This story, written by Cobie Ray Johnson, 12, won GL’s first-ever Fab Fiction Contest. It was originally published in the February/March ’12 issue of Girls’Life. Enjoy reading it reprinted here!
When someone dies, it’s like dropping a big, heavy rock into a pond. First, there’s a huge splash: A loud clunk as the stone smacks the surface. Then there are the ripples. And when it comes to a tragic, untimely death, the news does the job of filming each one of the ripples—the sobbing grandmother, the jock boyfriend beside himself with grief—and broadcasts them for all to see.
But there is always at least one ripple so soft and so small, no one notices it. Instead it goes unseen, watching as reporters harass others with cameras. How do I know this? Well, I was that ripple. Heck, I still am. I’m the ripple that, to this day, no one knows about. And it’s my job to make sure that no one ever finds out.
I was in tenth grade and a bottom-dweller, as far as popularity was concerned. My name had been written wrong in the yearbook three times—I had been Mary, Marigold and Maria. In ninth grade, it seemed that they just stopped trying. My usual place between Dana Andrews and Michael Bondman became non-existent. And, since I had been absent the day a photographer stopped by the AP club, it was as if I’d never gone to Paul Revere High School in the first place.
But I never cared about all that—popularity, looks, boyfriends—none of it mattered to me. And when all of my classmates swooned over the new gym teacher, Mr. Kauffman, I was constantly staring at a different member of our school staff—the principal’s secretary, Ms. Mayer. So I’m gay…big deal. To me it wasn’t something to dwell on, just a plain old fact, as if I had read it in my geometry textbook while studying for midterms.
But I knew that if anyone ever found out, I’d be social roadkill. Let’s just say that when you live in a town where twenty girls showed up on the first day of school carrying the same exact Marc Jacobs bag, you realize your peers aren’t really looking for friends who are…unique. So I just kept to myself, going through high school with my head down, dreaming of the day I’d finally be able to leave.
You can imagine my horror, then, when I found out my second term bio partner would be none other than Anne Macintyre, the most beautiful, popular and envied girl in our school. Any other socially handicapped outcast would’ve jumped for joy, proposed a toast and danced around the room, singing showtunes about rainbows and sunny days. But I just sat there, biting my nails, not even acknowledging that the girl reluctantly sitting down next to me was wearing jeans that cost more than my mom’s car.
When class was over, she slapped a piece of paper down on the desk in front of me. On it was her cell number, scrawled in sparkly pink ink.
“Text me,” she muttered as she stalked away, leaving behind the nauseatingly sweet smell of perfume and bubble gum.
Thanks to budget cuts, our school library shut tight on weekends. And that how, one chilly Saturday afternoon, I found myself answering the doorbell and letting Anne MacIntyre into my house.
On the walk up to my bedroom, Anne seemed to grimace at everything she saw. Family pictures perched on a table? Eew! Walls lined with bookshelves? Gross! Rose-patterned wallpaper peeked out from behind a bathroom door left ajar? She looked at it like it were the most repulsive thing she’d ever seen.
Then we were in my room. There her facial expressions just went blank. Sighing, I stopped watching her and just started focusing on getting the whole thing over with.
After about half an hour of her doing absolutely nothing, I decided that I had had enough.
“You know what?” I said, raising my head from Intro to Earth Sciences just enough to look her in the eye. “I shouldn’t have to put up with this. I know you think you’re so special because you’re popular and everyone loves you, but you still have to help me.” Rage radiated from each word, my voice getting stronger with each syllable. “So either you start actually doing something, or I’m just going to switch partners.”
“Okay,” she said plainly, shrugging. “So that…Richter thingy…how does it work again?” I felt silly being countered by such a calm statement, but I figured it must be rare for a girl like Anne to show interest in the wonders of seismology, so I jumped at the chance.
I pointed to the picture of California I’d drawn in my notebook. As I explained the San Andres fault, I could feel her eyes on me, her moving slightly closer to me. My face getting red, I slowly raised my head, as my words got softer and softer, fading to silence. Before I knew what was happening, she was leaning towards me, closer and closer until her lips were on mine.
My mind racing, everything else fell away—the textbooks, schoolwork—my room was gone, leaving me in uncharted territory, a world full of mystery and excitement. It was like nothing I had ever felt before, a completely newfound sensation. But just as quickly, it was all over.
Anne pulled away, her face as shocked as mine must have been. In a split second, she was standing up, clumsily gathering her belongings in a flustered attempt at speed.
“Omigod!” She finally screamed. “Omigod! You lesbo! You are…disgusting. Don’t even think about coming near me. You touch me, and I will kill you. Ughhh…eeew!!!” With that, she stormed out of my room, leaving me dumbfounded and speechless.
Let me start by saying that I did NOT kiss her. The worst thing for a closet lesbian to do would be hit on the most gossipy girl in school. No—she definitely kissed me.
That Monday, I walked in to science to find that I had a new partner. Anne never spoke to me again. She did, however, determine it was her job to make my life a living hell. I might be a pretty immune when it comes to gossip, but having every girl in school believe you borrowed your picture day outfit from your grandmother can do a lot to a gal’s self-esteem. But not once did my sexuality ever come up. She kept my secret, and I kept hers—mostly because, as we both knew, she had as much dirt on me as I had on her.
Then, one day, a seventeen-year-old girl was driving home from cheerleading practice when, out of nowhere, a semi slammed into her Mini Cooper.
I didn’t go to Anne’s funeral. There were too many inevitable questions, like why the most invisible girl in school would mourn the queen bee that tortured her.
I came out during senior year—not that anyone noticed. When I got older, people would ask about my first kiss. Each time I invented a new story: There was the romantic picnic under the stars, the dark movie theatre, even the stroke-of-midnight-on-New-Year’s-Eve. But not once did I spill about the popular-girl-living-a-lie.
That day, when I turned on the television to see Anne’s school picture alongside images of twisted steel and ambulances, I made myself a promise—Anne’s secret would die with her.