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it only hurts when i breathe

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Well, that’s what my parents told me in front of my siblings. Sure, some might say it led to my brother’s whippet addiction and my sister’s bulimia, but my parents owed them the truth.”

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“Mom, who do you love most?” Aaron says, his voice wavering. Kari cringes. She already knows the answer. 

---

“I’m very sorry, Kari,” Ms. Corcoran says. “Vocal Adrenaline is the best show choir in the world, and I’m afraid that, although you show promise, you’re just not up to our standards.”

“It was my singing, wasn’t it?” she mutters to herself as she walks off the stage, although she knows it wasn’t just her singing. It takes a great performer to get into Vocal Adrenaline and an even greater one to make it in as a freshman. It takes someone like Jesse, and she’s never been as good as Jesse, not even close. She’s a pretty good dancer, not quite as graceful and strong or thin as some of the girls in her studio, although she’s working on that last one, maybe a little too hard. But she’s not Vocal Adrenaline material. She never should have auditioned. 

---

“I am going to kill that bitch,” she says to Jesse, half joking and completely serious.

“Kari, don’t you think you’re being a little bit unreasonable?” Jesse says.

“No,” Kari says. “I’m not. I mean, God, the entire town of Akron wants you, and you finally fall for someone, and what does she do? She ignores your texts. She makes out with some doofus on stage, which would be a dumb thing to do even if he wasn’t some clumsy giraffe and she wasn’t blowing off the most brilliant performer in all of Ohio. And don’t say it was your fault or she owed you anything, because, yeah, sure, the egg thing was bad, but you apologized like crazy.”

Jesse just sighs.

“God, Jesse, why did you even love her in the first place?”

“Well,” he says slowly, “I thought we would work together. She was so brilliant and driven and talented.” 

“More talented than me,” Kari says, and it’s not a question. “I am going to kill that bitch.”

“Kari.”

“They will never find her body.”

---

“This is ridiculous,” she says to Aaron the day after her first disastrous therapy station, since he’s the only person she can really talk to about this sort of thing. She loves Jesse dearly, and they have plenty of in depth conversations about show choir and Broadway and things of that sort, but there are some things she just can’t talk to Jesse about. There are some things she can’t share with Aaron either, but she doesn’t like to think about those. 

“I mean, she doesn’t do her job well,” she continues, “and in any case, I don’t need a therapist. I mean, I’m just trying to be pretty. Based on how they’re acting, you would think I’m doing drugs or something like that.” 

“I never got why people would do that,” Aaron chimes in.

“What? Drugs?”

“Yeah,” he says. “I just don’t get it.”

Kari shrugs. “I guess they think it makes them happy.” She knows a few kids who do drugs, she does theater after all, but it’s never really been something she’s thought about. She’s wrecked her body enough as is. 

She forgets what she said until one night a few years later Aaron comes home high on laughing gas and thanks her.

---

She knows that therapy is her parent’s way of pretending that they care about her. It’s the only way they solve problems, by throwing money at them, because anything that requires them to actually care about their children is far too difficult for them. Heck, they wouldn’t have even sent her to therapy if she hadn’t fainted during that one dinner party. But now that everyone knows there’s a problem, they have to pretend they’re doing something. After all, they could lose their reputation among their colleagues.

“Tell me about your family life, Kari,” the therapist, whose name she never bothered to learn, says after a very awkward half hour of getting nowhere.

“It’s simple. My parents love my brother more than they love me,” she says bluntly.

“I’m sure that’s not true,” the therapist says in that overly sincere way people talk when they’re speaking to kindergarteners. “Parents sometimes show their love in different ways.”

Kari snorts, because, sure, sometimes parents show their love in different ways, and, yes, if everything were the way it should be, her parents would love all their children equally, but if everything were the way it should be, she wouldn’t be in therapy in the first place.

She never speaks to her therapist again.

---

Jesse’s ridiculously popular these days, and there are plenty of girls who visit their house, most of whom Kari ignores, but for some reason, Dana has stuck with her. Maybe it’s because Dana is the star student of Kari’s dance studio or maybe it’s because Kari’s pretty sure she and Jesse and sleeping together, or maybe it’s just because Dana’s so, so gorgeous and so, so thin, and Kari envies her for it.

Naturally, Dana’s there one of the only nights that their mother actually wants to them to have dinner as a family. Well, okay, their father’s in Paris for a business trip, but four out of five is as close as they’re ever going to get to having their whole family together unless it’s some sort of planned event. And of course Dana is asked to stay for dinner, so Kari spends the whole evening hearing “Dana, you look so nice” and “Dana, those earrings are so lovely” and “Tell me about your recital, Dana”. (Kari’s in that recital. Her mother has never once asked her about it.) And Kari just knows she has to be more like Dana, better at dancing or prettier or even just thinner.

She runs to the bathroom and throws up her dinner, hoping that if she keeps at it long enough, it will get rid of even just a few of the things that make her pathetic. She does the same thing the next night and the night after that, and by the time it dawns on her that it might not be getting her anywhere, she can’t stop.

---

She’s an alternate for Vocal Adrenaline now, which is all she could really ask for. She’s gotten a bit better. Her dancing is decent, and her voice doesn’t sound quite so much like nails on a chalkboard anymore, but she’s still a far cry from anything that anyone would actually consider talented. And it doesn’t help to remember that by the time he was her age, Jesse had already won a national championship.

Vocal Adrenaline isn’t as good as they used to be either. Sure, most of last year’s members are still there, since Jesse seems to be the only person in the group who actually graduated after four years, and Mr. Goolsby is a fine coach (although Ms. Corcoran seemed much better), but there’s something missing. Jesse was the core of the group, and the Sunshine chick who’s their new lead doesn’t even come close to filling his shoes. She has a nice set of pipes, but everything she sings just kind of feels flat, and, in any case, she’s even shorter than Kari.

They used to be by far the best show choir in the world. Now they’re just trying not to get their asses kicked.

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“Mom, who do you love most?”

“Why, Jesse, of course.”