She was never the type to be big on fashion, yet the too-big bright red sweatshirt is enough of a change to draw notice. That she's been wearing it every day for the last week – the first of her junior high career, too! - is what really brings the stares and eventual taunts.
"What's the matter, Jennifer?" She's at her gym locker when a group of upper classmen surrounds her. She doesn't look, yet the speaker continues. "Mommy and Daddy too poor to buy clothes your size?"
"Maybe the church was having a can't-miss clear away," another girl chimes in.
JJ closes her eyes. Ignore them, ignore them... she reminds herself. Still she should leave, get out before they really get going. She's about to close her locker and walk away when suddenly one of the taunters, a tall brunette one, snatches the object of ridicule.
"Hey!" JJ's surprised at the crack in her voice on the word as she reaches for the sweatshirt. Another girl blocks her path.
"You should be thanking us, Jennifer," the brunette has reached the trash can by now. She gives JJ a smirk as she opens the lid. "We're saving you from fashion suicide, after- Ow!"
A quick jab from her friend has stopped her.
"Ow! What was-?" the brunette begins. She stops again as her friend motions JJ's way. JJ's gut drop instantly.
Not that look. Please, not that look...
And yet there it is. Shame. Pity...
Something snaps. Pushing through the other girls, JJ makes her way to the brunette. She gives the older girl a good shove as she steals back the sweatshirt. The girl gasps and falls into the wall.
She looks ready to say something, yet JJ doesn't bother waiting to hear it. Instead she turns and heads back for her locker. The older, now-pissed brunette gets up and takes a step forward. Again, the girl who had issued the arm jab steps in.
"Come on," she urges. "She's not worth it."
The brunette seems to agree and follows her friends. Yet she can't seem to resist calling "Freak!" before disappearing out the room.
Alone again, JJ collapses on the bench in front of her locker. Part of her knows she should follow the others and apologize. Yet another part of her, the one she listens to, tells her to stay. So she does.
The bell rings signaling she's now late. Even so JJ remains sitting. Let's out a sniff as tears come to her eyes; not over what just happened. Not that. She holds tight to the sweatshirt. Her eyes move back to the door of her locker, finding the photo she has taped there. The photo is one of JJ's favorites. It was taken during summer vacation the year before. It was the last time they had gone camping, only a few months and yet so long ago. Her family smiles back at her, with real smiles - Mom and Dad, with JJ between them.
And there kneeling in front, striking her signature goofy grin and pose is her sister Janet, the bright red of her lucky sweatshirt standing out among the blue behind them.