A Sample from Along Came Jordan
The morning sucked.
My eleven-year-old sister was pitching a fit — an amazing performance of yelling and wailing — smack in the middle of the living room. The fit I pitched was on the inside — silent, but every bit as strong. Neither of us wanted to go. Our lack of choice pinched tighter than the new loafers I’d chosen to wear. Unlike Sarah, drama queen hysterics were not my style, but being forced to leave Bates Academy for Edgemont High in the middle of the term nearly converted me.
Not even the memory of my parting words to the jerk at Bates who betrayed me could brighten my mood. They were the slickest words I’d ever uttered, but today, even they didn’t help.
“What do I wear?” Sarah hollered first thing.
Mom rushed into her room. “Good grief, why didn’t you plan last night?”
Bates Academy had uniforms. Every morning since forever, Sarah and I had put on the blue and khaki like trained seals. There were no decisions, no fashion statements, no indecent exposure.
Those days were over.
Sarah was clueless. I’d deliberated all evening over what to wear. For a nano-second, I wished I was still on speaking terms with my ex-friend Farah. She would’ve known the exact outfit to make the right impression, but we weren’t talking. After she’d played her evil role in the whole Lance betrayal, we were over. Way over.
I was on my own.
For a sixteen year old, my wardrobe stunk. I settled on jeans and a long-sleeved white blouse. Once I rolled up the sleeves and tucked everything in, I looked pretty good. I guess I’d learned something from Farah after all. I knew my long black hair was impressive so I brushed it until it gleamed like the chrome on Dad’s car.
With about thirty seconds to spare, Sarah and I were ready, sack lunches in hand, and bodies shoved out the door by a frazzled mom, whose patience had curled up and died an hour ago.
“Sarah, hurry your butt up,” I urged as we started down the drive. “The bus won’t wait.”
“I don’t want to take the stupid bus, and I don’t want to go to a stupid new school.”
I grimaced. “We’ve no choice. Let’s do this.”
She squashed her face into an ugly pout but increased her speed.
We made it to the corner, and the bus squealed and stopped at the curb. We climbed aboard and found an empty seat. The bus stopped at the middle school first so Sarah and a handful of other kids could get off. I could see the tears and a panic attack brewing behind her frantic expression.
“It’ll be all right,” I whispered. “Fifth grade is fifth grade everywhere.”
She started down the aisle, and then turned to give me one last desperate glance. My heart sagged as she dragged herself out of the bus, her backpack clunking down each step behind her. I hoped she’d survive.
The bus rumbled back into gear and headed toward the high school. I prayed my eyes didn’t have Sarah’s look of terror. I made no move to notice or interact with anyone. Later, I’d be friendly and vivacious and charming.
I climbed off the bus and tromped toward the school. Once inside, I was swallowed into a mass of laughing and yelling kids, although I did remember to go to the office and get my schedule from Mrs. Atterbury. I knew her from last week, when Mom and I brought my transcripts. She bustled behind the counter with box-like glasses slipping off her nose, giving me a momentary feeling of security. With a frizzy-haired, grandma-like secretary, the school couldn’t be all bad.
“Locker 215,” she said to me in a sing-song voice. “I’m sorry, dear, but you’ll have to bring in your own lock — the built-in on 215 is defunct. Remember to see the counselor if you encounter any troubles. He’s a humdinger. You have a good day, Emili Jones, and welcome to Edgemont High.”
I looked at my schedule. First period — English 10, room 206 — had to be second floor. I picked my way through clusters of kids, keeping my eyes straight ahead. The stairs were tight as I squished through the throngs, but I elbowed my way up into a wide hallway.
I concentrated on my breathing. Take a step, take a breath. Take a step, take a breath. Fainting dead away on the first day wouldn’t be a good start.
“Private Girl, you’re back.” The voice was pure syrup.
I gazed into the hazel eyes of a girl who looked like a Parisian model. I’d run into her last week, too. Even though we didn’t officially meet, I hadn’t forgotten how she’d gone out of her way to be a stuck-up creep.
Be friendly, be friendly, I silently repeated. I would not end up as a friendless loner again.
I smiled — at least I felt the corners of my mouth turn up. “Hey.”
She narrowed her eyes. “You didn’t change your mind about coming.”
“Wasn’t an option.”
“Hmm. Let me see your schedule.” She yanked it out of my hand, and I noticed her long nails were painted a deep purple. “We have two classes together.”
My fake smile stayed fixed, super-glue tight.
“Most people are glad to have classes with me. Are you smart?” Her eyes roved over me. I could see her assessment gears churning.
“I do okay.”
“What’s your name?”
“Well, Former Private School Girl, I guess I’ll see you in class.”
I snatched my schedule out of her grasp and kept walking. What a weirdo.
It was obvious Edgemont High didn’t have a specific homeroom like Bates, since none was listed. I found room 206, and a few kids were milling around. A chubby teacher dug in a file cabinet against the far wall, her tight blouse revealing every lumpy bulge on her back.
“Excuse me,” I said.
She turned, and her wrinkled face widened into a smile. “You must be Emili Jones. I have your name on my roster. I’m Mrs. Winder, English 10. Sit wherever you like.” She waved her hand toward the chairs. “No assigned seats in this room, no sir-ee. I’ll get you a textbook pronto.”
“Thanks,” I said. She seemed nice enough. I walked to the back of the first row and sat. A girl with a blotchy rash under the left side of her chin gave me the once-over. I responded with a half-smile, and then studied my backpack as if it were sprouting leaves.
Her chair scooted back with a screech, and she came over to stand before me. “My name’s Sally Wiley. What’s yours?”
“Welcome to our illustrious school.” She bobbed her head and her tightly-woven French braid swished back and forth. “Do you play a stringed instrument by chance?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry, too. It’s nice to get new members in the orchestra, although how would I know? We never get anyone new. Now band is another thing, they get new members all the time.” Her brown eyes were flecked with yellow. “I’m a violinist, which you probably guessed.”
“My rash.” She pointed to her red chin. “According to every person in my world, I practice way too much, but they’re dead wrong, I don’t practice enough. How can anyone ever practice too much? According to whom, I’d like to know. I can’t help it if my chin rest gives me skin like a sick lizard. It’s the price we professionals pay.”
I grinned, finding her earnest expression and overflowing puppy-dog enthusiasm endearing. Yep, I liked Sally Wiley.
“What do you do?” she asked.
“What do I do? I, uh, nothing. I get good grades.”
“Yes, yes, but what are your interests?”
A few more students wandered into class. I could feel them checking me out.
“I make perfume.”
“No kidding? Excellent. Magnifique! I want to learn everything about it.” She leaned toward me and sniffed. “I don’t smell any homemade perfume.”
“Issues this morning. I was running late, but I’ll wear some tomorrow.”
“Perfect. What do you do at school?”
“Clubs and stuff.”
Sally shook her head, a frown on her face. “That won’t do. There are lots of clubs here, and you need to get involved in something. Margo can help you figure it out.”
“Margo?” I asked, but didn’t get an answer. The bell rang and everyone, including Sally, sat down.
Mrs. Winder cleared her throat. “Good morning, students. Let’s get underway.”
Out of the first three classes, I liked English best. Mrs. Winder paced the room all period, showering us with jokes and stupid puns. At the end of class, she dove into a rock star impersonation. Pitiful, but who wouldn’t like her class? Lunch was after third period, which was eleven o’clock, way too early to be hungry. I didn’t want to go anyway — there’s nothing as lame as being a wandering reject in the cafeteria.
At Bates, I ate with Farah at our regular table. It was written in cement, until she started missing school for all sorts of reasons, including getting pregnant.
I wondered if Principal Ramos had found out yet about her pregnancy. He’d try to kick her out for sure. A sudden thought made me catch my breath. Would she end up coming here? No way was I going to attend the same school as Farah Menins again. Ever, ever again.
Someone bumped into me. “Oh, Private Girl, you’re in my way.” It was the model.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. Not knowing where else to go, I’d ended up in the cafeteria after all. I scanned the lunchroom hoping to find somewhere, anywhere to sit. Clumps of students crowded around tables, heads together, laughing and joking. The noise level grew as if fertilized. My eyes darted from one spot to the next, searching for any escape from eating alone.
“You can eat at my table if you want,” the model continued.
The invitation was so unexpected, I almost laughed. She, however, was not laughing. She stared at me, one hand on her hip, fingers tapping her front pocket.
With no better offers, I agreed and followed her to a table already crowded with girls. I recognized her side kick, whom I also saw the day my mom and I came.
“She’s sitting with us?” Side Kick asked. Surprise and distaste twisted her face into a scowl.
“Why, of course, Janae, we always invite the new girls to join our group.”
Judging from the wide-eyed stares of everyone at the table, that was an outright lie.
“Sit here next to me,” the model said, forcing another girl to get up and move.
Right then, any table without the model looked more appealing.
“Sit.” Her commanding tone brooked no argument, and her eyes brimmed with an unspoken dare to refuse.
I clamped my mouth shut. No way was I going to suffer through months of loneliness again. Determination to make friends hardened in me like steel — I would be pleasant or die.
“I’m sure you know my name is Laine Meadow. All of us hope you’re enjoying your first day.” She spread her arms, indicating everyone at the table. “Since we all know how confusing a new school can be, I want to make certain you understand how everything works.” She continued in her sweet, fake voice.
I curled open my paper bag and removed my sandwich.
She placed her purple lunchbox, sporting pink rhinestones, on the table. With a flick of her wrist, she opened it and took out what appeared to be a veggie sub on flat bread.
From the corner of my eye, I could see Side Kick, uh Janae, studying Laine. The entire table studied Laine.
“To make myself perfectly clear, if you have any questions about Edgemont, come to me.” Laine’s smile was a permanent fixture cemented to her face. “I have all the answers you need. I know it all, plus I’m sophomore class president.”
There’s a surprise.
“Janae and I run just about everything. I don’t only help the sophomores, the juniors and seniors also come to me. I like to be of help to everyone.” She bent down close to my face. “I want to help you, too.”
Laine gazed around the table, surveying her kingdom. “Let’s eat,” she said.
I finished my sandwich but had no appetite for anything else. I managed to excuse myself without getting Her Highness’s permission. I walked into the girls’ bathroom and rested against the sink, feeling as though I’d gone through round one.
A toilet flushed and out came Sally. Seeing her, a wave of relief floated over me.
She leaned across the sink, peered into the mirror, and fingered the scabby skin under her chin. “Margo says I’m obsessed with it. I suppose I am, in a way. I do get tired of everyone calling it a ginormous hickey.” She looked at me in the mirror and laughed. “I wish.”
I envisioned someone giving such a monstrous hickey and snickered.
“I see you met the Reigning Queen of the sophomore class.”
“Yeah, I guess I did.”
“Don’t let her get to you, but consider yourself warned.”
Sally flipped her French braid over her shoulder. “With someone like you, she can be vicious.”
“New. Cute. A possible threat to her reign.”
My mouth fell open. “Me, a threat? I don’t think so.”
Sally cocked her head and nodded. “She’s peeing.”
No one else was in the bathroom. “Peeing?”
“Dogs pee around their territory so no other dog will dare move in. It’s called staking a claim.” She gave me a satisfied smile. “She’s peeing.”
I laughed. “Message received.”
Sally washed her hands and ripped off a wad of paper towels. “Au revoir,” she said and left.
Half-way through Day One. I took inventory — one probable enemy and one friend. Not too bad.
On the way to chemistry, I followed a mob of kids and I caught a glimpse of a guy who had soft brown hair towering over everyone. My breath snagged in my throat. Marc! The boy I’d stupidly dumped for Lance. He turned sideways and my insides went limp.
Of course, it wasn’t Marc. How dumb could I have been? Marc was still at Bates. It wasn’t his father who’d lost his job and couldn’t pay tuition anymore, it was mine. I was the one being forced to change schools after attending Bates forever.
I shoved my way to the side of the hall and drooped against the tiled wall. I wanted Marc, and I wanted Bates. My energy drained and tears threatened to spill. I blinked, praying no one would notice.
Yeah, right — as if anyone would notice. No one at Edgemont cared about me.
I was wrong. Squarely in my path stood Laine with her arms crossed. She stared at me, and her lips curled into a sickening grin.
In a flash, I knew what she was thinking. I was weak, easy prey.
And the thought was making her very happy indeed.
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