by Elizabeth Poehler

The gleaming white tiles on the wall looked sick with the splatter of black hair dye as Sonja turned her head too fast, sending a spray over everything behind her.

“Shit, Sonja,” I muttered, barely audible over the fan. “You need to be more careful. What if my Grandma saw the place like this?”

I grabbed the shirt I had brought from my room for this kind of accident. I placed a corner of it under the faucet and began to wipe up the mess. I groaned in dismay as I realized a drop was on the white cabinet and had stained the paint there. It wasn’t coming off.

“I think I have white out in my backpack?” Sonja offered, smiling sheepishly, looking at her toes. I felt the burn in my throat before I opened my mouth.

“Look me in the eyes, or at least in the direction of my face,” I said, sounding huskier than I had intended.

Looking down meant weak, meant you were submissive. I had done my research, and I was taking a chance with bringing Sonja. I had offered to bring her along to meet with them for the first time, but first we needed to match the part. My hair was ready for the rinsing. I had gone with a green that would come out black on my dark hair, but I had hoped it would have a green shine in the light. An edge. For Sonja, her blonde hair was going black. Or that is what we were hoping when we started this. She was on her third coat, and we were running out of time.

But gray hair so did not have an edge.

“Sorry, Cass.”

“Just remember who we are meeting,” I said. “If you don’t assert some dominance we might as well kiss this good bye. So don’t mess this up.” I waved the shirt in her face threatening.

I went to the shower and started to clean up my hair. I hoped they would find it cool. It had been Monday, three days ago, when I sat down near them during lunch. I had not slept much the night before since my stomach had kept me up, and when you sat next to them, the teachers avoided you. So I took the chance to nap underneath my blue Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt that my grandmother insisted I wear.

I would have left it in my locker, but I was tired, and it was soft and warm. A tempting combination.

Lying there, I had started to fall asleep when the table moved sharply. Looking up I found myself staring into yellow contacts. They were scanning my face and

A tail wiggled back and forth, hanging from a chain on the back of her pants.

seemed to take inventory. They were familiar. It took a moment before I realized they were attached to Jessica Hall. Red frizz ball, she had no make up on, and was wearing something typically seen in the goth corner. I glanced over at the other table of kids dressed like her, contacts and all, and the table was full up. Guess I became the designated overflow table. The hurt at being leftover made the empty pit in my stomach deepen, and I felt like I could have been sick.

“Hey.”

“Hi,” I said. I probably sounded as sleepy as I felt, and it had not helped that my stomach was planning a revolt. It wanted food, I wanted a smaller tummy – we were not exactly on speaking terms. But that didn’t stop it from growling at her and the smell of the food on her plate. Chicken nuggets made out of goodness knows what, instant mashed starch, and turkey flavored goo, with corn on the side. Suddenly the cafeteria food was looking delicious.

“Want a bite?” She placed a few chicken nuggets on a napkin and twirled them over to me. “Dip them into the potatoes. It confuses the after taste.”

“No thanks, I’m on a diet.”

“Well, forget it, and eat. Sounds like you want to.” She jabbed her finger towards my gut.

“I really shouldn’t.”

“Oh come on, please don’t tell me that you are one of those things that starve themselves.” Some breading from the chicken nuggets fell out of her mouth as she talked.

“I don’t starve myself, I eat at selected times.”

“Well select now. Just the chicken then. It’s a form of protein. Can’t be that bad.”

I looked at the breaded thing and felt the rumbling in my stomach push me forwards towards the food. I held back a sigh and started eating, and she sat there smiling. She started talking about school and different teachers, and I responded between bites, showing the same hatred for a certain math teacher. Before I knew it, I had taken her lunch from her, and it was delicious, and the bell was ringing. She looked pleased.

“Hey we are getting together after school on Thursday at 5 p.m. at Taylor’s house,” she said, nodding towards a spikey-haired twig at the other table. “Wanna come?”

“Yeah sure.” Before the words even had left my mouth completely, she was grabbing her backpack walking away. A tail wiggled back and forth, hanging from a chain on the back of her pants. A trade mark of the group. Teachers glanced their way, but puffed up and moved away from them.

They were the resident werewolves. Most kids ignored them or called them names. I was thinking about joining them for the group thing, or maybe it was suicide to go and join them. But I decided that the next day I would sit by their table to see what would happen.

When I did, it was Derrick who sat down across from me. He did not have a food peace offering, and I felt a little rage against him. But it melted quickly as I took in what could be considered a beautiful face. I thanked God that I didn’t find one of the guys with sweeping bangs attractive. But Derrick had a feline face and pale hair. Tanned skin, which looked more sun-kissed against his clothes. He was just dressed in dark mysterious clothing, something Spike from Buffy would wear.

“You need to eat,” he said, and his face distorted into something resembling disgust as he started talking. “Do you have the money in your account to get food?”

“Yeah?”

“I’ll be waiting right here.”

He watched me expectantly, and I was standing before I truly understood. I gasped at myself standing there in the cafeteria. I felt my hips wide and threatening to bump against everyone and everything. Clothes tight and pressed against curves. I glanced around, wondering who may have been looking at me. The line was short since most students were already eating, so I got my food quickly and rushed back to the chair.

His eyes ran over the limited amount of food I allowed myself, and as I sat down across from him, he leaned forward. “So, are you a freshmen?”

I nodded, having a baby carrot wedged into my mouth.

“Enjoying high school?”

Embarrassingly enough, I launched myself into a rant about my life, but he sat there listening intently, and I ended up talking to him between bites the entire time. When the bell rang I was disappointed.

In the following class a few of the preppy girls talking to me

She had gone on a trip last summer with her family and had been depressing since.

about the rumors they had heard about the werewolf kids. Like how they sacrificed stray pets, and that they actually transformed on the full moon. Apparently Taylor bit a teacher and had been suspended the trimester before. After the next full moon, the teacher left to go find freedom in the woods, having turned into a wolf.

I wasn’t about to believe them. But the next day, that day, that lunch period, the group again sat at the same table with me. They invaded each other’s personal bubble space, including mine.

“Something weird happened to me last night,” a guy with nose ring said to girl with huge boobs.

“What was it?”

“I heard my cat on my computer desk while I was laying on my bed listening to music.”

“Oh wow, Jeremy, that’s really something,” the girl said, rolling her eyes.

“No, that’s not just it. I felt something move rather than heard it, and I was up and catching a book before she knocked it completely onto the floor.”

His eyes were bright and excited when he said it. He was visibly squirming in his seat, and I could see the attachable tail wagging back and forth.

“Cool,” the girl with the boobs said.

The lunch was filled with conversation of that kind. As well as Jessica shoving half of the food from her tray in my face.

 

I didn’t know what to expect when meeting the werewolves, but I was psyched. When I got my hair dried it turned out satisfactory, though the green was hard to see. But Sonja was still having trouble with her hair color. We gave up and decided on placing brightly colored clips in her hair, trying to make it look cool and on purpose. But first I was gonna cut it for her.

“Cass, are you sure this is the best idea?”

“What ya mean?” I meet her eyes in the mirror as I trimmed off the back, going for the pixie look.

“Meeting with these kids. They’re weird and what if, what if they really are werewolves? What if they want to turn you, us, into werewolves too?” The panic was making her breath faster and causing her to shake, and I started to get uncomfortable holding scissors so close to her spazz-ing-ness.

“You’re insane, you know that? Sure they are eccentric, but look at them. No one messes with them, the teachers avoid them,” I said. “And I bet they don’t have a grandmother riding their back to get model skinny.”

“Maybe not, but everyone talks about them. It might be too late for my hair, but what do you say about just catching a chick flick and a make-over recon? Maybe something red to cover this up?”

“If you liked red you should have said something when I suggested black,” I said.

But when I checked her reflection in the mirror, I saw she had calmed down and I went back to cutting her hair.

The tendrils fell everywhere on the floor. I would still need to clean it up before we left for Taylor’s house to try to make the vengeance of the grandparents smaller. If there wasn’t a mess then they would only have my colored hair to be upset about.

“Cass, are you even listening?” Sonja said then. “They are weird. Psychos. They could be dangerous. Three lunch periods doesn’t mean you know a person.”

Her mouth snapped shut after she said that, and we both looked at each other.

In middle school she and I stood up for each other. When the popular girls started making fun of my pudge, she would go up and scream in their faces. She had been so outgoing before last summer. She had been able to look anyone in the eye and make them back down, despite being barely average height for our age. But she had gone on a trip last summer with her family and had been depressing since.

When school started up, we were freshmen without a leader. We had no way of defending ourselves against the other girls in our grade, and the older students just did not seem to care. But I was working on making more friends, despite what Sonja thought.

“If you’re so against me going, why did you agree to go with me in the first place?” I said.

“Because we’ve been friends for a while and I want to be there for you.”

Her eyes looked flat to me when she said it. I decided I didn’t want to know what she saw when she looked at me.

She completed her hair transformation, but instead of coming with me to the party, she asked if it was okay if she went home. She was starting to not feel so good. I nodded my agreement. It would probably be for the best.

 

My grandpa had shaken his bald, beaming head when he saw my hair, but he didn’t say anything. He got in the car and looked at the address I gave him. The drive was filled with talk radio, but I could not catch what they were talking about. Fish? Sports? Politics? The voice droned and I stared out the window, wondering what the house would look like. What they would do, talk about. Eat.

When he stopped the car I looked at the different houses, and they all looked normal.

“Here we are,” he said, nodding to a two story plain white suburbia dream. I got out of the car and thanked him.

“Call me when you’re ready to come home early,” he told me. “If not I’ll be here at eight.” He drove off without another word.

The street was quiet with the echoes of birds and children

It was hard to imagine anyone as tiny and as pointy as Taylor coming from two people like that.

laughing somewhere down the street. I walked up the driveway, surrounded by pink little flowers and knocked on the door.

“Hello?”

The mother in the doorway was a startling ball of sunshine. Plump, bright, and happy. She was painful to look at, and my eyes searched the walls of the entryway for anything besides paintings of flowers in vases – something cool or interesting. Anything to prove I was at the right house.

“Yeah hi,” I said. “Is Taylor home?”

“Oh you must be their new friend Cassy. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said as she shook my hand and kept it captive to pull me into their home.

The house smelled of pine cleaning fluids. Floral had taken over the living room as far as I could see.

“They’re in the backyard, but I was hoping you could help me first by helping me bring out the food.”

My stomach turned into a ball of angry knots. I approached the bowls of chips and placed my hand under two and balanced them towards the sliding door. On the other side there was a man who looked like he had a couple decades of hair left, but he was fit, not slender like most of the guys at school. Built like he was still a jock.

“Hey, hun,” he said. He held the door open for me, but his eyes were on his butterball of a sunny wife. I felt anger and disgust as he leaned forward and gave her a peck on the forehead. It was hard to imagine anyone as tiny and as pointy as Taylor coming from two people like that.

“So you’re Cassandra?”

He seemed to be looking me over, so I glanced into the reflection on the sliding door. Was my stomach sticking out too much?

“Yes sir. So they’re outside?”

“Yep, helping me try to get a bonfire going while I start up the grill.”

My eyes followed his gaze to a plate of raw meat on the other side of the kitchen. Burgers.

“Say ‘ahh’” a voice behind me demanded.

“Huh?”

A sweet baby dill was inserted into my wondering mouth by Derrick. Knowing he was standing behind me made me suddenly aware of the heat his body gave off.

“You need any help Mr. Swaning?” His eyes gazed past me leaning against the doorway, chewing the obnoxious mixture of tang and sweet.

“Nah, I’m good over here. You guys got the fire up and roaring?”

“It’s almost kicking.”

“Good, good. Why don’t you show her where to put the chips and you guys can leave us adults alone to do the responsible grown-up thing.”

He smiled at Derrick, and I could see a few missing teeth. Perhaps he had been a jock not too long ago.

“Coming?” Derrick called without looking back.

He led me through a vast yard with trees making a border. In the middle were two big tables, where members of the group had strewn their things. Only Jeremy and Jessica were still working on the fire.

Derrick rolled another guy off a table, who landed on the bench with a grunt and a laugh.

“Here we are,” he said, waving his hand over the table as if he were a magician. I placed the chips down.

“Eat,” Taylor said then, pointing at the chips, staring me in the eyes.

There were no contacts this time, or tails. Most of them looked like any normal teenager at the mall. There would be no stares with this group, except maybe at the hair colors, since those with long hair had tied it back.

I tried to meet Taylor’s stare, but found myself looking away.

“Cass,” Jessica said, coming up to me, nearly whispering. “We need to talk about your diet.”

“What are you talking about?”

I glanced from one face to another as the parents came up and joined the group by standing off to the left next to the grill. The father laid the burgers down over the salty smell of the coal burning, and Taylor’s mother walked up to me and patted my hand.

“Deary, this is your intervention,” Mrs. Swanson said, eyes round and sad, stealing away the light that had been annoying. “You’re eating at least three burgers.”

Elizabeth Marie Poehler graduated from Bemidji State University in spring of 2012 with a major in Creative and Professional Writing. She currently lives in Bloomington, MN, just being “Lizz.”