The Little Things

Chapter One

First Day of the Rest of Your Life

I sit in the principal's office on a plastic chair and stare.

First I stare at the map behind the desk. It lays out the entire school, information I was going to need. And I had already vowed that I wasn't going to be the hopelessly lost new girl that everyone laughed at. I hate the bullshit the principal gives me about the students being "nice" and "always willing to help".

He doesn't know what high school is like. He's just a spectator. But he truly, honestly doesn't know that. He believes what he's saying, which doubles the urge to throttle him.

After photographically memorizing the map, I stare at him. Mr. Rodriguez. Probably got the job to bring minority to this prissy, rich-kid county. His hair is cut short-short, like he just got a haircut. His eyes are reddish-brown and he wears contacts. I see the rim around his irises. He wears a tie but he normally doesn't, because the knot is wrong and he keeps tugging at it. His pants are an inch too short.

He is very tan. His wedding ring slips because it's too big. He's lost weight since the wedding. He doesn't have a ring tan. He probably only wears the ring to school. He probably hasn't spoken to his wife in months. The ring is for appearances.

He doesn't have any kids, but he wants some. He keeps staring at my dad like he's a mutant.

My dad. Jack. Or Jack #1, as he soon will become.

His fiancé, Jack #2, grew up here. In Massachusetts. He moved away and never came back, but once they decided to allow gay marriage, he was all for the good old Bay State and chickadees and elms. I read a guide book about Massachusetts. I don't think it will come in handy.

My dad is wearing rainbow. That's probably why Mr. Rodriguez looks like he's going to run out of the room in anxiety. Big, fat, rainbow stripes that shout, "Look over here! I'm gay!" As if people couldn't already tell.

Jack #1 isn't really that flamboyant or fashionable or all those stereotypes. But he has a gay voice. It sounds like a girl. It's really easy for him to pretend to telemarketers that his name is Susie Mae and he lives in Oklahoma.

He gets sick of people getting all surprised when they hear him talk, so he wears rainbow so they can tell from a mile away.

His hair is black, at least, so it doesn't clash with the colors. It's cut military-like. He claims it's a message, but I think his hairdresser just went a little razor-happy. He has a big nose and thin lips and huge eyes and ears that stick out. His cheeks are always red and his skin is always pale pale pale. His eyebrows must be an inch thick and stretch from the middle of his nose to past his eye. He has no chin.

He's like an algebra equation. 10 ugly traits plus 5 decent ones equals an impossibly handsome man.

Now, I'm not hitting on my gay father. But he really is good-looking. Despite the Mafia nose and Bambi eyes. I don't know how he does it. I envy him.

I have a really big, round face and tiny eyes and a little, straight nose and miniscule lips with gigantic buck teeth underneath. My skin's pale, too, but I must have my mother's mousy brown hair.

I'm getting sick of staring at myself in my photographic memory so I stare at the secretary. She has something to hide.

These are my favorite people. Those that have those deep, dark secrets that I can figure out. I feel like a detective, scanning every inch of their bodies for clues.

For example, Ms. Drummond has sinned recently. She wears an intricate cross necklace, but she keeps biting her lip guiltily and spinning it around in her fingers. Periodically, she glances upwards, like she's praying to the fluorescent lighting or something.

I scan her outfit for signs of disarray. Bingo. Shirt buttoned wrong, pantyhose on backwards, skirt zipper off-center. She has been recently undressed by...

...a football player?

Okay, I admit, I was leaning more towards Mr. Rodriguez, but her loving gaze is turned instead on a huge, blown-up image of the football team that just happens to adorn the wall right next to her.


My studying is over. I have decided I hate Peachley Day School.

I almost expect it to have a corny motto: "Every day is peachy here at Peachley!"

It would be too perfect.

Ah, well. Minimum of one year here. One year of not fitting in, of being middle-class (a scandal around here, I'm sure), of being the new girl.

Which, I have to say, I have never been before.

I grew up in Montana. I had my driver's license in freshman year. Which is stupid because there's nowhere to drive. So you blow all your money on a car 'cause you've been saving forever for it and you're, like, so excited. And then you remember you live in Montana. In a town that has one stoplight and a Stop & Shop.

Peachley has uncountable stoplights and trendy little bookstores and coffee places and clothing outlets. The Shop Rite is massive and filled with metallic shelves and easily labeled aisles. My house is half the size of the one across the street. My dad and his boyfriend (sorry: fiancé) are the only gay people in town (not counting the ones in the closet).

The school is even worse. The uniform is only the top with the school logo and a couple different bottoms. Which leaves lots of room for the spoiled brat girls to accessorize and pile on every designer brand they can remember (to which their academic memory pales in comparison, I'm sure). Boys have a tie.

Oh, that's a plus. Private school boys can be hot.

A boy walks in to deliver something to Ms. Drummond.

Remind me to always emphasize the "can be" in that sentence from now on.

The principal continues his speech on how insanely amazing his school is. Ms. Drummond takes us on a tour then. My dad talks to her about Wal-Mart.

He doesn't know she's sleeping with the quarterback.

Or the retriever. Or the running back. I'm not really sure.

But he doesn't know. He just thinks she's a nice woman who will help me on my first day.

But I know.

I'll never look at her the same way again.

When my dad was eighteen, he told his parents he was gay and they told him he wasn't.

They didn't make a fuss, they didn't kick him out, they barely even responded.

Jack (#1): Mom, Dad, I'm gay.

Mom: Oh, no, you're not, sweetheart.

Dad: Did you do your Calculus homework? I know you're horrible at it. Get it done.

So, in a supposed quest to find his heterosexuality, do you know the first thing my father decided to do?

Drive to New York (from Connecticut) by himself and find a hooker.

I think it was the worst night of his life. He never really says that, seeing as, you know, it was the day I was conceived.

I don't ask about condoms/birth control/whatever they used in the nineties, but then again, I don't ask my dad about anything. He never gave me the sex talk. Or the puberty talk. I taught myself how to use tampons. My dad doesn't know a single thing about females.

Which makes sense and all, but still.

He told me the G-rated version of my birth when I was six and started asking where I came from if I didn't have a mommy.

Apparently, my daddy and my mommy didn't love each other, but they both loved me very much, but my mom couldn't take care of me, so she left.

Reality: my mom was a crack whore who was basically taken hostage while she was pregnant because my dad didn't want her drinking or smoking anything and screwing me up, so they absolutely hated each other. She didn't want me, he didn't want her to have me, so he got stuck with the bundle of joy.

Fun, right? I got that story on my first day of freshman year. The perfect time to spring it on your kid.

Jack #2 is okay. I mean, he's not a prostitute. Which is always a bonus. He has an I'm-thirty-something-but-I'm-pretending-I'm-still-in-college haircut. It's long-ish and shaggy and he has a goatee. He stands with his hand on his hip all the time. He once streaked in the hallways of Peachley Day School, so everyone remembers him. At least I don't have his last name.

He had a five-year-old daughter who died in a car crash. That's why he moved to Montana.

My first class is Biology. I am the only senior and I don't know why. In my Montana school, I was in the accelerated program, and we had Basics of Biology senior year. I guess Peachley is a little more sophisticated.

I kind of keep up with Mr. Machiavelli. Okay, his real name is Mr. Mercurio. But that's not nearly interesting enough. I wonder what the kids here call him. I don't know. No one says a word for the whole class.

Except for Banana Head, who sits in the front row and has bright yellow, waist-length hair that is all dried out and frayed. It could be pretty. But it's not.

Mr. Machiavelli really likes her. In the brownnoser kind of way. She wears a "Somebody-who-loves-me-went-to-blank-and-got-me-this-headband" from Rio de Janeiro. That is a long sentence to fit on a small hair accessory. I wonder if I can get a similar piece of merchandise in Peachley.

I am wearing baggy carpenter jeans and a shirt, which declares loudly, "I'm rad. You're rad. Let's hug." It spreads a message of love and unity. And the word rad, which gets used to sparsely nowadays.

I'm the only one out of uniform. Mr. Machiavelli tried to give me demerits. What are those, anyway? I explain I'm new and he insists on calling Mr. Rodriguez to make sure. He spends a half hour in the hallway chatting. He props the door open with his foot so he can make sure no one utters a syllable. A boy in the front row coughs. Machiavelli glares.

Second class is Calculus. They don't even make Calculus in Montana. Mrs. Carpenter seems nice. I imagine myself telling her that my pants are named after her family, but I decide against it. She has a muffin top and a soccer mom haircut. She acts mostly sane, except for the time she trips over the overhead projector cord and flails her arms around like she's trying to flag down a plane. And falls on her face.

I have US History 2. I wonder if I should inform someone I never took US History 1.

Photography sounds cool, until Mr. Tyler walks into the classroom. I estimate that he is 7'2", based on how low he stoops to walk in the door. I am horrendous at guessing weights, but this guy could block a tank if it was coming. Forget hiding under your desk from an atomic bomb, just pull Mr. Tyler down on top of you.

The camera looks comically small next to his gargantuan face.

I have Spanish next with a teacher from Austria who pronounces Spanish i's wrong. I would know. I learned Spanish from UniVision in the second grade.

Lunch finally appears on my schedule. I eat in a table in the sunlight and stare.

That girl over there, with the red hair, is my first selection. She drums her fingers on the table and tries to look preoccupied. She is clearly self-conscious about sitting at a lunch table alone. She looks pretty damn perfect. Where are her friends?

Her auburn hair is long and shiny and her uniform is all straight and in order. Her backpack is hung neatly on the back of her chair and her tray, sans lunch, sits before her. She ate alone. Who is she waiting for?

A gaggle of giggling girls enters just then and sit themselves around her, jumping into an animated conversation.

With each other.

Josie Glenn (I peaked at the side of her binder, I'll admit) watches an ant crawl along her tray.

She keeps glancing at the empty chair next to her.

Who is supposed to be sitting there? I dismiss it. I'll find out soon enough.

I move on to a boy across the cafeteria in a letter jacket over his button-up shirt. His hair is short and curly and blonde. His face can be compared to a god, but I shall not go there.

He is grinning even when no one is talking to him. Why is he so happy?

Oh, what have we here? Is that a smudge of lipstick? Behind the ear?

Ladies and gentlemen, we have found Ms. Drummond's lover boy.

Well, at least she has good taste.

A girl is shuffling through the lunch line. Her uniform is in the biggest size available, clearly. The skirt is being held up by a length of rope. Still, it only reaches her mid-calves.

Having studied almost everyone I've ever seen in my life, I have seen a lot of skinny people. This girl is, by far, the thinnest. I could make a circle with my thumb and pinky around her ankles. Her upper arms are just as small. Her face is gaunt and horse-like. Anorexic, bulimic, I'm too far away to tell.

I can see, however, the miserable and huffy expression on her face. She hates high school, mostly because she doesn't have a single friend. She would rather rot away in her house. Her image problem probably started from a rejection.

She hates her parents but longs to stay at home. She is, in essence, a baby. No strength whatsoever.

Returning my eyes to Josie, I finally see a smile on her face. The result of the boy - no, excuse me, that kiss must mean boyfriend - who sits next to her now. He has big lips and a big nose and really intense eyes. He's pretty cute. He has to be to date Ms. Perfect.

Skinny walks out of the lunch line and, keeping her head down, she walks quickly over to my table. She deposits her things on a sit and puts down her nearly empty tray. Anorexia, then.

Her head snaps up when she hears me sigh, apparently shocked that anyone is sitting with her. I guess she's normally alone.

"Who are you?" Blunt.

I do not respond.

"Are you new?" I gently nod.

She sniffs. "Oh." Turning to her little container of carrots, she picks up one and nibbles on it.

Setting it down, she turns back to me. "I'm Ruth."

I raise my eyebrows.

Rolling her eyes, Ruth mutters something under her breath. I wasn't looking at her, so I didn't get to read her lips.

After lunch, I head to my final class - English. Ms. Miorillo. Stuck in the eighties and refusing to admit she's a day over twenty-five. Long braided hair and an aroma of cigarette smoke that seems to surround her.

Jack #2 is waiting for me outside. He is very jovial.

"Leeny!" He deems it appropriate to nickname me. Apparently this is a significant part of childhood I seem to be lacking.

"How was your first day?"

I shrug.

"Did you meet anyone new?"

I nod.

"Do you like it?"

I roll my eyes.

He sighs.

I give him a "come-on" look because I know what's coming next.

"Now, Leeny, Peachley is a really great place. I know you don't feel comfortable here, but I promised you last week it's only temporary, right? After the wedding, we can move whenever you feel comfortable."

Why Massachusetts? Why not California? I actually consider voicing this, but decide against it.


The color of Jack #2's vehicle is very interesting.

"Answer me."

It's a kind of vomit-inducing yellow.


All it needs is a bright purple stripe down the side. Remind me never to say that out loud. Jack #2 bows down to my every command in hopes I might warm up to him.

"What's wrong with Peachley?"

I am incredulous. "What's wrong with Peachley? Oh, let me list the reasons. This better be a decent-length drive home."

Jack #2 sighs. Hey, beggars can't be choosers. At least I'm talking to him.


I open my car door. "My name-"

I climb in.

"-is Eileen."