Author: Jillian Anderson
Nothing ever happens, and nothing ever changes, until one day, things did. School had started in the fall and something felt off. The atmosphere tainted, a chill in the air. The classroom was abuzz with students milling about, sitting on top of desks, texting and talking. I kept my head down and waited respectfully for the bell to ring. A whoosh of air caught my attention as a girl with vibrant red hair in a plaid vintage dress came waltzing in. She made a beeline for the empty desk next to mine as the bell rang. She stared at me and I stared back because I tend to stare too much sometimes. We both looked away after a few seconds of staring and sat in silence for the rest of the class. I shuffled out of the classroom before she tugged on the sleeve of my shirt and motioned for me to follow her as she led me to an empty bench away from the foot traffic. “Um, hi.” She smiled and told me I reminded her of the person she used to be before her transition. Whatever that means.
She said her name was Victoria and that she had just transferred to Willow High and was wondering if I’d be a doll and show her around until she found her footing. In exchange, she said she could help me become a better version of myself. I reluctantly agreed because that’s the person I am, helping people in need the way you would nurse an injured bird back to health. She smiled her megawatt smile and linked her arm through mine as we strolled arm in arm to the next class we both had together. Her schedule was an exact carbon copy of mine, and it was eerie to say the least. The whole day was a whirlwind, and my mind kept going blank as I tried and failed to remember how Victoria ended up at my house when school let out.
Nonetheless, she invited herself in and made herself comfortable on my queen-sized bed. I was absentmindedly twirling this antique-looking necklace as she was giving me a once-over. “Mmmmmm split ends and, oh dear, your shirt looks as if it’s been chewed on by a dog.” I glanced down at my shirt, which I considered to be the best one I could find because I never found time to go shopping and I truly didn’t care about appearances. She tapped her finger against her mouth before exclaiming that I needed a major makeover. I doubled over as if in pain and started laughing because there was no way she was touching my hair or my wardrobe. Victoria can be very persuasive and persistent, to the point where all I could do was succumb to her poking and prodding until she was satisfied with my answer. Who knew hair dye and a few new outfits could be the simplest solution to my problems?
I looked in the mirror the next day, and I scarcely recognized the girl staring back at me. She scared me, to say the least. She looked prim and proper instead of ratty and mediocre. Just as I was having this thought, my phone rang out into the ether. Apparently, someone hijacked my phone when I wasn’t looking because the person calling was my best friend, Victoria. I answered in a groggy voice as I was still waking up, but she didn’t seem to notice and squealed in delight over the phone as she went on and on about how coming into my life had been a blessing in disguise and not a curse. I kept thinking how weird the whole encounter was the day before, and now that she seemed glued to me, I felt even more on edge. She seemed to feed off of me and the attention I was giving her. It just made her that much more annoying. I know what it’s like to be the new girl, so I guess I will have to try to like her. She was my problem now, whether I liked it or not. People aren’t dying to hang out with me anyway. Victoria’s a nice change of pace, I guess.
I had just reached the door to the first period when someone closed their fist around my hand and spun me around. Victoria pulled me into a quick hug and smiled as she pulled me along into the classroom. She watched me sit before she sat herself and always seemed to be watching me out of the corner of her eye. Nothing weird about that, right? I mean, I have to get used to whatever type of girl she seems to be because I am stuck with her 24/7. What I can gauge from only 2 measly days with her is that she has drawn a lot of attention from guys and from popular girls, but she hasn’t seemed to notice or doesn’t seem to care enough to pay them any attention. She sure does seem to be interested in being my only friend. I am very protective and hostile toward anyone who seems to be a threat or a nuisance. She told me she’d eliminate anyone who tried to stand in her way, and I asked, “In the way of what?” She didn’t answer, but that’s Victoria for you. It is always a mystery, to say the least. The next day, at lunch, a group of seniors walked up to the bench we were sitting on and told us we would be the perfect fit for their peppy and perky dance team that performed at all the major pep rallies and events. Sports weren’t nearly as big as the girls’ dance team at our school. Victoria was quick to say we were not interested, but I jumped at the opportunity to butt in and say politely that we’d think about it. “Great,” replied Abby, the team captain, as she told us she’d be in touch before turning on her heels and sauntering away. Victoria seriously turned to me with a scowl on her face as she dug her claw-like fingers into me. Seriously, think about it. I heard they only came to us because no one on the junior team would cut it. “Looks-wise, we fit the bill, Hanna, but that’s about it. Do you really want to be up there competing for the spotlight and being every boy’s dream girl that they drool over in their sleep?” She had a point about the boys, but maybe it’s my chance to strut my stuff and to break free of my own subconscious mind and to get out of my own head for once. I told her I was doing it with or without her. She pouted and sighed but reluctantly agreed to come to their first practice with me.
The first practice was that Friday at 7 pm out by the stadium. We showed up 10 minutes early and sat in blissful silence as Victoria was still mad at me for dragging her with me. I sat up straight as Abby glided over and smiled at me, but that smile did not reach her eyes, nor was it directed at anyone other than myself. Victoria was staring daggers at Abby, but Abby couldn’t care less and only addressed me when she spoke. “Glad you could make it; I love what you’ve done with yourself. I hope you can keep up and rise within our ranks to greatness.” I nodded and rose to take my spot among the throng of girls before me. Victoria shot up and snagged the spot right next to me as we prepared for the warm up. Everyone else moved out of the way so we could have some space. Abby led everyone through some simple stretches before turning to face the 10 pairs of eyes that stared at her. Listen up, it is time for the bleachers! Everyone knows what that means, and for our newbies, you run up and down until you feel like your body will break! She blew the whistle and watched as we ran up and down and up and down. It felt as if we were doing it for hours until she told us to stop. Well, all of us except Victoria. Victoria seemed to be lagging behind the rest of the girls, and it made her stick out like a sore thumb. “You, redhead!” She was bent over panting and glanced up at Abby. “I didn’t tell you to stop. That was pathetic. Go again until I feel you are worthy to join us for our water break.” Victoria huffed and continued running up and down the bleachers as I watched helplessly from down below. Victoria had started to look so pale and swayed from side to side, and she ran back up for what seemed like the 100th time. When she reached the top, she collapsed into a heap. I scurried over to her with another girl as we tried to shake her awake. Slowly, she came to and was led down the bleachers carefully with us carrying her arm in arm. She started crying when she reached the bottom and whimpered, but she didn’t get Abby’s sympathy. Instead, Abby ignored her and smirked before addressing the rest of us. “Good practice, now get out of here and be prepared for more grueling practices to come.” Before turning to chat with her friends that were nearby, Abby told me what an amazing addition and asset I would become to the team. Victoria quickly dried her eyes, sneering at Abby before muttering, “You’ll be sorry you ever crossed paths with me.” I said this to Abby’s back as I helped her hobble out of the stadium and into the darkness of night.
The news broke the next morning that there had been an accident and Abby died. Rumors were already starting to surface. Everyone had started pointing fingers at her boyfriend, Jackson. Tensions were high between them in the days leading up to her death. The story goes that she was found in her bathtub with the curling iron in her hand and the cord still plugged into the socket. Her sister had come home to find her dead in the bathtub with the smell of burnt skin accompanying the horrifying scene left for the police to comb through. She died on a Friday, and by Monday, everyone who was anyone knew about Abby’s untimely death.
This day in particular was surprisingly overcast, with a lot of moisture in the air. Students had bundled up in warm clothes and were huddled together, mourning the loss of a girl whom everyone wanted to be. She was a girl whose stare could put you in your place. Her very presence seemed to captivate the whole student body. Now, it’s as if her whole existence has been erased. Maybe her ghostly spirit would haunt our halls as she exacted her revenge on those who wronged her. That would be silly, right? I don’t believe in ghosts anyway. Still, thinking about it makes my whole body quake.
While I am having this conversation inside my head, Victoria seems to be having her own conversation, which, for some reason, includes me. Looking at me pointedly until I asked, “Hmmmmm, what?” She rolls her eyes and says, “Don’t you think this tragedy has shown us how fragile life is and how easily it can be snuffed out?” I thought about this for a moment and found myself agreeing because it could have happened to any of us.
Victoria rambles on about how she should be the one to comfort the other students and reassure Jackson that this wasn’t his fault. Victoria mumbles to herself that it was just a terrible tragedy and Abby will be dearly missed. She smiles to herself and says, “Yes, that is just what they need to hear!” She looks at me and I shrug, not caring why she feels the need to always ask for my approval. Victoria frowns as she rushes past me to meet Jackson on his way to Badminton practice. Jackson’s head is hung low and his shoulders seem to sag as if something is weighing him down. He barely glances up at Victoria as he makes his way to the gym. Victoria stays by his side as they both disappear into the gym. I hightail it in the opposite direction and make my way to the library for study hall. However, I don’t plan on doing much of anything, including studying. Instead, I decide to take a much-needed nap in a quiet corner where no one will notice.