoiding her discarded banana peel. “Has everyone gone insane? My mother is talking to the board tonight to insist that this…this…”
“This what?” Sylvia asks her calmly, pulling me nearer, her arm around my waist. Her beautiful eyes (Glow-in-the-dark Green, I’ve named them) still Lana, and silence her, though Lana’s own eyes sizzle, suddenly electric. She makes a move toward Sylvia, and I place myself in between them, and then Georgia rises and squeezes between Lana and me.
“What’s wrong with you, Georgia?” Lana hisses. “Why are you taking their side?”
“Because their side is my side.”
“What do you—Oh!” Lana stumbles back, because she sees now that Georgia’s eyes are brown, not blue. Georgia holds up her contacts on her index finger, takes a deep breath, and then flicks them to the ground.
“Guess what, Lana?” Georgia’s voice is quiet but fierce. “You’ve been eating lunch with a gene-def for months.”
“You—you tricked us!”
“No.” Georgia’s face falls. “But I betrayed myself. I’m through with that now, though.” She gazes at Sylvia and me and nods her head. “We all are.”
Hillary leaps up and grabs Lana’s arm, tugging her back. “Let’s go, Lan. We don’t need these losers. Weird-eyed freaks!”
Georgia bursts out laughing.
Then Sylvia starts laughing, too, and I smile, feeling warm and, for the first time in my whole life, free—to be as perfect or as imperfect as I choose to be.
We watch Hillary and Lana disappear into the building.
“Come here,” Sylvia says, and she pulls me against her chest and kisses me, right there beneath the oak tree in front of our school.
“They’re going to bring out the teachers.” Georgia glances at us, her smile gone. “They’re probably going to kick us all out. And then…” She shrugs, shakes her head. “I don’t know.”
“Then,” I say, resting my head on Sylvia’s shoulder, “we’ll just keep telling the truth. Eventually, I think, someone will listen. And…everything will change.”
“It’ll never be perfect, though,” Sylvia says softly, smiling a little against my hair.
“No.” I sigh, breathing in her apple-scented sweetness. “But it’ll be okay. And that’s perfect enough.”
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