Monday afternoon was my first time meeting with the support group. Because my grandmother hadn't felt well all weekend, I hadn't had a chance to make up with Andrew and our fight left a bitter taste in my mouth. I wasn't exactly in the mood to meet new people. After Grandmother dropped me off, I walked up the sidewalk and hesitated by the door, suddenly nervous. What if they were weirdos? What if they laughed at me and I started crying? I don't know why I was freaking out. There was nothing to be afraid of. If I absolutely hated it, Grandmother already said I didn't have to return.
I stood by the door for a moment to take in my surroundings. The walls, painted a cringe-worthy sky blue with yellow flowers, the bright posters, the foosball station and arcade games seemed to be waving "hello" at me. The room was intense and made me think of Camp Chippewa from The Addams Family Values. Seriously. I half expected everyone to be singing "Kumbayah" and roasting marshmallows.
Oh great. I've just been granted a one-way ticket to Happy-land. I wondered if it was too late to leave and whether or not the doors had already locked behind me. Maybe I could escape through a bathroom window . Just looking at the wallpaper was enough to give me a cavity and I came to the conclusion that whoever had decorated the place must have been on acid. I was too busy making my escape plan to notice the other seven people in the room with me.
"You must be Ramona!" a nasal, sing-song voice called out to me. "Please have a seat. My name is Lisa Caldwell and we are so glad to have you here!"
As I reluctantly walked over to the circle, I heard a girl whisper "rich bitch". I sat down, hovering on the edge of my seat, my back straight, as if at any moment, I would get up and run screaming out the door. I didn't recognize any of the kids but some of them probably went to Par Excellence with me. It felt like all eyes were on me, the new girl.
"So, how was everyone's day?" Lisa asked, addressing the group.
"Someone wrote my name on a bathroom stall again under the word 'Slut'", complained a girl. She had beautiful long, caramel hair and luscious, strawberry lips.
"Umm, Joelle, you kind of are!" another girl with long brown hair laughed at her.
Joelle thought about that for a moment. "I guess you're right Melissa, but it still sucks seeing it every week," she sighed. "And you're not so innocent yourself!"
Melissa smirked. "True story."
It took me a moment to realize that Joelle and Melissa were friends. I sat there trying to imagine a type of friendship where it was okay to call your friend a slut, and failed miserably.
"Okay," Lisa clapped her hands, "anyone else want to share? Ven? Wilbur?"
Ven and Wilbur both shook their heads.
"Okay, well what about you, Milton? Anything new with you?" she turned to the chubby boy beside me.
He blushed. "N-n-no."
Lisa sighed. "Okay, well since this is Ramona's first night, we're going to take it easy. There are some snacks on the table back there if you're hungry. You guys know the drill. Hang out, mingle and show Ramona around. Make her feel welcome. And if you need to talk, I'll be here for awhile."
The Indian boy, Ven, made a beeline for me as the other kids headed to the buffet table. He was wearing a crisp button-down and khaki slacks. His face was smooth, his eyebrows waxed and he had not a hair out of place.
"Hi, my name is Venkat, but they call me Ven. You," he said with a suggestive smile, "can call me the Asian Persuasion."
"Umm, no thanks," I grimaced, taking a step away from him.
"C'mon, Ramona," he said, smooth-as-velvet, "the ladies love me. In fact, once you've spent five minutes with me, I bet you'll find my charms absolutely irresistible."
"I have a boyfriend. And the only thing I think I will find in five minutes is that I have lost my appetite. Now leave me alone, Pervert," I ordered.
As Ven slunk away, I heard a guy laughing behind me. It was the only person who hadn't spoken tonight.
Already fired up from my encounter with the Asian Persuasion, I marched over to the guy and demanded to know what was so funny. Thanks to the circus I had allowed to be talked into, I had already been called a "rich bitch", been hit on by some underage Don Juan and laughed at by a boy who was wearing a belt that he probably bought at Hot Topic. I didn't know if this was supposed to be therapy or my induction into the Funny Farm.
"You," he managed a wry smile. "You clearly don't belong here, do you?"
"Well, my grandmother thought that this group would be good for me," I shrugged my shoulders. "And to be honest, I'm rather regretting it now."
"Oh, I don't know about that," he smirked. "I think you should come back next week."
"Take a look at Ven over there. You're the first girl in the group who has denied him," he snickered.
It was true. Ven stood there looking like someone had run over his puppy dog. My eyes narrowed as the weight of the boy's words sunk in. "I'm the only girl in the group who has rejected him?" I asked, glancing meaningfully at Joelle and Melissa.
"Oh yeah," he said. "The girls weren't kidding when they said they were sluts. Whores for sure, those two."
"Have...you?" I wondered and then realized I was thinking out loud.
"Nah, I'd like to think my standards are a little higher," he said.
I don't know why, but I felt like he was looking at me when he said that. I blushed. "My name's Ramona."
"Yeah, I was there when Lisa introduced you."
"Oh," I pursed my lips. "Sorry."
We both laughed, and then he said, "I'm Tucker, but most everyone calls me Tuck."
"Nice to meet you...Tuck." I blushed again and felt foolish. I had a boyfriend and here I was, falling to pieces like a little girl with her first crush.
"So Ramona, what brings you to our humble home?" he asked, his baby blue eyes studying me intensely.
Well, this was it. This was the moment I had been dreading. Might as well get it over now. "My father killed himself," I blurted out.
"Oh is that all?" Tuck mused.
I was about to protest, but he interrupted with, "trust me, Bright Eyes, sometimes it's better when they die."
The statement shocked me and everything I was about to yell about suddenly was forgotten. "What do you mean?"
Tuck just smiled. I realized that everyone was leaving and headed for the door. "Guess I'll see you next week, Bright Eyes?"
"Guess so," I mumbled.