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“Yes,” I say, gathering my courage. “Ready.”
“Do you have any questions or concerns before I send you to class?”
I square my shoulders and shake my head. I’m ready for this.
“If you need anything,” she says, “my office door is always open.”
I nod, trying to mimic the same air of self-assurance she exudes, as if I appreciate her offer but will never need the help because everything will work out in no time. The facade makes me feel a little more sure of myself, of my future at Alpha and in San Francisco.
The power of positive thinking.
She leans out into the hall. “Miranda, would you come here please?”
When Miranda shows up at Ms. West’s door, my false confidence quivers and that sense of dread plops into my stomach again.
“Yes, Ms. West?” asks the girl who plowed through me in front of the school.
“This is Grace Whitfield,” she explains, gesturing to me. “She’s new at Alpha. Since you two have the same homeroom, I thought you might give her a quick tour and then show her to class.”
“Of course,” Miranda says with a blinding fake smile. “It’d be my pleasure.”
Think positive, I tell myself. Maybe I misinterpreted her earlier comment. Maybe she’s a really nice person. Maybe she’ll be friendly, now that she knows we share a class. Hitch-ing my backpack up on my shoulder, I smile and hold out my hand. “Nice to meet you, Miranda.”
She smiles and shakes my hand. For a second I believe this positive thinking thing really works. Then, as soon as Ms. West turns back to her desk, Miranda drops my hand like it’s a plague-ridden rat, rolls her eyes, and stalks out of the office.
My shoulders sink.
“Have a wonderful first day,” Ms. West says.
“Thanks,” I say, turning to give her a quick wave before following after Miranda’s retreating back.
As I stand outside the girls’ bathroom, waiting for Miranda to emerge, I’m pretty certain this isn’t what Ms. West had in mind for a school tour. After throwing me a look that said she’d rather eat glass than lead around a loser like me, Miranda stalked off into the hall outside the main office and made a beeline for the bathroom.
She’s been in there for over five minutes.
I glance at my schedule. Every day at Alpha begins with homeroom, an hour-long period for finishing up homework, going to the library, or seeking help from other teachers. Nothing like the twenty-minute roll call and stay-in-your-seats-for-announcements madness that passed for homeroom at Orangevale. Homeroom here sounds useful.
Around me, the hall is starting to fill with students. The typical first-day-of-school insanity. Girls are shrieking, diving into group hugs with friends they haven’t seen all summer. A few couples are taking advantage of the chaos to engage in some pretty inappropriate kissing and groping. Some kids, probably freshmen, are wandering around looking slightly lost and terribly frightened. That won’t be me—I won’t let it. I’m a junior now, an upperclassman, and I’m not going to let the unfamiliar environment make me feel like a lowly freshman again. No thank you.
I’ve never been a Girl Scout, I don’t even know their motto, but I still believe in being prepared. I swing my backpack around and dig through the pile of papers Ms. West gave me until I find the school map printed on the back of the “Welcome to Alpha!” letter. According to my schedule, I have Mrs. Deckler for homeroom in room 117.
After tracing my finger over most of the ground floor, I find room 117 in a back corner. I squint at the map—it’s no 3D-rendered interactive virtual environment, but it’ll do—and then scan the hall, deciding that if I go to the end of the main hall and turn left, I’ll find my classroom.
Miranda’s still in the bathroom though. And, as much as I think she’d be overjoyed to find me gone, I don’t want to pull a disappearing flake act on the first day.
I continue studying my map, trying to get a feel for the layout of the school, mentally extruding the walls and creating an image of the building in my mind. There are four floors, with the upper levels reserved for grades five through eight. All of my classes will be on the first two floors, so I focus on those maps. It’s when I’m scanning over my current location that I see what—after waiting ten minutes—I should have already guessed. The girls’ bathroom has two entrances.
With a groan, I zip my backpack shut and head down the hall toward room 117, clutching my map and schedule. I don’t need to pop into the bathroom to know that Miranda’s long gone.
I follow the gleaming white hall past open classrooms and walls of lockers. At the end, I make a left, proud of my map-reading skills. Four doors later I find Mrs. Deckler’s class.
And I’m not at all surprised to find Miranda already in her desk when I walk into the room.
Pausing for a second in the doorway, I give myself a little pep talk.
This is it, I tell myself. This is the moment to leave doormat Grace behind and become . . . fearless Grace. Confident Grace. If I take the offensive, I can turn this moment around. I can make sure that my time at Alpha isn’t spent feeling powerless. I take a deep breath, form the words of a biting, witty comment in my mind, and open my mouth.
“Did you get lost?” Miranda asks before I can utter a sound. “I waited outside the bathroom for like ten minutes.”
“I—” How do I respond to that? A complete and total lie. “What?”