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Fresh Poets Society

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Cherry Baby

Dominating high school has always been categorized by who was popular and who wasn’t. Only one group of people can exist in that popularity space, but that formula didn’t work here. I, a rock-n-roll junkie, dominated half of the student body in rock while Marie, a preppy cheer captain, dominated the other; her skittish personality always avoiding me but her wealth always pushing competition down. Marie and I existed in popularity on different ends of the school.

She drank cherry coke with hazel eyes and had smooth thighs; her shorts often hugged and gently teased the eye. She loved to hang out by the pool with her retro telephone the shape of a heart, swaying it back and forth. She smoked Marlboro, her favorite brand, and truly believed it enhanced her charm. I wore all black with chains around my neck, on my thighs, and wore prints with fonts that act as a caution sign. I imagined what kind of meet-cute we would have if I was ever bold enough to talk to her. Unfortunately, it ended up being stupid. It wasn’t meant to be like this.

“Oh my God!”

Little Miss Marie screamed to the fullest extent of her lungs that captured everyone’s attention. I bumped into her on accident while skateboarding, which caused her cappuccino to soak onto her blouse. A tragic display that drenches her perfect record of lucky encounters.

Her two closest friends, Claire and Jasmine, frantically came up to her and started to press along her chest, trying to prevent any stains from developing. Marie fanned her hands to shoo them away dramatically. People around us were snickering at the sight of Marie getting a taste of some bad luck for once. Some gave me a thumbs up while a few others shook their head in disapproval.

I kick my foot into the end of the skateboard, standing it up into my palm. The gum I was chewing up blows then bursts into a loud pop. I bite the corner of my lip and cringe, not sure how to feel. She glares at me with dagger eyes while I look back at her apathetically. Her two friends, Claire and Jasmine, eye me with their face twisted with discomfort.

“Mm, yeah. I should’ve watched where I was going, my bad.” I apologized, combing my fingers back through my hair to pull them away from my face. My friend since childhood, Josh, skates up behind me before putting his elbow on my shoulder. “What’s going on?” I jut my chin out to indicate her wet shirt, which was now seeping in so much that it revealed her bra underneath.

She slowly looks up to Josh. Her face turns from dejected to fuming, addressing her attention to me with a finger then tapping it into my chest. “Whatever, just watch where you’re going!” She looks between me and Josh then storms off with her two friends close behind her. I witness Jasmine pulling out a journal and says, “do you want me to recite your favorite affirmations?” To which Marie gave this meekly nod. The last thing I hear is, “you’re so good at parallel parking. No one can parallel park like you.”

I watched them go while the crowd dispersed, leaving me and Josh to ourselves. We went on our way home, but I kept replaying the incident in my head over and over. It was the first time Marie ever acknowledged me. Which sucks because that’s not how I wanted it to go at all.

Josh and I skated off towards home where we mostly communicated through tricks, riding along railings and running over on top of surfaces to meet with our skateboard up ahead. We don’t talk about emotions; the adrenaline talks for us. So when I slip and skid on my knee across the pavement, the blood signaled more than physical pain.

Josh rushes over to me then hunches down to look over the damage. “You alright, man?” I extend my hand out, and he pulls me up. “What’s bugging you?”

I don’t even feel the pain on my knee, but I’m aware that once I look down to see, I’m going to trip out about it. “She thinks I’m a loser, doesn’t she?” I say though I’m not sure why I did. That’s literally not what I was thinking about, but there it was out in the open. He scowls then punches my shoulder a bit, trying to knock some sense into me the way he normally does. “You’re like just as popular as her but in the non-bitchy way, dude. If anything, she could just be jealous of you. Trying to steal her shine, ya know?” I believed him then, but it became harder to believe over time.

After the incident happened, multiple rumors ranged from the tame to the outrageously obscure. Some people thought I tried to assault Marie and threw the drink at her. Some thought I had run her completely over with my skateboard. Some even thought we were acting out for a play that weekend. Regardless, when asked, I would calmly tell them, “get the fuck out of my face with that shit.” Whereas, when people asked Marie, she’d have a meltdown and shout, “please stop. Nothing happened, okay?”

Marie tried everything to sweep the incident under the rug. She was only fanning the flames on that one, though. The more she tried, the more people made up rumors. I knew that the rumors were getting to her because every time she saw me, she’d instantly dash in the opposite direction. I felt bad, so I decided I’ll do something worth talking about.

After a week passed, Josh and I went to the library. We planned out a whole scheme to overturn the library into madness. I convinced him to smooth talk to the librarian in the hallway to notice my ins and outs as I made sure to disable any cameras at the corners of the room.

Once they were removed, I traded a whole wall full of books into mature magazines, lewd manga, and art books with only the explicit content still intact. A banner was placed over it that said, “Some Like it Hot.”

Nevertheless, it was the talk of the school as soon as a handful of students found it then reported to the librarian. By then, the students stole some of the copies off the shelves and plastered the pages around in the hallways. Some even liked the recommendations. I have good taste.

Needless to say, no one talked about the incident. After it happened, everything went back to normal as people invited me to concerts, hang-outs, and Skype calls. I walked by, I was greeted with respect or disgust. When Marie walked in, she was greeted with friendly faces and fake friendly faces.

The next time Marie and I would meet were during homecoming week. Marie was on the Senior Board and was in charge of coming up with themes. Students plastered large sheets of paper along the edges of the lockers and over the arches in the main hall. A work in progress. The decorations dimmed the hallway, giving it this eerie, haunted house feel.

When I was looking over at what was being worked on, I saw Marie crisscrossed on the ground, painting. I walked over to her and noticed a paint smudge against her nose. She was so focused on the mural that she didn’t notice me.

From a mile away, the paint on her nose was noticeable. To save the embarrassment for when she goes back into class later, I crouched down to her level and cleared my throat for her attention. She whipped her head in my direction with wide eyes like I just insulted her or something.


“You got a little... thing on your nose. Can I touch you?”

I gesture my thumb near my nose as I explain. She pulls her head back, eyebrows arching in disgust and confusion. When she doesn’t answer, I slowly lean in and rub it off. She doesn’t react at first but her gaze fades into a blank stare. Her eyes dart between me and people passing by. “Thanks.”

I nod then get back up, slinging my backpack over my shoulder before proceeding to walk towards the gym. Behind me, I hear, “wait, is that all you wanted?”

I pause and turn back. “Yeah?”

Marie looks around, which only causes people to look down at her then up at me. She lets out a deep exhale and twisted her lips to a pout. She reaches down into her handbag then pulls out a plastic bag filled with different colored stickers. “I bought these for the game this Friday, so why not take one?”

I don’t quite turn my body around yet, but I eye her bag and see her pull out a red heart. When she pulls one of her fingers off of it, it fades to green.

“What are they?”

“Mood stickers,” she exclaims but turns her head awkwardly towards the mural; regret forming on her face. Noticing her excitement, I go over to take it. Before I could get it from her, she peels it then places it on my wrist.

I watch as the sticker eventually turns to white. “What does white mean?”

Marie glances at it then shyly goes back to painting; her hand rushing with the brushstrokes. “Uh, confusion. Maybe you’re bored or frustrated too.” I watch Marie purse her lips as she keeps going. She’s hesitant in a way people are cautious when being watched.

Josh eventually breaks the conversation between us as he runs up to me, placing his hand on my shoulder. “Found you, dude, you’re hard to find sometimes,” he says this all in one breath. “Let’s get going.”

I notice Marie scowling at her mural; her brushstrokes deepen and look messier. As Josh turns away, people are scurrying along to their classes now. The time crawling to that final minute.

“See you around, Marie,” I say and turn towards the gym. Marie mumbles, “See you.”

On Friday, a mutual friend of Josh and I wanted to hang out after school, so I decided to wait longer than usual. I, unfortunately, realized it was the pep rally today, so as the student body crammed themselves into the gymnasium, I felt myself getting irritated by the various smells that ranged from powerful perfume to smelly gym shorts.

I sat near the front with two goth girls, gossiping with one another about how they’d rather be anywhere else but here right now. As I was walking in, they simultaneously pulled their legs in and said hey. I raised my hand slightly to greet them back then plopped down on the bleachers. We all looked forward to the rowdy crowds all along the other side.

Once the rally began, there was an assortment of sounds. The room was filled with uproarious chanting as each grade in the school were exchanging screams at each other. The cheerleaders all flooded out on the gym floor. They held themselves out and proud, grinning from ear to ear. Marie radiated the most. Her smile was sincere and full; her energy limitless. She raised her hands and exclaimed loudly for the crowd to join her excitement, selling herself as the one thing in life to look forward to. The cherry on top was that she was wearing one of the mood stickers on her cheek. It was such a happy pink, practically a signature of Marie’s soul.

A smile crept up onto the corner of my mouth, but I suppressed it as I realized this might take a long time before I actually get to see Josh.

They got into formation and began their dance routine. Their choreography was matched up to Britney Spears's “You Drive Me Crazy.” The girls beside me rolled their eyes. “What’s with the old song?” For a while, I didn’t even notice the other cheerleaders. I watched Marie swing her hips and dip down. Occasionally wrapping her arms around her chest and snap her movement to the rhythm. She was lost in a trance and for a second, she lost that connection because as soon as she raised her eyes to keep the audience’s attention but ended up catching sight of me.

Her face paled and to the trained eye, she fumbled a bit. She brought herself back up into the routine and kept going. For a second, my heart went into my throat. That single moment spiraled all the noise down into a vacuum. I heard nothing. I just watched her dance, and even when the dance was over, I replayed her so much in my mind. All I saw was her dancing and her sticker turning red.

Later Josh told me that he was too busy to hang out and would catch up with me later. The situation with Marie and I grew stranger, as she tried her hardest to avoid me. To that, I wasn’t sure what she was avoiding. She became so busy in cheer practice, club events, and school work, I barely saw her in the halls. Her schedule had her walking further away from me.

We wouldn’t see each other until near the end of the school year. It was during the senior trip, steadily approaching summer, and we were all ready to head over to Universal Studios. Josh sits next to me on the bus, while four of his teammates surround his chair. Two sat behind him, one on the side and one directly in front. I didn’t like his friends.

The guys talked back and forth about sports and what they were planning to do over the weekend. Josh was relaxed beside me as he jutted his elbow into mine. I didn’t want to rest my head against the cold window so I rested my head against his shoulder, rubbing the bridge of my nose. The excessive chatter on the bus so early in the morning was causing my head to rattle.

Eventually, I heard Claire’s voice erupt. “So are you going to get matching shirts with us? They’ll be sold out soon, so don’t think about it too much.” Claire gives a scolding look towards the bus door, looking down at someone. Jasmine is close behind and is nodding in agreement as Marie eventually steps up onto the bus. She has her hair in a ponytail and looks ready to go.

“You would look soooo good in it too. It would show off how soft your shoulders are. Your shoulders look like they’re sculpted by the gods themselves,” Jasmine coos as if she’s reciting a line that’s rehearsed several times over. Marie nods with enthusiasm. “Yeah.. who cares if it burns a hole in my wallet?” The girls nod with knowing smiles.

As they walk down the bus aisle, Claire and Jasmine point out to the empty seats in the back. Marie struggles with getting through because a key charm on her bag keeps getting caught. When she looks forward, our eyes meet. The boys holler as the cheerleaders come through, laughing and teasing them lightly. Marie jerks from my gaze and smacks one of Josh’s friends lightly on the shoulder.

“Shut up! You’re such an ass.”

Josh waves his hand down and says, “ok, cool it. Let her go through, would you?” The boys complied, but they teased her more by pulling a bit on her charm. She rolls her eyes but looked generally relieved that the situation didn’t escalate before continuing down the aisle, taking one last look over at me as I drifted off to sleep.

The day was filled with anticipation, waiting to get to the rides, the big drops, food, and even waiting to see how much the total is for a souvenir. I stayed with Josh the whole time, who chose to stick close to his friends as well. It reminded me of when Josh and I were in elementary together, how we stayed just as close because Josh couldn’t handle being bullied. He’d often hide behind me because, for the longest time, he was the shortest kid in the class. I was the only one making sure he didn’t wet himself whenever he walked into the classroom. I guess that’s why we just always stayed together.

As I remembered the times we had together, I grew distant with the group. I didn’t like to eat what they ate, and I didn’t care for the conversations they had. Josh tugged on me lightly to make sure I was okay, and I’d nod whenever I could. We strolled around for a while until the boys decided they wanted to go into the Revenge of the Mummy indoor rollercoaster. I wasn’t feeling up for it.

“Hey, I’m gonna go find something else to do. You good?” I ask Josh, tilting my head towards the boys who were indulging themselves with the outdoor coaster seat that shows exactly what they’re to expect. Josh looks uneasy at first but nods. “Uh, yeah. Be safe. Catch you later?” I salute with two fingers and start walking off towards the Twister building. When I get there, I immediately noticed Marie standing by herself, fanning her cheeks.

“Hey, everything all right?”

I slip my hands into my pockets with the chains dangling at my side. She looks at me with such wide eyes that I can’t help but feel like I offended her in some way.

“Yeah! Good. I’m doing good.”

“Are you here by yourself?”

“Uh, yeah. Everyone went to the Mummy thing.”

“Oh, Same. Guys headed that way.”

Marie’s face froze, and there was an awkward silence between us. People walked past us and waited in line as they got closer to the front. “Do you want to go in?” I pointed to the building, and she looked over to it like she didn’t notice it at all.

“I’ve never been! I mean in here. Never been in here. Is it scary?”

“Not if wind scares you.”

She laughs at this more than I anticipated, and people start to look at us funny. Embarrassed, I quickly grab a hold of her and escort her inside. “You’ll like it.”

Once inside, she’s so memorized by all the details, how it all feels like she’s inside a house. I’ve seen the attraction so many times before but never really soaked in the way Marie is. So when she asks about the movie and how it relates to the material in the building, I’m not sure how to answer.

It doesn’t take long for our group to be escorted into the main room where the attraction begins. We’re given multiple instructions and background story to this ride, which amuses Marie greatly. As the ride starts, we’re laughing and getting excited under the sound effects of the incoming storm. When the twister comes through and rattles the room, Marie suddenly clings onto me in laughter. She holds onto my arm and buries her face into it. Due to my immunity, I’m just standing there and comforting her.

When the ride’s over, she stops holding onto me. Her hair was a bird’s nest, and I tried so hard not to laugh. “How’d you like it?”

“It was cool,” she says casually. She combs her fingers through her hair and pulls it into a ponytail. Marie wanted to look around in the store, so I walk out first to go scout out for a place to eat. Yet suddenly, Josh, his friends, and Marie’s friends come up to me as I walk out. “Hey! How was it?” Josh wraps his arm around me in the most bro-ski way possible, giving me a noogie. He was always the type to get a rush after feeling the smallest amount of adrenaline.

Marie’s face upon coming out looks sunken. I attempt to ask what was wrong but the girls pretend to not see me then jump all over her. “Let’s go here next!” The girls point somewhere on the map and gleefully take over, pulling Marie with them. I look out towards her while wrapped under Josh, waiting for her to say goodbye.

She doesn’t look back.

Graduation flew by. Truly. It was all a blur. I remember all the smiling faces, the diploma, and the excitement in everyone’s cheers. Everything was good. We felt good.

I was later invited to one more party to just hang-out and enjoy ourselves before officially parting ways. It was a small party since most people have moved on immediately after everything ended. Josh and I were invited.

We entered late, and it was rather tame inside. The music wasn’t loud but it was enough to push my thoughts out of my head. Josh went straight for the kitchen, and I loitered around in the living room. I didn’t feel pressured to talk, but I did greet people I was familiar with and hugged the one who invited me. The guy was a lead guitarist and liked to get high whenever he threw a party.

We chat for a bit before I decide I’m thirsty, and I walk to the kitchen. Josh is there with Marie, and they seem to be arguing. She glares at him for a split second before storming out to the backyard. Josh shrugs it off and is pulled away by one of his teammates that came to the party. Though I’m compelled to ask my best friend what happened; he looked busy. I hesitantly go after Marie. On the way there I think it’s stupid. What do I care about Marie’s feelings? She barely even acknowledged me.

Strangely I find her lying in the grass under a tree. It’s just a single tree, decorated with hanging kiddie ornaments and a swing hanging down from the lowest tree branch. There’s a faint lingering stream of smoke coming from where Marie was on the ground.

She doesn’t give any indication that she knows I’m there until she hears more crunching sound from the grass. She raises her hand, where a cigarette is gently squished between two fingers. Out of every encounter, she isn’t startled by my approach. She adjusts herself to sit up, twisting her head towards me and opens her mouth to say something.

“Do you normally lay in the backyard when you go to parties?”

She huffs and turns back, taking a drag. “No, I just wanted to get away.”

I sit on the swing and gently push myself back and forth, careful not to go over Marie. We don’t talk for a second.

“You ruined everything, you know.”

There was no lead-in or warning. I don’t say anything because I didn’t expect her to say that nor did I know what to say.

“Doesn’t the story go where the main cheerleader dates the stupid, handsome jock? And we’re supposed to the superior ones in school? And everyone envies the popular kids? Wasn’t it supposed to be like that?”

She looks up at me with cloudy eyes, but she doesn’t look sad. Her face is red, and her chest rises and falls with uneasy breathing. It’s not noticeable enough to signal a meltdown, but it’s edging into that territory.

“Y’know, I was always so worried about how high school would be like after transferring here from out of state. People expect me to be this and that, but I don’t like it? Then there’s you, and you’re so cool with Josh. A lot of people hate you yet you don’t care.” She takes another drag as if her rambling won’t make sense if she doesn’t take another hit; she’s shaking a little. “Is it,” she hesitates, her words caught in her throat. “Is it wrong to feel this way?” She cuts off as if that wasn’t the full question, but I don’t press for more information.

I listen to her, not realizing that I'm holding onto the ropes of the swing so tightly. I catch my breath. My mind is racing, but I’m not sure where it’s running off to. The longer we sit in silence, the more I feel like she regrets talking. She exhales slowly; her eyes tracing the smoke. “I don’t get what I’m saying. You make me feel funny. I don’t get that.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” I finally say.

She doesn’t move for a second, but once she registers this, she looks up at me. It starts to make sense about all the times we interacted. I start to put the puzzle pieces together when the conversation settles, and we become less tense with each other.

On summer nights like this, cicadas are ringing all around, and the air is humid. It’s been raining almost every day since it started, but for once, the weather was entirely perfect. No clouds appeared; there were only stars shining above us. The night lulled peacefully; the space between us was so fragile.

I leaned down, bringing my hands to my lap and hunched over to her. She shifted her weight to her side, legs extending outward as she held herself up on her arm. Her heated blush radiated so much that I could feel her nervousness onto my face. The cigarette ashes tumbled down her fingers, but she made no sound or movement indicating that she even noticed.

“This feels right.”

I answer her with a kiss. I lightly caress her face with one hand, and she prompts herself up further to meet with my lips. I feel light. I feel infinite. Everything about her was so sweet down to her kiss, which was the most gentle thing I’ve ever felt on my skin. She felt softer than plush dolls.

The sounds of the world drowned until it all sounded like we were underwater. We stayed in the kiss, unapproachable. Every nerve ignited within me, causing an overwhelming sensation that it muddied my thoughts to nothing.

I just focused on Marie and nothing else.


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