Behind the Times: Sophomore Year
Part One: Fall
Buster slid into the booth of the Sugar Bowl, a wide smile on his face as he eyed the sundae Arthur had ordered for him. Buster had to stay after school to take a test over again, but now that it was over, he was ready to chill with his friends over ice cream. Alex was already halfway done with his dish, but Arthur had waited patiently, his spoon still sitting on his napkin.
“So, how was the test?” Arthur asked. He knew Buster struggled with math in general, but high school math was really setting his friend back. They were in geometry together now, and while Arthur was making steady B’s, Buster had yet to make higher than a D.
“Meh,” the rabbit replied, launching a spoonful of ice cream, hot fudge, and strawberry syrup into his mouth. “I’d rather not talk about it,” he muttered through the food, shooting a second bite into his mouth in record speed.
Arthur shrugged it off. Buster was different now that they were in high school. They were almost sixteen, but Buster was more like an awkward pre-teen barely scooting through life. His grades were bland, his social life was static, and the things that used to make Buster fun were now turn-offs for most of their classmates. No more joking around at the Sugar Bowl for the athletic Francine or the fashion-conscious Muffy or even the mousy Fern. Everyone had their own place now, yet Buster seemed left out. Even Arthur had friends on the side, as did Alex, who already had a job at a local arcade and spent most nights either at work or hanging with those coworkers at the local bowling alley. But Buster? He was still just Buster, and he spent his time away from his friends by himself.
As Buster’s bowl emptied, Alex left the booth to begin his shift. When Arthur and Buster were fully alone, Arthur decided to ask his friend again about his classes. Buster, surprisingly, put his spoon down.
“Arthur, you know I’m struggling in that class, okay? It sucked. I don’t want to talk about it. Why do you even want to know?” Buster asked coldly.
Arthur shrugged, “You just don’t seem to be taking it that seriously. I mean, Jenna has a study group that I’ve asked you to join, and she’s asked you to join, but you always want to go home. You need to care more, okay? And you need to get out more.”
“Sounds to me like you just don’t like me anymore,” Buster said flatly, picking up his spoon again. “So I like ice cream and quiet evenings watching Bionic Bunny and playing video games. So shoot me! How come you never do those things anymore, huh? Even the others have a throwback day every once in a while where they just do what we once did. Why don’t you, huh?”
“Buster, it’s not about that.”
“Well I think it is!” Buster exclaimed. “Look, the test went fine. I passed, okay? Why don’t you worry about someone else and leave me alone?” Buster scoffed, sliding out of the booth. He left a five dollar bill on the table and left the restaurant.
But Arthur wasn’t alone for long. Soon a young family came in and sat in the booth behind him. He couldn’t help but notice their daughter, a tall blonde while soft eyes. Arthur wished he could see behind him, and then he realized he could see her and her mother in the reflection off the window. He smiled and looked on, hoping they wouldn’t notice as he watched them, listening to their conversation as well.
“Looks like this is a pretty nice restaurant, dear. Your sister told me there would be good places here, and I’m happy to know she’s finally right about something,” he winked.
His wife scoffed, “Oh, Dan! Matilda isn’t even the one who told us that. She’s only been here a few times with Marco on business. He’s the one who knows this place so well. I think it was a good move, for us and for our careers. And Lily, you’ll make friends at school in no time. Principal Kiel seemed like a lovely man, and Elwood City High was such a nice place.”
“It was,” the girl nodded softly, thumbing through the menu. Arthur almost shot out of his seat as he heard the news: This family was new in town and their daughter, their gorgeous daughter, would be attending Elwood City High! Arthur was immediately daydreaming about seeing her in the halls, sharing classes with her, eating lunch with her…and going to prom with her. He was so out of it that he never saw Carl stop by his table and take away his melted sundae, leaving his change in the bowl’s place.
When Arthur did snap out of it, he did so because his phone was buzzing. It was time for his study session with Jenna and the gang, and he couldn’t wait to tell the guys in the group the good news.
The Coffee Express was a coffee shop for students in downtown Elwood City. Most of the people there were college students, but barista-in-training Jenna used the building’s upstairs study rooms as well. As Arthur walked in, Jenna was going through a problem with Alexa, one of fellow coworkers and a classmate who definitely needed the geometry help. Arthur slid in between Binky and Brett, pulling out his notes to find the problem Jenna was discussing. He quickly joined right in, but he was tapping his pencil in agitation. He needed to tell them about the new girl now.
Jenna noticed Arthur’s jittery motions after mere minutes. When Binky finished getting the answer to one of the homework questions, she decided to ask him what he was so stirred up about. Arthur meant to wait until after the real studying was over, but he had no choice but to let the news be known.
“I just came from the Sugar Bowl, and there’s going to be a new girl at school,” Arthur said excitedly, his words mashing together.
Jenna shrugged. Elwood City was a growing town and new students were common. She, Arthur, and Binky were the only natives in the room: Alexa was from Montana, Brett was from Metropolis, Carmine was from Tampa, Florida, and Rodrigo was an exchange student from Nicaragua. It seemed like everyone was new now, and even Sue Ellen was seen as a native and not the transfer student she was once.
Binky and the boys, however, were quite excited. They could tell by Arthur’s expression that this was someone who looked good. Seeing that Muffy and her catty friends had that market covered, they were eager to meet someone who was gorgeous and not corrupted by the ways of the Mean Girls of Elwood City High. They eagerly asked questions, and as Arthur expected, the studying part of this get together ceased.
“I don’t know what she’s like. She didn’t say much, and I didn’t get to talk to her,” Arthur said quickly. Despite him telling every detail he knew for certain within those first few moments, Binky and the other guys kept asking the same questions over and over again.
Jenna and Carmine were over it. They both decided to leave and move to another room to study. Alexa quickly followed them, but she was now stirred up too with jealousy. Did they do that with every new girl? Alexa was curious, but she already knew the answer: No, they weren’t, and that made her feel insecure. She was too distracted to do any work with the girls, so she went downstairs to return to her duties. Because their manager would grow concerned, Jenna had to leave too, which left Carmine alone. She checked on the boys, hoping the topic of conversation had changed. It hadn’t, so she left the coffee shop, wondering when this new girl fiasco would be over.
The next day was an exciting day for the students of Elwood City High. News of the new student had spread throughout the neighborhood, and almost half of those entering the school were looking for whoever this new girl was, many of them arriving early to do so. Arthur and Binky were some of them, and they eagerly stood in the gym waiting for Lily to arrive.
Buster entered as they stood waiting. Rodrigo was behind him, already in the know and asking questions. Buster was clueless as he sat angrily beside Arthur, still upset from the previous day’s events. Arthur, excited from what happened afterwards, was eager to tell him, but Rodrigo cornered him first, pointing to the doors leading to the cafeteria. The doors were surrounded by panes of glass, allowing them to clearly see the path forming in the middle of the crowd.
At the center of this path was Lily, eying the crowd nervously as she moved towards the breakfast line.
Arthur and Rodrigo followed Binky closer. Buster quickly noticed the room go quiet, so he looked out, thinking he was going to see a fight in progress. Instead he saw mounds of heads looking on in stunned silence. He scoffed at the stupidity of his classmates and gathered his things, counting down the seconds of the first bell. Right on cue, it rang, sending students to their classrooms. Lily, despite her hunger, joined the hoard, and when she needed help getting to her first class, it seemed like hundreds of people were there to answer her.
Lily’s first class wasn’t far from the cafeteria. She stepped inside and immediately the whispers began. She took a seat at the back of the room, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. She wasn’t succeeding as more people entered the room. She eyed them, wondering why they were so interested in her. The principal said she wouldn’t be alone as a new student, so why all the attention?
Before that thought could finish, a boy moved to the back part of the room. He eyed Lily but with a different expression. He sank into a seat nearby, but Lily could sense she was in his spot. She wanted to turn to ask him, but the bell rang and the teacher ended. Class was beginning.
Buster sat near the new girl, eyeing her carefully. ‘So, this is what everyone was crazy about,’ he thought, scoffing to himself. That’s what had Arthur willing to talk to him too, he decided, shaking his head to himself. Buster wasn’t happy that people were already so obsessed with Lily. ‘What’s so special about her anyway?’ he thought, eyeing her as the lecture began.
There was plenty special about Lily. The way her hair fell against her cheek made a perfect pattern to Buster’s eyes, and her figure, especially her supple breasts, made him blush to think about. Everything about Lily’s proportions were perfect, and she had a beautiful facial structure to match. Add in a fashionable yet laid back appearance, and Lily was everything the boys would want. The only question was her personality, but Buster could sense she was as laidback as her outfit, putting her well ahead of the other supposedly hot girls like Muffy who were real pains.
Buster found himself really liking this girl, the lecture going in one ear and out the other as he began to wonder about this new student. He wanted to see what Arthur knew, but Buster didn’t know what to do. He was technically fighting with Arthur, and when it came to Lily, he had no experience with girls. Before her, he had no desire to date or ‘go out.’ He wanted to do as he pleased when he pleased. Could Lily change that?
When class ended, everyone parted ways. The school’s excitement over Lily continued, but Buster kept his thoughts to himself. He’d look for her in each class, hoping to cross paths with her again, but he wouldn’t be all giddy about it like his friends. He’d stay back and let her decide, the right thing to do socially. But romantically? Only time would tell.
It didn’t take long for Muffy and her clique to notice the new girl in school. They found out about her the night before when social media exploded, and they quickly looked up this new supposed-bombshell to see what she was like. Her social media pages were empty and devoid of all life. They expected her to really be some loser, that all the hype was just hype.
But as Muffy and her gals pranced into the warzone known as the Elwood City High cafeteria, they could tell Lily was no ordinary new student. They immediately took a table far from her but still close enough to observe without outsiders interfering with the view. As the group’s natural leader, Muffy made sure to speak first.
“Oh my god, girls, she’s actually cute, looks-wise. You couldn’t get me into that outfit, dead or alive,” she scoffed, rolling her eyes. The others made the same gesture. A bystander looking on out of context would wonder if the girls were possessed, but they quickly recovered.
Amanda, the group’s second in command, leaned in next, “I hear the guys are going crazy for her. She must be easy,” she whispered darkly. The girls giggled knowingly. The last girl to reach such popularity with the guys was suspended for illicit behavior.
But Leila knew Lily from her previous class, as well as her new female friends, “Actually, she’s hitting it off with girls too. Like ten of them swarmed her in my last class. It’s like she’s like…more popular than us.”
Muffy scoffed, “Like hell-no. She can’t be more popular than us! We’ve actually worked for this, haven’t we, girls? We’ve primped and worked so hard to be on top. This little goody-two-shoes-bitch can’t ruin that!”
“Chill, Muff,” Amanda sighed, “It’s not like we have a choice anymore. The pickings are slim and—“
“No they’re not,” Muffy huffed. “She is encroaching our territory. We can date whoever we want, and we choose not to have any more friends. Look at all these people, so unordinary. Who was befriending this new bitch, hmm? Come on, Leila, speak!” Muffy demanded.
“Pfft, her? Really? And like ten others? Ha!” Muffy laughed with a condescending tone. “Jenna is a nobody who works at a lame coffee shop, just like all-her-friends. You can’t really believe that should be news to us, can you? Come on, why are you so shy all of the sudden?”
“They were hitting it off, and Lily liked her. Jenna even talked about the coffee shop, but everyone else thinks they’re cool. That’s where they meet to study and everything. I almost met Alan there to help me with—“
“Just use my guy!” Muffy groaned, peeking back at Lily, “So she is being accepted into their circle. Well nobody is as cool as us. We’re the most fashionable people this town has ever seen, and all these people harping over this new kid? They’re idiots. She’ll be yesterday’s news and a nobody like everyone else before the day is even over!” Muffy promised. “And we’ll make sure of it. Smartphones out, ladies!”
It was time to spread a rumor about someone. The devious looks on their makeup-covered faces proved it as glitzy phones appeared. Their manicured fingers typed up ominous posts around their next rumor of choice: George Lundgren had made fake calls in the most recent baseball game.
The girls hadn’t used this rumor before, but it was on the list. George was still slightly awkward, his one and only hobby still being his ventriloquism. Next in line was his announcing work for the school’s baseball team, a job he’d followed up the levels of his classmates. They knew he was honest, as did the coaches of Elwood City High. And though members of the opposing team got the message too, even they knew George Lundgren to be a stand-up guy.
So at the end of the day, it was Muffy who ate her words. The rumor was squashed, the posts removed. And Lily? She was still the lady of the hour, and at dismissal, a gaggle of people helped her get to her mother’s awaiting car so she could go home.
Lily’s mother eyed her carefully as she ate a cup of yogurt after school. The woman was smiling slightly as she watched her daughter slowly put the spoon into her mouth. She eyed her mother back as she removed the spoon and stuck it into the yogurt.
“Why are you staring at me?” Lily asked. Her mother shrugged softly with a light smile on her lips. Lily sighed, “What do you want to know, Mom?”
“Well, some little birdies have mentioned you, so I wondered what your day was like,” the woman grinned. Lily wondered if her mother knew how popular she seemed already. Who exactly would tell her anyway? It’s not like she knew anyone yet, particularly the kids. Lily’s confusion was clear on her face. Her mother sighed, “Okay, I just want to know how your day went. You look so entranced by something. Did you meet any cute guys?”
“Mom,” Lily sighed, tired of her mother always trying to get her a boyfriend, “My day was fine, just fine. The people here are really nice for some reason. So many of them immediately were so nice to me. I didn’t expect that.”
“Well why not? You’re a nice girl who is nice to other people. Wouldn’t you get the same respect from your classmates?” her mother questioned. Lily shrugged, “I really don’t think that’s why everyone was so into me, Mom. I don’t know why, exactly, but people were really nice all day.”
Her mom grinned, “Any boys?”
“Particularly the boys and it was awful!” Lily cried. “I wasn’t meant to be the center of attention. I know you were a prom queen and a model and you loved attention, but I want to be left alone. If I end up with anyone, they’re going to respect me for that. They won’t be some popularity-seeking jock like you want me to be with!” Lily exclaimed, leaving the table.
Her mother sighed, placing the uneaten yogurt back into the refrigerator. That wasn’t what she meant when she encouraged her daughter to seek out a boyfriend. She just wanted the girl to find friends in general, but so far, she only had one or two friends over the years, and they all moved away and forgot about her. Lillian wanted the best for her daughter. She needed to thrive socially just as her mother and father did—staying at home and being an introvert wasn’t an option.
Lillian moved into her office, one of the few rooms they were finished furnishing. She got onto her computer and resumed social media conversations with some local mothers, popular mothers like her. They assumed their daughters would all get along together, not fully understanding high school politics. But really the only outside here was Lillian, but neither her nor her daughter had truly encountered Muffy or the others to know this truth.
A/N: So, this is the elusive “Behind the Times” piece I alluded to on deviantArt for a while. I was really into this piece, then my desire to complete it really waned after a while. I’m posting it now just to get some new stuff out there for my dedicated readers.
I’m tagging this “incomplete” to let you guys know it’s an unfinished piece that I want to keep for myself. If you see the tag “unfinished” on something, then you can ask about taking it on yourself. This piece is mine for the time being, and I hope to finally get back into it eventually.