The Mouse joins us, and she and Walt start talking about Latin, a subject in which they’re both better than I am. Then Maggie comes over. Maggie and The Mouse are friendly, but The Mouse says she would never want to get too close to Maggie because she’s overly emotional. I say that excessive emotionality is interesting and distracts one from one’s own problems. Sure enough, Maggie is on the verge of tears.
“I just got called into the counselor’s office—again. She said my sweater was too revealing!”
“That’s outrageous,” I say.
“Tell me about it,” Maggie says, squeezing in between Walt and The Mouse. “She really has it out for me. I told her there was no dress code and she didn’t have the right to tell me what to wear.”
The Mouse catches my eye and snickers. She’s probably remembering the same thing I am—the time Maggie got sent home from Girl Scouts for wearing a uniform that was too short. Okay, that was about seven years ago, but when you’ve lived in the same small town forever, you remember these things.
“And what did she say?” I ask.
“She said she wouldn’t send me home this time, but if she sees me in this sweater again, she’s going to suspend me.”
Walt shrugs. “She’s a bitch.”
“How can she discriminate against a sweater?”
“Perhaps we should lodge a complaint with the school board. Have her fired,” The Mouse says.
I’m sure she doesn’t mean to sound sarcastic, but she does, a little. Maggie bursts into tears and runs in the direction of the girls’ room.
Walt looks around the table. “Which one of you bitches wants to go after her?”
“Was it something I said?” The Mouse asks innocently.
“No.” Walt sighs. “There’s a crisis every other day.”
“I’ll go.” I take a bite of my apple and hurry after her, pushing through the cafeteria doors with a bang.
I run smack into Sebastian Kydd.
“Whoa,” he exclaims. “Where’s the fire?”
“Sorry,” I mumble. I’m suddenly hurtled back in time, to when I was twelve.
“This is the cafeteria?” he asks, gesturing toward the swinging doors. He peeks in the little window. “Looks heinous. Is there any place to eat off campus?”
Off-campus? Since when did Castlebury High become a campus? And is he asking me to have lunch with him? No, not possible. Not me. But maybe he doesn’t remember that we’ve met before.
“There’s a hamburger place up the street. But you need a car to get there.”
“I’ve got a car,” he says.
And then we just stand there, staring at each other. I can feel the other kids walking by but I don’t see them.
“Okay. Thanks,” he says.
“Right.” I nod, remembering Maggie.
“See ya,” he says, and walks away.
Rule number one: Why is it that the one time a cute guy talks to you, you have a friend who’s in crisis?
I run into the girls’ room. “Maggie? You won’t believe what just happened.” I look under the stalls and spot Maggie’s shoes next to the wall. “Mags?”
“I am totally humiliated,” she wails.
Rule number two: Humiliated best friend always takes precedence over cute guy.
“Magwitch, you can’t let what other people say affect you so much.” I know this isn’t helpful, but my father says it all the time and it’s the only thing I can think of at the moment.
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“By looking at everyone like they’re a big joke. Come on, Mags. You know high school is absurd. In less than a year we’ll be out of here and we’ll never have to see any of these people ever again.”
“I need a cigarette,” Maggie groans.
The door opens and the two Jens come in.
Jen S and Jen P are cheerleaders and part of the Pod clique. Jen S has straight dark hair and looks like a beautiful little dumpling. Jen P used to be my best friend in third grade. She was kind of okay, until she got to high school and took up social climbing. She spent two years taking gymnastics so she could become a cheerleader, and even dated Tommy Brewster’s best friend, who has teeth the size of a horse. I waver between feeling sorry for her and admiring her desperate determination. Last year, her efforts paid off and she was finally admitted to the Pod pack, which means she now rarely talks to me.
For some reason, she does today, because when she sees me, she exclaims, “Hi!” as if we’re still really good friends.
“Hi!” I reply, with equally false enthusiasm.
Jen S nods at me as the two Jens begin taking lipsticks and eye shadows out of their bags. I once overheard Jen S telling another girl that if you want to get guys, you have to have “a trademark”—one thing you always wore to make you memorable. For Jen S, this, apparently, is a thick stripe of navy blue eyeliner on her upper lid. Go figure. She leans in to the mirror to make sure the eyeliner is still intact as Jen P turns to me.
“Guess who’s back at Castlebury High?” she asks.
“Re-e-e-ally?” I look in the mirror and rub my eye, pretending I have something in it.
“I want to date him,” she says, with complete and utter confidence. “From what I’ve heard, he’d be a perfect boyfriend for me.”
“Why would you want to date someone you don’t know?”
“I just do, that’s all. I don’t need a reason.”
“Cutest boys in the history of Castlebury High,” Jen S says, as if leading a cheer.
Jimmy Watkins, Randy Sandler, and Bobby Martin were on the football team when we were sophomores. They all graduated at least two years ago. Who cares? I want to shout.
“Sebastian Kydd,” Jen S exclaims.
“Hall of Famer for sure. Right, Carrie?”
“Who?” I ask, just to annoy her.
“Sebastian Kydd,” Jen P says in a huff as she and Jen S exit.
“Maggie?” I ask. She hates the two Jens and won’t come out until they’ve left the bathroom. “They’re gone.”
“Thank God.” The stall door opens and Maggie heads for the mirror. She runs a comb through her hair. “I can’t believe Jen P thinks she can get Sebastian Kydd. That girl has no sense of reality. Now, what were you going to tell me?”
“Nothing,” I say, suddenly sick of Sebastian. If I hear one more person mention his name, I’m going to shoot myself.
“What was that business with Sebastian Kydd?” The Mouse asks a little later. We’re in the library, attempting to study.
“What business?” I highlight an equation in yellow, thinking about how useless it is to highlight. It makes you think you’re learning, but all you’re really learning is how to use a highlighter.
“He winked at you. In calculus class.”
“Bradley,” The Mouse says, in disbelief. “Don’t even try to tell me you didn’t notice.”
“How do I know he was winking at me? Maybe he was winking at the wall.”
“How do we know infinity exists? It’s all a theory. And I think you should go out with him,” she insists. “He’s cute and he’s smart. He’d be a good boyfriend.”
“That’s what every girl in the school thinks. Including Jen P.”
“So what? You’re cute and you’re smart, too. Why shouldn’t you date him?”
Rule number three: Best friends always think you deserve the best guy even if the best guy barely knows you exist.
“Because he probably only likes cheerleaders?”
“Faulty reasoning, Bradley. You don’t know that for a fact.” And then she gets all dreamy and rests her chin in her hand. “Guys can be full of surprises.”
This dreaminess is not like The Mouse. She has plenty of guy friends, but she’s always been too practical to get romantically involved.r />
“What does that mean?” I ask, curious about this new Mouse. “Have you encountered some surprising guys recently?”
“Just one,” she says.
And rule number four: Best friends can also be full of surprises.
“Bradley.” She pauses. “I have a boyfriend.”
What? I’m so shocked, I can’t speak. The Mouse has never had a boyfriend. She’s never even had a proper date.
“He’s pretty nifty,” she says.
“Nifty? Nifty?” I croak, finding my voice. “Who is he? I need to know all about this nifty character.”
The Mouse giggles, which is also very un-Mouse-like. “I met him this summer. At the camp.”
“Aha.” I’m kind of stunned and a little bit hurt that I haven’t heard about this mysterious Mouse boyfriend before, but now it makes sense. I never see The Mouse during the summer because she always goes to some special government camp in Washington, D.C.
And suddenly, I’m really happy for her. I jump up and hug her, popping up and down like a little kid on Christmas morning. I don’t know why it’s such a big deal. It’s only a stupid boyfriend. But still. “What’s his name?”
“Danny.” Her eyes slide away and she smiles dazedly, as if she’s watching some secret movie inside her head. “He’s from Washington. We smoked pot together and—”
“Wait a minute.” I hold up my hands. “Pot?”
“My sister Carmen told me about it. She says it relaxes you before sex.”
Carmen is three years older than The Mouse and the most proper girl you’ve ever seen. She wears pantyhose in the summer. “What does Carmen have to do with you and Danny? Carmen smokes pot? Carmen has sex?”
“Listen, Bradley. Even smart people get to have sex.”
“Meaning we should be having sex.”
“Speak for yourself.”
Huh? I pull The Mouse’s calculus book away from her and bang it shut. “Listen, Mouse. What are you talking about? Did you have sex?”
“Yup,” she says, nodding, as if it’s no big deal.
“How can you have sex and I haven’t? You’re supposed to be a nerd. You’re supposed to be inventing the cure for cancer, not doing it in the backseat of some car filled with marijuana smoke.”
“We did it in his parents’ basement,” The Mouse says, taking her book back.
“You did?” I try to imagine The Mouse naked on some guy’s cot in a damp basement. I can’t picture it. “How was it?”
“The sex,” I nearly scream, trying to bring The Mouse back down to earth.
“Oh, that. It was good. Really fun. But it’s the kind of thing you have to work at. You don’t just start doing it. You have to experiment.”
“Really?” I narrow my eyes in suspicion. I’m not sure how to take this news. All summer, while I was writing some stupid story to get into that stupid writing program, The Mouse was losing her virginity. “How did you even figure out how to do it in the first place?”
“I read a book. My sister told me everyone should read an instructional manual before they do it so they know what to expect. Otherwise it might be a big disappointment.”
I squint, adding a sex book to my image of The Mouse and this Danny person getting it on in his parents’ basement. “Do you think you’re going to…continue?”
“Oh, yes,” The Mouse says. “He’s going to Yale, like me.” She smiles and goes back to her calculus book, as if it’s all settled.
“Hmph.” I fold my arms. But I suppose it makes sense. The Mouse is so organized, she would have her romantic life figured out by the time she’s eighteen.
While I have nothing figured out at all.
“I don’t know how I’m going to get through this year,” Maggie says. She takes out a pack of cigarettes, which she stole from her mother, and lights up.
“Uh-huh,” I say, distracted. I’m still shocked The Mouse is having sex. What if everyone is having sex?
Crap. I absentmindedly pick up a copy of The Nutmeg. The headline screams: YOGURT SERVED IN CAFETERIA. I roll my eyes and shove it aside. With the exception of the handful of kids who actually work on The Nutmeg, no one reads it. But someone left it on the old picnic table inside the ancient dairy barn that sits just outside school property. The table’s been here forever, scratched with the initials of lovers, the years of graduating classes, and general sentiments toward Castlebury High, such as “Castlebury sucks.” The teachers never come out here, so it’s also the unofficial smoking area.
“At least we get yogurt this year,” I say, for no particular reason. What if I never have sex? What if I die in a car accident before I have the chance to do it?
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Maggie asks.
Uh-oh. Up next: the dreaded body discussion. Maggie will say she thinks she’s fat, and I’ll say I think I look like a boy. Maggie will say she wishes she looked like me and I’ll say I wish I looked like her. And it won’t make a bit of difference, because two minutes later, we’ll both be sitting here in our same bodies, except we’ll have managed to make ourselves feel bad over something we can’t change.
Like not getting into the damn New School.
What if some guy wants to have sex with me and I’m too scared to go through with it?
Sure enough, Maggie says, “Do I look fat? I do look fat, don’t I? I feel fat.”
“Maggie. You’re not fat.” Guys have been drooling over Maggie since she was thirteen, a fact that she seems determined to ignore.
I look away. Behind her, in the dark recesses at the far end of the barn, the glowing tip of a cigarette moves up and down. “Someone’s in here,” I hiss.
“Who?” She spins around as Peter Arnold comes out of the shadows.
Peter is the second-smartest boy in our class and kind of a jerk. He used to be a chubby-faced short kid with pasty skin, but it appears something happened to Peter over the summer. He grew.
And apparently took up smoking.
Peter is good friends with The Mouse, but I don’t really know him. When it comes to relationships, we’re all like little planets with our own solar system of friends. Unwritten law states that the solar systems rarely intersect—until now.
“Mind if I join you?” he asks.
“Actually, we do. We’re having girl talk here.” I don’t know why I’m like this with boys, especially boys like Peter. Bad habit, I guess. Worse than smoking. But I don’t want boring old Peter to ruin our conversation.
“No. We don’t mind.” Maggie kicks me under the table.
“By the way, I don’t think you’re fat,” Peter says.
I smirk, trying to catch Maggie’s eye, but she’s not looking at me. She’s looking at Peter. So I look at Peter too. His hair is longer and he’s shed most of his zits, but there’s something else about him.
Jeez. First The Mouse and now Peter. Is everyone going to be different this year?
Maggie and Peter keep ignoring me, so I pick up the paper and pretend to read. This gets Peter’s attention.
“What do you think of The Nutmeg?” he asks.
“Drivel,” I say.
“Thanks,” he says. “I’m the editor.”
Nice. Now I’ve done it again.
“If you’re so smart, why don’t you try writing for the paper?” Peter asks. “I mean, don’t you tell everyone you want to be a writer? What have you ever written?”
Maybe he doesn’t mean to sound aggressive, but the question catches me off guard. Does Peter somehow know about the rejection letter from The New School? But that would be impossible. Then I get angry. “What does it matter, what I’ve written or not?”
“If you say you’re a writer, it means you write,” Peter says smugly. “Otherwise you should go and be a cheerleader or something.”
“And you should stick your head in a barrel of boiling oil.”
be I will.” He laughs good-naturedly. Peter must be one of those obnoxious types who’s so used to being insulted he’s not even offended when he is.
But still, I’m shaken. I grab my swim bag. “I’ve got practice,” I say, as if I can hardly be bothered with this conversation.
“What’s the matter with her?” Peter asks as I storm out.
I head down the hill toward the gym, scuffing the heels of my boots in the grass. Why is it always like this? I tell people I want to be a writer, and they roll their eyes. It drives me crazy. Especially since I’ve been writing since I was six. I have a pretty big imagination, and for a while I wrote stories about a pencil family called “The Number 2’s,” who were always trying to get away from a bad guy called “The Sharpener.” Then I wrote about a little girl who had a mysterious disease that made her look like she was ninety. And this summer, in order to get into that stupid writing program, I wrote a whole book about a boy who turned into a TV, and no one in his family noticed until he used up all the electricity in the house.
If I’d told Peter the truth about what I’d written, he would have laughed. Just like those people at The New School.
“Carrie!” Maggie calls out. She hurries across the playing fields to catch up. “Sorry about Peter. He says he was joking about the writing thing. He has a weird sense of humor.”
“Do you want to go to the mall after swim practice?”
I look across the grounds to the high school and the enormous parking lot beyond. It’s all exactly the same as it always was.
“Why not?” I take the letter out of my biology book, crumple it up, and stick it in my pocket.
Who cares about Peter Arnold? Who cares about The New School? Someday I’ll be a writer. Someday, but maybe not today.
The Carrie Diaries Page 2