A GIRL NAMED JACK
Until now, I’ve survived high school by being Invisible. You know, blend in with the crowd, don’t speak to anyone, move out of the way if anyone gets too close. Never make eye contact. It’s a trick I learned last year as a freshman when Cliff Cower threatened to bash my face in for the hundredth time. Like a good nerd, I was giving a tour of the school to William Blake—not the poet, the new kid—when Cliff huffed and puffed his way over to me. He bent down and got in my face as I backed up against the lockers. I squeezed my eyes shut, bracing for impact. But after a few seconds nothing happened. When I opened them, I heard Cliff’s distant laughter echoing as he rounded the corner into the stairwell. It was then that I knew what I had done. It was miraculous! I had made myself Invisible.
The next time I saw Cliff, I wasn’t as quick with the Invisibility trick. When I followed him off the school bus at the end of our street, he spun around. His nostrils flared like a bull. He said, “You think you’re better than me, don’t you?”
I couldn’t lie.
That was the first time Cliff Cower really kicked my crumbs. We were mortal enemies ever since my family moved to Ypsilanti—the “Brooklyn of Michigan”—when I was nine years old. But Cliff had never touched me until last year. And then he pretty much tormented me our entire freshman year to the complete ignorance of the neighborhood and the bus driver. And I know what people might think. And, yes, they’re probably right: I’m much too good at being Invisible.
Everyone in fifth period lunch is on their feet, and they can all see me. I’m the girl with milk dripping from her frizzy hair. The girl who was previously Invisible. At the other end of the lunchroom is Samantha Gross, smiling sweetly like I shouldn’t be bothered about it. But she’s never had a milk carton explode over her head. Just a guess.
“It was an accident,” she shouts from across the room. Everyone is silent, waiting for my answer. I think I heard a “Sorry” after that, but it could have been my imagination.
An accident? I guess that’s probable. My lunch table is about eight steps away from the trash cans lining the wall, and there’s this huge pillar that I lean against for camouflage. The same pillar that Samantha's milk carton smashed into. The same milk carton that should have smashed into me. But if Cliff is Enemy Number 1, then Samantha is easily Enemy Number 2.
It’s a semi-long history, Samantha Gross and I, which involves middle school marching band, specifically me tripping into her and the entire brass section tumbling like dominoes. I’ve been paying for my “accident” ever since, but at one point in seventh grade, we were best friends. For about a week. We had necklaces and everything until she flushed her half down the toilet.
The janitor follows me with a mop as I slog down the hallway to the main office. He’s catching up, so I walk quicker and listen to my jeans slap together at the ankles where most of the milk has ended up. Thank you, Gravity.
In the office, the home-perm queen of secretaries waddles over and tells me that I can wait for my mom to pick me up outside if I like.
Oh, I like.
Outside in the fresh air, I realize how bad I smell. This sucks. I decide I’m never going back to school again.
Too bad my dad doesn’t agree. He sends me back the next morning, and like Groundhog Day, I’m repeating fifth period lunch. In twenty-four hours it seems Samantha Gross’s popularity has skyrocketed. She and her minions gather at their table across the cafeteria, waving their cartons at me, and I realize that my new plan for surviving high school is not to be Invisible, but to Dodge the Milk. It’s times like this that I imagine what Mr. Miyagi would say to Daniel-san. Well, he doesn’t say much at all in my imagination. It’s Bruce Lee who does all the talking. “Just be ready, not thinking but not dreaming. Be flexible, wholly and quietly alive, aware and alert, ready for whatever may come.”
Clutching the Chuck Norris lunch box my sister made for me, I scope out the cafeteria for a spot where “accidents” are least likely to happen. I pass through the lunch tables when I hear, “Jack! Got Milk?” My first instinct is to ignore it, but the voice is familiar. I stop in front of William Blake’s table. It’s the same William Blake who is not the poet, who I haven’t spoken to other than occasionally in English. Most of the time, I try not to interact with him. He witnessed one of my weakest moments last year—Cliff snarling in my face—and ignoring Will is part of being Invisible.
So why is he talking to me now? Why is he pointing to a seat across from him? Surely he knows that’s Milk Suicide.
Will is alone at the table and I wonder where all of his jock friends have gone. It didn’t take long for Will to become a celebrity around here. He plays varsity for every sport offered, except for football. Great Lakes boys are big, and Will is not so much. But even if his friends make me intensely aware that I’m athletically challenged, having some extra people around would take the focus off me. What does Will want?
Suspiciously, I sit. I slide my belongings onto the table. Will smiles, and it hits me that his perfectly neat hair and sad blue eyes are only a fraction of his beauty. I have, of course, noticed his Hollywood good-looks before.
He comments on my lunchbox. “Chuck Norris? Really?”
I can’t believe he recognizes The Norris. I study his expression—slighty admiring, slightly amused—and mention, “My little sister made it for me.” I try to sound like it wasn’t my idea in case he thinks it’s lame, but I would have cut, pasted, and shellacked that sucker if my sister wasn’t superior at craft-making things.
Will’s eyes light up at the mention of my sister. My heart squeezes tight as I realize now why he wants to chat. Junewind is the hot freshman that every guy is lusting after this year. It’s only been a few weeks since school started, and I’m already used to the trying-to-be-casual questions. “June’s your sister? Oh. Well, tell her I said ‘Hi.’” “Do you think she likes me? Could you ask her?”
Junewind doesn’t like this any better than I do. Only this morning she was saying to me on the bus, “Why don’t they just ask me out themselves?”
Maybe she doesn’t know how intimidating hotness can be.
I would have told Junewind all about Invisibility, but she’s obviously better equipped for social experiments than I am. And even though Junewind’s name is as crazy as mine—Jack Li Hennesy—she embraces hers. “A name’s a name,” she says and shrugs. Not much fazes my little sister.
So, it seems that today Will and I are eating lunch in (what our biology teacher would call) a symbiotic relationship. Now that I’m welcome at his lunch table, I’ve got an extra set of eyes scanning for rogue milk cartons and he gets information about my little sister.
“So…Jack.” Will’s voice is golden. It makes me feel warm inside, like I’ve just had a giant gulp of hot chocolate that’s still fairly close to scalding, and my taste buds kind of burn off. And then I think all day about how I’m not going to be able to taste anything until they regenerate. It’s that golden.
“What are you doing this weekend?” he asks.
My heart unsqueezes. “This weekend? Catching up on the Monty Python movies I missed last weekend.” I laugh to hide how nerdy I sound.
Will leans forward and lowers his voice. “You like Monty Python?”
I lean in too. “You’ve got no arms left!”
Will mocks seriousness, and an English accent. He says, “Yes I have. It’s only a flesh wound.”
My heart starts beating again. I’ve just fallen in love with this guy. We laugh for the first time together—crucial in any relationship—and then notice a few football players grabbing chairs at the other end of the table. Will tenses up and changes the subject.