Post by amyk on Jan 31, 2017 16:07:18 GMT -5
Chapter 1 – Friday, May 27th
“You can do this! You can make it!” Emily puffed to herself.
Her lungs burned as she urged her stubby legs from the light jog she had maintained for the past seven blocks into a full sprint for the final one. The enormous canvas tote bag on her shoulder slammed uncomfortably into her right hip with each stride. Her backpack felt like an anchor dragging her down.
She heard the bus engine rumble to life and the doors’ hydraulics hiss in release as they closed. “Oh no!” she choked out through ragged breaths. Emily didn’t need to turn the corner to know how late she was. “Wait!” she called out. But her voice was too small, caught in her dry mouth.
She swallowed as the 6:50am bus pulled past the intersection ahead of her and finally bellowed “NO!” The passengers on the bus turned to look through the windows at her. She plopped onto the cement in disgust.
“Don’t freak out! Do not let this ruin your day! It’s just a bus. It’s just one late day,” she mumbled to herself between gasps. Emily mopped her sweaty forehead with the back of her hand as she let her heart rate slow.
She tried to catch her breath some more. “Since I have a twenty minute wait for the next bus there’s no need to pick myself off the ground just yet,” she thought as she lounged back on top of her bags.
Soon a business-suit clad commuter, distracted by his phone, narrowly avoided trampling her on his way to the subway steps. He spilled some of his coffee and glared at her. He was clearly annoyed and Emily was about to apologize, but his expression turned into a leer. That was when she realized the tote bag had shifted her skirt up with each running step she took in her attempt make the bus on time. Now her baby blue spring uniform skirt was bunched up on her hip, giving the man a nice view of her polka dot briefs.
She yelled “Perv!” at his back before he was completely swallowed by the crowd heading down into the dirty depths. Then Emily adjusted her skirt, stood up and dug out her chemistry book to study for her upcoming exam.
Emily walked into her first class and handed her late slip to the teacher, before steering over to her best friend. Jenny handed her a copy of the review packet that everyone worked on in groups.
“What’s that about?” Jenny inquired, pointing at the extra-large bag Emily placed at their feet. Emily kicked it. “I decided at the last minute to go to my Dad’s new place for Memorial Day weekend. This freaking bag is way too big for my locker. Needless to say I’m regretting my decision already.”
Jenny crinkled her blue eyes and admitted with a chuckle, “I thought I saw you collapsing in a heap on the sidewalk as the bus pulled away.”
Emily swatted Jenny on the arms with the papers. “You could have asked the driver to wait.” She retrieved a pen from her backpack and explained, “It took me so long to decide what to pack this morning because I waited until the last minute to make up my mind to go. And then my bag was heavy, so that slowed me down. And then some middle-aged guy saw my underwear. So it hasn’t exactly been the best morning ever.”
Jenny’s expression softened to a look of genuine concern. “Cheer up Em. I’m sure it won’t be so bad this weekend. Now tell me how exactly some man saw your undies?!” Emily looked over the sheets on her desk. “How about we work on question two and I’ll tell you about my peep show at lunch.”
By lunchtime Emily was in a better mood. It was difficult not to be on such a beautiful day. As she strolled across campus, she thought that spring was the most gorgeous season at Notre Dame Academy.
Located high on the hill above Silver Lake on Staten Island, NDA offered a view of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge glimpsed between the mansions surrounding it. The school was composed of a number of buildings, some of which were converted from stately old homes. It felt more like a college campus than a high school, and that was the main reason Emily fell in love with it when she toured it back in 7th Grade. The moment she laid eyes on NDA, she knew this was where she wanted to be. And a day like today, near the end of her sophomore year, reaffirmed that choice.
Today she noted that the large expanse of lawn in front of the library building was lushly green and edged by magenta azaleas, azure hydrangea and golden forsythia bushes. Small clusters of girls spread out over the grass picnicking; some enjoyed the sun while others lazed about in the cool shade offered by a few scattered old trees on the perimeter.
Occasionally, boys cutting class from the local high schools or college guys home early for summer break, drove by to check out the view. They ignored the span of blue-grey bridge across the swiftly moving, white-capped water and instead they craned their necks to see over the bushes to hoot and honk at the girls.
The nuns, priests and lay teachers periodically strolled by the lawn on patrol. They clucked that the girls were not at the beach sunbathing. They chastised anyone that had their skirts rolled up too high and reminded everyone that should blouses get knotted up to expose midriffs, detention slips and a phone calls home would be dispatched.
Settled under the shade of the weeping willow, the girls went about their lunch in familiar tranquility. Emily read a textbook while Jenny braided Evie’s thick chestnut curls to help her escape the heat of the day. Across from them, Anna munched on her sandwich. Alex worked on an article for the school paper as she twirled her nose ring and chewed her pencil.
Emily closed her text and dropped it with a loud thud, interrupted the lull they had fallen into. “The only thing that really sucks about this time of year is studying for Regents and finals,” she sighed and stretched. “Ugh! I need a break from it! Chem has just about killed my average this year. I’ll be thrilled if I end up with a B- and I hope it doesn’t mess up my shot of getting into Yale.”
She rubbed her eyes and pulled a novel out of her backpack. Anna finished off the last bites of her sandwich and asked, “What are you reading now Em?” She took the book from Emily’s hand. Emily warned, “Don’t lose my page and don’t get mayo on it!”
Anna turned the paperback over. She read the back cover and feigned shock, “Surprise, surprise… Game of Thrones. You really love all that fantasy and sci-fi stuff, huh?” Anna dog-eared the page and tossed the book back to Emily.
Jenny joked, “She’s waiting for a knight to drive by and sweep her away in his Mustang. Maybe Geoffrey…”
Emily’s long-standing crush on an older boy from her neighborhood was a common topic amongst them. Missing her morning dose of crush was part of Emily’s annoyance at being late today. The one thing she looked forward to during the packed commute was the opportunity to see Geoff, who attended one of the all-boy schools on the Island.
“Let me remind you all what happened the last time he spoke with me.” Emily crossed her eyes at her friends. “When Geoff asked,” she deepened her voice a few octaves, “Hey, what’s up?” She switched back to her own voice. “My mind went completely blank. So I stammered incoherently for a minute… Uh ah um duh… There may have even been some drool too. Until I finally came up with the completely nonsensical response - Good, thanks.”
She buried her face in her hands. “I sounded like a total imbecile!” She vividly remembered how she stumbled past him in mortification. “And then my ears turned red and I pushed through the crowded aisle to hide in the back of the bus.”
The fact that the one and only boy she kissed (in the dark at dance earlier in the year) happened to be one of Geoff’s friends, added to the nightmare. Emily didn’t even want to kiss that boy, whose name she can’t remember. She just wanted to kiss any boy to get her “first kiss” over with because everyone else she knew had already been kissed.
The humiliation was because the kiss was not good; in truth it was awful. It was sloppy, awkward and involved teeth smacking into each other. She thought it pretty much guaranteed that word would get back to Geoff that she was a bad kisser. It didn’t matter that the other half of the bad kiss was the nameless boy’s fault. He would never report how terrible he was at it and Geoff would never want to kiss her. She was sure of it.
Thinking about it made her stomach queasy so she changed the subject.
“Anyway, who wants to read about real life?” she asked hypothetically and then continued, “That’s way too boring. My life is at least. Chemistry finals, crushes, Improv Club and washing the dinner dishes… Snooooze. Of course I’d rather read about dystopian societies or alternate realities where their problems seem so much bigger than my own. I’d rather imagine terrifying things like White Walkers instead of my very real fear of not getting into Yale, or worse, getting accepted but without enough scholarship to afford it.” She looked down and picked at her cuticles.
Evie groaned, “Whomp, whomp, whoooomp… thanks so much for depressing us all on this fine spring day, Debbie Downer.” Anna wagged her finger at her. “Are you turning 15 in two weeks or 50?! You’re too young for even a quarter-life crisis Emily Louise!” she scolded. “Ooooh first and middle name,” Evie and Jen joked in near perfect unison.
“Sorry,” Emily rolled her eyes, “I’ve been told more than a few times that I’m an old soul.” She smirked. “I don’t think your taste in old-people music and skipping the 8th Grade makes you an old soul Em… just a wise-ass,” quipped Jenny. Emily stuck her tongue out at her. “That’s more like it! Release your inner child!” Jenny encouraged and offered Emily a middle-finger to continue to lighten the tense mood. “That’s why you’re my best friend Jen. You call me on my crap,” she said now truly smiling.
Alex, who had been uncharacteristically quiet until that moment, added, “In my opinion, people have always preferred illusion over reality. Even every major religion began because people didn’t understand the realities around them. So they created illusions and myths to help them process the cruelties of the world and make life more palatable.” Emily pointed at Alex and emphatically declared, “And that’s why I love you Alex!”
Evie stood up to brush the grass from her legs and said “I hate to break up this party and our scintillating conversation, but lunch is over. Save some of your brain cells and those philosophical musings for Morality class.” Anna suggested, “Maybe Father Deo will let us have class in the rose garden to discuss St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.”
“Well, we can spend at least half the period trying to convince him,” Jenny added brightly. “Hey Em, you never filled me in on the panty gawker from this morning. Why don’t you re-enact it for us on our way to the chapel?”
At the end of the school day, Emily and her friends walked downhill towards the back lakeside exit of campus. Use of cell phones while on school grounds was prohibited. So the moment every girl stepped outside of the gates, they pulled out their phones. Notifications, chimes and dings were music to the teenaged girls’ ears.
Emily said her goodbyes to Anna, Evie and Alex as they split up towards their respective bus stops. Jenny hung back with Emily while she put her bags down beside the old stone wall that surrounded their school and checked her phone.
She read the text from her father. Be there at 4.
“Wonderful,” she growled through gritted teeth. “What’s wrong?” Jenny asked.
“My freaking Dad – that’s what!” Emily exploded. “He said he would get out of work early to pick me up and insisted that I wait at school because it would be easier for him on his commute back home. Meanwhile, it’s probably because he doesn’t want to see my Mom. And now he’s not going to be here for an hour and a half. I could have gone back home in that amount of time and then I wouldn’t have had to lug this bag around all day. It’s so typical of him!” She leaned against the wall.
Jenny knew Emily wasn’t only upset about waiting for her Dad. She planted herself beside Emily and remained silent.
Emily kicked the wall with her heel. “You know… I thought I was close to John. We went through so much together while our parents’ marriage went down in flames. I thought we forged an unbreakable bond. And he is only two years older than me, so when I started NDA, I imagined we would hang out even more since we were both in high school…” She dug her nails into the lichen covered stones behind her back. “But the fact that he never even told me that he was thinking about leaving. To wake up and find that he just wasn’t in his room that morning. All he left was that lame note...”
John had also left their shattered mother, Maggie, who Emily picked up from the floor. Emily felt so betrayed and didn’t speak to her brother for eight months. For the past two months they only exchanged a few phone calls and texts, but they never discussed anything outside of few minutes of small talk during them.
Jenny bumped her shoulder into Emily’s. “You don’t have to address everything this weekend. Just try to have fun. I follow your brother on Instagram, so I’ve seen his friends and your Dad’s pool… at least you’ll have a nice view to admire,” she wiggled her eyebrows suggestively at Emily.
When Emily didn’t bite on the subject, Jenny changed it. “So get this… my sister actually invited me to go to that party with her tonight. Since you’re ditching me for the long weekend and everything I figured I may as well go.”
Emily was genuinely surprised. Jenny’s older sister Charlotte was very popular and never invited them to hang out with her friends. Jenny was cheerful and funny, but much shyer than her sister. She gravitated towards Emily’s crowd of intellectuals and theatre friends, while Charlotte hung out with the athletes and student government types. In fact, Emily’s crush Geoff was part of the same crowd as Charlotte.
“Really?! Whoa that’s pretty huge!” Emily couldn’t disguise her shock. “I’ll look forward to a full report via text or phone call tomorrow. And if Geoff is there I definitely expect you to stalk him for me and give me all the details on what he wore and how he looked. I wouldn’t object to a sly photo or two if you can manage it.” Emily joked.
Jenny laughed. “Yeah sure, let me look like a full on creeper for your benefit. That will definitely get me invited to the next party.”
They hugged goodbye and Emily settled down on top of her tote bag. She put in her earbuds in to listen to The Beatles as she watched her first genuine best friend walk away toward their usual bus stop.