School started today. I hadn't seen or heard from Clyde since the night we spun the bottle. I was faced with going to all of my new classes alone. I had not seen a single soul I knew all day. I scampered from class to class like the intimidated freshman I was. I found Ryan and Anna in the lunch room and we shared fries, but neither of them knew what happened to Clyde, and Ryan told me he wasn't even at the school today. Anna, biting through a sandwich of veggie-meat, said to ask Keith. I was still a bit uncertain about talking to Keith because of the incident at Ryan's house, even though we had cleared it up already.
Last period for me was visual arts. The teacher, Ms. Adams, was dark- complexioned and very friendly. She took the roll call, getting charcoal all over her cheekbone when she brushed her hair back with her blackened hand. It looked like a mere shadow on her skin. Her smooth accent put all of the Boston-noodle-stuck-in-your-throat teachers to shame. Ms. Adams let us bring mp3 players into the class and listen to music as we sketched. My heart took a leap as she called Clyde's name in the roll call. "Clyde?" she paused. "Clyde?" she asked again with a domineering voice. She sighed. "Not again. Does anyone know where Clyde is?" she questioned us, hinting exasperation behind her French- African accent. No one in the class gave an answer, so she called, "Alexandra?" The name sounded marvelous in her rich accent. "Here," a tall girl in the back of the class said through purple lips. We started our sketches and then I was finally released when the last bell rang.
The next day was basically the same, but I had Shakespearean poetry instead of art. I met a girl called Natalie and I ate lunch with her. Natalie was taller than I was, and had green hair. She was also a freshman, and we both had Mr. Stromboli for English. Natalie was what some people might call a "punk", although she never asserted it herself. She liked Sublime and Nirvana and Greenday and we had a lot in common. Natalie was not pretty. She had kind of a jelly-roll nose and deep set eyes. Her face was not delicate and fragile, but it had character. She did not act sophisticated in the least. She was sarcastic and laughed very loudly. She wore black plastic bracelets around her wrists and had purple Converses with green shoelaces with stars. Natalie was bow-legged and bright and always had something to say. She was not one of those people who got in your face, but was always talking to someone or other. She also had on one of those weird pyramid-belts. I liked her.
On Friday, I met with Andrea. She had been my friend throughout middle school, and was now a cheerleader. The first thing she said to me when I greeted her was, "Why are you being nice to Natalie? Please tell me it's pity." Andrea had changed. I asked her why she was judging Natalie- and she just smirked at me. I had never been smirked at so rudely before. I spun around on my heel and ate with Jackie. Lunch was a difficult period for me because all of my friends seemed to sit at different tables. I'm what you might call a drifter. It's not that I don't have any friends. It's just that I have a lot of friends that are all different. Jackie sat with the "hippies". She had her acoustic guitar propped up on the sunny lunch table and introduced me to her Greenpeace-looking friends. I swear that I thought one of them would stick a goddamn save-the-animals decree under my face when I bit into my bologna sandwich. One of her friends, who I knew as Steph, had a ukulele. Shawna, Jackie's buddy with a green thumb had taken the liberty of stitching herself a placemat onto which she placed carrot juice, a bowl of foreign-looking soup, and some grainy cookies.
I missed Clyde. I didn't know where he was. I was starting to get worried that something must have happened. After I got home on Friday, I tried calling him a couple of times to find out why he was playing truant. I got the machine. I finally decided to call Keith.
"Hello?" Keith answered his phone after three rings. His voice gave me chills.
"Hey Keith!" I said as cheerfully as I could so he wouldn't get any ideas.
"What's up?" he asked monotonously.
"I wanted to ask you if you know where Clyde is. He hasn't been in school all week and isn't picking up the phone."
"Hospital, babe," Keith said, distracted by some chatter in the background.
"What? Hospital?!" I was unnerved. There was no reason for Clyde to be in the hospital. "Why is he in the hospital?" I asked, almost shouting.
Keith didn't answer right away. I heard yelling in the background, and the phone fall on the floor. A minute later, he said, "Heather, baby, I'll talk to you later."
"But-" I stammered, and then the receiver clicked. I sat on my bed, too disturbed to do homework. I switched on the TV, then switched it back off. I hated television with a passion. I struggled through the quadratic formula a couple of times and then gave up on getting anything done. Fridays were usually very lonely for me. It was just the principle of staying home doing nothing while others were out having fun that pissed me off. I stared longingly at the phone, wishing someone would call. I gave up and took a bath. After the bath, I still didn't know what to do with myself.
I got lost in thought, something I am now famous for doing. Around 6:00, I ran out of the house and before I knew what I was doing, I had walked through the back door into Ryan's house. I walked up to the attic, and there was Ryan, faithfully striking cymbals.
"Ryan!" I yelled over the noise. There was no one else there. He looked up, startled to see me.
"Hi," he said, "Is Clyde with you?" He tried to peer around me and then looked around the room as if he expected Clyde to magically appear from thin air.
"No. I don't know where he is. Keith said he's in the hospital! Do you know anything about this?"
"Negative, soldier."
I plopped down on the leather stool with a sigh and informed him, "Tomorrow is my birthday."
"How old?" he asked.
"Fourteen," I answered.
"You know, Keith's birthday was just last month."
"What? He was only fifteen a month ago?" I asked, puzzled. He looked much older than that.
Ryan gazed at me stupidly. "What are you talking about? Keith is nineteen."
I stared at him, wide-eyed. "He told me he was sixteen!"
Ryan shrugged. I was appalled. A nineteen year old guy had tried to take me to a bedroom. And he knew I was thirteen at the time. All of a sudden I felt very vulnerable. Seeing my worried expression, Ryan said, "Want a smoke?"
I shook my head. I thought he would lay off, but he didn't.
"Why not?" he asked normally.
I stared at his curious expression. His reddish brown hair was tucked behind the ears of his slightly rounded face. "Because," I said, implying the obvious, "It'll ruin my health. Lung cancer, no wind at all, smelling like shit-no thanks."
"You know it's all lies, don't you?" he asked innocently.
"What the hell are you talking about?" I asked, eyes opened wide. He was starting to annoy me.
"The health teachers. They lie to you. They brainwash you. No drugs. No smokes. No sex. No alcohol. There's no proven problems if somebody just feels like getting high for the night, as long as they're not stupid and drive drunk and run some kid over."
I was shocked. I refused to believe the ridiculous crap spewing from his lips, and I told him so. Instead of taking it as a joke like I had thought he would, he got upset. He chucked a bottle of beer at me. I caught it. Get out of here. Go on. Out. My mind contradicted my movements. I stayed, holding the bottle and not knowing what to do. Awkward. Definitely awkward.
"Drink it," Ryan commanded. "What are you afraid of? There's only us here. Trust me, I'm not like Keith."
"I don't think I should," I muttered, and tried to hand it back.
"Heather, Heather, Heather. From the moment you set foot in my house, I knew you would have difficulty becoming our buddy."
"I'm no assimilationist," I argued forcefully. I refused to be like them.
"Ooh, big words, Heather. You have to believe me. You are brainwashed. There's nothing wrong with getting drunk. All of that medical stuff is bullshit and as long as you don't hurt anyone, everything will be great. And if you plan on being with Clyde, you need to at least try to understand his way of life."
I didn't know what to do. Who to trust?
I snapped the cap off of the bottle and took a swig.
The moment the repulsive liquid touched my tongue, I nearly hurled. I sprayed beer all over the floor and trickled down the front of my shirt. Ryan laughed. "Now aren't you glad you did that here and now instead of in front of everyone?"
I truly was. I forced down a few sips, and soon the awful taste wasn't so bad. I sat with Ryan and we chatted a bit. I was feeling a bit slow, and I was talking a lot. After my first bottle, Ryan led me to the bathroom. I was feeling okay. I wasn't even drunk. That wasn't bad at all.
When I got out of the bathroom, I hugged Ryan. Even though he made me do something that I would never have done in my ordinary life and that was completely against my moral principles. He was a good friend. He knew it would get to this when I was with Clyde. He wouldn't let me embarrass myself.
After I left the house, it was around 8:00. I wondered what had happened to Ryan's parents and why they were never home. I didn't even know if Ryan had parents. I walked to main street instead of home. I peered through glass windows of small restaurants and shops. I looked for people I knew on the streets. I saw Natalie at the ice cream parlor, but she was with George, her very close guy friend that she refused to call a boyfriend.
I thought about what I had done. They used to call me a goody-two- shoes. All of a sudden, I felt ashamed. I had drank beer, been kissed by three different guys in two weeks, and gone past second base with a guy who carried condoms in his pockets. And not to mention almost smoking and getting raped. I thought of the "Small World" ride at Disneyland. Back when my daddy was alive, he took me to Disneyland and I went on the ride with my brother and my mom. The little multicultural figurines smiled at as we sailed along the river through the different cultures. And that's when I first learned about the word "fuck". Someone had etched "Fuck you!" into the side of our little boat.
I sighed, disgusted at humanity.
There was nothing left for me to do, so I decided to go home and to talk to my brother. The second I walked into the house, I knew coming home had been a mistake. My mother's shrieks pierced the air. The only time she ever appeared to be alive was when she screamed at my brother. I never stuck around long enough to hear the reason for all of their arguments, but the worst part was that he yelled right back. Hostility coursed through the air. I tip-toed up to my room. I tried to drown out the yelling with my pillows. I felt like a little girl whose parents were getting a divorce.
My brother was bipolar. He had awful mood swings. One minute, he's laughing along with you, and the next, he wants to kill you. When he was in a bad mood, there was nothing that anyone could say that could keep him from attacking. My mom got on his bad side a lot. She hadn't wanted a mental kid. All she had wanted was a normal family. She got a smart, angry kid, and a daydreaming thinker who was becoming a junkie. I didn't want to be a junkie. I wanted to make my mom happy. Honest, I did! But it seemed that no matter how hard I tried, she would always just get more depressed. She had been this way since daddy died. The arguments had been rising way up in our family. Maybe that's why I turned out this way. I was quiet. I was thoughtful. I was hopeful. But I was sad.