Authors: e. E. Charlton-Trujillo
“Angie?” said Coach Laden. “See you at tryouts, right?”
“Yeah,” she said, biting the inside of her cheek.
With her shoulders dropped forward, she hauled herself out the door and resumed her place at the trophy case, her forehead pressed against the glass. When she exhaled, the glass steamed. She wiped it away and there was her sister smiling back at her.
Fat Angie did not want to go to class. However, she would have to suck it up because her sister would be home soon. She was quite certain about that and she simply could not quit. That was one thing her sister never did. She never ever quit.
Fat Angie sat in the cafeteria with the usual seven empty seats surrounding her. She had opted for the vegetarian lunch, referred to as Pop and Energy. She eyed the iceberg lettuce with overly processed cheese.
Gary Klein, a couple of tables away, flicked his tongue wildly between the triangle of his fingers and thumbs.
Jake parted through a crowd and strutted toward her. He played it high-school cool, sitting at the end of the table with his back to her.
“What do you want?” said Fat Angie.
Jake half-smiled to a group of girls watching from the food line.
“What were you thinking letting KC take that picture?” said Jake.
“What are you talking about?” Fat Angie slammed her chair back, crashing it into the guy sitting behind her. “
took that picture.”
“What?” Jake said, facing her.
“You’ve been part of some get-the-wacko-fat-freak plan, haven’t you?” she asked. “Admit it. Stacy Ann put you up to this whole do-gooder, I-care-about-Angie crap.”
“OK, I loathe Stacy Ann, for starters. And I didn’t take that picture,” said Jake.
“Right. You’re the only one who knew I was there,” said Fat Angie. “You think Stacy Ann is so pissed at me that she’s tagged me with a tracking device?”
The two paused to consider the probability of that statement. Improbable.
“I mean, you just showed up,” said Fat Angie.
Jake squirmed. Squirmed in the sense of shifting his weight from one leg to the other and jamming his hands in his front baggy jeans pockets.
“Why would I help you practice every day after school for weeks — taking crap from my parents? My friends?” said Jake.
“Your life must be so difficult now.”
“Will you stop it?” Jake said. “Just stop attacking me for fitting in.”
Jake dropped his head. He seemed to be in a dilemma as to what to say.
“I promised your sister, OK?” Jake said. “If something ever . . . happened to her, I’d show. For you. But then I messed it all up. I knew, even before the whole suicide thing. I knew you were in trouble. I just . . .”
Fat Angie glared at him. She was becoming quite talented at glaring.
“Look, I don’t come from a family with all kinds of weird sadness. I’m not so good at — I totally screwed it all up, all right?”
“But I didn’t mean to,” Jake said. “And I’ve been trying —”
“To get rid of your guilt?” said Fat Angie. “Because you were just like the rest of them before?”
“I was never like them,” Jake said.
“Someone took that picture,” Fat Angie said.
“Hey,” KC said, coming up behind Angie. “Where have you been?”
Angie put distance between herself and KC. She thought that would somehow erase the image of their impassioned kiss from the minds of the cafeteria kids.
“Look, I didn’t take that picture,” said Jake. “I’m not like that. I wouldn’t hurt you.”
“You’re a jock,” said Fat Angie. “You suddenly care because of some alleged promise.”
“I. Didn’t. Do. It,” he said.
“OK” said KC. “Everyone, cool your jets. First, Angie, you’re acting like an ass. You haven’t texted me once. That is grade A bad form. And second, though it’s unbelievable to me, Jack didn’t take the pic.”
“Jake,” he said.
“Whatever,” said KC. “Apparently, Wang’s ex-girlfriend told a girl in my history class who passed a note that I intercepted . . . your brother’s the origin. He snapped the pic and made it go viral.”
Fat Angie was stun gunned. “He acted so concerned. . . . Of course. We both knew where Mom was.”
“So what?” said KC, reaching for Angie’s hand. “We’ll fight viral with badass coolness.”
“It’s a big
” said Fat Angie, pulling back.
Jake dipped his head. “This isn’t San Francisco, KC. Dryfalls, Ohio, isn’t exactly rainbow friendly.”
“And you’re the designated go-to guy about all things oppressive?” said KC.
“Hey, I’ve seen kids get hurt. Taunted and pushed around. I’ve seen what they do to Angie just for being herself without you —”
“Shut up!” said Fat Angie. “OK? I’m not invisible.”
“Good job on scoring the dyke vote for student council this year,” a guy said, walking past Jake.
Jake looked at the two girls. The awkward heavy pause planted itself among them.
“KC, I’m not . . . pretty. I’m not . . .
” said Fat Angie. “This just gives everyone something else to stack against me. And I’ve gotta make the team. This is so important to me.”
“So being with me . . . like, that — that’s what?” KC said.
Fat Angie did not take the necessary time needed to think through all the possible responses. She was under the gun. At least in her mind.
“I made a mistake, OK?” said Fat Angie.
KC nodded. “Mistake. Hmm. Wow.”
Fat Angie’s heart was 199.5 percent breaking. And while that estimate felt unbearable and possibly not properly equated, she said, “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, me too.” KC leaned in to Fat Angie. “You break it. You know? My heart.”
Fat Angie’s eyes fell to the purple heart tattoo on KC’s neck.
“I thought you were different,” said KC, walking away. “Good luck. Assimilating.”
Fat Angie stood with her stomach protruding over her jeans. Watching KC become smaller and smaller as she stepped out the glass double doors into the courtyard.
“Angie, we can fix this,” said Jake. “I think.”
Fat Angie’s eyes shot left, then right. In a film, the camera would have circled around her as she searched for one thing: Wang.
Wang’s friends motioned at the dark-haired fury closing in with venomous rage. He lowered his head and pretended that he was involved in the pointless chatter of his underachieving friends.
Wang forgot the most important rule in war:
Never take your eyes off your opponent.
Fat Angie cracked Wang over the head with her plastic tray. Lettuce and fat-free milk rained onto the table, pears and cutlery slap-clanging to the floor.
“What the hell are you doing, freak?” said Wang, backing away from her.
Fat Angie continued to pummel him with the tray.
Whack! Smack! Whack-whack!
He threw up his arms, blocking his head.
“You sent out that picture,” said Fat Angie. “Why?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t send anything.”
She backed him against the wall, her eyes burning an imaginary hole in his skull.
“Don’t lie!” she said.
Her exclamation dialed down the general volume of the lunchroom.
Jake stepped in behind her.
“Look, I’m sorry,” Wang said. “It was supposed to be a joke.”
Fat Angie had eavesdropped on a conversation between her couldn’t-be-bothered mother and Wang’s court-appointed therapist, who had said, “There are so many layers to his trauma, Connie. His sense of abandonment from his birth family and your divorce has resulted in what we refer to as invisible angry teen syndrome (IATS). While not a formal medical diagnosis, IATS is a very real syndrome. They have done studies in Luxembourg on rats. It’s very new material but very promising.”
“A joke?” Fat Angie said.
Wang’s school tough-cool intensity fell away. “It was just . . . I didn’t think — I didn’t think,” said Wang.
“Nothing you ever did up until now made me hate you,” said Fat Angie. “Because I think you miss her too. That’s why you’re such an ass all the time. But I don’t care anymore.” She pushed in. “I hate you.”
“Come on,” said Jake.
Fat Angie had shot and scored from the three-point line, metaphorically speaking. Wang had shared with Angie over a video-game marathon of
that his birth father had said those three words to him before forcing his mother to send him away. In the heat of the moment, she had deliberately wounded Wang and she did not care.
“Angie,” said Jake.
Her eyes held to Wang’s as she stepped back.
Wang hooked Jake by the arm. “You’re a fake, Jake. Whatever you’re doing with my sister, you’re worse than me.”
Jake jerked his arm away.
As Jake and Fat Angie walked to the cafeteria doors, kids laughed. Some hollered. Some even booed. The name-calling specifics were insignificant. And in that moment, Angie just did not care. That scared her.
When the last bell rang, Fat Angie cut out through an emergency exit that did, in fact, sound. She ran as fast as she could and plowed into the girls’ locker room. Huffing, she pulled her sister’s
T-shirt from the bottom of her backpack. It was carefully protected in an oversize Ziploc freezer bag. She gathered her clothes and changed in a stall. This action often made her feel much like Clark Kent changing from mere mortal to Superman. Today, however, she was feeling much less the super and more the Clark. Even with her sister’s shirt on.
Her fingers hooked the latch when the locker room filled with laughter and girl gossip. She squatted with her feet planted on the toilet seat.
“Who took my water bottle?” a girl whined.
“Ask Keisha. She’s always five-finger-discounting my shit.”
“Don’t make me get all brick on you, chicken legs,” said Keisha.
“OK, OK. Best scandal of the year,” said Stacy Ann. “Head cheerleader Amber ‘Precious’ Pom-Pom Hiller knocked up by D-list woodshop junior DeMel Allen, or . . .”
Stacy Ann paused. The tension must have swelled. Fat Angie’s foot slipped momentarily. She recovered quickly, bracing herself against the stall walls, but fumbled her clothes right into the toilet. The toilet that had not been flushed.
“Man . . .” she whispered.
“Or Fat Angie slitting her wrist and going lesbo?” asked Stacy Ann.
One of Stacy Ann’s clan made a buzzer sound. “I’ll take Wacko Fatso Dyke for five hundred bonus points, please.”
The girls laughed.
“Cut it out,” said a girl. “She might make the team.”
Fat Angie tried to fish her clothes out of the toilet without drawing attention to the only occupied stall.
“Yeah, only because Coach Laden is a complete card-carrying dyke,” said Stacy Ann.
That statement paused Fat Angie’s clothing retrieval. Coach Laden a lesbian? No way. She was so . . . lovely. But so was KC. That was when KC’s initials bore a hole into Fat Angie’s gut. What had she been thinking at lunch? KC was the only person to see Angie for who she was and not treat her like Kryptonite.
Fat Angie’s shoe slipped. In less than a second, she slid, sneaker-first, into the toilet. The water splashed out the bowl sides and crept onto the yellow-and-blue-painted locker-room floor. The line of unflushed water trickled from the stall to the Mighty Hornets’ Nest emblem.
Fat Angie flailed, trying to extract her foot. By the time she opened the stall door, she had a rapt audience. At this pivotal moment, with her clothes dripping from her hand, a flood of thoughts threatened to crack the dam of Fat Angie’s “ums.”
It was a weak threat, however.
“Um . . .” Fat Angie said, tugging at her water-spotted gym shorts.
The girls laughed.
“What a freak,” said one girl.
“And I give you William Anders High’s Official Wacko Lesbo, Fat Angie,” said Stacy Ann. “Hand-washing your clothes now?”
Fat Angie stuffed her clothes into her backpack. Her soaked sneaker squeaked against the floor and squished her sock between her toes.
“Forget what I said earlier,” said a girl. “She’ll never make the team.”
Fat Angie shoulder-slammed the locker-room door, stumbled up the stairs, and tossed her damp backpack in the stands. She marched onto the court, put her toe to the sideline, and ran lines. Back and forth she ran. Coach Laden emerged from her office and saw Fat Angie burning up the court — well, as much as she could. Her cheeks blazing red. Her shoes squeaking, slipping. Nothing stopped her. Full-court lines. Then she grabbed a ball off the caddie. She bounced it three times and jammed down the court. Her eyes focused on the target. Fat Angie hit the top of the key. What should have been a dramatic moment, like in a coming-of-age sports film, fell short. She slipped and fell back. The ball rolled away.
Coach Laden had two feet on the court when Fat Angie smacked her palms against the floor and scrambled to her feet. She picked up the ball and zeroed in on the opposite end of the court. She bounced the ball with furiously focused intensity.
Girls began to emerge from the locker room. Stacy Ann leaned in to one of them and said, “I’m shutting this down, now.” She stepped onto center court. Stacy Ann lowered her hips into guard position and waited for the robust, pee-smelling Fat Angie to make her move.
Fat Angie ripped down the court. Stacy Ann’s steel look should have psyched out the fat girl. But Fat Angie kept her eyes on the target, and when Stacy Ann inevitably came between her and the basketball hoop, Fat Angie, huffing of course, pressed against Stacy Ann.
“Give it up, freak,” Stacy Ann said, sliding and shifting with the determined Fat Angie.
Fat Angie backed up. Stacy Ann straightened her defensive stance, indicating that Fat Angie was not a threat.
That was a mistake.
Full of rage, Fat Angie raced for the basket.
Stacy Ann slid her long legs sideways and locked herself into position. Fat Angie let out a primitive scream as she stopped and jump-shot over Stacy Ann’s extended arms.
The ball smacked the backboard and toilet-bowled before dropping in. Stacy Ann had been outshot by the Wacko Fatso Dyke formerly known only as Fat Angie.
Fat Angie leaned on her knees and caught her breath.