by Julie Vohland (@ladyvoh)
Editor: Kyra Nelson (@kyramnelson)
Seventeen-year-old Birdie has accepted the daily pain that comes with chronic illness as her new normal, but she’s having a lot more trouble accepting that her best friends are leaving her behind.
After years of school together and friendship that emboldened Birdie to embrace her asexuality, two of her best friends have been accepted into the early college program. Even though she’s anxious about facing the last two years of high school without them, Birdie wants to send her BFFs off with a bang. She begins planning a surprise party not only to celebrate their accomplishment, but also thanking them for their years of support. The party is almost over before it begins when a fall knocks her on her butt, leaving her in more pain than usual. When a new girl named Anne helps her regain focus and dig deep, this newfound friendship adds yet another wrinkle when it begins to shift into something more than Birdie ever expected.
In a chaotic week where Birdie needs to plan the perfect surprise party and come out to Anne, she relies on her family, friends, and love of music to help keep her grounded. With pain worsening from her fall and everything from drama threatening to ruin the surprise to forgetting invitations, Birdie feels the perfect party slipping away. The party meant to be a love song for her friends could slowly descend into chaos while she’s busy battling her health, her homework, and her heart. She must get the planning and implementation back on track to prove to herself that she isn’t as powerless as her body makes her feel.
LAVENDER ANTHEM is an #ownvoices YA Contemporary about chronic illness and disability that includes LGBTQIA+ romantic elements. It is complete at 71,000 words, fitting for fans of Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider and Tash Loves Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee. Lavender Anthem is inspired by my own chronic health issues, being a member of the weird group of friends in high school, and my sailor-mouthed Grandmother.
First Five Pages
The office trolls will be in rare form today. They roll out from under their bridge every morning in their human suits to rain down glares and sarcasm. Unfortunately, it’s always the worst on the first day of school. I grip the thick strap of my backpack and try to shift the weight, easing some of the pressure off my already throbbing shoulder. Pain lances from my shoulder down my back and through to my hip. Keeping mental notes while I hold my hand to the area. I think of the pain chart I despise so much, that no doctor ever really listens to. I wouldn't be the face with the tear, but one below it, a 7 on the pain scale right now. I’m so tempted to grab my earbuds out of my backpack and just get lost in a bit of Beatles or Zeppelin, but my phone would be confiscated quicker than GH folds a bad poker hand.
My forehead winkles in pain just as Ellie turns to face me as we stop just outside the entrance to the school. "You okay, sister?" She asks me, her bright hazel eyes full of concern. “I knew we should’ve had GH drive us today,” she adds with a sigh. Right, the last thing I needed was to have my Grandmother drive me for the first day of school. I straighten my brows, easing my face into a mask of calm. I gently lean into her, my elbow smushing against her shoulder.
"Don’t worry about me, Ellie. I’m fine, for real," I reply. Donning my big sister mask of 'everything's all right,' with my ruby red painted lips forming a dopey grin. "You just concentrate on your first day. You're a freshman, you're in the big leagues with me now." I tell her, boing-ing one of the brown curls framing her face. She rolls her eyes, waving my hand away. The space between us grows as she nears the large, glass entryway. She pulls the heavy door wide open, gesturing me inside the school.
“Why, thank you kind miss,” I bow dramatically, a giggle bursting from Ellie. I slide my hands into my hoodie pocket and grip the fabric tightly. It’s taken a lot of practice to hide my pain from Ellie, but I’m a pro now. I feel a tear forming from the ache in my shoulder, but I quickly blink it away to avoid both Ellie spotting it and smudging my perfect cat eye liner I was able to apply this morning.
"Have a great day, sister," she says, planting a kiss on my cheek before bounding down the hallway to meet up with her friends. I feel the mask fall off my face, my lips pursing through the pain. I brace myself for the office trolls and the care plan that was implemented at the end of Sophomore year last year. GH, the office trolls, the principal, and school nurse spent the better part of a month devising a plan for me to carry my pain medication with me through the day.
I breathe in deeply, trying to calm myself even as I'm surrounded by the bright, white stone prison walls of Wilson High. Banners from glory days past hang around the office door, outlining the good days that used to be. Wilson hasn't won a damn thing, sports or otherwise, in near thirty years. It doesn't stop them from shoveling tax levy money into the football program, though. Unfortunately, you can't buy talent. If you could, Wilson would have the best players, band, debate team members; everything.
Sighing, I attempt to adjust my backpack once more to help my shoulder pain, but it doesn't make a dent in the pain. I cement my resolve and swing the heavy, wooden office door open, but I’m startled and stopped in my tracks. A new girl is walking out just as I’m walking in and we narrowly avoid a disastrous collision.
“Ope, sorry,” I say to her, unsure while I’m apologizing for opening a door. Her neon pink lips form a smile in response.
“No worries,” she says, blue eyes twinkling. She tucks purple and pink streaked pieces of hair behind her ear and stomps away in black combat boots. The door slams closed, and I open it again with a groan. Was she wearing flowered pants? I can’t remember anything other than that super bright lipstick and pink hair.
"Morning ladies," I say as the heavy door shuts behind me. Most of the trolls barely tolerate me. I've learned the more pleasant I am to them, the more annoyed they are. So, I'm always on my best behavior when I visit the office and am super friendly, just another smiley brick in the wall.
"Birdie! How was your summer?" asks Mrs. Bruins with a broad smile as she places her hand on the wooden reception counter. She's always been one of the good ones. She, at least, seems happy to see me most of the time and treats me with a bit of respect. Unlike the rest of the trolls who treat me like a total moron.
"Went by too quick, as usual," I reply, returning her smile. "I just need to check my meds in with Nurse Jones."
"Oh, right. Sure, go on in," she waves me past the front desk and gets back to work. Mrs. Bruins is the office manager and my go-to lady for nearly everything. Short and pink cheeked, her hair’s always perfectly coiffed and makeup always way too heavy, but her outer appearance can’t mask how frazzled she is. Being the head troll in charge of wrangling is a lot of work, I guess.
Entering the nurses' office, the white walls unsettle me, they always have. White, sterile, and reeking of cheap floral plug-ins. The kind rich white ladies think are fancy, but they're just imitation and disgusting. The smell permeates my nostrils, the cheap plastic and synthetic floral an assault to my senses. I clear my throat, waiting quietly for Nurse Jones to notice me. No reaction from her yet as my eyes glance to the one shoddy cot. I've spent many hours on that cot, fetal position, unable or unwilling to go home due to tests or pride.
The fake flower smell haunts my dreams. Fake flowers mixed with rubbing alcohol and Nurse Jones’ old lady perfume. My eyes catch my reflection off the glass inside the white medicine cabinet. I reach up to adjust the messy bun sitting on top of my head, pulling at strands of my brown hair to mess it up a bit more. My green eyes accented with the black eyeliner; I wipe my bottom eyelid to make sure there isn't any smudging from the near tears earlier. Still no response from the nurse, I shrug, leaning against the white walls. Hell, everything’s white; the cot, the medicine cabinet, even her desk is white with metal trim.
"Miss Logan," Nurse Jones finally looks up from the paperwork on her desk, glasses too far down her nose to really help her see anything at all. "New year, new attitude, I hope?" Her sunken cheeks stretch with a smirk. She's always been condescending, being one of the first people to tell me I only have anxiety or stress, rather than anything physical or even diagnosable.
"Same attitude, Nurse Jones,” I reply. “Even on the same meds," I add, handing her the bottle. She only sighs while checking the label, taking her sweet time. She continues groaning, making dramatic gestures to read, grab my chart, empty the bottle, count the meds - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 - and write it down. It isn't necessary that this happens every day, but Jones saw an opportunity for control and pounced. It's a known fact that I need the medication to combat the pain during the day, it isn't as if they do checks after school in addition to the mornings, checking the amount I've taken.
She finally hands the bottle back to me, her moist, bony fingers grazing my palm. I groan inwardly instead of making a snarky remark, which she totally deserves. I slide my hands into my hoodie pocket, sticking both middle fingers up in her direction while telling her to have a great day with a smile. Her reply is only a ‘harrumph’ as I walk out of her room, then the office. Checking my schedule for the fiftieth time, I finally head to class.
The first four periods crawl by - Biology II, Algebra II, Economics, History - all four classes exactly same today with the teachers introducing themselves and going over the syllabus. The introductions are entirely unnecessary, with the school being as small as it is. We've known the same teachers for years. The biology teacher makes a wisecrack or two at the jocks' expense; I think I'll like him. I've heard about Mr. Brenner for a few years, he likes to tease the kids and give everyone a hard time. Today he zeroed in on the popular boys, but tomorrow it could be anyone.
The economics teacher is the same guy I saw smoking a pipe in his car last year, so I hold on to that little nugget with a smile during his monologue. The history teacher seems a little unstable, but funny, as he throws a pen at the speaker when an announcement interrupts his speech at the beginning of class. I jump in my seat at the loud crack of the pen hitting against the wall, a titter rising from the students.
Before history ends, my stomach is cramping and rumbling with hunger. I’m looking forward to my first lunch period in months, both for the food and to see my friends. The bell rings and I slowly make my way to the cafeteria. The lunchroom is made up of six rows of long, double brown and metal particle board tables. The walls are the same bright white as the nurse's office, but the lunchroom has, at least, some color. Trimmed in yellow and blue, the yellow being a crappy substitute for gold.
Walking through the lunch line, I lean on the cold metal counter while sliding my tray down the line. Stopping at each lunch lady, I hold my tray up above the glass, wincing at the mushy plop of food landing on my tray. I scan the lunchroom and my chest tightens at the sight of my groups’ regular table. Being one of the last lunches we’ll spend together before Adam and Syd leave for Post-Secondary, how much I’ll miss our little misfit family hits me like a freakin’ truck.