"Best Summer Ever"

Today I'm wearing my hair in the half updo from Seventeen Magazine's June issue. I don't think it looks as good as it did on the blonde model in the picture. Maybe if my hair weren't so short, I'd be able to do more with it. I don't know. I had to put a ton of little barrettes to keep pieces from sticking out, but they have bunnies on them, so it's okay.

And I'm sitting at lunch, eating pizza sticks and reading the June issue and thinking about how today I have to go to a new math class, and that makes me miss my old math class already. I wonder why it took the school so long to fix my schedule and if I'll have any friends in my new class, but I know I probably won't because it's a sophomore class, and I'm a freshman.

"Hey Gwen, whatcha reading?" says Isaac Goldberg, placing his lunch tray next to mine.

He greets me with a kiss on the cheek like he always does, and I smile and show him the cover.

"That's cool, I guess," he says, rolling up the sleeves of his green sweater before taking a bite of his meatball sub. "Electr!c has a show on Friday, did you see on Facebook? You weren't on AIM yesterday."

"Yeah, I was trying to get my English paper done," I say. "But yeah, I'll be there!"

Electr!c is Isaac's band, and we met because last year, my brother, Jesse, took me to one of their shows. Now Isaac, who sings and plays bass, is my best friend, and I sit with him and some of my brother's other friends.

"You don't need a ride?"

"Nah, I can make Jesse take me," I say.

"Jesse's gonna be there?" says my friend Cecilia, her heavily lined eyes wide. Jesse is kind of the leader of his friends, and most of the girls like him because he has an eyebrow piercing and a Mohawk he re-dyes almost every two weeks. That's probably why his ego is so big.

"Yeah, of course he is," I say.

"He's not gonna have sex with you, Celia. He's into that Aubrey chick," says Tiffany, smacking her bubblegum. She never eats lunch.

"What Aubrey chick?" says Cecilia, nervously biting her lip ring. "That fat junior with the bad dye job? Jesse can't like her!"

"He doesn't," I say. I have no clue if he does or even who Aubrey is, but I like Cecilia, and I don't like when she starts saying nasty things. I steal a few of Isaac's fries and look back at my magazine. "Hey, look, everyone!" I say. "There's an article about how to have the best summer ever!"

All my friends are engaged in their own conversations, and I think Isaac is the only one who hears me, so I have to repeat myself and yell, "What if we did something like this?"

"Isn't it fall?" says Jesse's best friend, Matt. He's a senior, and we never really talk, but he says funny things sometimes.

"Yeah, so?" I say. I still don't have everyone's attention, so I should, "People! Look, here it talks about how you can make a scrapbook of memories….I think that could be really cool, if we actually did it."

No one responds except for Cecilia, who laughs and says, "You're the cutest little girl ever, Gwen."

"She knows she is," says Isaac, pulling me into a small hug. His curly black hair smells nice, like girl shampoo.

"Thanks!" I say, grinning. I look back at the article, but in a flash of neon hair extensions, my friend Sararose reaches over the table and snatches the magazine out of my hands.

"What is this shit, Gwen? I love you, but seriously. This is so superficial, it just wants you to be a size zero," she says, wrinkling her nose as she flips through the pages.

"That's not true!" I say. "There's a whole part about finding bathing suits to fit your body type."

"Oh please, those girls are still skinny. Well, what do you know, you're a stick."

"Hey!" I say. She always tells me I'm skinny like it's an insult. I guess I don't have much of a figure, but I'm not even fourteen yet. Technically, I should be in eighth grade.

"Just saying, Gwen," she says, passing the magazine back to me.

"Hey, you got something against skinny people?" says Isaac playfully. He really is the skinniest boy I know, and he flaunts it really well by wearing tight pants.

Isaac banters with Sararose, but I'm not really paying attention because I'm mostly just disappointed no one else wants to have the best summer ever. I go back to reading about how to be a diva with drugstore makeup.

"Hey, girl!" shouts my friend Erica, who is walking past our table with an empty tray.

"'Sup!" I should back. I love Erica; she's a senior and everything I want to be when I'm seventeen or eighteen, which I suppose is a long time from now. She's skinny like I am, and we have the same brown hair in a bob, but she's really tall.

"Dude, how are you friends with that preppy bitch?" says Sararose.

"I met her in debate. She's actually the nicest person ever!" I say. But I do kind of wonder how I'm friends with someone like Erica, considering she's so popular and smart. She's also dating the most popular kid in our school, Alan Little. They're so cute together, and I don't mean I want to steal him, but Alan is really hot. The fact that he's a genius and helped me with my history homework once doesn't hurt either.

"Well, I guess you just get along with everyone," says Sararose. "That's just how you are."

"Yeah, Gwen's so damned likable!" says Isaac, and we cuddle a little bit until the bell rings. I kiss him goodbye and head to my new math class.

I'm kind of nervous, but I'm also a little bit excited because maybe someone I like will be in my class, or maybe the teacher will be more fun than my last teacher. Maybe we'll get to cut out shapes and make posters instead of just doing geometry problems. I do like math (though not as much as English and science), but it can get kind of dull, that's all.

I get a little bit lost finding the room. I know I've been at high school for several weeks, but I have a very bad sense of direction, so I end up going in a circle twice. When the bell rings, the hallway is mostly empty, and I don't know what to do until I realize room 107 is right behind me.

Feeling like an idiot, I take a deep breath and knock. The lady who opens the door, Mrs. Haig I presume, looks kind of grumpy and has these huge fingernails. She stares at me.

"Hi!" I say, entering. "Uh…they put me in here."

"Right," she says, and then she turns to the rest of the class. "Class, this is Gwen. She's a freshman whose schedule was changed."

Everyone is looking at me, and I don't want to know what they're thinking. Mrs. Haig shoves an old, messed-up textbook in my hands and looks around the room for an empty seat.

The only empty seat is next to this Goth kid named Alexander, and I wonder if the seats are alphabetized and it's just a coincidence or if no one wanted to sit next to him. The latter makes me really sad. He's probably a really sweet but misunderstood person who hates being judged by how he looks, and maybe I could get to know him, and he won't have to be so lonely.

Or maybe lots of people like him because he's dark and mysterious.

I shuffle down the aisle, staring at my feet. My jeans are so long they cover most of my bright yellow Converses, and because I'm always stepping on them, they're all shredded up and holey. I like being short except when it comes to pants.

When I actually sit down, I get a better look at Alexander, and I wonder if maybe he wouldn't let anyone sit next to him. He seems kind of pissed off, and I hope I'm not intruding. He's hunched over his desk, folding and unfolding what can only be a detention slip. I've never had a detention myself, but I know the slips are blue. I wonder what he did and if he's a badass who gets detentions all the time or if he's just having a bad day. Maybe he had a good reason for whatever he did.

"Now, I hope everyone studied for the chapter three test today," announces Mrs. Haig. "Gwen, you'll be starting with us in chapter four, so don't worry. You may begin reading over the next lesson in your textbook, as all of you should do when you finish your tests."

And Alexander's eyes, surrounded by smudgy black makeup, widen with what can only be horror.

"Hi," I whisper as I hand him his test. "I'm Gwen."

He's chewing on the skin around his fingernail, and he doesn't respond, maybe because he doesn't want to get in trouble, but probably because he's ignoring me. Perhaps he really is the mysterious type and thinks he's too cool for me.

But he doesn't seem confident enough to be the cool, ignoring type. All his nails are badly chewed, and I wonder if he still has sensation in his fingertips. He pulls his finger out of his mouth, and it's bleeding a little, but he doesn't appear to care much as he starts to do his test. The way he holds his arms and leans over the desk, I can't see the paper very well, but I don't think he knows what he's doing. The answers I can see are wrong, and mostly he just stares at the paper blankly.

Maybe I can help him to stop biting his nails.

I read chapter four like I'm supposed to do, and occasionally I glance at Alexander taking the test. He seems really frustrated. Once, he looks up at me, and our eyes meet, but he quickly drops his head as though embarrassed. Students start to hand in their tests, but Alexander is erasing furiously, clearly discontented. He doesn't seem to be very good at geometry. I'm trying to focus on chapter four, but I can't stop watching him. He struggles with his paper, erasing until it rips, then losing interest and staring into space. He actually looks kind of sick.

And he gives up and raises his hand when suddenly, his skinny body lurches, and he grabs the desk with both hands. He opens his mouth and vomits chunky, reddish goo down the front of his hoodie, and then he seems to realize he's puking all over himself and starts puking on his test.

The puke is mostly wet and doesn't seem to have a lot of food in it, but I think he had cereal for breakfast. But I've never seen puke so bright red, and I want to know what it is. It's not really the same color as blood, but since he's Gothy, people must think that suits him because I can hear someone saying, "Wow, the Goth freak really does drink blood!" Most people are just saying "ew." Some are staring, but most are looking pointedly away.

Clutching his stomach, he retches a few final times and then weakly raises his hand, but the teacher already sees. She looks really grossed out or maybe just irritated as she writes him a pass to the nurse's office and tells the class to settle down.

I'm staring at his puke with morbid fascination, and I want to ask why it's so red, but all I can say is, "Cool," which can't be the right thing to say either.

"It's not," says Alexander in a small voice as he takes Mrs. Haig's pass. I try to get a look at his face, but he never makes eye contact.

If I were him, I'd be so embarrassed I'd die.

His backpack is dark green, worn-out, and has writing all over it, but I can't read any of it because he slings it over his slumped shoulders too quickly.

As he retreats, walking with his head down, I look at his test paper, and it's all covered in puke except for his name, scrawled in his tiny, sloppy handwriting: Alexander Little.

And I know I've found a new friend.