The first time I saw her I was sweaty and red in the face. My hair, a matted stringy affair, was plastered to my skull. An hour of pushing myself in the gym and I needed to vomit. I relished this time. I was short and stocky but I was solid and as my friend Cally (the daughter of a personal trainer) would say, fit within my genes. I was happiest after working out so hard I would feel this push beneath my throat until I went home and drank my weight in water.
A wave of nausea hit me and I sank into the counter, when she walked in. She was tall and skinny, her body a backwards 's'. She leaned into her heels and looked up through a mass of black chunky hair. Her eyes were outlined in a thick beaters rim. Later, when I was in bed, I thought my initial reaction to her should have been to mind scream, "Emo!" I didn't at the time and couldn't late at night wrapped in bedclothes. She was too real and boyish.
"Manny!" She walked past me and I watched in the mirror as she banged on a stall door, "Hurry the fuck up, I want out of here."
A girly voice answered with a slue of incoherent slurs. Her fist hovered and fell heavily; she turned to slump against the door, clenching her jaw like a vulnerable man. Our reflection's eyes met in the mirror.
I was suddenly and violently ashamed of my appearance. It showed as an enflamed face. I lowered my head into the sink and opened water, cold and sharp, to hide from my own reflection as much as hers.
When I left, a towel over my mouth and nose, I wished that her eyes had followed me.
I attend a prestigious school in the heart of Vancouver's elite. In actuality, the school is no better than any other private establishment in the area, but charges nearly five times the average entrance fee, making it the academic version of a BMW. For parents who had children just for the opportunity to buy more fashionable baby clothes than their neighbors, Secondary School is the ideal educational center to send your young ones. Here, our motto is Gesellschaft fängt mit der Einzelperson an. In English, it means Society begins with the individual. Go ahead; laugh it up.
The first day back at school began for me with darkly circled eyes and a lunch bag packed with tampons. Seeing my friends after two months came with the appropriate amount of enthusiasm. Gina had cut her hair. Jackie had a new boyfriend. Cally was sporting a belly button piercing she showed to everyone in the bathroom with the air of a museum curator displaying a modern art painting. One with lots of nudity and gore.
I arrived looking the same as I had when I left eight weeks previous. No one bothered to even inquire (beyond the required questions) what had taken place over my summer. We all knew it had been eventless. I supposed I should have felt a disappointment of some sort.
In front of my lockless locker (in compliance to our school's 'trust' policy) I stuffed binders into space where there was none. The bell for next class rang and my friends dispersed.
"Hurry it up, Laura." Gina told me with a shake of her blonde head, "You can't be late for the first class of the year, that's just tacky."
Cally laughed and hit Gina upside the head, than winked at me before skipping out of Gina's line of reach. The two ran off together.
I considered running to make it to my class, than opted to straighten out my skirt instead. When everything was in order I slammed my locker door shut, with slightly more force than needed, just to see it spring back a little like a kicked puppy.
As I spun on my foot to get to first period I saw her. Seven lockers down from my own. A wrinkled shirt tucked haphazardly into the boys uniform slacks and a belt that hung more than it held. How she pulled that off in our conservative school was way passed me, but at that moment it was all I focused on. Then she closed the faux wood locker door and left. I moved my focus to breathing. That was important.
Second bell rang.
Lunch at last. Every morning I fold food franklin style into my napkin, and under the table to our family dog, a putrid mass of golden hair with a vacuum masquerading as a mouth. It isn't an eating disorder; I just hate breakfast. Or rather, I love what skipping it does. I go through the day (block one. Recess. Block two, block three. Lunch.) Feeling my insides grow empty. It's an achy feeling I treasure almost as much as post workout nausea. When lunch finally does come, I'm starving. Alright it may be slightly disorderly, but in the teen angst gossip girl kind of way, not the actual mental illness requiring professional help way.
I sit at a long rectangular table at the front of the cafeteria. Every girl in our grade does, and has since freshman year; it doesn't matter who you, or your friends, are. Gina, Cally, Jackie and I take up one corner at the far left, reserved for those not in the crowd that parties nor the one that studies. We're the losers that don't even get good grades.
Jackie's new boyfriend Chris, a soccer stud who should be cool but somehow falls short, sits with us as well. He's in the infamous seat which tends to have a new boy in it every two or three weeks. I've watched an industrial line go through it in the three years I've known Jackie.
"You guys are so cute." Gina's gushing over the happy couple while Cally restrains herself from gagging. I shove a muffin into my face. We all know Gina liked Chris first, and this is her attempt to hide it. Jackie grins-she knows it too-and leans into Chris with an inconspicuous hand near his crotch. He kisses her ear and Gina giggles uncomfortably.
Across the table, Cally is rolling her eyes at me, but I pretend not to see and drink my milk. I slop a little on myself and Chris scrunches his nose almost delicately. I ignore them all and search the cafeteria.
When I find her, she's sitting alone, her feet on the table and an empty juice box hanging from her mouth. She's tipped back to look at the ceiling, where eight grade boys are throwing pencils in a dart game.
Cally is watching me watch her, and I tell myself to look away.
Cally says something to me. I look down her narrow shoulders and crossed ankles. With her head at the odd angle I can see neck tendons popping as they lead to her collarbone. It makes my cringe a little, they way seeing pictures of slit wrists or anorexia does.
"What?" I snap back to my table of friends and try to process what Cally just said while muffin crumbs fall from my open mouth.
Cally points, "The new girl." And Gina lights up. I see the gossip fest about to be unleashed.
"Yeah! Total creeper." She stares at each of us (just skimming her eyes over Chris) and continues, "Her parents are like, uber rich, and she's some freakin' Artemis Fowl prodigy…thing. So she got bumped up on the admission list."
Chris twists in his chair, "That dudes a chick? Why the fuck is she in the guys uniform?"
Jackie gets up and lethargically falls into his lap, "I think she's cute." She smiles wickedly and Chris snorts. I lower my milk carton, knowing where this is going, "She's…androgynous ."
Gina jumps in, "Like Annie Lennox."
"Sure." Jackie nods and it's obvious she's never heard of the Euythmics, "If I had to do it with a girl, it would totally be someone like her."
Cally laughs and looks at me sideways when I don't. Gina's slowly turning red. Chris is too, but his blush probably has less to do with embarrassment and more to do with the mental image Jackie just sketched for him.
I get a mental feature too, and it's of Jackie naked in her basement while Chris slides into her. An overwhelming urge to throw up finds me, and it isn't the blissfully insistent push beneath my throat but a stagnant lump of acrid chunks I force down with two percent milk.