“Skylar Alexis Cavendish!”
I jerk awake in the passenger seat, bang my head against the window glass, then wipe the back of my hand across my mouth. Mmm, drool.
“We’re here,” Mom says. Her hands are like the tiny tremors of a Hollywood Chihuahua. “This is the last one, young lady. Do you hear me?”
Uh oh. She used “young lady,” as if I want to be one of those, along with “do-you-hear-me” when she knows perfectly well I hear her. She’s the only thing I’ve been able to hear during my summer-long grounding. And her voice? It’s about as interesting as those Hollywood Chihuahuas. I twist Dad’s wedding ring around my thumb, careful to keep it under the sleeve of my hoodie. Mom believes he was buried with it. Oops.
“Skylar! I said, do you hear me?”
I roll my eyes and let out an exasperated breath. Do I conversate with her on this morning of infinite possibilities? Nah. I jam my hand into the door handle and pull harder than I mean to, practically falling out of the car. If I talk to her, I’ll only make it worse. If I don’t talk to her, I’ll make it worst. There’s no winning this one.
She sighs, fumbling in the console. “Here,” she says, holding out a handful of crumpled bills. “In case you want to buy lunch instead of what I packed.”
I answer by kicking the door of the car shut with my boot heel. I’m too old for her charity movements. The car idles for a minute longer before chug-chug-chugging down the road and back the way we came.
Ramapo High School looms large on a gradual incline above the road. Students stand in clumps of threes or fives. They laugh and hug and act like they haven’t seen each other for a million years. Pathetic. None of them know what it’s like to never see someone again. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be so damn dramatic over three months.
Better get this over with. I twist up my purple-tinted hair into a bun on top of my head and secure it with my pens. It’s not like I’m going to need a pen today. Possibly ever. I join the masses as we make our way like cattle into the building. Even though I’ve never been inside, it more or less resembles every other high school. The lockers here are grey. Last school they were orange. Ooo, it’s like an episode of High School Make-Over, and I’m getting chills.
The principal called last week to give me a private tour. To which I replied, “I bet you do,” and hung up. Meh, first impressions are for winners.
A short, perky, black girl hops in my way. She’s mostly hair and gold hoops. Thank Christ she’s not wearing a cheering uniform. I hate team spirit. Instinctively, my fist is clenched and half-cocked, thumb out, before she gets too close. She stretches out a hand like we’re at a fancy prep school.
“Hi,” she says, the widest smile I’ve ever seen across her face. “I’m Thalia De Vere, Junior Class President. You must be Skylar. Principal Hanover asked me to show you around today. He said you just moved here.”
When I don’t take her hand, she gets the hint and drops it to her side. The grin never leaves her face though, and I’m shocked for a second into thinking it might be genuine.
“Look, I’m probably not going to be here very long, so let’s cut the bullshit. We don’t have to do this. I won’t hold it against you.”
Thalia’s perfectly mascaraed eyes blink slowly at me. She must be thick.
“I’m not sure what your mom told you about our school,” she hesitates, “but we’re not like any other school you attended.”
“Oh, it’s going to be more of a military approach?” I laugh. “Mom swore she’d never send me to one of these places, but I guess everyone’s got their limits. Who knew five was hers?”
Thalia bites her lip like she’s not sure if she should laugh with me or run away. I like her already.
“Thalia, right?” She nods looking up at me. “I’ve got a date with Biology 101. Since ditching first block isn’t really my style, lead the way.” It’s not a question, as I hook my arm though hers.
“Of course, this way.” This girl is practically bouncing down the hallway. The only thing keeping her grounded is me. She stops several times to say hello to everyone. I forget their names and faces almost like I’ve got a gift for it. Okay, I do notice the way everyone is saccharine sweet. Once we reach the fourth or fifth hallway, I’m in dire need of some vodka. These kids can’t be real. I bet if I peeled back their skin I’d find a bunch of robots.
As if to prove my point, an upper classman — judging from his red and black letterman jacket with two crossed silver swords on the back — gets slammed into by a lower classman. Binders smack the floor and papers swish out like a deck of cards. The lower classman turns beet red, all elbows, knees, and angles too sharp to hold him up, and bends down to pick up the mess. I smell a fight in the air.
And then … nothing happens like it should. The upper classman smiles at the kid who nearly toppled him over and gets his buddies to help. He even apologizes to the lower classman for getting in his way. If smacking my forehead weren’t so cliché, I’d be smacking it with a hammer. I need a cigarette. Or a lobotomy.
Thalia stops at the door of the biology lab. She slips a notebook into my hands. It’s covered with six teenage boys posing like gangsters but dressed like hipsters. A stupid name in blocky letters is sketched across the bottom. I shake my head, trying to push the abomination back at her.
“Ms. York will give you detention if you show up without something to take notes on.”
As if I care about Ms. York, detention, or notes. “Hey, you’ve been nice taking me to class and everything, but I really don’t have any intentions of sticking around.”
Thalia smiles and says, “We’ll see,” before turning on her heel and skip-walking away down the hall.
Several lab tables separate me from the front of the class. Students slip past me and take their seats in pairs behind every bench but the one at the front. Super. A willow of a woman wrapped in a black sweater, two crossed swords stitched in red above the pockets, eyes me behind her thick glasses. Her unflattering and choppy bob does her no favors. I drop the notebook in the trash bin at the back of the class before walking up to her.
“Skylar Cavendish.” At least she doesn’t pretend like she wants to shake hands.
She looks me up and down unabashedly like I’m the experiment. I return the gesture. I could totally take her in a fight or a foot race. To prove this, I cross my arms and push a hip forward. Defiance is one of my specialties.
Her attention diverts from boring holes into my skull. A smile that says ‘I-got-your-number’ spreads across her face. Oh, you think so, do you?
“You’ll be partnered with Rafe McKinnon for the semester.”
A loud thump answers. I turn and see the Mayor of Hottie Town, USA standing behind the nearest bench, his hand rests atop a stack of books. He flushes but forces a smile. Black hair spikes across his forehead, above the bluest of blue eyes I’ve ever seen in my sixteen years. His nose looks like it’s been broken and gives a nice asymmetry to his otherwise symmetrical face.
“Yes, Ms. York.” Mmm, that voice.
I use my best saunter to join him behind the — our! — lab bench. If I were completely out of my pants, this is the point where normally I’d slap his ass and tell him to make me a sandwich. Something in his eyes stops my hand. Oh, Mayor, you’re in for a treat.
A long mind-numbing lecture about bases and acids and boredom follows. Rafe, the future Mr. Cavendish, pushes a notebook under my arm when Ms. York turns to the wipe board. It’s a sensible solid blue. No singers. No bling. I remove one of the pens from my hair, roll my head to make sure the other pen won’t tumble out, and open the notebook to the middle. Rafe tsks me. Quiet, pet. Mommy’s got some anarchy to start.
Instead of taking notes, I doodle across the page. At first, it’s random squiggles and lines. The lines connect up with the squiggles. I take care to hash mark some parts and leave others pristine until I stop doodling and look down to find my own face staring back up at me, eyebrow piercing and all. Who knew I was such a mother-fluffing Van Gogh?
“Ms. Cavendish!” Ms. York’s either been trying to get my attention for some time now, or she needs a throat lozenge. Possibly a handful of them. Awkward.
Ms. York puffs out her flamingo chest, as if that will make her frame more substantial. “I asked you how many parts per million are in this equation, as you’ve been so keen on working the sums.”
Rafe slyly holds up two fingers. And while his slender digits end in actually manicured nails distract me, I don’t know if he’s trying to tell me two, twenty, two hundred, or two thousand.
“I wasn’t working on—”
“Two hundred thousand,” Rafe interrupts. The hottie meter drops him a few thousand points in response.
“I don’t need your help.”
His eyes tell me to shut up. Another major loss at the polls.
“As you’ve so eloquently indicated, Ms. Cavendish,” Ms. York the Stork approaches our bench, “you weren’t paying any attention. I’d think after your scholarly history, you’d look at us as your last chance.”
I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care.
“Since I’m in a forgiving mood, I won’t assign you detention for an entire week.” The students behind me let out a collective breath. Note to self: do not drink the water. “But you will report to the Dissection lab after school today.”
A girl two benches back gasps. Her lab partner snaps his eyes to her face. Some meaningful look passes between them. Weirdos. Satisfied, but I’m unsure why, Ms. York returns to the desert-dry lecture.
Dissection is for kids. I dissected a frog in seventh grade. I loudly flip over my self-portrait and start doodling on the next clean sheet.
Rafe whispers, “Hope you brought a chainsaw.”
… to be continued in Part II.
Stay tuned for extra content this week from Audrey. This month we’re posting extra short stories on Halloween. Check out Julie’s answer to this prompt next Monday.
For more amazing photos by Days of K, please visit her Flickr page (http://www.flickr.com/photos/daysofk/). Photograph © Copyright, Days of K 2012. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Original sculpture by William Wetmore Story 1894.