I'm already in a foul mood and it doesn't help any when I'm called into the office first thing Tuesday morning. I sit there for over thirty minutes as our principal, Mr. Burns, lectures me about maintaining my GPA and how skipping school yesterday has now officially made me ineligible for valedictorian next year but maybe if I keep squeaky clean some scholarship committees will still look at me. He actually told me how I should be thinking long term. I had to hold back my laughter. It was sound advice really, but not for me. I don't need bells and whistles like being valedictorian; I just need to make it past October of next year. That'll be my graduation. I nod in all the right places and give him the appropriate answers but I must not be selling it because he still ends up scheduling another meeting for next week to check in on my progress before letting me go back to class.
"My interest is in the future; as I'm going to be spending the rest of my life there. Do you know who said that Ms. Blackwell?"
"Charles Kettering." I mumble as I slowly get up. He looks surprised and I'm sure I'm the only one of his student who understands the reference to the late inventor, yet I'm the one being punished. If only he understood that I'm not planning to live my life for the future; I have little interest in it. My life is now, in the present. It's all I'm guaranteed.
The hallways are empty since everyone's in class. I try to quiet my footsteps as they create an echo through the halls. I almost don't see her out of the corner of my eye but when I do, I stop immediately. She's at her locker and all alone for the first time today. I silently approach her, half of me afraid she's going to run like a skittish animal.
"Caroline." Startled, she looks up and grows instantly uncertain when she sees me. Her face is awash with guilt.
"Oh. Hi." I start to bristle.
"Oh hi? That's it? Caroline you just disappeared last night. We didn't even get to talk."
"I didn't think you'd want to talk to me at all after yesterday," she admits shamefully.
"Don't be stupid." I slide down the lockers and sit on the floor by her feet. She shuts her locker and joins me letting out a repentant sigh.
"I am so sorry Ellie." She turns her head and looks at me and I can see the penance in her eyes. "I screwed up everything. It's becoming a pattern lately, making bad choices." Suddenly I wonder if we're talking about more than her just her impulsive behavior yesterday.
"What happened last night Caroline?" She takes a breath.
"I panicked. Derrick told me what happened between the you two, how you said no." She suppresses a smile, obviously approving of that. "Then you didn't show up at school. I tried calling and calling, but there was no answer. I found out through friends that Jared never showed up at school either. I called him but he didn't answer and then I started to worry. I thought maybe you'd runaway with him, like you did before with Jackson." We did run away, but just for the day. She pauses for a breath but doesn't look at me as she continues; her voice is on automatic pilot, like she's speaking from a script. "And then I went to your house. Coco and I found your cellphone and backpack. Jared's dad called and I didn't know what to say so I told him you were probably together. Then he came over to your house and that made Coco frantic. She started to really believe that you actually had run away and that's when she called the police. I tried to talk her out of it but you know how she can be. I am so sorry Ellie. I really messed things up." How can I be mad at her for worrying about me? I put my arm around her.
"It's okay. I know you only did what you thought was best, but Caroline if I had left, runaway, you know it wouldn't have been because of you."
"Are you planning on running away again like before?" I shrug. I actually hadn't thought about it this time. I've run away in the past but it never helped. I'm always found.
"I'm not sure, but if I do you have to be able to let me go. You out of all people know why I'd be running." She closes her eyes and drops her head into her hands.
"I just thought you'd left without even saying anything, not even goodbye. I realized how much I needed you and I panicked."
"But you can't. If the time comes Caroline, you can't panic." She nods, pretending to understand me, but I still don't think she does.
"But you'd tell me right? Before you leave? If you leave." She's so desperate for confirmation and I give it to her even though, after yesterday, I doubt I would tell her anything. Caroline is dictated by her emotions and that can be dangerous. She still looks troubled.
"Is something else going on with you?" I'm concerned because with Caroline there is always something going on. There is so much I haven't told her about her own past lives. She shakes her head but she's lying. I can tell after years and years of being best friends with her, but I also know she won't tell me, not until she's ready. I put my arm around her and pull her over towards me. "You can always talk to me Caroline. I'm here for you." But even as I say it, I know she won't. She never has in the past.
"Now this is a pick-me-up to my day!" Caroline and I simultaneously look up and find Max sauntering towards us with a raunchy grin on his face. He looks so put together and polished. No one at this school looks like him. He dresses like a stylist put him together every morning. He even accessorizes. I look down at yet another pair of jeans that I'm wearing, feeling suddenly inferior. "Two beautiful girls caught in an embrace." I remove my arm from Caroline's shoulder. It suddenly feels dirty under Max's sleazy leer.
"That was not an embrace. It astounds me that someone with your reputation wouldn't know the difference Max." Caroline bites back at him.
"I think you'll remember that I know the difference quite well Caroline." I blush and turn away not wanting to be a part of the rehashing of their hook-up. I never asked how far it went and it occurs to me now that I probably should have.
"And how's my little convict?" Max interrupts my thoughts. "Did the police let you off with a warning?" I'm sure my mouth is hanging open. How did he hear? "Relax; it's a small school Ellie. Not much else is going on." That doesn't make me relax at all. I turn my attention back to Caroline.
"I better get back to Spanish. We'll talk at lunch?" I would hug her but it suddenly feels very creepy with Max standing there gawking at us. So instead I just squeeze her arm reassuring her that we we're fine.
"Wouldn't you know it; I'm heading that way too," Max says with a grin. I look down at Caroline and roll my eyes as I ignore him and head towards class. But Max is fast and persistent; he catches up with me before I've even turned the corner.
"So I hear you and your boyfriend got in a whole lot of trouble ." I continue to ignore him. "I heard that Jared's on virtual lockdown now, just the pool and the library." He shakes his head looking at me. "Boy, do you know how to take them down." He laughs cruelly. "Guess that'll mean a lot of lonely nights for you Ellie." I make a face at him; he's relentless. "I wonder if Jared knows or even cares about what you're giving up. How's your standing for valedictorian next year going?" I whip my head around to him.
"How'd you hear about that?" My voice is low, a menacing growl.
"I spend a lot of time in the office too," he gloats, not fazed at all by my reaction. "Seems kind of foolish don't you think Ellie? I mean, you're a smart girl and here you are giving up your whole future for some guy? I mean it's not like you have money to fall back on, so unless you plan on working at that little junk shop for the rest of your life, blowing your chances at some scholarships sounds pretty stupid to me." He seems to find my actions inexplicable, anyone would. They can't quite figure out why a smart girl like me isn't smart enough to worry about her own future. Even Coco has brought it up recently.
"I'll have you know Max that whatever decisions I make in my life, I make for me and me alone. I didn't do anything because of Jared. I'm in trouble because this has been happening for a while, it's nothing new. I know what I'm doing and I have my reasons, reasons that I understand and don't have to explain or justify to you." I leave him there as I swing open the door to Spanish class and stomp away from him in a huff.