Authors: Hillary Homzie
As the bell rang for fourth period, Nia turned to us and smiled. “See you later, goddess.” This was Nia's new word of the week.
“See you, fellow goddess,” said Maddie overenthusiastically. And a little geekily. I thought the word “fellow” sounded especially nerdy. Maddie had to watch it. Then when Nia was out of earshot, Maddie gushed, “She's so much nicer than I thought.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, although I was thinking,
I'm not so sure
. She set me up with the singing thing.
“I mean she looks a certain way. You know, with that hair and groovy clothes. But she went out of her way to include us and be nice.”
“Didn't you think she went out of her way?”
“She did do that,” I admitted. “It's not like we've ever eaten with them before.”
“I think Nia really likes us, Sophie. I'm thinking that seventh grade is going to be very interesting.”
I didn't want seventh grade to be interesting. I wanted seventh grade to be just like sixth grade. I'd walk to Maddie's home, we'd have a snack, do some homework together. Chat when we got home while doing more homework. Spend Saturday night together, and my dad would get us Slurpees. We'd hang out with Heather and Nicole sometimes. That was all just fine with me. I wasn't so sure that I needed “interesting.” But it looked like now that the Hot List was out, I didn't have much of a choice. I fantasized again about wiping it clean, but then I remembered it was permanent. I could sneak a can of paint to school, but that wasn't a good idea, especially for the principal's kid.
The next day at school, Nia invited us to eat with her again, which I thought was even weirder. I realized that Nia and Maddie had the art thing together, but I still didn't get why she'd wanted usâwell, mostly Maddieâto eat at her table. I tried to protest and say what about Heather and Nicole, but Nia insisted that they were fine eating on their own. I considered going over to sit with them myself but that would be weird. I mean, it was Maddie who I really wanted to sit with anyway.
One more day of eating at Nia's table became two more days, and two more days became three more days. And
suddenly, I found myself expecting to sit with Nia and the rest of the crew. On the second day, though, Heather and Nicole had approached me by my locker. “What's the deal with you and Maddie eating over with Nia and all of them? Can't sit with us since we're not on the Hot List?” She looked and sounded pretty hurt.
“Well, we're not on the List either. It was Maddie's idea. I'm missing sitting with you guys, though.” And that was partly true. I didn't miss Heather and Nicole so much as sitting at the quiet end of a table alone with Maddie.
“Why don't you say something to Maddie?” asked Nicole.
“I'll try,” I mumbled. Nicole frowned but didn't say anything more.
Meanwhile, Maddie seemed to be spending more time with Nia. She went over to her house to work on some videos. And then, using her calligraphy skills, she helped Nia decorate the Hot Listers' lockers with bolts of lightning and fire.
When I asked Maddie about it before lunch, like what was the deal with their sudden, close buddy-buddy friendship, she said, “Nia and I have stuff in common.”
“Cool parents and art.”
I clenched my teeth when Maddie said “parents,” since
that sort of left me out. I have a parent. Not parents. I can't ever remember having parents with an
because I was so young when my mom died. “Whatever,” I said to Maddie. “I still can't see you guys hanging.”
Maddie gave me an intense eye lock. “Why don't you like Nia?”
“I didn't say that. It's just that she's going out of her way. And it seems weird.”
“You've got to start trusting people,” said Maddie. And I thought about that. Could she be right? Was I too paranoid?
Probably not. Two weeks ago, at a class field trip to the Denver art museum, I had been paired up to be Nia's buddy. As we walked through the exhibits, she had spent the entire time texting on her phone. Nia had gotten a chance to know me and was not interested. Then last Thursday when she had asked me if I wanted to go swimming after a soccer game, I had said no because I was pretty sure her mother had put her up to it.
I was about to explain it all to Maddie when Nia rushed up and dragged us to her table.
We talked about a TV show everyone was watching and how dumb the new school dress policy was about no more sandals. “Like toes are evil,” said Nia. “It's healthy to air out your feet. I'm going to bring this up to student leadership.”
As my dad strolled by she waved at him. “Mr. Fanuch.”
“Fanuchi,” I corrected.
Nia smiled. “I know, of course. But I like Fanuch. It sounds fun.” She waved her arms with all of those colored hair bands and called out more loudly. “Mr. Fanuch, I have something to talk to you about.”
My dad walked over to the table. “Yeeeees, I'm listening.”
“It's the new dress policy,” said Nia in her self-important voice. “No more open-toed shoes. It's prejudiced against sandals.”
“And toes,” reminded Ava.
“Exactly. They need to be aired out. Feet expand in the heat and closed shoes actually might cause damage, which could lead to lawsuits.” Nia's eyes narrowed. She thought she was so clever.
“I see your point,” said Dad, talking in a mock-presidential way. “But I can tell you that you wouldn't want to see some people's toes. They can be kind of scary. If you want to call a toe summit, it's fine with me.”
“Thanks, Mr. Fanuch!” gushed Nia. After Dad was out of earshot, Nia said, “He's pretty awesome.” Then I waited for her to add
And my mom thinks so too
. I still hadn't told Maddie that our parents were dating for a couple of weeks solid. So much time had passed, I feared telling her. I wasn't sure when it had moved from
casual to seeing each other all of the time, but it had.
“Yeah, he's a pretty great dad,” I admitted, relieved that Nia hadn't said anything about the dating situation. “Even if he's clueless about anything to do with technology. He doesn't know how to change the wallpaper on his phone.”
“That's so sad,” said Nia.
“Luckily, I save him,” said Maddie, grinning. We high-fived each other, and, for a split second, I saw this look in Nia's eyes. Almost like she was a little jealous, which was weird because she was always surrounded by her groupies. I didn't get it. Why would she be jealous of us? “That's my job, saving people,” continued Maddie.
“And you saved us from complete boredom this year by creating the Hot List.”
Then Nia covered her mouth. “Whoops, I wasn't supposed to say that.”
I stared at Maddie in complete disbelief. “What? You told? There is just no way.” Whoa. I wasn't expecting this. Maddie's face grew pale, and Nia flicked an
look at her.
All of the chatter in the cafeteria suddenly went on high volume. The grease and meat loaf smells got smellier, and the lights brighter and blinkier. Everything was so awful I couldn't believe it. I felt like this couldn't be happening to me. This had to be happening to someone else. It was
almost like I had stepped outside my own body, and I was watching my life in a horror movie.
And that's when I walked out of the caf.
I wanted to run, but I could feel eyes on me, so I slowed down just to look a little more relaxed and casual, yet purposeful. Like I had to leave to go a dentist appointment for a cleaning.
Of course, I had never been less relaxed or casual in my life. My cheeks felt hot, and I had to clench my fists tightly, so I wouldn't scream out loud. And I moved as calmly as you could in a cafeteria crowded with boys who stuck French fries up their noses, and blew up brown paper bags to pop like firecrackers, and a best friend who betrayed the biggest secret of your life.
walked out of the caf, outside in the courtyard, where there
wasn't any Maddie. Or Nia. Or a Hot List.
My impulse was to leave school grounds. I just wanted to get as far away from Travis as I could.
I wanted to be alone in my room, where I could sniffle and listen to my iPod at full volume.
I couldn't cry in class, so the cafeteria courtyard would have to do. As I opened the door to go outside, a gust of wind hit my face. It was nippy, and I didn't have my coat, but I wasn't turning around. I kicked a nearby trash can like I was blocking a soccer ball from entering enemy territory.
And, to me, it felt like my own best friend was now the enemy.
Even though there were groups of kids standing around, nobody seemed to have noticed my kick. The
courtyard was known as the place for students who didn't really do lunchâthe skate rats who practiced tricks on imaginary skateboards, the girls with raccoon-mascara-type eyes, who carved their initials into picnic benches with their protractors, and the wannabe tough guys who did chicken fights. It was not the tattletale crowd.
I thought. I was going to stay out here for the rest of lunch. Maddie could hang out inside with her new clan and her new way of speaking. “I'm so sad” and “evil.” Ugh.
Maddie was, like, a jillion times evil for revealing our Hot List identities. A lifetime quota, as far as I was concerned.
I stared at the trash can that I had just kicked, which had been painted by student leadership last year in a campaign by Nia, of course. That little thought made me happyâI guess because I had kicked it.
Someone, probably Nia herself, had painted yellow sunflowers and written the message,
. What flowers and animals had to do with each other I had no idea.
There were other trash cans with other messages, like
DON'T POLLUTE AND DON'T LITTER
, which seemed dumb to me. Because if you're the kind of person who's dumping your garbage in a trash can, you don't need to be reminded to not pollute.
Maddie needed a trash can that said don't be a traitor.
Suddenly, my throat felt achy. Why did Nia need Maddie? I couldn't figure it out. She had four other friends. Why did she need to add my best friend to her collection?
a little voice said in my head.
I didn't need her. In fact, I never wanted to see her again.
But my break from Maddie didn't last too long. A few seconds later, she raced into the courtyard. And not far behind her stood Nia. And then came McKenzie, Ava, Sierra, and Amber. They looked like little ducklings waddling behind their mother duck.
Great. Now the entire group of ducklings was watching me cry. Because that's what was happening. Actual tears were coming out of my eyes. I bent my head so nobody could see.
“I want to talk to you,” called out Maddie, as she marched over to me.
I hugged my knees and stared at the ground. I watched a pill bug, scurrying over a large crack in the cement, only to fall in a few seconds later. His little legs were moving, as he turned upside down, but he wasn't going anywhere. He had fallen into the bug pit of doom.
I took my fingernail and scooped the little bug out of the crevice.
There was no way I was going to speak to her.
“Please,” said Nia. “She can explain.”
I could feel myself about to lose it. The tightness in my throat made it hard to swallow.
“I'm so sorry,” said Maddie. “But don't blame Nia. It's so my fault.”
I looked up. “That's right. It's
fault.” I could feel some drops of rain coming down from the sky. And a breeze, which gave me goose bumps along my arms, so I hugged myself tighter. The other girls squealed as the raindrops began to fall. They all dashed back inside, except Maddie. She stood out in the rain. Her glasses got so fogged up I could hardly see her eyes.
“Say something,” she said.
“Not with Nia here.” I could see Nia peeking through an open door. Maddie looked pleadingly at Nia, who nodded and retreated back into the caf.
“Okay, I get why Nia was suddenly extra interested in being your friend. You told her that we created the Hot List.”
“That's not why,” insisted Maddie.
“How could you have embarrassed me like that? I mean, if you told Nia and all of them you might as well
have broadcasted it on Denver TV for that matter. I'm sure
knows by now.”
“That's not true. Nia isn't like that. Neither are the others. She knows we threw away the pen. That it was a one-time thing.” She gave me a desperate look.
“Right. Like I'm going to have anything to do with the Hot List again. Seriously. How could you tell her? I thought I could trust you.”
“Yeah, and I thought
trusted me.” The rain came down harder so that even the skate rats, the raccoon-eyed girls, and the chicken-fighting boys rushed inside.
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“Never mind.” Maddie stared at the cement.
“What? Tell me.”
“Nia told me.” She paused. “About your parents dating.”
If it was possible, the chill outside felt chillier. I should have seen this coming I told myself. “I wanted to tell you,” I began. “It's just been â¦”
“You know I've only really known Nia well for, what? Three weeks, and she's already telling me stuff that you can't. How do you think it makes me feel? It makes me wonder what else are you keeping from me? I told Nia because I trust her and she trusts me.”
“So, are you and Nia best friends now?”
“I don't like that expression, âbest friend.' Nia says it's
hierarchal. I can have more than one friend, Sophie. I can be her friend, too.”
“I don't think so,” I said. Maddie had always been my best friend. She had known what it was like for me to grow up without a mom. There was no one else that could possibly understand.