“I can’t, Bricks. I just can’t bring myself to talk to Cassandra and Meghan and tell them to stop bullying me. I mean, what if people see that I’m talking to someone who is already too mean to even look at me nicely?”
I was standing next to an unusual, weird, theatrical young woman who was dressed to the nines—evergreen velvet coat, shiny black boots, white ironed button-down and a small black top hat with a sash of green circling around it. I mean, it wasn’t St. Patrick’s Day, but Bricks Woods—yes, that was her name—made sure she stood out from the rest of the crowd. Maybe because she was always on stage, but that, she admitted, was because she felt she had to in order to be someone to people. She felt she had to dress to impress because, unlike her, she didn’t know much about a school with thousands of kids everywhere. She was always carted around, being homeschooled and going to small private schools. I had told her I had always gone to public school, as this school was a feeder school from Two Parks Elementary and Middle schools.
So, in a way, I didn’t think Bricks felt like she could be someone. She had to perform to reach that recognition. She had to dress like she didn’t really know how to do so in order to at least look like she knew what she was doing. And wearing. But none of that really bothered her. She was too busy dressing to impress, regardless of the occasion or people’s looks. Sometimes I was too embarrassed to be around her, but, being the new girl, I knew she needed someone in her life. And I needed her, too.
When I looked over, I saw her profile.
“There’s Dillon, laughing with Cassandra and Meghan.” Bricks pointed across the room to a guy and two beautiful women all hanging out and making me want to leave this prom immediately. She turned and looked at me. “So, what are you going to do?”
I didn’t know. I never knew. All I ever did was complain about how frustrated I was that my boyfriend never seemed to notice me being bullied and that Cassandra or Meghan never left me alone. I thought we were dating, but the more I saw him in school, the more I felt like he was drifting away. The more I thought he didn’t care that I was being made the laughing stock of Two Parks High School by Cassandra and Meghan.
And to see him with Cassandra, the meanest girl at Two Parks High School, and her best friend, Meghan, was making me want to give up on him as well. He was just too into her and too busy telling me to leave them alone.
“Well,” Bricks leaned towards me and gave a nudge with an evergreen elbow, “I think I would go up to that group right there, and tell them what you think.”
I stared hard at her, my lips pursed. Go up to Cassandra and Meghan and make a fool out of myself?
“Here—I’ll help you.” And just like that, Bricks went strutting up to the group facing us—or now me—at the table.
“Excuse me!” Her back was now facing me but I could see Dillon to her left and Meghan to her right. Cassandra was in the middle, so I had to walk up to the trio to look at the junior and thus all three of the elegantly dressed teenagers at tonight’s junior prom.
So I did. But I didn’t strut—I just walked hurriedly up to the table so that I didn’t attract any of the attention given my way by the hundreds of other high schoolers in the gym. Once I approached the table, Cassandra looked at me and raised her tan eyebrows.
“Yeah?” She asked as if I were rudely interrupting her.
“Cassandra.” Bricks, I looked over, pulled her away. The purple hair-streaked woman turned her head from me to Bricks nonchalantly. Closing her eyes and raising her brown eyebrows, Cassandra asked casually but superiorly, “Yes, Bricks?”
Meghan laughed meanly. “Bricks—”
“Yeah!” I shot out suddenly, and then there was a screech. I jerked over and saw Dillon’s shocked face and frozen state. He then came alive, and scraped his chair back to the table, his gold, white and grey striped tie moving automatically with his body as he resituated himself in his chair.
“Ashley!” Dillon stared at me, and I at him. I was tired of playing this stupid game of Dillon getting away with leaving me to deal with Cassandra and Meghan’s stupid behavior by teasing me.
But when I looked over at Meghan who was obviously too into telling Bricks that she dressed like a weirdo because her name was weird, my awkwardness instantly vanished altogether. I wasn’t obsessed with making sure I looked right in front of thousands of people here at a high school prom, nor did I want the bullying to magically stop.
I suddenly desired for Meghan to shut her mouth and stop bullying the weird classmate just because she dressed differently.
But Bricks was busy telling Meghan to close her mouth and listen to what I had to say.
I felt a nudge—Bricks was looking at me again.
“Go on. Ashley, you’ve got to stand up for yourself.”
“You know what.” I stepped back, and grabbed Bricks’ shoulder. “This is dumb. I’m leaving.”
I scampered out from among the other high schoolers, not caring whether they stared, thought I was weird or just plain gave me blank looks. I was leaving this prom whether I was the victim. I was never going to go to my senior one even if Bricks felt she had to drag me away from home and to her car she picked me up in every single day of every single year when she got her license back in ninth grade and again this year. I wasn’t meant for proms. I was meant to …
I didn’t know. At all. I just knew that I needed to throw myself into those double doors just up ahead and out into the night air, cold and probably filled with snow.
“Come on, Bricks!” I yelled without looking back over my shoulder. “We’re leaving!” I burst out through the doors and escaped like mad towards Bricks’ car passenger door.
Once I tugged harshly at the locked door, I felt something fleshly grab my shoulder. I jerked back angrily and glowered at the Broadway-dressed woman.
“What are you doing?! I hate prom, and I’m not going to our senior one.” I whirled towards the car door. “Now unlock and drive us home.”
I jerked back at Bricks. “”What?!”
“No.” She was unsurprisingly calm, the demeanor of someone so peaceful in the midst of a storm whether physical outside or emotional like right now.
“I’m not going to just let you get upset at me. You need to start focusing on what’s real—what’s out there.” She gestured as she expressed herself. “You need to start owning up the fact that you can’t just sit back and wait for everyone else—wait for me—to get the relationship ended, the dress bought, the backpack packed. I may not know this school like you do. I was new back in ninth grade and new again this year like I have been ever since I was born, as I have moved so many times as a result of being the daughter of two freelance photographers and freelance travel journalists. You’ve never moved, you’ve always known Dillon, Cassandra and Meghan since you were a little girl. Also, I dress weirdly and not always know the exact outfits to wear because I’m not fashion-conscious. I’m not big into clothes and don’t always have the ability to just keep my clothes in a drawer instead of a suitcase. Thus, I’m not looked at as a normal person, whereas you wear the clothes and know everyone.
“But you need to start believing in yourself.”
I stood there in the cold wind, thinking about what Bricks just said. And all of what she’s said in the past whenever I just wanted to bust, burst, jam and bash my way out of situations I didn’t, couldn’t and most importantly shouldn’t be able to handle.
But I felt like as I thought about it that I should. I just doubted myself and ran away. No wonder I was bullied. No wonder Bricks was probably going to pound me for another wimpy move. I wanted so badly to be tough, yet I acted like a mouse when I needed to say what was needed.
“You’re right, Bricks.” I stood there like a confessing criminal. “You’re exactly right when you say that I need to toughen up, not just be tough in the easy times but when I really need to say what I should.”
“Yes.” Bricks nodded her head hard. “I really think you should go back in there…”
“And tell Cassandra and Meghan the truth.” We said in unison.
I took a deep breath. “Okay.”
Once inside, I walked up to Cassandra the way I had before, but caught sight of Bricks. She raised her eyebrows. You can do it. Don’t slump this time.
So I straightened my shoulders and walked with ease, looking at Bricks. But she moved ahead. That made me walk faster and with more confidence.
When I made it back to the table, Dillon was totally immersed in laughter. Cassandra threw her head back and laughed out loud, but I put an end to that stupidity.
“Cassandra.” I straightened up, forgetting all measures of terror. “I would like to say that Dillon may not like me anymore,” and raising my voice, I announced, “but you need to stop acting like the world revolves around you.”
I looked at Bricks and she revealed a wide set of white teeth, making me grin as well.
Go, Ash! Her sparkling eyes read.
So I turned back to Cassandra and Meghan who stopped laughing and were looking at me in annoyance and frustration, and jerked their eyes over at Bricks.
“Bricks, tell Ashley to leave us alone.” Cassandra looked over at Dillon and broke into a wide smile. “Keep the comedy rolling, Dillon!”
“Okay—” As Dillon distracted Cassandra and Meghan once more, I turned to Bricks, but she attached her shoulder to mine like it was glue and stayed there, me hunched over and her telling me that I needed to stay away from Dillon from now on.
“Yeah, now all you need to do is focus on something else. Cassandra and Meghan won’t listen to you. You need to stop the bullying some other way.”
But what was that something else? I couldn’t put a finger on it or even see it mentally. It was like I didn’t know myself.
“But Bricks, I can’t just turn into you. I’m someone else.”
“Who?” Bricks asked, detaching herself and pulling me through the gym, out one of the wooden doors and into the hallway where a couple of other juniors and sophomores were huddled together. I looked at them for a second, and then returned to Bricks.
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Bricks sighed. “Ash, you gotta believe in yourself. I…” She threw her hands up and then let them smack down onto her pants again. “I just feel like you just let me breathe life into you. You’re always standing there, like a statue. You’re never moving!” She balled her hands and growled, “You’re making me the CPR person! I save you every time, and you can’t believe in yourself?”
Bricks turned on her heel before I could really react, and called out, “I hope you show up on Monday! Or even to next year’s prom!”
As she stormed away, I looked over at the still-huddling group of juniors and sophomores. One of them looked over and smiled sadly at me. I shot out a smile that told her I wasn’t in the mood to grin or wink or anything close to happy, and chased after Bricks.
“Bricks!” I got up to her, but she shook me away.
“Until you can learn to be yourself, I suggest you work on it!” And she marched right off towards the rest of the school, probably going to get in her car and leave without me.
But I couldn’t let that happen. She wasn’t going to leave without me or our friendship, if we had one. She meant too much to me as just another student.
I felt she was like a sidekick to me. No, she was my sidekick. We always hung out. Maybe we could be friends. But for now, she, like always, was always my constant companion. Not best friend, but she was there, loyal as ever by telling me what I needed to do despite my best efforts to want to crawl into a locker and lock myself away.
She believed in me, no matter what. She trusted that I’d start believing in myself.
I almost laughed. What? Belief in myself was like telling Cassandra and Meghan to stop being my worst enemies and the very next second us linking arms together and going out to lunch, chatting about where we’d go and who’d we be with and what we’d eat.
“Wait!” I called out, but Bricks kept moving through the yellow lit hallway, having turned left and continuing towards the double doors I bashed through before. I ran up to her, and grabbed her shoulder.
“What?” This time, Bricks whirled around, jerking me away from her. I jumped away a little, startled.
“I’m sorry.” She muttered, but I said apologetically, “No, I’m sorry. I’m the one who put you through all this stupidity.”
She looked right at me, looking like she was going to protest immediately, but Bricks just shrugged. “I just want you to be yourself. Ashley, there’s so much more in life than just Dillon and his weird ways. So much more than just Cassandra and Meghan and their stupid vanity and manipulation.”
She shrugged again. “Sorry.” Then she stormed away, through the double doors and out to her car, never to see me or the prom or Dillon or Cassandra or Meghan ever again. Or at least again tonight. She was going home. And it was all my fault.
“Bricks, I got it!” Before she could stop me, I raced back into the gymnasium and right up to Cassandra and Meghan. The trio all stopped their shenanigans immediately and stared at me like I just shouted at them to be quiet.
Well, I basically did. I yelled indirectly at Meghan and Cassandra to stop bullying me—Meghan first beforehand—and then was at least going for Cassandra and Dillon. But I didn’t get my chance.
I didn’t care what others thought. I wanted the bullying to stop.
“You’re using Dillon!” I shot a finger to Cassandra, who laughed and stood up challengingly.
“You’re so funny, Ashley!” Cassandra looked over and past me. “Where’s that woman now? Your stage friend?”
“She’s …” I reluctantly looked away and around. Bricks wasn’t around anywhere. I then turned back to Cassandra after trying to find Bricks, even wishing in my heart she were around. But no amount of wishes would ever make Brick go from nowhere to here. So I, defeated, turned back to Cassandra and Meghan, who was sniggering beside her.
“She’s gone.” Meghan said plainly. She then screeched her chair back and sat next to Dillon on his right and my left. She asked Dillon to tell “that funny joke again,” and Dillon gladly turned to her and made her laugh and giggle like a …
“Like a school girl.” I wrinkled my nose. “Like a little girl just going to school.” I stood all the way up and looked puzzled Cassandra in the face. “Meghan is a little girl, and you’re her stage friend. For her to copy.”
With that, I whisked around to let Cassandra ponder what I was saying. It wasn’t me who was thinking about what was being said. It was Cassandra. I walked over to the table I put my purse down on and looked for Bricks. She, I saw with immense relief through the rectangular window one of the doors, was standing outside, looking at me slyly.
What? I mouthed, but she didn’t answer. She just kept looking at me like I needed to hurry up and ask her again. Which I did. I ran towards those doors and out into the hallway, Bricks having moved away as I ran towards the doors. Once in the a little too-brightly lit room, I ignored everyone around me and was about to tell Bricks what had happened when she cut me off.
“But you don’t need to tell me!” She then went on to explain that she had watched the whole thing. I stood there, staring wide-eyed, and then processing what she had just told me. I felt an immense sense of gratitude. And also guilt.
I had dragged her through the bullying, griping, complaining, procrastinating and other unnecessary thing Bricks never deserved. And I did it all to someone who was just trying to help me along. Help me be myself to a world with which she wasn’t even familiar.
“I’m sorry.” I heaved all the apologies, but Bricks just jostled me with her elbow and flicked her eyebrows up and down.
“Oh, Ashley. I’m glad we’re friends.”
And as she gave me a huge squeeze, I thought about that word. And whether we were friends or just pals.
When she released me, I looked at her bright face, shining eyes and wide smile and said confidently, “Yep. We couldn’t be closer.”
With two different personalities.