When I was eleven, I still believed in that thing called “kindness.”
Now, don’t go thinking I was any sort of perfect little angel. I wasn’t even close to a goody-two-shoes. But at least I tried to be kind, despite the constant tide of mean and ugly the world bombarded me with.
I’m thirteen now. I am the mean and ugly.
Where did I go wrong?
I have to tell Bea something, and it’s big. Like, really, really, end-of-the-world, earth-shattering big. It’s the kind of big that makes you drag your best friend to the little alley next to the leaky school dumpsters to tell her, just so nobody else hears. I have a tight grip on Bea’s wrist. Y’know, so she doesn’t run away if she sees a cute boy or an animal.
“Ugh,” Bea attempts to swat my hand away, “I think you’re cutting off my circulation.”
“Am not.” I grin at her. “This is why you’re in the drama club.”
Bea narrows her eyes at me. “Don’t insult me. I am an ac-tor!” She wrenches her hands from mine and waves them about. It looks like she should be on stage reciting Hamlet: The Overacting Edition. We both explode.
Bad choice of words; we both explode into peals of laughter. I gotcha there for a second, didn’t I? Made you think we exploded?
This is why I’m a mean girl, isn’t it?
Bea recoils at the sight of the dripping dumpsters. “Ew, Stella. Why did you hafta take me here?” I have to admit, the stench is real right now. Still. I’ve experienced much worse than this. I have two brothers; dumpsters have nothing on me! Bea continues her spiel. “Somebody needs to fix this, stat. These leaking dumpsters are gonna make the whole school smell like trash.”
“You’re trash,” I say automatically. I say stuff like this all the time. It’s what friends do. Right?
Bea doesn’t reply. She just bites her lip, face paling. Her expression is practically begging for pity. For an apology. Well, I’m not going to apologize. It was a joke, that’s all. She needs to toughen up if she can’t even handle a little friendly teasing with her best friend. Nope. Not going to apologize for something this stupid. We both wait. She still doesn’t say a world. Geez. Bea’s getting soft.
Finally, after what feels like forever, Bea tenses. Even her ruddy curls, normally loose and relaxed, have gone tight as a coiled-up spring.
I still don’t say that I’m sorry.
I’m not sorry, and I don’t lie.
Bea waits expectantly. Her body grows more rigid every second.
“I. Am. Not. Trash.” Bea slams her fist into the dumpster and wheels around. She leaves me alone without as much as a glance backward.
“Bea…” my voice trails off. I sound a lot weaker than I intended.
Bea doesn’t look back.
She hates me. I know it. I’ve gone through this before with pretty much every friend I had back in elementary school. But none of my middle school friends have hated me yet. This is a first.
It seems kind of inevitable, me being friendless. Not that I like it or anything. Bitterness floods my chest. At least I’m not trash. The thought suddenly frightens me. Oh my gosh. I’m the mean girl. How did I get to be this way? The kind of girl everyone hates? I have no answers. There’s nothing I can do right now, except go home. Nobody truly knows me there. You see, at home, I’m not a mean girl or a popular girl or an airhead or a cheerleader or a gossip or a prep or a wannabe. I’m Stella. And that’s it.
I still didn’t get to tell Bea my news. She would have been so happy when she found out that we were going to California together! My mom told me I could pick one friend to take with me on my 14th birthday trip. Bea was the obvious choice. At least, until I ruined absolutely everything with one stupid comment.
My new white Converse pound the pavement as I hightail it towards home. Freaking Dumpster juice sloshes all over my shoes and my hair is slipping from it’s ponytail. I’d like to say, after what’s happened with Bea, I could care less about my appearance, but the truth is I’m always worried about how I look. My guard never drops, even if I’m stomping around in garbage pee and I just lost my best friend. Even though my chest tightens, I don’t slow my pace for the half-mile it takes to get home. I pass a road jammed with cars, and one of them is Bea’s. She has to suffer the daily embarrassment of her dad’s beaten-up minivan-she calls it the Slugly. (‘Cuz it’s ugly, and it looks like a slug). The Slugly is grayish-brownish but used to be white one million years ago, and it’s dented literally everywhere. It’s really loud, too. Suddenly my mouth tastes sour. I remember sharing french fries in the backseat of the Slugly with Bea on the way to volleyball camp. We had so much fun that weekend. It was like one giant volleyball sleepover. What more could a girl ask for? I remember Bea lamenting the eternal punishment of seeing this car wheezing its way through the pickup line and knowing it was hers. But I also remember that she kind of has a secret fondness for that unappealing little van, and I smile, despite the onslaught of memories. I give a quick wave to Bea’s car, pair it with my best I’m-sorry-smile. Hey, Bea. I’m sorry. I don’t really think you’re trash. Can we be friends again? Just forget this ever happened? I don’t think she sees me.
Or maybe she’s ignoring me.
What have I done?