2009 | Soul Exchange … A book Started and abandoned.
Vivienne Pearl didn’t like the greasy beef, rubbery ketchup and Pinesol stink of the lunchroom. Her flimsy tray wobbled as she walked towards an empty bench-style table. It was her first day at this school and everything was subtly and shockingly different. Even the milk here was odd. It came in a plastic bag with a straw. Sure there were bonus options of strawberry and chocolate, but why were cartons outlawed in this state? And when did Taco Bell start serving reheated bean burritos at school? Yech.
On top of trying to keep her moo juice from plopping off the tray like a suicidal jellyfish, she had to lug her overstuffed backpack around. Apparently schools in California didn’t believe in student lockers either. She set her tray down at the nearest table.
“HmmmMmm. No. You aren’t sitting there.” A girl standing at the opposite end of the table put her hands on her hips.
Huh? “Me?” Vivienne was confused. She was a full five feet away from the gruff girl, and there wasn’t anyone sitting between them.
“Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you. This …” The girl motioned a wide circle with her hands, “is our table. No one invited you.”
“Oh, the tables are assigned?”
“Assigned? Don’t get smart with me, girl. Get your crap and move.”
Vivienne felt like she swallowed a rock. “Uh, OK. This is my first day. Where should I sit?”
“No kidding, your first day? I couldn’t tell.”
Jeez, it wasn’t her fault she moved here in the middle of a school year. Whatever. It didn’t take a native to recognize sarcasm. To the left a group of guys and a few girls were laughing and talking about some movie. They seemed friendly. She tentatively approached them.
The boy in the blue t-shirt gave a quick tilt of his head and smiled. “Hey.”
Oh good, maybe they weren’t all mean. “Hi.” She walked a few steps closer. “Mind if I …”
Someone snorted behind her. “Oh please, he wasn’t talking to you.” A flash of red and sweep of blond passed her.
“Hey Riley.” The guy in blue shrugged and then scooted over for the girl. He’d been talking to her? The lump in her throat fell like a boulder into her stomach. She didn’t know what to do.
The Riley girl dropped her purse on the table, took a drink out of her disposable coffee cup and then used one thumb to press buttons on her phone. The noise in the cafeteria escalated as more students came in. Vivienne felt trapped. This was ridiculous. All she wanted to do was eat lunch and maybe, just maybe, have one person be nice to her. This place sucked. Why did her mom move them here?
“What are you staring at?”
The sharp tone of another girl, who had a phone in her hand, snapped her attention. She was obviously a friend of Riley.
“Nothing.” Screw them, she didn’t have to put up with this. She’d toss her lunch and go home.
Vivienne swiveled and headed towards the exit.
Oh come on. Why couldn’t anything go right? The garbage was too full. She couldn’t get the flap to swing in more than a few inches to dump this stuff and bail. Could it get any worse?
Yes, yes it could. She shoved the tray hard, trying to force it, and launched the sloshing bag of milk. It bounced and splattered on the floor like an exploding miniature waterbed. Chocolate shot up the leg of her white jeans, the wall, window and, from the sound of it, another student. Great, just frickin’ great. She released the floppy pressed-paper lunch holder and was relieved to see it wedged.
There were a few laughs but with the commotion and chatter, it seemed her circus act went mostly unnoticed.
“I hate this place. I’m never coming back here.” Vivienne slapped at the brown streaks on her pants. “Home school would be light years better.”
Oh? Someone was talking to her. Vivienne looked for the person behind the voice. There were groups of students nearby, but none were looking at her. It seemed her infamous 15 seconds were over. The weight of the backpack made her shoulders ache. Maybe she should dump the books on the secretary’s desk on her way out.
“It is like getting upset with monkeys for behaving like monkeys, a waste of time and energy. They will always be monkeys.”
Ummmkay. She looked around again and still nothing. “Great, now I’m hearing voices.”
“That is correct. You heard mine.”
Vivienne turned and searched each person for deception. Someone was messing with her. I’m new, not stupid.
“I have requested to take online classes, but my mother thinks the socialization is good for me,” said the girl.
With that last utterance, Vivienne was able to find her. She sat at a short table meant for two and was tucked between stacked chairs and fake potted plants. Her lips moved but she looked straight ahead.
“I told her it’s like a zoo here, and I’d rather friend a zebra than a bunch of monkeys.”
“Huh?” Vivienne was starting to feel creeped out.
The girl wore her dark hair in two high, looped pigtails. Her bangs were cut short and straight. And even though the temp was in the 70s, she was encased in a heavy, black trench coat. What was next with these people, leg warmers and bikinis?
“Um, are you talking to me?”
“Yes. I was making the point that you should not let these kids hurt your feelings. They aren’t of the highest intelligence.”
“Oh, OK.” Well, that could be considered kindness. Odd but kind. “Thanks.”
“The food here is a bio hazard. I would throw my tray too if I was forced to buy it. Don’t worry about my shirt.” The girl finally glanced over at Vivienne as she lifted her arm and showed a white lacy cuff with dark stains. “You didn’t mean to, and it will wash out.”
“Oh crap, I’m so sorry.” So that was who she hit with her Nestle tsunami. Ugh, how friggin’ lame could she be? She approached the girl. “I’ll pay for your shirt if it doesn’t come clean.”
“Marvelous. Do you like anime?”
“Good, then we can be friends.” The girl locked her gaze on Vivienne, stuck out her hand and said, “Hi, I’m Anya Winters. It is nice to meet you.”
The motion startled her. She shifted her backpack and reached out to return the gesture “I’m Vivienne. Vivienne Pearl.”
“Excellent. Now that we are friends, you can sit here. I have an extra sandwich. My grandmother made them.”
Anya’s words were stiff and formal, almost as if she was reading a script for the first time. Vivienne felt awkward, but what the heck. Someone was showing kindness.
Vivienne cautiously took a bite of her sandwich. It was different, chewy with a distinctive flavor she couldn’t place. “This is fabulous.” OMG so good. She felt her stomach growl in appreciation.
“It is a pesto sun-dried tomato smear with turkey and mixed greens on Dutch crunch bread,” said Anya. “My grandmother is a foodie, which is an artist whose medium is food.”
“Mmmhmmm.” Vivienne couldn’t respond with words, her mouth was stuffed with another bite. This time her stomach roared in thanks.
Anya blinked and seemed surprised. “Oh, you are very hungry. Here have my apple too.” She unzipped and reached into her lunch bag and placed the fruit on the table. The apple tilted and rolled. Vivienne reached to stop its journey. Only with her bull-in-the-China-shop grace, she bumped and accelerated its speed. The Granny Smith pulled a Thelma and Louise and landed at her feet. Then tumbled until hit the wall.
Ugh. Vivienne leaned to the side and under the table. She stretched and grabbed the fruity bastard by the stem. “Finally.” She
Mandy pressed her forehead against the cool of the locker door and dialed the combination. The stale stench of locker-room sweat was oddly comforting. Maybe mom Laura was right and it was her insane teenage hormones causing the uproar in her brain. The lock clicked and released the door. She opened it, rummaged through her purse and pulled out the bottle of pills her mom insisted she take that morning. OK, I give. I’ll take a damn Midol. She popped two of them dry and heard the gym door slam. Sounded like a gaggle of girls entering. That could only mean one thing. Riley and her sheeple were here. Oh, hell no. Time to go.
“Well, look who’s primping.” Riley’s inflection was sharp with sarcasm. “Got a hot date?”
Damn. The metal door blocked her view, so she talked through it. “Oh, go stuff it.” Stuff it like your bra she wanted to say, but didn’t have to. It was an old insult based on ancient fifth grade truth. Still, it pissed Riley off and that made it fun. “I don’t have time for your crap.”
Oh yes, ex-BFFs made the worst enemies. They shared the dirty little secrets with the option of flaunting them, or threatening to, at anytime. Of course, she wasn’t the only one with a full arsenal; they’d been in a Cold War standoff since last year. Sigh. She ran her hand through her spiky hair and then shut the door.
Several of the girls gasped, and one giggled. Riley look stunned. “Oh my God, your hair!”
Riley stared with her jaw dropped. The rest of cheerleader’s skirts swished and they looked at each other, as if trying to confirm the vision was true. “What about it?” It was her hair. So what if she lopped off her waist-long locks over summer break? After so many years of being teased, tressed and tiara’d, short hair felt like freedom. Now if she could just break free of this byotch and her stupid friends, let the pain meds kick in, and get her soccer practice on. “Something else you wanted?”
Riley smirked. “Ohh, sensitive much? I thought you lesbians were tougher than that.”
Skank! That was a low, sideways crack about her moms Laura and Shelley. “And I thought cheerleaders were supposed to be pretty? Hmmm. So much for that.”
“Well, you’re just jealous. I mean, who wouldn’t be?”
This was getting. So. Stupid. “Oh my God, how did you know? I’ve been wishing my whole life to be one your girl groupies and, like, be popular enough to screw the quarterback.” Puhlease.
Riley moved in close. Her breath smelled like spicy cinnamon mints. “Like I said, jealous.”
Mandy rolled her eyes. “I don’t know how we were ever friends. You’re such so pathetic.”
Pain exploded across her face. OMG, she effin’ hit me. The world tilted and she reached for the locker door. It slipped through her hands and her face cracked against the stone floor. Another smash to her head, and her vision flickered. A blue skirt swished and a pair of too-tan legs with super white sneakers blurred as they ran away.