For Ever (The Ever Series Book 1)By: C. J. Valles
Lonely I came, and I depart alone,
And I know not where nor unto whom I go;
But that thou canst not follow me I know.
The Suicide, Edna St. Vincent Millay
1: Smile Like I Mean It
This time I can’t stop my eyes from rolling toward the ceiling. My mom is laughing too much—again—at one of his absurd jokes. And did he just wink at her? God! Is the universe punishing me for something? For almost thirty minutes now we’ve been sitting side by side in those squeaky chairs that are designed to make delinquent high school kids nervous. I’m not a delinquent, but the seating arrangement is still making me uneasy. I nudge my mom’s leg. She tears her eyes away from the vice principal of Springview High School and looks over at me.
What? He’s kinda cute.
The sound of her rhetorical response echoing in my head makes me sink even lower into my chair. I look back at Mr. Chernoff and seriously begin to wonder about my mom’s sanity. The man has a perpetual smirk, combined with a terrible mustache, and a head like a cue ball. And I know for a fact that my mom would have cracked up if she could have heard what he was thinking when we first walked into his office. But my mom’s taste has been suspect recently. She jokes that she needs the practice before she starts dating again. This is high on the list of things I don’t want to think about.
The thermostat clicks on again, and I hug my arms as more cold air rushes through the vents … in January. Tuning out my mom’s nervous chattering, I look past Mr. Chernoff’s shiny cranium to the window, which comes complete with a metal mesh grate crushed between two layers of glass. From here, the parking lot looks monochromatic; or maybe it’s just how I’ve been seeing my life lately, distorted through the lens of my parents’ self-destruction. The steady rain is blurring everything beyond the window, making the scenery appear softer, faded, and almost dreamlike. In contrast, the vice principal’s office is stark and sharp under the fluorescent lighting—complete with a yellowish wooden desk, a dying fern, towering metal filing cabinets, and a poster, curling at the edges, that proclaims: Learning is fun! Drugs are not.
I allow my mind to wander down the winding two-lane boulevard of Topanga Canyon, all the way to the smooth, liquid-metal waters of the Pacific Ocean in the early morning. Up until two weeks ago, this had been part of my daily commute to Palisades Charter High School, where I had attended for two and a half years. Seeing the ocean every day is something I already miss. Everything else about my life in California I left behind with frighteningly little regret. But after only three nights and two days, I’m not sold on the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, either.
The sound of papers shuffling from the opposite side of the desk causes me to refocus. I catch Mr. Chernoff watching me. His voice in my head makes me flinch.
These test scores. … And this kid’s creeping me out. Hasn’t said a word. Maybe she’s a little slow. What is the PC term? Learning disabled?
I’m getting used to it, but sometimes I think it would be easier not to hear the things people are too embarrassed to say to your face. Still, it’s better to know upfront that the vice principal has written me off, thanks to a horrible math score that I got on a placement exam at the end of sixth grade. Well, that, and the fact that I spent junior high in adapted PE thanks to my coordination, which was declared “remedial” by the special education teacher.
I know this for a fact: nothing makes you feel more special than your classmates asking, What’s wrong with you? Repeatedly. It got old fast. Mr. Chernoff glances at me again, only to find I’m already staring back at him. Jerk, I think. He reddens and sits up straighter. He’s wearing a tweed coat and a ridiculous clip-on bowtie, which only makes me like him less. He picks up where he left off, sifting aimlessly through my academic records like he’s hoping to find a winning lottery ticket hidden somewhere within them.
I’ll admit that I’m awful at math—and my coordination is so bad that I can’t kick a soccer ball to save my life. But I’m not a slacker. I work hard for the A’s and B’s I get, and I ran on the cross country team for two seasons. I mostly did this to avoid two additional years of “special” PE when I got to high school. Luckily, it turned out that I liked running, even if I never won a race. Not even close.