When TJ Powar—a pretty, popular debater—and her cousin Simran become the subject of a meme: with TJ being the “expectation” of dating an Indian girl and her Sikh cousin who does not remove her body hair being the “reality”—TJ decides to take a stand.
She ditches her razors, cancels her waxing appointments, and sets a debate resolution for herself: “This House Believes That TJ Powar can be her hairy self, and still be beautiful.” Only, as she sets about proving her point, she starts to seriously doubt anyone could care about her just the way she is—even when the infuriating boy from a rival debate team seems determined to prove otherwise.
As her carefully crafted sense of self begins to crumble, TJ realizes that winning this debate may cost her far more than the space between her eyebrows. And that the hardest judge to convince of her arguments might just be herself.
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“You have six minutes.”
The Speaker’s voice rings out, clear and calm. An expectant hush falls over the room. It’s time.
TJ Powar takes a measured breath and rises from her desk. Although she’s done this countless times, she still gets a huge adrenaline rush right before starting her speech. It’s a good thing. It focuses her, gives her a sharper edge. The downside is it also makes her palms so sweaty she has to keep a death grip on her cue cards. She really should’ve wiped her hands on her slacks before standing. But it’s too late now.
She grips the cards a little harder and surveys her captive audience. In her peripheral vision, she can see her opponents—one of Whitewater’s senior teams—across the floor, their legs stretched out under cramped desks. Facing the debaters in equally cramped desks are the three older judges and the timekeeper, a half-asleep ninth grader who probably got roped into the job. And, of course, the Speaker, a parent volunteer who looks like he zoned out the minute he finished his spiel.
This is it. One of the defining moments of her debating career, happening right now in a musty high school English classroom.
To her right, her debate partner, Simran, coughs. Her subtle way of telling TJ to get a move on and stop basking in the weight of the moment.
TJ clears her throat. “Honourable judges, worthy opponents”—she injects just a slight amount of derision into that last bit, not enough that the judges would notice, but enough that her unworthy opponents might—“and, assembled guests. We of Side Affirmative are debating in favour of the resolution before us today: Be It Resolved That life today is better than it will be in a hundred years’ time.
“My partner”—she half turns and gestures to Simran, who’s sitting there polishing her glasses—“has already presented two of our contentions: that climate change is making living conditions worse all around the world, and that current extreme polarizations in politics just forecast more societal turmoil in the future. I will now present two more contentions: that a growing population will only continue to strain resources, and that life is just getting busier and more disconnected. But first, I’ll take a moment to point out the flaws in Side Negative’s case.”
TJ launches into her speech, starting with her rebuttal of the first Side Negative speaker, Nate Chen. It’s easy to fall into the rhythm of it. The nice thing about this tournament is that it’s held in Cross-Examination style—no one can butt in with questions while she’s talking, so her flow won’t get interrupted.
However, the mad scribbling coming from Side Negative is hard to ignore. This cross-examination will be a bitch. It always is with these two. When Simran finished her speech portion earlier, Nate used his entire two allotted minutes to grill her. As usual, Simran was cool under fire. TJ can only hope to do the same when her time comes.
The timekeeper is counting down the last fifteen seconds with his arm when TJ finally wraps up her speech. “Thank you. I now stand for cross-examination,” she says, grimly, and the second speaker for Side Negative stands, buttoning up his suit jacket as he rises.
“Thank you for your . . . most interesting speech,” Charlie Rosencrantz says, his voice dripping with condescension, like always. “However, I do have a few questions.”
Of course he does.