We talk about you behind your back, Samantha Oswald. In the hallways and the bathrooms and the cafeteria. In the locker room after field hockey practice. You’re very popular. We talk about you all the time. How your greasy hair gives off a dull, disgusting glow under the fluorescent lights of the hallway. How you missed the second week of school two years ago because you had lice. How you need to learn how to wash your hair. Maude cringes every time you pass her in the hall. “Gawd, rinse and repeat,” she says, and the rest of us, we agree.
We talk about how you’re actually proud of playing the oboe in the marching band. How you’re the only girl in the graphic novel club. How you’ve never once had a boyfriend--we bet you’re dying for a boyfriend. How you have straight-A’s but no friends, not unless you count Miss Woodward, the history teacher. How you always wear the same hoodie. You never wash it. We know because the dandruff caked on your shoulders is always thicker than it was the day before. Kayla says what we should do is steal it and throw it in the trash while you’re dressing for gym, and Amber agrees, “That would be the merciful thing to do,” but the problem is none of us want to touch it.
We’ve also heard that your father doesn’t have a job. We may have made that up, but we’ve told it to each other so many times it’s the truth now. It’s useful because it explains why you wear the same pair of jeans--or sweatpants--three or four days in a row. Basically, what we’re saying is we are the pretty, the rich, the athletic, and we love you, Samantha Oswald, the way a tire loves asphalt.
* * *
We have a plan for you. Maude came up with it, and we approved. We told Matt Rotz you have a crush on him--we know it’s true, we’ve seen the way you look at each other in English class. Matt Rotz, captain of the JV swim team. He’s a sophomore and he has a car. He could have anybody he wants and you don’t deserve him, but that’s the point. We’ll let you have a taste of him--a week maybe--and then we’re going to take him from you. Right now it doesn’t matter which one of us. We all want him, but more than that, we want to show you what you can’t have.
So we spend a week on Matt cultivating this attraction. We inject him with confidence. We massage his ego. You begin growing on him like a skin graft or a fungus. “She's really into you,” we tell him. “She’s just shy.” “You have to take her out, just once.” “Yeah, just once.” “That’d be the nice thing to do.” And he starts to come around. He says you’re smart and funny and easy to talk to, “the sweetest, just the sweetest,” but really he just feels sorry for you and hasn’t realized it yet. He’s still not over Katie Coldsmith and his judgment is clouded--Did we mention we’re using you to scrub the taste of Katie Coldsmith from his mouth? We are. We need him to rebound before we can make our move.
After a week, he says he’ll do it, and then we tell him which movie to ask you to, and we tell him he absolutely must hold your hand. We arrange a bouquet of sweet sentences in his mouth, and we tell him to stop buttoning his shirt all the way up to the collar. He looks better with that extra button undone, but don’t flatter yourself thinking we did that for you. We use words like “definitely,” “absolutely,” and “for sure.” We coil him up and we let him go.
* * *
Your hair is glittering like nuclear waste when he stops at your locker on Friday between seventh and eighth period. He leans against the wall the way he always does, his tight t-shirt squared by his strong shoulders, and he smiles at you. We lean in so we can hear him deliver the lines we sculpted on his tongue, casual-yet-carefully-crafted humility with attitude slowly sucking you into the big question, Samantha Oswald: “Do you want to go to the movies tonight?” We suppress our knowing smiles.
But what do you do? You smile your stupid smile and look down at the floor, and you say, “Just so you know, Matt, I only like you as a friend right now,” and you send him back to us. You are so stupid it should make us laugh, but Matt’s fallen face only angers us. He wants pity and we will give him none. We are disgusted by his ineptitude. We have nothing to say to him.
“She’s such a bitch,” says Amber, and the rest of us, we agree. Who do you think you are, Samantha Oswald?
Of course we don’t ask you that to your face. We spend all weekend asking each other what’s wrong with you. Compared to you, we’re basically goddesses, Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera all at once. That’s what Kristen says, and we repeat it to each other like passing the peace at church.
Because there’s safety in numbers. Look at Amber muffin-topping out of her size-eights. She’s fat and everybody knows it, but we say nothing when she buries her salads in ranch dressing and cheese because she is us. Don’t misunderstand. We are not fat, though Kayla was once, back in elementary school, but that’s the past and now she works at Hollister and her thighs don’t even touch. We all envy her, but not too much because she throws up her food every day after lunch and she has the boobs of a middle schooler. And Sarah, Sarah never makes first string and Jill will go to second base with anybody and Kristen pads her bra and Andrea’s left boob is bigger than her right boob and Maude wears prescription deodorant, and we’re all victims here, every one of us, all of us except you, Samantha Oswald. So go ahead, hold your head high. Wear that dandruff-powdered marching band hoodie with pride. We know what you really are. We will make you confess. We will make you cry. Nobody is actually proud of playing the oboe.
* * *
On Monday after school you stop at Matt’s locker, and suddenly we have all forgotten something in our own lockers. Your hair is pulled back into a ponytail and it’s obvious that you’re finally trying to make an effort, but it’s too little too late. Haven’t you heard, Samantha Oswald? Maude made out with Matt at a party this weekend. After three shots of Coconut Malibu Rum she pulled him into a closet and had her way with him. Tongue and everything. Maude didn’t tell us (and we are furious) but we still know. Everyone’s talking about it. The problem, we decide, is that no one talks to you.
“I was thinking,” you say, “and I was wondering, would you maybe want to come over and play Nintendo today? I just bought the new Mario Kart this weekend.” You glance down at your shoes and then back up into his eyes. Amber makes a gagging sound.
Matt, he doesn’t even hesitate. “Sure, what time?”
“Whenever.” You shrug like you don’t care, but you’re smiling your big, stupid smile. “After your swim practice maybe?”
“Cool,” Matt says, except it isn’t. You give a little laugh and we want to stone you to death, but we can’t because we’re too busy trying not to throw up. The final dismissal bell beings to ring, and you hurry off, probably to Miss Woodward’s room, because, really, who else is there for you to tell? The halls are emptying and the buses are leaving, but we don’t move because Maude is walking toward Matt, and Maude is pissed.
“What the hell, Matt?” She shoves him hard with one hand, but Matt doesn’t move.
This is the end of Matt Rotz, we think to ourselves, though of course in the back of our minds we realize that Matt has had his rebound, that Maude was the rebound and now he is up for grabs. Except if Maude cannot have him, no one will, not us and certainly not you. Maude is going to murder him right in front of the detention room.
Matt says, “Last time I checked, you wanted Sammy and I to be friends.”
“‘Sammy?’ You call her ‘Sammy’? How pathetic,” Maude scoffs.
“You’re an asshole, Maude. We’re done.”
As Matt walks away, Maude flings her books on the floor. “Fuck you, Matt!” she shouts after him. Her voice echoes in the empty hallway as he disappears down the stairwell. “Everyone thinks you’re an asshole.”
She slumps to her knees and begins collecting her things, but none of us move to help her. She stands without speaking to us, and we watch her storm off down the hall. She turns left and disappears, slamming the stairwell door hard against the wall as she goes.
“What a bitch,” Amber says, and the rest of us, we agree.