Second Bell English
Mrs. Carroll is droning on and on about Walt Whitman’s literary genius for, like, the third day in a row. I don’t care. I’m writing all over two special pages inside the red Trapper Keeper I inherited from my mom. I’m sure it looks like I’m taking notes. But while the other kids doodle rocket ships and body parts and insulting pictures of the teacher, I’m practicing my signature.
Mrs. Elizabeth Starling. John and Elizabeth Starling. Elizabeth Louise Starling. Mr. and Mrs. John & Elizabeth Starling.
This page of my notebook is dedicated to practicing my name linked to John’s. John and I aren’t officially a couple. He doesn’t officially know I exist. That will change once I get up the nerve to ask him to Junior Prom. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, trying to settle the butterflies in my stomach. Just thinking of asking him out makes me nervous. John has spiky blond hair and ocean-blue eyes and a smile that I like to pretend is only for me. I think we’ll make a cute couple. All the other girls will be jealous, including my best friends, but they’ll understand. John and I belong together.
Satisfied with my penmanship, I start sketching wedding gowns. Long and flowing. Short and sassy. Hip-hugging mermaid styles. Poofy ballgown styles. Mrs. Carroll is still bragging about a dead poet like she knew him personally, so I have time to start on my guest list. I draw a line down the paper for Guest List A and Guest List B. I have no idea how much my parents can afford to spend on a wedding, but it can’t hurt to be prepared.
I become aware that someone is hovering over my desk. I slam the notebook shut, not wanting Mrs. Carroll to see I haven’t been taking notes today. I turn my head toward the Nosy Nellie and come face to face with Missy Baldwin. She’s practically falling out of her seat in order to lean over and see what I’ve been writing.
I glare at Missy. “What do you want?” I hiss.
Instead of recoiling in embarrassment, she has the nerve to smile sweetly and ask if she can borrow a pen. Really? She needs to borrow a pen at the end of class?
“Please? Mine just ran out.” She smiles again to show off her dimples, which she thinks are so great. So what? I read somewhere that dimples are a birth defect, so I should actually feel sorry for her. I used to want dimples, but then I grew up and realized that my face is perfect and it doesn’t need anything special to make people look at it. As long as John Starling notices me someday, Missy Baldwin can have all the dimples in the world, all over her sneaky little face, and I won’t care.
“I don’t have an extra pen to give you, Missy.” I drop my pen into my purse so she knows she can’t have that one, either. The bell rings, and Mrs. Carroll reminds us to write a report on the differences and similarities between Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walt Whitman. Yay.
Third Bell Cooking Class
John and I have only one class together – Cooking. Luckily, I don’t need to concentrate too hard in that class, because I can’t think about anything besides kissing him. Unluckily, he sits at a table completely across the room from mine. Worse, there’s a cheerleader in his group and she’s always flirting and sprinkling him with flour and making him laugh. It should be me over there, making him laugh.
The only time I came close to that was last month when I walked to his side of the room to grab paper towels and slid in a greasy spot on the floor right in front of his table. I landed on my butt, and the other kids clapped and made fun of me. I did my best not to cry. I was more embarrassed than hurt, and I couldn’t bear to look up and possibly see John laughing, too. Someone reached down and pulled me up. The cheerleader. She asked if I was okay, and she looked genuinely concerned. Darn it. Not only was a pretty girl flirting with my man, but she was a nice person, too.
The cheerleader isn’t in class today. I’m sitting at the far side of my table so that I’m facing John across the room. I stretch my arms above my head and bend a little bit, side to side. I’m so obvious that people in China can see me. John, however, is looking everywhere except at me. What does a girl have to do?
Cooking class ends, and I linger because my future husband has to pass by my table to get out the door. When he does, I muster a weak “hi.” John turns toward me, smiles and lifts his chin. He doesn’t actually say anything, but that’s okay. He has to know I’m alive now. I’ll probably spend the rest of the day analyzing the awesome way he smiled at me and tilted his head back. I’ve seen him do that when his guy friends pass him in the hall and call his name. They call him “Starzy,” but I’ll stick with “John.” It’s so much more romantic.
I get to the lunch table first and save a spot for my best friends, Lyssa and Heather, by putting my notebooks beside me on the bench. Saving seats is a losing battle with seniors around, but today I get lucky. My friends end up sitting across from me, so I just leave my books where they are. I tell them all about John in Cooking Class, and they roll their eyes.
“Let us know when something actually happens,” Lyssa says, and shoves a forkful of rubbery spaghetti in her mouth.
Even though Lyssa and Heather are my best friends in the world, I haven’t told them about the secret pages of my notebook. Instead, I just tell them that Missy Baldwin was being a pill in English class.
“I mean, who asks for a pen at the end of class?” I look to my friends to make sure they agree that Missy is as big a pain as I think she is. “That’s so stupid.”
“Maybe her pen really did run out,” says Lyssa, the Voice of Reason.
“No, I think she was spying on your notes because you get better grades.” Good old Heather. I can always count on her.
Lunch period is almost over, so I reach for my stack of books and my stomach does a flip-flop up into my throat. My red Trapper Keeper is missing. I look under the table and all around the floor near us, but it’s gone.
“Oh my gosh,” I start to panic.
“What’s wrong?” Heather slings her purse over her shoulder and leans across the lunch table in my direction.
“My notebook is gone!” I try not to cry. It shouldn’t be that big of a deal to lose a notebook, but to me it’s huge. “It’s not here on the bench, where I left it.” I shuffle through the rest of the stack. The notebook is gone, for sure.
“Okay, calm down, we’ll find it,” Lyssa tells me. I’d like to believe her. I’d especially like to believe I’ll find it before someone opens the dang thing and spills the beans to John. If that happens, I’ll have to switch schools.
Heather nods to us and whispers, “You know, Missy did pass by here at one point. She could have taken it.”
I’m speechless. That is definitely high-priority need-to-know information. “Why didn’t you say so?”
She looks hurt. “I just did.” Heather picks up her lunch tray and heads for the trash can. Lyssa grabs my tray and orders me to hunt Missy down ASAP. The commons area is crammed with other kids waiting for the bell to ring. Now more than ever, I hate being short. I wind my way through the cliques and ask a few kids if they’ve seen Missy. They shrug in reply. The bell rings and I have no choice but to give up my search. Lyssa and Heather catch up to me and report that they couldn’t find her either.
We turn down the math and science hall, and it starts to clear as kids file into their classrooms. A flash of red catches my eye. Down the hall, to the right, my worst nightmare has come true. John Starling is leaning against the lockers, flipping through my notebook. Missy is standing across from him, grinning like a Cheshire cat from Hell. I have to get the notebook back. It has my name on it, so there’s no use pretending it isn’t mine.
I want to be calm and act normal, but my body betrays me. My throat swells up tight, my eyes water, and my nose starts to run. That’s great. Apparently, the only thing worse than having John see what I wrote about him, is having him see me dripping snot. I turn around and dig a tissue from my purse, then wipe my eyes and nose.
Lyssa tells me to calm down because I’m hyperventilating. Inside, I swing wildly between rage and humiliation, and I can’t decide which is worse. Both of them are making my nose drip. I turn back to face the music. If Missy has the slightest clue what’s good for her, she’ll run. As I get closer, I can see that her shoulders are hopping up and down, and she’s snickering through her evil dimpled grin. One good swing and I’ll knock those dimples off her face. And get suspended. I’ll have to think about whether it’s worth it.
I approach John, clamping my jaw and trying to speak in a normal voice. That’s impossible. I try to go with the rage and not the humiliation, but that’s also impossible. I want to be cool, stick out my hand and say “I’ll take that back now, thank you,” then whirl around on my heel and walk away, as if writing Mr. and Mrs. John and Elizabeth Starling a hundred times in my notebook is the most natural thing in the world. But I’m not that cool.
“That’s mine,” I whimper. Missy throws her head back and laughs out loud. I want to punch her, but my limbs are jelly and I’m trying to dissolve into thin air.
“I didn’t think you even knew I existed.”
I lift my head, shocked. Did he just say what I think he said?
John smiles at me exactly how I always dreamed he would. He shuts the notebook and hands it to me. “Anyway, I’m flattered, but I think we should take it slow.”
My heart is pounding, but even over the rush of blood in my ears, I can tell that Missy has stopped laughing. Like me, she probably realizes that John is not making fun of me. He’s serious.
“I saw your notes in there from Mrs. Carroll’s class. I have her for first period English and I don’t really get all this poetry stuff. Do you?”
I nod my head, numbly. “Yeah.”
John shifts his weight from one foot to another and looks at the ground, then back at me. “Maybe you can be my study partner, or something.”
A squeak escapes Missy’s throat. I hope she’s dying inside. Just a little bit.
“Maybe we can try out a recipe from cooking class, too.” Boy, am I brave all of a sudden.
John’s eyebrows shoot up and he grins. “That sounds even better. What class are you late for now?”
A joke. He loves me. Together, we head in the direction of our respective classrooms, and John puts his arm gently around my waist. Even though we’re separated by about three layers of clothes, my skin tingles beneath his hand. As I walk away with my prize, I promise myself to never forget the look on Missy’s face: her eyebrows scrunched together and her mouth hanging open like she just heard a cat read a book. I don’t think I’ll ever actually like Missy Baldwin, but I’ll have to remember to thank her for fixing me up with John Starling. That’s the nicest thing she’s ever done.
The theme: seeing red