Imagine four years.
Four years, two suicides, one death, one rape, two pregnancies (one abortion), three overdoses, countless drunken antics, pantsings, spilled food, theft, fights, broken limbs, turf wars--every day, a turf war--six months until graduation and no one gets a medal when they get out. But everything you do here counts.
"No, seriously, Jules, just feel around in there and tell me if you have one--"
"Fuck off, Chris--"
"And tell me where it is, the exact location."
He reaches out and grabs me by the shoulder. I shrug, shrug, shrug him off.
"Fuck off, Chris."
He's been on about the G-spot for, like, a week.
"Don't fail me now, Parker. Where is it?"
"Cosmo, December `94. The Sex Issue. Came with a map and everything."
"Hell yes! I knew I could count on you." He points at me, grinning, and then the grin falters and he says, "Wait. You bullshitting me?"
I make him wait for the answer because I'm bullshitting him.
"Chris, I respect you too much to do that."
"That's so sweet. You look good today, Parker."
"You bullshitting me?"
"I respect you too much to do that."
I look like shit today for a variety of reasons, but let's start with the muddy running shoes on my feet. Running shoes are expressly forbidden to wear with the school uniform, but damned if I know where my dress shoes disappeared to between now and yesterday. And then there's my uniform skirt, which has a mustard stain on the front because I can't do something simple like make a sandwich for lunch without screwing it up. I plucked my rumpled polo shirt from my bedroom floor and I guess I could've brushed my hair if I'd wanted to forgo the bus ride and walk all ten miles to school, but supposedly if I miss any more classes I could maybe not graduate, and if I have to spend another year in this concrete block--
Principal Henley's got her arms crossed and her eyebrows up. I bring my hands together like I'm appealing to God. I might as well be.
"One day only, Mrs. Henley. See, I got up really late and I couldn't find my dress shoes and I was so worried about getting here on time--"
"And the hair--"
"Can be brushed," I say, smoothing my hand over the tangles.
"You're due at the guidance office in five minutes."
"Oh, joy," I say. Her eyes flash and I smile. "No, really."
Her eyebrows go down. It's good, but not as good as when I got away with everything. I elbow my way through a mass of people to get to my locker because there's something immensely satisfying about the toughest part of my arm connecting with the softest part of everyone else. A shapely embodiment of a female Satan appears on the horizon, flipping her long blond hair over her shoulder as she commands the attention of her many underlings. My former underlings.
"--I just bluffed my way through it," she's saying as I pass. "Hey, Parker?"
I half turn. "What?"
"Did you get that essay finished for Lerner?"
"That was due today?"
Becky stares at me.
"You only had the whole weekend."
I open my locker. "Why do you sound surprised?"
"Bet you fifty bucks you're f**ked."
"You're on," I say. "I can do a lot with fifty bucks."
She laughs and heads wherever she's heading. Cheerleading practice, maybe. No. It's too early, and anyway, I don't care.
I grab my English binder and flip through it until I find the page with FRIDAY and HOMEWORK scrawled messily at the top but nothing underneath. Great. The bell rings. Guidance office.
I grab my brush, slam my locker shut and race against the flow of students heading to their respective homerooms. I reach the office while the bell's still ringing. I take a minute to catch my breath, stalling, because Ms. Grey would cream herself if she thought I actually made the effort to be on time and I don't like giving people false hope. I count to ten and run a brush through my hair. One. Two. Three. Ten. Again. A few minutes go by. A few more.
When I finally decide to enter the office, I'm still brushing my hair.
It's not meant to be insolent--it's not insolent--but the thing is, I can't stop. My hair looks fine, but I just stand there brushing it in front of Grey, who sits at her desk looking all devastated, like I'm mocking her somehow.
Sorry, I can't stop, I want to say, but I don't. I don't think I'm really sorry about it, either, but she should know this isn't some kind of slam at her for making my life a little more inconvenient than it already is. If it was, I'd be a lot more creative about it.
I sit down across from her and run the brush through my hair a few more times.
"You're late," she finally manages.
My hand relaxes. I lower the brush and rest it in my lap. Grey looks like a bird, a dead-eyed sparrow, and if I had her job, I'd want to kill myself. It's not like well-adjusted people ever come into the guidance office. You get either the crazy underachievers or the crazy overachievers and both come with their own depressing set of problems.
I don't know. I'd just want to kill myself if I was her, that's all.
"Yeah," I say. "So we'd better get on with it, huh?"
"Right." She clasps her hands together. "You already know this, but I think it bears repeating: no cutting, no missed days, no exceptions. You will complete your homework and you will hand it in when it's due. Off-campus lunch privileges are suspended until you can prove to us that you're trustworthy again and--"
"But what if I wake up one morning and I can't stop vomiting or I'm hemorrhaging or something? Do I still have to go to school?"
She blinks. "What?"
"What if I'm really sick? What do I do then?"
"A parent would have to call in for you. Otherwise you'll receive a warning--"
"Right." I nod and start chewing my thumbnail. "Okay."
She clears her throat.
"On Friday, you'll meet me here and we'll talk about any troubles you might have had throughout the week, the progress you've made both in and out of school, and--"
"But what if I miss some assignments, though? I've gone so long just not doing them, I think it's kind of unfair to expect me to get back on the ball right away. You know what I think, Ms. Grey? I think I should get a grace period."
She leans across the desk, her dead eyes showing a rare sign of life. It freaks me out so much I have to look away.
"This is your grace period, Parker."
Then I have to run all the way to homeroom. Mr. Bradley makes a point to glare at me when he marks down my attendance because they all must have gotten the Tough Love memo over the weekend. I pause at Chris's desk and tap my fingers along the wood until he looks up from the math homework he's scrambling to finish.
"Becky knows where it is."
He laughs. "Becky? You're talking to her now?"
"Yeah. About G-spots. At length. She's an expert."
"Okay." His pale blue eyes twinkle. "Send her up."
I wink at him and head to the desk at the back of the room, where Becky's alternately painting her nails and the cover of her binder with sparkly red polish. A nail here, a red heart there. I slide into the seat next to hers and I don't waste time.
"Chris wants you."
Her head whips up.
"Chris wants me?"
"Yeah. Go see."
She looks from me to him to me again, to him, to me, and she grins. Chris is popular, cute, all dimples. He wears his uniform shirt a size too small because it makes his muscles look bigger than they actually are and he's never wanted Becky before.
"Thanks," she whispers, standing.
She squares her shoulders and walks up the aisle as sexily she can, which is not very sexy at all. As soon as her back is to me, I grab her binder and flip through it, carefully avoiding the drying polish decorating the front. It's so beautifully organized, I find Lerner's essay before Becky even gets to Chris.
We were supposed to write about patriarchy and Beowulf. I had no idea we even read Beowulf, but I'm resigned to the fact I can't bullshit my way through this essay as effortlessly as Becky probably has, and since I'm pretty confident she can do it just as effortlessly again, I rip it from her binder. It's my essay now.
"He's disgusting," Becky says when she comes back.
The funny thing is, she won't even notice the essay's missing until Lerner's class and even then she won't suspect me, because I may have done a lot of stupid things in the last year, but that doesn't mean I'm an essay thief. People are kind of stupid like that when they think you're tragic. You get away with a lot even after you're caught.
"You obviously like disgusting," I tell her.
She smiles this big blond smile.
"He asked me out, but I wanted to make sure it's okay with you first."
"Screw him, Becky. I don't care."
"Becky, really. I don't want to hear it. You're dull."
She rolls her eyes. "For five seconds you almost seemed human."
"Five whole seconds, huh? That's an improvement. Tell Grey; she'll love that."
The bell rings and Becky lunges out of her seat. Chris waits for no one.
"Becky," I call after her. She turns. "I hope you have that fifty on you. I'll need it for after school."
I copy her essay during history, unnecessarily exerting myself with a little creative rewriting so it sounds authentically Parker.
After history, I run into the new kid.
The bell has rung, the halls are filtering out and when I spot him, this new kid, he's doing that confused stumble around the halls that makes it painfully obvious he has no idea where he is. He's got brown hair that sort of hangs into his brown eyes and I stare at him when I pass, because new kids generally can't handle eye contact and I find that amusing. He looks about eighteen and I bet his parents are a**holes to do whatever it is they did that he had to transfer in the middle of senior year.