Inside the Pink Room This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

March 7, 2012
By , Stockbridge, MA
Every school has “the pretty committee.” These girls get all the guys, all the girls, and a manual of how to live life stored in their push-up bras. There's nothing worse than being the new kid in their path.

It wasn't even first period, and I could already feel everyone sizing me up, trying to predict which social category I would fall into. I stared at the tile floor.

I heard a decrescendo of chatter, and looked toward the door. Four girls strutted in and headed toward the empty cluster of chairs in the middle of the room that practically had their crowns floating above them.

I knew immediately who they were.

They demanded respect and radiated charisma, even as they made it their goal in life to stomp everyone else to the ground.

“Oh my god, guys, guess what happened. So I was in Bermuda and this girl walked by wearing the ugliest bikini. It was so gross!” one girl gushed, as if this was the greatest ­catastrophe.

As I listened, my stomach clenched. I prayed they wouldn't talk about me.

As if they had heard my thoughts, the girl with doe eyes turned toward me. She examined me as if trying to decide whether I was good enough to talk to. “Hey,” she said in a singsong voice, flashing me a brilliant smile. “Are you new?”

I felt warm under her attention. “Yeah,” I replied, trying to sound confident. I knew this was a test.

The other girls stopped comparing manicures and stared.

“Where are you from?” asked a girl with perfect red curls.

“New York City,” I said proudly, knowing this would earn me brownie points.

And sure enough … “Oh my god, New York City is amazing!” “You're so lucky!” they squealed.

I smiled as my stomach un-knotted.

“So, do you see celebrities like, all the time?”

I shrugged nonchalantly. “Sometimes.”

“So you must go shopping like, every day, right?”

I nodded, not regretting this little white lie.

They sighed in envy. “You're so lucky. So what are you doing here?”

My smile faltered as I struggled to find the most impressive answer. “Oh, my mom just got transferred,” I lied.

They all nodded politely and turned back to their own conversations. Even as they ignored me, I felt a glimpse of hope that maybe I could fit in here.

I walked up the steps of my porch, saving today's good memories for later comfort. Opening the door, I saw my mother sitting cross-legged on the floor, cigarette in hand, a sea of ripped paper surrounding her. Her eyes were closed, so I dropped my backpack loudly on the floor.

She looked up with glassy eyes. “Hi, baby,” she rasped.

“Hi, Mom. Everything okay?”

She looked disoriented, as if she couldn't remember how she got here. I took the cigarette from her hand and put it in the ashtray. I winced as I swiped a lingering ember from my finger, and knew it would burn.

Her tears dripped onto my shoulder as I pulled her close – like I did every time she had an episode. I shifted my leg so it wouldn't fall asleep.

“I can't do this anymore!” she wailed.

I sighed inwardly. We'd been reading this script for years now, and I just wanted the show to be over. “Mom, we moved here so you could relax. Everything is fine. There is nothing to worry about,” I soothed.

As she shook, I looked around our new house. It was dingy, the white paint peeling to reveal pink flamingo wallpaper. The floors creaked and the shutters banged against the windows at night, which meant that Mom would crawl into bed with me most of the time.

As her tears subsided, Mom wiped her eyes, her hair frizzing around her face. She slowly got to her feet and headed to the kitchen to start “dinner.” Most nights something would burn and Mom would have another meltdown, leaving me in charge of making the mac-and-cheese.

A telephone ring brought me back to the present, and I picked up the ancient device attached to the wall. “Hello?”

“Hey girl! What's up?”

A smile stretched across my face as I realized it was Alexa, the doe-eyed girl from school.

I leaned against the wall and twisted the phone cord around my finger. “Oh, nothing much,” I said vaguely, wishing the phrase sounded cooler.

There was cold moment of silence. “Cool. Oh my gosh, so after school I went to the mall and got this adoooorable dress. David is totally going to notice me tomorrow ….”

I was suddenly aware that smoke was billowing from the kitchen.

“What do you think?” Alexa was asking.

“Uh … that sounds great!” I managed, praying that was sufficient.

“Okay, good,” she said, and I sighed with relief.

“Soooo, who do you like?”

The smoke was increasing, so I rushed into the kitchen. Mom stood against the wall, hyperventilating. I had about one minute 'til meltdown.

“Um, no one right now,” I said as I turned off the stove and flapped at the smoke with a dishtowel. I was grateful the cord was long as I ran around opening windows so the smoke alarm wouldn't go off.

Alexa laughed.

Beeeeep! Beeeep! Beeeep!

I cursed under my breath as Mom sunk to the floor, covering her ears.

“Naomi? Everything okay?” Alexa asked.

I stood on the table and unplugged the fire alarm. “Um, yes, but I have to go. See you tomorrow!” I hung up.

Mom was full-out wailing now, eerie and high-pitched like a wild animal. No matter how many times I heard that sound, it haunted me. I was glad Alexa couldn't hear it.

I rushed over to the curled-up ball on the floor I knew was holding its breath. “Lucy, Lucy, Lucy,” I hummed – when she got like this, I couldn't bear to call her Mom.

I uncurled her, forcing her to sit up. I took hold of her chin and made her look at me. “Breathe,” I commanded, and Mom's face slowly gained its color. “You're on a white beach with palm trees,” I told her, using a trick I'd read online.

Mom choked back tears and finally relaxed.

“You're okay,” I said, as I had many times before. But what Mom didn't know was that every time I said it, I was talking to myself too. “I'm okay,” I said again.

“Naomi!” Alexa screeched as I entered the chaos of the cafeteria. She waved her manicured fingers.

I crossed to where the “golden” table was, and I could feel all eyes on me. I could practically read everybody's thoughts. The new girl is sitting with them? Who does she think she is?

But I had been invited, right? I brushed the thought away as I sat next to Alexa, slowly enough to give them time to change their minds. But there wasn't even a break in the chatter. Heated gossip thickened the space between them. It was as if these girls had their own ozone layer. The sun was hot, but for once, I had a feeling I wasn't going to get burned.

“So, guess what? This weekend my parents are going to some fancy event and didn't invite me, so I think we should have, like, the best party ever!” Leah exclaimed.

“Naomi, you should come,” Alexa said, and gave me a smile that made me feel like I was the most important person in the world.

“Yeah, sure,” Leah said. Her smile was not as genuine, but I was in.

The bass pounded as I stood at the snack table, munching chips. The lights were off in Leah's huge living room, but I could see the glow of cell phones in pockets. Standing in the corner, I had a good view of the dance floor. A couple was shyly dancing. Their movement seemed new to them. I could tell she was trying to be sexy as she pulled his collar closer and he inched his fingers up her shirt. I smiled when they leaned in to kiss. Lips locked, they went into the next room and their spot on the dance floor was quickly filled.

I leaned on the snack table and put my hand on my hip in what I hoped was a sexy pose. But I was going to have to do something really impressive to attract attention. I laughed inwardly as I envisioned myself shimmying on top of the table, or puckering my lips at some hot guy, and I knew I would never do either.

“Naomi!” I heard someone screech, and a shape danced over to me.

“Hi, Alexa,” I said loudly over the music, smiling with gratitude.

“Having fun?” Her makeup was perfect, her lips outlined blood red.

I nodded.

“So …” Alexa continued, smiling slyly, “who have you been dancing with?”

“Um, no one has asked me yet.”

Her mouth dropped. “Oh my god, come on!” she exclaimed, pulling my hand toward the dance floor. “I think Tony is single.”

Surprising myself, I followed her, weaving through the sweaty bodies as my stomach protested every step. What was I doing? Just as Alexa pushed me toward Tony, I felt my pocket vibrate. I ignored it as he flashed me a smile that made my legs wobble. He reached out to take my hand, and our eyes locked. Alexa, satisfied with her handiwork, disappeared.

My phone vibrated again, and it took every muscle I had to reach into my pocket to see who it was. I wasn't surprised. Smiling apologetically at Tony, I raced up the stairs to the pink room.

“Mom?” I said, Tony's dark eyes still fresh in my memory, his white teeth …

“Where are you?” she asked, slightly frantic, as if she had just realized I was gone. I walked to the window and could see the sky was a deep black, the rain falling in torrents. The trees crashed against each other. A big branch scratched the window, and I jumped back. “I'm at Leah's party. I told you I would be home by 11,” I said, knowing she did not remember.

“Oh,” she said, clearly disappointed.

I sighed, sitting on the bed. I don't think either of us knew what to say. I had never been to a party like this. I had a few friends in the city, but they were more like people I hung around because it was better than being alone. I had never had a best friend. And suddenly, I realized with a pang of guilt, I didn't want to be suffocated by my mother's needs anymore.

“Will you be okay until I get back? Did you close the windows?”

I heard a cough. “Obviously. Do you think I'm dumb or something?”

“No, of course not. I'll be home at 11, okay?”

The line went dead before I got the last word out. She always hung up first, as if to prove she didn't need me. Alexa stepped into the room. “Oh, hey Naomi!” she exclaimed. “What happened to Tony?”

I shoved my phone in my pocket. “Oh, it didn't really work out,” I said casually.

She raised one eyebrow, a trick I envied. “Really,” she said slowly, clearly skeptical. “So who were you talking to?”

“My mom,” I admitted reluctantly.

“Oh?” She seemed genuinely concerned. Maybe this was the reason I told her the truth.

“Um, my mom is kind of … needy.”

She nodded. “I know what you mean.”

How? “Yeah,” I continued, “she has, like, nervous breakdowns or something.” I snapped my lips closed, angry I had let my guard down so easily.

But I was surprised when Alexa said, “Yeah, I hear ya.” She walked over to the window, pulling the curtain aside to reveal the raging storm. “My mom's pretty messed up too.” She bit her lip, keeping her gaze trained on the tree outside.

“Really?” I had seen her mom dropping her off at the party. She had looked beautiful, charismatic. “But your mom is so-”

“Perfect?” Alexa shook her head. “Far from it. Let's just say my dad isn't the most peaceful man, okay?”


She took a deep breath, grabbing a lip gloss off the dresser and swiping it across her lips. “Like, he's violent. You're not the only one with a dysfunctional family,” she said bluntly, casually stowing the gloss in her bra.

I could see she was also terrified to have let her guard down. We stood there a minute in silent understanding. The mood quickly turned as she said, “I swear to God, Naomi, if you tell anyone …”

“I promise I won't.”

“Like, not even Leah or Cecilia, okay? Because I just don't know that they would even understand, and like-”

“I promise,” I said quickly.

She looked relieved as she snapped back to the present. “Well, I promised David I would dance with him …”

She left the sentence hanging as she tossed her hair and left the room.

I stood on the pink rug for a few more minutes, still surprised that someone so perfect could have a secret so ugly. And that made me wonder – does everyone have something to hide?

When I returned to the dance floor, the volume had lowered considerably. I searched the mass of bodies for a familiar face and saw Leah standing with a boy in a doorway. He kept whispering suggestively and trying to hook his hands around her waist as she pushed him away. He looked like trouble.

I felt strangely protective as he took her face and pressed his lips to hers. The contact was only broken when she delivered a painful stomp on his foot with her three-inch heel. She wiped her mouth and was about to walk away when he grabbed her angrily. As she struggled, my eyes flickered to another body quickly crossing the dance floor.

I crossed the room.

Alexa grabbed Leah and said calmly, “Go to the kitchen,” then turned to the boy with venom in her eyes. “And you,” she growled, thrusting a manicured finger at his chest, “get out of here and stay away from Leah.”

The guy laughed. “What are you going to do, b--ch? Beat me up?”

“I'm sorry, is there a problem over here?” I asked in my most authoritative voice, crossing my arms as an afterthought.

He answered for Alexa. “Yeah, this one's making trouble. I was having a nice evening and she brings her white ass over here-”

I turned to Alexa. “Do we need to call the police?”

I knew that would be the magic word. He laughed nervously. “You wouldn't do that, not when everyone is having such a nice time.”

I whipped out my cell phone and started to dial, though I had no intention of calling anyone. A threat usually calmed someone down in the middle of a freak-out – I knew that from lots of experience.

“Okay, okay. I'm outta here,” he said. “This party sucks anyway.”

Alexa turned to me. “Thanks,” she mumbled. “Men are jerks.”

When our eyes met, I could see that this incident had struck a little too close to home, and it would probably take a while before her heart stopped racing. We headed toward the kitchen, where the girls were comforting Leah.

“Naomi totally saved our asses,” Alexa said with a sad smile. I could tell she was putting on a brave face, a face I was all too familiar with.

Just then, my phone buzzed angrily, and my stomach dropped: it was 10:59. I read the text from my mom: “Where are you?” I wished I could just be here.

As I turned to say good-bye, Leah exclaimed, “But the party isn't over yet! How could you leave?”

I didn't know myself. But I made an excuse about a dumb curfew, glancing over at Alexa, who was circling the rim of a water glass with her finger. “Bye,” I said, waving, before stepping out into the street. Well, this is just my luck, I thought as the rain poured down on my newly straightened hair.

On Monday morning I smiled and waved when I saw “my group” in front of school. But they didn't look thrilled to see me. “Hi guys,” I said cautiously as I turned to Alexa.

“What's going on?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” she asked, ­giving me her I-can-do-no-wrong ­expression.

I tried a different approach. “What did everyone say about me after I left?”

She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “Oh, you know, they just wanted to know why you ditched.”

“And did you tell them?” I asked nervously.

She didn't miss a beat before saying, “Naomi, I had to. They wouldn't stop asking, and I couldn't keep it from them. They're my best friends.”

I gasped.

“Well,” she said, clearly moving on to the next subject, “I have to get to class. Mr. Ruben has the patience of, like, a flea, and I'm on his good side now,” she joked.

Alexa walked off, leaving behind a lingering cloud of perfume and betrayal. I stood in the courtyard, trying to cough away both.

I managed to make it through a blur of classes and some restrained tears, but by lunchtime, I was ready to self-destruct. I carefully sat at my “usual” lunch table, but I felt as foreign as I had on the first day.

After a few beats of silence someone blurted in a high-pitched voice, “So is it true your mom is crazy?” I whipped around to glare at Alexa, but she was suddenly intrigued by a hangnail. Does she feel anything? I wondered.

I had never felt so alone and exposed. If this was friendship, I was sure that I wasn't missing anything. Since there was absolutely no chance Alexa would come to my rescue, I got up, threw out my uneaten lunch, and headed for the bathroom. Curled up in the corner of a stall, I fell apart.

I would like to say that Alexa rushed in and we cried together about the hardships of our families. But this was the real world, and I was left to wipe my own tears.

It was clear I was one hundred percent alone, and I would just have to do my best. Alexa and the rest of the girls weren't perfect, but I had never felt like I belonged more. Since Alexa wasn't brave enough to face her own secrets, it was up to me to find a friend who was. Somehow, in the insanity of what I had just been through, I had learned how to be a friend. And it was up to me now to find one who deserved me.

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

Join the Discussion

This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

Lina123 said...
Jul. 1, 2013 at 6:42 pm
I agree with all the other commenters. Excellent story, it inspired me to write myself. It was also relateable. I don't think anyone who reads this will find something wrong with it. Keep up the good work! :)
dragonsandthree said...
Apr. 24, 2013 at 8:56 pm
Great job. I can see why this got put in the magazine.
Trees said...
Jun. 17, 2012 at 4:01 pm
Nice story, I enjoyed it.
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