The second chapter of my YA novel, The Gossip Web
THEN, AT LUNCH, as luck would have it, I walked right into Trace Gibson---the love of my teenage life. Every girl in West Havenbrook has had a crush on Trace (no matter what they say), and it’s obvious why. Trace is funny, smart, and he’s one of the most popular and one of the most gorgeous guys to grace West Haven’s halls. He’s different than most guys our age too---at least to me he his. Probably because Trace happens to like me somewhat…I think.
Tracey is one of those guys who loves to poke fun but never means to cause any harm. Unlike the rest of his clique, he would never intentionally hurt my feelings. We used to be best friends, until he mysteriously up and left West Havenbrook in the seventh grade. When he finally came back, he became part of the popular crowd---the group that I definitely don’t belong to and never will. It’s no big deal to me, but if I was a part of his clique, I’m sure Trace would give me a chance…maybe.
As soon as second period ended I had lunch, so I headed to the cafeteria. I think ten-thirty is way too early for me to eat, but I usually try to get something down before my next class. After lunch I had Chemistry, the most deadly of all studies. It put me to sleep most of the time, but I do pretty well grade-wise so I don’t ever feel guilty when I catch some zzz’s. I never have to worry about grades the way some students do. I was gifted with intelligence and I can ace every one of my classes without even trying. It’s like my father always says: “I possess brains and beauty, but the latter is hidden by the first.” Not that he means I’m ugly or anything…he would never say that. I’ve just accepted the fact that I will never be as beautiful as Gloria and her pathetic little clones, but I’m proud of my intellect and plan to put it to good use in the future.
There were ten minutes left before third period, and after grabbing a small garden salad from the lunch-line I sat at my usual table with Harvey Densen, future valedictorian for our class, and Marla Woods, junior class president. I wasn’t as important on the popular scale as they were, but the three of us had the highest GPAs in our school, so we enjoyed sitting with each other and comparing notes. We talked about our ideas and about other intellectual insights. That didn’t make us the best of friends though, and if Heidi had lunch this block I would’ve definitely sat with her instead. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy their company, it’s just…those two can be very opinionated. They’ve been a couple throughout high school, yet they liked to fight a lot.
“What I don’t get is…” Marla started, straightening her perfect black ponytail. “How can Principal Waters let Gloria decide on snacks in the vending machine when I am the class president? Is that not a job for me to decide?”
“Yes, you’re absolutely right,” Harvey agreed, nodding his head slowly. “But you know how important football is to him.”
“Gloria is a cheerleader, Harvey. Not the star quarterback,” she replied with a huff.
“True, but cheerleading is key in the game of football.”
Rolling her eyes at him, Marla spat, “I don’t care. I’m sick of her blindsiding me and ignoring my superior authority.”
I kept quiet as I heard them argue, my attention drifting over towards Gloria’s table. She sat with Camille Johnson, her right hand rat, and Lacey Conner, the most ignorant out of the three. While everyone always talked about how beautiful the three girls were, most students gossiped about Lacey’s stupidity. It was said that Lacey had the intelligence of a four year old, and I was, unfortunately, a witness who could support that theory.
In seventh grade she sat behind me in English class, always asking the teacher when and where to put a comma in a sentence. She did this about every day, and when our teacher told her to try it on her own, she couldn’t grasp the concept. One day, I was partnered with Lacey and forced to help her, despite my many protests to our teacher.
When I checked her paper i noticed it was a huge mess. Not only could she not construct complete sentences, but her spelling was way off even on the easiest words. I tried to help her as much as I could, even though she was a total bitch to me. I don’t think she ever overcame it either, because Heidi told me that at the beginning of the school year she had watched Lacey write, “george washington is the smartest first president of our united state,” on a test paper for History. I’m convinced that the girl has a learning disability. No wonder she fits in nicely with the “it” crowd.
My eyes passed over Lacey and I redirected my attention to the males in their group. I noticed that Gloria’s most recent arm candy, Freddie Sharpe, sat across from her and right next to Trace. My heart did a flip as I stared over at him longingly. Although Freddie was the obvious heartthrob jock type, with his blonde waves and bulging muscles, I had always considered Trace to be more attractive.
Trace didn’t have that same macho appeal that Freddie possessed---his features were much more softer and striking. He wasn’t as interested in sports the way Freddie was either, which I also considered a plus. Guys that were obsessed with sports always bugged me. I’d pick a bookworm over a jock any day, but Trace wasn’t a geek either. He didn’t belong in any category. He was simply Trace Gibson, and that had always been good enough for me.
“Jade? Hello?” My eyes snapped back to find Harvey and Marla staring at me with puzzled expressions.
“What?” I mumbled, face growing hot as my eyes flickered back in Trace’s direction. I dreaded that they knew I’d just been drooling over him.
“Where were you just a second ago? Did you even hear what I said?” Marla asked angrily. I saw her brown eyes narrow at the thought of me not paying attention. It was a known fact that Marla hated it when people ignored her.
I tried to come up with a reasonable excuse. After glancing back at Gloria, I blurted, “Sorry, I was just thinking about Gloria…the way she embarrassed me in front of everyone today was so humiliating.”
Instantly, Marla’s expression morphed from irritated to sympathetic. “Oh, yeah, I heard about that. Sorry, Jade. What is her problem anyway? She can be such a bitch sometimes.”
Sighing softly with relief that Marla fell for it, I simply nodded. “Who knows why Gloria comes after me like that? I never do anything to provoke her.”
Marla gave my shoulder a reassuring rub. “You need to put that stuck-up heathen in her place. Maybe then she’ll back off.”
Harvey sent me a smile and nodded. “She does cause tons of trouble for our student body. Just yesterday, I saw Kimberly Locke and she was---” he froze in the middle of his sentence as Gloria sauntered over to our table, her long blonde hair swirling behind her back. She was smiling---but not in my direction---as she took a seat next to Marla.
“Hi, Marla, Harvey…Jade.” She said my name with a wrinkled up face, almost as if it disgusted her to let my name pass by her lips. I took a deep breath to silence myself from saying something I would later regret. All I could do was stare at her blankly.
“So, Marla,” Gloria turned to face her cheerfully. Her voice held an urgent tone as she said, “I need to go over the plans for the cheer bake off with you. It’s really important that we discuss it before next week.”
When nodding at her, I noticed Marla appeared less than thrilled to be spending time with Gloria. “Yeah, sure,” she muttered.
Gloria’s green eyes scanned the table before saying, “I was hoping we could do it now, before lunch ends.” Staring in my direction, she added coldly, “And I kind of want to do it in private, if you don’t mind, Marla.”
I wasn’t shocked, but I couldn’t believe that she had just kicked me from my own table. My mind conjured up various curse words to call her, and I could feel myself on the verge of saying them. Luckily, I managed to conceal the obscenities by biting down on my lip. Hard. Embarrassed by my lack of backbone, I stood up quickly with my lunch tray.
“Fine,” I mumbled. Not wanting her to cause another scene, I would let her have her way…like usual.
“See you guys later,” I told Marla and Harvey, ignoring the huge smirk from Gloria. Seeing her so happy with herself made me queasy, and when I walked away, I resisted the urge to slap that smirk right off of her face.
“Bitch,” I muttered under my breath as I dumped my trash into the can near the door. Taking a deep breath, I returned the tray to the line and moved towards the exit. Staring down at my feet as I walked, my mind fantasized over ways on how I could kill Gloria. I smiled when I imagined her falling and getting trapped under the bleachers at one of the stupid football games. If only that fantasy would come true. I wasn’t paying attention as I exited the lunchroom, so I was surprised when I slammed into something hard, yet soft.
“Hey!” Trace growled, after our bodies had collided.
Gazing up at him nervously, I covered my blush by saying, “Watch where you’re going next time, Tracey.” He hated it when I called him Tracey, which is exactly why I do it. I enjoyed watching his face crumple up from annoyance. But he has a nickname for me too, and I don’t really love it when he calls me it either.
“Listen up, Jewels. You’re the one who needs to “watch out”, okay?” Trace replied, using air quotations. “I’m the most popular guy in this school, remember?” He flashed me a large smile and winked.
“Oh, really?” I pretended to act surprised. “I thought Freddie was number one around these halls?”
Trace shrugged as he passed a hand through his mess of brown hair. He didn’t even have to brush it. That’s how hot he is. “You know…we’re a tie for first.”
“Right,” I laughed, pushing my way past him.
Just as I thought (and hoped he would), he followed me out of the cafeteria and into the hall. I glowed secretly on the inside.
“So, I heard you were dreaming about me last night,” he told me, grinning. “You wanna tell me what that’s all about, Jade Cannon?”
I gave him a smirk and tried to keep my laughter down. “Yeah, I was totally dreaming about you. As a matter of fact, I dream about you every night, Trace.”
“Really?” He asked me happily.
Shaking my head at his delight, I replied, “No! Wow, you are so full of yourself.”
Cocking his brow, he muttered, “Am not.”
I smiled at him and said, “Of course you are. How else could you be so naïve, Trace? You think you’re the most gorgeous guy in the world.”
“Whatever,” he grinned again. “You want me, I know it.”
Sending him back an even larger grin, I replied in a singsong voice, “You know nothing.”
I started walking faster as my next class approached, leaving Trace behind. I was sure I was walking the hall alone, until I felt a light tap on my shoulder and found him still alongside me.
I raised my eyebrows at him in surprise before asking, “Didn’t I leave you back there?”
“I caught up.”
“What for? Isn’t your class in the opposite direction?” I asked, tucking a few strands of my red hair behind my ear.
“Yep,” he replied shortly.
I blushed. “Then why are you following me?” I was confused by his behavior. Trace and I usually talked between classes, but rarely did he ever follow me to my classroom, especially when his was on the other end of the building. It wasn’t like we were that close anymore.
“Because…” Trace began, sending me a genuine smile. “There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
“Oh? What is it?” I asked him curiously.
“Well, the thing is, Jade, I---” he paused suddenly, glancing around. “What is going on?”
“Huh?” I gazed about too, noticing that most of the students in the hallway were staring and laughing at us. After a few moments of gazing about at them all, Trace and I looked back at each other in confusion.
“What’s their problem?” Trace muttered, sending them all glares. “Ha-ha-ha,” he mocked them angrily.
Fear crept up my neck when I realized that they were laughing at me, and I knew why. I gripped my bag strap tightly and prayed that they wouldn't humiliate me in front of Trace. Please God, let them spare me just this once.
Then, a girl standing off to the right pointed and said to the boy next to her, loud enough for me to hear, “That’s Jade Cannon, the girl who pissed her pants in Mr. Reid’s class today.”
“Oh,” the boy replied knowingly and snickered. “I wonder if she changed her pants yet? Hey, Jade! Still wet down below?” He asked me loudly, and that aroused more laughter from the crowd. I wanted to die as my cheeks flared red.
I glanced warily at Trace, and I was shamed by the baffled expression on his face. It was obvious he hadn’t heard the latest gossip until now. I didn’t dare say anything as I lowered my head; I felt too disgusted. I bit my lip anxiously and brushed past him, hurrying down the hall. As I ran away in shame, I tried to ignore the tears that threatened to slip out of my eyes. What was Trace going to think of me now?
I scrambled into the science hall, where Chemistry awaited me. When I walked into the class, the humiliation carried on. Taking my seat grimly, I lowered my head onto my desk, trying to escape. I closed my eyes and thought of Trace, wondering if he would believe that horrid rumor. I was quite certain he wouldn’t. Trace wasn’t one to gossip. It was one of many qualities that I admired about him.
That realization brightened me up a little, but as people around me continued to mumble insulting comments, I knew that the end of the day would not come fast enough. I decided to just keep my eyes fixed on the chalk board and pretend to be invisible. If only I were transparent, maybe then everyone would just leave me be.