Amber Walker heard the girls giggling from the table across the room. She looked briefly at them and shook her head. Surprisingly enough she didn’t care about their teasing; she had become immune to it. It hadn’t bothered her since the sixth grade, when Chelsea Warren had made the ultimate snipe at her… calling her “God Girl.” It had embarrassed her at first. Then some of the kids started asking her questions about Jesus, and she found she knew the answer to most of their questions, which made her feel important. Chelsea’s taunt had backfired, making Amber more popular with many of the kids. Since that day, Chelsea had become even more determined to make a fool of her.
“Hey, Amber,” Chelsea yelled, a taunting tone in her voice. “What are you doing over there?” She looked around quickly to determine which of “her girls” were watching, satisfied they all were.
Amber ignored her. Chelsea Warren, the town socialite, at least that’s how Chelsea thought of herself, had been on Amber’s case since grade school. She had no valid reason for teasing, and Amber couldn’t quite figure out why she had become the object of her mocking, but she had.
Chelsea cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted, “I said—what are you doing over there, Amber?”
The group of girls, which was comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores, four of them in all, including Chelsea’s second-in-command and best friend, Annette began to snicker. Chelsea grinned with satisfaction.
Amber looked up from her laptop. She rolled her eyes and continued typing. Chelsea elbowed Annette. She said, “I know, maybe she’s emailing God.”
Gales of laughter erupted through the cafeteria, reverberating off the walls. Much to Chelsea’s displeasure, Amber laughed too. “Ah, that’s a good one, Chels.”
Chelsea pursed her lips together. “I said not to call me that.”
Annette said, “You know that’s why she does it, don’t you?”
Chelsea turned burning eyes toward Annette. “Of course I do.” Annette shrunk back.
Amber, growing bored with the girls’ games, took a bite of her lunch, an awesome turkey on wheat her mother had packed for her, and returned to her typing. From the corner of her eye, she could see that Chelsea’s gang had returned to mindless chatter.
Amber had no doubt they were talking about the latest fashion magazine, or exchanging recipes to make their hair shinier. God forbid they could find something worthwhile to do with their time. Just last week Pastor Owens had preached on the dangers of idle hands and loose lips. She also knew the homeless shelter was desperate for volunteers, especially now that winter was fast approaching. She smiled at the thought of Chelsea Warren elbow deep in dirty dishwater.
Scott Baker entered the cafeteria, bouncing in tune to the music coming from the earphones around his head. Scott was the class clown, had been since elementary school, and was a frequent visitor to the principal’s office. As he passed Chelsea’s table, he grabbed some food from one of the girls.
“Thanks, little sis,” he said, ducking as a handful of Cheetos flew at him.
“I’m telling Mom,” Janette Baker whined in a nasally voice. Janette, along with glued-to-her-hip partner, Wanda, was Chelsea’s newest freshmen groupie. She and Wanda did everything Chelsea told them to do.
“I’m telling Mom,” Scott mimicked in reply.
Chelsea shot her an angry glare. “My girls don’t whine.”
Janette shrank from the scolding, lowering her head so no one would see how embarrassed she was.
Abigail looked at Janette, then at Chelsea, and haughtily said, “I warned not to recruit freshmen.”
Scott sat down next to Amber, looking over her shoulder at her computer screen.
“Are you still working on that concert?”
Amber was the chairperson for the annual Praise in The Mountains concert, scheduled for early spring.
Amber never looked up from her laptop but said, “Yes, and I’m almost done, so don’t bug me.”
Scott watched Amber type for a few moments. He grew bored and blurted, “Come to the movies with me Saturday.”
“I already went to the movies with you last Saturday.”
Scott’s hand flew to his chest in mock imitation of a heart attack. “Oh, no,” he said. “Is there some kind of law against going to the movies two weeks in a row? Incarcerate me now.” He held out both wrists, as if waiting for handcuffs to appear.
“Very funny, Scott,” Amber replied. “I’m busy Saturday.”
Amber sighed, looked over at Scott, and said, “I’m working on the concert posters.”
From across the room, Annette yelled, “Hey, Scott. We want to know if you talk to God, too.”
Amber caught Scott’s profile from the corner of her eye. “Ignore them,” she said.
Scott shook his head. “Nope—can’t do that.” He rose from his chair, sauntered across the room and plopped himself down on the lunch bench between Annette and Chelsea. He stretched, put an arm around both girls’ shoulders and pulled them close to him. They responded by snuggling in closer to him.
“Now you’re talking, Scott.” Annette cooed in his ear. She actually nuzzled his cheek with her own. “We knew you’d make the right decision.”
Chelsea smiled coyly at Scott and asked, “What’s she doing over there?”
“Chelsea thinks she’s emailing God,” Annette said.
Scott busted out in laughter, jostling the girls. When he brought it under control, the girls settled back against him again. “Well, I’m sure He’d answer her if she did.” He narrowed his eyes at Chelsea and then looked at Annette. “Why do you girls tease her so much?”
Chelsea grabbed a strand of hair, twirled it around her finger and moved her shoulders in a shoulder dance. “Why not, she’s such an easy prey. Don’t you think? Besides,” she looked at Annette and grinned, “it’s fun,” they both said in unison.
Scott ignored the duo’s comment, picked up Chelsea’s hair and twirled it around his finger. He sniffed its fragrance. “Pretty.”
Chelsea beamed at the compliment. “Thanks. I have a new shampoo. It cost twenty-five dollars a bottle.”
Scott whistled, smiling admiringly at the silky mane. He was partial to blonde hair, especially the long, silky type, as Chelsea’s was. She had the whole blue eyes thing going as well. He was fairly certain the color was called cornflower blue. There was no doubt about it, Chelsea was gorgeous—and she knew it.
“Wow! That’s a whole lot of bucks for shampoo. Is your dad rich or something?” he asked. His family was far from poor, but there’s no way his mother would ever pay twenty-five dollars for shampoo. Not that he’d ever want her to. Twenty-five dollars could buy a whole lot of corn dogs.
Chelsea puffed out her chest, swelling with pride, but her eyes revealed a deeper secret, one she didn’t want to share with anyone regarding their family’s finances. “Something like that,” she said after a brief pause. “But seriously, what’s she doing over there? Whatever she’s working on she’s been doing it for days. She like, doesn’t even do anything else.” She wanted to move the subject away from finances.
Scott leaned in closer to Chelsea, as if he were about to divulge a great secret. She could smell Cheetos on his breath. She waited in eager anticipation for whatever dirt he was going to dish. Chelsea thrived on gossip. In fact, gossip drove her day.
Finally, unwilling to bear Chelsea’s expectant stare any longer, he said, “She’s planning your conversion.”
Chelsea’s girls broke into a round of hysterical laughter, which bought them an angry reproof from Chelsea. They knew they would pay for it later, but oh, was it funny now.
Scott pushed himself off the bench, unable to hide his amused grin. He strode halfway across the room, stopped to look at Chelsea and Annette, and said, “Oh, by the way—I do talk to God.”
Chelsea’s blood boiled. She turned beet red with embarrassment. Scott took his seat next to Amber again.
“You shouldn’t make her angry like that,” she said.
“Why not, it’s fun,” Scott said.
“And fun,” he insisted.
Amber sighed in defeat. She adored Scott, but sometimes he could be a bit much.
“What about the movies?” Scott asked.
“Get a real girlfriend, Scott.”
“I don’t want a girlfriend. They’re too much trouble. Besides, I have you. Are you in or not?”
“A new Batman movie,” Scott replied.
Amber turned her eyes upward, thinking. She had been anticipating the release of the movie but hadn’t taken the time to go see it. “Okay. I’ll go, but you have to help me with the posters.”
Scott groaned, weighed his options for a moment, and said, “Fine. You win.”
Amber closed her laptop and gathered up her belongings. “I have to run. I promised Mrs. Chaffee I’d help her grade some papers.”
“Teacher’s pet,” Scott teased as he fell in line behind her. “Do you ever get tired of kissing up?”
“I don’t kiss up,” Amber protested, wearing a grin. “I just cover my bases.”
Scott threw his arm around Amber’s shoulder as they exited the cafeteria.
“I love having you for a best friend,” he said. They came to a stop in front of Mrs. Chaffee’s classroom.
Amber looked him over and grinned. “You’re okay, too,” she said. She stretched up on her tiptoes, barely able to reach his cheek, and planted a kiss on it.
After Amber and Scott left, Chelsea turned on her gang, an angry demand in her voice as she asked, “Why’d you guys laugh?”
Janette said, “It was funny.”
Wanda mimicked, “Yeah, it was funny.”
“You made me look like a fool,” Chelsea said, her face still flushed with embarrassment.
Annette was growing bored with the whole situation and said, “Aw, come on, Chelsea. Why don’t you just lighten up? What’s your beef with Amber, anyway? She’s not hurting anyone. She comes to school, does her schoolwork, reads her Bible, and works on that damned concert all the time. She hardly pays any attention to you… wait,” A grin spread across her face, “that’s it. Amber Walker doesn’t fall down on the ground and worship you when you walk by.”
Chelsea’s mouth fell open. Annette had hit a raw spot. She said, “She thinks she’s better than me.”
Annette looked at the rest of the group, who all looked at the ground. She frowned, shook her head slowly. “I don’t see that, Chelsea.”
“Yeah, well, you’re not looking in the right direction.”
Annette sighed and quickly changed the subject. “By the way, you can’t come over on Saturday.”
“Why not?” Chelsea asked.
“I’m spending the day with my mother. We’re getting our nails done, and then she’s taking me shopping.”
Chelsea, angry with Annette for once again changing their plans, said, “Cancel with her. We had plans.”
“I can’t cancel my mother,” Annette said with incredulity.
“Why not, you’re cancelling me.”
“So, you’re not my mother. Besides, why would I pass up free clothes?”
Chelsea refused to give up. She thrust out her chest and said, “Cancel or else.”
Annette grew even more annoyed. She put her hands on her hips and squared off with Chelsea. “What do you mean or else? You can’t or else me.”
Chelsea narrowed her eyes at Annette. “I just did.”
“We’ll spend the day with you,” Janette quickly interjected.
“Yeah, we’ll spend the day with you,” Wanda mimicked again.
Chelsea snapped her head toward Wanda, giving her an angry glare. “What are you, a myna bird?”
The girls backed away from the two of them, confused by this argument that seemed to have come out of nowhere.
Annette picked up her tray and moved to another table. “You can’t be in the lunch group anymore. Come on girls; we’re moving.” The girls, who were now more confused than ever, hesitated only slightly before starting to stand up.
“Don’t you dare go anywhere,” Chelsea commanded.
The girls stopped and looked at Chelsea, then at Annette. They stared at each other. They decided they would rather be with Annette, so they picked up their trays and joined Annette at the new table.
“Fine,” Chelsea said. “I don’t want to be in your stupid lunch group anyway, but don’t come running back to me when the cool kids don’t want to hang out anymore.”
Chelsea rose from the table and stalked out of the cafeteria.
“This is getting really boring,” Abigail said. “Can’t we do something productive with our lives?”
Annette shrugged her shoulders. “Who cares,” she said, ignoring Abigail’s comment. “She’s only been my best friend since the fourth grade.” She put on a brave show, shoving back her shoulders and jerking her head in the air, but her lip trembled. Annette looked at the girls, who were staring at her. “What?” she asked. “Why are you all staring at me?”
“We’re waiting for instructions,” Janette said, a dopey grin on her face.
“Yeah, we’re waiting for instructions,” Wanda repeated.
Annette looked at Wanda. She puckered her lips and shook her head. “You really are a myna bird, aren’t you?”
Wanda’s shoulders fell. “No,” she said. Then she sat up straight and drew her eyebrows together. “Wait, what’s a myna bird?”
Annette sighed. “It means you like to mimic people.” When she saw the look of confusion on Wanda’s face she said, “It means you like to copy what other people say.”
Wanda looked as if she were going to cry. Janette jumped to her rescue by saying, “That’s not very nice.”
“Who said I was nice.”
“Well, you could try, you know,” Abigail said.
Janette said, “You have to take her place now.”
Wanda began, “Yeah, you…” She stopped herself. She didn’t want someone to accuse her of being a myna bird again.
The partial sentence was not lost on Abigail, though. She turned to look down on Wanda. “That’s getting really annoying.”
All three girls turned to Annette, waited in anticipation. She looked at the group of girls who sat staring at her, open-mouthed, like baby birds waiting for their mother to come back with their supper. She wondered what she was going to do with them. She had no idea how to mentor a gaggle of groupies. The lunch bell rang. The girls sat still, waiting for Annette to command them. They all looked at each other, wondering who was going to be brave enough to speak to Annette.
“Oh, just go,” Annette said. When they didn’t move she said, “For heaven’s sake, can’t you make a decision for yourselves?”
The girls shook their heads. They stood and gathered their lunch trays and nearly ran from the cafeteria
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