“Hi. I’m Preston. Preston Miles.” It feels silly sometimes, saying that to myself in the mirror over and over again. But the book I’ve been reading said it would help to practice. Picking it up to look at the bookmarked page again, I attempted to make sure that I was doing it right.
It says that I need to stand up straight. Look people in the eye when I talk. And I should smile. Smiling is the easy part, I think. I focused my eyes on my own reflection, and let out a short breath as I brought my pearly white teeth into view. Ok… so it says I should speak clearly and with confidence. Project loud enough to be heard. I forget that part sometimes. I’ll talk louder from now on. Or… at least when I remember. So… right. Clearly… loudly… and with confidence.
“Hi…” No wait. More enthusiasm than that. “HI! I’m Preston! Preston Miles!” Cool, right? That sounds cooler. “Hi! I’m Preston!” Wait a minute, my darn voice squeaked. I cleared my throat a few times to get my vocal chords to hopefully loosen up a little bit. “HI! I’m Preston! Preston Miles! Nice to meet ya!” Nailed it!
I just know that the other students here at Valley Oaks Preparatory School will warm up to me once I make an effort to get them to actually notice me. I just need to put myself out there, you know? Make some good friends, get in good with my teachers, maybe even get a girlfriend to make out with. Heh, I’d REALLY be stoked if I could pull that last one off! Er… if I knew how. All I know is that the few books I swiped from the school library should be enough to help me out. It’ll teach me how to talk to people and, hopefully, come off as a little less socially awkward.
I can’t really explain what happens to me when I get around people. You would think that talking to someone and making a few good friends would be the easiest thing in the world to do. But every time I try to approach somebody, I get this ‘wiggle-freak’ sensation rumbling in my tummy and my voice gets too high and too loud, and everything I say or do comes out as clumsy and unfunny and weird. I don’t want to be weird. I want to be one of the cool kids. You know… normal, just like everybody else. So I got this book about talking to people, and it’s supposed to boost confidence and make me a social dynamo in 10 easy steps. Or… at least that’s what it says on the back of the book cover. I also got a book of clean jokes, and a book of dirty jokes, just in case I can’t use one or the other. I don’t get most of the dirty ones. That’ll take more research, I think. I also grabbed a self-empowerment book of ‘daily positive affirmations for the mind, body, and soul’, whatever that means. I didn’t really get into that one yet. But who knows? Maybe I’ll acquire some much needed mystical wisdom out of it in the end. Anything is possible.
My mother worries about me constantly. I think if it was up to her, I’d be home-schooled until I was 50. But I’m six months past 13 now. I’m almost ready for high school. I LOOK super young, but I want to get out there and be a part of the whole school experience and stuff. I want to be around other guys, other girls… I want to curse out loud, I want to draw all over my locker and eat horrible cafeteria food. I want to get dirty looks from my teachers and get busted for reckless behavior so I have to spend the rest of the afternoon in detention with a bunch of bad boys and degenerates! Hehehe! It’s the kind of stuff that I had only seen on TV up to this point, and as crazy as it sounds, I CRAVED the opportunity to feel what it’s like to be on the edge of irreparably screwing my life up for good. I know that sounds totally insane, but… I’d much rather live a life with a little risk and a little danger than to just remain ‘safe’ all the time, missing it all as it passes me by. I’d appreciate a little excitement every now and then. Toughen up and learn to face obstacles on my own. Maybe I’m crazy, but life’s too short to be safe. Let me give my emotions a workout every now and then before the muscle atrophies from the lack of daily challenges, you know?
Talking my mom into letting me go to school was no easy task. It was an uphill battle every step of the way, but I refused to let her forget about it. I really wanted to go. And it was unfair for her to not at least take the idea into consideration. Eventually… she caved. Yay!
There were weeks of complex paperwork and transcripts and people from our church tried to convince her that going to public school was wrong and she shouldn’t let me be corrupted by the mass government controlled academic propaganda that had been spread throughout the entire country like a virus. Or… you know, whatever their passionate argument entailed. But, frankly, it was none of their damn business, and I was resentful of the fact that they chose to butt in anyway. I wanted friends and love and life experience that I couldn’t get at home. What’s wrong with that? I got so sick of people having arguments about my life with a mentality where my voice didn’t matter. The more they tried to talk me out of it, the more stubborn I became. This is what I wanted. And if my mom cared anything about me at all, she’d make it happen.
So that’s exactly what she did. She made it happen. And I hugged her so tight afterward that I nearly broke her neck! Hahaha! Sure, she pretended to still have reservations about the whole idea, but once she saw the grin on my face and the outburst of uncontrollable JOY in my heart… she knew that she was making the right decision. And now? Here I am. Private school. Surrounded by a bunch of other boys and girls who couldn’t give two shits about me! Hehehe, but that’s OK! GREAT, even! This is the challenge that I’ve been searching for! It’s a chance for me start from ground zero and test my natural ability to interact with other kids my age and be exposed to other points of view besides my own. Every morning, I woke up, looking forward to talking with some of my other classmates. I just wanted to learn, and grow, and evolve. I saw other kids having fun with each other and I felt so sheltered and alone. My sense of companionship was missing. My sense of bonding. I needed this. I wanted it more than anything in the world. I just needed to get past the awkward part. That’s all.
I’ve only been at Valley Oaks for a month or two, so I don’t exactly know how easy or how difficult this is supposed to be. But I made sure to linger around the hallways between every class on the off chance that I run into somebody… ‘awesome’. You know?
As the bell rang, I stood up against the locker with my books in my arms and a half empty knapsack on my shoulder. I tried to position myself in a way that looked cool, but also kind of comfortable. Not like a model pose or something corny like that, but hopefully something that stood out from the background. Casual, you know? Nonchalant. Then I started looking for people who might be easy to talk to. I don’t know… friendly faces and stuff.
There were soooo many! It was a bit overwhelming, especially they all seemed to be talking and laughing with other people already. It might be easier to find somebody who was all by themselves, you know?
I saw a boy walking by me, and figured I might as well just take a leap of faith just to see what happened. So I stepped out into the constant flow of students in the hallway, and I stood in front of him. “HI!” I said. Standing up straight. Big smile. Speaking clearly so he could hear me. “I’m Preston!”
“Hi… ” He mumbled briefly as he peeked up at me and swiftly stepped to the side to walk right around me and continue on to his next class. Well that was quick. But NOT a failure! So that’s a good thing, right?
I was still sort of stuck in the middle of the hallway, with more students passing by me on the left and on the right, going every which way until I felt like I was lost in a gigantic traffic jam. The mosh pit of bodies were spinning my little ‘late bloomer’ frame around like a top, but I wasn’t going to give up. Not just yet.
“HI! I’m Preston!” I said to one girl who was like… eight inches taller than me, at LEAST! She gave me a weird look at first, but then she smiled. I thought about following her to talk so more, but she was moving way too fast for me to say anything else without looking like I was ‘chasing’ her down to tackle her and grab her boobs or something. Dang! Ok… there’s more. I’ll keep going.
I kept trying to make eye contact with people, but everybody seems to walk with their heads down. All of them lost in their own worlds, hardly paying attention to anything even remotely unfamiliar from what they’re used to. I stepped in front of another boy who looked a bit older than I was.
“Hi! I’m Pres… ”
“MOVE IT, pipsqueak!”
“Ummph!” He bumped me pretty hard in the shoulder, but I just rubbed it a bit and went right back to the task at hand. “Hi! I’m… ” She whizzed right by me without even looking. “Hi!” I said to another boy, who probably thought I was talking to somebody else. “Hi! I’m Preston! Preston Miles!” I said to a trio of guys who were headed my way.
“Are you serious, dude? Hahaha!” One of them said, and the others started laughing at me. What’s funny about that?
Okaaaayyyy… so a little rejection is ok. I expected that. The key is to never give up! No matter what. To heck with those guys. SOMEBODY here has got to be looking for a friend, right? It’s just a matter of finding out who that person is. Once I make ONE good buddy, the chain reaction will be awesome from there! Just… shit. I’m trying to light a candle with a malfunctioning lighter here.
I got bumped and knocked around for the next five minutes or so. I got a lot of weird looks from the other boys and girls in the hallway. I DID get a few girls to speak to me, though. They were nicer than the boys were. But they didn’t say much more than hello. One really cute girl rubbed the top of my head and said, “Awwwww, aren’t you sweet?” But that wasn’t the reaction I was looking for. Thanks for making me feel like a five year old.
Darnit! There are people all over this school who are friends! How do they manage to do it. It’s not like they were BORN best friends! They had to meet somewhere, somehow. I just want to find a way in, that’s all. What am I doing wrong? The book made it seem so simple.
“Hi! I’m Preston!”
“Hi! I’m Preston! Preston Miles!”
“What’s up? I’m… oof!”
“Hello! I’m… ”
“Uhhh, hey! My name is Preston… ”
“Hi! I’m… accckkk! My foot! Owww!”
Okay. So maybe a passing period between classes isn’t the best time to make friends and get to know people. You can’t say that I didn’t try though. I’ll try again later. Maybe after school. People won’t be in such a hurry then. See? I can do this. I just need to formulate a better strategy. That’s all.
I’m not out of options just yet.
I have a study hall period before my lunch, and that just adds up to one super long lunch period where nobody really bothers me. I don’t really have much to do but go back to my room and play video games though. Believe it or not, there are two boys to a room, and the boy who was supposed to be sharing my room with me went ahead and moved to Florida just before the semester started. So I’m in a room all by myself, which SOME people would consider lucky… but I don’t. To me, it’s just another heavy dose of loneliness where I wish I had somebody to match wits with. Or at least TALK to! You know?
Whatever. This isn’t the time to get discouraged.
“I’m OK, Mom! Honestly.” I said to her over the phone. “Yes. School is fine. I’m learning a lot. Everybody here is really cool.” I told her. “My grades are gonna be fine. Please don’t worry, Mom. OK? I’m really liking it here. Everything is great.”
My mom asked, “Are you eating enough? Don’t start eating junk food in place of your daily meals.”
“I won’t, Mom. They feed us all the time.”
“I want you to come home this weekend, Preston. Alright? We have to get your vaccination shots in order. The news says there’s a bad bug going around and I want you to be protected before it reaches your area.”
I whined, “Mom… really, I’m ok. You know I don’t like needles! Stop believing everything you see on the news, k? I’m healthy as a frog!”
I heard my mom laugh on her end of the phone. Desired effect achieved. Then she said, “If you think for one second that I’m going to let a few chuckles excuse you from getting your shots, you’re sadly mistaken, Pumpkin!”
“Awwww, but I was so adorable when I did it.” I grinned.
She sighed, “What am I going to do with you, Preston?”
“Not give me a shot, I hope!”
What is the deal with shots anyway? You know what needles are? They’re teeny tiny little BUTCHER KNIVES!!! If someone asked you, ‘Hey! Can I friggin’ STAB you with this butcher knife?’, that would be TERRIFYING! Well… how is making it smaller supposed to make that whole situation any less WEIRD? NO needles for me! Especially when it comes to puncturing my sweet booty! I don’t LIKE it! I NEED my booty! For, like… sitting and stuff! Whatever! I just don’t see me having a doctor enforced stab wound in my ass as being a good time. So there!
My mom asked, “Are you getting along with the other boys? Are they treating you well?”
Without even blinking, I said, “Yeah! Everybody here is amazing! I’m making SO many friends, Mom! It’s crazy! They always want me to hang out and party with them, but I tell them that I’ve gotta study first. So… I’m staying focused and stuff. I swear. It’s just… weird being so popular all the time. They won’t leave me alone. Heh… you know?”
I could hear her smiling over the phone. “That’s great, Preston! I’m so happy to hear that you’re having so much fun in public school.”
“I am! Everything is exactly how I dreamed it would be! So chill, ok?” I told her.
“‘Chill’, huh? Listen to you. Hehehe!” She grinned. “If you say so. Who knows, maybe you can bring some of your new friends by the house when your first semester is over. We can barbecue outside and make a whole day out of it.”
A bit hesitant, but trying not to let on, I said, “Yeah. Ummm… sure. That sounds sweet. I mean, I’ll have to ask them if they can do it first, of course. They’re all so cool… they’ve a probably got a ton of other things to do already. But who knows, right? Maybe.” Do I sound sad saying that? I feel sad saying that.
“Ok, sweetie. Well… you take care of yourself. And be careful outside. That nasty virus is all over the news and people are getting crazy out there. I don’t want you to catch anything.”
“I’ll be FINE, Mom! K? I’ve gotta go. It’s lunch time.”
“Ok, hon. Mommy loves you.” She said.
I blushed, sure. But instantly responded with, “I love you too. Bye bye.” It’s cheesy, I know. But I love my mom. Deal with it.
I looked up a few more inspirational quotes before leaving my room. The same favorites that I read all the time and pretty much know by heart. Just seeing the words spelled out in front of me helped to get me pumped up sometimes. I don’t have a lot to stress over. I don’t have to try to be cool. I’m ALREADY cool! They just don’t know it yet. All I have to do is cross the threshold. That barrier that makes me a stranger in their world. So… I might as well go down to the cafeteria and show my face so they know where to look when it comes to finding a new partner in crime. Right? RIGHT! Let me just… polish my sneakers up a little bit, and… yeah! There we are! Ready to go! Let’s do it!
The cafeteria here at Valley Oaks is kind of fancy. Really spread out and full of places to sit down and enjoy a nice quiet meal without being disturbed. Unfortunately, that was the exact opposite of what I was looking for. I wanted interaction. Dialogue among my peers. Laughs with other teenagers that are capable of getting the joke. Instead, I got so much private space that it was difficult to sit at a table with another group of kids without looking like I was deliberately trying to sit at a table with another group of kids.
But whatever. No biggie, right?
The first table I went to had four boys and two girls sitting at it. They caught my attention because they were laughing at something. I don’t know what it was, but I smiled and pretended to laugh a bit too as I stood with my tray of food at the only available seat left for me to sit in. “Heh heh heh! Yeah! I know, right?” I said… not knowing what the heck I was talking about. “Crazy, right?” I said to the girl next to me.
They stopped laughing… but smiles remained. And I don’t think they remained in a good way. The discomfort of being stared at set in almost immediately. I tried hard not to blush or feel stupid about breaking into their chosen moment, but it wasn’t easy to hide my clumsy attempt at trying to fit in.
“Do you guys mind if I sit down, or… ?” I said.
But at that moment, some big heartthrob guy lightly pushed me aside. “Sorry, bro. This is my seat.” And he sat down with his tray of food, everybody else at the table welcoming him with open arms. They seemed to instantly forget all about me the moment he arrived. They didn’t care if I got a seat or not. And once they started talking to one another and trading jokes as friends… I felt it to be far less embarrassing to just walk away than it would be to stand at the edge of their lunch table, tray in hand, trying to grin like an idiot and interrupt their easygoing conversation in order to make new friends.
Without another word, masking my visible disappointment, I walked away and went to go sit by myself instead. Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day. I don’t know. I’ll figure things out eventually. I just… need more time, I guess.
I put my tray down on a table that felt more empty than I thought it would when I sat down. There was so much ‘space’. You’d think that a bunch of students would see this emptiness and take advantage of it by sitting down in their friendly little cluster and chit chatting away to their heart’s content without being crowded. But they didn’t. I just… sat there all alone, eating my lunch without a single person willing to put forth the kind of effort to meet me that I was willing to put out to meet them first. You just have to ignore the isolation sometimes. Isolation is only pleasant when it’s voluntary. When it comes to wanting to be noticed and finding out that you’re invisible regardless of your attempts NOT to be… it kind of stings. It hurts. That’s how I felt at that moment. Hurt.
Come on, Preston. Smile. Confidence. That’s what I need. More confidence.
I was trying to fend off the image of ‘that kid who always eats lunch all by himself’ when I started listening to the students talking about stuff at the table behind me. It’s not like I was trying to eavesdrop or anything, but I was sitting there by myself. What else was I going to do?
“Dude! PLEASE tell me that you’ve got enough liquor for at least fifteen people! We’re gonna need a TON!” Said one boy to another.
“Can you scream that out a little LOUDER, dude? Jesus! Mellow out, man! I’ve got it all under control!” Said another. My ears perked up immediately.
One girl said, “Are you SURE that we’re going to be able to get into the house?”
“It’s totally cool! Old man Simpson is going to be gone for at least 10 days! We’re only going to party for the weekend. We sneak out after curfew, Jordan’s bringing some music, we creep in through the back window and open the door for everybody… it’s gonna be a BLAST!”
I didn’t turn around, but my heartbeat started racing. I don’t know WHY, but… something about this just sounded so cool! Like… the kind of adventure that I had been looking for. My very first! I kept listening.
One guy asked, “How are we gonna get out of here? Security has been tight since that weirdness has been happening in major cities all around the country… ”
“Oh please! That bullshit? Who here believes in fuckin’ ZOMBIES? Raise your hand!” One guy said, followed by, “Thank you! So can we all toss that crap aside and get our party together? We’re not going to get another opportunity like this any time soon. Once Simpson leaves the farm house, we can break in and do whatever the fuck we WANT! But as far as getting it all started, it’s GOTTA be tonight! Alright? Are you guys with me? C’mon, don’t pussy out on me now!”
I have to admit to getting excited as I heard them all chime in with a positive response. Getting more details, planning this big diabolical plan to break into some guy’s farm house and throw a major party there while he’s out of town? How COOL is that??? Hehehe, omigod… that would be AWESOME!
One girl asked, “How do you plan to get from here all the way out to the Simpson farm?”
And the guy said, “My brother can take some of us in his van, and a few others have rides waiting out by the main road, provided they can sneak out in time. It’s all set up, babe. Look… Simpson’s farm is only like 2 or 3 miles away, on the other side of that giant cornfield on the side of the road. We take a short ride out there, we party, we get naked, hehehe… ” He said, kissing the girl and making her giggle out loud. “… And then we come back here and sneak in through the back door of the school before they even realize that we’re gone. There’s nothing to it! So what’s the deal? Are you guys in or out?”
Everybody agreed that they were ‘in’, and they said that they would sneak out once the sun was setting low and they could move undetected by the school’s security. The whole idea beyond sneaking out at all thrilled me to the point of maximum shivers and goosebumps. I’d never had a single sip of alcohol before, but I’d be willing to make this my very first time if it meant being a part of the festivities.
There was an actual party taking place, off campus, tonight! And… if I could just show up and pretend like I belonged there with everybody else… I might actually get exposed to the very elements that makes everybody else so cool around here! I might be accepted as one of them. I mean… right? That’s possible, right?
I was shaking the whole time that I was thinking about it. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to just jump into a car with a bunch of other Valley Oaks school boys without having them kick me out or something for not being invited. BUT… .I’ve seen the Simpson farm before! Many times, in fact. It’s not that far away from here! Nearly three miles down the road from here, they said? I can make it that far on foot if I run. I don’t need to take much baggage with me. Just… a couple of water bottles and a change of clothes so I don’t show up all sweaty and gross. That’s it. I can change in the cornfield. It’s dense enough to hide my nudie bits and pieces. Er… I think.
When lunch was over and I walked back to my room… I was SOOOO stoked on what might happen when the sun went down! Ahhhh! What if I showed up and they told me that I was the coolest guy there? How amazing would that be?
There’s a super secret party going on! And *I* know about it! Hehehe, I want to go! I TOTALLY want to go! Maybe I’ll get laughed at. Maybe they’ll tell me that I’m just a little bullshit kid and they want me to get lost. But… there’s a chance that they’ll go out, start partying, and once I show up… they won’t even care who I am! They’ll just be like, ‘come party with us, dude’! And that could be the beginning of something awesome, right? I mean… RIGHT???
Anything is possible…
I waited for the sun to set. I waited even longer for darkness to take a majority of the balance of the approaching night. The darker it got, the more anxious I got. And… there were a few moments where I almost wanted to change my mind and abandon the plan. The fear of the unknown made everything so frightening that it was hard to even breathe in the face of it all.
But… when the time to leave for the party came… I simply packed an extra pair of clean clothes, slung my knapsack over my shoulder, and took off… heading for the hidden route that I’d heard about from the teens at the table behind me in that cafeteria.
At first, I thought for sure that I’d get caught! But their plans seemed sound and free from bullshit mistakes. So I followed my eavesdropped directions, and I slid out from under the private school’s security to step out into the freedom of darkness and fog in front of me.
Ok. I don’t know what to expect or what’s ahead of me…
All I know is that I’ve got a frisky three mile journey to manage before I can get to this ‘party’ and make a decent entrance. If I walk, it might take me an hour or more. So I should move faster than that. I’ve always been pretty fast on my feet, after all.
Looking back at the school’s lights as I reached the end of the Valley Oaks property line, I realized just how exposed I was. Fuck. Thank goodness for the fog.
Better start off now. Just in case somebody is watching.
I started jogging.
I doubt I’ll be able to keep this pace up the whole way, but it’s a start.
They’ll love me once they get to know me. I know they will. But first… let my feet do the work. I can get there in 45 minutes or less if I really try.
I can run it. All of it. Running is what I do!
I’ll be there! I’ll show up at the party, I’ll introduce myself, and by the end of the night, I’ll have cool people to talk to and memories to file away and draw from for the rest of my life. This is my shot. My golden ticket. I really hope I don’t freak it up now!