I don’t bother to tell my parents about the post that was made on Social, even though it haunts me relentlessly. Rather, I remain mostly silent that night—even through dinner—and feign illness to allow myself an excuse to go to bed.
That night, while lying in bed—Belle at my side, thoughts in my mind—I struggle not to think of what will happen come time tomorrow arrives, but find myself doing just that regardless.
You’ll hear about it, I think. It won’t just blow over in a day.
Of course it won’t. To think otherwise would be ridiculous. No. There’ll be whispers in the halls, words on the street, apprehension cast over the faintest of actions. I, Oaklynn Smith, have been declared a slut. All because Jackson Meadows wouldn’t pay attention to Ashley Jones.
I want so badly to think negatively of her, even though I know it was most likely a friend of hers who wrote the message on my locker, and yet, I find that I am unable to, all things considering.
In the end, it wasn’t her who started this.
It was Easton Wells.
That knowledge, and the fact that he would have sway over the cheerleaders as a result of him being on the football team, is enough to assure me that no one else could’ve sparked the flame that caused this wildfire to occur.
Just remember, J’vonte had written in a text I’d read before plugging my phone in, that you give them more power if they think you’re hurt by it.
I know, I’d replied. Thanks, J’von.
She’d merely sent a smiley face before bidding me goodnight.
Now, as lie here, trying my hardest not to let my emotions get the best of me, I think of what school will be like tomorrow, and begin to feel hopeless as a result.
It’ll be fine, I think. Just remember.
“You only give them more power if you think you’re hurt,” I then whisper.
With that, I close my eyes, then try to fall asleep.
What more can they do to hurt me?
The lipstick is gone, but the memory still remains.
As do the stares and whispers from the other students.
I try not to consider them as I insert my locker combination and prepare myself for whatever may come as a result of it, but find myself unable to ignore them regardless of what I do.
Remain calm, I think. Everything’s gonna be okay.
“Everything’s gonna be fine,” I mumble. “Everything—“
I tug my locker open.
Watch as dozens of notes fall out.
Try, without success, not to look down at them.
Thankfully, most of their contents are hidden, given they’d had to be folded up to be shoved into my locker. It is the few that say horrible things that make me want to vomit.
“Hey,” J’vonte says as she comes up, “what’s going—“ she pauses as she looks down “—on…”
“This,” I say, and spread my hand over the ground.
J’vonte grimaces as she crouches down to pick up one of the notes. “Don’t look at these,” she says.
“I don’t plan to,” I reply. I, too, crouch down and sweep them into a pile, focusing my attention on the paper’s edges rather than the centers where writing and other lewd things are drawn. “J’von.”
“Should I tell someone about this?”
“Well, the school’s already seen it,” she offers, “because someone cleaned it up.”
“But, I mean, these—“ I gesture to the notes in our arms.
“Honestly,” she says, “I don’t know. Once we toss them, they’re out of our hands. Literally.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I… I guess.”
I consider the pile in my hands—in J’vonte’s—and wonder, deep down, if it would even be worth it to say anything.
Then, without a second thought, I toss them into the trash bin.
J’vonte does the same. “I’m sorry, Oaklynn.”
“It’s not your fault,” I reply.
“But, still…” She sighs. “I wish there was something more I could do.”
“I know,” I say.
My best friend nods, then turns her head. “Here comes Jackson,” she says.
I’m afraid to turn my head to face him. It’s not because I’m afraid he’ll see I’m upset, because God knows he already saw me like that last night. Rather, I’m afraid he’ll see the shame, the embarrassment, and ask what is going on.
“Hey,” he says upon his approach. “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” I reply, a bit too abruptly at that. I shake my head and force a smile before turning to face him and say, “We were just talking.”
“I see,” he replies. His all-knowing gaze indicates that he knows I’m lying, but rather than speak on it, he offers me a smile that instantly lifts my spirits. “You ready to face the day?”
“I guess,” I reply. “Not that I’m really looking forward to math this early in the morning.”
“I gotcha.” He considers the clock above the windows that look into the front office and says, “I forgot to mention, Oaklynn.”
“I wanted to apologize about last night. I didn’t mean to chase you off, but Dad was… not in the best mood. I didn’t want you to meet him like that.”
“I understand, Jackson. Don’t worry.”
He nods, then, and says, “I’ll see you guys later?”
“See you later,” I reply, and watch him walk off with a sigh.
J’vonte shoves my shoulder.
“What?” I ask.
“You were at his house last night?”
“A little quieter?” I reply, then tug her away from the bin before saying, “He knew I was bummed out about… the post on Social. So he invited me to come over and sit on his porch.”
“I see,” J’vonte says. “I told you not to look at the post.”
“How can you not when it’s all over your feed?” I reply.
“Still…” My friend sighs. She waits a moment before speaking again, but when she does, it’s to say, “What’s up with his dad? He chase you off or something?”
“No. He apparently has MS.”
“Multiple Sclerosis. He said he has it pretty bad, and it’s left his dad a bit… well… anti-social or something. He really didn’t go into much detail.”
“Okay,” J’vonte offers. “That’s progress, at least.”
“Progress at what?”
“Him being your friend.”
“I don’t think he’d invite me over there if I wasn’t his friend, J’von—at least, not to just sit on his porch.”
She shrugs and says, “I dunno. Guys can be weird.”
“Yeah,” I reply, with a sigh at that. “No kidding.”
She comes to a halt outside my math class and says, “See you later, then?”
“Yeah. See ya.”
She slaps my hand with the back of hers before turning and departing for her own class.
Standing there, in front of Mr. Peters’ math class, I can’t help but wonder:
Is J’vonte right? Had Jackson invited me over for another reason? Had he had an ulterior motive?
The truth is: I don’t know, and I can’t know now.
With that in mind, I enter the math class, and decide not to think about it further.
So far as I know, Jackson wants to be nothing more than my friend.
In the end, what can that hurt?
The whispers continue throughout the day. Notes are passed. People point. I do my best to ignore them, especially since most of them occur while I am in class, but find myself dwelling upon them come time third period arrives.
Just stay calm, I think. Their words can only hurt you if you let them.
While that sentiment may be true for most people, for someone like me—who suffers from situational anxiety daily—I find myself gripping tight my pencil while we practice sentence diagraming in English class.
Come time the bell rings, I feel like I’m ready to burst.
Given that I am completely isolated in this class, it makes sense that I’d have trouble standing, let alone gathering my things to make my way to the most dreaded class of the day.
Where all the jocks are. Where all the cheerleaders stand. Where the only friends I have wait.
I am just about out of class when someone bumps into me.
“Sorry, slut,” the girl says.
I grimace at the word, but refuse to reply, instead opting to walk out and skitter through the halls like the unfortunate mouse I am.
As I arrive outside the gymnasium, I take a moment to prepare myself for the worst, then push on the metal bar and open the door.
People wander. People stretch. People sit and wait and chat. On any ordinary day, most would have ignored me. But on a day like this—when it seems like the whole school knows about my supposed deviance—it only takes one person to lift their head for everyone else’s to follow suit.
I dash into the girl’s locker room and shove my things inside my locker before I can think twice.
“Hey,” J’vonte says.
I nearly jump out of my skin. “Hey,” I reply, a bit shakily at that.
“Just a bit jumpy is all.”
“Obviously,” she says, and frowns as I move to change. “You sure you’re all right?”
“I would be if people would stop staring at me.”
“Yeah. I’ve been trying to ignore it, too.”
“Wait. People are talking about me behind my back?”
“You’re the school subject, Oaklynn.”
“Why?” I ask, shifting out of my regular clothes and pulling my gym ones onto my body. “You’d think it’d be the guy who gets the rap for being the slutty one, if that were even true.”
“You would think so, but you have to admit that we’re pretty evil—eating forbidden fruit from trees, dragging men to their deaths with our siren song, using our feminine wiles to get what we want.”
“It’s not our fault guys are dumb.”
“At least God didn’t give us that trait.”
J’vonte smiles. “Come on,” she says. “Let’s go get this over with.”
In moments, the two of us are stepping out of the locker room and into the gymnasium.
All to the stares of most everyone in the room.
J’vonte rolls her eyes.
I take in a breath.
Jackson—who sits on the bleachers nearby—lifts his head and offers a sad, knowing frown before turning his head toward Mrs. Miller’s office at the edge of the room.
“Should we go sit with him?” I ask.
“Might as well,” J’vonte says. “You’ve already been branded.”
“I don’t want you to be branded by association.”
“Hey,” J’vonte offers. “Maybe if Jackson hangs out with enough girls, we’ll all become a harem or something.”
She giggles and reaches for my wrist before saying, “Come on. We gotta sit somewhere.”
While that might be true, it doesn’t negate the fact that people still whisper, look, stare. However—J’vonte does her best to ignore them; and I, as a result, try and do the same.
Come time we seat ourselves beside Jackson, Mrs. Miller has appeared from her office, and is carrying a basketball under one arm. “Good afternoon,” she says.
“Good afternoon,” most of the class says.
“Today, we’re going to be doing something simple: and by simple, I mean basketball.”
Several people groan.
Mrs. Miller reaches down and grabs at her whistle.
The moaners immediately quiet.
“Since some of you are unable to keep from taking potshots at your fellow students, I feel this is the most appropriate activity to fill in our usual gap. Now—“ she shifts her eyes along the row “—stand up. We’re going to start dividing by name.”
She divides the class up into two teams, making sure to split us as evenly as possible regardless of the fact that we have an odd number. J’vonte, unfortunately, is put on a team opposite my own, but Jackson happens to land on my side. While I offer a short nod to him, he only responds with a carefully-guided nod of his own, as if aware that his actions will bring undue attention upon us.
When Mrs. Miller comes to stand at the edge of the classroom, she nods and says, “All right. Let’s play.”
She tosses the ball to none other than Easton Wells.
And then the game begins.
Given that I am not particularly adept at sports, I do my best to block other players with my arms while the more experienced among us do their thing. Running, panting, and attempting, at best, to appear as though I am putting the work in, I flip my hair out of my face and try my hardest to keep from looking at the cheerleaders or football players, but find myself having to do that regardless. Their stares are like vipers compared to mine; and while I could do without the flare of anxiety in my chest, I find that we might actually score if we are successful in outplaying the other team.
The ball slips from a girl’s arms.
I dodge for, then grab it.
“Oaklynn!” Jackson says. “Throw it!”
I do just that.
Jackson catches it.
And is about to throw it when Easton Wells slams into him.
It happens so fast that at first I don’t see what’s happened. But as Jackson collides against the bleachers, and a snarl of pain causes his lips to curl into a frown, Mrs. Miller blows her whistle and screams, “STOP!”
Everyone stops moving instantly.
J’vonte runs to Jackson’s side.
I can merely stare.
Easton says, “Too busy looking at your slut, Meadows?”
To which Jackson replies with, “Screw you, Wells.”
“That’s enough!” Mrs. Miller replies, stamping onto the field. “Attacking another student is grounds for expulsion from the school, Easton. You as well as anyone should know that.”
“I didn’t attack him!” Easton says. “I tripped.”
“No one saw you trip,” J’vonte growls.
Easton narrows his eyes at her.
J’vonte narrows hers in kind.
“Easton Wells—after-school detention for two weeks. NOW.”
“But I—“ the young man says.
“I said NOW,” Mrs. Miller barks.
Easton hurls the ball at J’vonte—
And for a moment, I fear it will strike my best friend.
But before it can, Jackson knocks it out of the air, and sends it flying to the opposite side of the room.
Easton Wells stamps off regardless of Mrs. Miller’s screams.
I can only stand there and stare.
If I thought I was in trouble before…
I’m dead meat now.