“Meredith?” Dad was leaning on my bedroom door, his eyes careful and soft. “Are you okay?” My thoughts vanished in a cloudy poof, and I was back to the present.
“Yes, Dad,” I said, but I looked down quickly, thinking he wouldn’t see my face. I never could hide much from him, and he knew I would miss Elena. Terribly.
“May I come in?”
“Sure, Dad, you always can. You know that.” I patted the bedspread beside me and shoved the tissues onto the floor.
“Meredith, I am so sorry this move has happened to you now, especially with your sister going to school.” My tears began immediately as they always did when Dad spoke. His voice always got to me when he was sad or worried. It was so soft and warm.
He put his arm around my shoulders, and I sobbed into his shoulder. “Dad. Dad, I don’t have any friends here,” I cried. “How will I know what to do when I get to school on the first day? I-I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” he said. “You are out of place a little and homesick, and I know when school starts you will settle in. You’ve never had trouble making friends. Didn’t Mom put you in the honors’ classes?”
I didn’t know. The day we went to the principal’s office at Central, the day the moving van left piles of boxes and furniture in each room of our new house, I was half-dazed. I wanted to unpack, but Mom insisted we get to school so I could enroll right away even though it was only July. My transcripts from Valley had already been transferred, and Mrs. Donegal, the school secretary with the half glasses on a frayed cord, stood behind the tall office counter, impatient to get this over with. I could see her edginess with Mom as she sat and typed a password, and I heard printing nearby.
Even Mom seemed a little out of place and nervous.
She said, “Normally, I wouldn’t rush Meredith in here since school doesn’t start until next month, but I thought she should see her new school and enroll in classes to help her acclimate. My god, we have moving boxes everywhere, and I need to get to my new office. I’m part of the YearOne Real Estate team on First Street. Have you heard of them?” Mom was flushed and breathless.
Shut up, Mom, I thought, just shut up. We are here for me, not you.
The school secretary acted as though she hadn’t heard. “Mrs. Rivera? Just write in Meredith’s information, and sign off on this schedule. You’ll be all set to go.” She shoved a paper in front of Mom who bristled at the terse reception.
“Really?” Mom said. “Mrs. Donegal? Is this all there is to it? Does Meredith have honors English and History? Does she get to choose any electives?”
Somewhere, a phone rang in a closed office. Mrs. Donegal moved to answer it. “Preston Central High School. This is the main office,” she chimed sweetly. She listened to the caller briefly. “One moment, please, while I transfer you.”
“I want Meredith to have honors classes, Mrs. Donegal!” said Mom. Recently she had taken a business class that had taught her to say the customer’s name several times. But Mrs. D. was no customer. Without a word and Mom’s pen still poised above the paperwork, the secretary walked quickly to a closed door marked Principal and knocked quietly. She opened the door exactly enough to shove her face inside and talked. We heard nothing but murmurs. Then she closed the door firmly and turned to us once more.
“Mr. Townsend will see you shortly,” she said with a tonelessness only used by school secretaries who have to work in late summer when the rest of the staff is at the beach. She pointed a finger at a couple of hard chairs. “Please sit there until he has time to talk to you.”
Mom let out a sigh so large the floor should have crumbled beneath us, but as Mrs. D. went back to her typing or whatever it was she had to do, Mom motioned for me to take a chair and she sat loudly, exasperatedly, beside me. I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so I crossed them across my chest and stuck my feet out in front of me. We could hear the school clock tick-ticking the minutes left of summer until it reached two pm, and then there was a louder clack sound and suddenly, the whole school rang with a buzzer. I jumped. Mom stood up, and just as she opened her mouth, Mr. Townsend opened his office door and smiled as he came towards us.
“Well, a new student, eh? A junior? Welcome! Welcome to Central High!”
Mr. Townsend was a big puffy man with a large voice who was making a scruffy attempt to tuck a blue button-down shirt into his tightly belted trousers. He swiftly covered the space between his office and the counter and came around to shake hands, first with Mom, and then me. His hands were crumbly and slightly damp from whatever snack he had been eating. I stifled the urge to wipe mine on my jean shorts. I could faintly see Mom’s shoulders shudder, but she launched into her tirade about my schedule.
Mr. Townsend was a man used to listening, but he was also in charge.
“Mrs. Rivera? Meredith?” he began. “I’m sorry, but our honors classes are full for the fall term, but Meredith may certainly apply for them in December…”
“Apply?” said Mom with the incredulous look of an appalled parent. “Apply? Did you even look at her transcripts, Mr. Townsend? She is a straight ‘A’ student all around. Apply? My god, what kind of school is this?”
“It is a good school, Mrs. Rivera, accredited by Middle States Association, I can assure you. But we have rules, and there are only twenty students allowed in each honors class.”
By now, I didn’t care if they gave me English for dummies. I wanted a schedule. I wanted my Mom to shut up, and I wanted out of that antiseptic-smelling office. Right now.
Finally, Mom played her last I-know-someone-card.
“Do you know my husband, Mr. Townsend?” she asked, sure she was going to get what she wanted.
I looked down at the floor and began nervously tapping my foot.
Mr. Townsend didn’t blink. “Why, yes, Mrs. Rivera, I do. I met Mike at our area principals’ meeting last week. He’s going to be a fine administrator for East Penn. They’ve been looking for a qualified person for a while.”
Busted, Mom, busted.