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The Gods Go Down This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   I stare at him for a couple of seconds. I don't know his name. Doubt I ever will. Don't know what he likes, what his hobbies are, what his favorite movie is, if he thinks the Patriots are ever going to win a Superbowl. I just know he has the same free block as me and that he always sits there alone.

Go over? Why should I? I'm sure he has friends. Everybody has friends. He just happens to not have any friends in this particular free block so he comes to the cafeteria alone, eats his lunch, and gets some work done.

"So she's just lyin' there, passed out, right," someone is saying across the table. For a moment my fascination with the sexual misadventures of my peers is lost as I watch this boy, all alone, quietly doing his homework.

"You're a real nerd, kid," one of them said to me.

I felt awkwardly tall, and didn't even have the courage to respond. I just sat there, very still, and prayed they would leave me alone.

"Hey, geek, you ever kiss a girl?" He was wearing a baseball hat, and had on a football jersey.

I looked at the floor. I nodded almost imperceptibly.

"What? You have?" one asked.

"Look, loser, your mom don't count," another said.

They dragged one of their girls over to look at me. She was your typical princess. Bright, tight, flashy clothing, too much make-up, and hair permed to hell.

"This geek says he kissed a girl."

"Oh, I'm so sure," she said, looking down at me with disgust.

I felt very alone and scared, and thought that there could be nothing worse.

"Hey, you know that kid, Steve?"

Steve glances for a moment at the boy I am closely studying. "Who? That loser over there?"

Without realizing I am contributing to the degradation of this boy, I nod.

"Nope. Why, is he number one draft pick for the math team or something?" Several of my friends burst out in laughter. I smile slightly.

One of the girls walks over. She sits down on my knee. "Hi, Sam," she says melodically, a giggle almost woven into her speech. Her long hair spills past her shoulders. She smells nice, looks beautiful, and suddenly I feel a little sick.

"Hey, geek, what's in the lunch bag?" the one with the hat asked.

I didn't say anything and started to stand up. A very big one shoved me back down into my seat. "Hey, he asked you a question."

"It's nothing, okay?"

"No, it's not okay, Eugene."

I turned and looked up at him. "Look, my name is not Eugene, I don't want you over here, so,"

"Hey, hey, hey," hat man said, interrupting. "You think I care what you want, Eugene? Just shut up."

"Are you getting some sort of pleasure out of,"

The big one spoke up again. "This one's a real wise-ass, you know that?"

"Maybe we can set him straight," said another from the crowd.

I just wanted to sit in my mother's lap and cry. I didn't want to get any bigger if getting bigger meant being with people like this.

"You know that kid?" I ask the girl on my knee.

"Who, that loser over there?" she asks, looking at her nails.

"He's not a loser."

"Oh, you're right Sam, he's just too cool. My god, what a hunk."

"Hey," says Indiana Jones from the Temple of Sex across the table. "Go over and act like you like him."

She starts to get up and I pull her back down.

"Naw, don't."

"Why not? It'll be funny," she says, starting to get up again.

"You'll just make him feel bad. Don't you think he feels bad enough?"

"About what," she says, walking towards him.

He looks up when he sees her coming. All of the guys at the table are watching him, grinning, waiting for her to humiliate him.

"She's really kind," I mutter, and look away.

A moment later the guys start laughing again, and I look back to see what's happening. All I see is that she is walking away, and the boy looks very sad.

"What happened?" I ask Steve, grabbing his arm.

Steve looks at me for several seconds. "Nothing. She just blew him a kiss. Nothing, really."

The big one pulled me up to my feet again, and I looked into the eyes of hat man. He was clearly the ringleader. He sneered at me, trying to look taller when I actually had about three inches on him. But height wasn't what mattered. We both knew who was really bigger.

"Listen, geek, you take your little lunch and you go eat it in the corner."

I wanted so badly to say something funny, clever, something that would make this kid look like an idiot. But I just looked away.

"I'm talking to you, loser," he said.

"I'm not listening," was all I could muster.

Then he cleared his throat, and spit a wad of mucus onto my cheek. I was about to lunge at him when the big guy grabbed my arms.

"Don't get wise, geek. You might think things can't get worse, but they can."

I stand up at the end of the block, swing my backpack over my shoulder, and saunter slowly out of the cafeteria. Steve walks alongside me. When I pass by the kid, I look at him for a moment, and consider apologizing, but I know he'd think I was just making fun of him.

We walk towards our next class, carefully nodding in greeting to those who deserve it. As we turn the corner, Steve speaks. "Why'd you care about that kid?"

"I don't know. I just felt bad for him."

"C'mon. Don't waste your time. His life, not your problem."

There is a long silence while we walk.

"Steve, do you think you're better than him?"

"I don't know. Who's to say? I'm more popular, yeah."

"I just feel bad for him, ya know?"

"Sam, why do you care so much?" Steve asks, getting annoyed.

"Because I used to be him," I say quietly.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"I just feel bad that there are kids who feel like they aren't as good as everybody else. This whole social structure, it just,"

"Hey, Sam, it's like that outside of school too. Don't knock it just because it happened to actually work well for you."

I cried while I walked home that day. At first I cried because they had picked on me, because I hadn't done anything wrong and they had just come over and started to make me feel bad. But then I cried because I started to believe them.

Steve and I part now. My class is in a different direction. I walk in, and sit down with all the right people. They are the ones I say hello to, the ones I'll pass notes to in class, the ones I'll go out with this Saturday night. I hardly acknowledge anyone else in the class.

I don't acknowledge them because I'm better. I'm cool. I know what is cool to do and what isn't cool. I'm more powerful, more popular. I have the right friends. I am one of the popular kids.

But I'm just hiding behind a shield of pride. If that shield ever dropped, I'd just be a geek sitting in a cafeteria getting picked on. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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