POPULARITY: AN ANALYSIS

Popularity’s a weird thing. You can’t really define it, and it’s not cool to talk about it, but you know it when you see it. Like a lazy eye, or porn.

Lindsay’s gorgeous, but the rest of us aren’t that much prettier than anybody else. Here are my good traits: big green eyes, straight white teeth, high cheekbones, long legs. Here are my bad traits: a too-long nose, skin that gets blotchy when I’m nervous, a flat butt.

Becky DiFiore’s just as pretty as Lindsay, and I don’t think Becky even had a date to junior homecoming. Ally’s boobs are pretty big, but mine are borderline nonexistent (when Lindsay’s in a bad mood she calls me Samuel, not Sam or Samantha). And it’s not like we’re shiny perfect or our breath always smells like lilacs or something. Lindsay once had a burping contest with Jonah Sasnoff in the cafeteria and everyone applauded her. Sometimes Elody wears fuzzy yellow slippers to school. I once laughed so hard in social studies I spit up vanilla latte all over Jake Somers’s desk. A month later we made out in Lily Angler’s toolshed. (He was bad.)

The point is, we can do things like that. You know why? Because we’re popular. And we’re popular because we can get away with everything. So it’s circular.

I guess what I’m saying is there’s no point in analyzing it. If you draw a circle, there will always be an inside and an outside, and unless you’re a total nut job, it’s pretty easy to see which is which. It’s just what happens.

I’m not going to lie, though. It’s nice that everything’s easy for us. It’s a good feeling knowing you can basically do whatever you want and there won’t be any consequences. When we get out of high school we’ll look back and know we did everything right, that we kissed the cutest boys and went to the best parties, got in just enough trouble, listened to our music too loud, smoked too many cigarettes, and drank too much and laughed too much and listened too little, or not at all. If high school were a game of poker, Lindsay, Ally, Elody, and I would be holding 80 percent of the cards.

And believe me: I know what it’s like to be on the other side. I was there for the first half of my life. The bottom of the bottom, lowest of the low. I know what it’s like to have to squabble and pick and fight over the leftovers.

So now I have first pick of everything. So what. That’s the way it is.

Nobody ever said life was fair.

We pull into the parking lot exactly ten minutes before first bell. Lindsay guns it toward the lower lot, where the faculty spaces are, scattering a group of sophomore girls. I can see red and white lace dresses peeking out under their coats, and one of them is wearing a tiara. Cupids, definitely.

“Come on, come on, come on,” Lindsay mutters as we pull behind the gym. This is the only row in the lower lot not reserved for staff. We call it Senior Alley, even though Lindsay’s been parking here since junior year. It’s the VIP of parking at Jefferson, and if you miss out on a spot—there are only twenty of them—you have to park all the way in the upper lot, which is a full .22 miles from the main entrance. We checked one time, and now whenever we talk about it we have to use the exact distance. Like, “Do you really want to walk .22 miles in this rain?”

Lindsay squeals when she sees an open space, jerking her wheel to the left. At the same time, Sarah Grundel is pulling up her brown Chevrolet from the other direction, angling it into the spot.

“Oh, hell no. No way.” Lindsay leans on the horn, even though it’s obvious Sarah was here before us, then presses her foot on the accelerator. Elody shrieks as hot coffee sloshes all over her shirt. There is the high-pitched squeal of rubber, and Sarah Grundel slams on her brakes just before Lindsay’s Range Rover takes off her bumper.

“Nice.” Lindsay pulls into the spot and throws her car in park. Then she opens her door and leans out.

“Sorry, sweetie!” she calls to Sarah. “I didn’t see you there.” This is obviously a lie.

“Great.” Elody is mopping up coffee with a balled-up Dunkin’ Donuts napkin. “Now I get to go around all day with my boobs smelling like hazelnut.”

“Guys like food smells,” I say. “I read it in Glamour .”

“Put a cookie down your pants and Muffin will probably jump you before homeroom.” Lindsay flips down the rearview mirror and checks her face.

“Maybe you should try it with Rob, Sammy.” Elody throws the coffee-stained napkin at me and I catch it and peg it back.

“What?” She’s laughing. “You didn’t think I’d forget about your big night, did you?” She fishes in her bag and the next thing that flies over the seat is a crumpled-up condom with bits of tobacco stuck to its wrapper. Lindsay cracks up.

“You’re pagans,” I say, taking the condom with two fingers and dropping it in Lindsay’s glove compartment. Just touching it gets my nerves going again, and I can feel something twist at the bottom of my stomach. I’ve never understood why condoms are kept in those little foil wrappers. They look so clinical, like something your doctor would prescribe for allergies or intestinal problems.

“No glove, no love,” Elody says, leaning forward and kissing my cheek. She leaves a big circle of pink lip gloss there.

“Come on.” I get out of the car before they can see I’m blushing.

Mr. Otto, the athletic director, is standing outside the gym when we’re getting out of the car, probably checking out our asses. Elody thinks the reason he insisted his office be right next to the girls’ dressing room is because he rigged up a camera feed from his computer to the toilet. Why else would he even need a computer? He’s the athletic director. Now every time I pee in the gym I get paranoid.

“Move it, ladies,” he calls to us. He’s also the soccer coach, which is ironic since he probably couldn’t run to the vending machine and back. He looks like a walrus. He even has a mustache. “I don’t want to have to give you a late slip.”

“I don’t want to have to spank you.” I do an impression of his voice, which is strangely high-pitched—another reason Elody thinks he might be a pedophile. Elody and Lindsay crack up.

“Two minutes to bell,” Otto says, more sharply. Maybe he heard me. I don’t really care.

“Happy Friday,” Lindsay grumbles, and puts her arm through mine.

Elody has taken out her cell phone and is checking her teeth in its reflective back, picking out sesame seeds with a pinkie nail.

“This sucks,” she says, without looking up.

“Totally,” I say. Fridays are the hardest in some ways: you’re so close to freedom. “Kill me now.”

“No way.” Lindsay squeezes my arm. “Can’t let my best friend die a virgin.”

You see, we didn’t know.

My first two periods—art and AHAP (American History Advanced Placement; history’s always been my best subject)—I get only five roses. I’m not that stressed about it, although it does kind of piss me off that Eileen Cho gets four roses from her boyfriend, Ian Dowel. It didn’t even occur to me to ask Rob to do that, and in a way I don’t think it’s fair. It makes people think you’ve got more friends than you do.

As soon as I make it to chemistry, Mr. Tierney announces a pop quiz. This is a big problem since (1) I haven’t understood a word of my homework in four weeks (okay, so I stopped trying after week one) and (2) Mr. Tierney’s always threatening to phone in failing grades to college admissions committees, since a lot of us haven’t been accepted to school yet. I’m not sure whether he’s serious or whether he’s just trying to keep the seniors in line, but there is no way I’m letting some fascist teacher ruin my chances of getting into BU.

Even worse, I’m sitting next to Lauren Lornet, possibly the only person in the class more clueless about this stuff than I am.

Actually my grades have been pretty good in chem this year, but it isn’t because I’ve had a sudden epiphany about proton-electron interaction. My straight A–average can be summarized in two words: Jeremy Ball. He’s skinnier than I am and his breath always smells like cornflakes, but he lets me copy his homework and inches his desk closer to mine on test days so I can peek over at his answers without being obvious. Unfortunately, since I stop before Tierney’s class to pee and check in with Ally—we always meet in the bathroom before fourth period, since she has biology at the same time I have chem—I arrive too late to get my usual seat next to Jeremy.

There are three questions on Mr. Tierney’s quiz, and I don’t know enough to fake an answer to a single one. Next to me, Lauren’s doubled over her paper, tongue just poking out between her teeth. She always does that when she thinks. Her first answer’s looking pretty good, actually: her answers are neat and deliberate, not frantically scribbled like you do when you don’t know what you’re talking about and are hoping if you scrawl enough your teacher won’t notice. (For the record, it never works.) Then I remember that Mr. Tierney lectured Lauren about improving her grade last week. Maybe she’s been studying extra hard.

I peek over Lauren’s shoulder and copy down two of her answers—I’m good at being subtle about it—when Mr. Tierney calls out, “Threeeeee minutes.” He says it dramatically, like he’s doing a voice-over for a movie, and it makes the fat under his chin wiggle.

It looks like Lauren’s finished and checking her work, but she’s leaning so I can’t see the third answer. I watch the second hand tick its way around the clock—“Two miiinnnuuutes and thirrrrty secondssss,” Tierney booms—and I lean over and poke Lauren with my pen. She looks up, startled. I don’t think I’ve talked to her in years, and for a second I see a look pass over her face that I can’t quite identify.

Pen , I mouth to her.

She looks confused and shoots a glance up at Tierney, who is thankfully bent over the textbook.

“What?” she whispers.

I make some gestures with my pen, trying to communicate to her that I’ve run out of ink. She’s staring at me dumbly, and for a second I feel like reaching out and shaking her—“Twwooooo minnnutttesss”—but finally her face clears up and she grins like she’s just figured out how to cure cancer. I don’t want to sound harsh, but it’s such a waste to be a dork and kind of slow on the uptake. What’s the point if you can’t at least play Beethoven or win state spelling bees or go to Harvard or something?

While Lauren’s bent over rummaging for a pen in her bag, I copy down the final answer. I kind of forget I even asked her for a pen, actually, because she has to whisper at me to get my attention.

“Thirrrrttttyyyy seconnndss.”

“Here.”

I take it from her. One end is chewed: gross. I give her a tight smile and look away, but a second later she whispers, “Does it work?”

I give her a look so she’ll know that now she’s being annoying. I guess she takes it as a sign I don’t understand.

“The pen. Does it work?” she whispers a little louder.

That’s when Tierney slams the textbook against his desk. The sound is so loud we all jump.

“Miss Lornet,” he bellows, glaring at Lauren. “Are you talking during my quiz ?”

She turns bright red and looks back and forth from me to the teacher, licking her lips. I don’t say anything.

“I was just—” she says faintly.

“Enough.” He stands up, frowning so hard his mouth looks like it’s going to melt into his neck, and crosses his arms. I think he’s going to say something more to Lauren because he’s shooting her a death stare, but instead he just says, “Time, everybody. Pencils and pens down.”

I go to give Lauren’s pen back to her but she won’t take it.

“Keep it,” she says.

“No, thanks,” I say. I hold it between two fingers and lean over, dangling it above her desk, but she tucks her hands behind her back.

“Seriously,” she says, “you’re going to need a pen. For notes and stuff.” She’s looking at me like she’s offering me something miraculous and not a Bic pen with slobber on it. I don’t know if it’s her expression or not, but all of a sudden I remember the time we went on a field trip in second grade, and the two of us were the only ones left after everyone had chosen their buddies. We had to hold hands for the rest of the day whenever we crossed the street, and hers were always sweaty. I wonder if she remembers. I hope not.

I smile tightly and drop the pen in my bag. She grins from ear to ear. I’ll throw it out as soon as we’re done with class, of course; you never know what kind of diseases get carried through slobber.

On the bright side: my mom always said you should do one nice thing a day. So I guess that means I’m in the clear.

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