Winnie’s dread of Mondays is as certain and consistent as the sun rising every day. It’s those early morning wake-up calls that yank her out of much needed sleep and rouse her into a zombie-like trance before realizing everything she has to get done. The thoughts of impending homework that will weigh down her backpack. The promise of running suicides that Coach Hendrix believes are the best way to start each week of basketball practice.
Today, the sunrise has a new intensity, a new bitterness, because while every Monday means returning to school, this one means returning to seeing a face that she’d rather not at this very moment. It’s the cruelty of high school, she figures.
With her gold athletic bag slung over one shoulder and her backpack over the other, she heads into school, where she is quickly reminded of another reason she hates Mondays. Leaning against lockers and tucked into doorways, Winnie’s fellow classmates scroll through their phones, whispering fiercely, murmuring behind hands raised to mouths, snickering openly. It can only be one cause.
To her, The Westford Waste would be a more apt title. Every Monday morning, phones ding with alerts from Westford Word of Mouth’s latest news drop, offering up gossip on the school’s students in a basic blog format (the same kind Winnie’s sister made in her fourth-grade class—not that anyone cares to hear her opinion on the blogger’s tech savviness or lack thereof). It’s full of the typical high school fodder: friendship breakdowns, Saturday night hook ups, run-of-the-mill debauchery.
Buzzworthy? Yes. True? Rarely. But, because sometimes the arc of WWoM bends towards fact, most of the student body treats WWoM as gospel rather than the poor Gossip Girl wannabe it really is.
Or at least, that’s what Winnie has deemed it, and as such tries to avoid adding to the faceless gossip monger’s clicks. Besides, her life has enough complications without needlessly sifting through other people’s drama.
She empties her textbooks onto the metal shelves of her locker and organizes them in her preferred arrangement—first through fourth periods on the top shelf and fifth through eighth on the bottom—so she can grab and go when she needs to sprint between classes. Unfortunately, sprinting is not just a fixture of basketball practice.
“Win?” a voice says as she adds her geometry textbook to the top shelf. She’d know the source without having to look, and would have no trouble picking it out of a vocal lineup, but that doesn’t stop Winnie from glancing towards it. As soon as her eyes land on Isaac—his blonde curls, his forest green eyes, the scar on his cheek he gained when he teetered more than tottered—she regrets it.
Standing this close to him reminds her too much of what they told each other they’d try to forget. Just like the worry etched into his forehead, and the wideness of his grey eyes.
“Hey,” she says, and looks back into the locker, hoping it will make the tightness in her chest ease—or at least ease to the tolerable tension she’d grown used to, and not this vicious vice. “What’s up?”
“Did you tell anyone?” he asks.
“What—” he shuffles closer to her and, to maintain the space and any semblance of emotional control, she steps back, right into her locker door. She grabs ahold of its edge so it doesn’t slam against her neighbor. “What happened.”
She needs no further explanation about what he’s referring to. But when it comes to the why behind his question, she’s completely in the dark. “No,” she says, tucking a piece of her ebony hair behind her ear. “Why?”
Isaac’s eyes sweep the hallway, his hand mimicking the motion, before he shoves it in his Game of Thrones’ sweatshirt pocket.
“What?” Someone may as well have been pressing her gag reflex for how much she feels like vomiting. This can’t be. This is why they swore each other to secrecy, and if people were going to find out, she wouldn’t have made such a promise.
At the time, Winnie didn’t realize how much it would eat at her—having to go radio silent in the midst of an emotional maze, with all signals shut down from the channel that had always helped to guide her to clarity. Now, she has no one to air out her conscience with, or to confess how much it hurts that they’ve decided what happened is a dirty, disappointing internal matter, rather than what she always thought it would be. “How do you know that?”
He responds by shoving his phone in her face, the screen unlocked and bright. It’s a webpage, with block lettering across its top: WESTFORD WORD OF MOUTH. Below is a headline, that while typed in Helvetica font, is anything but boring:
Word is that “best friends” Winnie McDonald and Isaac Cooper were seen making out Friday night in the alley behind Westford’s favorite ice cream shop, Melting For You, after close. Notably, Isaac’s girlfriend, Carly Samson, has not changed her relationship status on Facebook, so you can bet that the girl doesn’t know her boy’s a cheater. Not until now anyways. Whoops.
Heat rushes into Winnie’s face, and white into her fingers like it does whenever she’s on the verge of an anxiety attack. Her gag reflex now feels as if someone is using it as a punching bag.
Truth be told, she’s had feelings—strong feelings—for Isaac for a couple years, but she had kept them guarded from everyone but her journal in fear that Isaac’s heart wasn’t harboring the same emotions. When he began dating Carly a few months back, Winnie figured that was proof of it, and tried to lock up her thoughts in a Fort Knox-worthy mental safe.
But, as they took the trash out after their shift and laughingly commiserated about their trashy boss and his predilection for terrible facial hair styles, the energy had shifted from friendly to flirty.
Winnie had pulled the marker designated for labeling customers’ ice cream out of her pocket and suggested Isaac should try their boss’s handlebar mustache. Isaac ran (of course) and she (of course) chased. Both of them were in near-hysterics by the time she cornered him between herself and the rusting fence in the middle of the alley. She reached up, trying to get at his face and make contact, even if just a small dot, but before she could, he grabbed her hand.
Their eyes locked.
The laughter faded.
His head bowed.
It wasn’t fireworks. It was a burn, starting off slow, but quickly engulfing and burning them down—all they had been and all they were going to be. If they were a flame, the alley, and all its shadows, would’ve been bright as the sun.
Their gazes held onto each other. Her heart pounded as hard as a basketball on the court with only seconds before the final buzzer. They had kissed. He had kissed her. The safe within her unlocked, all the thoughts she had classified as too dangerous to spill making their way to her lips, but his came first.
The safe resealed.
They took their oath.
She went home. Confused. Culpable. Crestfallen. Wanting to talk about it, but also keep it hidden forever.
She didn’t anticipate this.
The two of them have never been popular enough to be the topic of gossip, and yet, here it is, their worst act splashed across some high school sociopathic pot stirrer’s blog that should mean nothing, but within these halls means everything.
A simple glance around them shows it—the dozens of eyes turned in their directions, the whispers that now seem like screams.
Two boys walk past, side-eying them and laughing in mirth. “Slut,” one says into a fake cough, but it lands like a real slap.
“Hey, shut up!” Isaac yells at them, but it does no good, and won’t. This is the future. Isaac is the one that cheated, but Winnie is the one declared the homewrecker, the one who will be raked over the coals. It’s the way it always goes.
Isaac lays a hand on her shoulder in comfort, but she shakes it off. His comfort will do nothing but add fodder to the gossip heap and grind more salt into her already gaping wound. And, as she sees Carly walking down the hall, phone gripped in hand, face frozen in shocked fury, into his girlfriend’s. Beside Winnie, Isaac’s is frozen in fear.
“We need to talk to her,” she tells him.
He nods and his own whisper joins the chorus. “Yeah.”
To read part two of this piece, come back tomorrow!