I pull open my locker and half-heartedly rummage through the pile of textbooks. It’s only after a while that I realize my earphones have gone silent. I take out my phone and press the skip button over and over again until I land on the perfect track. I smile, as proud as if I was the singer herself. I am such a nerd.
It’s muffled, and I can barely hear it through the music, but I would recognize the voice anywhere. Cadence’s voice has a low hum to it that takes everyone by surprise: probably one of the many reasons why she’s so popular. I don’t pay attention, though, because even though I’m supposed to be her best friend—or at least, I’m pretty sure I am—she could be talking to anyone, that anyone rarely being me.
This time, I turn around. It is Cadence. She pulls my arm away from the locker. The door madly swings back and forth, slamming two or three times against the lock until it finally stops. She locks eyes with me. “House party tonight. 7 p.m.”
I stare at her. “You’re telling me this now?”
Cadence shrugs. “I’ve sorted through a lot of invitations. I hope I didn’t miss anyone.” She grins. “But hey, at least I didn’t forget you.”
I glare at her. “Yeah, sure.”
“So are you coming or not?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Kyle, and I groan. He’s better at football than anyone I know, but that piece of information is not as important as him being Cadence’s boyfriend. He walks towards me in his blue letter jacket, and by me I mean Cadence. I know it’s soon time to get out of their way, because once it starts, I’m invisible.
“Yeah,” I say without thinking, and regret it a second later. It’s not like my response mattered much, though, because she has already turned towards her perfect match. She’s popular, he’s popular. What more does a couple need?
Parties. I have no business to do with parties. They’re too loud, too populated, too everything. House parties? They’re the worst. A sensible version of me would’ve declared ”no” in her best friend’s face, left her to be happy with her handsome boyfriend, and called it a day. But no, such version of me does not exist, and I know that too well.
My next class is Calculus, and I’m hesitant to walk in because I don’t have my textbook ready. I keep my eyes on the floor and walk to an empty seat in the back. Am I walking funny? I can’t help but wonder. In the back of my head, I know no one gives a single fuck. But I don’t listen to that part of my brain. I plop my bag on the floor and sit, the entire desk squeaking with my every move. My face goes red. I have nothing to do, so I take out my pen and carve a little hole in the middle of the desk to make it even deeper than how the last person made it.
A girl appears to my left, and I look up. She’s tall with the kind of hair that you think only exists in commercials. I’m instantly intimidated, so I flinch, but she does not seem to notice.
“Aren’t you Ava? Ava Ridings?” she says.
I frown. “Yeah… but why?”
“Because I’ve been invited to Cadence Ricci’s house party. You’re her friend, right?”
“We’re best friends, actually.” I get defensive for no reason. God, I hate myself.
The girl narrows her eyes. “You are?”
“I mean, yeah.” I don’t know what else to say. It’s everyone’s reaction to our relationship. Me being Cadence Ricci’s best friend is a bigger miracle than Isaac Newton discovering gravity after watching an apple fall out from a tree.
She looks around. There are only four people in the classroom. She lowers her voice. “Honestly, I don’t know what’s going on with her these days.”
I don’t answer her, not at first. Cadence is my best friend. We’ve known each other since we were nine. I’m grateful to have a friend at all. I should be. But I can’t help but notice from time to time that we treat each other differently, almost as if I’m her little sister. I realize that I’m tired. I’m tired of being dragged around. And so I admit this to a complete stranger whose name I don’t even know.
“Well, it looks like both of us have to go anyway, you because of Cadence and me because of my girlfriend who’s crazy about her.” She rolls her eyes. “But I’m, like, this huge introvert. No one really knows about it, but I hate meeting people.”
I can’t believe it. This girl? But I’m relieved all the same. I can’t relate to Cadence. But to this girl, to her, I can.
“So what are you going to do about it?”
“What am I going to do about it? What are we going to do about it? Let’s say I pretend to punch you and you fall over by yourself. And then I can leave the house as an asshole and you as a patient. Of course, I’m not actually going to do it. You have to be a good actor.”
My eyes widen. “You’re really going to do that to yourself?”
I’m bad at acting. Really bad at acting. Ms. Cárdenas can confirm that. I insisted on performing without a script once, and when I went out there, I forgot my lines, leaving the girl acting as Macbeth hanging.
“I’m not sure if I can do it,” I say, my voice crawling into the abyss.
“If you want to stay there all night, be my guest.”
I sigh, and then nod. I must really hate parties to do this, I think. Without another word, she returns to her seat, and I look up as a group of girls enter, giggling amongst themselves.
By the time I reach home, it’s already 6 p.m. What dress do I wear? I do not wear dresses, I remember shouting at a woman too eager to buy her daughter clothes she considered fancy. As a result of her efforts, I have a total of two dresses. One is black and has puffs on either side. No way. The other is ivory and has holes. A lot of holes. I consider asking Cadence, but I know she would either be too busy to return my call, or answer it and laugh in my face. So I trust my judgment for once and go with the ivory one.
As it turns out, it’s too tight. But once it goes past the waist, the rest slither past my thighs and stop there. I look in the mirror. I don’t know what I hate more, myself or the dress. A part of me hopes for a magic makeover. I open my drawer and fiddle with the bottles stolen from my sister’s room ages ago. She hasn’t looked for them ever since, so that’s a win for me. Mascara, foundation… I know absolutely nothing about makeup. I give up, and pick up the saggy purple fanny pack that my mother bought me for Christmas. I head outside.
It’s dark and cold. This was a stupid idea, I tell myself, more times than I can count until I reach the door to Cadence’s mansion of a house. I hear chaos inside. She must have invited a lot of people. So the girl was right. I was just an ant amongst dozens working for the queen.
I take a deep breath, then knock once. I hear no response, so I try again. Twice. The door opens, and it’s Cadence. Cadence, as gorgeous as ever in her Dior dress and red lipstick. Personally, I think it’s a bit too excessive, but then again, my opinion doesn’t matter to her.
“Hey,” I manage.
“Hey,” she smiles, revealing her perfect white teeth.
I step inside. My entrance draws the attention of no one. People are everywhere, either laughing, drinking, eating, or all of the above. Cadence is nowhere to be seen, and I know instantly that she’s with Kyle. If you ask me, though, I don’t have much of a thing for romance.
I gingerly tap the shoulder of a bare-shouldered girl. “Where’s the bathroom?” I shout over the music. She turns around three seconds later, like she doesn’t even have time to tell directions, but she points towards the vague direction of two or three doors. She looks down at my dress. I know she’s judging me. I do. But I don’t have time for her and she for me, so we both head our own ways, her back to the party and me towards the bathroom where the girl and I planned to meet.
The first door I open does not lead to a bathroom. The second door does.
It’s like heaven amidst hell. I don’t even realize that my left hand had been in my pocket the entire time, sweat smeared all over it. I wipe it over the dress that I couldn’t care less for. Do rich people have soundproof bathrooms? It’s almost too quiet. I don’t have the luxury to enjoy it to myself, because the door swings open a few minutes later. It’s the girl. I take a step back, although I don’t know why.
“Hi.” I wish my voice wasn’t as pathetic as my dress.
“So we’re going to do it in front of the kitchen, you know, where everyone is gathered. The more attention, the better. Make sure Cadence is watching. Deal?”
This fast? “Deal.”
She holds open the door and waits for me. I pinch my dress together with my fingers and walk out. We push through guys and girls, whisper a few excuse me’s and sorry’s, or at least I do, and reach the front of the kitchen.
I turn around. “Let’s do it.”
No one watches as we prepare. Good. She raises her fists. I smile confidently, preparing to channel some Shakespeare into me. Like in a film where they show you a fight scene in slow motion, I watch her hands fly directly towards me. She’s not going to actually hurt me. She’s not. Except she is. I don’t have time to protest. She punches my face hard, and I feel one or two of my teeth take a hit as I stumble, trip over my stupid dress, and fall to the ground. Ouch.
Everyone gasps and turns around to watch. This is the most attention I’ve gotten all year, I think as I close my eyes for a while.
”Are you okay?”
”Do you need me to call an ambulance?”
I don’t even know what to think because my head hurts too much. All I can see is the ceiling. I turn my head towards the general direction of the crowd. There she is, the girl, who’s looking at me from the edge. Her expression is blank, like she doesn’t know me, like she hasn’t just punched me in the face, and I see her hands meet the hands of another. Cadence.
My vision goes black.