I was now the biggest screwup in my high school.
I was fat, homely, vertically challenged, badly dressed, freakishly bookish, too brown for the princess squad and not brown enough for black pride, my mother named me after a coffee filter, I was hopelessly unpopular, and I had asthma, but none of those things would get you anything special at my school. I went to Chase Washington, a public high school in a Chicago suburb so expensive that only money could get you in.
That makes it sound like I was a short-bus kid, but I wasn’t. Oh, no. After acing my way through eleven grades plus kindergarten, I was repeating senior year.
This was a huge disappointment to my mom, who would have loved to blame me on something. She was Chase Washington’s guidance counselor. I think I’ve had every allergen test known to medicine. Also, the Asperger’s spectrum tests, the developmental challenges tests, the lactose and gluten intolerance tests, thyroid tests, childhood-onset diabetes tests, Myers-Briggs tests, gender-identification tests, sickle-cell tests, you name it. I did fit the profile for children of school guidance counselors: statistically, you were either a saint or a screwup. This was not good enough for my mom, but that fit the profile, too.
So you can see I was kind of a career screwup.
Failing the twelfth grade the first time around led to this latest epic screwup: I entered my senior year the second time, this year, having already turned nineteen, along with the trailer trash who started repeating grades in their single-digit years, when a person is supposed to show signs of failure. You’re not supposed to start failing in high school. For one thing, it puts you totally beyond the pale, socially. For another, it embarrasses your mom. QED.
The fact that I knew what “beyond the pale” and “QED” mean cut no ice whatever.
But being nineteen meant that I was eligible to sign a contract to become a succubus in the second circle of hell. Which, believe me, I jumped at.
Rats. That’s more than two hundred and fifty words for the abstract. I’ll never make it into scholarly journals at this rate.
Back up, then, and take another run at it.
Something I failed to put into my abstract is that my stepfather was the psychiatrist for the entire school district. My mother met him at a conference. He had been, how shall I put this, more affectionate than fatherly since he moved in, and I had never encouraged him, but my mother said that I’d never really given him a chance. Blended families always have trouble adjusting at first, blah blah. Darned right I hadn’t given him a chance. Did she even care that I could become a statistic? Sometimes I thought she would find it a relief. Then she’d have had something to blame me on.
But he was way too slick to get caught. My mom had been pulling psych jujitsu on me since my birth, which was a thing that cut two ways. On the one hand we cannot communicate and never could. On the other, I was used to having the ground cut out from under me by slippery shrink logic and deaf-and-blind concern and all that I know you and I love you more than you know and love yourself stuff. Nothing either of them could say could fool me.
But my stepfather was a doctor, not a mere social worker, so although he was no better at mind tricks than my mom, more importantly, he had more credibility. Apparently, in a courtroom, as if she would think of divorcing him over me, he would win just because he out-credentialed her. He got his job with the school district kind of over her head, which I thought was unfair since she’d been working there a lot longer. But I guess a combination of MD and PhD will always beat out an MSW.
He pointed all this out to me when I got snarly with him, late in the summer of last year, and we had had a stand-off, kinda, ever since. I stopped trying to drop hints to Mom to pay attention where his hands were, and he backed off the pressure. Kinda.
I was not okay with this, needless to say. My stepfather was still inappropriate with me, mostly verbally, since my boobs grew so big last year and I was officially nubile. He called it loosening me up so I wouldn’t be a social pariah, and Mom apparently bought that. But there were plenty of girls in my school who had it worse. The judge knew about the Moran sisters, and their father still had custody. So.
Anyway I was more than ready when Delilah approached me in Starbucks with the contract.
She wore red leather all over, but not in a cheesy Dancing With The Stars way. I knew she wasn’t trash because her shoes were so expensive. In our upscale, right-leaning community, shoes are the test of social class. These were Manolos, pointy but not cheap-ho high, a faintly richer red than her leather pantsuit. Her hair was dark and cut like Daisy Rawson’s mom’s hair, kind of a sexier Hillary. Her skin was a little darker than normal, too, which made me feel good. Aside from my gym teacher, and the South African Presbyterian assistant minister and his wife, and the Johnsons and the Watkinses and Sanjay Halong’s family, everyone here is super white. My mom wouldn’t have gotten her job here if she hadn’t already been divorced from my dad, who is half Polynesian, half black, which made me what the six black kids in our school call “high yellow” and I thought was just boring.
Delilah looked sultry and sophisticated and…kind. I wouldn’t have expected that.
She also knew a lot about me. Some of that she could have learned from my permanent record (Mom’s weapon of choice) and some just by watching me schlump in and out of school, holding my books to my chest and being alternately bullied and ignored. But she also knew what my stepfather did the night of my seventeenth birthday. I never told anyone that. It was dark in my room, for Pete’s sake.
Also, her business card had flames on it that actually flickered up off the card, and little wisps of smoke came up from the flames. So far, this is not technologically possible with anything thinner than three thirty-seconds of an inch. The card sat and smoked, lying next to our lattes and the contract written on a single sheet of thick white paper.
“Why are you recruiting me? I’m hopelessly nonsexy,” I said, stating the obvious.
“Don’t worry about that. Your new body will be plenty sexy.”
“New?” I was appalled. “I’m just getting used to this miserable thing.” I looked down at my boobs. “They’re huge already.”
“So give it smaller boobs.” Delilah seemed to be taking this slowly for my benefit, but I didn’t feel talked-down-to.
She said, “You get complete control of the design. And if you don’t like the design, you can change it.”
I absorbed this idea. “Wow.” I added, “This would go over so much bigger with Daisy Rawson and her crowd. They would get plastic surgery if they could. They’d be getting botox.”
“And they’d still look like themselves. You can look like anything you want.”
I thought of my ideal, my gym teacher, Miss Waroo, who has an Asian cast to her eyes and skin and cheekbones, and moves like a greyhound. If it weren’t for her, PE would always be hell.