Week of September 3/Week 1
IT IS HARD TO BELIEVE THAT AFTER SO MANY YEARS OF schooling together, we are seniors now, this will be our last year in high school. From the day school starts, right after Labor Day, it is like we are all on a collision course with the future, riding high on a wave of energy, and living loud.
“Seniors!” someone shouts nearly every day, pounding the lockers as whoever is doing the shouting runs down the hallway. “Seniors!”
Sometimes it seems as though Tim O’Mara is shouting louder than anybody. Sometimes it seems as though every time I walk down a hall, there’s Tim O’Mara, shouting, “SENIORS!”
We have not said a word to each other since the night of Ricky D’Amico’s party. At the time I didn’t expect him to call me—after all, he never even asked for my number. But as the days have piled up, I’ve been surprised that no call has come. I guess a part of me thought that Tim O’Mara, who has never been known to have a regular girlfriend, might take our one night together as an excuse to try to turn it into something more. Weird. Even though I have no interest in him in that way whatsoever, that part of me that half-expected a call, that part that had rehearsed in my mind how to let him down gently, is kind of hurt that the call never came.
More puzzling is that he hasn’t spoken to me since then, even though we share some classes, even though we see each other in the lunchroom every day, pass each other in the halls all the time. He used to say hi to me a lot before, used to say it before I even had the chance to, as if he were worried that if he didn’t say something to people each time he saw them, they wouldn’t even bother to acknowledge him. But now he says nothing.
I try to tell myself it doesn’t mean anything when he walks by me with a group of his friends and doesn’t say anything as he stares at me, his friends staring too while they pound him on the back and give him high-fives. I try to tell myself it doesn’t mean anything when I am sitting in the front row of our Law in Society class and I hear what sounds like my name—Angel Hansen —being whispered from the back of the room, and I turn in my seat, only to see Tim and his friends laughing.
I ignore everything because I just need to get through this one last year of high school. I need to get through Creative Writing and Law in Society and French IV and Calculus II and Oil Painting and Physics II and European History and even gym class. I need to buckle down and keep my grades up and study for the SATs, which I will be taking in five weeks, those all-important tests that serve as pearly gates, those tests that will decide whether I will be able to go where I want to go next year, rather than having to settle for whoever will take me.
So I cannot worry about Tim O’Mara and whatever he is saying; I can’t worry about his stupid friends.
I am in the lunchroom, eating at a table by myself and wondering why no one seems to sit with me anymore, why there suddenly seems to be this no-fly zone around me now, when Karin practically throws her tray on the table and plops down onto the bench across from me.
“So,” she says in a tone I don’t remember her ever using with me before, “when were you planning on telling me, huh?”
“What?” Glad for the interruption even if her tone worries me, I put my cheeseburger down. On good days the cheeseburgers taste like something you wouldn’t really want to eat, not unless you were in prison or high school, but lately they have started to … smell awful to me. At least now that Karin is here, I will not have to try to force myself to eat something that is making me feel so gross. “What are you talking about?” I ask again.
I can tell from the look on her face that Karin is really mad or maybe just very hurt. I have seen that anger directed at other people, I have seen her hurt when some guy she liked wasn’t as interested in her, but I have never seen those things directed at me. The last time we even fought was freshman year when we both tried out for the basketball team, both sucked, and each blamed the other for not making the cut.
“If you had caught the ball when I threw it to you …,” I’d said.
“If you even knew how to throw a ball in the first place …,” she’d said.
We’d both wanted to be on the girls’ basketball team because Danny Stanton was on the boys’ team, and so was his best friend, Todd Ferris, whom Karin had a crush on. Neither of us were cheerleader material—we both lack the gene that enables a girl to scream at the top of her lungs and smile for three hours straight at a football game while freezing her ass off in a micromini—and so we’d figured the most efficient way to get close to Danny and Todd was if we shared a common interest: basketball.
But I can see from the look on Karin’s face that whatever it is that’s bothering her, it is way more important than basketball.
“When were you planning on telling me about you and Tim?” Karin demands.
“Oh,” I say.
“’Oh’? That’s all you have to say? ’Oh’?”
“There’s nothing to tell,” I say.
“Nothing to tell? I’m supposed to be your best friend, Angel. I thought we told each other everything.”
“Is that right? Then how come I’m the last to know? How come I only heard about you sleeping with Tim after I heard Ricky D’Amico and Dawn Peck talking about it in art class?”
So people have been talking about me.
“Look,” I say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t say anything to you about it because I was too embarrassed.”
“Why would you ever be embarrassed about anything around me?”
“I was embarrassed because it was such a stupid thing to do. It was stupid of me to get so drunk, it was stupid of me to get in the car with Tim, and it was really stupid of me to do anything with him. God, I don’t even remember most of it!”
“You had sex for the first time and you don’t remember it?”
I shake my head.
“I told you the first time I did it,” she says. “We promised each other we’d tell each other about the first time.”
She’s right. We did promise.
“I thought for sure you’d tell me,” she says.
“And I would have,” I say, “if it mattered. But it was so … so … so … nothing. It was like the least important thing I’ve ever done. It wasn’t like I had something important to tell you. I mean, it was like less than nothing. Does it even count as a first time, if I don’t even remember it?”
And Karin surprises me: She laughs. And suddenly it is like she is her old self and there is no longer anything wrong between us.
“No,” she laughs. “I guess that doesn’t really count as any kind of first time at all.”
“So,” I say when she is done laughing, “people are really talking about me?”
She shrugs it off. “Of course,” she says. “But I think that’s just because everyone was so surprised. I mean, who would sleep with Tim O’Mara?”
She must see from the look on my face that this bothers me, because she leans across the table and whispers, “But don’t worry about it. I’m sure people will get over it in about a week.”
Week of September 10/Week 2
But people do not get over it. Or, at least, Danny Stanton doesn’t get over it.
At the ring of the bell I walk out of art class, only to find Danny Stanton making out with Ricky D’Amico, whose class follows mine, right outside the door. He has her leaned up against the wall, one hand resting on the narrow of her waist as he kisses her. From where I’m standing I prefer to think it’s her trying to pull him closer, rather than the other way around, but I know this may not be so.
I start to head off to my next class. Then I stop, lean against the wall a few feet down from them, my back to them. It has been so long since I talked to Danny—usually he calls to say hey at least every few weeks, but lately he has barely nodded to me when we pass in the halls—that I decide to wait her out.
At last I hear the door to the art room get pulled shut by the teacher, hear Danny’s steps from behind. As I look around, I see the hall is almost deserted now, nearly everyone else has gone on to his or her next class.
Danny has already walked past me when I say “Hey” softly.
He spins around.
“Oh,” he says. “Angel.”
“Walk with me?” I say. It is something we have said to each other before. It is our own private signal that one of us wants to take a break from the idiocy that is high school all around us.
His eyes narrow.
“Don’t you have another class to go to?” he says.
I shrug. “I was thinking of skipping.” I shrug again. “Walk with me?”
“Sure,” he finally says. “I guess I could skip. I’ll walk with you.”
We walk side by side through the deserted halls, not saying a thing.
Even though I was the one to suggest this, I have no idea where I want us to go. Which is okay, since Danny has no problem leading. He leads us into and through the cafeteria and out again, into one of the outdoor areas that kids hang out in when they have study hall or just want to skip. If this were back in my mom’s day, kids would be smoking, because this outdoor area with the overhang, all concrete and brick, would be a designated smoking area. But this is not my mom’s day, so kids have to wait until they get off school grounds to light up. Even though Danny plays basketball, he’s been known to smoke from time to time, and I see him nervously pat at the pack in his shirt pocket before letting his hand drop when he remembers where he is.
I look at him and I think there’s not another guy in the world that looks as good in a simple black T-shirt as Danny Stanton does.
“So,” he says, and there’s a weird slice of anger I hear in his voice, “we walked.”
Now that I have him here, with me, I am not sure what I want to say.
“So,” I finally fumble, “you and, um, Ricky have gotten pretty tight, huh?”
Instead of answering my question, Danny slams his hand against the brick wall right next to my head. It’s so close, so sudden, I can’t help myself: I jump.
“Your hand!” I yell, reaching without even thinking about it for the hand that hit the wall. The first thing I think of is those beautiful hands. In less than two months basketball season will start. And even if I do not care if Danny plays or not, he cares. He loves basketball, and I know he needs his hands to play.
But he ignores me, shakes my hand off.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, Angel?” he says, and it’s almost a shout.
“What?” I say. “What are you talking about?”
“Tim O’Mara,” he says. “That’s what I’m talking about. What were you thinking of?”
But of course I can’t tell him what I was thinking of that night. I can’t tell him that I was so upset at the sight of him with Ricky D’Amico, I wanted so much for it to be me with him instead, that I stopped thinking at all.
“What’s the big deal?” I say, getting angry myself. “It’s not like you and I ever had any kind of promise between us. It’s not like you don’t go out with any girl you want to every chance you get.”
And it’s true. In addition to the so-called cool girls, like Ricky D’Amico, Danny has gone out with some real skanks over the years. And did I ever give him a hard time about any of that? Sometimes I see the double standards between guys and girls that my mom is always talking about, and it bugs the hell out of me.
“That’s not the point,” Danny says.
“Then what is?” I say.
“Tim O’Mara.” He gets up close in my face, emphasizes each word. “Do you have any idea what kind of a jerk that guy is? I mean, come on, Angel. Go off with some guy at a party, fine. But Tim O’Mara? Do you have any idea the things that guy’s been saying about you?”
I stand my ground. This time, I get right in his face. And all the while I’m thinking of him and Ricky D’Amico. “And why should you care?” I say. “Huh? Why should you care?”
“You know something, Angel?” He takes a step back, puts his hands up in the air. “You’re right. Maybe I don’t care at all.”
And then he turns and walks away from me.
Week of September 17/Week 3
“Your father and I have been worried about you,” my mother says.
We have just been seated at a table at The Big Enchilada, which my parents know is my very favorite restaurant in the whole world.
My father asks if I want the grande nachos with beef or with chicken for an appetizer. Even though the very idea of any kind of nachos makes me feel sick to my stomach right now, I say beef. I know my dad likes the beef nachos better.
“It’s just that you don’t seem like yourself lately, honey,” my mother says.
My mother, Helena Hansen, is still a very pretty woman. In pictures I’ve seen of her when she was younger, she was drop-dead gorgeous, with all of the long darkness of my hair but none of the frizz, a sparkle in her eye that marks her as the kind of girl anyone would want to know. My dad sometimes calls her “Hel on Wheels.”
And my dad, Steve Hansen, is her match, even though he looks completely different from her. He is very tall, making both my mom and me look tiny when he walks between us, with hair that is still a sandy blond even though he is in his midforties, and blue eyes that are like chips from the sky. He still plays racquet-ball on his lunch hour twice a week, and my girlfriends, for as long as I can remember, have been known to develop crushes on him.
It used to bother me, my parents looking the way they do—like a supercouple who took a wrong turn at Hollywood and wound up living here—because I felt sort of guilty, as though nature had played some kind of cruel trick on them. When you look at their wedding pictures, they look so perfect, you imagine they would have produced an equally perfect child. And while there is nothing incredibly awful about the way I look—I don’t have a second nose growing out of my forehead or hair coming out of my ears—I am so average by comparison. Still, they have never made me feel anything less than totally loved, have never shown any real disappointment in me in any way, and over the years I have grown to accept the differences between us. I think, If they do not mind the differences between us, then why should I?
“What are you talking about, Mom?” I ask now. “Who do I seem like?”
“I don’t know,” she says, her pretty brow furrowed in a frown. “Just not yourself.”
“Ease up on her, Hel,” my dad says. “She’s under a lot of stress.” He studies the menu. “Do I want the shrimp fajitas or the chimichanga? Hmm …”
“Stress?” my mom says. “What kind of stress? She’s only seventeen.” My mom turns to me. “Angel, are you under any stress?”
“Well,” I say, twisting my napkin a bit, “I guess maybe I am under a bit of stress. You know, the SATs are coming up next month, and my meeting with my guidance counselor is next week …”
“You’ll do fine,” my dad says. “Whatever you want to be in life, you’ll be.” He nods, as if saying yes to himself as he closes the menu. “Definitely the shrimp fajitas.”
When our main courses arrive, I excuse myself to go to the bathroom. I lock the stall door behind myself just in time, lean over the toilet bowl just in time to puke my guts out, even though I haven’t really eaten anything yet. Afterward I rinse my mouth out with water from the sink and splash cold water on my face, which has started to sweat. This is the second time I’ve thrown up this week, and I’ve also started to pee more frequently. It’s as though every time I take two sips of something, I have to go.
Back at the table my mother studies me closely.
“Are you all right?” she asks.
“Fine now,” I say. “I think I just got a bad piece of meat.”
Her dark eyes narrow.
“You’re not bulimic, are you?” she asks.
“Sorry.” She colors slightly. “Well,” she says, “a mother has to ask.”
“She just had a bad piece of beef.” My dad gestures with his fork. “Happens all the time.”
“We’re just worried,” my mom says, “because you never seem to go out anymore. Not that you ever went out every night, but you never seem to go out anymore. And I can’t remember the last time we saw Karin at the house. …”
“It’s just stress, Mom,” I say, hoping to reassure her. “Everyone’s just worried about getting into the right colleges. I’m sure Karin’s just worried too.”
When we get home, my father goes into the family room to turn on the TV. I know he will turn on Joe Scarborough and that soon he will be yelling at Joe Scarborough. My dad likes to yell at Joe Scarborough.
My mother stands in the kitchen, making out a shopping list for the next day.
“Eggs, whole wheat bread, ice cream.” She keeps writing, not looking up. “Angel,” she says, “do you need me to pick up some more tampons for you?”
I read an article once in a girls’ magazine, about how girls who live in the same place—sisters, or roommates in college—find that they start getting their periods around the same time. It’s like the moon lumps them together in one slot. And this has proved true of me and my mother. She always knows that if she has just gotten her period, I will soon be getting mine as well.
In the top drawer of the desk in my bedroom, I keep a small notebook that I have kept since my mother gave it to me when I was eleven years old, the first time I got my period. In the left-hand column there are dates listed under the heading “Arrived”; in the right-hand column there are dates under the heading “Due.” I have yet to write a new date down in the left-hand column, even though the last date in the “Due” column is some days passed now.
“Sure,” I tell my mom. “I could use some more.”
I figure that if my period doesn’t come in the next day or two, I will still take tampons every few hours from the box under the bathroom sink, I will wrap those tampons in toilet paper, so that my mom won’t worry that something is wrong, and I will drop them in the trash as if nothing has changed.
Even though, as I think that, I realize that everything has changed. My period hasn’t arrived yet, my breasts have felt tender lately, my body is changing—there is a mild aching, a fullness in my lower abdomen, sort of as though my period is about to come, except it hasn’t.
Whenever I think of those changes, my mind starts to scream in panic. So I don’t let myself think of them.
Instead I tell myself these changes don’t necessarily mean anything. I tell myself these changes, not to mention my missed period, must all be due to stress.
Week of September 24/Week 4
And of course I am living under a lot of stress. I am a high school senior trying to get into the college of my choice, trying to make the right decisions about what I want to do with the rest of my life.
“It’ll be fine,” Karin whispers as we stand in the hallway outside the open door of Robin Keating, my guidance counselor.
Karin knows everything about me, so she knows that I always get nervous about talking to authority figures, even if I’m not going to see them because I’m in trouble about something.
“You’ll do great,” Karin whispers. “Knock him dead.”
Knocking him dead seems like it would be overkill, so instead I simply knock softly on the open door on which there is a poster that makes no sense to me: WASTE IS A TERRIBLE THING TO MIND.
“Enter!” booms the voice of Robin Keating.
Robin Keating is one of those breeds of schoolteachers or administrators who always wears an old tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows and insists students call him by his first name. He is also kind of cute, in an older-guy sort of way, with thick brown hair that could use the services of a comb, and greenish brown eyes twinkling behind steel-rimmed glasses. There have been rumors for years that there is something more than counseling going on between Robin and Megha Parks, the most stunning girl in our class, but I don’t buy it. I think sometimes people just like to make up nasty stories where none exist. Robin is too smart to get caught up in the kind of thing that could cost him his job, although I don’t suppose I’d be surprised if they got together after we graduate.
“Ms. Hansen,” he says, indicating the grey metal-backed chair beside his desk.
Even though Robin insists the students call him by his first name, he always addresses us as Mr. or Ms. It is a peculiar quirk that sets people off balance, as though he wants you to treat him like an equal, while at the same time he will show you the respect you deserve—if not now, then the respect you will hopefully deserve someday.
I sit in the chair, books clasped close against my chest.
“So,” he says, taking off his glasses and chewing on the arm, “it’s finally that time, huh?”
“Time to plot out your future, of course. Have you given any thought to where you want to go to college?”
I take a big breath. “Yale,” I say.
He eyes my transcripts, which he has out in an open folder in front of him.
“I see,” he says. “But are you sure that’s … practical?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s not like your grades are bad. They’re very good, in fact. But they’re not exactly what you’d call stellar. Where else are you going to apply?”
In the instant he asks that question, I make a decision that I didn’t know I was going to make.
“Nowhere else,” I say. “Just Yale.”
He laughs softly. But if there’s a joke here, I don’t see it. “Not Harvard?” he says. “Not Princeton, too?”
“Just Yale,” I say again.
“How come not the others?” he asks. “If you’re going to shoot for the moon …”
I shrug. “I like Connecticut,” I say.
“Fine,” he says. “So. Connecticut. How about applying to some of the other schools in Connecticut? Maybe some of the other ones that won’t be quite so … difficult to get into?”
“I don’t want to do that,” I say. “I want to go to Yale.”
“And what do you plan on studying at just Yale? That is, if you were lucky enough to get in there?”
I feel the nerves starting in my stomach again, because I am about to admit something out loud that I have never admitted to anybody, not even Karin. Even my parents don’t know yet: If they did, they would probably try to talk me out of it, because it isn’t practical and they both have very practical jobs, my father working as a lawyer, while my mother runs an accounting practice from our home. Just like with how different I look from them, this makes me wonder at times if I am really their daughter at all, or if I were left with them by gypsies, the choices we make are so different.
“I want to be a writer,” I say. “I want to write novels.”
“An admirable ambition,” he concedes. “You do realize, though, that it’s not like wanting to do other things, like being an accountant or a doctor, say. It’s not the kind of thing where you can just say, ‘I want to do this,’ and then, if you get good grades in school, there’s a definite job waiting for you.”
I haven’t really thought about it this way before, but of course what he says makes total sense, is about as true as anything anyone in authority has ever said to me. Still …
“It’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do,” I say, and that’s true too.
“And it has to be at Yale?” he says.
I won’t answer that question again. Instead I ask, “What do you think I’d need to do to get in?”
He glances at my transcripts again, laughs softly again.
“Well,” he says, “a twenty-four hundred on your SATs would help, although I can’t imagine anyone getting a perfect score. But I still think you should apply to other places too, just in case.”
I do not tell him what I know to be true: Every time I have truly wanted something in life—with the exception of Danny Stanton, of course—I have always been able to get it somehow. In fact, there have been times when I’ve wondered if I must really want Danny so much. After all, if I did, surely with enough determination I would be able to get him. I think this because of my history of getting what I really want. I wanted Karin to be my best friend more than anything, and I got her. And here is why I don’t say any of this aloud to Robin Keating: It is because, with no other reason for it available, I have attributed my luck at getting what I really want to my name. I think my name is somehow lucky. It is the only explanation I see.
I suck it up. “No fallback position,” I say. “Looks like I’ll just have to get that twenty-four hundred on the SATs.”
© 2006 Lauren Baratz-Logsted