Nola waited by the old lockers after school, an excited little flutter in her stomach. She had a friend, a real friend. There was someone who thought she was funny, interesting, who liked to hang out with her. Melanie Woodman was her friend. Nola and Melanie…Melanie and Nola. Have you seen Nola? Oh, she’s with her friend Melanie. Nola practically hugged herself as she stood waiting for Melanie to meet her as planned.
That night at the slumber party had been very enlightening. Nola had missed so much of the big picture before that evening that she couldn’t help wonder what else she overlooked, what other social constructs she missed? She would have to be more observant, this was new territory.
Melanie Woodman had seemed to be just like all the other girls, part of the blur, the out of reach social unit that was the eighth grade class. But Nola failed to see that Melanie was almost as much an outsider as she herself was. The only difference between them was that Melanie was rich, and therefore she was useful to the other girls so they acted nicer to her. She had concert tickets, cool clothes, a limo that picked her up from school and would take her anywhere she wanted to go, parents that traveled and didn’t care if she had parties. It seemed maybe the other kids didn’t even like Melanie anymore than they did Nola; they just liked what she provided.
At the beginning of Melanie's party Nola hung back, she stayed around the edges of the room, moving just enough so that no one noticed she didn’t have anyone to talk to. She wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, just trying to make it through the evening without looking like a reject. But eavesdrop she did.
She kept a constant eye on Melanie, thinking at first that since she was the host, the one that invited her, if there was going to be trouble or if a trick was going to be played that she would be the one orchestrating it. Nola wanted to keep track of Melanie to make sure she wasn’t ambushed. She also kept a keen eye on Gwen Van Matre.
Gwen Van Matre had invited Nola to her own birthday party at the beginning of the school year, when Nola was still hopeful that skipping ahead put her in a class with kids that wouldn’t pick on her, where she’d be able to fit in better. The party was to consist of a horseback ride and picnic by a lake in a nearby state park. There were fifteen girls, so since the Van Matres only owned six horses themselves, some were rented from a nearby stable.
Nola had been crazy for horses since she could walk, she’d taken riding lessons at Lynchwood Stables when she was younger and Grandee could still bring her. She was a decent rider for her age. But when all the girls were mounting up at the start of the trail it turned out it had been specially arranged for Nola to ride a saggy old pony, the only pony, in fact, that was there that day, brought just for her since she was “so young”. A toddler could have ridden the animal, and in fact Nola was tall and lanky for her age, she matched most of the eighth grade girls inch for inch in height.
But perhaps what was worst of all is that the creature had been decorated as if for a little girl’s birthday party, bedecked with streaming ribbons and barrettes in it’s mane and tail, a colorful rainbow blanket peeked out from beneath a sparkling pink and white saddle. It was a sight to behold and the minute all the other kids saw it the laughter had been nearly deafening.
Nola had two choices, ride that pony or not go. She was sort of frozen, not sure what to do. But in the moment, unsure, she chose to ride the pony, to try and suck it up. As if the humiliation weren’t already enough, though, someone had also given strict instructions to the stable owners that a guide needed to be provided with the pony as well. Even though Nola assured the young woman that it wasn’t necessary, she was unmoved, only following orders. So to add insult to injury this young woman, a teenager barely taller than Nola herself, insisted on holding the reigns and walking the pony the whole way. It was going to be humiliating.
She looked ridiculous on the little pony, like a giant on a toy horse. The other girls towered over her as one by one they headed down the woodland trail on their graceful mounts. The poor old Shetland was so slow, so tired, that halfway there she just stopped and would go no further. Try as the guide might, the poor beast would not be budged. Again Nola had a choice, either walk the rest of the way to catch up with the others, already miles ahead, or go home. This time Nola chose to go home. She walked rather than call her mother for a ride, trying not to cry the whole way.
The next day at school some of the girls made fun of her. They teased her for how ridiculous she looked riding the pretty little pony and they busted her chops for being such a baby that she couldn’t be a sport about the whole thing, that she went crying home to her mommy. It wasn’t true; she knew it was no innocent error. It was a purposeful joke meant to put her in her place, to let her know that she would never fit in. And she certainly didn’t cry to her mother. Her mother would not have understood. She would have thought it was an honest mistake; that the Van Matres had only tried to get a horse appropriate for her age. Kate would have thought they were being accommodating. Nola’s mom never seemed to get these things. The social nuances of middle school were lost on her. Nola couldn’t prove it wasn’t a miscommunication, of course, but she sure doubted it.
Apparently societal scorn at this advanced age could be subtle. It was different than the overt treatment Nola had gotten from her peers before. Their acts had been obvious, quick. This new echelon needed careful navigation; schemes were potentially more elaborate. After Gwen’s party Nola had waited for another incident, another situation. But there had been none, none until Melanie Woodman’s party.
Understandably Nola was worried the slumber party at Melanie Woodman’s house was another set-up. She was right, it was, but not by Melanie. Poor Melanie had been an unwitting pawn in another of Gwen Van Matre’s attempts to humiliate Nola. This time though, it backfired.
six words: see ya soon - minor eye injury still needs healing