Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Day 5: 2500 Words

Freshman orientation had been two days of anxiety and stress. Middle school had been a social wash and she had emerged from graduation with minimal if not less social development. She’d spent her time at school reading at recess or doing homework during lunch. She’d reluctantly attended school dances, alone, opting to stand in the corner sipping on 7-Up and eating Ruffles.

All summer she’d been siking herself up. High school was going to be different. Words would come out of her mouth. She would speak to others and attempt to make friends.

Comfort zone…get ready to be stepped out of.

Her dad had gone with her to the initial meeting. It was okay, about half the kids still had their parents their. They had gotten there about five minutes early so there was a smattering of seats available as well as a swath of standing room.

With a class of forty-seven, she knew she was going to have to work fast to start making friends. From their perch by the wall and fruit platter, Kristina had spied an open seat next to a harmless looking Asian girl.

With all the bravery and confidence she could muster, she turned to her father and whispered, “I’m gonna’ sit down.” Heart pounding, she went up to the girl who was sitting in silence, texting someone on her cell phone.

She bent over to get in the girl’s peripheral vision. “Can I sit here?” This was a rhetorical question. No one ever says no.

“No. Someone’s sitting there,” she said, not even looking up.

It was like being punch in the kidneys. Kristina was so taken aback she didn’t say a words. She slinked away and went back to her dad.

“What’d she say?” he asked.

She bit her lip to hold back the tears of embarrassment. “Oh, it’s taken. It’s okay.”
The entire orientation she kept an eye on the seat, hoping behind hope that her mom or best friend in the entire world would sit there. During the entire forty-five minute speech by the Dean of Students, the seat remained empty. About ten minutes in, the girl decided it was a good spot for her purse.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with corny getting to know you activities and placement tests. As Kristina bubbled in answers to inane math problems and reading passages about Sojourner Truth, her mind kept wandering back to that seat. She had reached out and been turned down. There was a finite amount of confidence inside and she was about to reach her limit.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Day 4: 2000 Words

Kristina pulled out the dingy blue activities sheet that the homeroom teacher had handed to everyone on the first day of school. There were four pages worth of clubs she could join.

Ultimate Frisbee. She could meet guys. She was a good runner. But she didn’t know how to play and how embarrassing would it be to have everyone stare at her when she messed up.

Literary Magazine. She did love to write and people who read stories for fun couldn’t be so scary. But, did she want to get associated with that level of hipster nerdom her first week into school?

Debate Team. That got a no without a second thought.

For seventh and eighth grade, Kristina had attended a school that hardly made a blip in a local education magazine. Her graduation class consisted of eleven people, seven girls and four boys. With a slim ten percent chance, she had managed to become valedictorian.

The entire span of middle school, she had hardly spoken to her classmates. The three-minute speech she was forced to give was more than she had talked in the last two years. Watching the video back still made her cringe. All those eyes on her, listening so intently to her each word made her sick to her stomach. There was nothing she had to say that was important enough for people to stop and listen.

Amanda was writing on the board in Expo marker, reaching as tall as she could to squeeze in a few more suggestions. Her handwriting was perfect, filled with loops and swirls like it had been copied for a whimsical computer font.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the corner of the crimson red clipboard that had been shoved onto her desk. It was filled with names. As she was the last person left to sign it, there were slim pickings. If she had cared, the sparse blank spots would have shot bolts of dread and exhaustion through her body.

The striped senior boys had all signed up for news. The pair of snooty junior girls had picked arts. A series of names that she had to guess belonged to the prepster trio in the back of the room all went for opinions.

She had a decision to make. Either be the only person covering sports or sign up with the boys in news.

Her inner Seventeen magazine self told her to sign up with the boys. She was practically guaranteed to know their names and hang out with them in some capacity. Her mind wandered to after-school meetings where she and Todd, Brian and Mike would all huddle on a couch and iron out the week’s assignments. Slowly they’d welcome her into their bunch, her being that adorable little freshman who’s surprisingly cool and down to earth. She’d be invited to parties and meet all the cool kids.

Her flash forward began to make her blood pound. It was all too much. What if they thought she was lame? She might be sitting on the couch while they all laugh about their senior jokes while she sat there, fiddling with her cell phone.

She scribbled her name under Sports.


It was fate.

Now there was no commitment. No one was depending on her. She’d be that weird girl in the back who signed up for Sports and never came back. They’d just get someone else to do it.
A sense of peace wafted over her.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Day 3: 1500 Words

“’Manda!” yelled one of the boys from the corner, shaking his fist like he was a cast member from Jersey Shore.

“Shut up, Greg,” she said, hitting him with her folder.

Kristina sat back in her seat. The room was slowly caving in upon itself. How could she compete with this girl? She looked down at her fingernails, with tiny specks of Cheeto dust still caked underneath from lunch. There were small specks of pink nail polish left over from the 4th of July part she’d gone to with her family but the flourish had chipped away as her summer dragged on in uneventful tedium.

Amanda stood in the front of the room, setting up her papers like she was giving a speech to Congress. Her shoulders shot back and her face lit up in a phony smile.

“Alright. Welcome everyone to the Jackson High Journal. My name’s Amanda and I’m going to the editor-in-chief this year. If you were here last year, you know the paper wasn’t really run so great…” Like a trained stand-up comedian, she paused for the laugh break. “But this year, we’re going to really step it up and get this paper popular again.”

She grabbed a stack of handouts and passed them around the room. “I went to a journalism conference over the summer and they really had some amazing ideas.”

Journalism conference? Kristina’s heart started to pound. This was serious stuff. Looking at the handout made her head swim. Amanda wanted to turn the low-budget 2 page monthly paper into the New York Times. Daily blogs, weekly papers, features in every issue. Each reporter would have a beat and do interviews to post on the website.

“I have a sign-up sheet in the front. I want you guys to sign up for which sections you want to do. It’s first come first serve. I want to make sure we’re completely covered each issue,” Amanda said, tapping on her fuchsia clipboard.

The sections were bulleted on the back page of the handout. Features. News. Entertainment. Sports. Opinions. She couldn’t decide which one seemed worse. News would be interesting but it required talking to complete strangers and that wasn’t going to work out. Entertainment could be fun, but the idea of attending every play and musical event bored her to tears before she could finish reading the description.

She was going to sign up for whatever and then quit. Just sign her name and send Amanda an email tonight saying she was too busy. No strings attached. They’d hardly remember she was there in the first place.

Amanda started the sign-up sheet at the other end of the room. The nervous knot that had been pulled harder and harder throughout the meeting began to loosen. It didn’t matter what she got stuck with. The boys fought over the pen and hit each other in the arm to get the prime spots. Probably sports, so they could talk to all their friends and get class credit for it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Day 2: 1000 Words

Of course this boy didn’t exist and that story would be adorable if Kristina wasn’t terrified of having a boy come within 50 yards of her. The idea that a nice guy would sit next to her and ask her to dinner was such an alarming and frightening thought, she couldn’t even process the possibility. She buttoned up the top button of her jacket and whipped out her IPod, putting the earbuds firmly in her ears. Instant social repellent.

Halfway through an Elvis Costello song, she heard the room fall to a hush. An older woman, clearly compensating for her age with the knee-high boots and dangling earrings, walked inside and gently rested her purse on the desk.

Kristina yanked out the earphones with a swift tug and stuffed them in her backpack.
“Hello. Welcome to newspaper. I’m Ms. Gartner. Nice to see some familiar faces,” she said, smirking at the rowdy boys in the corner.

“Love you too, Ms. G,” the one in the striped shirt said.

“Super,” she said, giving them a thumbs up, and then turned towards Kristina. She felt her body run cold as she noticed a lack of freshman in the club. It was too late to run out of the room, but each and every molecule in her body would’ve been happy if she did.

“And I’m happy see a new face. Care to introduce yourself?” Ms. Gartner said, gesturing out her hands.

Kristina struggled a smile and looked out at the crowd. Her cheeks were already gradually turning bright crimson.

Half dozen lazy tired eyes looked over at her. It wasn’t like the movies. No one seemed to immediately set into motion an evil plan to ruin her life. More likely, they were just happy to have a few minutes taken up of class.

She didn’t want to stand. The blouse she had bought at Target looked so cute on the rack. It was coral pink, a color Glamour had said would look great against her eyes, and cinched in at the sides. She’d tried it on in the dressing room, staring at herself in the smeared mirror, admiring how thin it made her look. However, with the new jeans she had on, it kept riding up, revealing centimeters of her untoned stomach. She yanked down the ends of the shirt, hoping to keep it from flashing the class as she stood.

“Um, well, my name’s Kristina. I’m a freshman. So, yeah,” she said, letting her voice trail off. The junior guys were in the corner, looking at one of the guy’s Iphone and laughing at some YouTube video they had found.

No one needed to hear more. She sat down slowly, looking around the room for a friendly face. A few perky seniors smiled her way, with the condescending grin of someone looking at an ugly baby.

“Thank you,” said the teacher, “now let’s get started. Amanda? Care to explain our plans?”
A girl from the front row jumped to her feet like a spring had been activated under her seat. She gripped a crisp red file folder tight in her manicured hands.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Day 1: 500 Words


Twenty minutes early. She always did this to herself. In an effort to not walk in late, she would waste dozens of minutes just waiting. The upperclassman stares bore right into through her stomach lining, like they had some telepathic superpowers to churn up the nervousness.
Office Depot had had a 50% Blowout sale the day before. Kristina had come home to five brimming plastic bags on her bedroom floor. She had more pens and notebooks than neither her nor grandchildren would ever need. However, it was crisp crunch of the paper when the heavy cardboard cover flipped over that brought a chill.

A pair of boys walked in the room, in the middle of joke that needed to be told at full volume. They looked over at her for a split second and went back to the conversation.

The newspaper room was nestled in between the school library and the girl’s bathroom. In 1984, Hoover High had decided to renovate their media lab for the school’s 50 year anniversary. All of the media lab, a 1000 square foot section of the school, was ripped out and portable classrooms were sprinkled around the campus so the children wouldn’t have to sit on the ground.
Six months later, the CEO of the contracting company they hired got arrested for embezzlement and fraud. Hoover High was left with a $100,000 debt and half of a sprawling building left unfinished.

Dotted around the campus were same portable classroom, about the size of a trailer. The walls were flimsy and the windows needed a trio of football players to pry them open.
The newspaper room was in the oldest portable and stunk of cafeteria lunches and sweat. The air conditioner hadn’t worked since 1994 so a bead of sweat was already forming on her brow.
Four minutes until the meeting was going to start. She looked all around the room, trying to scope out the most out of the way seat she could get and still not look like an antisocial loser. Kristina moved back two rows, to a seat against the wall so she could lean her head against the cool plaster that hardly kept the classroom from collapsing upon itself.

Her heart jumped each time someone new came inside. Her mother had said to go out for clubs to meet new people with similar interests. The choice had come down to dance team or newspaper. Be that as the thought of auditioning for dance team sent her in panic mode, newspaper seemed the best option.

There were more boys in the club than she thought there would be. In the back of her mind she imagined working close with a cute junior on a story. They would joke around at inside jokes and fight over layouts. On late night, after the news had gone to print, they’d sit on the floor and share a large pizza.