Last night had been a nightmare. Kaylee had hardly slept, and when she managed to fall asleep, she’d dreamed that all her friends hated her. And worse, when she woke up, she realized it was true. She found her eyes drawn to the picture, even in the dark; she knew it was there. It was haunting her. But she didn’t dare touch it. Every time she moved toward it, she heard whispers. Whispers that she knew would become voices, pulling her apart if she got close enough.
She didn’t want to go to school. She couldn’t face them. Someone knocked on her door, and her father stuck his head in her room.
“Kaylee? Get up right now, you’ll be late for school!”
No kind of pleading made her parents change their minds. She was going to school, period. Kaylee’s father dropped her off, and for a minute she considered not going in. Then she saw everyone looking at her. She stood up straighter. So what if her friends didn’t like her? She was still popular and everyone knew that. She wouldn’t let anyone push her down. She would talk to Chad and fix this.
She walked confidently down the hall, feeling the stares of her schoolmates. Why was everyone staring at her?
When she entered her classroom, everything got quiet. Tasha had moved her things to another desk far from hers and sat painting her nails, not even glancing at her. Britt and the girls looked at her as if she were intruding on their invite-only VIP party, not walking into her own class. Chad sat talking to Lindsey, and when he noticed her, he crossed his arms and looked away.
When Kaylee saw Lindsey sitting on Chad’s desk, just like Kaylee had done all the time, rage clouded her mind. She stalked up to Chad.
“Can we talk?” she asked trying not to show her anger.
“What is there to talk about?” Chad leaned back in his chair.
“The fact that the minute we have a misunderstanding, you run to other girls,” Kaylee cast a murderous glance at Lindsey, who started moving away, “and don’t let me explain myself.”
“What is there to explain Kaylee?” Chad asked loudly. “That you don’t love me? That you only date me for the popularity?”
“How can you believe that?! I would never use you, unlike some people.” Kaylee couldn’t help looking at Tasha, who was still painting her nails as if everything was normal. “And why do you think that I need you for popularity? That’s a little conceited, even for you!”
“You are calling me conceited? I could have any girl I want, and I was dating you. You don’t even appreciate me!”
“Oh my God, can you hear yourself?” Kaylee’s voice was hysterical. “If this is what you think of me, you don’t know me at all! Do you even care about my feelings? Or is it all about whatever girl looks the best beside you?”
“Don’t go blaming me! I always try to spend time with you; it’s you who is always brushing me off and coming up with stupid excuses not to see me.” Chad swept his arm around the room. “It looks like you’ve managed to piss off all your friends too! I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but I’m tired of always running after you!”
“So what? You want to break up with me because I have a life? I’m sorry I don’t drop everything and come running whenever you call! There are things that are more important for my future!”
“I can tell I’m nowhere near the top of your list. If that’s the way you want it, fine. Have a happy future. Without me.” Chad stood up and brushed past her.
Kaylee stood in the middle of the classroom. Everyone was quiet. Of course the whole class had heard everything. As soon as Chad left, they started moving around and talking quietly to each other. No one looked at her.
Kaylee turned toward Tasha, and their eyes met. For a minute, Kaylee thought her friend would come over, give her a hug and tell her everything would be alright, but Tasha looked away.
Lindsey walked past her. “That… was beautiful.” she whispered into Kaylee’s ear.
Kaylee was too overwhelmed to react. She sunk down into her chair and fought back the tears threatening to spill over at any minute. She didn’t hear a word that was said in class, it was all she could do to hold herself together.
After last period, she walked down the hall to her locker. André was leaning against it, waiting for her. “So Kay,” He said, when she got closer. “I was thinking. You’re single now…”
“Leave me alone, André.”
“Come on! Chad’s dumped you, you need to get some pride back. I don’t care if we don’t spend every day together, I’m fine with an open relationship…”
“You’re disgusting!” Kaylee tried to push past André to get to her locker.
“Me?” He leaned in closer, and whispered in her ear, “You’re all alone. No one likes you. I’m here to help you. You need me.”
“Let me go, André!” Kaylee jerked back. He tried to grab her arm, but she turned and ran. She had to get away. Thankfully her father was already in the parking lot, waiting for her.
“How was your day, honey?” he asked, switching stations on the radio.
“Horrible.” Kaylee mumbled.
“That’s nice.” He said, turning up the news report.
Her own father didn’t care about her either.
The minute she got home, Kaylee rushed in her room and closed the door. She had to do it now. She had to get rid of the picture no matter what.
She stepped up to the wall, grabbed it, and pulled it down. The flood of voices made her fall to her knees.
“Did you hear that Chad and Kaylee broke up?”
“….I heard it was pretty ugly.”
“….they had this huge fight in front of the whole class…”
“Oh my God, how embarrassing.”
“I knew they weren’t good together….”
“…she was only dating him for the popularity…”
“…about time, I don’t know why he dated her for so long…”
“Chad broke up with his girlfriend…”
“…she wasn’t even that pretty…”
There were more and more voices, and Kaylee felt like she was drowning. She heard her name being called, quietly first, then louder and louder, until she opened her eyes. Her mother was standing in the door, a concerned look on her face. Kaylee was curled up in a ball, hands over her ears, the picture wadded up in her right hand.
“Are you okay?” her mother asked. “What’re you doing with that picture?”
“Take it, Mom!” Kaylee thrust it in her hand. “Throw it away, burn it, anything! Please!”
“Please, just do it!”
Her mother just stared at her as she got up and walked out of the room, grabbed her jacket, and opened the door. “Wait, where are you going?”
“I need some air.” Kaylee closed the door before her mother could object.
She started walking with no idea of where she was going. She walked through the neighborhood, past the old church on the corner and found herself in a playground. She watched the kids laughing and playing with each other. Everyone was happy; everything was peaceful. It reminded her even more of how her own life was the opposite.
Messed up. Everything was screwed up. Had the world gone crazy or was it just her? She walked on, not knowing where. She just wanted to forget, to stop thinking. She found herself sitting on the stairs of an apartment building, staring ahead. She felt numb.
She turned. Jen was coming out of the building. Jen, the girl in her class that she normally made fun of with the rest of her friends. She had big, bushy hair that never did what she wanted it to, and usually looked like she’d been electrocuted. She looked surprised to see Kaylee sitting in front of her house.
“What are you doing here?”
“I don’t know.” Kaylee shrugged.
Jen sat down beside her. They sat in silence, watching the trees moving in the wind.
“Have you ever felt like life’s not worth living?” Kaylee said after a while.
“You don’t know how often.” Jen said.
“I mean, one day your life is perfect, and the next you don’t even know who you are.”
Jen looked at her. “Just because people see you differently, doesn’t mean you are different.”
“What if the way others see me is the only way I know who I am?”
“Then you’d better change the way you think.” Jen said, pushing her bushy hair out of her face. “Kaylee, I know you think your life was perfect. But just because you had a cool boyfriend and a bunch of friends doesn’t mean it was. Friends are not everything. You can’t expect other people to give you happiness all the time. People let you down.”
Everything felt hopeless, and Jen wasn’t helping. Kaylee sighed deeply. “Then who can I trust?”
“God?” That answer caught her by surprise. “Where has God been all my life? He’s never done anything for me. I’ve never needed his help.”
“Do you need him now?”
“I need… something.” Kaylee buried her face in her hands. “I don’t know what I need. I new life, maybe.”
“Maybe you do. You might need to think about what there is to life.” Jen grinned wryly. “It’s not all about popularity, you know.”
Kaylee looked up. She felt a sudden affection for this girl she’d always given a hard time to, but now was the only one talking to her. “Thanks, Jen. I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you. You’re not so bad.”
“No hard feelings.” Jen smiled. “I feel more sorry for you with that group you hang out with.”
“I have a feeling I’m not going to hang out with them anymore.”
As Kaylee walked home, she felt different. Her life was in ruins, but she could see a ray of hope. Maybe her whole perspective on life had been wrong. Maybe she’d needed this to turn things around. She needed to figure out what she wanted to do in life. After all, she couldn’t be popular forever.