Note: There's some language, so if that sort of thing offends you, then don't read it.
I screamed as someone grabbed me from behind and lifted me into the air. I dropped my fake leather bag and my unzipped denim jacket almost fell off as my black high-tops swung out in front of me. Then whoever had grabbed me plopped me back on the ground, where I fell ungracefully onto my ass.
I tipped my head back, squinting against the bright lights in the school hall. Someone grinned down at me. I took in their features: dirty blond hair hanging into bright blue eyes, a light sprinkling of freckles, crooked smile and braces…
“Ash!” I said, unable to hide the pleasure in my voice.
He squatted down next to me, retrieving my bag and handing it to me. “You dropped this,” he said.
“Really,” I said. “Was that when I was suddenly attacked from behind and swung violently into the air before being thrown on my butt?”
Ash grinned. “Yeah, I think so.” He stood up and offered me a hand. I ignored it and hauled myself to my feet on a nearby water fountain.
Ash dropped his hand to his side. “C’mon, Lisa, I haven’t seen you all summer. Can’t you at least give me a hug?”
I glared at him.
Ash made big puppy eyes at me and stuck out his lower lip, his hands clasped together under his chin. I couldn’t help it; I burst out laughing.
Ash smiled. “That’s more like it.” He snatched my schedule from me. “Hey, we have math together!”
I rolled my eyes. “Lucky me.”
Ash handed me my schedule. “Here. I’m gonna go meet our teachers. Say hi to everyone if you see them,” he said, jogging away.
I knew who he meant by everyone: Zoë Fielder, Ryker Fargo, and Quinton (Quin) Rivera. They were part of me and Ash’s group. Actually, we mostly just started hanging out ‘cause we’re all considered weird: Ash is the guy who makes stupid jokes all the time, watches weird shows and movies no one else likes, and reads the newspaper, Ryker’s the quiet dude with the lip ring and the anger issues, Zoë’s the hyped-up girl with the watch collection who drinks gallons of soda and coffee, Quin is the gay blond guy with the southern accent, and I’m the chick with the super-short purple hair who wears faux leather stuff and likes painting and music.
I spotted Zoë and Quin walking down the hallway. Zoë had about three million watches on her forearms. I waved and walked over to them.
“Lisa! I haven’t seen you in forever!” Zoë cried melodramatically, flinging her arms around me.
“Zoë, you called me yesterday to talk about how worried you were about starting tenth grade,” I said, prying her arms off of me. “It’s not like we haven’t had contact for sixty years.”
Quin gave me a quick hug. “I am so glad to see you,” I told him. “You’re not going to attack me with overenthusiastic hugs.”
“Ryker!” Zoë shrieked. She raced down the hall and threw her arms around the tall, tough-looking guy, who promptly pushed her off.
“Hi, Ryker,” I said.
“Hey,” Ryker said. He gave my shoulder a quick squeeze: Ryker’s substitute for a hug. “What’re you guys talking about? Boys?” he asked, glancing at Quin.
“I know you don’t mean that to hurt me, but please don’t tease me about that,” Quin said. “Any of you guys seen Ash?”
“Ash tossed me onto my ass,” I said. “I don’t know where he is now, though.”
“Do you think he’s okay?” Zoë asked nervously. “What if he got the flu and had to go home?”
“What if, Zoë?” I asked.
“Some people die from the flu.” Me and Ryker rolled our eyes just as the bell rang.
I hightailed it to the furthest end of the far right table. Same place we had claimed last year. I liked it there and wanted to sit there again.
I sat down and picked up a packet of ketchup. Ryker sat down next to me, waving one of the clear plastic packets that held condiments in my face. “What the hell is this?” he asked.
I squinted at the contents. “Mayonnaise.”
Ryker wrinkled his nose at the packet. “Why’s it the color of piss?” he asked, slouching down towards the table—his usual posture.
“Ewww!” Zoë said as she sat down. “What’s the color of piss?”
Ryker tossed her the mayonnaise packet. Zoë made disgusted faces at it until Ash and Quin sat down.
Ash tossed me his milk carton. “Here you go. Sorry I forgot to get strawberry like you like.”
Ash and I have done this since seventh grade. He’s allergic to milk, but for some reason, the lunch ladies make him get it anyway. At first he just didn’t drink it, but after we were friends for a while, he learned I like strawberry milk and started giving me his.
“Thanks,” I said, catching the milk carton.
“Omigod,” Zoë gushed, all in one breath. She stared at something behind me.
“What?” I asked, turning in my seat. A boy with streaky blond hair, a crooked smile, and brilliant green eyes was sitting down.
“He’s so cute!” Zoë said.
“He looks like Ash,” I said.
“He does not! Quin, isn’t he cute?” Zoë asked.
“I don’t know, Ryker’s big head is in the way,” Quin said.
Ryker leaned over so he was practically in my lap.
“See?” Zoë squealed.
“Zo, all I can see is the back of his head,” Quin said.
“Does he have cute hair?” Ash asked.
Ryker rolled his dark eyes.
“Can I sit with you?” a voice behind me asked.
I looked back. A girl was standing there. She looked like the boy with the streaky hair.
“Sure,” I said, scooting towards Ryker so there was room between me and the end of the table.
The girl sat down. “I’m Tonia,” she said.
“Lisa.” I pointed at Ryker, who I knew wouldn’t introduce himself. “That’s Ryker.”
“I’m Bobby Thunderbolt,” Ash said.
“That’s Ash,” Quin said. “And I’m Quinton. You can call me Quin, though.”
“I’m Zoë. Is that your brother?” Zoë asked, pointing at the boy with the streaky hair.
Tonia nodded. “Yeah, that’s Travis.”
“He’s cute,” Zoë said. She opened a soda bottle and took a sip.
“That’s what everyone tells me,” Tonia said.
I heard someone stand up behind me. I glanced back. Travis. I was looking back towards Tonia when I saw Quin’s face: his hazel eyes followed Travis’s movement, and his pupils were dilated.
I kicked him under the table. He looked at me, his face flushed. I raised my eyebrows and pointed with my head at Travis. Quin blushed brighter and nodded, ducking his head.
I turned back to Tonia. “Why are you sitting with us?” I asked.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Tonia asked, surprised.
“No one really likes us much,” I said.
“Really? Why not?” Tonia inquired.
“We’re kinda all weirdoes,” I said. “For one thing, I dress sort of weird…”
“Lisa, you’ve got purple hair,” Ryker said. “That’s weird in itself.”
“And Ryker’s just all around weird,” I said. Ryker punched me gently on the shoulder.
“I’ve got a watch collection, and everyone thinks that’s strange,” Zoë said, tossing her gingery-red hair across her shoulder.
“Zoë’s addicted to caffeine,” Quin told Tonia.
“And he’s the one who tries to crack everyone up.” Ryker finished, nodding at Ash. Quin gets picked on pretty badly when people learn about his sexual desires, so we don’t usually mention it. Actually, we never mention it. Quin made us swear not to.
“Lisa thinks I’m funny,” Ash said.
“I don’t!” I said.
Ash looked at me with his best shrewd expression. I suppressed a smile, then burst out laughing.
“See?” Ash said triumphantly.
“Ash, you’re gonna make Tonia not like us,” I said.
“Sorry,” Ash said.
Tonia laughed. “I don’t mind if you guys joke around,” she said.
I smiled at her. She seemed nice. She wouldn’t fit into our group, but maybe we could be friends.
Travis walked back to his seat. Again, Quin’s eyes followed him until he sat down, then lingered on him until Tonia leaned forward to look him in the eye.
“You okay?” she asked.
Quin nodded and got up. “I’m going to use the bathroom,” he said, leaving the table.