“What’s the matter, Sutton?” Mr. Jenkins inquired, in that peculiar way he had of addressing even the girls by their last names alone. “Schneider get your goat?”
There was a momentous silent pause followed by the audible snap of thirty heads whipping around in unison towards the mortified young girl and the shamelessly grinning boy who had yanked on her ponytail until she’d finally shouted at him to quit it.
“Goat?” Schneider muttered. “Goat!” He chuckled delightedly, the tickling tendrils of his whispering breath rippling the tiny hairs lining the back of her neck while she cowered, ducking the humiliating stares of her fellow students.
It caught on quick. There is no subtlety in middle school; oh, no, they came right out with it, in the corridors, the courtyard, the cafeteria. Overnight she was transformed; the shyest, quietest kid in school was now known to everyone.
“How’s it goin’, Goat?”
“Sign my yearbook, Goat?”
Science class was the worst. The wickedly handsome Schneider relished it most of all.
“I drew a picture of you, Goat,” he whispered hotly in her ear, ruffling her loose hair with the promised portrait. “Want to see?”
She shook her head no but that didn’t stop him; the folded-up bundle flew over her shoulder and into her lap, a packet even she couldn’t resist opening.
Her astonished and open-mouthed face, badly attached to a poorly rendered goat’s body, a malformed satyr etched in lead. Personally inscribed by the artist to boot.
“Hey Sutton, did I get your goat? From Schneider.”
She cursed Mr. Jenkins, the unknowing instigator, persisting intently with his lectures in blissful ignorance. That stupid oral report he assigned only made matters worse. How was she supposed to know that not everyone would remember that a pipette was shaped like a tube?
“Just draw a quick picture on the board,” he suggested, evidently ignorant that her distress in being forced to the front of the class could only be increased by this clear demonstration of her lack of skill in the visual arts. “Go on,” he urged when she hesitated.
Even before she could turn back to the class to resume stuttering through her report, she was nearly blown over by the gale of laughter erupting from her delighted classmates.
“Are you sure that’s a pipette, Goat?” her buddy Schneider called out, slapping his palms on his desk-top in uncontrollable amusement.
She turned back to the blackboard and gaped horrified at the gigantic wiener she’d outlined in white chalk on its charcoal surface. Mr. Jenkins ran up and ushered her back to her seat to cries of “That got her goat!” and then hurriedly erased the obscenity in a futile attempt to restore order to the classroom.
It’s much quieter here, she thought the following year as she roamed the corridors of the high school in peace, finally free of whinnies and bleats. No one knew her shame, the vile nickname she’d left behind when her parents had moved to a new school district over the summer. No one called out cheerfully as she passed, or sought her out with their playful jibes. No one paid any attention to her at all.
“So what’s your name?” her assigned lab partner said, barely glancing in her direction and handing her the pipette without a trace of a snicker.
She bent her head towards her textbook and peered nervously around the classroom, at the intimidating strangers within it. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d spent lunchtime alone, or traversed the crowded halls without returning a dozen friendly greetings from kids she barely knew.
“It’s Lisa,” she replied, drawing a three-ringed binder from her backpack and glimpsing, peeking from its inside pocket, a well-worn scrap of paper tucked carefully away, a pencil-drawn memento of the girl she had been. The girl that, if she chose, she might still be.
“I’m Peter. Hi, Lisa.” She glanced over at her new partner, who had, himself, already retreated to the depths of a letter-ruled notebook; who, maybe, like her, was feeling the pain of being alone in a brand new school.
She swallowed, raised her head; stood instantly taller. “But my friends call me Goat,” she said suddenly, determinedly arranging the pipette in its stand as if it were a gift from a friend.
Peter looked up, startled, and let out a good-natured laugh. “Nice to meet you, Goat!” He smiled in amusement as he shook her hand hard. “Great nickname,” he remarked as he scribbled it down in his notebook in big bold letters and then turned back to her with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
“I think so, too,” she agreed, gazing proudly at the word as if it were a crown. And she smiled.
Lori Schafer is a part-time tax practitioner and part-time writer residing in Northern California. Her short stories, flash fiction, and essays have appeared in numerous print and online publications, and the manuscript of her first novel, My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged, is currently under review by an Australian publisher. Her second novel, an erotic romantic comedy entitled Just the Three of Us, is out on query. You can find more of her work on her blog at lorilschafer.blogspot.com.