Maia’s honeyed orbs flitted across the buffet-style display of the cafeteria’s offerings. As a result of a long night of cramming for her Civics test and a faulty alarm, there had been no time for breakfast this morning, leaving Maia ravenous by midday. Tragically, school cuisine wasn’t known for being the pinnacle of nutrition, but at that moment, the teen could care less about calories or carbs as she selected a slice of cheese pizza and a plate of french fries to add to her tray.
A bottle of coke and brownie completed the meal as she lifted her tray from the metallic bar and stepped tentatively out into the cafeteria. The cheerleader’s amber gaze swept the spans of the lunchroom before finally coming to rest on a table in the back of the room near the exit where a girl with a very distinctive tuft of auburn hair was seated. A soft smile lit the teen’s face as she made a beeline for the table.
Placing her tray down in front of a vacant seat next to the redhead, Maia gracefully lowered herself into the empty chair. The stunned expression on Rozene’s face would have been surprising to the Latina if she didn’t immediately understand its meaning. For the past few weeks, cheerleading had consumed the fifteen-year-old’s life leaving little time for anything else.
Undoubtedly, Roz was beginning to feel a little lost in the shuffle. While she wasn’t overly cold towards her, the tension between the girls was palpable.
“Hey,” Maia uttered.
“Hi,” Rozene responded grimly.
Snagging a fry from the plate, Maia popped it in her mouth. Chewing thoughtfully, Maia stole a glance at her friend, whose continuous fidgeting with unruly strands of her frizzy locks indicated that she was just as nervous.
“New sweater,” Maia commented casually.
Nodding as she took a sip of lemonade, Rozene replied, “Yeah, my mom bought it. I didn’t have the heart to tell her no. Is it that bad?”
Maia took a deep breath in and let it out slowly as she said, “It’s hideous.” To which both girls erupted into peals of laughter.
“I’ve missed you”, Maia confessed as the laughter died down.
As Rozene parted her lips to respond, an irked toe-tapping at Maia’s side drew the attention of both girls. A girl Maia recognized as a fellow cheerleader had approached the table without their notice. She seemed quite annoyed, but Maia was at a loss as to why.
“We are about to have a meeting to discuss fundraisers. Ash wants everyone’s input,” the girl informed.
Giving an exasperated sigh, Maia shot an apologetic glance in Rozene’s direction, who just waved her hand dismissively.
“Go, it’s fine. We’ll catch up later,” Rozene reassured.
Standing up quickly, Maia seized her tray from the table and fell in step with Gisella.
“You’re welcome,” GiGi said haughtily.
Maia’s nose wrinkled in confusion.
“For what,” Maia inquired.
“For saving you from social suicide,” Gisella replied simply.
Maia fixed Gigi with a blank stare.
With an exasperated sigh, GiGi continued, “She’s a loser, Maia. You're a cheerleader now. You have a reputation to maintain.”
Maia’s delicate features contorted into a deep scowl as she snapped, “A loser by whose definition? Roz is the kindest, most compassionate person that I’ve ever met. She's smart and funny. I think you'd really like her if you gave her a chance.”
Gisella rolled her eyes dramatically as she muttered, “God, you’re hopeless.”
As they reached the table where the rest of the squad gathered, Maia slid into the vacant spot between Ashley and Kay. The brunette cast a cursory glance around the table, confusion once again furrowing her brow. One girl was checking her makeup while another was intensely texting on her phone. Ashley and Kay were debating about whether or not a popular celebrity had cosmetic surgery done while one of the younger members of the squad was picking at her lunch.
None of them looked like they were prepping for a meeting. Baffled, Maia asked, “So, there’s no meeting?”
Ashley stopped in mid-sentence and turned to face her.
“Oh, yeah there is. It’s this afternoon just before practice,” Ashley replied.
The Latina frowned as she struggled to keep her tone measured, “But then why.”
Irritation crept into the pretty blond’s features as she explained, “To save you from yourself. It’s pretty clear that you still have no idea how things work around here. Up until a few days ago who you chose to hang out with none of my concern, but now you’re a cheerleader. Which means that your behavior reflects poorly on all of us, and I can’t have that. So, you’re going to have to decide if you want to be one of us.”
Ashley shifted her gaze towards the table where Roze was now sitting alone.
“Or one of them,” Ashley finished.
Maia could feel the eyes of the other girls upon her. Glancing over her shoulder at Roz, Maia sighed before shifting her gaze back to the head cheerleader.
“For the record, I was against you joining the squad in the first place. I knew that you weren’t Viking material, but majority rules,” Ashley added as she shot a dirty look in Kay and Madison's direction.
It was a lose-lose situation. If she agreed then she would lose Roz's friendship. If she refused, then she would raise their suspicion, and it would ruin everything.
After several minutes of silent contemplation, Maia realized that she would have to play along for now and hope Roz could forgive her.
"So, what's it going to be," Kay inquired.
Sighing, Maia replied, "I'm one of you."
Ashley beamed as she exclaimed, "Excellent, moving on to the next order of business. New uniforms!"