Authors: Beth Evangelista
For my gifted sons:
Michael, Matthew, and Nicholas.
Anita thinks the story should begin with the two of us sitting side by side on the steps in front of the main entrance, grimly watching our happy classmates pull into the school parking lot with all their gear, and waiting with hearts of lead for that dreadful moment when we would board the buses. Buses that would transport the eighth grade not only to the camp at Cape Rose but to the terrors that would befall us there.
Anita's always had a flair for the dramatic.
I disagree. Nevertheless, since she's the novelist and I'm just the highly celebrated hometown hero struggling to get his homework done in between daily house calls from Roger-the-Sadist, the traveling physical therapist with hands of steel, I told her to go ahead and start it any way she wanted.
But, “No,” she said, “it's
story, George,” and insisted that I write it because it would be good for me and because I have lots of free time now, with nothing better
to do. And I'm to be completely honest, even if it happens to be about her and it happens to be personal. I'm not so sure about this last point, but according to Anita, nothing will ever break up our friendship again.
I guess we shall see
As far as i'm concerned, the class trip, or I should say my trying to get out of going on the class trip, actually started the night before we left, Sunday, the fifth day of October. I was in the privacy of my bedroom, having just drunk a twelve-ounce glass of cold water blended with a half cup of Gulden's Spicy Brown Mustard over crushed ice, and I was sitting on my bed, waiting for something to happen.
Just sitting and waiting, and waiting and sitting, with an eye on the clock, watching the minutes slowly creep by. And except for feeling totally bloated and having breath that reeked, nothing was happening. Not a thing. I didn't even feel a burp coming on. I wondered then, not in a panic yet but getting close, if I should have used another type of mustard, something a little more “fast-acting.” Because if this Anita-tested method didn't work, I would have to find another way to make myself violently sickâand fast.
, I thought,
by this time tomorrow, I'll be dead!
this sounds crazy now, but at the time I was serious, and if you had walked in my shoes for a whole week, believe me, you wouldn't have wanted to.
I guess I should explain that I am the one and only child of elderly parents, my mother having been forty-six and my father forty-seven when I was born, and if you'd ever heard them talk about me, you'd have sworn I was some kind of a model child. And you would have been right, but it was mainly because I didn't have a life, not because I was afraid of my dad. But all the other kids were, and that's what kept me alive.
Now, at the time that I was sitting and sipping my mustard frappÃ© and not panicking, I was exactly five feet short and would have weighed a whopping eighty-six pounds soaking wet had I ever bothered to weigh myself like that, with my brain accounting for at least thirty percent of my gross weight. The rest of me, a lithe skeleton encasing a bunch of internal organs, all packed neatly in a clear ivory skin that got a little dry and flaky when I forgot to moisturize, was what some would describe as delicate. And when they did, it annoyed me. My hair was sort of nondescript, that shade in between blond and brown known as dishwater, but at least I didn't wear glasses, which was one less geek item for Them to razz me about. My big thirteenth-birthday gift was a set of high-powered soft contacts. They made my eyes red all the time, like a couple of bright red beacons, but becoming the butt of fewer jokes made them definitely worth it.
My parents, for reasons that were entirely selfish, named me George Robert Clark after my dad's lifelong idol, Dr. George Robert Stibitz, the Father of Complex Computers, which is what I think did it. Cursed me, I mean, causing whatever growth hormones I may have
been born with to grow my brain instead of my body. I'm an M. G. I've been in the Mentally Gifted Accelerated Program since the first grade, and I've won every math and science award for my grade level ever to be offered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
One side effect of being gifted, I found, was that my teachers absolutely worshiped me. You might even say I had them wrapped around my little finger and that at my lightest word they would have turned somersaults for meâall because I was their Golden Boy. It was
because my dad was their boss. They genuinely thought I was wonderful. Really.
Okay, maybe not Mr. Zimmerman, my music teacher. I should say my “incredibly stuck-up music teacher,” who hated me as much as I hated him. If you think “hate” might be too strong a word, think again. I
him. Not because he was a short, fat man with a revolting mustache that looked like a coffee stain on his upper lip. And not because, with the exception of a crescent moon of jet black hair, he was gleamingly bald. And not because he had a bleating tenor voice that punctured the eardrums and offended the finer feelings of macho men everywhere. Because I'm nothing if not tolerant of those less fortunate than I. No, the reason I hated him was because he thought he was better than everyone else, including
, and it galled me. Galled me to my very depths.
Mr. Zimmerman had been the professor of musical theater at some real snazzy New York performing arts school up until they decided to downsize, “trim the fat” you might say, and it surprised no one that Mr. Z's ample figure was the first to go. Now the Music Man acted as if he'd come down in the world, working in a public middle school in Pennsylvania, and it was his policy to
be as snotty as possible to everyone he encountered. Particularly snotty to me. I guess I must have brought out the best in him.
I used to wonder if my dad had hired him out of pity. Then I remembered my dad never pitied anyone in his life. He's not what you'd call a “pitying” man.
Not that he's a bad guy, my father. He just tries to come off that way, like he's big and bad and intimidating. He even let his beard grow just to enhance the fear factor. His face is naturally reddish, and it turns a deep maroon whenever he yells, which is quite often. His eyes are the color of ice, and his hair and facial fur are a blend of iron gray and snowy white. He looks exactly like a wolf. He stands six foot three in his socks, and all in all, he's a pretty imposing figure. He makes stupid jokes that everyone laughs at simply because they
to, though he's really quite smart. He taught advanced calculus at the high school for decades until the day came when he decided he needed a bigger outlet for all his pent-up hostilities. And since he preferred venting them on those smaller and weaker than himself, he naturally became our school principal, and Conrad T. Parks Middle School has never been the same.
But it worked out well for me because, like I said, without my dad watching Them and spying out all Their evil ways and putting the fear of the detention room into Their hearts, I'd have been dead already. Head-Bashed-In Roadkill. Which is why I had to start throwing up soon. My dad wasn't coming with us to Cape Rose. I would be totally on my own with Them. And I couldn't throw up only once; what I was going for was the kind of repeat fully automatic vomiting that spells
to even the most feebleminded of mothers.
Actually, my mother wasn't feebleminded at all; she only behaved that way. Back in the days before I was born, she was considered to be a very smart person, and as a parent, she wasn't all that bad. Other than making my bed, cleaning my room, and keeping me in April-fresh-smelling laundry, she honored the Keep Out sign on my door, which is a rarity among mothers these days. Not that I had anything to hide in there really. Other than the files in my computer, which she couldn't access anyway, the only things of value to me were my books and the collection of photographs I had taped inside my closet door. Nothing
there, of course, just pictures that gave me inspirationâand that made Anita see red whenever she happened to see them.
When I thought of Anita, I thought,
If this doesn't work tonight, I'm going to THROTTLE her
. It was her master plan, the secret mustard-in-water formula, and it was supposedly foolproof. It had gotten her out of summer bible camp for two consecutive seasons, but I guessed my stomach was a lot stronger than hers was, even though I fed it less.
. That's what They called her, but her name's really Anita Newell. They christened her New-Face in the sixth grade. Anita New-Face from the Planet Pimple. She pretended not to hear that. She had bigger problems to worry about. She was finally filling out, only she was putting on fat in places that didn't look good. But â¦ she was my very best friend in the whole world, though I never understood how that happened. We had little in common, except maybe a talent for getting out of things we didn't want to do. We'd both been practicing that for ages.
Which is why I was surprised I wasn't spewing like a
geyser yet. And then it hit me.
I'll bet she set me up!
She didn't want to go on the trip without me! But then, her life wasn't in danger. Sure, people were mean to her, but she never got death threats!
Ever since we began preparing for the trip to Cape Rose, I would hear Them in the halls: “We're gonna kill Georgette!” and “Georgette only has two weeks to live. Think we should tell her?” and other equally original crap like that. Never directed
me, of course, because that would have constituted harassment, which is punishable by suspension or expulsion, depending on my dad's temper. No, They said these things behind my back. Like in the lunch line. If I didn't maintain a careful, paranoid vigilance, a fist would come out of nowhere and smack the tray right out of my hands
from behind my back
. Guerrilla warfare. Inspired by jealousy, no doubt, though why They had to inflict pain in order to express Their inferiority was a mystery to me. It made me wonder how Gregor Mendel made it through school alive. He probably would have told me, “I know just how you feel,” had he not been dead. Textbooks leave out so much.
But if I survived middle school and then made it all the way through high school in one piece, I had big plans for myself. I'd go to Yale to study genetics or, more specifically, cytogenetics, then become a research scientist. I'd discover a way to reverse the damage that DNA had done to my body
and make buckets of cash
. And then George R. Clark, PhD, would show up at his first class reunion in a Lamborghini and not even get out of the car, just pull up and give everybody the finger, then zoom off, straight back to his mansion.
But none of that would happen if my life was cut short
at Cape Rose, and since Anita had failed me, I decided I had better come up with Plan B.