"Let me pick what to listen to today," Carl said, rustling through his backpack. From one of the pouches he pulled out a portable speaker and his mp3 player. Seeing as the car's radio was shot, that was the only way to listen to music while driving.
"What are you going to put on?" Ginger asked.
"I'm thinking some psychedelic rock. Strawberry Alarm Clock sound good?" Ginger nodded, chewing on her lip as she steered the car. It took a few moments to find the right artist, but then Carl turned on the speaker and a funky melody flooded the car. Ginger spaced out a little, getting into the zone and just driving on autopilot as she let the music flow through her. Her morning drives to school with Carl were always the best times they had together as siblings, because they never argued then. It was just music, good vibes, and quiet companionship.
With a practiced twist, Ginger opened her locker and shoved her bag inside. The hallway was filled with the din of chattering, and she struggled to hear as Macie, her oldest friend, tried to talk to her over her shoulder. "I don't know what I was thinking, Ginger," she said. "That organic fruit and yogurt-only diet was the worst idea I could possibly have had. The stupid websites I read said it was good for your immune system, but you know how I was out sick the other day? I went to the doctor that day and it turns out I'm allergic to milk."
"Oh man, that must be terrible for you," Ginger said. Shutting her locker, she leaned up against it as she talked. "I knew you always used to get sick when we got milkshakes together at the Dandy Diner. Guess that was from your allergy, huh?"
"You know me, Ginger. I've got a billion allergies, so yeah, it's nothing new. Definitely annoying though. And it definitely was. But don't worry, I don't mind suffering a little if it means getting to do a nostalgic diner run like we used to." She attempted to wink, but ended up blinking because she had terrible coordination. Ginger giggled, causing Macie to blush in embarrassment and adjust her glasses. "Guess I still need to work on my winking skills. Care to walk to class with me?"
"Sure! Just let me grab my books." Quickly she ruffled through her locker, grabbing her things, then the two set off toward the classroom. Macie was one of the coolest people Ginger knew. She admired her individuality, her wittiness, and her intelligence. She was demure but knew how to defend herself, quirky as hell and fiercely independent. It was fantastic. They talked quietly to each other as they walked, discussing their homework assignment and gossiping a bit about how their classmates might have done on it. Rounding a corner, Macie suddenly stopped short.
"Ginger... let's take a different hallway to class. Please."
"What? I don't..." Ginger paused, suddenly understanding. Several cheerleaders were standing in front of the bathroom, talking loudly. That in and of itself wasn't bad, really, but Dodie was with them.
Dodie. She'd once been their best friend and now they almost never talked. When they did, Ginger could feel the awkwardness hanging around them, weighing down on whatever they said like a leaden weight. They hadn't had a big falling out or anything. It was the exact opposite. They had chosen different lifestyles and had grown apart so much that it was almost as if they'd never been friends. Ginger didn't begrudge Dodie for choosing to be a social butterfly, for becoming a cheerleader; the way Ginger saw it, it was part of Dodie's nature as an extrovert to want to be that way, and she was happy that Dodie had gotten the life she always wanted. However, that didn't mean that Ginger really wanted to be a part of it. She almost hated to admit it to herself, but she felt betrayed and inadequate. Dodie was part of the bitchy crowd now; she'd abandoned Ginger and Macie, the "uncool" kids, and found what she apparently thought was much better company. It hurt Ginger. Badly.
From the hunted look in Macie's eyes, Ginger knew she'd taken it even worse. Macie was an unswervingly loyal friend, and it took a lot for her to drop a relationship with someone. Because of that fact, Ginger didn't mind playing along with Macie's slightly over-the-top methods of avoiding interacting with Dodie. It was worth it if it meant avoiding making Macie feel like even more of an outcast.
The two hurriedly retreated around the corner, out of sight of the cheerleaders, and went down the other hallway. If they speedwalked they'd make it to class on time, despite the detour, so they rushed as fast as they could. Nothing more was said on the topic. Nothing needed to be.
When class got out, Ginger parted ways with her friends to go get a drink of water at the fountain. There she found Carl, who was filling up his My Little Pony flask. "Hey," she said. "What's with the flask?"
"Attractive, isn't it?" he quipped.
"I guess so?"
"I knew you'd think so. You've got impeccable taste."
"Since when did you think that?"
"Since always. I do value your opinion, you know." He grinned, showing his braces.
"Riiiight. Can I get a drink really quick?"
Carl stepped out of the way, gesturing to the fountain. "Drink away, fair damsel." Ginger laughed a little.
At that moment, some guy Ginger didn't recognize walked past the two. He looked at Carl, smirked, and called out, "Hey, faggot."
"Well fuck you too," Carl responded, narrowing his eyes
"Hey!" Ginger was instantly pissed. "What's with that?" she demanded. "What makes you think you have any right to speak to him like that?"
The guy rolled his eyes and continued walking. Ginger called after him, "Don't even think of saying that again!" He didn't give any indication that he cared or even heard. Turning back to Carl, Ginger put her hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry. I..."
"It's alright," he said, patting her hand before removing it from his shoulder. "I'm used to it."
"That doesn't make it okay!" Ginger realized she was almost yelling and took a deep breath, trying to chill out.
"You're a pacifist. The only thing they'll likely respond to is violence, and that's not exactly your modus operandi."
"Have you told your teachers?"
He stared at her for a moment. "What makes you think they care, or are even on my side, Ginger?"
"They're... they're supposed to be! It isn't right. You shouldn't be treated like this."
"Life isn't fair."
"It should be."
"But it isn't."
"You can't just lay down and accept it."
A pause. Then, "Sorry, but I have to go to class now." Carl screwed the cap onto his flask and held her gaze for a moment. His eyes betrayed so much pain, but as he walked away he looked more dignified than Ginger had ever seen him. It broke her heart.