Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Out of the Game -- a short story

She was the new kid in school. The “old” kids had put her through the usual meat grinder all morning. Which was a shame, because the more that Robbie checked her out, the more he found himself liking her.

Even if she didn’t wear the stylin’ clothes that the other kids did. Even if she did wear glasses. Behind those glasses were clear, blue, beautiful eyes.

It was lunchtime now – the moment when the in-charge clique would wreak their worst. Everyone had been instructed not to let the new girl sit with them. Lay down backpacks on the seats. Scowl. Do whatever it took to keep her on her feet and feeling unwelcome.

And everyone would comply. It was tradition, in this miserable excuse for a school. If you bucked it, you were screwed. The best that a new kid could hope for was to quickly find someone weaker, uglier or slower-witted, and elbow them off the next rung up on the social totem pole.

Robbie didn’t plan to fight the rules that day. He was just a normal kid, low enough on the totem pole himself, that common sense kept him quiet most of the time.

He was dimly aware of the snickers that were building up as the new girl moved from table to table, finding each time no place to sit down. The in-charge clique had spread their minions out to make sure that there would be no vacancies, not even at the nerd table.

Robbie watched her drift nearer to him, her small fists now clenched in frustration – but no tears yet. She was tough. Good for her. But it wouldn’t help.

Beside him, his blue backpack lay on an empty seat. She glanced at it for a moment. She knew he wouldn’t move it. She knew the cruel game they were all playing now. She knew he was as weak as the rest of them.

He wondered if her hands were getting tired of holding up her tray, and how soon she would just dump it in the trash and skulk away somewhere to hide.

Lunch today was Sloppy Joes and corn. Normally he liked that. But today it all tasted sour.

What if he got up and threw the rest of his lunch away? Then she could sit in his spot. No. They’d just move some other jerk to take his place.

Why should he care? She was just a dumb girl. She shouldn’t have moved here, to this rotten town.

She was standing in the middle of the room now. He could see her knees shaking. But still, she refused to cry.

Why couldn’t some grown up intervene? Why didn’t they ever seem to care?

Robbie’s backpack, nudged with one swoop of his hand, slid off the chair and hit the floor and the cafeteria hushed. The blood pounded in his head. He had just committed social suicide.

The girl turned his direction. Their eyes met. And then she was beside him. He felt her hand briefly touch his, on purpose, underneath the table, as she sat down. No words were spoken.

He knew he’d have to fight this afternoon, when the bell rang. Cold dread squeezed his guts. Who would they pick to bust him up, he wondered. The worst part would be, that the whole damn school would watch. And it wouldn’t end there, not even with a black eye and a bloody nose. They’d punish him all year. He’d stepped out, like a damn fool. You didn’t step out. You just didn’t.

He stared at the mess on his plate, unable to take another bite. He felt everyone’s eyes on him.

Beside him, she was eating quietly. She had to sense he was in hell. But she didn’t say anything.

Then her hand closed around his. He felt it, warm and soft. Their eyes met. And she let go. But it had been enough.

He stood up and all sound was sucked out of the room, all motion ceased. He walked over to the cool kids’ table. To Steve Henshaw, who was the coolest of the cool. Henshaw made the rules. He stood in front of him, silent as a statue.

Henshaw looked at him, his stupid mouth twisted in a sneer. Had the little geek come to beg for mercy?

Robbie begged no mercy. He swung his fist out and belted Henshaw across the chops.

The room exploded.

Robbie got ten days detention. It took that long for his bruises to heal, too. Even longer for the broken rib. Henshaw got no detention. He was just defending himself, he said.

But Robbie went back to school after ten days. He put his books back in his freshly vandalized locker. He walked calmly past the drawing on the wall of himself being pounded by some stick-figure thug.
They’d played their cards, and he’d faced down their ace and survived. He was out of their game, now.


chipazoid said...

Nice story. Don't mind me asking though, but are the cliques really that bad in America? I mean you watch it in movies all the time but surely in real life it isn't so bad? We had our own cliques of course, but I doubt it was as bad as that.

Lance said...


Really nice writing! A pleasure to read. Reading your story, I am reminded of my own days in high school, and of a particular girl that I befriended, and how much it meant to her (although, as many others that were bullied, her need to fit in was too great, and she later betrayed me, 'blooming' her way right in to the centre of a group of bitchy girls)

Although you could say that I didn't have to sacrifice as much as Robbie. The clique that I had was more like 4 guys with a common mischievous streak. I was more of a drifter, and the class joker. As such, people didn't take me that seriously, and so I was able to drift seamlessly in and out of friendships with many people from different rungs on the social hierarchy almost without ever being questioned by anybody. It was wondeful that I could.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Thanks for the comments. I don't know why exactly I wrote this story. I toyed for a while with giving it a sad, but more realistic ending -- i.e., Robbie thinks about being a hero, but never rises to the challenge.

The cliques in America vary depending on where you live. As the son of a military dad, I lived many different places, some where they were stronger, and other places where they were weaker.

My last high school was locked up into a clique of all the rich kids that had lived in that stupid town forever, and a handful of misfit, economically challenged newcomers like me, whom they simply ignored.

Perhaps the scenario I've imagined here is a little too much -- but I had my share growing up of being on the outside, dealing with being bullied and feeling like the whole school was in a conspiracy against me.

I was never such a hero as Robbie, but I had a friend one particular year, just as you described, Lance, who took a girl under his wing that had been marked for hell by the tough kids because she "narced" on one of them.

chipazoid said...

Books make more sense and more often than not tend to be better companions.

...amarpreet said...

I love this story, incredibly articulate about those raw emotions that a teenager feels...

eastcoastdweller said...

Thank You, Empress. Every now and then in my mind, a scene begins to play out, something stands out from the pretty much constant daydreams in my head, and I dress it in the clothes of a short story.

...amarpreet said...

You keep these short stories?

eastcoastdweller said...

Many are written down, stuffed uselessly into drawers and boxes in my house; others simply form like a summer cloud in my head, then vanish without a trace.

A few are scrawled in my journal, along with some awful and some fairly decent poetry going back 20 years or so, now.

My mind is constantly restless -- my Mother is sure that I have ADHD-- if it's not playing a song to itself over and over again, or chewing on some tidbit that I have read lately, or thinking about what to write in this blog, it's creating a valley community where everyone works together to make the world's best mustard; or a mythical Central European nation that actually stood up to Hitler and won; or who knows what.

My journal, begun at 13, kept ever since. What a strange record that is.