"You can't build a reputation on what you're going to do." ~Henry Ford
In High School, you have your typical cliques and groups that no one really cares about, yet everyone wants to be in one of them. It’s a tough balance between not batting an eye at it, but also trying not to look like you’re making an effort to be in one. The sad thing is, they don’t realize that what other people think doesn’t matter.
There’s that one Senior who’s friendly to everyone. Always have smiles on their faces, always greeting people in the halls. They don’t let themselves be defined in a group, so in a way, they’re their own group. That was Sawyer.
Then there was the girl. Always that one girl who was oblivious to it all, yet completely in the know of everything that goes on. She doesn’t let reality affect her like it does other people, sees things differently. That’s what is beautiful about her. Alivia.
The jerks. The bullies. The trendsetters. Everyone wants to be them and be like them, but at the same time, we all know they’re bad news. They think everything they do it cool and hilarious. That life it just one big party set up for only them to enjoy while they laugh at others who have to work for what they wanted. While they seem to have it all together, they really don’t. They have trouble living up to their peers’ expectations of them. To them, what people think matters; even if they act like it doesn’t.
And that... That was me.
 September 
“Tin Tin Amble, come in and have a seat for me,” the school’s guidance counselor, Ms. Jacks, said from behind her desk. She was typing on her computer rather fast and didn’t even look up to see who was at the door.
“You got it, Ms. Jacks,” I said, plopping myself down in the chair in front of her desk.
I know it was pathetic that I tried to make conversation with our school’s counselor, and quite honestly, no one just talks to her for kicks and giggles. Sure, she was young and pretty, but with an attitude. She shot me a look and immediately started playing with her engagement ring, as if she thought I was trying to flirt with her. I almost laughed.
Turning to me, she began to start the conversation on her terms.
“Tin Tin, I’m just going to cut to the chase because I know neither of us want to be here--”
“Hey, I’d rather be here than in class,” I interrupted, putting my elbows on my knees. She stopped typing and sighed. Then, turning to me, she folded her hands on her desk with the most annoyed look. I shrugged. “It’s true,” I mumbled.
“Right... Well, we don’t have a photography teacher and you’ve already taken all four courses so you are going to have to drop it and take another elective. That’s why you’re here. Not just to get out of class, because you’re not even suppose to be there in the first place,” she explained.
I felt my heart drop in my chest.
“You told me when I was scheduling that there was an additional course--” I started.
“Well, they couldn’t find the time to make an additional course. Mr. Ked has resigned and we cannot find another teacher so the whole class is being done away with.”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” I asked, starting to become irritated.
“I didn’t know sooner, Tin Tin, that’s why I’m telling you now,” she sighed. “So you need another elective for fifth period. I’ve already done the work for you and found the other classes offered. There’s band--”
“Never in a million years.”
She glared at me and I looked her straight in the eye as if challenging her to try and change my mind.
“Then you’ll have three study halls and that’s against the school’s policy. Choose one, fourth period is almost over and you need to get back to class.”
“So you’re taking away my right for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” I shot back. She raised her eyebrows, clearly done with me and wanting my sorry little behind out of her office. “Fine, I’ll take art,” I groaned, grabbing my backpack.
“Good. Here’s your new schedule,” she said all prim and proper as if she knew this would be what I chose. I stepped back and snatched it from her hand as she smiled at me with that wide, I-knew-I-was-right smile of her’s. “Have a good--” she started in a monotone.
I slammed the door before she could finish.
Ridiculous that the school didn’t know that photography wouldn’t be offered until now. Honestly, it was the class I looked forward to. It was the only thing I managed to get an A in, which made my parents happy. No more pats on the back for that anymore.
The bell rang and I just became even more furious with no one in particular. Kids started pouring out of classrooms, shoving each other in the halls, and sweeping away the unfortunate Freshmen who still didn’t know how to fight the current the third week of school. I forced my way through the crowd, trying not to break the camera around my neck in the process.
“Hey Tin Tin!” someone called from across the hall. I looked up to see the Junior class’ prankster tugging along the brains of the group. Immediately I grinned a little at the sight of some familiar faces.
“What’s up Jimmy? Marcus?” I asked, fist bumping them.
“I have a great plan for the cheerleaders tomorrow. They’re gonna get something that they never expected Friday night,” Jimmy said, grinning in a carefree way.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Can’t tell ya. Still perfecting it. All I’m saying is to wait outside their locker room after school and have your camera ready,” Marcus added.
“When don’t I have it ready?” I said, looking down at the thing hanging around my neck.
I bought the camera year or so ago. My dad refused to get me one, he said that taking pictures was a waste of time. He wants to me go into construction, like he does. When he found it in the mail, he almost didn’t let me have it. Then Mom stepped in and took it to give to me.
This, of course, lead to a fight, but what doesn’t in our house? My parents, when they were home, just liked to argue about pretty much everything. Mom doesn’t like how Dad isn’t home, he doesn’t like how she still doesn’t have a career. Dad doesn’t want my sister to go into sports, Mom just wants her to be happy. Mom is stressed because she has a two year old son she isn’t home to take care of while Dad is perfectly fine with a babysitter.
No negotiations. Something is either agreeable or never resolved. I’ve gotten used to it.
Someone slammed into me, pushing all the thoughts about the camera out of my head and bringing me back to the moment.
“Watch it, clumsy! You’re gonna knock out our camera man!” Jimmy shouted over the noise in the hall.
I looked up to see a kid who was about the same height as me. I think he’s a Senior. He looked exhausted with his hair all messy and slight bags under his eyes accompanying flushed cheeks. Taking a deep breath, he picked up the books that he had dropped and stood up.
“Sorry about that,” he said, not sounding phased by what Jimmy said. “I’m in too much of a hurry sometimes. See you around.” He grinned at me and gave me a friendly slap on the shoulder.
“That was weird,” Marcus remarked, turning the corner to the electives wing.
“He’s weird. Stupid Seniors, think they can do whatever the want.” Jimmy rolled his eyes.
I didn’t say anything and followed them down the stairs to the art room.
Honestly, the only time I’ve been in here is to take pictures for the yearbook and school website. It was exactly how I remembered it from last year. The tables were clean and neat with easels in one corner and a private place to concentrate behind a wall in another. Filing cabinets and a desk hide the kiln and a closet where all the art work was stored. Everything had a place and it was always there.
Jimmy and Marcus went to sit at a table in the far back corner. Another kid, Hayden, was sitting there with one headphone in. He was one of the jocks. When he nodded at us, his floppy brown hair fell across his forehead. I let my bag fall to the ground and sat across from him.
“Schedule changed, photography isn’t offered anymore,” I explained when they gave me questioning looks. Marcus just nodded and the tardy bell rang just as a few last minute stragglers came through the basement door.
After the teacher explained what our new project was and took attendance, we were all set up with practice paper. A few moments went by without any of us saying anything.
“Dude, look at that girl over there,” Hayden said, pointing to someone across the room.
Jimmy, Marcus, and I all turned to look at who he was pointing at. She was sitting with a few kids who were, I’m just going to say it, bandies. Not the most popular kids. Some of them were cool, but others were honestly dorks. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t one. She only happened to be sitting with them, just drawing with the tip tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth. Another kid was talking to her and they laughed while she said something.
“Yeah?” Marcus said. “What about her?”
“That’s Alivia Olson. I heard she tried to talk to Ace about church and that stuff at the end of last year,” Hayden smirked, leaning back in his chair.
“Why?” I asked, trying not to laugh. “Was he her new ‘project’?”
“Obviously. You know how Christians like that are,” Marcus answered, rolling his eyes.
“That’s the thing, he’s afraid she’s gonna try something. He told me to tell y’all that we need to find a way to get her back so she won’t get any ideas,” Hayden said, putting the eraser of his pencil in his mouth.
“Wait for it..,” Jimmy started. “It’ll come to me.”
We all stopped working to stare at him for a moment. He glanced between the filing cabinets, Alivia Olson, and his paper. Cabinets, Alivia, paper. He tapped his own pencil on the edge of the desk and rubbed his hands over his face before--
“I got it!” he stated suddenly, sitting straight in his seat. “I know I’ve seen her name before. She had a ton of stuff in the art show last year, right? What if we snuck in here, took her drawings, made copies, shredded the copies, put the real ones back, and then filled her locker with the shreds.”
“Wait,” Hayden said, “why would we just not shred the real thing?”
“Because Hayden,” I started, rolling my eyes. “That’s a little too excessive and the teacher would eventually find out that the ‘precious paper’ is gone.”
“Exactly,” Marcus agreed. “We just want to show her who’s on top here, not make the teachers suspicious.”
“I think Tin Tin should do it,” Jimmy jumped on board.
“What?!” I asked, dropping my pencil. “Dude, I just take pictures of these kinds of things, I don’t actually cause them.”
“You want to help out Ace, don’t you? Weren’t you two friends, since like, preschool or something?” Hayden prodded.
“Freshman year, but whatever,” I mumbled.
“C’mon, you won’t get caught!” Marcus said.
“I don’t know. Too much work to me,” I shrugged. A part of me did want to help get this psycho off Ace’s case, but I knew this was wrong.
“Are you really scared?” Jimmy laughed.
“No! Just not cruel.”
“We aren’t cruel. We ain’t destroying the actual art things,” Hayden butted in.
“So if you don’t think it’s cruel, then do it,” Marcus reasoned.
“I dunno. Doesn’t seem right.”
“Oh seriously? You’re gonna be that kid?” Hayden remarked. “A goody-goody?”
“I’m not scared,” I insisted.
“Then do it, you won’t!” Jimmy challenged.
I froze and all my doubts faded in that moment. My dad expected me to follow in his footsteps and Hayden thought of me as a goody-goody? Oh no; not today. I’ll prove myself to the both of them. I could prank her, she’s just a girl. So what if it draws attention to me? No one has to know I did it. If I put everything back where it was and didn’t get caught, it would be easy. I’d just have to follow a plan and do it.
Looking Jimmy square in the eye, I flexed my jaw while his expression was taunting and expectant. He thought I wouldn’t do it. I’ve been lying low and doing nothing for so long that the sound of doing something this simple was suppose to scare me.
Well, they don’t know me. It’s my next-to-last year before I’m out of here. If I don’t do something soon, no one would remember me besides the “picture kid”. Might as well try to improve my reputation while I can.
“Oh I’ll totally do it,” I blurted. Their surprised expressions satisfied me. “In fact, I’ll take the stuff after school and prank her tomorrow. No sweat.”
With that, I went back to drawing, not thinking at all how that simple prank could change my life like it did.
  
Sweat rolled down my temples as I pushed myself further ahead of the other kids on the cross country team. Our practice times were never set, we just had to get the amount of miles done in less than two hours. Today we were running four miles and that’s it.
“Dude... You’re gonna... Gonna kill yourself going that fast after a meet yesterday... Just... You know... Slow down... We’re almost done anyhow,” a kid who I hardly speak to said next to me, struggling to keep up. I glanced over at him and then looked away. He typically had a faster time than me when it came to meets. Plenty friendly, but honestly got on my nerves.
“The faster you run, the faster you’ll finish, the stronger you’ll get,” I breathed before picking up the pace again. I could see the school’s courtyard, where we started, in sight. Relief washed over me as I sped past the art teacher going out to his car. I nodded at him.
My thoughts about pranking Alivia had been swimming around in my head since fifth period. In all honesty, I knew it was dumb and not worth the trouble. I already told them that I would do it, so I couldn’t back out. If I did, they’d think I was a chicken. Surely a piece of paper with some scribbles on it couldn’t mean that much to anyone.
At least the teacher was out of the building. He wouldn’t come back, would he?
I slowed to a stop and saw my coach guzzling water near a bench, his chest heaving up and down. He ran with us to stay fit, and always finished long before any of us would. Probably because he knew where he was going.
“Done already?” he said in an impressed tone. I nodded and put my hands over my head, taking in deep breaths. “Stretch out and then you can go. Don’t forget your stuff in the locker room, I found too many backpacks in there yesterday.”
I gave him a thumbs up and started stretching. In a matter of minutes I’d be copying pictures and shredding them up like they’re nothing. I bit my tongue. Were they really this upset about someone trying to talk to Ace about religion?
“One thing at a time. And besides, she might as well have been asking for this,” I thought to myself. Everyone knew that Ace wasn’t a Christian, and if he was, he never told anyone. He was captain of the football team and could beat up anyone he wanted. Who did she think she was, just talking to him about stuff like that?
Shaking my head to myself, I saw some of the other runners start to come up the parking lot. I walked as fast as I could inside to the locker room. The quicker, the less chances of me getting caught.
Grabbing my shirt, I tugged it over my head and pulled off my running shoes. I stuffed everything into my bag, slid my feet into my slides and went out of the room, thankful that no one else had come in yet.
Time to prove myself.
Taking a deep breath, I began the long trek down the hall, through the other wings, and descending down the the basement all the way on the other side of the school. It didn’t help that the hallways were glass, I just continued to sweat. Then I realized that I was standing in front of the locked classroom, in a daze of how I managed to get there.
I wiped my damp palms on my shorts and slid my bags off my shoulders. I rummaged through my backpack with my breathing still uneven and looked for something to pick the lock.
“Alright Tin Tin, you can do this,” I said to myself, looking frantically in my pencil pouch.
When I couldn’t find the paper clip that I was hoping I would happen to have, I sat back on my heels and glanced around. Footsteps were above me and I froze. Someone was whistling in the hall by the stairs. I tried not to panic as I jumped to my feet and naturally searched for another way out. There was the art room, locked, and the stairs-- that’s it.
I knew I shouldn’t have tried this. Jimmy was stupid not to come with me himself. It was his dumb idea anyhow and he’s not even...
The whistle grew fainter and I couldn’t hear the footsteps anymore. Whoever it was had passed and I didn’t get discovered. I was safe.
Grinning at my luck, I jiggled the door knob just to make sure it was locked. It was. I glanced around for anything that would help me get this stupid door opened.
There, at my feet, was a bobby pin. Those things are great at picking locks, I’ve actually done it once or twice before. Snatching the things up, my hands began to tremble as I worked on getting the lock to secede.
“Tin Tin what are you doing?!” my conscious screamed. I ignored the feeling of how this wasn’t a good idea and smiled a little when the door swung open. Easy.
The room was dark and, even though I had been here before and there was light coming in from the windows above ground level, it gave me the chills. For some reason, the first feeling I remembered was caution. A deep sense of caution, like this wasn’t even suppose to be happening right now. Realizing that I was scaring myself out of doing the prank, I shoved the feeling aside and stepped in.
I grabbed my phone and flicked on the flashlight, picking up the pace of my actions and heading for the closet. My breaths seemed extremely loud and the rush of blood to my feet made my legs shake. Who knew school could make you so uneasy when you were the only person there.
The closet with the finished art pieces wasn’t locked, to my relief. I don’t know if I could’ve unlocked another door with shaking hands.
“Okay,” I mumbled to myself as I looked upon the eight shelves full of paper and left over projects from last year. Folders stacked upon folders seemed to dare me to even try to find what I was looking for. “Period five. I only need Alivia Olson’s work from period five,” I said, not sure if I was talking to myself or the shelves.
“You’re such an idiot, don’t even try to joke about it. You’re just helping Ace, get on with it,” I thought critically. I nodded as if to make it official that that’s what I was doing. I was helping Ace, not hurting someone else.
After coming to that final conclusion, I felt slightly better and searched the column of shelves that had ‘Period 5’ painted on the wall above them. Only five folders were there, but I suppose we’ve only been in school for about three weeks. It would be enough, I’d just make multiple copies of each.
Reaching for one of the folders, I set it on the ground and angled my phone so I could look at the papers easily. Rubbing my hands together, I began to search.
Second one from the top, and I already had one. I grinned at the name and flipped it over to look at it.
What I saw was breathtaking. The people looked so real, so lifelike, that if they hadn’t been on paper I might’ve jumped up and told them to stop, but then I looked more closely. Definitely two people angry at each other, getting ready to fight. But one was grinning sort of evilly and the other looked genuinely upset. Then I realized; they were the same person.
Battling with yourself?
I shuddered and laid it aside then grabbed another folder.
The next picture wasn’t so unnerving to me. It was a tree with words spelled out in it’s branches, on its truck, in the leaves. It seemed to create a poem of some sort, but I didn’t take the time to read it.
Soon, I had all five finished pictures, each drawn to some sort of perfection. I wouldn’t let myself feel sorry that I was doing this. I had already broken in here, I wasn’t about to back out.
I was just about to walk out with the papers in hand when I remembered-- I didn’t know her locker number or the combination. Then again, the teacher had left his computer on and he was still logged in...
Before I knew it, I was walking out of the school’s front doors an hour later. The originals were put back into their place and shuffled into the stacks. I had relocked the doors, shredded the copies, and shoved them in her locker without getting caught. A certain weight was off my shoulders.
I was just helping Ace. That was that.
  
Walking through the door to my house was always a nerve-wracking moment for me.
I never knew if my dad would be home or not. If he was, I usually knew before I walked in the door. I wasn’t afraid of being questioned about where I was, because, frankly, neither of my parents cared. I just didn’t want to hear him picking fights with my mother.
The entryway was silent when I stood for a moment and listened, a habit of mine. My mom’s voice floated from the kitchen which was a short way in front of me.
“No, Mom, I haven’t found a job yet,” I heard her sigh.
She was talking to my grandma, who was pretty much like a second mother to me as well. Grandma was always at my cross country meets, my speech in eighth grade, my mandatory parent meetings. My parents simply didn’t have time. I’ve grown to expect it.
I shifted my bags on my shoulders, took a deep breath, and walked into the kitchen. You could say we were rich, the way our house looked. Always clean, plenty to eat, and stainless steel all around the kitchen. It looked like we just bought it out of a Home Depot commercial, even though we’ve been living here for as long as I can remember.
She leaned back against the sink and waved at me with a distracted, “Hi love.” Then she replied to Grandma with, “Yes, I know I told Fletcher I would find a job by now, but that’s not how it works all the time.”
I flinched when I heard my real name. My dad’s name. When I was younger, Grandma called me Tin Tin for some odd reason. Later she told me why.
“First off, you look nothing like your father. And second, I want you to grow into your own person, understand me? You don’t have to be like him,” she said, growing into an unusual seriousness.
“Yes ma’am,” my twelve-year-old self replied.
“Good. Let’s keep that our little secret and only tell someone if they’re real special.”
I blinked away the memory and watched my mom pace into the dining room, which had four plates and a highchair set around it, even if there wasn’t any food in sight. I followed her and immediately wondered why I was.
Then I heard my little brother, Asher, in the living room, around the corner from the dining room, and felt a little leap in my heart. Ever since he was born two years ago, he’s felt like my responsibility. I forced a smile on my face and walked past my mom who was now looking out the windows of the dining room.
“Hey Squirt,” I said, looking at the little man in the middle of all his robot toys, gazing at the cartoon on TV.
“Tin,” he said with a smile on his face, instantly snapping his attention to me. He was a soft spoken little guy and really shy, even around me sometimes. A lot of people said we looked alike when they saw us together. Dark, nearly black hair, pale complexion, brown eyes. We took after my mom. My sister was somewhere in the middle of my parents’ features.
“That’s right, good job,” I said and he lost interest as soon as Elmo came back on.
I sighed and trudged up the stairs to my room so I could grab a quick shower. I tossed my bags on the floor and hurried so I could eat. I just got done getting dressed and was at the top of the stairs when I heard what I’ve been anticipating.
“Christine, you have to get a job soon! We can’t just keep living off what I make, you have to also contribute,” he was saying. I cringed inwardly and walked down the wooden steps in my bare-feet and basketball shorts as quietly as possible.
“I gave birth to your children! I made this family happen, and you’re saying I ‘don’t contribute’?!” she exclaimed, her voice going shrill.
“I meant financially,” he corrected.
“Well that’s not what I heard,” she contradicted, crossing her arms.
I arrived at the bottom of the stairs and saw his back was turned to me. I started to walk to the living room to find Asher when my dad spun to face me.
“Tin Tin, where’s your sister?” he asked, as if the concern had just popped into his head. Probably did.
“She had a soccer game. Grandma’s bringer her home,” I recited dryly.
“And no one ran this by me?” he said, as if it was my fault.
“Well, you didn’t ask earlier,” I replied in a little too harsh of a tone.
“I didn’t think I had to!” he nearly shouted.
He was already worked up.
“You never notice where we are anyway! Why do you all of a sudden care?” I shot back. I saw my mom staring at me in an irritated way, trying to get me to just stop.
“Because I need her home to help around the house so your mother can look for a job,” he huffed.
“Sorry if we didn’t inform you earlier. I didn’t know you changed for the better like that, thanks for the heads up,” I answered cooly.
He sighed and looked at my mother warily.
“Son, grab your brother and go do your homework.”
“I haven’t had dinner—”
“Then get something quick and do what I told you. We’ll discuss your tone later,” he warned.
“Yes sir,” I grumbled, fired up at him coming home and causing this.
I gathered my little brother and his toys them took a quick slice of cold pizza before going to his room. I did what I normally do: bathed him, changed his pull-up, read him a story, and put him to bed.
Voices carried up from the kitchen and I began to worry. Never has my dad hit my mother, and I don’t think he ever will. I stayed up until I heard my sister come home, only then did their conversations stop for the night. I listened for complete silence for hours, only satisfied when I heard my dad’s snores.
Allowing myself to turn off the light, I started to drift off the sleep when I remembered the prank and Alivia Olson.
“I was helping someone else get her off their back, it wasn’t wrong,” I reminded myself.
Eventually, I fell asleep, still worrying if what I did was right, still knowing in the back of my head it wasn’t, and still trying to convince myself I was just helping someone else. Besides, it’s just for fun. No one was going to get hurt.
She’s just a girl.