The Popular Project
The Popular Project
Author: Christiana Cherry
Chapter One—A is for Another Year in Littlehell High

Sometimes, I like to just sit back and think about my last two years in high school. Know what I end up with? 

A terrible concoction of cringe-worthy moments combined with embarrassing and downright stupid memories I can’t seem to remove from my brain.

Being me is hard enough, now when you add people that try to painfully extract every ounce of strength and courage I can summon then you’ve got a confused teenager that is hopeless in social situations and the school’s very own clown. 

That’s why I try not to think about it.

Junior year was about to start and while I wasn’t particularly happy about it, I was glad to be finishing up with the torture that was high school. 

I leaned back against the wall of my house and yawned. 

The sun was just about to set behind the pine trees and it gave off a beautiful purplish-orange glow that combined with the cool evening breeze made me sleepy. 

A gust of wind passed me and tucked a lock of my blonde hair into my mouth. 

I stopped mid-yawn and spat it out. The bitter, slightly acidic taste of strawberry shampoo did not sit well on my tongue so I had to use the arm of my blue sweater to brush it off.

My cat, Leslie, cocked her head at me while I frantically cleaned my tongue. Her blue feline eyes seemed to be filled with laughter as her pink ears swiveled. 

She hissed just as a pair of black and white Converses stopped right beside me. I was so preoccupied with removing the distaste from my mouth that I didn’t hear the footsteps. I traced the shoes up to meet the confused face of my friend, Indy. 

“Why on earth are you sitting on the floor in your backyard?” her smooth, accented voice asked. 

“Like you rightly said, it’s my backyard, I can do whatever I want in it.”

She narrowed her baby blue eyes and shook her head. Flipping her long black hair behind her shoulder, she cupped her hand beside her mouth and hollered. “She’s over here guys.”

Very soon I was squeezed into a painfully tight hug by another person, her pleasant perfume reminded me of the inside of a new car. 

“Don’t do that to me again, Taylor. I was about to write a missing person report,” squealed the girl from my chest. 

“OK . . . Andi . . . Can’t breathe . . . Let go,” I choked out as her hug cut the airflow to my lungs.

She let go and grabbed my cheeks, pinching them. 

“Are you OK, Taylor? Tell me!” Her brown eyes showed her concern. 

“I’ll be better off if you let go of my cheeks.” I mumbled.

She did and I rubbed them. They were throbbing from Andi’s deadly pinches.

“Way to go, Andrea.” I scowled. 

“That’s your punishment for making us look for you,” Indy had a smug look on her face. 

“Not to mention making us think you were dead!” the slight Indian accent in Andi’s voice became more noticeable as she yelled.

“You’re the only one that thought that, Andi.” Indy confirmed.

“Why would you think I was dead?” I asked Andi. 

The answer was clear. Andi loved exaggerating. She loved acting and was way too passionate about it, she was the drama queen of our trio and never let us forget it. She was one of those people that made their presence known on entering the room.

“Well someone had to think of every possibility. For all we know, Adrianna could’ve killed you, poured acid over your body so it’s not identifiable and tossed you in a shallow grave.”

“First of all, don’t give her any ideas. Secondly, my sister would never do that, our hatred for each other really isn’t that strong. Besides, Leslie’s here,” I waved my hand in Leslie’s direction. “She has this no-violence-near-pets-because-they-could-turn-into-vicious-monsters policy going on.” I rolled my eyes. 

“I cannot believe I’m gonna do this,” Indy sighed before sitting on the dirt floor in front of me, a look of disgust in her face. 

“It’s not that bad, is it, Indy?” I asked, deliberately teasing her. Indy was a clean freak and abhorred sitting on anything that wasn’t inside a building. 

Her eyes narrowed in a glare.

“Last day of being sophomores. By tomorrow we’ll be juniors, then seniors, then we’re out of high school and in college!” Andi screamed. 

“Thank you, Sherlock, but I think we’ve already figured that one out,” Indy put her finger inside her ear and rubbed it. 

“So, Taylor?” Andi turned to me. “How do you feel about it?”

“Happy and sad. Happy because I’ll get to see Kenneth tomorrow after three weeks,” I clasped my hands under my chin and let out a dreamy sigh.

They both groaned and Indy face-palmed herself.

Both of them knew about my huge crush on football player, Kenneth Avalon.

He was a beautiful work of creation in my eyes. His brown hair was super wavy, his bright blue eyes always twinkled in his expertly created solid face and his deep, resonating laugh always sent shivers of excitement up my spine.

“How many ‘stay away from him or you’ll be sorry’ do you have to get from Rebecca before you eventually stay away from him?” questioned Indy as she stroked Leslie.

“Indy’s right. Kenneth is not your kind of guy, Taylor. Stay away from him! Unless you want to get completely slaughtered by the living, breathing definition of evil,” Andi’s eyebrow shot up.

“Why can’t you guys just humor me for once?” I folded my arms.

“Because you know anything happening between you and that dumbass of an imbecile is unrealistic,” Indy told me.

“And forgive me if I care about you too much to try to save you from Rebecca’s venom. You know she scares you,” said Andi.

I gasped. “She does not!”

Not that I wasn’t used to my friends’ brutal honesty, it just felt like they made special effort to attack me today. Not the way I wanted to end the holidays if you were wondering.  

“That’s what you said last year but you let her take the last seat at the play and ended up standing throughout the hour long performance,” Andi countered.

“I didn’t watch half of that stupid play remember? I played Subway Surf all through it. Mindy’s a terrible actress,” I defended. 

“And the year after that when she took your last tater tot,” Indy added.

“I . . . didn’t . . . I didn’t want that,” I stammered. I started again before they could counter me. “Well, I don’t care how many scenarios you bring up, OK? She does not scare me! And that is the end of that topic. I don’t wanna remember that conniving snake.”

Thankfully – and totally unlike the two girls before me – they didn’t push it and Andi seemed content. I wasn’t in the mood to defend my not standing up for myself against my ex-bestfriend. 

“I can’t believe you used to be friends with her. Her picture should be right next to the word horrible in the dictionary, she barely gives you space to breathe in school,” Indy was scratching Leslie in her favorite spot behind her ear.

I sighed.

“Used to be. Before she turned into Miss My-name’s-not-Google-but-I-know-everything.”

Remembering the circumstances surrounding our fallout made me sad so I didn’t say more, but I didn’t need to because suddenly the sound of footsteps approaching rang out and soon another figure appeared from the corner armed with a bowl of popcorn he was eating from. 

Henry Reynolds, our only friend that was a guy scoffed as he saw us. His intelligent brown eyes looked around and landed individually on three of us.

“If this is another one of those pity parties Taylor likes hosting, I’m going back to my nice, comfortable, depression-free, happy house.”

“Oh, popcorn!” Andi shot up and took a handful, throwing it into her mouth. She was always hungry.

Henry gave her the bowl and sat beside me. He had a crazy smile on his face as he pinched my side. I smacked his arm.

“Last day as sophomores,” moaned Indy as she rested her chin in Leslie’s white fur.

“I’m not gonna miss it,” quipped Henry with a shake of his head. The movement made his long black hair fall over his forehead.

“Me too. It was filled with impossible topics, terrible assignments, difficult exams and that strange chicken pox virus that went round,” confessed Andi.

We all shuddered.

“I am so set for this year,” started Indy with a bright smile on her face. “I’ve brought out all my outfits and numbered my jeans. So I don’t wear the same pair twice.”

“Information like that should be kept to yourself, Indy,” said Henry sarcastically.

Andi and I laughed as Indy rolled her eyes.

“Well, I wasn’t talking you, Reynolds,” she lifted her chin and folded her arms.

“That’s all good. For now, let’s make a wish. Whatever we want to happen this junior year,” I looked at all of them.

“I wish,” started Andi, “that I get cast as Monique in this year’s school play. Playing lead in a school play would look great on a college application.”

“I wish, that I get elected as class president,” Indy wished.

“I wish, that I’d be made anchor of LittleWood Reports,” I wished.

 LittleWood Reports was the name of my school’s channel. Being the only channel in the entire town to originate in a high school and mostly run by teenagers, it was the pride of Wood High. They broadcast live from the media room of the school all sorts of programs, but the news was the most famous program and the only one watched by the entire population of Little Wood – give or take about 1000 people.

“Since when?” asked Andi.

“I did some work as an assistant in the studio last year and it really fueled my interest in journalism and made me want a job there.”

We all turned to Henry who stared back at us.

I raised an eyebrow.

“What?” When he realized why we were looking at him he added, “You can’t say your wish out loud. It totally jinxes it.”

“We just did,” I told him.

“I know. Coulda been a great year for you guys. If cowpox breaks out, we know who brought it.”

“Uh, you, for not telling us your wish,” Andi pointed a finger at Henry.

I had to stop them before they started one of their legendary squabbles.

“Come on guys, let’s go inside,” I grabbed Leslie and stood up. The darkness had fully settled in and it was pretty chilly, the trees stood like bushy skeletons and that terrified me.

I left them and headed inside. I dropped Leslie and she sniffed the floor. 

“Where are your friends, kiddo?” my mom appeared from the kitchen holding a tray, her blue eyes searched behind me. 

“Either they’re right behind me or Andi’s killing Henry.”

She frowned. “You know how I feel about blood.”

“I was jok . . .” I sighed knowing that my mom will never get the joke. “Fine. I’ll go get them.”

“Good,” she turned to go then stopped and came back. “By the way, Charles said to tell you that Hayley loves your selection and the cake’s almost ready.”

“Really?” my eyes popped out of their sockets. My big brother was getting married and I was helping his fiancé, Hayley, pick out a flavor for her wedding cake over the holidays. Out of all the yummy and fancy recommendations her wedding planner gave her I’m pretty amazed and excited she picked mine. 

“Yup,” she nodded making her blonde ponytail bounce. “Now go get your friends. It’s too dark for them to be outside.”

I skipped outside and hurdled everyone in. Once inside we sat in a circle and Andi started one of her long stories about . . . something. I never made it through to the end, and as my eyes closed in sleep I had no inkling that this was going to be my most eventful year in high school.

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