The Missing Piece (Excerpt)

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Chapter Four

I hold my breath, getting ready to scan the sliver of yellow paper that holds the power to change my entire future, but Ian snatches it from me before I can look it over.

“Let’s see,” he says holding the half-sheet of paper out of my reach. I roll my eyes; sometimes I really hate that I’m only 5’ 3’’.

“Come on, Ian, give it back.” He smirks, as I attempt to grab my schedule back.

Grr. Why is he so tall?

Ian begins to rattle off my classes. “Geology, American History, Young Adult Literature, AP English and Life Skills.”

Phew. No surprises there.

Ian drops his hand to his side. I snatch my schedule back and he flashes me his dimpled grin. “We have American History,” he fluctuates his voice up and down, making it sound like he’s a hillbilly from the South, “and geology together.”

“Do we have any classes together?” Danielle asks trading my schedule with hers. “Awesome!” She smiles. “You have two classes with me, and two with Cal.”

The sun is shining as we walk around the amphitheater until the head of the school arrives for the welcome speech. We sit under the shade of a big oak tree when the head walks onto the stage. Miranda Baldwin, the head, is as elegant as the Queen of England; she holds her body up proudly as she walks and never lets her posture falter. She’s wearing a deepgray pencil skirt and matching jacket, and her chestnut brown hair is pulled into a tight ballerina bun. Her gaze glides over the students, as she begins her speech.

“Welcome to another great year at Baldwin Hill Academy. We’re excited to see so many new and familiar faces.” She pauses, smiles and then continues, “To all new and returning students it’s against Baldwin Hill Academy’s Policy to have the opposite sex in your dorm room.”

A few groans echo through the courtyard. The head continues with her speech unaffected by the students’ reaction. “To returning students, please give a warm welcome to the new freshmen and upperclassmen.”

The crowd breaks out in cheers. I look around and am surprised to find Ian staring at me. His grin is big and dopey. He gently pats me on the back and says, “Nice to have ya!”

“Oi! What about me?” Liam asks looking down and sliding his foot awkwardly over the grass. “Oh.” Ian says, “Sorry, mate. It’s nice to have you too.” Then he walks over to Liam and gives him a giant bear hug.

Liam looks up at Ian and bats his eyes, “ Do you really mean that? I can’t have you getting my hopes up now, you know? Not unless there’s a real chance I can leave the ol’ ball and chain.” He smirks glancing at Calliope.

She groans. “Would you two get a room already?”

Ian looks at her, his face full of innocence. “Didn’t Liam tell you? We’re renting a room after prom.”

Liam looks at Ian and pulls a face like he’s considering his options, and then says, “Only if you wear a top hat, mate.”

“Oh. My. Gosh.” Calliope says in between giggles. She grabs Liam’s hand, pulls it to her lips and kisses it, “I love you.”

“I love you, more,” Liam says. Then he tucks a piece of hair behind her ear, picks her up, and swings her around before kissing her on the lips. My heart constricts, seeing Liam and Calliope together makes me miss Mason even more. A few minutes pass and he’s still sucking her face; he doesn’t even come up for air. I can’t remember the last time Mason kissed me like that.

Danielle clears her throat. “Maybe you two should get a room.” She deadpans, and everyone laughs.

The head talks for another ten minutes and then dismisses everyone for class. Danielle, Liam, and Calliope head towards the math building, while Ian leads me towards a long, tan-brick building with the words ‘Shepard Science Hall’ in big silver letters above the front doors.

The classroom is empty. We find seats in the back. I sit down and stare around the room. I wish Mads were here. We would pull faces at each other until one of us laughed, write notes back and forth rating the guys in our class, and count how many times Mrs. Jacobs compared our generation to hers . . . but Mads isn’t here.

How is her first day going? Has she finally mustered the courage to talk to Stephen? Does she miss me?

Ian looks at me and offers a reassuring smile. “Geology, huh?”

“Yeah. It should be interesting.”

The boy two seats in front of me looks exactly like Mason, and for a moment it feels like I’m back in Cedar Heights. I sniffle. What I wouldn’t give to be back home and to be starting my senior year with Mads and Mason.

Stop it. You’re going to have another meltdown.

I sniffle again and Ian looks at me, but before he can say anything Mr. Miller walks into the classroom and starts writing instructions on the Blackboard.

Mr. Miller is short, fat and balding and he has the most ridiculous mustache like Tom Selleck. He pushes his glasses back which gives him super buggy eyes. Then he clears his throat.

“This class will require a ten-page research paper on the natural disaster of your choice.” He points to the words earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and landslides on the blackboard. “The class will also go on a field trip to Runyon Canyon Park, and some other natural landmarks, some of which were caused by natural disasters.”

I pull out a notebook and then flip to a clean page. At the top, I write paper ideas and then underline it. Excitement runs through me as I think of all the possible topics I could write about and how I will format my paper.

Will Mr. Miller have us use APA or MLA formatting?

Mr. Miller starts handing out a stack of papers, I lean forward in my seat to get a better look. It might sound crazy, but there is nothing like a good, challenging first homework assignment.

Ian grabs the stack of papers from the kid sitting in front of him and passes them to me. Mr. Miller finishes going over the class criteria, takes roll and then dismisses the class.

My stomach growls loudly as I exit the science building, Ian walking beside me. He stops walking, puts his arms on my shoulders like I’m a delinquent teen who needs guidance and asks, “Are you going to feed that thing?”

My face turns as bright as a stoplight. I clench my teeth. “Shut up.”

This morning I was too nervous to eat when I woke up, so I skipped breakfast. Instead, I spent the morning walking through the streets of LA, stopping inside of bookshops along the way as I tried to be brave and face my first day at Baldwin Hill Academy. However, this morning when I skipped breakfast I didn’t expect my stomach to turn into Yogi the Freakin’ Bear.

“Oh.” His eyebrows furrow. “Are you one of those girls?”

I stare at him, demanding an explanation. He turns away from me and looks at the big oak tree we sat around earlier. “You know, the girls who throw up their food.” He pauses, “Or, worse, don’t eat at all.”

I glare at him.

“I like eating, thank you very much!” And then stalk off towards the nearest vending machine, which is located just inside of Pemberley Hall. I hear a soft ‘good’ and then I’m vaguely aware of someone following me. I whirl around and Ian is there.

“What? Are you following me now?” My voice is loud and harsh as I accuse him.

“Is it a crime to want a bagel?” He smiles broadly.

“No,” I stammer. “Sorry.” I want to stalk off and be mad, but the stupid boy beside me and his stupid smile and stupid accent make this impossible. I stop and wait for him to catch up. He takes three long strides and then he’s right beside me.

“Don’t be.”

The rest of the morning passes in a blur. Mr. Miller seems nice enough, although the highlight of geology is having Ian there with me. I find myself willing the clock to tick faster waiting for Life Skills to end. I really like my teacher, Mrs. Merrill, even though she can’t go two seconds without using filler words and she talks really fast. She’s sweet and kind and it seems like she genuinely cares about her students.

After that, I have American History with Ian. Mr. Schmidt is another teacher I like; he’s young, tall and gestures with his hands a lot. During class, Ian leans over and tells me that Mr. Schmidt dresses up as famous historical figures like Jesus, George Washington and Rosa Parks for his lessons. At noon, Ian and I follow the stampede of students to the cafeteria. The ceilings are high with three big glass chandeliers hanging in a row lighting up the room. The walls are mint green and light gray, which is definitely an upgrade from the fake brick walls I was used to at my old high school. It’s packed with round mahogany wood tables and cases of sophisticated bottled drinks like Fuji Water, Vitamin Water, and Snapple.

And, best of all the cafeteria doesn’t smell like sweaty gym socks.

The chairs are filling up quickly as students meet up with their friends again. Ian and I find a spot in the lunch line where real chefs serve real food; not a mixture of three-day-old lasagna and whatever else the lunch ladies at Cedar Heights High could find. It feels like I’m inside a restaurant, not a high school cafeteria. We order our food and then join the others at a table by the window, which looks out on campus.

Between bites of her fresh garden salad, Calliope asks Ian if he’s seen Sarah yet. Ian looks up from his food and winks at Calliope. “No, but I have something planned for tonight.”

Danielle snorts. “Good luck! She’ll probably change your plans first chance she gets.”

Ian shoots her a look and then shakes his head in laughter. “You’re right, she always has to be running the show.” He flashes that dazzling smile. “I doubt I’ll get any objections tonight though.”

My cheeks flush.

Are we really talking about this right now? During school?

My relationship with Mason is everything, but physical. We have never made it to second base. Half of the time he only offers me a quick peck on the lips. It’s never bothered me, but listening to my new friends talk so blatantly about sex, makes me wonder if I’m the only 17-year-old at Baldwin Hill that’s still a virgin.

Calliope rolls her eyes, “Sarah is not a control-freak. She just likes knowing what’s going on.” Liam smirks. “If you say so.”

She folds her arms across her chest like she’s challenging anyone to question her. Everyone is quiet and then Danielle clears her throat, breaking the silence. “So, Ian, did she go to England with you?”

Ian shakes his head. “Mum and dad keep inviting her to come home with me for the holidays, but she always declines. She‘s only visited once and that was right after we started dating.”

I twirl a spoonful of pasta onto my fork and then ask, “How long have you been dating?”

Ian grins at me. “Since Sophomore year, but we have all been really good friends since Freshman year.”

Danielle continues to bombard Ian with questions about Sarah (“Do you know what classes she’s taking? How’s she liking Le Cordon Bleu?”) and Calliope and Liam are on the verge of another lip-lock session.

I stare at the pasta on my plate, listening to the conversation taking place, but not really caring about what is being said. Danielle laughs at something Ian says. It surprises me when the conversation stops. I look up and everyone is staring at me. “What?”

“Didn’t your mom ever tell you not to play with your food?” Liam asks imitating Zazu from The Lion King.

Everyone bursts out in laughter.

Back home, I’d always find a way to smuggle a Disney quote into our conversations and make everyone laugh.

My throat feels dry and I have that wad of gum feeling in the back of my throat, meaning I’m on the verge of tears.

Where do I fit in with my new group of friends? Do I even fit in at all?

“That was bloody brilliant, mate.” Ian reaches across the table to high-five Liam and then he looks at me and asks, “How was your first day?”

“Uh. It was okay.” I feel like a freak. I need to get away from everyone. I miss Mads and Mason, and I want, no, I need to be back home. “I need to go to the bathroom.” I quickly push my chair out and grab my tray. I can feel everyone staring at me as I dart out of the cafeteria.

“Emily, are you okay?” Ian calls after me.

I shake my head and keep walking, trying to keep from crying.

Once I’m in the bathroom I lock myself in a stall, sit on the toilet and let myself cry. I try calling Mads, but it goes straight to voicemail. My phone vibrates: :

Mads: Sorry. Mrs. Hawkins was glaring at me.

Mads: How’s your first day going?

Me: Not good. Call you later?

Mads: Ok. :)

The bell rings and the lunch period ends, the bathroom fills up with girls fixing their makeup and hair before the last period. I lean against the door and wait for everyone to leave. A pair of black combat boots appear on the other side of the stall.

“I’m here if you want to talk,” Danielle says, and when I don’t respond she leaves. I wipe my tears, exit the stall and check to see if my mascara is streaking. Then I head to my last class.

An assortment of colorful bean bag chairs sits in a semi-circle around a small wooden desk. The two tall bookshelves at the front of the room are completely full. I walk towards them and start scanning the titles: The Truth About Forever, Twisted, Unwind. My fingers slide across the spine of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

“You can borrow it if you like. It’s a great read.”

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude.” I turn around and see the man with the motorcycle helmet from this morning smiling at me.

“You didn’t. Feel free to borrow a book anytime you’d like.”

As soon as Young Adult Literature ends, I make my way back to Cyprus Hall. The streets aren’t as busy as this morning, but it’s still more than I’m used to. I miss home. I want to go back to my own friends and inside jokes and my mom.

My head hurts, my stomach feels tight and I’m shaking uncontrollably as I unlock my door and flop down on my bed.

Does mom miss me?

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