Authors: Jenny B. Jones
Tags: #drama, #foster care, #friendship, #YA, #Christian fiction, #Texas, #theater
I remember that one. I learned a lot that day. Like it’s dumb to tell the principal you were involved just to get the real instigators to like you. I also learned that if you are going to have a food fight, pick chicken-nugget Tuesday. Not meatloaf Monday.
“And it says here that in the eighth grade you and a group of kids were caught throwing water balloons off the top of the school building and hitting students.”
In my defense, Luke Hardy told me we were getting an early start on our science project. Lessons learned that day: Luke Hardy lies—he has never gotten an early start on any school project ever (or ever turned one in, for that matter)—and should a water balloon happen to drop from your hands while you’re on the roof of the school, make sure the principal’s son isn’t standing directly beneath you.
“At the end of the seventh grade you were sent to the office for turning a bird loose in class.”
one I did. I will defend that action until my last breath. Mr. Feathers, our class pet, wasn’t happy in that cage. He was sad and he never sang. So I set him free. Of course, I didn’t realize he wouldn’t know the window I left open for him was his exit. Is it really my fault he dive-bombed the room for thirty minutes before he finally found the window? I’ve taken a lot of heat for that bird. Mr. Feathers owes me big.
Does Millie know the full extent of all my misdeeds? Maybe after having all of my dirty laundry aired in front of her, she will go home and convince Mr. Scott I need a one-way Greyhound ticket back to Iola Smartly and the girls. I sneak a look at my foster mom, but she isn’t paying attention to me. Her eyes are fixed on the counselor, and she looks mad again. This really is interesting.
“And I see here last April you were among a group of students who—”
“That will be quite enough, thank you, Mrs. Whipple. I am sure you will give Katie every benefit of the doubt. You and I don’t know the circumstances surrounding each of those items you so graciously regaled us with, so neither of us will hold that against Katie, correct? I have every confidence you will be fair and open minded and reserve all judgment unless she actually does something to deserve any harsh opinions. Now, if you could go over her schedule for this semester, Katie is ready to get her day started.”
Millie rolls her shoulders back and her small chin lifts. My new foster mom is not one to be trifled with. And she took up for me. I don’t know if she meant any of it or if she truly doesn’t care about my long list of mistakes, but she sure sounded sincere.
I must be in a parallel universe. These things just don’t happen in my world.
Mrs. Whipple prints a draft of my schedule. I have a full load. All core classes, except for one elective, which I get to choose.
“There’s band, basketball, debate, newspaper, drama, choir. What are your interests, Katie?” Millie reads off more choices from a pamphlet.
My interests? Well, I like to eat. I’m interested in clean clothes. Recently, at Sunny Haven, I’ve been into self-defense. I’ve been so busy majoring in survival the past few years I really haven’t gotten to broaden my list of hobbies.
“How about we put you in band? Have you ever wanted to play an instrument? Our band director can turn anyone into a musician. I think that would be very good for you.”
Millie looks so pleased with this idea I find myself nodding. I mean, come on, the woman really went to bat for me today. I would probably agree to rappelling off the water tower for her right now.
So, band it is. I guess I will be a marching Chihuahua.
“Band. Very well. We have an excellent music program at In Between High.” Mrs. Whipple picks a piece of lint off her
Educators Are Sew Loved
quilted vest, then prints out the final draft of my schedule.
“I have another meeting to go to, but I’ve arranged for a student peer helper to show you around, Katie.”
Mrs. Whipple’s gaze is fixed on me. Her expression says, “I know your type. You will be in the principal’s office before the week is over, and I will be waiting.” Maybe she just needs one of Millie’s big hugs.
“Mrs. Scott, thank you for coming in. I hope Katie finds In Between High to be just the place for her.” The counselor’s face isn’t the least bit convincing. She should take drama as her elective.
“I don’t see any reason why she wouldn’t.”
My non-Mom hugs me, then gives me a one last pep talk before she heads for the door.
“Bye, Millie.” And like she did, I squeeze her hand, making a lame attempt to communicate my appreciation.
Millie winks in reply.
“Good-bye, Mrs. Scott.”
“Yes, good-bye, Mrs. Whipple. I’ll see you in church Sunday.”
The door shuts behind Millie.
Mrs. Whipple lowers her bifocals. “Young lady, my eyes will be on you.”
“That sounds kind of painful.”
With a growl, the counselor heaves herself from her chair. “I’m late for a meeting. Your peer helper will be here shortly. Don’t steal anything.”
Like a personality? For you?
“I smell trouble on you.” She yanks the door open. “I dare you to prove me wrong.”
elcome to In
Between High! I’m here to show you around.”
A stunningly beautiful girl of some sort of Asian descent sticks her hand out like a well-trained used-car salesman.
I put my hand in hers, and she shakes it like she means it. I study her, taking note of her almond-shaped eyes alight with curiosity and interest, her flawless olive skin, her glossy raven hair (when it’s that beautiful, you can’t call it black), and her model-thin frame. If it weren’t for the blatantly sincere kindness plastered all over her face, I’d have to dislike her immediately.
“You must be . . .” She scans a copy of my schedule. “Ah, yes, Katie Parker. Well, welcome Katie Parker. I’m Zhen Mei Vega. But you can call me Frances. Like you, I’m in the tenth grade. I am student council reporter, yearbook photographer, first chair flautist in band, though sometimes I play clarinet too; then I’m assistant editor of the school newspaper, secretary of the Future Scientists and Engineers of America, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes leader. I also run track, take piano lessons, and sing in our church choir. I’m sure we have lots in common.”
The girl said that all in one breath, and of all the stellar accomplishments she listed, that impressed me the most. And no, even though there are plenty of options for me to choose from, we do not have anything in common.
“Oh, did I mention Spanish Club?”
“I don’t think so. I kind of got lost after the band thing.”
“Right. Well, let’s take a look at this schedule. Each week you’ll have English with Ms. Dillon; she’s in room 200. You’ve got biology with Mr. Hughes. It’s in room 104, right by the cafeteria, which kinda gets gross during dissection time. Then there’s PE with . . .”
Frances’s voice becomes a buzz in my head as she gives me a commentary on all my classes, teachers, and room assignments. When she begins to walk down the hall, I follow. She is dressed in a funky T-shirt and skirt, and even though it looks like it might be her own creation, I think Millie the fashionista would approve.
The halls of In Between High could belong to any high school in America. Old tile and red lockers decorated with dents, graffiti, and padlocks abound. Event and club posters adorn the mostly beige walls. Trash cans are tucked in every corner. We pass the occasional fire alarm, which is a personal temptation of mine. Those things call my name. I usually try not to answer.
We arrive at the entrance to my first-hour class, which is English. I can’t remember what my tour guide said about this teacher, but I’ve never minded English too much. When I want to be, I’m good at it. I can’t solve for
to save my soul, but I can easily race through the pages of a book. And when you’re left alone as much as I was, you need something to keep you company. Math? Never much of a companion.
“So, as I was saying, if you have any questions, just let me know. I’ll meet you at your locker after your math class, and we can eat lunch together in the cafeteria. I’ll show you how to get to the caf and which foods to avoid.”
Frances really takes this job seriously. I hate to hurt her feelings, but I’m not ready to eat lunch with a perfect stranger. She can’t be too excited about it either. I’ve been in quite a few different schools, and I have a strategic plan for the first week or two of lunch.
“Yeah, thanks, but I think I have lunch under control.” I almost manage to look her in the eye when I say that.
“Oh, okay. Well, this is English. Ready or not, here we come!” And with that chirpy exclamation, Frances bursts into the room with me in tow. “Good morning, Ms. Dillon. This is Katie Parker. She’s a new student.”
Thirty pairs of eyeballs shift in my direction. For the millionth time today, I am painfully aware of my poor clothing choices.
Hi, I’m from the Addams family.
“Thank you, Frances. Welcome, Katie. Everyone, say hello to Katie Parker.”
The teacher, Ms. Dillon, looks to be about twenty-five. She is like a younger version of Millie—thin, blonde, cute, and stylish. No quilted vests for this educator.
Ms. Dillon guides me to a seat near Frances and hands me a literature book, and I flip through it, absorbing the pictures, recognizing some of the short stories. Kind of sad to get excited over a lit book.
Most of the students have gone back to their work, totally dismissing me. Two classmates, a guy on my left and a girl two seats in front of me, do look over and nod or throw up a hand up in greeting. The girl has a purple Mohawk. And the guy is wearing my black skirt.
Ms. Dillon moves the class on to the next assignment, which is writing a haiku. I love those things. Five syllables in the first and third lines, seven in the second.
I’m dressed like a goof.
Where was the bathroom again?
Can I skip PE?
After English, I
follow Frances to World History. She drops me off at the door with a cheery goodbye and promises to pick me up next door. Before Frances flutters off, she hands me a map of the school to study. She enjoys her job as student peer way too much.
History ends up being an incredibly long period, taught by some guy named Mr. Patton, who should’ve retired about thirty years ago. I could hardly hear his lecture above the sound of his hearing aids whining and humming. I’m betting his notes on the Egyptian pyramids are pretty accurate. I mean, the old man was probably on the pharaoh’s payroll.
Like my last school, In Between High runs on block scheduling, so my next class will be my last one before lunch. As promised, Frances is waiting for me as I leave history. Frances doesn’t take Algebra II, being the brainiac she is, so I’m left to fend for myself in there too. Algebra proves to be even more boring and tedious than history. I was aware of every single second. Math is so not my thing, and it doesn’t help I’ve moved just enough to get thoroughly behind. I’d blame it on my mom, but nobody cares when it comes to those standardized end-of-course tests. There’s a bubble for answers A, B, C, and D, but never a bubble to mark “I don’t know the answer, but since Bobbie Ann Parker is my mother, and I think that explains it all.”
After an eternity passes, I hear the beautiful sound of the bell ringing for lunch.
Then I remember I told Frances not to worry about me.
Why did I do that? I could have at least let her show me to the cafeteria. I am a directional idiot—I get lost in my bedroom at the Scott’s house. I don’t remember where the cafeteria is!
Time to implement my “New School Lunch Strategy.” I grab my backpack, which contains the lunch Millie packed, and head to find a quiet place to eat.
here is something
so unappetizing about eating ravioli while perched on the lid of a public toilet.
And yet here I sit—Indian style, atop the best commode in the joint, napkin tucked into my collar, and a cool juice box balancing on the toilet paper holder. Millie packed my lunch—ravioli in this thing that keeps it warm all day, chips, carrot and celery sticks, a few chocolate chip cookies, and an apple.