Sarah Daniels walked down the main hallway of Liberty High with her best friends in tow. Her waves of auburn hair hid her sky-blue eyes. As they hurried to history class, the big blue ’Congrats class of ’93’ banner strung from the ceiling rippled in their wake.
“Just six more months,” Tanya said, shaking with excitement. She brushed her long blonde bangs behind her right ear. “Then we’re seniors.”
Sarah looked past the peeling paint on the old walls to the banner as they passed under it. “Yeah – I can’t wait.”
“Why so glum, chum?” Annie asked from Sarah’s left.
Annie’s perky tone made Sarah smile. Even back in grade school, she had been the corny type of personality that could pull your spirits back from the darkest pit of despair. Annie’s dark red curls bounced around her fair features.
“Dunno.” Sarah glanced toward her and quickly lowered her eyes back to the floor. “Just not looking forward to history, I guess.”
Annie’s emerald gaze studied her as they wove around a gaggle of students in the main hall. Sarah sensed Annie’s motherly instincts probing her for the truth.
“Eh,” Annie said, jabbing an elbow into Sarah’s arm. “I can’t stand that dry crap either.”
“So,” Tanya said, changing the subject, “wanna come out to the mall with us tonight, Sarah?”
She shook her head keeping her eyes on the heart pattern in her sweater. “I can’t.”
“Lemmie guess,” Annie said, “homework.” She drug out the word, sounding more like a foghorn than anything.
“It’s not just that, Anne --”
“God, Sarah,” Annie said. “When are you gonna live a little?”
“Yeah,” Tanya said, tossing an arm around her neck. “There’s more to life than those books.”
“Such as?” Sarah asked in her own defense.
Tanya shrugged and slid her purse up on her shoulder. “Well, there’s boys, and shopping – and boys!”
All three of them broke out in laughter.
“And you say I’ve got a one-track mind.” Sarah shifted her stack of books and binders.
“It’s the only track that matters,” Tanya said, turning her blue eyes to the ceiling tiles.
A small cluster formed ahead of them in front of the red lockers. A husky senior loomed over his much smaller prey. The boy’s blue and white letterman’s jacket gave away his anonymity.
“Where do you think you’re goin’ you little freak?” The boy’s white leather sleeves swung out to impede the progress of the frail black girl.
“Please,” she pleaded, “I just want to get to class.”
“Oh, God.” Annie whispered in Sarah’s ear. “It’s Chet Brown – again.”
The crowd of other flannel-clad grunge-heads and jacket-toting jocks formed a human barrier around the helpless freshman.
“Please,” the girl repeated in a squeaky tone. She pushed her thick glasses up the bridge of her small nose.
“Nobody wants your kind here, freak,” Chet said, glaring at her through his maniacal green eyes. “Why don’t you go back to wherever it is you came from?”
“Leave her alone, Chet,” Annie said, shoving a flannel longhair aside.
The girl seized the opportunity and scurried out of the ring down the hall to safety. Sarah’s stern glare met Chet’s predatory eyes.
“What are you lookin’ at?” Chet slapped the sleeve of another of his linebacker buddies. “C’mon, Mike. Let’s get to class.”
“God,” Tanya said, stomping a heel into the tile floor. “What an asshole.”
Sarah glared at the copper-haired brute. One of these days.
“He’ll likely end up on the back of a garbage truck after graduation anyway.” Annie trotted to catch up to Sarah as she turned toward the door to Mr. Leckner’s history class.
The fourth period bells resounded down the corridors of Liberty beckoning all to their seats. The girls walked into class and took up their usual places around one another near the archaic windows.
“Good morning, everyone,” Mr. Leckner said. He stood nearly as tall as the blackboard that he cleared with an eraser. His long bony arm eradicated the remnants of the prior period’s discussion in a single swath. “Ready to see how you did on yesterday’s quiz?”
A collective grumble came in response. Leckner swept his gray bangs out of his glasses and strode over to his small wooden desk. “Let’s get to it, then.”
He picked up a manila folder and walked around the room. “Jack,” he said handing a paper back to the small boy at the end of Sarah’s row, “The Puritans came to America, not the Purifiers.” The class chuckled as he continued disseminating their results.
Annie pecked Sarah’s sleeve with the end of her pen. “Movie – tonight?” she mouthed.
Sarah shook her head. “Can’t,” she said in silence.
“There you go, Amy,” Mr. Leckner said, placing a sheet of notebook paper on the girls’ desk. “C-plus. Needs improving.”
“Come on,” Annie mouthed, showing her disgust.
Sarah dropped her defeated stare to the legs of her seat.
“Sarah,” Mr. Leckner said, handing back her quiz. “Aces as usual. Well done.”
“Annie,” he said, passing the sheet over Sarah’s head, “if you’d spend as much time with your nose in your book as you did in other people’s business, you just might pass my class.”
Annie huffed and snapped the top of her paper toward Sarah. A large red D glared from the sheet’s upper right corner. Annie slammed the paper back down on her desktop and crossed her arms.
“See, Sarah,” Tanya whispered, leaning in over her desk. “You deserve a break. You get A’s all the time.”
“All right, class,” Leckner said, tossing the folder onto his desk. “Today we’re going to discuss your semester projects.”
“No way,” a perturbed jock in the back corner said. “That sucks.”
“Yes way, Mr. Allmon,” Leckner said, picking up a piece of chalk. “Whether it sucks or not is entirely up to you.”
He scribbled the word ‘genealogy’ on the board and turned to the class. “You will have the remainder of this year to research one family member – other than a parent – and write a report on them.”
Several utterances of disgust and angst fluttered around the room.
“Hey,” Leckner said, “I’m giving you guys six months to do this. Stop whining.” He jotted down the highlights of his instructions as he spoke. “They will need to be a minimum – that’s minimum, Mr. Allmon – of five pages double-spaced. Properly cite all of your references, blah, blah, blah – you know the rest.” He set the chalk down and walked back over to his chair. “I want your topics turned in by the end of next week.”
Great, Sarah thought branding the instructions into her notebook with her pencil. Just what I need right now.
“Okay.” Leckner thunked his copy of the textbook down and flipped through its pages, “let’s turn to chapter fourteen and start the next lesson.”
Sarah’s eyes scanned the pages, but her mind drifted off to the mountain of chores she’d face when she got back home. Her mom got put on mid-shifts again, and that translated into a small hummock of dirty laundry to tote across the street from their cramped apartment among other things.
I hope she left me enough change in the cup to do the full basket this time. Her mom worked hard to provide for them, and Sarah realized it. Scrubbing toilets up in Clarksburg corporate buildings for a few hundred bucks a week motivated Sarah to stay focused on college. I’ll have to nuke something up in the microwave again, and then settle in with an hour of my friends in Beverly Hills.
“Come on, Sarah,” Annie said, tugging on her sweater.
“Hmm?” A tingling sensation radiated from the back of her neck.
The bell stopped ringing as Annie stood up from her desk. “I’m starving. Let’s go.”
“Sorry.” Sarah gathered her belongings and trailed behind Annie and Tanya as the class filed out the door.
A young man flattened down his blond cowlick and strode toward her locker as Sarah stacked her books inside.
“Hey, Sarah,” he said, remaining on the other side of the door.
“Hi, Collin.” She grabbed her small crocheted purse and unzipped it.
“Mind if I join you for lunch?”
She shut the locker door and zipped her small bag. “I don’t know if…” His big blue eyes found hers. They had a way of melting her into a puddle of goo. “Sure, I guess.”
“Hi, Collin.” Annie scooted behind him and silent-clapped excitedly. Her patented big grin covered most of her face.
The aroma of pizza intermingled with tacos as they inched through the line deeper into the cafeteria.
“So,” Collin said running his hand through his dusty blond mop. “I was wondering if you’d like to come to my recital later tonight.”
Sarah tossed a pain-soaked smile at him. “I’m sorry.”
“Got another date,” he said. “I understand.”
“No, it’s not that,” she said, stuffing her sweaty hands into her pockets, “tonight’s just not a very good night for me.”
“Oh.” Collin’s tone perked up. “How about we make a rain check for some other time?”
The blood heated her youthful cheeks. “Sure. That would be great.”
Annie tugged her sleeve and pointed at the trays of food coming out the other side of the line. “Looks pretty good…”
Her friend’s words blurred into the sound her tape deck made when it got jammed. The murmur of the crowd faded into the growing void and Sarah’s vision went black. Her head collided with the cool tiles on the floor with bruising force giving rise to a cloud of colorful stars. Every muscle in her body clenched before the emptiness completely consumed her.