On the second day, lunch fell into its normal routine. Astrid and I shuffled into the cafeteria, huddled close together, with Gregory hovering close behind me. He was always protecting me, always near in case I might fall. I’d give anything now to change how I took that for granted.
Astrid and I had a small following of sorts, however vain that might sound. It wasn’t hard for us to fill a lunch table with Cheerleaders, jocks and a few onlookers who just wanted to be beside the queen. Our plates were nearly empty, as if we even had time to eat between the gossiping and forced laughter.
“Where’s Tori?” One girl asked; funny how I don’t even recall her name. Back then it always seemed so important to stay the most popular, the most adored. Time erased the memory of all I once cherished.
At the sound of my rival’s name, I felt my blood begin to boil. Gregory rested a light hand on my forearm, a silent reminder to keep my composure. Astrid cocked her head just so, and I knew I’d lost her to thoughts of her other best friend, the one I’d never be. Even for a moment, I’d lost her. “I don’t know,” she replied at last. “Not in this lunch.”
I was silently thanking God for that. Astrid was mine whether she knew it or had even chosen it. I needed her because she was perfect and I drew a strength from that perfection. Because I was too damn weak, too flawed on my own. and facing that was the hardest truth of all. I was not perfect, no matter how hard I tried to be. I just wasnt.
Our lunch table was at the front of the cafeteria, dead center. From where we sat, perched as if on thrones, we could see everything, every friendship and fight and mistake the student body made. Maybe we were only Freshman, but making Varsity Cheer gave us a sort of power over things. A sense of entitlement.
So, really, I should have seen them coming. Only I didn’t, until they were tapping me on the shoulder, excited voices crying out my name like they’d been sure they’d never see me again. I spun around in my chair, turning my back on the world, on my kingdom. Two beaming faces stood before me.
“Ohmigod!” I shrieked, jumping up to my feet to pull them both into a hug. Beside me, Astrid let out a quiet cough. Benjamin and Karlee giggled as they returned m embrace, lost in the giddiness of a summer spent apart. They’d been two of my best friends in eighth grade, however unlikely a friendship it was. I had a feeling Astrid was in disapproval, because they certainly didn’t belong to her clique.
“Look at you!” Karlee gasped, fingering my dark brown hair. Her blue eyes ran over my skinny jeans and black tank top. But she was still smiling when she met my eyes again. “What happened to our little prep?” Right. Once upon a time I’d owned nothing but designers, like Astrid and Tori, and now I was dressed in Converse high tops and too much eyeliner.
I opened my mouth to reply, but before I could, Astrid pushed back her chair with a deafening screech. “Some people just have to change,” she said lowly, rising with her tray in hand. I stood with my mouth open, watching my best friend disappear towards the door of the cafeteria. And for the first time in a long time, I was scared. Scared of losing her. Scared of my secrets. Scared of the truth. Scared that maybe she was right, and I was changing, and maybe I’d already started to lose her and I didn’t even know.
An uncomfortable silence was left in the queen’s wake. I didn’t know where she was, and for once I didn’t care. Even though I did. Of course I did. But if Astrid was going to brush me off because I’d changed the clothes I wore or the way I styled my hair, well…I didn’t know quite what to think.
“We should, uh-”
“Go,” Karlee started, and Benjamin finished. When Astrid was in a mood, no one wanted to be around. Especially people from a lower caste system than hers. Than mine. Astrid was a dragon, silently waiting to strike, and when she finally did the flames were sure to be lethal.
“Okay.” My eyes told them I understood. They left me then, left me alone to wonder if I really had changed, and if everyone I loved was going to pull away because of it. I went to dump my tray on my own, feeling uncertain about things I’d never once doubted before. The distraction of my thoughts was enough to blur my vision, so that I didn’t notice the person in front of me until I’d collided straight into them. “Oh- sorry!” I gasped, stumbling back a few steps.
When I managed to regain poise, I found myself caught beneath the gaze of the most beautiful blue-green eyes. It was a color so intricate it couldn’t eve be described, ever be compared. “It’s okay,” the boy murmured, offering up a simple smile. One smile. And all at once my heart stopped beating.
“I haven’t seen you around,” he said. I felt myself bite down onto my bottom lip, the sting bringing some tranquility to mind. “Are you new?” His voice was like a gentle melody moving through me. Soothing me. It was as if everything else, all the bad things and the flaws, had gone away.
“Kind of,” I responded, when I remembered how to use my voice. “I mean, uh, I’m a Freshman. Scarlett.”
He tilted his head to the side, those acidic eyes burning straight into me. “Scarlett,” he repeated. My name was honey upon his lips, sickly sweet. “I’m Collin. And I’m a senior.”
A breathless sort of smile overcame my lips. A senior, taking time to talk to me. Maybe Astrid was right all along, and we really were better than everyone else. “Nice to meet you,” I told him in that angel voice of mine, the one that drew people into me just so.
Collin’s own grin practically mirrored my own. “You too, Scarlett.”
I thought the moment might never end. Only then the bell rand, and I felt the sting of eyes boring into the back of my head. When I whirled around, it was to find Astrid waiting there, hip jutted out to the side like she did when she was upset. Looking fierce and fearless as ever. “I should go,” I said, looking back at Collin over my shoulder. He only nodded once before vanishing into the rising crowds. And I retreated back to Astrid, just like always.