Authors: Susan Oloier
by Susan Oloier
Published by Two Suns Publishing
Copyright 2012 Susan Oloier
Edition, License Notes
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, character, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover art by istockphoto.com
For showing me that it’s better to be on the outside than to be in.
Emergency lights throbbed on top of the ambulance, yet there was no sound. I told myself none of this was happening, that it was a dream played out in my imagination or an episode on a television show. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t convince myself it was real. There wasn’t a big production of police lights, yellow crime tape, or even a flurry of activity. It lacked all the dramatic visual effects of the movies. But it was true. A single ambulance sat in the driveway, and that was all.
I looked around at the listless desert baking in the waning and arid
sun. It seemed like the perfect time for rain—a rain to wash everything clean. I didn’t want to go back to the way it was, only to what it
have been; what it
have been. I wanted it to bluster, but only a few clouds curled in the powder-blue sky. I stood outside the house where no one could see me, but I observed everything. I supposed, in a sense, the storm had already arrived.
The front door opened and two paramedics pulled a gurney outside. The Palo Verde cast a darkness over the scene and everyone looked like a silhouette. As the ambulance doors closed, the vehicle backed up and rolled out of the driveway. I should have walked over, but it was safer to remain in the shadows. Alone. Feeling nothing. After all, the whole thing was my fault.
It was a time of change.
I felt it in the desert breeze, heard it in the sounds of broad tailed hummingbirds and mourning doves, and stared at it in the bathroom mirror. My glasses replaced by contacts, my acne cleared by Retin-A, my hair free of home perms and renegade scissors. I was not the same loser Freshman I was last year. I was finished with being an outcast and everyone’s doormat. I had recreated myself. So why did I have to force myself to go to school on the first day? Why did I feel the same fear in the pit of my stomach as I did before?
Grace was with me, as she almost always was, twisting her fingers in her brown curls, ensnaring them in a Chinese finger trap. She hadn’t changed: Still mousy with one eye asymmetrical to the other, a cocker-spaniel-head tilt whenever she considered a question. Quirky things. But things only a best friend could love.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Of course. Aren’t you?” She bounced out of the house like the family pet.
“I so hate the bus,” I said.
“We’re not taking the bus.”
We stepped outside. A beat-up, catsup red Honda Civic sat in the driveway. Rust had formed along the edges of the paint. There sat Jake, Grace’s older brother. ASU Freshman. Most popular senior guy in school last year. Blonde hair, blue eyes. Like he came from a different gene pool than Grace.
His voice, like liquid, was a welcome interruption.
“You two finished gossiping?” he asked.
At the mere sight of him, prickles of excitement crept along my spine. He seemed better looking than I remembered. I hated that he assumed we were gossiping.
Grace rode shotgun. I pressed myself into the small area of the backseat, ensnaring me in its hug.
“So, what happened to you over the summer, Noelle?”
I combed my mind for something intriguing to relate:
A trip to
or an extreme makeover
. What was I supposed to say? I had a summer-long date with Retin-A and an all-expense-paid trip to the ophthalmologist for contact lenses?
“Swam, read, nothing special.”
He laughed. “Swimming must be your sport then.”
He gazed at me in the rear-view mirror. The hotness rose to my cheeks in ultraviolet hues of pinks and reds. I knew I had changed over the summer, and it was nice to have someone notice. Especially someone as hot as Jake. When I glanced at the rear-view mirror, Jake’s secret stare created an act of fission inside of me. I turned away to watch the pedestrians dodge traffic like characters in a video game. I hoped it masked my embarrassment
“Oh my God! Stop!” I yelled.
Jake depressed the brakes, but kept moving. Grace gripped the door handle.
“What? What?” Panic rose in Jake’s voice.
“Turn around,” I said, practically sitting backward in the seat as I peered out the back window. An elderly woman stood outside her broken-down car, which sat lopsided at the roadside with a flat tire. I watched her grow smaller and smaller with distance. “You can’t leave her there.”
“Who?” Jake asked.
“The old lady. Turn around,” I urged.
Jake glanced at the clock. 7:35. Likely, we’d be late. Probably not the smartest thing to do on the first day of class.
“She’s probably someone’s grandma,” I pleaded.
So Jake made a U-turn.
“Noelle,” Grace shoved me, an angry look pressed into her face. But I wondered why she was so angry. After all, she was the one who rescued me once.
Unfortunately, we made it in time for the bell. And when we finally arrived at the school, I hesitated to get out of the car. I wanted to spend the day with Jake, percolating under the heat of his flame-blue eyes.
“There it is,” he reminisced. “Don’t miss it at all.”
“Thanks for the ride.” Grace popped out and rushed toward the building as though she were a kid at Disney.
“Yeah, thanks,” I parroted.
I watched him drive away and thought that maybe things wouldn’t be so bad after all. But that good feeling ended quickly.
“God, look at her. She’s such a loser.”
I knew that voice. It sashayed along the walkway, flinging its butterscotch pudding mane with its egg white swirls. Those lips, a garnet red found only in tubes guarded under the glass of the Lancôme counter, arched into a perfect smile. An entourage surrounded her, protecting her like the Secret Service. Part of me wanted to peel my eyes away, punish them for looking. Yet I stared, couldn’t look elsewhere. Somehow, she cast a spell over me. Then her eyes met mine, and her smile fell to a sneer.
Trina Brockwell, the most popular girl in my Freshman class, served equivalent time as a class bully. She and her friends marched past us, jeering. Grace watched them in awe, and I felt like regurgitating my Cornflakes.
Trina’s entourage consisted of James Gall (or Jamie); Margaret Hosier, a good friend of mine until she gained popularity when she was the first girl to get her period in sixth grade; and Liana Smith, a virtual duplicate of Trina.
“Doctor Freckle and Miss Geek ‘N Stein.”
Words I hoped I would never hear again. A pe
l of laughter rippled through the hallways. With her stunted creativity, she invented those names for us in seventh grade. They never went away. And, as much as I tried to not let them affect me, they still stung.
“Listen—” I started.
“Noelle…” Grace’s tone was a warning to me to avoid embarrassment.
“Didn’t you just hear what she said?” I urged quietly under my breath. Why did I care whether Trina heard me or not? She hated me anyway.
“I know, but…” For some reason, Grace defended Trina despite how nasty she was toward us.
“You know, a haircut and over-the-counter makeup doesn’t change anything,” Trina said to her friends. Not directly to me.
directly to me. The whole group merely talked around or about me.
“And her,” their eyes lit on Grace, “what a pathetic excuse of a human being.” It was spoken as an aside by Trina, but I heard it. I was sure Grace must have, too. Trina & Company laughed and sauntered past us. I watched Trina parade toward the school. I desperately wanted to make her suffer, but didn’t know how to do it.
“And you want to be her friend,” I uttered to Grace, but she had already scrambled toward the girls’ bathroom. Same as last year.
I knew I’d be late to homeroom, but I followed her anyway. Like last year. A sea of girls flooded out into the hall as I pushed past them and elbowed my way inside. I eyed the shoes under the stalls, searching for her tell-tale, designer ballerina flats—the ones she spent a chunk of her savings on to wear. And there they were—last stall.
“Grace, come out.”
“I know you’re in there. I see your Kate Spades.”
Sniffles and a sucking back of
tears. She opened the door ever
-so-slightly and let me in like it was a secret clubhouse or something. Once I was in, she closed and latched the stall again. Her eyes were tear-stained and red.
“I don’t understand. I try so hard. Why does she hate me so much?”
“Because she’s Trina. It’s what she does best.”
Grace wiped her eyes with toilet paper.
“Look, the bell is going to ring, and Sister Maggie is going to have my ass.”
But it was like Grace hadn’t even heard me. “I mean, what is so wrong with me? It’s not like I’m Donna Crakow or anything,” she continued.
“Trina’s a jerk. You’re so much better than she is.”
“Yeah, right,” Grace said with total sarcasm. “Says who?”
She simply stared at me as if awaiting a better explanation.
“And I’m your best friend, so I should know.”
I ignored it and the fact that Sister Maggie was notorious for insulting and humiliating everyone who was late for her homeroom, and pulled Grace into a hug. She always hugged back. Always.
“You really are the best friend ever,” Grace said.
“I know. Now let’s get this party started,” I joked.
We headed to our homerooms.
loomed in the distance like a spirit rising from the
heat. Its cold pile of cement blocks seemed misplaced among the adobe, hacienda, and Spanish-style houses. The Crayola-green grass was a mo
surrounding it. A paved pathway intersected the lawn and climbed the stairs to the main doorway. The church, inlaid with marble and stained glass, shadowed the school. It kept watch, like Big Brother, over the morals and standards of the students and staff.
As I stood at the start of the pathway, I sucked in a lung
full of dry air.
Such a loser!
I pushed the snooze button on the incessant chiding and looked ahead of me.
An artist’s palette of petunias bordered the walkway as I wove my way through the flood of Monday-morning students. God, not this again. I should have pushed harder for public school.
The rules were tougher in Catholic school than in a public one. For starters, we had to wear uniforms; there was a strict dress code. All clothing had to be clean and free of holes. There was a definite no-ass-crack policy. Polo shirts could be worn with skirts, pants—
as the oldsters called them—or shorts. Denim was a sin. Neutral colored cardigans, V- necks, or crew sweaters were tickets to Heaven. Militaristic blazers and ties were the bomb. Tattoos guaranteed a straight shot to Hell. Forget about extra piercings in the ears, belly button, eyebrows, and nose. Those were Satan’s minions. School policy was set like quartzite in granite. Needless to say, there was not a bare midriff to be seen.
Saint Sebastian’s, like many other parochial schools, found dress and grooming standards necessary to foster a “non-competitive environment”. Or so they said. Students still discriminated against one another. Brand names, hair styles, and types of jewelry became obvious ways to differentiate the popular from the unpopular. Stature, weight, height, dental and orthodontic status, dermatological structure, hygiene, and social status made any one of us easy prey. If administrators thought the dress code would control competition, they were wrong. Oh-so wrong.
Then there was Religion class. It was not an optional subject like cooking or photography. No. Religion coursed throughout the school, was the foundation of the entire institution. Nuns, and occasionally priests, taught classes there. And they didn’t always teach religion. Many stood at the podium in health class and sex education. They taught math, English, and P.E. It was a different beast altogether.
was in World History. Trina, with her hair, attitude, and all. My stomach nose-dived. I took a seat, and we moved immediately into ancient Egyptian civilization. From Narmer and the unification of
to the construction of the first pyramid, the information was dizzying.
Our teacher, Mrs. Muir, was also a fossil from the not-so-distant past. Her hair curled like ringlets of silver smoke, the result of a 1980’s home perm gone awry. Her short-sleeve blouse was imprinted with miniscule pink flowers attached to cobalt leaves—things that do not exist in nature. She wore pants that appeared to be loot from an historic dig through her husband’s outdated, polyester suits. She droned on about
in her husky, monotone voice, smelling like a toxic potion of mothballs and
When Muir turned to the chalkboard, Trina hurled a crumpled piece of paper toward Liana and laughed. It missed Liana and hit me. After all, I was their target.
I picked it up, then swung around to face Liana. With some effort, she locked her eyes on mine. My heart beat so heavily I felt she could see the artery pulsing in my neck. My gaze shifted to Trina who leered at me. Grace pretended not to see the whole thing go down.
All of a sudden, Mrs. Muir hovered over my desk.
“Am I boring you with facts about
, Ms. Stark?”
I shook my head.
“Then what seems to be the problem?”
I looked at Liana who pivoted around, then Trina whose look dissolved into pure innocence. I opened my palm.
But before the words formed on my tongue, Mrs. Muir lifted the wrinkled paper from my hands. She opened it, revealing a hideous, penciled likeness of herself. It was insulting and unflattering. It looked a lot like her.
“It’s not mine,” I said, tripping over my words.
She looked over the top of her glasses in disbelief.
“Really?” she seethed with hints of sarcasm, and one eyebrow lifted into a tilde. “It’s in your hand. That makes you the responsible party.”
“That’s insane,” I blurted.