An Excerpt from Crossroads: The Ella Thomas Story

Chapter One

 

Present Day

“You know that clique in high school; the girls who seem to have everything: popularity, looks, friends, grades, boyfriends, their futures right at their fingertips? The ones who make everything look so easy? I know this clique because it was my clique.

My family has always lived in Amherst New Hampshire, and the majority of my classmates and I have been together since we were zygotes. Initially, in kindergarten or first grade, everyone was part of the circle—or at least at my school we were. But somewhere along the way groups began to form. By the time we got to high school, those groups had shifted again; to smaller more tight knit cliques and a hierarchy formed.

My high school had the typical cliques; geeks, jocks, thespians, skaters, hipsters, outsiders, preps, emo kids, rockers, and floaters. My friends and I were considered preps, which according to a definition I read online, says: preps tend to be good at being social and having fun and usually come from an upper middle class or upper-class family. Sometimes they overlap with jocks, especially when it comes to sports. In most high schools, preps are those most commonly chosen to have important positions for school events such as Class Officers, Home Coming King/Queen, Prom King/Queen and Prom Court. Maintaining the right image may even make them vulnerable. Unlike the stereotype of “mean girls”, preps often get along with everyone.

Before Carly came to Souhegan high school, I never put much thought into what group we belonged to. I mean, of course I knew we were popular. And the definition of preps fits us pretty well. But like the definition says, “unlike the stereotype of mean girls, preps often get along with everyone.” This was always true for us. Sure our school had cliques, but we sort of all served a purpose with little friction—for the most part. There was some hazing or pranking, but it was all in good fun. It’s not like we were some exclusive club with a name or anything. We were just five girls who grew up in upper middle class families, went to a good school and happen to be at the top of the popularity food chain. We didn’t use our popularity to manipulate anyone or exclude anyone. We worked hard for our grades, we played sports, were social, stayed out of trouble—with the exception of typical high school shenanigans.

I never even noticed within our clique there was a hierarchy. Not until the shit hit the fan. The news painted us as “real life mean girls”, but that’s not who we were—or it hadn’t been. They claimed Olivia Watson was our Queen bee, Rebecca Dalton her sidekick, Sophia Bradley was what they called the banker; she created and collected gossip to feed to Olivia and Rebecca for her own benefit. Hailey Tomlin was labeled the pleaser and I was the floater. Meaning I was part of the group, but indifferent because I had ties to more than just this one core group. Which was true. I was the only one in my group who played four sports. And my boyfriend, Colin was a jock. Olivia, Rebecca, Sophia, and Hailey are…well, were my best friends, but I had a lot of interests. I loved to write and paint so there were people labeled hipsters I spent time with. Colin and I loved rock music and went to a lot of concerts where we would run into guys from school that hung with the rockers. The whole clique thing is stupid if you ask me. But society creates these labels regardless of our position on them and we all simply fall in line.

Reading these things about us. Reading these things about myself, made me stop and think about the person I was. Or more importantly, the person I thought I was. You always hear adults tell you not to worry about the woes of high school. Because once you’re out they no longer matter. But somehow I’m not sure this is what they meant. Probably because when they were young social media didn’t rule the world. But something like this—it follows you forever…

Carly transferred to Souhegan High at the beginning of our senior year. She was the shiny new thing everyone was talking about so of course it ruffled some feathers. It ruffled my best friend Olivia’s feathers more than I wanted to admit at the time. Looking back, I see the bigger picture. How much Carly’s arrival affected Olivia. How none of it should have mattered. None of what Carly did should have made us react the way we did—do the things we did. I mean, of course now I see it, when it’s all said and done. I just wish I could have seen it then. When it really mattered. You see, back then, the five of us: Olivia, Sophia, Rebecca, Hailey, and Me would have done anything for one another. That’s what friends do. Or…so I this is what I thought. But I guess I never imagined it would go as far as it did.

I’ve tried to remember how it all began. Pinpoint the moment where my friends and I became the kind of people who could hurt someone so badly—and for what reason? It wasn’t like Carly Matthews was so different from us. Actually she was more like us than we knew—than we cared to learn. She wasn’t some hideous freak or social outcast. And even if she had been…”

I pause a moment and look at each of the faces staring at me. All their eyes fixated on my words. Judging me. Sizing me up. How did I end up here? I was supposed to be better than this. I had so many dreams for myself. I remember hearing my dad tell my mom shortly after, “I don’t understand why she would do such a thing. She has so much potential and an enormously bright future, literally at her fingertips.” My blood ran hot with anger. Not at my dad, but at myself. This was how their stares felt all over again. Anger. Shame. Disappointment. Even disgust. I’d become a kind of connoisseur on all the ways people could feel negatively about you.

I clear my throat. “Even if she had been, you know, a freak. It never should have led us to the choices we made. No, the thing is, she didn’t come from some troubled background or run with the wrong people. She didn’t dress weird or talk funny. Again, none of these are ever reasons for what we did to her. Yet they are the very reasons people are picked on—bullied. The craziest part to me is that I know, if Carly had grown up in Amherst, she would have been our friend. But we couldn’t see past ourselves. We couldn’t see past what we wanted to see.”

“What we did to Carly started simply because she made some poor choices and well, she made us jealous. Stepped over a line we considered a breach of girl code. Therefore, before Carly ever had a chance to be accepted, she was made to be an outcast. What was meant to be us marking our territory or solidifying our position within the high school hierarchy, turned into something much much bigger—a time in our lives we will always look back on in regret. Or at least I will. A time I wish more than anything I could take back.