Chapter 1 - Dara
I meant to focus on the admissions counselor, but the paperweight on her desk made my stomach growl. It looked like rock candy - the kind I grew in a cup when I was in fifth grade. Of course, I let it grow too long and had to break the cup to get it out, but her paperweight (probably some kind of crystal) looked like the perfect rock candy in Fleischman's Candy Store. She had several interesting paperweights and each was more interesting than her talk about campus safety.
I love interesting shapes. They get under my skin, in my mouth even. Sometimes when I see a tasty shape, the empty space of a lamp shade, for instance, I roll it around in my mouth, imagining the way the curves would feel on my tongue. Sometimes shapes just push their way between my toes, like the dreadful minivan on the way here. It's a little distracting.
The counselor pushed a thick booklet at me. "Please sign the back of the handbook, now that we've gone over the rules." I scribbled my name on the back. Who reads those anyway?
My sister Carly signed in the Parent/Guardian space, even though she's neither. She checked her watch again as she handed it back.
"Alrighty," the counselor said, "Why don't you go get settled in your room? Come back at three to see your guidance counselor."
I allowed myself a moment to pick up one of her paperweights, while Carly put on her coat. This one was a glass pyramid, full of tiny metal balls. Ball bearings, maybe? They swirled in slow motion as I turned it over, like astronauts drifting in the vacuum of space.
Carly and I headed out to her car to get all my stuff, shivering in the icy wind. Connecticut was really cold in January. Cold didn't even cover it. I needed a new word, like gouge-out-my-eyeballs-with-an-icicle cold. It didn't help that my new school was on the side of a mountain. Only 2,000 feet above sea level, the brochure said, but that was plenty high enough for me.
Carly unlocked the car door with shivery hands, and I fingered the shape of the key hole in my mind.
"Just wait 'till it snows," Carly told me. "You'll need a new coat for sure."
I looked around my new school. Snow would definitely improve the campus. Muddy paths crisscrossed the grass where students took shortcuts to classes. Squat evergreens with unlit Christmas lights were scattered across the central courtyard. The school buildings were red brick, one and two stories. The shapes all slid down my throat like jello squares, unremarkable, unoffensive. Nothing spectacular, but pleasant enough in an academic kind of way.
Or it would have been pleasant if I didn't suddenly feel so sick.
I lifted one of my boxes out of her trunk, and my stomach knotted itself tighter. Ugh, I sure hoped I wasn't getting the stomach flu or something. If I could find my room, my bathroom in particular, I'd feel safer. We walked slowly against the wind, toward the dorm that I had toured earlier. We were almost there when Carly's cell phone rang. She stopped to answer it.
"I'm sorry I'm not back yet," she said immediately, "Is Gracie doing okay?"
She waved me to go on, and it was freezing, so I went. Choate Hall was stenciled in the glass on the front door. Someone opened it from inside as I approached.
"Th- thanks!" I said.
"No problem, you must be the new girl on three! I'm Katie," she said in one breath. "I'm on three, too. I mean, I'm on three 'also,' you know, not three, two. I used to be on the second floor but the third is way better with the laundry and the kitchen and stuff."
"Oh," I responded, completely confused. "I'm Dara McMann." I set my box on the floor. I felt so nauseauted my vision was starting to swim.
Katie was trying to introduce me to a few other kids in the lobby, but their voices blended in with the TV show they were watching. A guy in the far corner came over to join us, tossing a banana peel in the trash.