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It was freshman year and I was finally happy.

I was popular. I had a girlfriend. I wore the right clothes and listened to the right music. I’d made some sacrifices, like having to ditch my old friends, but it had been worth it. I was popular now which meant I was happy. 

“Hey Thomas,” Ashley called me from across the hall, “you wanna go to the football game tonight?”

“Yes!” I said, a little too enthusiastically. She let out a fake and slightly annoyed laugh, which reminded me that dating her was a privilege and I had to act right if I wanted to keep it. 

“Hunter, Eric, Jack, and Jacob are bringing their girlfriends, so we’re all going to sit together.” 

Once Ashley and I had started dating, I was able to become better friends with her friends’ boyfriends, and we had formed one big group. 

“Sounds good,” I said. I kissed her cheek. Like always, I felt the same shiver go up my spine. Whenever I kissed her or she kissed me I always felt cold, and I could never understand why.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous for the football game. I was the underdog of the popular group, having come from the bottom of the social food chain. I was always worried that something would happen and they would kick me out of the group, leaving me friendless. My new friends were so cool, and I was scared I would mess up in front of them and look stupid. I had to play it cool. Be cool.

My mom dropped me off at the school’s football stadium and I waited for Ashley on the corner.

I heard a ding in my pocket and saw Ashley had texted me that Jack and his friends were on the bleachers already and I should go sit by them because she was going to be late. The butterflies in my stomach seemed to flap harder as I climbed higher up the bleachers, slowly approaching Jack and his friends. My friends.

“Hey Thomas,” said Jack. He was the most popular out of all of us.

“Hey Jack,” I said as I sat down. 

We talked for a little while about random things until Hunter looked at his phone and said, “Our girlfriends are sitting on the other side of the bleachers and they want us to go over to them because they can’t find us.”

As we walked down the stairs, I saw Dorothy Gurro sitting on the bleachers, waving at me. I looked away as fast as I could, but it was too late.

“Hi Thomas!” she said.

My face turned a tomato red.

Jack and Hunter snickered.

“Um, hi Dorothy.” 

“I was just trying to be friendly.” 

“I don’t have time for you.”

My friends started cackling.

“It’s too bad, Thomas,” she said. "You used to be such a nice person.” 

“Shut up,” said Eric, “Thomas is raw now.”

She turned and walked away, looking more disappointed than hurt.

Just the mention of my past self made me cringe. I used to like alternative music, I read books all the time, and I never went to parties or dances. I actually enjoyed spending time with my parents instead of avoiding them. I had convinced myself in eighth grade that I hated my personality and needed to change. And so I changed. I got new clothes, I changed my dopey hair, and kids like Jack and Jacob started to like me more, which was good. I had good friends now. I had a girlfriend. So that meant I was happy.

I felt the bitter sting of my words follow me as we walked over to our girlfriends.

Eric sat down next to Emma and kissed her in front of everyone.

“Hi Emma!” I said, a little too enthusiastically.

Emma laughed and said “Hi Thomas,” but her voice was filled with venom. I dated her in sixth grade and even though that was three years ago, she still hated me for breaking up with her. I didn’t want her to hate me, because she was Eric’s girlfriend, so I always tried to be extra nice to her. It usually ended up with me being embarrassed.

From the outside she looked kind but she was sharp enough to cut me to pieces.

I moved over and sat next to Ashley, giving her a big hug.

She felt cold.

I had a crush on Ashley once she hit puberty in sixth grade and I finally asked her out during the summer of eighth grade. She was so pretty, so when I found out from Jack that she liked me, I asked her out right away. She was a little obnoxious and sometimes rude, but she was pretty, and that was what mattered most. At least that was what my friends told me.

We all talked loudly with one another, paying no attention to the football game. It was suddenly halftime and the marching band was performing, playing some stupid love song.

Out of nowhere, Emma said, “I love you Eric!”

“I love you too!” said Eric.

Emma and Eric kissed.

“I love you Hunter!” said April.

“I love you too!” said Hunter.

The butterflies in my stomach seemed to wake up again.

Hunter and April kissed.

“I love you Jack!” said Denise.

“I love you too!” said Jack.

My stomach lurched when I realized that it would soon be my turn. I wasn’t sure yet if I loved Ashley or not. I didn’t know her that well. We had fooled around and all that, but it seemed a little early to me. I realized if I didn’t tell her I loved her back I could ruin the night for both of us and ruin our relationship. She was the prettiest girl I had dated, so it would be stupid of me to not 
hang on.

Jack and Denise kissed.

“I love you Jacob!” said Jenna.

“I love you too!” said Jacob.

Clearly, it was my turn. Looking around at everyone’s worried faces made me realize I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. This was sickly comforting.

“I love you Thomas!” said Ashley.

“I love you too!” I said.

I spoke with the same faux enthusiasm as everyone else.

We kissed.

Her lips felt cold.

Everyone laughed together a little too loudly, and with forced smiles. Everyone except me.

Suddenly, everything felt cold. 

I got up as fast as I could and started to leave the bleachers.

“Thomas, what’s wrong?” called Ashley from behind me.

I avoided her as I ran down the stairs and into the bathroom.

I found myself in the stall, panting. I threw up in the toilet twice. Thoughts of Ashley and the guys swirled in my head, so dizzying I threw up again, this time all over my pants. 

I cleaned myself up the best I could and called my mom, telling her to come pick me up. She didn’t question me leaving early, thank god.

I crossed the street and went to the nearby park, hoping no one would find me if they came looking.

I heard a ding in my pocket and realized my mom had arrived and I had forgotten to text her that I was at the park. I walked back to the football stadium parking lot and got into the car.

“Hi honey,” she said, “What happened to your pants?”

“I spilled soda on them,” I lied.

“Why did you leave so early?”

I said nothing, and she switched on the radio.

She leaned over and hugged me.

It felt warm.

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