Zoe had been hoping that her orthodontist appointment would last longer. Or that it would start late. Or that the dentist office would catch fire. Anything to delay or, even better, avoid going to school. Mom wasn’t having any of it.
But Mom was being selfish. Said she had to get back to work. Zoe felt very strongly that it would be better if they had lunch together, then maybe go shopping. She made her case smartly and forcefully. Mom was having none of it. Stupid office.
Things didn’t go so well at the end of yesterday. Somehow the day got out of hand. It was that idiot project. She was working with Emily and Emma, like they almost always did. They were all in the gifted and talented program. They were all in the orchestra. She and Emily played flute. Emma played the violin. They were all on the same soccer team. Emily’s dad coached. They were called the Purple Reign because their uniforms were violet and they loved to sing “Let’s Go Crazy” on the sidelines. It psyched them up. They all had iPhones and sent each other the most hysterical emoji messages ever. Their moms couldn’t decipher their code.
They stopped singing the songs from Frozen this year. They switched over to binge watching The Hunger Games trilogy. Katniss was more relatable than the cartoon Elsa. The archer’s moodiness was more like they sometimes felt. Alone together. They were growing up.
Yesterday was ridiculous, though. They were close to being finished with their presentation. They worked in Justin Bieber’s Sorry from YouTube. The project was on language and the concept just worked. They agreed that the dancing would be a great way to finish off. Creativity points and maybe some cool points, too. Somehow, though, everything went south.
Emily started by saying that she didn’t think they should spend so much time with a dance video. It made them seem less serious. Zoe felt stung. She was working on their choreography. It was actually her major contribution. She made different signs for them to hold and swap as they were dancing. Using the classroom speakers and a YouTube video was uncharted for the students. She had to get Ms. Waldorf’s permission. Zoe explained how they were integrating a pop video into their research. She was pretty proud of her negotiating.
Before Zoe could respond, Emma piped in her agreement. She said it in a thoughtful way, like, “I hear what you’re saying, Emily. That makes sense.” But she said it as soon as Emily finished her sentence. As if they had discussed it before. Zoe felt a bitter taste in her mouth. She took a big breath through her nose. She blinked her eyes quickly to quell the rising salt water. She exhaled and then took another deep breath.
Emma’s left eye narrowed just a bit and the one side of her mouth turned down. She was thinking for real this time. “But maybe we can keep it and just only do it for half of the time.” It was Emily’s turn to stiffen a little.
“If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine,” Zoe said with a bit more force on the fine than she was intending.
“No, no, no. I’m okay with Emma’s idea. Let’s just cut the dancing short.”
There was a bit of shortness in Emily’s response. All three girls were feeling edgy. Zoe quickly packed her notebook and markers in her backpack. She put her half-eaten Lara Bar that fell out of it’s wrapper in there, too. She didn’t care that it would be gross. She was ready to go. She needed to go.
“Okay. I just remembered I needed to see Mr. Ripley. See you guys tomorrow.” She stood up and shook her stuff to the bottom of her bag, awkwardly zipping it as she walked away. She hoped that they didn’t see the back of her hand run across her eyes. Her last few steps out the door were a sprint.
She was quiet at dinner. She couldn’t stop replaying the conspiracy in her head. Why were they ganging up on her? They had been working on this plan for weeks and this was the first she heard about “too much music.” When she thought the words “too much music” she thought them in a sarcastic baby voice.
And this was after she cleared it with the teacher. After she made the signs. After she figured out how they would use them to “convey their educational messages in an authentic fashion to their peers.” Those words got her the approval. A flare of pride pushed away her gloom.
Were Emily and Emma mad at her? Did she do something to make them mad? Why were they rejecting her? She started to feel a tennis ball sized mass in the middle of her chest rise to the back of her throat. She swallowed it back down before it reached her eyes. Mom started to ask her something but her brother and his friend came home and the dog went off.
Zoe put her plate and silverware in the dishwasher and decided to call it a night. She walked upstairs. She stared at the foam from the toothpaste leaking from the edges of her mouth. Like a sad clown face. She felt a little sorry for the girl in the mirror. She downed a glass of water and watched a little water drip down her chin. It spotted her t-shirt. She pulled on her favorite nightshirt and curled in bed with an unopened book. She gazed absently at the ceiling, her hand resting on the cover of her book, her mind spinning through the end of the school day and cycling through emotions of confusion, anger, sadness and doubt.
Now she had to go back to school and she didn’t know if her friends were her friends. She made herself stop. Mom pulled in front of the school. If Zoe looked at her, she would have seen her mother’s head tilted to one side, studying her daughter with pronounced lines on her forehead. But Zoe had the car door slammed behind her–not slammed hard but with a little extra force–before her mother could finish her assessment.
Crap. It was lunchtime. Everyone would be in the cafeteria. She didn’t want to go in there, but after she checked in with the school secretary, she had no where else to go. She grabbed a tray and kept her head down as she approached the food kiosk.
She put her tray down on a table and felt someone sticking an earphone in her ear. She heard the tinny sound of a song. Emily was attached to the end of the white wire and held the other bud next to her own ear. She looked at Zoe all wild-eyed and crooned, “Is it too late now to say sorry?” Emma was horse stomping her right foot in rhythm to the song. She finished with her best Michael Jackson flourish, which meant she lost her balance. While she did stagger, she stayed standing. The three of them doubled over. Zoe’s snort was followed by another round of shrieks.
Those two Ems knew her well. And, they were exactly right about cutting some of the music at the end. In fact, all was right.