"Happy Birthday!"

I stared at the girl who said it. Honestly, I was shocked. People don't speak to me. They especially don't remember my birthday.

I had mentioned it the day before, in English. Some boy had made the obvious observation that September 9th was 9/9. I thoughtlessly replied that September 9th was my birthday. It's not like I expected anyone to care.

In a world that revolves around social status, I'm used to being as low as it gets. Not worth noticing or speaking to. I'm like a ghost. I respond with an awkward "thanks" and turn around. Social interaction is not my thing.

/

"Happy Birthday!"

She says it everyday now. It confuses me. It's like she wants to talk… but isn't sure how.

"Uh, it's not my birthday anymore." God, I'm such an awkward freak. Can't she see that? Why doesn't she talk to the other girls, the skinny ones with straight hair and perfect faces, the ones who can speak without forgetting how?

Soon she'll stop. Surely she can see how much I don't want to talk.

/

"Will you work with me?"

"Oh…okay."

I had expected to work alone, as usual. I'm unsure about this. I have nothing against her, but…social interaction. It's almost painful.

Our assignment is to make a presentation on gravity. We decide to do a skit. Neither one of us really knows how to do it. We also don't know what to say to each other.

"What do we write about?"

"I don't know."

"Well, think of something."

She sounds irritated. I'm not surprised. I know I'm frustrating, and annoying, and strange. I hate talking, sorry. I force myself to come up with an idea.

"What if I, uh, drop my binder?"

"Okay."

"And you could, like, yell at me, sort of? And then I could explain gravity, I guess?"

"Okay," she says, "let's write it."

We do. Then it's time to present. Joy. I get to stand in front of a class full of people who could care less about my existence and speak.

I stutter through it without any major freaking out. The class tells us it was really good. This skit seems to have done two things: made the rest of the class aware of us, and labeled us as friends.

/

"Hi."

"Hi."

We talk now, whenever we see each other. In class, we work together. If we share our next class, we walk together. She's nice, and seems to like me (of course, she doesn't know what a screw up I am). We're both quiet, and like to read, though our tastes in books are very different.

We also sit together at lunch. This wasn't our choice, but it worked out well. Our school assigns lunch tables, and you sit where you're told to, no changes period. I was at a table with loud, obnoxious, self-centered girls. They never spoke to or even noticed me unless they wanted me to do something for them. I was miserable, until a teacher noticed and took pity on me.

So now I sit with her, and, as I said, we talk. I am glad. It's nice not to be alone for once. Yet I can't help but feel awkward. A year's worth of loneliness and insecurities can't just disappear. There is a part of me that feels like I must be irritating her. She can't actually like talking to me. This can't last.

I guess only time will tell.

/

"Heyyyy!"

The three girls are tiny, skinny, and pretty. They have perfect hair and perfect clothes. They are loud, happy, laughing. And they are talking to her. To be more exact, hugging her.

Where am I? Right next to her. Do they hug me? No. Do they speak to me? No. Do they acknowledge my existence? No. Not at all.

I can see where this is going. She'll start talking to these girls. She'll laugh and have fun, and they'll draw her into their little clique. She'll forget all about me, and I'll be alone. Again. This has happened so many times before, why did I expect this friendship to last?

Over the past couple months, I have come to think of us as friends. It isn't really awkward to talk anymore. I can laugh and smile. I feel happier than I've been in a long time. I don't want to lose this. That sounds cheesy and weird, but it's true.

The popular people leave. She turns to me and says, "They are so strange."

Huh. Maybe I have nothing to worry about.

/

"Will you be my partner?"

Strangely, there is still a part of me that expected to work alone, though I'm not surprised she asked.

This time, we're partners for the science fair. We'll have to conduct our own experiment, draw conclusions, create a tri-fold board, and present it at the fair. We spend the whole class trying to come up with a topic. The theme is "going green", which is irritating, because not much that fits is interesting or possible. Finally we settle on growing beans in different combinations of soil to see which grow better. It's no prize winner, but whatever.

"So, whose house should we do this at?"

"Yours, probably," she replied.

"Okay, uh, do you have AIM?"

"No…"

"Get one. Then we can talk about when you should come over."

/

"Hi. Come in."

She steps into my house. I introduce her to my mother, who is thrilled to see her. Mom is just happy I have a friend. She was beginning to lose all hope for me.

"So, I have the sand, the potting soil, seeds, and plastic cups to grow them in. But to get the clay, we're going to have to grind up this cat litter."

"Why?"

"All it is is clay, see?"

"And how are we supposed to grind it up?"

"We put it in this pan, and pound it with these hammers."

It takes us 4 hours to pound the litter into clay soil. Against the banging and clanging of metal on metal, we talk. We discuss school, our families, ourselves; I even find out who she has a crush on. She refused to believe I don't have a crush on anyone. The only unpleasant part is that it's exhausting to hit something with a hammer over and over for several hours.

Finally, we finish. Then we mix the soil in the cups, label everything, and plant the seeds. After hours of work, our experiment has begun.

"You should come over again next week to start recording data."

"Okay, I will. Bye. See you Monday."

/

"Are you ready?"

"Hah, no."

We walked into the crowded gym and made our way over to our project. It was science fair night. All the other students stood by their projects as well, chatting with parents and partners as they set up. In just a few minutes, the judges would begin walking around, asking questions and taking notes.

It was time. During the judging period, we had to stand at our tables at all times. This was not fun, as many of our neighbors were very unpleasant people. They were loud, obnoxious, and took up more table area and standing room than they needed.

"Jeez, great job picking a spot."

"Shut up," I said jokingly, "I didn't know they would be near us."

As the night dragged on, it was clear that something was wrong. Everyone was getting judged – except us. All the projects had been assigned two judges. There was no sign of either of them. In the end, the judging period was over and we still hadn't been visited.

"This is ridiculous!"

Then came the awards ceremony. Obviously, without being judged, we couldn't win.

"Oh well. It was still fun."

"Yeah. And we know we deserved to win!"

/

"Man, it's hot out."

We were sitting on the bench next to our school's rarely-used baseball field. It was late May, and about 80 degrees out. The year was winding down. It felt long, but also like it passed by too fast.

"Hey guys!" It was one of the many preppy popular girls who usually ignored us. This girl also happened to be sort of an obnoxious know-it-all and teacher's pet.

"Can I hang with you guys? I have, like, no friends." She had to be joking. She had tons of friends. There was always someone talking to her, someone hanging out with her.

"I'm serious!" she said, noticing my disbelieving stare. "They're not real friends! They all think I'm irritating. You guys are so lucky to be friends the way you are. I wish I was best friends with someone like you."

That was interesting. I never thought of it that way. I'd always wished I was like her, with perfect hair and clothes and always together. Now I realized it must be difficult, always trying to be perfect. And was it possible they weren't as close as they appeared to be?

Then there was me. I was really much closer with my friend than I'd ever expected to be. We were real friends, who genuinely liked each other. In fact, we were best friends.

I wasn't popular. I didn't have everything I ever wanted. I wasn't perfect. Neither, I know realized, was anyone else. I wasn't alone, and actually, that was all I really ever wanted.

For the first time in a long time, I was perfectly okay with life.

AN: Based on a true story.