I’m Kate. I’m almost sixteen. I have black hair and boring eyes that could easily be mistaken for the muddy water of a pond in the middle of the country. I have glasses on the days that I’m too lazy to put in contacts and a nose that scrunches when I laugh. I snort when I giggle and sneeze louder than Gods. I have fingers covered in nasty calluses from too many hours spent writing cheese ball songs and practicing them on my guitar. I play the piano nightly and have a love for Asian babies. My sister is twenty-two; she’s studying to become an oncologist at Princeton University. I’m about to be sophomore, and I don't even entertain the idea of it. I sincerely love the name Isabella. My favorite movie is Titanic, I love the feeling of crisp autumn air, and I have a deep passion for sailboats. Let me tell you why.
“Wait. Stop.” I push him back a little, but he won’t quit. I lean in for a few more kisses. “Hold on a moment, Marco.” I put my hands on his shoulders and try to get his attention.
In between kissing, Marco struggles to say annoying words. “I only have seven minutes. I have to—”
I pull away. I can barely see in Anna Taylor’s hall closet. Light seeps under to door; the only opening—an invitation for the light to illuminate to tiny closet. “I’d rather just give you my bra than have you continue kissing me.”
“Bases are purposeless without honesty.” Marco leans in for more kisses. The timer ticks in the background. Teenagers laugh loudly, the noise traveling under the door from the hallway, along with the fluorescent light.
“Marco!” I growl as I stand up.
“What do you possibly want from me?”
I go to pace back and forth, but stop when I run into empty clothes-hangers swaying on the rack. “For you to just break up with me already! It’s not even as if you like me. You're just using me.”
“Fine then.” Marco jumps his feet. “We’re done.” He opens the door, but stops in its way. “Can I haveyour bra to show everyone?”
I push him. “Oh. My God! You are such a pig!”
My mom knocks on the door three hard times. “Catalina! Wake up!” she barks.
I grumble something unintelligible in response while summoning the courage to crawl out from underneath my warm sheets and off my fluffy pillow.
I’d been dream-remembering again. That night . . . the night I tasted the first flavor of hatred.
She knocks again. “Catalina! School starts in half an hour! Get up!”
“I’m up, I’m up!” I growl after opening my door to see my mom standing there, dirty blonde hair scraggily, glasses at the tip of her nose, and balancing a laundry basket on her hip. She looks beautiful, like she always does, despite no makeup.
“This would be for you,” she says and hands me the basket. “Fold them, store them in your dresser neatly,” she specifies, “and get ready.” She makes her way down the staircase adjacent to my bedroom. “Don't be late if you want a ride to school; I have to be at work on time for once.”
Welcome to my little life.
School smells like new paint, anodyne, and friendships reconciling from their summer hiatuses. I’m greeted by my friends, Graig Packer-Ten, Melanie Lalas, Richard McCord, and Anna Taylor Bruin. They act all giddy glad to see me and ask about my summer. I spent my summer altering from hibernating and camping out at my best friend’s house, Anderlyn is her name.
My first class is Art. While it sounds like fun to let your creative side shine, it really isn’t if you have yet to find yours.
My mom is an artist. Well, she works as speech therapist, but paints and sells masterpieces part time. However, I have no creative side. I’m creative with words; I love to write. And with music; it’s my soul. But I cannot draw for the life of me.
Our teacher is named Ms. Hill. She’s dressed in a purple bohemian skirt which drags on the floor, and a white turtleneck. It is eighty-eight degrees outside. Now, what’s wrong with this picture?
Now that I know my single art teacher is immune to the wrath of the late August sun, I listen to her tell us what to expect this year. I feel like she should live in France. She’s a French-kind-of-person. I can picture her sipping cappuccinos, wearing a beret, holding her pinkie up as she brings the little cup to her mouth, attending a poetry reading.
My next class is English. This is where the story really starts.
“If your last name begins with an A, raise your hand.” My English teacher, Mrs. Deshk, watches us, her little slaves, from atop her throne (the chair behind her desk). She has planned out a little alphabetized scheme to make our homework easier and this year memorable.
I daydream as she progresses down the alphabet. “If your last name starts with an M, raise your hand.”
I feel like we’re playing some sort of Simon Says/Mother, May I? hybrid.
I raise my hand obediently. Two other students do as well.
“Very well,” Mrs. Deshk says. “Who has the last name Megara? Partner up with Jose Nose.” One student goes. “Alright, are you McIntosh? You’re with her,” she points to a girl on the opposite side of the room than me. “Jenny Niter.” She looks at me, her eyes staring into my mind. I feel like she’s reading my thoughts. “So, you must be . . . ?”
“Kate Mulvoun,” I answer confidently.
Mrs. Deshk scans a piece of paper laying on the desk surface in front of her. “Just checking, you are—”
“Catalina,” I finally admit. I hate my name. I feel my bones shake as I say it; my guts twist as I hear it; my soul shatter when I read it.
“Oh,” she pipsqueaks. She makes note of it on her paper. “Then your partner is going to be Aaron Oliver. Aaron Oliver?” She studies the room for a raised hand.
The hand in the air belongs to a boy with a chiseled facial structure, hair so black it reflects rainbow rays like raven feathers, and eyes so blue they pierce my soul when he glances at me.
We scoot our desks together and stare at the tabletops awkwardly. We’re supposed to “get acquainted”.
“So, your name is Kate,” he states.
“Um. Yup. And yours is Aaron.”
Silence falls painfully like an ax. My ears burns and you can feel the tension in the air. People like me. But should they? I’m going to be who I want to be: standoffish, but talkative once I find a common ground. I’m not going to be who others expect me to be.
“So,” Aaron says. “How ‘bout them Mets?”
I cringe. I sigh and look at him, sitting across the table from me. “This conversation,” I say in turn, “puts meaning in the word awkward.”
He smirks, “Wow. Pretty and blunt. What a rarity.”
I shrug, “It’s a package deal. Hurry now and get humor half off!”
Aaron rocks his chair back.
“So, what else do you want to know?”
He shrugs. “What’s your favorite color?”
“Is that really necessary?” I raise a questioning eyebrow.
“I think the simple things say more about a person than the big achievements and that silly stuff people jabber about.”
“Uh. I like the color blue,” I say, notably uncomfortable.
“An acceptable answer.”
“To follow your philosophy,” I sophisticatedly say, “I’m going to ask what your favorite beverage is.”
He hesitates. “I think every one of these high schoolers are going to go with some sort of soft drink. Mine will be Dr Pepper.”
“EHHHHH!” I mimic the sound of a buzzer announcing something as wrong. “Milk was the correct answer.”
“I’m lactose intolerant.”
I frown. “Then how do you get your moo-triants?”
Aaron smiles. “You're bonkers.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
He smiles in reply. “What do you love with a passion of all the stars in the solar system combined?”
Self-assuredly, I say, “Pop Rocks. But they are, disappointingly, so hard to find!” Then I think up a question. “Just state something. Something very obvious to you, but not to any other soul.”
His eyes pierce into mine as he answers. “Normal isn’t as jolly as abnormal.”
The bell rings and dismisses us. Aaron stands up and slings his backpack over his shoulder.
“Holy God!” I gape as he peers down at me. I jump to my feet. “You're like an adolescent version of Yo Ming!”
“Also an American version. . . .”
“Sorry,” I shake my head. “That was rude. It’s just, I’m average and you're . . . you're like three feet taller than me.”
Aaron looks me up and down. “Who told you that you are average?”
“Oh, funny,” I roll my eyes.
“Seriously! It’s like the Short Tribe is missing its leader.” He pokes my shoulder teasingly. “But every tall person needs a short friend.” He shrugs, “I’m new.”
I pick up my bag and we walk out of the room together. “Where are you from?” I ask him. “I’ve lived in Boynton Beach my whole entire life. I’m a full-bred Floridian.”
“I’m from New Mexico.” We continue walking a little way, towards the corridor where the lockers are. “But everyone here seems nice; everyone here at Worthington High School.”
I snort, “Oh, how you're wrong.”
“What do you mean?” We stroll to locker 298. I assume it’s his by the way he steps up to it.
I find a way to put it simplistically. “Looks and personalities are, more often than not, a sham.”
Just as Aaron asks me to elaborate, my best friend since third grade skips up to us and latches on my arm. “I haven’t seen you since this morning!” she starts to exclaim, but stops short to turn to Aaron. Captivated, she smiles, “Well, hello.”
Aaron blushes and I roll my yes. “Aaron,” I redden embarrassedly, “this is my friend, Anderlyn.”
She pushes past me and extends her long, golden-tan arm. “It’s best friend.” Her voice croons. “Anderlyn Sinbad.”
He ineptly shakes her hand. “Aaron.”
“Pleasure.” Anderlyn dazzles her eyes on cue.
“Okay!” I finally cut it. “See you later, Aaron.” I push Anderlyn away from him and down the hallway, to our lockers.
“Ow!” she yips and wiggles out of my grip. “God, he’s cute!” she exclaims. “Dibs!”
I look at her in surprise. “I thought you had a boyfriend? James McCoy?”
Walking beside me, with her blonde hair in curls and blue eyes outlined in black eyeliner, in all her glory, my best friend laughs at me. “Of course I’d break up with James for that guy!” she giggles. “Imagine if we get married. I’ll be Anderlyn . . . What’s his last name, Katie?”
“Oliver,” I grumble, outraged by my philanderer of a friend.
“Anderlyn Oliver?” she gags. “Ew! Grody! Nope. I’m over him. I think I’m into Justin Timberlake now.”
“Anderlyn Timberlake,” she says obviously. “When people say, ‘In the name of love,’ they will be referring to Anderlyn Timberlake.”
I have B lunch. I know nobody else with this lunch, that was, until I spotted Aaron in the back corner.
I plop down beside him. He’s eating a bucket of Dibs. Just what Anderlyn had called on him a few hours ago.
“The average American consumes six gallons of ice cream a year,” I warn him. I fold my arm over the other and rest them on the table.
He pops one in his mouth.
I spot a sandwich and other snacks in his lunch sack. “Why are you eating ice cream bites first?” I ask him.
He shrugs. “I just do.”
I watch his mouth closely.
“Hey, dearest!” Chloë sings on the other line.
“Hello, sissy!” I chime in return as I wait for my mother to pick me up from school. “Excited for school to start back tomorrow?”
“In a way. I don't want the homework, but this summer I’ll get an internship—in your face, Richie Riches and your exiguous tips!” She laughs wholly. She hated waitressing. “Speaking of which, how are you?”
“Cheap-o’s remind you of me?” I ask her defensively.
“No!” she giggles. “I meant speaking of school! How’s school?”
“Oh!” I say now. “It went well. Mostly. It was wicked boring. I have a pretty rad English partner.”
She demands, “Spill!”
I grin. “His name is Aaron. He has amazing hair and these perfect eyes that can penetrate anything; they're so blue! He’s really smart, funny, and he just has this worldliness to him. Like he’s got this old soul, but youthful brain. You know?”
I can hear the smile in Chloë voice as se squeaks, “Could Catalina Mulvoun have found her freshman crush?”
“You drive me peanuts, Chloë,” I roll my eyes.
“Oh, hey. Speaking of loves, I have a date.”
Brandon McDuff has been her boyfriend for two years.
“Yes! We’re going to the movie. So . . . I have to cut this convo short. Call me tomorrow, ‘kay?”
I sigh grievously. “I don't think I would be able to survive our crazy-ass parents without you, Chloë.”
There’s a little laughter in her voice. “I’m very glad to hear that. Oh! And you should be getting a package from me, like, today.”
“I’ll be looking forward to it. Bye, lovely!”
As I hang up, a head pops over my shoulder from behind. “Hello, Shorty.”
I turn around to find Aaron Oliver smirking and peering down at me. “Hello, Tree,” I reply in the same sardonic tone.
“What’s up?” he asks me, but I can tell he doesn’t really care. Especially since he obviously saw me talking on the phone, and we’re both waiting in the gazebo outside the school, where you stand when expecting a car to come for you. He’s just being polite. I barely know Aaron; however, I can tell he is a nice, friendly, generally jovial guy.
I contemplate. “I can't decide if I want to be the kind of girl who answers with ‘the sky’, or the girl who answers straightforwardly.”
“Straightforward is more charming.”
“My parents tend to disagree,” I say. “But they’re sort of an enigma, so . . . That’s not saying too much.”
Aaron shoves his hands deep into his pockets. “So, uh. Where’s your posse?”
I look up at him, taken aback. “My . . . posse?”
“Those kids you were hanging with early. Not that I was spying on you, or anything,” he adds promptly. “I just saw you in the hallway with this huge entourage behind you.”
I snort, “Oh. Yeah, no. They aren’t my posse or . . . entourage. I don't really like them. I mean, they’re pretty fraud. They just like me.”
“Now,” he begins, sounding sophisticated like a psychologist, “do they like the real you?”
Aaron never seizes to shock me. “You don't even know the real me.”
“No,” I smirk. “You don't.”
“Wasn’t it you, Kate, that commented on how no one is who they appear to be?”
I replied tightly, “Yes.”
“I just take whatever you say, oppositely.”
“So, by that philosophy you’d be,” I say, “a total bitch.”
“Aw,” I smile wittily, “you think I’m kidding. Extra cute!”
“I wasn’t fishing, but thanks for calling me cute.”
“Question,” I begin. “What kind of person do you think I actually am?”
Aaron hesitates. “You’re smart. And you’re funny. You’re charming and composed.” He looks at me with sincere eyes. “You’re pretty and you don't realize it.”
After becoming disengaged in his eyes, I poke his stomach and smile. “You are such a wanton.”
He chuckles. “Well, ya know.”
I shrug. “Not so much.”
“You want to hang some time?” he asks bluntly.
“Yeah.” I’m a little startled by the question. I’ve known him, what, fifteen minutes? “Totes.”
“Hip, are we?”
“Hey, it’s chill. I’m down with that.”
I see my mom’s maroon Lexus pull up to the curb. “Oh, well. My ride’s here,” I tell him. I feel awkward and clumsy around him. “But Facebook me or something about that hang out session.”
He flashes me a goofy grin.
“Bye.” I smile, immediately feeling insecure about its look. Why do I feel . . . naked around Aaron?
When I get home, I’m writing a song about him.
I’m the girl no one trusts with their secret, because I don't believe in them. I tend to tell everyone what’s one my mind—even if the information is just leased to me. I talk a lot. I have an identic memory; I know ton of facts because I never forget them. In times of deep and troubling boredom, my mind wanders. I don't even have to be at school; I like to sit on the floor in the corner of the attic, accompanied by cobwebs and boxes of old memories, thinking.
I like to think about what is going on in my life, what I watch on the television, what I hear in my favorite songs, what I dream about, what I laugh about, and every insignificant thing in between.
A brown package sits on our doorstep. I sit on the cool tile in the entryway and I yank open the package.
It’s from Chloë. She wrote a note telling me how she got her first notebook when she was a sophomore, and has kept one since. Below the pink envelope is a smaller, half-sized composition notebook with a silhouetted bird on the cover. The background is light green, the bird is sky blue.
Maybe I’ll use this.
As I open my eyes the next morning, I am overcome by a sense of joy. I’ve never been so pleasured by the thought of high school.
I dress myself in a cute pair of floral shorts and a white tee. I take my time getting ready, adding an extra five minutes. I’ll walk to school if prepping means missing my mom’s offer for a ride. My hair is pulled back in a butterfly clip. My gladiator sandals complete the look.
“I am adorable, aren’t I?” I ask my snake, Jade, as I peek at her through the glass terrarium in the game-room.
I sling my bag over my shoulder and leave for school.