Michael takes the U-turn after the light clicks to red, screeching the tires and almost hitting some old woman in a jeep. He flips her off, leans over, and shows me his Dumb Jock face. We screech again as we almost miss the second turn. Every single person in every single car in the carpool line glares. I scrunch down in the seat and remember why I hate my brother.
"This is it?"
Michael has stopped in the middle of the street. Now everyone on the sidewalk is staring too.
"Move the car, butthead."
"Do you know how much this place costs?"
"What do you care -- you're not paying." Just breathe, Katie, breathe. Finally he moves, drives, parks. This is definitely not how I visualized my first day at a new school.
"Skates, are you sure you want to go here?"
"Do not call me Skates.'" I grab my schedule and get out. If it wouldn't get more stares, I'd slam the door.
"Let me walk you. I want to see the rich kids."
"Hey -- better idea -- go die somewhere, okay?"
First I run into a bench. No big deal, no one's watching. Then I go into the wrong room, with the twelfth-grade students instead of tenth. I get stuck between an Eminem look-alike and a troupe of blank-faced, black-haired maybe-females with extreme makeup. From the other side of the room, two anorexic Vogue model types check me out. The redhead whispers something and the blonde starts laughing, quietly, behind her hand. Eminem sneers down at me and nods once, like I care. I put them all on my list of those needing paper cuts. Then the blonde rolls her eyes and I smile.
I miss the tenth-grade orientation talk completely, so I follow the crowd. I stand in line, get my picture taken, and follow another crowd down the alley to stand in line again. I'm paired with a fairly normal-looking girl who immediately assures me she thinks I'm just fine but practically every other girl in our grade is a bitch. We get our books and stand in still another line to pay for them.
I fumble for my mom's credit card and bang into the edge of a table. My plastic bags split at the seams and three million books clatter to the floor. In the nanosecond of silence that follows, someone says: "Omigod, I will never get out of here." The whole room laughs; I am publicly revealed: Attention everyone! Stupid Kate is here -- can't you see her smiling?
How I get from the book-buying place to Michael's car is not entirely clear. Of course, he's standing outside it, tall, lanky, serene, fitting right in. I hate him. The blonde and the redhead from twelfth grade drive by us in a little black BMW. They glance over and the redhead winks. He tips his head in their direction and the blonde almost smiles. I do not even exist. I hate him even more.
Here's the list:
I run into benches and walls and other random objects, I don't understand the social thing, I always think people are dissing me, and the only person I'm able to get pissed at is my brother -- but only if no one's looking.
And -- my personal favorite -- I smile. Constantly. It doesn't matter how stupid, angry, depressed, or embarrassed I am -- I still smile. The only time I actually don't smile is when I'm doing a part in a play. Oh, but wait -- that isn't real life, is it?
This morning was supposed to mark the official birth of my new identity -- the person who can cope with anything. New house, new father -- well, sort of -- new school, new girl. This one is funny and knows what to say. She has a best friend and they make plans every weekend. She gets IMed the second she goes online. She doesn't space out during daylight and has regular dreams, not scary nightmares. She never bumps into stuff and she has an extremely cool, extremely individual way of dressing. Her boyfriend? One of the cutest guys at school.
I swear she's in here.
I just don't know how to get her out.
So -- I walk. It helps me think. Or not, depending on the day. It moves me forward, anyway, especially when Stupid Kate has appeared. I don't have to talk to people, not even my mom. I just say I'm exploring my new neighborhood.
It's weird. Brentwood is one of the most expensive places in California, and it reminds me of Santa Rosa, which definitely is not. Willow trees along the streets, their branches arching almost to the center. Sunlight peeking through. Breezes painting shadow dancers on the sidewalk. I like being here. Of course, in Santa Rosa, there'd be leaves rustling now, crunching under my feet. I miss that. But in Santa Rosa, I'd also have that eerie feeling that someone was following me, and I'd stop every so often to see if I could catch the sound of them in the leaves.Here, in my new Normal and Connected Life, the leaves have been sent who knows where by loud little cleaning machines. And even with no one around -- no gardeners, pets, children, not even cars going by -- I will not have that feeling because I will not allow it.