I entered the cafeteria with a fake stride of confidence in my step. The past twenty-four hours had been a life lesson in humility, or humiliation, maybe both. My fellow students and a few adults, who clung to the greatness that was high school, were a little angry with me for something I had recently written. Who knew stating the obvious would create such drama?
Note to self: no one is ready to hear the obvious stated, which is probably why it's always so obvious in the first place.
I’ve decided to blame my latest foray into loserdom on Mr. Jenkins, one of my school’s English teachers and the faculty advisor for the Cougars newspaper. “The pen is mightier than the sword, Elaina” and “There's a great amount of power in a few well-placed words, Elaina.” Why wouldn’t I take that as a sign to write a scathing op-ed piece on the uselessness that was the Homecoming Dance? Life isn't like Sixteen Candles and our football team hasn't won a game in twenty years. Homecoming alienated a large portion of the high school population and turned the rest into dance-crazed lunatics.
The words had to be said and Mr. Jenkins didn’t stop me. I’m guessing it was one of those he-wants-you-to-learn-that-fire-burns moments adults are so fond of forcing on you.
“I don’t know what you were thinking,” Mike said as he sat down across from me at our usual lunch table. He was very cool about not acknowledging the dirty looks people had been sending my way.
“I expected this sort of reaction from the rah-rah crowd, but even the persona non grata freaks are giving me the evil eye. You'd think I slaughtered a puppy in front of toddlers."
Mike shook his head as he dumped the contents of his brown bag on the table. He said, "You're demented."
"And a social pariah."
He cocked his head to the side and shot me an appraising glance, the same one he'd been shooting my way since kindergarten. He was probably wondering what God he had pissed off in a former life to end up with me as a best friend. "It'll pass eventually."
I shrugged and said, "I hope I live to see that."
"I think you're overreacting a bit."
"I'm overreacting? Principle Henry called me into his office and said that I was a rabble rouser. He told me that I had to write an apology in the next edition of the newspaper and threatened to force me to join the social committee to show me the error of my ways. I really hate high school.”
“I know, and thanks to your This Cougar Knows column, everyone knows.”
“Newsflash - it's your job to keep me from doing stupid things like this. You know how I get.”
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I do know how you get and would’ve stopped you if you bothered to mention it to me.”
“And that’s why I didn’t tell you.”
“Do you hear yourself sometimes?” he asked with an exasperated sigh.
I waved him off and said, “That’s not the point. The point is the entire school is angry with me for saying what we all know to be true.”
“If it’s any consolation, I don’t think it was what you said, so much as how you said it,” Mike replied. He shoveled a banana into his mouth and off the look on my face, added with a full mouth, “You basically referred to the popular kids as power-hungry ninnies and the rest of us as cowardly losers.”
“I was talking about myself in that cowardly loser bit.”
“I know that, but the rest of the school does not.”
“I wouldn’t use that in your apology.”
I glanced down at my sandwich, pretending not to feel a hundred sets of eyes watching me with disdain, but made no effort to eat. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, feeling out of place in a way I hadn’t since the first day of high school, and tried to put on my brave face. The problem I’ve always had with the brave face is that I’m terrible at hiding how I feel and people know I’m not brave or confident.
“Hey, don't get that look. I'm sure something much more interesting will happen soon and you'll drop off the school radar. I just wouldn’t plan on getting nominated for Homecoming Queen this year.”
“Are you telling me there isn’t a massive yearning to have a bitter, sarcastic sixteen year old wear the crown? I'm shocked.”
“You’re too young to be so cynical, Elaina.”
I grabbed a chip from Mike’s brown bag and popped it into my mouth. “My father is in politics, Mike. I’ve been cynical since the womb.” I turned my head and caught a group of cheerleaders glaring in my direction. I groaned and said, “I guess I should refrain from sharing my thoughts on prom and stick with scathing reviews of the hot lunches."