It was an August afternoon, and I had just stepped out of my 5th period PE class. It was a mad dash to the lunch line, but I dodged the running stampede of people only thinking of the chicken tenders they were serving that day.
My name is Hazel Grace Hunt. After spending the Summer at my grandmother’s house, listening to Taylor Swift’s Fifteen countless times in order to prepare for grade 7, I was ready for new friends. After a full 7 years at my elementary school of meaningless friendships, I thought I almost deserved it.
Impressions are everything for me. I decided it should be, when I was about to meet new people and encounter all types of situations.
Genevieve. She seemed smart and nice. I had complimented her harry potter shirt a few days ago, she complimented my top as soon as I did. I thought we had a connection. It took every bit of courage and a swim through all of the “what if’s?” in my head to come up to her as soon as 4th period History ended and ask if I could hang out with her.
She told me to meet her and her friends at the 3rd lunch table to the left, right by the quad. So that’s exactly what I did.
There they were. The friends I hoped would last through all of my years as a teenager. They looked… happy, and together. That was all I wanted. I wanted sleepovers, secret sharers, and inside jokes. That was all I ever wanted.
There she was. I spotted Genevieve. She was one of the smartest people I had encountered in my 8 days of junior high. We shared history, science, and math classes together, and she had gotten every answer right. Plus, her style was the same as mine. We seemed like we had enough in common to be good friends… right?
She saw me. I smiled, just as I knew I should. I had gone over it in my head a thousand time. I was an overthinker. She waved. This is it!
“Hey Hazel!” the other girls looked puzzled, as they should be, “Guys, this is Hazel!” She gestured around the table, “This is Jolee, Paris, Kay, and Madison!”
“Awesome!” I said, and slipped myself into the empty seat.
Jolee and her beautiful head of hair looked over at me. She muttered a quick, “hey,” and waved. Was it just me, or did she narrow her eyes? I recognized her from 4th period history.
“Hey! We have, like, a ton of classes together!” Paris waved from across the table.
“Yeah, we do!” She was in algebra, and every other class except science with me. She took a sip out of her water bottle, and grinned.
Kay gave a little half smile, and gave a strange look to Genevieve.
She turned to me, “What elementary school are you from?”
I told her, and before I could finish, “Oh, do you know Becki Leed?” It took everything for me not to frown at the name. The name of the girl who bullied me for 3 years.
“Oh, she’s in club volleyball with Paris and I!” I remembered club volleyball. Becki had gotten in, but I didn’t. Shoving back bad memories, I smiled again, “That’s… cool!”
Madison popped a peanut butter cup in her mouth, “Hey, I’m Madison.” This girl was gorgeous. Her outfit was stylish, she was skinny, and her glasses framed her face perfectly. This was the best friend I had always wanted. Or at least she looked like the one I had always wanted…
Conversation buzzed. And I loved it. We talked about Taylor Swift. I pulled out my phone and showed them pictures of my dogs and cats, to which they pulled up pictures of their dogs and cats.
They talked about their old elementary school, which was a block away from the junior high.
And for the first time in a long time, I felt like I belonged. That’s right, I spent one lunch with these people and I was already flooded with self confidence.
And after every lunch for the next semester, you can imagine how amazing I felt. We traded candy bars, talked, and the best part… no gossip.
At least… no gossip around me. And if I knew there was gossip when I wasn’t around, I would have escaped much sooner than I did. But we’ll get to that.
We walked the school together. We talked about our teachers, the news of the school. I was finally added to the group chat. We talked even more on there!
I held Paris and Madison in the highest regard. I thought they were perfect. Sometimes… I dreamt about what it would be like if I switched lives with them.
But while Paris and I waited one day for the other ones to finish retaking their science tests, I discovered maybe she wasn’t as perfect as I thought.
“M-my brother and my dad had a fight last night…”
She spilled everything to me. I listened because that’s what friends do.. right? But then I wondered why Kay never listened to my stories.
And when we walked and talked, sometimes Madison would talk about how her mom was never home.
And all the secrets about her nanny… which I admit, was entertaining, but I felt bad for her. I decided I didn’t want to live with a mom who was too busy working to care about me.
They helped each other study. We all helped each other. We checked our homework every morning together and facetimed to study for tests.
Genevieve stopped talking as much around October. I wondered why she was always on her phone. She barely looked up from her pinterest feed. I also wondered why they all weren’t as interested in me anymore. Maybe I wasn’t interesting. Maybe not interesting enough to be included on the group chat I kept seeing them texting on, but I wasn’t included.
One time in November, right before Thanksgiving break, I had gone to throw my trash away, and had come back to see them all huddled together. I kept my distance, but still listened in.
“Get off your freaking phone Genevieve, God! That’s all you ever do anymore, you’re just on your phone, not even listening to your own friends!”
“Stop yelling, guys…” Madison put a hand on Kay’s shoulder, but Kay shooed her away.
“I can’t believe you’re ignoring us and blowing us off like this!”
“I’m sorry that I’m on my phone, ok? It’s not like everyone who hangs out with us is my friend! Hazel is so boring and weird! Honestly, Paris, I feel so bad that you have every class with her!”
I gasped, the tears welling up.
“Ohmigod, Genna! You’re just like Julissa!” Julissa was the infamous friend who gossiped all the time, but she left because the group confronted her about it.
“Genevieve, that’s mean…”
I walked a little closer, my lip quivering, “Hey… guys?” my voice broke.
Genevieve didn’t say a thing. Only looked at me in disbelief.
I turned and walked off, heading to the bathroom to cry.
I walked ahead of her on the way to science class. It wasn’t like she talked to me anymore, so what difference did it make?
She caught up with me, “Haze! Wait!”
How could she call me that nickname after what she had just said?
“I’m sorry you heard that,” I was expecting a sincere apology, but those expectations were crushed when she continued, “I actually said, ‘I’m so glad that you have every class with her, Paris!’ ” I didn’t believe it for a second.
But I still accepted it anyways. Because friends accept apologies. Or so I heard.
I texted everyone over Christmas break, only Paris ever replied. I asked Madi if I could join the group chat, but she replied no.
My phone was left dormant except for my internet friend’s calls.
I waited around on Christmas, hoping to at least get some Christmas wishes. Only Paris texted, “Merry Christmas, Haze!”
The day before we went back to school, January 7th, I was sick and tired of this. They were never truly my friends. I had wished Genevieve a happy birthday on her birthday, but of course, she had forgotten mine.
I explained everything to my online friends, my real friends.
They told me to text Paris, so I did. And she was the other true friend when she supported my decision.
At school, I saw them all over the place. I yearned for friends, but then I reminded myself that they weren’t actual friends. So I made some actual friends.
And so I determined their lasting impressions. Because they had hurt me and I needed closure, desperately.
I needed to know that it wasn’t my fault.
I needed to know that I still have real friends.
Lasting friendships, friendships that don’t cause me pain.
I needed to know that they were fine without me and I was fine without them.
I needed to not be a part of their clique.