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Something was going to happen. Something big. Something important. I felt it as soon as I woke up. The foreboding almost as tangible as a thing, embracing me with tingling energy and making the hair on the back of neck and arms stand up. I felt that if I could figure out what the elusive “something” was, my brain would feel that little shock one felt when touching something metal after dragging their feet across the carpet; it would be that quick and that painful and painless at the same time.
The energy gave me optimism, not dreed. Having a day of something had to be better than the bland days that seemed to flow into each other as one big snooze-fest of a life.
“Maybe today Brad will notice me,” I muttered to myself as I threw my covers back and climbed out of bed.
I stretched, lifting my arms high above my head, arching my back, and standing on my toes to take full advantage of waking up my joints and muscles for the day. Once I felt sufficiently stretched, I let my body relax again and turned to pull my teal, flower-print bedspread and white sheets up to make my bed.
A glance at the alarm clock on my nightstand told me I had time for a shower before Mom would have breakfast ready.
I headed to my bathroom – my favorite feature of the move to this new house two years ago – stripped, opened the door to the shower stall, turned on the water and adjusted it to just the right temperature, stepped inside, and closed the door behind myself. I let the hot water run over me with a sigh.
While I washed, I once again, for the millionth time, thought about what I would do or say if Brad actually talked to me. He was the hottest boy at school. I wasn’t one of those girls that went all gooey inside over boys, but for some reason, I couldn’t help myself when it came to Brad. He was tall, muscular, and played the guitar. He and his friends had started up their own band last year, but I’d never gotten a chance to go to any of the parties they’d played at – my parents were too strict to let me go to parties. They said I could go when I was older…like thirty.
As I rinsed, I couldn’t help but wonder if the something I was feeling could be him asking me out…and my parents actually letting me go.
I tried not to get my hopes up as I turned off the water, opened the door, stepped out, grabbed a clean towel off the shelf between the shower stall and toilet, and dried off. It was farfetched at best. I mean, I could see the world coming to an end before I could see my parents letting me to go a party or out on a date. But still, a girl could dream.
“What should I wear today?” I said aloud as I hung up the towel and headed out into my bedroom to examine the contents of my closet. “I’m thinking something super cute, just in case.”
Brad’s favorite color seemed to be red. At least, that’s what I’ve observed from far away. The only time I’d ever talked to him was when I accidently bumped into him outside History class. “Uh, sorry,” was all I’d been capable of at the time. He’d just smiled at me and kept on going about his business. Apparently I wasn’t even important enough to stop for.
I pushed that thought away as I chose my newest, best fitting jeans – I called them my lucky jeans. I felt I had to wear lucky jeans on a day something was going to happen, that’s only logical, after all. Then I selected a red, ribbed, form-fitting tank top and a red plaid shirt I’d gotten for the past fall that I hadn’t worn yet.
After selecting a bra and panties and slipping them on, I slid into the jeans, pulled the tank top over my head, and slid my arms into the flannel. It took me a few minutes to decide if I should button the flannel, leave it open, or tie it in the front. I finally decided to tie it in the front.
Since I kinda had the “country girl” vibe going on, I decided my long, dark hair would look best pulled up into a ponytail, so I headed back to the bathroom to blow-dry the damp strands.
Just as I was wrapping the elastic band around my hair for the last time, I heard Mom’s voice downstairs. I couldn’t hear what she said, but I assumed she was calling me down to breakfast, since it was past the time I would normal be down there.
I rushed out into my bedroom, grabbed what I would need for school, and headed out into the hall and downstairs. The house smelled good, like cinnamon baking. That meant Mom had made my favorite oatmeal muffins. Upon reaching the kitchen, I discovered I’d been correct in my assumption. There was a dozen of them sitting on a cooling rack on the center island.
Mom turned from the counter by the sink, where she was slicing fresh fruit, and smiled at me.
“Yes, muffins,” she acknowledged. “I hadn’t made them in a while, so I thought you’d enjoy them.”
“You were right,” I said, slid onto one of the bar stools that lined the island, dropped my book bag on the floor at my feet, and grabbed a still warm muffin. I took a bite out of the top. “Mmmm! Did you use white flour and sugar?”
Mom nodded. “Just the way you like them.”
“What’s the special occasion?” I asked, taking the plate of fruit and fork she handed me across the counter.
Mom was a health food nut. She rarely let me have anything she didn’t think was the “best option.” I wasn’t allowed to have white bread. We didn’t eat anything processed if she could help it, and there was an “absolutely no junk food” rule. This led to my terrible addiction to potato chips. My addiction was so bad that my friends stashed chips at their house, knowing I’d go through an entire bag every time I visited. Heck, my best friend, Tiffany, called me “Chips” most of the time as a joke. I don’t know if Mom knew about my addiction…if she did, she hadn’t said anything.
“I wanted to get rid of the ingredients because I’m starting us on a new regiment,” she said, starting to do the few dishes in the sink before enjoying her own fruit breakfast; she never ate the muffins.
“Does Dad know?”
My heart sank at the news that she was going to impose another of her diet regiments on the family. I didn’t like them, but Dad hated them. They always fought when she tried to get controlling about stuff. I knew this evening wasn’t going to be pleasant because of it.
She sighed, put the last dish in the drainer on the counter, shut off the water, picked up the hand-towel from the counter, and turned to face me.
“You know we do these diets for your dad’s health,” she said, looking me in the eye as she dried her hands. “I know he doesn’t like them, but we have to keep his cholesterol down – we don’t want him to have another heart attack.”
That was always her excuse. His cholesterol had been under control for over a year, but still she did this; it was a way for her to feel in control. She always seemed to need to be in control, but after Dad’s heart attack almost three years ago, she’d gotten worse. Even though I could see this in her, she didn’t seem to be capable of seeing it in herself.
I grabbed another muffin after I finished the first, picked up my fork, and alternated bites of muffin with fruit. I ignored the way Mom flinched when I grabbed a third muffin to eat on my way to school.
“See you later,” I called out around a mouthful as I headed out of the kitchen and toward the front door.
“I have yoga today!” she hollered after me.
“Okay!” I yelled before shutting the front door behind myself.
Yoga meant she might not be here when I arrived home. Sometimes she was, sometimes she wasn’t; it depended on the traffic.
The “something” feeling returned as I walked the five blocks to school. The sun was shining, people were out and about doing their morning routines, and everything seemed to be alive with excitement.
My eyes found Tiffany without effort as I stepped up onto the curb outside the sprawling brick building that housed the high school I’d attended for the last two years. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. The teachers were nicer than the ones at my previous school. But, with my dad’s heart attack and the move, I’d been more emotional and less dedicated to my school work than normal, which probably didn’t help their attitudes toward me.
Tiffany spotted me the same time I spotted her. She lifted her arm in the air and waved like mad. I returned the gesture in a more subdued fashion.
“What’s with the red?” she asked, looking me over as I walked up to her.
“Nothing,” I said, and shrugged.
“Oookay,” she said, and thankfully let it go. “Guess who got invited to the party Friday night?” She waggled her eyebrows.
“Uh, you?” I asked as the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I couldn’t help but think the something I felt when I’d woken up had to do with Brad and a party.
Tiffany grinned and nodded her head enthusiastically. She opened her mouth to speak again, but was interrupted.
“Oh, look,” a snide female voice said behind me, “it looks like someone got their period.”
I turned to see Stacy. Perfect, popular, bitchy Stacy with her two airhead minions.
I instantly knew she was talking about my red shirt. I didn’t often wear bright colors. I hadn’t thought about that when I’d decided to wear this outfit. I’d wanted to be noticed by Brad. I hadn’t thought that maybe what I had to do to get noticed by him would get me noticed by undesirables as well.
I sighed. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die.
I glanced around and noticed that everyone within earshot was now staring at me and Stacy. This intensified my urge to hide.
Lucky for me, my outgoing, mouthy best friend decided to do the talking for me.
“Yeah, well, at least she doesn’t have to worry about being pregnant, like you, you dumb slut!”
I heard everyone around us gasp in mock horror. I chanced a glance at Stacy and noticed her face was now as red as my shirt.
Stacy’s expression went from shocked to angry, and her face turned from red to purple.
“Well, at least I can get a boyfriend,” she huffed, spun, and started to walk away.
“Yeah, and everyone else’s, slut!” Tiffany yelled after her.
Stacy paused, but didn’t turn around. Her minions did chance a peek back at us though. I couldn’t tell if they were shocked or afraid.
“I hate that bitch,” Tiffany said, turning her attention back to me.
“She’s gonna tell on you for calling her a slut,” I muttered, still shocked by the entire encounter. “You’re gonna get in trouble!”
Tiffany shook her head. “Nah, she won’t tell. Everyone knows what I said was true – even the teachers. It won’t do her any good to tell.” She smiled and winked at me. “So, you coming to the party with me? You can spend the night at my house and then you won’t even have to worry about telling your parents.”
I thought about it for a moment. Something deep inside me screamed it was a bad idea, but something else nudged me to do something naughty for once.
“I guess,” I said as we started walking toward the school building to go inside.
The crowd that had somehow gathered around us broke up and did the same. I tried not to pay attention to them, but it was hard.
It wasn’t so much that I had social anxiety, I just didn’t like to be the center of attention. I was one of those people who liked to have one or two close friends – that I could trust – and stay completely low key. I wasn’t designed to be one of the cool “in” people. I was designed to be the high school, middle-class nobody that got good grades and made plans for the future.
Right now, though, I was worried about making it through the rest of the day. The comments about my shirt made me self-conscious. I wanted to go home and change, but I couldn’t. Instead, I headed to my locker – only half paying attention to Tiff as she chattered at my side – unlocked it, stowed my stuff inside, minus the text book and notebook I needed for my first class.
“Are you even listening to me?” Tiff asked, clicking her fingers in front of my face.
That’s when I realized I was standing still, staring into my locker.
“Uh, yup,” I said, smiled, and slammed my locker shut. “You’re right about everything.” I hoped the generic comment made sense as a response.
Since Tiff’s frown turned into even more chatter, I guessed it did.
I held my notebook and book tight against my chest as we headed toward our first class: History. It was my favorite class. Not because I liked the past, but because Brad was in there the same time I was. I loved that I got to see him every morning, right away.
We made it to the door of the classroom just as the bell rang.
Mr. Clemmons smiled at us as we entered.
Tiff instantly stopped talking, literally in midsentence.
We headed to our seats.
My palms were sweaty where I gripped my books. I felt the tense clench of my arm and shoulder muscles. I tried to fight myself, but I couldn’t help but glance at Brad across the room as I made my way to my seat. He wasn’t looking at me. He was talking to a friend of his who sat in front of him.
As I slid into my seat, feeling rejected and ignored, I laid my books on the table in front of me.
Mr. Clemmons stood and opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say anything, an announcement came over the loud speaker.
“…Due to a CDC announced medial emergency warning, the school will be on lockdown. No one will be allowed to eat outside or leave for lunch, including staff. Sorry for any inconvenience…” Then the booming voice that echoed throughout the school continued with mundane, everyday stuff. It was either because the lockdown wasn’t really serious or because it was serious and they were trying to keep us calm with stupid everyday information. There was no way to tell and there was no point in worrying about it. No matter what, we were stuck in the building for the rest of the day.
There was a collective groan from most of the students in my class; it was the few who actually left for lunch every day. I assumed it was because they didn’t like the food. I didn’t think it was so bad, but I liked all kinds of stuff because I couldn’t get it at home. And there was no way my mom was going to give me extra spending money to leave school and get fast food, so I was pretty much stuck with what passed as government approved “healthy” meals. Even with those, it was damn hard to mess up salad, so that was my failsafe when everything else looked iffy.
Once the announcements were over, Mr. Clemmons started our lesson for the day. As his voice droned, my mind began to wander, and so did my eyes…to Brad.
He was leaning forward, whispering to the guy in front of him. When Mr. Clemmons glanced toward where he was sitting, he grew silent and watchful. But, the teacher didn’t seem to focus on them, so they exchanged a few more words and then sat up straight in their seats, grinning.
Brad glanced around and our eyes met briefly. He smirked and winked.
I smiled and looked away.
I felt heat spread through my body, especially my face. I knew from experience my cheeks were bright red…and probably matched the shirts I was wearing. Once again I regretted my decisions to wear the color. But then I thought it might have been a good idea, after all, Brad had winked at me.
I glanced over at him again; he was flipping through the page of his text book.
I deflated a little inside. Apparently the moment we’d just shared hadn’t meant anything to him. At least that’s what it felt like when I was sitting here nervous, sweaty, and flushed and he was looking through a text book.
I felt…uninspiring for the rest of History. I couldn’t believe the damn text book was more interesting to a male than I was. I really had to be lacking in some way.
As we got up to leave, I was glad Tiff’s next class was different from mine so I didn’t have to pretend to be chipper as we navigated the halls.
I headed straight to my locker and exchanged my History book and notebook for my Biology book and notebook.
When I shut my locker, I frowned. Brad and the other boy from History – I think his name is John – were in the corner whispering to each other. They had those mischievous grins on their faces again too.
Again, Brad caught me watching them.
I didn’t smile at him this time, I looked down at the floor and scurried off to my next class.
I couldn’t focus on Biology or Algebra II or English. All I thought about was Brad, the wink, his curious behavior, and how a text book was more interesting than me. I didn’t know how I was going to get him to actually notice me, notice me. Even dressing to appeal to him wasn’t working.
It was eventually time for lunch, and I steeled myself to act somewhat normal for Tiff. But, as I turned the corner of the hall that led to the cafeteria, I was grabbed from behind and dragged into a small, dark room. I didn’t even have time to scream.
Before I could panic, the light in the small room came on and I was looking at…John, if I had his name right.
I frowned and turned to look behind me. There was Brad; he laughed and let go of my arms.
“The look on your face is priceless,” he managed to say, still laughing.
John was smirking, but didn’t say anything.
“What are you guys doing in here? Why did you grab me?”
“Because I thought you might want to join us,” Brad said, finally calming down from his bought of mirth.
“Join us…?” I looked back and forth between the two, unsure if I should be scared.
Honestly, I didn’t know what I was felt at the moment, but my adrenaline was definitely pumping.
“We’re going to lunch,” John said, folding his arms across his chest and leaning back against the janitor’s room door. At least that seemed to be what the room was, considering its contents.
“That’s where I was going when he grabbed me,” I said, nodding to Brad.
John shook his head and looked at Brad.
Brad sighed, and said, “We’re going out to lunch.”
“But no one is allowed to go…” I stopped, finally realizing what they meant to do. “Oh!”
“Now she gets it,” John said with a chuckle.
Brad nodded, grinned, and then winked at me. “You down?”
Everything in me screamed to say no, but I wanted to be noticed by Brad…and he was noticing me.
“Sure,” I said, and shrugged, trying to pass it all off as no big deal. It was a big deal though. I was screaming, doing cartwheels, and dancing inside. I was feeling every warm, gooey, and excited emotional possible. But, at the same time, something in the back of my mind ticked like a clock counting off the seconds. That usually meant something bad was going to happen, at least that’s what happened when I’d had the feeling in the past.
I ignored it. I figured it was just my desire to obey the rules and not do anything that would get me in trouble – nothing serious.
Just to sound extra badass, I grinned, tilted my head to the side, and dared to openly flirt with Brad.
He laughed. “Sure, babe, anything you want.”
I wanted to scream in the most girlish way possible and felt foolish and elated all at once.
“We gotta get going if we’re going to do this,” John said, peeking out the door. “Ready?”
I nodded, still grinning, and Brad grabbed my hand and tugged me behind him as we snuck out of the janitor’s closet…and the school.
©Rebecca Besser, 2017. All rights reserved.