Authors: Julie Anne Peters
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Social Issues, #Adolescence, #Dating & Sex, #Homosexuality
Kirsten piped up. "Condemn the cafeteria? That'd be a service to the community."
Everyone laughed. Kirsten huffed. "Hey, I'm serious."
Right. We brainstormed ideas that were actually doable and settled on a blood drive, a canned-food collection for the homeless shelter, and a read-a-thon for local nursing homes. Same as last year. How boring and predictable is that?
On the way out, Kirsten snagged me and said, "Leah told me to tell you the Mrs. Lucas was still looking for you."
"Damn." I smacked my head. Kirsten added, "If you go to the career centre, would you pick me up a catalog for Western State? Thanks." She jogged over to Trevor, who was waiting for her by the office. Trevor. He must've been her third or fourth boyfriend this year. I watched as she practically mauled him against the trophy case. He looked so young. But then he would, considering he was a freshman. I wondered if I should tell her what people were saying. Suggest maybe she cool it in school.
Seth came up behind me and poked me in the ribs. I yelped and slapped him away. "Keep Friday night open," he murmured in my ear. "I have a solution to our problem." He swaggered away toward the chem labs.
I scanned the back of his long, lean frame, letting out an audible sigh. One thing about Seth – he had a solution for everything.
Snow was beginning to stick to the asphalt in the school parking lot. My Jeep was already filmed over with frozen sleet. Mom said I was nuts to buy such a hunk of junk, and at the moment, shivering under the ripped canvas cover, I had to agree. But it'd been a blast all summer, four-wheeling the ridgeback.
My bones were brittle by the time I swerved into Children's Cottage. "Holland, thank God." Judy Arndt rushed up to meet me at the door. "Could you watch Dinosaur Digs while I run this money to the bank before it closes?"
"You're a saint." She slipped out behind me, skittering down the icy wheelchair ramp.
Unzipping my hooded sweatshirt, I hustled up the hall toward the pre-K room, admiring the miniature marshmallow art on the walls as I went. "Miss Holland! Miss Holland!" a couple of kids shrieked when they saw me at the door.
"Hi, Courtney. Stef." They raced over and flung their arms around me. "Ooh, Steffi, I love your princess outfit." She beamed and twirled around for me. The other kids were trying on costumes from the make-believe trunk, or building with LEGOs, or bopping out at the karaoke centre. There was another aide in the room, Mrs. Ruiz, Courtney's grandma, who volunteered a couple of days a week. We greeted each other with smiles as she divvied up Teddy Grahams for snack time. Courtney and Stef ran back to the mirror.
"Come and play with us, Miss Holland," Kyle hollered across the room. Everyone else looked busy, so I joined him and his brother, Kevin – the twin terrors.
This had to be the best job in the world. Yeah, it was minimum wage, and it was tough to put in even ten hours a week with my schedule, but I'd sacrifice swim team before giving this up. I loved little kids. They were so funny, so real. The way they'd crawl into your lap or hang off your neck. Sometimes they were pretty needy, like they weren't getting much affection at home. That was fine with me. I had plenty of love to spread around.
Courtney snuck up behind me and smashed sticky fingers over my eyes. "Guess who?" she said.
She giggled. "No."
"The Three Little Pigs?"
I grabbled her and tickled her in my lap. I wanted a hundred kids, at least.
Mom was hanging up the phone when I blew in the back door a little after six. "That was Bonnie Lucas."
I grimaced. "Mom –"
"No excuses," she said. "Get in there tomorrow. She's gone to a lot of trouble sending away for those catalogs and applications. I went ahead and filled out the financial aid forms you left sitting on your dresser."
"Mother." Involuntarily, my fists clenched. I wish she'd stay out of my room. Better yet, out of my life. I drew a deep, calming breathe before kissing Hannah in her baby seat. Mom nudged me away and lifted Hannah up, adding, "You act like you don't even care."
"I care," I said, bristling again. Why didn't
go to college if she was so psyched about it?
I yanked open the fridge and snitched a bowl of leftover chicken. Selected a bag of chips off the counter for dessert. Down in the crypt I punched on my CD player and changed into sweats, then dumped books and notebooks out on my bed. This sickening feeling of dread seeped up from my core. It's been festering for a while now. Why did I have to go to college? I loved school, but mostly for the social life. I couldn't imagine another four years poring over textbooks and writing reports and giving presentations and staging all-nighters.
Shoving the books aside, I rolled over and hugged my pillow. What was wrong with me? Ever since senior year started, I just couldn't get motivated. Couldn't get into it. Time seemed to have sped up and taken off without me. Or stopped altogether. This sense of inertia encased me in amber. Sometimes I'd catch myself looking at my reflection in windows and wonder who I was. Where I was going. Then the image would change and it wouldn't be me, just some nebulous shadow person. An empty, spineless shape-shifter.
Mom's footsteps creaked upstairs in my old bedroom. A pang of guilt stabbed me in the gut. I knew why she was so obsessed with college. She would've gone if she could have, but she'd dropped out of high school when she got pregnant with me. She had to. Her parents kicked her out. She never talked much about those years. We lived in a shelter for a while, I think. Eventually Mom got into a program for unwed mothers and earned her GED. Attended trade school and worked as a paralegal.
I admired her, I really did. She'd been through a lot. She was strong and independent, much more so than me. One time, while she was pregnant with Hannah, I went with her for an ultrasound and I remember sitting in the doctor's office, Mom leafing through a parenting magazine, both of us cooing over the cute baby clothes. She told me she'd regretted having me so young, that she would've been a better parent had she waited and planned. I tried to tell her she was a great mom, but I don't think she heard me. Or believed it. She said if she'd been older, more mature, she might've wanted me more.
I squeezed my eyes shut, banishing the memory, the implication. Hannah was wanted. I wasn't.
I should've been resentful of Hannah, and maybe I was, at first. But Mom shared her with me. It was like we were raising Hannah together. I loved that, the teamwork. And nobody could hold a grudge against a baby, especially a cutie patootie like hannah.
My cell rang, jolting me back to the present.
"Hi, Holl," Seth said. "You busy?"
"Extremely," I informed him. "Don't even think it. I need my sleep."
"Hmmm. I always sleep better afterwards."
"Yeah, well, you pretty much sleep through it."
"Kidding." I said.
"Listen, about Friday night. It's off. My brother and his roommates were going up skiing the whole weekend and said we could use the apartment, but now one of them has to work." He sighed heavily. "I'm sorry."
"That's okay." For some reason I felt relieved.
"They rescheduled for the weekend after, so we'll have the place to ourselves then. Meanwhile, I guess it's get down and dirty in dungeonland."
"Neal's home for the rest of the month," I told him. "And Faith's here this weekend."
Seth muttered a curse.
"You're just spoiled because of vacation."
"No shit," he replied. "I think I'm addicted. Addicted to you."
"They have medication for that."
He chuckled. "Hey, Echo Lake's opening Saturday. Want to go skating?"
"Yeah." I perked up. "I'll call Leah and Kirsten. We haven't all gone out since summer."
"Oh, all right," Seth said flatly.
"If you don't want me to –"
"No, it's fine. We just never seem to do anything alone anymore."
That wasn't true. He had me to himself all the time.
He added, "Have you thought anymore about," his voice lowered, "the big C?"
My jaw clenched. "I think I hear my mother nagging."
"Seth, as soon as I know, you'll know. I promise."
And when will that be? I asked myself. The answer was obvious: As soon as I figured out where my mother's life ended and mine began.
The contacts had to go. Why I'd wanted them in the first place – oh, yeah. To accentuate my extraordinary beauty. Who was I kidding?
My hair was still damp as I pushed through the door of the girls' locker room. A blast of frigid air met me as Coach Chiang materialised in the doorway from the faculty parking lot. "Holland," he called. " Just the person I wanted to see."
I waited for him to catch up. "Would you swim the two-hundred med relay?" he asked. "Claire broke her arm snowboarding over the weekend, and our first meet's Friday. I'd hate for the team to have to withdraw."
"Ouch." I winced for Claire. Then for me. "Coach, you're seen my 'fly. Are you that desperate?"
I rolled my eyes. "Okay, but only for the glory of Southglenn high."
He punched my arm and disappeared into the boys' locker room. I sprinted up the stairs. She was already at her locker, her mega cup of coffee balanced on a box of donuts by her feet. She had earphones on and as she pulled a book off the shelf, she started rocking out. The way you do when no one's around.
It made me laugh.
Her eyes flew open and she smiled, did a one-eighty.
I mouthed, What are you listening to?, indicating the earphones. I dropped my duffel next to my locker.
Cece boogied across the hall and lifted one ear flap for me to listen. I had to lean in to hear and our faces accidentally touched. We both jerked away, as if we'd been shocked. She yanked off the earphones and clipped them onto my head.
I didn't recognise the song. I pressed my hands over my ears to drown out the white noise, while Cece stood with her CD player, nodding in time with the imagined beat. Great group – girl singers. The rhythm was contagious and made me want to dance. So I did. I spun my combination lock and swung open the door at the same time. When the song ended, I handed the earphones back to Cece. "They're good," I said. "They sound kind of familiar. Who are they?"
"Dixie Chicks. Here, listen to this one." She popped the earphones back on me and slid in another CD with a homemade label. It was a different group, heavy metal. The kind of stuff Seth likes. I must've made a face because Cece stared laughing.
I pulled down the earphones. "What?"
"That's my brother's band," she said. "Bad, aren't they?"
"Not that bad."
I handed her back the earphones and she returned to her locker. She called across the hall, "You want a donut? I've got plenty."
My gaze fell to the box on the floor. "Hot' N Tott Donuts," it read across the side. "No, thanks." The warning bell rang and I hustled to gather my morning books together. A brief glance in my mirror caught Cece staring at me as she sipped her coffee. My stomach did that thing.
I slammed my locker and spun around, colliding with a mass of bodies. My armload of books went flying. The bodies were all jocks dressed in gym shorts, apparently heading out to the track. A couple of them stopped and apologised, helped retrieve my stuff. Cece, I noticed, just stood there and watched.
Dammit, I thought, this is your fault. Get your butt over here and help.
She must've read my expressing because she wandered across and said, "Any of you guys want a donut?"
Like vultures, they shoved the books at me and attached the donut box. I shot Cece a sneer and she laughed.
Mackel handed back our drawings. There was a sticky note on mine that said, "See me after class." My pulse quickened. Was he going to make me drop? I should have. He could obviously tell I was just filling the hour.
It wasn't helping my anxiety level to see that Brandi had seated herself next to Cece again. Or had Cece saved the seat? Cece was showing Brandi her drawing and giggling. They both were. So what? Why did that rag me? Winslow was chuckling and showing me his drawing, which looked like a two-year-old's. At the top of Winslow's paper Mackel had written, "Interesting minimalist interpretation." It wasn't like I was jealous or anything. Why would I be? Cece had a right to choose her own friends. I just wished she'd choose me.
Shut up, brain.
Mackel launched into an explanation of all the various uses of pencils and charcoal and markers, then demonstrated the effects you could achieve with each. I tried to take notes, but wasn't exactly sure what to write down. He told us as soon as we bought our supplies to play around with them, get a feel.
I waited for the room to clear before approaching Mackel. He glanced up from his desk, where he was checking off names with abandon on the attendance sheet. He smiled, blankly.
"You wanted to see me?" I showed him my drawing.
"Ah, yes. I almost forgot." He studied my page for a few seconds before looking back at me. Cocking his head.
Oh, God, I thought. Don't get mad. Please don't get mad. I hate it when people get mad at me.
"What are you doing in here?" he asked.
My face fried. "I, uh, just needed one more elective before graduation and –"
"Shouldn't you be in advanced drawing?"
Springing to his feet – giving me a heart attack – he hefted himself onto the desk and hugged one leg. "Come on," he said. "Who are you kidding?"
I gulped a lemon. "Apparently not you," I added quickly, "I don't know what you mean."
"This apple." He pointed to my drawing.
A smile streaked across his face. He jumped down, giving me more heart palpitations, then riffled through a portfolio on his desk, found what he was looking for, and cleared the desk. Next to my drawing, he laid out three or four others. "Notice anything?"
I skimmed the pictures. "Not really."