The Student Publishing House of Townsend Harris High School

The Starling Press

The Student Publishing House of Townsend Harris High School

The Starling Press

The Student Publishing House of Townsend Harris High School

The Starling Press

February 13, 2024



I’m zoned out in history class when my teacher bangs his hand on the table, snapping me back to reality. Mr.Thomas is a grumpy, gray haired, old man that can’t seem to retire for the life of him. He assigns too much work and always expects his students to finish it all in one night. All in all, no one likes him. He likes to bang his hand on the table if he wants to announce something very important, but most of the time it’s just to say we have a test or quiz coming up. I lazily sit up and pretend to give my utmost attention to him. 


“Listen very carefully. I’m not repeating myself.” His eyes scan the room to call out anyone that even remotely looks like they aren’t listening. 

“I’m changing around the seating chart. I’ve been noticing that numerous students have been having side conversations during my lessons. I do not appreciate that. It is very disrespectful and rude towards the authority figure in the room, which so happens to be me.” Mr. Thomas directs his attention to a group of four well-known students sitting in the back corner of the classroom and just death stares at them. That doesn’t bother the students and they just look at each other and start giggling. No one ever really felt threatened by him. He’s too old to look intimidating. 

“Everyone, get up and stand around the room. I will call out the names of the people sitting at each table.” As we get up, he bangs his hand again.

“And no groaning. These seats are final for the rest of the year or until I change them.”


Everyone rolls their eyes and sighs in response. I stand over by the windows, waiting for my name to be called. He goes through 6 out of 7 tables, not having uttered my name yet. I looked around the room to see how else was left behind. There were a couple normal kids that I talk to once in a while, one “interesting” kid, and then that one annoying guy that everyone likes for some reason. Okay, maybe he’s not that annoying. He can act stupid sometimes is all I’m saying, but it’s typical HS boy stuff. Under his raging puberty and hormone induced personality, he is actually kind of funny and nice. 

I look him up and down. I’ll give it to him, he has the looks. He has deep, dark, clear skin that makes you want to touch it just to make sure it’s real and black, curly hair with pieces that fall just above his eyes. He’s got brown eyes that any girl could get lost in and decent fashion sense as he is wearing a brown sweater pollo, cargo dress pants, and jordans because of course he did. I could see how so many girls like him. 

Mr.Thomas makes his way to the last table, the one by the window, in front of me.

“Whoever is still standing, find a seat here.” We all scramble to a seat. The teacher moves back toward the front of the room and continues his lesson once we’ve settled down. 

Throughout the three hour class (yes, my school has three hour classes) the three normal kids were whispering and giggling to each other, sometimes conversing with me about some drama they heard during 2nd period. The “interesting” kid just sat there and doodled in his book, which everyone was grateful for because it meant he didn’t have to talk to us. The annoying but kind kid, Anush, was pretending to read the textbook we were doing the lesson on, but I could tell he was trying to pull his phone out of his backpack without the teacher noticing. I just minded my own business and focused on what the teacher was saying. 

Thirty minutes before the class was over, he elbowed me. 

“Do you actually understand what that guy is saying?” I surveyed his face to see if he was being serious or not. 

“What have you been doing for the past 2 and a half hours?” He smirks and directs his eyes towards his lap. I look under the table to see the Tik Tok app open on his phone. I roll my eyes at him.

“You can’t hear it anyways, so why bother?” 

“I have powers. I can read lips,” he whispers. 

“That’s not a power, stupid. Lots of people can do that.”

He frowns. 

“Way to steal my thunder, Ms. Sinh.” I focus back on the teacher. 


“Ms.Sinh sounds better.” I don’t even need to look at him to know he’s grinning right now. I can feel my cheek turn red as I look ahead.


Over the next couple weeks, Anush and I started to become friends. Not enough to talk to each other outside of school or in between classes, but we would make small talk during the classes we sat near each other in. He was pretty funny and entertained me through boring lectures. It was annoying sometimes when I would be trying to focus and he kept kicking my shin under the desk to get my attention. The difference, I’ve learned, between me and him is that he is what people like to call “naturally smart” and doesn’t need to try in class as much and still get 100s. I, on the other hand, work my ass off day and night just to pull off the 80s and 90s. It’s not that I’m dumb or anything, I understand the subjects and everything. I’m just not a good test taker I guess. Other than that, it’s nice to talk to him. He gave me his number two days ago in class and we text each other most nights. Honestly, I look forward to it. I don’t have feelings for him though. Right?


One day, out of the blue, Anush comes and sits himself down next to me. We were at lunch and usually I would be sitting with my friends but some of them were absent and others had to make up some test so I was by myself. 

“¡Hola Ms. Sinh!” he says cheerfully. I side eye him and sigh.

“Hi? What are you doing here?”

“You looked lonely so I came to sit with you. You’re welcome,” he states with a smirk. I felt my face get hot. Was I actually blushing for this guy? No, I can’t be.

“I didn’t need your company but thanks I guess.” I roll my eyes and open my lunch bag.

“No one likes to eat alone. Anyways, what you got in there?” He points to my bag. 

“Food. Where’s your food?” I question. 

“I missed the school lunch call. It’s okay though.” he says, trying to hide the disappointment in his voice. I take out my bento box and offer him some of my food. 

“Ms.Sinh, offering me food? Who knew you could be so nice?” he says teasingly, grabbing a cookie. I shake my head. He zones out, making it awkward for me to keep the conversation.

“Dude, is that all you’re going to eat? Here, take some of this.” I place a napkin in front of him and start emptying most of my food onto it. His eyes widen and gestures stop with his hands. 

“Don’t give me all of this. What about you?” I chuckle, inserting the box back into my bag. 

“I’ll be fine. I’m not that hungry anyways.” He looks at me wearily and I give a nod of reassurance. We talk about classes and random things while he eats. 


I prayed the whole time that he wouldn’t question me not eating, as truth hurt too much to even think about. The truth being that I have an ED. I can pretend all I want on the outside, but my mind is constantly filled with food and losing weight. Every day, I calculate the amount of calories I can allow myself to eat, making sure to read every nutrition label throughout the day to stop myself from going over my “limit”. I think about food 24/7. What am I going to eat later? What about tomorrow? Looking up calories for everything and adding up numbers after each meal which is what my mother calls “bird food” because I apparently don’t eat enough. But that doesn’t stop me from purging at least once a day and checking the scale for any differences in weight everyday. Body checks have become a norm. I’ve lost all sense of control over food, guilt eating me alive. It’s a routine I’ve developed over the years. I wake up in the morning, skip breakfast, head to school, eat as little as possible or even nothing during lunch, come home, eat a meal my parents force me to eat, and purge. Of course I work out constantly. I guess it’s sort of a fear I have, gaining weight. 


How hasn’t anyone found out yet? Well, the only time my friends see me eat is during lunch, but I distract them with as much talking as I can so they don’t even notice I’m not eating. I have my bento box in front of me, but I don’t actually eat from it. I try to give my food to my friends for two reasons, so I know they have eaten (and don’t turn into me) and so my parents don’t lecture me about eating again. That’s why when I gave Anush my food, I didn’t really care. It’s an everyday thing for me. 


Anush has made it a habit to stop by my lunch table everyday and talk to me for a little. Even if at least for five minutes. Honestly, it’s nice. He’s nice. I enjoy our little conversations. I don’t know where all this fondness is coming from, but I am not mad about it. Before he leaves, I always make sure to slip him some of my food. He questioned me the first couple of days but gave up after that. Thank god. 

“Verona?” my friend Victoria called.


“Um, so, don’t get mad at us or anything. It’s just an observation. We think Anush likes you.” My eyes widen and my jaw drops.

“Likes me?! You guys are out of your mind. Absolutely crazy. Anush can get any girl he wants. Why would he pick me?” I scoff.

“Look, he makes time to talk to you every single day. You give him food everyday. Even the way he looks at you says it all. No one willingly makes that much time for someone without having any sort of feelings for them.” my other friend Idilia states, throwing her hands up in defense.

“Sure, sure. I don’t believe you but think what you want.” I say before changing the subject. 


I lied in my bed that night, thinking about it over and over. Did I actually like him? When I think of him, I can’t help but smile. I have a stupid grin on my face everytime I text him. I can’t stop thinking about conversations, our lunches together, everything. His dark curls and how I want to run my hand through it. His rich skin that I wish I could caress. His beautiful two-toned lips that- Oh lord, I do like him. He could never like me though. I turn over to my side. I wear baggy clothes half the time. I’m not that pretty and have brown, long, wavy hair that looks untamed half the time. I’m sure he’s the kind of guy to go for straight haired girls, they are always so put together. I’m most definitely not put together. On the outside maybe, but I’m a mess on the inside. He’s too good for me. I sigh and close my eyes, falling asleep. 


I ride the bus home one afternoon, taking in the views of the trees that pass by. The bus stops and people start to empty the bus. I close my eyes just for a second to enjoy the silence. I had left my headphones at home by accident this morning. I cursed at myself as it was hard to get through an hour of kids screaming and adults yelling on the phone. I finally got to enjoy some peace and quiet when a hand tapped my shoulder. I jumped a little, my eyes wide out of surprise. I follow my hand to meet a face. A kind, handsome, toothy-grinned face. Anush’s face. I sigh in relief, placing my hand on my chest and breathing dramatically. 

“Omg, Anush. You scared the crap out of me.” I exclaim as he sits himself next to me. 

“My bad. I could have gone up and started screaming your name if-” I shake my head no.

“It’s ok, it’s fine. Why are you here anyways?”

“I’ll leave if you want.” he offers as he gets up. I grab his hand to stop him. He looks down at my hand and then locks eyes with me. A stupid, crooked grin grows on his face. His ears start to get a little red and I can tell I’m blushing too by how flustered I feel right now. I let go and look down.

“You can stay. What I meant was; I thought you were home already.” He chuckles and pulls out a brown bag from his backpack.

“I was on my way home, but I stopped by the deli.” He placed the bag in my lap and looked at me intently. I threw him back a puzzled look.

“Well, I thought I would pay you back for all the food you gave me. I mean it’s not much compared to yours but I think you’ll like it.” I shake my head in refusal and try to give him the bag back but he pushes it back to me. 

“You really don’t need to give me anything. You’re honestly doing me a favor. My mom gives me too much food anyways.” I laugh, trying to divert the truth. He doesn’t seem convinced though.

“Just take it. I bought it for you anyways. You would break my heart if you didn’t take it. You don’t want to break this pretty heart now do you?” he says as he flashes puppy eyes my way. My heart flutters a little at the sight of his cute expression. Ugh, the things this man does to me. 

“Dude, honestly, it’s okay.” He keeps insisting until I eventually tell him I will take it home.

“And make sure you eat it.” he adds as I put the food in my backpack. His tone is more serious than playful, which makes me look back at him. His eyes watch me carefully, as though he is trying to figure something out. I look out the window.

“Yea, of course.” I say, trying to avoid eye contact. He places a hand on my arm, his soothing touch warming my insides. Stop. I lock eyes with him again. His dark brown eyes were swallowing me whole. Please. I want so badly for him to stop looking at me like that and give me that stupid grin I love so much. 

His hands slowly move downwards to my hands. He intertwined his fingers with mine. I didn’t feel anxious, nervous, or like my heart was beating out of my chest. I felt calm, warm, and comfortable. I relax my tense body. I can feel myself letting go, letting the emotions seep through me into his hands. I don’t want to stop holding his hands. I don’t want to stop staring into his eyes. But he’s catching on. I know he is. He can’t and I won’t let him figure me out. I snap out of my gaze and release my hands from his grasp. He doesn’t move but his eyes follow mine as I look back out the window, pushing the emotions back down. After about a minute, he settles back into his seat. We sit in silence until we reach my bus stop. I debate saying anything to him or not and decide that if I say something, I might start crying. I get up and walk past him. I don’t see him but I can hear him following behind me. We both get off the bus and I pick up my pace, not daring to look back. 


He jogs up next to me and walks with me. I don’t say not one word. I decided to take a detour to a cafe about 7 minutes from my house in hopes that he would get tired of walking and leave. However he stops 2 minutes in and grabs my wrist. I stop in my tracks and turn my head back towards him. I try to act confused, but Anush knows better than that. I don’t know what to do at this moment. How long can I keep up this lie for? My heart started racing as he slowly stepped closer, his hand still grasping my wrist. Now we were inches away from each other. I was breathless, not being able to form words as he stared into my eyes. God, how I wanted to drown in those eyes. I feel the tips of his fingers slide up my arms to my shoulders. My limbs fell at his touch. 

“What are you hiding from me?” he asked with a serious tone. My mind raced with a million different excuses. He was catching on. I step back, loosening myself from his grasp.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I state, my voice cracking. I can’t expose myself like this. I clear my throat.

“I think you should go home, Anush.” I’m about to walk past him in the direction of my house when he blocks my way. 

“No. I’m not stupid, Verona. I know something is not right.” Verona? He never calls me that. It was always Ms.Sinh or “ma’am”, “boss lady”, ect. Tension grows between us as I try to find the words to get myself out of this situation. 

“You’re crazy.” I mutter, a lump growing in my throat. I turn my head towards the street in front of me, our faces too close. He could see right through me if I let him, standing this close to each other. He hooks his pointer finger under my chin and turns my face back towards him, forcing me to look at him. I swallow back the pain of holding back a waterfall of tears. 

“You don’t eat. Like at all. I see you at lunch everyday. You barely touch your food, Verona. You give it all to your friends, including me. You won’t let anyone question you for it. At first I thought it was just you being nice and already have eaten but I quickly connected the dots. Last year, you used to eat. I mean, not all of your lunch, but at least something. You just gradually stopped. Eating less and less as the weeks went on. I’ve noticed. Others around you may be too wrapped up in their own lives to see but I can. I see the way you check yourself out in every mirror, look up the calories of every possible food, calculate the nutrition facts of food people give you. Hell, you even wear the baggiest clothes to hide your figure because you’re so ashamed of it. You may have thought that you had everyone fooled, but not me. You can’t stand here and tell me nothing is wrong.” He takes a deep breath, examining my face for a reaction. 

I just stood there, in complete shock. He gathered all that? Omg, how could I let him see all of that? My eyes begin to sting and tears rise from the place I had pushed them down for so long. 

“I have to go.” I choke out, a tear running down my face. I push past him and start speed walking toward my house. He runs up in front of me again, putting both arms out to block my path. I try to walk around him but he keeps blocking my every movement. After a minute of frantic movements, the lump in my throat grows bigger and more painful until I just have to let it out. 

“Just leave me alone!” I snap. His expression grows into shock at the sudden sound of my cracked voice. I step back, holding my face in my hands so as to not show the river of tears streaming down my face.

“Please.” I sob, my voice muffled. 

I hear nothing coming from him, as if he were a statue. I just sobbed and sobbed, standing there like a complete loser as he watched me fall apart. Every muscle of my body wanted to run away. Run as far away as possible from him, from this situation. To forget it ever happened. However, my heart craved for his comfort. For his warm touch, his calming words, his gentleness. I was conflicted between mind and heart. So I just stood there, paralyzed, hoping maybe God would decide for me. I guess God did hear me as I felt the warmness of Anush’s arms wrap around me, neck resting on my shoulder, hands rubbing my back tenderly. His embrace takes over me completely. As if I was being hugged by a big, soft, comfy teddy bear. I just let him fully take over my mind and body, relaxing completely in his grasp. I honestly can’t describe how it felt. The best way to explain it is a hug you’ve longed for. Not a hug you give your parents before bed or from your friends, no. This was a fully engulfing, intimate, long, tight, “forget all your problems” kind of hug. The kind of hug that took my breath away, that eases my fears and anxiety, like a heaven I don’t want to let go of. I needed that hug. I needed that hug for so long, I just never expected it to be Anush who would realize that. 

“It’s okay. It’s okay, Verona.” he whispered into my ear, rubbing my back tenderly. The comfort in his words made me feel like jelly. I could just spill all my emotions out in front of him and he would help clean them up. I cried and cried, soaking the chest area of his blue v-neck, my face buried in his tall, teddy bear-like body. 

“I’m just so tired. So damn tired.” I sob, my voice sounding little and broken. 

His hand moves up to my head, caressing my hair. Arms still wrapped around me, he took me to an antique second hand book shop a block away. He explained that he worked there in the evening and during the day on weekends. The shop is always empty during this time and he was supposed to be working right now, which is why he knows he’s the only person on the schedule so they had the whole place to themselves. It was the only thing he could think of that was secluded for the two of us. I almost laughed at the gesture. He missed work to be with me, to comfort me. Me. And he’s still here, in no rush to do anything else. It felt nice to have someone care for me. Usually it’s me caring for others, so it was an unusual yet sincere feeling. 

The awning of the store was old. Brown with wear and tear on the banner. He unlocked the door and immediately got hit with the smell of vintage books and coffee. The lighting of the darkened yellow lights made everything look straight out of a 1900s movie, and I loved it. Shelves were stacked with books on books. I could see the spines holding on for their dear life and random pages scattered across the back of the room. I pulled myself away from Anush to explore more. There was a desk sitting at the far corner of the room, the only non-dusty thing in the shop. I walk down the aisles, hands running across the spines of the books, fingertips cleaning off the dust from them. I recognized some of the books and picked them up as I continued strolling. Pride and Prejudice, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Little Women, and 1984 were stacked high in my arms, holding them as if they were my babies. I walked up to the desk where I saw Anush scrolling through some spreadsheets on his computer. I stopped and just took this moment to admire him, something about him made me have to stop.

  How could someone like him care about someone like me? Someone so perfect, angel-like? I didn’t deserve him, not one bit. I’m a mess, a true handful. He was so easy to understand and kind. He didn’t deserve this, to deal with me and my problems. His face was so perfect and godly, his mind so sweet and oblivious. I would hate to see it filled with the news of my life. I don’t want to imagine him breaking because of me. I can’t do that to him. I shake my head, trying to shake the thoughts from my mind. 

“I see you’ve found some of our “golden vintages”.” he chuckled, looking up at me, gesturing to the pile of worn out books in my arms. I snap back to reality and smile slightly.

“I couldn’t help myself.” I say, placing the books on the desk. 

“How much for these?” I ask. He shakes his head as he puts them in a slightly old tote bag for me. 

“It’s on the house.” I roll my eyes. I don’t want him to take pity on me. 

He slides the bag towards me. “Truly. Now come.”

 I follow him towards this cute reading area with dim lighting and arrangements of various types of seats and desks. I sit down on a small red couch in the corner, next to a lamp and small table. Anush sits down next me, making sure to leave enough space between us so I don’t get uncomfortable. In all honesty, I crave for him. His body heat warmed up my insides, his touch easing my mind. I don’t tell him that. I just stare out at the bookshelves, having no energy to read. 

We sit in silence for what feels like forever, just soaking up each other’s company. I could tell he was glancing over at me like a million times from the corner of my eye. It was like he wanted to say something but he wasn’t sure when to say it. 

“Look,” I say, breaking the silence. “I don’t want your pity or sorrow, Trust me, that’s the last thing I want to do to you. I’m honestly sorry you figured it out. I didn’t want you worrying about me in the first place.” I try to hide the cracks in my voice but they can still be heard no matter how loud I make my voice. He places his hands on top of mine, casting his magic upon me, making me look into his eyes once again. However, when I look into his eyes, I see something different. Something deeper has developed in him, like a pain I can’t quite place. 

“I know you don’t want it, but you need help. You can’t go through this alone. I won’t let you. I can’t just go about my life knowing that you are suffering so much. It was hard enough at school. Giving me your food everyday and me returning it with a smile as if I was oblivious. Talking for hours at a time during classes, wanting so badly just to hug you and comfort you. I should have done this earlier. I was just scared of stepping over boundaries. You need this though, you may not think you do but you do. No matter how much you try to fight it.” He squeezes my hand, making a tear fall from my eye. I don’t want him to see me fall apart. I don’t want him to see me so vulnerable, so weak. 

I go to wipe the tear from my face but he beats me to it. He hugs my face with his pal, and gently wipes away the tear with his thumb. I feel like I could just melt away in his hands. I look down, trying to swallow the tsunami of water climbing to the surface of my eyes. He hugs my face with the other palm and lifts it so I look at him. His thumbs caress my cheeks. I can feel the warmth coming back into my face, like blood flowing all throughout my face. 

“I’m here. Let it out, it’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.” he says softly, words sounding like honey. My lips quiver and I try not to frown. I just can’t hold it in anymore. 

“I’m so sorry.” I whisper as I break out into a sob.

 He pulls me closer and I cry into his chest, his hands caressing my hair once again. I try to apologize again but all I can manage are voice cracks. He leans his head down, resting it on my shoulder.

“You have nothing to apologize for, Verona. You’re enough, just the way you are.” 

You’re enough. God, how I love him. 

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