The high shriek of the whistle screeched in my ear.
I jumped and dropped my flute, suddenly realizing that, while standing at attention on the field, I had actually fallen asleep.
“Crimson! Get your head out of your ass!” Ms. Doyle, the band director, yelled at me. “Pick up your flute and get back to attention.”
I bent down to pick my flute up, and, as she turned away and walked back to her podium, I muttered, “I know what I’d like to do with my flute.” The girls around me giggled silently, immediately cutting off when Doyle snapped an evil look at them from her podium.
“Now that we’re all awake,” she yelled across the field, “let’s run it through from the top.”
The entire band groaned. We had spent all of last week, our very last precious week of summer, on this very field practicing our performance for this year. And now it was the first day of school and we were being forced to arrive before the rest of the school to march for an hour. I despised Ms. Doyle, and so did everyone else.
She blew her whistle once to silence us, then started conducting and we performed the whole show. It was good that there were so many other girls who played the flute, because I was too winded to actually blow air into mine.
After practice was over, we all lumbered off the field and back to the band room. My legs felt like jello and my throat was drier than the Santa Cruz River. And not to mention that the outfit I had planned so perfectly for the first day back to school was now soaked in sweat.
“Crimson, I can’t believe you actually fell asleep, right there, standing up at attention!” Tiana said with a laugh; Tiana was my closest friend in the band, but our friendship was limited to band activities. She was a thicker girl with a pretty face and hair like chocolate ribbons. “I mean, I thought I noticed you starting to wobble, but I never actually thought you were asleep.”
“Yeah,” I yawned. “This is just insane. What kind of psycho has her students come to school at five-thirty in the morning to march for an hour?”
When we got back to the band room, I carelessly abandoned my flute inside, then ran off into the cafeteria, which was still half empty. I saw the lone girl with the blonde ponytail and glasses sitting at our old table and skipped along to join her.
“Hey Amber!” I greeted with renewed cheerfulness.
She looked up from whatever manga comic she was reading.
“Crimson!” she peeped. She jumped up to give me a hug. “Oh, I haven’t seen you in so long.”
“We just talked on the phone yesterday,” I said.
“Yeah, but I haven’t actually seen you for a month,” she said. “Ugh, and just look at your hair! It’s at least four inches longer. I wish my hair grew like that.” She reached out to flick a lock of my dark red-brown hair.
I sat down and smiled, forever unsure how to react when complimented.
Within the next five minutes, the cafeteria filled with people and the other two members of our gang, Robert and Reina arrived. Robert was a tall male diva with flamboyantly blond-streaked black hair who we often forgot was the opposite sex (does it need to be stated that he’s gay?). And Reina, the sweetest and most naïve girl you’ll ever meet, was my absolute best friend.
“Oh, Crimson,” Reina called my attention over the roar of students. “You said you were looking for a motorcycle, so I went on Craig’s List and found a bunch of different ones for you.”
“Thanks, Reina,” I said, taking the list and looking it over, even though I already had my heart set on the beautiful bright silver and black Ninja at Performance Cycle Center. But sadly, I had slaved all summer working to save up for it and still came up short.
“A motorcycle?” Amber asked, surprised. “Why do you want a motorcycle?”
“Are you kidding?” I replied. “Tucson is so boring. I need some excitement.”
“I hear that,” Robert said. “This town is such a drag.” He looked away, toward the breakfast line. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m gonna get in line before it gets too long,” Robert said. “You comin?”
“Na, I’m gonna wait till the line goes down,” I said.
He shrugged and proceeded to the line forming against the wall.
“So Crimson, we have two classes together, right?” Reina asked.
“Yeah, Art and Calculus,” I said.
“What other classes do you have?”
“Physics, English, Band and Psychology.”
“You have Psychology?” Amber asked, breaking away from her comic again. “That sounds like fun. I should have signed up for that class.”
“You have to be a senior,” I informed her.
Amber was a junior, a year behind Reina, Robert and me.
“Great, now that just reminds me that this will be our last year together,” she pouted. “You’re going to graduate and leave me here by myself.”
I didn’t know what to say, for I, too, was not entirely excited about the fact that I was graduating; I had no idea what I was going to do after high school was over. I had already been accepted to the University of Arizona, and had been awarded three scholarships, but I didn’t know what I wanted. I had so many passions: astrophysics, archaeology, psychology, genetics…I couldn’t just choose one of them, and I couldn’t pursue them all. I was just stuck.
I turned around and looked at the breakfast line. It was shorter now, so Reina and I got in line and I got some cereal and an orange.
“So,” Amber started when we returned to the table, “who’s all coming to my house today?”
“Remind me, what’s going on at your house today?” Robert asked.
“Surprise movie screening,” Amber said mysteriously.
Robert shrugged, diva as ever. “Sure, I’ll come.”
“What about you, Crimson? You’re coming, right?” she asked me.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” I answered.
“Great!” she grinned.
“So, Robert, who’s going to be your crush for this year?” I asked him playfully.
“Hmm, I don’t know yet,” he answered thoughtfully. “But I think I’m bored with preppy guys,” Robert added. “They’re too stiff—ha ha, you know what I mean.”
We all laughed.
“I kinda feel in the mood for a jock, maybe,” he said. “Like Stephen Tucker. He’s not gay—yet—but he is definitely a ten on the hotness scale. What do you think?”
“Actually, I’m not sure who that is,” I answered.
“But you’re in the band,” he said with mock shock. “You go to every football game.”
“Yeah, but I don’t actually watch the games. I don’t like football.”
“That’s it, at the first football game, I’m going to make it my mission to show you all the important football players on the team; ‘important’ meaning ‘hot.’ When is the first game?”
“Next Friday,” I grumbled.
“Cool,” he said. After a moment of thoughtful silence, he said, “You know, I think I will crush on Stephen this year,” inciting more giggles from our group.
The bell rang, too soon, and it was back to the band room for me.
Before I knew it, half the day was over and I was walking with Robert to Physics, the only class we had together. The class was all the way on the other side of campus, so we ended up being a few minutes late, but our Stephen-King-look-alike of a teacher didn’t seem to notice.
Robert and I took the only empty lab table left.
“OMG!” Robert whispered. “You’re not going to believe this, but my crush is actually in this class!”
“What? Where?” I asked.
Robert pointed to a boy sitting at the table in the adjacent corner of the room. He was tall with short brown hair and green eyes. His thick arms were bulging from the short sleeves of his tight black t-shirt, which flauntingly defined his impressive chest muscles. Everything about him screamed “I’m a football player.”
“God, I can’t believe this!” Robert went on. “It is total serendipity-doo!” He turned to me. “Now do you see what I mean? Isn’t he gorgeous?”
“I guess,” I answered apathetically.
He dropped his jaw and looked at me like I was crazy.
“What do you mean, you guess? Have you no taste?”
“I have plenty of taste,” I protested. “I’m just not interested in his type.”
“Then what are you interested in? You know, as long as I’ve known you, you’ve never had a boyfriend. And it’s not like you couldn’t get one, honey. So what’s the deal?”
I smirked and shook my head.
I just simply wasn’t interested in any boys around here, and I never would be. It didn’t matter how good they looked or how charismatic their personality or how high their IQ, though a high IQ would be unlikely at Sunny Mountain High anyway. There was only one guy I would ever be interested in, the only guy in the whole world who was absolutely perfect…
But I didn’t get to finish my thought or answer Robert’s imploring expression, for the teacher started the class.
When Physics was over, I had only Art left. Reina was walking up to the classroom from the other direction just as I got close.
“Thank god it’s the last class of the day,” she said as we came together. “And art is easy, so I think it’s safe for me to turn my brain off.”
I laughed and we stepped into the room.
“Wow, now this is real serendipity,” I said, indifferently stunned as I stalled in the doorway.
“What do you mean?” Reina asked.
“Stephen Tucker is in this class.” I nodded my chin at him as he took a seat at the back of the room. “Me and Robert just had Physics with him also. Wait till I tell him, he is gonna freak!”
“Oh, Crim, I was wondering if we could work on our math homework together today,” she said. “I know I will definitely need help. After three months of vacation, thinking hurts.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I said. “You can come over to my house after school before we go to Amber’s house, okay.”
“Cool,” she said, satisfied.
Just then, the most annoying laugh to pierce human ears entered in through the door, followed by the sharp tap-tapping of high heels.
Reina and I looked at the doorway to see two plastic, hair-sprayed, boulder-breasted, way-too-much-perfume-wearing cheerleaders, Patty and Brianna.
I had known Brianna since we were in Preschool. Our rivalry had started early in our lives, when I got a special edition Barbie doll for Christmas that she had wanted so badly. She told me to let her have it because it was too good for me, and when I didn’t, she took it from my cubby during recess and put it back with all the arms and legs and head pulled off and the dress cut into shreds! It was like a scene out of the Godfather. Since I didn’t have proof that she did it, she didn’t get in trouble. She ended up getting an even more expensive Barbie the next week. We have been enemies ever since, and it was only made worse when she became the head cheerleader.
“Oh, look, Patty,” said Brianna as she locked her gloss-lined gaze on me. “It’s the Fag Hag.”
They erupted in laughter.
“What did you call me, cheer-whore?” I demanded.
“I knew you were a band geek, but I had no idea you were best friends with that homo,” she said, referring to Robert.
“And just what is so wrong with being gay? What, you want all the cock for yourself? Afraid you’ll have some competition?”
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it,” Patty said, not even catching my insult to her friend. “Homosexuality is a sin.”
“And being a slut isn’t?” I snapped.
By this time, the whole class had gone silent and was watching us; luckily the teacher hadn’t arrived yet.
Brianna leaned in toward me and narrowed her dark eyes.
“You’re just jealous because I can have anyone I want while the best you can get is a flamer,” she hissed.
My anger at her was boiling over, but I knew I had to keep cool or she would win.
“I’d be careful about using the word ‘flamer’. I do believe that’s your nickname in the boys’ locker room these days.” I leaned in and whispered, “You know, they have ointment for that.” Then I winked maliciously and walked away.
I heard her growl as I went to sit at the front of the class, but Patty must have pulled her away to take a seat at the back.
“Oh wow, that was awesome!” Reina whispered when we sat down. “I thought her eyes were gonna pop out of her head!”
We snickered, and then the teacher entered and started class.
When the first day back to school had finally come to a close, Reina and I walked to my house together. The walk seemed long, but only because it was so hot. I had forgotten how pretty this neighborhood could be after monsoon season. Vibrant green paloverde trees and tall palm trees were in every yard. Magenta bougainvilleas climbed the walls of several houses, and dainty dark butterflies promenaded over bright Birds of Paradise. It never failed to amaze me that any of these things could thrive in the Tucson heat while I was being baked alive.
When we finally got to my house, I ran up the drive and into the shade under the front porch, then hurried inside and tossed my bag on the couch. I dropped down in front of the coffee table across from Reina and folded my knees beneath me.
We worked on the problems for about two hours, until the sound of jingling keys and a doorknob turning brought us out of our math homework haze. Having the most perfect timing ever, my mother got home just as we wrote down the solution to the last problem. It was never really certain what time she would get home; she was a computer programmer for Raytheon, and sometimes she wouldn’t come home until eight or nine.
“Hi girls,” she greeted.
“Hey, Mom,” I said at the same time Reina said, “Hi, Ms. Wilkinson.”
She came into the living room and put her purse at the foot of the couch.
“How was your first day of school?” she asked.
“Oh, you know, syllabuses, lame introductions, rules, blah, blah, blah…” I said indolently. “But I did tell off Brianna Garcia. It was pretty epic.”
She snickered. “If only I could do the same to her mother. Nastiness runs their blood.” My mom and Brianna’s mom were on the PTA together, and apparently the rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. “What sounds good for dinner?”
“Actually we are going to Amber’s house tonight,” I told her. “So you’re on your own.”
Mom sighed and then went into the kitchen to rummage around the cupboards.
“What time are we supposed to be at Amber’s again?” Reina asked.
“Five, which is good, ’cause I have to do some stuff online first,” I said.
“Okay. D’you mind if I just stay out here and watch your TV?”
“Of course not. You don’t even have to ask. Hell, you spend more time here than at your own house.” I smiled at her. “Alright, I’ll be out in a bit, and then we can go.”
She nodded and grabbed the remote off the arm of the couch. I hurried to my room, took one habitual yet unnecessary guarded look down the hall, then went in and prudently locked the door behind me.