Perfectly Plastic

My best friend Beth’s foot tapped hard against the floor as I put the coins in the vending machine. Finally I groaned, “What?”

“Does it ever upset you?” she asked. I turned my head to stare at her. Beth ignored my disconcerted look and pressed on, “You know, Vanessa. How Jeremy uses you?”

“Of course not,” I replied, picking up the Coke and shoving it into my messenger bag. “I agreed, Beth. I’m his fake girlfriend until the chess club girl gets jealous.”

“But you’re head cheerleader! And even though she’s not actually in the chess club, she’s still way beneath you!” Beth protested, grabbing my messenger bag with one hand and yanking the Coke out with the other. She hit me on the arm with my own drink, then popped the cap and started drinking.

“Should’ve just given it to you in the first place,” I muttered. “And I know I’m head cheerleader, Beth, just as well as he knows who he is.” I sighed. “High school hierarchy doesn’t matter to him.”

Beth frowned. “Um, pretty sure it does, him being football captain and everything. So don’t let his weird tastes get to you, V. He’s just letting it all get to his head.”

Jeremy Caldwell, my neighbor and longtime crush. The varsity football captain and running back, the diligent student, the kid who volunteered at the elderly home on the weekends. Jeremy was the only guy I knew who didn’t have the sky as the limit.


And me? The multi-faceted Vanessa Miles. Head cheerleader and fellow good student. When I was a naive seventh grader, I clinged to the dream about being the “girl next door,” and that he’d be the best-friends-into-something-more guy. And I’d look at his house, right outside my window, and think it was possible.

Beth was still on the hierarchy idea. “How could he not see why you agreed to this freaky idea?” Beth wrinkled up her nose. “Not to mention that the one he’s following around like a lost puppy is your sister.”

“He says he loves her, Beth,” I replied quietly, watching her guzzle the Coke as I held my arms very, very close to my body. “That she’s beautiful in a way no one else is. That she’s so intelligent she blows him out of the water. That…” I trailed off as Beth stared behind me.

“She’s not plastic.” The voice was deep but warm. Jeremy’s eyes sparkled when he grinned at us, raising an eyebrow at Beth. “Not that you’d understand liking someone for over a week. I think Brian’s still sobbing from when you dumped him yesterday.” Then Jeremy laughed and shook his head, and Beth started laughing too. I chuckled before looking away.

“You heading to lunch?” I asked, and he shook his head.

“I’m going to meet Brooke in the band room for studying,” Jeremy replied, and I ran a hand through my hair with a plastic smile. He sighed and looked out the doors wistfully. “I have a huge science test next, so…”

“Sure, get to it,” I answered. “Tell Brooke that I can’t drive her home at the usual time today. My science test is tomorrow, so I’m going to the tutorial—“

“I’ll drive her home,” Jeremy answered smoothly, his eyes sparkling again. “Anyway, I’ve got to get moving. Have fun at that tutorial.” The crowd stared as he hugged me, true to his part. I had been depreciated to a status of being given fake affection. Then Jeremy walked right through Beth and me, pushing me gently to the side.

As soon as he was gone, Beth snapped, “Can you believe him? For Brooke! Oh, he’s perfect, isn’t he? Sacrificing so much to drive that complete wannabe home. I bet he was waiting for this. Probably going to convince her to see a movie with him, too!”

“Beth—“

“And you! Practically screaming that you need help on science, too, but Jeremy’s impervious. ‘Have fun at tutorial!’” Beth snorted. “I mean, why does he need you so much, anyway? It’s one thing using her to get to you, but using you to get to her? What is he on?”

I took the empty Coke back and hit her hard on the shoulder. “He doesn’t need me, Beth! But by ‘dating’ me, he gets to come over to my house and subtly leave me for her!” I felt like screaming. “Oh, he doesn’t think I’m going to make Brooke jealous. He doesn’t think enough of me for that.”

Beth looked startled and, suddenly, withdrawn. She swallowed and said, tentatively, “Vanessa…maybe it’s time to, you know, move on…” I shook my head.

“I think he had a crush on me once. I ignored him, let him wait a while. Cause we had time, right?” I sighed. “Then he met Brooke. I didn’t matter anymore.”

“Vanessa—“
“I’m plastic, remember?” I smiled and let the vending machine support my weight. “I’m Barbie. Pretty enough until someone real comes along.”

“You are real, V,” Beth argued, shaking her head and frowning. “And you’re a better person than him!” She put a hand on my arm. “It’s not your fault that he can’t see that.”

“He can see it,” I said softly, my legs weakening as I slid down the vending machine to the floor. “He sees someone better than him in Brooke.” I closed my eyes and breathed. “It’s a perfect little love story for them, isn’t it? Not their fault that I’m left behind.”

The band room’s door was at the end of the hall, and I watched as it opened. Brooke and Jeremy came out, leaning against each other as they nearly collapsed in laughter, wearing smiles so big it seemed they would crack. Jeremy saw us and winked, mouthing, “thank you.”

She had told me once that she didn’t think of him as the football captain. She thought of him as a boy. She didn’t know it then—doesn’t know it now—but I knew.

Brooke knew him as the boy who loved her.





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Odessa_Sterling00 said...
Jun. 17, 2011 at 1:22 pm

This was really good and I couldn't stop reading.  It was heart breaking and I would cry myself to sleep every night if this happened to me.  I probably wouldn't be so accepting of the plan, but still very sad.  You did a good job. Loved it.  :DD

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