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I tugged on my shirt collar as sweat began to collect around my neck. The room was far too cramped and humid to comfortably house the six individuals it did. But the conditions of Oak Ridge High School's Saturday detention center were hardly a pressing concern for the administration, for this decrepit closet held the most frightening band of troublemakers Oak Ridge had ever laid eyes upon: a Bible toting, pigtailed terror, a quiet Hispanic girl, a Sharpie wielding goth, a post-modern hipster with a hidden bottle of PBR, and myself, the postage stamp collecting nightmare. Oh, yes, we were indeed a mortifying quintet.
I glanced over somewhat enviously at our supervisor, Ms. Winters. Of the four electric fans within the room, all were pointed directly into her round, cherub face. One would think she might take pity upon us and at least offer up the smallest fan, which occasionally sent out small sparks, but such a pittance was apparently against school policy. We would have to make due with paper fans and daydreams of meat lockers.
Suddenly, Ms. Winters stood up, turning the heads of her charge. "I'm gonna step out for a bit. Y'all be good, 'kay?" she chimed in an accented drawl.
Knowing Ms. Winters' behavioral patterns, I wasn't surprised in the least. She was quite famous amongst the student population for what we liked to call 'Chicken Runs'. She would abruptly stand up in the middle of class and inform us that she was "stepping out". Thirty minutes later she'd return with a hulking bucket of KFC. Occasionally, students would place bets upon the exact number of chicken pieces she'd come back with. It was a tricky task as we were never quite sure as to how many she might eat on the way back to class.
After a few noncommittal grunts from the prisoners, Ms. Winters skipped out of the dreary room with only a look of undisguised delight upon her face. I immediately strode over to the fans and promptly turned them all towards us. A blissful wave of cooling air washed over me like a gentle lake tide. I plopped back down into my seat, feeling refreshed after commandeering Ms. Winters' fans.
I caught the eye of the Hipster after a few moments. He appeared to be grateful to me, but it was a bit hard to tell through his purple-tinged shades. He sipped some of his PBR, obviously fighting back a gag after choking it down.
"This stuff really does taste gross," he remarked, immediately taking another swig.
"Then why drink it?" I asked, my eyebrows rising a fraction of an inch.
The Hipster looked puzzled for a second or two, fiddling with his plaid scarf wrapped firmly around his neck. "Do you drink it?" he replied pointedly.
I shook my head. "No, and I don't intend to."
"Exactly. Nobody else drinks the stuff. That's why I do it," he said, as if that answer held some key to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.
I nodded slowly, attempting to give the illusion of understanding. Certainly there were more satisfying things than drinking to aid one on the path to unorthodoxy.
"Is that alcoholic? You know that's illegal right?" said a female voice behind me. The twin-tailed Bible girl was clutching the good book to her chest, looking as if someone had just soiled her Wheaties.
The Hipster gave her an incredulous glare. "Your point?"
Bible Girl's face flushed red, indignation sweeping her features. "That's a sin! God hates sin," she fussed, tapping the Bible knowingly.
"Look, priestess, I'm not a saint. I have my ways, and you've got yours. Let's just leave it like that," the Hipster responded, an irritated edge to his tone.
Bible Girl crossed her arms and let out a haughty huff. "Suit yourself. Have fun in he**."
I sighed inwardly. We were all in the same boat; telling one another to effectively go to he** wasn't going to make this waste of our time any more pleasant. But I had a sneaking suspicion that such words would be lost upon Bible Girl.
"How do you know it's real? He**, I mean. Have you got proof?"
The gothic girl was carefully tracing the lines on her Converse with a black Sharpie. She never once looked up to face any of us, but we all knew that she had been the one who dared to tread upon Bible Girl's toes.
"Um, duh. It's right here," Bible Girl said contemptuously, smugly tapping the Bible once again.
"I mean facts. That book's just a bunch of stories. This is why I hate people who do things just because other people do," Gothy replied in exasperation, finally lifting her eyes to gaze at Bible Girl rather disdainfully.
Bible Girl snorted. "I don't want to hear that from somebody who hasn't got a single friend."
Gothy whipped out a cell phone in a flash, thrusting it forward for all to see. The phone's background displayed a fuzzy photo of two girls standing arm in arm. "She's Brooke, a friend of mine."
I studied the picture the best I could through its poor quality. Both girls donned copious amounts of black makeup, the same frightening T-shirt, and a pair of black skinny jeans with a hole just above the left knee. I would have had to flip a coin to figure out which one was the girl in front of me. Yes, nonconformists indeed.
"Whatever," Bible Girl said dismissively, "Unless you're friends with Jesus too, it doesn't matter anyways."
Neither girl spoke for some time after that. The Hipster continued to casually drink his PBR, still occasionally gagging. The Hispanic girl was as quiet as ever, silently working on a stack of papers. And myself? I searched through catalogs of postage stamps I'd brought with me, scouring the pages for a stamp I had yet to obtain.
Bible Girl eventually broke the silence. "Why do we have to be here? I know I didn't do anything wrong. But I'm not sure about the rest of you," she said doubtfully, giving each of us a leery stare.
"And why haven't you said anything?" she asked, turning her attention to the Hispanic girl.
The Hispanic girl acted as if she hadn't heard. An unnatural smile crept onto Bible Girl's face. "I bet she doesn't even speak English. Immigrants. I can't stand them," she said patronizingly.
I refrained from mentioning that we were all immigrants here. Bible Girl must not have been present when we dressed up as pilgrims and reenacted the journey to the New World in the first grade. Or in any history class we'd ever been forced to take for that matter. Regardless, Bible Girl was lucky the Hispanic girl probably didn't speak English. I started to feel a little sorry for the Hispanic girl. Not being able to understand any of this-
"I can speak English just fine. I was born here, just like you. My parents were too," the Hispanic girl informed Bible Girl coolly, her even gaze piercing.
Bible Girl, for once, did not have anything to say. She simply sat in her chair, slightly slack-jawed and doe-eyed. I would have laughed if I hadn't been struggling with my own guilt at reaching the same conclusion as Bible Girl had.
"Has anyone ever told you that you talk too much?" continued the Hispanic girl, "I believe Mark Twain once said, 'It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt'. Maybe you should take his advice."
Before Bible Girl could formulate some kind of coherent response, Ms. Winters pranced back into the room, cradling a generous amount of KFC. I never got to hear what Bible Girl might have said, but I had a feeling I hadn't missed much.
No one spoke for the rest of our time at the Oak Ridge High School detention center. I liked to think I learned something valuable that day, but I never could quite place my finger on it. I was much more content perusing my collection of postage stamps, but perhaps the answer to what I learned rested at the bottom of Ms. Winters' bucket of fried chicken, beneath the layers of false advertising, artificial flavoring, and added preservatives.