Tuesday rolled around as most Tuesdays come, right after Monday, and Michael showed up at school looking like he needed to go right back home. Alice, Pearl, and Rachel were all wearing an unusually dense layer of make-up and unusually revealing clothes. I've noticed that the latest definition of "fancy" for girls is "especially revealing." I just feel sorry for the guys around them. Anyway, Michael was also wearing his share of nice clothes – a polo shirt tucked into black pants. Good. Not to ratty, not too suave. Unfortunately, politics seem to be all about image.
"Lucy, I feel sick."
"Did you eat rotten eggs for breakfast?"
"I didn't eat breakfast! I threw up this morning."
"Well, at least you won't throw up while giving your speech."
"I don't know about that… What if I mess up?"
"Just pretend that you're in the java station reading it to me, okay? What could go wrong?"
"Chronologically? Or by order of significance?"
"Okay, that was a rhetorical question. Just relax!"
"Oh, by the way, I convinced Mrs. Crenshaw to write me a pass to get out of fourth period early, too, so I'll be able to meet you in the auditorium, okay?"
Michael just groaned. "What if I faint?"
"Then your speech will be really unforgettable."
Lunch on that Tuesday rolled around as most lunches do, right after fourth period, and by the time the bell rang for lunch to start, Michael and I were backstage in the auditorium, and I was trying to point out all the cool things that the theatre people had dumped back there, but he would not hear it. I, personally, thought the whole situation was very exciting. But, as Michael pointed out incessantly, I wasn't the one about to deliver a speech based on a song to five hundred restless, apathetic freshmen.
Pearl delivered her speech first. As I expected, she offered all sorts of promises that I doubted she could ever actually follow through on, like off campus privileges for sophomores and things like that. Yeah right. The seniors are the ones in charge of all schools, and no senior would ever take the opportunity to be nice to an underclassman. But, also as expected, people seemed to fall for it. The people who were actually paying attention, that is. Then Rachel gave her speech, which sounded almost exactly the same as all the previous one, and then Alice.
He tripped over a cord just before he emerged out of the curtains enough for anyone to see him, and he looked about ready to run home screaming. I hissed at him, "Remember, the java station!"
He took a deep breath and shuffled out onto the stage. I settled in to watch the disaster.
"Hey, guys," he mumbled into the microphone, fiddling with the buttons on his shirt. "How are you today?" No one said anything. "That's nice…"
"Louder!" I hissed to him, hoping no one else heard me. He turned to look at me desperately, and I motioned for him to look at the audience before he made a complete fool of himself.
He cleared his throat loudly. "I bet some of you are a little surprised to see me standing up here, especially considering the girls that were up here before. But I think that this school, particularly this future sophomore class, deserves someone who really knows what they're doing. Now, that doesn't mean that I think that Pearl, Rachel, or Alice are incapable – that decision is up to you. But I've done a lot of thinking about this, and you guys need someone who will make decisions that will really benefit the student body as a whole, not just decisions which will earn that someone the greatest popularity. And as I'm sure you know, or at least can tell, I'm probably not the person who's going to be influenced by other peoples' opinions."
Song time, I thought anxiously. If he said it wrong, the whole speech would sound totally cheesy.
"I mean, what difference does it make if your president doesn't wear the latest Taylor Lautner whatever from Abercrombie & Fitch? What if your president doesn't sneak behind authorities' backs just to do stupid things? Do you want a president like that? Good leadership isn't what you wear, what you do, or who you know. Good leadership is the ability to make good decisions that will positively affect everyone in a community. In this case, the sophomore class. I could stand up here and promise that I'll teach you all how to fly airplanes, but I bet you would figure out that there's no way I'll be able to accomplish that. But what I can promise is that, if you elect me as your president, I will work as hard as I can to make this school as good as I can for you guys. Thanks. I mean, thank you."
He raced back to the safety of the curtains offstage as the audience applauded for him. Loudly. I smiled broadly, because I had a pretty good idea of what that meant. But then I saw Michael pass out against a cardboard fireplace.
After he woke up in the nurse's office, halfway through fifth period, I squealed, "You were great!"
"Sh!" the nurse ordered me.
Michael groaned. "I bet I did about as well as I feel."
"No, you did really good! A whole lot better than Pearl, Alice, or Rachel," I added deviously.
He eyed me. "You really don't like them, do you?"
"They're not so bad, I guess. But I'd probably home-school rather than let one of them be president."
"…So you're just helping me so that none of them win?"
I opened my mouth to say yes. But his face, still pale from fainting, looked so worried. "Well, I mean… is that bad?"
"Sh!" the nurse repeated.
"No, I guess not." He sighed.
"Look," I whispered, "that's why I originally offered to help you, it's true. But now I really want you win this, and not just because Pearl would make a horrible president. It's because you would make a great president. Got it?"
"My head hurts."
"Here's the phone, sweetie," the nurse said, handing him a telephone that looked like she had unearthed it from her last trip to the nineteen-fifties. "Call your mom, okay?"
When he was done, I reminded him, "We're still making posters at my house tonight?"
"I still don't see why we need posters," he mumbled.
"To hang on the walls so that people will remember to vote for you tomorrow at lunch! Knowing teenagers, they'll all forget who is running by tomorrow."
"You're insulting our own kind?"
We arrived at school extra early on Wednesday morning to hang the three posters we had made the previous night. I have to admit, they weren't particularly stunning or even attractive, nor did they have very good slogans, but hey, at least they were there. Still, "Mclaurin to get this school soarin'!" had me a little worried.
Voting lasted for two days, Wednesday and Thursday at lunch. Then, on Thursday night, the leadership would count the votes for each candidate and announce the winner in the middle of the cafeteria during lunch on Friday. Wednesday and Thursday were the two slowest days of my life. I sat with Amy and Michael on the bleachers just like always, but Michael and I kept glancing in the direction of the quad and the voting tables. By the end of those two days, I'm pretty sure Amy must have thought we went crazy through the campaigning. I didn't blame her.
Finally, Friday noon came. I hadn't seen Michael before school, but when we met up in the quad to await the announcement, I was shocked at what I saw.
"Michael, is that a tux?"
"No, it's a penguin skin."
"Why are you wearing a tux?"
"Pearl, Alice, and Rachel are all dressed up, too. Why aren't you?"
I looked down at my Crater Lake t-shirt and cut-off jeans. "Um… because I sort of forgot that we were supposed to dress up?"
Well, that sure added to the awkwardness of things – me standing next to my tuxedoed friend, and all I was wearing was gardening clothes. But I believed in casual Friday, so what could he do about it? "What if I don't look the part I'm s'posed to play?" right?
Mrs. Crenshaw mounted a chair in the middle of the quad, microphone in hand. A crowd had gathered in anticipation of the announcement. Alice, Pearl, and Rachel stood a few feet away from us, wearing their "fancy" attire just as they had two days earlier. My stomach was in about fourteen knots.
"Attention!" she called unnecessarily. The only sound left was the low hum of those who weren't freshmen or who didn't care. "First, I'd like to thank you all for participating in the election this year! We had an astounding number of votes, and all the numbers were so close that our amazing leadership class had to count them twice just to be sure everything was tallied correctly. As you know, this year, we had four candidates, which is rather providential, considering we have four positions to fill: treasurer, secretary, vice president, and of course, president. I'll start with the treasurer, who will be…" Everyone held their breath. Well, I did, anyway. "Pearl Draper!"
Some people cheered. Pearl put on her fake smile; clearly, she was disappointed.
"Yay, Pearl! Alright, now for secretary. The popular vote is… Alice Barrientos!"
Alice looked equally let down. Her self-righteous shoulders hunched as she heard her name called as anything but president, but those kinds of people can never have real emotional breakdowns until they get into the bathroom.
So it was Michael and Rachel. Michael and Rachel. Michael reached over and dug his fingernails into my forearm, which didn't really hurt because fortunately, most guys don't keep their nails as long as girls do. (Guys don't "need" French manicures). Mrs. Crenshaw smiled. "You two look pretty nervous," she said, referring to the two remaining unknowns.
I caught Rachel glaring at me. Not fake glaring like she used to do when I told her that she needed to go to bed earlier so she wouldn't fall asleep in English class anymore, or like when I told her that she should learn to walk someday; real glaring. I glared back. Anyone who would glare at their friend that way deserved to be glared back at. I hoped so badly that she wouldn't win. But I knew she would. What chance did a kid like Michael have against someone like her? The girls would have voted for her because she was popular; the guys would have voted for her because she was gorgeous. And who would have voted for Michael? The science club and Amy. I prepared to walk away in defeat.
"I'll start with the vice president, which will be…"
Rachel continued to glare at me. Michael continued digging his fingers into my arm. I continued shaping my reaction to the bad news.
Michael fell to his knees, and I hauled him back up again before people realized that their new president couldn't even handle the news that he had become president at all. Rachel started screeching as I shoved Michael forward up to Mrs. Crenshaw.
"Mrs. Crenshaw, there's got to be some mistake!" Rachel protested desperately. "You think people would have voted for a kid like that?"
Mrs. Crenshaw grabbed Michael and held him vertical as I went back to face Rachel. "Evidently, they did, Rachel," I told her. "They realized that they didn't want a flock of robots in charge of their school. They realized that they don't want someone who's such a sore loser that they're angry just because an outcast and a girl wearing no make-up and ripped up clothes won something."
"Lucy!" someone yelled. I turned around to find Amy grinning at me. "Get up there. In all honesty, people were probably voting for you more than him."
"How would anyone know that I was helping him?"
"Because he used to eat lunch alone. And now he eats with us. Now, get up there."
I crept up next to Michael and felt like quite an idiot in my ripped jeans and my faded t-shirt, but none of the make-up advertisements were going to be fully in charge of the school. And that was all that mattered, wasn't it? After all, "No matter what it costs, I'll be an outcast."
"Any words you'd like to share, Michael?" Mrs. Crenshaw asked him.
"Just that I'd be sitting outside the bathrooms eating a peanut butter sandwich right now if it weren't for Lucy Davies."
Well, I guess the school leadership issue wasn't all that mattered.
(Author's note: That's it! I'd love some feedback – I know the ending was, well, a little predictable, and a few days ago, I had a completely different idea for a new twist on this whole story, but, as happens often, I forgot it. So this is what you get! Hope you like it! ~not Ross)