Early Monday morning, Mother hollered for me to get up. I was already dressed. A moment later she tapped on the door with her foot. As I opened it, she was wheeling away.
“Could you make me an egg before you go?”
I grabbed my backpack filled only with a pencil and a notebook supplied by social services. It had been in with the clothes. I made my mother one egg and a slice of toast.
“I have to go or I’ll miss the bus. Have a good day.”
“Remember you get free lunch, Lorelei. Make sure you take as much as you can.”
Two groups of kids stood waiting for the bus. One was girls; the other was all boys. I planted my feet somewhere between the two. The girls ignored me except for one who gave me a slight smile when the others weren’t looking. One of the boys pointed and his friend laughed.
I noticed the girls were not as developed as I was. I wondered if they were younger or if I was an anomaly. Of course none of them would notice since I generally slumped my shoulders and the shirt I wore was a size too big. I heard that girls don’t get boobs before they get there periods. Yet something else about me that was different. I didn’t want my period anyway, It seemed like a waste of time because I knew I would never have children. I would never be a good mom. I couldn’t even be a good daughter.
The big yellow bus pulled up and they all scrambled to get inside. I waited and watched from under my eyelashes. I was the last one on.
“New kid, huh?” the burly gray-haired driver asked.
I answered with a nod and he wished me luck. The phrase was wasted on someone like me.
I found an empty seat in the fourth row. The cool kids always sat at the back and the less desirable students sat right behind the driver. I would have sat there but thought maybe I’d give the middle a shot.
As the ride continued more kids got on and by the time we were at school the bus was nearly full. No one sat next to me. I didn’t blame them. Kids don’t talk to newbies. I had learned that over the past couple of years.
I followed the signs to the main office. I gave the lady at the counter my name. She smiled, gave me my schedule, and said, “Welcome to Eastern Falls. Your homeroom is right down the hall to your left.”
Silence swept the room as I entered and I froze for a moment. The perky blonde teacher bounced over welcomed me then nudged me toward a desk.
“You can sit here, Lorelei.”
The class laughed.
I whispered, “Lori.”
“Okay, Lori. I was just about to take attendance. Brian sit down. Charles, take that hood off. Margaret, we don’t put pencils in our noses.”
I made a mental note to avoid Margaret. This was high school and she was picking her nose with a pencil. Yuck. Even I knew not to do that.
Much of my first day was trying to figure out where I was going, how to open my locker, and staying under the radar. I was good at hiding. Walk quickly. Never look in anyone’s eyes. Only say something when absolutely necessary. Sit in the back of class. I had it all down pat. If I hadn’t gone to school I am sure no one would have said a word.
I was one of the first to get on the bus to go home. I sat in the same seat I had taken that morning and stared out the window at nothing. The seat sunk a bit, letting me know I was no longer alone.
“I’m Heidi. We’re in the same homeroom. I get on the bus before you so I’ll be getting off after you. Did you just move to town?”
I nodded again.
“You don’t talk much. My mom says I talk too much. I bet you’re a good listener though. I’m not. My brain works too fast. Maybe that’s why I talk so much; I don’t know. I have to take remedial math again this year. I’m not good at numbers. Words are my thing. I do crossword puzzles all the time. Do you?”
I shook my head.
“You should try. It helps your vocabulary. Maybe you’d be better at Sudoku. That’s all numbers. I’m not good at that. I like to do word searches too. They’re fun. Do you play any games? I like scrabble. I can beat my older sister. She’s more of a numbers person like you.”
I was getting tired just listening to her. I wondered if her lips got chapped from chattering so much.
“That’s a nice shirt you have. Where did you get it?”
“We should go shopping together sometime. You may have guessed by now but I don’t really have many friends. It’s probably because I talk so much or maybe it’s because I’m different. Mom says I’m beautiful just the way I am but I see the way people look at me.”
The entire time she had been talking I was watching the trees go by. I suddenly realized who she was. She had a big purple birthmark around her left eye. I had seen her in homeroom.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“It’s okay. When I grow up I’m going to be either a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist and help kids like me be normal. What are you going to be when you get older?”
“I don’t know.”
“Mom always says I can be whatever I want to be. Does you’re mom tell you that?”
“Does your dad?”
“Do you have any brothers or sisters? I just have the one, Delia. She’s very pretty. She’s been in beauty contests. She can sing too. I can’t. I sound like a cat in heat.”
“Ha! I made you laugh. That’s good right?”
“Looks like we’re coming up to your stop. You should give me your number and we can talk.”
“I don’t know my number.”
She pulled a piece of paper out of her backpack and jotted down seven digits.
“Here’s mine. Call me later. K?”
I took the paper, smiled at her then looked down quickly so it didn’t look like I was staring. I was afraid to tell her I had never used a telephone before. I had seen people talk on the phone, but never dialed one. No one ever let me.
The bus stopped and Heidi moved so I could get out along with my other bus stop buddies. One of the guys behind me nudged me and I lost my footing momentarily. I recovered without falling. I was so flustered I didn’t see the other kid’s foot come out and I tripped this time landing on my hands and knees.
“Knock it off!” the bus driver yelled. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Brendan you keep doing that and I will have them call your mom again this year.”
“Whatever,” the boy grunted.
I knew I would have to steer clear of Brendan.
Once at home I went straight to my chores. The teachers hadn’t given us much homework the first day so I thought it would be best to clean and make dinner. I worked on the bathroom first. Since I had cleaned the day before, all I had to do was wipe everything down. From there I swept all the hardwood floors and then the kitchen. Mother was still on the computer and I worked around her. She ignored me as her fingers flew over the keyboard.
She had left me a note in the kitchen about what to prepare for dinner. One slice of bread, one of ham, and one slice of tomato made my sandwich. She had two slices of ham on hers. I opened a can of chicken broth and heated it on the stove. When It was done, I went into the other room to retrieve Mother.
While we ate, she told me about her day. She had made several sales and would receive a check by the end of the week.
“Does that mean maybe I can get some new bras?”
“It means we can eat a little better.”
“Oh, um, I need a book for school too.”
“How much does it cost?”
“I don’t know.” I didn’t want to tell her the teacher said I could take it out of the library. I had never been to one before. The thought of a big room full of quiet people made me a little uneasy. I was better in small places.
“Don’t they give you books at school?”
“This is a novel for English class. I guess we’re supposed to buy our own.”
“It’s public school, Lorelei. I shouldn’t have to pay for anything. Did you get the free lunch?”
“Yes,” I said without explaining.
“So what was it.”
“I have no idea. Some sort of brown slab, a gray blob and something green and leafy.”
“That sounds like meatloaf, mashed potatoes and salad.”
“It was no salad. It was cooked and kind of squishy.”
“Maybe it was spinach. That’s good for you. Did you eat it all?”
“Most of it,” I lied.
“You should try to eat as much as you can. And if they give you something you can take home, do it.”
“I took an apple. It’s in my backpack. Do you want it?”
“Go get it. We can cut it in half and share.”
I scrambled out of my seat and jogged down the hall to my room. I was excited she actually wanted to share with me. I rushed back to the kitchen and retrieved our one good knife.
“Let me show you how to cut it.”
She sliced into the fruit horizontally and opened it.
“See the star? My mother used to cut apples like this when we were small.”
In that moment, I felt close to her. She had never spoken about her mother before. I saw her eyes well up. I reached for her hand and she pulled it away. The moment was gone.
I took the bottom half. It was crunchy and sweet.
When we were done eating, I cleaned up the kitchen. I put mom to bed and went to my room. After doing what little homework I had, I checked in on Mother. She was snoring softly. I went to the kitchen with the paper Heidi had given me. I picked up the phone and dialed the seven digits. The beep I heard nearly made me drop the phone. Then a lady’s voice came on and told me I needed an area code. I asked what that was before realizing it was a recorded voice.
I sat on the hard chair for several minutes wondering where I could find the area code. I was afraid if I asked Heidi she would laugh. If I asked Mother, she would know I wanted to use the phone. An idea popped into my head. I went to the room she used for work and rummaged through some papers. In a little brown booklet I found some names and addresses with numbers written next to them. I counted the digits and thought maybe if I added three to the numbers Heidi gave me I could call her.
I looked for a name that had an address close by to our house. I wasn’t sure if the numbers came before or after what was on the paper. I looked at a few more lines and decided in front was the way to go.
I returned to the kitchen, took a long deep breath and dialed.
“Who is this?”
“This is Lorelei. Is this Heidi?”
“Heidi is in bed for the evening. Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“It’s nine forty five here.”
“Well it is nine forty five here too. Don’t call here after nine.”
The call disconnected and I was left alone.