The bell rang, a shrill sound cutting the crisp silence that was heavy in the air of the school hallways. The corridors came to life, with students streaming out of classrooms, their lively chatter filling the atmosphere. It was like every single Friday afternoon at Heighton High School. Students couldn't wait to go home and relax, grateful for the weekend break. No one realized that today was different. For, this was the day, when everything would begin to change. The day, that would set in motion events that would bring a change in the lives of several people living in this small town.
Adrienne Hastings slammed her locker door shut, and breathed a sigh of relief. She could finally leave the heavy textbooks behind, and enjoy a relaxing weekend. She didn't have any homework...at least, she thought she didn't. Adrienne was never one for organization. Like the other students in the school, she had been given a planner at the beginning of the year, but she never used hers. Come to think of it, she wasn't even sure where it was, probably at the bottom of a drawer somewhere. Her organizational skills- or the lack thereof – were often the source of trouble for Adrienne as she rarely remembered to do the small assignments given to her. However, apart from this tiny issue, Adrienne was a good student.
As she walked towards the door leading out of the school, she was joined by her friend Cassie. "So, you didn't get overloaded with homework or anything, did you? Nothing catastrophic happened?"
"No," Adrienne pushed open the heavy glass door and moved out into the school courtyard, before turning to look at Cassie with a confused expression on her face. "Why?"
"Well, my parents said that I could have a sleepover this Saturday, and I was wondering if you wanted to come." She paused for a second, looked in another direction and then smirked. "Well, unless of course you're invited to their party."
Adrienne followed Cassie's path of vision and saw a group of students their age standing in a close circle and laughing. She recognized them immediately- anyone in the school would. This was the 'popular' group, the students that everyone knew and secretly, or not-so-secretly, wanted to be part of. These were the kids who were perfect in every way possible. They had perfect physical features – perfect hair that never frizzed, perfect eyes that didn't require vision correction, and perfect teeth that never needed braces. They were talented too, not only getting brilliant grades, but excelling at the extra-curricular activities that their school offered. Ever since Adrienne had started secondary school, she yearned to be a part of their 'Exclusive clique'. She wanted to be someone who everybody knew and looked up to, someone who everybody compared themselves to, and of course! She wanted to go to the legendary parties thrown by the in-crowd. According to the rumour mill, Mitzi- the tall, sporty blonde that everyone loved – was having a party at her house on Saturday. As her parents were out of town, it was going to be 'Wild', as Adrienne had heard someone put it. However, the invitees were strictly in-crowd only, and much to her chagrin, Adrienne did not meet the requirements.
"I wish I was," Adrienne said, a tinge of longing in her voice. Cassie raised an eyebrow, and Adrienne quickly said, "But, even if I was, I would totally ditch them and come to yours." Cassie didn't look convinced, so Adrienne changed the subject. "So...who's coming to your place anyway? Who'd you invite?"
"Oh, you know, the usual," Cassie waved her hand around in the air. "You, Jordyn, Summer and –," she was interrupted by a voice in the background.
Cassie's face contorted into a disgusted expression. "And I certainly did not invite her."
Adrienne swivelled around to see who Cassie was talking about now. She spotted a girl with black hair that was tightly tied back into a ponytail, grey-green eyes that were obstructed by glasses with thick black frames and skin with a dodgy complexion. She was running towards them and judging by the fact that her face resembled an overly ripe tomato, she had clearly been running for quite a long time. She slowed down as she approached Adrienne and Cassie, her hands falling to her knees as she bent down and gasped for air.
"Adrienne!" her voice was raspy. "Adrienne, thank goodness I caught you! We need to talk!"
Adrienne raised an eyebrow in reply, before turning away and continuing to walk. The girl, however, continued to chase her. "Adrienne!"
By now, the girl's loud exclamations had attracted the attention of most people in the courtyard, including that of the 'in-crowd'. They had turned around, interested in what was probably going to make exciting gossip for the rest of the day. Adrienne suddenly felt the unease, that one feels when all eyes are suddenly focused on them. In that moment, she knew that her reaction would determine how people regarded her, and how people thought of her. This was a make-or-break moment. Taking a deep breath, she turned around again to face the breathless and desperate girl.
"What do you want?" she demanded. The ferocity of her voice made the girl shrivel up slightly, afraid of the direct confrontation .
"Um, well, I just wanted to know…" she began, stuttering. "We're paired together for the Biology project- you know , the poster on cell respiration that's due on Monday? And I just wanted to know whether or not you're free this weekend so that maybe we could work on it or something?"
Adrienne froze. She'd forgotten all about the Biology poster. The idyllic image of her weekend vanished, as she tried to figure out what she should do. She knew that she should talk to the girl, divide the work for the project between them and then organize a time to meet up during the weekend so that they could put it all together. She was about to suggest this when she felt the heat of everybody's eyes on her. She could feel the calculating stare of the popular clique, the clique that she had always wanted to be in. This was a make-or-break moment, she reminded herself, and being nice to this girl wasn't going to help move her up in the social hierarchy of high school. In fact, it would probably bring her down. Knowing this, she pushed aside her conscience. "I'm busy this weekend," she spoke clearly and loudly, so that everybody could hear what she had to say. "I have a party to go to, and I'm not about to be bogged down by a stupid Biology poster. And I definitely do not want to work with you. If you want to get good marks, you do the poster yourself."
She turned and walked away before the girl could say anything. Cassie followed her. "Here I thought you didn't have a mean bone in your body. Not bad, Adrienne. I totally saw Mitzi and her crew give you like, an approving nod."
"Really?" Adrienne was unable to believe that the popular kids had even acknowledged her, let alone actually approved of something that she'd done. She felt proud, pushing away the guilt that was left over from the spiteful things she'd just said to the girl, until there was none left. She felt as if it had all been worth it.
Meanwhile, the girl quietly sat down on a bench, sighing to herself. Students who had watched the scene had moved away, in search of another conflict to entertain themselves. She was forgotten yet again, only to be remembered when boredom struck the students and they came to find her, the new girl. She knew she was an easy target, what with the fact that she had a huge fear of confrontation and was therefore unable to lash back when she was picked on. She was the quiet girl, the one with no friends to defend her. A lonely target was always easy to catch. They laughed at her British accent, still strong having only moved to America from England a few months ago. They laughed at the fact that she always had her nose buried in a book, and at the fact that she actually cared about grades. They laughed at her and she had no defence, slowly shrinking away until she could barely be seen- only two white irises in a sea of darkness.
She opened her shoulder bag that was resting next to her on the bench. It was bright pink, a colour that she had chosen because she wanted it to stand out, and it did stand out, but for all the wrong reasons. Here, bright pink was a colour that you would see more frequently in the halls of an elementary school. Not a high school. High school was a monotonous place with the colours all being varying shades of neutral black, grey, white or navy. Bright pink was like an offence. It didn't fit in. And it reminded her that she didn't fit in.
From her bag, she extracted a small, patterned notebook. It had a lock on it, so that in case anyone else happened to chance on it, they wouldn't be able to open it and obtain any more ammunition to use against her. The key was kept on the tiny silver charm bracelet that she always wore. She unlocked the notebook, and opened it up to the first page. Two words were written in pink glitter pen. "Dianna's Journal". She smiled. That was her, Dianna. She often wondered whether or not people knew her name. To many, she was just the 'new girl'. She rarely ever heard anyone refer to her by name unless it was to taunt her, and therefore during the hours she spent in school, she often felt her sense of identity vanish. Thankfully she'd found that all she needed to regain it was to open up her journal, her object of comfort.
She opened to the first blank page she could find, took out a pen from her pocket and began to write. In her neat, cursive script, she detailed the confrontation between her and Adrienne. She had thought Adrienne was a nice girl, someone who would perhaps understand her and want to be friends with her. She hadn't expected that Adrienne would treat her just like everybody else did. She hadn't expected Adrienne to succumb to the pressure to be like everybody else. But then again, she didn't really know her.
The issue of the Biology project was still outstanding. Dianna wasn't sure what she should do. She didn't want to get low grades, but she wasn't sure whether or not she should just do it by herself at home. Maybe if she did do it, Adrienne would feel bad and apologize for her earlier actions. Dianna sighed. She seemed to be in a position where she didn't have much of a choice. Especially since she realized that if she didn't do the poster, Adrienne would probably just get angry and therefore, another confrontation would be inevitable. The last thing she wanted was another skirmish.
Finishing off her entry, she replaced the cap on her pen, closed and locked her journal, and deposited both items into her bag. She checked her watch and decided that she should probably return home. Getting up from the bench, she began her journey back to her house that was around fifteen minutes away from Heighton High. She set off, expecting to make the journey the same way she did every day- Alone.
Yet, when she was walking through Heighton's main shopping street, she was joined by another girl. Dianna recognized her immediately. Her name was Rosie, and she was in Dianna's English class. Although Dianna didn't like listening to gossip, she had overheard a few students talking about how Rosie's friends had recently turned their backs on her, leaving her all alone. Dianna didn't know why this had happened, but she assumed it might have had something to do with Rosie's body image. She was slightly overweight, and was often teased for it.
"Hey!" Rosie's voice was bright, sunny and enthusiastic. "You're Dianna, right?"
Dianna, shocked that someone was talking to her in a kind manner, let alone referring to her by name, took a minute to reply. "Um, Yeah. I'm Dianna."
Rosie smiled. "I'm Rosie! I'm in your English class!"
"You're new, right? From England?"
"That's so awesome! I've always wanted to go to England. It must be really nice there. But hey, it must be so hard for you, starting out in a new place. If you ever want someone to like, show you around or if you need help or anything, you can come and talk to me! I don't mind at all."
Dianna was a little taken aback at Rosie's sudden niceness. In the two months that she had been at Heighton High, Rosie had never once talked to her. This made Dianna suspicious. What if Rosie wasn't actually being genuinely nice to her? What if Rosie was trying to befriend her, gain her trust and then ditch her in front of the whole school? What if the whole thing was just a ploy to further humiliate her? After all, what did Dianna really know about Rosie?
"Thanks," she replied quietly. "If I need anything, I'll let you know."
Rosie seemed to sense that something was wrong. "Hey," she said. "Listen, I saw what happened outside school today, between Adrienne and you? Don't worry about it. Adrienne's actually a really nice girl. Once she gets to know you, she'll be fine. She probably just wasn't sure what to do with everyone looking at her like that. She doesn't really think things through. And about how mean everybody else has been…well, it's mainly Mitzi and her group, isn't it? Don't worry about them, they're just jerks. Heighton's a really friendly place once you get to know it."
Dianna became more convinced that Rosie's friendliness was just a trick. Why would she be describing Heighton as a friendly place when she'd just lost all of her friends? "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind."
"Do you want to go and get an ice cream?" Rosie asked, a huge smile on her face. "There's this really great place I know. I'm sure you'll like it."
"Thanks, but I can't right now. I have to get home," she offered no further explanation before she hurried off. Rosie watched her as she went. She understood people well; she knew that Dianna mistrusted her. But she meant no harm- she was genuinely nice. She felt bad for Dianna, and as they were both picked on- Rosie for being overweight, Dianna for being the new girl – she felt as if they were similar, as if she could relate to her. She just wanted to help.