Authors: Colleen Nelson
if you need
,” Mom said. She brushed out a non-existent wrinkle on my quilt, a hand-me-down with worn edges that smelled like home. “Well, I guess â¦ ” she trailed off. It was time for her to go.
It had been my choice to come here, I reminded myself. Mom had planted the idea, but I'd been the one to do all the work, insisting during the interview that it had always been my dream to attend Ravenhurst. And when we'd driven through the gates and up the circular driveway, I'd gazed up at the imposing brick building and gotten butterflies.
But now that I was sitting on a mattress that felt thin and hard, and nothing looked familiar, I got a lump in my throat. Once she left, I was on my own.
I rubbed the thin fabric of the quilt between my fingers and avoided looking at Mom. I could hear the tears in her voice.
“I guess you'll go down for dinner soon,” she said. “Meet some of the other students. They'll all be arriving today.”
I nodded. My roommate had already set up her side of the room. Posters, a colourful comforter, and stuffed animals made her space look lived in.
Mom stood up. “I better get going.” She rubbed my shoulder and I thought about asking her to take me back to Lumsville with her. I didn't want to go to Ravenhurst after all. But spending another year at Lumsville High School wasn't the right fit either.
“Here.” She pulled a ribbon-bound journal out of her purse and thrust it at me. An orange leather cover embossed with daisies, heavy with unused pages. “It's a journal, for your poems.”
I tried to say thank you, but the words got stuck in my throat, tears sprang to my eyes. “Thanks,” I croaked, clutching it against my chest. I'd used scribblers and scrap paper, but I'd never had a dedicated journal before.
“I thought it might help. In case you get homesick. You've always been good at writing down how you feel, even if you don't say anything.”
Shreds of emotion
Laid bare on my wall,
Like mental graffiti.
I wrapped my arms around her neck, wishing I didn't have to let go.
used to play against Wolf Creek in an exhibition game once a year. Start of season, we'd go to the reserve on a rented bus, our families following behind in their cars. The rez kids were scrappy and fast.
My guys, the Lumsville Hornets, were always keyed up for the Wolf Creek game. It set the tone for the rest of the season. The crowd was hyped-up too, our parents' voices echoing off the ice, the noise from air horns and cow bells blending into one deafening roar.
The Wolves banged their sticks on the boards before they hit the ice. It intimidated the shit out of me the first time I heard it. But then I scored on my first shift. I looked up by chance and saw Mom standing and clapping for me, hugging Hope. My team skated over to slap my helmet, but nothing felt as good as seeing Mom bursting with pride in the bleachers.
The last time we played in Wolf Creek, I scored the game winner, in overtime. Instead of looking at Mom, I'd turned to the bench. Coach Williams gave a fist punch in the air and slapped his clipboard. Then he pointed at me. A silent, triumphant signal, like, “I knew you could do it.” The team unloaded off the bench and clobbered me, overjoyed at the win. When we got to the dressing room, Coach took a minute to single me out. Making sure I knew how much the team relied on me. What a special player I was.
rough wool skirt scratched against my legs. I yanked my navy socks up so they skimmed my knees and took a deep breath. The Ravenhurst uniform required a navy V-neck sweater and black shoes. I'd been living in tank tops and denim cut-offs all summer. The heavy fabric felt alien against my skin.
I pulled my hair up into a ponytail and surveyed the final result. My eyes, the same icy blue as Mom's, stared back at me. I was almost pretty, but nothing matched up. Eyes that were too big, a nose that had a bump in the middle, and lips that sat small and puckered, too far from my chin. I was awkward-looking.
Not like Eric. He was good-looking, or had been. With light green eyes and a confident strut, he used to walk around town like he owned it. His hair was blond, like his dad's. He'd let it grow when he played hockey, so it stuck out of his hockey helmet and flew behind him when he skated. Now it hung limp and unwashed.
In Lumsville, I was the outsider, the one who didn't know the right thing to say or wear, who laughed at jokes too late and then stopped laughing altogether. What was the point? Every year, I hoped that a new family would move into town. With a daughter my age. We'd have an instantaneous connection and become inseparable.
That never happened. But Ravenhurst had. Maybe my mythical friend was waiting for me in the dorms.
“Please let them like me,” I whispered, squeezing my hands into fists in a silent prayer.
The door opened and Cassie, my roommate, tore into the room. She was fresh from the shower and her robe hung off one shoulder. “Shit!” she wailed, frantic. “I'm late!”
We'd barely said hello yesterday. She'd tiptoed in just before
“lights out” and had whispered a greeting in the dark. Her parents had taken her out for dinner. From a small town five hours east of the city, she spoke quickly and laughed loudly.
“Can you pass me those socks?” she asked from her bed, where she sat rubbing lotion onto her legs. “Thanks!” she said with a relieved grin and yanked them on. They stuck to her legs like sausage casings. I caught a flash of dimpled, cherub thighs as she wriggled into them.
“Oh,” she cried, pulling back her blanket. “Seen my sweater?”
Even though I wanted to get to the dining hall and find a place to sit before it got crowded, I helped her search. “Is this it?” I asked, pulling a sleeve out from under a pile of books on her desk chair. The rest of the sweater followed.
“Thanks!” she said and took it from me. Her hair had left splotches of wetness on her robe. “So, where are you from?”
“Lumsville. It's small, you probably don't know it. Three hours west of the city.”
“You've probably never heard of Waterton, either. Dad got posted there for work and it's in the boondocks, hours from anywhere. Small towns.” She shrugged, as if they were a lost cause. “What's Lumsville like?”
I gave her a wry smile. “About the same as Waterton, probably.”
“I started at Ravenhurst last year,” she said, vigorously towel drying her hair. “My brother's at Melton Prep. That's, like, the boys' school to RH. We do activities with them sometimes. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
She turned around, her naked back to me, and slipped on her bra, hooking it closed in one quick motion and turned back to me. I looked away, shy for her. “Just a brother. He's older and done school.” Sort of. I didn't explain that school was more done with him than he with it. I gave a silent sigh of regret for him. Even here, at boarding school, his choices loomed over me.
Cassie started to button her shirt. “Maybe it'll be different for you, but these girls are a prickly bunch.” I didn't have time to ask what she meant because she glanced at a clock on her nightstand and groaned. “Ugh! Is that the time? I'm gonna be late my first day. Do you mind grabbing me some breakfast? Toast or something? I'll meet you in the cafeteria after I dry my hair.” Cassie was already turning on her dryer and didn't look at me when I gave a reluctant wave and left.
The dining area wasn't fancy, but with long tables and benches, it could hold all the boarders, plus the day students. The smell of toast and sizzling bacon wafted out from an industrial-style kitchen. I followed the other girls as they took trays from the rolling rack at the entrance and stood in line for food. Staff bustled behind the counter, refilling vats of scrambled eggs and sausages.
Too nervous to eat, I didn't pause at the French toast or hash browns, even though they smelled delicious. A few pieces of toast for Cassie and a lonely bowl of cereal were all that I carried to a table as far in the back as I could get.
I watched the other girls. Most of them had tweaked their uniform in some way, by un-tucking their blouse so the shirttails hung out or by flipping up the collar. A few of them had slouchy socks that hung over their shoes, not the knee-highs that I wore, which looked juvenile, like I should be playing on the monkey bars at recess.
Three girls walked in and others shuffled aside to make room for them in line. They'd all rolled up the waistband of their skirts so the hem grazed mid-thigh. I felt like a country church mouse watching them. Their laughter was high-pitched and cackling, hard to miss first thing in the morning.
Scanning the line, I waited for Cassie. Her toast was growing cold. A sudden stab of longing for the breakfast table at home made my cereal turn into tasteless mush.
The girls with the short skirts scanned the dining hall for a table. One of them, tall with long, dark hair and a gash of red lipstick, spotted mine, empty except for me. She nudged the other two and nodded in my direction. I hurriedly tossed the half-finished bowl of cereal back onto the tray and wrapped up Cassie's toast in a napkin. I didn't want company.
But I was too slow. They were at my table, standing over me. All three had long hair. Besides the tall girl, the other two were in varying stages of blondness. One had a big nose, big eyes, and pouty lips. Unusual-looking but striking.
The other was the shortest of the three. Her hair, betraying its true origins, was fluffy; curls at her temples had rebelled against the straightening iron. Well-tanned and cute in a stereotypical cheerleader sort of way.
The first girl, with the scarlet lips, appraised me. “Are you leaving?”
I nodded, sliding my tray to the edge of the table. The other two backed up slightly to make room for me, but she didn't. I had to swing my legs wide to avoid her as I got off the bench.
“You're new.” It was a statement, with an undertone of disapproval.
I met her eyes. Green, wide-set over high cheekbones and a square jaw. She was pretty, but there was no softness to her.
Again, I nodded. I could feel her eyes on me as I picked up my tray and moved off the bench. I looked up quickly, once, as I was leaving. The girl looked through me, as if I wasn't there.
Cassie waved at me from the entrance, her blond hair bouncing behind her as she walked across the room. Glancing behind me, she made a face. “Did they kick you out?”
“No, I was done, sort of.” I passed her the napkin-wrapped toast and put my soupy cereal leftovers on the refuse cart.
“Did Lizzie talk to you?” Cassie asked.
“The one with the brown hair? Not really.” Cassie grabbed a packet of jam and a knife and found an empty stool along a counter near the exit. She sat down and smeared jam on her toast, and took some loud, crunchy bites.
“She can be a real bitch, so watch out. Do
get on her bad side.” Red jam glued crumbs to her top lip.
I snorted. “I kinda got that. What's her deal?”
Cassie licked the crumbs off the corner of her mouth and shrugged. “Everyone listens to Lizzie. By tomorrow, all the girls' skirts will be like hers.” She stood up. It was almost time to get to first period. “Her friends are Emily, the short one, and Vivian, who's actually really smart and nice, but Lizzie sucked her in last year. We used to be friends.” I noticed the emphasis on
. “There's my field hockey friends.” She waved to a group heading toward us. I pasted a smile on my face, but Cassie brushed past me with no introductions. She and her girlfriends barrelled out the doors.
I was left standing alone, again, with a ridiculous smile plastered on my face.