I was afraid the nurse would realize what had happened and call me right back in, giving me just a moment of thinking I'd gotten away with it before condemning me to a crinkly afternoon, so I couldn't help fidgeting as I stood in front of her office. Molly quickly hit a button on her cell phone before slipping it back into her pocket, smiling down at me. I had a feeling she wasn't supposed to have that, but that sort of thing never stopped kids before, and I wasn't about to tattle on her.
"Everything okay?" she asked. I nodded, and she led me to the cafeteria, where our detour came in handy, as it seemed the biggest part of the lunch rush was already through and seated. I had no doubt Molly would have no trouble finding somewhere to sit, though, and since I was with her, I wouldn't either. I felt a swell of pride in my chest at that thought. By extension, I was one of the cool kids now. I know I should have gotten over the fact that I hadn't been one back when I was really going to high school, but I couldn't deny how satisfying this was now.
"I'm probably just going to have a salad," she told me, "but if you want to get something else, I suggest the pizza. It's right over there."
She pointed, but I didn't even bother to look. "Salad is fine," I said, convincing myself that her little smile was just her being happy that I had the same taste as her. After my big breakfast, I wasn't all that hungry anyway. We got our plates and drinks and I followed her out of the noisy cafeteria to a small courtyard. There weren't many tables out there, and all of them were full, but, just as I'd predicted, the one Molly headed for had not one, but two empty chairs, side by side.
"Hey, guys," Molly said to the girls crowded around the table as she sat down. I hung back for a moment, still feeling a little unsure of myself until she patted the seat next to her. "This is my new little friend, Holly."
"Umm... Hi," I blushed, lifting one hand slightly.
While I could see that some of them were amused at the sight of me, most of them seemed glad to meet me, and I even got a couple comments on how adorable I looked. I wasn't sure if those were completely sincere or not, but I wasn't sure which would be worse, so all I could do was blush.
"I've been showing her around the school today," Molly explained. "She's not going to be here for long, unfortunately."
"Oh, that's too bad," one of the other girls shook her head, then began to dig through her bag. Bashfully, I started to stab at my salad, listening to them prattle on. It was a bit disillusioning to realize how similar everything they talked about was to what me and my friends would say at lunch. The specifics were a little different, of course, enough so that I didn't feel comfortable trying to jump in - I knew I'd either look like an older person trying to seem hip, which I was, or a little kid trying to do the same, which is what they would see me as.
I finished the salad before too long, but I didn't have a chance to relax, as, almost immediately, the girl pulled what she'd been searching for out of her bag. "Here, don't you think this will look adorable on her?" she asked, getting a quick concensus before getting up and walking around the table to me, kneeling down in front of me. "Give me your hands," she ordered.
I glanced over at Molly nervously. She chuckled. "She's not going to hurt you," she promised. I held out one hand, and the girl took it, spreading out my fingers and holding it steady as she set the bottle she'd found on the ground, taking off the top and brushing it over my fingernails. It was no great surprise to see that it was bright pink.
"Don't worry," she said, "if your mom doesn't let you wear it yet, just have Molly find me before you come home and I'll get you some remover."
"I can wear nail polish!" I squeaked, before realizing my indignation could be taken as an attempt to cover up the fact that I wasn't really allowed to after all. The girl's smirk, no matter how quickly she transformed it back to a more pleasant smile, let me know that was how she'd taken it.
Almost before she was done, telling me to keep my hands still for another minute or two, another girl appeared in front of me, this one holding a tube of pink, sparkly lip gloss. "I-I don't know..." I protested, but she waved me off.
"It washes right off," she promised, already rubbing the tube over my lips. "Now, just rub your lips together... There you go!" All of the sudden, I'd gone from having one faux big sister to a whole gaggle. I wasn't sure that was entirely an improvement.
"Look at that!" Molly grinned, looking me over. "She looks even more sweet and innocent than she did before, doesn't she?" The other girls were quick to agree. "No teacher would ever think you were up to no good," she informed me. "Nobody would."
My stomach began to twist inside me as I heard those words. The feeling of this acceptance was almost like being drunk, but those were a strong cup of coffee, starting to bring me back to my senses. Was this what the whole thing had been about? Trying to butter me up so I'd go along with whatever she had planned?
"I wouldn't," I said carefully. "I don't want to get in trouble..."
"Oh, you wouldn't!" Molly told me quickly. "Even if you got caught, we could just say you were my little sister, and you got lost."
"But I... I don't think that would..." I protested, shaking my head.
"But you aren't going to get caught anyway!" she interrupted me. "We'll be watching out for you, don't worry. It's just a story for the off-off-off-chance that something does happen. Which it won't."
"No, you don't understand!" I blushed. "I can't... If I get in trouble, I'll be in... Well, in trouble, but..." I fumbled for an explanation that didn't make me sound like a little kid, scared of what her parents might do if they found her being naughty.
"A brainiac like you won't be in trouble for long," Molly brushed that off. "And if you are, just tell your parents it's hard being in high school at your age. And cry a little, that always helps. They'll back off."
"No, they won't." There was no way the nanny would fall for that. "I can't..."
"You can." Molly's eyes narrowed slightly as she glared at me, her voice getting slightly quieter. "Or I can tell everyone what I heard when I was outside the nurse's office. You might not be here for long, but that will make the rest of your time a living hell, now won't it?"
I swallowed, face flushing as I felt tears welling up. I couldn't believe she'd heard that, but I wasn't about to test her knowledge right here. "You tricked me," I whimpered.
"I did no such thing," she retorted. "I still want to help you out and be your friend... All I'm asking is that you do one little thing to help me out in return, but you're being awfully selfish about it." The other girls nodded their agreement. I'm sure to a kid like the one they saw me as, it would have been quite effective.
Unfortunately, while it didn't work nearly as well on me, that didn't change the fact that my choices were pretty rotten. I could go along with them and risk getting caught, which would surely lead to a punishment when I got home, or I could say no and spend the rest of the day with nobody to watch out for me, and everyone knowing I wet myself, to the point where I was on the verge of being diapered. Even worse, it would be the end of my time as one of the popular crowd, even if I was only there because I was useful to them.
Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, I realized this was exactly the same as it was the first time around. These girls were just like the cheerleaders I'd used to despise when I was in high school for real, only pretending to like me when they needed something from me. Only they, or at least Molly, was better at it... Or I was just desperate enough not to look too deep into her motivations. This should be the perfect opportunity for me, the chance to tell them off like I'd always wanted to do to my original tormenters, to let them know I saw through them and their games.
But did I have the guts? One day ago, if the opportunity had somehow come up, I was sure I'd have taken it, no problem. What a difference a day makes...
"Come on, Holly," Molly urged me. "If we go now, we can get it done before lunch, and then you won't have to worry about it for the rest of the day. You can forget all about it. Okay? I'll give you my cell number and you can text me when you get to your new permanent school, and..." I heard several light snickers at the expression on my face. "Do you not have a cell phone yet?"
"I do!" I protested, hating myself a little for how much I still wanted these girls to think I was cool. "I just... lost it..."
"I'm sure your mom will get you a new one," she said. "And we can talk all the time. Come on, it's just one little thing."
I shifted in my seat, chewing nervously on my bottom lip, knowing I couldn't put the decision off forever. Molly was sounded less and less patient with every bit of encouragement, and soon enough she would just demand an answer. But what was I going to tell her?