Tall , thin and blonde

It was like overnight amy had become a completely different person. All of a sudden we were in high school and my buddy , my pal , was one of those girls who worry about what they eat and what they wear and who they're friends with. The problem was...I was still me.

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2. life among the Martians

The last thing Amy said to me on Saturday afternoon was, "You'll think about going to the dance, won't you, Jen? It won't be the same if you don't go."

And I'd said, "Yeah, OK, I'll think about it."

I thought about it Saturday night while I watched TV. Should I got to the dance or should I stay home? Amy wanted me to go to the dance with her. I should go.

I thought about it Saturday night while I brushed my teeth. Dances and parties reallys weren't my scene. I felt uncomfortable in large groups of strangers. I felt uncomfortable when I wasn't wearing jeans. I'd never put on make up in my life. The dressiest shoes I had were a pair of Hush Puppies. I couldn't go.

I thought about it while I flossed my teeth. If I did go, we'd hang out and have a good time. Together. Just like always. If I didn't go with her, would she go with her new friends, the Miss Perfect Teenagers who had beein in the cafe? I should go.

I thought about it while I lay in the dark, staring up at the tiny glowing galaxy on my ceiling, feeling a little bit like in a black hole. I'd never wanted to wear slinky dresses and fancy underwear and flirt and giggle like girls were supposed to. I wanted to have a planet named after me. I couldn't go.

I woke up thinking about it on Saturday morning. Maybe Amy was right. We weren't little kids any more. We were young women. We were in high school now, we ought to try different things. I should go.

I thought about it while I ate my fathers special Sunday banana-nut pancakes. This was the first big social event of the year. It might change my whole life. It might affect my entire high school career. Especially if no one asked me to dance. Especially if I turned up looking like a cocktail frank. I couldn't go.

I thought about it while I helped my mother rake the lawn. Most girls my age had been on at least one date. If I never went to dances and things like that I might never have a date. Not ever. Forty-four and never been kissed. I should go.

I thought about it while I peeled the potatoes for supper. I'd have to wear my contacts if I went, not my glasses. But I hardly ever wore my contacts because I'd never gotten used to them. I shouldn't go.

I thought about it Sunday evening while I did my homework. Who knew, I might have fun at the dance.if I stayed home, on the other hand, I knew exactly how much fun I would have: a video, a bag of potato chips and a root beers worth of fun. My mother said I looked really nice when I got dressed up. My father said I was cute. Maybe I should go.

I thought about it while I gave my dog, Percy, his weekly brushing, I couldn't go. I didn't have anything to wear.

I thought about it while I put out the garbage. I should go. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," my mother always said.

My last thought as I fell asleep Sunday night was: But I can't dance.

So I was still thinking about it on Monday morning as I walked to meet Amy. Should I? Shouldn't I? I figured I'd discuss it with Amy on the way to school, but in the end I didn't. In the end, it slipped my mind.

Amy was waiting for me by the mailbox at the end of her road, just like always.

Well, almost like always. Even without my glasses on, I could see from down the street that she looked different. Taller. Older. Curlier.

I didn't pretend to hide my surprise. "What happened to you?"

Amy was smiling like one of those women in a TV commercial whose wash is so clean even her husband notices.

"What do you think?" She turned around a few times. "Do you like it? Do you think I look different? Do you think anybody will notice?"

Different? Would anyone notice? How could she ask? Percy might not have noticed, but anybody else who had ever seen her before would. Amys hair, which was usually straight as a toothpick, was a mass of spirals.

"Did you just wake up like that this morning, or did you have it done?" I asked.

She shook her head so that the curls bounced. "I did it Saturday after I saw you." She spun around again. "Well ... What do you think?"

"It looks great," I said. Which it did. It just didn't look like Amy. I glanced over at her as we started down Culvert Drive. "Did you have yourself stretched, too? You seem taller."

"Its the shoes," said Amy. She shook her head again.

I looked at her shoes. They were cowboy boots with heels. I was pretty sure Rosie Henley had a pair just like them. I wasn't going to ask Amy when she'd bought them, but I wondered. Saturday after she saw me? Or Sunday when she said she had to go somewhere with her parents? "Its not just the shoes." I looked at her more closely. She wasn't wearing ordinary jeans, like mine, but stretch ones. Tight black stretch jeans with her new top. What had happened to her hips?

"Amy," I asked, suddenly remembering the salad plate she'd had at the mall. "Amy, are you on a diet or something?" Amy and I had both made a solemn vow in sixth grade that we would never go on a diet so long as we lived, unless we were really, really fat and it was affecting our health. We made this vow because of our mothers. Amys mother mostly. My mothers always saying that she's going on a diet, but Amys mother is always on one. Its an obsession. All she ever talks about is how fat she feels, and the only time she isn't on a diet is Christmas. She even keeps all the cookies and chips and stuff like that locked in the trunk of the car so she won't eat them. Its really hard to get a snack in that house.

Amy shook her curls and turned the corner. "No," she said, looking straight ahead. "No, I'm not on a diet. What makes you say that?"

"You didn't eat much when we went shopping Saturday." I shrugged. "And I guess you look a little thinner."

"Really?" She was trying to sound like she didn't care, but I could tell she was pleased. She shook her curls for about the hundredth time. "Well, maybe I have lost a few pounds since school started," she admitted. "I don't seem to have much appetite lately."

She'd had her appetite on Labour Day, though, when she'd beaten me in our annual How Much Stuff Can You Get on Your Hamburger Contest. "It must be high school," I said. "You know, because you're not a child anymore."

My sarcasm was wasted on her.

"I think you're right," said Amy, as we strolled up the walk to the main entrance. "Everythings changed now, hasn't it?" But before I could answer, she grabbed my arm and pointed towards the building. "Look," she ordered, already waving into the distance, "there's Kim and Amber."

I looked. Sure enough, there by the birch tree were Kim and Amber, looking perfect, and waving and sort of bouncing in place.

"I'm going to have to go, Jen," said Amy, suddenly sounding shy. "I promised Kim and Amber I'd meet them before the bell rang, so we'd have the chance to talk."

"Oh," I said. "Oh, sure."

"You understand, don't you? I mean, they are my friends too..." It was amazing how she could look at me and look at them at the same time.

"Oh, sure," I said. "Sure, I understand. I mean, I have new friends, too, you know. Its not like I have no one else to hang out with. I understand that you can't be with everybody at the same time. I know what its like to-" I stopped talking when Amy was so far ahead of. Me that there was no way she could have heard what I said.

I stood at the end of the driveway by the EXIT sign, watching her run up to Amber and Kim, and thinking about how things had changed so suddenly. There'd never before been anyone Amy wanted to hang out with more than me.

It was a dull grey morning. Amys red curls and her blue top stood out like the lights of a plane in a cloud. And Amber and Kim, bouncing and laughing, looked like the place the plane wanted to be. You know, the place where it was sunny and fun and everyone would have a good time. I shifted my books in my arms. And I was the cloud. Dark, damp and blowing apart. Cut it out, I told myself. Stop making such a big deal out of it. Its not like its the end of the world or something. So she has a couple of new friends? So what? So do you.

I took a deep breath. I put a cheerful, pleasant expression on my face. I walked right into the EXIT sign. A bunch of boys coming up behind me started to laugh. I stood up as straight as I could, so I wouldn't look so short, and then I marched towards the building as though nothing had happened.

"Its a good thing she's not taller!" One of the boys shouted behind me. "She might have hurt herself."

"The nervous system, Mr Mackay? Is that what you said, the nervous system?" Mr Herrera, my biology teacher, was the only person I'd ever known who could sneer with his voice. He was sneering now.

Kevin Mackay, who sat in front of me, sort of shrunk down in his seat. "It isn't the nervous system?" He didn't so much ask it as gasp it.

Mr Herrera smiled the way a shark who was about to eat you might smile if sharks could smile. "No, Mr Mackay," sneered Mr Herrera, "it is not the nervous system. And if you had a brain in that skull of yours instead of wet newspapers, you wouldn't think it was." He folded his arms accross his chest, looking around the rest of the class. "Everyone else knows the answer, Mr Mackay. Why don't you?"

"Endocrine," I whispered, hoping Mr Herrera wouldn't see my lips moving. Science had always been my favourite subject, but if I'd had Mr Herrera for my teacher for the last nine years it wouldn't have been. Mr Herrera didn't teach by making his subject exciting and interesting. He taught by terror. The only problem was that he was head of the whole science department. As much as I disliked him, I had to get along with him. I was in the honours programme, and as head of the department he also ran that.

Mr Herrera smiled a little harder. "Well, Mr Mackay. We're waiting."

It didn't seem biologically possible but Kevins neck was sweating. "Endocrine," I whispered again.

I could hear Kevin clear his throat and swallow. He'd finally heard me.

Unfortunately, so had Mr Herrera. "Miss Kaliski," he said in his slow drawl. "Miss Kaliski, when I need you to help me teach this class, I'll be sure to ask. For the present, however, I'd very much appreciate it if you'd keep your mouth shut unless actually asked a direct question."

I could feel my face turn red. The only good thing about Mr Herrera was that everyone was so afraid of him that no one even dared to laugh. Still, I was pretty relieved that the bell rang just then.

Pretty relieved, but not completely relieved. I'd already made up my mind that I had to talk to Mr Herrera after class. The reason was that right before he had started tormenting Kevin he'd announced that we'd be dissecting frogs in a few weeks. He seemed to think this was some kind of treat. I didn't want to dissect a frog. I wasn't going to learn anything from it that I couldn't learn from looking at a picture in a textbook. All these frogs were being killed, and for no real purpose. Just so the boys could make disgusting jokes about frog intestines and the girls could complain about smelling like formaldehyde. Just so Mr Herrera could humiliate anyone who couldn't locate the pancreas of the common frog. I believed in scientific investigation, but I didn't believe in killing anything for no good reason, not even a frog. So I had to ask Mr Herrera to exempt me from dissection. I'd watch, but I wouldn't take part. I sat at my desk, rationally and reasonably going over in my head what I was going to say, until everyone else had left the room. I didn't want an audience for this. Mr Herrera just loved having an audience.

"Mr Herrera," I said, getting to my feet just as he put his hand on the doorknob. "Mr Herrera, could I talk to you one minute?"

I didn't hold out much hope that he would be very sympathetic to me, especially not after what happened with Kevin, but he was a man of science. He would listen to reason.

Or maybe he wouldn't.

Mr Herreras eyes looked very cold behind his steel rimmed glasses as I made my request. "Squemish, are we, Miss Kaliski?" He asked when I was done.

"No, Mr Herrera, its not that I'm squemish. Its a...its a matter of principle."

"Oh, really? And what principle would that be?"

I explained again about not thinking the dissection was neccessary to my knwoledge of biology. I explained again that I was happy to watch, but I didn't want to be personally responsible for the needless death of a small amphibian.

"This is a frog we're talking about here," said Mr Herrera, "not the family dog."

"I know but-"

Mr Herrera cut me off. "But nothing," he snapped. "I can't make exceptions, Miss Kaliski. You're in high school now."

My mother always says that I'm the most stubborn person she knows, next to my father. I tried again. "Excuse me, Mr Herrera," I said, "but I don't really think that's fair."

"Oh, don't you?" He looked at me as though I were something on a slide. An abnormal cell maybe. "Do me a favour, Miss Kaliski. Don't think, all right? Just do as you're told."

What I'd told Amy was true; I had made some new friends at Red Bay High. My new friends were Sue, who sat next to me in homeroom; Joan, who was in my maths class; Marva, Joans friend from middle school; Tanya, Sues friend from forever; and Maria, who had just moved to Red Bay and sat behind Tanya in history. They were all right. You know, they weren't Amy - actually, they were nothing like Amy. And they were definitely nothing like Amys new friends. They weren't pretty or popular. Tanya looked a little like a football player, but none of them dated one. Their clothes were unfashionable. They weren't particularly cool. But the biggest difference between Amys friends and my friends was that practically everyone in the school wanted to be with Rosie Henleys crowd, but no one wanted to be seen with Joan, Tanya, Marva, Sue or Maria. As far as the in-crowd of Red Bay High were concerned, these girls were Martians. As far as I was concerned, they might be Martians but at least being with them meant I didn't have to eat lunch alone.

I hated eating lunch alone. The first week of school, I'd had no one to sit with, and I thought I was going to have to give up lunch for the rest of high school. I mean, what can you do? You just sit there staringat your plate or your sandwich bag, acting like you're not the only person in the whole world who has no one to sit with. You can try to read a book or pretend to study at the same time, but you always end up spilling stuff. I had mustard on my biology text, tomato seeds all over the first page of Pride and Prejudice and greasy stains on my geometry notes from those first five days. And besides, everyone knows you're not sitting by yourself because you want to. I mean, even if you did want to, you wouldn't, would you? Because no one would think you were sitting alone by choice, they'd think you were sitting alone because you had dandruff or you smelled or nobody liked you. Even eating with Martians was better than that.

Everyone but Tanya was already sitting at a table at the back of the cafeteria when I got to lunch that Monday.

Maria smiled at me as I put my stuff down next to her. Maria dressed in second hand clothes and was sort of mousy, but she looked really pretty when she smiled.

"We thought you weren't coming," she said in her soft, almost apologetic way. "Sue wasn't sure if she saw you in homeroom or not."

Sue. I thought. She wasn't sure that she was in homeroom. I shook my head. "I had to talk to Mr Herrera right after biology." I looked over at Sue. Everything about Sue was vague. Her hair was kind of brown, her eyes were kind of blue, her clothes never quite fit together, she never knew what day it was or what class she was supposed to be in. She was even eating a sandwich in a vague way, nibbling around the crust. "But I was sitting right next to you," I reminded her. "You were telling me about your neighbours parrot."

She blinked."Oh, right," she said. "I wasn't sure if that was today or yesterday."

Joan peered over her glasses at her. There was something in the way that Joan always peered over her glasses that reminded her of her mother. "Sue," said Joan, gently but firmly, "yesterday was Sunday." The way she said "yesterday was Sunday" reminded me of my mother, too. But her straight dark skirts and plain white blouses reminded me of my grandmother.

There was a blur of colour and the table shook. We all looked up. Tanya had arrived. I know I'm on the short side, but Tanya was the tallest girl I'd ever seen. She wasn't one of those tall skinny girls either. Tanya was big. The only boy in the whole school who was as broad and as tall as Tanya was Dwayne Miller, and he was a fullback.

"Hi there, campers." Tanya grinned. She was dressed in bright gold and green. In case you had trouble spotting her in a crowd. She pulled out the chair beside Marva and sort of threw herself into it. The table shook again.

Tanya beside Marva was like daytime sitting next to night. Tanya always wore the brightest colours and was always loud and laughing, and Marva wore only purple or black and was moody and intense. "What's the good word?" boomed Tanya.

"Four more days till Friday," said Marva, not looking up from the book she was reading.

"But that's five words," said Sue.

Everyone ignored her.

I unwrapped my sandwich.

"Yuk," said Tanya. "What is this stuff?" She was staring at the lump of meat on her plate, scraping at the gravy with her fork. "It doesn't look as though it ever lived."

Marva made a face. "It probably never did," she said.

Joan caught my eye and groaned.

Marvas eye, shadowed in a colour called Midnight Plum, to match the streak in her hair, rose above her paperback. "Not unless you think being kept in a tiny box in the dark from the moment you're born, screaming in agony, is living," she said.

"Here we go," sighed Joan.

I gave silent thanks that I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich today and not the cafeteria lunch.

"Are we talking about pork again?" asked Sue.

"We're talking about barbarians," said Marva, brushing some crumbs off the table. She reached into her lunch-box and took out a bowl of salad.

Tanya leaned her head closer to her tray. "What's thay?" she asked, pretending that her lump of meat was talking to her. "Its not true what Marva says? You were happy? The one thing that you ever wanted in life was to be a chicken cutlet served with instant mashed potatoes and peas in the school cafeteria?"

"Oh, ha ha, very funny," said Marva. She waved her hand and the twenty five bangle bracelets she wore went off like a car alarm. "You can joke all you want, Tanya, but its not funny. Eating meat is really bad for you."

Tanya poked at the food on her plate. "It wasn't so good for the chicken either." She winked.

Joan wodged her sandwich bag into a ball and threw it at Marva. "Marva, please," she begged. "Do you think we could have just one meal where we don't have to hear about our crimes against livestock?"

It wasn't that I didn't agree with Marva about battery chickens and stuff like that. I did. I wasn't a vegetarian, but I didn't think animals should be treated cruelly and have to suffer. It was another of my principles. Even I was pretty tired of Marvas lectures, though. "Yeah," I said. "let's talk about the dance." Since it was the only thing I'd been thinking about myself for two days, it was the only thing that came into my mind. Their reaction was a little different than Amys would have been.

Five heads turned to me at once. Five voices spoke. "What dance?" they asked.

"Saturday?" I said. "The dance next Saturday? You know, its the first big social event of the year."

Joan bit into a corn chip. "Oh, really?" she said.

"Well, whoopdeedoo," said Marva.

"I didn't know there was a dance," said Maria.

"I can't believe it!" cried Tanya. "A dance? Here at Red Bay High? And I haven't been asked to it yet?"

"Why did Mr Herrera keep you after class?" asked Sue.

I turned to her, a little surprised by her question. "What?" How did we get from Saturdays dance to Mr Herrera?

"Mr Herrera," Sue repeated. "You said you were late for lunch because he kept you late after class."

Tanya pretended to gag. "I didn't know you had Mr Herrera," she said. "Everybody says he's worse than the plague."

Marva broke a carrot stick in two. "They're wrong," she said. "He's worse than two plagues. My brother had him and he almost got him kicked out of school."

The rest if us all looked at one another. Everyone at Red Bay knew Marvas brother. He was a senior. And though he was really smart and everybody, even teachers, sort of respected him, he was even more eccentric than Marva was. Talk about weird!

"Why did your brother do that?" asked Sue.

Marva patted her shoulder. "No, Sue. Chris didn't try to get Mr Herrera kicked out. Mr Herrera tried to get Chris kicked out."

I decided to get back into the conversation. "He didn't make me stay late," I explained. "I just wanted to talk to him about something."

"What'd Chris do?" asked Tanya.

Marva opened a small jar and shook some sunflower seeds into her hand. "Who knows?" she shrugged. "Chris is always doing something."

Well that was true enough. Even I had heard how Chris County had led the protest against Styrofoam trays and cups in the cafeteria. You could see where Marva got it from.

"What about you?" asked Marva. "Was Mr Herrera nice to you?"

"For him he was. I mean, he didn't actually yell at me or anything." I'd finished my sandwich and potato chips and was starting on my brownie. "I asked him if I could be excused from dissecting frogs."

"I have Mrs Ricco," said Sue. "Mrs Ricco doesn't believe in dissection."

"So do I," said Marva. "I don't know what I'd do if I had Mr Herrera. Jennys right, he's always yelling."

"I have Mr Janover, and he doesn't believe in dissection either," said Tanya, "but it wouldn't bother me if he did."

Marva eyed Tanyas empty plate. "It couldn't if you could eat that," she said. Then she looked at me. "So," she said, "what did Herrera say?"

"He said he'd think about it." Which he had. I'll think about it Miss Kaliski, he'd said. But now, if you don't mind, I'd like to have my lunch.

Marva took a container of fruit salad out of her lunch-box. "That means no," she informed me.

"Oh, you can't be sure" said Joan. "It could mean that he wants to think about it."

Marva jangled as she picked up her fork. "No, it doesn't," she said simply. "I know him. It means no."

Later, as we were getting ready to go to our next classes, I brought up the dance again. Subtly. Casually. "So," I said as we left the lunch room, "what about the dance? Are any of you interested in going?"

Joan shook her head.

Marva rolled her eyes.

"Not unless the Jolly Green Giants going to be there to dance with me," laughed Tanya.

"What dance?" asked Sue.
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