June 23, 2009

A Dour Start

I look past Sara to the front of the school, where a toothpick-thin older woman stands holding the door open with one hand; the other planted sharply on her bony hip. Despite the lingering humidity, she’s wearing a long gray pencil skirt and an orange wool cardigan that makes me hot and itchy just looking at it.

“Miss Brown, where are you girls supposed to be?” Her voice sounds like lemons taste. I can’t tell if she’s glaring at us or if her silver-streaked black hair is pulled too tightly into the severe bun at the nape of her neck.

“Ugh,” Sara grumbles, rolling her eyes. “Mrs. Dour.” Turning to the woman, she smiles sweetly. “It’s Lucy’s first day. I was giving her an introduction.”

“That’s what homeroom is for. Hurry it up.” Mrs. Dour lets the door slam shut and watches us through the glass window.

Sara nudges me. “She is the worst,” she mutters through the clenched teeth of her smile. “My mother can’t stand her. And vice versa.”

We begin walking through the grass toward the school. “Why?” I whisper back, trying to encourage Sara to move faster by walking a step ahead.

“Oh, she hates that Dede takes me out of school sometimes to travel. But Dede’s right – I learn way more about history by visiting Rome than by reading a description of the Coliseum in her stupid history book.”

“Is Mrs. Dour a history teacher? Wait, you’ve been to Rome? In Italy?”

“Twice. Yeah, she’s awful though. So boring. Once, she called Dede ‘flighty.’ So Dede called her ‘a stick in the mud.’ She’s hated me ever since.”

I look at Mrs. Dour’s hard face through the window. I can already tell she is someone whose bad side I do not want to be on. “That stinks.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” Sara pulls open the door. Mrs. Dour doesn’t move.

“Miss Brown, please get where you’re going. And you.” She turns her sharp, cat-like eyes to me. “Where is your homeroom?”

“Um… I think…” I pull my backpack off my shoulder and rifle through the front pocket to find my homeroom assignment. “It’s room 106.”

“I’ll escort you.”

Mrs. Dour spins on her heel and begins walking briskly down the hall. I shoot a glance at Sara, who opens her eyes wide. "Good luck," she mouths, then smiles.

Frantically zipping my backpack closed, I run to catch up with the history teacher, who is about to turn the corner.

“Wait! Mrs. Dour!”

Suddenly Mrs. Dour freezes. I stop in my tracks. She turns back toward me slowly, glowering.

“It’s Lauer. Mrs. Lauer.” Her hard face breaks into a grim smirk. “You can tell your friend that she’s not doing you any favors by sharing rude faculty nicknames.”

June 17, 2009


"Yeah, um, yes. I'm Lucy." I’m taken off guard. "How did you...uh...?"

The bell rings, and kids start streaming around us toward the open front doors. Sara doesn't seem to notice that we're blocking their way. "Dede's the school guidance counselor. That's my mom. She said you were starting today and that you were from Florida. And nobody here actually has natural blonde highlights. So I just assumed."

"Oh. Well, yep, that's me." I laugh nervously. Sara is still smiling, but she doesn't move. Almost everyone has disappeared inside.

"So how do you like it?” She looks at me intently.

“Um…huh?” I had been watching the last few stragglers enter the school.

“South Haven? Super boring, right?"

I shrug, shifting my backpack from one shoulder to the other. “I dunno. I haven’t seen much of it yet…” I move slightly in the direction of the door, trying to give Sara the hint that we should start walking, but she doesn’t budge.

“There’s not much to see. But it’s a good home base. That’s what Dede and I call it. We travel a lot. I’ve never been to Fort Myers though.”

“It’s nice.” Sara seems nice, too. I’m torn between asking her about where she has traveled and running toward the front door. “But, um, aren’t we gonna be…”

Girls! Final bell has rung!

June 15, 2009

Meet Sara

As soon as both of my feet hit the sidewalk, Mom pulls her car away. I’m not surprised. She’s not deserting me; she’s just making sure I can’t change my mind and fling myself back into the passenger seat, begging her to drive straight to Fort Myers. As she stops at the corner, I can see her eyes on me in the rear-view mirror, willing me forward. And then she’s gone.

You can do this. You can do this. I take a deep breath and begin walking quickly toward the front steps, praying the bell rings before I get there so that I'm not forced to stand on the edges of the crowd by myself.

The day is bright and crisp, and although it’s only the end of August, a few yellowed leaves litter the expansive front lawn. Everywhere people are talking, laughing, hugging. A boy squirts a stream of water out of a sports bottle at a girl’s bare legs as she walks by with her friends. A few slight boys dressed in black saunter passed with their iPods on loud enough for me to feel the rumbling beat. Three girls huddle around a cell phone, laughing at a text or a picture.

I absorb this all in seconds, and yet I feel like I’m walking through a fog. My eyes don’t focus on faces, just blurs of colors and noise. All I want to do is get to the front steps and blend in and –


“Oh! Jeez—“ My left shoulder suddenly slams into the side of a tall girl who has just stepped into my beeline. I take a shaky step to the side. “S-sorry…” I mumble, glancing up at her quickly.

The girl smiles eagerly and waves, bouncing slightly on her toes. I immediately assume she thinks I’m someone else and wait for her to apologize and walk away. But she continues to stand there, looking at me expectantly.

I smile meekly. “Hi.”

The girl is about five inches taller than I am, and very pretty and willowy, with wavy honey-colored hair that's almost too long and bright green eyes. Although she’s dressed casually in a gray t-shirt, dark skinny jeans and a gauzy white scarf draped around her neck, there’s something about her that makes me feel seriously unstylish in my pink tank top and faded jeans.

"I'm Sara. You're Lucy, right?"

June 4, 2009

The Beginning

Talking about starting over and actually doing it are two very different things, and I haven’t realized it until this moment. Now, as I sit in my mom’s car staring out the window at South Haven Middle School on the first day of eighth grade, the realization hits me hard. Great timing, I think, frowning.

“Don’t be nervous.”

“I’m not.” I lie. Mom raises her eyebrows and looks down at my lap, where my hands have twisted the end of my t-shirt into a wrinkled rag. I let go. “Ok, maybe a little.”

Smoothing my shirt with my sweaty palms, I look back toward the imposing three-story brick school. It sits in the center of a lush green field, with delicate white sidewalks curving through the grounds. A line of yellow buses idle in a concrete semicircle in front of the tall front steps. But all of this is simply a hazy backdrop to the hundreds of kids my age – kids who I don’t know, kids who I’ve never seen before – who are pouring out of cars of buses and crowding the doors, waiting for the bell to ring.

By my request, Mom and I have driven by South Haven Middle many times since our move to Connecticut two weeks ago. We even went in over the weekend so that I could practice making my way around the strangely unfamiliar hallways. I was secretly hoping that seeing the school would instantly make me feel like I belong here. But that empty building with its quiet classrooms and echoing corridors in no way helped prepare me for this hectic, overwhelming experience.

“Like I said, this is the worst moment, because everything is unknown.” I barely register Mom's words as she continues her pep talk.

“Uh huh.”

She smiles encouragingly. “You’ll feel so much better once you go in and meet one new person.”


“Everyone will love you. How could they not?”

“Ok, ok Mom.” Her reassuring tone is making me more nervous. “I’m going.”

I take a deep breath and step out of the car onto the sidewalk.