Written By: Jen Klein
“Very reasonable,” Lily agrees. “But what do you talk about?”
“I’m trying to avoid too much conversation,” I tell them.
“Good call,” says Darbs.
The cafeteria must have been slammed, because the three of us are almost done eating by the time Shaun bounds up the bleachers with his tray, Itch loping behind him. Lily makes a big fuss about how Shaun is deigning to sit with us on the first day of school. She raises her dark arms—almost impossibly toned from all her violin practice—to the sky. “We’ve been blessed with a presence! We’ve been graced by royalty…ow!”
Shaun tugs on one of her dreadlocks and tells her to quit it. “I can’t help being so cool. Everyone loves me,” he says.
“Since when are chameleons cool?” Itch asks. He and I share the same opinion about trying to fit into school hierarchies: it’s dumb and pointless.
“Chameleons change their colors,” Shaun says, adjusting the collar of his striped polo shirt. “I float from group to group because my colors are constant but abundant. I am a rainbow.”
“You are a cliché,” I say, teasing him. He elbows me but I know he knows I’m joking. Kshaunish “Shaun” Banerjee very well might be the least cliché person at our high school.
Itch raises his hand and Lily points a finger to call on him. “Mr. Markovich.”
“Stupidest high school tradition: go.”
I don’t even have to think about it. “Prom.”
It earns me a pout from Darbs. “Prom is romantic,” she says.
“Prom is lame,” says Lily.
“I can’t wait until prom,” I inform them all. “But only because then it will be over. It’s the last stupid high school tradition before real life begins.”
“You should go ironically,” Darbs tells me.
“I won’t go at all,” I tell her. “There’s no way.” Belatedly, I realize I should have checked to see if my boyfriend felt the same way, but Itch is already nodding in agreement.
“Prom is stupid, but not the stupidest,” he says. “Try again.”
“Streak Week?” Shaun asks.
“No one’s done that in years,” Itch tells him.
“True, but it was the dumbest of dumb. I heard about this one guy who lost a pinky toe from frostbite.”
“Gross!” We all throw napkins at Shaun.
“Ooh, I got it!” Darbs bounces up and down. “The mascot laying an egg at center field during halftime!”
We crack up, because of course it’s one of the most ridiculous things at our school, but it’s still not what Itch is going for. “All definitely stupid, but not quite as stupid as the stupid senior prank.”
Every year, the seniors do something obvious and obnoxious, like hang the principal in effigy from the big maple tree or sandblast their graduation date into the sidewalk in front of the school. It’s usually illegal and it’s always destructive.
Itch tells us there’s a plan in motion for this year. “I don’t know the details, but apparently it involves a cow, the third floor, and laxatives.”
“Ew!” Darbs makes a face like she can already smell cow poop.
“I know,” says Itch. “It’s only September and already the losers are planning for that crap. Get a life.”
“I still think prom is worse,” I tell them.
“Who’s in charge of the prank?” Shaun asks.
“Who do you think?” Itch says.
“The athletes,” Lily and Shaun say together.
Prickles of annoyance scuttle over me. “Of course they are.” The same way Theo thinks it’s okay to jut his disgusting pelvis at me, his cohorts think it’s okay to take control of an inane piece of tradition that is—no matter how stupid—supposed to represent the entire community. They think they own the school. “Like they’re more senior than us or something,” I say out loud.
“Assholes,” Lily agrees.
Itch leans over and kisses me. Darbs makes a gagging sound. “Get a room.”
“We don’t need a room,” I tell her. “The world is our room.”
This time, everyone gags.
? ? ?
Itch drops me off at the foot of my driveway. I ask him to come in, but when he sees Mom’s Volkswagen, he says no. Itch is not a fan of polite, superficial conversation, which is what he feels is the best one can hope for with the parents of one’s girlfriend.
Or, in this case, the parent.
I smell the garlic even before I open the screen door. It gets stronger and more fragrant as I wend my way past piles of neatly stacked two-by-fours and planks of wood leaning against the bare walls. Although we’ve been in the farmhouse for a month, it looks like we just moved in. Mom has been renovating the place for almost a year, ever since my grandfather passed away and bequeathed it to us, but it’s still not done. This summer, she decided it didn’t make sense to pay for two homes anymore and—since the plumbing was finished—we should go ahead and move in. I’m sure it was a smart financial move, but it’s complicated my personal life. I used to jump on a city bus and make it to school in ten minutes, or else Mom would drop me off on her way to the University of Michigan, where she’s an associate professor of art. Now, however, Mom’s studio hours are earlier and our living situation is farther away, which means I’m stuck with Oliver Flagg every morning.