Logainne was caught in that repetitive setup again: in the final three of the spelling bee. Despite having been in this situation six times already, it never failed to make her incredibly anxious. She'd learned to maintain her composure, appear confident, psyche the other spellers out by acting braver than you were. She hadn't learned yet to fully quell that anxiety.
Six damn tries, and she lost for incredibly ridiculous reasons. When she first competed, she over-complicated a damn three letter word. The next year, she tried too hard not to make that mistake again and ended up missing it again, making her look even less knowledgeable. On her third try, she was sick and exhausted and not able to concentrate. She probably should have taken a sick day, but Carl-dad's minimum fever for staying home for such a big event was 105, and she was only 101 that day. He apologized to her afterwards, but it didn't help her then. She had already lost! She was already a loser! She was a sick, tired, loser who everyone probably laughed at the second she left the stage. And she probably made someone else sick, which just made her feel guiltier.
Her anxiety accumulated the more times she lost, her failures piling up, weighing her down, making her less and less sure of herself every year. She hadn't even made the final five last year. It was pathetic. She was pathetic.
No, the bee wasn't the only thing important to her. But not a lot else in her life was going well. She was a junior with no friends, watching everyone else have fun while she was alone at lunch with her homework and the newspaper (yes, it was archaic, but no phones in the school, and she needed to keep up on current events). She had skipped a grade and was already younger than everyone else, and her family situation had made her the butt of too many jokes already. The debate team didn't take her seriously because of how small she was and her goddamn lisp that still would slip out during the worst moments. Her GSA was her refuge, but she still didn't feel like she was taken seriously. She hoped next year, when the president had graduated, she could head the club, speaking from the perspectives of a daughter of gay men and that of a lesbian. Maybe winning something, winning this bee, could finally get her the respect she hoped she deserved.
Her train of thought was broken by a ding.
"Sorry, Mr. Chou, the correct spelling is l-a-s-c-i-v-i-o-u-s," Logainne heard Superintendent Spriggs say. One of her competitors had just been eliminated, leaving her in the final two. Oh, Jesus fricking Christ.
"Will the final two spellers please step forward?" Logainne and the other girl stepped up. They exchanged competitive looks. Logainne wondered if this Miss Jackson had something to prove, too. It'd take the sting off to know that her loss would better someone else's life, though her dads probably wouldn't feel the same.
Mr. Spriggs explained the rules of the final two, but Logainne knew them so well at this point that she could have spouted them right back. It was lightning round time. She remembered Olive going on about how much of a rush it was to stand in the final two, and how she met her best friend and how great that bee was for her even if she only got second place. As much as she looked up to Olive and would never want to put her down, Logainne always hated the reminder that she was so close to victory if it weren't for her goddamn habit of over-analyzing everything. Olive did catch on eventually to how nervous Logainne would become when she brought the bee up again and talked less in detail about it whenever she felt like reminiscing. Then Olive did win the bee last year, and the girls didn't talk at all for months. Olive thought Logainne was mad at her. In reality, Logainne was mad at herself for not being on her level.
Logainne had experienced the final two feeling already, on her fourth try, but it remained exciting and horrifying as ever. Miss Peretti would probably be swooning, but right now she was off traveling the world, leaving Logainne with a male commentator she didn't know at all.
She found her dads in the front row, waving, hollering, taking pictures, and granting her luck. Thankfully, they had stopped interfering directly with her competitions, though she did wish they would tone down the enthusiasm a bit. It still embarrassed her, and she really couldn't afford any more embarrassment in her life, especially if she lost tonight. Oh god, the idea of her losing again was making her throat clench, but she took a deep breath and awaited her words. She noticed she was twirling her pigtail again, a nervous habit she had developed in recent years to calm herself down.
Spriggs began to give her and Miss Jackson words, all of which Logainne knew by heart. She had drilled with her dads for a week or so before the bee, as per tradition. As she became a teenager, though, and her emotions unraveled, her dads were able to pick up on when she became overwrought more easily. She hid her emotions less in her house and judged herself even more. She had even contemplated self harm, though that was in extreme cases when all she could think about was her being a loser who didn't deserve to live happily anyway. She eventually had a chance to tell them, straightforwardly, how pressured she felt. She was a teenager, and it was her right to stand up for herself as much as she stood up for others. Since then, her dads were a little more conscious about pushing her too far, even Carl-dad. But she still had too much internal anxiety to get rid of it altogether.
The words kept coming. Logainne kept spelling, and her opponent followed suit. Regardless of the competition, this was her moment. Her final moment. Even if she were going to lose, she may as well take a good long time to do so.
She finally heard the sound of the bell. Fantastic. Instinctively, she froze up with the shame of losing. Then she realized she hadn't been spelling. It was Miss Jackson who had been dinged. Now it really was Logainne's moment.
"Are you ready, Miss Schwartzandgrubinierre?" Spriggs asked her.
"Yes, sir, I am ready to spell the word," she replied, maintaining professionalism, trying to suppress her incredible anxiety (and her pesky lisp that slipped back out when she got nervous).
"Please spell, "denouement".
Denouement. "Denouement. Am I pronouncing that word correctly?" Spriggs assured her she was. "Thank you, and may I please have the definition of that word?" she asked; she already knew what the word meant, but it never hurt to make sure.
"'The climax of a chain of events, or the final act of a story where all elements are at last resolved.'"
The end of a story. She figured as much.
"Denouement." Logainne began to trace the letters on her jacket sleeve. "D...E...N..." She couldn't help but glance towards the bleachers, towards her dads leaning forwards in their seats. The people behind them were upset that her dads were obscuring their view, but what could she do from up there? Carl-dad was clutching his hands together, mouthing the word "win" over and over. Was he as anxious as she was? Was he seeing himself in her place? Would her loss count as his?
She realized she would end up choking if she kept focusing on the audience, and she couldn't afford that. Her heart was already racing, and she hoped she wouldn't lose her breath before she finished the word. But she couldn't rush it either. She couldn't lose, she couldn't bring more shame to herself or to her family. She couldn't make her dads more disappointed in her. She had to take home a win.
Logainne realized the more she thought about this, the more frenzied she would become. She felt herself start to hyperventilate. Carl-dad noticed and demonstrated a calming breath. Didn't he realize focusing on him would make her anxiety worse? Luckily, she saw Dan-dad talk him down, probably reminding him of the conversation they'd all had about her stress. He backed down a bit. She knew what he was thinking, though, that she couldn't be a loser anymore. She knew he was still thinking about her last chance to win, to not screw everything up, to make them proud in a bee for once-
"Continue the spelling, please, Logainne," Spriggs' voice rang in her ear. She nodded and gulped. "O..." Her dads were staring right through her. "U..."
She realized her best bet was to stop thinking about what others were thinking. She turned her body away from the audience and away from the announcers. One practice spelling, then she'll say it out loud. There was no competition, there were no fathers. Just her and her arm and the word.
Denouement. French language of origin. She had spelled the "D-E-N-O-U" already. She tapped her arm as she worked out the rest of the spelling. The French would make the "M-E-N-T" ending make sense with the pronounciation. Was there an "E" after the "U" or not? Was she confusing it with one of the other hundreds of words she had studied? Don't over-complicate things, Logainne, you'll mess everything up again...
She closed her eyes, turned towards the microphone again, began to trace the word on her arm again, and spelled. She knew this. She studied hard. This prize was hers, and hers alone.
"Denouement. D-E-N-O-U...E...M...E-N-T." She opened her eyes and turned towards the judge for validation. "Denouement."
She then heard four beautiful words: "We have a winner!"
For a while, Logainne just stood there in disbelief. She felt like she was in a dream. She won? She had actually gotten the prize? She was an actual winner? Mr. Spriggs walked over with the trophy, nudging her to take it. She snapped out of her daze and took the trophy, staring at the engravement: 31ST ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE CHAMPION. This was addressed to her! Miss Jackson gave her a congratulatory nod and handshake, though Logainne worried she grabbed her hand too tight in her enthusiasm. She felt like she was going to burst, but tried to keep her cool for the crowd.
Her fathers were freaking out. They ran onstage with her and hugged her tighter than they had in ages.
"Our little champion! Sweetie, we're so happy!" Dan-dad cooed in her ear.
"We're so proud of you!" Carl-dad affirmed.
Hearing this felt like a fantasy. Her dads were proud of her at last. More importantly, she was proud of herself. She was holding a trophy that took seven years to earn. She gave up on looking professional and burst into tears. Dan-dad pulled her into him and she cried. A reporter came by to take a picture for the paper, and she flashed a genuine smile (did her braces ruin it? did she care?). Her dads posed on both sides of her, grinning almost as wide, thumbs up, hands around her. The trophy was the center of it all.
Logainne went home that night and put the trophy on her trophy shelf in the spot she'd saved for years. She rushed upstairs to write her birth mother about her hard-earned victory, the best possible finale to her spelling bee endeavor.