Fifteen-year-old Skye, the middle child, finds herself wishing for a new life-one that doesn’t include daily harassment from the in-crowd at Highland Creek High School. Skye barely survived freshman year. She only did because her best friend, Goose, a semi-popular fellow band geek, was by her side. But when their sophomore year starts, Goose ditches Skye for a new crowd.
Cast into a lone existence at Highland Creek, Skye wishes for a touch of extraordinary that everyone, except her, seems to have. Her older sister, Sara Elizabeth, has it. Goose is getting close to it, and even her little sister is wildly popular in junior high. Skye would do almost anything to cast off her ordinary life…but at what price?
When her older sister goes missing without a trace, Skye gets her wish…but it’s not exactly what she had in mind. And when she questions Bryan, the senior class renegade and also the last person to be seen with her sister, she finds something she never quite expected.
After the bell, I headed to Ms. Stone’s classroom for lunch. It had become my usual place for dining since Lauren and I were so on-again, off-again. I really had no other place to go. But when I walked in, I found the principal and the school counselor—always a bad combination—sitting with Ms. Stone. My gut lurched.
The principal, Mr. Jones, was sitting on the corner of Ms. Stone’s desk with a roll of fat spilling over his belted pants. Mr. Munsey and Ms. Stone sat close to him. They all turned to me, and I began to inch backwards. The room was still. I fixated on the literature posters on the wall. William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and Charles Dickens stared at me. Ms. Stone eased toward me. I sighed slowly through my nostrils. My heart raced, and everything felt like it was moving in slow motion. All I could think was: what have I done? Then I thought, someone’s dead. I was quickly assured that I was not in trouble, that they just wanted to talk to me for a few minutes. I tried to think of something questionable that I had done. Ms. Stone informed me that she had read my latest paper.
“Which one?” I asked. I tried to figure out which paper she was talking about.
“The one on Romeo and Juliet?” Then it hit me.
“I didn’t plagiarize,” I said.
“No, the one you turned in a couple of days ago.” I shrugged.
“Your essay was a little disturbing to Ms. Stone,” said Mr. Munsey. “She asked me to read it and give her my thoughts. That’s why I’m here.” Mr. Munsey, a large and bushy-haired man, looked about the same age as Ms. Stone, like around thirty-something probably. He had the mountain-man look—okay on a movie star, but not so much on Mr. Munsey.
“I don’t even remember what it was about. I wrote it last week when I had my migraine.”
“A story about ‘offing the populars,’ as you put it,” Mr. Jones said.
I slumped into a chair and said, “Oh. My short story.”
“Skye, we’re just concerned…” Mr. Munsey said. “About you being bullied.” He really dragged out the word concerned.
“I’m fine, and the story was not a hit list or plan or anything. I was just having a bad day and wrote a stupid story. It was like therapy. It was supposed to be funny, actually.”
“Well, it’s enough to make us question you,” Mr. Munsey said.
“It’s not a journal entry,” I said. “It’s not a cry for help or anything. I was just writing. It’s a fictional story about a school with no populars. No hierarchy. No Queen Bees or loud-mouthed jocks.”
The counselor pointed out a specific passage. He said, “Skye, it’s just realistic, and it concerns me.” That word again. “See, right here where you say, ‘The cheerleader, wide-eyed and gasping for air, clutched her bleeding stomach. She lifted her fingers and studied the warm liquid that had painted them a deep red, almost dark as night. She looked up into the eyes of her enemy…’”
“I have an active imagination.” Pause. Shrill laughs filtered in from the hallway. I even recognized one of the chicken laughs as Lauren’s. “I watch too much TV?” Pause. The chicken clucked again.
“You can’t write about ways to eliminate popular kids—or anyone for that matter. You watch the news. You know what’s going on in the world today. It’s a scary place,” Mr. Munsey said. He looked at me over his thickly rimmed glasses. I realized in that moment, standing before the jury and still hearing the chicken laugh from the hall, that I was in trouble.
“I was just writing a story…that’s all,” I said. I volunteered myself for any kind of test or evaluation to prove I was not crazy. Big mistake. They jumped on it.
Mr. Munsey wiped his glasses on a handkerchief (those disgusting, snot-holders should be outlawed, by the way). The trio exchanged looks, and then Mr. Jones and Mr. Munsey stood up. Their chairs scraped against the tiled floor. Before filing out of the room, Mr. Munsey said he’d be in touch about starting “sessions” with me or something. They left me alone with Ms. Stone.
“I’m so sorry, Skye, but I did this out of concern for you. I’ve been worried, and then this paper…”
“Wow, do I really look that pathetic and sad?” We stood looking at each other. The blue-gray circles under her eyes became sharper under the fluorescent lights. The window facing the quad outside caught my attention and pulled me away from Ms. Stone’s face. The quad was filled with activity. I saw blurs of color flash in front of me. Pink, wind-chapped faces, blue varsity jackets, white-blonde hair. I closed my eyes and shut everything out. “Can I leave?” I asked.
“I would still like to talk, Skye.”
“Maybe later, if that’s okay,” I opened my eyes and stared at her. She had betrayed me. “Can I leave?” I said again.
I flew to the bathroom. My make-up had run in places from the tears. I haphazardly reapplied some make-up to my blotchy cheeks and chin. Then I smoothed it in slowly, covering the little bumps on my face with the foundation. I squeezed on berry-flavored lip gloss for good measure. Though it didn’t do much to help, the berry taste was a tiny comfort. Then I went and hid in the library. It was just a stupid story. I played the conversation over and over in my mind. The bell rang for fourth period and then for fifth. I was numb and couldn’t move from the hard, cold chair. The smooth surface of the table felt good against my face, too. At one point, I saw Ms. Stone through my hair that had fallen across my eyes, but I didn’t acknowledge her. Eventually she left.
Finally, I mustered up enough strength and took out a small mirror from my bag. I cringed at the streaks of mascara on my face. I tried to rub them away, but my face was a wreck. I glanced down at my watch and freaked. I had been hiding out in the library for over two hours. I had twenty minutes to pull myself together before last bell. I gathered up my stuff and snuck out of the library, straight to the math hall for a more obscure bathroom. I did not want to chance it by going to the one in the main hall. My instincts were good. It was empty. I dumped my purse out into the sink and began my patchwork. That’s when it went from bad to worse.
Zoë, with her perfect looks and ego the size of New York City, pranced in with her royal court in tow. I didn’t look up. I was told to never ever make eye contact with the enemy.
“Hi,” I said and looked up stupidly. She smiled at me with her perfectly straight, perfectly white, and perfectly over-sized horse teeth. Her mouth, too big for her face, overwhelmed her eyes and pointed nose that tipped slightly upward.
“We were just talking about you.” She looked over at her minions and breathed a laugh through her nose.
“Oh yeah?” I said. Trapped in the smallest bathroom in the school, with only two stalls and one long sink, I shared the space with unfriendly forces. I swallowed hard and nearly choked on my saliva. I glanced at the girl standing beside Zoë and realized we used to be friends. Shelby and I played soccer together in the sixth grade.
“So, Skye, I heard a little rumor about you,” Zoë said.
“Aren’t you a little bit curious?”
“No. Not really.”
“Oh, come on. You have to be.”
“What is it, Zoë?”
“I heard you wrote a story about being bullied. Poor baby, you’re not gonna go psycho, are you?”
“My source overheard Ms. Stone and another teacher talking about it.”
“Whatever. They were probably talking about me winning that writing contest. Yeah, first place. Pretty awesome, huh?” I had been kicked in the gut. Well, not literally, but that’s what it felt like having these girls corner me. Everything went numb, except my brain. I couldn’t imagine how they found out. I looked at Shelby for help, but she was more interested in biting her fingernail. I threw my stuff back in my purse and reached for the door, but Zoë pushed me aside and hurried in front of me.
With a quick snap of her ponytail, she glanced back at me and said,“Whatever.”
I waited it out for a few minutes in the bathroom. The call for bus riders filtered through the intercom, and I finally poked my head out just as last bell rang and made a dash for it. I fought my way through the crowd that had begun to fill the hallways and ran to my locker. I noticed Zoë’s handiwork immediately. On my locker: a post-it note with the word “LOSER” in nice, big block letters and a picture of a stick figure with a huge head. It had curly hair and glasses, and it was crying. Great Sharpie skills. I grabbed it and crumpled it in my hand. The sharp little edges poked my palm.
Christine H. Bailey teaches Creative Writing and Written Composition at a private university in Tennessee. Before teaching English, Bailey worked as a journalist, a marketing/public relations writer, and a freelance editor.
Girl in the Middle is Bailey’s debut novel. To learn more about this author and her work, visit her online at www.cibailey.com.