Mrs. Laurel popped the cap back on her favorite red whiteboard marker, turned back to her silent students, and motioned to the bullet points she had written on the board a moment ago. "This assignment will be due a month from now," my AP English teacher continued. "You know the drill. Double-spaced, Times New Roman font, no less than five pages. Understood? Once you've copied this down, you guys are free to go."
I suppressed a groan until we were a safe distance away from the classroom. Sofia grinned and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. She already knew why I was frustrated.
"C'mon," she said as we descended down the stairs and towards the cafeteria. "I think a Yoo-Hoo should cheer you up."
"I don't even think a Yoo-Hoo will be enough. I hate independent projects, Sofie. Why couldn't she simply assign us an essay on the dynamics of the complex relationships from the last book we read? O-or on the literary devices or something?" I sighed.
"Maybe because she wanted to give us something interesting. I think she wanted us to think outside the box, you know. So far this year all we've done is work on boring essays, so this is something interesting. Oh, quit pouting! This will be fun! We're smart, we'll figure something out—we are AP students after all, right?" Sofia said, nudging me.
I laughed, dodging a sophomore just as he darted out of the cafeteria. His baggy pants were making it hard for him to get away from the two goons that chased after him.
"You're right. But what on earth can I focus on? Without a set focal point, I'm lost. Have you thought about what your paper's going to be on?" I asked her as we entered the crowded and chatty cafeteria. I quickly scanned the large room, hoping to find Ellie and Colt.
"I have, actually. I'm going to write about the changes us teenagers undergo throughout our high school career. You know, how peer pressure can really shape out our personalities and influence our choices, how we slowly make the transition from childhood to adolescence and ultimately into adulthood. Plus, I have tons of photos from freshmen year in case my memory's too foggy. Of course, I'll be focusing on myself, but you may just make a cameo appearance," Sofie grinned.
She had the tendency to think the world revolved around her sometimes. However, Sofie wouldn't do it in an intolerably arrogant way—it was quite loveable, actually.
"Oh, there they are!" she said, grabbing my arm and making a beeline towards the rest of our little group.
While Sofia and I were known as the English and history brains, our other two friends, Ellie and Colt, were the math and science Einsteins. Sometimes we got into heated arguments about whether history and English were more interesting than math and science, but in the end we all helped each other out. Colt and Ellie weren't as gifted in our fields and Sofia and I weren't as gifted in theirs, so whenever we needed study buddies, we knew who to run to.
"Hey guys," Ellie smiled, moving her thick textbooks so that we could sit down.
"Sup," Colt grinned.
"Hey, guys. Willa here is just freaking out over an assignment, as per usual," Sofie said nonchalantly. I rolled my eyes.
"I'm not freaking out, I'm just concerned. Not everyone can think up a topic on an independent project as quickly as you, Sofia," I shot back. She stifled a laugh and took her cell phone out of her massive tote bag.
"I hate those types of projects," Ellie sighed, sympathizing with me. What would I do without sweet Ellie? While Sofie was the funny albeit slightly sarcastic one, Ellie was sweet and gentle, and never poked fun at you. "Maybe I can help you."
I nodded quickly. "Yes, yes, yes! Thank you so much!" I cried.
"Yeah, I'll offer my services too," Colt said, watching some juniors in short dresses and knee-high boots make their way onto the lunch line. I never understood how girls chose to freeze their buttocks just to look cute or sexy. We lived in New Jersey, it was mid-November, and we were already waking up to frost-covered lawns. At least wear some thick stockings or leggings, right?
But of course, frisky girls like that purposely chose to wear skimpy clothing because it instantly grabbed the attention of the males.
Oh, oh, oh!
My eyes darted between the junior girls, who were happily chatting away while sending flirtatious looks to a lacrosse player, to Colt, who was unabashedly checking them out.
Mrs. Laurel did say we could write about anything—an early Christmas present she had called it—and this was definitely something.
"I got it," I smiled widely.
"Hm?" Sofie asked absentmindedly, scrolling through her phone. "What?"
"I can write about the pressure society places on females just so that they can grab a male's attention! Yeah, like wearing short skirts and low-cut shirts! And how attractive females usually get a job they're not qualified for while an average-looking woman who is overqualified loses it just because she doesn't have big tits or an apple-bottom ass!" I said, immediately becoming eager. I had something, I had something!
"That's a good idea," Ellie replied. "But…don't you think you should focus on something around our age group? I mean, don't get me wrong, that sounds like a wonderful essay, but it seems more like a college essay, you know?"
Sofie nodded in agreement. "That's true, Willa. I like the idea a lot, but don't you think it would be better to write about something that's affecting us right now? It's our senior year, our last as underage teenagers."
I groaned. Back to square one. They did have a point—many of the things I wrote about were on topics that affected twenty to thirty-something-year-olds. For once, I should focus on what was affecting my generation at this time. Something that affects teens in general.
"Okay," I sighed. "You guys have a point. Let me concentrate while I come up with Plan B. I'm not scrapping Plan A, though."
The girls went back to what they were doing. Sofia was carefully watching her facebook feed while Ellie focused on her homework. In one fleeting moment, however, I noticed Ellie look at Colt, who was still busy watching the junior girls, and look back down at her calculus homework. It was obvious that she liked the only male in our tight-knit group. Colt, despite being a science nerd, was definitely attractive. He had dimples, warm brown eyes, and adorable curly brown hair. After having worked in construction with his older brother the summer before, he had acquired a tan, lean, slightly muscular frame. He had finally lost the last remaining bit of baby fat and had transformed into a cutie pie. Nowadays he made many girls giggle in the hallways.
Ellie had harbored feeling for my oblivious friend ever since he stood up for her in the seventh grade. Some girls were making fun of Ellie's glasses, prompting Colt to defend her. Ever since then, her eyes were filled with stars when she spoke of Colt Fredericks.
But Colt was a guy. A cute, funny, intelligent guy who was slowly realizing that he was a great catch, and therefore believed that he should not settle for just any girl. He wanted Francesca Aragones, a lively, outgoing, green-eyed vixen who had moved from Florida three years ago. However, Francesca was fully committed to her long-distance boyfriend from Miami, so Colt didn't stand a chance. Many males had tried and tried to steal her heart, but she wasn't budging.
In Ellie's mind, she thought she wouldn't stand a chance. Before Colt's recent crush on Francesca, he was head over heels for Julia Mattiato, Roseanne Choi, and Leah Smith, all beautiful and popular in their own right.
I watched as Ellie scribbled answers across her loose leaf paper, sad hazel eyes darting between the book and the calculator.
I was always under the impression that the problem wasn't with Ellie's looks. Like many girls out there who believed they weren't beautiful or were Average Sallies, Ellie simply needed only one thing to obtain male attention:
A higher self-esteem.
My eyes widened as I came to the conclusion. Now this was an idea I could work with.
"I'm going on the lunch line," Sofie announced after putting her phone back into her pocket. "Guys, wanna come?"
"I'll go," I said, quickly getting up. "Ellie? Colt?"
They both shook their heads, claiming the line was too long. I looked back at the mass of students all waiting to get their lunches—it had doubled.
It didn't matter to me, however. I wanted to talk to Sofie about my idea, without Colt and Ellie knowing they were my influences.
"I got it," I said in a low voice as we passed the table full of the beautiful folk. It had your typical jocks, preps, and the spoiled. "I'm going to write about teenage self-esteem."
Sofie glanced at me, quirking an eyebrow. She pulled her thick, light brown hair out of her hair tie, fingering through the knots and fluffing it up just as we passed A.A., otherwise known as Jules Willard, Sofie's current source of attraction. He was a buff football player, one with mischievous green eyes and a scar on his right shoulder from when he fell off a cliff while hiking with his older brother. The girls loved the ruggedness, and he loved the attention. Unfortunately, Sofia had fallen for the cocky bastard, so I was stuck having to endure the mind-wrenching chats she insisted on having with me about his "hawt bod" and "amazing athleticism".
He nodded once at Sofie as he passed us by, the intolerable smirk never once leaving his face. That's why I called him Arrogant Asshole, A.A. for short.
"Actually, that would make an interesting piece. Where'd you get the idea from?" she asked as we finally got on line.
"All right," I sighed, lowering my voice even further. "Whatever you do, don't ever repeat this again. Got it?" Sofie nodded, her eyes darkening upon realizing how serious the matter had become.
"When you like a guy," I began, "you make it well-known, right? You flirt with him, you talk to him, you get to know him…"
Sofie nodded, listening carefully.
"And that's because you are self-confident. You know you're a great package and you flaunt it. See, you have a high self-esteem, Sofie. Girls like you can grab the attention of any guy even if you have eye boogers caked into the corners of your eyes," I said thoughtfully.
"Hey!" she shrieked, glaring at me.
"But then you have girls like Ellie," I continued, ignoring her little outburst. I watched her with a small smile on my face as she turned away discreetly to check her mirror. "Girls like Ellie don't have that high self-esteem, so when they're interested in a guy, they start to compare themselves to the girls her crush has dated or like, and decide that they're not good enough or that he's way out of her league."
Sofie's thick yet groomed eyebrows were knit together, the realization dawning on her. "She likes Colt, doesn't she?" she whispered. I nodded. "She likes him," I replied in a hushed tone. "But he doesn't have the slightest idea. Why? Because he's too busy drooling over Francesca and because Ellie doesn't at least try to win him over. The girl has a wonderful personality. She's funny, she's caring, and they share a lot of the same interests. But she thinks that she's not good enough. You see where I'm going with this?"
"Yeah," Sofie said, her face solemn. "I like it, a lot actually. I'm sure Laurel will love this, too."
I grinned, proud that I managed to come up with such an idea without any help and basically on the fly. It usually took me a good week or so to come up with a solid idea. My grumbling stomach pulled me out of my thoughts, the smell of cafeteria food infiltrating my nostrils. I looked down at the selection, grimaced at the limp, pale green asparagus, and decided on a turkey sandwich. Sofie grabbed a salad.
When we walked back to the table, rather than seeing two friends, we only saw one. Ellie greeted us with a sad smile, the various calculus papers replaced with physics worksheets.
"Where's Colt?" Sofie asked, settling down next to me.
"He went off with some friends," our dark-brown haired friend replied. "He's sitting with them over there." She motioned to the loudest table in the cafeteria, the one overrun with the royalty of the senior grade.
Of course. Colt was sitting next to Francesca, pretending to talk to Jacques Kings, but throwing obvious glances at the girl sitting next to him. Ever since bonding with the Jacques over baseball in their history class, Colt had made a fast friend, one that happened to be very well-liked by everyone, thus catapulting Colt into semi-popularity. I knew it was only a matter of time before Colt become chummy with those kids.
There was nothing wrong with expanding your circle, don't get me wrong. What did bother me was Colt's nonchalant attitude towards Ellie sometimes. Maybe I was overreacting or maybe I was just too protective of my naïve friend, but I instantly grew upset at Colt. How could he just up and leave her alone?
"It's okay," Ellie said, sensing my change in mood and watching as I bore holes into the back of the moron's head. "I told him to go. He was bored here, and I've been busy with homework."
"Yeah, why are you doing your homework right now anyway?" Sofia asked, opening the plastic lid to the small salad. She opened the plastic that covered the black fork and knife, set the packet of Thousand Island dressing off to the side, and speared a leafy green piece of lettuce. She's part rabbit in case you were wondering.
"I have to practice the violin after school. Joseph Lebowski had to give up his solo because of his tendonitis, so my orchestra teacher offered me the solo for the winter concert. It's kind of last-minute, but I couldn't say no," she sighed.
"Why not?" I asked. "You're already overwhelmed with a lot of work right now."
Ellie shrugged and neatly placed her physics homework back into her binder, setting them aside. "She was kind of desperate and I'm the only one that knows the material. Plus, I get extra credit," she answered with a small smile. Oh, Ellie.
"Well go get lunch, missy," Sofie said. "You can't starve. You have a long day ahead of you."
Ellie flashed us one last smile before getting up and heading towards the dwindling lunch line.
"That girl," Sofie sighed. "I swear."
The more I studied Ellie, the more I became determined to write a kick-ass paper.
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