By Shanni De La Cruz
Daniel glanced at Michael, who’d been the one to speak. The quarterback had an eyebrow raised, a chip halted halfway on the journey to his mouth. Michael followed Daniel’s gaze, and the white-haired boy took the opportunity to pluck the chip out of the quarterback’s hand and shove it into his own mouth.
“The kid over there,” Daniel said, nodding at the black-haired meanie. The one with the dark blue eyes and the permanent scowl. Or, at least he scowled whenever Daniel looked at him.
Michael turned to him bemused, “What about him?”
“He doesn’t like me.”
“You don’t even know his name.”
“You think that’s why?” Daniel asked, feeling slightly anxious. He had made it a point to get everyone in his grade to at least like him – to be familiar with him, at least. But it seemed this guy was stubborn. Daniel had never had a problem with him before, but one day, he’d walked into school to see the flip had been switched. The guy seemed to hate everything about Daniel, and he didn’t even know why.
Michael shrugged. Mr. Pretty Boy wasn’t being too helpful today.
“Fine,” Daniel huffed, standing up from his place beside the quarterback. “I’m gonna go talk to him then. Make him my friend. Whether he likes it or not.”
Michael seemed unconcerned, “I’ll send up my prayers for him.”
Daniel scowled at his best friend again before sauntering over and slamming his plate down right next to Mr. Meanie himself. He plopped down beside him and started eating, like it was the most natural thing in all the world. He hid a smirk, dying to see the poor guy’s expression.
The curly-haired boy raised an eyebrow at him. “Um…can I help you?”
“Yes, actually,” Daniel said, keeping his expression perfectly composed. He’d pulled enough weird stunts to know how to do that. “Pass me the ketchup, will you?” He vaguely wondered why there was a random bottle of Heinz ketchup sitting on the table, but he waved it off. “You guys got mustard here, too? Dang. You guys got all the good stuff!”
The boy eyed Daniel with an expression that was equivalent to that of somebody smelling rotten eggs. Wordlessly, he handed him a packet of mustard.
“Excuse you, but I asked for the ketchup. I asked if you had mustard,” Daniel said lightly. “Hand over your ketchup.”
Mr. Meanie sighed irately, and shoved the bottle of ketchup into Daniel’s hand. The blonde girl and pretty boy on either side of him looked at their friend and then turned away simultaneously, hiding snickers.
Daniel recognized the pretty boy. All the girls were falling over themselves for either Michael, or him – Cruz. He didn’t remember the first name, though. He was pretty certain it started with a C, though. Carter…? Collin…? He also knew the girl. Her name was Becca, and she was on swim or something or the sort. Oh, yes, and her and Mr. Meanie were totally and completely in love. Their friendship just made them too blind to admit it, yet.
But the black haired kid…oh, his name, what was his name…
“Ah!” he said, and in his excitement, drenched his fries in an unhealthy amount of ketchup. “Ash…ley? Ashley Jackson, right? Yeah, okay, I know your name. Pfft. Try to fool me…”
Ashley Jackson seemed about ready to blow. “Do not call me that.” His voice was low and deadly, but then he switched to irritation. “What do you want, anyway?”
Daniel hesitated slightly at the mini outburst, and then shrugged, keeping his gaze locked on his fries, which looked like they’d been brutally murdered. “Just want to know why you hate me is all. I think I’m perfectly likeable, but that’s just me.” He grinned at Ashley. “So why do you hate me? ’S been bugging me all this month, man. Everyone loves me.”
Or, at least, Daniel hoped so. He always liked making people laugh and smile, and it seemed that trait made others gravitate towards him. He had a lot of friends, but only because he earned them, and worked hard to keep them.
Ashley stared at him with annoyance. “I don’t hate you.”
“Yes. You do.”
“No, I don’t,” he said furiously, shoving a fry into his mouth as he spoke. “You’re just an idiot.”
“Oh! Is that why you hate me, then? Interesting…”
“I know why,” Becca spoke up, shooting Ashley a sideways grin and flicking her large brown eyes back onto Daniel. “You said his full name in front of a girl he liked once, in like fourth grade, and ever since then he’s hated you.”
“I don’t hate him!”
“Yes you do,” Cruz chimed in, casually taking one of Daniel’s overly-ketchuped french fries.
Ashley groaned. “I swear, you guys’ll be the death of me.”
“You’ve hated me since fourth grade?” This was appalling and needed to be corrected. “Jeez, man, do you really hate your name that much? Sorry about that. Should’ve hit me or something. I know I would’ve.” Well…that was a lie. Daniel had never hit anyone in his life, and he didn’t plan to, either. “Did you end ever end up with this mysterious fourth grade beauty?” But then he blinked. He’d been in the fourth grade with Ashley?
Cruz shot his friend a grin. “Didja, AJ? Didja end up with her? Hmm?”
Daniel noticed Becca look away. “What was her name again? Coral…something. She’s on cheer now, right?”
Ashley, or AJ, groaned again. “Can we please stop talking about this?” Then he glared at Daniel. “And yes. Yes I do.”
He considered it. “Fair enough. AJ.” He paused, trying the word out for himself. But then he let himself relax, creating a familiar air as he talked to AJ, like he’d known the guy his whole life. “So. Hobbies, then? Favorite color, favorite food, any strange phobias I need to be aware of?”
AJ just stared at him. “What?”
Daniel smirked. “By the end of this week, we’re going to be best friends forever and ever,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’ll even get friendship bracelets to match, if you’d like. But in the mean time, would you like to hear mine? I like laughing and playing football and hanging out with my bros. I like grey, apples are amazing in my opinion, and I have a strange phobia of AJs. Your turn.”
“Math,” Cruz supplied for the speechless AJ. “And science. He’s a nerd.”
“Red,” Becca pitched in, smiling broadly at an indignant AJ.
“And he wants the side of the friendship bracelet that says ‘best’ to boost his self-confidence.”
AJ was already purple-faced, a vein protruding noticeably in his temple. “Are we really doing this?”
“Yes,” Daniel insisted, highly amused. “And you can have the half of the friendship trinket that says best. Only because I’m a nice person.”
AJ was still just staring at him. “You’re insane,” he said to Daniel matter-of-factly.
Daniel laughed to himself. He was determined, though. He was going to get this kid to like him. Or die trying.
“I know. You’ll get used to it.”
That was also a lie. They never did.