Neel Patel

When I was in the sixth grade, I met a girl named Nicole. Nicole was a good student; she was polite to teachers. She was in the gifted program, a group of students handpicked for their exceptional promise. I was not in the gifted program. When my mother found out I had not been chosen, she became furious. She wanted to know why I was not worthy and how I might prove otherwise. I suppose this was her mistake—she assumed I was better than I actually was. Over time, Nicole and I became friends. We sat next to each other in class and gossiped during lunch. We watched horror movies on weekends. When boys made fun of me for being queer, she jumped to my defense. If I hadn’t been paying attention in class—which was often—she passed me her notes. Sometimes I imagined what it was like to be Nicole, with her spotless record, her enviable grades. I imagined what her teachers said during parent-teacher conferences, all the glowing, effusive praise.

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