BY: Shannon Yang
“Come on. We’re going to the sweet shop!” A huge group of girls in the eighth grade were standing in a clump, ambling in the hall towards the back of the school. Isabella sat alone, with only a few friends around her. Her eyes were shining because she was joyful and happy. While she was walking, she opened her lunch box and drank a whole juice box, throwing it away in the compost bin.
Although Isabella enjoyed great times with her friends, she had a feeling that she’d be better off with this big group of kids just because they were popular. Isabella threw her lunch box onto the ground and trailed behind the growing group of Cohaton Middle School students, not knowing how doing this would change her life.
The popular girls snickered as they passed a small group of kids talking about trigonometry, who happened to be Isabella’s friends. “Really? So weird!” someone exclaimed. Isabella didn’t get why they were reacting this way, but she snickered with them anyway.
After the group snuck off campus, they passed by a playground. On a nearby bench, old women sat, chattering as they watched their grandchildren. A lone old lady sitting on the grass sewing seemed miles away.
That woman was poor. Her name was Chloe. She lived a simple life in a cabin just outside of Cohaton. Her hair was gray and had a light wave. The colors on her clothes were light and made Isabella feel serene. Her eyes did not shine, and her mouth was stern and serious. Chloe sat on a red-checkered picnic cloth, making a scarf. Golden autumn leaves carried by the light wind blew onto the soft grass. For some reason, Chloe had no friends.
Isabella couldn’t help feeling sorry for her, but no one seemed to care about the lone old woman, so she walked on silently until the bike path led them to a small, sunny building. It was the sweet shop.
Everyone took out their wallets and got large Cokes. This was a total sin, but it felt so good to drink soda!
“Uh, don’t you guys think we should head back now?” Isabella wondered. “It might be getting late.”
“What? No! All we’ve had is soda. Hey, ice cream or frozen yogurt?”
Since Isabella urged herself to stay with the popular kids, she did. Slowly, she worked her way into the coolest clique and in doing so abandoned her old group of enjoyable friends. Throughout the years, Isabella never realized how much more stressful it was to keep up with the cool.
However, Isabella was right about the time that day. When they headed back to school, class was already in session. Everyone frantically scrambled to their lockers and tried to think up plausible stories of what had happened.
The kids were hyper after the visit to the sweet shop. Isabella often found herself unable to focus. Her concentration and mental acuity was greatly damaged. For years, the popular kids kept going to the sweet shop, and their orders became more and more sophisticated. They had cake for lunch and fruit tarts as the “healthy” part of their diet.
What the group did not realize was that they were falling behind just because they had been going to the sweet shop together. See, what else could explain Isabella’s failing and redoing trigonometry every year since eighth grade? When the time came for college offers, Isabella looked through her mail. The only offer was from the local community college! She also found many negative notes from her teachers in her progress reports.
The next morning, Isabella ran to her friends at school. Passing by, she saw her old friends who studied trigonometry in eighth grade marveling at their offers from Harvard and Stanford. Even the kids who were quiet and did barely anything during class were smiling.
When she got to her own popular clique, they told Isabella in a happy tone of voice that they were all going to the same college: Cohaton College.
Contrasting feelings mixed inside of her. Was she supposed to be glad that they were bound for the same college or upset because of the school’s horrible quality?
The latter dominated. It was more rooted in her mind, since she had just found out about her friends’ offers. Isabella blamed her offer on her friends, who had influenced every aspect of her life since the first sweet shop incident. Now that her mind had lost its ambivalence, she briskly walked away and talked to no particular group of kids, for it was too late to make up with old friends.
She used to be one of those prodigies, learning trigonometry in eighth grade before she had decided to drop herself down from the clouds like a broken parachute. In retrospect, Isabella’s mind kept flashing back to the early days, back to when she had been a nice, intelligent, and sweet child. Isabella sighed. It was almost as if looking back made her face pucker up at the bitterness. As she experienced a depressing few months of life, Isabella patiently waited for college to start.
Isabella found the community college to be a waste of time and money. After college, she still couldn’t find a good job, and she had no money to pursue education again. The only house she could afford was a small cabin on the outskirts of Cohaton. For years, she lived a simple life and went to a grove of trees to sew every day. As time went by, she watched from a distance as her old friends from middle school and before sat on a bench, chattering and watching first their children and later their grandchildren on the playground. Soon, the time came when her light blonde hair turned gray.
Isabella thought back to her own childhood. Yes, it was because of her popular friends that she had found out about this playground and this peaceful grove. It was because of them that she had spent her teenage years eating lunch at the nearby sweet shop every weekday. It was because of them that she had become a shadow of Chloe, the lone old woman. When becoming this sort of person, Isabella’s laughs became fake, and her eyes didn’t shine anymore.
The sounds of the park could give Isabella nightmares. Nothing much had changed since she was in school. Although she heard the distinct chirping of the birds, the soft ruffling of the leaves, and the merry giggling of the little children, she also still heard the chatter of her old friends, the ones that were smart, nice, and friendly. Worst of all, the encouraging calls of “Come on!” could be constantly made out in the distance, like ghosts haunting Isabella’s past.
What if she hadn’t impulsively dropped everything and went with the other kids? What if she hadn’t listened to the temptresses’ calls that life-changing day in eighth grade? What if she had stayed with those better friends? Isabella might have been happy, rich, and even famous. It was a dream come true…
But she had listened to the popular kids, dropped everything, taken a walk to the sweet shop, and ditched her own friends. The outcome was terrible, whether it was from the perspective of an innocent kid or a world leader. Isabella vowed that, in her next life (if she would have one), she would know that teens are greatly influenced by friends. She would pick good ones and make sure they wouldn’t lead her into the wrong path to do the wrong thing.
With a sudden jerk from her absent-minded daydreaming, Isabella looked up at a group of kids passing by. She finally laid her eyes upon a few students at the end of the parade of kids who looked unsure of what to do when put in front of so many temptations. They surely felt obligatory to follow along and go with the flow, not truly realizing that the friendships were not so genuine. These kids were shadows of Isabella and her friends, bad students who always went to the sweet shop. Then one could be doomed to become a shadow of Chloe, too, later in her lifetime.
However, Isabella was too embarrassed to tell them not to go on with these false friends. So for the rest of her life, every day her mind was filled with haunting calls of “Come on!” from dawn till dusk.