CHAPTER EIGHTEEN – Dusty Cheeto
Finally, the last class of the school year.
Mr. Wise’s history class was again in the library. Luann, Delta and Bernice sat with Knute and Gunther. Knute listened to music on his headset. Mr. Wise emphasized that there was to be no talking.
Naturally, everyone was talking.
Bernice was bursting with news. “You guys, wait’ll you hear what I heard!” Everyone turned to Bernice, except Knute who was bobbing his head to his tunes.
“Is this about my hair?” said Luann. “Because if it is –”
“No, it’s about Tiffany and Gunther.” Everyone looked at Gunther, who stared back, almost afraid to listen.
“So tell,” urged Delta.
“Well,” said Bernice, leaning forward, causing everyone else to lean in too. “By now, we’ve all heard about Gunther’s unfortunate bra-snapping incident, right?” Eyes turned again to Gunther whose face flushed tomato red. “Sorry, Gunth,” said Bernice. “I shouldn’t have brought that up. Anyway, right after that, I followed Tiffany and Amber and overheard them talking about how much fun it had been to humiliate Gunther.”
“What?” said Luann. “You mean all that ga-ga over “Rocky” stuff was just a… a game?”
“Yup,” said Bernice. “Just as I suspected all along. Ugly girls having some cruel fun.”
“Unbelievable!” said Delta.
Luann said, “Actually not unbelievable, knowing those two.” She looked at Gunther. His face flushed deeper red, but not from embarrassment. He burned with anger and humiliation. He pivoted in his chair, crossed his arms and looked away.
Luann felt sadder for Gunther than she did for herself. He’d been disrespected by others, which is hurtful and cruel. Luann had only disrespected herself, which was just dumb.
No one said anything for a long time. Knute bobbed his head, smiling ignorantly.
Feeling a need to change the subject, Delta said, “So, how’s that haircut feel, Luann?”
“Like my head is naked to the world.”
“I know the feeling,” said Delta. “I tried on my thong bikini last night.”
Knute immediately took off his headphones. “What? Did someone say ‘thong’?”
“No, Knute,” said Delta. I wondered what SONG you were listening to.”
Knute looked skeptical. He put his headphones back on.
“Has anyone seen Tiffany or Amber today?” asked Bernice.
In a voice too loud, Knute said, “I could swear I heard ‘thong.’”
“I haven’t seen either one all day,” said Luann. “They’ve probably been busy signing yearbooks. Everyone in the school wants their autograph, you know.”
“Yeah,” said Delta, “I had to stand in line for two hours yesterday to get mine.”
“I made an appointment for July,” said Luann.
“And ‘bikini.’ I heard the word ‘bikini,’” hollered Knute.
Just then, the library door opened and Tiffany and Amber strode in. Conversations gradually went still as if a volume control was being slowly turned down. Eyes followed the two girls. They each had on breezy, strappy summer dresses that revealed lots of skin — and that skin was the orange-yellow color of Garfield the cat. “My God!” whispered Delta. “What happened to them?”
“They look like oven-baked oranges!” said Bernice.
“’Thong and ‘song’ don’t really sound alike, y’know,” boomed Knute, oblivious to everything.
Tiffany and Amber paused, as if to decide which table to grace with their presence, but really to allow their adoring audience to take in all their tanned gorgeousness.
Then, out of the silence, Gunther’s voice rang out: “How’s that carrot diet going, Tiffany?”
The entire library erupted in laugher. Someone shouted, “Nice tan! So natural!” More guffaws. “Halloween’s 5 month away!” Wails of laughter.
Tiffany and Amber stood in shock, their eyes wide, their mouths open. They looked at each other. Without a word, Amber turned and ran out of the library, deserting her friend.
Luann called out, “What’s that skin color, Tiffany? Dusty Cheeto?”
Tiffany’s perfect face crumpled into tears of humiliation then anger. Her mascara began to puddle under her eyes. She wiped her face and smeared two black marks across her orange cheeks, making her look like a football player.
“You’re all a bunch of.. of… LOSERS!” she shrieked, spitting bubbles. As she turned and strutted toward the door, Gunther called out, “Welcome to the club!” A wave of laughter washed Tiffany out the door.
The library was abuzz. Knute took off his headphones and looked around. “What’s goin’ on?”
“Way to go, Gunth!” cheered Bernice.
Delta said, “Man, when Tiff loses it, she loses it!”
“Loses what? Wha’d Tiffany lose?” said Knute, looking for Tiffany.
“Too bad Tiffany’s humiliating skin color isn’t permanent,” laughed Delta. “She’ll be back to her old self in a week.”
Bernice looked directly at Luann’s hair and said, “Unlike some of us.”
“Hey, I’ve already decided to grow it out, okay? And while we’re on the subject of change, would you PLEASE not wave at me on the bus every single morning?”
“Wave? I wave?”
“Yes! Every day!”
“Okay, I won’t do it tomorrow, I promise,” Bernice smiled.
Mr. Wise clapped his hands. “People! There’s way too much talking in here! This is a library. Some of us are trying to read!” By ‘some of us’ he must have meant himself, because nobody was trying to read anything on the last day of school.
Delta looked at her watch. “Ten minutes to go.”
Knute put his headphones back on. Bernice leaned forward and put her head on her arms. Gunther just sat with a big grin on his face. He’d never looked more un-nerdy. Luann leaned toward him and put her hand on his arm. “I love how you put Tiffany in her place. Y’know, for a Bozo, you’re pretty sharp.” Gunther blushed and looked at his shoes.
Luann decided to wander over to the magazine rack. Several people glanced at her, their eyes fixed on her hair.
She flipped open a People and saw a hair gel ad featuring a girl with spiked red hair. It looked stupid. This isn’t who I want to be, thought Luann. I want to be noticed and admired for my personality and my character, not for some superfici–
“Hey, Luann,” said Aaron Hill.
Luann looked up and dropped the magazine. “Aaron! Hi!”
Aaron picked up the magazine and handed it to her. He didn’t even look at Luann’s hair. He looked directly into her eyes.
“Listen, I saw you run out of the cafeteria after we met earlier.
Is everything ok? I thought maybe I said something wrong.”
Luann gazed at Aaron. Her mind said, “You could never say anything wrong to me, Aaron.” But her voice said, “No, no. Not at all.”
Luann glanced at the magazine rack. “Well… maybe a little wrong…” She looked at the floor. “It seemed like, y’know, you thought my new hair was dumb or something. Not that it matters, ‘cuz I’m going to gro–”
“Your hair? I like your hair.”
Luann looked up. “You do?”
“Yeah,” said Aaron. He reached out and gently touched the pale fuzz above her right ear, sending a thrill through Luann’s body. “I think it makes you look… confident.”
Luann couldn’t believe what she was hearing. A million thoughts tumbled through her mind, but she could think of nothing to say.
Aaron smiled at her and as he turned to leave he said, “You should keep it that way.”
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