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She was the most hated girl in school. Hypocrite. Wannabe. Loud mouth. Some of it was true, but most were lies. Not that it matters in junior high. If you're hated, you're hated. That's just the way it works. I could see the eyes roll in unison as she passed. Even some of the teachers eyed the classroom clock, counting every second she occupied their time. It was hard to watch, but there were times when this treatment made me cry.
“Let's play basketball,” called the gruff voice of the cutest boy in school.
I groaned along with every other girl in the parking lot where PE was held. We shuffled toward the court, noticing the boys lining up under the basket, one behind the other.
“What's going on?” we called. “I thought we were playing basketball.”
“We are. Just a bit different. Line up. We'll show you how it's done.”
The object of the game was simple. Every student would take a shot. If you didn't make it, you would go to the back of the line. If you did make the shot, any player you chose had to run a lap around the playground. If you kept making shots, your target kept running laps.
Cool, I thought. It would be fun to see who ran, who made the most shots, who struck out. Then I saw her. Her braids were swinging in front of my face as we lined up. I tensed and tried not to envision what might happen.
The jock took his first shot. Swish! In the ball went. The boy scanned the line of nervous students before calling Cheyenne's name. I tried to stay optimistic as she started running. The jock missed his next shot and another student stepped up. It was a cheerleader, and she took her aim just as Cheyenne re-entered the line. I whispered a prayer, hoping the girl would miss. As I opened my eyes, I saw her shot. Nothing but net.
“Cheyenne!” the cheerleader called in her high, condescending voice. My heart sank as the already sweat-soaked Cheyenne began her second lap.
I tried to comfort myself: The cheerleader and the jock are a couple. They must have planned this as a little joke. But as I thought this I knew I was wrong. I watched in horror as every perfect shot ended with the calling of Cheyenne's name. As the boy in front of me took his turn, I watched the breathless, panting Cheyenne struggling back to the court. Before the boy could say a word, I stepped out of line. “I'll run for her.”
I didn't wait for anyone's approval or permission as I took off. As I ended my first lap, I heard the whispers. “Cheyenne's making Kaitlyn run for her” and “Dorks shouldn't get special treatment.” I saw Cheyenne's terrified face and knew she couldn't defend herself. I grabbed her shaking hand and pulled her into a jog. She didn't wait for me to speak and she didn't have to. The tone of our conversation had been set the moment I stepped out of line.
“I know how to run,” she began.
I nodded and sweetly smiled.
“I know. Just thought you could use some help.”
She cracked a smile but froze as our eyes met the rest of class. I shook my head and turned for another lap. Suddenly, as if this proved my trustworthiness, Cheyenne unfolded her struggles to my already ringing ears. I realized what someone like her must go through every day. She briefly explained her strained home life, and how school is supposed to be an escape but wasn't.
I didn't speak. I didn't try to counsel her. I don't even think I told her everything was going to be okay. She just needed someone to listen. As I squeezed her hand, we rejoined the rest. As our dirty sneakers hit the pavement, I tapped Cheyenne's shoulder.
“Dorks don't get special treatment. Friends do.”