If Sister Augustine’s fiery depiction of hell hadn’t been so vivid, I swear I would prefer that to what lay ahead. It’s not that I hate school or anything, at least not as much as some of my friends, but I’m not exactly excited about starting high school in the public system.
My brother Marc’s always been cool but he used to be way stuffier before he moved to England to study. He’s always wanted to be a pediatrician and right now he’s working as an intern at Hoag hospital and staying with me and my other brother Josh while my Mom is gone for a year on a church mission. Marc and I have always been tight as peas so I’m just glad he’s back.
“Krista—I’m not going to tell you again.”
Except when it comes to getting up for school.
“Fine already,” I say and rise to my elbow. “I’m getting up.”
The only thing worse than waking up at 5:30 A.M. is walking half a mile to school in the freezing cold at 6:00 A.M. I am not looking forward to it. Zero period should be outlawed. Why’d I select a class that meets an hour before school normally starts? For God’s sake, it’s still dark outside! People always think that just because this is Southern California that every minute of the day is perfect and warm, but sometimes like this morning, the fall weather can be colder than the winter. I tried to explain that to my best friend Lindsay after my family and I moved out here from Ohio but she’s not buying it. And she’s convinced that everyone in California is either an actress or a model and that someday I will be too.
The idea of public school scares me. At least at Our Holy Sisters I never had to worry about kids bringing guns to school and acting like hit-men. Even though my transferring to public school was mom’s idea, I’d bet every dollar in my piggy bank that Marc voiced his opinion on the matter too: I remember the day they told me.
Mom’s decision is a sound one, he said. Mom approached the topic with me while I was eating a heavenly Cinnabun at the kitchen table, which now looking back at the matter was probably her way of buttering me up.
Out of nowhere she says, “Krista, you’re just too sheltered at Our Holy Sisters. I think you need to experience the real world and you’re just not going to be exposed to it there.” This is the last thing I ever expect to hear coming from mom.
One of mom’s favorite sayings is, “Never forget, the people you associate with say everything about you. Steer clear of riff-raff.” From what little I’ve learned about him through Marc, I wish mom would’ve followed her own advice before she hooked up with my “dad.”
I definitely remember Marc, casually leaning against the kitchen counter, adding with a smile, “Try making a few friends that are boys before you start dating . . . better that than decide that they’re a foreign species altogether.”
Dating . . . now there’s something I don’t get. Some of my smartest friends from Our Holy Sisters—they’re allowed to date boys on the weekends—act like half-wits whenever they’re around boys. What’s that all about? Why do girls get so . . . it’s as if every girl who kisses a boy loses her brain while they’re kissing. Yuck! That’s just . . . yuck. I don’t want to be seen that way—clinging to a boy like the world will end if he excuses himself to use the restroom.
Now I have to figure out what clothes are “in.” And I thought algebra was stressful! Last night I spent an hour trying to decide on an outfit to wear and got a zit for my troubles. Usually I don’t have to worry about zits; unless I’m super nervous or something, I never get them so I don’t have anything to treat them with. That’s another reason I know how major today is. I usually always have a clear complexion so I know something is up. I run into Josh’s bathroom, grab one of the Stridex pads I always see him using, then start scrubbing my blemish. Thing is, it seems like it’s only making my pimple redder.
Anyway, I did study Seventeen magazine but almost every page had pictures of girls wearing skin-tight tops that show their stomach. The problem is I don’t have many regular clothes to choose from since I used to only need them on the weekends. Except for those velour sweat suits that came out last year which I practically live in because mom bought me one in every color. Even though Josh offered to take me shopping, I said I didn’t want to buy anything yet until I can see for myself what everyone’s wearing.
Boy I miss mom, but she is in Nicaragua. I talk to her all the time, but talking to her about my zits and clothes doesn’t seem the same over a satellite phone.
So I finally decided that I’d go casual: jeans and a conservative white button-up shirt seemed the safest choice. Something straight out of a GAP ad.
I stare at my reflection on the closet door mirror. At least my hair is cooperating today; no static-cling in the air to make my hair dull. If I get any taller this year I might reach five-foot-five. That’d be great. I want to be tall. The taller you are the more regal you look. At least that’s my opinion.
In the reflection I can also see my bedroom. This year I think it’s time for a change. I’ve outgrown the frilly lavender bedspread, the clouds on the wallpaper and the matching clouds and rainbows decorating my room. I don’t know what I want next exactly, I just know I want something different.
I wish I could say that clothing and décor are the most of my concerns but that would be a lie. Fact is, the thing about Crestmount that scares me the most is having to deal with . . . boys.
Just the thought of them has my nerves in a racket. It doesn’t matter that I have two half-brothers. Marc isn’t exactly a boy; I still have no idea what to expect. How am I supposed to act around them and what are they going to be like? Are they bullies or will they act like the sex-crazed freaks that are always on MTV? I don’t even have a girl friend to eat lunch with so I don’t know how I’ll spend my time.
If I could make one wish, the only thing I’d hope for is that there’s at least one nice person who wants to be my friend. Even a single conversation would be an encouraging sign. I just want to feel accepted. If I don’t have to spend lunchtime sitting in a corner by myself, that’ll make my day.
The warning bell rang and I ran across the street. I had five minutes to locate the gym.
Few students were on campus this early. I whisked through desolate corridors in search of the dance class that was about to begin. As I turned the corner, a boy barreled into me, slamming me against the hall lockers without apology as he joked with his buddy. I glimpsed varsity jackets--just a flash before my head crashed against corrugated metal and my vision gave way to disorienting bursts of light. I pushed myself off the wall of lockers. The metallic taste of blood filled my mouth; my lower lip began to smart, and my entire head throbbed.
Breathe—don’t cry. I straightened, then resumed my search for the school gym. The second bell shrilled above my ears. I was officially late to my first day of school.
The gym sat at the opposite end of campus; the smaller dance room, reserved for our class, was an adjoining room the size of a typical classroom. When I finally walked into the mirrored room where a large group of girls sat patiently on the floor, I was some five minutes late. Luckily the dance teacher was easygoing—so much so that she introduced herself as Bree—as in we were supposed to call her by her first name—how weird. “Why don’t you put your bag down?” she brushed off my apology.
Silence filled the room as I quietly walked to the back and placed my dance bag in the corner.
When I turned around, she said, “Take your place behind Carrie, here in the front.” She indicated the unclaimed space on the floor behind an attractive girl.
Our eyes met briefly, hers reflected indifference. The fair-haired waif was diminutive compared to the other students. She wore a black unitard accented by an exotically tasseled tangerine wrap, tied around her waist. Unlike the casual clothing worn by her peers, her mysterious style piqued my curiosity.
I wordlessly took my seat.
Class began, and each girl practiced her technique against the teacher’s. They were surprisingly good—accomplished in ability, individual in style. One was exceptional: a petite brunette with Indian eyes.
Carrie came up for her turn. She flipped back her sun-gold mane, and it fell loosely around her shoulders, cascaded down her back. Her pale sapphire eyes focused on an invisible spot in the distance. It was almost disquieting, the way she danced; her slender frame seemed too fragile to execute such powerful moves with such fluid grace.
As I sat there watching, I realized that, in spite of my predawn regrets, I had made the right choice. The familiar, addictive draw of mirrored walls and expansive flooring just begging to be danced upon. A rush of excitement coursed through me, and I imagined my own music, a new beat, and exhilarating moves. Dance class would be fun.
It was almost 7:30; first period would begin soon. Everyone adjourned to the dance team locker room, a special room full of floor-length mirrors and standing lockers, reserved for the privileged few. I could definitely get used to this. The corner locker I’d been assigned was just perfect for me.
I stashed my dance bag in my locker and looked over my shoulder. Carrie was three lockers away.
She pressed a towel to her hairline, curtailing beads of perspiration. She looked over at me, acknowledging me with a single raised brow. “You look like a sacrifice. Upperclassmen are gonna have a field day with you.”
Is this California’s equivalent of a greeting? “Thanks for sharing,” I said, my tone flat. “I don’t suppose you’d have any useful advice?”
She eyed me skeptically, taking her time. “You new to this district?”
“I’m from Ohio.”
“I guess that’d explain the Plain Jane look you’ve got goin’ on.”
I turned my back to her, slammed my locker shut, and tried to ignore the nagging ache in my throat as tears threatened.
When I turned back, she had moved to the locker beside me. “You’re lucky you’re in the dance program. You just saved yourself from being a social outcast.”
“The first blessing of the day.”
“Gotta do something about your wardrobe, though. You can’t pull that off for long.”
“If I make any friends, I’ll be sure to ask for their advice.”
Her eyes narrowed, scrutinized me; then she hesitated as if making a life-altering decision. She lowered her towel, and extended her other hand toward me. “Carrie Stevens.”
I accepted her handshake tentatively at first, then relaxed when she finally smiled.
“I usually don’t befriend newcomers, but . . .” She shrugged. “If you stick with me and my friends, you’re as good as in.”