Christine was sitting in her bedroom alone, like any other Friday night. The only times she didn't do this were on show nights, and even that was because her peers were all obligated to be there. She tried not to think about it, but, laying back on her bed, listening to musical cast recordings, it was hard to ignore the lack of another presence.
High school had been hard for her so far.
She had never really had that "best friend" that everyone else seemed to. Her classmates always had one person that they would partner up with, whether it be for field trips, or projects, or just hanging out. Sure, people talked to her in all of those situations, but she didn't even have a group she belonged to to eat lunch with. That had never made sense to her, even if she was a bit dorky and a theater geek, it wasn't like nobody else was, either.
She was different, somehow, though. She didn't think she really liked that, not when she had to face it every day. She didn’t really mind showing all her quirks off or anything, but it was hard when nobody seemed to actually try to get to know her beyond them.
The past couple months were when it really hit Christine.
It was Jake, asking her out and ultimately dumping her for Chloe. He had seemed so genuine, which had made her feel strangely accepted for the first time beyond being some acquaintance. The way he had talked to her, the way he acted, all of it made her believe that she could actually be normal, if he was into her. There were moments of doubt, yes, but he seemed to try to counter those. Then he was suddenly the opposite, which was like a punch to the gut. It shattered every new perception she had built up over the months. She still didn't know what to feel about him aside from anger. He had never really tried to fix it. They simply weren't Romeo and Juliet, so apparently they weren't going to get a final scene together.
It was Chloe, making snide remarks about Jake. Obviously Christine had always known that Chloe could be, and was, a bitch. Everybody knew that, everybody said it. But that didn't stop Christine from feeling completely steamrolled every time Chloe felt the need to come over and comment on her life, all because of some strange relationship she had with Jake. The two of them really had some problems. She didn't even really care at this point whatever Chloe was trying to do on Halloween. She just wanted to understand the other girl and why she was the way she was. She couldn't even bring herself to expect an apology, not from Chloe Valentine.
It was Brooke, always agreeing with whatever Chloe decided, even if she wasn't that mean herself. Christine didn't really blame her, not directly, but Chloe's will wasn't complete reign over Brooke's actions. She had never understood why the other girl was friends with Chloe. Christine felt bad for her, really, because she didn't see what they had as a real friendship. At least, not one she was looking for. She didn't even know if Brooke was really okay, seeing as she seemed to only "make up" with Chloe when their Squips made them.
It was Rich, who was mean to anyone he didn't deem cool, though that situation wasn't really clear to her yet. He had never done anything to Christine personally, and she still didn't know if it was really him. It had been a few weeks since Halloween and just one since the play, and she hadn't heard anything. She just felt bad that she and Jeremy had laughed at him when they could have helped. All she knew was that everyone missed school for a week and Rich's condition hadn't been updated. Not that anyone would go to her with those updates, but people liked to talk.
It was Jenna, who only seemed to care about gossip. Christine thought that, anyway. The other girl reported on everything, as if it were her sole function in life. Christine didn't really know Jenna, though, so she wasn't sure. She did seem to be with the rest of that crowd, though they weren't the only ones who made her realize what she had.
It was Michael, who was always alone after Jeremy took the Squip, who never tried to bond with anyone else, who never needed to. She wished she could be like him, that she could be fine and aloof and uncaring without anyone by her side. She didn't know for sure if that was how he saw his situation, but she wanted to at least seem okay herself. It didn't matter, anyway, because he probably had his best friend back by now.
And it was Jeremy.
Christine didn't even know where to begin with Jeremy. First, he had simply been a new person to talk to during rehearsal, and then more of a friend. Maybe, in that period, she was looking for someone to fill that role. After all, she was actually falling for a guy for the first time. While she loved unconventional stories, she also a sucker for generic ones where the girl has friends to gush to who can help her. She supposed she had subconsciously chosen Jeremy for that role. It had worked, for a bit at least.
Until Jake had to be Jake and Jeremy had to become a different Jeremy. Halloween was a weird time for them, and she didn't even know how to talk to him after that. It was the transition from him being a friend to someone interested in her that threw her off. They interacted afterwards, but it was a change from before. Then, the night of the play, the whole Squip incident happened.
She did remember how it felt. Even after seeing everything it was doing, she didn't know if she could blame anyone for wanting that.
She just wanted things to be easier, to be accepted as herself and for that to be enough. For her interests and hard work to be seen as Christine, the friend, not merely the classmate. To know who exactly Christine was, and to know what she wanted.
She flopped over on her bed, unable to sit still and simply think about it anymore. She thought these things every time she showed up to school, and more now than ever because of everything that had happened. It wasn't enjoyable, she needed a distraction.
As always, that distraction was Christine desperately searching for a bootleg on her phone, then giving up and rereading one of her favorite books.
The thoughts were back as she fell asleep. She couldn't stop them.
It was Monday the next week, and Christine had to go back to school. She wasn’t sure how she felt about today — she knew from some text a classmate had sent while asking about homework that Jeremy and Rich were supposed to be coming back.
All of the school’s attention would be on them, and perhaps even her, if anyone could figure out what had happened at the play. Chloe had been telling people that they had all done ecstasy together. Christine didn't even know if Chloe herself knew what had happened. Sure, Christine had already known what Squips were, but maybe Chloe, Brooke, Jake, and Jenna didn't know what was going on. No one had disputed the ecstasy story so far, but Christine didn’t really like being thought of as a druggie, and she knew Jeremy wouldn’t either. Rich was a wild card.
That morning was a quiet one. Ever since she had gotten her license, nobody else needed to wake up for her to go to school, so her parents chose not to. She didn’t mind, relishing in the silence and isolation she had for the first hour of her day. She could dance and quietly sing along to the soundtrack of Waitress playing in her ears without disturbance, anyway.
The drive was similar, only she was able to blast her music and full-out perform instead.
She chose to put her earbuds back in for the whole walk to first period. She felt like people’s eyes were on her the whole way, but she didn’t want to look and draw attention to herself. That was now only comfortable when she was playing someone else for them to see, since for some reason the real her had never been enough for anyone. At least, it hadn't been for Jake, who didn't notice the one thing she thought could connect them, and it hadn't been for Jeremy, since he seemed to think she needed something to make her better. It had never been enough for anyone else besides those two to talk to her outside of school beyond homework. That wasn't going to change now.
Classes were quiet that day, save the occasional whispers she caught about Jeremy and Rich. Christine didn’t have any classes with them, so there weren’t many, but she heard a few, some of them even from her acquaintances she talked to sometimes.
“They all did ecstasy together, yeah.”
“What a bunch of theater stereotypes, they’re going nowhere.”
“He went completely insane, no wonder there even are stereotypes.”
“Just a bunch of assholes, all of them.”
Luckily, she didn't have any group work that day. She was silent and didn't raise her hand, just quietly worked on whatever the teachers handed out and didn't talk to anyone.
Third period was probably the worst as it was English, meaning everyone in it was a junior and therefore the most comments were made there. There were also people looking at her more, most likely because everyone knew she was the theater girl. She slipped out of third period quickly.
It was lunch period. As always, she stopped in the cafeteria to eat. She ate quickly, like usual — no need to be noticed as a loner without anyone to eat with. She glanced around, wondering why it had to be this way.
Her eyes landed on a group of five people. Jeremy, Jake, Chloe, Brooke, and Jenna were all standing around and sitting at a table. She didn't really understand why. Had Jenna ever really been a part of that group beforehand? Was the whole situation between Chloe, Brooke, and Jake already solved?
Jeremy looked nervous as ever, well, nervous as he was at that first day of play rehearsal. Christine let a small smile slide onto her face at that memory.
It slipped in the next few seconds. She had known that nothing would be better simply because the popular kids decided to do the play. In fact, she rather felt like things might have turned out worse.
Jake caught her eye and looked as though he might have something to say to her. The others began to turn to see what he was looking at.
She gathered up her stuff and threw her trash out, rushing out of the cafeteria and toward the drama room. This was where she always went during lunch to get away from everyone. Mr. Reyes always went to the teacher’s lounge anyway.
Her earbuds were back in, and her book was in her lap as she sat back in one of the chairs. Looking around, she felt some despair at the empty room. Why couldn’t she relate to other people her age when she wasn’t performing? She knew the others would just come up to her with some half-hearted apology and then go back to not really being friends with her like before, and she’d be alone again.
"Hey," A voice made her turn back to the door. It was Jeremy, who seemed very unsure of whatever he was here for. He should be, Christine thought. She couldn’t exactly blame him for the Squip, but that didn’t excuse what he had said to her. "So—"
"I still remember how it felt," Christine interrupted him, feeling the need to say something about it, to not leave it up in the air. She hadn’t had anyone to talk to about it yet.
"What?" Jeremy’s face scrunched up. It was almost cute, if what Christine had to say hadn’t felt so urgent.
"It was like you said," She continued, her gaze dropping down and then back up. She fidgeted with her shirt, tucking her hair behind her ears just so her hands would have something to do. "Like I'd never have to...not know...anything again. Who did yours look like?"
"Keanu Reeves," Jeremy answered, his cheeks tinged with pink. "Yours?"
"Ruth Bader-Ginsburg," Christine answered sheepishly, fiddling with her shirt again. Her thoughts were turning back to the Squip. "It's embarrassing..."
"Actually, that one's pretty good," Jeremy smiled at her, but she didn’t smile back.
She wasn’t finished. "...to find out, deep down, I just want things to be easy."
"Yeah, but...who wants things to be hard?" Jeremy replied, giving her a sympathetic look. He suddenly seemed way more nervous than before. "Look, I ruined the play. I almost destroyed the school, maybe all human civilization. I know that the last thing I deserve is another shot. But I...uh..."
"Just say what's on your mind, Jeremy," Christine reassured him. He shouldn’t be scared to talk to her. If anything, he needed to actually talk about how he felt, or they’d never get over what he had said before.
"Lunch? Just the two of us," Jeremy asked, his brows rising with worry. Now Christine grinned at him. It was a start.
"Yeah, Jeremy, I'd like that." Christine replied shyly. Even with all that had happened, she was still a teenage girl who had finally realized what she wanted, and her was life throwing her a shot at it.
Jeremy tentatively stepped closer, breath caught in his throat. He gently grabbed her by the waist, pulling her towards him, and, in the next second, his lips were on hers.
Christine pulled back out of surprise, just for a moment, and then leant back in. She smiled again as their lips met.
Then the bell rang, and it almost felt like a strange dream as she rushed off to history.
Getting home that day was different.
Well, not physically — Christine drove home as usual, blasting and screaming along to She Used to Be Mine. She may have been putting more emotion into it than normal, but that was just how she was feeling today.
Emotionally was different. Jake and the others from lunch, as well as Rich, were in the student parking lot as she passed through on the way to her car. One of them called her name, but she had had the foresight to put her earbuds in before leaving fourth period. She simply ignored them and pulled out as soon as she got in her car.
Christine was still baffled. Not only were there people at school who apparently wanted to talk to her, but she had agreed to go on a date with Jeremy.
She had to admit that she liked him, there was no doubt in her mind about that. They had kissed earlier, and she had liked it.
But they still needed to get to know each other, outside of the Squip’s influence. Jeremy had seemed like more of a dork the first time they met than any other time, and he had that same energy today. Maybe that was why she was so comfortable with the kiss so soon. She knew they needed to talk first. The thought of jumping to a relationship so soon would actually make her feel a bit uncomfortable if they didn't get everything out in the open first. Even if they weren’t technically boyfriend and girlfriend yet, they had a date, and they both wanted it. Hopefully it would go well.
Hopefully Jake and the others would perhaps try to be less like jerks and more like friends. Not that she necessarily wanted to be friends with all of them, but she needed to know that they wouldn't treat her the way they did before, and that none of it was because of who she was.
Christine hoped that all of this would happen. She also hoped that the voice in her head telling her that it wouldn’t was wrong.
She still felt like she would be sitting by herself every weekend like every other night.