The screech of the wheels on pavement and the hiss of the air brakes sounds, reminding me of the emotional torment I am about to endure. Those girls don’t have to really do much of anything, just being around them makes me feel small, the same way it has always done. My mom used to tell me I should hold my head up and try to be nice to popular girls, but I’ve always been scared of what might happen if I did. I’ve seen how they harass the other girls. Last week Jessica Nomine tripped on the stairs while boarding the bus. The popular girls erupted into screeching laughter, while their jock boyfriends, with stupid smiles on their faces, broke into a round of applause. I was the only one who asked if Jessica was okay. She responded with a quivering chin and watery eyes and has been staring at the ground ever since, with not a trace of a smile on her cherubic face.
Sometimes all you have to do to earn an attack is dare to look them in the eye, like Hannah Ransit did this morning. Hannah is a pretty girl—no one with an dash of intelligence would deny that, but the popular kids target her because of her funny last name (they call her “Hannah Rancid”). If Hannah had kept her head down, they might’ve not paid her any attention. But when she braved eye contact with one of them, the lead popular girl, Bailey-Rose Donohue, curled her lip and did a sweeping look of the length of Hannah’s tiny frame. It was the same look I made a month ago when I opened up my forgotten lunchbox to a warm, stinking egg salad sandwich. It’s the kind of look that debilitates. It makes the recipient want to curl up into a ball and die, and it is more often than not a thousand times more effective than any verbal assault. Hannah wants to be popular, as any of us do, but she’s the only one who keeps trying to make them like her. It’ll only be a matter of time before they wear her down, too, and her head will be drooping with fear like mine is now. But still, I have to admire her courage to keep trying.
I’d try too, if I were brave like Hannah, because although I despise Bailey-Rose Donohue, I can’t help but love her at the same time. I despise her treatment of others, but I love what she represents—authority, significance—power. I envy her, and sometimes I find myself wanting to be her. But I’m smart enough to know that if I ever became Bailey-Rose Donohue, I would have to verbally assault others, like she does. I would have to learn how to intimidate with a menacing glare or at the very least, make eye contact with other people. If I didn’t, I would lose my rank. You have to be assertive to make it in their world. You have to be assertive to be Hunter Brooks’ girlfriend. I know it’s wrong, but I am not joking when I say I would stab my best friend in the back, like Bailey-Rose did to her best friend, if it meant I could spend even ten minutes making out with Hunter. Without a doubt he is the cutest boy in the ninth grade–tall, muscular frame, tan skin, green eyes, wavy brown hair–he makes me melt every time he gets on the bus. I catch myself daydreaming about him a lot throughout the day. He has been my type for as long as I can remember, but I have never been lucky enough to date any boy at all, much less the JV football quarterback. Hunter and I will never happen, and I know I have to be okay with that, because it would be wrong if we did.
As Hunter climbs the steps, my stomach goes to knots. He flashes me a quick smile, and I feel like I might die! My cheeks flush and I can feel my pulse fluttering in my temples. Just as I am about to muster the courage to speak, Hunter passes by me. “Hey Winthrop!” he calls out to his best friend. The whole bus stops to pay attention to Hunter—and who wouldn’t? “Guess what? Last week on the bus, Sucker! Me and Bailes are ridin’ in style now,” Hunter says. He pauses and smirks, as though any of us are supposed to know what ridin’ in style means. I don’t care what it means. Just the sound of his voice is enough to make my heart race. “Parker’s Trans-Am, baby…!” Hunter continues, and even though his silky smooth voice is still as charming as ever, my heart drops. I shouldn’t be surprised, I guess. It isn’t a new thing for the popular freshmen to hitch rides with the popular juniors and seniors, but oh God, it still hurts so much!
The stabbing pain in my heart only worsens as the dreaded Bailey-Rose climbs aboard. I look at the back of her head as she passes and see her shiny blond locks, making me painfully aware of the lack-luster brown mop on top of my head. Bailey-Rose turns and glares at me out of the corner of her eye, and I recoil. The bittersweet truth hits me—no more Hunter, yes, but also no more Bailey-Rose Donohue. I guess I never wanted to be her that much after all. God bless seniors and their cars.
Jessica and Hannah are the last kids to board. Both of them have their eyes fixated on the ground. Jessica nearly trips over the stairs again. I bet these girls despise and love Bailey-Rose, too. They might not know it right now, but they will both fear and want to be Bailey-Rose Donohue for the rest of their lives, no matter how much they might deny it. Decades from now, when they get to be my age, they will still want to make out with boys like Hunter Brooks, even though they know it’s wrong.
I pull the lever, and the doors creak shut. I wiggle my wide hips, trying to gain comfort on this rigid seat. I look in the mirror to make sure everyone is seated, and catch a glimpse of Bailey-Rose whispering with her friends and pointing at Jessica. As I push the gearstick in drive, I hear a laugh marked with ridicule sounding from Bailey-Rose’s mouth. It chills me to the bone. God, I wish I could be her.