Before I fully realized it, it was time for the first real day of school. And despite my general disdain for Oly, some of her rantings had taken hold in my head, so I was having a minor freak out at being placed with a group of criminals and drug addicts. On the other hand, my logic reminded me, the idiot freshmen with me hadn't seemed to be any sort of threat whatsoever. So maybe this wouldn't be the problem that I (with the help of Oly) was making it out to be.
Oly seemed terribly reluctant to allow me down into the basement once we got to school. She finally let me go, glancing around to be sure no one would see me, after I promised to return surface-side for lunch and eat with her, to assure her that my virtue was safe. She smacked me for that editorial comment, but it was worth it.
My first reaction to the full load of students in the basement was, 'This is a shit load more than seventy'. My second thought was, 'They look just like everyone I've gone to detention with. This isn't so bad.'
It figures that even my thoughts can jinx me, I've always been lucky that way. Because right as that second thought crossed my mind, there was a scream of, “I'M GOING TO FUCKING KILL YOU!” from the other side of the atrium, and a scrawny boy took off after another scrawny (although taller) boy, wielding a chair above his head. I spotted Damon, standing awkwardly with the others from orientation, and noted absently that while they appeared terrified of the chair-wielding boy, and the situation in general, they were the only ones. In fact, a number of the crowd of students hadn't even turned to the upraised voice, while the others were cheering one or another of the two boys on, and there was a small group against the far wall which seemed torn between laughter and burying their heads in shame.
Hm, thought I, this is quite the interesting reaction. Perhaps I shall discuss it with them for the sake of studying human behavior.1 In any case, it would get me further away from my fellow fresh meat, and therefore further away from being lumped in to the same category as the idiots.
The boy who had been chased had returned to the group against the wall, pouting at the ones who were still laughing. He'd probably be a good place to start. “Any reason why,” I drawled2, “That kid was going to 'fucking kill' you?” Perfectly measured blend of sarcasm and curiosity.
“Nah, Ray's just fucking crazy,” answered one of the others, a girl who looked rather like a bulldozer with bleached hair. “One time, last year, he went after Ike with a shovel.” She paused for a moment, as if considering something. “Granted, everyone gets the urge to attack Ike with a shovel at some point or another...”
“I haven't!” cried the boy who'd been chased, pouting.
“Um, duh, Cameron, you and Ike are two made of the same crazy mold,” another girl – this one tall and scary – said, before popping some candy in her mouth.
Rather than become annoyed, like I would have expected, Cameron just completely deflated. “Good point.”
“She does, occasionally, have them,” said the first girl, with a drawl that made my heart burn with envy.3 Then she narrowed her eyes at me. “Who're you, anyway?”
“Zack Galloway,” I introduced myself, resisting the urge to add a dramatic flair.
The girl nodded. “I'm Ell, you probably gathered that's Cameron, and this is Chloe. You a freshman?”
I nodded in response.4 Rather than give me a suspicious look, however, Ell just flipped me off without looking the least bit disturbed. I think I could like this girl – not in the 'special friends' kind of way, not the least because she had to be five years older than me, but normal kind of 'like'. Which, really, is strange enough, given the rather exclusive list it is.5
An awkward silence probably would have ensued, except I had to jump to the side to get out of the way of some guy who dived into the middle of the group, to Ell's cry of “God-fucking-damn it!”
“Ten points!” cried the guy, now laying in a heap, legs across Ell's body and head resting on a backpack. As far as I could tell, he dressed himself by rolling through a pile of clothing while wearing strips of Velcro.6 He was also wearing face paint, those little strips of black under the eyes that football players put on before games.
Ell shoved him off, glowering the entire way. “Grady, you do that one more damn time, I will rip out your guts through your nose.”
Grady smiled at her, eyes shining in a bright, vague way that made think that perhaps he was a bit high.7 “Love you too, dahling!” Then his eyes focused8 on me. “Ooh, fresh meat?” he... well, chirped.
“If you'd been here on time, you'd know, wouldn't you?” sneered Ell, who seemed to be in a snit over something.9 “His name is Zack, he's a freshman,” she added reluctantly.
“He can also speak for himself,” I pointed out dryly. In response, Ell just flipped me off again.10
“Everyone knows boys can't speak for themselves,” Chloe said mildly, from behind the heavy book she had her nose buried in. A book that was titled Serial Killer Encyclopedia.11
Grady gave her a sad, sad puppy dog look. “Really?” he whined. I almost expected him to put his head down on his hands and beg for a treat.
I couldn't see her face, but somehow I knew, just knew that she was rolling her eyes at him.
Suddenly, a shrill shriek split through the air, and I fought the urge to dive behind a pillar to hide from the oncoming missiles. Because that noise, it just had to be a projectile weapon of some sort.
Noticing my flinch, Ell grabbed me by the collar and dragged me forward. “That was the bell, genius. What class do you have first?”
I could tell she was expecting me to fumble in my pockets for my schedule, and then stutter out an answer. It was my pleasure to surprise her by coolly going, “English with Kevin.”12
She immediately dropped her grip and gave me a pitying look. “I'm sorry,” she said, voice full of mock sorrow.
I was about to ask what for – Kevin had seemed fine to me yesterday, if a bit sociopathic, – but I was cut off by an arm being slung around my neck. “Comrade!” cried Grady. “Let us brave the pits of hell together!”
Oh, fuck it, I was going to ask. “Are you on drugs?” I inquired of him, shrugging out of his hold.
“Actually, it's more a case of the drugs not kicking in yet,” he said cheerfully, winking at me.13 “Don't worry, they'll kick in within the next twenty minutes, and then I shall be back to my usual brilliant self.” There was a snort from the direction Ell had gone, but Grady completely ignored her.
Kevin's room was... interesting. The day before, he'd shown us where all the rooms were, but he hadn't opened any of the doors, so this was my first time seeing it. One wall was all Plexiglas, although parts were blocked by bookcases and posters. There was one lonely lamp that appeared to be the source of all light in the room – Kevin, it seemed, was against the buzzing of the florescent overhead lights. I couldn't blame him for that, that noise was annoying as fuck.14
The posters were all student-made, for various books they'd had to read. One on the feminist vs. general reading of The Lottery was right next to a version of Dante's Inferno using analogies within the school.15
There were two tables, end-to-end, in the middle of the room, with the teacher's desk at one of the ends. There was another table in the corner next to the door, this one with two ancient computers perched atop it; and finally, there was a table against the Plexiglas wall and another across from it, against that wall. The tables were all of a uniform size and type, but the chairs looked like they had been stolen from various buildings in the general vicinity: there were three blue plastic chairs, a big fluffy desk chair that had seen better days, two wooden chairs with red fabric covering hard cushions, and three plastic white chairs. There was also one of the combined desk/chairs that were common in normal schools, but it was shoved into and facing a corner, so I was thinking that it was probably the rough equivalent of the dunce chair.
Grady immediately claimed the fluffy desk chair, smug look on his face as one of the kids who entered behind us cursed him out for getting there first. The smug look left after a few seconds, as he settled himself in and apparently fell asleep.
Leaving me standing around awkwardly, and actually perhaps hoping for one of my fellow freshmen to be in the class, because then at least I wouldn't be the only one with no idea what I was doing. And I'd definitely be the coolest of that set.
“Just sit down,” snapped one of the guys who'd shuffled into the room and was evidentially annoyed with me standing there. I immediately dropped to the ground where I was, crossed my legs in Indian-style, and gave him an innocent look.16
My first sign that this was not going to be anything like any of the schools I'd ever been to was that, in response, I got kicked in the side. And all that the teacher, who'd entered the room around them, said was, “Alex, stop tenderizing the freshmen.”
“Don't you mean terrorizing?” Grady asked, awake again – if he'd been asleep at all in the first place.
From there on out, it was like the normal first day of school – filling out surveys on our interests, going over the plan for the class17, et cetera et cetera. Only with more cursing, physical violence, and crude suggestions. It was kind of like what I imagined heaven to be, if heaven weren't the epitome of boring.
I was issued a copy of Frankenstein to begin reading – according to the syllabus, I would get a point for every twenty pages I read.18 That was nice, because that meant I could get an eighth of English credit by the time I had class the next day – I have no problems reading, and thanks to the lack of social interactions, I have long since developed the ability to speed read like nobody's business. Of course, I also had to write a paragraph of 'journaling' after each twenty pages. But given some of the writing I'd taken in from the posters, I wasn't going to have to put too much thought into the paragraphs. Yes, this alternative education thing was going to be awesome, I decided. Hell, maybe I could even graduate by the time I was fourteen!
...or maybe not, I amended my thoughts as my next class started. More like, I'll finish everything but math by the time I was fourteen, and then I'd hang around another four years trying to finish Geometry. Math is not my forte.19
Plus, Damon-the-music-guy was in my class, and taking the same course I was. Which, in the mind of the math teacher, meant that we should totally start a project together. Math project. Christ, I thought, ignoring the fact that I was blaspheming.20 Why did math have to be necessary? Wasn't like I was planning on going into engineering or anything that would use more than basic probability and statistics.21
Third period was science, which Grady also appeared in, although he was working on physics with a mad gleam in his eye, not biology like I was. Chloe was also in there, biology book in front of her and a very, very blank look on her face, like she was trying to steel herself to actually open it and work. This class was even smaller than the other two I'd been in so far – other than me, Chloe, and Grady, there were two quiet girls in the corner playing with hamsters22, and a guy who was probably a junior or senior who was up at the white board, practicing his graffiti form with dry erase markers.
“Those are Hope and Amy, and that's Tom,” Grady introduced for me, as he was the only one who seemed to even care that I was in the room. The teacher, Bert, seemed to be completely oblivious from where he was sitting on the ground near his desk, fiddling with bits of wire and covered in electrical cords and papers, along with bits of machinery. Even Grady didn't appear to care for very long, instead elbowing Tom out of the way of the white board so that he could fill up the blank space with what I was guessing were formulas related to physics – or he could have been playing Scrabble. It all looked the same to me, really.
Chloe finally decided to give up the ghost, and opened her book in a depressing manner, grimacing at the words within. I could sympathize, given that I'd just escaped from the lair of mathematics.23 But science wasn't as bad as math, to me. Of course, all I could remember related to biology was the fact that plants have cell walls and animals just have membranes, so that way we can move.
Thankfully, the course wasn't structured so that you had to know even that much before starting it. The book explained everything in excruciating detail, like it was written for brain-damaged three year olds. Did I say thankfully? I mean annoyingly. Now I could fully understand the look on Chloe's face.
I had forth period with Bert as well, but the class was worryingly titled 'Group'. Near the end of third, I pulled Grady aside and demanded he inform me what this 'group' thing was.
“Oh man, you got Bert for group?” he asked, eyes wide from fear, or sympathy, or maybe drugs. “I feel for you, bro. Ray's in your group.”
“The psychopath with the chair?”
“That's the one. Group is when you sit around with people of your own gender and general age group, and talk about your problems. Or do your homework. And on Fridays people come in and talk to everyone to try and entice us to become soldiers or car mechanics.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “Or maybe car mechanics in the middle of Iraq. It's all very confusing.”
“I get the feeling that a lot of things are confusing for you,” I replied sarcastically.24
Grady gave me a look that made me feel a bit like I'd kicked a puppy, but come on. He left himself wide open, what was I supposed to do? Then, suddenly, he smirked, and I realized that the kicked-puppy look had been completely fake. Hm. What was this strange feeling? Was it... grudging respect? Such an odd feeling to have in regards to any member of the teenage race...
Forth period was, indeed, the hell that I had assumed it would be, from Grady's apprehension. Completely independent of anyone else's opinion, I determined that Ray really was a complete psychopath. And the least cool kind, the super-whiny type who thinks he's the coolest ever, and is actually the most annoying ever. Plus, Damon was in there, and between my attitude towards him yesterday and during math class earlier, he'd gone the way that most people do, and seemed to despise me immensely.
There were, of course, others in the room. But Bert seemed to be just as together as he had been the class before,25 so I just found a corner and started in on Frankenstein.
Which was actually pretty good, to my surprise. I generally wasn't a fan of clever literary techniques like the story-within-a-story, and my experience with anything Frankenstein began and ended with Young Frankenstein.26 I might even have to thank Kevin for having me read this.27
Finally, however, it was lunch, and I realized that I had survived half of my first real day of high school, in amongst the stoners and slackers and psychos.
1Plus, a teacher had taken the chair wielding boy into another room, one she had shut the door to, so the entertainment was over for now.
2Not nearly as impressive as I wished it would be, since I was raised entirely in the city and am not too familiar with either the West or the South, where drawls originate.
3Okay, not really, or not even close, but it sounded cool.
4With added head tilt, so that people would know I was just mockingly using the same response as Ell had.
5There were many people that I loved, of course, because despite what might be often assumed about me, I am human and do love my family, all the distant and fucked up branches of it. But I didn't feel the same urge to like or want to spend any time with everyone I was related to, so the list of those I like is limited to Dad, Max, Kit, and Otto. Melissa almost makes the list, but she's too mom-like.
6That, actually, would be pretty awesome. I should look into it...
7On the other hand, he could just be another Petey. That kind of person doesn't need drugs (or heresy) to be stoned.
8Well, sort of focused.
9Something, in this case, being Grady.
10I took a moment to wonder exactly how strong her middle finger happened to be, since this seemed to be her reaction to everything under the sun.
11I wondered whether to be worried, amused, intrigued, or a bizarre combination of all.
12Like I hadn't memorized my schedule two minutes after it had been printed out.
13I was vaguely creeped out.
14Which brings up the question, exactly how annoying is 'fuck'?
15There was also a large, large poster entitled 'The Emu Raptor Conspiracy', but I made a conscious decision to not read that one, no matter how bored I might become.
16So I'm a smartass. We're, what, surprised by this?
17This took a bit longer than it would elsewhere, since everyone in the room had a different syllabus.
18A quarter of credit was about forty points, maybe a few more or less depending on the class.
19Once upon a long, long time ago, it had been. I'd been good, if not prodigy-level, in math, but then my teacher decided that I shouldn't be allowed to drum my fingers on the table absent-mindedly while I was working on various problems, because she decided that I was counting on them. I so wasn't, it was just an outlet for my rather extreme ADHD issues.
20I'm not religious even in the vaguest sense. But my grandmother is a devout Catholic, and tends to get this very disappointed look on her face whenever we use the Lord's name in vain.
21Also known as the one topic in mathematics that I actually like.
22Their own, if the portable cages made to look like school buses were anything to go by.
23And doom, but that's sort of implied by the 'mathematics' part. And I would never, ever want to be redundant or repeat myself.
24Look, I've said it before, and I have no doubt I will say it many more times: I'm a jackass.
25That is, not in the least.
26Roll, roll, roll in ze hay!
27 Or not. Thanking people has the unfortunate side effect of both inflating their ego, and making them think that you liked them or respected their opinion.