As soon as I saw Grace, I could tell she was lonely. That awkward expression I faced in the mirror every morning was on her face, too. We were standing in the reduced price
lunch line at school. We had to carry bright yellow cards and have cheaper, crappier lunches. It was embarrassing.
I stepped out of line to tie my shoe and waited for it to move forward until I was standing beside her.
"Hi," I said, moving my face close to her shoulder while trying not to invade her personal space. "I'm Crystal. Are you new?"
She turned her head quickly. It was obvious I had startled her. "Hey," she practically whispered, trying to hide her yellow card. "Not new. I just got my schedule changed to have a different lunch period."
"Oh," I said, blushing, but I was so excited to have someone to talk to that I couldn't help myself. "I moved here about six months ago."
"Cool. Where from?" I could barely hear her over the clattering of cutlery.
"A little town about 8 hours drive south. This school is a lot bigger than my old school."
Grace collected her tray and handed her card to the attendant, who punched a hole in it and promptly handed it back. I could see I had lost her attention as she hastily shoved the card into her pocket and started towards an empty table.
of your friends in this lunch period?" I blurted out. I was pathetic.
She shook her head. "I don't really have any friends," she said, carefully opening her carton of chocolate milk.
"Really?" I asked, genuinely surprised. Grace was pretty. Her hair was long and blonde and you could tell without touching that it was silky. She had striking blue eyes, her legs were long and she wore nice clothes. Everything about her screamed high school popularity contest winner.
Me? I was bullied a lot. I had learned to steer clear of the popular crowd. Most of the people I was surrounded with hadn't even bothered to learn my name. They called me Walmart
because of the clothes I wore, and anyone who didn't call me that referred to me as Salvation Army
for the same reason. I wasn't popular in my last school, either. When I moved to Saint Peters, I hatched a plan to get someone popular to like me so I could use them as a stepping stone to get in with the in-crowd. Or, at the very least, I could get rid of my discount store monicker.
"Do you mind if I sit with you?"
She shook her head. "No one ever sits with me," she admitted, smiling. "What's your name again?"
Sitting at this table was big for me. My lunches were normally spent in a bathroom stall in spite of the danger of e-coli. The first and only time I ate in the cafeteria, someone made a slingshot and launched an unfolded paperclip at me. It stuck in my back and hurt for three days.
"Where do you live?" I asked, glancing around and making sure no one was preparing a strike.
"Avenue F. East side of town."
I nearly shot milk from my nose. "Seriously? I live on D. You're the only other person our age who lives in that neighborhood."
"I know, right?!" she laughed. "It's practically a cemetery over there! Everyone's like... 40!"
We talked about the strange neighborhood we lived in for the duration of lunch. I explained that she never saw me walking around because I was usually indoors playing online. She talked me into getting out more and we made plans to go rollerblading after school.
We spent almost every moment we could together for the next two weeks. She started riding the bus to and from school when I told her I rode it every day. We listened to all the same bands, both had a huge crush on Dexter Holland and we read the same books. We didn't have any classes together but we did our homework at the same time over the phone, we'd sneak around the neighborhood in the evening and knock over old lady's birth baths and I stayed the night at her house every weekend over the course of the next six weeks. We'd eat cheddar jack Cheez-Its and read trashy gossip magazines. I felt completely comfortable with her. It was as if I had known her my entire life. I told her everything. Even those times when my brain would scream at me to shut my mouth, I would just keep on talking.
I loved having a friend. I didn't even care about being popular anymore.
I wish I had listened to my stupid brain.
Grace didn't answer her cell when I called her on Thursday evening. I texted and got no reply. She had been acting strange during lunch. Quieter than usual. She kept looking around and acting shifty. I thought seeing a movie would cheer her up, but she never returned my calls. She hadn't rode the bus home, and she wasn't there on Friday morning either. I assumed she was sick.
People were whispering more than usual and turning around to look at me and giggle. I wondered if they had been doing this the whole time I was friends with Grace, but that I was so wrapped up in her that I didn't notice. I felt uneasy and lonely. During my third class of the day, someone started throwing wadded up tissue at me. My stomach began to churn with anxiety. Why are they doing this? Just before lunch, I ran to the restroom to check my hair and make sure I looked okay. Was there mustard on my face again.
Why were they all laughing at me?
I waited for Grace outside the cafeteria. I hoped she had heard something and could tell me what was going on. People laughing at me shouldn't have been a big deal, but it made me feel so alone and scared.
And then it hit me. Cold, wet, and heavy, right in the middle of my chest. My face was burning as the blood rushed to my cheeks. I looked up from my muddy shirt to see people pointing and laughing, but I couldn't hear anything. The sound blurred and I became dizzy. My mind wouldn't focus on any particular thought. I couldn't get my legs to move. I just stood there with that dumb look of shock on my face as the mud clung to my shirt. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to die.
I caught a glimpse of a pretty, familiar blonde girl laughing with the crowd. Grace?
I thought. I begged my eyes to be deceiving me, but they weren't. It really was Grace. I didn't have the courage to call her out on her betrayal in front of everyone. I rushed to the bathroom and cried. I scraped the mud off of my shirt and waited for the bell to ring. Once the tardy bell sounded and I was sure the coast was clear, I snuck out of the bathroom and walked home. I didn't care if the truancy officer caught me. I didn't care what my dad would say. I just wanted to go home.
As soon as I knew she would be out of school, I called Grace. And I called and I called. I texted. No reply. By 6pm, I had collected enough fury at her to march to her house and confront her. I stood on the porch and stared at my reflection in the glass of the front door. Maybe I should let it go...
I thought, but I clenched my jaw and rang the doorbell.
She came to the door. Standing behind her were two girls I recognized from school. I could see by the Taylor Momsen-esque eyeliner that they were playing with make-up and trying on each other's clothes. Had I been replaced?
"What do you want?" she asked, coldly.
"I've been trying to call you," I snapped. "What's your problem?"
She rolled her eyes and huffed. "Can you give me a minute with her?" she said to her new friends. "I'm gonna try to let her down gently. Again.
My stomach lurched like I was on a rollercoaster. She stepped outside onto the porch with me and shut the door behind her. We could both hear her friends pressing themselves against the door to listen.
"You need to back up off me," she said, loudly. I looked into her eyes. They were soulful, which confused me.
"I don't understand."
She grabbed me by the arm and thrust me off the porch and down the sidewalk.
"Hey!" I objected.
"Just move!" she shouted, letting go of me with a shove.
"Why are you being such a bitch?" I asked. My tone pleaded.
"Look, being friends with you was fun, but I had my chance to get in with a higher crowd," she said sharply with a lowered voice. "I had to throw you under the bus."
"What the hell does that even mean?" I was feeling less confused and more angry.
"Nobody ever talked to me," she said. "But then they saw me talking to you and asked me why I was talking to the weird girl."The weird girl...?
"So I told them you were in love with me," she continued. "They thought it was funny, so I told them more." She stated this so matter-of-factly that I was beginning to wonder if she had somehow become a sociopath.
"What do you mean
you told them more?
She shrugged. "Everything."
Oh, how I wish I had listened to my brain when it told me to shut up.
"I told you my deepest, darkest secrets." My eyes filled with tears. I tried to choke it all back, but I couldn't. I was humiliated. "How could you do that to me?"
"I needed the popular girls to like me," she admitted. "I've gone to school here forever, and I knew if I could find a stepping stone, I would find my way into the popular crowd."
I winced. I had thought of stepping stones more than once.
"So... I was just a stepping stone?" I asked, hoping she would say no. Hoping that our friendship hadn't been a terrible ruse to gain other friends.
She sighed heavily and turned to walk back into her house. "I needed a way to climb to the top. You were just the missing stair I needed to help me get there."This entry is for therealljidol and was entirely fictional. Except for the Walmart/Salvation Army nicknames. That really happened.