The bus ride home from school is awful. As soon as I get on, Mr. Clarkson notices my backpack, as anyone would. I’m literally holding it shut in an attempt to keep my books in. The zipper’s completely unusable. I’m going to have to buy a new backpack as soon as possible.
“Looks like you had one too many assignments, eh, Pearl?” he announces loudly. His laughter sounds like a sputtering engine. Or maybe it really is the bus’s engine.
Usually it’s simple to get along with him; no one ever laughs at his little jokes, so I do. He likes me, which means he doesn’t yell at me when I eat on the bus.
“I guess so,” I say back, but my words are flat, and my smile pulls my face tight.
I’m the last one on the bus, since I had to root around in my locker for that note Trinity was talking about, and as I pass the front rows, I note Kelly’s not on today.
I sit down heavily, sinking into the bus seat, letting the material dig into my back. I switch out my school cardigan for my pink one, and use my feet to shove my socks down to my ankles.
I hear snickering from the seat behind me--that would be Luke and/or Reed, who are seniors. They’re also misogynistic assholes.
I sink lower in my seat and wrap my arms around my backpack, holding it tight. I’d like to read Trinity’s note now, but I’m afraid that if I let go of this backpack, my books will go flying.
I sit and stare out the window, all the while listening to the murmur of Luke and Reed’s voices. I can’t quite make out what they’re saying, but I always have a nagging feeling that they’re talking about me.
. . .
I let my books fall out of my backpack and onto my bedroom floor. Mom’s not home, which is a shame because I mostly brought these home so that she’d see all the school work I have to do.
I step over the books and fall onto my bed, having shed all pieces of my Saint Paul’s uniform as soon as I entered the house. Neither of my parents appreciate my “short shorts” that I wear under my skirt, but, like I said, Mom’s not home, and Dad’s preoccupied with William. So, I will wear these shorts around the house if I so please.
I touch Trinity’s letter, still creased, still unopened. I roll up into a blanket as a chill passes over me. I guess these shorts aren’t quite enough clothing after all.
I run the edge of my index finger over the edge of the paper once, then unfold the note.
Hi Pearl, this is from Trinity.
Firstly, I’m sorry. I think I overreacted when you told me that thing you told me about Amber. I wish I was better at knowing what to do, like Henry, but I’m not.
I want to be better though, and I miss talking to you. Actually talking about actual things. I hope we can go back to the way things were. I think I’ve been not so great at being a friend lately, and part of that is because I’ve been figuring out some stuff out myself.
I’d like to talk to you for real again. There’s some things I want to tell you. It’s not anything super serious but still important to me at least, maybe not as much to you.
I’m sorry again. You’re still my best friend. If you’re still mad though that’s ok too.
That's it. I read it again. I stare at the words until they blur into nothingness. I touch the page and curl into a tight ball, and squeeze my eyes shut until everything is dark.
. . .
I’m nervous. I hate being nervous, because I’m usually not nervous. But Friday morning I feel weird. I’m already so lost in thought that the silent car ride to school with my mother doesn’t even feel uncomfortable.
As I approach the school’s front doors, I briefly register a few heads turn towards me, and I instinctively raise my chin, smooth back my ponytail. On autopilot, I say hello to Miss O’Keeffe, who’s clomping down the hallway in her heels. She greets me back with her customary lipsticked smile and a short wave.
Trinity is at her locker, tugging at her green sweater, pulling the collar of her blouse so it lays flat on top of it. I noticed she started wearing it the other day. She never wears a green sweater. Maggie wears a green sweater.
All the sudden my armpits are sweating, I think. Maybe I’m catching a fever. Maybe I should’ve stayed home.
She notices me, and I haven’t even approached her yet. Her eyes widen then dance across the hallway behind me, as if looking for something. I know from experience, though, that she’s not looking for anything in particular. Just general trouble. Or listening ears. Or Sister Bertha--I think she’s terrified of that nun, for some reason.
“Is that a new backpack?” she asks when I come to stand next to her. I can’t help but stare down at her hand, which is, much to my relief, undamaged. Shit, I almost injured her.
“Pearl?” she’s searching my face, and those little quotation worry lines are on her brow, and it makes my stomach flip. I think I am sick, actually, and should have stayed home.
“New!” I declare with a grin, giving a spin and a flourish of my hands. She’s not impressed. “Alright. Not new, just an old one my dad found in the house. I’ve still got to get a new one.” It’s just a black backpack. Utterly boring, and it doesn’t have enough pockets for my taste.
She plays with a magnet on the inside of her locker. It’s a picture of a worm playing a saxophone, and I’d gotten it for her for her last birthday because it reminded me of her for some reason.
“Will you come to the park after school?” she asks without meeting my eyes.
I nod vigorously. I think I should say something else. Tell her you read her note. Tell her you’re sorry. “After school it is, just like always!” I say with a happy shoulder shrug. “See you then!” I declare as I step away, off to my locker.
It’s only after that conversation that I really notice the weird looks I’m getting from people. And then I figure out why, because Katherine Davies is leaning against my locker, giving me the stink-eye. God, she can be a bitch sometimes.
“You’re in front of my…” I tell her, gesturing.
She looks me dead in the eyes, and I feel my heart stop for a moment. She really is beautiful, no matter what Samantha Cross thinks. The Saint Paul’s girl’s uniform is designed, I think, to eliminate all curves, but Katherine can rock it. I hate, for a lot of reasons, that people give her crap about being overweight, but I think she looks great. I wish I had a figure like hers. I’m all hips and knees and stocky ankles, and she’s soft and pretty and pouty.
“I know you’re not really dating Henry,” she hisses, stepping out of my way.
I peel my eyes off of her and spin my locker dial. “Well. Ok then.”
She runs a hand through her excessively long hair. “What is this? I know you two hang out, but why are people talking about it now?”
I resist the urge to give her a satisfied smile. Every word I’d said to Maggie paid off.
“Ohhh my gosh,” Maggie moans, dragging out the first word. She’s shuffling down the hallway next to me, thinking I'm taking her to the office, her ears pink with embarrassment. “How’d they find out? Am I gonna be suspended, like Andrew and Henry were?”
I pause. I can’t help the confusion from showing on my face. “What? What did you do?”
Maggie lets out a puff of air, but doesn’t say any words.
I walk deliberately past the office, and she hesitates behind me. “Pearl, the office,” she says.
“Come over here,” I tell her, glancing into classroom windows as we pass. When I find an empty one, I step inside. Slowly, she follows.
“What are you doing?” she asks. Her tone is no longer worried, but sharp. Interested.
I take a moment to size her up, to decide what to say. “What did you do?” I repeat.
She sits down on a desk at the front of the classroom, and I run a finger along the teacher’s desk. ‘Mrs. Porter,’ it reads. I think she teaches government.
“Well,” Maggie starts, and it must not be terrible, because she’s got that same kind of gossip-y tone that has always made me wary of her. She smooths her skirt over her legs, not nervously, but in a calculated way. “Let’s just say I haven’t been getting along so well with Mary Kate’s new boyfriend.” My expression doesn’t change, so she adds, “It’s Charles Lee.”
I can tell by her face that this is meant to spark some kind of outrage inside of me, or perhaps she just thinks this news would interest me. It does not.
“He’s just so freaking annoying,” she mutters, turning her head to the left to inspect the posters lining the classroom walls.
“I’m not really bringing you to the office,” I tell her.
She lifts a hand to gesture at the room. “I can tell.” Her eyes study me, even as I circle Mrs. Porter’s desk. “Why are you and Trinity fighting?”
I flinch a little, and wish I didn’t. “Listen, I just wanted to ask you about the Easter planning. I’d like to help.”
Maggie crosses her arms. “And you couldn’t just ask me in the cafeteria?”
I hesitate. “As you noticed, Trinity and I are going through some things. Kind of like you and Mary Kate, I guess…” I trail off like I’m thinking of what else to say. I’m really watching Maggie processing the information. I can almost see the gears turning behind her eyes.
Maggie leans back, examining me back. “So it’s about a boy?”
I walk another loop around the desk. “I don’t want to talk about it,” I say flatly. Which is true, at least. I glance up at her. “I was thinking, though, that if you had a project I could do. With, um, Henry Foley.” Her eyebrows shoot up. “But don’t tell Trinity, will you? She hates it when we’re…”
It’s all the truth, technically, but I look away from Maggie and tap a finger lightly against the desk. I think she recognizes it as guilt, but misreads what I’m actually guilty of. AKA using her.
She stands and gives me a sad smile. Pitying smile. “Yeah, I do think I can find something for the two of you to do. Together.” She giggles.
“Everyone’s talking about it,” Katherine hisses. Her cheeks are pink, her mouth twisted downwards. “Tell me you’re not dating him. I know you’re not.”
I sigh dramatically. “Katherine, I can’t control the rumors in this school. All I can say is that Henry and I do hang out a lot.”
She shakes her head violently. “But you’re not dating. You can’t be. You aren’t.”
She’s starting to sound like a broken record. “Katherine, I have to get to class,” I say, shoving my ugly black backpack into my locker.
“I can’t believe I’m even arguing with you right now. Listen, I don’t know if you just think you can spread gossip and get five minutes of fame or something, but you won’t ever be popular. You know most people probably don’t even know your name, right? You’re still that weird new kid, like you’ve always been.” She sniffs at the end, like she’s regaining her composure. She shifts her shoulders and frowns deeper. For a moment I think she looks regretful.
“Goodbye, Pearl,” she states as she stalks away.
I laugh silently to myself as I close my locker, disbelieving. But a few of her words lodge themselves in my mind, and I cough. Weird new kid.
Yeah, I guess I am. I guess I always have been.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/449246/trinity-28)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/450572/trinity-30)