Authors: G.L. Snodgrass
G. L. Snodgrass
The Viscount’s Bride (Regency Romance)
A Demon's Nightmare
More Than Best Friends
of Short Stories)
The cacophony of five hundred teenagers, all talking at once, washed over me like an ocean wave. The smell of greasy hamburgers, cheap perfumes, and post P.E. body odor gave the wave form and heft. Trying to push me back.
Every time I stepped into the cafeteria it was like walking into a prison. It's not like there were guards with shotguns lining the walls. Nothing that drastic. More the feel, the tension, the tone of conversations.
Most of all, it was the cliques, the way people divided themselves into groups. Into their self-selected tribes. Most schools were like that. I just think ours was a little worse, a little more over the top.
The cafeteria was laid out in six rows of six tables. Each one sitting twelve. Meaning there were spaces for four hundred and thirty-two butts.
Unfortunately, the school was crammed with five hundred and twenty students. On rainy days, which are pretty common in a Pacific Northwest logging town, there were never enough seats. Late comers and freshman were out of luck unless they had friends, fellow tribesman to hold a spot for them.
My best friend Mark was holding my spot for me. As the president of the Computer Club, State Chess champion, and the best hacker in school I was King of the Nerds, Chief Brainiac. Leader of the Clueless. Entitled to the middle seat, back, corner table. A place where I could hold court and arbitrate earth-shaking debates, such as whether Hans shot first or which computer operating system was the best.
Tony and Meagan were in a heated debate about who was worse, Jarret McGee or Hitler?
"Hey Ryan?" a sophomore, Amy Ward asked me, "my computer keeps slowing down about three hours after I start using it. I've tried everything. It’s virus free, clean as a whistle."
That's my life, I've become a human FAQ page for high school nerds.
"You've got a memory leak. The RAM is accessing your hard drive for extra space. Check it out."
I finished settling in and prepared to eat.
"She hasn't come in yet," Mark said with a teasing smile.
I ignored him and silently ate my soggy burger as my eyes scanned the room. I wasn't looking for Hailey Martin, I swear. I was looking at how the giant room was divided.
What I called the Delinquents, the hard cases, held the far corner. You had to be tough, or at least, pretend to be, to sit with them. These were the biker want-a-bees, the kids just out of Juvie, or the ones heading in.
Logging is a tough, hard job, it creates tough, hard men who create tough, hard kids. Quite a few of them had permanent seats in the detention hall. Few would make it to graduation. Instead, they'd follow their fathers into the forest of the Great Northwest.
The Delinquents were flanked on the left by the Druggies. Most of them with long straggly hair and glassy, far-away looks. You had to be a stoner at a minimum to get in with this group. They didn't trust people who wouldn't get high with them.
On the other side were the Goths, with more piercings than my grandmother's pin cushion and enough white pasty skin to blind a bat.
Sharing the same pissed off attitude, these three groups intermingled freely, but were very wary of outsiders.
Next were what I called the Performers. The band, drama, and choir kids who held the middle of the room. It was easy to get in with them, they were always looking for a larger audience. All you had to do was agree to worship at their feet and laugh at their jokes.
Next to us were the Geeks, the socially inept kids who found escape in the worlds of George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry, DC Comics, or J.K. Rowling. Even now, one of them was wearing a Darth Vader mask and black cape. I shook my head, I had to admit it was sort of cool.
Our two groups sometimes overlapped, but there were differences. A Geek could enjoy the fantasy world of Star Wars or Hogwarts. A Nerd needed to know everything about it. How it worked. Subtle, but different.
As far from the Geeks and Nerds as you could get sat the elite. In their minds the top ten percent of the school. For what I called the Celebrities, the ones who were popular for being popular, all you had to do to get in with them was be rich, beautiful, or a star athlete.
Preferably all three.
There was a natural tension between the Celebs and us Nerds. Sort of like between lions and leopards. They ran in packs and thought they were kings of the jungle. We tended to be more independent and knew that we were the top of the food chain. At least, when it came to intelligence. And, admit it. In this world, that was the ultimate gauge.
While we might be jealous of their fame and popularity. Deep in our hearts we knew they'd be working for us one day. What's more, I think deep in their hearts they knew it, too. That's why they hated us so much.
None of us ever, ever, roamed into the Celebrities world. We wouldn't know what to do and they would never have allowed it.
Looking at my people, I sighed. I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. Nerds, a conglomeration of skinny shoulders and a way higher than an average number of glasses. That was what we were known for, poor eyesight, physical weakness, and a lot of obsessive compulsive disorders.
All of us were straight ‘A’ students on our way to greater things. With enough quirks, phobias, and ticks to fill a Psychiatrist’s waiting room.
Some of us might occasionally delve into the Geek world. Usually, the gaming side of things. Others would dip into the performing world. Always on string instruments. The kind of instrument that took years of dedication to perfect. These actions were permitted by the tribe, as long as the participant didn't become too enamored. Didn't forget what was important, - Grades.
The Celebs never associated with anyone from the other groups. Membership was way too precarious to take such risks. Oh sure, sometimes a Celeb girl would dip into the Delinquents for a bad boy fix, but it never lasted.
"There she is," Mark said, interrupting my daydreams.
My head whipped around to look towards the cashier. There she was all right. The school goddess. Hailey Martin.
Long, chocolate brown hair, with just a hint of auburn. Piercing blue eyes that reminded me of a summer sky in Seattle. The kind of blue that could pull a man in and never let him go. She was dressed in a hip clinging black skirt and light blue blouse that made her look about six steps above everyone else. Everything about her was perfection.
Every day I watched her make that walk from the cashier to the center Celebrities’ table. To that spot. The center of the center.
Every day my heart would race and time would come to a screeching halt.
Every day I would remember the one unbreakable rule. - The Homecoming Queen cannot date the King of Nerds. - Much like Occam's razor, E=MC squared, and Murphy's Law.
It was the rule that no one could ever challenge. The universe as we knew it would cease to exist.
My stomach turned over. Again! I made this walk every day and hated it every time.
The guys undressed me with their eyes and the girls stared daggers into my back. Today was different. Today, it was worse, because today I was going to break-up with Jarret McGee.
I'd made a lot of dumb mistakes in my life. That chartreuse fingernail polish last week. Back talking my mom. Forgetting Bri's birthday last year. All of them understandable, fixable, part of growing up you might say.
But, none of my previous mistakes ranked up there in dumbness as dating Jarret McGee.
I don't know what had come over me. Sure all my friends assumed we would end up dating. And sure, he was rich, very good looking in that Greek god way. Being the star quarterback didn't hurt. All of the items on any girl's checklist.
Unfortunately, Jarret was mean at heart. That secret evil cruel that liked inflicting pain. Never to me, but I'd seen enough to know it was only a matter of time. I'd seen him laugh at other people's mistakes too many times. Seen him secretly smile when Julie Summers stammered her way through a class presentation. Heard him put down his friends behind their backs, then smile and greet them like long-lost brothers.
After what Maggie told me about what happened with the freshmen football players, it was too much. It made me ashamed of myself to think I could have been interested in a guy like him. The man had a mean streak a mile wide. Besides, he had the personality of a stuffed chair, only really ever interested in cars, football, beer, and other people's pain.
To top it off, there had never been any butterflies. A girl should have butterflies, right?
I was planning what I was going to say. Going over a thousand different scenarios. Trying to figure out what he would say. How would he react?
If he said, “X,” I would say, “Y.” If he zigged, I would zag.
A little part of me was worried. Jarret could be intimidating, physically, and I don't think anyone had ever told him no before.
A blur suddenly flashed in front of me. Almost knocking my tray from my hands. Milk sloshed into my salad. I came within millimeters of losing the tray. Some sophomore band geek, with black hair and enough pimples to be concerning, had shoved a Druggy wearing a green army jacket into my path. I looked around and realized I had strolled into the beginning of a fight. A fight that could get out of hand way too fast. The last thing I needed was more conflict in my life. I snapped.
"Here, hold this," I said as I shoved my tray into the Druggy's hands.
He looked as if I'd handed him a vial of Smallpox. Turning, I walked up to the other boy. The instigator. His face had turned white as he quickly glanced over towards Jarret to see if my boyfriend had noticed.
"Don't worry about him. It's me you should be worried about," I said putting my hands on my hips and giving him my best evil eye. The one my mom had perfected.
He gulped and started to stammer an apology.
"Be more careful," I said. "You're in high school now. Start acting like it."
The poor boy looked like he'd swallowed a spoon as he nodded his head. He'd probably figured it was safer than talking.
"As for you," I said retrieving my tray from the green-clad Druggy. "Get a haircut. You look like a shaggy sheep."
Shaking my head at the idiocy of sophomores, I stomped over to our table and plopped my now useless tray down next to Jarret.
"What's up babe?" he asked. The man was as observant as a brick and just as intelligent.
"We need to talk," I said.
"Not here," I said looking around. There were way too many interested glances from under eyebrows. I could see Emily Peterson hanging on our every word. "Meet me in the quad when you're done." With that I got up from the table, leaving my soggy salad, and stomped out into the quad area.
A fine mist and the cool spring air greeted me as I opened the door. The permanent smell of pine trees hung in the air like an industrial case of cleaner. I took a deep breath and waited.
"What do you want to talk about?" Jarret demanded as he walked through the door. The rumble of the cafeteria escaping with him until the door slammed shut. The sudden silence was like a fingernail being drawn across my shoulder.
"Um. I uh, think we should start seeing other people."
There. I said it. My breath escaped as I looked up at him, waiting for an explosion. His eyebrows narrowed in confusion for a moment. He looked over his shoulder, confirming that we could still be seen from the people inside.
His hands clenched into fists as the color drained from his face. I took a step back as my insides turned over.
"It's not you, it's me. I just don't think we are right for each other," I said.
He looked down at me with that narrowed stare.
"You don't get to decide that," he said. His hand came up and grabbed me by the upper arm as if he was afraid I might keep stepping away from him. It felt like a pair of vice grips biting into my arm.
"Actually Jarret, I do," I said as I twisted away from him. "We can still be friends, but I don't think we can see each other anymore."
"Why?" he asked. "Is there someone else?" For a moment, an evil look crossed his eyes as if he wanted to hurt something or somebody. He quickly got it under control again, but I know what I had seen and it wasn't good. I needed to get out of there before things got out of hand.
"No Jarret, there isn't anyone else. I just think it is time to move on. You know this wasn't working out. You had to have felt it." I wanted to yell at him.
You're not even really interested in me, you're more interested in what your friends expect.
Instead, I gave him my friend smile and tried to move past him.
He shot an arm out to block my way and my heart jumped into my throat. I halted for a moment. Looked up into his eyes, then pointedly looked at the window of the cafeteria. He caught my meaning then dropped his arm.
"This isn't over, Hailey."
"Oh, it is so over," I said, as I left him there in the quad.
It was turning out to be one of those days that makes you think your life is going down the toilet, fast. Six minutes, that's all it took. I couldn't believe it every time I thought about it. My teeth were going to get ground into dust I was so upset.