I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is I for Invisible.
Am I Invisible?
“Watch out!” Carrie ducked, instinctively, as the volleyball rocketed past her head, narrowly missing, as it hit the ground and bounced up against the wall of the gym.
“My bad!” shouted Kim, grinning over at Carrie, self-consciously. “It sailed on me...”
“No problem,” countered Carrie. “Just make sure it doesn’t happen again.” They laughed together, recognizing that these things will occur on the court.
After practice, Carrie and Kim stood outside the gym, waiting for the other two members of their group to join them. Carrie was in seventh grade, tall and slim, with straight blond hair, and a tendency to look preoccupied. Kim was also in seventh grade, a compact girl, with black hair, with a perpetual grin on her face. She enjoyed teasing others, and had a reputation for being mischievous.
“What’s taking them so long?” asked Kim, while scrutinizing her face in a little pocket-sized mirror.
“Well, Debbie does have to have that perfect look to her hair. And Gretchen can’t go anywhere without Deb’s OK. You ought to have figured that out by now,” responded Carrie.
“Yeah, right. I just forgot. By the way, are you going to Jenna’s party Saturday? Everyone’s going to be there. By that, I mean Jeff and Gary are going.” Kim looked expectantly at her.
“I guess. I haven’t figured out my schedule for this weekend yet.” Carrie yawned exaggeratedly. “It’s so hard to make these kinds of decisions, without having examined all the options.”
“Oh, I so know it. Here they come. What took you guys so long? Having a bad hair day?” Kim giggled.
“Never happen,” laughed Debbie.
“C’mon. We’ll be late for class, and old Haggerty will jump in our stuff. That’s all I need. I’m barely hanging on to a “C” in his class,” said Kim.
“Well, it might help if you did your homework once in a while,” replied Deb. “There are certain expectations in that department.” Deb was the sole eighth grader amongst them, so she had the voice of experience. It didn’t usually matter, until there was a decision to be made, and then she always took the lead. She was cover girl-pretty, and more importantly, she’d be the first to point that out. Gretchen was of medium height, with curly brown hair, and a myopic outlook on life. She lived in the shadow of Debbie and accepted her leadership without question.
Kim arched her brows, saying frostily, “Yes, you should know about that. Except that SOME of us get preferential treatment.” She glanced sideways at her friend. “I still don’t know how you pulled off that “B” last quarter. Must have something to do with...well, never mind.”
Any response Debbie might have made was cut off when they heard the warning bell. Afterwards, they could continue the discussion, but no one wanted to spend lunchtime in detention for being late. There was too much happening in the quad to miss out.
The party that Saturday was sick-everything they had hoped for, and more. Jeff and Gary did show up, shortly after the quartet of girls had arrived, and they all attributed that to living right. Jeff was the primary attraction, tall and athletic, and an eighth grader to the max. Gary was just window dressing, nothing to write home about.
Debbie kept her eye peeled for the opportunity to chat with Jeff, sidling up at one point, alongside Carrie, to flirt shamelessly with him. Though he was supposed to know that he should hang on Debbie’s every word, someone forgot to tell him that. In all actuality, he was far more interested in Carrie.
At one point, when Debbie was off pursuing the rumor that there was alcohol to be had out back by the pool, Jeff and Carrie found themselves alone, in a sea of other kids.
“Whew, that friend of yours is really intense. I thought she’d never let up,” he tossed out casually.
“That’s because she’s used to getting what she wants,” Carrie responded.
“What’s that got to do with me?” asked Jeff, jokingly, brushing his hand against Carrie’s arm, invitingly.
“What Debbie wants, Debbie gets,” affirmed Carrie. “She’s relentless.”
“Well, she’s going to be Jeff-less, if you get what I mean. I don’t jump through hoops for anyone. Unless I want to.” He gazed at Carrie, meaningfully.
For her part, Carrie kept a low profile, going with the flow, and enjoying the current immensely. Only when Debbie rejoined them, quite a while later, somewhat tipsily, did Carrie realize that trouble might be brewing.
“Hey, there’s rum out back. Don’t you want any?” asked Debbie, while maneuvering her way to Jeff’s side.
“No way,” said Carrie. “I can’t stand the way it tastes. Besides, my mom will be waiting up for me and I don’t need that kind of grief. You can have mine.”
“Well, who was talking to you? Jeff? You better get back there, if you want to take advantage of...circumstances.”
Looking embarrassed, Jeff glanced first at Carrie and then back at Deb. “No, I’ll pass thanks, but you go ahead. Doesn’t look like you need much encouraging.”
“What? What’s that supposed to mean?” Debbie looked seriously annoyed.
“It means exactly what you want it to mean. Come on, Carrie, let’s go out front, where it’s not so noisy.” Without a backwards glance, the two strolled out in the direction of the front door, heads close together, as if comparing notes.
Carrie was in seventh heaven, at least until the following Monday morning, when her heaven suddenly turned into hell. Having been dropped off just before first period, she did not catch up with her three friends until break, when she saw them across the quad, at the student store. Quickly scooting over to them, she said, “It must be Monday-there’s not much on the shelves.”
When no one responded, Carrie stopped, puzzled. “What? Are you still hung over from Saturday night?” she asked. Debbie looked directly at Carrie, but spoke to Kim. “Kimmie, are we still getting together at your house after practice?”
“Sure. My mom won’t be home until nine, so we’ll have the place to ourselves. If you see Carrie, don’t say a word.” Kim kept her grin in place, but she only smiled with her lips.
“What? What’s going on? Don’t tell ME that you’re going to Kim’s? Am I invisible?” As the bell rang, the three girls moved off together, leaving Carrie standing by herself in the quad.
“What the hell?” But Carrie found herself talking to the row of lockers.
A repeat of that morning’s snub occurred at lunchtime and Carrie began to get it. She’d seen this sort of thing before, and she remembered an acquaintance of hers sobbing out the details of a similar experience, last year in the sixth grade. When guys fight, it’s all about one dude hauling off and punching another in the face. End of discussion; end of fight. When girls fight, it’s all about the third degree, the cold shoulder. Not much anyone could do about it, short of finding new friends.
Carrie understood, instinctively, that it was all about Jeff, and her own actions last Saturday night. She knew that Debbie was angry with her. But Kim? And Gretchen? She and Kim had been friends since the beginning of sixth grade. Why would Kim side with Debbie? And where had Jeff disappeared to? When she tried talking to her mom about it that night, all her mom was able to do was sympathize, and that did not help the ache in her heart.
Sitting by herself in the school cafeteria on Tuesday, feeling as dejected as only a middle schooler can feel, she despaired of ever regaining her social status-at least in this environment. She had no appetite, she had no desire to return to volleyball practice, and she had no interest in the other kids around her. How was she ever going to get her head above water again?
And then, Jeff was sitting beside her, explaining that he had missed school the previous day, due to the flu, and how was she, anyway?
A warm sensation flowed over her, and Carrie looked at Jeff with relief in her eyes. “Have you ever been in a fight, and gotten smacked in the face?”
Jeff laughed and replied, “Well, who hasn’t?”
“Me,” said Carrie. “But I understand what you mean. And Jeff? Thanks.
“For what? What did I do?”
“Nothing. And everything. Come on, let’s go out into the quad. I want to sit in the sun.” They left together, holding hands.