Chapter 2

My best friend Caroline is prettier than I am. She is actually quite striking. What fascinates me most is how aware she is of her own powers. She has large green eyes with long lashes and full lips. There is something exquisite in her face that I had never really been able to point out. If I ever had to "bat for the other team," so to speak, I would certainly choose her to "pitch" for me. Unfortunately for me, I am as straight as they come. There is a psychological longing to be filled up, Caroline likes to remark. It all has something to do with the emptiness I feel inside. I ignore her.

Presently, we sit in my room, engaged in our typical misanthropic conversation. I had just remarked that it alarms me how my peers, many of whom have lower GPA's than I do, plan to apply to colleges which I consider completely out of my league.

"Applying is not the same as getting in," she says while filing her nails with my nail file, which I myself never use.

"What scares me is," I say, "that some of them will actually get in by pure dumb luck."

"Pure dumb luck is the comic hero's way," she says. It is in allusion to our English class. She hates English. I love it. She loves Calculus. I hate it. My grade in both classes is higher than hers. I don't know why I feel compelled to remark that.

"In this world, it's pure dumb luck or pure talent. We can't say we have that."

"Speak for yourself," she smiles, "so how was last night?"

"Last night?" I ask, puzzled, as if half expecting that I had spent it with Vicomte de Valmont and somehow forgot.

"Your little class," her voice deepens on the last word. She laughs cynically.

"That. Well, Janie had fun. Won't shut up about it."

"And you?"

"I can' t say much, since I spent most of the time outside. I don't dance."

She laughs, "I take it you didn't have fun?"

"No...well...it was a little amusing watching the star couple. Talented kids." There is disgust in my voice.

"Oh yeah?" she asks as she turns away and starts flipping through the Cosmopolitan on my bedstand.

"Yeah, the girl is a bitch. I know it's juvenile to judge people I don't know but-"

"All girls are bitches, don't you know that?"

"Hmm," I smile, "I learn something new every day."

"All right, the girl is a bitch-"

"But a good dancer," I add.

"A good dancer, and the male counterpart?"

I shudder.

"That bad?"

"Yes. I have to say. Total-"

"Don't curse," she warns.

"He said I was fat," I say.

"He said that?" she looks up from the magazine and exclaims in a shocked tone. Her lips are upturned.

"He implied it."

"Who is this person?"

"I don't know. His name is Maxim."

She shows her large white teeth. "Maxim? Tall guy with crazy hair?"

I would not have described his hair as crazy. "Maybe," I say.

"Blue eyes? Pretty-boy face, right? Put a wig on him and he'll look like a girl, Maxim?"

I stare at her blankly.

"I know Maxim," she says and is suddenly laughing, "I've known him for years. I don't see much of him anymore though. He was ten shades of stoned last time we spoke."

"Stoned?"

"Oh god, Grace. The kid is the biggest junkie this side of the Atlantic."

I shrug, "That makes sense." There's a strange feeling of sickness in my stomach. Caroline sits on the edge of my bed and crosses her legs. I watch the chipped red polish on her toenails as she opens the magazine to a page and begins to read an article. "101 Sex Secrets: What Your Man Wants You to Know." When she speaks, her voice is confident and clear. Caroline is a great public speaker. I envy her in that, if there is anything to envy about her. When I stand up in front of people, my throat becomes dry, my palms moist, and my lungs seem to contract so that I am incapable of inhaling enough oxygen to survive. I feel as if I had just run up a flight of stairs. My heartbeat quickens, my skin grows bumps, and my voice comes to sound tragic, as if I am about to break into tears.

"Pride and Prejudice," I say, trying to regulate my tone. I am in English class, standing in front of the room on the right of the poster Caroline and I spent a good fifteen minutes making the night before. My hands are in the pockets of my sweater, and my eyes are grazing the ceiling. What about Pride and Prejudice? I think to myself. It's a banal little story, a masterpiece of the nineteenth century that, had it been written today, would have been dismissed as another trashy dime novel in the 2.99 bin of a local book store. A cliche of cliches. Battle of the Sexes. They meet, they argue, they love. It's not exactly realism, so where are all the themes? "The first instance of pride occurs at the Meryton ball, where..." I stumble and inhale, "where Elizabeth first meets Mr. Darcy. He does not hide his sense of superiority. He-he-excuse me-he refuses to dance with Elizabeth, saying that she is 'not handsome enough' to tempt him. While his pride is obvious, it is also worthy of mentioning that-that-" I break off again, "that his act also hurts Elizabeth's pride, and fuels her prejudice against him later in the novel."

I turn to Caroline who stands beside me with perfect posture. In a collected tone, she begins to list the characters. "Mrs. Bennet is the mother. Mr. Bennet is the father. Jane is the older sister. Mr. Bingley likes Jane. Mr. Darcy doesn't like anybody. Nobody likes Mr. Darcy."

"Nobody likes Mr. Darcy?" I laugh as we exit the classroom. "Did you even read it?"

"Of course not," she giggles and presses her books to her chest.

A tall blonde in a track suit catches up to her and smiles in an exasperated way. "Hey, Caroline," he pants.

"Hey, Bobby." She does not even turn her head to look at him. If anything, her tone is annoyed.

"Good presentation," he says.

"Yeah, thanks."

"So, are you going to John's party?"

"No."

"Come on, you have to go."

"I don't have to do anything," she declares and makes a sharp turn to the stairs.

I follow her, but not before stealing a last glance at the sheepish expression on the poor guy's face. It disturbs me, watching it from the side, the way the features of his lovely face worked when he spoke to her. What was this power that Caroline had over men? Was it something she was born with, perhaps the great pure talent of which she often spoke, or was it an acquired traits that perhaps I, too, could some day acquire? I was always the awkward girl, the sidekick, the third wheel whom Caroline sometimes brought along on dates with guys she did not particularly like. But perhaps that was better. After all, I had very bad judgment when it came to members of the opposite sex. I had gotten myself into something of a situation several months earlier when I thought I was madly in love with an old friend of mine, who took advantage of it one rainy afternoon, before confessing the whole thing to his girlfriend of seven months. Of course, in a situation like that, the fact that it takes two people to hook up was obliterated by the universal truth that every act of infidelity on the part of the man would be inevitably blamed on the other woman. She took care to turn most of my acquaintances, girls often classified as "white trash," the scary girls, the girls you don't want to mess with, against me. She petted and forgave him.

Caroline stayed by my side, which was why I completely loved Caroline.

"You decided not to go?" I ask Caroline.

"Of course I'm going," she says.

"But you just said..."

"I say many things."

I sigh, "I guess we're not on for Saturday."

"Of course we're on for Saturday," she says.

"What?"

"You're coming with me."

"But I wasn't invited."

"Well, isn't that too bad?" she laughs.

We turn right at the bottom of the stairs and navigate our way into the crowded cafeteria.