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On the Inside, Heading Out
All through the summer Becky had wondered what high school would be like. Everyone seemed to have different opinions. Some said that high school was a blast, and some complained that it was the most miserable few years of their life. To be honest, she was looking forward to her freshman year. In middle school, there were always a hoard of people admiring her and her friends. And high school is just like a mega-sized middle school, right? So that would add up to more admirers. How bad could that be?
Beep. Beep. Beep. Becky’s hand was groping around for the snooze button when her eyes flew open. “It’s my first day of high school,” she whispered. In a moment she was out of be and pulling on her favorite outfit. She was lightheaded with euphoria. Now she was not just a girl, but a high school girl. She grabbed a form fitting, baby blue t-shirt with the words Abrocrombie & Fitch emblazoned in white across the front and a pair of navy blue skinny jeans and pulled them on. The time-consuming process of showering, applying make-up, and straightening her chestnut brown hair took only a few minutes. By the time her mom made her way downstairs Becky was pouring herself a bowl of cereal.
“Good morning, honey.” Becky’s mom called.
“Are you excited about your first day of high school?”
“Yeah. Um… I gotta go, Mom. I promised the gang that we’d walk to school together and I would tell them about my trip to Israel.”
With that, Becky stepped outside into the humid air. She could feel the dewy grass tickle her feet as her flip-flops slapped against the ground. It was good to be back home, with trees surrounding her instead of sand, and space to move without bumping into someone. In Israel the most important thing she’d missed were her friends, and now that she was back in America she was going to relish every moment of her time with them. When she got to the sidewalk, she stopped and looked to her left. Her house was closest to the high school (only two blocks away), so they would meet on the path in front of her home. No one was in sight, so she stood there for a moment, waiting. When no one came, she figured she would meet them at school anyway, then turned right and started walking. She had only walked a few steps when she heard heavy footfall and someone calling her name.
“Becky! Becky Rivets! Wait up!” Becky turned around to see Danielle Becker running toward her. Danielle’s house was the farthest from the high school, so she had the farthest to run.
“Hey Dani. How was your summer? Where are Nikki and Joelyn?” Asked Becky.
“It was good. They probably slept in. We stayed up late partying.” Danielle panted.
“Oh. Why wasn’t I invited?”
Danielle looked awkward at that question. Her eyes widened like a cornered cat. “We figured your mom wouldn’t approve of it.” She quickly added, “Because it was the day before the first day of school, ya know…”
They walked in an uncomfortable silence until they got to the school, where Danielle gratefully disappeared into the crowd. Seconds later, she came back flanking Nikki, with Joelyn next to her. She seemed disappointed with the ironic turn of events. Nikki surveyed Becky as if they were strangers.
“Nice tan,” Nikki complimented. Probably sarcastically.
“Thanks?” Becky replied.
Joelyn took the less hostile approach.
“Hey.” Then, pivoting quickly, she followed Nikki and slunk back into the crowd. Becky didn’t have time to contemplate the meaning of this intimidating greeting because at that moment, the bell rang. All around her people pushed and jostled, and she was swept up by the current. Unfortunately, that meant she was the last student into the classroom. The elderly teacher gave her a baleful glare as Becky took the last seat left: the desk in the front row smack in the middle. She could hear Nikki in the back of the room whispering to Joelyn and Danielle.
Because it was the first day of school, homeroom was extended to four hours. All through the teacher’s lecture about the school’s rules, Becky’s sharp ears heard Joelyn and Nikki gossiping while Danielle gasped or laughed in response. She could feel a sensation of jealousy welling up inside her. The entire summer in Israel, she’d been looking forward to coming back so she could hang out with her friends. And now they were just ignoring her. Not. Cool. She looked like one of those admirers that used to follow her around. Seriously. Not. Cool.
It was while they were choosing their lockers that Becky finally managed a conversation with them.
“What were you guys talking about back there?” Nick paid Becky no attention, and Danielle followed her example. Joelyn responded.
“Nothing much.” Oh, my gosh. That’s what the four of them used to say to their admirers. This could not be happening. Becky watched, petrified with embarrassment, as Joelyn reached into her bag and pulled out a small bottle of white pills. “Want one?”
“What is it? Hard candy?”
Joelyn looked amused. “Sure. Hard candy for the soul.” She popped a pill into her mouth.
“I’ll pass… Hey, wanna hang out tonight?” Becky asked.
Grinning, Joelyn responded, “You missed a lot when you went to Israel. But sure, if you want to hang out we could take you to the Pub. I need a refill anyway.”
“That dingy club full of druggies and addicts?” Becky paused as the tried to recall back to those boring Health lessons. A realization dawned on her. “Whoa, is that ecsta-“
Joelyn slammed her hand over Becky’s mouth just as Nikki cut in. “What type of moron are you? Are you trying to get us expelled? And it’s called the Pub. No matter what they are, at least they’re popular. Unlike this dump.” She assessed the commotion around her. “I can show you. Tonight.”
“I’m fine, thanks.” Becky wondered how her friends could have changed so much in one summer. By the way Nikki defended the run-down club, Becky would bet her life that Nikki was either a druggie, an alcoholic or an addict.
“Chicken? You know, Dani, I don’t like chickens…” Dani nodded fiercely in agreement.
“I’m not a chicken simply because I don’t want to go to a house full of-“
“Let me put it this way Rivets. I’ll meet you at the club tonight, where we will party and you will try your first beer. If you don’t, you’ll be out of the group and I will ruin your social life.” Nikki’s voice was a low snarl. But all of a sudden her expression changed. “See you tonight!” Her light voice chimed as she walked away.
That afternoon, Becky raced back home from school. “How was your first day of school, honey?” Becky let her story spill out.
“What about the teacher? Was she good?”
“Mom! Seriously! What should I do?”
“I know! I’ll do that sponge trick. I’ll tape a sponge under my chin and just pretend to drink some beer. Thanks Mom!” Becky rushed up the stairs in search of some tap and a sponge.
“Rebecca Sophia Rivets! Get down here right now!” Her mom shouted. “If you even touch any drug, alcohol, or cigarette, I will disinherit you. Just remember that.”
“’Kay.” At that time, the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it.” Becky said in a disheartened tone. “It’s probably Liz.” Ever since Becky could remember, Liz would visit after school. It was like a tradition. They were old friends.
“Hi, Ms. Rivets.” Liz called in her soft, strong voice.
“Liz! Hi. I need to ask you a question…” Becky rambled on about her day while Liz listened patiently. That’s the unique thing about Liz. She is patient and observant, but very dependable. No matter how many juicy secrets she uncovers, one can always trust her to stay quiet. Even though she is in her senior year, she has yet to show even a hint of that teenage-diva attitude. “…So what should I do?”
“Don’t go.” Liz suggested.
“I can’t ‘not go’! Nikki will ruin my life! I’d be betraying my friends. They invited me to a party. It’d be rude not to go.” Becky burst out. By then they had somehow made their way to the living room and were sitting on the couch. While Liz had her legs crossed and leaned casually against the arm of the sofa, Becky sat forward wit her chin cupped in her hand and a frown line forming between her eyebrows.
“If they were your true friends they would understand.” Liz stated, unperturbed by Becky’s tense attitude.
“Are you saying they aren’t my friends?
“If they were your true friends they would understand.” Liz repeated with a serene, sympathetic tone.
“But Nikki wouldn’t understand! She’d ruin my social life!”
“Only one person can ruin you social life, and that is yourself.”
Becky was getting aggravated. “Between bad friends and no friends, I choose bad friends.”
“But the choice is between life and death, not bad friends or no friends.”
“How would you know? You don’t have any friends!” For a moment, Liz’s calm mask slipped. Becky immediantly regretted her words. “I… I didn’t mean that…” She stammered over and over as Liz quietly gathered her things.
As Liz walked out of the room, she turned back and sighed. “You’ve nothing to gain by going.”
“I’m so sorry.” Becky sobbed.
Liz gave her a small smile and left. For a while, Becky did nothing but sit there and let the tears flow freely down her face.
That evening, after dinner, Becky announced that she was going to Joelyn’s house. After assuring her mother that she would be home by ten, she grabbed her purse and left. Joelyn was waiting outside, and seemed surprised that Becky managed to slip away. No one talked as they walked downtown. Other than the occasional ruble of a car and the chip of crickets, the night was silent. Until they got to the club.
The moment Joelyn opened the door Becky was overwhelmed by the stench of beer and cigarette smoke. The place was crammed with people, and Becky was pushed in from all sides. She found it hard to breathe. The lighting was dim; other than the disco light pulsating from somewhere to her left. Music was blasting so loud that the floor vibrated. It took a while for her to get used to the… well, the entire thing.
Joelyn shouted: “Follow me!”
Becky called back: “What? What did you say? Where’s Nikki?”
Joelyn hollered again: “Just follow me!” Then she plunged into the crowd, pulling Becky toward the light. Once they broke through the mob of people, they stumbled onto a dance floor. Becky immediately noticed Nikki. She was dancing; Dani was off to the side cheering her on, and it was clear both of them had already had something to drink. Joelyn shot up and grabbed Nikki by the hand. Becky followed her example and grabbed Dani. Nikki kicked and struggled, but Dani obediently allowed herself to be towed out the back door.
“So, you finally found the courage to come, you-“ Nikki continued ot badmouth Beck all the way to the back parking lot. In the corner, a group of guys were congregated around two boys, apparently engaged in a binge drinking competition. “Ooh! Fun! Dani, go join them!” Nikki commanded. Becky was so startled that Danielle easily wriggled out of her grip and started stumbling toward the competition.
The boys seemed amused that a young teenage girl was going to join the competition. As Becky rushed after Dani, she saw her grab a bottle of beer and chug it down within a minute. This earned surprised expressions from the boys. They quickly handed her another bottle, eager to see how far she would go. Becky watched in an equal mixture of horror and rapture as Dani swallowed bottle after bottle of beer. She was definitely not winning, but she wasn’t far behind. By her fourth bottle she had started to vomit. But as Nikki continued to chant: “Go, go, go!” Dani continued to drink.
She was now on her seventh bottle. Becky started toward Dani to warn her of alcohol poisoning just as Danielle collapsed. Some of the boys muttered sighs of disappointment, but most just ignored her and turned back to the remaining contestants.
“What is wrong with you?” Becky shrieked. She whipped out her cell phone and dialed 911. Nikki tugged on her arm, muttering threats and fretting about being arrested. It was then that Becky realized what a self-centered, heartless creature Nikki was.
“I don’t care if you kick me out of your group. I don’t care what rumors you start about me in school. This is Danielle’s life on the line, and if you could for once stop being such an imbecile, you would realize how serious this is!” Becky snapped.
A few minutes later a assembly of police cars and ambulances arrived. The band of boys had dispersed the moment they heard police cars approaching. When the police found them they saw Nikki tripping around like a drunkard, Joelyn trying to restrain her, and Becky cradling Danielle’s head. She was trying desperately to keep Danielle warm.
The next half hour was a blur. Dani was shipped off the hospital, and her parents were notified. Just about everyone in the Pub had been interrogated (the group of boys drinking had fled the scene and were therefore, not interrogated). Becky, Joelyn and Nikki had each been sent home in a police car, and their parents received the full story. Becky’s mom was torn. Should she ground her daughter? On one hand, she had lied and went to a bar. On the other hand, she didn’t actually touch anything bad. In the end, Ms. Rivets was just so relieved that her baby was safe, and spared Becky of any punishment. Joelyn wasn’t so lucky. Her ecstasy was confiscated and, apart from going to the psychologist for mental treatment, she was not allowed to leave the house after school. For the next few weeks she was quite irritable, mainly because of her embarrassment and the fact that she didn’t have access to the pills she was addicted to.
The next day the lunch bell rang like any other ordinary day. People swept into the halls and crowded into the lunchroom. Everyone was abuzz. What happened at the Pub was a complete secret: so naturally, everyone was talking about it. Most people found themselves constantly stealing glances at Nikki. Of course, no one was courageous enough to actually go to the witnesses and ask for details. Becky and Nikki sat at different tables: Becky completely disregarding Nikki, and Nikki pretending to completely disregard Becky. Joelyn walked in with her lunchbox (everything she did was now closely monitored) and she sat down next to Becky. Nikki couldn’t help but peek over, surprised and hurt. That day, Nikki sat absolutely, positively alone for the first time in four years. It was her worse nightmare coming true. But Becky and Joelyn didn’t care. Nikki finally got what she deserved.
Hoffman Estates, Illinois
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