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By Jahnna N. Malcolm
Simon PulseCopyright © 2004 Jahnna N. Malcolm
All right reserved.
The whole assembly had been a major adrenaline rush for Madison, which made the rest of the day feel like she was wading through molasses.
Madison's last period was American Literature with Lorraine Healy, the Iron Maiden. Ms. Healy was the toughest grader at Evergreen High. A B from her was a triumph. An A was an absolute miracle.
The class was studying Hawthorne's classic American novel The Scarlet Letter and Ms. Healy was lecturing at length about it. Madison knew she ought to be taking detailed notes, but today she was finding it hard to focus. Just for a lark, Madison slipped her PalmPilot out of her purse. Keeping it out of sight behind her desk, she logged on to her e-mail to see if her Heart-2-Heart pal had replied. Yes!
Cookie Dough ice cream is great, but Cherry Garcia reigns supreme. I did the hair dye thing already, only I went blue. I looked like a Smurf. The good news is, I did it when I was visiting my cousins. The bad news is, the hair dye stained their sheets, and I had to buy them a new set. Inner thoughts: On the outside I'm the class clown, always ready with a wisecrack. On the inside, I'm a pretty serious guy. My secret wish: to start over.
Just call me Blue
Madison sat up in her chair. This guy sounded interesting. He was funny, yet serious. A major bonus: He liked Cherry Garcia, which was her second-favorite flavor of ice cream. Madison knew she should be paying attention to Ms. Healy's lecture, but she wanted to respond immediately. Since Madison had already chewed the tops off all her fingernails, she nibbled on a pencil as she tried to decide what to say to this guy. She remembered Mr. Wheeler's words: "Be honest and go with the flow!"
Do you think it's really possible to start over? I mean, without moving away to a new town? I think that even if I tried to change, my friends, family, and even my teachers wouldn't let me. No matter what I did, they'd go on assuming I'm this follow-the-rules, never-let-anybody-down kind of girl. So I guess I'll have to stick with their vision of me. However, once I graduate next year -- I'm going to go wild! Pierce some body part and get a tattoo. Whoo-hoo! How about you? Ever been tattooed?
Madison sent her letter and slipped the PalmPilot back into her purse. Everyone around her was vigorously taking notes, keeping track of Ms. Healy's every word. It was funny -- even the kids who took advanced classes broke down into subgroups. There were the super-straight preppies, which was her clan. But there were also the computer geeks who sat in the back of the class exchanging vintage comic books and CDs full of MP3s downloaded off the Internet by bands no one had ever heard of. They spent their lunch hours quoting old Monty Python movies and reading excerpts from cyberpunk novels like Snow Crash.
Then there were loners like Kara Doyle, "queen of the Goths," who wore the obligatory black hair, lipstick, and floor-length vintage dress, and who at this moment was passing a note to another loner, Ian Yates, who was into extreme BMX biking and cartoons. The way Ian unfolded the note, Madison could tell he and Kara were definitely into each other. Which brought up the truly big shadow that hung over Madison's fairly perfect life: no boyfriend.
Madison slumped in her seat. If loners like Kara and Ian could find each other, why couldn't she find her perfect mate? God! Even the Reverend Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter had found love. Of course, they got caught having an affair, so Hester had to wear that big red A for Adulteress for the rest of her life, and the reverend died of guilt and grief, but still...
Ding! The chime sounded on her PalmPilot, signaling that she had mail. Ms. Healy was startled by the sound and looked up from her lecture notes, an irritated look on her face. Madison quickly picked up her copy of The Scarlet Letter and made a show of looking extremely interested in what Ms. Healy was saying. It must have worked, because Ms. Healy looked back down at her notes and continued to drone on.
As Ian passed a note back to Kara, who tucked it into her black embroidered bag, Madison sneaked her PalmPilot out of her purse and tapped on the envelope icon. Could Blue have read her letter and written her back already? Yes!
A tattoo? With needles and pain? Think I'll pass on that one. Though if I did get a tattoo, it would have to be a happy face with "Have a nice day!" written under it. Simple sentiment, but basically a good idea. Imagine if every day was a truly "nice" day.
You realize you have given me two clues about your identity: You are tattoo-less, and you are a junior.
Which is true of me, too. So far, we seem to be a perfect match. But just to confirm it, here are a few more factoids about me: I play the guitar but seriously doubt I'll ever make it into a band. I secretly write poetry to be shared with no one but me. Cats are fine, but I am definitely a total dog person. And although we live in this extremely wet, congested city, I have discovered some places in downtown Seattle that still qualify as -- dare a guy say it? -- lovely.
Oops, almost used the L word, gotta go!
Madison chuckled out loud. This guy was funny and romantic, and she liked him, whoever he was.
"Madison, have I said something amusing?"
Madison looked up to see Ms. Healy standing beside her desk.
"No, Ms. Healy," Madison answered meekly.
Ms. Healy was a no-nonsense teacher if there ever was one. If she had lived in New England during Puritan times, which was when the story of The Scarlet Letter took place, Madison was sure she would have been one of the mean old biddies who turned on Hester Prynne and forced her to wear that big red letter.
"Would you care to share with the rest of the class what is so funny?"
Madison gulped. Ms. Healy was staring hard at Madison's PalmPilot, which was absolutely forbidden in class, along with cell phones, CD players, and any other distracting electrical equipment.
Madison instantly started vamping. "Well, Ms. Healy, I was just musing on how ridiculous a scarlet letter would be today, and who would have to wear one -- senators, actors, teachers, even a few of our presidents. In fact, there would probably be more people wearing the scarlet letter than not wearing it."
Ms. Healy's cold blue eyes looked huge through her extra-magnified glasses. "This is funny?"
Madison swallowed hard. "I guess it's really more ironic, wouldn't you say?"
Ms. Healy, who knew Madison as a straight-A, straight-shooter kind of student, softened a little. "'Ironic' is indeed the perfect word for it," she said with a brisk nod. "Now put the personal digital assistant away and pay attention, Ms. McKay."
As Ms. Healy walked back to the front of the room, Henry Cooney, Madison's partner in chem lab, mouthed the words, "Nice save."
Madison wiped some imaginary sweat off her forehead with her hand and tried to focus once again on the lecture. She forced herself to keep her eyes glued to Ms. Healy and soon found herself wondering what had turned the teacher into such an old grump. She was clearly smart and sometimes very funny, in a droll sort of way. Take away those awful glasses, let her hair out of that tight metal barrette at her neck, and Ms. Healy could almost be considered attractive. Maybe she'd had some brush with failed love that had made her go sour. Or worse yet -- what if she had never had any brush with love at all, and this dried-up old prune was what Ms. Healy had become?
Madison swallowed hard. This could happen to her. She decided to make a resolution and share it with the one person who wouldn't tell.
The moment the bell rang, Madison tapped her vow into the PalmPilot.
I'm making a New Year's resolution -- five months late. Since this qualifies as innermost thoughts, who better to share it with than you? My school and after-school commitments give me a pretty full schedule, which translates to zero love life. Not sure if it's really because of the full schedule or if I fill my schedule because I'm afraid that I might actually fall for someone and have to suffer through all that teenage heartbreak angst. ANYWAY, my vow is to not worry about the end but focus on the beginning, and be open to the L word.
P.S. If I were to get a tattoo, it would say, "Bring it on!"
Madison hit send and grinned. Heart-2-Heart was a great program. She made a mental note to tell Mr. Wheeler that.
Madison stepped out of the classroom into the swirling mass of students all heading for their lockers and the school parking lot. It was like diving into a rushing river: You didn't try to fight against the current; you just kept your head above water and let the flow sweep you along.
"Yo, Madison!" Lou Garcia pushed his muscular bulk through the river of students with the same ease that he plowed through defensive linemen as the fullback on the Evergreen Eagles football team. "Reed Rawlings wanted me to be on his election team, but I told him no way, you had my vote."
Madison squeezed his arm, which was as thick as a tree trunk, and just as hard. "Thanks, Lou, that means a lot."
"I want to help," he said.
"What?" Madison could barely hear him over a trio of kids yelling the chorus to a song by The Ataris.
"I want to help," Lou repeated. "You know, be on your team or staff, or whatever you call it. That cool with you?"
"That's awesome!" Madison cried. Lou Garcia was one of the best-liked guys in school. Having him on her side in the big campaign was a major plus. Before she could say more, the Stafford twins, Dana and Diana, grabbed her by the hand and turned her around as they moved the opposite way down the hall.
"Congratulations, Madison," Dana said. "You've got our vote!" Her sister bobbed her head up and down in enthusiastic agreement. Even at seventeen, the identical blondes still dressed alike, from the preppy tips of their loafers to the monogrammed D's on their cardigan sweaters.
"Thanks, guys." Madison spun out of the circle and hurried to catch up with Lou. "Hey, Lou, did you really mean what you just said?"
Lou's broad face creased into a grin. "Affirmative."
"We're meeting at Giorgio's tomorrow night to power back pizza and brainstorm strategies for the campaign," she told him. "Want to come?"
"Seven o'clock, Giorgio's," Lou said, giving her a high five. "I'm there." Then he spied his locker and, with a wave good-bye, stepped out of the stream of students.
Madison continued forward with the crowd. She saw her locker ahead but she also saw what had to be a major roadblock: Jeremy Drum, her new opponent and arch-nemesis. It didn't help that he was talking to her other rival.
Reed Rawlings spotted her before she could duck out of the flow of students. "Madison! This is too perfect. Join us."
Reed stood coolly in the middle of the hall, oblivious to the swarm of kids around him.
"Reed, I'd love to join you," Madison shouted above the bustle. "But I told Piper I'd meet her in the parking lot."
"This'll just take a minute," Reed insisted.
Madison hesitated. Much as she wanted to avoid talking to Jeremy, she didn't want to look like a rude jerk. She maneuvered her way around Jeremy and stood next to Reed.
"Of course you know Jeremy," Reed said, not letting her off the hook.
Jeremy answered for her. "We're like this," he said, holding up two fingers at arm's length.
"Funny," Madison replied without a smile.
Reed seemed oblivious to their awkwardness. "Listen up. My mom's a marketing specialist and she might be able to get us some airtime on some of the local radio stations. What do you think?"
Jeremy nodded. "That would be extremely cool."
"Would the interviews be separate?" Madison asked, not wanting to spend any time in close proximity to Jeremy. "I'd prefer to do mine alone -- or with you, Reed."
Jeremy scowled. "What is it with you, Madison? Can't you at least be civil?"
"Not to you," Madison said with an angry toss of her head.
"Give me a break," Jeremy snapped.
"Whoa! Time out! Truce!" Reed quickly stepped between them and draped his arms around their shoulders. "Look, this is just an election. You don't need to get so malignant."
"Save the lecture for someone who needs it," Jeremy grumbled. "Like Miss Stuck-up."
Madison clutched her chest as if she'd been shot in the heart. "Oh, you got me," she said melodramatically. "I'm mortally wounded."
Jeremy's cheeks flared a deep red. Clenching his fists at his sides, he took several deep breaths. Clearly he was trying not to say anything back to Madison. At last he turned to Reed and said evenly, "The radio station idea is a good one. I'll catch you later to discuss it." He turned on his heel and strode away.
Madison felt the heat creep into her own face. Most of the students nearby had witnessed the entire exchange. Madison felt pretty certain that, at this moment, she looked like a complete, raving idiot.
Reed shook his head in amazement. "Wow. I don't need to do a thing to win this election," he said with a chuckle. "I'll just stand back and let you two destroy each other."
Text copyright © 2005 by Jahnna N. Malcolm
Excerpted from Perfect Strangers by Jahnna N. Malcolm Copyright © 2004 by Jahnna N. Malcolm. Excerpted by permission.
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