Shelby feels funny.
After gathering all her materials for first period, her arm refuses to close her locker. Books grow heavier and still the Cubs hat gazes back at her from the top shelf.
At the next locker, Taylor uses her phone to translate an ethical dilemma argument into Spanish. “No es etico para descargar una pelicula sin pagar,” she whispers, squinting at the tiny screen. “Porque la industria del cine emplea a muchas personas.”
Shelby, who knows Taylor's debate strategy is flawed, turns back to her own locker. The hat almost smiles with its artfully frayed C stitched in a friendly hue.
Taylor turns to Shelby in a mild panic. “This debate is in fifteen minutes. I'm so fucked. I don't want to get another C.”
Shelby chooses to recognize the sign. The hat molds into her palm and teeters atop books. Her locker clicks shut. She strides all the way down the hall until the green junior lockers morph into blue senior lockers, where Jasper O'Toole stands with two friends.
The boys match in the way boys who put any effort into their appearance match, and look to be in the process of giving each other complicated handshakes. They eye Shelby curiously as she approaches. She's committed now. She can't turn back if she wanted to, which she definitely does.
The blue hat floats up toward three peering masculine faces. It's her; she's lifting the hat, and they wait curiously for her to speak. “I think you forgot something Saturday night.”
Jasper gazes at the cap for a few seconds before looking up and past her. “That's not mine, so. Must be someone else's.”
What just happened? Humiliation rises from the back of her neck like a grasping, crimson vine until it flushes her entire face. Still holding the hat (a newly evil thing; the cause of everything bad in the world), she forces herself to say something. Anything. “You know it's yours, so fucking take it.” Finally it lands on Jasper's sneakers.
As she walks away, head held haughtily, hoping she can make it to the bathroom before tears start to flow, she hears one of the other boys say, “Shit, she can't even keep track of whose hat is whose,” and through the haze of water rising from within she thinks that if Mae were in this situation, she would give those boys the finger—so Shelby does, right before escaping into the nearest ladies room, and into the largest open stall.
Perhaps she'll spend all day in here, or at least the morning, then escape during lunch to go somewhere. Anywhere that's not school works. On the walls, standard marker graffiti bleeds through a shoddy paint job. In all her sixteen years, Shelby has never skipped a class, which must be some sort of record. How hard can it be? A friend writes a note and forges her mother's name. She makes up the Trigonometry quiz tomorrow and, let's be honest, French class is worth missing on its own.
“Shelby?” Taylor's voice echoes in the empty bathroom. “Are you going to class? First period's already started.”
Taylor's right. The hallways are silent. “No. I'm not doing school today.”
“Not doing school? Is that allowed?”
“Of course it's not fucking allowed.” Shelby emerges from the stall to face Taylor's guileless, freckled features. “And for the record, I'm not crying because I'm sad. I'm crying because I'm pissed.”
“I know. You're handling this extremely well.” A pause. “Did you hang out with those seniors without me?”
“It's not worth going into.” Shelby removes two handfuls of toilet paper from her face. “Is my face super red?”
“No. Was Mae there?”
Shelby draws a tube of concealer from her bag and turns to do battle in front of the mirror. Her face is chili pepper red, and splotchy to the point of looking bruised. “I'm not made of glass, Taylor. You don't have to lie to protect my feelings. And you can see your Spanish all over your hands.”
Taylor inspects her hands, which are covered in black ink. “Maybe I suck at Spanish, but at least I'm not crying in the bathroom over some dumb boy's hat. Maybe you suck at boys.”
“Just go fail your class already.”
Taylor freezes by the door, then seems to grow a few inches. “You really aren't a very nice person, are you?”
Shelby skips no classes. She arrives late to first period but still finishes the quiz early. Around her, students poke at calculators or try to get in a few minutes of sleep. Oily chins rest on tanned forearms. Classical music (supposedly a performance enhancer) streams from the teacher's desktop.
A blank sheet of college-ruled notebook paper, Shelby discovered years ago, is inherently filled with possibility. Carefully plucked from big box store shelves in late summer, neatly stacked in shopping carts, labeled and color coded after the first day of school, notebooks represent the promise of order and balance. Popping the lid off a particularly fat marker, she goes to fill the page with angry scribbles, but before felt tip can meet page she reconsiders. Instead, two figures emerge, in polo shirts and large sneakers, the resemblance unmistakable. She sketches quickly, her other arm acting as a shield, then labels the drawing with careful arrows: huge ego, tiny dick, busted face. Angry lines and mean words; that's more like it. She tears the drawing out of her notebook with an alarmingly loud rip and feels instant relief. Her notebook is blank once again. Her heart rate slows. She must share.
She retrieves her mock pen from her purse, the one with the giant plastic daisy at the end, and unscrews the tip. She rolls up the drawing carefully, stuffs it inside its vessel, and passes it to Mae, who sits one row away.
Mae unrolls the drawing carefully, tilting her head to examine Shelby's masterpiece. Finally Mae mouths across the row, “Is this Ethan fucking Jasper in the ass?”
So Mae rolls the sketch back into the flower pen and stares ahead, eyes glistening, a tiny smile forming on her face, no doubt beginning to scheme. As twinges of regret begin to buzz within Shelby's chest, she applies one coat of lip gloss and then another.