Despite my best efforts, my eyes begin to water and my nose starts to run. I start sniffling like crazy.
A thick folder thumps down on Mr. Bowman’s desk in front of me and I look up, startled. I stare into the most brilliant green eyes, the most handsome face. He’s got a two-day-old beard and I concentrate on his lips as he talks. “Can you let Bowman know that’s from me?”
I nod yes, like an idiot. He shoots me a grin and my eyes travel down to his leather jacket and then his hands, where tattoos peek out from under his sleeve. I look back up again, but he just turns away and walks off, his biker boots thudding on the cracked field floors.
What the hell is a guy like that doing in a high school? Probably a narc.
He stops just before turning to leave the outer office and talks to someone. Mr. Bowman peeks his head inside and looks at me.
Then the tattoo guy looks over at me too. What the hell? Definitely a narc.
Mr. Bowman smiles, shakes his hand, and then walks over to me as the biker guy leaves. “OK, well, I did not work a miracle, Shannon. But I did call the alternative school down on Gilbert. That’s where you’ll need to register for science and math.”
Oh, my God. This is really happening. I have to go to night school.
“Your science class is on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, but you need to get down there today and pre-register. If they don’t have enough students before the first day, they cancel the teachers and it’s tough getting kids to show up first semester, let alone the second one. We’ve arranged an exception for your trig class. You are the only student.”
“I worked very hard to get you that class, Shannon.”
I look up at Bowman, feeling a little ashamed. “Sorry. And thank you.” But I’m still about to cry over this.
“Now, can you get a ride from your…” He looks down at my folder on his desk. “Brother?”
“Brother-in-law,” I correct him.
“Right. Can he take you over to Gilbert for registration after school today?”
I shake my head and look at my shoes.
“Can you ask him?”
I shake my head again.
“Why can’t you ask him?”
“He’s at work all day and he can’t take off for me.”
“Can you take the bus?”
“Bus?” Is he kidding? “I come from a small town in Ohio, OK? I took the bus once last year when I lived in San Diego. My best friend and I were trying to go to the mall, but we ended up in Rancho Bernardo. That’s a lot of miles in the opposite direction of Fashion Valley Mall, in case you’re wondering.”
Mr. Bowman laughs. “Well, Gilbert School is straight down Lincoln Avenue. No transfers or anything. Just get on outside the school and get off at Gilbert Street.”
I say nothing and just keep looking at my shoes.
“Can you do that, Shannon? Will you go register today?”
“Maybe I don’t need to graduate.”
“You do. You need to graduate and go to college. You’re bright, Shannon. Don’t throw your life away because you have a few challenging months ahead of you.”
The bell rings so I grab my backpack and stand up, one hundred percent defeated. “Do I at least get to sit out PE?”
“It’s this period, and yes. I put you in the modified class. They meet out at the picnic tables next to the bleachers.”
“Thanks,” I mutter, pushing my way past Taking Back Sunday.
“What?” I say, looking into Sunday’s dark eyes as he stares back.
“Happy birthday. Welcome to eighteen.”
After going into the bathroom to smoke and calm down during the class break, I make my way over to the gym. There’s a bazillion other students waiting to get into the field and people are touching and jostling me as we wait. “What the fuck is going on?” I mutter to myself.
A short girl, who I recognize from the arcade across the street from the high school, smiles at me and starts talking in Spanish.
I scowl at her. “I’m not fucking Mexican.”
“Oh,” she says. “Sorry.” And then she realizes she should be offended by my tone, if not my words, and mutters something else in Spanish which I can only conclude is, Bitch.
Well, they’ve got me pegged. First day of the new semester and I’ve thrown a fit in the counseling office and insulted someone’s culture. I’m going to hell for that last one.
Someone finally unlocks the gate that leads to the athletics field and people start moving forward. The offended girl pushes past me and disappears.
Good going, Shannon. I didn’t mean it to come out so rude, but I’m still upset about my counseling session. So yeah, it was rude. But I’m not used to people speaking another language. I’m from Ohio. No one spoke Spanish in my high school there. We had three nationalities—German, Polish, and Italian. And no one spoke any of those languages either. California has been one long string of culture shocks.
Here at Anaheim they have two major ethnic groups—Filipino and Hispanic. White people are few and far between. On my first day of school last month they had announcements in Tagalog and I seriously thought I was still high from the night before, that’s how dumbfounded I was.
I’ve gotten used to it though. Plus, it helps keep me on the outside and I like being on the outside. There are gangs here like crazy, and girls regularly beat the shit out of each other in the bathrooms.
No one even looks twice at me. Not one of them has ever come up and started shit. Which is more than I can say for my experience in San Diego. Those girls were intense. And that was a rich snobby school. Jill, my sister, was dating a Navy guy at the time and we were living in military housing attached to a wealthy neighborhood. So we had all kinds there. I had to use my tough card more than once.
But here, I’m ignored. Completely, one hundred percent ignored.
I scan the field for the picnic tables, find them, and wander over. “Hey,” I say to the two girls sitting on the bench. The Hispanic one has those crutches that attach to the arms. Her legs are bent in a weird way. The African-American one is wearing the thickest coke-bottle glasses I’ve ever seen and she’s holding a white cane between her legs, so I can only conclude she’s legally blind. “I’m Shannon. Is this the modified class?”
They both smile at me, the blind girl squinting. “Yeah,” the one with the arm crutches says. “I’m Mary and this is Josie. Those guys over there are Lewis and Albert.”
Lewis and Albert don’t have recognizable disabilities, and they don’t even acknowledge me, so I ignore them back. “Is this it?” I ask, looking around.
“This is it,” Josie says. “Why are you in here? We haven’t had a new student in… what?”
“Two years,” Mary says.
“Oh,” I say, pointing to my leg. “Bad knee. I faked the excuse, actually. I just don’t want to sweat during school, if you know what I mean.”
They both laugh and I take a seat next to Mary. “So what do we do? Do we have a teacher?”
“Oh, Mr. Fowler is always late. Sometimes he never even shows up.”
“Really?” I get a little excited as I wonder how much that happens. I could skip and go hang out at the arcade.