Caroline Upton’s Dream:
Not very long after I learned to tie my shoes, I would keep adding knots to my laces until, by the end of the day, they were a tight little ball at the top of my sneakers. And they would be wet, of course. I couldn’t seem to avoid puddles, even on dry days.
My mother wouldn’t let us come into the house with our shoes on. We had to stop in the foyer, kneel on the mat and take off our shoes. That was the rule because Mom worked hard to keep the carpets clean. She vacuumed every day. When we came home, before we had a chance to mess up her efforts, the plush on the carpets would have neat lines from the vacuum. They reminded me of those oriental rock gardens I saw in The National Geographic, the ones with the careful designs etched into the sand.
Under the bench in the foyer, we each had our pair of indoor slippers. “Take off your outdoor feet!” Mom would yell from the couch when we entered. “Off with the out, on with the in!” she would say to us, even my father. A lot of times, instead of hi, the first thing we said was the house motto: “Off with the out, on with the in!”
I would say it, too, when I was six or seven, but then I would be stuck there in that hallway, trying to get my sneakers off. Between the wetness and the tangle of the knots, they seemed to suck onto my feet. My sisters and my brother would take seconds to switch from their outdoor feet to their indoor feet. They’d have their snack and already be watching a t.v. show when Mom would come to me and say, “Did you do it again?” I didn’t want to look up at her, didn’t want her to see my tears. I just kept picking away at the knot.
Second period, sitting in Spanish with Senora Backus telling us how to conjugate the verb crear, to create, I rest my hand on my abdomen. I know I’m imagining it. It’s too soon to actually feel anything, yet I think of that impossible mess of laces on the top of my sneakers. I swear I can feel something like that inside me, getting tighter, getting more complicated. Heat builds behind my eyes, and Senora Backus’s voice sounds a little like my mother’s when she used to kneel beside me and hiss, “When are you going to learn?”
Mom would sigh and dig into the task of untying my laces. Sometimes she needed a fork to pry into the mass, to make a little space between the strings so she could sort out what I had carelessly created. I was gone to her then. I was just the weight attached to the project. I could smell her musky perfume. Sometimes strands of her hair would tickle my cheek, but I knew enough not to laugh, not to make any noise.
The period is almost over. Signora Backus uses her flowery, cursive writing on the white board to give us our impossibly-long assignment for tomorrow. Behind me, Dennis Johnson says, “Mierda.” I feel a tug inside me. The bell rings; everyone gets up to leave. I bend down, pretending to rub something off the toe of my shoe so I can lift up my shirt and look down the front of my jeans to see if something is moving under the skin. Of course, nothing is, but as I stand back up, I feel another movement deep in my abdomen. It’s not painful, just weird, like something is shifting down there.
The feeling continues through algebra and English--this stirring inside me. I know I must be imagining things; I only did the test three days ago, and Alan and I had our night together only two weeks ago, so there’s no way I could actually be feeling it. Him. Her. No, just it. I can’t be feeling it move at this point. The sensation is so distracting, though, that I can’t each lunch.
In humanities I fall asleep for a few seconds. I dream that my mother has a fork and she’s digging away at the knot inside me, whispering, “You did it again, didn’t you? When are you going to learn?” Mom looks up at me with a broken shoelace in the tines of her fork, her teeth bared in disgust. “Stupid!” she hisses just as I feel the strongest pull of all from below my belt. My eyes fly open. I look around. Crystal Chapman, one desk away, gives me a little smile, but nobody else seems to have noticed my head jerk. I take a few deep breaths, trying to clear the dream image from my head.
In biology, we watch a film on cell growth. I’ve seen the images before, where the single blob narrows a little before it splits into two cells, and then those two do the same thing, and then the four, and the eight and so on until the whole screen is filled with this moving froth of growing cells, dividing and dividing and dividing again.
I’m holding my breath as I’m watching. Mother has fixed the knot. She’s picked and picked at it, and now I feel her making progress. That’s what it feels like in my abdomen--as the dividing cells spread across the screen, the knot inside me loosens and unravels. The it inside me is miraculously going away, shrinking, moving in the opposite direction of the expanding cells on the biology video. And I’m not doing anything. Not seeing anyone, confessing to anyone, asking anyone to help me decide what to do. The problem is dissolving all on its own.
Last period when I go to the bathroom with another test, the little strip tells me no, I’m not. I hear my mother saying, “When will you ever learn?” and in my head I tell her, “Now, Mom. Now.”
Reality Check: Dream 24
ü Voice message left in attendance mailbox: “This is Virginia Upton, Caroline’s mother. Caroline will not be in school for the next two days, at least, because she needs to undergo a procedu…well, suffice to say she has a medical issue to attend to. I will apprise you if her absence needs to be extended. Good-bye.”
ü Number of texts from Caroline Upton to Alan Sargent during her three-day absence: 112. Number of replies: 0.
Crystal Chapman’s Dream:
Math is good. Mr. Bluthen, he’s a nice guy and not creepy or anything, but that’s not the main reason I like the class. It’s because of mastery learning. Like, if you get a bad grade on a test, you can try it again. I mean, you have to go in for some extra help and Mr. Bluthen will show you why you got certain questions wrong. He might give you some extra problems to go over, but then you can take the test again. And again. And again and again until you get enough of the questions right so you’ve achieved mastery. Then you move on to the next thing. It’s more fair. I mean, not everybody can figure things out in a certain time, can they?
So today is like that. First thing, the library door incident: Leeda is walking behind me and she sees me push against one of the double library doors. I’m totally expecting it to open. Who wouldn’t? You push on a door that’s always been unlocked before and of course you figure it’s going to be unlocked this time, so you don’t even pay attention at all until suddenly the door doesn’t open and you just walk right into it with your whole body.
You smack into it. That’s what I did. My books went everywhere. I mean, it’s like you don’t even know how much stuff you’re carrying and how many papers and folders and things you have until you drop them and suddenly it’s like a whole office full of junk is spread out for miles around you. Plus, and this is a big plus, I had a jumbo cup of coffee in my hand? You get the picture. Books, papers, binders, everything, and a nice layer of coffee to top it all off. Not to mention Leeda behind me, my best friend Leeda, and what’s she doing? Laughing her head off, that’s what.
I’m thinking, great, why did I even bother getting out of bed this morning if this is how the day is going to go? A door! I’m looking like a total freak because of a door. I am smarter than a door. I just didn’t know. All I needed was one bit of information, that the door that’s always open every other day, wasn’t today. That’s all!
I’m thinking all of this, and Leeda is laughing her head off and so are some other people I don’t even know the names of (well, except for Delia Arkin. I happen to know her name and I happen to see that she thinks me spilling my books and my coffee is the funniest thing ever). I’m feeling like I just might cry, you know? When, all of a sudden, I’m thirty seconds back in time. My books and folders and binders are in my arms. My extra-large coffee is in my hand. Leeda is behind me. I’m about to walk into the library. It’s all exactly like it was when I smacked into the door except I know enough not to smack into the unlocked door. I take a quick side-step and push through the door that’s open, simple as that. When we get into the library, I turn to look back at Leeda, expecting that she’s going to at least say, “That was weird.” But she’s got a normal-as-normal-can-be look on her face, so I don’t say anything .
All day, I don’t say anything, you know? Because after I say to Leisha Parenti, “Hey, girl, why weren’t you at practice yesterday?”, I see this look on her face that says why would you even ask me that? Then I remember that she got kicked off the team because she got caught drinking and suddenly, I’m a few seconds back in time, like this little blip, not even 30 seconds, but I’m back to the moment just after seeing Leisha but just before asking her about soccer, except this time I remember not to ask her about soccer and everything stays okay.
And I don’t say anything about the do-overs because when Jake Tekdale, who is insanely gorgeous and I wouldn’t mind at all kissing him someday walks by me and says, totally sarcastic, “Nice hair” because I have my hair in a weird pony tail and I don’t say anything at all but I’m kicking myself totally for not at least saying something, anything, in reply to my idea of the perfect boyfriend. Then, all of a sudden, he’s walking toward me again but this time I know he’s going to say “Nice hair” and this time I say, “Yeah, you wish,” which is something but it’s totally stupid and I’m kicking myself again. But then I’m back in the same exact spot with him coming toward me in the same exact way, with the same exact smirk on his face and I know he’s going to say “Nice hair.” This time, I say, “Thought you’d like it,” and I hear him laugh as he’s walking away and I think, Yes!
The weird thing is, both times I get the do-overs (and overs and overs), nobody else seems to notice. They all go along like the mistake moments never happened. It’s like in math--no matter how many times I take the test, all that matters is that I eventually master it. So I don’t say anything about the blips.
It’s much less stressful, living like this. In English, Ms. Warren asks me to define abrogate which I always mix up with arrogate and irrigate and first I answer to provide water (do over) and then I answer to take without right (do over) and the third time I answer to cancel and Ms. Warren says, “Well done, Miss Chapman.” Jon Meacham--who isn’t bad and if Jake didn’t show up for the kiss Jon would do just fine--turns around and says, “Whoa, you’re on fire today, ain’t you?” I think, yeah, I am. Just give me a chance or two, Hunk, and I can always be on fire!
Reality Check: Dream 25
ü Entry in nurse’s log: “Crystal Chapman. Spilled hot coffee on herself when she ran into the library door. No burns evident. Lots of tears. Diagnosis: Bruised pride. Sent back to class.”
Delia Arkin’s Dream:
“Oh. My. God.”
I follow Morgan’s eyes, see what she’s seeing, and die along with her.
“There has got to be a law,” I say.
“Call The White House and get one made immediately. That outfit is definitely a crime.”
“A weapon of mass distraction.”
I mean, yes, this is our daily pastime, sitting in the student lounge, making comments about the fashion mistakes that go parading by every day, but this--this bright orange, off the shoulder sweatery thing combined with, I kid you not, leopard-print spandex and four-inch heels--this is a new low. If this type of thing is allowed to continue, forget climate change, forget the federal deficit, forget the next war against the next nut-job general from some country in I-don’t-know-where...letting some sophomore walk around in that will mean the end of the world as we know it, and I don’t feel anywhere near fine, thank-you very much.
“Who even makes a thing like that?” Morgan asks, and I cannot begin to give her an answer. Some Hitler of the clothing industry is all I can think. Someone who hates people and wants them to look as ridiculous as possible. I mean, sure, some loser like Michael DeGeorge walks by with his pants three inches too short, you write it off as individual stupidity. But when you see something like that orange and leopard print mess, you begin to think conspiracy.
“Morgan, Delia, Mr. Connelly would like to see you in his office.” We turn to see the secretary, who wears way too much foundation and needs some serious help dealing with the color purple, standing behind us.
“This is our free period. We’re okay to be here,” I tell at the same time Morgan says, “I signed in! I know I signed in this morning” so together we’re probably sounding like, “This I our signed free! In we’re this okay to here be morning.” The secretary holds up her hand (manicure at least a month overdo).
“I don’t know what it’s about. I am just the messenger, girls, so don’t shoot me, and let’s get going.” Morgan and I give each other an “as if” look, gather up our stuff and follow the secretary, which is a painful thing to do because the woman should not be wearing heels if she’s hasn’t been trained to use them.
Morgan whispers to me, “Giraffe on roller skates.”
“Herniated flamingo,” I whisper back.
“Morgan, Delia,” Mr. Connelly says when we’re all sitting in his office, us in the mismatched “bad student” chairs, him behind his desk in the big leather chair. “Thank you for coming down this morning.” As if we had a choice. If we’ve done something wrong, we’ve already paid for it by having to look at Mr. Connelly: his comb-over should be registered on some hair offenders list: “Children, stay away from this man.”
“We have a problem,” says Mr. Connelly.
“I signed in,” Morgan says. “I definitely remembered this morning.”
“No, that’s not the issue at all. You see, girls, school enrollment is down. Class sizes are getting smaller, and, frankly, justifying the budget gets tougher every year. As you may or may not be aware, however, we do have the opportunity to attract kids from nearby areas, as tuition students.” All this is in the “duh” category, and I’m not happy that we’re missing our prime outfit critique time. I want to tell Mr. Connelly to just hurry the hell up and get to the point, but he might take it the wrong way.
“So, long story short, we need to make our school as attractive as possible. We’re working on improvements to the facility, but it has come to my attention that our student body is not, well, very fashionable.” Morgan and I give each other our “you think?” glance. Mr. Connelly continues, “We’ve thought about adding some classes to the curriculum to help with the issue, but we couldn’t institute them until next year. We need to do something immediately. Delia and Morgan, we need your help.”
We give each other our “what the frig is he saying?” look and then turn to give Mr. Connelly our “what the frig are you saying?” look and he says, “Without question, you two have a very strong fashion sense. While it may not exactly be my place to say, the two of you look incredible every day.” While it’s definitely not his place to say, somebody had to.
“So what I’m proposing is this: The two of you spend your school day watching and advising our student body. If you see someone whose fashion sense needs altering, you point that student out, we bring him or her in, and you provide correction.”
“What about classes?” I ask.
“And homework?” Morgan asks.
“I see no problem calling your work an intensive independent study that will grant you credit in all of your courses.”
I can see from Morgan’s face that she’s about to say something really calm like, “Hell, yes!” but I give her my “hang on a second” look and say, “We’ll need a budget.”
“Understood,” Mr. Connelly says.
“And authority. What we say goes.”
“No negotiations,” Morgan adds. “Because if the shirt doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. That’s just the way it is with fashion. We can’t have whiners getting away with stuff.”
“You’re the experts; everyone knows that already.”
I lean back. I really wish our chairs we reversed right now; leaning back in one of the “bad student” chairs just doesn’t cut it.
“We’ll need an office.”
“How about this one?” says Mr. Connelly.
“With two leather chairs.”
“If you accept the job, a second one will be here tomorrow.”
We give each other our “we’re excited about this and we’re definitely going for it but let’s let him squirm for a while” look. Finally, after a long silence, I turn to Mr. Connelly and say, “Yes.” He breathes a big sigh of relief until I follow up with, “But.”
“But our authority has to extend over everybody in the school.”
Morgan catches my drift and says, “Including the adults.” Mr. Connelly narrows his eyes a little, like he’s trying to give us some sort of look, but it’s not working at all; he’s just squinting.
“Fair enough,” he says.
We sign the contract Mr. Connelly’s already got made up. “So, where would you like to start?” he asks.
“Number one,” says Morgan, “we’ve got a fashion disaster occurring in the school right now involving an orange sweater and leopard-print spandex. Have you got mug shots? We’ll i.d. the kid. I’m thinking sophomore.”
“But before we go there, Mr. Connelly, would you stand up?” He does. Me and Morgan don’t even need to give each other a look to understand the issue: from scuffed brown shoes to ugly-ass comb-over, our very own principal could run for president of the homeless society. We have taken on the toughest assignment in the whole school. We’re the girls for the job, though, the only girls for the job. We shake our heads.
“What?” says Mr. Connelly, holding out his hands as if there’s nothing wrong.
“Wow,” Morgan says.
“Oy,” I say.
We get started.
Reality Check: Dream 26
ü Total amount of time Delia Arkin spent getting ready for prom, including discussing and researching options for looks, dress-shopping, getting hair and makeup done, posing for photographs: 88 hours.