The alarm sounded off like a nuclear disaster warning.
“How fitting,” Amber muttered to herself as she sprang to her feet.
If she wasn't dressed and downstairs in a few minutes, her mother would think she wasn't feeling well again. She had already missed too many days this year due to supposed illnesses. The principal had warned that she might end up in summer school.
Would that really be so bad? At least I'd be alone!
The school day was long, as always. Lunch period arrived. Amber grabbed her lunch bag from her locker and headed against the crowd towards the locker room. She had discovered a secret spot between the banks of lockers to hide from Coach Middleton and eat her lunch. As was her daily ritual, she would just pick at her food. Her hunger had been replaced by nausea lately.
Judging how her clothes were starting to hang on her, she guessed she had lost at least five pounds off her already lean body. She rose just as the bell began to ring, signaling that lunch was over. She paused at the locker room mirror on her way out. Staring back at her was a pretty blonde girl who seemed three inches shorter from the verbal pounding she took every day. The dark circles under her eyes had become too pronounced to hide even with makeup. Her eyes, once sparkling and full of life, had become hollow and emotionless.
Each day was worse than the last. Amber wondered how it had all gone astray. Stacey, Jasmine, Alexa and Kennedy had been her close group of friends since kindergarten. She used to be part of the pack, sharing secrets and special times. Once they started middle school, something had drastically changed. Amber didn't know what she had done wrong. Now she was the outcast. Shunned. Their mockery and taunting slashed at her skin like a bloodless razor. Wounds running deep yet invisible to the eye.
She walked down the crowded hallway towards her next class as a prisoner might walk to his execution. Amber pretended not to notice the whispers and sneers that spread like wildfire through the halls. Their hateful words fueled the blaze that was burning her up from the inside out. The air was so thick with their verbal assaults, she found it hard to breathe. The walls screamed at her with invisible graffiti proclaiming her unworthiness as a fitting member of any group. She longed to beg her parents to move so she could escape the pain. Instead, she continued to silently endure the daily abuse this institution of learning was fostering.
The next day, Amber ducked into the bathroom to hang out before class. Each morning, the dingy bathroom stall had become her make-shift foxhole to take shelter from the verbal air-strikes going on in the hallway. When she entered and found she was not alone, her heartbeat quickened. For a moment, Amber considered turning around to leave. If it was one of Stacey's gang, the bathroom might quickly become a death trap for her. The person was already in one of the stalls. Surely she wouldn't recognize me by my shoes. Amber quickly locked herself into her fortress and pulled her library book out of her backpack. Class didn't begin for another 15 minutes.
As she tried to concentrate on the book, Amber thought she heard muffled crying coming from the occupied stall.
Should I ask her if she's okay?
This past year had turned sweet, thoughtful, caring Amber into a broken, emotionless shell. She had learned to put her blinders on whenever she was around other people. She had adopted the “I can't see you, I can't hear you” philosophy that was crucial to getting her through each day. The crying continued for a few more minutes before the old Amber finally broke through and had the courage to asked, “Are you okay?”
“No!” The voice answered in between sniffles.
“Is there something I can do to help?” Amber offered.
“Can you pass me some more toilet paper? I've used all this up blowing my nose.”
Amber came out of her stall and passed a spare roll of toilet paper under the other girl's stall door.
Amber froze when she recognized the voice as Stacey's.
This was a set up! Any minute the other girls would burst through the bathroom door and surround me.
When that didn't happen, Amber wondered if Stacey was truly upset about something. Perhaps her boyfriend, Brad, had broken up with her.
What other reason did she have to be upset? She has it all!
“Did Brad break up with you?” Amber asked through the closed door.
“What have you heard?” Stacey burst through the stall door.
“Nothing! I haven't heard anything. I was just wondering what other reason you might have to be crying.” Amber threw her arms up as a shield and backed up against the sinks.
Amber thought Stacey looked horrible. Her mascara streaked down her face like Gothic tears. Her eyes and nose, puffy and red.
“Well, as far as I know, Brad's the only thing I have left going for me! And I'm not even sure how long he will last when word gets out.” Stacey wailed as the tears began to fall rapidly again.
Amber relaxed a little. Stacey was in no condition to berate her.
“Kennedy, Jasmine, Alexa, my so called friends, have decided that I no longer fit their criteria to be a member of their group. My group! They've kicked me out of my own group! I wish I could move to a new school!” Stacey lamented.
Ah, the predator becomes the prey!
Amber thought about making a comment that now Stacey would know how she has felt this entire school year. But being the better person, she decided to take the high road.
“Come on Stacey, let's get your face washed up. The bell's about to ring. I'll walk with you to our next class.”
©2010 Kathy Fenton White