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“Hey, watch out!” A guy’s voice calls out in my direction.

It’s too late. I fall head first into the garbage can in the middle of the hallway. As I pick away parts of banana, a half-eaten turkey sandwich, a clear retainer covered in mashed potatoes, and what’s left of someone’s math homework, I can hear snickering from all directions. My mother used to tell me, “They’re not laughing at you, they’re laughing with you.” There was always one big problem with that; I was never actually laughing.

My name’s Cody Vortamer, well Dakota, but people call me Cody. I’m a tenth grader at General Lee High School, and I pretty much humiliate myself on a daily basis. It should get easier, but it never does. I’m a grade “A” loner. I eat my lunch in the bathroom, third stall, I play chess, state champ, and I sit by myself in the left corner of every classroom.
Ever since I was in kindergarten, my mom knew I was different. The tell-tale sign was that I brought a Star Wars t-shirt and matching sleeping bag to show and tell. Oh, and the fact that I wore a pirate costume every day from first to third grade. I’ve only had one friend in my whole life and that was when I was in fourth grade. His name was Kris. He had bushy brown hair, sparkling teal eyes, and he always wore a Michael Jordan jersey. He moved away three months later, and I haven’t heard from him since.
“Oh s**t, the bell! Better hurry up Vortamer or you’re gonna be late.” Jase Jenkins had the quintessential high school dream life. He was the star quarterback, heading to Duke next year to play college football, on a full scholarship. He had tons of friends and a gaggle of girls hanging on his arm. He was invited to every party, and he was a straight “A” student. “Oops? Did I do that,” he sneered, slapping my Geometry book, and notebook out of my hands.
I hate him, and everyone like him. He makes my life hell. I looked down at my watch, f***, it’s 10:30, guess who has detention again, ME!
“Dakota? You have—”
“I know, I know, DETENTION.” I took my seat behind Heather, the has-all-the-answers-to-every-question-in-the-entire-universe-cheerleader-wannabee chick.
“Today, we’re learning about the Mayan empire.” A chorus of sighs filled the room.
Mr. Siquetta is my history teacher. His classroom is filled with sculptures, paintings, and masks from his travels to the Middle East, and Africa, and he doesn’t shy away from explaining each and every one of them. He has dark hair, and green eyes, and if he wasn’t my history teacher, I would say he’s a pretty hot dude. I hate history, but Mr. Siquetta is fine to look at. He’s the only teacher, besides my English teacher, Mrs. McDonald, who calls me Dakota. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mr. Siquetta, but he’s a little weird. In the middle of class, he tries on some of his masks and dances around the room. He tells us stories about all his adventures and where he got that particular mask from. It’s gets old after awhile, but he’s only twenty five and he’s already seen half the world; more than I can say for my brother. He’s twenty eight and all he’s seen are the maps in National Geographic. I don’t pay much attention in History class. I’m usually staring out the window, or staring at Mr. Siquetta. There’s this one poster on the back of the door from one of his trips to Zambia. It has an orphanage on it with twenty kids surrounding it. I always thought it would be cool to go to Africa, but that’s probably never going to happen.
“Mr. Siquetta, can I go to bathroom?” I was about to pee my pants.
“Dakota, we’re about to learn about the Mayans. Wait ten minutes, and then you can go.” Mr. Siquetta turned his back to write something on the board.
I crossed my legs and looked down at the blue speckled tile floor. I wasn’t paying attention to Mr. Siquetta go on and on about the Mayans, and how they were run out of Mexico or something like that. I was focused on not peeing myself.
Oh s**t. I guess I had to go more than I thought. I felt the warm liquid run down my legs. “Mr. Siquetta? Can I go to the bathroom? It’s an emergency.” I was trying to figure out how I was going to leave the classroom without everyone noticing that I had just peed myself.
“Alright, Dakota, go.” Mr. Siquetta waved me out of the classroom and continued what he was saying.
I was so close to the door when I heard laughter yet again.
“Vortamer, you have a little something right there.” Jase pointed to my crotch.
The whole class erupted in laughter and I ran out of the classroom as quickly as possible. I’m never going to live that one down. I might as well just skip town.
I wish I was like Kim. Let’s just start off by saying, his name is Kim, but he’s a loner, just like me, but no one notices him. No one knows who he is. People know who I am, but not in the popular sort of way. They know me for making a fool of myself.
I returned to the classroom wearing bright pink pants. God, I hate pink. Obviously not what I wore to school that day, but nature called, and pink pants were the only pants the nurse had available to fit my not-small-but-not-big body. As I slinked back into my seat behind Heather, I felt everyone’s gaze piercing me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jase and his pals smirking. Mr. Siquetta still had his back turned, oblivious to all that had been happening in the last ten minutes. He was still going on about the Mayan Empire.
“I would be taking notes; you’ll have a quiz on the Mayans next class.” Mr. Siquetta wasn’t as clueless as I thought. He knew we weren’t paying attention, and he knew exactly how to get us to be attentive. He just needs to mention the word test or quiz and everyone takes out paper and pen and feverishly starts taking notes. General Lee High has a no tolerance policy for failing. If you fail a test, you’re pretty much failing the class, no joke, and you have to spend your afternoons in detention studying for the make-up exam and doing extra credit.
After class I was standing by my locker contemplating whether I wanted to buy lunch or eat the lunch my mom packed from me, bologna with chocolate pudding and cheese sticks.

“Sweet pants, Cody.” I turned around and Gabriel was standing in front of me.

He had bright turquoise eyes, blond wavy hair, and a smile that lit up the sky. I’ve had a crush on him since I was in sixth grade when he moved here from Washington.

“Thanks?” I could feel my cheeks turning red.

“I heard about Siquetta’s class, sorry. Jase can be a jerk sometimes.”

Is he still talking to me? “Isn’t he your friend?” I quickly turned back to my locker.

Gabe blinked, “Kind of, but that’s still a d**k move.”

“Yeah, it was bad. Siquetta told me to wait, and I just couldn’t stop it. I tried to slip out of the classroom, but Jase started pointing and laughing, and soon all his buddies were pointing and laughing with him. I’m so embarrassed.”

“You, embarrassed?”

“Yeah, hard to believe, but yeah. Well I got to go to class.”

“Um, Cody, it’s lunch time.” He laughed.

“Oh yeah, well bye. The third stall in the bathroom is calling my name.” I grabbed the paper bag in my locker and ran off.

Did that really happen? Was Gabe actually talking to me? He’s a football player, shouldn’t he be talking to some cheerleader or something? I wolfed down my bologna sandwich, threw the bag in the garbage and walked out.

I looked up from the ground and saw Gabe talking to Penelope. She’s the head cheerleader. She has everything. She has a brand new black Corvette, three Tiffany diamond necklaces, and her own apartment that her father built for her next door to the mansion they live in. I wish I had her life. She gets all the guys, and even the chicks want her. What do I get? A date on Saturday night sitting in front of my TV, alone with my dog, Pearl, sleeping by my feet? What a life? I used to think high school wasn’t going to be that bad, but now that I’ve been here for a year and a half, I think it sucks.

I walked into English last, nothing new. My usual seat in the left back corner was taken, so I had to settle for the back right. A few nights before, we were assigned a book to read. Normally, I just open the first page, read the first sentence, and look up the summaries on spark notes, but I thought I’d change it up this time, and read the book. To my surprise, I liked it.

“Dakota, have you read, Brave New World.” My English teacher knew I never read the books, but perhaps she was optimistic. The thing was I actually did read this one.

“Yes, I actually did, Mrs. McDonald.” I had a huge smile on my face.

“Really?”

“Yes. I felt bad for the savage when he was being beaten. I could definitely relate to him.” The whole class gasped. “I didn’t mean literately. I’ve been emotionally abused my whole life.”

“Wait, a minute. You, Dakota Vortamer, read an assigned reading book? No way!” She was too shocked that I read the book to even focus on what I had said.

“Yes way.”

“Alright moving on. Class, did you like the book?” Mrs. McDonald quickly turned to the board and wrote Brave New World.

“I think it sucked.” I turned to my left and of course it was Derrik. He never likes anything.

“Anyone besides Derrik?” The class was silent.

Nothing ever happens in English. I stay silent in the back of the classroom, and the rest of the class twiddles their thumbs or texts their friends. Mrs. McDonald doesn’t notice anything.

Mrs. McDonald covered her ears and eyes in anticipation for the end of school bell that was about to ring. It was always chaos when that bell went off. Papers go flying, chairs slide across the room, students get louder and louder, and there is always a traffic jam in the hallway.

RING, RING, RING!

The race to my locker begins. I rush out of the room as quickly as possible avoiding every person in front, behind, or beside me at a mad dash to my locker on the other side of the school. I squeeze my 5’5” body in between gaps of high school students and teachers trying to monitor the ridiculousness of the after the last bell scene.

“Watch out!” A guy’s voice calls out in my direction.

It’s too late. I smack into an open red locker and fall to the ground. Blood is spewing from my nose, and my head hurts. I close my eyes and put my hand over my nose.

“Are you ok?” The voice says.

I squint my eyes and notice a boy standing above me. “Yeah, I think so.”

The whole hallway erupts in laughter again.

“Here, grab my hand.”

“Thanks.” I open my eyes all the way. They are clouded with tears, but I can see that the Good Samaritan is Gabe.

“Cody, I was wondering if you wanted to go to a movie on Friday night?” Gabe’s cheeks turned red.

Is this really happening? “Why me? Why not Penelope?” Did I just say that out loud?

“You’re different.”

Like I didn’t know that already, thanks for pointing that out, once again. “If this is some pity party cause I ran into your locker, don’t bother.” Why aren’t I just saying yes?

“No. I like you. You’re not trying to be anyone. I like that in a girl. Penelope is so self- I don’t even know. She just tries too hard.”

“I don’t know about this?” Come on, just say yes, what is wrong with you?

“Come on Cody. Break your loner tendencies for me?”

“Well, I might have plans on Friday night, but I’ll try to squeeze you in.”

Gabe laughed. “I’ll take that as a yes; talk to you later, Codmeister.”

Did he just give me a nickname? “Yeah later, Gabinator.” Gabinator? What the f*** is that? What is wrong with you, Cody?
I could get used to this. I smiled, a huge smile, and skipped down to my locker, forgetting that my nose was bleeding all over the place.

As I passed Gabe’s locker, he turned to me and said, “Oh Cody, you may need this.” Gabe handed me a box of tissues he had in his locker.

“Oh, thanks. I forgot.” Gabe laughed and smiled.

I continued to skip down the hallway with two tissues stuffed up my nose, and the hallway was silent. I noticed something written in bold red sharpie on the front of the tissue box as I walked to my locker. It was a note from Gabe: “I think you’re cute.” I almost fainted right then and there.





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