We were called The Shadows, a group of high school teenagers who were both great at sports and in academics. We had the potential to become one of the most popular people in the school, but chose to stay in, well, the shadows. Hence, the name. We were almost never seen outside of school and spent almost all of our time either doing schoolwork or something online. There were both girls and guys in our makeshift group. We ate lunch together every day at the same table, but never really started a conversation or got to know one another at all. We would usually just put on headphones and drown out the rest of the cafeteria.
Popularity meant nothing to us. We chose to stay average teenagers. The so called “popular” kids would always try and talk us into getting sucked into their popularity black hole, and many of us have. A group of girls, who were no different from walking Barbie dolls, would always pick on me saying, “Eric, why don't you ever come the movies with us? We missed youuu!” Holding the last syllable on the you just a little bit too long. I never partook in their silly events, nor did I ever want to. My perfect evening consisted of reading a good with a steaming cup of hot cocoa.
This particular morning, the rain was pouring hard outside when I woke up. The steady beat of the raindrops hitting my window gently persuading me to go back to sleep. Reluctantly, I got out of bed, my bare feet touching the cool wooden floor underneath me. The cold morning air outside my blanket nipped at my skin, sending a shiver down my spine. Even if I had rushed out the door right now and ran to school, I would still be late, so taking my time, I started getting ready for another ordinary day of school.
I blasted Fall Out Boy’s “Uma Thurman” when I was in the shower, singing as loudly as I could, knowing that my parents would have already gone to work. My older sister Chloe had just started her freshman year of college, leaving me to do my sophomore year in high school alone. Until junior year, Chloe was also considered “a shadow”. She was a competitive swimmer and runner, but still found time to get all A’s in every class she had. Chloe was on her way to a top tier college, until she had met her boyfriend Justin.
Justin was basically a stereotypical jock. He was one of the super popular kids and had asked Chloe out to the junior prom. When they started dating, Chloe became so absorbed in trying to be his perfect girlfriend that she had quit both the track and swim team so she had more time to go to stuff with his popular friends. She had been successfully sucked into the black hole they called “popularity.”
By the time Chloe realized that what she was doing, senior year had already ended. She had finally broken up with Justin, but was devastated when she realized that she hadn't gotten into any of the schools she had dreamed about. My sister was my role model on what I shouldn’t do to myself. I struggled each and every day not to follow in her footsteps. I was also on both the swim and track team, but intended on staying on them until college.
The rain had almost completely stopped by the time I started walking to school. I had missed both homeroom and first period, but my teachers loved me, so they wouldn’t mind. My clothes were the same as always. I would grab a random t-shirt and jeans from my closet, hope they were clean, and put them on. My mom did almost all of my shopping, both of us liked it that way. I laced up by black and blue Nike sneakers and made my way to school, careful not to step on any puddles on my way there.
The air was still very damp. The sun had just risen and the distinct smell of spring filling my nose as I walked outside. The trees were just starting to shake off the cold and the sports season was just about to change. A couple of clouds still lingered in the sky, but most had disappeared after the rain. All the snow had melted and the birds were starting to migrate back, the sounds of their calls audible in the sky. Boston was peaceful this time of year.
I signed myself in at school, got a late pass, and made my way to my literature class. Second period had already started, and by now, my teacher Mr. Petrarch would already be agonizing students by asking them to read prolonged passages from the book we were reading, Gulliver's Travels. I never really had a problem reading out loud, because I already had a college reading level.
3rd period Spanish was also the same. Mrs. Cox had checked our homework, which I always do, and had told us to translate the sentences on the board.
“School is where I have learn and have fun with my friends.” I translated.
“What friends?!” I heard the girl behind me smirk. “Oh you mean those reclusive Shadows?!”
The class chuckled, but I just stayed focus on Spanish and drowned them out. This was nothing unusual for the Shadows, even though we had the potential to become popular, we were still rejects in everyone’s eyes.
When the bell rang, I quickly walked out of the classroom and to my locker. This was my favorite part of the day, lunch. As I was walking toward my locker, I crossed paths with another shadow, a sophomore girl named Maria. I quickly waved to her as she flashed a smile and waved back at me. I have known her since the start of freshman year, but still have not had conversation with her that lasted more than 10 seconds. I knew almost nothing about her, accept some things I picked up on my own based on what she looked like and what I heard.
Today she wore a short-sleeved, black Green Day t-shirt paired with some fitting black jeans. Her purple headphones around her neck like always. She always braided her hair to the left side or put it in a high ponytail. She was on the track team with me and we were one of the fastest runners there. Opening my locker, I pulled out my phone and my headphones, putting on another Fall Out Boy song as I went to the cafeteria. The table which hosted most of the Shadows was almost full as I got my food and sat down. Everyone had headphones on and was doing something on their own. No one bothered to talk to each other.
We were not hermits. We were normal teenagers with our own likes and dislikes. We had a couple of friends, but as a whole did not like mingling with popular kids or large groups. I was about to completely tune out the cafeteria with my music, but felt a hand on my shoulder. Turning around, I came face to face with my best friend Chase. He was not a shadow, but we’ve known each other since we were 7.
“Eric, please please please please,” he said, out of breath from running here. “Bro, you have got to help me!”
“Chase,” I replied, trying to calm him down. “What happened? Why are you so out of breath?”
“I ran! Duh! Sometimes I wonder who the smart one actually is!” he smirked. “Okay, so here’s the deal. The acappella club just got a notice from the principle that if we didn't have at least 20 members and an achievement by the end of the month that the funding for us would be cut!”
“Wow that sucks.” I stated bluntly. “But what do you want me to do about it.”
“Join the club!” he pleaded,
“No!” I answered back.
“Why not! We won’t have you doing anything! All you have to do is count as part of the club so we can get our numbers up!” He reasoned. “Although you might actually have to sing,” he mumbled afterward.
“Why me?” I asked. “Why can’t you get someone else to do it?”
“We are!” he answered. “Brittany made flyers we can hang up and the rest of the club is asking people they personally know to join. Do me a solid bro. Pleeeeaaasssseeeee!”
“Well I mean… I guess. As long as I don’t have to do anything and you have to buy me lunch for the next 3 weeks?” I replied, defeated.
“Deal!” he shouted and practically skipped away with joy.
What just happened? I thought. I guess I just joined the acappella club.
Being too lazy to walk, I took the bus home. I have never actually heard the acappella club sing. Chase told me that practice was after school tomorrow for 2 hours and had asked me to hand in my club registration form ASAP.
The time was around 8 pm. I had finished all my homework and had eaten dinner. Though most people don’t know this about me, I love photography. Whenever I have free time, I go to a nearby park to take pictures of the nature there. Taking pictures of people is not one of my specialties though. I like taking more natural photos of the things surrounding me.
I was looking through the latest photos I took at the park last week. The snow had almost completely melted, but there were still patches here and there. I had taken this one picture of the trees which was absolutely stunning. It showed the small amounts of snow still on the branches reflecting the morning sunlight.
I still hadn’t finished the club application, so I took it out of my backpack and started to fill it out.
“Name?” I mumbled to myself. “That’s easy Eric Reyes. Hmm what’s next? Age? 16. Reason for joining club?”
I wanted to write “I was bribed and forced to”, but ended up putting down “recommended by a friend.” All I had to do now was hand this in the club president, Britany, and attend practices.
The club room was larger than I thought. It was at the east end of the school and was actually where the school stored their extra instruments. As I entered the room, I realized that I wasn’t the only Shadow there. Astonishingly, Maria was there, but other than that I also saw Brandon, who was a junior, Kelsey, a freshmen, and Lucas, a sophomore like me. I sat down next to them and immediately asked, “Who else was dragged into this?” They all nodded. Go figures, none of us would be here if it wasn’t for our friend’s pleading.
The club had around 13 actual members, but including the new arrivals they had exactly 20. Britany, the club president, started by explaining to us what the club actually is.
“Hey everyone!” she started. She seemed like a social butterfly. “As you all know, the acappella club was facing some difficulties in the past. We have passed the hurdle of raising our numbers to 20, even though half of you were forced or bribed to be here!”
I chuckled, she was right about that.
“The second criteria we were given was to win an award by the end of the month. Lucky for us the Massachusetts State Competition is coming up in less than 2 weeks. Let’s win this guys!”
They explained to us that in exchange for us singing for them, we could choose the songs. I didn’t want to sing at all, but they seemed desperate and it was a fair deal. We all put our song choices in a hat and from it they chose 3. Mine wasn’t picked but the ones that did were Titanium by Rihanna, Centuries by Fall Out Boy, and Surrender by Cash Cash. The new arrivals were then free to go as the rest of the group decided what songs they would sing to tie them together. Acappella was a longer and harder process than I had first thought.
It was mandatory to go to practice every day, due to the fact that we only had 2 weeks to get the entire performance ready. Britany also told us to be prepared for overtime if needed. Everyone learned the songs fairly quickly and to my surprise many people commented that I was a good singer. I acted like I wasn’t exited to be there, but every day I saw myself liking the club better and better. I had gotten closer to everyone too, which was shocking, especially with the Shadows. I now knew almost everything about Maria, Lucas, Brandon, and Kelsey. I even learned a couple of new things about Britany and Chase. One day after practice, I saw Maria checking through the extra instruments in the room.
“Watcha doing?” I asked her.
“Nothing much,” she replied. “Hey, is it just me or is everyone a little bit more cheerful nowadays. Like I feel like I know everybody and that I actually have friends. I find myself thinking about acapella club in class and have even gotten a detention because I it. I also got to get to know you a lot more.”
“You took the words right out my mouth.” I answered. “I went home last night, looked in the mirror, and said ‘hey I actually have friends!’”
“Sounds like you!” she chuckled.
Everyone had left the club room by then. Maria stood up and said, “Do you know how to instruments?”
“I played a little piano when I was younger,” I replied.
“Perfect,” she mumbled as she shoved me toward the piano in the corner of the room and then turning around, picked up a guitar herself. We spent the next hour trying to harmonize and play the song Titanium, but ended up just laughing at how bad we were. Soon it was about 5 pm and the sun was starting to set.
“I better be getting home,” she said. “My mom’s going to be so mad that I stayed this late.”
She gave me a quick wave and flashed a smile like she usually does, packed her stuff, and headed out. I did the same and was in deep thought as I walked home. All of my freshmen and most of my sophomore year, I was so caught up in not becoming like my sister that I had actually forgotten to have fun. Now, I’m surrounded by people but still it feels like almost nothing has changed. I thought popularity made you happy. I’m not popular, but I am happy.
Finally, the day of the competition had arrived. Everyone was running around trying to make everything perfect, as the club squeezed in one last practice. This was it. If the acappella group dispended now, I would go back to being by myself. But now, it would be much lonelier. We had to win. There was no other choice.
Everyone had changed into their uniforms. Girls tied their hair with a blue ribbon, wore black pants, and a sparkling dark blue top. The guys had no-sleeve shirts the same color as the girl’s tops, wore black pants, and a black tie. We actually looked pretty good in them.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around to see Maria, Kelsey, and Chase.
“I never thought I would be wearing this!” exclaimed Chase.
“I think we look pretty good.” Said Kelsey, fixing her hair.
“We look amazing.” Maria said looking at me. “Now all that’s left is to win this!”
We shouted in agreement and went to take our places on stage.
The speakers boomed. “AND NOW, HERE COMES TROUBLE! PUT YOU HANDS TOGETHR FOR THE TREBLES FROM ST. LAKE HIGH BOSTON!”
This was it, I thought.
The next 4 minutes went by in a blur. The crowd went wild as we did our performance perfectly. Lights flashed behind us and the fog machine covered the floor with fog. We finally struck the ending pose, all of us gasping for air. Exiting the stage, the entire team was ecstatic. We took a group picture and now all we had to do was wait. The results would be announced in around half an hour.
We all binged on the donuts Britney had brought for us as tension filled the air. 10 more minutes. I ate another donut. Now there was about 5 more minutes. Soon all the teams piled onto the stage and a voice filled the speakers.
“NOW FOR THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT YOU HAVE ALL BEEN EAGERLY WAITING FOR! THE WINNER OF THE 2015 ANNUAL MASSACHUSETTS ACAPPELLA COMPETITION IS… GROVER HIGH! CONGRATULATIONS!”
A team to our right, dressed in red and gold, erupted with happiness. They hugged each other and screamed with joy as they were handed the cup and medals. This is when I finally realized, we hadn’t won. Maria had tears in her eyes, but still stood tall as she clapped for the other team. Britany acted fine, but you could still see the sadness and disappointment in her eyes.
“I-I-It’s okay guys! W-We’ll win next time!” she tried to reassure us, her voice cracking. We all knew as a fact that there would be no next time. This will be our time to part ways and be like we used to.
I went home and cried. There was no way I could be back the way I used to. Life was going to be miserable.
Two days later, as everyone was packing their things from what used to be the club room. Chase burst through the door and screamed, “GUYS THE CLUB HAS NOT BEEN DISBANDED YET! THE PRINCIPAL SAYS THAT WE CAN STILL KEEP GOING!! FUNDING IS NOT GOING TO BE CUT!”