THAT'S WHAT'S UP!
Jessica Johnson glowered.
She stood mannequin still in the school's long hallway at the floor-to-ceiling glass panes surrounding the fishbowlthe café, Del Rio Bay High's outdoor beautiful people's-only section of the cafeteria. Her eyes, focused like hazel laser beams, made the glare cat-like in her coffee bean complexioned face.
She couldn't take them off the scene outside.
About forty people milled around the square, no larger than two average-sized bedrooms. Some huddled around the five tall bistro tablessometimes six people deep. Others stood atop the sandy colored concrete benches that anchored the corners, while others still were content leaning against one of the two brick walls that enclosed the area. So used to being gawked at from the hall or cafeteria windows no one paid her much mind. Everyone was enjoying the budding warmth of the early springmany going jacketless in the fifty-degree Maryland day.
Winter had been short but fierce. Two ice storms had walloped the area, closing school for a total of seven days in February and nearly sending everyone stir crazy from cabin fever. The fifty degrees was almost hot in comparison and the open air addicting.
The thick glass made it impossible for Jess to distinguish any conversation, but she could almost feel the buzz of the various rowdy discussions. Now and then a loud laugh or exclamation would erupt from one of the hubs. Jess assumed it was loud. It had to be if she could hear it from inside. She imagined that the talk was of the Extreme Beach Nationals, the big cheerleading competition taking place in a week, who was heading down with who, which hotel people were staying and what madness they could get into with their parents lingering nearby.
Typical day in the café, the schools' powers discussing who and what was important in DRB High land in their own version of politicking and strategizing.
The café, twenty feet wide, twenty feet across, and accessible by a single door at the far end of the cafeteria was nothing more than an island of concrete surrounded by a patch of grass just wide enough to be a pain for the maintenance crew to cut. But it was the students' slice of heaven. No teachers patrolled it. And Nobodies stayed away from its door, choosing instead to a) act like the café didn't exist or matter, or b) gaze inside from the windows, like Jess was doing now.
Only she wasn't a Nobody. Jess was a café regular, an Upper whose right it was to lounge in the café at her leisure during lunch.
And until that very second, the café had been Jessica's safe haven from wannabes and nobodies, specifically the one wannabe nobody who annoyed her more than anyone in the world...Mina Mooney.
Jessica's eyes squeezed into slits, piercing Mina from the shadows of the hall as Mina's head bobbed up and down excitedly deep in conversation with Kim, the Varsity cheer captain and Sara, Jessica's twin.
Seeing Mina there, all smiles and grins enjoying life in the fishbowl, shouldn't have jolted Jessica. But the flash of heat she felt boiling in her chest was angerpure and powerful. It grew as she remembered how lightly Sara had mentioned Mina's new "status."
"I was telling Mina that we're gonna kill it at the Extreme," Sara had said, bubbling with a mix of anxiety and excitement at the thought of Nationals.
"Look, I know you two cheer together now, but I'm over hearing you talk about her," Jessica snapped. She tossed her hair, a well-kept straight weave, a ludicrous auburn that almost shimmered next to Jess' dark face that hung just below her shoulders, and fixed her twin with a defiant stare.
Sara's light cocoa-complexioned cheeks darkened slightly as the crimson spread through her face. But her voice was neutral as she answered. "I know you guys don't get along." She hesitated for a second then swallowed a sigh before finishing. "Nothing I say will matter will it? You love to hate Mina."
Jessica laughed, her dark face brightening at Sara's truthful declaration. "Yup. I do."
"Well...you know Kim and I invited her to sit in the café, right?" Sara cleared her throat as if admitting it out-loud had dried her mouth.
Jessica's smile quickly turned into a sour lemon scowl and this time Sara's mouth did dry out. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth as she quickly added, "We have a lot of cheer strategy to go over. So you know...I mean, you knew Mina was going to get the call to the café eventually, Jess. She's the JV cheer captain...she..."
"Is a total wannabe, Sara," Jessica huffed. Her finger wagged in Sara's face like she was lecturing a young child. Something she did often to her twin when it came to social etiquette. "I know you like hanging out with any and everybody. But Mina is...the way she rolls with her..." Jessica rolled her eyes and sneered, "clique." She shook her head as if warding off some sort of bad word cooties. "Like they're running things at DRB High." Her next words were thick with venom. "I hate how she thinks her little Miss Nice-Nice act is going to make everyone like her."
Sara's giggled, "So let me get this right. You hate her because she's nice?" hadn't bothered Jess. She knew that sitting in the café didn't mean much to Sara. Neither did DRB High's whole social hierarchy thing. So it was easy for Sara to dismiss it all as silly or ridiculous. But it wasn't silly to Jess. She rolled with the Glams, the snotty, mostly rich kids, and took her status as a member of the ruling class serious, deadly serious and it hit Jessica where it hurt that Minaneither rich nor snottyhad always, managed to sniggle her way in with the right circles.
Jess had tried, God knows she had, to keep her out. She'd even tried to get her schedule switched around so she'd have the same lunch as Mina this semester, solely to keep Mina on the outside of the fishbowl. None of it made any sense to Sara, who considered Mina a friend. She'd once told Jess, all she wanted was for Jess and Mina peacefully co-exist in the same circles at DRB High.
Peacefully co-exist, huh? Jess thought, already nurturing the seed into an idea.
She stared through the thick glass, registering back to the present just as Brian James walked over to the table where Mina sat. He was cute with a capital C, his toffee complexion smooth, eyebrows thick, soft brown eyes accented by thick lashes and a head full of hair so black and curly it made Jess' fingers squirm at the thought of touching it. He stood behind Mina's chair, his six foot three frame towering easily over the three-foot high wrought-iron bar chairs, and wrapped his arms around her waist.
Jess averted her eyes from Mina's insanely idiotic grin and focused on Brian. He was telling a joke, she guessed, because all the cheerleaders at the table giggled and Sara gave him a high-five. Just as quickly as he came, he whispered something in Mina's ear (more insane teeth-grinding grinning) and sauntered over to a table where a few gaming geeks (award winning gamers, of course) happily welcomed him into their conversation.
Jess closed her eyes and tried to block out the image of that wide, "I'm such a lucky girl" grin on Mina's face. She tried to force the one word that kept coming up, to describe Mina, back into the far reaches of her mind.
It couldn't be.
Mina was not, could not be...an Upper.
True, she was sitting in the café and was dating one of the school's hottest guys. Jess didn't even want to think about Mina's sudden fame as the high-school's "Pop" reporter as people were calling her since she'd snagged the position as writer of her own column, Pop Life, which showcased the school's up and coming stars. Some people were even courting Mina, hoping to get a little ink in Pop Life.
It was definitely a ridiculous level of freshman beginners luck. But it didn't make her an Upper, necessarily. Far as Jess was concerned, Mina was popular by association and Jess was being generous by admitting that much.
No, Mina wasn't officially an Upper yet. And if Jessica had anything to do with it, Mina would never be...not while they roamed the halls of DRB High together, anyway.
If Mina wanted popularity she'd have to go through Jess, first.
Popularity cost and Jess was going to make sure Mina paid dearly.
© Paula Chase