I adjusted my black scarf over my black coat and rubbed my cold hands over my thighs, covered by my black jeans. Maybe an outdoor protest on the coldest day of the year wasn’t the smartest idea, I thought, as I called the group over.
“Alright,” I said, as we huddled together. “Let’s circle again. The ‘love stinks’ chant. The bell’s about to ring so we’ll get an audience.”
“It’s too cold,” complained Robbie Madison. Scarred like me, Robbie declared himself my deputy organizer. “Let’s go inside.”
“We can’t. We only get a half hour.” The principal wasn’t thrilled with a Valentine’s Day protest. I convinced him that it would fit into his new anti-bullying agenda, mumbled something about the First Amendment, and made it a point to bother him daily during his busiest times. Eventually I wore him down. “Now’s the time. Remember why you’re here. Ready group?”
The Valentine’s Day Haters’ Club members reached into the center of the huddle and yelled, “Black Friday! Red Sucks!” as we lifted our hands and signs to the sky.
As I marched in the circle I noticed Maxwell Anderson, my chemistry lab partner, leaning against the tree just over the border of our protest line. He watched us as he lit a cigarette. The first time he waved me over I ignored him. On my second rotation, when he waved me over again, I handed my sign to Robbie and stepped out of the circle.
“If you want to join the protest, you have to take off that red scarf,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest. “No red allowed.”
“What are you protesting?” he asked.
I huffed. “Valentine’s Day is stupid and isolating and we are sick and tired of people flaunting it all over with their hearts and balloons and stuffed animals. It’s inconsiderate.”
“That’s a waste. You’re never gonna change people’s minds on love. There are tons of things you can protest that may actually make a difference. Illegal dumping, tax cuts for the rich . . . ” He took a drag of his cigarette.
Max ignored me and nodded towards the Hater’s Club, scowling and pacing the cold pavement behind the school. “What’s the real reason for the circle of hate, Mandy? Is this because your dumb boyfriend dumped you?”
Yes, I thought. “No,” I said.
“Well can you stop this?” Max asked. He looked down at me with big, brown eyes I never before noticed.
“What? No. We just started.” It took me weeks to convince the principal to let us do the protest on school property. The mass email to the student body cost me a day of in-school suspension since I used so-called profanity. I convinced fifteen or so broken-hearted followers that this was a great idea. “Why should we stop now?”
“Because ever since that idiot dumped you, I’ve been waiting to ask you out. I thought it would be nice and appropriate to do it today but your stupid protest is messing up my plan.”
“Huh?” I said. Max, the chemistry wizard wanted to hang out with me? “Is this a set up? Did someone put you up to this?” I looked past him to see if a group of boys lingered in the bushes recording me or laughing.
“No.” Max looked to the circle and smiled. “Ut-oh. Looks like you’re losing your cheerleader.”
I turned and watched our last minute addition and only flash of color, a cheerleader dressed in uniform, abandon the circle. “Wait!” I yelled to her.
The cheerleader grabbed some boy’s hand and stepped over the protest line into Love Land. “Sorry Mandy!” she yelled. “He apologized. We’re all good. I had fun though!”
I rolled my eyes. Leave it to a cheerleader to ruin the party. I knew she was a possible defector from the start, but figured it couldn’t hurt to have a cheerleader in the Club, even if for a few minutes.
I turned back to Max. He smiled and waved to the happy couple. “Have fun you two kids! Love rules!”
I decided I hated him and spun around to rejoin my circle.
“Mandy! Wait. Come back. Let’s hang out later.”
I crossed my arms over my chest and jerked around. “Why would I go out with you?”
“Why not? I’m good enough to cheat off of in chemistry but not good enough to eat a meal with?”
“You’re annoying. You should eat though. You’re way too thin.” Max was skinny, but super tall. With his curly, fluffy brown hair he resembled an upside-down exclamation point. “I don’t date smokers anyway,” I said snottily.
Max put out his cigarette against the tree and flung it onto the nearby sidewalk. “I’ll quit for you. Let’s go. You look like you could use a meal yourself.”
Immediately offended but not sure why, I glared. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re too skinny.”
“That’s not nice,” I whined, shivering.
“You just said it to me. Okay then. You better not eat a burger because your butt is giant. Is that better?”
“You are so irritating. And no. I’m not going anywhere with you. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m running a protest here. I am done with love and anyone with a Y chromosome. Go away.”
“You’re cute. Okay, I’ll go. Here.” He took off his red scarf and pulled off my black one. He placed the red scarf over my head, around my neck. It smelled like men’s cologne and I couldn’t help myself– I inhaled deeply. “Your group needs some color now that your cheerleader bailed.” Max wound my black scarf around his neck and slung his backpack over his shoulder. “Call me when you’re done being bitter. See you around,” he said.
I stared after him until one of my followers called me. “Mandy! Are you coming back? We’re gonna start the chant again.”
I watched Max walk away as I buried my nose in the glorious scent of his scarf. Huh. Maxwell Anderson. Dorky irritating smoker. His curls bounced with his big strides as he opened the doors to the school and disappeared inside.
He wasn’t really that skinny, I thought, as I walked back to the Haters’ Club. My members looked to me for guidance. “Okay,” I said. “The Respect Singles chant! Go!”
The Club chanted and started its orbit again. I tightened Max’s scarf around my neck but suddenly felt warm inside.
Thanks for reading! This post is part of The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge. The Challenge and other entries can be found here.