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Outcast (out´kast´) n. One who has been excluded from a group or society. This definition was a life. Mine. I was seventeen, a senior at Bridgewater High and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. September twenty-first was when it all began.
I had come home from school that Friday, feeling relieved for the weekend, but again alone as I was the only senior in Mr. Harris’s AP history class who would be studying for the first test of the semester. Every popular girl with fake lip gloss smiles and every jerk on the football team was attending the “Spin the Bottle” game at Josh Anderson’s place at midnight on Saturday. Except, of course, I didn’t know that I was a contestant until I found a fancy envelope with my name and address printed in the pile of mail at the kitchen table.
At first, I had to clean my thick frames, believing that the address was incorrect. There must have been some mistake. But there it was: Ava Carter, 1795 Runway Lane. My fingers trembled as I ripped the envelope open. Inside was a tiny card decorated in confetti. I didn’t know what to think when I read it. I went upstairs to my bedroom and sat down on my single mattress, looking around my room. My shelves filled with books with intelligent titles like Discovering the True Meaning of Life and A Mission that Changed the World; geeky posters of science fairs and indie bands that no one listened to; photographs of my cat.
When I was younger, I never thought much about my friends. They were there for play dates in the park and Barney marathons until seven before bedtime. As I got older and went into the eighth grade, I felt myself losing friends I’d known since I was three. They all had separate lives complete with boyfriends and all the latest fashion trends. Everyone suddenly changed, and I felt like the only one who still wore bunny slippers and watched Disney movies. I had a few friends here and there, but by the time I stumbled into my senior year, the only people I ever talked to were outcasts, like me.
Now I was invited to one of the biggest games of the senior class. I was still who I was four years ago: a geek who needed glasses as thick as burnt toast with freckles and no make-up. But maybe it was time I changed, too.
The envelope in my hands contained my ticket to fame. I ripped it open and read the card which contained nine simple words; words that would change my life, I would find out later.
It was senior year, and I felt on top of the world. I had a football scholarship, a girlfriend, and a party every weekend. Life was sweet, and I had no worries about anything. I was young and everything was being handed to me on a silver platter. Almost literally. My father was the CEO of a very successful manufacturing company and my mother had a career traveling the world as a botanist and photographer. They were never home, but we had maids that came to the house every day and cooks that served me and any friends of mine great food. I practically lived alone in the house, but I tried to escape every Friday so I wouldn’t feel like a loner.
I threw the invitation on my desk as I dropped my backpack on the recently vacuumed carpeting. I looked out the window and thought: Bring on the weekend.
All my life I was what you might call fragile. Weak. Pushed against walls. Brushed by. Invisible to everyone. I’d come home and sit at the kitchen table and cry to my mama who listened to my pointless self-pity with an understanding face. She’d look me in the eye after I’d finish slobbering all over the place and say:
“Gracie, the Lord made you special. He has a plan for you, even though you don’t know it. Someday, you’ll be wonderin’ why you were ever so upset.”
It was the same speech, but comforting to hear each time. The same story happened every week, sometimes two days in a row. I’d have a mental breakdown and my mama would keep a calm face, telling me those words of wisdom as though I’d forgotten them.
One day, Mama left a note on the fridge saying she had gone grocery shopping and would be back soon. I felt fine that afternoon; it was Friday after all and things winded down since the miserable beginning of the week. I found the mail on the counter and while sifting through it, I discovered a pretty little envelope with my name on it. It had no return address, but I assumed it was from a relative or family friend. I opened it carefully and pulled out a one-sided card the size of an index card, inviting me to a game. Spin the Bottle. I read it over. Then I realized that this was not just any game. It was a special game that seniors participated in every year. Josh Anderson was hosting it this time.
I thought that the card was a practical joke. No one in our class knew anything about me other than my name. I was bullied almost every day by a very tall and big, white basketball player, Chase. He was the only senior who paid attention to me. He’d call me names like “chocolate mop” and “ghetto girl.” I never knew that my color could become something people would tease me about. Mama always said to be proud of my beautiful cultures: African-American and Jamaican.
“You hold your head high, girl,” she’d say, “And embrace who you are.”
I stared at the card one more time. I knew that this was my chance to finally become the person I always wanted to be recognized as: me.
When you spend half of your life as a shadow, you feel new to everyone that suddenly talks to you because you grew out of your chubby phase and stopped wearing pants that stopped four inches above your ankles and suspenders. That was me, my freshman year. No life.
At lunch, I’d sit with other losers and pick at the grimy food choices as my fellow comrades talked in nasally voices about mathematics and essay contests. I was quiet, but my mind was always busy. Didn’t these guys care about anything else other than school? I spent three years with the same conversations, never noticed by anyone popular or “worthy” of speaking to.
The summer before my senior year was when I decided to gain control of my life. I started going to the gym every day, and I went jogging in the morning with my dad. My dad was a physical training coach, so it hadn’t been a surprise when he’d agreed—and even got really happy that I wanted to work out—to help me exercise more. The beginning was tough. I was woken up at five in the morning every day to start my daily routine. Have a hearty breakfast, stretch out by doing sit-ups and push-ups, and then go for a three-mile jog. This went on for two months, and I started to see an improvement.
Then, just before the school year started, I’d asked my mom to throw out all of my old clothes and buy me new ones from brands like Hollister or Abercrombie and Fitch. She came back from the mall with four new hoodies, six pairs of jeans, five new T-shirts, and a pair Vans sneakers.
I stepped into the new school year with a better haircut and no more glasses. Almost instantly, I was pulled into the Popular group. Like a magnet. I was invited to a party or double dare game every Friday night, and I started sitting with guys who cared more about sports and cars and girls than grades.
Only after the first week of school did I see the envelope waiting on my desk when I got home that Friday. I opened it up and read the card: Congratulations! You are a contestant in “Spin the Bottle.”
Saturday, the day of “Spin the Bottle,” I spent prepping. Should I braid my hair or just leave it down and wavy? A dress or a nice pair of jeans? I looked in my closet, not finding much. Mama was at work today, but I figured I could use my allowance and go to the mall to buy something nice for the party.
I went uptown to a strip mall and went into a store called H&M. I’d always heard the cheerleaders and popular girls chatting about it, saying it was the best place for great clothes at inexpensive prices. Why not? I thought.
When I stepped into the store, I saw dresses and jeans and blouses of all kinds. Before I’d left, I’d counted my money: fifty dollars and twenty-five cents. It was just sitting there in an old jelly jar on my desk. I decided that I wouldn’t spend all of it, but there were so many clothes, I wasn’t sure what to try on first.
Finally, I settled down on three dresses and a pair of jean shorts with two different blouses. In the dressing room, I tried on the first dress. It was a black, flowing dress with big sleeves and a deep V-neck. I looked in the mirror and took out my ponytail. Wow, I thought. The dress didn’t look as terrible on me as I believed it would. I took off the dress and chose another one. This one was a form-fitting dress with black and white stripes and a black fabric material used for the straps. This one did not flatter me like the other one did, showing off my stick-like figure. I decided to skip the last dress because it had the same shape as the second one. I tried on the jean shorts and the first blouse, a blue and green floral pattern. This was my favorite outfit out of all the clothes I’d tried on, so I chose to buy the jean shorts and blouse along with the first dress.
Next door was a Payless Shoe Source. I purchase a pair of neutral four-inch stilettos. By the time I got home, I realized that I’d spent all of my allowance, but twenty-five cents.
It was an hour before the party began. Luckily, my parents went out of town for the weekend. I put on a pair of black skinny jeans and a sparkly, strapless gold top: clothes my fashionista auntie had bought me for my sixteenth birthday. I’d never thought I’d wear them because they’d draw to much attention to me. But tonight was different. I curled my light brown hair and wore my contacts instead of my ugly frames. I wore gold flats—also from my auntie—to match my shirt and applied glittering gold eye shadow. I stood back to look at my reflection. For the first time in my life, I actually felt pretty.
I set my pillows up under the covers to look like my sleeping figure. In just thirty minutes, I would sneak out my bedroom window and go to the game. I didn’t know exactly what the dress attire was, so I stuck with my usual pair of jeans and black Hollister T-shirt. My ruffled blond hair was in need of a trim, but I let it grow longer. It seemed to attract chicks more.
For a few moments, I just sat at my desk chair staring into space, thinking about what laid ahead of me. It was just a game. Or at least, that’s what I thought.
Pulling on my leather jacket, I locked my bedroom door to assure that no maids wouldn’t come in and snoop around to find out that I was gone. I slid open the window and climbed out onto the roof, feeling the warm, breezy weather of the September night rush past my face. It was time to party. I jumped down and landed in the flower garden, my feet hitting the ground with such intensity, it sent intense pains through my legs.
I started walking towards Anderson’s place, keeping to myself, with my jacket collar covering my neck and ears. I felt like a creeper, walking alone in the dark by myself, yet at the same time, fear was crawling up my spine.
Midnight. I entered the house, dimmed, but warm from whispering mouths and body heat. I took a seat on the floor next to a few other people who were chatting silently about school and sports. I felt uncomfortable, as though I were an intruder in a dark murder scene. I saw the familiar faces of cheerleaders, jocks, Goths, punks, sluts, skater boys . . . no geeks or dorks. I started to wonder if I had just entered a trap. But there was no turning back now.
I was sitting in the large circle of people, waiting as patiently as possible. What were we waiting for? I wondered. Another girl who I’d seen around school before, but was not in any social clique, looked around the room with a nervous face. She twirled her wavy hair around with a shaky finger and rocked gently back and forth. I could tell she was confused as to why she was here. I was, too. Why were any of us here?
I arrived and sat down just as Josh Anderson brought a large, full bottle of some mystery liquid into the room and placed it on the center of the floor; it was probably alcohol. I could only pray it wasn’t drugs. My heart pounded furiously and my vision started to get blurry, but I forced myself to regain my composure.
“Welcome, everybody,” Josh began, “to Spin the Bottle. I will start the game and we will pass the bottle around clockwise. You must take a sip from the bottle before spinning to prove you’re not a wimp. If the bottle lands between two people, you will spin again or choose one person. Are the rules clear?”
Everyone either nodded or mumbled “uh, huh.” And then the game started. Josh took the first sip confidently and screwed the cap back on tightly before spinning the bottle. I watched the bottle anxiously as it slowed down before finally landing on Kelly Gray, the head cheerleader whose mother was a fashion designer and father, a big politician. It was no wonder the bottle landed on her. She scooted in and he grabbed her as they kissed for a long time. I felt my face grow hot as I watched them. I feared who might be the next victim of this cruel game.
My turn came around quickly. The bottle of alcohol was a quarter of the way gone by the time it reached me. I took a sip and cringed at the bitter taste, but sucked it up so all the other people wouldn’t think I was too weak to handle a simple drink. I placed the bottle in the middle of the circle and spun it as hard as possible. I didn’t know what to expect. We all waited with anticipation as the bottle slowed down. It landed upon Chase, my worst nightmare. His green eyes intimidated me, the smirk on his face challenging me.
“Come on, Grace. Let’s get this over with,” he said loudly, causing all the other jocks to howl with laughter, mostly because they were drunk.
We both stood up and walked towards the center of the circle before sitting down. I waited for him to lean, but he stayed as tall and mean as ever. I put my arms on his shoulders since I was too short and reached up. It felt like centuries before our lips met. It was just any kiss. Nothing special.
We pulled away, and we went back to our spots, and for some reason, I felt a little stronger. While the next contestant took the bottle from me, Chase kept looking over at me. Not with a smirk anymore. But a gentle smile.
I grew more and more nerve-racked as the bottle drew closer to me. At some point, a rather attractive guy with dark hair and olive tone skin had the bottle. He spun it after taking a sip of the awful alcohol and watched it with concentrated eyes. When it stopped spinning, he looked up at me. I looked at the bottle again and saw that it was pointed directly towards me. Oh no, I contemplated. We stood in the center. He wrapped his arms around my waist and drew me close to him.
I braced myself for the moment. It was embarrassing to be watched by so many people, but at the same time I didn’t care. And when it finally happened, it felt like we were the only two people in the entire world. But what chance would I have with a guy like him? He probably didn’t feel the same way anyhow.
Who is that girl? I thought as I noticed her scared expression when she realized she was supposed to kiss me. I didn’t recognize her from school, but she looked like she belonged with us. She had a model’s looks, but innocence in her blue eyes that I couldn’t quite understand.
I couldn’t help but pull her close to me when we finally stood before each other. She smelled clean, like flowers. Then, we kissed. I felt something I’d never felt before. Not when I was kissing my girlfriend, Heather. This girl wasn’t like the others. She was perfect on the inside, too.
Half of the party was drunk by the time it was my turn to spin the bottle. I took a quick sip, only tasting a few drops. Bitter, foul-tasting. I spun the bottle and watched it eventually slow down until it stopped between two girls, Marie Anne and Jasmine. Marie Anne was a Goth chick who wore too much black lipstick and white face paint. Kind of like that old band, KISS. She had a nose and eyebrow piercing and a vacant look in her eyes. A tiny music note was tattooed on the side of her neck. Jasmine was the biggest slut I’d ever met in my life. She was fake, too.
When we were sophomores, I sat next to her in chemistry, but she did everything possible to avoid being my lab partner or even looking in my direction. Since I’d stopped hanging out with geeks and looked more like a stereotype, she’d been trying to hook up with me from the second day of school.
Jasmine got an excited look in her eyes when she saw I was considering choosing one of them and mouthed “pick me.” I thought about it for a minute or so. Marie Anne had always treated me the same. Even after I changed that one summer. She’d talk to me if she had to and she was okay about it. Even though she wasn’t as gorgeous as Jasmine, Marie Anne was original. And I favored that more about her. So I chose her.
When I kissed Marie Anne, I didn’t feel anything special. Not like I expected to anyway. She didn’t seem like the kind of person who would fall head over heels for just anyone. I’m pretty sure she didn’t call it “head over heels” either. Probably something like heart over the bullet. But when she pulled away, I was glad I didn’t choose Jasmine, who was staring at me with her mouth hanging down to the floor.
The game ended. It was nearly two in the morning, and I felt dizzy from all the excitement. Or maybe it was just the alcohol. I walked outside of the house, feeling like I was floating in mid air. It wasn’t until that boy came up to me that I snapped back to reality.
“Hey,” he said, taking a deep breath.
“Hi,” I said, shyly, twirling a loose curl from my hair.
There was an awkward silence as we stood there for a moment. I thought he would ask me for my name. Then a tall, blond girl wearing a low-cut dress came over and stood in front of me.
“Oh, Dimitri! What are you doing talking to that loser? Let’s go home!” she sneered, grabbing him and pulling him away.
I slowly felt that special feeling fade, and I went home, alone. When I locked the door behind me, I walked upstairs and scrubbed away all of my make-up. I looked in the mirror and saw the nobody I was before tonight. Freckles, red eyes, and slightly crooked teeth. I couldn’t believe I’d fallen for that dumb trick. I felt more broken inside than ever before. And as I tucked myself, I vowed I would never think of myself worthy of someone’s time. I was still outcast. Nothing had changed.
On Monday morning, I walked into school dressed in the jean shorts I’d bought over the weekend and a smile. It was strange to feel confident as I walked down the hallway to my locker. I grabbed my Calculus textbook and English notebooks before shutting my locker door to face Chase. I was not afraid to look into his eyes. He couldn’t hurt me anymore.
“Uh, hey, Grace,” he began.
I crossed my arms, holding my books close. I put on a face like I didn’t give a damn in the world and sighed. What did he want, anyway?
“C’mon. Get on with it. I gotta get to class,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Well, um, after last night . . . I was wondering if, uh . . . you’d like to go out with me?”
I considered this. All these years it took him to realize he liked me. So I collected every ounce of courage I had left in me and said:
“That sounds nice and all, but seriously Chase, call me when you grow up. Have a great day.”
And I turned and walked down the hallway. Once I’d turned the corner, I was shaking like crazy, yet at the same time feeling lighter, as though a heavy weight had finally been lifted off my shoulders.
It was third block, study hall, and I was listening to my iPod while half-reading my English assignment. The library was pretty busy, students looking for books for history projects and studying in groups for projects that evil teachers wanted to assign even though the school year had just started. I was sort of spacing out, so I didn’t realize that a girl with unnaturally jet-black hair appeared in front of me.
I looked up, slightly startled. She had pretty dark brown eyes and rosy cheeks. Her lips were tinted a light pink color that had a shiny affect under the fluorescent lighting. If she’d been wearing the same pale white face paint and black lipstick, I would have known it was Marie Anne. Then I saw the tattoo of a music note on the right side of her neck.
“Uh, hey, Marie Anne.” I was confused as to why she’d come to see me. We weren’t really friends, but she had talked to me a lot of times before I changed so much over the past summer.
“Hi, Lucas,” she said. I didn’t really notice how high her voice sounded before.
“Can I—do you need help with anything?” I asked, marking the page in my English textbook.
“Well . . . sort of.” She sat down next to me and took my hand that wasn’t holding my iPod. “Saturday night. It was . . . fun.”
Suddenly, I knew why she was talking to me. I looked at her one more time. She was very pretty without the dramatic makeup. If she dyed her hair a more natural color, she might look a little better. But I couldn’t deny her. I sort of liked her, too.
“Do you wanna go out with me?” I asked. “Friday night’s cool. We could play video games or see a movie.”
“Sure,” she said, breathless. “I’ll talk to you soon.”
And before she left, she gave me a small kiss on the cheek. If only I’d known what I’d gotten myself into.
Monday morning hit me like a boulder. I walked into the school building like a zombie, barely put together in a pair of old jeans and a faded, orange and pink Champion T. It was hard to keep my eyes open during the Civil War lecture my ancient teacher, Mr. Bryans was presenting.
At lunch, I decided to leave school for a burger at the local diner. I was shuffling through my purse when someone stepped behind me. When I looked over, I quickly turned around and hoped he didn’t recognize me. It was the boy I’d kissed at Spin the Bottle. I paid for my food and took my tray to a corner table, pulling my hair out of its ponytail, trying to hide.
Unfortunately, Hot Boy was good with faces. When he was done ordering his food, he sat down at my table.
“I know you from somewhere . . .,” he began.
For some reason, I started laughing. And then I clasped my hand over my mouth to cover my snorting.
“What?” he asked.
“It’s just . . . what a creepy line to use when you want to pick up a girl,” I said.
He laughed, too, and I caught his eye before looking down at my un-lady like tray of food: a greasy quarter pounder, fries, and a big strawberry milkshake.
“Sorry, but aren’t you that girl from . . . Spin the Bottle?”
The memory flashed through my mind, and I felt his soft lips against mine. For a split second, I wanted to lean across the table and kiss him again. Then I remembered the moment after the game finished.
“Why are you talking to me anyway?” I said, feeling ashamed. “Don’t you have a girlfriend?”
“I used to, but . . . I just need to know your name . . . things between me and Heather are over,” he said.
I tried to hide the smile that spread across my face. I couldn’t believe this guy was giving up his popular girlfriend for . . . me, a freckled geek who wore big glasses, shopped at Target, and spent my weekends with my cat.
“You tell me your name first,” I said, looking up through my hair.
“Okay,” he said with a smile. “Dimitri.”
“Ava. Nice to meet you.”
It was strange sitting with this girl. At school my friends don’t really talk to girls outside of our group. All of them have girlfriends that could be on the front cover of Vogue. I wasn’t really dating Heather because I liked her. It was because I had to. For my reputation basically. But Ava when she kissed me, I felt different. It was like I could feel her soul. She didn’t know how beautiful she was. That was one of the things I guessed I liked about her.
“So, Ava,” I started slowly. “Would you . . . like to go out . . . with me?”
She stopped sipping her milkshake and looked at me with a shocked expression. Maybe it was too sudden. What if she said no? That would be pretty embarrassing.
But instead, Ava leaned across the table and kissed me. I guessed that meant yes.
I just got asked out by Dimitri.
Who gave up his popular, gorgeous girlfriend for me.