The general opinion of most of the kids in Hazardville high school, on any subject, was impartial. They were impartial towards school and uncommitted towards extracurriculars. They were bored with sports and tired of free time. Their whole town seemed to feel the same way- Grey, repetitive, and not of particular interest to any but the weary stranger stopping at a diner as they passed through town.
There are exceptions to every rule. Nicole Rosario, better known as Nicki, was this exception. It's entirely wrong to assume she was the only exception- in fact, it's very wrong. And indeed, despite the lull many of the town's residents were stuck in, they were all very unique and special people. It's just that Nicki stood out. She had developed a bad habit for that as of late.
It didn't help that she loved contrast. She liked to stand out in the crowd, and had the key trait of being very, very confident about it. She'd wear too-long jean shorts and painfully bright galaxy socks, and could rock the look on sheer confidence alone. Her hair had been bleached pure white in contrast to her dark skin, and to cap it all off she wore a pure black hat with little fake horns sewn in. If you tried to judge her, she'd catch your eye and laugh silently, and you'd feel at once rather ashamed for your actions.
This didn't mean she didn't have enemies, or at least in this high school setting, several kids who didn't care much for her. She had plenty. Certainly more than she had friends. But her confidence continued to be key, and she didn't really mind- if anything, she was thankful they were paying her any mind at all. Despite her apparent self-esteem and ego, Nicki was often lonely. She had just one friend.
Her name was Sandy Cox, and at the moment she was doing her best to write down the minutes of the student council meeting. This wasn't normally her job. She wasn't even part of the student council. She just thought it'd be an interesting challenge- Could it even be done? In the old films and current tv shows, secretaries were always taking the minutes of meetings. But exactly how was it done? Were you supposed to include every single thing that was mentioned? What if you didn't, and left out something important? Sandy was struggling.
Nicki was also in the room. She was student council president. Of course, in Hazardville Union High, the title of student council president meant little. There certainly weren't elaborate all-out elections for highly coveted seats. In fact, most kids at school didn't even know there was a student council. This was with good reason. The council never achieved anything.
Nicki had done nothing to improve the council during her reign. But she had made a number of hopeful claims and proposed promises in this first month of her presidency.
"I promise you, we will have a better school- nay, community, in four years time." In addition to picking up a few buzzwords, Nicki was getting pretty good at throwing in the occasional obsolete term in her speeches. "Thusly, keep me in this seat of power. You, the people of HUH, have the power- I am simply the blunderbuss off the wall of democracy that you have chosen to wield. Together we can make- not twattle about- a greater yonder, and live in aprication for the rest of our days."
She didn't always use these words correctly.
No one clapped, as they rarely did, but there were a couple giggles and that was enough for Nicki. She didn't take her job, or honest lack of one, seriously at all. But she enjoyed the work that she did, and took great relish in speaking. She was the odd sort who actually loved public speaking, if you can believe that.
Sandy clapped very enthusiastically as Nicki took her seat (she had only been standing up for her speech, there was no formal podium in Mr. M's math room). Sandy hadn't taken it seriously either, of course, but that didn't mean she couldn't feel impressed. And alright, she did sort of have a weakness for speeches of any sort at all. She once broke down in tears after a particularly passionate rant by the woman in front of her in the checkout line of a supermarket. She had really wanted that discount, and the passion had gotten to Sandy so badly that she later tracked the woman down in the parking lot to shake her hand.
"You do know you're only president for just this semester, right? And that in the spring Mr. M is going to elect someone else?" Matt MacCormick had it in for Nicki since day one. At least, he had had it out for her in the only way freshmen in high school really and sincerely knew how: he had a strong desire to voice his dislike for her. A boy of questionable age and possible graduate status, Matt was entirely an enigma. Did he even attend school? No one was sure.
"I hope that in my reign of presidency, that rule will change. I believe that not only will I serve two consecutive semesters as class president, I will continue to serve indefinitely. I'm looking at six, eight full semesters as president. Following that, I assume I will remain honorary president through my college career. You can fax me things to sign, and I'll offer my opinion through speaker phone conversations. I suppose I'll have to quit when I become the actual president of the United States though. Too much paperwork."
Sandy was again moved, and considered clapping. But the math classroom that the student council borrowed for their meetings rarely felt like a place to spend too much time clapping in, so she withheld the action. "You can be the next- Lincoln, is it? Or wait, was it one of the Roosevelts who had like four terms?"
"I think it was some guy like... Henry? Harry, maybe? Harrison?" Nicki tried.
"Harrison Ford?" Matt offered. "The guy who invented cars? You two clearly don't know anything."
"No, I think Harrison Ford was a president. You're either thinking of someone else, or I guess he was just really multi-talented." Sandy said.
None of them had yet to complete Social Studies 1.
"But thanks, Sandy, for the complement. Way back when you said it. You're right- I suppose my skills as an eight-term student president will help me become the first eight-term country president."
"That's like, a dictatorship." Matt said, not realizing that was pretty much what Nicki was envisioning.
"Yes." She said. "But I'd be the best at dictatorship. All the others were terrible because they were all jerks. I'm not a jerk though. I'd use my power for good, and my own gain. But it'd be like, emotional gain. Parties, and traveling the world."
"How are you going to curb the revolutions that will totally spring up in your absence though?" Matt said, still trying to press the issue without realizing how much thought Nicki had put into this.
"Oh, it'll get a little messy." Nicki said with a shrug. "I never said I'd be a perfect person, or a particularly peaceful one. Just not a total jerk."
After school, or in this case, after-after school, Nicki and Sandy usually walked home together. Of course, it was really Nicki who was heading home and Sandy who was heading to a bus stop, but they liked to make the best of it- Nicki always went out of her way to wait with Sandy at the bus terminal before she herself went home. It felt like common courtesy.
Plus, the bus stop was a very interesting place to the two girls- after just a month of frequent use by them, it had evolved into a place of free discussion and amble relaxation. Rarely were they accompanied besides the passersby, and the plastic shell, even with it's holes, made a comfortable cradle in the suburban streets. Sometimes Sandy wrote poems on the bench in marker. Other times she would tape them. They would be gone by the next day, always.
Sandy and Nicki both lived in small houses. But they were small in different ways: Sandy's house was her grandmother's, and like most old houses owned by old people, seemed to expand outward and inward in every which way and featured many pastel carpets. And an exquisite herb garden. Nicki lived in a house that simply was small. But mostly it was white, and square, and very angular. The walls were stiff and the floors were painted. The air conditioning was frankly abysmal.
The bus ran late after-after school, so it was a longer wait than usual. It was raining too. The bus station did more than protect them on days like this.
Nicki had been fairly quiet for a number of minutes before she finally spoke. She swung her legs about through the air below the terminal bench as she did so. "I think I should start a gang."
"What." Sandy said. "Okay, cool." It didn't take much to get Sandy to agree with something.
"We should start a gang."
"We'd have cool names, and leather jackets, and I could totally get a moped. And- and- we would be so cool."
"Aren't gangs bad? I don't really know anything about them, but isn't there one literally called 'The Bloods'? That sounds sort of dangerous."
"Those sorts of gangs are, sure, but our sort of gang doesn't have to be. Gangs are like mafias- a big family with a lot of name-weight. We can rule the streets and not kill anyone."
"That's better." Sandy was a dreamy sort of girl, but not a particularly cloudy one. Nicki had a lot of ideas. Even more on rainy days like today. And she wasn't very good at making them happen.
"You know how to sew, right? I could pick up some jackets by tomorrow. I can go to the thrift store before school. You just embroider- that's the same as sewing, yeah?- some stuff by the end of the school day and we're all set to rumble some rinks."
"Rumble a rink? What are we going to be, greasers?"
"Cool, gang greasers, yes. I'm really using gang as a metaphor-simile here. We're just going to be everything. But we'll call ourselves a gang because that's the most relevant and appealing word for it at the moment."
"What's the name going to be then?"
"Yeah. Can't have a rockin' gang without a rollin' name." Sandy said lazily.
"Oh, give me the night. I'll have something awesome for you by tomorrow."
"It's going to involved puns, isn't it."
"That's a good idea! It probably wasn't before, but yes, it will now. I was actually thinking nautically themed before. Some sort of... sea... punk? It hadn't really been thought out beyond the cool sounding name. Puns are much better."
"Seapunk sounds pretty cool. What about fish puns?"
"Eh, done before. And trust me, the name makes it sound a lot more glamorous than it really is. I mean, can you imagine how much blue we'd have to wear? And what, would we have to constantly dress like pirates or something? And glueing seashells to a backpack would be just awful!"
The bus arrived, cutting the conversation.
"Goodnight!" Nicki half-waved as she unfurled her umbrella.
Sandy waved goodbye from the bus window.
The next morning was school, as after all, having it five out of seven days a week does give a good statistical advantage to any chosen day being a school day. Or, perhaps, whether or not it was a school day could also be determined by looking at a calendar. Either works.
Nicki and Sandy didn't have every class together. At the start of the year, they hadn't had any. It had taken a hefty ten minutes of councilor pestering to have their schedules line up properly, and even then, it wasn't every class.
But the first class of the day was health, and of course, the two made sure to sit next to each other.
"Huh?" Sandy asked. She had to get up very early each morning to catch the bus to school, so she was often very tired.
"That's going to be our gang name! The Zeros."
"Sounds like some kind of..." Sandy yawned. "Fashion protest group. Against size zero, or maybe for it. Not sure."
"We're The Zeros." She said, taking careful care to enunciate the name properly. "The Zero girl's gang."
"'The zero girls?' My point still stands."
"Way to be cranky! Anyways, the thrift shop was closed this morning. But we can totally head down after school if you skip your newspaper meeting. I'll buy."
"Oh! Also. Our new code names. See, I chose 'The Zeros' as a name not because it was particularly clever, but because it offers limited but high-reaching opportunities for names. My new name is Nix, for example. It means nothing. As in, you know, zero."
"Nicki." Sandy sighed.
"And you're going to be Sans. Which means 'without', aka another joke on zero. I worked hard on this."
"Nix." Nicki corrected. "Or wait, Nicki's fine I guess. Probably the cool gang names are only for when we're hanging out in our cool gang. Not for general use."
"About that, Nicki. You do realize you're never going to start a gang, right?"
"No. You're terrible at this kind of thing. Remember when you were going to save up for that puppy? Remember when you were going to start writing a book? You never get these things done. And I don't mean to be stiff here, but it's best to quit before you spend too much money."
"Well, when you say that I can't start a gang, I certainly get very confused. I mean, I was under the impression we were already in one. The gang called friendship, Sandy. The girl gang by the name of friendship."
Nicki wasn't really upset with Sandy, as best and only friends often are, but was hurt by her apparent rejection of an idea Nicki had spent all night writing about in her journal. By the end of period five, Nicki had another class with Sandy, and another proposal for her.
"Well, if I never get these things done, why don't I start getting these things done? I made some posters during algebra that we can hang in the hall. Open auditions for our- my gang. If we can expand it out of our little two-person friendship, it'll become real for real!"
Sandy was less sure, but not skeptical enough to protest the idea. It was just nice that Nicki was showing some dedication to something for once.
"When are you going to hold them?"
"Is today too soon?"
It was agreed that today was perhaps too soon, and the day of the gang auditions was pushed back to the following day.
By their final class of the day, art, Nicki had drawn up plans for their embroidered leather jackets. They were very elaborate, mostly featuring images of dragons and rivers and giant trees.
"I can barely embroider." Sandy said, admiring the designs. "In fact, I've never done it before. Maybe I won't know how. It just looks like it'll be easy. But somehow I doubt I'll have any luck embroidering any of these pictures."
"Do you think we can find someone to do it professionally?"
"Like who? Some kind of... embroider-master? Would they be in the phone book?"
Sandy and Nicki were easily distracted, and as luck would have it, the library was next door to their art classroom. Sandy slipped in during a trip to the bathroom, and confirmed there was no such thing as an embroider-master.
"There were tailors though. Do you think a tailor could embroider it for us?" Sandy said when she returned from her mission.
"No way. Tailors are for men's clothes. Seamstresses are for women's."
"Are leather jackets men's or women's clothes?"
"They're gender-neutral, yeah?"
"So who would know how to embroider them then?"
Neither of them could think of an answer before the bell rang and class had ended. Sandy decided not to skip newspaper club, and Nicki likewise decided not to get leather jackets today due to a sudden remembered lack of funds.
They parted ways outside the class room, Sandy bound for the english hallway and Nicki heading off to the library to run as many copies as she could of her gang advertisement. She was fairly certain she wasn't allowed to advertise a gang on school grounds, but surely if she hung enough of the posters up, enough people would see them.
She didn't have access to a scanner, so the posters were rather plain, just large text and an inappropriate number of exclamation points. To spice things up, Nicki snuck to the supply room and grabbed a ream of paper in every color they had in storage, all of them in sort of pastel shades. She removed the white stock and inserted the colored papers, though first taking care to shuffle the colors around until the order was quite random, and a different color could be guaranteed each printing.
She took her twenty copies and headed home, determined to hang them early in the morning the next day.