Sweet Venom
Page 5

 Tera Lynn Childs

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She leans forward, as if to say something confidential, but her whisper is anything but quiet. “Are you constipated? Nurse Callahan probably has some laxatives or something.”
Most of the dozen or so kids in the half-full classroom erupt in barely concealed snorts and giggles. Whatever reputation-establishing comment I’d been about to make completely evaporates into abject humiliation. My cheeks burn to the point of combustion. My ears quickly follow. Every life-changing hope I had bursts like a bubble hitting concrete. There is no recovering from a comment like that. Ever.
Tales of my digestive distress will probably circulate throughout the school by lunchtime. Even freshmen will feel sorry for me, while being thankful it’s not them being thrown under the social bus.
I do the only thing I can do; I duck my head and hurry to the back of the classroom. Slipping into an empty desk, I make myself as small and invisible as humanly possible.
“Miranda is a vortex of evil.”
I look up from being preoccupied with my backpack—aka pretending to be too busy to notice the stares and snickers—to find the girl in the next desk over studiously doodling on her spiral-bound.
“I’m sorry?” I ask, not sure she actually said something.
She jerks her head, sending a wave of black hair with white tips in Miranda’s general direction at the front of the room. “Never apologize for Miranda bashing. It’s my favorite pastime.”
“Oh.” Looks like I’m not the only person on the receiving end of Miranda’s bad attitude.
“I see we’re trying out a new hairstyle to start the school year, Vail.” The teacher behind the big wooden desk smiles at the girl next to me. “Shall we expect new colors weekly?”
Vail shrugs and goes back to her drawings.
As Mrs. Deckler enlists Miranda’s help to hand out some paperwork, I lean slightly to my left and say, “I’m Grace Whitfield.”
The only indication that she hears me is a momentary pause in the motion of her pencil. A hesitation over the next eye socket in a sea of skulls and crossbones. Then, as Miranda passes between us and accidentally drops my paper onto the floor, my neighbor mutters, “Suck a lemon, Sanders.”
“Couldn’t afford to dye all your hair, Vail?” Miranda pretends to carefully set a paper on Vail’s desk before sending it sailing into the aisle. “Next time I’ll lend you the fifty cents.”
“Save it for your implants fund.”
Vail flashes a sympathetic look at Miranda’s less-than-overflowing chest. A giggle escapes before I can help it. I smack a hand over my mouth when Miranda spears me with a death look. Then, apparently deciding to pretend to take the high road, she stalks off. Vail goes back to her doodling. I swallow my laughter.
“I wish I could do that.” I sigh.
“Tell off girls like that,” I explain, leaning down to grab both our papers off the floor. “My mind always freezes.”
For several long moments I think she’s not going to respond. Her attention is fully focused on filling in the spaces between her skulls and crossbones with smiley faces. As I set her paper on the edge of her desk, I notice that the smiley faces have fangs.
I shrug and start reading over my paper, a pretty standard set of classroom rules.
Mrs. Deckler gets up and clears her throat like she’s going to start reading the rules or something, and Vail finally says, “Standing up to Miranda is easy.” She pulls the rules sheet on top of her notebook and turns her doodling attention to the pink handout. “You just have to stop caring what she thinks.”
As Mrs. Deckler starts droning on about attendance policies and how to ask for a library or study pass, I sink farther into my desk. That’s my problem. I can’t stop caring what the Mirandas of the world think of me.
Unless something dramatic happens, San Francisco Grace is going to have pretty much the same experience as Orangevale Grace. Guess I’ll have to get used to doormat status.
Chapter 3
My head bounces against the window as the city bus hits a pothole. At this point, accidentally getting knocked unconscious would give me a welcome excuse for forgetting my first day at Alpha. Is a little amnesia too much to ask for?
Except for the mild welcome from Vail in homeroom, the rest of the day has gone pretty much according to Miranda’s evil plan. Why didn’t I stand up to her when I had the chance? Too bad real life doesn’t have Pause and Rewind. My first day would have gone infinitely better if I could have stopped time long enough to think up a comeback for Miranda’s snark.
Instead, I spent all day replaying the moment in my mind.
The bus driver announces my stop. Slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I stand and move to the back doors. I’m about to step down into the stairwell when the bus pulls away from the curb. I hold on to a pole to keep from flying into a little old Chinese lady’s lap. The bag in her arms squirms, and I’m half afraid there’s a live chicken in there.
“Excuse me,” I say, trying to get the driver’s attention.
He ignores me, continuing through the intersection and to the next stop, where another passenger pushes past me out the door. I hurry down the steps and leap to the sidewalk before the bus can take off again. Guess I’m too used to school bus drivers, who are required to make sure you get off at your stop. City bus drivers don’t seem to care.
As I trudge the extra two uphill blocks back to our street, I make a mental list of anything good that happened today. I know Mom is going to ask, and I want her to think everything’s great.