That day, Emily learned two things. The first was that she had a “very depressing aura” that she had been giving off. One might even say she was glum, or sullen, according to a kid named Andy Baker. As much as she hated to admit it, it was probably true, given the fact that she did not want to be there and desperately wanted to go home now more than ever. For understandable reasons, entering a sea of people where she knew absolutely nobody was not appealing to her, or probably anybody. Well, that wasn’t entirely true because she had met Meredith earlier in the morning, but there was something about her Emily didn’t really like. She knew that sounded terrible considering they had only just met, and she was doing exactly what her father told her not to do- judge other people too quickly- but Emily couldn’t deny that she wasn’t entirely looking forward to having to talk to her again. Her flaming red hair combined with her constant smirk almost gave her a devilish quality, and she still wasn’t sure where this sudden “friend” of her father’s had come from. If anything, Veronica didn’t seem to like her either, especially since she had no idea who Veronica was.
In art class, a chubby kid with dirty blond hair and freckles all over his face pulled out the stool next to her and had a seat, dropping his bag to the floor.
“Hey, Emily. My name is Andy. You don’t mind if I sit here, right?” he asked, although he was already pulling out his pencils and folder.
“No, go ahead,” Emily said, looking away. When she had processed that he had just used her name, she turned right back around to ask “Wait, we didn’t have a class together, did we?”
“Indeed, first period actually. That was quite the introduction you gave to the class,” he chuckled.
Emily could feel her face turning red; she had attempted to black that memory out. As soon as she had entered the classroom, their teacher had unfortunately suggested that Emily introduce herself and tell the class a little bit about who she was. That was when Emily realized that her life really was not very interesting, and she told them that up until now, she had been spending her days at home with her sister and didn’t know much about school or anything. She didn’t mean to make it sound sad, but it came off that way regardless. She then nervously walked to her desk and took a seat, and that was probably the start of her so called “depressing aura”.
“Hey,” the boy said, seeing her red complexion, “It really wasn’t that bad. Besides, people tend to cut you some slack when you’re new.”
Emily didn’t say anything, and neither did he for a moment. When she thought the conversation was over, he started speaking again.
“You know, they’re saying you seem kind of glum, like you’ve got this sort of depressing aura or whatever, but I think you’re really just kinda quiet, right?”
It was true. Emily had never considered herself a quiet person before because she and Veronica were always talking to each other, but now that she was here, she was thinking about what to say more than ever. Her words suddenly weren’t coming as easily to her anymore, and it was a strange feeling.
“I guess,” Emily said softly, looking down and starting to scribble anxiously on her paper. The boy frowned and abruptly put his pencil down.
“Okay,” he said, putting his big hands together. Startled, Emily was looking up at him now. “I’ve had enough of this. I am making it my goal to get you to laugh. Or at least smile or something.”
“Yeah,” he said, starting to unzip his backpack. He fished around for a second and then put a tiny box on the table with what looked like some sort of cake inside.
“What is that?” Emily asked, looking back and forth between the box and Andy.
“It’s a mini apple pie, best thing ever. These things never fail to bring me joy, which is why I’m giving it to you. I probably eat way too many of these anyway.”
He handed her the box, but Emily just stared at it, stunned. Why was this guy being so nice to her? She almost wanted to cry.
“Thank you,” she said finally, “but I’m kind of not really a fan of apple pie. You can keep it.” Andy looked like he had been hit by a truck.
“Yep, never have, never will. Although, I do admit the pie crust is pretty good.”
“Well then you can have the crust and I’ll eat the rest! Deal?” He held out his hand, waiting for Emily to shake it.
“Deal,” she laughed, taking his hand and actually looking at him for the first time. Behind his chubby cheeks and freckles, Andy had a pair of china blue eyes that were undeniably inviting.
“Good,” he said, already starting to open the box and rip off the pieces. It wasn’t long before Mr. Voss came and snatched it from him.
“Andy, what did I tell you about eating in class?”
He sighed, like he had been through this too many times.
“You told me not to,” he began, “but this was different, I swear. Believe it or not, this apple pie actually got Emily here to smile.”
Mr. Voss turned his gaze towards her, looking like he had suddenly remembered that she was there. She gave him a nod of agreement, although she thought Andy was more responsible for her smile than the apple pie.
“Whatever,” he said. “You can have your pie back when class is over. Unless I eat it first, that is.”
“That ********** Andy muttered as he walked away.
Just like Mr. Voss had promised, he had given it back right when the bell rang, and just when Emily was about to walk to lunch by herself, Andy grabbed her by the arm.
“Where are you going?” he asked, giving her a look of confusion. Emily instantly felt guilty; it wasn’t that she was trying to leave him behind, but she hadn’t thought that he still wanted to talk even when the class ended. Clearly, she was wrong, because Andy’s face looked like it was on the verge of being hurt.
“You mean, you wanna have lunch together?” she asked.
“Well, yeah! We had a deal, remember?” he said, waving the pie in front of her. Emily didn’t think she could feel such a wave of relief from a little pastry before. Andy must have seen her overjoyed expression when he said he wanted to sit with her, because he said, “Look, I actually do wanna talk to you. Get used to it.”
The two headed to the dining hall, Andy leading the way. Earlier, Emily had expected that she would be eating lunch alone, and she was perfectly okay with that, but now that she wasn’t, she couldn’t help the feeling of happiness that spread through her.
The dining hall was huge, just like everything else in the school. Three crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, illuminating the wooden room with a warm glow. Long dining room tables stretched across the hall, filled with students eating lunch and talking loudly. Students like Meredith.
Around Meredith’s waist was the arm of a boy, and across from her were three other girls who were all equally as pretty. Whatever the boy said must have been some sort of tease, because Meredith took her hand and bumped him lightly on the head. He let go of her and ran a hand through his hair, smiling and rubbing at the spot.
“Whatcha looking at?” Andy asked, pulling Emily out of her own world. She hadn’t realized she had been staring. “Are we gonna go in or what?”
“Yeah, sorry,” she said, taking one more glance over at the table. They were all wearing different uniforms, ones with tank tops that had the name of the school written across it. She looked around for anyone else wearing the same thing, but spotted no one.
Andy had led them to a table in the corner, away from most of the other students. Emily stood and watched as he set his bag down, took a seat, and started eating without a second thought. When he realized that Emily still hadn’t moved, he finally looked up and stopped chewing.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. “Come on, sit down.”
Emily nodded and slowly took her seat, still looking at the table. She didn’t know what it was, but something about the table seemed rather isolating.
“Do you always sit here?” she asked him, her voice growing softer and fading into the loud dining hall.
“Yeah, why?” Andy said, obviously starting to get confused by Emily. Even she had to admit she was acting strange. “Do you not like it?”
“No, it’s fine,” she said quickly. “But, I mean, who else do you sit with?”
Andy’s eyes looked off to the side, his fingers scratching the back of his dirty blond hair.
“Well, no one really,” he muttered, seeming a little bitter. Emily suddenly felt a wave of regret; she hadn’t meant to make him feel uncomfortable. However, Andy’s smile returned to his face almost as quickly as it had left. “That is, other than you, I suppose,” he said, winking. Emily almost coughed up the pie crust he had just given her.
“Oh, sure,” she said, knowing her face was pink. So today definitely wasn’t a one time thing. Andy had already finished his food and started to rest his head on his hand, seeming relaxed. When they hadn’t spoken for a moment, Emily wondered if she should ask him about Meredith. She looked back over to her table, all the girls still smiling and looking like whatever they were talking about was very important. They were easy to spot; the girls stood out from the rest of the students not only because of their looks and uniforms, but because the aura around them seemed pleasantly different from everyone else, unlike Emily’s. It was like they were off in their own world, and nobody could break into the oddly intimidating walls they had built around themselves. When one of the girls started to look in her direction, Emily turned back around quickly to find that Andy had also been staring.
“You know,” he started, “I’ve been trying to figure out what you keep staring at, but I just can’t seem to find it. Care to inform me?”
Emily was instantly startled. She hadn’t thought that he would be paying so much attention. Even so, she came right out with her question.
“Do you know that girl over there? Meredith?” she motioned.
“Meredith Shore? The cheerleader?”
Cheerleader? So that’s what the uniforms were for. But why were they all wearing them during school hours?
“Yeah,” Emily said. “Who is she?”
“Well, first of all, why do you care so much?” Andy asked, giving her a look like he was studying her. “That’s what I wanna know.”
It was a good question. Why did she care so much? When she thought about it and how Meredith had showed her around earlier that morning, it was honestly because she just had a bad feeling about her. She hadn’t technically done anything, but she found it strange that after all these years, their father never mentioned a single word about her. Something about that set her on edge, and she knew it was the same for Veronica.
Emily leaned in closer to a waiting Andy, even though it wasn’t as if anybody could hear them over at their table in the corner. Andy looked taken aback, probably not expecting it to seem so secretive.
“I kind of don’t really like her, but I’m not particularly certain why,” was all she said, leaning back. Andy wrinkled his brows in confusion.
“What?” he said. “You don’t like her, but you don’t know why? Do you even know her?”
“That’s the thing,” said Emily, not bothering to lower her voice anymore and starting to feel a rant coming on. “Apparently my father knows her mother really well, but I’ve never heard of her in my life. She was showing me around earlier this morning like it was her responsibility or something, and there was something really strange she said before she left… what was it?”
Andy started at her blankly as she tried to remember.
“Something like, ‘the only person I need for now is her,’ I think,” Emily said, starting to feel chills as it came back.
“Well, I do admit that is a little creepy,” said Andy. “Although, from what I can tell, Meredith is a pretty well-liked person around here. I mean, I’m not particularly fond of her myself, but she is rather popular. It almost makes me wonder if me hanging out with you is a bad idea.”
“What do you mean?” she said, starting to feel offended. Did he really think that she was like Meredith just because they had associated with each other earlier that morning? It wasn’t like she wanted to talk to her in the first place.
“Nothing,” he laughed. “I just might be bringing you down.”
“Bringing me down?”
“Well, people who talk to Meredith are usually way out of my league. She wants you to be friends with her, right? “
“Yeah, but I don’t really have any intention of ever doing that,” she said, surprised by how serious she sounded. “Besides, I like being with you. I don’t care if we look weird.” She had already established that she was socially inept in her introduction to the class anyways.
Andy’s chubby cheeks were smiling ear to ear, blue eyes glowing.
“Don’t make me blush,” he said. Emily found herself turning a matching shade of pink.
When his smile began to fade and his eyes wandered over Emily’s head, she knew someone was approaching them.
“Oh wow,” he laughed, “it looks like you’re not getting rid of them anytime soon, huh?”
Emily turned around to see Meredith, along with her three other friends and assumable boyfriend, walking towards them rather quickly. They all followed behind her like little ducks as she led the boy by the arm, looking like an excited little kid leading her parents to the toy store.
“Emily!” she said, letting go of the boy’s arm and reaching down to hug her. Stunned, and a bit scared, Emily hugged her back lightly. She hadn’t thought thought they were so close yet, considering they had only known each other for a few hours. “Guys! This is my friend, Emily. This is her first day at a public school ever. Can you believe that?”
“Hey,” Emily gave a small wave. All five of them were looking at her like she was some sort of foreign object.
“Hi, Meredith,” Andy said with what seemed like some sort of smirk. Did he think this was funny? Meredith looked over at him like he had suddenly just appeared.
“Oh, Emily, I didn’t know you were friends with Andy,” she said. Something about her happy tone seemed forced. “You know, you could’ve just sat with us today.”
“Yeah,” Andy began before Emily could say anything, “but Emily said that she likes being with me. Isn’t that sweet?”
Emily didn’t know if she wanted to punch Andy for repeating something so embarrassing or hug him for saying something so perfect. Meredith turned towards her friends as if they had some sort of answer.
“I think what she was trying to say was that you both are always welcome over at our table,” said the short blond in the middle. She was almost like a doll with her long eyelashes and perfect lips, and somehow her sugar-sweet tone made Emily want to believe everything she said. The girl standing next to her, nodding her head in agreement, was the tallest of them all, with her long brown hair put up in a tight ponytail and black glasses. Then there was the blue haired girl who seemed like she thought all of this was a complete waste of time, and Emily couldn’t help but agree. Suddenly, the boy clinging to Meredith’s arm started to nudge her.
“Tell her why you came over here in the first place,” he said. Meredith’s face started to glow as she remembered.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, coming over to take Emily’s hands. Emily desperately wanted to pull away and tell her to leave, but all of her friends were looking at her, and she didn’t want to create enemies on her first day. All she could do was try to ignore the fact that their fingers were interlaced and look at Andy, who was trying not to laugh. “Emily, me and the girls wanted to personally invite you to try out for the cheer team!” she said. Emily already knew her answer.
“Well, that’s really nice of you guys, but I’m really not good with anything sports related,” Emily said, looking around at all of them nervously. She could feel her hands begin to sweat and started loosening her grip. When she saw the look on Meredith’s face, she knew that “no” wasn’t going to be an acceptable answer.
“You don’t know until you try,” she said, starting to get eager. “And with your tiny body, you could make a really great flier! Come on, don’t say no so quickly!”
Emily looked at the other girls to see what they were thinking. Blond haired girl gave her a smile that seemed welcoming enough. The tall girl looked off to the side and simply adjusted her glasses. As for the one with the bright blue mane, she tossed her hair and took a step forward.
“Whether you join or not doesn’t really matter to me,” she said, Meredith finally letting go of her hands to look at her as she made her rude remark. “Like I said, I prefer this club the way that it is.”
“Hailey!” Meredith hissed, she and the other girls starting to look anxious. Even with all of them glaring at her, Hailey still seemed like she stood by what she said. “Emily, don’t listen to her, ok? She’s a total *****, but once you get to know her, I swear she’s actually a decent human being. Why don’t you come with us to the gym? We can show you some of the moves and help you-”
“I’m sorry,” Andy interrupted, “but why on earth do you think she would want to go with you?”
Emily watched as Meredith stared at him blankly along with the rest of the other girls. The feelings of hurt crept onto Meredith’s face, as if she knew this wasn’t going well.
“What are you talking about?” she asked quietly.
“Well, if this was supposed to be some sort of sales pitch, you completely failed,” he said. “I mean, this whole thing has been painful to watch since the moment you got here. Thanks for the entertainment though, I guess.”
Just when she had started to forget that there was another male standing next to her, Meredith’s boyfriend started to approach Andy all too quickly.
“You don’t get to talk to my girlfriend like that,” he said, beginning to raise his fist. Meredith let out a scream, blond haired girl even covering her eyes with her hands. However, Hailey walked over and shoved him away like it was nothing.
“Oh, please,” she said, handing his arm back to him. “This guy isn’t worth all that, Taylor. Besides, it’s not like what he said isn’t true. I knew coming over here was a bad idea from the start.”
Emily looked at all of them as they started to relax. The only one who still seemed a bit off was Meredith with her frustrated expression. As much as Emily didn’t like her, she couldn’t help feeling a little sympathetic. After all, Meredith had only wanted to invite her to join the cheer squad, and instead it went horribly wrong. Maybe she should just be happy that someone was actually inviting her to do something and stop taking things so seriously. It wasn’t like she was going to make the cheer team anyways.
After everyone had been silent for a moment, Emily finally said, with a bit of doubt, “I guess I’ll give it a try.”
Meredith looked like she was going to fall over. As soon as she started shrieking like a wild animal, Emily braced herself for more physical contact.
“What?” Andy exclaimed, genuinely confused. “You for real?”
Emily nodded her head, Andy’s eyes widening. Although she felt sure of her decision, Andy’s expression was starting to make her feel uneasy. For some reason, she cared a lot about what he thought of her doing this.
“Oh, Emily, you’re the best!” Meredith shouted, her friends watching her as she reached down to hug Emily again. She could have sworn she saw Hailey roll her eyes. After a bit too long, Meredith pulled away and said, “let’s go to the gym right now!”
“But what about class?”
“It’s ok, we do this all the time!” blond girl said. Meredith pulled Emily up from the table and gave her a warm smile. Emily turned around to look at Andy, waiting to see if he had anything to say. Would it really be okay if she just left him here?
“I’ll be fine,” he said, as if reading her mind. He pulled out a book from his backpack and let it fall on the table. “I don’t know about you, though.”
The second thing Emily learned that day was that when she had a bad feeling about someone, it was best to acknowledge that feeling. Although her father told her not to judge people too quickly, sometimes it was necessary. After all, judging things was a basic survival skill; A mouse in the wild would obviously have to judge whether it stood a chance against the lion before it just went out and crawled right past it. As the girls made their way to the gym, Emily couldn’t help notice that many people were watching them, especially her. It was probably because she was the only one not wearing a uniform, she thought. When they got out of the dining hall, Emily felt a nudge from behind.
“Hey,” Hailey said, grabbing her arm and pulling her aside. Confused, Emily watched as the rest of them starting moving past. When they were a few feet away, Hailey pulled her into a whisper. “Whatever happens, don’t run. I got this.”
She let go of her and started walking quickly to catch up with the rest of the group, leaving Emily standing there, expressionless.