There are some who take high school too seriously. Those who try so hard to put everyone in a group in their head so they know how to navigate the halls and talk to the right people. There are boys with bad intentions and fingernails sharpened into razor blades, but there are boys with good intentions and flowers blossoming at their fingertips. There are girls who cake on layer after layer of eyeliner and foundation in an attempt to fill the void of unworthiness that is carved out in their hearts from careless comments and fake friends. There are people who think that high school is forever.
I have a secret.
As much as I hate it when people classify each other and group them into different cliques, I, too, have my own circle of friends. There are four of us who’ve grown up at the same school, in the same city, in the same state, since kindergarten.
Jason is the funny sidekick of the group, always making awful jokes and puns. To everyone looking in at our group, he’s the odd ball out. I mean, he dresses in basketball shorts and calf socks and plays three sports, yet he’s best friends with a bunch of weirdos. There is a lot about Jason that people don’t know, though, and even though a stupid smile is always plastered across his charcoal face, his eyes tell a different story. All he listens to is classic rock. Nothing more, nothing less.
Max is the closeted, gay band nerd. Dirty blonde hair and emerald eyes, he isn’t striking in appearance but is in personality. He, too, covers up a lot of his feelings and past with outdated memes and dismissing smiles. Boys in general don’t like to talk about their feelings in fear of seeming weak, but Max bottles himself up to a clinical degree. He makes playlists for us all the time and if you are smart enough to sift through the German techno music, you’ll find a gem or two. Piece those gems together, and you’ll learn something new about Max or what is going on in his head.
Avery is the unpredictable force of the group. She’s the one who can send food back at a restaurant in the “I’d like to speak to your manager” tone and get things for free. With jet black hair, sheet white skin, and sepia eyes, her existence is piercing and loud. Her moods fluctuate regularly and you can always tell because her music taste will change depending on those swings. One day, she’ll show up to school blasting Tupac and the next, the Smiths.
I’m the last of us. My name is Greyson but people call me Grey. You can, too. I’m the awkward, pasty kid in the back of the classroom who doodles lyrics all over his Biology notes. You know the type. I wish I could tell you something magnificent about myself like that I saved an old woman from a burning building or a cat from a tree, but I can’t. There’s nothing special about me.
We are sitting in my basement now as I am writing this. Avery is up by my record player, scoffing at my vinyl as she flips through them. Jason is falling asleep on the beanbag by her feet, still in his basketball jersey. Max is glued to his phone next to me, texting some girl he’s friends with a few states away. She sounds pretty great when he talks about her. I think he’s secretly in love with her or something, but then there’s Kasey, the boy he’s been in love with since the sixth grade. I’ve never seen someone light up as much as he does when Kasey’s name is mentioned. He moved away before we entered high school a few months ago, and Max has never been the same.
“Why black? You were so emo with your black soul that you painted your basement black? How did your parents let you do this?” Jason suddenly states, his eyes still lightly closed.
“Number one, I am not emo-”
“Only an emo kid would say that,” Max pipes up, his eyes still on his phone. I punch him in the leg.
“Number two, my parents say that my basement is my domain, therefore I can do whatever I want with the walls. Number three, if the walls are plain and dark, it gives my mind the opportunity to go wherever I want when I’m down here. Like if I’m listening to The Misfits, I’ll imagine myself at that tour,” I point to my poster on the wall to the right of Avery. “I’ll be in the crowd with all of the weird people wearing dark makeup and ripped jeans. The walls aren’t really black to me, they’re full of my thoughts.”
“That was a really emo explanation,” Max laughs after a few moments of silence. I set down my notebook and take him to the ground face first, putting him into a headlock until he taps out. Face scarlet and veins bulging on his forehead, he still manages to match my grin.
“Jason, how’s your mom?” Avery sits down next to him, nudging his arm lightly. Max and I stop our fighting and scoot closer to the two of them.
He weakly smiles as his eyes flutter open, “I visited her before practice. Nothing has changed. She goes in for her eighth surgery tomorrow. Hopefully the cancer will be gone after it, but that’s what those doctors say every single time. They’ve almost cut through all of the tissue in the left one, and the right one is on it’s way to be the same. It’s so weird talking about my mom’s boobs, I’m sorry,” Jason snickers and we all join in. Avery smiles and wipes away a tear, her hand held to her chest and collarbone.
Jason’s mom has struggled with breast cancer since our third grade year. She’s become kind of a second mother to all of us. We go visit her in the hospital when she goes in for surgeries and we come cook and clean at their house during recovery. After the first two years of surgeries and medication, she lost most muscle where her arms and chest meet, so she can’t drive or lift her arms too high. It’s really a shame.
The doorbell interrupts our sad moment and Avery rushes upstairs to see the pizza delivery guy. In her life, Avery is in constant search for love. She always things that he’ll meet her in a record store or they’ll meet when she buys pizza. It’s super weird because Avery doesn’t let herself get too close to people. Ever since we were kids, she’d have a crush on a boy and when he’d return feelings, she’d back away. The fun for Avery regarding love is in the chase.
“Did you meet the love of your life?” I eagerly ask she jogs down the stairs, expertly balancing two pizza boxes on her hand.
“No. I met Kyle. Kyle wanted my number but I politely declined after he didn’t know who Morrissey was,” Avery says with a fake frown. “Max, put the damn phone down and turn on some Neck Deep. Jason go get some pop. Grey move your dirty laundry off of the windowsill. Autobots, roll out!”
We all disperse to do our assigned jobs. A guitar riff severs the sweaty air and noises of shuffling feet. Avery flips open the boxes and we surround the window sill like hungry vultures around a dead corpse. Gross description, Grey. Sorry.
After grabbing a slice, we take our seating arrangements and fold our pizza like tacos, maximizing our bites in both flavor and amount. The next few minutes are empty of speaking. We just sit, listen, and eat just like every other Friday night. We are the epitome of all pop punk kids of our era: skinny jeans, greasy hair, expensive band shirts, hatred of our hometown and our high school.
Max gets up to flip the album, but instead turns the player off and turns to all of us, a smear of marinara sauce decorating his cheek.
“Let’s go to a party,” He exclaims excitedly.
Jason, Avery, and I exchange nervous glances.
“Why?” Is all I can mutter.
“Why not?” Max responds.
“Hmm… let’s see. We are a bunch of no name freshman with no other friends except for the three in this room right now.”
“Untrue. I know a lot of upperclassmen from band. Jason knows plenty from sports. Avery is in the debate club. You’re in AP English. What do you mean we know no one? Hear me out. Kennady Montgomery’s parents are out of town on a business trip and she’s having a party tonight. Julie just invited me and she said it’d be fine if I brought my group. Let’s go. Please. I’ve spent months sugaring up to Julie just so we could go to these things. She doesn’t know I play for the other team. It’s been miserable but I’m doing it BECAUSE I want us to do cool things. Who’s in?”
Avery and Jason timidly raise their hands, I reluctantly follow. We sneak out of the sliding glass door in the basement, carefully rolling our bikes down the street until we start furiously pedaling out of sight. The October air washes over me as I cut through it with my rubber wheels and squeaky brakes. I let go of my handles once I reach an appropriate speed and spread my hands wide, letting the wind guide me. Jason howls next to me, racing me down the street. The hair on Max’s arm looks darker from here. Avery’s nails seem unusually sharp as she tightly grips her metal. We transform into a wolf pack of the night. Inseparable and wild. Carefree and rebellious.
Kennady’s house is only a few blocks away from me and as we roll onto her driveway, the gargantuan house erects from the cement quickly, catching us all off guard. All the lights are on inside and the red bricks of the house vibrate threateningly from the music blasting inside of it. We hide our bikes in the bushes of the neighbor’s house, so as not to bring our cool level down with the fact that we are still a year too young to drive. Max texts Julie and she comes to greet us as the threshold, swinging the chestnut door open violently. A red cup glued to her left hand, she motions us inside with her right. She hugs Max and stumbles into him a little, unable to stand up straight for long. He looks at us as with panicky eyes as she entraps him. We walk into the living room. Kyle Korb, the star football player, hovers over Kennady, who is sprawled out on the coffee table, with his shirt off and his tongue licking a row of salt down to her waistline, a shot glass in his hand. A group of boys surround him, hooting and yelling while the girls are on the other side of the table, lining up to be next. They all have their phones out, taking photos and videos to post on various social media websites later in search for validation from their fellow classmates and friends.
We glance around the room and immediately feel completely out of place. Max looks at us apologetically and we get ready to walk out.
A boy who must be from another school peels away from his friend group on the wall, watching the whole ordeal, and beelines over to us. He seems our age, taller than all of us, but still a baby face with cheekbones waiting to emerge from underneath his chubby cheeks. His hair is wavy and falls slightly over his forehead. A baggy cardigan falls loosely over his shoulders and I look down at his shirt.
“You guys don’t look like you belong here. No offense, I don’t either,” He smiles and suddenly becomes more attractive than before.
“The Smiths,” Avery says quietly. Only I can hear her over the rap music.
“I’m sorry?” The boy bends over, closer to her and I see her go red in the cheeks.
“I said the Smiths. Your shirt. Tsk. The Queen Is Dead is a rookie album,” she points at his shirt and regains her usually amount of edgy courage, meeting him directly in the eyes.
“Who knows? There’s someone in this town with decent taste and a pretty face,” He says, outstretching his hand. “Want to get out of here?”
“Excuse me?” Avery pulls her hand back sharply and he laughs.
“Not like that. I mean let’s go downtown and get some food or something. I’m Alex, by the way.”
We all look at each other. He seems cool enough, so we introduce ourselves and walk with him outside. I watch Avery carefully as she keeps a considerable distance but stares at him. Max is practically swooning. Hell, so am I.
“Okay don’t laugh, I rode my bike here. You can’t get a license at fifteen.”
I laugh and let Jason lead him over to the bush where our bikes are stacked in a messy entanglement of wires and wheels. Alex claps his hand and laughs again. Avery turns away to suppress her smile.
We ride all the way downtown which is a mile or two from the neighborhoods around our school where all of us live. The shops are closed but the food joints and bars are popping with business.
“Ice cream or coffee?” I holler to the trail of teenagers behind me. After much disagreement, Avery makes the final call of coffee.
Downtown has the best place for coffee and Max knows the owner, so usually free drinks or leftover pastries are involved. We park our bikes in the alley next to The Sweet Beginning and enter the abandoned building, basking in the warmth and pungent, bold smell of coffee. A barista greets us and Max knows him from band. After a few minutes of friendly conversation and the roar of latte machines, we take a seat around a table in the far corner.
“Alright. You guys know the drill. Phones in the center,” Avery orders. We fish out our cell phones and pile them in the center of the table, Alex follows us with a confused face. “Life is not just about how many likes you get. It’s about moments like these and who you spend them with. My old math teacher once told me to see what everyone else is doing and do the complete opposite. Everyone is on their phones constantly. We will not be.”
The way Alex looked at her when she spoke is something I wish someone looked at me one day. He watches her with patient eyes bathed in awe. They’d just met and it already feels like they’ve known each other this whole time.
So we sat in that little coffee shop, watching the people rush around outside from bar to bar. Small conversations flourished between us as we talked about music and life and high school.
“I hate my hometown,” Jason says.
“I hate high school,” I pitch in.
“I’m pretty gay,” Max adds.
“I’m unable to allow love into my life,” Avery croaks.
“I’m mentally unstable,” Alex follows.
“Misery loves company. That company cannot be found at any party full of drunk preps and annoying stoners. It can only be found at midnight in a run down coffee place,” I smile to myself.
Avery found a boy who knows who Morrissey is.
Jason is hopeful for his mom.
Max isn’t thinking about Kasey for a little while.
I am still lost, but I’m learning to live with it. Maybe being a little lost isn’t so bad after all if you have friends like mine. You wouldn’t know though, because they’re my friends, not yours.