Is never going to be done.
It started with a prompt from the Red Dress Club, now known as Write on Edge. Thirteen hundred words inspired by "water" and John and Darcy were born.
It was supposed to be single stand-alone piece. But they continued to tell me their story, piece by piece until it became a novel. My first.
It is currently
The first few installments (of what I thought was THE FINAL revision- silly, silly, me) are included below. They have since been ripped up, beaten down, battered, bruised, built back up, polished and are now shining and waiting for me to get my act together and do the same to the rest of the book so I can just get it published already! Hopefully it will whet your appetite (assuming you can overlook the ghastly flaws) and leave you waiting with much anticipation for the book's release!
In addition to the sample chapters, I've included the John and Darcy soundtrack which includes the songs that I either listened to while writing their story or are featured in the book.
I hope you enjoy!
John and Darcy - The Soundtrack
Someone to Watch Over Me Ella Fitzgerald
You are the Best Thing Ray LaMontagne
Would You Go With Me Josh Turner
Crazy For This Girl Evan and Jaron
Crazy Girl Eli Young Band
Somewhere With You Kenny Chesney
Give Me Everything Pitbull featuring Ne-Yo
Baby Got Back Sir Mix A Lot
John and Darcy
I am not happy to see him sitting there.
I walk toward the end of the dock, clutching the bottle of vodka stolen from my mother’s underwear drawer, in front of me like a shield. My hand fists in my jacket pocket, but I am careful not to crush the pack of cigarettes.
“Hi,” he says when I reach the end. I sit down, my legs dangling over the edge of the dock, the bottle clamped between my thighs.
“You know the Petersons?” he says looking over his shoulder toward the house.
“No.” But that doesn’t stop me from using their dock. The Petersons live here three weeks out of the year.
For those three weeks, the house is theirs. For the rest of the year, it’s mine.
I unscrew the bottle.
“I know who you are.” I put the bottle to my lips and tilt my head back, welcoming the burn in my throat. He is John Campbell. Star quarterback, homecoming king, teen heart-throb.
“You go to Franklin?”
I settle the bottle between my thighs and look at him. “Yeah.” We have two classes together this year. I take another sip and look out over the lake. I can feel his eyes on me.
“Wait. I know you. You’re…”
I toy with the cigarettes in my pocket.
He snaps his fingers. “Right.”
I take another sip. A good, long sip.
I sigh. I suppose I should offer him some. It is the polite thing to do. But coming to the dock isn’t about being polite. It’s about escape. Escape from straight A’s and a 4.25 GPA, and volunteer of the year and being the twinkle in my father’s eye.
Sighing again, I extend the bottle toward him, but he jumps up and knocks it with his thigh.
“Want to go swimming?”
He doesn’t wait for an answer and rips off his shirt. Suddenly I understand what girls with the plastic smiles and the glossy hair mean when they talk about a six pack. It’s no longer just something my mother polishes off before noon.
John has a body I thought only existed in cheesy movies. He is tan. Ripped. Chiseled. Whatever the word is, he is solid muscle.
I pull from the bottle again but my racing heart won’t settle.
His hands are at his belt and before I know it his jeans are pooled on the dock.
He stands before me. Naked.
I choke on the vodka, spraying it out my mouth and nose.
I catch his grin before he dives in the water, barely making a splash. He resurfaces and shakes his head, sending water flying from his hair. The droplets catch the light of the moon, tiny diamonds falling to the water.
“Come on,” he says.
“Is it cold?” I ask, as if actually considering it. There is no way I am getting naked in front of John Campbell.
“Get in and find out for yourself. I guarantee you won’t need that anymore.”
I look down at the vodka. Tap the bottle. Take a sip. Continue tapping.
My eyes lock on his, and he smiles. Not the cocky one he wears at Franklin High, but one that reaches his eyes.
Tap tap tap.
What will people say if they find out John and I are swimming together? Alone. At night. Naked. No doubt the rumors will fly and it’ll go from skinny dipping to us having sex to me banging the entire football team. Miss perfect, miss straight A’s, miss teacher’s pet, banging the football team.
Everyone will be shocked.
Suddenly, I set the bottle aside, jump up and before I can think about it, rip off my jacket and shirt. My hands hesitate at my bra before unhooking the clasp and letting it fall away. I bend over and yank off my tennis shoes. I can feel him watching me. My body grows warm as I unbutton by jeans and pull them down along with my underwear. I start to jump but my foot catches in my jeans and I stumble forward, banging my shin on the dock before crashing face first into the water.
I want nothing more than to sink to the bottom of the lake and stay there until John grows bored and goes home. But I need to breathe. I surface, coughing and sputtering and choking on hot air.
John’s laugh rises above my commotion.
Composing myself, I push the hair away from my eyes and glare at him. “Shut up.” I smack the water and send a wave his way. It splashes him in the face.
His eyes grow wide. “Oh, you want to play this game?” He splashes me back.
I return the volley.
Back and forth we go. John ducks and dodges, gliding gracefully. He is one with the lake, while I go to war, flailing and grabbing at the water as if I can take hold and pull myself along. His movements are fluid. Mine are awkward. But with each splash I feel the tension release, the pressure subside. He is right. I don’t need the vodka. The lake is my escape.
I let out a laugh of sheer relief right as John sends another splash my way. A flood of water rushes into my mouth and down my lungs.
I try to cough. Panic sets in as I gasp for air. My arms flail and my eyes search for something to hold on to, but there is nothing.
“Hey,” John says, coming to my side.
I latch onto his shoulder.
“It’s okay. Just relax.”
I look at him and shake my head.
“Hold on to me and be still.”
I will my legs to calm their frantic kicking. One hand digs into his shoulder while the other one makes small circles in the water. Finally, I am able to take small even breaths.
I nod. Other than feeling like a total idiot, I am fine. Suddenly aware that I am touching him, and I yank my hand away, but his heat lingers on my fingers.
“Good.” He flips on his back and starts to float. I watch him, treading water until my arms grow tired and I follow suit.
The night is quiet with nothing but the sound of my own breathing in my ears.
“Sometimes I think about quitting football.”
I let his words hang on the air before I respond. “I got a B on a test once.”
“My father would disown me if I gave up my scholarship.”
“Where are you gonna play?”
“UF. My father wouldn’t have it any other way. But sometimes I think about going to Florida State just to make him crazy.”
I know nothing about football, but plenty about the need to annoy your father. “My father swaddled me in his old Princeton shirt when I was born. He’ll be so proud to drive me there in the fall, but I’d rather go to culinary school.”
“Like in France?”
I have never let myself think that far. “Yeah. France.”
We float to the center of the lake. The sky is filled with stars. A million flecks of light watching the Dance of the Popular Stud and the Geeky Nobody.
“I caught Lauren making out with Jake Fulmer.”
So that’s why he came here tonight.
“I’ve never been kissed.” As soon as I say it, I regret it. The kids at Franklin will have a field day with that one.
“It’s not all the movies make it out to be,” John says and I know my secret is safe with him.
We continue floating, sharing secrets we can’t tell anyone else.
Tomorrow we will go back to our separate worlds. John the athlete. Darcy the geek. He will hang with the cool kids and skip seventh period. I will go to the library and work on extra credit. We will be the all things everyone else wants us to be.
But tonight, floating on the water, we are free.
"Nice job, Darcy," Mr. Bryson says, placing last week's test on my desk.
I sigh. Another A. I was unsure on six of the answers, but still, I got an A. A ninety-freakin-six.
Mr. Bryson launches into his lecture and I open my notebook and start to doodle - hearts and flowers and rainbows. Not because I am feeling all sunshine and happiness, but because my artistic ability rivals that of a four year old.
I look up periodically, appearing to listen. Not that it matters if I am. I could put my head down and take a nap or stand on my desk and sing the Star Bangled Banner. Good kids, straight A students, can get away with stuff like that.
I’m not naturally smart like Amber Weston and Kim Lee. I have to work at it. Copious note-taking. Hours of studying. But I only studied an hour for last week's test. Hoping, just maybe, I'd get a B.
But no. No B's for Darcy McKinley.
I guess I should be happy. My father will shit a brick if I come home with a B. As it is, a ninety-six will make him raise his eyebrows in concern. He won’t say anything, of course. He'll be all hugs and high-fives and "atta-girl." But inside, he'll die a little and wonder where he ‘went wrong.’
"Hey, Darcy," Greg Hines hisses and I’m surprised he knows my name. "Pass this to Nick." He hands me a piece of unfolded paper, its message easy to read before the hand-off.
Bryson looks like he has a boner.
Nick lets out a laugh, causing Mr. Bryson to look our way.
"Sorry, sir. Spider tickled my arm," he says in the charming cocky way that cool kids, athletes, like Nick and Greg possess.
Mr. Bryson frowns and resumes his lecture.
"Darcy." Nick hands me the paper back.
That's cause he can see Morgan's tits threw her shirt.
I resist the urge to correct his grammar and passed the note to Greg.
How many times do you think he's banged her?
I wouldn't bang that skank if you paid me.
Yes you would. You'd do it for free.
Yea. Your right.
The note passing, poor grammar, and degrading of Morgan's character continues until the bell rings for lunch.
I take my time walking to my locker. Mandy and Annabeth are in Tallahassee with the debate team, so I am on my own for lunch, which suits me fine. I’m not in the mood for conversation.
The halls have nearly cleared by the time I reach my locker. I place my Anatomy book inside and reach for my lunch. The brown paper bag contains the usual - hummus and chips and an apple. Next to it is a half-empty Dasani bottle, the contents of which are not water.
It’s the first time I've brought vodka to school. Mr. Werstein wants me to read my comparative essay to the class next period. I can only imagine how many cools points that'll score me.
With an unsteady hand, I reach for the bottle. A locker slams, and I drop it to the floor.
"I told you, Lauren. It's over."
"Please, John. Don't say that. You don't mean it."
I watch them as I bend to pick up the bottle.
Lauren reaches for John, but he pulls away. "Actually I do, Lauren. You wanted Jake. Now you're free to have him."
She starts to cry. "It was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. You have to forgive me."
"Fine, Lauren. I forgive you. But we're not getting back together. It's over."
"John!" Lauren sobs. Tears well in her perfect eyes, slide down her perfect cheeks.
"Come on Lauren," her best friend, Jessica places her arm around Lauren's waist. "Forget him." Looking at John she says, "You're an asshole."
"Right. She cheats and I'm the asshole."
Jessica pulls Lauren away and I turn my attention to stuffing my lunch and the vodka in my backpack.
When I look up, John is looking at me. My mouth forms into an awkward smile - one of those side of the mouths, half smile, half grimace things that I’m sure makes me look very attractive. John gives a short nod.
We look at each other across the hallway for a few seconds before he lowers his head and walks away. I hook my bag over my shoulder and turn in the other direction.
I walk to my usual lunch spot, the picnic table under the old oak tree next to the maintenance shed. Sitting on the table, I take out my lunch and The Bottle.
I twist the cap back and forth. Loosening and tightening. Can I really drink at school?
Back and forth. Loosening and tightening.
I set it to the side and pull out the apple. Taking a bite, I watch him walk toward me. What is he doing here? It is one thing to exchange a look in the hallway, it is quite another for John Campbell to have lunch with Nobody.
"Hey," John says. "Can I sit here?"
I shrug. "Sure."
He sits next to me, rests his arms on his thighs, links his fingers together and looks out over the lawn, the football field - his stage - in the distance. Students are scattered about in groups - the nerds, the Goths, the pot-heads, the cheerleaders. I wonder what they’ll do when high school is over and they enter the real world, alone, without the safety of their cliques.
John squeezes the bill of his cap and looks down. We aren't allowed to wear hats at school, but then, he is
I pick up the bottle and extend it. "Here."
He glances at me and looks back down. "I'm good."
"It's not water."
He raises his head. "You bring vodka to school?"
I set the bottle on the table between us. "Today I did." I reach inside my backpack for another bottle –this one filled with water - and take a sip.
John looks back over the lawn. Two students, too far away to tell who they are, are making out. A nearby clique cheers them on.
I dip a chip in my hummus and John reaches for the bottle. He takes a sip and grimaces. "How do you drink that?"
"Oh come on. I know about the post-game parties. Don't tell me you do shots of Coke and two-liter stands."
John smiles. "No, no two-liter stands, though that sounds...interesting. There are plenty of shots. But no vodka for me. I'm more of a Tequila guy."
I make a face. "Tequila makes me gag."
"I was kidding."
Oh. I eat another chip. "So, when you and Lauren getting back together?"
"You heard us, we're not."
I roll my eyes. "Yeah right. You and Lauren have been together since the sixth grade."
"See? This is just a bump in the road. You two are meant to be together."
The couple in the distance is now reclined on the lawn, she on top, her skirt hiked up around her waist.
"It's better this way," John says. "Gotta free myself up for all the single college chicks who'll be throwing themselves at me, wanting a piece of the future of Florida football." The heavy sarcasm is almost successful in veiling the thin layer of sadness.
"That's not how it works, John. You keep the girlfriend and sleep around with whoever wants a piece. Cake and eating it too."
"Nah. Cheating's not really my thing."
"You know for a Hot Football Star you have pretty tight morals."
"And for a Straight A Goody Two-Shoes you have pretty loose ones."
"What can I say? I'm a rebel."
The bell rings, signaling the end of lunch. I toss the remains of my chips and hummus in the trash and stand up, brushing my hands on my jeans.
"Wanna really be a rebel? Let's skip class."
"Ooh," I say, "what'll we do? Rob a bank?"
"I was thinking we'd steal an old lady's purse."
"One with a walker."
"Who's crossing the street," John adds.
"Maybe push her down."
"Definitely." He nods.
We pass the make-out couple trying to untangle themselves and right their clothes.
"You know, no one would care if we did," John says. "Skip class."
"I know. We wouldn't even have to come up with an excuse. They'd make one up for us."
"Yeah. I went home to center myself before the game. Mentally go through each play. And you skipped AP
Whatever to build homes for Habitat or cure cancer."
"Oh, I've already cured cancer."
I nod. "I think Princeton would find that impressive."
We reach the end of the lawn, the cliques blending together as students, our peers, make their way to fifth period. "Well, see ya," John says and turns towards the men's locker room. Greg Hines and Nick Jones fall in step with him, and I watch them walk. Greg says something, slaps John on the back and the three of them laugh. The door to the men's locker room opens and they disappear.
I head toward the main building, melding into the sea of students, fifth period English and my comparative essay reading looming ahead. Stopping just outside the doors, I uncap the bottle of vodka, bring it to my lips, and drink until it is empty.
I plan to spend my night watching a marathon of The Office on TBS.
"Hey sweetheart," my dad says, coming into the kitchen. "How was school?"
"Get the Anatomy test back yet?"
I hesitate for a second. "One hundred."
"That's my girl." He kisses the top of my head.
"Plans with the girls tonight?"
"They're in Tallahassee for a -"
"Where is it?" my mother screams, flying into the kitchen. "What did you do with it?"
"What?" my father asks.
She flies at him. "It's mine." She pounds her fists on his chest. "You can't take it! It's mine! You have no right!"
My father grabs her by the shoulders. "What? What is yours?"
How can he not know?
"My vodka. It's not here. I've had nothing. NOTHING! All day!"
I look at the clock. It is four in the afternoon and my mother hasn't had a drink? This is not good.
"Tell me, you bastard. Where is it?"
"Marilyn, I - "
She starts slapping his chest. Each slap harder than the next. "Tell me!" Slap. Slap. SLAP.
"I took it," I say.
Both of my parents look at me.
"I poured it down the drain," I say to my father.
SMACK! I hear the slap before I feel the sting. I raise my hand to my cheek. It isn’t the first time my mother has hit me, but it’s the first time she's done it sober.
"Marilyn!" my father roars.
"Don't you ever do that again," my mother shouts at me. "Do you hear me, you ungrateful brat?" Her spit showers my face as she screams.
My father grabs her by the waist and pulls her away from me. "Marilyn, don't you ever do that again." His face possesses a controlled rage. "If you ever hit Darcy again, I'll..."
"You'll what, Frank? Hit me? You wanna hit me? Go ahead. GO AHEAD!"
My father says nothing.
"Come on, Frank, hit me." She shoves him. "You aint got the balls." She shoves him again. "Hit me. Come on. Do it." Another shove.
My father's chest absorbs her blows without flinching.
"Hit me, Frank. HIT ME!" Tears start falling down her face, pouring from her sunken eyes, down her hollowed cheeks. "Hit me." Her voice grows desperate.
"Please, hit me." Pitiful.
She falls to the ground and starts to sob.
"Please, Frank. Hit me." Pathetic.
I can't take any more. I push my stool back and grab my backpack.
My father, already on the floor beside my mother, looks at me, an apology in his tired eyes.
"I'm going to the library."
He nods. "Be safe." He pulls my mother into his lap and rocks her while she sobs.
I run upstairs to my room and reach into the bottom of my underwear drawer pulling out the bottle of Popov and pack of cigarettes. I shove them in my bag, grab my sweatshirt and fly down the stairs. Before I walk out the door, I hear my father say, "Shh Mari. It'll be okay."
But it won't. Nothing has been okay since Benny died.
***By the time I get to the dock the sun is setting. I sit down and let out a shaky breath. It takes me three tries to light the cigarette. I take a long draw and hold it in for several seconds before exhaling.
The last time I saw my mother like that I was fourteen and she decided to quit drinking. She was seeing some shrink, some quack, who told her she didn't need AA - no program, no sponsor - to give up drinking. All she needed was her mind. Three days without a drink and she lost it.
I finish the cigarette, open the bottle of water leftover from lunch and drop it inside. I slip on my sweatshirt, light another one and exhale into the dark fall sky. I follow the trail of smoke until it dissipates into the night.
Eight years. That's how long it’s been since my brother died. My mother had taken us to the movies - Pokemon 3, my brother's choice - and we were on our way to Chan's Chinese Takeout before heading home. My mother was on the phone with my father trying to talk over the sounds of me whining that Benny was touching me. After one particularly eye-pinching shriek she told him she had to go, and that yes, she'd make sure there were extra egg rolls in our order.
She said goodbye and dropped her phone. It missed her open purse and fell to the floorboard. She reached down, rooted around, took her eyes off the road. The car swerved.
"Mom!" My scream was the last thing I remember.
I spent three weeks in the hospital, my mother eight. My brother died instantly.
Naturally, my mother blamed herself. The drinking began after the physical therapy ended, right about the time I ceased to exist to her.
At first my father begged her to stop, tried to make her see a psychiatrist. But my mother didn't want to heal and move on. She wanted to wallow in the bottle; Bloody Maries at breakfast, a six pack for lunch and Tom Collins for dinner became our new normal. Eventually vodka became the numbing agent of choice.
Realizing there was no saving my mother, my father turned his attention to me. Began his project of making me the perfect daughter, the model citizen.
At first, his devotion was exactly what I needed. It made up for my mother's Superman-like ability to see through me, except for when she got so plastered and thought I was Benny. During those times she would hold me and rock me and sing to me. She'd pet my hair and tell me she loved me and I'd close my eyes and hold on tight, wishing it would never end.
I'm not sure when I started hating being the shining star in my father's dim reality. In some ways I had become just as invisible to him as I was to my mother. Somewhere along his Project to Perfection, I had stopped being his daughter and had become his trophy.
My eyes sting with the unwelcome prick of tears. I tip the bottle back. The vodka flows like a river down my throat, collecting the Straight-A Student, the Darling Daughter, the Model Citizen resting on the rocky shore of my life and carrying them downstream along with the tears I won't allow to fall.
I bring the bottle to my lips again and the thought hits me like an unexpected punch to the gut. My mother drinks to numb her pain; I drink to dull my reality.
Is there really a difference?
I lower the bottle, suddenly hot in my hands. When had it happened? When had I become her?
I search my mind, trying to remember the first time I rummaged through my mother's drawer for the bottle I knew I'd find. Was it sophomore year when I was named Volunteer of the Year? Was it after Aunt Caroline's third wedding where my father paraded me in front of the family like a peacock whose tail made up the brilliant feathers in his father-of-the-year cap?
I look at the lake for answers, but it remains still in its response. I want to shout. Scream a string of profanity. Every bad word, every awful thing I've ever heard until there are no more words. Until my voice grows hoarse. Until I collapse from exhaustion.
Instead, I pick up the bottle and, with all the strength I possess, chuck it at the lake. I hear the splash just as the first tear I've shed in years rolls off my cheek and hits my sweatshirt without a sound.
I listen to their chatter and their giggling – Mandy’s full and rich, Annabeth’s like a smurf on helium – and find myself unable to join in.
Annabeth finally has a boyfriend, and I am happy for her. He is, by her own admission, a giant band geek. But a giant band geek that makes her feel warm and happy all over.
Mandy makes some crack about things getting hot and heavy between the sheets and Annabeth’s cheeks grow pink. She grabs the nearest stuffed animal, a pink and purple Rainbow Brite atrocity, and heaves it at Mandy. The two of them erupt in laughter, but all I can manage is a half-hearted smile.
The three of us are on Annabeth’s bed, she and Mandy stretched out at the bottom while I rest against the headboard. My limp brown hair, pale skin, ripped-at-the-knee jeans, and skull and crossbones t-shirt are a sharp contrast to the ruffled pillows and doe-eyed stuffed animals surrounding me. My father hates the way I dress. He’s never said it, but I can tell. I don’t particularly like it either, but my clothes are the one thing he lets me have. He probably read about it in some parenting book. Let your children express themselves through their clothes and they won’t act out in other areas.
I set a stuffed dog in my lap and sift its soft ear through my fingers. Being in Annabeth’s room is like taking a step back in time. To an age of Barbie dolls and sidewalk chalk and backyard sprinkler dancing. An age of innocence, hope and abandon. An age that, for me, had ended before it had even begun.
“I’m so excited I finally have a date for Homecoming,” Annabeth squeals, bouncing on the bed and sending popcorn flying.
“Now all we have to do is find Darcy a date and we’ll be set.” Mandy deftly gets up from the bed and walks to Annabeth’s dresser. Looking in the mirror, she gathers her sunset hair in her arms, cocks her head and lets it fall back around her shoulders like a silk curtain.
“Yeah,” I snort. “Good one. Date or no date, you know I don’t do Homecoming.”
“Come on,” Annabeth bounces. “It’ll be fun. We can get a limo, some champagne, and…”
“Condoms,” Mandy finishes wiggling her eyebrows in the mirror.
Annabeth rolls her eyes. “Don’t listen to her. Just ‘cause she’s a whore, doesn’t mean we have to be.”
Mandy stops admiring her perfectly arched eyebrows and whirls around. “I am not a whore.” She bends to retrieve a giant stuffed Hello Kitty head and flings it at Annabeth. Missing by a mile, it sails past her and crashes into the lamp on the nightstand, knocking it and two daisy-piped picture frames over.
A small laugh manages to escape my lips.
“Good job,” Annabeth says.
“Thanks.” Mandy pops a piece of gum into her mouth and turns back to the mirror, cranking up the volume
as a song by a band I don’t know the name of plays on Annabeth’s iPod.
“Have you picked your dress out yet?” Annabeth asks.
Mandy lines her lips with a shade of red few can get away with and smacks them together. “I’ve narrowed it down to two.” She touches up her blush, adds another coat of mascara and in a matter of minutes has gone from beautiful to stunning.
Of the tree of us, she is by far the prettiest. She isn’t a plastic beauty like the Laurens of the world; her looks are classic and genuine, and she has a personality to match. She is the only person I know who has been able to cross the clique barrier. Her boyfriend is Scott Callahan, the Wolverines star pitcher. They’ve been together for two years, an eternity as far as high school relationships go. She is equally comfortable with jocks as she is the brains and Goths, the drama freaks and the band geeks.
But her home is with Annabeth and me. Since second grade it’s been the three of us: Annabeth, Mandy and Darcy – the blonde, the redhead and the brunette. Nobody’s Angels.
“The purple strapless one and the yellow backless one?” Annabeth asks.
“Yeah.” Mandy frowns and plops back on the bed. “But I’m kinda thinking of going shopping again.”
“You just said you’d narrowed it down!”
“Yeah, well, you know me.”
I listen to their conversation and do my best to participate, but I don’t have much to contribute. Their topic quickly changes from Homecoming to the best make out spots in Linley County. As they discuss different kissing techniques, debate the definition of third base and list the pros and cons of back seat versus front seat making out, my thoughts begin to wonder.
I try to push them out. Try to focus on Mandy’s story about the one time she and Scott almost got caught at the abandoned house on Baker Street.
But my efforts are futile. I can’t get John Campbell out of my head.
My alarm goes off and I groan. My wish did not come true. I did not die in my sleep. I am alive to see October 2nd.
I’ve been dreading this day since Dr. Weber called me into his office to give me the “good news” that I had been named this year’s Student of Distinction. It was an honor created six years ago by the parents of Taylor Chambers who died in a car accident three weeks before graduation. Taylor wouldn’t have graduated first or second in his class, but he was a smart kid with good grades, was involved in as many clubs as his schedule would allow and did enough community service to rival Mother Teresa.
No one really knew how the Student of Distinction was chosen, other than he or she was hand-picked by Mr. and Mrs. Chambers. I’ve heard that they are given the records of every student in the senior class. They review our grades, essays, reprimands, and teachers’ notes over our four years at Franklin and make their decision solely on those files. It seemed illegal or at least unethical somehow, for such carte blanche access to personal information, but if that’s what the parents of a dead kid wanted in order to keep the memory of their son alive, who was going to argue with them?
Plus, the honor came with a five hundred dollar scholarship. Even parents who questioned the ethics of the process will keep their concerns to themselves for the chance at half a grand.
Although I’d never gotten in trouble at school, I was nervous to be sitting in the principal’s office. I tucked my hands under my thighs and gnawed my lips. Dr. Weber smiled, told me he just needed to finish making a few notes, and scribbled on a legal pad. While I waited, I looked around his office. A plant, in desperate need of water, drooped from the top of a filing cabinet. A number of framed certificates hung crookedly from the wall behind his desk. Three piles of paper were stacked precariously on the floor. A light breeze or a stiff cough would have sent the papers flying in a million directions, but somehow I didn’t think it would make them any less organized. His desk was littered with more paper and wayward staples and paperclips, pens without caps and broken pencils. There were three coffee mugs and four, no five, half-finished bottles of Diet Coke. Scattered among the mess were photographs of a man posed with three Pomeranians. I squinted and leaned forward slightly. The man was well groomed, hair combed, mustache trimmed. His suit looked expensive, his shirt was pressed and his shoes polished. The dogs were equally groomed, two sporting pink bows, the other a bow tie.
It took me a minute to realize the man in the photo was Dr. Weber. I slanted my eyes sideways and tried to reconcile the man behind the desk with the one in the photo. The Dr. Weber before me had a mustard stain on his Looney Tunes tie and an ink stain on his shirt pocket. His comb-over was in disarray, revealing the flaky skin of his bald head. The long hairs of his nose were absorbed by his moustache which housed flecks of whatever he had for lunch.
I found myself leaning away from him in revulsion.
“Just one more minute,” he said, and I casted my eyes around the room.
I don’t know how I didn’t notice them immediately, but the photos of Dr. Weber and his dogs were everywhere. There were two more on his desk, a half a dozen on the credenza behind him, and on top of every filing cabinet. There were more picture frames on the bookshelf than there were books. Each were done professionally and there was one for every season and holiday – Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July, St. Patrick’s Day – with Dr. Weber and his Pomeranians in outfits appropriate for the occasion.
A picture on the bookcase made me do a double take. Was Dr. Weber, the Principal of Franklin High School, really stretched out on a bear-skin rug in front of a (faux) roaring fireplace wearing silk pajamas?
Dr. Weber said my name, and I whipped my head away from the photo, hoping he couldn’t see the shock in my eyes. He folded his hands on his desk and began talking, but I didn’t hear him.
So, Dr. Weber’s gay. He doesn’t wear a wedding ring, there isn’t a picture of a woman anywhere, he owns fluffy, prissy Pomeranians. That he takes pictures with. Professional, themed pictures. No straight man would ever do that.
But if he’s gay, I reasoned with myself, why does he always –except for in the photos - look so disheveled? And the Looney Tunes tie? Gay men are supposed to have good fashion sense, right?
I realized I was stereotyping. I knew there was no manual or rule book on how to be gay. In fact, Dr. Weber might not even be gay. He might just be…weird.
I chastised myself for making a generalization. I hated the labels people have given me, and yet I had assessed the components of his life – not even his whole life – and slapped one on him. I was lecturing myself silently so I didn’t hear him when he said it the first time.
“Darcy, did you hear me? You have been named this year’s Student of Distinction.”
Dr. Weber was smiling at me and I was surprised I did not see food trapped between his overlapping teeth. I blinked at him.
“Congratulations,” he said.
Student of Distinction? Another label. I didn’t want this.
Dr. Weber frowned. “Darcy, are you okay?”
I cleared my throat. My hands were going numb beneath my thighs. “Thank you Dr. Weber, but I don’t want…I mean isn’t there…there has to be someone else more deserving. Kim Lee. What about her?”
Dr. Weber shook his head. “The Chambers have chosen you.”
Well, that’s it then. There was nothing else I could say.
Dr. Weber continued to talk about what an honor it is, how proud my parents will be. I wanted to correct him and say that my father will be proud, but my mother won’t give a shit. But then he mentioned The Speech.
“Three to five minutes,” he said. “Of course, if you go a little longer, I won’t tell.” He winked and gave a little laugh as if he said a joke that I, the Student of Distinction, should understand. “The assembly is on October 2nd. I will introduce the Chambers, who will introduce you. Your parents, of course, are invited and anyone else you would like to come. Well, not all of them.” He laughed again.
All of them? As if I had legions of fans lining up to be crammed inside our hot gymnasium with the rest of the student body as I stumbled my way through my speech. If I didn’t pass out first, of course.
I must have said my fear out loud, because Dr. Weber was telling me I’d be fine. “We’ve never had a Student of Distinction pass out yet,” he said. “The mind is a powerful thing. If you don’t think about passing out, you won’t.”
But that is all I am thinking as a stand at the podium in front of the more than two thousand students at Franklin. I’m going to pass out.
I tell myself not to, but I look around the room anyway. Everyone looks bored. At least the students do anyway. I spot Annabeth and she gives me an encouraging smile and returns to her book.
“I’ll listen, but I can’t watch you,” she said when I told her and Mandy about the speech. “I’ll be too nervous.”
Mandy isn’t in the crowd today; she’s home with cramps. “Sorry, Darce,” she called me this morning before school. “I know you’ll be great.”
Kim Lee sits in the front row of bleachers, her legs crossed at the ankles, lips pursed, eyes narrowed. Clearly she thinks she is more deserving of the honor than I. What I would give to step aside and grant her access to the microphone.
The rest of the faces blend together. I cannot determine one from another. Until I spot John. He wears his letter jacket and sits with the rest of the jocks. He is leaning against the shins of the girl sitting in the row behind him. She sifts her fingers through his hair and Lauren, who is sitting two rows down and to the left, shoots daggers at them. John’s smile is cocky.
My stomach fists and I look away. My father is here, beaming proudly. My mother, of course, is not. I wonder if my father left her home alone, or if our neighbor Mrs. Cutter is at our house “making pies because her oven is broken again.”
I look at Dr. Weber, who sits next to me on a metal folding chair. His is wearing a tan suit and a plain tie. His combed hair is covering his bald spot and his mustache has been trimmed. He looks like the man in the photographs, but then I notice it. A stain on the bottom of his pant-leg. He looks at me, his smile encouraging, his eyes expectant.
I look down at the podium and smooth my hand over the paper. I have been standing here for too long. It is time. Only three minutes. That’s all I have to talk. I timed it exactly.
I open my mouth to speak, but my throat feels narrow and the words cannot come out. Reaching for the shelf under the podium, I grab my Dasani bottle and take a sip. The words make their way from the paper to my mouth, but I am not really sure what I am saying.
I hear words like honor and courage and fortitude and I wonder if I am leading troops into battle or motivating students in high school. I look down at my paper and see the words I have written, but they don’t make sense to me. My heart begins to hammer in my ears and I can’t find my spot on the page. I reach for the Dasani bottle again, but the doors to the gym fly open with a clank that echoes throughout the room. The sound makes me stop and more than two thousands heads turn in the direction of the noise.
My mother steps into the gym, but only I recognize her footwork as a stumble. She is wearing a cream-colored suit with red pumps. She places her Jacqueline Kennedy glasses atop her head, and even from a distance, I can tell her eyes are glassy. I cut a look at my father, whose face has gone white, and I know he notices it too.
“Darcy. I’m here to see Darcy,” she says in a stage-voice as though she is performing on Broadway. I have never heard her talk like that and I wonder just how much she’s had to drink.
“Oh there you are!” she cries when she spots me. “You-who, Darcy. It’s your mother.” She wiggles her fingers at me. I feel all the eyes in the room swing my way.
“Marilyn,” my father hisses and rises from his seat to collect her.
“Frank!” she says if she is surprised to see him here.
The gym begins to fill with murmurs and snickers.
“Quiet down,” Dr. Weber booms from his seat. He looks at me, “Go ahead, Darcy.” He smiles but his eyes are nervous.
I lick my lips but they remain dry. My head is filled with the sound of rushing water.
“I…” my voice booms into the microphone.
“Oh, this seat is no good, Frank,” my mother says and jumps up. “I want to sit in the center where I can see my daughter.” She begins walking up the steps of the bleachers. Four steps up, she ushers down the row.
“Excuse me, pardon me,” she says as students turn their legs to the side, making room for the crazy lady who burst into the assembly.
Once she reaches the center of the row, she turns and looks at me. She is still for several seconds, as is the air in the gym as if everyone has drawn a collective breath to see what she’ll do next. She turns abruptly and begins climbing her way up the rows, using the shoulders of students for support. Pockets of laughter begin to break out.
I see Annabeth close her book and stand. She walks down the few steps to the gym floor, hoisting her backpack over her shoulder. She gives me a sympathetic smile and motions for me to come with her. But I cannot move. My feet are rooted to the floor.
My mother trips and falls face first into the lap of a pimply-faced freshman. The boy’s face grows red, and the laughter rises to a thunderous pitch as the student body watches my mother struggle to right herself. I wonder if I am the only one who notices the flask poking from her purse.
Teachers glance at each other nervously. Some look at Dr. Weber for instruction, but he is standing next to the Chambers whose heads are bent and focused on their clasped hands.
As I watch my mother stumble and trip her way through the stands, I am not embarrassed. I do not want to sink through the floor and die from humiliation. I do not wonder how I will ever live this down. All I think is, they should have known.
They should have known not to name me the Student of Distinction. Had the Chambers done more than review my file, had they interviewed me or my father, they would have known my mother was an alcoholic. If my father didn’t tell them, I would have. I would have said that if my mother shows up at all, she’ll show up drunk; however, even I never could have imagined something like this.
I reach for the Dasani bottle and watch my father and Mrs. Shoo, our guidance counselor, try to coral my mother. I listen to the laughter and put the bottle to my lips.
They should have known, I think as I tip my head back and let the vodka run down my throat, that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. I drink until half the bottle is empty and then I drink some more.
My father catches my mother, but she shoves him and he falls on a girl with purple hair. The flask containing her precious vodka falls from her purse and plunks down the steps.
I look around the gym. Every student is laughing. Every one, but John.