When the phone rings in Maeve’s third period sociology class, dread lines her stomach like lead. She knows it’s for her. After what’s happened, there’s no chance it couldn’t be—or if there is, it’s a very, very slim chance, smaller than The Jersey Shore’s “Situation” winning an Oscar.
Mr. Franklin answers it, and as he says, “Yep, she’s here,” he turns around and makes eye contact with her, which she quickly breaks. “I’ll send her right down.” Before he can address her, she’s shoving her pencil case into her backpack.
“The office needs you down there, Maeve,” he says and she nods.
She hikes her backpack onto her shoulder, keeps her eyes on the coarse, sage green carpet and the tips of her boots, once brown but now worn to a splotchy tan. As she pushes open the office door, the administrative assistant, Ms. Gould, raises her geek-glasses gaze to her, stands from her chair, and comes around the side of the desk. Maeve’s time helping organize the office before announcements earned her a soft spot with the assistant, and she bets if Ms. Gould could, she would hug her. Instead, she lays a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“How are you doing, honey?” she asks.
“Okay,” Maeve says, and from the once-over Ms. Gould gives her, Maeve doesn’t think she believes it.
“You can wait down there. Mrs. Meier will be ready for you soon.”
No, Charlotte has beat her to it—just like everything else in life. Charlotte looks at her, and directs her attention to her hands, as Maeve alternates between wanting to slap her into senior year and let the tears which have stabbed her eyes all day flow.
How did we get here? Maeve thinks. The easy answer was puberty, but to get the full scope, one had to look at the long road that began on the monkey bars of the jungle gym during an intense game of hot lava, and became too rocky to travel across the division of the lunchroom table a year before. In between were laughs and secrets and nights of marathon texting sessions that faded to fights, one-upping, periodic check-ins, and wondering how a friendship that had seemed so strong crumbled with the slightest push of a peer.
But, as the seconds tick by, the irritation of merely breathing in the same proximity of Charlotte grows and the words stuck in her throat force themselves up. “So, thanks for that.”
Charlotte’s blonde head lifts in acknowledgement, but she remains fixated on the blunt cut of her cuticles. “For what?”
“You know what,” Maeve says. “Everyone knows what.”
It’s the photo that has circulated all around school and cemented itself in the bowels of social media: one of Maeve struggling to change her top in the locker room. It’s not overly revealing, no nudity, but it’s still more skin than she would ever show anywhere outside her own bedroom. If it’s not embarrassing enough, the words attached to it drive it there:
It was posted on the Highland Holler, an online collection of students laughing about random things that happened during the school day, but rarely veering into scantily clad shots like this one—which then left the group and was sent all over creation, or at least their portion of it.
“I didn’t post it,” Charlotte says, and Maeve scoffs as she tucks her light brown hair behind her ear.
“Really? Everyone knows you and your friends have the account with the picture of the sunglasses-wearing panda, and you’re the only one in gym with me. Who else could it be?”
“It wasn’t me,” Charlotte says firmly. “It was you that sent the text, though.”
“Seriously?” Didn’t she remember who fired the first shot?
“What? You did,” Charlotte says, and while it’s myopic, it’s also true, because is Maeve completely blameless in this? Probably not.
“You went after Dylan. My Dylan. Our relationship wasn’t even cold yet,” Maeve says, trying to keep her voice from cracking. When she found out Charlotte had kissed Dylan, she fired off a monstrous text, with some derogatory names she now regrets, but at the time felt justified and somewhat still does. Charlotte knew how much she loved Dylan, that he wasn’t just some random guy, like he knew Charlotte wasn’t some random girl she used to be friends with, but her first heartbreak. “Yeah, some of the things I said weren’t the nicest—”
“Far from it,” Charlotte interjects.
“Fine,” Maeve sighs. “But you think that gives you the right to do what you did to me? Do you know how much this hurt? The things people are saying about me? Those are far from being nice, too. So far.” In 24 hours, she had gone from flying under the radar to being the subject of hushed voices and snickers that make every part of her cringe.
She extends her feet out in front of her, ankle crossed over ankle, and then sets her sandals flat to the ground. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
Maeve doesn’t know how to react: with shock that Charlotte’s admitted it, or anger that there was some other plot. She goes with the latter. “Then what was it supposed to be like? Were you going to put posters of it everywhere? It’s not like you just took the picture and didn’t plan to do anything with it.”
“No, that is what I did.” Charlotte shifts in her chair uncomfortably, maybe from the hard wood, but more likely from the conversation. “Well, okay, I took the picture because I was mad, too, and you were basically stuck in your shirt, so I thought it was funny, but I never intended to put it up anywhere. It was supposed to stay with me.”
“Then how did it end up on the Holler? I did something else to piss you off?” Maeve asks.
“I didn’t put it there,” Charlotte says, and Maeve can’t help but raise any eyebrow at her. “I swear.”
“Who did? They should be the one here, shouldn’t they?”
Charlotte slides her hands back and forth along her jeans in the same way Maeve remembers she always did before a big test or any nerve-inducing event. “They thought they were helping me.”
Even though Charlotte doesn’t verbalize it, Maeve knows there’s a small group of people who have access to the Cool Panda account, and each one is a friend of Charlotte’s, who she’s protecting at her own detriment. “But it wasn’t me. I wouldn’t do that to you. Believe it or not, I didn’t want this to happen.”
Down the hall, a door opens, and Mrs. Meier clicks into the hall. “Ladies, come in here.”
Charlotte gets up first, and Maeve follows, unsure of many things—namely, where their relationship stands and what loyalty actually looks like. But beneath those lies a question she doesn’t know if she’ll ever shake: how she ranked lower on Charlotte’s friendship totem pole than whichever girl classifies letting Charlotte take the fall for her as “helping.”