This story was written for the February 2017 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month.
After Mom moved us to the suburbs, I never suspected that my salvation would show up wearing purple corset pants.
I felt displaced. I stood at the park at the end of our street and looked across the canal to the city. That’s where I belonged. That’s were there were people like me.
At Newcrest High, everybody walked around me like I was wrapped in a 15-foot-wide bubble of cellophane. I figured they’d never seen anybody like me before. Maybe they thought what I had was catching.
Back in the city, nobody cared who you were or what you wore. You wore what felt like you when you woke up that day, and if other people didn’t like it, well, it wasn’t their business, anyway. We didn’t have the poison-look club.
Now that I lived here in this same-old, match-match town, I wasn’t about to change who I was just because the mean girls whispered “Butch Butcherson” every time I walked by.
I’d rather be alone and ostracized than not be me.
Laurie was sleeping on a park bench when I first saw him. Flowers bloomed around him, and butterflies flew over him, and I thought he was a fairy. I don’t mean I thought he was gay. I thought he was fae–you know, like Puck or Oberon. Or Titania.
While I watched him sleep (OK, I guess I stared. It was hard not to), he sat up, with his eyes still closed, and moaned.
He looked sort of beautiful.
I sat on the far end of the bench.
“Excuse me,” he said.
I looked at him.
“I don’t have a long distance carrier! Get over here if you want to talk to me.” He tilted his head, and I scooted over next to him.
“That’s better, sweetheart. So what are you doing here?”
“Um. Trying not to stare?” I replied. It was so lame. I thought he’d get up and walk away, but he just pulled a face and then laughed.
“I like honesty,” he said.
He stared back at me.
“OK, you’ll do,” he said after the longest silent stare-down I’d ever faced.
“Do for what?” I asked.
“My new best friend.”
It was that simple.
I saw him at school the next day, and he stayed by my side the whole day. He was so funny that I forgot about everybody staring at us. We actually had fun.
Within a week, we had a little circle around us, all the other misfits and outcasts. But Laurie didn’t see it like that: He said we were the in-circle.
“This is the happening place,” he said. “We’re the cool kids.”
And it kind of felt like he was right.
One day, one of the jocks was eating lunch by himself out at a lonely table at the edge of the quad.
“Come on,” Laurie said, and we all picked up our lunches and went over to join Bastien where he sat alone.
We knew the gossip. You couldn’t go to Newcrest High and not know the gossip. Everybody said that Bastien had gotten his girlfriend, Christy, pregnant and then dumped her because she wouldn’t end the pregnancy. But it wasn’t true. “Consider the source,” Laurie said. Christy was the fake-news source.
The real news was that Christy dumped Bastien, and she wasn’t pregnant. She was dating the quarterback.
“So now I’m one of the Rainbow Warriors,” Bastien said.
“You don’t have to be,” replied Laurie. “We’ll leave if you want us to.”
“No, stay,” said Bastien.
So we did, and the next day, two of the cheerleaders joined us at lunch, sitting next to Bastien. It felt awkward at first, since these were the girls who made my life miserable before I met Laurie. But then Laurie started joking around, about nothing, really–about veggie burgers and salad wraps. But he’s so funny, that soon everybody was laughing, and I forgot all about feeling awkward.
After that, Laurie didn’t show up at school for a few days.
The first day he was gone, our circle tried staying together at lunch. But nobody knew what to say.
The next day, Bastien and the cheerleaders ate lunch with the populars.
I sat with the kids in our group. But we didn’t know what to say.
The third day, I ate my lunch alone out in the field.
Even though Laurie and I were best friends, I didn’t know how to find him. We only saw each other at school or when we ran into each other at the park. He was always running out of minutes on his phone, so he wasn’t getting my calls.
On the fourth day, I decided to skip school. I couldn’t face the mean girls alone.
I was walking in the park when I saw Laurie sleeping on a bench.
I sat next to him and waited until he woke up.
“Hey,” he said.
“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you at school?” I asked him.
“Why aren’t you at school?” he asked back.
“Because you’re not.”
“I like my nose the way it is,” he replied. “That’s why I’m not going back.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s just say, I don’t want to run into Darren and his guys in the parking lot. Or in an empty hall. Or in the locker room. Or in the John. I kinda try to avoid physical pain and humiliation whenever humanly possible.”
“You mean those idiots threatened to beat you up? For what?”
“For all my purple glory,” he replied.
“That’s so not right!” I said. But I’d known it was too good to last when those circles had started to dissolve into one big oneness.
“Freaks are OK,” he said, “as long as we stay in our freakiness. But when we start infiltrating, then you gotta watch out. Protect the normalcy at all costs!”
“That’s bull shit,” I said. “You don’t believe that. You’re a Kindness Warrior! You’re like the strongest guy I’ve ever met. You’re brave.”
“I might be brave, but I’m not stupid. People don’t like to be made uncomfortable, and I make people uncomfortable, and so I think maybe it’s better if I just stay away.”
“But what will you do?” I ask. “Sleep in the park all day?”
“It beats getting beat up!” he replied.
He was thinking about enrolling in an online program so he wouldn’t have to go to school. He said I could enroll, too. We could have our own study group, here in the park, away from everybody.
“That’s not a solution,” I said. “What about Brandy?” Brandy was this kid with a learning disability that affected the way she talked. She repeated everybody before she said her own thing.
“What about Sean?” Sean was a trans kid. She’d been beaten up seven times before she became part of our group.
“What about Sarah, and Mandy, and Cyan? What about me?”
“I can’t save everybody,” Laurie said. “I can’t even save anybody if I can’t save me.”
“Maybe we can save each other,” I said.
That was three months ago. Laurie went to school the next day. He got beat up. The day after, Sean, Cyan, and I beat up one of the kids that had beaten up Laurie. We fought them in the park, so none of us got suspended.
After that, we formed buddy groups so we were never alone. It kinda worked, and it kinda didn’t. It worked, in that none of us got beat up again, and the mean girls have stopped calling us names. It didn’t work because we’ve still got circles and they’re still all separate and we still make other people uncomfortable.
I guess we decided it’s sort of our role to make other people uncomfortable. I mean, if people’s comfort is all wrapped up in everybody being the same, that’s a pretty narrow requirement for comfort. And I guess it falls to somebody to try to stretch those borders, loosen things up a bit to let in a few more people, a few more styles of self-expression. If that’s what it means to be a Rainbow Warrior, then I guess I’m up for it.
If I’ve got Laurie by my side, I’m up for anything.