‘I like your raven hair,’ the blonde girl said to Mandy, her voice very sweet but with the threat of something else beneath it.
They were in the school cafeteria, and it was the beginning of Mandy’s second week at school. The week before most of the others had given her a wide berth, and following some failed attempts to join in conversations in class breaks, she’d retreated into a corner of the cafeteria with a book to eat her lunch and read.
But now one of the more popular girls, the blonde and rather precise Jasmine, was standing before her, holding her lunch tray in front of her as though deciding whether to place it at the table and join Mandy. Behind her a couple of less stellar looking girls lingered, waiting to take the cue from their more glamorous leader.
Mandy looked up at her, wary but hopeful.
‘Thank you,’ she said simply and waited. She’d noticed Jasmine on day one, of course. You always notice the popular ones, the ones with the boys preening around them, the one that others followed. Why did every school have one, and why were they always blonde? Were they cloned and farmed out in equal measure as some sort of social experiment, like the Stepford Wives, but at school? Perhaps they were sent to teach everyone a valuable early lesson – there would always be those above you, heights you could not scale dreams you could not reach. Aim lower and avoid disappointment.
‘Suits a witch,’ Jasmine continued and the gormless girls behind her giggled in unison.
‘I’m not a witch,’ Mandy said, thinking back to her goth phase about a year ago when she would have been flattered by the association. Now it just felt dangerous and she wasn’t sure why.
Jasmine snorted mildly. ‘Pity,’ she said, ‘Would have made you more interesting. But nothing interesting every happens around here.’
And with that she turned on her heel and started to stalk away, her followers following, of course. Leaving Mandy alone again. She watched them walk to a table filled with more of the popular ones, and saw how even they moved to give Jasmine space, while her followers did their best to find room to sit. Social hierarchy played out before her eyes. Her father would have been able to analyse and dissect this and in a way that was amusing and comforting all at once. He’d have given her the weaponry of understanding and the timing for the perfectly applied retort or response. But he was gone. He didn’t love them anymore, and that was lost to her.
A cold, sharp pain flooded through her and she gasped slightly, and at that moment Jasmine eyed her keenly and then nodded to herself and said something to the throng, who all turned and gazed at her, smirking.
It wasn’t nice, whatever she said. And their gaze was too much. Mandy collected her book and bag, leaving her half eaten lunch and moved to fee the cafeteria. To do so she had to pass them, there was no other way out. She remembered her father talking of Dante’s dictum that the only way out was through. But that was in hell. Still, the allegory applied really, school being one of the lower circles no doubt.
As she passed them there was still laughter and she wondered how she would be able to be in class with any of them later. It was wrong to flee, it was weak, but she felt so insubstantial these days. Not even a paper ache girl – too translucent, you could see right through her, just as this nasty clique could right now. All her confidence had fled when her father left them. The world she had known proved a chimera and she was unsure of everything ever since. This new start hr mother promised was just a re-run of the past. You can escape a town, but how do you escape yourself?
‘Wonder what she’d look like hanging from a tree?’ one of the boys asked within earshot. He somehow made it sound sickly sexual, like it was a scene from some pornography running in his feral little mind. She refused to look round to give him any satisfaction.
‘She’s already bloodless by the looks of things.’ That was Jasmine, her sweet voice like a viper.
Mandy didn’t understand it and didn’t care to; Jasmine’s observation was just the last thing she heard as she gained her temporary freedom by walking out to the hallway. For a moment she stopped there, breathing heavy, eyes threatening to spill tears.
No, don’t cry, she thought, there have been enough tears, too many, too many.
School was going to be terrible, she could tell. She could just tell.
(c) Helen M Valentina 2015, All Rights Reserved