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The First Day
Remember, Lizzie, I tell myself, taking a deep breath. This was your idea. Everything will be fine. But it isn’t. I’m so nervous that I shiver. If I tried to talk- not that there would be anyone to talk to- I’m not sure if I’d actually be able to open my mouth.
More kids than I’ve ever seen in one place are streaming into the school entrance; tall kids, short kids, kids dressed in black and wearing chains, kids with hair dyed a vibrant rainbow of colors. Not one that I know. The mass of people intimidates me, and I try to walk even slower, as if that will stop me from having to go in with them. The August morning is hot. I probably shouldn’t have worn a sweater.
I pull a piece of paper out of my backpack. It’s tattered and grubby, the edges frayed from being handled so often. The ink is fading. I’ve already looked over it a thousand times, but I reread it just in case it magically changed overnight. I’m so nervous that it wouldn’t take much for me to believe that. Lizzie Buehler, 7th grade: 1st period, Science 7, Holzgrafe; 2nd period… it goes on, and I’ve memorized the entire sheet, anyway.
My feet arrive at the front doors. Wooden and worn, they’ve probably been kicked a thousand times. Carved into the corners are rude words that would make my mom’s hair stand on end. My stomach churns and I begin to feel light-headed. Two students with blue hair and rather eccentric dress- in the girl’s case, about five overlapping, variously sized shirts that clash; in the boy’s, a Russian hat with earflaps- are sitting on benches. They stare at me. I turn my head away.
7th graders are supposed to report to the cafeteria before school, so I pull out a labeled, highlighted map I prepared weeks ago in the comatic boredom of sweltering July. Why are you doing this, Lizzie? part of me asks myself. You've had it memorized for days. Plus, the school’s only two hallways long, and there’s a big sign over there that says Cafeteria. Another part of me, however, seems to say, Yeah, why are you here? Shouldn’t you be back at St. Austin’s? With your friends instead of potty-mouthed strangers who wear weird clothes and already know each other? It takes all my concentration to ignore both nagging thoughts and look up from the paper. I feel naked without the masklike protection of my map, though, and in the weakness I’ve been feeling all along, I put it back to my face.
I can hear the cafeteria before I see it. Loud, crowded, and no empty seats. Great. I don’t really know where to go, so I try not to look extremely gawky and confused as I lean against a wall. I constantly move my eyes around without staring at one place too long. Looking down is for losers.
A kid who’s probably six inches shorter than me glares at me menacingly. I shrink back. What am I supposed to do? All the kids around me are squealing and hugging each other after a summer of being apart. I could go up and introduce myself to someone, but that would be, as impossible as it may seem, even more painfully awkward than standing here wordlessly already is. I guess all I can do is wait. Just five more minutes in the cafeteria, then class starts. It’ll all be okay, Lizzie. Deep breaths. Happy thoughts.
There are probably a total of 400 7th graders in the cafeteria, three times as many all the kids in my old school combined. They’re talking so loudly my ears hurt. In one corner, a girl sobs as makeup runs down her face. In another, two boys are yelling, those around them shouting, “Fight, fight, fight!” A security guard rushes over, and the small crowd dissipates. I feel like I’m looking through a telescope, watching a hundred mini soap operas that never turn off.
Is this really my life now? I can’t think of a single thing about Kealing that’s similar to St. Austin’s. The students are alive, I guess. The teachers, too. That’s all I can come up with.
I look towards the clock every 10 seconds. I know the time's not going to change if I keep doing this, but it gives my eyes a place to rest and protects me from actually having to look at people.
When I’ve finally given up on the clock ever turning to 7:21, I look back down and notice a girl walking towards me. She’s maybe a couple of inches shorter than me, but she seems taller. She simply exudes confidence. Probably the type of person who’d stick out a little bit at St. Austin’s, but she’s still within the normal-looking range. Frizzy black hair in pigtails that stick out of the sides of her head horizontally, a spaghetti strap sundress, Converse, nothing that’s too scary.
Next to her, however, is a boy who, if measured on a meter of normality, would break it. He has long, unnaturally orange hair and is wearing a ratty t-shirt with green and black checkered skinny jeans. Over this is a purple velvet cape that goes down to his knees.
I smile at her hopefully. She smiles back. So does he.
“Hey, are you new here? What’s your name?”
My heart starts to beat quickly. My strong side says, Well, they’re being friendly. That’s what you wanted. Unfortunately, my more powerful weak side counters, But if you talk to them, you'll just embarrass yourself. And they seem pretty weird. This time I go with the strong side.
“Yeah, my name is Lizzie Buehler. I’m new. What are your names?”
I think Kealing’s going to be alright.