When people first see me, they judge me. I’ve had a whole lot of people refuse to be my friend because of my race. I’m not going to complain, though, because I do the same thing. If people complain too much, I tell them goodbye. I’ve always been like that. And then she came.
It was the second day of school, fifth period social studies. I was getting ready to sit down with my friends, Natalie and Ashley, when I saw a strange girl sitting at my desk. So, being the extremely straightforward person I was, I said, “Um, excuse me? But, this is my spot?” It came out sounding like a question, and my voice was super high pitched. Natalie said, “Akanksha, this is Mallory. She’s in three of my classes, and I think it would be really cool if all four of us could be friends.” Ashley added, “She's in band, too. First period. That's really cool.”
Yeah, right. How is that cool? Of course, Ashley was in orchestra, where they had only one period for 7th graders. She obviously thought it was cool. I couldn't believe this. My friends thought that just because I had the same elective as someone, we would be best friends. Ugh. And Natalie has ah-mazing judgement, so I had to wonder what she saw in Mallory. My first thoughts on Mallory was that she’s the type of person who wants attention. She’d do anything for it. I later learned that Mallory hangs out with the popular group. She knows a bunch of cool kids. And she is popular. Her personality says it. I sat down across from Ashley, feeling defeated. I could not believe that I had let this spoiled brat get the best of me. I decide that, once the teacher let us loose, I would give Mallory a piece of my mind.
Once we were finally given instructions for our assignment, I could talk freely in my table group. But before I could speak, Mallory said it first. It was the first time I had heard her talk. Her voice was soft and hard at the same time. “Like, what the frick, why, like, have to do this frickin’ project?” She sounded so generic and so boring that I literally fell asleep. I looked across at Ashley, prepared to give an eyeroll. However, I was surprised to see that Ashley and Natalie were staring at Mallory like a dog, hanging on to her every word. And what was the most surprising was what Natalie did next.
She pushed away her paper and said, “OMG, totally hate this.” On the outside, I said, “Your loss, Natalie.” But on the inside, boy, was I boiling! I mean, she talked like it was an Instagram post. The grammar nazi in me wanted to shout, “Your sentence doesn't even have a pronoun!” And, what the heck? Our project was fun! We had to make a Coat Of Arms that represented us. And Natalie was saying that it was boring.
Mallory, on the other hand, was full of pep. “Natty, you’re so LOL-worthy! Remember sixth period?” Natty? What's up with that? Natalie hates nicknames. But now she just giggled and said, “Urgh, totes.” Then they both laughed. Ashley must have been as confused as I was, so she changed the subject. “What do you guys think of Science this year?”
Finally! I needed to prove myself to Mallory. I needed to show her that I was just as in control as she was. “Our teacher is amazing.” I knew that Natalie hated the teacher, so hopefully she would speak up. And she did. “I hate her. She can't handle a class.” Yes! She was back to normal! Me one, Mallory nothing.
Or so I thought.
I can handle people manipulating my friends. I can even handle people manipulating me. But what I can't stand is people manipulating my friends and then trying to turn them against me. Which is what Mallory tried to do.
It was almost the end of the period. I had finished coloring and needed to add some pizzazz to my work. So I used my iPad to trace my name in a cool font. Ashley and Natalie were watching me. Ashley said, “Wow, Akanksha. That looks amazing. Can you show me how to do that?” Natalie chimed in, “Me too! Please?”
Now, because I'm nice, I said yes. The only problem is that when it comes to tech, Ashley and Natalie are hopeless. They can't do a single thing on and iPad that requires work. It's times like these when I wonder why I friended them in the first place. So here they are, trying to work Guided Access, and here I am, trying to help them. And Mallory says something so mean, so cruel, it basically breaks my heart.
“You guys might as well give up on this because it's hopeless and a waste of time.” Even though she probably meant the iPad, I got the feeling that she meant me. I was choking back tears as I said, “It’s not hopeless, right? I mean, I got it to work.” Instead of defending me, however, my friends took Mallory’s side. “Sorry, Akanksha, but I'm going to take Mallory’s advice here. She's super experienced.” Super experienced at what? Being popular? I sighed as the world collapsed around me.
The next day, we had a marshmallow challenge. And guess what happened? Mallory ended up taking the lead, and she was so bad at it that our structure was the shortest. After that, Natalie and Ashley were whispering and pointing at me, like our loss was my fault. I felt so embarrassed. My voice was cracking, and my throat felt dry. It didn't help matters when the teacher called on me to answer the question. I didn't know the answer, so I ended up taking a guess. I think it was confusing, because he asked me to explain further. And then there was silence. The whole class was staring at me. All. Because. Of her.
Finally, Monday came. I was super happy, because we were getting new seats. I wouldn't have to sit with Mallory anymore. I looked at the seating chart and tried to find my name. I saw it, at the table group with Rebecca, Angelica, and… Mallory? I would get to sit next to Mallory. How nice. When I sat down, Mallory said, “Hi, Akanksha.” I was really surprised, I did not expect her to even acknowledge my presence. “Hi, Mallory.” Then she does something that I will never ever forget.
Mallory turns her chair around so that she faces me. She places her hands in the steeple position and asks, “Can I tell you something?”
“When I first met Natalie, I thought she was okay. When she introduced me to Ashley, I thought she was also okay. Then they asked me to sit next to them, and I said sure. They told me that they were going to introduce me to you, and I was like whatever. So when I met you, I thought that you would be just like them. Well, guess what? You’re not. It made me wonder why you were friends with them anyway. So then I did a little test on you guys. I told them that I was super popular.”
I was shocked. “Wait, wait. You’re not popular?” She laughed. “No, Akanksha. I’m not. Well, not really. It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later.”
“Yeah… So anyway, after that they kept acting like me and clinging to me. They were normal up to then. And you? You didn't care. You really didn't like me. But I liked you. So I begged the teacher to put me and you together. I needed to know you better without Natalie and Ashley in the way. Can we be friends now?”
Silence. Then, I heard a voice say, “Why not?” It was mine.
About a month later, I walk into the band room with Natalie and see about sixty other people warming up. It’s a special night for us: our first concert. I glance around until I see who I’m looking for. I head over to the percussion equipment and wave frantically until she sees me. Mallory comes over and says, “Akanksha, you look great!” I smile. When it comes to compliments, Mallory is the queen. Something that I wouldn't have thought when I first met her. This just goes to show: don't judge a book by its cover.
“You look amazing, Mal.” Her recently-cut hair is down for once, and I can see her brown highlights. I take a seat next to her. “You ready for this?”
“Totally. Let’s do this.” As my band teacher opens the door and tells everyone that it's time, Mallory grabs my hand. She whispers, “You and me. After the concert.”
I get a feeling that has nothing to do with nerves. “Deal.”