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Author's note: The idea behind this story was to show the connection between teenagers. We may like to think that we are all different, but when it comes down to it, the cheerleader and the band student both have the same problems. It's when we come together that things can finally work themselves out.
Alyson Connor was one of those people who appeared to have it all- beauty, popularity, boys- but Alyson Connor wasn’t happy. Her grades were dropping lower and lower by the day, her popular image was becoming harder to keep up, and her father cared less and less. These were problems, and Alyson hated having problems; they made her break-out and then less popular.
On this particular fall evening, Alyson was on overload. Homework lay scattered all around her bedroom, and tissues littered her normally-clean floor. Her father was out again with his irritating girlfriend, leaving another thoughtful, “Pizza money’s on the fridge!” note on Alyson’s bedroom door.
Alyson hated pizza.
Maybe it was the growl in the pit of her stomach. Maybe it was the fact her flat iron was dead. Maybe it was that big algebra test tomorrow. Whatever the reason, Alyson was led to vigorously type to her best friend, Leigh, all of her feelings in one spontaneous email. Tears blinding her, she typed Leigh’s name into the “to” line, pressed enter when her name came up in the list, then banged up the keyboard, sobs emerging as her true life and emotions poured into her fingers as they swept across the keys.
Finally done, without even thinking about it or reading her email, Alyson pressed SEND.
Across town, driving home in a car, Katelyn Henry was in the heat of another pointless argument with her mom. Katelyn had already forgotten what the argument was about, and now she was just disagreeing with whatever came out of her mom’s mouth.
“Listen, Katelyn Marie Henry, I’m your mother and you will stop the backtalk!” Katelyn’s mother shouted. In Mrs. Henry’s opinion, Katelyn was getting a big head after she won the spell bowl, and she felt Katelyn needed to be put in her place. After all, she skipped the fashion show because of it, and Mrs. Henry had won three awards for her winter collection.
“Mom, just stop controlling-” Katelyn was interrupted by the beeping of her new cell phone. Looking down, she saw a message from Alyson. This was odd. After Alyson had deemed Katelyn unfit to be her friend back on the first day of high school, Katelyn hadn’t heard from the popular girl in any form of communication.
Katelyn never totally understood what happened to make Alyson the worst person in the world. Alyson used to be the one Katelyn would run to after a fight with her mother. Alyson used to be the one who held the best sleepovers ever with just the two of them. So when high school came around, she figured they be the coolest kids there, as they always had hoped. That is, until Alyson embarrassed her in front of half the freshmen class...
Katelyn snapped out of memory lane while Mrs. Henry was droning on about Katelyn’s imperfections. Katelyn began to focus on the message instead. As her eyes scanned the screen, it occurred to her how lucky she was to have her mother by her side. Her mother may be annoying at times, she may want Katelyn to be something she wasn’t, but she was her mother and she loved her.
“Mom, listen,” Katelyn turned to her mom, who stopped rambling on in shock. “We need to stop this arguing thing. Let’s focus on better things with our time for the rest of the way home. Please?”
Mrs. Henry looked into her daughter’s face, seeing real want and hope. “Well, alright.” Mrs. Henry turned back to the road, wondering what to say. Maybe this was why Katelyn always disliked talking to her. Neither person ever had anything to say if it wasn’t arguing.
Suddenly, a large Ford truck came careening at them from a side road, with no sign of stopping. Mrs. Henry, thinking quickly, slammed the breaks, causing the minivan to stop right as the truck whizzed in front of them. Katelyn looked at her mother, her mother at her, and they laughed in relief.
While Katelyn and her mother were arguing, Asher Smith was in the midst of his own problems. Last weekend, he had attended his cousin’s Bat Mitzvah and hadn’t had any time to study for his big geometry test coming up tomorrow. Asher had to study every day for an hour in order to feel like he was prepared for a test. Failing to do so resulted in unnecessary cramming the night before the test, as he was now. This also resulted in Greg, Asher’s best friend, coming over to explain once again that life was more than books and good grades. Greg would know; he was proud of his straight-C record.
While stress had become normal in Asher’s life, he had too much right now. No matter what he did or how many times he tried, the difference between concave or convex shapes was not going to stick in his head.
“It’s just too much!” Asher threw his math book across the room before slinking down into his desk’s chair. “Why did I go to that party? Why? It was foolish. Now my grades are at risk!”
Greg snorted and picked up Asher’s rejected book. “See this junk, Asher? You are never going to need to know the circumference of a circle in certain circumstances, or whether a shape is concave or convex!” Asher stood up and snatched back his math book, clutching it to his chest. Greg rolled his eyes at his school-addicted friend. “Listen, you want to know how much I studied for my algebra test? A little bit yesterday. I would be cramming some now, if it wasn’t for your crisis. But you know what? I’m going to pass my test.”
Asher ignored Greg’s stupidity and sauntered back to his desk, setting the math book on top of it. “I’m pretending you didn’t say that,” Asher retorted finally. In mid-sentence, however, a high-pitched ring from his computer announced a new message.
Greg looked up at Asher. Asher never got any kind of message if Greg was over, since Greg was the only one who’d ever send him something. Slowly, Asher clicked to see who sent the message.
Asher’s eyes widened as Alyson’s name, along with her message, appeared. The last time Alyson had sent him an email was when she told him “her image could no long support a dorky boyfriend.”
He had seen it coming. Alyson had already humiliated Katelyn, her old best friend and the girl who completed Alyson’s three-some. Then, she never spoke to Asher in public. Soon, her phone calls became shorter, and less frequent, and texts disappeared. Then she sent him that email. After that, his grades had dropped down to an A-.
It had been a harsh time.
Greg attempted to see the screen, but Asher used his bulky build to block his friend’s view while attempting to finish the message. Asher closed out of it and sat back in his chair.
“Dude, who was it? What did it say?” Greg frantically searched for the forever gone email. “Come on, Asher, what was that all about?”
Asher looked up at Greg and smiled. “You’re right. I have been stressing out over homework too much lately. I’ve studied plenty to get an A tomorrow, and I could’ve had some fun. Maybe there is more to life than schoolwork and grades.”
Greg stared at his friend. “What on earth did that message say?” Greg took hold of Asher’s shoulders and gave him a shake. “Who are you and what did you do with my friend?”
Asher laughed as he shrugged his friend’s hands off of him. “Come on, Greg, let’s go watch TV.” Greg shook his head at Asher, but obliged and went off to have a study-free evening.
On the other side of town, Dana Wilson wasn’t arguing with her mother or stressing out with a friend. What she was doing was far worse than what Katelyn and Asher were up to. No, Dana Wilson was stealing her step-sister, Leigh’s, clothes.
Dana didn’t like Leigh. Leigh had become her step-sister after Dana’s father married Leigh’s mother, and brought pandemonium to Dana’s world. Shortly after her arrival, Leigh made it clear she was a blonde, straight-haired, Hollister shopping girl from the start, even before the first day of school. She had no time for girls like Dana who had never stepped foot in a Hollister store or picked up a flat iron.
Earlier that evening, Dana had been picking at her gluten-free dinner listening to Leigh beg for a big party next weekend. Dana had tried for one of these parties many times before without any luck, so she was enjoying her step-sister’s attempts.
Amazingly, and unfortunately, her attempts worked. Dana’s father was very disapproving of the idea, but Leigh’s mother (who Dana was told to call Ms. Mary. Not just Mary, because that was “not appropriate for a young ruffian to refer to a lady of her status by”—Leigh always called her mother Mary) said it would let Leigh fit in more.
“Because Leigh is such a loner,” Dana had thought.
So now, Dana was furious. She was tearing through Leigh’s frilly, fancy clothes in search of something to destroy. Pink had never been Dana’s color, black was more like it, but she still grabbed at every piece of clothing she could find. Then she spotted the jewelry.
As soon as Dana greedily reached for the pearls and plastic, a ding came from the corner of the bedroom. She jumped back in shock and fear of being caught, only to see that Leigh’s computer was announcing the presence of a new email.
Curiously, Dana walked over to the laptop, keeping a tight hold on Leigh’s clothes. Clicking on the “Accept Message” button, she leaned in to see Alyson’s name appear next to the “sender” label.
Alyson- Dana hadn’t seen her name in a long time. She heard it plenty; Leigh was always doing something with Alyson or talking about something stupid Alyson did. However, Dana tried to distant herself from the snob for as much as she possibly could. The more people thought they weren’t related in any way, the better.
Alyson and Dana had been childhood friends, until a miscommunication broke up the two. After Dana saw how her old friend had changed in high school, she changed her look, wearing darker clothes and makeup than her usual comfy look, hoping to distant herself from Alyson. Unfortunately, that meant no one wanted to associate with Dana at all. Alyson had contributed to that by making fun of her clothing, as well as Leigh pretending to bully Dana for lunch money every day (Dana really was the only one her father trusted with both of the girls’ money; Leigh just couldn’t stand it if people knew they lived together). She decided she just had to except it, she was an outcast; but she began to miss her old friends and the life she had to leave.
Dana figured both Leigh and Alyson had done enough to her that she could sneak a peek of what Alyson said without guilt. Dana began to read the message. At the end, Dana dropped Leigh’s clothes. She couldn’t believe it, but the meanest girl in the whole school system (besides her step-sister) had actually helped her.
A while later, in her own bedroom, Dana relieved her feet of her toe-pinching boots. Searching through her closet, she found her furry boots and a soft, lavender sweater. After she put both of them on, Dana laid back on her bed. Thinking about all that happened to her during her life, maybe dressing the exact opposite of her inner self wouldn’t really distant herself from Alyson. Maybe Leigh bullied Dana at school because it made her feel good, not to bring Dana down. Maybe, after all she had tried, all she had to be was herself.
Hours later, up in her bedroom, Alyson had calmed down and was now half-asleep on her bed. Her life could be worse, she supposed. Thinking of Asher, her old boyfriend, Alyson figured she could be a dork. Thinking of Dana, the weird girl at school, she decided she could’ve been an outcast. Then she thought about Katelyn, her old best friend, and knew that she might still be normal and bland. These thoughts comforted her, and Alyson had almost fallen asleep when three dings sounded, almost simultaneously, from her laptop. Rolling over, she pulled the computer onto her bed with her and sat up. On her screen, were three messages from three people. Alyson, confused, looked at the names, then back at her original note. She must have been so caught up in her message that she had accident clicked on the email group “Loser Ex-Friends” as well as Leigh’s name! She gasped in fright; this was not good. Not only would Leigh see that it appeared she had a moment where Asher and Katelyn were the people she wanted to confide in, her ex-best friends had seen how insecure she was as the new Alyson. Mortified, Alyson debated whether to read the replies. For all she knew, they could be threats or worse- blackmail. Then she saw that Leigh had replied. Oh, this made Alyson sick. She regretted sending this to Leigh after her rage submitted to the hunger pain in her stomach. Leigh had a way of manipulating Alyson’s words to complicated phrases that completely deviated from the original statement. Alyson figured her life was ruined anyway, so she might as well see what was in store. Taking a deep breath, she slowly clicked on the first name: Katelyn. TO: allygally@soar FROM: katelyn_henry@wahoo SUBJECT: RE: OMG!!!!!!!!! Times a lot Hey Alyson- I’ve got to say, wow. I never quite realized that your life wasn’t all we dreamed of as preteens. At school, you seem to be living the dream, being best friends with Leigh and the other popular girls and having the most-expensive clothes and going to the hottest parties. I’ve been jealous of you the whole time. There you were, living the dream we had both dreamed together, and I was stuck on the sidelines, watching an overused plot in a movie. Believe me, there were a lot of times when you dissed me, I just wanted to jump into your group and become you, to stop the madness, the insults, and live that way. Now, I’m not so sure. I mean, it seems to me that you don’t hold the reins in that group. Leigh is a lot meaner than you, and seems to hold more control. I’m not so sure that I could handle that constant feeling of being second best. I like being equal to my friends. I like not worrying that my clothes will meet the approval of the school, or if I remembered to straighten my hair. Maybe being the cool girl isn’t what we really dreamed of being. Maybe it was really what we were told to dream. It was showed to us as a palace with beautiful people, with princes and loyal subjects. We never figured in the fire-breathing dragons or scheming princesses. Even though, if we had, maybe life wouldn’t be as it is now. ~Katelyn Alyson wasn’t quite sure what to think. If she received an email from Katelyn revealing her innermost thoughts, you could bet it’d be posted up on every wall of the school by morning. What she didn’t expect was an email that offered… thanks. “Well,” Alyson thought, “Surely Asher has decided to use this to his own advantage. He’s way smarter than Katelyn.” TO: firstname.lastname@example.org FROM: email@example.com SUBJECT: RE: OMG!!!!!!!!! Times a lot Dear Alyson, I know we haven’t talked in a while, but it was interesting to receive your message. It intrigued me to have an insight on your inner life, especially since it’s changed so drastically since we last talked on a regular basis. I am very sorry to hear about the woman in your life that appears to you as replacing you. You should be the first woman in your father’s life. You will never cheat on him and you will always be there for him. How he doesn’t see this is beyond my knowledge. You must try to reach out to him, and get to know him better as he will learn more about you. This may assist in lowering you stress level, which appears to be high right now. I know that I’m not cool enough for you right now, and somehow the boys you go out with are, but you must listen to me about this popular thing. Sounds like to me that you are under the pressure of doing whatever you’re told. You’re too afraid to speak your voice and do what you want on weekends. I think you should try to speak your mind from time to time. It’s healthy. Even though, knowing the new you, you’re going to laugh at my thoughts and toss this in the trash, I hope you consider trying my suggestions out. But if you don’t, at least consider being more careful when selecting the names to send an email to. Sincerely, Asher Smith Now Alyson didn’t know what to think. Asher wasn’t going to use her? If the boys she used to date got this, she’d be dead by morning. Of course, no one would believe them- all her girl friends would totally tear any of them to pieces. Maybe. But that wasn’t what happened and Alyson had one last email to read. At the time she wrote it, Alyson never imagined that Leigh’s reply would be the one she dreaded the most. The replies she got from Katelyn and Asher made opening this email even scarier. But she had to. Whatever was in this email wasn’t going away, and she would have to face it eventually. So Alyson clicked on the message. TO: firstname.lastname@example.org FROM: *email@example.com SUBJECT: RE: OMG!!!!!!!!! Times a lot I’m not going to write this whole email without you knowing that I’m not Leigh. You’d probably guess after a while, because I’m nothing like her. I used to think I was nothing like you either. I was wrong though. We both have weird women in our lives that have taken over the men we love the most. I guess I never really thought about that, how we both are missing a motherly woman in our lives. We both have the loss of someone who has gone through exactly what we will, and understands the stress of a teenage girl. And while we’re completely different teenage girls, we go through the same things on a daily basis. The stress of acting as we’re “told” and doing what is normal for other people’s comfort zones adds up. We keep up an untrue image of ourselves, while leaving the lives we used to lead behind. This fake life holds us back. We can be so much more than the teenagers we’re masquerading as. We can still be the Barbie-loving, Mc-Donald’s going little girls we always were, in a more mature, developed form. Life is given to you once, and in one way. Reforming it can only lead to disaster and misery for others, and yourself. So I guess what I’m saying is, we need to think about what life really is and how we can change it for the better. -Dana Alyson sat back. She had two reactions: One made her want to stomp over to Dana’s house and threaten the girl for looking at Leigh’s email. The other made her want to cry. All these people actually cared? These dorks weren’t just the people she saw on the surface- boring, weird, and a nerd. They still were very much boring, weird, and a nerd, but Alyson hadn’t realized that they could be so much like her. After powering down her laptop, Alyson got ready for bed. Her dad still wasn’t home, and she still hadn’t studied at all for the test, or done much homework. The sandwich she had thrown together for dinner had left her stomach feeling emptier than before. The flat iron on her desk still refused to turn on, and tissues remained scattered about on the furry, purple carpet. Even though her problems still existed, and even though she’d probably forget any of her sympathy or love for her old friends in the morning, for now, Alyson felt-- Okay.