It was a little while before I could decide what exactly to do. After all that I’d just heard. After that phone call.
Crystal Roach. Ugh. How I hated her now. How everything had been ruined after that Dance project last year. How I’d fallen apart.
The project seemed easy: Choose a song and choreograph a dance to it using a message. We were put into groups by our teacher, Ms. Tsvetkova. Crystal and I hadn’t worked together, but it was my group member, Cassandra Cetrone, who was the real cause of all the trouble.
Cassandra and Crystal were also friends, but they were mostly class friends. Crystal had been furious that Cassandra had ended up in my group instead of in hers. Well, she’d wanted both of us to be in her group, but if she had to choose, she’d rather Cassandra be in her group than in mine. And she would probably have done the same if I had ended up in Cassandra’s group rather than hers. But since my name was called first, it was “my group.” And although we did get to request a group member (and I had requested Crystal), Cassandra had happened to request Regine Perez, who was also in my group and had listed “no preference.”
But the main struggle came when it was time to choose a song. Crystal had chosen “Your Bedtime Magic” by Brad K. Washington for her group. Which was rather unfortunate, since Cassandra wanted to do the same song for ours (I wanted to do “Tortured Soul” by Thirteenth Star, but nobody thought it was good). I had heard the day before that Crystal wanted to do that song, too, so I told my group to go talk to their group and make sure it was okay with them. So Cassandra had marched over to Crystal’s group and instead of asking, had told them that we were going to do the same song. Crystal had been furious and had asked who had chosen the song.
But Cassandra chickened out. She didn’t want to lose her friendship with Crystal, and so she chose the obvious choice—”I didn’t choose it! Avril chose the song!” And, of course, Crystal bought it. She had confronted me at brunch and furiously demanded I give her back the rights to “her song.” Of course, I argued that Cassandra had been lying—that she had been the one to choose the song and had lied to get herself out of trouble—but Crystal would have none of it. She insisted that all I was doing was trying to tell the story of what I’d done, and that Cassandra was completely innocent (which, of course, she wasn’t).
This was last year. And this year, I was trying my best to avoid Crystal and her toxic atmosphere. She was friends with Cassandra now, and she had a huge gang of kids that she hung out with in place of me. She even had a boyfriend, the perpetual jerk and borderline bigot Christian Wakefield. Meanwhile, I had nobody, not even a single friend. And so what? I didn’t need that again. My trust in other people had been ruined by Crystal and Cassandra. I was starting to wonder, like one of those warp-minded Interneters, whether it was all a huge conspiracy. I was falling into a hole of stupidity and slightly extremist thoughts. I’ll admit it—I believe that I was turning into a monster.
And then, one day, seemingly out of the blue, a call came over the home phone from a very familiar number.
I decided to answer. You know what? Might as well. Why not? At least pretend I still like her.
And then I heard a harsh version of her voice.
“I’m gonna get you tomorrow. I’m gonna get you tomorrow. You better behave. You better make sure you’re right where you always are, ’cause I’m gonna get you tomorrow. It’s all gonna end tomorrow at lunch.”
And then the line went dead.
I stared at the phone for a little bit before falling into a wormhole of decision-making. Should I obey? Should I stay right where I usually was so she could ‘get me’? Or should I not even go to school tomorrow? Just ditch?
It took me a full thirty minutes to decide. I’m not the kind of person to ditch class. I’ve literally never ditched in my two years and couple months of high school that I’ve had so far. It’s rarely even crossed my mind. Yeah, I’m one of those kids, I know.
But finally, I decided. I was going to give in. I was going to go to school. Maybe not stay right where I usually was, but at least I’d go to school. That would show her that I wasn’t afraid of her. Even though I have no doubt that I was.
When the sun came up the next morning, I prepared for the day as if it was my last. I packed my favorite snacks, even putting my favorite chips into a Ziploc baggie and packing them carefully in my lunchbox. I put a packet of Goldfish, one of my nostalgia snacks, into the pouch where I generally kept small miscellaneous things. I made my oatmeal with extra blueberries and extra vanilla yogurt. I brushed my teeth for five minutes straight, ensuring that they’d be sparkling clean if my funeral were in a week or two. I wasn’t entirely convinced that Crystal would fail in her plan to ‘get me.’ Which was why I prepared like I was about to die.
At school, I was my best version of myself, desperately trying to hide my fear that I was going to die at lunch today. I mean, when someone says ‘I’m gonna get you’ in the tone that Crystal had over the phone, they were definitely plotting to kill you, or at least wound you so bad that you were going to end up in the hospital. I worked studiously, asking for help, taking copious notes, smiling, just being the best possible image of myself that I could be. How I wanted to be remembered. Just an all-round excellent person. Like anyone would want. My history teacher, generally not someone to give out praise in front of the class, even lauded me for my “thoughtful answers” during our in-class discussion. I had to keep myself from crying as he handed me a little blue ticket, which meant praise beyond the ordinary, because it might’ve been my very last award. A little blue ticket from Amazon that sold for only a few dollars per roll of 200, my last award! Even I, a humble person, knew I was worth more than that.
When the lunch bell rang, my physics teacher, Ms. Puente, was in the middle of describing how to find gravitational potential energy when an object was high above the Earth’s surface (in other words, not mass times height times 9.8 meters per second squared). She had meant to do it earlier, but our struggles on the worksheets had gotten in the way. I gloomily packed up my things and strode towards my Chinese classroom, my next class, even though there was lunch in the way. I just need to be separated from my spot, where Crystal would be sure to check for me.
There were always people in that classroom during lunch, but today, I was the only one. Maybe it was all a huge conspiracy. Eh, whatever. Maybe it was good fortune.
My Chinese teacher, Xiao Laoshi (or Ms. Xiao, well, translated literally, it means Teacher Xiao, but whatever, I’ll just call her Ms. Xiao), noticed my presence, of course. And, of course, she started asking me questions in Chinese, which I’ll translate as best I can.
“Avril, you normally come at the end of lunch. How come you’re here so early today?“
I tried to answer as best I could without making myself seem like I had serious problems.
“I just wanted to today. It’s too warm out today.“
“Do you sit in the sun?“
“No. I sit in the shade, but it’s too warm.“
Ugh. This was sounding so cringey. I had a feeling she knew I was covering something up, but just didn’t want to say anything in order to save me some embarrassment.
We continued on in the most awkward conversation in history.
“How does it feel to be a junior?“
“Weird. I feel like I’m still a freshman sometimes.“
She laughed. “Why?“
“I just do.“
“Still feel young?“
“It seems so.“
This conversation was getting so awkward that it felt like a prison. I almost wished someone would get me out of here.
And then Ms. Xiao asked me literally the worst question she could possibly ask me.
“Where are your friends?“
I lied. I didn’t want to go to the school therapist. While teachers almost always have good intentions, students are always so judgmental about stuff like that. They call you all sorts of stupid things that would probably get them in trouble. The worst thing they can say is “retard.” Inappropriate. Just inappropriate. It just goes to show you that nobody really cares about you, other than maybe your parents and hopefully yourself.
“They’re buying lunch.“
“Really? They’re taking a long time.“
“I know. It’s very strange.“
And then, right then and there, the door was flung open. Like an idiot, I looked. But I should’ve known.
There was Crystal, standing in the doorway, ready to shake my face off. And there was her evil boyfriend, Christian.
Crystal laughed like a maniac as she saw my terrified face.
“Come on, baby. Let’s go bury a body.”
And, ignoring Ms. Xiao’s remarks, they came to me and dragged me out of the seat I was sitting in, bumping me into everything that they could.