Authors: Dorlana Vann
“She gets a little touchy when you start talking about Zachary.”
“Well, you do.”
“I do not. That’s not the… anyway. The book. We started trying little things out of the book to get out of doing our homework. It was crazy; it actually worked. At the same time, the twins were having problems with some jerk jocks, and we figured out how to handle them. One thing lead to another and… well let’s say, it obviously got out of hand.”
“What did y’all do? Hypnotize the entire school?”
“NLP isn’t really hypnotizing; it’s different. And no, that’s the weird thing, after some of the popular kids started acting and dressing differently, other students began doing the same. Since being smart was the new cool, Zachary became the coolest.
“Why doesn’t anyone tell someone?” Tanner asked. “An adult, a teacher?”
“We’ve tried,” Ashley said.
“This school has the number one test scores,” Julia said.
“All the parents and teachers were confused at first, but instead of trying to fix it, everyone took the credit. They think it’s a good thing: scholarship, school funds…”
Ashley said, “And the nerds took my place at the popular table.”
“So why are you chicks still normal while the rest of the school is all trippin’?”
“Chicks? Tripping? Really?” Julia exhaled. “All right. You tell me what’s normal?”
“You know what I mean. And how come, if you’re Zachary’s girlfriend—”
“… you’re not with him right now? And why didn’t the mind control work on the cheerleaders?”
“I guess since they’re really not followers, that made them kind of immune. And before we got to them, we decided to go ahead and leave Ashley and a few other group leaders alone to make them suffer for all the years they made us suffer.” Julia gave Ashley an indignant smile. “We wanted them to watch the students, their friends, turn against them. We wanted them to feel the sting of being the out crowd.”
“Yeah, thanks for that,” Ashley said. “Good one. But I’m still glad you didn’t mess with me, because I would
look good in those nerdy glasses and shoes. O.M.G.… did you see what Sabrina wore today?”
Julia shot Ashley an impatient look. “And now I’m stuck with them.”
Tanner asked, “Why’d you change sides?”
“They started doing things that I thought pushed the limits. They left the basics of the book and began researching it to see how they could perfect it. They became addicted and the challenges became bigger. But what really freaked me out were the mind games they began to play on one another, and they got really dangerous. Like life threatening. I begged them to just stop it all. I thought we had done enough. I stupidly thought we would let everything get back to normal after a few days. You know. When I threatened to go to Principal Perry, Zachary told me that if I didn’t like it,” she shook her head, “I could make like an atom and split.”
Tanner spit out a laugh. “Wow.”
“There’s the bell,” Ashley said. “Some of us don’t get any mind altering help with our grades. Try explaining to your mom why you are the only one to fail in the entire school.” She carefully walked down the bleacher, her honey-colored hair bouncing behind her.
Tanner tried to see the geek hidden beneath Julia’s take-no-bull disposition. She looked and acted unlike any “smart girl” he had ever known. “They asked me to sit with them.”
“Don’t do it. You’re like a new toy. We don’t get many new students. Last year we had two, and they snatched them up before I had a chance to even talk to them. You know how it is; most kids are just searching for a place to belong, so they’re easily influenced.” She stood up and walked to the aisle of the bleachers. “Don’t let them touch you. Don’t talk to them longer than hello.”
“And the girl that was at the table with them?” Tanner asked as he followed Julia’s stomps down the stairs.
“Yeah—I talked to her yesterday, and I’m fine.”
“She’s not one you really need to watch out for. She’s more of a puppet. Just because someone reads the book doesn’t guarantee they’ll be able to perform the techniques. You have to have enough confidence, a photographic memory, and the ability to read people.” She jumped from the lower step to the ground, turning to face him. “The one you really have to watch out for is Zachary.”
“I’m sure I can avoid the scary Prince Zachary.” Even though he tried to use a sarcastic tone, inside, everything she had said began to fester.
“Don’t underestimate him.”
Tanner stepped in front of Julia and opened the gate. They began their short walk back to the school building.
“Do you think they’ll try to hypnotize me and turn me into a geek?”
“Too late,” she said.
He opened the door for her. “Oh, so you do have a sense of humor buried beneath the attitude.”
She quickened her pace and walked on ahead of him but turned her head and smiled before mixing into the sea of argyle and suit coats. He liked her, but the thought jumped out at him that if he had come to the school before all the wackiness, he probably would’ve thought of her differently, if at all. No matter what she looked like, if she hung out with the smart kids, he would have written her off. It just seemed easier to size people up by association when entering a new school. The last thing he wanted was to be put in the category he had worked so hard to leave years ago.
Since his family chronically changed addresses, he’d been able to reinvent himself several times. He took aspects from different kids who he had seen as cool: his long hair from one place, his clothes and music from another. He had even taught himself how to skateboard from reading articles on websites and lots of practice. After all of this, and a little “mind control” of his own, the new—and what he thought, normal—Tanner emerged. He kept the old part of his personality well hidden. He stopped raising his hand to answer questions in the classroom, he only did enough school work to get by, he quit band, and even though he hadn’t trashed his comic book collection and still carried them wherever he moved, he never unpacked them.
Now he fit in wherever he went and made friends quickly. He hadn’t thought about the old Tanner in a couple of years… and he sure as hell was going to steer clear of anyone who threatened to let him out.
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