Jillian folded her arms as her mother pulled into the high school parking lot. The morning bell rang, making Jillian groan. “New High School, first day of Senior year, and I’m late for class.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t expect that traffic.” Camilla parked and unlocked the doors. “We’ll learn the streets here soon, I promise.”
“It’s okay. I gotta go. It’s just…” Jillian paused for emphasis outside the car and slipped her backpack over her shoulders. “I wish you’d listened to me when I said I didn’t want to move. I don’t know anyone in California.”
“I know, I’m sorry. But your father works here so often, moving to Los Angeles means he can spend less time traveling and more time with you.” This didn’t make Jillian smile, so Camilla bit her lip and looked away. “Jilli, what’s the name of that TV show you like?”
Jillian rubbed her forearm. “Which TV show?”
“The anime with giant robots.”
“Which anime with giant robots?”
“The big blue robot,” said Camilla. “Begins with an L sound?”
“Oh,” said Jillian, “LuLu’s Space-Time Acceleration. Why?”
“Look at that guy’s shirt.” Camilla pointed at a student jogging to the school doors. When he stopped to stuff a bulky book into his backpack, Jillian noticed a shining blue robot on his shirt. “Is that one of the LuLu robots?”
“Oh. Huh.” Jillian giggled. “What a dweeb.”
“Don’t be mean. Maybe he can help find your homeroom. Go talk to him!”
“Alright, alright.” She waved goodbye to her mother and entered the school. She spotted the boy in the LuLu’s Space-Time Acceleration T-shirt jogging down a hallway. His backpack of books must have weighed him down, because she caught up at a walking pace. “Hey, I like your shirt.”
“Oh!” He jumped when she spoke. “Thanks. It’s from an anime I like.”
“I like it, too,” said Jillian. “But hey, I’m new here. Could you point me toward my homeroom, Room 120?”
“That’s my homeroom, too,” said the boy. “I’ll lead you there.”
In Room 120, one of the boy’s friends waved them emphatically to their table. She was just under four-foot-six with short, white-blonde hair. The boy sat across from her and unloaded books from his backpack, but never looked away from the other girl at the table. She had hair like maple syrup dripping gracefully down her cheek as she read. Her book, Jillian noticed as she sat, was a copy of the bible. Meanwhile the shorter girl returned to plucking at a white eraser with her sharp nails, covering her quadrant of the table in crumbs.
The homeroom teacher did not notice them enter late as she chalked her name on the blackboard. “Alright,” said the teacher, “now that you know my name, I want all of you to tell me yours. I recognize some of you from my freshman art classes, but you look like a new face. Yes, you,” she said, pointing again to Jillian. “How about introducing yourself?”
“Oh, sure.” Jillian cleared her throat. “My name is Jillian Diaz-Jackson. I just moved to LA from the East coast.” The short girl with white-blonde hair waved at her and smiled, then picked more crumbs from her eraser.
“Ms. Jillian Diaz-Jackson, tell us something interesting about yourself,” said the teacher.
“Um… My dad travels around the world for business, so he learns a lot of languages,” said Jillian. “He paces around the house repeating foreign phrases to memorize them, like he’s chanting. So I know a lot of languages, but only words related to finance.”
“Ms. Jillian Diaz-Jackson, how do you like California so far?”
“It’s a little hot,” said Jillian, “and I don’t know anyone here.”
“Now you do.” The teacher pointed at the boy beside her. “What’s your name?”
“Dan Jones.” He pulled his gaze from the girl with the bible to shake Jillian’s hand.
“Danny-Boy Jones,” repeated the teacher. “Danny-Boy, tell us about yourself.”
Dan thought. “I visited my father over the Summer. He’s a professor of religious studies, so he lets me read through the university’s rare books. I want to work with religion when I’m older.” He peeked at the girl with the bible but she only buried herself in the book.
“Danny-Boy Jones, what was your favorite book he showed you?”
“He has a first edition copy of Dante’s Inferno,” said Dan. “My favorite epic poem!”
“Because,” said the girl with the eraser, “his nickname is Dainty. It’s like he’s in the book!”
“Is it, now? What makes you Dainty, Danny-Boy?”
“He hates untidiness. Watch.” She blew her eraser crumbs onto Dan’s side of the table. He brushed the crumbs into one hand and tossed them into a trashcan. “See? He didn’t even brush ’em on the floor.”
“Give me your name, and confess your motives for mutilating your poor eraser.”
“My name is Faith Featherway,” she said, “and I’m carving it into my favorite animal, a fox. But it’s not coming out well, it looks more like a cloud. Or a blob.”
The teacher laughed. “I remember you from my art class. You never did stop with the foxes, did you?”
“They’re the best animal.” Faith drew a black nose on her eraser with a pen.
“Is it? You, last at the table, which animal do you think is best?”
The girl with the maple syrup hair put down her bible. “I suppose I would think birds are best because they have wings, like angels.”
“And what is your name?”
“Beatrice,” said Beatrice. Dan smiled at her dumbly as she spoke, but she did not look back. “Beatrice Baxter.”
“BeatBax,” said Faith. “It sounds much cooler.”
After all the students introduced themselves, the teacher took a stack of fliers from her desk. “For our first day, the school has asked us to educate our homeroom on drugs. Have any of you heard of crickets?”
Jillian almost raised her hand, but decided against it and kept her hands on her desk. One boy in dark sunglasses raised his hand, and so did Faith, and when they did, most of the class followed suit. Finally Jillian raised her hand, joining everyone except Dan and Beatrice.
“That many? Really?” The teacher shook her head. “It was different when I was your age. You, with the sunglasses,” she said, having forgotten his name, “what do you know about crickets?”
“Bug-sticks,” he corrected. “I know you can make money selling ’em, ’cause they get you high as balls.”
Some students chuckled. The teacher shushed them before she spoke. “They’re a dangerous hallucinogen. They came from a secluded island, and in my opinion, they should have stayed there. Never smoke them. One puff is enough,” she said, quoting from the fliers she passed to each table, “to end up in the rough. So don’t touch the stuff!”
Jillian skimmed the flier. Above was a picture of a raw cricket retaining its limbs and antennae and most of its stem. Below was a prepared specimen, plucked and dried and wrapped in its own wings. Jillian had always found their ten black eyes somehow familiar.