That Tornado Called Popularity
By the time Shane gets me back home, it’s already eight.
We had spent the last few hours talking – which mostly consisted of him giving some of his usual asinine remarks, and me rolling my eyes – but we did manage to reminisce some of our old memories.
When I enter my house, I’m greeted by a sight that completely throws me off. My parents are sitting in the dining room. Having dinner together.
Well, that’s a first.
“Dad?” I blurt, sliding into the chair next to Dad, and they both glance up. “What are you doing here?”
My Dad looks utterly confused. “Um… I’m eating dinner…”
“No, I mean, what’re you doing at home so early?”
Dad never ever – and I do mean never, ever – comes home before nine at night. He’s one of those big businessmen who spends more time in his office than with his family.
I can hardly believe my eyes. First gardening, and now this?
“I just decided that I should get home earlier from now on.” He replies mildly, and my eyebrows shoot upwards.
“Mom?” I turn to her for an explanation.
Mom looks as though she’s going to cave in any moment now, and she’s going to start telling me that ‘Yes, dahling, you’re dreaming’ and ‘Yes, dahling, you’re living in a parallel universe’ and ‘Yes, dahling, you should really pinch yourself awake right now.’
But then she changes her mind and throws the question back at me. “Why are you back home so late, Beverly?”
Yet another first. My Mom’s never inquired anything like this before. In fact, she doesn’t really care where I go and what time I’m back home.
“Uhm…I had detention.”
Oh, I really don’t want to say this. Who knows how she might react?
“I had dinner after. With a friend.”
“Which friend?” Now she looks positively crafty. Like the witch in Matilda.
“He or a she?” Now I can see her stirring a stick in a black cauldron. And I can see her in a pointy black hat.
Mom grins. “Come on, dahling, just give me his name. I promise not to judge if the guy’s called something disgusting like Ronald or Donald. I mean, those names are repulsive to me, but may sound orgasmic-inducing sexy to you.”
I can hardly believe my ears. Anyone willing to switch moms with me?
“Please don’t say that word at the dinner table.”
“What word?” She purses her lips innocently. “You mean orgasmic? Dahling, what’s wrong with that word? The word ‘orgasm’ is a natural body reaction that happens during sex, isn’t it, Dan?” She turns to Dad, who nods.
“That’s right.” Dad smiles, in his knowledgeable voice. The voice that makes me go ‘Oh, fuck, he’s going to say something I really, really don’t want to hear’.
“As a matter of fact, did you know that the word ‘orgasm’ was derived from…”
See? I knew he was going to say something to that effect.
“TMI.” I hold up my hand to stop him. I can feel my dinner coming up to my oesophagus right now.
“TMI?” Dad looks befuddled, which is actually quite an adorable expression for him.
Mom pats his hand sympathetically. “It means Two M-barrassing Idiots. Teenage lingo,” She adds, nodding intelligently, and turns to me, clearly ecstatic that she knows one phrase of the teenage lingo.
“But that’s not a very nice thing to say about your parents, Beverly.”
I shrug. Well, her version of TMI sums the situation up better than the usual version does.
“So, who’s your friend?” She continues, determined to pry out that bit of information from me.
“ShaneCorelli.” I mutter, slurring the words together in hopes that she wouldn’t be able to hear me.
Now she’s pretending to be deaf. I mean, look at her face; her twinkling eyes and her curved lips. She’s obviously pretending not to have heard.
I roll my eyes. “Shane Corelli. I had dinner with Shane.”
“No!” Mom shrieks dramatically, and claps her hands. “That asshole?”
She obviously still remembers that little chat we had a long, long time ago. I wouldn’t put it past her.
She finds amusement in practically anything. She probably thinks my life’s as interesting as those you see in the tabloids about Hollywood stars.
Dad raises his eyebrows expressively. “Who’s the asshole?”
“Shane’s the asshole.”
“But why’s he an asshole?”
“He kissed our Beverly, and then made fun of her.” Mom says, emphatically.
“He said that she couldn’t resist him, and that she loved him giving her hickeys. And that she wanted more of those hickeys.”
Technically, those weren’t Shane’s words at all. But, oh well, I suppose Mom interpreted it that way, and she’s the story-teller.
I don’t even bother correcting her, just slump my head down and start banging it on the table.
Dad narrows his eyes. “What an asshole.”
“I know, right?” She turns back to me. “Beverly, what were you thinking, having dinner with that asshole?”
“He’s not an asshole, Mom. Okay, he can be, sometimes. But apart from that, he’s my…”
“Boyfriend?” Mom screeches. She waves her fork happily in the air. “That’s fantastic, Beverly. I knew it!” She crows. “I knew that you two would end up together and I knew that the asshole would always get the girl in the end!”
“Mom!” I cut her off rudely. “Would you kindly stop gabbling and listen to me?”
“Wait, Beverly,” Dad interrupts. “You have a boyfriend? Since when? Who is he?”
Mom clicks in exasperation. “I told you, her boyfriend’s Shane. Geez, keep up, Dan.”
“Shane’s her boyfriend? Shane Corelli from that house opposite us? Vicky Corelli’s son?”
“Exactly. You know, Vicky and I used to talk about having our kids end up together all the time. Isn’t this wonderful news?”
“You guess? Dan, it’s a miracle our Beverly’s finally got a boyfriend. I was half afraid she’d be left on the shelf like Polly. Don’t you remember Polly? She…”
“You guys!” I slap my hand on the table to get their attention. Honestly, I can’t believe they’re discussing my love life in front of me.
“Stop jumping to conclusions. You’ve gotten the whole thing wrong. Yes, I had dinner with Shane, but no, Shane’s not my boyfriend, and won’t be anytime soon.”
Dad looks faintly disappointed, but Mom’s eyeing me with a sly look in her eyes, which I choose to ignore.
“And, back to the subject,” I stare at them intently. “Dad, what’re you doing home so early? And why are you guys eating dinner together? And…” I scrutinise the creamy spaghetti on my Dad’s plate, “…Did you cook this, Mom?”
There’s a silence, to which Mom and Dad start exchanging nervous glances.
And then, Dad clears his throat awkwardly. He gets up, and takes his plate with him. “Um…I-I think I’ve eaten my fill. I’ll…I’ll go do the dishes right now.”
And he disappears into the kitchen before I can even stop him.
“Me too!” Mom leaps up, eager to get away from her interrogative daughter, but my voice stops her immediately.
“Is there…” I say, quietly, tapping my fingers on the pinewood table slowly. “Is there something you should be telling me about?”
Her eyes shift nervously, and she when she smiles, I can sense the uncertainty in it.
And as I watch her walk out of the dining room hurriedly, I can’t help but think that there’s something they’re not telling me about.
Something big, that’s probably life-changing.
“Hey, Bev, what’s up?” Shane greets, on Monday morning, when I approach my usual seat in Trigonometry.
The kids who are already in class are all staring at him, as if he’s some kind of Greek God. Which he is – to some people.
“What’s up?” I raise my eyebrows, and stare down at him.
He’s lounging lazily in the seat next to mine, his long legs stretched out in front of me, his floppy brown hair falling into his eyes.
“You’re what’s up. What’re you doing in Nataly’s seat?”
“It’s my seat now.” He shrugs, “I swapped with her.” He flicks a glance at Nataly, who’s seating at the back of the class, and she starts giggling when he smiles briefly at her.
What a flirt.
“Because we’re best friends.”
Rolling my eyes, I slip into my seat next to him. “That,” I poke his arm, “Is just way too cheesy and unnecessary. Un-swap with Nataly please, I want my partner back.”
“I thought you’d be happy that I’m your new partner.” He winks, and I try really hard not to give in to him.
“Contrary to what you might think, Mr Corelli, you’re not as irresistible as you believe you are.”
“No,” He blinks, mildly, “I don’t think I’m irresistible, no. Why?” He leans towards me with an amused smile on his face. “Do you think I’m irresistible?”
Oh, yes you are. “Of course not.” I scoff instead, and pull out my textbook. “Go back to your usual seat, please.”
Shane surveys me for a while. “You know, you’re not really keen on this whole friend-again thing. Did you just agree to be friends with me for the hell of it?”
I want to deny it, but he’ll definitely know if I’m lying. “Yes, actually,” I tell him, honestly. “I’m not that keen on it.”
I blink. “Why?” He nods, and I take a deep breath. “Well, because…because you’re not the same Shane I used to know.”
He laughs in disbelief. “I’m pretty much the same guy I used to be, really. Nothing’s changed much over the years. I still hate mushrooms, and I’m still really good looking, and I’m still…”
“An egoistic asshole,” I finish, my eyes twinkling teasingly. “I know. But when you were thirteen, you weren’t popular. Like you are now.”
“You talk about popularity as if it’s a bad thing. It’s quite okay actually, Bev. Tons of girls would kill to be popular.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s not your social status I have a problem with. It’s the fact that there’s all these petty drama surrounding you. I can’t talk to you without being gossiped about, let alone befriend you. And then, there’s your whole posse of friends. The guys will think I’m some kind of weird kid, trying to latch on to you. And the girls?”
I laugh bitterly and run my fingers through my hair. “I can foresee Delilah throwing a tantrum if she finds out you’re sitting next to me right now. I’m not willing to be sucked into that tornado called popularity, Shane. It’s impossible for me to be popular, and equally as impossible for me to hang out with a popular person.”
Shane’s listening to all this with increasing incredulity, and at the end of it, he looks relatively pissed off.
I bite my lip nervously. I didn’t mean to say all that, but it’s really the truth. I just didn’t mean to sound so…harsh, I guess.
“I’ve just got one question for you, Stanton.”
I turn to look at him questioningly, feeling a little worried. Why’s he calling me Stanton instead of Beverly?
“Who are you being friends with: Me, my friends, or popularity?”
The more I think about Shane’s question, the more I feel ashamed of myself.
Geez, what was I thinking? Judging Shane because of his popularity and his friends was completely unnecessary. I didn’t have to worry about all that.
If anything, I should be thankful that Shane was willing to put aside our social differences to become friends again.
I mean, if he didn’t give a damn if I was unpopular or not, why should I?
Biting my lip nervously, I decide to go talk to Shane during our lunch break on Wednesday. Grovel for his forgiveness, do whatever it takes to make him see that I’m honestly sorry.
If he even decides to talk to me at all, that is.
So, excusing myself from our lunch table, I tell Tamara and Dani that I’m going to over to have a word with Shane.
Ignoring their knowing glances, I also tell them to look around the school for my corpse if I’m not back by the time lunch period ends.
“Good luck, Beverly,” They chime simultaneously, and I take a deep breath as I walk towards Shane’s table.
If you haven’t a clue how a popular-kids table looks like, here’s a quick gist of it. Shane’s table has about twenty-odd people, ten of them sitting at the table, and the rest just crowding around, listening in to the conversation.
And Shane? Well, you guessed it, he’s usually sitting right smack dab in the middle of the crowd.
Murmuring a series of ‘excuse me’s, I ease my way through the crowd, and everyone is silent by the time I get to the middle.
Scratch that, I think the entire cafeteria’s silent, everyone stunned to silence by the fact that a nobody like me even dares to go near to the popular table.
I scan the group for that familiar brown head and twinkling blue eyes. And realise a little too late that Shane’s not even there.
“Hey,” I say quietly, looking around at the table. “Where’s Shane?”
There’s a silence, and everyone stares at me blankly.
Callie Miller’s sitting at the corner, on the table, and she gives me a slight smile. “We haven’t a clu…”
Delilah clears her throat sarcastically, and Callie stops.
There’s an awkward silence, and then, Delilah laughs that annoying laugh of hers. She flicks her eyes at me for a split second, then turns pointedly back to Leila, who’s sitting right next to her.
“You were saying…?”
Leila pushes her hair out of her eyes, and laughs, completely oblivious to the fact that I’m standing right there and have just asked a question.
“Right. So, anyway, I was telling you about that pair of Manolos I really wanted? Yeah, well, I did.”
Winnie McPherson gasps. There’s an incredulous expression on her face. “Seriously? No way! I’ve been phoning for forever to get them. How did you manage to do that in just one day?”
Invisible. I’m basically invisible. I know that those girls are mean and all that, I just didn’t realise they’d actually blatantly ignore me. As though I don’t even exist.
And as much as I hate to admit it, this really hurts.
Swallowing hard, I ask again, “Where’s Shane? I need to talk to him.”
Delilah finally stares at me and clicks her tongue in exasperation. “Doesn’t everyone? Are you one of those girls who are stalking him? If so, let me tell you this: I’ve no idea where he is, but I’m sure as hell that he’s hiding from you.”
I’m furious. “How do you know he isn’t hiding from you?” I blurt, and immediately bite down on my tongue.
Delilah puts on her best ‘Excuse me?’ face, but then Heather stands up, her heels making her tower over me.
“Beverly Stanton, right?” She scoffs, and starts twirling a lock of her hair around her finger. “I’ve known you since Middle school, and I know that you’re the girl who used to be friends with Shane. But then he ditched you, and you still can’t get over it up till now. I expect that you’re here to beg him to be friends with you again, but guess what? I can answer for him, and it’s a straight no. Hell, no.”
“Heather!” Callie hisses, her face contorted with anger.
“Shut up, Miller.” Heather turns back to me, with an expression so filled with hate I almost keel over. “Do you honestly think that Shane would even want to be near someone like you? It’s already hell to sit next to you during Chemistry, he told me so himself. So get out of your deluded fantasy, and face facts, Stanton. Shane Corelli doesn’t want to have a thing to do with you.”
Heather sits down, a smug smile on her face, and Leila, Delilah and a couple of others reach out to congratulate her for her oh, so wonderful speech.
Some of the kids there are smiling in amusement, but a few look guiltily away from me.
My ears are burning by the time her speech ends, and so is my face. I blink hard to stop myself from crying, and just when I think my knees are going to buckle from beneath me, a warm hand grasps my arm firmly.
I turn, and see Callie through my tears. “Come on,” She murmurs. “Let’s get out of here.”
I let her lead me out of the crowd, but then, I hear the voice I don’t want to hear most.
“Beverly?” He asks, softly. He looks closely at me, and an expression of concern comes over his face.
Eyes stinging with tears, I wrench my arm gently out of Callie’s grasp, and look at him dead in the eye. “This is why being friends is so fucking impossible.”
And I walk out of the cafeteria, hot tears threatening to spill over, feeling very well aware that everyone’s eye is on me. Especially Shane’s.
And to think, I muse bitterly to myself, you’ve finally gotten your wish, Beverly. You’re no longer invisible. You’ve gotten everyone to look at you, by making a complete spectacle of yourself.
That’s what you get for allowing yourself to get sucked in by that tornado called popularity.