Never Slow Dance with a Zombie
Author:E. Van Lowe

chapter Six

The rest of the school day was a nightmare. Not only did I have a pop quiz in Economics, I also had to go through the day making sure I didn't run into Amanda or Dirk again. That would have been too embarrassing.

Back to that pop quiz ..,

And now a multipart extra credit problem:

Question: If teacher A decides to give a short test that nobody in the class sees coming, then whether students B thru Z know the answers or not--and they probably don't because why would they?--the students still must write some gibberish on a single sheet of loose-leaf paper and turn it in. Now, if there are twenty-six kids in teacher A's class, and there are teacher As in every school in America, and if these teachers give just ten pop quizzes a day destroying trees by the billions, how long will it take before the ozone layer is totally depleted and the Earth turns into a flaming ball of fire? Answer: YESTERDAY!

There is no way I could be expected to do well on a pop quiz with all that was going on in my life. Fortunately, Economics was last period. At least I could hide in class until I figured out my next move.

I came up with the perfect plan. I would hole up in the first-floor bathroom until I was sure most of the students were gone for the day. Then I'd sneak to my locker.

When I arrived in the locker area there were just a few students milling about. No one I knew--good. I peeked around each corner carefully, making sure I wasn't about to get ambushed by Dirk or Amanda. Confident they were both gone, I approached my locker and was surprised to see a tiny envelope taped to the front. Oh, no! I thought. I couldn't imagine what was in the envelope, but I was certain it wasn't good.

"Open it," a voice called from behind.

"Whaaa!" I nearly jumped out of my skin. I wheeled around to find a smiling Baron Chomsky standing behind me.

"What are you doing here?"

"I'm trying to figure out who left that mysterious note on your locker," he answered with a sly grin.

"We both know who left the note, Baron. You did."

I'm not saying it wasn't me, but I'm not saying it was me, either."

His cryptic statement was accompanied by an equally cryptic smile. My mind began to reel. Maybe Amanda was lying about Dirk being her boyfriend. Maybe Dirk does want to go out with me. And maybe this is his way of inviting me to the carnival

I yanked the note from my locker and read it.

Join, me at the carnival tonight.

There was nothing else. I turned it over and over looking for a signature or some clue as to who it might be from. Could it be true? Did Dirk actually want me to join him at the carnival? My spirits soared.

"Well," Baron said after a few moments. "There's going to be a full moon tonight. Perfect for smooching."

My spirits crashed and burned.

"So it was you," I said, releasing the last shred of hope that the note had come from Dirk.

"Of course it was me. Who loves ya, baby?"

"Go away!" The words crept from my lips. I was too upset to scream. I honestly didn't know what I was feeling: anger, pain, embarrassment. My emotions were knotted up inside me.

"But..." Baron started to protest, but when he looked in my eyes he stopped cold. "Okay. Maybe we'll do something another time," he said softly. Then he walked away. I was surprised to see him go. It wasn't Baron's style to give up so easily.

It took several moments to realize what he'd seen in my eyes--what had sent him away were tears. I was crying. I didn't know how long I was seated in the stairwell with my head in my hands when I heard him behind me. I knew he'd come back.

"Look, Baron, I'm..." I turned to discover not Baron but Sybil standing behind me. Sybil, sweet Sybil, my best friend, Sybil. She was a sight for sore eyes ... and trust me, my eyes were pretty sore from all the crying.

"Hi," she said softly.

"Hi yourself."

She was listening to her iPod, her head bopping to the beat as she pretended not to notice the tears on my cheeks.

"What are you still doing here?" My voice was a scant whisper.

"I knew you needed something to get you out of your funk. So..." She removed her earbuds and placed them in my ears. "I remembered what always cheers us up no matter what. Tom Jones music."

The opening strains of "It's Not Unusual" filled my ears.

Sybil was right. Whenever we were in the dumps we'd put on one of her grandmother's corny Tom Jones tunes. They always seemed to do the trick. This was our favorite, but today even Tom Jones couldn't ease me out of my funk. I snatched the earbuds from my ears.

"Sorry, Syb. I can't do this right now." I handed her back the buds and told her what had happened. She sat down and gave me a long, comforting hug. "I can't believe we're so out of the loop we had no idea Amanda and Dirk were dating," I said. "We're pathetic. And why would Dirk say maybe if he was already dating Amanda, anyway?"

"You know how boys are. He probably didn't want to say no to my face."

"Why not? He wasn't saying it to my face. That was the whole point of you asking him."

She changed the subject. "I can't believe Amanda is still holding on to the summer camp thing."

I swallowed hard.

The summer camp thing happened between seventh and eighth grade. This was before Sybil's family had moved to town. Back then, Amanda, Jen and Brandi Paxton (twins), and I were all friends. We did everything together: studied, had sleepovers, went to each other's parties.

During the summer after the seventh grade, while we were all away at summer camp, I came down with the chicken pox.

When I was diagnosed, the counselors immediately sent me home so that I wouldn't give it to any of the other girls. At home, I spent an entire, miserable summer in the house, away from my three friends.

I healed over the summer, and by the time school started in the fall, I was no longer under quarantine. That's when the real misery began. Something had changed between me and my friends over the summer, something I knew nothing about. I couldn't wait to see them, but on the first day of school Amanda and the girls gave me the silent treatment. At first I thought it was a joke.

"Come on, guys. Enough!" I said during lunch. Not one of them looked at me or responded. They just moved away.

For days after, I racked my brain tiying to figure out what I could have done to deserve this. I tried calling each of them to find out, but they wouldn't take my calls. I told myself not to panic: This kind of snubbing happens in middle school all the time. 1 figured I'd wait it out. I knew that eventually the snubbed friends usually made up with each other and things got back to normal. But by Halloween I realized that wasn't going to happen with us.

I lay in bed at night in tears over the loss of my best friends.

What could I have done that was so wrong?

By the end of eighth grade, Jen and Brandi had moved away. It was the perfect time to ask Amanda what I had done to deserve the snub. But by then she had the Twigettes, and I had joined the ranks of those who were derided or laughed at.

It had happened a long time ago, but the thought of it in that moment stung as if it was happening right then. I buried the pain back deep inside, where it had lived for so long.

"Forget about Amanda, and Baron ... and Dirk," said Sybil. "We always have a good time together. We don't need them.

All we need is you, me, and Tom Jones. Hey, maybe we'll even meet boyfriends at the carnival. That'll show them."

I stiffened. "What are you talking about?"

"Us going to the carnival, of course."

"Let me see if I'm getting this right. Since I can't go to the carnival with the most gorgeous boy at school, it sounds like you're suggesting that you and I should be dateless freaks and go to the carnival alone"

"Well..."

"How does that solve anything?"

''It's better than going with Baron Chomsky," she charged.

"No, it isn't. It's the same thing!"

She winced when I compared her to Baron.

"Well, you were going to the carnival with me and Dirk. It's just one less person."

"No. I was going to the carnival with Dirk alone. Me and Dirk. No you."

"Oh."

There was something not right with that oh. It had an odd, distant quality to it. "What, Sybil?"

"Nothing."

I tried looking her in the eye, but she wouldn't let me. "You did ask Dirk to go to the carnival with me, right?"

"Well..."

"Sybil!"

Words tumbled out of her. "I was going to, but the truth is I want to go out with Dirk as badly as you do, and since I was the one doing the asking, I didn't think it would hurt to ask him to go with both of us."

My temperature began to rise. "Your Dirk Conrad was supposed to be a benchmark!"

"I know. But I really like the benchmark."

'Then why was I the one who was supposed to talk to him on the phone last night if we're both going to the carnival with him?"

"You know how shy I am around boys." She was babbling away, not making any sense. Then all of a sudden the pieces began falling into place.

"Wait a minute! No wonder you had Dirk's daily schedule. You've been scouting Dirk for yourself all along, haven't you?"

Her eyes dipped to the floor. "Well... I figured it would be easier for him to accept our offer if it wasn't an official date. And everyone would see him with you and me, and nobody would be able to tell whose boyfriend he was. Of course he wouldn't be anyone's boyfriend, but nobody would know

that It would be a win-win. We could both claim him. And who knows, maybe by the end of the night he'd choose one of us " More words spouted from her like a leaky faucet. I

stared at her in disbelief. Sybil really was from another planet. No Earth person in their right mind would think her plan made any sense.

"Going to the carnival with you and Dirk wouldn't be fun, Syb. It would be embarrassing."

Sybil's head snapped back as if she'd been punched in the jaw. I could see the pain on her face and should have stopped there, but part of me was glad she was feeling pain, especially after what she'd done. I went in for the kill. "What kind of idiot can't see that Dirk showing up at the carnival with both of us is the ultimate embarrassment? That's a pity date!"

"Did you just call me an idiot?" she said. "At least I'm not spazzing out over somebody else's boyfriend. That's idiotic!"

"Oh, really? No wonder he went running into Amanda Culpepper's arms. He was probably trying to get away from the stalker--you!"

We sat in the stairwell tossing words at each other like hand grenades.

Then finally she said, "Forget you, Margot If you don't want to cheer yourself up and have some fun, I'll just go to the carnival without you."

"Go ahead. I'm sure you and Tom Jones will have a ball on your pity date"

"We will!" she said.

"Good!" I said.

"Later, hater." She snapped her earbuds back into place and stormed off.

I watched her go. I'm sure if I had called out she would have come back, but I didn't. I couldn't. I again looked at the invitation Baron had left on my locker. I read aloud: "Join me at the carnival tonight." I ripped it to shreds.