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By Hannah Eschelbach All Rights Reserved ©

Humor / Drama


INSTRUCTIONS FOR MYSELF By Aleks (not Aleksandra) Otrowski 1. Do not let brother #1 wind people up, or let brother #2 get picked on. 2. Do not alienate potential new friends 3. Do not let your mother pry into your life 4. Do not fall prey to the charms of the handsome over-achiever boy 5. Do not go within ten feet of that emo dude 6. Do not tick off that terrifying punk guy 7. Do not be tricked by the seemingly nice boy who could actually be a backstabber. 8. Do not slap the jerk whose mother is on the school board. 9. Do not try to join student council when you hardly know anyone at this school. 10. Do not...eh, forget it.

Chapter 1

The people I notice are the ones that seem to have an instruction manual. My dad always said that life is like a card game, because even if you know all the rules it’s still halfway a matter of luck. There are some people who keep the same façade of calm whether it’s a royal flush or a pair or nothing at all. These are the ones who draw my stares. Their ability to pretend was so impressive that I started to believe that their lives really were that perfect.

I was thinking about that while staring out the window of our minivan. If I focused one way, I could see an immaculate street of houses rolling by, and if I focused another way, a wary-looking me stared back. And if I focused my eyes to my left, I found the source of a babbling voice that didn’t know how to speak quietly, otherwise known as my littlest brother Brian.

“I don’t see why you two are making such a huge deal out of this,” he re-iterated for the eighth time that morning. ‘You two’ referred to myself and our second brother, the overlooked middle child, whatever his name is. (Kidding. His name’s Christopher.) Chris had stolen the shotgun seat even though I’m the oldest, but this was less a cause for complaint than it used to be. Our old car was tiny, but the back seat of our minivan was big enough for Brian and me to set up a Monopoly board between us and still have room for a side game Parcheesi. But I don’t usually play games with Brian. He’s too loud when he loses. “Pretty much every high school is the same, even private ones. There’s gonna be, like, a new version of everyone we knew at our old school.”

“I will admit there could be some truth to that,” Christopher mused, “But this a great place for extra-curricular activities. Their debate team and student council are-“

“You’re the only one who’s going to join any lame-ass clubs-” Brian sneered.

“Watch your mouth,” snapped our mother.

Brian didn’t even blink. “I’m just gonna be counting down the hours each day until I can get the hell out. Right, Aleks?”

I glanced up at my name. I’m Aleksandra. Just ‘Aleks’ if you don’t want to get slugged. “I don’t know. I might join something.”

Brian just snorted. Each year I always say I’m going to get more involved but I never do. Last time, it was because there was always too much homework, and when I wasn’t doing that, I would rather have hung out with my friends than go to some boring club meeting. And this year, for my junior year at a new high school that I’d never even seen the inside of before, the only thing I wanted were some friends.

This is why I wished I had an instruction manual, or a spy that could go ahead of me and then send back intelligence; the spy or the manual could inform me of which people at this new school were compatible with me. But I had the same amount of information on who else would be like me as an honest poker player has on his opponent’s hands. And so I knew that the first few weeks or so would be filled with awkward silences, false starts, and sitting alone at lunch. I’d read enough books to know what it was like being the new girl at school, and I’d continue reading a lot of books because there would be nothing else to do during my silent, solitary lunch hours.

I went back to staring out the window. No matter which way I focused, in or out, it brought thought. Outside, each house was almost exactly the same, beautiful yet uniform; manicured hedges, speckles of colors for flower gardens, neo-classical Victorian buildings. Our new home was the same way, even though I knew all of our already-planted flowers would die; some people have a green thumb, but my mom’s is brown. Inside, there was me, Aleks, in her new knee-length skirt and blue sweater with black flats. This school’s dress code was as strict as they could make it while still trying to be non-uniform.

My face itself could almost be pretty, though I hardly ever wore makeup and my dark almost-black hair had gotten insanely long. I petted it for flyaways, wishing I’d gotten it cut before the first day of school, but I didn’t really mind. I’ve always thought I was lucky to have the kind of hair that didn’t usually fizz or split or require a million expensive serums and treatments just to look acceptable. It was smooth and straight and dark, and a lot of girls at my old school were actually jealous.

Brian looks like my two-years-younger twin, but Chris is the stick-out. His hair is a lemony-blonde and his face is sharp; pointy nose and chin, high cheekbones. Brian and I have the same feathery dark hair, heart-shaped faces, and serious, almost sweet expressions. But we all have fine-boned features, pearly-sheen pale skin, and curious-looking eyes; gray for me and Christopher and blue for Brian.

The three of us were hardly the same, but we were agreed on one thing: only we were allowed to be mean to each other, but if anyone else was we’d pound them into the ground. And we had another thing in common: each of us, in our own way, had well established ourselves at our old school, only to be plucked up like dandelions with our long dirty roots still dangling as we were thrown someplace else. Right as I thought that, I could feel our tires slowing, the engine decelerating, until we had come to a stop. I gave my (way too long) mane a final smooth and slung my backpack onto my back, ready to try and re-bury my helpless roots. I’d been dealt a new hand.

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