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Zest for Life
High schoolers shuffled through the cafeteria with trays balanced high, wandering to their friends, stopping to wish others a happy birthday, sighing as they dug out napkins for the milk they just spilled. Skye and her gang watched them with bored disdain. How could these people waste their lives like this? Searching for a place to sit, searching for friends to sit by, searching for that unruly floor tile before it sent them sprawling. Searching, searching, searching. What a waste.
Denise was at her usual game. She preferred to ‘call it as it is’, and that’s what she was doing now.
“Nerd,” she reported as Dan, who was on the newspaper and yearbook staff, walked by.
“Spaz,” she announced as Laura spun by, a smile plastered to her face as her earbuds blared music.
“Oh, it’s just Justin. He’s okay.” She sighed as Justin shuffled along. “He’s actually normal.”
“Freshman,” she hissed as she spotted a slender, brown-haired girl go floating by. “An annoying one, by the looks of it.”
“I hate annoying freshmen,” Cal growled. “Just the sight of them, so over-eager, makes me angry.”
“Hey! Freshman!” Skye yelled, snapping her fingers at the girl. “Get over here! Now! We’ve got something to say to you!”
“Yes?” The girl approached, a confused but still bright smile on her face. Skye hated her instantly. She looked like one of those girls who sighs and dreams about getting into high school, picking out dresses for dances and decorating her locker. One of those perpetual annoyances.
“What’s your name?” Denise demanded.
“I’m Mary.” She smiled, waiting for Denise to introduce herself. She didn’t. “Um, can I help you?”
“Help us?” Cal snorted. “It’s the other way around, pixie. You’re the one who needs help.”
“Oh. Well, thank you. Any help you can give would be appreciated.” Mary smiled again, her tray balanced in one hand as she tucked a stray lock behind her ear.
Merry. That’s what this Mary was. Merry Mary. Skye and her friends would take care of that. “Listen up, little chick. Where are you going what that?” She gestured at the tray with disgust.
“Over to sit with Morgan and Shasta. They’re my friends.” Mary started to point, but Skye grabbed her arm and pulled her down to ear level.
“Are they really your friends, little chick?” She demanded in a whisper, glancing at the girls. “Look at them. They’re laughing over there. They aren’t looking at you. They’re having a ton of fun without you!”
“Yeah, pixie,” Cal scoffed, pulling Mary’s tray from her and setting it on the table so it wouldn’t be a distraction. “Why do they like you, huh? Why are you friends?”
“I don’t know. We just always have been.”
“Exactly! Look at them. They aren’t anything like you!” Denise pointed to Morgan. “Look at her. Long, gorgeous blond hair. Aren’t you jealous?”
“I like my hair,” Mary said. “Morgan’s is pretty too. We help each other do our hair sometimes.”
“What about her?” Cal pointed to Shasta. “Look at how great her makeup is! Her jewelry! And you don’t have any. Just that stupid cross. Friends are supposed to share. Obviously, she’s not sharing with you.”
Mary fingered her cross defensively. “That’s because I don’t want makeup or jewelry. I don’t even have pierced ears. That stuff doesn’t matter to me.”
“You guys have nothing in common,” Skye snorted.
“Yes, we do. We’re all three freshmen,” Mary began. “We’re all in FFA…”
“Pfft.” Cal scoffed. “A waste of time.”
“No it’s not. It’s a great opportunity to learn about what makes our country so great – agriculture and leadership! And anyway, we all went up to Newport on a class trip. And the Eastern Oregon Leadership retreat. We have the same memories.” Mary smiled that annoying smile again. Skye had to put a hand up to block the radiance. “Besides, being different helps us get along even more!”
“FFA, Newport,” Denise sneered. “All a bunch of baby activities. What good will it do you to pursue them now, anyway? Will it even matter ten years down the line?”
“Yeah, little chick, in the scheme of things it won’t even matter. What’s the point? You aren’t gaining anything from any of this.”
“Oh yes, I have gained something,” Mary replied, taking her tray and heading on.
“Oh yeah? What, pixie? What do you have from your lame little activities that we don’t?” Cal had to raise her voice to be heard as Mary walked across the cafeteria. “What do you have that we don’t, huh? What do you have that makes you better than us?”
“Zest for life,” Mary smiled, and walked on. Skye scowled and tried to rub the image of that smile out of her eyes. Zest for life. Bah. That sounded like a kind of seasoning, like a kind of spice.
Which, when you come to think about it, is exactly what they didn’t have. Flavor. Their life was boring. Skye sighed.
“Hey, where are you going?” Cal demanded as Skye rose. “What’s up?”
“I can’t let that little chick freshman make me look bad,” Skye replied. She walked up to Dan and sat down.
“What can I do for you?” he asked pleasantly. Bleh. Pleasantness.
“Hi,” Sky tried to smile, pretend to look pleasant. “I was just wondering what you’d have to do to get on the yearbook staff. I need a little zest for my life.”