I took the stairs like I knew each one by heart and made my way down the crowded hall, packed with kids who had known each other for years. I felt sick.
I chose my seat carefully, third row from the front, to the left. I was a master at seat selection. The seat I chose said, I am not the teacher’s pet but I could be if I wanted to because I am super smart. But as soon as I saw the kind of kids coming through, I knew I was far from small-time Malibu. I’d made it to the big city. They fell in like actors on stage playing different parts, some goth with black hair, black lips and nails, a couple of punks, hip-hop, a kid with a blue Mohawk came in, next was a guy who wore a white suit, hat and tie, but I was pretty sure was a girl. There was a kid with a nose ring, kids speaking Russian, Korean, Farsi, Hindi. I leaned back and watched them all from my seat, and I didn’t want to believe it yet, but so far it looked like here it was going to be different than my last school. Here, maybe, just maybe, it was cool to be different.
But then THEY walked in, en masse, their long hair curled, their make-up shiny, their clothes off the pages of fashion magazines. And in spite of myself, I could feel the old tug, the pull, the cry from deep down in my heart, I so wanted to be one of them. They were the populars. I could tell them a mile away, blindfolded. Smell them from their perfume, their make-up, their gum. These were the girls who did everything first—first to date, to kiss, to see a movie with a boy WITHOUT their moms sitting behind them. They were the first to get boobs and to show them. They were the ones girls like me followed for a living.
“Hey,” I said.
They stampeded right past me, headed to the very back where they took up residence like they were at a Beverly Hills nail salon.
I pretended to write something super important, but really I was scared that there would be no one that I liked. No one that I could see and KNOW in my heart and soul that we could be friends. And then a few minutes later, Trixie Chalice strolled in, and you know what? I got that feeling.
Trixie had long blondish-brown hair to her waist, pencil thin, freckles, with big floppy ears and a glint in her eyes. And let’s not even talk about those incredibly cool knee-high Converse tennis shoes I would have given a kidney for. She walked right up to me. I smiled. “Hey.”
She looked me over. “You’re in my seat.”
Stop. Freeze. Now if this ever happens to you DO NOT give in. If you DO, you lose all credibility. Watch and learn. I lifted my black glasses over my head and said, “didn’t see your name on it.”
With a glint in her eye, she tapped the desk, “look underneath.”
I did a quick check and much to my delight it read Trixie Chalice’s Butt Goes Here So Get Yours Out in red and blue Sharpie. I couldn’t help but love her instantly. “You graffitied?”
“Ssh,” she put her finger to her lips and smiled, “name’s Trixie,” she nodded.
“I’m Charlie.” I hopped out of her chair and took the next one over. A kid named Bobby walked in all sweaty. He had light brown skin and a blondish-brown afro that stood a good two hands over his head. He was covered in cool leather necklaces and bead bracelets. Our eyes met, he kinda smiled, “cool shades,” he said.
Trix tapped me on the shoulder. “He’s got a girlfriend in high school.”
“Good to know,” I said, cool as a cucumber. And I was. Because now with the doors closed, I looked around the room and could safely say there were no total losers here, everyone looked NORMAL, which meant I was home free.
“Good morning Seventh Grade!!!” Mr. Lawson walked in, with a huge stack of books. He wore shorts, a t-shirt with a giant tree on it, and of, course, a pair of Birkenstocks. “Class, take your seats. He closed the door, got down on the floor, plugged in his table lamp for a little soft glow. The class looked full. The door was closed. I could feel myself start to breathe. To get happy even. Was it possible that I was off the hook? Was it really possible that I was finally going to say Goodbye Dr. Scales. Hello, fresh start? I took one more look. Nope, no one had the beaten dog look of the bullied. Everyone looked happy. I took a deep breath, leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes to bask in the glow of my fresh start. And then…just as I thought I was home free, the door swung open and hit the wall so hard I jumped. Everyone laughed. “Ha, ha, it’s Marta the Farta.”
Marta Urloff had entered the room.
My heart sank. Sank. She was a horror. You could see it from space. I wanted to cry. I felt the sting of tears in my nose. If I did what Scales asked of me, I could kiss all possible interaction with humans at this school good-bye.
She looked like a homeless Disney princess. She had on dirty pink velour pants, matching Disney jacket, socks and blackened pink Crocs, her pale greyish-blonde hair was matted so high it looked like she was wearing a wig. On top of it all, she looked mean, like a pit bull with messed up teeth.
“People say she was raised by wolves,” Babette said mesmerized.
Marta parked her battered Cinderella backpack and took a front row seat. She turned and looked straight into my eyes. I gotta admit, I felt sick.
Mr. Lawson came out from his desk, surveyed the room. “I’d like you to meet someone special.”
I looked away. I was so not ready for this.
He stopped right in front of my desk. Great. “Class, meet Charlie Cooper.”
Desks scratched against the floor as everyone tried to get a good look at yours truly. I adjusted my thick black glasses, pushed away my dark bangs, waved weakly, “hey.”
“Charlie,” he went back to his desk and took a seat, “tell us a little about yourself.”
I surveyed the room. “Um, well, I’m from Malibu-”
Mr. Lawson interrupted. “Did you go to Malibu Charter or Malibu Elementary?”
Trixie interrupted. “How weird is that?” She grinned like she knew I was hiding something. “I know a whole bunch of people from there. I surf with them.” She looked right at me, scooted closer, “come on, where did you go? Who do you know?”
My heart started to spasm. There was no way I could tell her. So I ignored it. “We moved here for my dad’s work-”
Bobby raised his hand, sheepish and shy, “what kind of work?”
“My Dad’s going to rebuild the original Houdini mansion, which Houdini never actually owned, you know.”
Bobby looked right at me. “You like magic?”
“I like reinvention.” As soon as I said it I could see most of them had no idea what I was talking about, but Trixie shook her head oh, so slowly like she knew exactly what I was talking about, like she thought about it all the time. And I wondered, was she like me?
“And Mr. Houdini was one of the greatest reinventors of all time,” Mr. Lawson cut in. “Alright, people,” he clapped his hands signaling school was back in session, “find a buddy.” He looked at me, “Charlie, we work the buddy system for the first few weeks of school.”
“I love the buddy system.” I said. I hated the buddy system more than life. You always got paired up with the one person you wouldn’t be caught dead with.
Mr. Lawson pointed right at me. “How about you and Marta team up?”
See what I mean? My heart began to pound, my hands grew wet, I could feel all eyes on me, but most of all I felt the old eyes of Scales.
“Charlie?” Mr. Lawson called my name again.
Trixie raised her hand. Her nails were painted blue and had sparkles. “Um, Mr. Lawson?” She said meekly, “if it’s alright, Charlie and I were already planning on being buddies.”
“Fine.” Mr. Lawson said.
Trixie got her notebook. “Follow me,” she pointed to a small nook with pillows. We sat side by side, our new notebooks on our laps, both of us picking up our pencils, pretending to write.
“Thanks,” I said, relieved.
“Yeah,” she glanced over at Marta, “she’s so got to go.” She started doodling in her notebook.
When the bell rang for snack at 10:10, I put my books away and was about to bite the bullet and find Marta when Trixie and Babs came running over to my desk. “Come on, I’ll show you where we eat,” Trix bounced up and down.
Just then I saw Marta’s tangled rat’s nest at the door. “I gotta go,” I ran out into the hallway. I bumped and shoved my way through the pack of kids.
“Marta!” I called her name but she kept on going, that beehive just bobbin’ along. I remained hopeful that she’d walk into the cafeteria, and there, off in some dark corner would be a table of horribly dressed, booger-eating outcasts just like her, even if they were second-graders, it DID NOT matter. I could tell Scales at our session next week that I’d found her, but she had a huge group of friends. And then, I’d be done with Dr. Scales, no more talking about my feelings all the time, no more thinking about my words, case closed.
But Marta did not go into the cafeteria, she went to the bathroom. I waited outside. It took forever, my stomach was growling, I was so hungry. I watched the kids going by, they were all so excited, the first day of a new year, all of that possibility in front of them with no mistakes yet. I so wanted to be a part of it! I had so much to say. To offer. Just as soon as I finished this last piece of business.
“Hey!” Trixie saw me hanging out by the bathroom and came running up to me. “What you are doing there? Come eat with us,” she pointed to the playground on the upper yard.
“Who’s us?” I asked.
Spoiler Alert: Trixie was mean. Meaner than me.
Trix played with her hair, “the gymnastics team, some sixth graders, seventh too,” she looked at me, looked at the door, “there are other bathrooms, you know? I’ll show you—”
I turned the handle again. “Yeah, that girl Marta’s been in there forever, I was just waiting—”
“Oh,” she laughed, “she’s not coming out.”
“What do you mean?”
Trixie nodded, “that’s where she eats. Every day.”
“In the bathroom?”
“Yeah,” she started walking away, “and trust me, you don’t want to use it when she’s done. They don’t call her Marta the Farta for nothing, you know.”
And just like that I knew there would be no corner table in the cafeteria with like-minded rejects like Marta, she was all alone. I could feel it all slipping away.