Well, here's another short story. Yes I am aware that it needs a LOT of work. In my defense, I wrote it near the beginning of the semester. I may work on it later. I feel like it needs to be extended. . .
High school is a lot like hiking Mount Everest while fighting off a band of rabid wolfs. You start at the bottom, in hopes of reaching the top, but the wolf pack usually brings you down before you get the chance to climb very far.
Thus is the social hierarchy.
From the first day that I walked through the faded front doors of my high school, I knew that all I wanted was to do was survive; to just get through the 4 years of Hell that I had so frequently heard about. If I should so happen to gain altitude in the process, so be it. I wasn’t one to complain. I would try to blend in with the crowds. I was nothing too special, so I didn’t stand out.
My second day of school I found myself a small group of friends that I could eat lunch with. We all had relatively the same idea in mind: To survive, to fit it, to not bring attention to ourselves. We did have fun, but we didn’t mess with the higher crowd. It was an unwritten rule that we all followed. We didn’t bother them, they didn’t bother us. It worked for a while.
Until Guitar Boy joined us.
He wasn’t called that at first. He had a normal name just like everyone else, but I don’t remember it anymore. I doubt anyone does. It’s just who he became to me, to my friends and to my school.
It was my senior year. I had lived through these four years without anything major or traumatizing occur in my life. I was in the middle of my lunch ritual which consisted of picking out the tomatoes and onions in my homemade sandwich. My dad always added them no matter how many times I told him I hated them.
“Do you mind if I sit here?”
I jumped slightly, dropping my onion and looked around.
“Sorry,” said a voice behind me, “Didn’t mean to scare you.”
I twisted my head around to see a boy with sandy-blonde hair and a slight smile playing on his lips. He looked as if he could use a new shirt, and his jeans and backpack seemed to be having a contest on which could look the rattiest. But, he had nice eyes and a kind face. He had definitely been put through the mill a few times. But then again, who hasn’t?
“That’s ok,” I smiled back at him as I scooted over to make room “I scare easily.”
He sat down and pulled out a crumpled brown bag.
“You’re Jane right?” he said as he turned his head to look at me.
I rolled my eyes. “Nice. It’s not like my backpack says so in bold letters or anything.”
He blushed and continued eating.
Logan, the inanely curious one, immediately took interest in this stranger. “So what’s your story?’ he asked and pointed a carrot stick at the new boy.
He shrugged and bit out of a sandwich. “There’s not really a story. I just saw that there was an empty seat next to a group of possible friends.”
“Possible friends?” I asked.
“Is that how you classify people?” Piped up Leslie, a girl with a slightly higher voice than normal, “Possible friends and possible enemies?”
The new boy just swallowed and smiled.
* * *
Over the next few weeks we got to know the new kid pretty well. His family had just moved into town and they were relatively poor, but I could tell he didn’t really care. He got all of his clothes as hand-me-downs from an older brother who had already moved out to “find himself”. He was a stellar student, and if you took away the dirty clothes and gave him a brush, he wouldn’t look half bad. He was in a few of my classes, but he kept to himself mostly. He didn’t talk a lot, and he NEVER tried to stand out.
Which was why everyone found the guitar case so strange.
The new kid came to school one day carrying a black guitar case in his right hand. It was pretty beat-up, just like everything else he owned, and it had a faded red stripe down the middle.
He sat down next me like he always did, and propped the case up on the chair behind him. All of us stared at the guitar case in confusion. A few moments of awkward silence followed. Finally, someone asked the question we all wanted to ask.
“What’s that?” asked Logan, gesturing towards the foreign object.
The new kid shrugged. “What does it look like?”
Logan rolled his eyes. “A guitar case, obviously. But what’s if for?”
“What do you think?”
Logan threw his hands up in the air and rolled his eyes again.
I stared at him thoughtfully. ‘You know, even after knowing you for just two months, I never would have pegged you for a guitar player.”
“I wouldn’t have either.”
We all ate our lunch in silence, everyone stealing glances at the mysterious case.
“Hey Guitar Boy, pass the napkins.”
* * *
Everyday Guitar Boy would bring that case to school. The guitar case and Guitar boy. One never leaving the other. I never asked him about it and soon it just became a part of who he was. It was just one of those quirky things that you see in high school that you got used to.
He took it with him to every class and always kept it by his side. Sometimes, when a teacher would leave the classroom, people would turn to him.
“Hey Guitar Boy! Play us something!”
“Play a song Guitar Boy! Please?”
He would always smile, shake his head, and blush slightly, as if he was embarrassed. Afterword, you could see his hands hovering above the case protectively, as if he was afraid that someone would force him to open it and play something.
I assumed he had stage fright, and didn’t want to play the guitar on the spot for a bunch of classmates that just wanted entertainment. If that was the case I didn’t blame him. Every time he was asked, he would always get that same look in his eye that my dog would get every time we caught him eating out of the trash.
After five or six times of sporadically being asked to play, that look went away. Instead of simply shaking his head, he would use different excuses.
“Do you know any good songs Guitar Boy?”
“If I did, they’re probably not good enough right now.”
“Do you write anything on that?”
“It depends on the day.”
During English one day was when things really changed. The teacher had left the room to go make copies for or test review and, once again, the guitar case in the back of the room was getting attention.
“You should play us something Guitar Boy!”
He smiled and stretched. “Nah. You guys don’t want to hear from me.”
The girl in from of him turned around to face him.
“Will you play me a song?” she said as she batted her mascara heavy lashes at him. I knew her type. She was the exact opposite of me, and high on the list of commanding authority in the school. She had probably never worked a day in her life and got her clothes at the highest of high end stores. “I love boys who can play guitar.”
Guitar boy blinked in shock then covered with a half -smile.
“I don’t see why not,” he said, “But I wouldn’t want to disturb our classmates here right before a test.”
She winked at him. “You may have a point. Would you like to come over to my house on Friday? I’m having a little get together with some friends.”
Guitar Boy hesitated.
“Oh we may not even get to it, but it would be fun to have you over.” She said smoothly.
I couldn’t believe what was happening. When had the world shifted this much?
He smiled again. “Sure thing.”
She smiled a triumphant smile.
* * *
“So, how’d it go?” I asked him the next Monday at lunch.
“How did what go?’ He opened up a bag of chips.
“You know what.”
He stared intently at his chips. “It was fun. I didn’t even have to play.”
“Do you want to play?” He opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted.
“Hey! It’s Guitar Boy!” A group of three obnoxious football players came up to our table. “Come eat with us, Man!” Guitar Boy hesitated and looked at us.
Leslie and Logan shrugged in unison.
“C’mon. Ditch these guys!”
“Jane?” he asked. I could feel the pull of popularity tugging at him.
“It’s your life.”
He slowly picked up his guitar case, joined the group of boys and walked away.
“That’s the last we’ll ever see of him.” Muttered Logan.
And it was.
* * *
That was the beginning and the end of Guitar Boy’s friendship with us. We watched from the sidelines as he climbed up the social ladder on the back of his guitar case. Girls viewed him as attractive, and guys assumed he was skilled. As the year progressed Guitar Boy had changed. He acted different, and he looked different. He had cleaned himself up, added gel into his hair, and started wearing sunglasses indoors. I would often hear about parties that people had gone to, simply because guitar boy was said to make an appearance. He was constantly told to try out for the talent show, but was apparently out of town that day.
Never once did I see him play his guitar.
Throughout all of this, he had apparently managed to keep up top grades and by the end of the year he was named salutatorian.
Graduation day was a big day for all of us. I would get to leave this small town and go to Europe for a study abroad for a semester. I just wanted to get my diploma, take some pictures with my parents, then leave. The auditorium that graduation was taking place in was stifling hot. The air conditioning was broken and there were no windows to crack open. The speeches were impossible to sit through. Then, our salutatorian stood up to give his speech. I watched him as he stood up with hands shaking slightly. As glad as I was that I didn’t have to give a speech, I felt sympathy for him. He cleared his throat and started to speak.
“Hello everybody. I’d like to start off my speech by telling you a story. I know this is kind of unconventional, but I think it needs to be told. I don’t know if a lot of you know this, but I don’t come from a very wealthy family. In fact, we are extremely poor. I had carried around the same backpack for five years until this year, it finally broke.”
He pulled out his guitar case.
“Now I’d like to show you all something.”
People started cheering as he started to undo the clasps. This was the moment that everybody had been waiting for all year. A chance to finally hear him play the guitar that had been promised. He opened the case and lifted it up.
There was no guitar in the case. Books and papers streamed onto the floor of the auditorium.
“I don’t know how to play the guitar.” he said into the microphone with a chagrined shrug. “I never have and I probably never will.”
Muttered whispers filled the student body.
“When my backpack broke, my mother found this ratty guitar case in a dumpster near our home. It was all I had to use in replacement of a backpack. The first day I went to school with that case was the most humiliating day of my life. That is, until I realized that people thought that I could actually play. It made people like me and think that I was special. I will be the first to admit that the popularity got to my head. After a while I even enjoyed the deception. I recently realized that people now like me based on a false image. I’m not Guitar Boy. I never will be. I’m up here now to tell you all to never do that. Don’t be what you’re not. Ever. I’m sorry that I got caught up in the moment of glory. I apologize to my friends. My REAL friends.”
He turned back and looked at me.
“Thanks for the memories, and I’m sorry about the fake ones.”
He sat down. The room was silent.
I started clapping and stood up staring at Guitar Boy, a smile on my face. He smiled back and nodded in appreciation. Slowly, one by one, his friends stood up and started clapping until the auditorium was in uproar.
He turned and smiled at me.
I smiled back.
He may not have actually been Guitar Boy, but he was to us, and that was all that mattered.