Serena had moved to her new home two years ago–when she was eight. The town was very pretty, cozy and small, with little to no terrible things happening other than the local teenagers pulling pranks, typically. She could walk to school and not worry about being kidnapped off the sidewalk, unlike her old hometown, and if nothing else there was a teacher who would walk along the same path to school, picking up children and walking in a group. The neighbors were friendly and helpful, everything was within walking distance, and Serena had plenty of room compared to the apartment they’d lived in before.
There was just one problem with their new home. She couldn’t make any friends.
Not from lack of trying, of course. She may have even tried too hard at times. But no matter what she tried, it seemed none of the other kids wanted anything to do with her.
She was a new kid, coming from a big city, and so trying to fit in with a close knit group of kids that already knew each other was a challenge. The teacher, Miss Jenkins was very helpful, even giving Serena a copy of the class list with everyone’s picture so she could learn to put names to faces. She studied it, memorized everyone’s name, and she even came up with a way to remember who was who by features. Nathan had an upturned nose, Chloe had freckles all over her face, Samantha had the same blond hair that she did…
After two days of trying to get used to the classes and learning the layout of the school, no one had approached her yet, so she decided she had to make the first move. She dressed herself up to impress and pulled her hair up into her signature pigtails. She looked and felt great, confident.
Morning recess was the perfect opportunity. The other two days she had spent with Miss Jenkins, catching up on assignments and in general just, well, catching up. Finally able to go outside, she plucked up the courage and walked over to a small group playing on the tire swing.
Before she could get out any more than a “Hello” they’d stopped their play and turned to stare at her.
There was nothing mean about their looks, but it certainly wasn’t a welcoming feeling, either. Arm raised in a small wave, Serena stilled her hand, slowly lowering it to her side.
Clearing her throat quietly, about to ask if she could join them, Nathan with the upturned nose beat her to the punch. “There’s no room here.”
“O-oh.” She bit her lip, nodding. “Okay. Sure. Maybe some other time.”
As she walked away, she clearly heard a “Doubt it,” followed by laughing.
It slowly but surely got worse. Lunches were spent with a small bubble around her of empty space, not enough to make any teachers suspicious, but enough so that Serena definitely felt the lack of warmth. Recess involved a lot of reading–she either sat outside with a library book or in the library itself. Serena had been a very friendly, chatty girl back at her other school, but here she must have looked like such a loner.
Occasionally she’d try again to play with others at recess, but she usually ended up with the same results as the first time. And finally, after an incident with some of the other kids, she just stopped altogether.
It was time for the switch out for recess, the older kids coming out and the younger ones going in. Being distracted trying to gather up the younger students, the teachers were occupied. Serena walked outside with a book in hand and sat on one of the benches, getting ready to settle in for another lonely fifteen minutes with no one but Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy in another world to keep her company.
She’d already started to read when she felt a sudden, sharp tug on one of her pigtails.
She involuntarily let out an “Ouch!” Reaching up to rub the side of her head, she looked up to see some of her classmates standing around her.
“Aren’t pigtails for babies?” said one of the girls–Samantha. Serena felt another pull on her other pigtail.
“What’s wrong with them?” she asked, reaching for the recently yanked tail and holding it gingerly. Were pigtails really only for little kids? Weren’t they still kids, anyway?
“Nothing–unless you’re a baby,” said Jennifer, flipping her own long hair over her shoulder.
“Guess kids in big cities get to be babies longer, huh? You should grow up.”
“Must be dumber, too. You had to do a lot of catch up work, right?”
“Big, stupid baby.”
Finally the teachers started to disperse, and so did the kids. Serena sat staring at her book, tears building in her eyes. She couldn’t focus for the rest of the day, and practically ran home once school was let out.
She sat quietly in her room for a long time. Her parents both worked until five-thirty during the week, so she had the house to herself for a couple hours.
Finally she found herself in front of the bathroom mirror, staring at herself. Was she a baby? Was she stupid? She sniffled, looking down at her feet. She’d never felt dumb before, or like a baby, but now… If they all said it, did that mean it was true?
Serena didn’t want to be stupid. Or a baby. She reached up and let her hair down, setting her hair ties on the sink. She played with them, wondering how something as simple as her hair could make her a baby. It seemed silly, but the words wouldn’t leave her.
Steeling herself, Serena picked up the scissors she’d brought into the bathroom with her, grabbing her hair near the base of her neck.
She’d been growing it out for years, never letting her parents get it cut too short. She wanted to see how long it would grow.
Now she took the scissors and cut through her thick hair, holding the large mass until she made it all the way through. When she finished she held it up in front of her face, watching blankly as she twisted it around to look at it.
Did hair really make a difference? Would she be more mature without pigtails?
Letting out a shaky breath, Serena let her hair fall into the trash bin next to the sink.
She spent the next couple days at home, claiming to be sick. She hid under her covers, moping and sulking. Her parents were shocked to find that Serena had hacked off her hair. “It was too hot…” was all she would say.
When she finally emerged late on Friday, her parents were worried, wondering if it was really sickness that was plaguing their little girl. They talked to her, but she claimed nothing was wrong–“Just not feeling well. I think I’m better now.”
And she did feel better. Well, a little. She’d decided that she would try not to let what the others said bother her, not anymore. She couldn’t do anything about her hair, not now that it was gone. But she’d prove she wasn’t stupid.
So for the next two years she kept to herself. She sat in the library every opportunity she had, reading and studying as much as she could so that she could be smart, smarter than all of them if she had to. Her grades had been nothing to sneeze at before, but were now high and maintained. She wasn’t stupid.
Even after she’d been gone those couple of days, and coming back to school with most of her hair gone, her classmates still ignored her. They didn’t verbally or physically pick on her, not anymore, but no words were spoken between any of them. Lunches were still upheld with distance, group projects were done in silence.
And Serena simply grew to like it.
Now, two years later, nothing was different. Except one little thing.
“Everyone, this is Jesse. He just moved from New York, so he’s going to need some help adjusting.”
The same had been said when Serena had started. She foresaw no better treatment for this boy than she’d received. And she was right.
The first week was very quiet for the new boy. He seemed taken aback by the silent treatment, and, like Serena, tried to speak up with others and make friends. They were less than accommodating.
Having been stuck in her own bubble of solitude for so long, Serena blocked out everything, even the new boy who was suffering from the same mistreatment as she.
So when she heard the scuffing of the chair across from her in the library one day, she jerked up in surprise to see Jesse sitting across from her. She shrank back in her seat, unsure how to proceed.
Jesse had it covered. “So I hear you’re from a big town too. Where’re you from?”
Serena blinked. “Are… you talking to me?”
“Duh. We’re the only nerds in here during recess, so…” He rolled his eyes, smiling to show he meant nothing bad by his comment.
“Oof. Bet it’s a lot nicer here, huh?”
“Hm.” Jesse sat there watching her, and Serena felt so awkward she finally just looked back down to her book, blushing a bit.
“So they must ignore you too, huh? Is that why you’re in here?”
“What?” she blinked again. “Um, well…”
“It’s kinda sucky. The town is super nice, but their kids are jerks, huh?” He blew a raspberry, plopping his chin down in his hand and sighing. “Since we’re being ignored together, you wanna be friends?”
Serena felt her eyes go big. “R-really?”
“Well yeah. Nobody should be by themselves. And if we’re gonna be by ourselves, might as well be together, right?” He held out his hand, pinky extended. “Back home, this is how me and my best buds shook on things. And I think you and I can be really good friends. Don’t you?”
Serena was brimming with so much happiness she could barely contain it. Biting her lip to keep her smile from getting too big, she nodded happily, holding her book down with one hand and linking her pinky with Jesse’s.
“Next recess we should go outside, but this time I’ll letcha finish reading.” He smirked. “Wouldn’t want to have my only friend mad at me.”
Serena laughed, and would glance up occasionally from her book, as if afraid Jesse might be in her imagination and would disappear. So she made sure to keep her pinky securely latched onto his, keeping him there. Keeping him with her.