My parents told me my life would be different once I started high school but I don’t think they knew just how right they were.
It was the first day of my freshman year and like every other freshman girl, I was scared, nervous and excited to finally be in High school. I came to school in what I thought was my best outfit from the new back to school clothes my mother and I had shopped for just weeks before. But when I saw just how the upper classman girls were dressed, well, let’s just say I might as well have come to school dressed in overalls. I may have been a late bloomer but the older girls looked like they stepped right out of some heavy metal video and into the bustling halls of our high school.
I managed to find my homeroom class and took a seat as the morning bell rang. The room was full of shelves lined with math textbooks that sooner or later would be distributed to students assigned to this room. My homeroom teacher, Mr. Baldwin, called for order as the morning announcements rang out over the loud speaker in the room. The cracking voice on the other end of the microphone welcomed us all back for an exciting new school year and informed us of try-outs for such things as the track, baseball, softball, soccer and tennis teams that would be taking place over the next few days. None of these caught my interest so I scoped out the room for a familiar face despite the fact that my family had just moved to this town only a month before.
I was hoping that one of the girls I had met at the community pool two weeks ago might have been in there but since the homerooms were set up alphabetically, there was little chance of meeting anyone I knew unless their last names fell between Abbott and Bennett. Still I had hoped that someone in there would befriend me but they all seemed to know each other already and were not interested in who I was and where I came from. I sat quietly by myself as the teacher called out names to which the appropriate response always seemed to be “Here!”
“Ackland, Michael T.”
“Here!” responded a round face boy sitting with a group of others who seemed to be fawning over some gaming magazine
“Arnold, Jennifer N.” shouted the teacher who glanced over the top of his paper to see where the response would come from each time then dutifully made a mark with his pencil.
“Here!” This time the response came from a stunning blond girl in the back of the room who was far too busy checking her make-up and combing her hair to even bother to glance away from her own image in her compact. She was sitting alone too but in her case it seemed by choice because the rest of her circle were alphabetically challenged causing their brief separation. It was obvious that she would soon be meeting up with her friends in the freshman hall girls’ room for a gossip session between bells.
Names continued to be called out one by one and responses seemed to echo back as each time the teacher peered briefly over his paper and then scribbled his mark on the paper. “Bell, Abigail.”
I’m not sure why but I froze when I finally heard my own name being called out. I started to form the word “here” in my mouth when the teacher repeated “Bell, Abigail?”
I ended up eeking out a pathetic “Here” that would have been fine if it had come from a mouse hiding in the corner. The teacher, who had barely spoken a word to anyone except to call out names from his list, lowered his paper and stared straight at me.
“You’ll have to answer more clearly.” he suggested “if you wish to be heard.”
I felt my face turn red and heard members of the class laugh. I was so embarrassed. I nodded briefly and muttered “Yes sir, I will.”
During our 20-minute homeroom period, school lockers were assigned, as were pad locks. My locker unfortunately was sandwiched in between two rather proportionally challenged boys Chris Bailey and Jeff Beckley. Neither of them seemed to see me standing in between them trying to get to my own locker to attach my lock to the door.
Soon a loud bell rang out and the doors to all the classrooms erupted students into the hallway. I thought it best to try to go with the current of hall traffic that might bring me closest to my first class, American History 101.
The rush of students in the halls began to decrease and I managed to escape the pack just in time to make it into the classroom before the bell rang out again announcing that it was time to take our seats.
Once again, I found myself in a room full of unfamiliar faces but this time a few of them were of students that might have been a grade or two ahead of me. A tall woman stood in front of the class behind an old wooden desk. Her dark brown hair with wisps of gray running through it were twisted loosely into a rather large puffy bun and her black rimmed reading glasses perched on the end of her nose made her appear much older than she probably was. She had a commanding voice as she encouraged the class to get quiet quickly.
“Welcome to American History 101” she began what was obviously a well-practiced speech. “I am Mrs. Michelanti and if you are not supposed to be here, please leave now.” She paused to see if anyone would take her up on her offer to leave but everyone sat silently.
“I have a few rules in my class they may differ from some of your others, so I suggest you listen carefully.” She took a deep breath then continued “There are no bathroom visits during my class period so if you need to go, do so on YOUR time, Not mine. There is no gum chewing in my class if I should find you chewing gum, you will be forced to place it on the end of your nose until the end of the class.”
“I do not assign homework easily so when I do, I expect it to be turned in on time and properly. Reports will be typed, single spaced font size 10, and a minimum of 2 pages front and back.” She continued as she walked down the first row of desks dropping heavy textbooks on each one. The gazes of the other students were fixed on the tall dark hared woman as she returned to her desk to pick up another stack of books from her desk for distribution. “I shall send home progress reports to your parents the end of each week and they will be signed and returned or it will count as one test grade against you.”
Books continued to slam on the flat desktops almost rhythmically with her footsteps as she continued to glide down each of the six rows of student occupied desks. She continued to give out directions to the class about the kind of conduct she expected from each of us. Once all the books had been delivered to their new owners, she had just finished her lecture with “Is that Clear?” as she returned to her place behind her desk.
My fellow classmates and myself replied with a weak “Yes, Ma’am.” Which seemed to satisfy her needs for a proper response. She turned her back to the class, picked up a piece of new chalk and began to write something on the blackboard. Her handwriting was neat and perfect unlike the bun she kept so loosely in her hair that was already beginning to show signs of coming loose. Her written instructions read “Read Chapter 1 Silently – answer questions 1-5 when done.”
She placed the chalk back on the ledge beneath the board and sat down in her chair behind her desk, “Begin” she commanded as she peered at us over the frames of her glasses.
The sound of pages turning filled the room as the students in the room opened textbooks. Not wanting to find out what my fate would be had she spied me over her glasses NOT reading I too quickly opened my book and started reading “Chapter 1 – America: Land of Promise.”
The reading was slow and boring as any textbook would be but somehow the time slipped away quickly and before long the obnoxious sound of a loud bell broke the silence of the room.
“Hold onto your papers and we will discuss your answers tomorrow” shouted Mrs. Michelanti as we gathered up our few belongings and made our way back into the rushing river of students that filled the hallway.
I looked at my schedule quickly before exiting the room “Great” I thought to myself “I have PE next.” I took a deep breath and plunged myself forward out of the classroom door hoping to catch the flow of human traffic heading towards the gym and the girls’ locker room.
I managed to slip out of the stream of hustling students just in time to make it to the hallway that lead to both the boys’ and girls’ locker rooms. A sign on the door read “Report to the Gymnasium.” I looked around and found and arrow that pointed the direction to the gym and followed it. As I entered, voices, what seemed like a hundred of them, echoed in the vas open space of the room. Students were seated on wooden bleachers in masses, obviously separated by their social groups.
Near the bottom of the bleachers was a group of girls who oddly all looked similar from the length of their long straight tresses to the coordinating outfits they all wore. Jennifer Ackland, the girl I saw in homeroom, sat perched in the middle of this group still admiring her own image in the compact in her hand.
Several other groups defined who they were by their choice of fashion. There were the Geeks, who all wore button front shirts tightly buttoned until it appeared they were having trouble breathing. The “Cool Kids” who could have also appeared on America’s Most Wanted in their leather jackets despite the warm temperatures. The Preppy kids who all managed to wear various colors of oxfords or polo shirts and khaki Dockers. A small group of girls, not preppy enough for the Preppy kids, nerdy enough for the Geeks and obviously not Worthy of sitting with Jennifer and her band of followers sat on the end of the bleachers. One of them was waving frantically in my direction. At last, familiar faces.
As I walked closer I discovered it was Betsy, one of the girls from the pool. She introduced me to Ashley, Erika and Elaine. I was relieved to finally have someone to talk to. I told them about my first period class with Mrs. Michelanti and then we sat and compared schedules until…“Tweeeeeeeeeeeet!”
A long and loud whistle blew and everyone in the room fell silent. All eyes faced forward to see a short, muscular man wearing tight nylon pants and an even tighter T-shirt standing before them. The whistle dropped from his lips as he began to bark out orders. Several other PE teachers stood behind him. One of them was a blonde woman wearing a red velour tracksuit; another with short brown hair wearing a pair of blue sweatpants and a white T-shirt with the school mascot on it stood beside her. A rather heavyset man with gray hair stood beside the two women.
When the shorter man standing in front had finished with the Do’s and Don’ts of PE, he instructed all the girls in the gym to follow the 2 women into the locker room and the boys to follow the men. This all seemed rather silly because we could have just gone straight to the locker rooms instead of first gathering in the gym but who was I to argue and I did as I was instructed. We were herded like sheep back down the hallway I had recently come through and entered the dark windowless girls’ locker room.
As I entered the room, my eyes needed to adjust to the lower levels of light. Florescent lights hung over each of the rows of steely blue lockers that filled the room while small gray ceramic tiles lined the floor. At the back of the room I could see showerheads along the wall that stretched the entire width of the room. The showers lacked curtains so private showers were obviously out of the question. In the center of the locker room was a smaller room and the bright light emanating from the 3 walls of windows around it made my eyes sting to look at it. I ventured a glance inside though and discovered that it was the office of the 2 female PE teachers. There were personal effects scattered about 2 large gray metal desks and some sports equipment standing in the corners. On one of the walls there was a door that looked to be a private restroom attached to the office.
“You going to stand there all day?” a voice said behind me in a sarcastic tone.
I turned around to see Jennifer standing behind me surrounded by her group of friends who all giggled.
I was shocked to see that Jennifer had actually put away her compact and could see anything beyond the end of her own stuck up nose.
“Er, um, sorry” I replied.
“I’ll say you are,” She answered and the chuckle pack responded in their usual way. “What are you wearing?” she asked in an obnoxious voice while raising the corners of her mouth in disgust.
I looked down to examine my clothing. I didn’t see anything wrong with it so I looked back at her finally realizing that she was a good 2 inches taller than me “Just a skirt and a blouse” I responded.
By this time her friends had moved around and encircled me. I wasn’t sure what was about to happen but I knew I didn’t want any part of it. I obviously didn’t make a good first impression on this group of girls and not knowing anything about them, I certainly didn’t want to start off my first day in a new school making trouble with anyone. I looked around for a way to slip past the circle of girls. There didn’t seem to be any until I heard a voice ring out “Is there a problem here Miss Arnold?”
“No ma’am” Jennifer smiled sweetly. “We’re just helping the new girl find a locker.” She grinned even wider and her friends all did the same, then she flipped her long blonde hair to one side and said “Here’s one for you, right next to mine. We are going to be such good friends.”
The PE teacher turned and walked away satisfied that Jennifer was helping me adjust to my new school but I was even more nervous now than before. Why did she want me to have the locker next to hers? Why did she think I wanted to be her friend?
I could see the PE teachers sitting in their office talking while the girls all around me started changing into their PE clothes. I started to change my clothes as well but as I prepared to unbutton my blouse, I saw that all the other girls around me were wearing bras. I was such a late bloomer and had barely started to develop yet and was no way near in need of one. As I undid the last of my buttons, one of the other girls looked my way and smirked. “Look, She’s wearing an UNDERSHIRT.” The row erupted with laughter as I clenched the front of my shirt closed again with my fists but it was too late. Girls from other rows of lockers were now peering around corners to have a peek at what was so funny.
Jennifer, who had also been laughing suddenly stopped and whispered “Shhh, the teacher’s coming.”
“What’s all this about over here?” Asked the big blonde teacher.
“Oh just girl stuff, Ms. McCoy” Jennifer answered. “Our new friend just told us a very funny joke and we couldn’t help but laugh.”
Ms. McCoy looked at Jennifer, raised her eyebrow then glanced at me. “Now is not the time to be telling jokes young lady. You need to hurry up and get changed for PE.”
“Yes ma’am” I muttered and the PE teacher disappeared back into her office. It seems that the bright lights inside the office made it hard for her to see anything that was happening in the much darker locker room. I felt less secure now knowing that.
“Come on, let’s let the little one finishing changing,” instructed Jennifer to her minions. She looked back at me “We’ll see you in the gym” then she tossed her hair once more and exited the locker room with her posse right behind her. I finished changing into my PE clothes and closed up my locker. I thought about going into the teachers’ office and telling them what really happened but thought it best just to keep my mouth shut, at least for now. I knew this was only the beginning and didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot with the teachers by complaining when it seemed like it was My word against Jennifer’s and she had all her friends to back up her story.
I left the locker room and went back to the gym. I met up with Betsy, Ashley, Erika and Elaine and they asked if I was okay. Evidently they have had their own run-ins with Jennifer and her friends in the past. They told me tales of how Jennifer had all the teachers believing that she was sweet and innocent but in reality, she was one of the meanest girls in the entire school. They filled me in on all the horrible things Jennifer had done to each of them like putting worms in their food during lunch, sticking bubble gum in their hair or starting nasty and embarrassing rumors about them.
Now that Jennifer had me as fresh meat, they warned me to keep a careful watch.
“Jennifer is capable of just about ANYTHING.” Erika warned me. “Don’t trust her, ever!”
The other girls agreed and I promised to try to stay on Jennifer’s good side but saying so and doing so were two different things. I didn’t want to become one of the Chuckle Pack that seemed to follow her everywhere but they all seemed to be immune from Jennifer’s wrath. Perhaps trying to just befriend one of them might be the way to go. I was trying to form a plan when suddenly… WHACK!
I fell forward as the large rubber ball struck me in the back of the head. I had been completely unaware that the class had started to play a game of Bombardment and I had just been tagged in the back of the head by the other team. I turned to see where the ball had come from but I could only guess that my “New Friend,” Jennifer was to thank for the pain I was now feeling.
To my surprise, as I turned I saw a good looking boy standing on the other side of the gym walking towards me with his arms outstretched and apologizing profusely.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I was aiming at that guy but he ducked.” Said the boy with the stunning blue eyes approaching me. “Are you okay?”
I was speechless. I just watched this vision approaching to talk to me and had forgotten all about the pain in my head at least for a moment. The anger that I had wanted to bestow on Jennifer for hitting me had vanished in an instant while daydreamed about this boy who was getting closer and closer to me. The sounds of the bustling gymnasium melted away as I watched him come towards me. I felt a smile grow on my face and my friends who were standing behind me gave me a quick nudge that suddenly brought the noise of gym back to me.
“Hey, are you okay? I didn’t mean to hit you.” he repeated
“Yeah, fine…. Just …fine” I managed to mumble still smiling at this dark hared handsome creature before me.
I had wanted to say more but was still at a loss for words. Just as I had mustered up the right thing to say, He got struck in the back with another ball and ran off to yell at the person from his team who hit him then he turned back towards me, smiled and rejoined the game.
“Who is he?” I asked my friends who were just as speechless as I was.
“He’s an upper classman” Betsy finally answered. “He’s a junior and his name is Mitch or something.”
I made my way to the bleachers to sit down. "I think I’m in love.’
“Well, don’t get your hopes up. Juniors don’t usually date freshmen,” said a familiar but unfriendly voice.
It was Jennifer. She must have seen the whole interaction and decided to come act on it. “Especially ones that still wear Undershirts.”
I was embarrassed because I was almost certain that she was right. What could a wonderful looking boy like that see in a late blooming freshman like me?
“You’re in luck though” Jennifer continued “You see, I just happen to know Mitch, let’s just say he’s a friend of my brother. He comes over to my house all the time and I can put in a good word for you.”
I was shocked but I guess I should have heeded the warnings that the other girls had given me right then and there but I wasn’t thinking clearly. Was it the blow to the back of the head or love, I’m still not sure but I begged for Jennifer to help me get to know Mitch a little better and to put in a good word for me. I must have been insane.
“Okay, but it will cost you.” Jennifer smirked. She must have been forming an evil plan right then and there but I didn’t know it. I was too busy watching as Mitch picked up ball after ball and struck his opponents out of the game. He moved so quickly and dodged balls that were tossed at him from every which way. It was apparent that he was an athlete.
“What do you mean 'It will cost me?” I asked unable to take my eyes off of Mitch.
“Oh, not money or anything, but you will do whatever I ask, whenever I ask or I will tell Mitch such stories about you that he would never even consider being with you.” Jennifer said.
I started to imagine what types of things she would want me to do. I figured I would be doing homework and book reports for her for the next few months and then I would off the hook. Since I have always been a good student, I figured I really wouldn’t be giving up that much.
“For how long?” I inquired.
“Until the Homecoming dance.” Jennifer answered. “If you play your cards right, maybe he’ll take you.”
The idea that Jennifer could help me get not just a date with that handsome creature but a date to the Homecoming dance was so fantastic. I would be the envy of every girl in school and it could make me very popular.
“Okay, I’ll do it.” I replied.
“Good, then we’ll start tomorrow. I’ll have a list of things ready by the end of the day that I want you to do. Meet me by my locker and I’ll give it to you then.” She ordered then she stood up and walked back to the game, picked up a ball and threw it as hard as she could at the other team. A boy on the other team was struck in the side of the head with the ball and his glasses went flying in one direction as the ball bounced off his face. Jennifer just grinned and returned to her friends who were waiting across the gym for her.
The rest of my day was pretty uneventful with the exception that I had a few classes with Betsy, Erika, Ashley and Elaine and even a few with Jennifer. During lunch period, Jennifer kept looking over at me, then whispering to her friends who would then burst out laughing. I was beginning to imagine what my life was soon going to entail and wondered whether Mitch was truly worth it. Just then, I saw him enter the cafeteria and all doubt left my mind. He was carrying his lunch tray past my table and I stared up at him. He smiled as he walked past and joined a group of his buddies at their table. He was dreamy and I was sure he was worth whatever silly little things Jennifer and her gang were giggling about.
At 3 o’clock, I found Jennifer standing by her locker alone. I was rather surprised that she didn’t bring her circle of friends with her to witness this event but I was glad she didn’t because I didn’t want anyone around to see me accept my fate.
“Are you sure you really want to do this?” Jennifer asked “There’s no backing out of it once you accept this list and I will add to it as I see fit.”
“Yes, I’m sure, just give me the list.” I said still thinking that a little extra homework wasn’t going to hurt me in anyway.
“Okay, I’ve written out some detailed instructions that you MUST follow or you have broken the deal and I get to tell Mitch anything I want to about you. Understand?”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it, just give me the list.” I argued.
“I’ll give it to you but you can’t open it until you get to school tomorrow.” She instructed as she handed me a folded piece of paper.
I took it from her and shoved it in my jacket pocket as she smiled and walked away. I wanted to take the list out again and read it but something told me that I had better wait at least until I got home to open it. I ran outside and found my mother waiting in the parking lot to pick me up.
“Hi Mom, what are you doing here? I thought you had to work until 6?” I asked.
“I took off early so that I could pick you up on your first day of school like I’ve always done. I thought we could go for some ice cream like we used to and talk about your day.” Mom had always made sure that my first day of each school year ended nice and today wasn’t going to be an exception.
“Okay, sounds like a plan” I replied as I hopped in the car and tossed my book bag in the back seat. “Where should we go?”
“There’s a place not far from here that has wonderful homemade ice cream called ‘Pop’s,’ shall we go there?” mom asked.
“Sure, let’s go.” I agreed and we pulled out of the parking lot and ended up at “Pop’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor.”
Pop’s was a really quaint little shop with red and white striped awnings outside on all the windows and inside traditional bent wire ice cream parlor chairs with seat cushions that matched the awnings and booths with shiny red vinyl seats and gleaming white table tops. A jukebox in the corner played an array of Oldies but goodies from the 50’s and 60’s. I was surprised I hadn’t heard of this place sooner because it was really a neat little place.
“What do you think of it?” asked Mom as we entered and the bell attached to the door rang to signal our arrival to the staff.
“It’s really cute I’m just surprised I’ve never seen it before.” I replied.
“Well, it’s brand new, in fact it hasn’t even officially opened yet.” Mom added.
“If it’s not open, then what are we doing here?” I questioned.
Just then a red swinging door with a big circular window in it swung open into the room and there before me stood my father in a red and white striped vest and a paper hat carrying a box full of plastic dishes.
“Dad?” I said in a shocked voice with my eyebrows raised and my jaw dropped open. “I thought you had a job as an accountant?”
“I did, I mean I do” said my father as he set the box of dishes down on the counter. “I also am the new proprietor of this fine establishment. I thought you would be happy about this.”
“I am, I am. This is awesome but what about your real jobs?” I asked.
“I’m going to keep my office job so that we have health insurance. Dad is going to keep doing Accounting but since he can handle most of his bigger clients during the day before the shop opens or in the evening after it closes, he is going to get the ice cream shop started.” Mom explained.
“And once it has really gotten going, I should be able to hire on a manager to help run it.” Dad added.
“Okay but who is going to help you until then?” I questioned.
“We were kind of hoping that you would since this is our new Family Business.” Dad injected. “Mom and I thought you would like to help out after school and on weekends until we can hire on a larger staff.”
“What do you think, Sweetie, you interested?” Mom asked.
I hesitated to answer not because I didn’t want to but because I wanted to make a few demands if I was going to be forced into working for free until they could afford to pay me.
“Okay but under 3 conditions. 1. We carry strawberry bubblegum flavored ice cream. 2. I don’t have to miss any school dances and 3. I don’t have to wear that stupid looking uniform and paper hat.”
“Well, the first two demands we can agree upon but as for the third” Dad reached under the counter and pulled out a bright red and white striped apron with an ID badge pinned to it that read ‘Abigail’ on it. “Sorry honey, company policy and health code requirement, all employees must wear something to cover their heads.” Dad said in an informative voice.
“Well, I guess I can accept those terms.” I reached out and shook my father’s hand “You’ve got a deal.”
Of the two deals I had made today, this was the sweetest.
After helping my parents lock up the new shop, we all went home for the evening. Mom made dinner while Dad went into his den to work on a few of his clients’ spreadsheets. I went to my room to have a few moments to myself. I took off my jacket and hung it on the back of my desk chair and turned on my radio. I remembered that the list was still in my jacket pocket. I knew Jennifer had instructed me not to open it before school tomorrow but I was now dying to know what kinds of stuff she had in store for me.
I walked over to my jacket and retrieved the folded piece of paper. I sat on my bed and stared at it in my hand for a moment trying to figure out how she would know if I peeked at it tonight instead of first thing in the morning. I finally gave into temptation and unfolded the note. It was folded so many times and each time in a different direction so that I had to keep turning it over and over to reveal which way to unfold it next. As I neared the last 2 fold in the paper, white powder dumped all over my lap. This was how Jennifer was going to know if I opened it early or not. She was much trickier than I had given her credit for.
I put down the paper, unread on my bed and carefully slipped off my skirt without letting any of the powder fall out of my lap. Standing there in my blouse and underwear, I gathered up the skirt and shook the powder off it into the trash can in my room then tossed the skirt into the hamper and went back to the paper on my bed. I turned it over again to read the word “Gotcha” written in bold black marker. I unfolded the paper the final time and found a list of things accompanied by a note.
“I didn’t think you would wait until tomorrow to read this so I wanted to make sure you learned a lesson for disobeying my commands. If you mess up again, the deal is off and I will make up such horrible lies about you that even your little group of friends you found won’t have anything to do with you.”
I couldn’t believe anyone could be so mean as to actually want to ruin the life of someone that was virtually a stranger to him or her and had no significant effect on them what so ever, but I also had never met Jennifer before.
I read over the list and to my surprise there wasn’t one mention of homework or book reports on it. Perhaps being a stranger was helpful because she didn’t know how smart I was and how capable I was of handling such a task. On the list however were things like wear your hair in pigtails, wear mismatched socks to school and bring a box of crayons to school. This all seemed so simple by comparison to what I had been warned against. Big deal, I mismatch my socks and wear my hair different for the day, I think I can handle that. I put the list in my desk, put on a pair of sweats and a T-shirt and went downstairs for dinner with my parents. Yumm, spaghetti and meatballs.
After dinner I went back to my room and wrote about my day in my diary until bedtime. The next morning, I got up and put on a pair of jeans, my mismatched socks that the jeans covered anyway, and a shirt. I pulled my hair up into pigtails on the side of my head and went down stairs. Mom was making breakfast: French toast and scrambled eggs. Dad was back in his den working on some more clients accounting work so no one really paid much attention to my new look.
“Mom, do we have any crayons?” I asked my mother who was too busy to look in my direction.
“Crayons? What do you need crayons for at your age?” She asked as she laid another piece of egg soaked bread onto a skillet.
“For school, I need them for Art.” I figured that would sound reasonable enough and not invoke too mush suspicion.
“If we do they would be in that drawer over there, but honestly it would be surprised me if we did.” Replied mom whose arm was outstretched pointing across the kitchen to a small cabinet next to her desk.
“Thanks Mom” I said as I rummaged through the drawer. Deep on the bottom, sure enough I found a box of crayons. Several were missing and a few others were broken but they would have to do. I tossed the box in my backpack and sat down to eat breakfast. Mom had finally looked at my hair.
“Don’t you look cute like that. I can remember when you were a little girl and I used to put your hair up like that all the time.” Mom commented. Her eyes were smiling with the memories of when I was 2 years old and ran around with pigtails in my hair and Mary Jane shoes on my feet. “Is that how the girls in your school are wearing it now?”
“Wha…huh. Oh, you mean my hair. Yeah, some of the girls are.” I answered.
“Well I think its’ precious. It’s about time kids stopped dressing older than they really are. I like it and I think you should wear it like that more often.” She replied.
“Thanks, Mom. I just might do that.” I said not sure whether it would be requested of me again any time soon. “I’ve got to get to school, Mom. I’ll see you tonight.”
Dad shouted out from his den “Bye pumpkin, I’ll see you at Pop’s after school today. Grand Opening is coming soon, I need you to help me get it ready.”
“Okay, Dad, I’ll see you there.” I shouted back to the den door as I gathered up my book bag and left for school.
Fortunately for me the school was a short walk away and Pop’s wasn’t that far from the school either. If I had to walk there from home, I could be there in 15 minutes and from school it would only take about 10 minutes.
As I got closer to school, I saw more and more kids and all of them seemed to be staring at my pigtails. I didn’t think this was going to be such a big deal but I was wrong. I wished I had a hat to hide my hair the way my pant legs were hiding my mismatched socks but even those I don’t think would have drawn as much attention.
I made it to my locker and only a handful of boys had pulled my pigtails but the result of which left them a little lopsided and uneven. I put my backpack in my locker and took out the box of crayons and went into my homeroom class and awaited Jennifer’s arrival.
As she entered the room, she stopped by my desk and looked at my hair and my box of crayons.
“Hmmm, I guess I should have been more specific but I wanted you to have the BIG crayons, you know, the ones that kindergartners use. These will have to do for today but I want you to get the others for tomorrow. Understand?”
I nodded my head in agreement.
“I thought of something else to add to your list. When I speak to you, you are not to look me in the face but to look down at your shoes and you are to address me as ‘Mommy’ and my friends are all your Aunties, do you understand?”
I looked down and nodded my head.
“I can’t hear you.” Jennifer snapped.
“Yes, I understand.” I replied.
“Yes, Who?” she demanded.
“Yes, Mommy.” I answered.
“Good, now that you know who I am, I will tell you who you are. You are my little girl and you will listen to what I tell you and do what I tell you. From now on, your name is Abbie Baby and you are only to refer to yourself as that when I or you Aunties are around.” I was suddenly getting a crash course in how mean Jennifer could be. “Do you understand me?”
“Yes.” I responded.
Her hand flew down on my desk and I jumped at the sound of it hitting. “Yes, WHO?” she said in a stern voice.
“Yes…Mommy.” I said in a choked up voice. I wanted to look up but was afraid of what she would do next if I had.
“That’s better.” She replied in a firm voice. Mr. Baldwin entered the room and Jennifer’s demeanor changed.
“I like what you’ve done to your hair, Abbie. It’s so cute,” she said as she walked across the room to her desk and pulled her compact out of her purse.
I realized just how good Jennifer was at playing the perfect teacher’s pet. All the teachers seemed to like her because she was smart, pretty and had a good family life. I don’t think any adults knew the real Jennifer, the one she revealed to her classmates.
After our 20 minute homeroom was over, I raced through the halls to my first class. American History with Mrs. Michelanti. I managed to get to the classroom a little quicker this time and found my seat long before the bell sounded. Mrs. M. as we affectionately started calling her wore her hair up again just as she did the day before and she sat behind her desk completely engrossed in something she was reading. She seemed as though she was a toy, turned off until the sound of the bell when she became completely animated again.
“Good Morning, Please take your seats and we’ll go over chapter 1 from your text books.” She began.
I was beginning to think that this was going to be the best class to catch up on sleep when suddenly, Mrs. M. slammed her book on the desk and asked “Did anyone actually learn anything about American History they didn’t already know by reading the first chapter?”
Several hands went up around the room, but not many. “Really?” questioned Mrs. M. “What did you learn that you didn’t already know?” she asked pointing at a boy with his hand up.
The boy stammered for an answer and couldn’t come up with one. “Just as I had suspected.” Professed Mrs. M. “I don’t know about you kids, but I hate reading textbooks, they are too dry and well, boring. I much prefer to read autobiographies and legends. Everyone, please take your textbooks and place them in a stack at the back of the room. We are going to learn about history by exploring for it.”
The class looked bewildered at first then did as they were told and place their books on the stack in the back of the room.
Mrs. M then passed out a piece of paper on which was written the titles of several books, some fictional and others non-fictional. “My dear students, I am giving you a list of approved reading materials. I expect that by the end of the marking period you will have each read 3 or 4 of the titles on this piece of paper. Each of these books is based on some aspect of fact involving American History. Your job is to read them and do a 10 page report based on what is real, legendary or complete farce. In addition to this, we will discuss in class Famous Americans and events that occurred. I will lecture, you will listen and take notes then be tested on you notes weekly.”
A sigh of relief swept across the room. Mrs. M had just become our favorite teacher. The bell rang and each of us collected up our things and entered the over-crowded hallway but before I could leave the room, Mrs. M called me back to talk with her.
“Abigail, is everything okay with you?” she asked.
“Yeah, fine. I’m just fine.” I replied, wondering if there was something that she was reading about my body language.
“Good, I’m glad to hear that. I read your file and I understand you just moved here before school started. I know it can be tough starting at a new school and making friends so I wanted to let you know I am here for you if ever you need anything, Okay?”
“Thank you, I appreciate that, I’ll keep that in mind.” I said thinking there might come a time when a teacher for a friend could be a strong ally.
I left the classroom and headed to my next class: PE. I would have to see Jennifer there in the locker room again and hoped she didn’t have anything more to add to my list. When I reached the locker room, Jennifer and her friends had already left for the gym so I felt safe to change my clothes without being mocked again. I hung up my clothes in my locker and slipped into my PE clothes. I raced to the gym knowing I was probably the last girl to arrive and not wanting to make another bad impression on Ms. McCoy. As I entered the gym in my shorts, T-shirt and sneakers, I realized that now my mismatched socks were in full view for everyone to see and were accented by my pigtails. I must have looked just as foolish as Jennifer had hoped but I didn’t see her there in the room to enjoy her moment. I found my way over to where Betsy, Erika, Ashley and Elaine were and asked them what happened to Jennifer but none of them knew that hadn’t seen her come into the gym yet.
Just then the gym door opened and in walked Jennifer followed by her companions. I had so hoped that she wouldn’t see me so I stepped behind my own friends for cover but it was too late. Jennifer saw me and walked straight for me.
“Scatter Fleas.” She said to my friends who did as they were told. “Hello Abbie Baby! How’s my little girl? Did her miss her Mommy?” she asked.
Remembering that I was not supposed to look up at her, I bowed my head and softly said “Hello, Mommy.”
“Mommy didn’t hear you, dear. Say it a little louder. Please.”
“Hello, Mommy” I repeated a little bit louder.
“That’s better, now Mommy has a little surprise for her little girl” Jennifer snapped her fingers and placed her open hand, palm side up on her shoulder. One of her friends standing behind her placed something in it that Jennifer presented to me.
“Here you are, my little one. I think you will enjoy this almost as much as me,” she said as she stretched out her hand and uncurled her fingers.
With my eyes still facing the floor, I lifted my head slightly to see what I was being offered. It was a pink pacifier on a long string. I could only imagine what Jennifer had in store for me now. She took the string and placed it around my neck.
“There, doesn’t Abbie Baby have a nice new necklace?” she asked her friends who giggled again. “What do you say Abbie Baby?”
“Thank you, Mommy” I replied.
"You don’t have to thank me, Abbie Baby, you need to thank your Aunties. They’re the ones who got that for you.
I took a deep breath and a hard swallow. “Thank you Aunties.” I responded.
“You know, I don’t think Abbie Baby fully appreciates her gift because she hasn’t used it yet. Put it in your mouth before you thank your Aunties.” Demanded Jennifer.
I closed my eyes, took another breath and placed the pacifier in my mouth. “Fwank yoush Aunthies for my pwesenth” I repeated but the large rubber pacifier that was in my mouth slurred my words. The bunch of them just giggled until Jennifer ordered them to stop because once again the PE teacher was coming. Jennifer snatched the pacifier out of my mouth and instructed me to put it into my shirt and keep it there for the rest of the day. I did as I was told but had really thought hard about my agreement with Jennifer. Evidently she really likes to humiliate people and she is quite good at it. I didn’t want to even think about what she had up her sleeve next.
Jennifer started to laugh as Ms. McCoy drew nearer. “That’s another good one, Abigail.” She said once Ms. McCoy was close enough to hear her.
“Telling jokes again in PE are we Miss Bell?” said Ms. McCoy in a stern voice. Perhaps you would like to go tell your jokes to the Assistant Principal, Mr. Goodfield?"
I was stuck. Jennifer had done it to me again. “No ma’am, I wasn’t, I mean I don’t.” but before I could finish Ms. McCoy said, “Next time I catch you telling jokes during MY time with you, you’ll get yourself a weeks worth of detention.”
Great. How would I explain that to my parents. “Sorry Mom and Dad, I can’t help with the family business because I didn’t tell a joke in gym class.” I don’t think they would like that very much.
At least now Jennifer and the Aunties had moved off and my friends were able to come back and talk to me.
“She is such a bitch.” Said Erika. “I don’t know how you can just stand there and take that from her.”
I smirked in agreement but didn’t tell them of the deal I made with Jennifer since they had warned me about her in the first place but I didn’t bother to listen to them.
“I wonder why she’s picking on you?” asked Elaine.
“I guess it’s 'cause I’m the new girl or something.” I offered.
“That’s probably it” answered Ashley “but just once I wish someone would stand up to her.”
I knew that I wasn’t in a position to do that if I ever wanted to have a chance to have Mitch like me. If I were to stand up to Jennifer, I can’t imagine what else she would do to me. Little did I know that I would find out soon enough.
After PE was over, I returned to the locker room and changed my clothes for my next class. I had managed to get into the locker room before Jennifer and the Aunties did so I wasn’t harassed about being flat chested or wearing an undershirt instead of a bra. I just wished that my body would hurry up and start developing so that I would need a bra and that humiliation would cease. Mom had always reassured me that when she was my age, she wasn’t very well endowed there either. That came as little comfort because I wasn’t endowed at all.
I had my foot up on the bench and was tying my shoe when Jennifer and the Aunties filed into our row of lockers. They were chatting away and had ignored my presence. I kept my head down as to not draw attention to myself.
Slap! A paper back book was thrown down hard on the bench next to me. My eyes gazed over at the book. It was large and had a red border around a picture of a colorful clown in the center of the book. In bright bold letters across the top was the words “Coloring Fun.” I suddenly knew where this was going.
“Abbie Baby, look what Mommy has for you” said Jennifer pointing at the book she had just taken out of her locker. “A brand new coloring book for you to color in. Mommy wants you to color her 5 pretty pictures from it and bring them to her at her locker at 3 o’clock today.” I hated when she talked about herself in the third person. I grabbed up the coloring book and put it with the rest of my things as I left the locker room.
The rest of the day had gone rather quietly. I kept waiting for Jennifer to do something to embarrass me again but besides staring at me during lunch from time to time then giggling with her friends, she really had left me alone.
I sat and colored in the coloring book as I ate my lunch. The pictures were big and didn’t have a lot of detail. They were obviously meant for really little kids. I colored pictures of a pony, a duck, a nest of baby birds, a pig and a puppy with a ball in it’s mouth. I really didn’t mind coloring. It was actually kind of fun. When I was finished, I closed up the coloring book and put away my crayons.
During the last class of the day, English, I received a note passed to me by one of the Aunties. It was written on a yellow piece of paper and folded several times. “Abbie Baby” was written across the top of it.
I unfolded the paper and read what was written inside:
Don’t forget, meet me at my locker at 3 o’clock and don’t forget your pacifier.
I was beginning to grow tired of this but I was dumb enough to make such a stupid agreement and if I didn’t, I knew she was capable of ruining the few friendships I had in this school. When the final bell rang, I went to my locker, gathered my books I needed to bring home with me and went to meet Jennifer at her locker and show her the pictures I had colored for her.
This time she was not alone. 2 of the Aunties were there with her and they were all waiting for me. I walked up to Jennifer, lowered my gaze to the floor and said “You wanted to see me, Mommy?”
The Aunties giggled at my obedient behavior. “Yes I did” replied Jennifer in a stern voice. “Where is the gift your Aunties gave you earlier today?” she questioned.
“I still have it on as you instructed, it’s under my shirt, Mommy.” I responded.
“Such a nice gift like that should be displayed, don’t you agree, Nikki?” Jennifer said as she looked over at the Aunties.
“Oh yes, it hurts my feelings that Abbie doesn’t appreciate it enough to show it off” replied Nicole.
"Tomorrow you will wear your pacifier again but this time you will keep it out for EVERYONE to see. " Jennifer instructed. “And I like your hair like that, in pigtails so I want you to wear it like that everyday until I tell you otherwise. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Mommy” I responded feeling my face turn red with embarrassment.
“Did you color in your book like I asked you?” Jennifer asked.
“Yes, Mommy” I said as I handed her the book. She flipped through the pages and tore out each of the pictures I had colored.
“Good girl” she praised “I’ll hold onto this until tomorrow and then you can have it back in the morning. Don’t forget to get some fatter crayons. You may go now, but don’t forget Pigtails and Pacifier tomorrow.” Jennifer said as she and the Aunties turned to each other to carry on a conversation that I was not invited to partake of.
I put the pacifier in my backpack with my books and left to go to Pop’s since I knew my dad would be waiting for me there. Things were going to be a lot better once I got outside and off the school campus.
There was a small convenience store on the way to the ice cream shop. I stopped in and asked the woman behind the counter if she had any crayons.
“Over there, aisle 2” she pointed as if I wasn’t able to read the big number 2 that hung over the aisle.
The aisle was full of pens and pencils, markers and other stationary items. On the end of the aisle was their selection of crayons which really only consisted of 3 different varieties one of which happened to me label “Chunky” and the claim on the box stated that they were for “beginning artists 2 years old and up.” I paid for the crayons and put them in my backpack so I wouldn’t forget them in the morning.
I worked in the ice cream shop emptying boxes and filling napkin holders and ketchup bottles for the rest of the afternoon until Dad drove me home around 6:30. When we came through the door, Mom was there already fixing dinner. Dad had some work to do in his den so I went straight to my room to start on my homework. As I opened my backpack and pulled out my math book, the string on the pacifier hooked on the corner of the book and came out with it then dropped to the floor.
I picked it up and looked at it. I wondered if there was some way I could make wearing a pacifier around my neck all day look cool but since no one else in the school wore one, I figured that there was no way of suddenly making it trendy. I stuffed it back in my backpack and got on to my homework.
Mom had called me down for dinner around 7 which gave me enough time to finish my homework and slip into a comfy pair of Pajamas. We talked about our days during dinner but I managed to leave out the part about Jennifer giving me the pacifier but I did tell my parents that I thought the PE teacher, Ms. McCoy, had it out for me because she kept yelling at me for telling jokes in class.
“Telling jokes in class?” my father questioned. “That’s not like you? Why does she think its you doing it?”
“Oh because someone told her I was so they wouldn’t get in trouble themselves.” I replied.
“Well, I can come have a talk with that teacher if you want me to.” Mom added.
“Nah, it’s okay. I can handle it. I don’t think it will happen again.” I responded.
“You shouldn’t take the blame for someone else,” Dad interjected “that person will end up getting his in the end but you shouldn’t allow them to take advantage of you like that.”
“I won’t Dad” I said wishing I hadn’t brought up the subject at all.
When dinner was over, I helped Mom with the dishes and Dad went to watch a little TV. Once the dishes were all done, I excused myself and went to my room to relax and read a book for my history class. The book was much more exciting than reading the text book but it still managed to put me to sleep after 20 minutes.
I awoke the next morning to the sound of my alarm clock blaring. I must have been more tired from helping Dad at the ice cream shop than I knew because I slept through the night and still felt a bit tired. I picked out my clothes for the day and went into the bathroom to take a quick shower to help wake me up a little more.
By the time I got out of the shower, I was already running late for school. I got dressed quickly, did my hair up in the pigtails as requested by Jennifer and raced down stairs. As I ran through the kitchen, Mom looked at her watch.
“Any time for breakfast?” she questioned.
“Sorry Mom, I over slept” I told her as I reached for a banana from the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. “I’ll grab something at school when I get there.” I put the banana in my pack to enjoy during homeroom.
“Okay, I’ll see you tonight” Mom shouted as I raced out the door flinging my backpack on as I left the house.
Dad was outside getting ready to leave to meet a client. “Need a ride this morning?” he asked.
“No thanks, it won’t take me long to get there” I responded as I quickened my step.
“Okay. Oh, by the way, I have another meeting this afternoon so I won’t be at the shop when you get off from school but I have the floor guys coming today to polish the floor and they told me it shouldn’t be walked on for 24 hours so you don’t have to work today. Take the day off and go out with your friends.”
“Okay, Dad!” I shouted back to him as I started to walk faster and faster until I was almost jogging.
I was glad to have the rest of the day to myself after school. Not that I minded helping Dad get the store ready but I really hadn’t had any time to get to know my new friends or even explore my new town.
I got to school and didn’t stop at my locker before going to homeroom because it was almost time for the late bell to ring as I got there. I dropped my backpack onto my desk and fell into the seat just as the bell stopped ringing. I was relieved to have actually made it to school on time and was celebrating my success by taking a few minutes to catch my breath.
It was a few minutes later when I finally felt the icy stares of Jennifer on me. I turned to glance around the room and saw her scowling at me. I couldn’t imagine what she was so mad about so I diverted my eyes to the floor figuring that I had upset her by looking her in the eyes from across the room. I turned back around in my chair and listened to the morning announcements as the crackled over the loud speaker in the room.
Once attendance was taken, people stood up and started moving about the classroom as Mr. Baldwin unfolded his morning newspaper and started to read it. I stayed in my seat and opened my backpack and pulled out the banana I had brought from home.
WHACK! I felt a sudden dull hit on the back of my head and turned to discover Jennifer standing behind me with an open hand. She had obviously just slapped me on the back of my head and was now standing beside me with the same scowl on her face.
“Have we forgotten something?” she demanded.
I turned my gaze back to the floor. “I don’t think so.”
“Where is your gift?” she questioned.
I had completely for gotten about the pacifier but Jennifer sure didn’t. “It’s in my bag” I said as I reached back into my bag hoping to discover it there. I fumbled around the bag reaching under and between all my books until I finally found it at that bottom of the bag. I wrapped my fingers around it firmly and pulled it out “Here it is!” I exclaimed while holding it up for Jennifer’s inspection.
“It’s supposed to be around your neck, why is it in your bag?” she asked in an angry tone.
“I’m sorry, I was running late and I….” I started but was suddenly interrupted.
“I don’t like excuses. Just put it on now and so that you don’t forget about it again…” I grabbed the string and put it around my neck as I continued to listen to what Jennifer was telling me to do " I want you to put it in you mouth and suck on it for the rest of homeroom." Jennifer ordered.
My eyes grew wide when I heard the words “suck on it” and “rest of homeroom.” She couldn’t really expect me to do that but this was Jennifer, she expected me to do what ever she said. I picked up the pacifier and looked at it carefully. It was a little dirty so I tried to pick a little of the backpack lint off it before I brought it to my lips.
“Stop wasting time, put it in your mouth.” Jennifer barked.
“But it’s dirty” I told her.
“I don’t care, I told you to put it in your mouth. Had you been wearing around your neck like you were supposed to” Jennifer continued “maybe it wouldn’t be dirty. Now put it in your mouth.”
I did as I was told. I could feel small pieces of grit between my tongue and the rubber of the pacifier.
“Much better” Jennifer smiled then handed me the coloring book. “I want 3 new pictures by PE class” she said as she walked away back towards her desk. She stopped halfway there and turned around to walk back to me again. “I just had an idea to help you remember to take care of your binky. Between every class I want you to put your pacifier in your mouth as you walk in the halls.”
I sucked on the pacifier as I listened to my new punishment for being disobedient hoping that no one in the classroom was actually paying attention to me.
Jennifer must have sensed my relief that everyone else was so engrossed in their own conversations that not a single person had noticed my mouth appliance. The thought that she was humiliating me and no one was watching seemed to annoy Jennifer. What kind of power would she have over me if no one noticed her handy work.
I pulled out my big crayons and started coloring the next 3 pictures in the book.
She walked over to another desk where a few girls were talking. She bend over, cupped her hand between her mouth and the ear of one of the girls and whispered. Her hand pointed in my direction where I was still sitting sucking on the pink pacifier. The girls eyes immediately darted towards me and her hand flew up to restrain a giggle. Jennifer walked away as the other girl leaned forward and whispered to the 2 other girls she had been speaking with. Her finger was now pointing at me and the other girls were also suddenly staring at me. Smiles stretched across their faces and giggles exploded from them.
Their sudden outburst caught the attention of other small groups around the room who all wanted to know what was so funny and soon enough, they knew. I lowered and turned my head away from the room hoping to hide my punishment from them. Could no one see that I was the Jennifer’s newest victim? Would anyone help me stand up to her and stop her before she completely humiliates me then moves on to her next poor soul? Tears came to my eyes as the laughter grew louder and louder and the sounds of whispers echoed around the room. Jennifer was back at her desk with a proud, smug smile on her face. Her dirty work was done, for now anyway.
I dropped the chubby crayon on my desk and cupped my hands over my mouth in a sorry attempt to further block the glares of my classmates. Mr. Baldwin continued to read his paper but would instruct the room to “Settle Down” from behind it’s pages.
Surely by now the bell should have rung and ended my cruel torture. I looked up at the clock. It was so slow, it was like it was working in reverse. Tick by tick, I watched the clock get closer and closer to the end of homeroom and finally the bell sounded and I gathered up my things and darted into the hall to my locker.
The other classes poured out into the hallway and as my homeroom classmates mixed with kids from other rooms, I heard the sounds of laughter grow louder and louder. I saw people looking at me and pointing and as they walked past the person next to them would have a sudden attack of the giggles or break out laughing.
Jennifer glided into the hallway still reveling in her new abuse of me. She met up with the Aunties who all snickered and looked over at me. Jennifer tossed her hair and lifted her chin a little higher. She rolled her shoulders back and walked down the hall like a queen with the Aunties following behind her closely. She walked past my locker and simply said “See you at 2nd period, BABY.”
The word BABY echoed in my head like a bell. She was so proud of herself for making me a sudden laughing stock. She truly was the Queen of Mean in this school and had no problem with that. I hung up my backpack and raced off to my history class, my eyes still red from crying.
When I got to Mrs. Michelanti’s classroom, I popped the pacifier out of my mouth and concealed it behind the books that I was holding tight to my chest with both arms. I put my books down on my desk and sat quickly. The desktop was high enough to hide the pacifier resting on my chest from open sight. I rubbed the tears off my checks and out of my eyes as the bell rang and the classroom came to order.
I hadn’t noticed that everyone in the room but Mrs. Michelanti was focused on me until the bell rang. This was going to be a very humiliating day. It seems as if everyone who saw me sucking on a pacifier during homeroom had told a friend and those friends each told another until the whole school knew about it during the 5 minute break between classes. I think only the teachers hadn’t heard the news because they are out of the gossip loop but I was sure that they would hear about it before long too.
I had a hard time staying on track during class because every now and again I would hear people whispering and assumed I was the topic. I felt tears well up in my eyes again as I realized that the class was nearly over and I would once again have to put the pacifier in my mouth and traverse the halls and hear the laughing and comments of people who were unaware that this was a cruel and devious torture created by Jennifer.
The bell rang and the classroom emptied into the hall. This time I chose to linger a bit so as to give the halls a little time to clear before venturing out in the crowd. Mrs. Michelanti noticed my hesitation and approached my desk.
“Is everything okay, Abigail? You seem upset. Have you been crying?” she asked in a caring tone.
“I’m fine, Mrs. M” I replied knowing full well that I was a terrible liar. “It’s just allergies.”
“Are you sure, because if it’s something more, I might be able to help” she offered.
“No, I’m fine, I just am having a bad day but I’ll be fine.”
“Well, let me give you a hall pass so you won’t get in trouble for being late for your next class” she said as she scribbled a note on a piece of paper and handed it to me.