High School Soap Opera
I walk into detention on Thursday and take a seat next to Talie. I swear, this girl must have perfect attendance. She never even tries to sneak out after last period, and despite her reputation for being a “bad girl,” I don’t think she’s ditched a class in her life. I shove my vest and tie in my backpack and take out my English notebook. I come to talk to Talie, but if I’m going to be at a desk for 90 minutes I may as well work on my homework.
“Hey,” Talie says, “Seattle.” I don’t know why she calls me that. I’m not from Washington, and I don’t even like coffee. Her shoes are on the floor under her chair, and her vest is inside-out, showing the navy lining.
“Hey,” I reply. “What’cha working on?”
“English.” She looks over at my desk and nods. “Essay on Gatsby?” I nod back. We both have Mr. Chapman, but we’re not in the same class. Still, it’s nice to be able to work on assignments together. “What angle are you taking?”
“Whatever I can write quickly,” I say. “I hate this book.” She just looks at me, waiting for a real answer. I sigh. “I think I’m gonna talk about Gatsby as a fallen idol, and Nick is like a modern teenager who finds out his favorite celebrity did something embarrassing, like getting arrested for drunk driving.”
“Nice,” she says, impressed. She shuffles through her backpack. “Is that irony intentional, the car thing?” Before I can answer, Talie stops looking in the bag, hand frozen inside. “Shit,” she whispers. “she fucking stole it again.”
“What?” I ask, alarmed. “What’s stolen? Who?”
Startled, she looks up like she forgot I’m here. “Nothing,” she says quickly. “My pen. It’s not a big deal, lend me one?” She knows I always have a few extras, and I hand one over.
“Let me guess: Laura Jeffrey?” I smile. Some people never learn. By now Talie should know better than to let Laura “borrow” anything. She never gives it back.
“Huh? What about her?” she asks, putting the heading on a sheet of loose leaf. I write my name on my paper.
“You just said someone stole your pen. Was it Laura Jeffrey? Because I have a friend on the basketball team…” Josette always jokes that she could be my bodyguard, even though she’s only a few inches taller than me. I don’t think she’d mind doing a favor for a friend of a friend.
“Oh…” She looks up. “Um, no, someone else. Someone in my math class. You don’t know her.” She looks down at her paper, the pen hovering above the page.
“Someone who uses a pen in math class?” I thought every math teacher had the same cardinal rule: no pens. We have to use pencil in case we need to erase something. It’s been that way since, like… forever.
“Would you stop it with the third degree? Yes, she uses a pen in math. Get over it.” She starts writing, and I guess that discussion is effectively closed. Whatever, like I even care if someone uses pen for math.
For a while we work on our essays quietly, but I can’t help thinking about how strange she’s acting today. I look over at her and realize that I don’t actually know her very well. She doesn’t talk about her family, or what she does when she’s not at school. Maybe I overlooked it before because she’s usually so friendly, but now that I’ve thought about it I can’t focus on anything else.
“Hey, Talie?” I ask. She doesn’t answer. “What did you do to get stuck in detention for a year?” She slams down the pen.
“God, you too?” she exclaims, standing and looking at me.
“Natalie Conner, that’s enough,” the teacher warns. Talie apologizes and sits.
“I thought that was the unwritten rule,” she says softly, “you don’t ask what I did to get here, and I don’t ask you why you come when you’re obviously too much of a goody-goody to actually be forced to come.” I open my mouth to protest, but she continues. “Actually, Jenna, since you’re feeling chatty today, why don’t you tell me? Why are you even here?” I don’t respond, and she raises her eye brows. “Then why don’t you just leave?”
“Fine,” I say, grabbing my stuff, “I will.” I stand up and get halfway to the door before turning around. “Keep the pen,” I say loudly. “Don’t worry, I won’t accuse you of stealing it just because you weren’t prepared.” I spin back around and stride out of the room. Inside, the teacher is saying that this is the second warning, and that one more and he’ll add time to her sentence.
“What just happened?” I ask myself as I head for my locker. Did I do or say something I shouldn’t have? I don’t think so. There’s definitely something she doesn’t want me to know. She probably doesn’t want anyone to know, and of course that makes me wonder even more what her secret is. I just want to get home. This essay isn’t due until Monday anyway.
After what happened with Talie, I need my best friend. She has basketball practice, but I send her a text asking her to call me when she gets a chance. It could be another couple of hours if the team goes out for dinner, which they do after particularly tough practices. Hopefully today was just some routine drills. While I wait for her, I wander aimlessly through the house. My parents are still at work, and I don’t feel like doing my social studies right now. I can do it in homeroom tomorrow.
I am so bored. I need to get a hobby.
Except not really, because that would mean my parents win that battle, and I’m not willing to surrender on that one. I sit on the couch, cream-colored suede just waiting for an unsightly stain, and try to turn on the TV. The remote doesn’t work. I check the batteries, and they are in securely. They’re probably just dead. Great! I’m too lazy to walk across the room, so I just lay down and stare at the ceiling. I’m still laying there when my Dad comes home.
“Peanut?” he asks. “Everything okay?” I admire his persistence, I really do. He wants to know what’s going on in my life, but he doesn’t ask me straight out. He thinks one day I’m just going to tell him everything, like in Sixteen Candles when Samantha’s dad realizes that everyone forgot her birthday and that’s enough for her to open up about her crush on Jake Ryan. Somehow I doubt my dad would be as supportive as the one in the movie, though. He would probably tell me that if Talie wanted me to know something, she would tell me, and if not then I should respect her privacy and trust that there’s nothing bad going on.
“Yeah, fine.” I sit up so he can have some room, but he just stands there. “I’m just thinking about the essay I have to write for English.” He frowns, and I think he wants to say something else but my phone rings. I look at it. “Sorry, it’s Josette. I need to get this…”
“Sure, go ahead,” he says sadly. Now I feel bad for blowing him off like this, but I answer my phone anyway.
“What’s up, Jenna?” Josette asks. She sounds like she just ran a marathon.
“How was practice?” I don’t even know what to say. I don’t want to tell her about Talie and her weird behavior, I just need Josette to make me forget what happened.” I go outside and sit on the front steps so my Dad can’t eavesdrop.
“Seriously?” She pauses. “It sounded like an emergency, I haven’t even showered yet.”
“Sorry,” I say. “I just want to talk. I feel like I haven’t seen you in weeks.” What I don’t say is that I feel like she doesn’t even want to see me. I look at the painted iron railing next to the steps. The black paint is chipping and I can see the ugly puke green shade underneath.
“Can it wait? We’re going for pizza, I have to get cleaned up.”
“Right, I get it. I see how it is.” I start picking at the gate, and the paint comes off in tiny flakes.
“How what is?” she asks, exasperated.
“I’m not on the team, so we can’t be friends anymore. You’re leaving me behind.”
“Geez, Jenna!” I know she’s rolling her eyes at me. “Stop being so dramatic!”
“I’m not being dramatic!” I shout. A neighbor across the street looks at me, and I turn to face the house. “You’re the one who never calls, never wants to hang out.”
“Be right there, thanks!” she calls to someone, probably a teammate telling her the shower is free. “Look, Jenna, I can’t do this now, I have to go. I’ll call you later.” She hangs up, just like that. No goodbye. She didn’t even wait for me to respond. Maybe tonight’s not good for me. Maybe I have a date.
Yeah, I wouldn’t believe it either.
“Hi, Honey!” my mother calls from the car, which she just parked. “Can you just-” She trails off as she’s trying to juggle three bags of groceries.
“I got it,” I say, reaching for a bag, but she shakes her head.
“There’s more,” she says. I step out of her way so she can go inside. As I reach for a bag, I hear the doorbell ring. She must be trying to get Dad’s attention so he’ll come open the door. I look through the groceries. Fruits and vegetables, mostly. Mom must be on a health food kick again. I bet these were all grown at a pesticide-free farm.
At least I can rely on my parents being normal. They wouldn’t know drama if it came with neon lights and a bowl of popcorn.
If I’m so sure Josette’s not going to call me tonight, why can’t I even go to the bathroom without taking my phone with me? I’m not desperate, really. It’s not like I’m sitting cross-legged on the bed, watching the phone and trying to will it to ring. My parents made me leave it on the kitchen counter while we ate dinner in the dining room, but that was okay. She would have been at dinner too.
I have had my phone plugged in since after dessert, so if she does call at least the battery won’t run out. I’m not playing games or texting anyone. But I’m not desperate. I’m not staring at it. I’m working on my damn essay, because I don’t want to be writing it all weekend.
And I’m not staring at the clock either. I’m just glancing at it every once in a while… like every fifteen minutes… or five, okay? Yes, I am checking the clock obsessively. I admit that. Where is she now? If dinner started at 5:30, it would be done by 6:15, maybe 7:00. Add twenty minutes for her to get home, get settled. Josette could have called already. Or she could call any second.
Why am I obsessing about this?!
I guess it’s a test. If she calls me back, she still wants to be my friend and everything is going to be fine. If not, she is saying our friendship is over and I need to move on.
Maybe I am being a teeny bit dramatic. But she doesn’t understand, I don’t have a million friends like she does, so the few I have are very precious to me. I don’t want to lose her.
I look at the clock, then curse myself for not being strong enough to let it go. It’s 8:00, which means time to watch Spruce Ridge on SoapNet. Every night at 8 they show the episode of my favorite soap opera that originally aired that afternoon, before I got home. I guess I could just get a DVR like everyone else, but it’s less expensive to just watch at night. I turn on the TV – my remote has good batteries – and switch to the right channel.
The opening credits are just starting. It’s a cheesy photo montage of beach scenes and sunsets, with the actors’ photos mixed in. But get this – the show is set near Chicago. There are no oceans in sight. That’s why I like this show. It’s not just drama, it’s overly dramatic. The dialogue is tense, even when the scene is not supposed to be. John says slowly, and in a deep voice, “Olivia… please pass the butter.” Cue dramatic organ music, cue Olivia looking horrified, and cue me laughing my ass off.
Tonight’s episode begins where yesterday’s left off. Olivia is still in the middle of an argument with John about why she needs to buy a new toothbrush. He says that just because he used it doesn’t mean she can’t still use it, but she is afraid of getting some disease that he might not even know he has. I’m serious, you can’t make this stuff up.
Well, yeah, you could if you’re a writer on the show. Maybe that’s what I should be when I grow up, a writer for soap operas. It can’t be that hard. Scenes and conversations stretch out to a whole week sometimes. I mean, I could write better than this show. If you really want to add drama, then after Olivia suggested John might not even know he has a terrible communicable disease, he would have a voice-over saying that she’s wrong, he does know about his disease, and he hopes she never finds out. That’s pure gold, right there.
I yawn. Josette’s not gonna call. I knew that. She would have called by now, I’m sure of it. On Spruce Ridge, the scene has changed to a night club, where Adaire is trying to pick up Candace. Wait a second, didn’t John and Olivia’s fight start at breakfast? Either that’s a long fight, or Candace started drinking really early today! Shouldn’t she be at her spinning class? Shouldn’t Adaire be at work?
It’s only halfway through the episode, but I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open. During a commercial break, I go down the hall to the kitchen and get a glass of lemonade. Maybe this will keep me up until the episode is over. I drink half the glass, then refill it and head back to my room.
I manage to watch another twenty minutes, but the lemonade hasn’t helped at all. I know tomorrow night’s episode will start with a recap of what happened all week, so I finally give in to my fatigue. If Josette calls and I’m asleep, that’s on her. I don’t care anymore. I need to get some rest.
I’ve decided to post my NaNoWriMo novel on my blog this year, chapter by chapter. I hope you enjoy it! And remember, this is all about having fun and writing a whole lot in a short period of time, so please don’t give me “corrections.” I’m not planning on going for publication anyway. Start at the beginning: Chapter One