You can’t feel everyone’s eyes on you. You can’t – Fuck it. I know everyone’s looking at me. I mentally comment as I finally break the mantra I have been chanting since the moment I got out of my new second-hand car. The very instant I had stepped out of the car, I had known that I was being watched. And it wasn’t because of the car at all because I could count six other cars of the same make and model in the parking lot. This is why I hate switching school in the middle of the term.
I do not cower under the pressure though and defiantly look straight ahead. The good part is that I appear confident, a clear sign to the would-be vultures to back off. The bad part is that I also appear like a snob and totally appear a loser who can’t deal with the change, a clear sign for the rest to back off as well. I force my body to relax and decide to smile at a few people but just as I begin to turn slightly to direct a smile, I find myself at the principal’s office. With a knock, I walk in and find a woman in her mid-50s sitting on the desk out of the office with a motherly look. Now that’s a cliché.
“Hello.” I clear my throat upon hearing the voice that clearly sounds scared witless. “Hello, I’m Ashley Jennifer. I am here to collect my schedule and any other paperwork I might need.” After a second’s pause, I remember my manners and greet her as well. “It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Romiera.” Who the hell chose a name Romiera for an old bat like her? It sounds way too cool for her. I freeze instantly at the re-emergence of Ashley the bitch queen. No, no, no! She’s supposed to stay dead.
My mind immediately flashes to the farewell party I had gotten in the school late in the night. A few girls of my group and the lacrosse guys had teamed up to throw me a party. I never made it there. Because even the oppressed find strength in anonymity and the folks had taken this chance to deliver their message for me. It wasn’t a pretty picture and even now I cringe at what had been there. I have no doubt the school administration must have chosen to remove it rather than clean it. Some of it seemed to have been written in permanent ink. And the locker itself had been full of hate mail. To someone who had lived so long assuming everyone liked her, it had been a hell of a wakeup call.
Mrs Romiera broke my train of thought by calling out to me and handing out specific instructions. I just nodded to her words, still too stuck in the memory to do any more. Her last words got my attention though. “Since you joined in the middle of the school year, I have asked two of the brightest siblings to show you around.” Then with a pause, she pierces me with a gaze that seems to look directly at all the dirty history. “Emma and Christian Jones are two of the brightest to ever grace these halls of St. Jude but others don’t appreciate this. From your records, it seems you might belong in the category of the latter. If that’s how it would be with you, I would rather not assign you anyone and let those sharks snatch you up the moment you walk out the door. I have no doubt they are listening to us right this moment.” So protective of them. Are they related to her?
“Having them around, no matter what others think, would be just perfect. This term has already been quite an eye-opener for me so why hide now?” I thought she would smile at my response, or at least be curious. But all I get is a grim face from her and I just know that she knows. That I’m the girl whose locker abuse made it into the state newspaper. And my heart feels like sinking because I just know that all who have been listening now know too. You wanted this fresh start, my mind reminds me, now take it.
The first period bell rings, saving me from this already uncomfortable conversation. And when I do walk out the door, I feel the eyes but no one approaches. And this time, I feel the difference. The last time was checking me out and judging but this time is a mocking smirk. And this realization is what makes me stop from approaching one of the ‘cool’ folks. I’ll never be what I once was because they have something to hold over me. I’ll never truly be let in the ‘it’ crowd.
The siblings are absent today so they’ll join me from tomorrow. I feel both glad and sad at that. Before I can do much except find my locker, my phone rings and I find that it’s mom calling me. “Ashley, I need you to come home today. I talked to Mrs Romiera and she agreed to let you out despite it being your first day. The reason I need you here… is urgent.” And just like that, in front of the thousands of eyes who will undoubtedly cook millions of rumors out of this single act, I run and am through the doors and in my car.
Only when I get home, I find my mom threw me a party on a ‘successful’ first day at new school. “I just wanted to get you out before you got too uncomfortable on your first day.” She answers as the reason behind all this. I can’t help but feel a lot lighter now that the discomfort is actually gone and hug her. We spend the rest of the day with dad at the home but when it’s time for bed, the thoughts and fears grip me again.
Should I become a popular girl again, even if it brings the bitch back? Or should I just try to be a better me? Someone more than the girl everyone wants to be associated with? Can I do it? The fear and self-doubt make me squirm even more in fear and before I sleep, I whisper the heartfelt plea to anyone listening.
“When tomorrow comes, I hope I am able to fake my comfort in being just another kid until I get used to it.”