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I am responsible for a great many things, but being put on detention for talking in history was not my fault (not technically, anyway).
On that Monday, I was not nearly so interested in history as in Candice Perkins's story about what happened at Michael Sorrell's party on Saturday night.
Parties and dating were not usually my thing--that was Candice's domain--but there had been an arrest, and that piqued my interest.
Candice and Michael had been going out for about three months. They talked on the phone a couple of times a week and kissed at school socials, but that was about it.
The exciting thing that happened at Michael Sorrell's party (which was, technically, Michael's older brother's party) was that the police caught two of the Year 12 boys doing a nudey run.
"There were about six of them but only two of them got busted," explained Candice. "The others ran down the lane and hid behind the scout hall. One of them, Jacob--do you know Jacob?--he's over eighteen and might go to court. Can you believe it?"
I thought Candice seemed pleased with herself--it was quite a coup to be invited to a party with the Year 12s.
Candice and I had been best friends since kindergarten. We had all sorts of stupid sayings that had become ritual between us. We always said "Like, oh, yar, I know, totally," in a Valley girl voice.
Candice and I were the founders of "the group." I was the brains, she was the beauty, and in Year 4 we had begun to hang out with Jessica Chou as well. Jessica was pretty and smart, but not enough of either for Candice or me to feel threatened. It wasn't until Year 6 that we started recruiting in earnest, but I'll get to that.
On this particular day, our history teacher, Ms. Sloan, had asked us to be quiet more than once (I strongly suspected that Ms. Sloan was hypoglycemic, because lessons after lunch went much more smoothly than lessons before) and so we were, technically, being quiet. Of course, what Ms. Sloan meant was "be silent"--and if she had been clear on that point, then I might not have ended up in detention.
Candice and I were whispering quietly when Ms. Sloan said, "Right! That's it! Out!"
I'd never been sent out in my life. Candice had--mostly for talking. I politely slid in my chair so that Candice could leave.
Ms. Sloan found this gesture somewhat provocative. "Both of you!"
I wasn't familiar with thrown-out-of-class protocol. "Do I take my bag? Or will it just be for a short time? Where do we go? Do we just stand outside the door? Or is it sort of like an early mark?"
I wasn't being difficult, I swear. I was just trying to establish the procedure.
"Out! Out! Out!"
A moment later Candice and I were out in the hall.
"So you reckon Jacob is going to court?" I asked.
"I know, can you believe it? Michael said that all of the Year Twelve boys that are seventeen are going to hold a Grand Nudey Run in protest. When they get busted they can't get a record. I mean, it's just ridiculous."
"Ridiculous," I agreed. It didn't occur to me at the time that Candice and I might not have meant the same thing.
A movement at the end of the hallway caught my attention. I turned my head and saw Perdita Wiguiggan crossing the hallway. She was scooting along with her head down and a stack of books pressed against her chest.
I made the sign of the cross. Candice did the same and said, "Freak," loudly enough for Perdita to hear, but not loudly enough to draw attention to us.
Every school has one. They are ugly or fat. They have scars or acne or birthmarks. Or maybe it's just something about them that doesn't quite fit with our cherry-lipgloss, video-hits view of how teenagers should be?
We are mean to them. We call them names. We ridicule them. We make monsters of them. We don't want to stand near them or sit next to them. They repulse us.
Perdita Wiguiggan was one of those. How unfortunate for her to have a name that was hard to say--Purdeetah Wigweegan--on top of being the most despised creature in the whole school.
If you had asked me how I felt about her I would have said that I hated her, but I couldn't have told you why. "I just hate her," I would have said with a dismissive shrug.
Maybe it was the way she walked. Perdita Wiguiggan hunkered down with her shoulders stooped and her chin forward. She took long clomping strides like a man. It was a very ungraceful walk.
Three things can happen to people like Perdita Wiguiggan. One, they become incredibly successful. They are your rocket scientists, your academics. Einstein was one of them. They found billion-dollar dot-com companies. They become rock stars--Kurt Cobain was probably one. Janis Joplin certainly was.
Two, they can stay shunned and pitied and live shallow lives on the periphery of society. They get low-paid jobs and roll from one dysfunctional, abusive relationship to another because they don't believe that they deserve to be treated any better. Why should they? No one ever has treated them any better.
Or they can end up like Perdita, but I'll get to that.
After Perdita had gone, Mr. Tilly, who was our deputy principal and one of my very favorites, walked past and said, "Megan Tuw, what are you doing out here?"
My name is Megan Tuw. I suppose it's quite convenient, as there are frequent occasions at which I am not the only Megan. It does mean, though, that I am never the primary Megan. I am, at best, only the runner-up Megan.
This was the case when Megan Hadenham was recruited into the group. I was opposed to Megan Hadenham from the beginning. She didn't seem to have anything new to bring to the group, and besides, having more than one Megan would be confusing. Jessica Chou pointed out that we couldn't exactly ask her to change her name.
"Maybe we could call you Tuwy?" suggested Dara Drinkwater. I didn't like Dara Drinkwater. She was always casually suggesting that I compromise. I don't like to compromise. Dara's offhand recommendations always got up my nose.
"Do you know where the name Peterson came from, Dara?" I asked. "And the names Davidson, Williamson, Harrison or Jameson?"
"What are you talking about?"
"They all mean 'son of': son of Peter, son of David, son of William, and so on. Do you get it? Peter and David and William came first. If you did it the other way around you would have all of these people wandering about called Peterdad, Daviddad, Williamdad. See?"
Dara tossed her head. "You're not Megan Hadenham's dad, Tuwy."
"The person who comes first gets the name, Drinky."
"Maybe we could allocate her a nickname, like Haddy or something?" suggested Jessica Chou. Jessica was always stepping in to defuse fights between Dara and me.
Unfortunately this never transpired. From that day onward Megan Hadenham was Megan, and I became Megan Tuw. This is a matter that I still consider to be grossly unfair.
Meanwhile, back in the hallway. "I've been sent out," I replied indignantly to Mr. Tilly.
"Really? What did you do?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye. Mr. Tilly was genuinely amused by the company of youths. That was why he was one of my very favorites.
"I was talking."
Just as I was about to bring Mr. Tilly up to speed on the whole quiet versus silence discrepancy, Ms. Sloan decided that our exile was over. She opened the door, and because I was leaning against it, I fell backward into the room and landed on my bum.
Mr. Tilly and Candice thought this was tremendously funny. Ms. Sloan did not.
"Quite the clown, aren't we?"
"Well, Ms. Sloan, technically, I am the only clown in this scenario," I said, standing and straightening my school skirt with as much dignity as I could muster, having just sprawled across the floor. "So perhaps the use of the plural is not entirely appropriate."
Ms. Sloan's eyes narrowed into uncharitable slits. "A week's detention, miss."
That's how I ended up in detention. As you can see, technically, I was entirely blameless.
From the Hardcover edition.