Samuel Gaitan
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High School: Junior Year (Chapter 3)

The Year That Solidifies Your Place in the High School Food Chain

Chapter Three

Being a junior in high school, it is sad to say that I have never been in a situation where a girl initiated the conversation first. 'Act cool,' I thought to myself. “Yes to all of the above,” I replied. That was cool right? That was what normal people said, right?

“So does he like rule the school, or what?” she asked.

“He's one of them. The school is made up more like a food chain. The jocks run the school. It doesn’t matter what sport it is, they all run it, top of the pyramid. The captains all hang out together. After them are the cheers or the cheerleaders, most of the cheers go out with a jock. You can say the cheers and the jocks are the school's royals. After that is… everyone else, really. Didn’t your old school have cliques?”

She held her books covering her chest as if she didn’t want to ever let them go. I saw she was clutching A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. She must be a reader then. That was one thing we had in common. I enjoyed reading. Burying my head in a book felt like stepping into the shoes of the main character. Other than photography, I don’t have a place, in reality, I can always escape in a book, making myself the main character. 

I was getting close to my next class and she was still walking with me. I wonder if she was lost.  I was definitely out of my comfort zone.  The only girl I've ever walked with was Emma.  But it was Emma, she was just a friend.  Walking with Jeanette was different.

“So which class do you have next?” she asked.

"Biology.  How 'bout you?" I asked.  For some reason I really wanted her to say yes, but I didn't know why.  

“Cool, I at least I have someone to talk to,” she said those last words as she let go a breath of air. “It’s the second class of the day and I’m already dreading the rest of the day of having to repeat the saying the same thing over and over again."

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Oh, you know the whole ‘Jeanette tell us where you came from’ bit. Isn’t the new kid supposed to be ignored? I mean not that I want to be ignored, it's junior year. The year that solidifies your place in the world.”

“With what you said about Eddie I’ll be surprised you don’t have an angry mob after you,” I smiled.

“Things here are that bad?”

“Sort of. For example, my freshman year someone knocked my books down and when I went to pick them up I accidentally used my head to trip Eddie. I told him it was an accident and that I didn’t see him but he wouldn’t listen. So he locked me in the restroom in my underwear.” Her laugh caught me by surprise. Saying it out loud it was pretty funny.  She had a beautiful laugh.

“Eddie locked you in the restroom practically naked because you accidentally tripped him? Wow. Sorry for laughing but that sounds hilarious. It seems like you made it up.”

“I know it sounds like a scene from a movie but Ralfie had to sneak into the lost and found to get me some clothes.” After saying that even I couldn’t help but laugh a little more. 

She stopped in the doorway when we walked into the Mrs. Capps Biology Lab. Each table seated two people and I was secretly hoping she meant what she said and would sit next to me so we could talk more. I felt comfortable with her for some reason. Girls from here don’t usually look at me so I’m not used to this amount of attention from a girl. But Jeanette is different, she isn’t from here. I walked over to an empty lab table that no one had sat in yet. When I sat down I saw she was still at the door waiting. After we met eyes she made her way to our table.

“Sorry I wasn’t sure if you were gonna sit somewhere else or not.”

“Tell the wind and fire where to stop, but don’t tell me’” Her eyes widen as I said the quote from the book in her hands.

“You read Charles Dickens?”

“Yeah? You sound surprised” I said with a smile.

“You don’t seem like a guy who’s interested in classic literature.”

“Never judge a book by its cover. And what I meant was that no one tells me what to do so I sit where ever I please.” She made a mocking grin.

“Oh really? So were you lying to me when you said that the jocks and cheers ran the school?” she laughed.

“Okay let me rephrase then, no one tells me what to do except for them.” Surprisingly, I said it with a smile and a laugh.

“By the way, ‘there are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts’.”

“Who said that?” I asked.

“Charles Dickens of course.”  The smile she wore was as if all the warm light and happiness in the world had just been taken and draped over the stars of the night sky providing the stars with their luminous glow.

The bell rang and for the first time since the fifth grade, I was actually looking forward to my biology class. Looks like junior year was going to be a year to remember after all. If only I was able to spend a few of classes with Jeanette. She was pretty cool. She liked literature and that was great seeing as how my friends wouldn’t even know anything about Charles Dickens except that fact that he named a whale Moby Dick.

The rest of the class went by slowly as your typical biology class does. Jeanette had to repeat her act of reliving her story for Mrs. Capps who was thoroughly interested in Sacramento. After spending almost half the class talking about Sacramento Mrs. Capps had us fill out an index card with our schedule and passes out a sheet that looked like how the tables were arranged in the class. She told us to write out our names to the corresponding seat on the paper. 

“Take a good look at who you’re sitting next to because they will be your lab partner for the rest of the year. Since you signed your name on the paper I know where everyone is sitting. So tomorrow you cannot switch spots with anyone,” she said. 

Cool, Jeanette is my partner for the rest of the year. The first day of my junior year keeps getting better and better.

After class, we walked out together but had to go our separate way because her next class was in the opposite direction. The next two classes went by with a bore. All I kept thinking about was Jeanette. When it came down to lunch I realized that I forgot to ask her if she was had first lunch or second lunch. 

I waited for Ralfie at the door of the cafeteria, like I always did, so we could get in line together. The food that the cafeteria made didn’t smell good, not that it always smells good it just smelled worse than what I remembered.

“Dude! The varsity jocks were actually talking to me today during English. They saved me a seat and everything.  Oh, beware of Dr. Doward.  He spits when he talks so don't sit in the front row.” Ralfie wasn’t one to get overexcited about anything but having a jock or a group of them be that nice to you, I would be excited about it too. Hell, I would be jumping up and down. Looks like his junior year first day was going great for him too.

“They didn’t take your seat out when you were about to sit or anything?” I asked.

“No. They didn’t do anything like that. We just talked. We talked a lot about cars, but mainly the World Cup.”

“You don’t know anything about cars, Ralfie,” I said.

“My dad had a client, Rodney, who was a mechanic.  I went with my dad once when he went to drop some paperwork off at their shop and Rodny had his brother, Matty show me around the garage. So I know a little bit about cars.”

“Yeah, if you count knowing the color a car is painted…”

“Oh shut up,” he said lightly punching my shoulder. “Who was that girl that you were walking with?”

“What girl?” I knew who he was talking about but I didn’t want to make it obvious.

“That girl who called Eddie gay, she’s brave I give her that."

“Damn, word travel’s fast. Her name is Jeanette. I have her for homeroom and Biology.”

“When you see her tell her to watch out because I heard that Eddie was going to get some of the cheers to ‘talk’ to her.” It was like Ralfie had punched me in the stomach when I heard what he said. Her junior year first day wasn’t going to plan.

When one of the jocks asked the cheers to 'talk' to someone, usually it was a girl because the jocks didn’t want to fight little girls, they didn’t really want to talk to them. Last year I remember Coco Glen had spread a rumor about Jackson, the co-captain of the swim team, the next day Coco didn’t come to school because she mysteriously got poison oak spread 35 percent over her body. Cheers talking to someone was not a good thing. “Who told you a cheer was gonna talk to Jeanette?” I asked Ralfie.

“John did. He said that he heard Eddie telling Kitner and Ian about what happened.”

“Did he say when the cheers were going to talk to her?

“Who are the cheers going to talk to?” Jeanette asked behind me.

“You’re that girl who called Eddie gay right? Mad props, girl. No one’s ever done that to a jock. You’re brave being the new girl, and all,” Ralfie told her.

“So I hear. Thanks. You must be Ralfie,” she said.

“Right umm… Ralfie this is Jeanette, Jeanette this is Ralfie.” I introduced them. I was hoping Ralfie wasn’t going to mention what he heard John say.

“So why the talk about the cheers talking to someone, are they that royal that it's a big deal they talk someone who isn’t playing a sport?” she inquired.

I couldn’t stop him in time, “The cheers don’t usually talk to anyone who isn’t at the top of the popularity food chain and that’s basically the whole school minus the jocks. But when they do ‘talk’ to someone it's usually because one of the jocks told them to talk to them.  If history is any indication, when that happens it isn’t good.” Ralfie made the whole thing sound sinister but it was true.

“So, me doing what I did to Eddie this morning wouldn’t prompt him to get a cheer to ‘talk’ to me would it?” If she tried not to sound scared she was conquering it. She sounded like she was waiting for the encounter with the cheers, it was oddly attractive. Her boldness was evident on her face.

“John was telling me that Eddie was going to get one of the cheers to talk to you about the way things go around here, you being new and all.”

We were at the end of the lunch line with our plates with something the cafeteria wants to call food. Ralfie and I walked Jeanette over to where we usually sat for lunch. Emma, Wes, and Erik were all sitting at the table with their plates of food as well. When we got there Emma was sketching one of the tables in the corner where the emo kids sat. Erik was talking with Wes about microbes. Wes was saying that microbes could possibly prove that string theory was plausible and Erik was saying that string theory was just something that scientists made up for attention. “Albert Einstein was a genius. He wouldn’t have used his mind to make something up” argued Wesley. Ralfie chimed in a bit but I wasn’t listening to most of what he was saying.

When Jeanette sat down beside me I saw Emma’s head pop out of her sketchbook and look over to us. The intense argument Wes and Erik were having ceased, “Sam are you going to introduce to your new friend?” asked Emma.

“Sure if you promise to be nice,” I sneered. Emma didn’t really like talking to new people. Since we’ve been friends I haven’t seen her talk to anyone else but us and her family. I wonder if it was because everybody at school thought she was weird and that because they didn’t talk to her or if she didn’t like to talk to anybody.

“You guys this is Jeanette. Jeanette this is Emma, Erik, and Wes.” Emma had gone back to drawing the table and Erik and Wes were sitting across from her, mouths gaping open with astonishment. We didn’t have many girls voluntarily sit with us. We didn’t have any girls sit with us period, well except for Emma.

“So you’re the girl the cheers are gonna talk to,” said Erik.

“Wow, word gets around fast here,” retaliated Jeanette. I don’t think she meant for it to sound as snotty but I could see Erik shrink from her words.

“Yeah, I hope you know how to defend yourself well, Jean, because let me tell you, I heard that coach Sue made the cheers take taekwondo class every day this summer as an extra edge for nationals.” Gossip was another one of Wes’ abilities. He knew almost everything that went on here and if he didn’t he’d find out.

“I wouldn’t worry too much, my dad had me take taekwondo and jiu-jitsu since I was nine years old,” she responded.

“That’s nice, would you go out with me?” Wes asked. Emma always said that he was basically the Howard Wolowitz of our group.

“Sure, I was wondering when you were going to ask,” she said jokingly. If her response meant to paralyze Wes, it did its work. Wes just sat there playing with his food.

We had just gotten into a conversation about who would win in a fight, the Avengers or the Justice League when the bell to end lunch rang. After lunch we all went our separate ways except for me and Ralfie, we had all the afternoon classes together. All throughout the afternoon, I didn’t see Jeanette in the hallways.

Waking up on the first day of school, I had everything planned out. My extremely well thought out plan of getting the students at Luis David High School to know me as the photographer was ready for execution. I’ve gone to meetings all summer that involved any of the clubs the school had and volunteered to be their photographer. It did help that I was president of some of the clubs. I even got an offer to be part of the yearbook team which sounds dorky, but it was a prestigious honor at school. The yearbook club was the hardest club to get into at the school. You’d have to have some serious talent to even be considered for a position. I was going to be able to attend all the school functions, or at least most of them. The yearbook club was the only club that the cheers and jocks didn’t have control over. As much as they would like to, Nathan Cruz was a stickler about the fairness of who gets featured in the book. He literally had the power to tell them no and nothing can befall him.

Nikoli Gordon was last year's photographer for the yearbook, handpicked by Nathan Cruz himself, but since he graduated they were looking to fill his position. Nikoli was the person that the whole school knew. A photo of the cheers with some of the football players after a home game made it onto the school's Instagram and Facebook page and he became an overnight high school celebrity. Everyone wanted to get their picture taken by Nikoli Gordon. He was invited to all of the of the major parties the cheers and jocks hosted as well as the Dungeon and Dragons tournaments the Sci-fi club put on and nobody made fun of him for it. He was the humble part of the high school royal court. He would schmooze the cheers and the jocks and slum it with the geeks and nerds and no one thought anything less of him. With the offer from the yearbook, I was in line to take the throne.

I had everything in place for me to socially succeed this year. Meeting a girl was not part of the grand plan. Well, I was planning on meeting girls but meeting Jeanette wasn’t what I was thinking of. I felt myself drawn to her, but not in a creepy stalker sort of way. She and I were interested in the same things and we had no problems keeping a conversation going. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. It's only been a few days, but I could definitely feel something there for her... Her appearance was a great surprise to the plan and it's even boosted some chatter about me throughout the school, but her impending meeting with the cheers was putting a slight dent on my social status. Some of the students at Luis David were amazed by Jeanette because of what she did and the others were scared for her because we all know how the cheers are rumored to handle things.

My association with her hasn’t had that much of a negative impact with my plan, but it hasn’t helped it either. I couldn’t help but ask myself what was more important: Jeanette Rose or my image in the eyes of everyone at school?

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