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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Biographical · #1997278
74% of students at the nation’s top 146 colleges come from the richest 25% of families.
         The alarm held no sympathy for Elsa. There was no mercy for the late hour that she had finally gone to bed. She reached out from beneath the blankets and yanked its cord from the wall in annoyance. It was a less than fair method of silencing the thing. After all it was doing what she'd programmed it to do, but it was simpler than dealing with it in the semi darkness in her groggy state. If only she could afford the luxury of hitting the snooze button and remaining in the warm embrace of the blankets a little longer. She told herself that she'd go to bed early tonight, but knew even as she thought it that it probably wouldn't be in the cards for her.

         Elsa sighed, the fog of her breath faintly visible, and got out of bed. She stubbed her toe on her book bag on the way to the door and swore. It was the price for trying to avoid the squeak of that rotting floorboard. She padded her way to the thermostat at the end of the hallway, and moved the lever to her mother's red sharpie mark. Fifty degrees, and only while awake; no higher. Elsa could still see the smudged out old line at sixty from past winters before the gas station cut her moms hours.

         They'd cut everyone to less than thirty-two hours a week. If they worked them any more, they'd have to provide health insurance, or pay a fine. It'd been the same for Elsa at the restaurant over the summer. That meeting with Rob, the regional manager, had gone well. A couple of the waitresses had been reduced to tears by the end. Rob blamed the competition: They were doing it, and if we didn't we'd have to raise prices and run ourselves out of business. Some of the employees blamed the bosses' greed: He could afford it; it would just cut into his enormous profits. Some held the government accountable: Either for a misguided attempt to help, or a malicious attempt to harm.

         In the end Elsa didn't really care who was to blame, the results were the same. A twenty percent cut in income, and ten degrees in both directions on the thermostat that didn't begin to cover the loss. Well, the speed of climate change was certainly beating all the projections at her house she thought ruefully, as she made her way to the kitchen.

         She started the coffee maker, liquid-sleep to start the day. Her stomach was already queasy in anticipation of the results being released later that day and she didn't feel much like eating, but knew she should. She'd have to forgo lunch to finish up the conversions for AP Chemistry as it was. Opening the fridge didn't offer many appealing prospects. They were low on milk, she'd have to pick some up on the way home from work; at least there was enough for the kids' cereal. She put a couple slices of bread in the toaster. Time to rouse the little monsters.

         Julie and Sean's room was the usual mess of clothes and toys strewn about. Elsa made her way through the obstacle course to Julie's bed, better to start with the hibernator that would sleep till noon if left to her own devices.

         She shook her shoulder gently, “It's time to get up.”

         Julie replied with a, “Hmph.” and rolled over onto her other side.

         Elsa shook her again, “Jules, come on.”

         The nine year old groaned, “But, I think I'm sick.”

         “Uh huh,” she paused. “Do you want to explain that to mom when she gets home?”

         It took a second for what Elsa said to register, “Fine. I'll get up.”

         That was less hassle than usual. All it took was the potential of a grounding from The Frigid Ice Witch: hander-down of punishments, forcer of vegetable eating and tooth brushing, and destroyer of fun for all the land. No doubt Jules still believed The King would return and whisk his Princess away to Fairy Land, forever out of the clutches of The Ice Witch. One day her fantasy driven by rose colored memories of childhood would die bitterly at the hand of reality: Dad left. He left them and took a large portion of what was left of mom's heart with him. The Ice Witch hadn't always been so frigid or a witch, and The King had certainly not been benevolent.

         “Sean, come on  it's time to get ready for school.”

         He stretched, wiping the sleep from his eyes, “It's cold El,”

         “I know buddy, but it'll be warm at school.”

         Sean had no memories of what things had been like before dad left. No memories to be distorted by fantasy, or to know by comparison that they were better off without mom and dad together. To him mom had always been emotionally absent, and dad was a non factor. No rare, but fond memories of dad teaching him to ride a bike without training wheels, or of mom comforting him in the middle of the night after a bad dream. None of the many memories of mom yelling at dad, or throwing dishes, or of her falling to the floor after dad's fists let her know she'd won: he'd lost control.

         Which was more preferable? Jules' fantasy that life used to be so much better, and the hopeless dream of its return? Or Sean's ignorance of the past, and how much worse things could be? Elsa thought she'd take either over the truth.

         “I laid out your school clothes last night”, Elsa said as she left the room. Which earned a huff out of Julie, who still believed that certain play-clothes for dress-up were suitable for school. Although Elsa really couldn't blame her for the Cinderella slippers last time; Jules sneakers were getting tight on her. Hopefully she'd do well enough on tips this week to buy her a new pair, Elsa thought as she went back to her own room to get dressed.

         It was shaping up to be a pretty good day. Elsa was able to get Julie and Sean dressed, fed, and out the door with only one further argument regarding a tiara that Jules insisted she should be allowed to wear. It was ironic, Elsa thought as she watched them take a left at the corner and the way to their bus stop. In a few short years Jules wouldn't want to stand out, she'd be desperate to wear ever more expensive clothes that would allow her to blend in. To stand out would be cause to be mocked and taunted by many of the girls who could afford to wear whatever over priced brands that were in style.

         When she'd started high school Elsa had wished her school had required uniforms. She'd thought that would solve the problem, but it only took a little while after she got her job at fourteen, to realize it would only prolong the inevitable. It wasn't just the petty culture of high-school. It extended to the adult world and society as a whole; it was just more subtle. The woman in the designer clothes, or the man in the suit was viewed immediately differently than the woman in clothes off the discount rack, or the man in jeans and a tee-shirt. It was a way of instantly determining who was of value and who was not. Elsa had caught herself doing it as well, and hated herself for it.

         Why should she be more respectful, or attentive to someone based upon something as arbitrary as how they dressed? When Elsa partook in one of her hobbies 'people watching', she noticed nearly everyone was doing it, and without noticing that they were doing it. The men and women in the expensive clothing were recognized as smarter, more beautiful, and more trust worthy. But why? Then it dawned on Elsa. They were uniforms. It marked the people that could afford the expensive clothing as clearly as any uniform would have. Those with uniforms rarely interacted with those without for very long, they didn't shop, eat, live, or recreate in the same places. With only a cursory glance those in uniform could tell who were their equals and peers, and who were not. Who were potential acquaintances, friends, or mates; Who was of value, and who was not.

         Elsa approached her bus stop knowing that one day she would be on the other side. That she was their equal, their peer. Gone would be the broken unequal system of high-school where some of the stupid and mediocre happened to have parents that could afford to buy them the uniform of success. Gone would be the system where some of the smart ones like Elsa weren't recognized for what they were because their parents couldn't afford the uniform that conveyed their true worth and potential. College would make everything fair.
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