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Escaping the Friend Zone

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Jackie walked into school on Monday with Hyde’s voice in her head. After he slept over on Friday, he stayed through Sunday. They didn’t do much except talk and play chess. He watched her do homework and she watched him read a book that was sitting on her father’s bookshelf.

Jackie didn’t ask about his mom again. She figured he would tell her eventually. They also didn’t talk about the cheerleaders and popular kids again. It made both of them uncomfortable to acknowledge the stark social barrier between the two of them, and Jackie knew they were both experts at avoiding their feelings making it easy to push aside the conversation. Regardless of her actions over the weekend, that specific conversation about the cheerleaders and popular kids was exactly what was on Jackie’s mind as she walked through the front doors and towards where most of the cheerleader’s had their lockers.  

“Hey guys,” Jackie said walking up to the cheerleaders who were talking near their lockers.

“Hi Jackie,” Claire said. “Did you have a good weekend?”

Jackie hesitated. Hyde’s voice rose up again in her head. He would want her to walk away from the conversation immediately. Her instincts were to lie about her weekend. After another second, she decided to meet in the middle.

“Yeah I did actually!” Jackie said infusing her voice with the pep she usually left for cheering. “I hung out with Steven all weekend.”

“Steven?” Claire asked raising her eyebrows. Jackie instantly noticed her mistake. She had called Hyde Steven. No one outside of the Forman’s used his first name and she had just said it in the middle of school. Jackie’s response had gained a few other girls’ attention, including Julie and Sara both of which Jackie knew had a current or previous interest in Hyde.

“Oh sorry I mean Hyde,” Jackie said not sorry in the slightest.

“Jackie,” Claire said. “I thought we talked about this. He’s bad news. You shouldn’t be seen with someone like that it’s bad for the cheer squad to have the reputation as someone who would be with a burnout. You have our reputation to think about”

Jackie was furious. She didn’t give a damn about Claire’s reputation and she certainly wasn’t going to change her life for it.  Instead of giving in to her anger, Jackie said through clenched teeth, “I do seem to remember you saying something like that, but I’m not going to stop hanging out with Steven.”

“Well then we might have to seriously consider your spot on the squad,” Claire said.

A few of the cheerleaders gasped behind them. Jackie didn’t look over at the stunned cheerleaders, instead she stared directly into Claire’s eyes. After a large breath and a moment to compose herself, she raised a well-manicured eyebrow.

“Are you sure you want to make that threat?”

“It’s not a threat Jackie,” Claire said. The other cheerleaders were now looking at each other in concern.

“Claire, maybe you should think about this,” Krista said.

“Yeah Claire, like half of us have slept with Hyde it’s not a big deal if he and Jackie are hanging,” Sara said.

Jackie was torn between wanting to hug them and throttle Sara. Instead, she kept her eyes locked on Claire’s.

“This is different,” Claire said.

“Why?” Jackie said. “Because it’s not about Steven, so it must be me. Is it because I’m the only one who can do the split lift? Or the fact that I’m the only sophomore on the varsity team and there for the future of cheer at Point Place High School? Or that my GPA is about half the reason we’re not on academic probation? Or just the fact that Steven hanging out with me makes me different? Just tell me where your problem lies and I can tell you exactly how to get over it because nothing’s going to change on my end.” Jackie finally looked away from Claire’s surprised face. “If any of you have a problem with my cheering or commitment to this team then please let me know and I will work my ass off to fix it.” Jackie took a second to pause and then looked directly at Claire, “If you have a problem with my personal life you can lose me from the squad or keep your thoughts to yourself.”

Claire looked furious. Jackie had called her bluff. The squad really wouldn’t be as good without her and the only thing Claire loved more than her popularity was the squad.

“If you want to ruin your life with ‘Steven’ then be my guest,” Claire said through gritted teeth and using air quote’s when she said Hyde’s name. “You better be at practice on time every day, I want to see you smiling at every game, and you better figure out how to land your front handspring.”

Jackie just nodded, “I have to go to first period.”

Jackie walked away with her head held high. She noticed people in the hallway had been watching the cheerleader drama unfolding in front of them. Jackie knew the drama would be around the school by lunch. She refused to look at anyone, but she kept her head high and a small smile on her lips as she walked into first period determined to look like the winner she knew she was.

When Jackie walked into the lunch room all eyes turned to her. She went to the lunch line trying not to think about the attention. Usually she loved attention, but not this kind. Claire had backed down, but news of their confrontation this morning had spread like wildfire. There were rumors flying anywhere from her trying to take over the cheer squad to a secret love baby between her and Hyde. Most people just thought she was sleeping with Hyde and Claire was jealous. It seemed like no one was discussing the simple truth that she was friends with Hyde and Claire had tried to use it as an excuse to get her off the team.

Hyde was eating with the gang when suddenly everyone he was talking to got distracted. They had all turned their head towards the entrance and stopped the argument about who would win in a fight Jeannie vs. Samantha. Hyde just looked at everyone in confusion.

“Gez everyone is staring at her,” Donna said with pity in her eyes.

“Yeah no one looked at her like that when I was sleeping with her,” Kelso said.

With that comment Hyde turned around. Kelso slept with a lot of girls, but Hyde had a sinking feeling he knew the girl Kelso was talking about. Hyde saw Jackie walk into the cafeteria looking confident, but subtly tugging on the sleeve of her sweater. She walked over to the lunch line without looking around the room. The cheerleaders were all staring except for one girl that he kind of recognized from last Friday. They were all talking to themselves and then looking at Jackie and it seemed like they were then pointing their stares at him.

“Why’s everyone looking at Jackie?” Hyde said.

“You haven’t heard?” Eric asked.

“Heard what?” Hyde said already annoyed by the small amount of delight he saw in Eric’s eyes. “I skipped first, second and third so I haven’t been here long.”

“I think you lose some of the education when you only show up for lunch, my criminal friend,” Fez said.

“That’s only half the reason to come to school,” Hyde said with a shrug.

“Well is Jackie the other half,” Eric asked. “Because that’s what the whole school seems to think is your motivation.”

“What?” Hyde asked honestly not following.

“Jackie had some crazy argument about you with the cheerleaders this morning,” Donna said. “It’s girls like that that are holding feminism back.”

Hyde held back an eye roll, “Why the hell was I involved? Is Jackie okay?”

“I’m asking the same thing,” Kelso said pouting and crossing his arms. “I was with her for a year and she never fought over me.” 

Hyde punched him in the arm.

“Ow! Man, what was that for?” Kelso asked.

“For only giving a shit about the first question.” Hyde said and then as an afterthought added, “And Jackie and I aren’t together.”

“Then why do you care if she’s okay?” Eric asked.

“Because I’m her friend,” Hyde said. “Like you guys are, remember.”

Donna looked guilty, but everyone else just stared at him silently. Hyde sighed and stood up. He walked towards Jackie trying to ignore the eyes on him and the whispered conversation that broke out across the cafeteria.

He hoped like hell his mom wasn’t working the lunch line today. He usually packed a lunch or went without lunch to avoid seeing his mom at school. It wasn’t that he was embarrassed his mom worked there, he just preferred to spend as little time with her as possible. But today he decided to make an exception to his rule for Jackie.

“Hey,” Hyde said walking up to Jackie.

She had been so deep in thought and ignoring her surroundings that his voice surprised her. She looked up at him half happy to see him and half worried by his presence. Still, she gave him a genuine smile when he smiled down at her.

“You wanna ditch?”

Jackie started laughing. She knew he didn’t mean it as a joke, but of all the things he could say this was so uniquely Hyde. She wanted nothing more than to get out of the cafeteria, but she knew she couldn’t.

“More than anything,” Jackie said and saw a very surprised look pass over Hyde’s face. “But I can’t. If I leave now they win.”

“Life’s not a competition,” Hyde said.

“It is for the winners,” Jackie said flipping her hair with a cocky smile.

They moved forward in line and Jackie looked away from Hyde, “So what rumors have you heard?”

“The rumor mill hasn’t caught up to me yet,” Hyde said.

“Seriously?” Jackie asked. “How is that even possible.”

“I don’t subscribe to your mainstream high school tactics of intimidation,” Hyde said, but when Jackie gave him a stern look he continued. “And I might have skipped a few classes this morning.”

“How many is a few?” Jackie said keeping her face stern.


“We’ve only had four,” Jackie said surprised.

“Hence why I haven’t heard any rumors,” Hyde said with a shrug. Jackie just shook her head.

“Claire confronted me in the hallway this morning…about you.”

“What’s her problem with me and what does that have to do with you?” Hyde angrily asked.

“Shhhh! The last thing I need is more rumors spreading because of your big mouth, “Jackie looked at the people around them in line and then continued. “She thinks we’re dating and that me being with a burnout will damage the cheerleader reputation.”

“Oh,” Hyde said completely surprised. They had just talked about this a few days ago and it was already becoming a problem. He knew he shouldn’t have gotten involved with Jackie, even as friends. It was already hurting her life. Instead of voicing these thoughts, he just said dumbly, “We’re not even dating.” 

“Yeah I know,” Jackie said. “It doesn’t matter because they think we are. I put her in her place and it’s fine. I just have to work a little harder at cheer for a while and wait out this rumor bullshit.”

“Why does anyone in this school give a shit about all that?” Hyde said looking around. All of the eyes on him were freaking him out. He didn’t know how Jackie was being so calm especially if it had been happening all day. “What rumors would people get from that?”

“All kinds of ridiculous things.” Jackie said brushing him off and moving forward.

“Like what?” Hyde said picking up on her discomfort.

“Like I stole you away from Claire or like sleeping with you is a cheerleader ritual and I’m the only one who hasn’t and I’m refusing or that I’m pregnant with your baby,” Jackie said looking down and pulling her sweater sleeve something she hadn’t done since he came up to her. “Stupid stuff.”

“They should mind their damn business,” Hyde said a little louder hoping those around him would hear.

“Would you shut up.” Jackie demanded. “You’ll only make it worse. We’ll just ride it out. They’ll get over it soon.”

“Whatever,” Hyde said then he looked away in guilt. “Are you okay with this? I can leave. We can hang out in the Forman’s basement and leave it at that.”

“No!” Jackie said quickly. “I’m fine. Like you’ve said, it’s just stupid high school stuff anyway. I don’t want to stop being your friend, Steven.”

Hyde let out a relieved breath at her answer. He was willing to walk away, but damn he didn’t want to, “Just let me know if I can do anything okay?”

“Okay,” Jackie said with a smile.

They moved up in line a bit more and Jackie picked up an apple from the school’s sad selection. He didn’t pick anything up, but he did spot Edna working soup line.

“You’re not getting anything?” Jackie asked.

“Nah, not hungry,” Hyde said distracted still looking at his mom. She hadn’t noticed him, which wasn’t surprising. She usually ignored him at school and he had never willingly put himself in front of her. He wasn’t sure how she would react, but he knew he didn’t want Jackie meeting her.

Hyde’s nightmare started to unfold when Jackie unknowingly walked up to the soup station. She looked at Edna totally ignorant to the revelation she was about to undergo.

“One scoop please,” Jackie said.

Edna looked up. She looked over at Hyde surprised and then looked between him and Jackie. She started laughing, which was more of a wheeze from the years of smoking.

“Anything for you, son?” Edna asked.

“Nah,” Hyde said hoping she’d leave it at that.

“Heard this is your new baby mama,” Edna said. “Weren’t you going to introduce me to the mother of my future grandchild.”

Edna started wheezing harder from her own joke. Jackie just looked confused. Hyde had no idea what to do. This day was already bad enough for her the last thing he wanted was to add another reason for Jackie to never talk to him again.

To all of their surprise, it was Jackie that responded first, “I’m not pregnant.”

“Ma, this is my friend Jackie,” Hyde finally said knowing the introduction couldn’t be avoided. “Jackie this is my mom Edna.”

Jackie was even more confused. She just kept looking between Hyde and Edna. She couldn’t believe she never knew Hyde’s mom was the lunch lady. And not just any lunch lady, but Liquor Edna. It was the school’s worst kept secret that she was a horrible alcoholic and constantly drunk when dishing out the food.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Jackie said falling back on her manors that had been drilled into her for years.

“Yeah we’ll have to have you over for dinner sometime,” Edna said laughing at the two of them.

“Yeah I’d like that,” Jackie said with a smile that just made Edna continue laughing.

“We don’t want to hold up your line anymore,” Hyde said looking down at the soup cup Edna was holding.

Edna filled up the bowl and handed it over, “It was great meeting you…Jen?”

“Jackie,” she corrected as they walked away. They walked over to the cash register line. 

“Why didn’t you tell me your mom is the lunch lady?” Jackie asked.

“It never came up,” Hyde said. Then he noticed the line had moved, so he moved her along hoping she would drop the subject.

Jackie paid for her lunch and they started walking back to the table. She wanted to ask more about Edna, but she knew he wasn’t going to share at school. She’d be lucky if he shared at all.

She looked over to the cheerleaders and debated going to sit with them. She just didn’t have the strength to go over there after this morning. Plus, after Hyde had just stood in line with here there would be a whole new round of tension. She looked over towards the gang and realized it was a much better alternative. She very rarely ate lunch with them and hadn’t since she broke up with Kelso, but their easy conversation and acceptance was exactly what she needed that day.

“You coming?” Hyde asked. He had taken two steps towards the regular table the gang ate at near the back of the crowded cafeteria.

“Yeah,” Jackie said and took a step towards Hyde following him towards their table.

They sat down next to each other. Both could tell everyone in the cafeteria was looking at them. When nothing happened after a few minutes of them sitting, conversations at the other tables eventually started up again and less eyes were on Jackie and Hyde.

“So heard any good gossip today?” Eric asked. Hyde was going to punch him in the arm but Donna beat him to it.

“Well I did hear something about a scrawny virgin thinking he was funny,” Jackie said.

“Hey! I know I’m funny,” Eric said.

“No you’re not,” Hyde said. “Let’s drop it okay.”

“If cheerleaders were fighting over me I would want us to talk about it forever,” Fez said helpfully.

“We weren’t fighting over him, Fez,” Jackie said.

“That is not what most of the school thinks,” Fez said.

“I said drop it,” Hyde threatened.

“Fine if that is what you wish, my friend,” Fez said.

“So Jeannie would definitely win in a fight,” Eric said.

“Nooooo,” Kelso said. “Samantha would it wouldn’t even be a contest.”

The conversation continued as if Hyde had never left. Everyone was engrossed in the argument, even Jackie, so when Hyde reached below the table and grabbed her hand no one saw it. Jackie looked over at him and smiled then she gave his hand a small squeeze. She would never admit it to anyone, but she was barley holding it together. She knew that she would be crying into her pillow tonight. His hand holding hers told her that she wasn’t alone. Even if he didn’t care what people thought like she did, he was still there for her. He understood why it mattered to her and he wasn’t going to leave her alone with it.

When the bell rang and the Jeannie vs. Samantha argument came to an end, Jackie stood up with everyone else. When she got up Hyde dropped her hand, but before she could walk away he touched her arm softly.

“Do you want me to walk you home today?” Hyde asked.

“Yeah,” Jackie said smiling up at him. “Meet me by the exit after the final bell.”

Hyde nodded and they both headed to their next class. Jackie left the cafeteria with just as many eyes on her as when she walked in, but her smile and confidence were a little less fake.