Oops. I accidentally got super obsessed and composed another chapter of “Mascot Girl.”
The World is a Stage
The cafeteria smelled like fish, Mexican food, and cheeseburgers. My stomach turned and twisted in a loop at the scent. Food is gross, when you think about it. The mashing and tearing with teeth, the saliva, the spit and crumbs. That’s one of the many reasons why I loathe public eating. I hate hearing the smacking and slurping of lips.
I walked over to our normal spot, which was a long plastic picnic bench next to the freshman football team. I think Leah strategically chose our spot on freshman day number one. I plopped down. I hated sitting by the football players. They received way too much attention.
We had a routine for dinner, the Valentine Hall girls of floor number 3. I dreaded our pseudo family dinner most of the day. In front of them, I had to eat like a normal nineteen year old girl, who is fashionably watching her weight. Good thing I was an actress.
I reached into my pocket and retrieved my phone. A few taps later, I pulled up my calorie tracker app. I was already at 500 calories. That damned bagel! On Tuesdays, I got 900 calories, Wednesday 1,000 and so on. What could I eat for 300 calories? I felt my nerves tingling. I had to control. I needed control.
“Hey Brie,” Leah said as she sat down. “How was class?”
“Oh, class was class. I had to act like a dolphin in Theatre Acting 3132. My throat still feels gruff from it.”
Leah’s forehead wrinkled. “Girl, how do you do that? You seem so, I don’t know.”
“That’s the word.”
“Well, acting is easy because I’m not me. I’m a daulphin,” I said fumbling with my wallet. What was I going to go buy to eat?
“I would be mortified,” Leah said with a chuckle.
“Oh I love it. Drama club in high school was like an oxygen tank to me.” I could hide in plain sight, I added in my mind.
“Okay, dolphin girl, let’s go. I need to see what 10 weight watchers points can buy me today. Hope it’s a lot because I am hungry!”
My heart sped up as I entered the cafeteria. There were ten different windows, all of which offered different things. Tacos here, hot wings there. I didn’t like to eat meals. I liked to nibble throught the day when no one was watching. Eating in front of others was like being naked.
I lucked out at home. My dad never forced us to do the family dinner thing. I think he mostly ate toast and oatmeal in front of his TV in the den. He never bothered to learn how to cook after the sudden death of my mother. I guess I was supposed to do that, right? I thought. Oops.
We walked back to the table and I set down my plain salad with light honey mustard down next to my unsweetened iced tea. Char and the others had beaten us. They were talking all at once and all excited. There were fifteen girls from my floor. Why are the only two available seats next to Char and Krissy? Talk about ‘leftovers’. I smiled at the delicious irony.
“Can you believe that tonight is top three?” Krissy Ferro, Char’s roommate asked. Krissy ran her fingers through her shoulder length, thick blonde waves. It looked like she had gotten fresh highlights and a french manicure. I wondered what it was like to go to a salon. I chewed on my jagged nail.
“I’m still a little confused,” I said, opening my packet of honey mustard and drizzling it over my salad. “I’m not sure what the point of top three night is. It’s so complicated.”
“They gave everyone a information packet at sign up,” Char said as she bit into a garlic cheese fry, “did they teach you how to read in Kansas? Just joking. Only joking.”
Krissy giggled and whacked Char’s arm. “Charlene, stop being a bitch. Anyway, it’s okay, Kansas, I’ll explain it to you.”
Oh no, my brain screamed. For the love of God, don’t let the nickname Kansas stick! I left that state for a reason.
“You know, Krissy” I said stabbing my lettuce a few times, “my friends back home call me ‘Merritt’. Well, mostly the guys I know do. I actually don’t mind that nickname. It’s kind of cute, like–” I trailed off. I didn’t know how to politely correct someone. Was there a way to do that? I flashed a toothy smile.
“Um, okay,” Krissy said, exchanging a look with Char. She scratched the top of her head, as if she was genuinely confused as to what I was suggesting.“Anyway, Kansas, there are nineteen sororities. The way that B.U. does their rush is like this. You do the meet and greet, that’s what we did yesterday. I hope you went home and listed your sororities in order. Number one would be your favorite, number nineteen, the most rachet. Anyway. The next day, which is today, you go visit your top three and let them kind of get to know you more and display your interest.”
I wonder if Miss Krissy knew how often she said anyway. No. She probably couldn’t count that high. Ha. I thought.
“I’m so excited! I just want to be a sister. Like right now! Ever since I was a little girl and now it’s happening,” Leah said with starry eyes.
“ So, I’m definitely going to Omega Sigma Sigma first!” Krissy said holding up her hand and crossing her fingers.
“Thanks for explaining the two different nights ,” I said. I took a big gulp of water. I needed two more before my next bite.
“Anyway, so, after top three, you submit your formal list to the Sorority Life Campus Committee, the SLC.”
“I get it, I do. Anyway, I just don’t get the bidding process. I mean, how the sororities vote. Anyway, can you explain that part?” I bit my lip to conceal the smile. Krissy didn’t even know she was being mocked.
Char narrowed her eyes at me. Uh-oh, I thought.
“Each sorority has a list of favorite pledges,” Leah stepped up to explain. “So the SLC matches everyone based on mutual ’likes’. They try to make the best match. Almost everyone will get into something, because you’ll have every sorority on your list. So at least one out of the nineteen will make a bid. And since you had to list all of the sororities from favorite to least favorite, you might even get stuck with your nineteenth choice. That’s if no one else bidded for you except for them.”
“Or no one bids on you at all,” Char added. “Then you won’t get into a sorority.”
“Don’t say that!” Leah said, slapping her hand on the table. “Girls, I’m out of here, I can’t even be around this kind of negative talk. Not get in? That is like my worst nightmare.” Leah got up and made way for the door, leaving her tray. I don’t think she knows that she should take it to the garbage. I always end up doing it for her.
“Don’t worry about it,” Char yelled, calling after Leah. She gave me a wink. “That’s what Theta Gamma Nu is for. Leftovers!”
Krissy whacked Char again. “You are so bad!” They both giggled.
“Well,” I said getting up and stacking my tray on top of Leah’s. “I hope we are all placed with the right people in the right house. Good luck tonight girls.”
The rest of Valentine Hall Floor 3 girls gave me smiles and thank yous and you toos.
“Good luck, Brie,” Char said with a thin lipped smile.
“You too,” I said heading for the garbage can. You nasty little bitch, I added in my head.
I threw away our trays and stared into the slimy, stinky garbage can. This would make a perfect sorority house for Char, my wicked little thoughts joked. Sigma Garbage Pi. Home of the thin hoe with crooked nose.
Oh that was a mean one, even for inside thoughts. I guess that means my period is coming soon.
Still, I laughed out loud at my evil thoughts and I caught curious glances from the table next to the garbage. I wondered how I must look, laughing while looking down into trash can all by myself.
I suddenly wished I could be a dolphin again.
A few hours later, I was walking up the steps to the fairy tale castle. This time with less makeup. This time alone. I felt my heart racing under my hot pink Baylor University sweatshirt that my grandma bought me after I was accepted with a full ride scholarship. I breathed in the sleeve. It still smelled like her house, dove soap and old book. A wave of homesickness followed my thoughts.
The sweatshirt was new, so it was one of the cutest things that I owned. I scowled at my smelly lake sneakers. It was a little bit chilly in November for flip flops. That’s all I had. Lake shoes and Old Navy flip flops. Damn it, Nash.
As if on cue, my phone vibrated in my pocket and I heard the muffled melody of Spice Girls Wannabe coming from my back pocket. I reached back and yanked out my phone. It was a shame that I had to answer and put a stop to my ringtone.
Mental note, listen to Spice Girls when I get back. Leah is bound to discover my sophisticated taste in music at some point. I slid the green button over.
“Hey Tabitha!” I said, strolling back to the side walk. I was early to top three, but even if I wasn’t, I was waiting for this call all day. “How are you? How’s New York?”
“Rainy and chilly,” Tabitha replied. Her familiar serious, low voice made me smile. She was always trying to disguise her Kansas accent.
“Sorry to hear. But hey, what the hell happened with you and Nash? I talked to him yesterday, but you know boys, he didn’t really didn’t explain anything. Not that you, I mean, you don’t have to explain to me or anything. I just thought I would know right away if you broke up. Like, you would tell me. It still says ‘relationship’ on Facebook, sorry for stalking your page. I had no idea.”
“No that’s okay, that’s why I’m calling you. I got all your texts, but this is a phone conversation.”
“Oh boy,” I said twirling my silver heart necklace around my index finger.
“Yes. Oh boy, indeed. It reminds me of you and Jesse’s break up.”
“Nash did not cheat on you with Natasha Springer!”
“No-no,” Tabitha paused. “Not that part of it. I remember you describing to me how you felt. Like you morphed into close friends, like, there was no romance anymore. I am so busy here at school, it’s only my first semester and you saw how long it took me to return your call. It wasn’t working.”
“You fell out of’ love’ and into ‘like’ with him? That was definitely Jesse and me. Why didn’t you tell me? When did this happen?”
“Well, I wasn’t going to tell you when I couldn’t even tell myself. We both felt it, James and I. Then moving away, it fizzled out faster than I ever thought possible. Like someone blew out a candle. Puff! It’s gone.”
“Aw!” I said, kicking a stray pebble on the sidewalk. “Tabitha, you were the couple that we all thought would make it. You were the homecoming King and Queen, for Christ’s sake. Wait till this gets around town.”
“It’s a good thing that I’m not there. I have kind of unplugged from social media as well, so ya. I do feel bad for James.”
“Oh, he’ll be alright. He never care what people think, that’s part of his homecoming King charm. Right?”
Pause. I could hear the background noise of New York City traffic from southern California through my phone. I felt a twinge of embarrassment.
“I guess so.”
“Sorry, Tabitha. Damn, that was a dumb thing, I just really don’t know what to say here.”
“I completely understand that, Brie. We were so close. The three amigos. This must be very strange for you.”
“I was supposed to be your maid of honor and his best man in your wedding. Billy Neilson was going to be the flower girl.” I smiled at the memory of our long running joke.
Tabitha snickered. Then pause. More New York City traffic. Then a sniff. A sob.“Brie, I miss you. I miss the guys. My cat Pickles. I miss Rivertown, I really, really do.”
“Tabitha,” I said staring at the bubbling fountain in front of Theta Gamma Nu. “You were never meant to only stay in that town, settle and marry Nash, and have a bundle of Nash-juniors. You are a star. Never forget who you are. Okay?”
“Thank you, Brie.” Tabitha blew her nose. “As much as I miss Kansas, I know I’m in the right place doing the right thing. Adjusting to the city is hard, but I know I can do it. I’m so happy. I’m scared at how happy I am, you know.”
“No, not really. Allow yourself to be happy!”
“I feel guilty. It’s like, I should be more devastated about the end of my first love. The guy who took me to dances. Gave me my first kiss. Carved my name into a tree. He did that you know! That’s like from a movie, or something, but that James when he wasn’t around his buddies. We danced under the stars on my birthday. He saw me sick and ugly as hell and didn’t care. I should miss him, but I just really miss you and my cat.”
I laughed even though I felt like a sharp rip in my heart. Why did it feel like Tabitha was breaking up with me, too? Maybe she was.
“We are both where we need to be right now.” My eyes were fixed on Theta Gamma Nu. “There is always summer. We will have so much to catch up on and–”
“That is, if I come home for summer,” Tabitha interjected.
“We will keep in touch,” I argued.
“Ya,” Tabitha said. She wasn’t an actress.
“Well, I need to go, I have this sorority top three thingy tonight, so. Call me soon!”
“Brie, you know that you’re the real star, right? Not me. But thanks for saying that earlier. I really needed to hear that today. But it’s not true. I may have been the Queen of Rivertown High, but you were the star. You have more talent in your pinky than the whole school put together. You’ll have to remember the little people from Rivertown, Kansas when you get your first Oscar. Remember me. Okay?”
“Thanks, that’s so nice of you to say, and what are you talking about? Of course I’ll remember you!”
I heard the phone click. I looked down and it said “call ended”. I wasn’t sure if one of us lost service or if Tabitha had decided, at that moment, that the conversation needed to end. Maybe the universe was nice and threw us both a bone by ending the awkwardness.
I walked toward the red, welcoming door of Theta. Maybe one door was closing with Tabitha, but I watched as the door was physically was opening for me.
Caroline sashayed out and waved. Her short, wavy hair bounced as she waved. She was holding a clipboard and had a number 2 pencil tucked behind her ear. She was cute. There is no other way to describe her. She was just so cute.
“Brie! Welcome back, so happy to see you.” Caroline threw her spare arm around me and I felt warmth radiate through my heart.
“You remembered my name.” I said as I walked into the foyer. I gleamed at the clusters of strangers who all waved at me, as if they had known me forever. “I forgot to wear that name tag. And sorry I didn’t really dress up. Everyone looks so nice, I just had such a packed day of classes…”
“Of course I remembered your name. I’m sure we all do.” Caroline wrapped her arm around my shoulder and stood on her tip-toes to whisper in my ear. “You are our top bid. But don’t tell anyone I told you that, I’d get in such trouble. I just don’t want you to worry. I remember being a nervous wreck during top three.”
Caroline pulled away and gave my shoulder a little squeeze. Someone put a glass of champagne in my hand and a few of the sisters came to greet me. I looked around. I couldn’t understand how Deltas were the leftovers. They looked just as Caroline described it: diverse. Different nationalities, different, sizes, different styles of clothes. Some girls had percings and tattoos, while others wore heels and pearls. There was one girl who had a streak of blue hair, tattoos and heels with pearls.
The energy was relaxed, like an invisible calm, trickling river was flowing through the house. Maybe these were my people. My best friends were the queen and king of the school and my other drama best friend was the only transgender girl in Rivertown.
No one could define Brianne Merritt. She was a Cosette in Les Miserales, Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, and yes, the cliché Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.( I could never let Char find out about that last one.) But as an actress, no one saw the real me. I was a shell. That was safe and cozy for me. I let only closest friends saw glimmers of the real me. But it was only the tip of the ice berg.
I had so many secrets. Some dark, acidic, puss-oozing secrets. I took a sip of my champagne as I made small talk with the sisters and other pledges. I felt my stomach growl as the dry, bubbly, liquid poured down my throat. The alcohol burned the lining. It was so empty today.
I told my stomach to shut up.