The last day of school was technically coming quickly, but in reality, it felt like an eternity. The reason for this was uncertain. It may have been the nice weather (it hadn’t snowed after all). Or perhaps the lazy, content aura that seemed to infect the very air they breathed in the middle school. Or maybe it was a product of all the nothing they were doing in the classrooms, having already finished the curriculum and not having to take final exams, thanks to their young age. Regardless of what was causing time to feel as if it was being dragged along by a subatomic snail, Zee hated it. She was bored.
Every day was the same flurry of overexcited people, lunch food steadily falling in quality as it got closer to the end of the year, and questions such as “What are you doing this summer?”
To which, Zee always replied the same, “Nothing.”
There weren’t even any good conversations to eavesdrop on, as they all went exactly the same way, which Zee observed for the seventeenth time at the lunch table while waiting for her friends. The blonde, heavily made-up girl at the next table over was talking to another girl, who was equally as blonde and mascaraed as the first.
“I’m so excited for summer,” she said. “I’m so pale.”
“Omg, me too,” her friend replied, holding out her arm. “Look at this. I seriously need to spend some time in the sun.”
Enjoy your skin cancer, Zee thought.
“We totally need to hang out at the pool this summer,” the first one said. “It’ll be so fun.” Yay, overcrowded, public places in which clothes are nearly optional. How incredibly fun.
The friend nodded vigorously. “Yes, totally, when I get back from my cruise.”
“Oh my gosh, I’m so jealous. You have to send me pictures of the ocean.” Have you never seen water before?
“Yeah, I definitely will. Did you hear that [so-and-so] is going to the pool like every day?”
“Really? Omg [shriek]”
And that’s about where Zee tuned out. She didn’t care much for gossip. Partially because it was boring and partially because when you’re the main subject of something so one-sided for extended periods of time it tends to lose it’s appeal. The point is, nothing interesting was happening, unless Tara’s latest batch of rumors about Zee can be considered interesting, but they’re really not. No mentally healthy person wants to hear about how she supposedly broke into Tara’s house, killed her dog, and broke her mother’s hand slamming it in the screen door on the way out. Like, sheesh, sorry your dog died but you don’t have to blame it on a girl who didn’t even know about your dog’s death until she started inquiring as to why people were calling her a “dog killer”, for lack of creativity in coming up with a better insult.
This was all part of why Zee was very much looking forward to the summer. She’d forgotten what it was like to not be surrounded by hateful idiots for approximately forty seven percent of the waking hours of her day as she had been for the past eight months. As she figured it, it was pretty impressive that she hadn’t yet been driven to madness. Not to say that it was a pleasant experience. Or that it was over, because it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.
A prime example of this, aside from the offhanded mumblings of “dog killer” she heard amidst fake coughs walking down the hallway, occurred after school while she was gathering her things at her locker. Unfortunately, her locker was right down the hall from the wing where Tara and her cronies had all their classes and their lockers, so when Zee was standing at her locker, and Tara was standing at her locker, under the right circumstances (depending on the density of people per square foot in the hallway in between, which depended largely on how much time had passed since the last bell had rung) they were often directly in each other’s sightlines when either Zee looked left and or Tara looked right.
Unfortunately, as Zee was fitting her stuffed purple binder into her book-ridden backpack, she got a fleeting urge to look right, and her body obeyed before she had the chance to think better of it. This is unfortunate because it informed Zee that a group of five girls were marching in her direction, led by Tara the Terrible herself as some kind of leader may lead an army. They were obviously coming for Zee, fighting through crowds of obliviously generic people doing obliviously generic things, like playing Angry Birds and talking about equally unimportant things. Zee turned away from the threatening band of middle school girls, but didn’t do anything but wait for them to strike. It didn’t take long before Zee could feel them all behind her.
“Hey, Zee,” Tara said, leaning against the locker next to Zee’s. “How are you?”
“Fine,” she replied automatically. It was a lie. In reality, Zee felt sick to her stomach, which may have been partially due to the suffocating cloud of cheap perfume.
“Well, I’m not,” Tara said, stepping a little closer to Zee. Her friends giggled. Zee slung her backpack over one shoulder. “Aren’t you going to ask why?”
Zee didn’t say anything, and avoiding eye contact, closed her locker and started walking away.
“Hey!” Tara said, grabbing the strap of the backpack not on Zee and yanking her back forcefully, her friends giggling again as Zee stumbled back and looked at Tara in horror. “I was talking to you.” Zee didn’t know why, but tears started to creep into her eyes, and her throat closed up. She slid her backpack so it was on both shoulders. “Oh, so now you’re gonna cry about it?”
Zee didn’t have a response, so she turned and started walking away again. Tara reached out and put her hand on Zee’s shoulder, and Zee slapped it away, and continued walking speeding up until she was out in the open air, where she broke into a dead sprint until she reached a tree wide enough to hide her from the sight of everyone milling around on the sidewalk in front of the school, waiting for parents to come pick them up.
Sniffling slightly, Zee forced herself to take deep breaths and wiped her eyes behind her glasses. Her foot tapped impatiently, waiting for her dad’s car to pull up to take her home. It did, eventually, and she climbed in quickly.
“How was school?” Her dad asked, pulling around and out of the parking lot.
“Fine,” Zee said, again automatically. It was a lie.