I think I’m happy for Nathan. Today at breakfast Mom and Derrick were talking about the robotics competition this weekend. His celebratory pancakes would come later so today we were eating oatmeal. Being the baseball star that he was, Nathan took his without any sweeteners at all. And I had to look away from him while I added the molasses into mine. But it wasn’t that hard to not look at him while I was eating, the fake flower pot blocked the view of my perfect step-brother pretty well.
“Nathaniel, will you be home for dinner today? Any robotics after school?” My mom asked him, eyes shining at the prospect of her step-son coming home late today.
He laughed and swallowed another spoonful of oatmeal. Drawing the energy of the entire room toward him, even Derrick looked up from his phone to listen to what his son had to say, “No, there’s nothing this afternoon. But some of my friends are going to see a movie after school.”
My mom was still hooked on the robotics thing though, “But the tournament is this weekend don’t you have to prepare.”
“I think I’ll be fine, Mom,” He said.
Derrick chimed in at this point, “The other’s may have to prepare but I know you’ll be fine, Nathaniel. I’ve heard that everyone at school thinks you should be team captain, right Naomi?”
I almost dropped my spoon into my bowl when he asked me that. Their entire conversation had been sort of passing over my head, but suddenly I was pulled out of my mind and back to the table.
It took me only a few seconds to mumble out an answer but I knew that it was a few seconds too long, “Yeah Dad, everyone says he’s great.”
Mom carried on the praising Nathan parade with Derrick chiming in when he thought it was necessary. Nathan just kept eating his oatmeal, and so did I. Spoon to bowl, spoon to mouth. My lipgloss smeared on the steel utensil, creating a clear sticky residue on the handle, I made a mental note to reapply before I left.
I finished eating and made sure to rinse my bowl and reapply my lipgloss before leaving. Cross body bag? Check. Phone? Check. Viola? Check. I was ready to go.
But before I even opened the door, “Bye Mom!”
She didn’t answer but I knew she heard me, the dining room wasn’t too far from the front door after all. But I guess she was too busy with Nathan to reply.
My skirt went down to my ankles so it did a good job covering me from the aggressively chilly Washington State fall. The skirt did make it tricky to get on my bike, but after a month of biking to and from school I was used to it.
And I like biking anyway. The bus is way too noisy and there's no way I’m riding with Nathan. With the bike I’m free to just peddle and listen to music in silence. With only the crunch of the leaves and the whistle of the wind to interrupt it. But that’s only when everyone isn’t absolute jerks and plays their car stereos at like full volume! I swear it’s like they're trying to spite me.
There I was halfway to school, not a care in the world other than if the gray sky meant rain that afternoon when none other than Peyton H. comes steaming by, she was probably late to beta club. Even though that flashy red two-door car that her dad bought her for her sweet sixteen can go from 0 to like 100 in three seconds. A Fives Seconds of Summer song is blaring and all the windows are down despite it being like 40 degrees. Not that I have anything against 5SOF but I really don’t want it seeping into my earbuds before 9am.
I kept my eyes down as she pulled away though, is she didn’t notice me then we wouldn’t have any problems although that music got grating quickly. My commute wasn’t ruined though, although I was a bit on edge the rest of the ride. And it got to school. Everyone who lives that close walks anyway, I couldn’t help but think they were staring at me. But I just tried to focus on my music, letting my legs do the work of taking me to school and not my mind. Anyway now for the lyric of the day…
If you listen closely your heart is dripping gold, everything about you is something that you sold now you’re feeling lonely well I told you so. - I Don’t Wanna Know, Weathers.
But the commute wasn’t over Diary, the commute wasn’t over. My bike rack is like an entire block from the building and once I locked up the old girl it was another five minute walk until I was in view of the “grand” brick and wood building that was Fortuna Highschool. And even though I’m a city kid at heart I’m still as used to the chill as much as anyone else in Fortuna. We all hang out outside the building, leaning on the low brick walls and sitting in the parking lot and the weedy lawn before the warning bells started to ring. First day I made a huge mistake and waited right outside my class for the full ten minutes before the bell rang. Everyone called me a nerd before I started wearing my fishnet sleeves, now everyone calls me a freak.
It was a bit weird deciding who to hang out with before school today. Mary said hi to me as I was walking past and I couldn’t help talking to her.
The colored contacts were looking great on her and along with her glossy brown hair she looked really pretty, but…”Hey so did you catch the new Steven Universe episode?”
I do actually watch the show, and I like it just, not as much as her. And there was no way I was going to talk about a cartoon even outside of school. Still I tried to play along without sounding too eager, without sounding too Mary.
“I didn’t actually but I’m sure you liked it, Mary.”
She was about to say something else but I cut her off, “Anyway see you at the girl scout meeting on wednesday.”
Mary answered back as I was leaving, “Yeah, see you.”
I looked back as I left, in a way that I hoped was discrete. Mary had turned back to her friends and started talking so emphatically about something. Probably Steven Universe or something like that. Even though I was happy that she had people she could actually talk to I wondered if I had anything that I could talk about with that much vigor.
As I was passing by the main steps I lifted my viola case. Most of the people who were leaning on the wall and chatting were also part of the orchestra with a few band kids lingering around for good measure. Most of them didn’t see me but Julian lifted his bass case in response, a little greeting for us music nerds.
Julian was actually walking towards me so I stopped. He was always great to talk to. Once he even composed an entire song about how rude the janitor lady was. I swear he’s the saltiest guy I know. But before he could get to me, or I could even say hi Steven intercepted me. His rejected football player aesthetic was strong today. Muscled but small, with a genuine leather jacket stretched over his arms. Someone once tried to tease us at lunch, and he just stared at him until he left. His green eyes were piercing so I understood why he backed off.
“Hey, cool scrunchies,” Steven started walking me away from the main stairs and toward the ramp, where our friends were waiting.
Suddenly very self conscious I started running my hands through my hair. Today I finally worked up the courage to wear my new scrunchies. You know the vegan leather charity ones, ten dollars is the most I had ever spent on anything for my hair. They worked, my two braids were secured, no loose curls anywhere to be seen. But I still don’t know if they were worth it or not. Though of course Steven would compellent something that looked like leather.
Willis greeted me with a hi-five when I got to the ramp. His gloves making a dull thud when they connected to my palm, the poor kid never had a good cold tolerance. Along with the gloves he had on a knee length fluffy black coat and had teased his blond hair into a mohawk. While Kelly was wearing black jeans so ripped up I wondered if shorts would be the better option and her platform docs gave a good five inches on me compared to the usual two. And of course Lowell had gone above and beyond. True to his word over the weekend he had shaved his head, only brown stubble was left clinging to his head like a five o’clock shadow. But the real kicker was the black bar he had painted over his mouth, with lipstick or with actual face paint I didn’t know, but it looked killer. And about five chains hung off of his raw edged sweater.
“So Billy said he had the hook up on some weed…” Steven started but I didn’t really listen. Drugs weren’t my thing, no matter how many times they tried to tell me how fun they were. Even if weed is legal I don’t think I want anything messing with my brain until I’m 25. And I’ve seen the rock bottom drugs can get someone into, just ask my mom.
My brain drifted from the weed talk pretty fast and instead I stared out at the parking lot. Nathan was pulling up, and like anyone who was anyone he had bought a parking spot right in the front of the school. Once he got out of course he started hanging out near his car. It was his pride and joy, a blue gleaming jeep wrangler that could take him and his friends anywhere he could go. Just the way I saw people flocking to him when he got out made me wonder how long it would be until I was 16 and if Derrick would bother to get me a car that nice.
“Bell’s ringing,” Steven pointed out, followed by the muffled sound of chimes inside the school, “We better descend inside before the madness starts.”
Steven was right, the chimes had started the morning stampede to get inside the school. And being the 5’3 freshman that I was I knew I needed to get inside before I was trampled. But I couldn’t leave without pointing out the obvious hypocrisy.
“You’re not skipping today?” I teased Steven.
He laughed, “One more missed class this quarter and I get suspended, and no matter how much I hate this hellhole, for some reason people think that school’s important.”
It’s almost impressive how much class Steven managed to skip in only one month of school. But even though he’s the Skipping Lord I needed to get to class. We all entered the building together, Willis and I sort of sandwiched between our older friends but after a while we drifted apart....
Continued in Part 2