She thought that she could still feel the maddening vibrations from her phone going off in her pocket, but when Taylor Christensen reached down outside of her shorts, her fingers were greeted by nothing but dormancy.
“You okay Taylor?” Alyssa asked while stepping out of Ms. Grant’s class. “I could hear your phone going off throughout the whole test. That must have been distracting.”
“I hardly noticed,” Taylor lied.
“I imagine everyone back home must miss you,” Alyssa mused. “Hey, so how do you think you did?”
“Pretty well I think, but I keep getting endothermic and exothermic reactions mixed up.”
“Don’t worry, I was the same way before telling myself that exothermic always meant exit.”
“Shit,” Taylor cursed. “There goes five percentage points right there.”
Alyssa gave a small smile and promised, “You shouldn’t worry about it. This test wasn’t worth much and Ms. Grant said herself that it will mostly serve just to gauge what we learned before our senior year.”
“Obviously there hasn’t been much prerequisite learning on my end,” Taylor sighed. As her phone began to vibrate she nervously added, “I, um…gotta go. Talk to you later?”
“Of course, we still on for the football game?”
“Yeah, I just gotta go to my dorm to change first. See you there?”
Alyssa answered, but Taylor didn’t hear her as she hurried away and went to her locker. When her phone went off again she whispered, “Can’t you take a damn hint? Stop calling.”
She pulled out her phone and stared at the screen which read: Nine missed calls from: DO NOT ANSWER YOU IDIOT.
Not wishing to break her own advice, Taylor shoved her phone back into her pocket and placed her backpack into her locker. She took several deep breaths while walking and had nearly cleared her mind when her phone began to vibrate once again.
“You know what?” she muttered. “Fine. You asked for it.”
With fast strides she strolled toward the bathroom and quickly shut the door behind her. After giving a quick scan of her surroundings she pulled out her phone and demanded, “WHAT!”
After a long pause, an adult male’s voice on the other end answered, “I’ve been trying to ring you all afternoon Taylor.”
“No shit, but I kind of have school, or have you forgotten how old your own daughter is?”
He sighed and assured, “Of course I haven’t forgotten, but Taylor…”
“No! I don’t want to hear it! I am so sick and tired of you thinking that you can just bounce in and out of my life whenever you feel like it! Nobody even matters to you. For once can you just stop and think about how…”
“…It’s about your mother,” Mr. Christensen interrupted.
“Mom? If this is about her getting on me for not calling to check in enough then you can tell her that I’m not a child and that I don’t need…”
“…She’s in the hospital.”
Taylor choked on her own words and didn’t know what to say. “W-what? What the hell are you…”
“…Taylor, you know that your mother’s been sick for a very long time…”
“…No,” Taylor argued, “She’s better now. We spent the entire summer together and she promised that we’d go to Hawaii after I get back from Blackwell.”
“Yes, the tumor was removed but it left some lasting damage.”
“Lasting damage?” Taylor asked with a quivering voice.
“She has osteoporosis.”
“I…I don’t know what that means.”
Mr. Christensen sighed again and slowly explained, “Some of her bones were greatly weakened while she was going through her treatment and recovery. More specifically, two major sections of her spine became weakened and are in danger of fracturing.”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying…”
“She needs surgery Taylor. Look, you don’t need to worry. Everything is going to be…”
“…What the hell would you know?” Taylor snapped.
“Taylor, you know that I don’t like it when you…”
“…I don’t care what you like! You’ve never cared about anyone but yourself!”
“Taylor…you know that’s not…”
“…You’ve always been far too busy to ever pay any attention to us! When Mom was going through cancer where the hell were you then?”
As Taylor got nothing but silence in response she continued, “You know what? I don’t believe you. You’re lying, about everything.”
“Taylor,” he responded in a quiet voice. “This isn’t a game.”
“Everything is a game to you,” Taylor spat. “We’re all just tools to be manipulated until you can get what you want, but you know what? I’m not playing. Not this time.”
Taylor ended the call and turned to stare into the bathroom mirror. She had not even realized that she had been crying, but the mascara running down her face left little room to question it.
With partially shaking hands she quickly got to work with redoing her makeup as her phone began to vibrate inside her pocket once again. While ignoring the call she continued to put on new mascara while cheerfully whispering, “This year is yours Taylor. Senior year is for memories that last a lifetime, and nobody is going to take that away from you.”
Once Taylor was done, she smiled at herself in the mirror before turning to exit out into the hallway once again. However, with every step she took, the vibrating of her phone became harder to ignore.
Just keep pushing forward Taylor, she told herself. This is the first big football game at Blackwell, and you can’t let anyone ruin that for you.
Before she knew it she was outside, standing by the fountain and taking in the beautiful surroundings of one of the most prestigious schools in the country. This is it Taylor, you made it. Your time is now.
Yet when her phone went off again she couldn’t take it any longer. Without bothering to confirm who it was that was calling she grasped her phone and hurled it with all her might directly into the fountain where it continued to vibrate underwater while fighting to remain functional.
Taylor took several steps back before bumping hard into someone behind her.
“Ow,” Taylor whimpered.
“Watch where you’re going!”
Taylor turned around with anger, but found herself surprised beyond words when she found herself face to face with Victoria Chase, the girl who had the looks, power, and reputation which she always dreamed of achieving.
“What are you staring at?” Victoria demanded with a glare.
“N-Nothing,” Taylor promised in a shaken voice.
“Whatever,” Victoria muttered.
“I’m really sorry!”
“It’s fine,” Victoria stated while trying to walk away.
“No,” Taylor added while blocking Victoria. “It’s not.”
“I just totally creased your cashmere sweater! Way un-cool on my part.”
Victoria looked Taylor over with uncertainty. “No big deal, it’s just a sweater.”
“Yeah, just a sweater from the Garcon Collection! I didn’t even know those were available here.”
With a look of shocked respect, Victoria answered, “They’re not. I had this imported from France over the summer. I’m impressed, not many even know about Garcon, let alone have the ability to recognize his work. You a fan?”
“Only from afar,” Taylor promised. “I’ve never owned anything like that before.”
After a moment of awkward silence passed between them, Taylor added, “Look, I should get going so that I’m not late to the first big game. Sorry again for bumping into you like a total klutz.”
As Taylor walked away, Victoria fell into deep thought before rolling her eyes and sighing, “Wait.” When Taylor turned around Victoria asked, “Taylor was it?”
Taylor nodded so Victoria continued, “Are you okay? You look pale as a sheet.”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Just thinking I guess.”
Victoria seemed unconvinced as she eyed Taylor once more with a grimace. “Let’s go, you’re coming with me.”
Taylor didn’t have time to argue as Victoria began to lead the way. She continued to follow until they reached the right side of the building which held the campus pool.
“What are we doing here?” Taylor wondered.
“Getaway away from my getaway,” Victoria answered while stepping into the alley. “Come on already, don’t gawk.”
Taylor did as bid while Victoria leaned against the wall and pulled out her carton of cigarettes and asked, “Smoke?”
“Why the hell not,” Taylor muttered. “It’s been one of those days.”
Victoria nodded and shook two cigarettes out for themselves. After igniting them both with her lighter she commented, “I was almost worried for a while there that you’d turn out to be a total loser like the other new students and that weird hipster with her camera, but you actually seem kinda cool.”
Taylor took a deep drag off her cigarette and leaned against the wall opposite of Victoria. “Well I feel the same way about you, but you must get that all the time.”
With a simple shrug Victoria ignored the comment and blew a stream of smoke away from Taylor. After some uncomfortable fidgeting she said, “Look, this is one of the few spots on campus that is usually safe from the head of security and that creeper Samuel, so don’t go blabbing about it to anyone.”
Victoria flicked away her cigarette and began to walk away, but she froze in her tracks when Taylor said, “Don’t worry, I know how to keep my mouth shut. You can trust me with anything.”
For a moment Victoria remained stagnant, so Taylor asked with concern, “Victoria?”
She rubbed her forehead and slowly turned around before saying, “Look, this is strange…but I was in the bathroom earlier.”
“Okay?” Taylor responded without quite knowing what it was she was hinting at. “It’s good to know that you used it?”
“No, I mean I was in there with you just before.”
As Taylor stood in frozen fear without words, her cigarette dropped to the ground. With sweat building above her brow she pleaded, “Please, you can’t tell anyone.”
Victoria crossed her arms and furrowed her brow while asking, “Cant’?”
“Please…Nobody can know…”
Victoria’s expression softened as she admitted, “Don’t worry, despite what you’ve probably heard, I’m not THAT big of a bitch.”
“…So what’s going on with you exactly? I take it that you and your dad never exactly saw eye to eye?”
Taylor grunted and leaned back against the wall. “It would have been nice if he was even around for me to argue with. During what should have been the best teenage years of my life he was gone philandering the world while I had to come home never knowing whether my Mom would be too sick to answer the door.”
“That…must have been awful.”
Taylor shrugged. “I thought it was all over. I thought that things would finally be different and that I could start over again, but it never ends.”
“Things can get better.”
Taylor shook her head while fighting back tears. “No, nothing ever changes. It’s just…sometimes I just want to know what it feels like to be a regular girl with regular problems. We’re supposed to be adults now, yet I’m still the same pathetic Taylor.”
Victoria stepped forward and took hold of Taylor’s hands. “Things haven’t changed yet because you haven’t had me in your life.”
With a conniving smirk that made Taylor nervous, Victoria stated, “Your little secret means nothing compared to the types of secrets you’ll learn while being around me. If there’s anything you should have picked up during the short time that you’ve been here, it’s that the Vortex rules Blackwell.”
“Are you…asking me to join?”
“Well, yes…but don’t get too excited. You’ll have to go through the normal initiation of course, can’t have anyone thinking that I play favorites. However, that’s only if you’re interested though…”
With an eager smile Taylor assured, “Oh, I’m very interested!”
A look of satisfaction crossed Victoria’s face as she decided, “Good. You’re not the victim anymore. Your entire life is about to change, are you ready for this?”
“Yes,” Taylor answered with even more eagerness in her voice than before.
“Alright then. Let’s go meet the rest of the Vortex. Shall we?”
Taylor followed Victoria as they walked out of the alley and toward the front of campus, feeling more powerful with each step that she took, knowing that she was walking next to the most popular girl in the most popular club on campus.
This is where I belong, Taylor told herself. The old Taylor would have wallowed. Blackwell Taylor has the entire world at her feet waiting to bow.
As the two girls walked, Alyssa came up to Taylor and asked, “Hey, are you ready to go to the game yet? I was worried, you seemed kind of stressed out earlier.”
Taylor was caught off guard and stopped in her steps, beginning to wish that she had a rewind power to escape the situation as she watched the look of confusion mixed with disappointment cross Victoria’s face.
No, this isn’t happening. The only thing I want is to just be a normal teenager, why won’t anybody just let me have this one thing?
Victoria opened her mouth to speak, but Taylor stepped forward first and said to Alyssa with venom, “Why the hell are you bothering me again? Couldn’t you get the hint earlier that I didn’t want to talk?”
Alyssa looked hurt and dejected as she said in a quiet voice, “I just thought…”
“…Obviously you didn’t think hard enough,” Taylor interrupted. “It’s not like there would be any room for me to sit beside you at the game anyways.”
Alyssa’s expression turned to a fusion of anger and helplessness as she turned and walked away while muttering, “Whatever.”
“What a complete and total tragedy to society she is,” Victoria said to Taylor, just loud enough to be sure that Alyssa could hear her. “Sadface. As for you though, I’m not easily impressed, yet here I stand in awe. Who knew that this kitty had claws?”
With a proud expression Taylor responded, “I didn’t come here just to sit back and look pretty, that’s just an added bonus to the Taylor package.”
“Uh huh. Come on then, time to show the Vortex club that I’m apparently the only one who has an eye for potential anymore.”
As the two walked away, Taylor looked back over her shoulder to peek at Alyssa walking away toward the parking lot while texting on her phone.
Taylor was careful to hide her expression of guilt as her eyes moved away from Alyssa and toward the fountain where she threw her phone, and thoughts of her mom came flooding back into her mind.
She didn’t know whether her entrance into the Vortex club would heal her wounds or alternatively create new ones, but she was thankful to have Victoria by her side to make her feel like a real teenager for the first time in her life