On The Outskirts Of The Gang

Rosa is a pretty, self-conscious girl who wants to be cool. She's a bit afraid of Jessica, the most popular person in the entire year. As she clings on at the edge of Jessica's gang, she notices things that slowly make her realise that there is something odd going on...

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25. Thursday 16th October

For flip's sake! It's all falling apart! Just so - urgh! How did I ever think...

Breathe, Rosa. Well, at least now I know what she's really like. How could I be so...

Cool it, girl. Yes, right. I'll begin. Properly.

Coming to school today, I planned out exactly how I was going to introduce Penny to Jessica's gang. That way, I wouldn't have that awful moment when everyone is waiting for you to speak but you can't think of how to begin. I was covered.

With that already sorted, I could store the worries away and concentrate on lessons. I made sure that none of my friends got spotted chatting, and that I heard every instruction so that I could whisper it to people who had switched off. My work was detailed, and I'm sure my levels were all miles above my usual standards. Preparation was paying off.

At break, I sat on a bench (not the gang's one) with Penny and talked. We always seem to make each other laugh, so I felt confident that she would breeze through conversations with Imogen, Hattie and Katya. Felicity and Jessica, with their sometimes aloof attitudes, would be harder to please. Oh well, three is enough for a first try.

I was preoccupied joking with Penny, so I didn't notice Katya, Felicity and Imogen come up behind us. I didn't see them until Katya walked round the front and spoke.

"Hi, Rosa!" She smiled at me before looking at Penny. "And you are...?"

"Oh, right, I'm Penny. Your name is... Katya!" She glanced at me for confirmation. I nodded.

I noticed Hattie and Imogen share a look that seemed to say, 'she thinks she's got one up'. No, they'd got it wrong! Penny was just trying to be friendly. There was no intent to show off.

"Yes, that's right." Katya's tone was edging towards icy. "Weren't you the girl in Skates and Stuff on Sunday, the one arguing with the assistant?"

"Yeah. It was his fault." Penny was attempting to sound jokey, but she was getting defensive.

"Right. Ok. I was just wondering." Katya said. There was no hint of unkindness in her voice, but her eyes were full of disapproval. She went around the back of the bench to rejoin Imogen and Hattie.

"Bye, Rosa."

The other two called bye to me as well, and they left to go inside.

I got up slowly and picked up my bag. That had gone very badly.

"I thought you said she was nice! She didn't seem much of a kind, girly pal to me." Penny was scowling at the door they had gone through. Talk about touchy!

"I thought she was quite nice, considering the way you yelled at that guy. Anyone passing that shop was sure to think you were nuts."

"What?! You're defending him?" She turned to me, appalled.

"No, I'm just trying to get you to see from her point of view. If I had walked past you making such a racket, I wouldn't feel like ever approaching you. Give her a chance. She really is a great friend." My tone softened, because if you give Penny hard talk she doesn't budge.

"Fine, but I'm only doing it because you're my friend. I thought she was an awful snotty pig."

"Stop it! I don't let people talk about my friends behind their back. I thought you were above that!"

I spun around and marched away into the school. She could find her own way to class.

Of course, I realised that it was mean to leave it the way I did. I made up with her at lunch, and she said that she'd been too judgemental. After what I'd said, it had dawned on her that she must have looked pretty crazy in the shop, so she was going to prove to Katya that she was sane really. I decided not to mention it again. I would give Penny another go at being nice.

Then, at the Annie rehearsal, we were sat next to Felicity and Jessica. I started a conversation with Felicity, and Jessica joined in. It was all part of my plan to introduce Penny.

"... yes, that colour suits her somehow, I think because of her hair. Her boots are pretty too, aren't they Penny? You like ankle boots."

"Yeah, the shaping is good. They look cool, but they're not over the top look-at-me." She joined in effortlessly, knowing that I was building up the introductions.

"You're right. I'd like a pair myself. They would go with my bag." Felicity gestured towards her leather almost-handbag. It would suit the boots well, except...

"I think the buckle on the front of your bag changes the style. Tilly's ones would look better. She's over there by the door." They all turned to see.

"They would, definitely. They're much more, um, decisive, if you know what I mean." Jessica said. "Actually, those would suit you quite well. Sorry, I don't know your name."

"I'm Penny. I know you. You're Jessica, right?"

"Yes, that's me. Have you met Felicity before now?"

"No. I've heard about you, though. All your kind of friendship group seem pretty popular!"

"I don't know about that! It's just Jessica really." Felicity laughed. Jessica herself tossed her hair and smiled.

"Popularity isn't everything." She was clearly trying to deflect the attention. "Well, I have to go now. They want me to do my solo."

"I'm going too. I want to watch." Felicity got up, and she and Jessica left.

"How show-offy was she! Just fishing for compliments, I guess. Those boots were obviously designed with her in mind, and the popularity thing was to make her look less shallow."

"How dare you! Everything suits Jessica, you just don't like accepting people's suggestions! And she's not at all shallow!"

"Well, what about the other girl? She was sucking up to Jessica no end to gain popularity points."

"You think bad of everybody! Felicity is a really nice girl - and so is Jessica for that matter. You're so sour!"

"Me, sour? Even if I am, at least I'm not a weak puppy dog! Chasing after cooler girls when they aren't at all like you."

"What? I have more in common with them than I do with you. The only part of fashion you like is shoes, and you ignore music. They understand me, like real friends do. I'll never understand you!" I flounced out of the hall. It was a good thing that hardly anyone else had turned up to the rehearsal. Only Jessica and Felicity saw me.

I'd thought Penny's arrival was a great thing, that she was a true friend. I never really knew her. I'm just going to stick to my other friends now, my nice ones.

Sorry for the rant. I just had to get it all out. Goodbye.

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