Authors: Dorlana Vann
“This school’s a real trip,” Tanner said.
The girl sitting beside him scoffed. Her purple hair stood straight up in a Faux-hawk. She wore black, and the slight movement of her head revealed the tiny glimmer of a nose ring. Her appearance ruled out the possibility that the school just had a very strict dress code.
“Julia, right? Didn’t you say something about a princess? I’ve been hearing that all day.”
“Plural—more than one—prince.”
She seemed a bit annoyed, so he put his attention back on his plate. Wishing he wouldn’t have scarfed down his pizza so fast, he picked up his fork and stuck it in what resembled a grape in what he figured used to be fruit salad. He asked, “Who are they?”
“The same guys who stopped you before.”
Female laughter surrounded Tanner.
“Stay away from them if you want to stay… cool,” Ashley said. “We need one normal guy in this school. You’ll be
popular with this table.”
Everyone laughed again, except for Julia.
The girls began to talk amongst themselves once again, glancing at him every so often. He started to feel a little more at ease and even pretty cool, until he peeked at Julia who still ignored him.
“Those guys back there?” he asked her. “If you’re talking about the guys who stopped me and asked me to sit with them at their table, you don’t have to worry. I’m not a nerd.”
“Not yet,” she said, and without a glance, she stood up.
Tanner watched her walk away and thought about his day and especially about how odd second period had been. Johnny, one of the weird dudes who had stopped him, had been in that class. Johnny was the sort of guy who would’ve been invisible to Tanner at any other school: small, red-headed, and his momma dressed him funny. Yet he seemed like the star of the classroom. When he walked in, everyone hushed. When he spoke, everyone listened attentively and laughed at the appropriate spots. Girls circled around him, and one totally gorgeous chick held his hand. He remembered thinking: No way is she his girlfriend.
At one point Tanner could have sworn that the
actually flirted with Johnny, and she let him teach. Hell, Tanner even thought
liked him by the end of class.
As he thought about his other classes, he remembered how everyone sat up straight and attentive. How they all raised their hands when the teacher asked a question. Everyone turned in homework assignments. No one talked when the teacher talked, and no one slept in the back of the classroom.
student was the smart kid, the teacher’s pet… the geekster. At least he had begun to see why the school ranked top in the country. But how could it be possible for the entire student body to be smart and to “apply” themselves?
“Hey, new kid.”
Tanner turned his head to see the group of four students Julia had called the Princes standing next to him.
“We just want to talk to you,” the tallest one said.
Tanner jumped up, pushed past them, and left the lunch room.
As he put books inside his locker, he thought about what his friends from his old school would say about him running away from nerds. What was he doing? Why did he wimp out?
While he watched all the new faces walk past him, eventually leaving him in an empty, clean hallway, he tried to wrap his mind around the whole distorted, geeky environment. He figured he would do a little searching on the internet after school to see if there had been some sort of chemical spill in Tangleforest, Texas that would explain everyone’s crazy behavior. Or some dork disease. “Maybe I better not drink the water.”
He remembered seeing Julia in third period and hoped she would be in another class with him. He wanted to ask her what she meant when she had said, “Not yet.” What a weird thing to say. Not that it mattered much; he knew he would be moving soon, anyway.
“How was your day?” Tanner’s mom, Joanne, stood at the counter in the kitchen unpacking a box of dishes.
Tanner shrugged. Even though he wanted to tell her about how weird school had been, he knew after many years of moving that complaining about the new school would result in being told, “It takes some time to adjust.” He decided to keep his whining to himself. He figured he would only have to endure the school for two to three months tops before his mom would find a need to move. “It was fine,” he said. “But are you sure you don’t want to home-school me?”
She stopped mid-unwrap. “If you can pay me what my full-time job does, we have a deal.”
“Hmmm.” He stuck his head into the empty refrigerator. “If you and Dad weren’t paying for two houses, you wouldn’t need a full-time job.” As he shut the door and she began to talk, changing the subject, he wondered if she hadn’t heard him or chose to ignore his comment.
“Besides, this school is the top in the country,” she was saying. “Take this as an opportunity to rediscover your brain. We both know it’s there… somewhere behind that thick skull. That’s the reason me and your dad decided that you should come with me and not stay with him, remember?” She reached inside the box for another item. “I think two and a half years should be plenty of time to get back on track for college. If… you apply yourself.”
“What’s for dinner… besides the same conversation?”
She exhaled her obvious annoyance. “Pizza. It’s on the table.”
“Pizza!” Bonnie, Tanner’s four-year-old sister, said running into the kitchen. “I like pizza.”
“Again?” Tanner said.
“Pizza, pizza, pizza!” Bonnie sang and skipped around Tanner.
“They deliver. Me and Bonnie are going to run down to the store in a few minutes.”
After grabbing a slice of the pizza, Tanner went upstairs to his still-packed bedroom. He half-mindedly looked out his window at his new lawn, new street, and new neighborhood, trying— but not succeeding—to not let his worries about his family splitting apart surface. They’d told him that his dad had decided to stay in Dallas to be close to his job.
They must think I’m stupid.
He knew the true reason; his parents had separated, and they didn’t have the guts to tell their own children.
It had been brewing for the last couple of years. His parents argued every time Tanner’s mom wanted to move. His dad wanted to “put down roots for the kids.” His mom “couldn’t stand the place any longer.” His mom always won; except for this time, she’d only half won. Tanner hoped one of them would give in soon.
He started unpacking his computer, forcing his mind to think in another direction. There had to be a logical explanation for the way everyone acted at school
He planned on talking to Julia the next day, during third period, because he didn’t see her at all after lunch. He did see the girl who had been with the Princes in his fifth period class. As soon as he’d sat down, she smiled a huge, lime-green, braced smile at him. She mouthed the word, “Hi,” and waved like they were far away from one another. Tanner turned his head in several directions to see if maybe she was trying to get the attention of another student behind him, and he jumped when she appeared right next to his desk.
“I’m sorry about the boys,” she said and pushed her pink, wire-rimmed glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Sometimes they can be intimidating. Zachary didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I’m not scared of him!”
She’d laughed without opening her mouth. “Yeah, well. They would like to extend their invitation to their lunch table for tomorrow. Consider yourself lucky. It’s not every day that this invitation is offered. All they want to do is talk to you. We won’t bite… hard.”
He couldn’t believe what he had witnessed during the rest of the hour, how everyone else reacted to her, especially the other guys. They demanded her attention, they watched her walk, and fought to sit by her. Tanner didn’t find her disgusting or anything, but to him she just seemed so plain, so under-developed, and so nerdy.
After his phone buzzed, he looked at it and noticed he had missed several texts from his friend in Dallas.
hey what’s up?
Yo its abt time! thought u dropped off the face of the earth
: lol…im pretty close to the edge.
Tanner had told Chris about how weird everything had been at school, leaving out the part about him being a gutless chicken, and Chris had made a couple of “that’s a real trip” remarks but cut Tanner short to talk about his new girlfriend. And that had been all they’d talked about for the remainder of the conversation. Thankfully, a couple of hours later, Tanner’s mom asked him to help get the groceries out of the car.
Outside, as he shut the trunk of the car, it felt as if the atmosphere had somehow changed. He stood still for a second before slowly turning toward the house across the street. A light flickered from a second story window, and then a girl appeared. A strange glow escaped from behind her, highlighting the long, blonde hair that draped over her shoulders and disappeared into the darkness beneath her.
“Daaang.” He gave a slight whistle and squinted, trying to make out her features as the evening breeze fanned her long blonde hair away from her face.
Tanner glanced at the rolling and scattered food on the driveway before looking back at the girl. When their eyes met, he didn’t dare wait to see her expression. He dropped to his knees, and began putting the groceries back into the plastic bag that, thankfully, hadn’t blown too far away.
When he finally found the courage to look, she was gone. The shadows had swallowed half the street, crossed the yard, and covered the house. He felt a little embarrassed, hoping she didn’t think he was a stalker or worse, a total spaz. However, those thoughts were easily pushed to the back of his mind when he let the excitement of knowing a hot girl lived right across the street take their place.
The next day at school, during third period, Tanner questioned Julia about what she had meant the day before, and she told him to meet her outside at the bleachers during lunch.
When Tanner walked through the unlocked gate, he thought the fence surrounded football field compared to any other school’s he had seen but questioned the covered scoreboard and weed-filled, tall grass. Talk about a lack of team spirit
He looked up when he heard his name being called. Julia and Ashley sat at the top of the blue paint-chipped bleachers.
“You know,” he said once he reached them, “I don’t recall seeing any football players. Cheerleaders yes, but no one in a jersey or anything.”
“Cancelled due to low participation,” Julia said.
“Why am I not surprised?”
“You remember, Ashley,” Julia said, nodding towards the other girl. She made air quotes as she said, “Former trendy girl.”
“Since kindergarten,” Ashley said. “Until those nerds took over
school. No offense, Julia.”
“Yeah, about that.” Tanner sat on a lower seat and faced the girls.
“The Princes,” Ashley said. “That’s what they call themselves. They’ve actually hypnotized the entire school.”
Tanner laughed. “Yeah right. That’s crazy.” He looked to Julia for confirmation that what he had just heard was ridiculous.
“Unfortunately she’s pretty close to being right. This all started when speed-reader Zachary went searching for something to read in his dad’s library. He picked up this book that he thought was a novel:
Frogs into Princes
“A fairy tale?”
“I’m guessing that’s what he thought, too. Turns out, it was about NLP—Neuro Linguistic Programming.”
“I’ve heard of that. Mind control, right? That one English magician, Derren Brown, does that.”
“Yeah that’s right,” Julia said. “Something like mind control, but more like suggestions and reading the way people think and even changing how one remembers the past. The book is actually used for psychiatry. I know that Zachary’s dad, Dr. Davis, used some of the same methods to help me and my dad deal with some stuff.”
“My mom goes to him every Friday,” Ashley said like it annoyed her.
“We all read the book and tried the little exercises. We eventually started trying them in the real world. The first thing we did—”
“Wait a minute,” Tanner said. “You’re a part of all of this?”
“Zachary’s her boyfriend.”
“Was,” Julia said.
“They’ve been a cute little nerdy item since junior high.”
“Thanks, Ashley,” Julia said.
“Sure.” Ashley smiled and flipped her hair.
“Huh… I would have never pictured you two together.” Tanner stared at her for a second. She didn’t look like them. “Y’all seem so different.” He circled his finger indicating her hair, which was pink today, and her all-black clothes. “Is all this recent?”
Julia pulled her arms in front of her body and whipped her head to the left away from his prodding. “Look. I thought you wanted information about the school. But if you want to waste time—”
“No, sorry. I do want to know about the school. You were saying about the book… ”