They were going to drop me, I could feel it. There wouldn’t be a ‘sorry’ or even an ‘oops’. They would fight to make it my fault. Even if it wasn’t. There was a wavering of their arms and my legs shook no matter how strong I kept them. It was obvious.
I fell into the arms of the back spots. Then they more or less dumped me on the ground instead of letting me bounce to my feet. I rubbed my back as the squad turned to glare at me.
Not wanting to feel so vulnerable, I stood up to face everybody. The first person to talk, of course, was Olivia; she always had everybody under her thumb. We were puppets to her. No matter how much I moved or wiggled, I couldn’t get away from her. We’ve been best friends since the third grade.
“You know, Hailey, if you gained weight you should just tell us. We won’t judge you,” she sneered, pushing her wavy blonde hair to the side.
Yeah, her sympathy was glowing with intensity.
I just stared back at them and held my ground. It was me against them and it was what I was used to. I had to look the part; I was strong and above all of them. And sometimes, I believed it.
“I didn’t gain weight,” I snapped back. No matter what Olivia said, I was telling the truth.
I had to look the part; skinny and pretty, what every girl wanted. I hadn’t gained weight, but I didn’t trust my support team.
Olivia used to be the top flyer. Always at extended, always number one. Last spring, during our off season, she partied and drank a lot. Meaning extra calories and when she finally exceeded my weight, she was replaced.
I stupidly had thought everything would still be okay between us. We always had our problems, but we ignored them and waited to use them against each other later. Now, instead we went for each other’s throats constantly. Olivia was still a flyer just not in the middle. She was still captain, still the number one girl, and still dating the quarterback. This obviously was not enough. Having me take just one of her spots brought on a wave of dramatics. That was what we all were like though; dramatic and focused on keeping our position in the school. I would fight just as hard as Olivia does; nobody wanted to be dragged down. You can’t have high school without drama.
I turned away from the team and breathed. Darcy walked over and place a hand on my shoulder, “It’s okay Hailey, Olivia’s just overreacting again. Just jealous because she still hasn’t lost the weight from her binging days,” Darcy said loud enough for the rest of the team to hear.
The girls sniggered while Olivia muttered it was about her mom filling her with carbs. Just proving what she was just accused of was in fact true.
It succeeded in making me smile, but I wasn’t upset, just a bit irritated. Olivia irritated everybody.
I turned around to face the girls. They immediately quieted down under my scrutiny. “I’m alright, just testing my legs,” I bounced around for show. The girls looked a bit nervous wondering if I was going to attack all of them or just one. “Yep, all good. Nothing wrong with them at all so they didn’t give out. It must have been my bases, especially on the left,” I said, zeroing in on Olivia. “I’m fine, so let’s try it again without the problems.” It was a bitch eat bitch world. If you didn’t learn how to attack and cover, you would never live through it. Having all my friends on the same cheer squad pretty much meant I got an in-your-face tutorial.
Olivia raised her eyebrows, placed her hands on her hips, and rose to her full height of 5’4. “Actually I believe I’m the captain. I’ll take it from here,” she directed, forming everybody to the start of the routine. I went to my position without argument. It just wasn’t worth it.
Everything hadn’t always been this way. In some cases, it still wasn’t that bad. Cheerleading wasn’t that much of a superior sport; all the girls’ sports were equal. What really mattered was if the players were any good or not. Some of the girls on the squad were just normal, nothing special. They were enjoying what they loved to do. The cliques were the real problem.
I had been best friends with Olivia, Darcy, Layla, and Eliza at one point. Now it was all a game. We were all just pieces on a board game in each other’s mind. None of us had emotions and if we did, they were cast aside. Not even a second thought. The point was to be the best. My friends and I had already reached the top of the school and now the only thing left to do was to climb over and stomp each other down no matter what the consequences to our friendship were. There was no such thing as four popular girls.
So that’s what we had come to and I knew it was most likely never going to stop. The battles of popularity was tiring, but addicting. It was a high at first, being adored and feared by the population of the school. Everybody wanted to be you, but they just couldn’t do it. At the end of the day, the realization that there were no true friends always hit.
Cheer practice went on, doing the same repetitions until they were perfect. It was how things worked, nothing out of place. Nobody taking a different road.
After quickly showering, I walked out to my car. The sun was hot on the blacktop where my flip flops thwacked against it. The warmth of summer was still around even if it was September. Everything had the feeling that change was coming as every fall brought. Change for the better or the worse, I could never tell. I never seemed to realize what happened until spring finally came and I noticed how much of a contrast there was between the start of the year and the end.
Eliza was already sitting in the passenger seat of my car as I walked over, flipping her sunglasses down over her auburn hair and her feet balancing on the dashboard. I smacked at her legs until she put them down.
“No feet on the dashboard,” I said, starting the car.
Eliza rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. You always say that.”
I pulled out of the mostly empty parking lot, flipping down the visor. “And I always mean it.”
“I just need my own car,” Eliza stated.
I smiled at this. Eliza said this same phrase each time I brought her home or to school. I would usually get annoyed by it, but I knew it was because Eliza felt bad that she couldn’t get anywhere without help. She also probably said it because Eliza always did something I didn’t like in my car whether it was feet on the dashboard or eating pop tarts on our way to school.
Eliza fiddled with the radio, another annoying habit of hers, as I drove. “I got a second job, you know, she said quietly.
I looked over to her, surprised at the confession. Eliza’s head was down, her short hair covering the side of her face. “Bet you coach doesn’t like that.”
She sat back up and shrugged. “I talked to her. She’s alright just as long as I keep practicing and I don’t let it get in the way of games and competition then she’s fine.” Eliza began to fidget in her seat.
Clearly worried about my reaction, despite the nonchalant way she brushed it off, I took a moment to consider what I was going to say. I could keep my power by completely turning against her, but I also understood how hard it was to admit this, even though it was stupid to admit it in the first place.
“Well it’s okay that you did that actually; probably smart with all the new expenses cheer is bringing up. Does Olivia know?” I asked as I hit my right blinker to turn to Eliza’s.
“No!” Eliza practically screamed almost sending me swerving off the road. I jerked the car back and turned to her slowly and took in the frantic expression on her face. Eliza was definitely new at this. She just handed over her biggest weakness, straight into my hands. I could take her down easily.
Eliza’s face turned red, realizing the mistake she just made. She flipped her sunglasses back over her wide eyed stare. “It’s just that she would ridicule me. I can totally handle myself, but I don’t want to have to.” Eliza sighed, all of it catching up to her. “I guess it wasn’t smart to tell you that though,” she mumbled.
I pulled into her driveway. I was starting to get annoying. I turned towards her trying to keep my features soft, “And why’s that?”
She cringed behind her sunglasses, trying to think of an answer that wouldn’t put her into another difficult position. Eliza shrugged. “It doesn’t matter anyway. I have a responsibility unlike others, that’s all.”
Positive, with a bit of an insult behind it; it was the way to go. I didn’t let my face turn red; I had that control after many years of being picked on. I could have just backed up from the insult, but it was not my style. I let my face harden, showing Eliza that I wasn’t going to take it. “And what is that supposed to mean?” I asked, staring directly at her.
She shrugged again. All of this shrugging was really starting to chafe on my nerves; it was possibly one of the most annoying ways that somebody could react. I understood though. If you show a weakness, you show a crack that can form into many new ones and eventually you shatter until there is nothing left.
Eliza went on. “You have everything Hailey: glossy, long, brown hair, blue eyes like sapphires, a clear complexion, and an amazing body. Why would you need to destroy me anyway?”
I wanted to tell her no, it wasn’t true. It was a natural reaction to act humble, but I knew that it mostly was. Not without work though. My hair did fall into place, but it wasn’t always like that. Without my favorite shampoo and conditioner, my hair would be an unruly mess. My eyes, well that was genetics. It’s not like I could do anything about that, just lucky to inherit that from my dad instead of my mom’s boring hazel color. The so called clear complexion was from doing a four step process sometimes twice a day. The nice body was an opinion. Most of the squad had this from the everyday training and eating smart.
Eliza was in the same weight range as me except Eliza had curves. Those curves added something to her that I knew I could never achieve. I was what they would call a perfect height of 5’5. From the cheering, I lost weight and not all in the places I would like to. There was no fat on me, but my chest was less than impressive. Most guys liked girls who were shorter, had at least a C cup, and cute. I didn’t have that while Eliza didn’t fulfill that cuteness she had beautiful features. Eliza was edgy and had an appeal to her, I was just Hailey.
I didn’t take her last statement about not needing to take me down as a test. It would have been unnecessary. I looked Eliza straight on. “I won’t say anything about the second job, it’s not important.”
As she stepped out of the car, she gave me a look that definitely showed disbelief and walked to her door.
With Eliza out of the car, I relaxed. That whole conversation just reminded me of the lack of trust in our friendship. If you could call it a friendship. Nothing was simple. It was all appearance, though maybe that meant it was too simple. So simple that none of us actually needed to get past what everything looked like because nobody wanted to. It was exhausting to spill out all of your secrets and a big risk, so we were all just fine. Perfectly fine as a matter of fact. All of those hurt emotions from the rumors that spread around school like a flu didn’t bother any of us. At least that’s what we tried to prove.
I honestly wasn’t quite sure which was worse; keeping everything in or spilling it for somebody to see.
Gravel crunched under my tires as I parked behind my mom’s van. I grabbed my bag and walked through the front door.
Music was playing from the living room; I noticed that right away as I walked in the foyer. All of the curtains were open in the kitchen letting streams of light in that fell through the changing leaves of autumn. Giggles carried from the living room.
I walked around the corner and yep, just as I expected. My parents were dancing. Actually dancing, not a code word for fighting like in a poem I had once interpreted. My dad, just shy of forty five, had his hand on my mom’s lower back, sweeping her into a low dip. Brown hair, the same shade as mine, cascaded over his arm as she laughed.
I stood there, waiting to be noticed. When they did, they took their time to get straightened up and fixed before turning to me.
“Hailey!” my dad said, smile wide across his face. “How was your day?”
My parents were holding hands like they were in middle school, glowing with their happiness. The forties actually made them look even happier, if that was even possible. They were high school sweethearts and not a bit less in love. It was nauseating.
I raised my eyebrows. “I’ll be in my room,” I said and walked away.
In the living room, my parents began giggling as I made my way upstairs. Most parents were either separated or almost there, but not mine. My parents were in their own little world and I had witnessed their love grow stronger as every year went past.
Most of the school’s population tried to think of me with a bad home life. My parents screamed at each other, thought less of me, or maybe even threw a punch every once a while. The school saw me as popular and perfect on the outside, so they decided that something had to be wrong. This was most definitely not true for me. My parents loved me as they loved each other. They had their own perfect world, but I was allowed to enter whenever I wanted. I was the proof of their love.
Just because my family life worked out well, it didn’t mean I was always okay with it.
There was a lot to live up to. My parents still had a perfect relationship, still as in love as they were from the moment they fell for each other, if not more. I was constantly pressured into dating one of the football players by my friends, but there was no way I was going to have a relationship where the male was just attempting to get his sweaty hands up my shirt to get a feel. It wasn’t romantic and no amount of candlelight was going to change that.
I shook the thoughts from my head and started up my computer. The large amounts of homework had the possibility of distracting me from my reality for at least a little bit.
The door opened and my mom popped her head around it. “Hey, can I come in?” I swiveled my chair towards her and nodded.
She walked in, floating pretty much. My mom had been in ballet before I had been born. Until her pregnancy, her parents adored her and paid for each and every class. I was a planned baby, but my parents had married at twenty one and had me only two years later. My grandparents thought it was too early and too soon. They still accepted it though, but they did stop paying for dance classes to help out with my infancy. Even though my mom stopped dancing, she was still able to walk lightly and brought a presence to every room she walked in.
The bed creaked as she sat down. “I’m sorry Hail. We don’t mean to embarrass you,” she said sincerely.
I shrugged it off. “It’s okay mom. I know you guys are just so in love you can’t control yourselves when driven by your passionate feelings,” I said, smiling. I was only speaking the truth.
Her laugh was perfect as well. Not too much and not too quiet. I was always fortunate to get some of my traits from my mom. I always heard the same sentence from everybody, “You look like your mother except for those beautiful eyes! A great single contribution from your father it looks like. Such a great mix from two great parents.” Honestly, everybody said some variation of that.
“I guess that’s how you could say it,” she continued. “We are sorry though. We love you and will stop if you would like us too,” she offered.
It was an attempt, I smiled. My parents would do anything to make me happy just as long as it would eventually better me.
“No, it’s really okay,” I promised.
My mom smiled and kissed me on the top of the head. “Don’t worry Hailey, you’ll find someone soon enough. You’ll be able to feel this crazy thing called love.”
That was just it. I felt fine not having a guy who didn’t understand me. I could wait for the right one to come along. I smiled and nodded at my mom, letting her know I was okay.
“Men are just different and most high school guys are still boys.” Always the boy talk.
“You met dad in high school,” I pointed out. “You guys ended up getting married.”
She gave me a small smile. “We weren’t always perfect Hailey; there were a lot of problems at that time. Your dad changed and thank goodness he did. I don’t think we’d be together now if he was the same boy I met in high school.”
I tried to imagine my dad in high school, it was impossible. He acted so much like a kid now; it didn’t seem he could be anymore immature in school.
As if reading my thoughts, my mom nodded. “Trust me Hailey, when he was younger he was too worried about what everybody else thought of him. That’s why he acted more like a child than he does now. When you stop worrying about what people think. When you honestly do and not just to use it as a guard against getting hurt is when you really grow up.” She kissed my forehead again. “Some guy will wiggle their way into your heart. You just have to be patient.”
I smiled at my mom as she left, feeling slightly shaken. I was okay without having a boyfriend, but it was from the comment she made about maturity. The only thing I considered was what other people thought about me. I acted like I couldn’t give a damn because I had to. If I didn’t, people would see me as weak. Back to that act again.
I was pretending to be somebody I wasn’t, but wanted to be. It may have brought up my self confidence, but it definitely wasn’t who I was. One day I wanted to be that girl. That girl who didn’t care what people thought and only did what she wanted. It couldn’t happen in an instant and couldn’t even happen after three years of high school. I wanted to make it there, I just didn’t know how.