13 Reasons Why Cassette 3 Side B

I press Play.

How many of you remember the Oh My Dollar Valentines?

How many of us would rather forget?

Those were fun, weren’t they? You fill out a survey, a computer analyzes your answers, then it cross-references with the other surveys. For just a buck, you get the name and number of your one true soul mate. For five bucks, you get your top five. And hey! All proceeds go to a worthy cause.

Cheer Camp.

Cheer Camp. Each morning over the loudspeaker came the cheery announcements. “Don’t forget, there’s only four more days to turn in your surveys. Only four more lonely days until your true love is revealed.”

And every morning, a new peppy cheerleader continued the countdown. “Only three more days…. Only two more days…. Just one more day…. Today’s the day!”

For every foot of sidewalk I put between Tyler’s house, Marcus, and me, the muscles in my shoulders relax a little more.

Then the whole squad of cheerleaders sang, “Oh my dollar, Oh my dollar, Oh my dollar Valentine!” This, of course, was followed by whoops and hollers and cheers. I always imagined them doing kicks and splits and tossing their pom-poms around the attendance office.

I walked by the attendance office once, on an errand for a teacher, and that’s exactly what they were doing.

And yes, I did fill out my survey. I’ve been a sucker for surveys my whole life. If you ever caught me reading one of those teen magazines, I swear, it wasn’t for the makeup tips. It was for the surveys.

Because you never wore makeup, Hayley. You didn’t need it.

Fine, some of the hair and makeup tips were helpful.

You wore makeup?

But I only picked the magazines up for the surveys. The tips were a bonus. Do you remember those career surveys we had to fill out freshman year, the ones that were supposed to help us choose electives? According to my survey, I’d make a wonderful lumberjack. And if that career didn’t work out, I could use my fallback career as an astronaut. An astronaut or a lumberjack? Seriously? Thanks for the help.

I don’t remember my fallback career, but I got the lumberjack, too. I tried figuring out why the test saw that as my best career path. True, I marked down that I liked the outdoors, but who doesn’t? It doesn’t mean I like cutting down trees.

The Valentine survey was a two-parter. First, you described yourself. Hair color. Eye color. Height. Body type. Favorite type of music and movie. Then you put a check beside your top three things to do on weekends. Which is funny, because whoever designed the list forgot to mention drinking and sex–which would’ve been the most accurate response for most of our student body.

In all, there were about twenty questions. And I know, based on who appeared on my list, that not everyone answered honestly.

In the middle of the sidewalk, beneath a streetlamp, is a dark green metal bench. At one time, maybe this was a bus stop. But now, it’s just a bench to relax on. For old people, or anyone, too tired to walk. For me.

For part two of the survey, it was your turn to describe what you were looking for in a soul mate. Their height. Their body type. If they’re athletic or not. Shy or outgoing.

I sit on the cold metal and lean forward, dropping my head into my hands. Only a handful of blocks from home, and I don’t know where to go.

As I filled mine out, I found myself describing a certain someone at our school.

I should’ve answered my survey seriously.

You’d think that if my answers all described one person, that person would’ve at least appeared in my top five. But that person must have been immune to the cheerleaders and their cheers because he didn’t end up on my list anywhere. And no, I’m not telling you his name…yet.

For fun, I filled mine out as Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye, that semester’s required reading and the first person to come to mind. Holden. What a horrible first date that depressed loner would make.

The moment the surveys were distributed, in third-period history, I bubbled in my answers.

There sure were some weird names on my list. Exactly the sort of people I’d expect to fall for a Holden Caulfield.

It was your typical day in Coach Patrick’s history class. Decipher a bunch of notes scribbled on the board probably five minutes before class started, then copy them down in your notebook. If you finish before the end of class, read pages eight through one ninety-four in your textbook…and don’t fall asleep. And no talking.

How was I to know every single one of those girls would call me? I assumed everyone at school saw the survey as a joke. Just a fund-raiser for Cheer Camp.

After class, I walked straight to the student body office. At the end of the counter, closest to the door, was the drop-off box–a large shoebox with a slit cut in the top and decorated with cutout pink and red hearts. The red hearts had OH MY DOLLAR VALENTINE! written on them. The pink ones had green dollar signs. I folded my survey in half, slipped it into the box, then turned around to leave. But Ms. Benson, smiley as usual, was standing right there.

“Hayley Williams?” she said. “I didn’t know you and Dakota Rae were friends.” The look on my face must have expressed exactly what I was thinking, because right away, she back-pedaled. “At least, that’s what I figured. That’s what it looked like. I mean, you are friends, aren’t you?”

That lady is beyond nosy.

My first thought was of Tyler standing outside my window…and I was furious! Was he actually showing off those Peeping Tom photos? To Ms. Benson? No. Ms. Benson told me she had delivered some checks to the yearbook room that morning. Taped to the walls were sample shots that might appear in the yearbook. One particular photo was of Dakota and me.

You guessed it. The one from the party, with my arm around her waist, looking like I was having the time of my life.

Quite an actress, Hayles.

I told her, “No, we’re just acquaintances.”

“Well, it’s a really fun picture,” Ms. Benson said. And this, these next words, I remember exactly: “The wonderful thing about a yearbook photo is that everyone shares the moment with you…forever.”

It sounded like something she’d said a million times before. And before, I probably would have agreed. But not with that photo. Anyone looking at that photo would definitely not be sharing our moment. They could not come close to imagining my thoughts in that picture. Or Dakota’s. Or Tyler’s. Everything about it was false.

Right then, in that office, with the realization that no one knew the truth about my life, my thoughts about the world were shaken. Like driving along a bumpy road and losing control of the steering wheel, tossing you–just a tad—off the road. The wheels kick up some dirt, but you’re able to pull it back. Yet no matter how tightly you grip the wheel, no matter how hard you try to drive straight, something keeps jerking you to the side.

You have so little control over anything anymore. And at some point, the struggle becomes too much–too tiring–and you consider letting go. Allowing tragedy…or whatever…to happen.

Pressing my fingertips hard against my hairline, my thumbs against my temples, I squeeze.

In that picture, I’m sure Dakota was wearing a beautiful smile. Fake, but beautiful.

She wasn’t. But you couldn’t know that.

See, Kota as they call her, thought she could jerk me around wherever she wanted. But I didn’t let that happen. I jerked myself back on the road just long enough to push her off…if only for a moment. But now? The survey. For Valentine’s Day. Was this just another chance to get thrown off the road? Was this survey, for the guys who found my name on their list, going to be the excuse they needed to ask me out?

And would they be extra excited about doing that because of the rumors they’d heard? I looked at the slit in the top of the shoebox, too thin to squeeze my fingers through. But I could lift off the top and take out my survey. It’d be so easy. Ms. Benson would ask why and I could pretend I was embarrassed about filling out a love survey. She’d understand. Or…I could wait and see.

If I had been smart, if I had been honest with my survey, I would have described Hayley. And maybe we would have talked. Seriously talked. Not just joking around like last summer at the movie theater. But I didn’t do that. I wasn’t thinking that way.

Would most students, as I expected, get their list and just have a good laugh, thinking nothing of it? Or would they use it?

If Hayley’s name and number had shown up on my list, would I have called her? I slouch down into the cold bench, leaning my head back. Far back, like the tip of my spine might burst if I keep going.

Very little, I told myself, could go wrong. The survey was a joke. No one’s going to use it. Calm down, Hayles. You are not setting yourself up. But if I was right–if I called it correctly–if I willingly gave someone an excuse to test those rumors about me…well…I don’t know. Maybe I’d shrug it off. Maybe I’d get pissed. Or maybe I would let go and give up. This time, for the first time, I saw the possibilities in giving up. I even found hope in it.

Ever since Kat’s going-away party, I couldn’t stop thinking about Hayley. How she looked. How she acted. How it never matched up with what I heard. But I was too afraid to find out for sure. Too afraid she might laugh if I asked her out. Just too afraid.

So what were my options? I could leave the office a pessimist and take my survey with me. Or I could leave it as an optimist and hope for the best. In the end, I walked out of that office with my survey still in the box, unsure of what I was. An optimist? A pessimist? Neither. A fool.