“Do we have to be here?” Quinn complains as she pushes open the heavy metal doors, releasing the sound of basketballs thumping against the polished wooden floor. “I’m bored already.”
“What else are we gonna do?” Ellie shrugs. “It’s too early for any real fun.” The two girls stomp across the threshold, thick imposing soles of tall black boots clomping against the mirrored hardwood. Arrogant as they make their way across the gym, ignoring the stares of the people who don’t think they belong here. The girls know what people think of them and it’s exactly how they like it.
Their footsteps are drowned out by the sound of bouncing balls and doting parents. Sneakers squeak rhythmically as perfect boys create perfect formations. In the front row, a line of carbon copy girls sit patiently, each waiting to cheer on her boy as he takes his turn. Quinn’s eyes scan the line, pausing on one body for the briefest moment before finding her friends several rows behind them. Ellie jams a foot between two clones, crushing maroon polyester pleats beneath her boot.
“Hey!” Chelsea snarks, shooting them a belligerent look “Oh… you. Why are you even here?” Her tiny nose wrinkling with disgust.
Ignoring her, the two girls push their way to the top row of the uncomfortable wooden bleachers. The home of the angsty teen. Nodding a greeting to the slouched figures along the wall, Quinn sighs. No matter what she told Ellie, she wants to be here. She’s here to see Stevie. Not that she would ever admit that. Not to them. Not to anyone. They would never understand. She positions herself at the end of the row, where she’ll have to do the least amount of talking.
The buzzer sounds and the game begins. White and maroon versus blue and gold. Knees bent. Arms ready. Silence settles over the crowd, leaning forward as one unit, even the kids in the back row. Anticipation hangs heavy in the air. This game determines their chances of getting into the semi-finals. The whistle blows. Bodies float upward. Effortless. Sneakers squeak across the court. Synthetic leather thwacks against the taut skin of players’ palms. The scoreboard adds three points. The crowd explodes. Bleachers shake beneath stomping feet.
Quinn goes through the motions, hands slapping together, skin slapping against skin, but her eyes aren’t watching the play. Instead, they keep drifting to the row of cheerleaders. The maroon fabric and white piping pressed against Stevie’s legs. The white sneakers with a matching maroon stripe bounce excitedly against the floor. Never still for more than a few seconds at a time. Exactly the type of person Quinn is supposed to hate. A clone. A mimic. A popular kid.
“You’re quiet.” Quinn’s friend, Geoff chucks her in the shoulder, breaking her reverie.
“Daydreaming.” She leans back against the cold cinderblock wall, stretching her legs in front of her, absentmindedly adjusting the pleats of her skirt. “You know how much I love basketball.” She rolls her eyes.
“Why’d you come then?” His eyes follow the players running back and forth across the court.
“I couldn’t stand the idea of being away from your awesomeness for an entire night.” Quinn chuckles.
“Smart decision. I’m good for your health.” He tugs a strand of her purple hair. “Hey, did you think about what I asked you?”
She slaps his hand away. “What was I supposed to be thinking about?”
“Talking to your mom about getting me a job.” Geoff continues to watch the game, but she can hear the trepidation in his voice.
“Oh right, that. I…” Screams pierce the air. Bodies tumble over coloured lines. The bleachers shake ominously as maroon blends into maroon with specks of blue. Arms. Legs. Long silky hair. Short course hair. Everything blends together. Jumping up, everyone peers at the pile of bodies below them. Quinn’s fingers fly to her mouth, tapping her lower lip as she searches for Stevie. She locates the distinctive red hair. Off to the side with some of the others. She’s okay.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Quinn shakes off the fear. The pit in her stomach tells her what she already knows. This is definitely more than a crush. She slumps against the wall with the expected nonchalance of a social pariah, masking her emotions with a vacant examination of her perfectly polished fingernails. Slowly, the bodies pull apart like a reverse game of twister.
When the final buzzer rings and the cheers fade away, Ellie stands purposefully and declares that she must have some candy. Sighing, Quinn tromps down the bleachers after her friends. At the bottom, she pauses, looking around hopefully for just one more glance, but it’s too late. The last flash of maroon disappears through the change room doors.
“I’ll talk to my mom this weekend.” She leans against Geoff with familiar comfort.
“Sweet. I really need a job. The parents are being stupid about money.” He quips, throwing an arm casually over her shoulder. To the outside world, they are the perfect couple that’s never happened.
The hallway to the concession seethes with a current of people, pushing against one another, forcing their way to food, cars, friends, idols. The congregation huddles near the doors. Waiting. The atmosphere today is more excited, outrageous, energetic… just more…. This win secures more games.
The social outcasts push their way through the throng, ignoring the dirty looks from parents who give silent thanks that these are not their children. Finally, Quinn and her friends make it to the small, open window. The two self-important junior high kids behind the counter vibrate with sycophantic energy. Eager to be rewarded for their servitude to sport. The gangly blond boy turns to greet them. His smile drops as he takes in Jason’s studded jacket and streaked hair.
Rocking on her heels, elbows firmly planted on the little counter, Ellie pushes forward, encroaching into the kid’s space. He attempts to hold his ground but succumbs to her energy. Taking a step backwards, he reveals a sullen teen slouching against the back wall.
“Terry!” She slaps the counter. “What are you doing here?”
“It was this or detention.” Their friend shrugs, edging the two younger kids out of the way.
“Give me detention any day.” Ellie laughs.
“Even if it was helping Parma sort through three decades of sheet music?” He raised an eyebrow.
“I’ll take pretty much anything over time with Parma.” Quinn cringes. “That woman lives to make people listen to her talk.”
“You speak the truth, Quinn.” Terry leans forward for a quick high-five.
The boy behind Terry clears her throat.
“What?” Terry shoots him a look.
“There’s a line.” The kid stammers, trying to maintain his rigid posture.
“And you’re keeping me from my sucker. Cherry for me. Groddy watermelon for the Quinn.”
“Watermelon?” He shoots Quinn a skeptical look. “There’s a reason there’s a whole tree of them in here. No one picks watermelon. We can’t give them away.”
“I like fake watermelon.” Quinn shrugs, grinning. “You can give one to me.”
Terry rolls his eyes and grabs two sticks from the wooden stand. “$1.50.” He hands Ellie the bright red one and tosses her money at the younger boy by the cash box. “Free for you.” He places the lighter pink one in her outstretched hand.
“Hey!” Ellie sulks. “Just cause you…”
“There’s a line, Ellie.” Terry grins and calls over head to the next person in line. “What can we get for you?”
Ellie sticks out her tongue as they twist away from the counter. Quinn pops the ball of sugar into her mouth and links her arm through her friend’s as they move towards an alcove in the corner. Climbing over younger kids, they settle into disinterested poses, Quinn leaning against the wall. A cheer precedes the arrival of the basketball team. The throng pushes by the disenchanted teens who remain in their seats, uninterested, but unwilling to leave.
The current becomes stronger. Pulling at Quinn until she feels herself being drawn into the crowd. Her fingers feel for a hold on the wall when a heavy mass slams against her back. Falling to the ground, she tries to brace herself, turning as she falls. Her body contorts into the one behind her. Landing on her back, her head smacks the floor. Her eyes water as pain floods her senses. It subsides with a sigh of relief, followed quickly by anger.
Quinn’s eyes clear. She prepares to rage at whoever drove her to the ground. Her breath catches when she sees a pair of bright hazel eyes surrounded by thick, dark lashes. Creamy skin dotted with freckles slowly pinking. Familiar red hair drapes around them, long enough to pool on the floor and hide their faces.
“Stevie.” Quinn’s pulse quicken as she stares up at the other girl.
“I’m sorry.” The words form again Quinn’s cheek, lips brushing against skin. Condensation builds on soft female skin.
“Me, too.” Breathing in deeply, Quinn shoves the shoulders of the cheerleader on top of her. “Get off me, you stupid bitch.”
“Whatever, slacker.” Stevie backs into the waiting arms of her friends. Their clonelike appearance remains, even without their matching uniforms. “Why are you here? No one wants you here.”
“You speak for everyone?” Crossing her arms across her chest, Quinn leans against the wall. Cool. Indifferent. “Oh wait, of course you do. Between the lot of you there’s what, one brain and a stack of fashion mags masquerading as personalities?”
“Listen, you wannabe Goth,” Stevie’s hands grip her hips, “if I wanted to hear your opinion, I’d be waving a tube of hair dye in front of your nose.”
Guffawing, Quinn bites the inside of her lip to suppress a genuine smile. “What the fuck does that even mean?”
“Shut it, freakshow.” Stepping in front of Stevie, Chelsea instantly changes the dynamics of their entirely fake fight. Ellie jumps up from her perch behind Quinn. Hands clenching into fists. Begging for a reason to hit Chelsea. Everything is suddenly very real.
People are slowly choosing sides, waiting for the fight. Facing off like the Sharks and the Jets. Like music video dancers.
Quinn’s eyes fleetingly meet Stevie’s. It’s time to end this. Placing her hand on Ellie’s shoulder, Quinn steps into the face-off.
“Let’s go, Els.” Looking directly into Chelsea’s face, Quinn refuses to show any of her building fear. “They’re not worth it.”
“Chelsea,” Stevie mimics Quinn’s hand motions, trying to distract her friend. “Brandon’s waiting.”
The angry blonde’s eyes darken as she continues to stare down the other girls. Her head bobs almost imperceptibly. “Remember your place.” Chelsea snarls sweetly as she walks away, her perfume wafting in waves of peaches and baby powder with just a hint of skank, confident in her superiority.