Jillian crossed her arms as her mother pulled into the high school parking lot. The morning bell rang, and Jillian groaned. “New High School, first day of Senior year, and I’m late for class.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t expect the traffic.” Camilla parked and unlocked the doors. “We’ll learn the streets soon, I promise.”
“It’s okay. I gotta go. It’s just…” Jillian slipped her backpack over her shoulders. “I wish you’d listened when I said I didn’t want to move. I don’t know anyone in California.”
“I know. But your father works here so often, moving to LA 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 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 saw a blue robot on his shirt. “Is that LuLu‘s robot?”
“Oh, huh.” Jillian giggled. “What a dweeb.”
“Don’t be mean. Maybe he can help find your homeroom.”
“Alright, alright.” Jillian waved goodbye and entered the school. She spotted the boy jogging down a hallway. The books in his backpack must have been heavy because she caught up at a brisk walk. “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 to 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 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 down her neck as she read a well-worn bible. Meanwhile the shorter girl picked at a white eraser with sharp fingernails, spreading crumbs on her quadrant of the table.
The homeroom teacher chalked her name on the blackboard. “Alright,” they said, “now that you know my name I want all you to tell me yours. I recognize some of you from my freshman art class, but you’re a new face. Yes, you,” she said, pointing at Jillian. “Introduce yourself.”
“Oh, sure.” Jillian cleared her throat. “I’m Jillian Diaz-Jackson. I just moved here from the East coast.” The short girl with white-blonde hair waved and smiled, then picked more crumbs from her eraser.
“Ms. Jillian, tell us something interesting about yourself,” said the teacher.
“Um… My dad travels for business, so he learns lots of languages,” said Jillian. “He paces the house chanting foreign phrases to memorize them. So I learn languages, too, but only words related to finance.”
“Ms. Jillian, how do you like LA?”
“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. “Tell us about yourself.”
Dan thought. “I visited my father over the Summer. He was a professor of religious studies. I think religions are really interesting.” He peeked at the girl with the bible but she buried herself in the book. “He showed me lots neat books.”
“Danny-Boy, what was your favorite book he showed you?”
“Dante’s Inferno,” said Dan.
“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’s so cleanly. Watch!” She blew eraser crumbs onto Dan’s side of the table. He brushed the crumbs into one hand and tossed them in 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 sculpting 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. “Birds. They have wings, like angels.”
“And what is your name?”
“Beatrice,” said Beatrice. Dan smiled dumbly as she spoke, but she didn’t look at him. “Beatrice Baxter.”
“BeatBax,” said Faith. “It sounds much cooler.”
After the rest of class introduced themselves, the teacher took a stack of fliers from her desk. “The school wants us to educate our homeroom about drugs. Who here has 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 most of the class followed suit. Finally Jillian raised her hand, joining everyone but 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 they should have stayed there. Never smoke them. One puff is enough,” she quoted from the fliers she passed to each table, “to end up in the rough. So don’t touch the stuff!”
Jillian skimmed the flier. At the top was a photo 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.