New School

New School

A Story by Courtney

New School

                “It’ll be fine,” my mother tells me. “You’ll make all kinds of friends in your new school. It’s not long until summer break, and we’ll be living in town, near the other kids.” She sounded tired, pleading for me to give this just one chance. Toying with my oatmeal, I avoided her pleading stare. I was ten, and didn’t want to go to this new school, or even make new friends. I just wanted the old ones back.

            “But mom, why did we have to move? I had friends, and I liked my old school,” I whined. I still hoped we’d go back, though I knew in my heart, that Ohio was gone forever. The look my mother gave me warned me to be quiet, and that she was fed up with my complaints.

            The place we had just moved to was an apartment, not a house, and it seemed tiny with all the boxes still waiting to be unpacked. The twins and I had to share a room, and that sucked wide. I wanted my old bedroom back, with its’ sponged blue and pink walls, the stained gray carpet, and the privacy.

            My mother stomps out of the kitchen to break up another fight between the twins, and I listen from the kitchen, glad they weren’t fighting me for once. I couldn’t eat. The oatmeal she had made was slimy, and no amount of sugar could change the texture. I slipped away from the counter and scraped my bowl in the trash.

            I picked up my backpack, and sat on one of the unpacked boxes, staring at the pale blue bag. It was the same backpack I had carried through the Indian Springs School in Ohio, and the fear I felt redoubled until I thought I would be sick. Too soon, my mother came down with the boys, and we all went out to the big, ugly brown van my dad had bought as a moving present for her.

            My stomach churned relentlessly as the van crawled up a steep hill, and the school appeared suddenly at the top. My ears started ringing so loud I couldn’t think. I stared at my new school, feeling another surge of panic. It was tiny, with dirty brownish-red bricks and dark windows. Suddenly, the ringing in my ears relented, and wild thoughts flew through my mind, firing off like sparks in the dark. I thought of refusing to get out of the van, or maybe if I just fell to the ground and started screaming, my mother wouldn’t make me go inside. I wanted to, but what good would it do? There was still tomorrow, and the day after that. Resigned, I kept quiet though my mind was screaming the whole time.

            My mother took my hand and led me into the tiny schoolhouse. Just inside the door was a reception desk with a glass partition dividing the hall and the office. I stayed behind my mom as she spoke with the receptionist. The floors were worn and yellowed, flecked with nasty brown and gray spots. The walls were whitewashed cinderblock, and the windows had a wire mesh on them. Overall, it looked like some sort of jailhouse, and the screaming alarm in my head grew louder. I gritted my teeth and tried to imagine my place, the wind in the trees, and the small stream nearby whispering secrets to me. But it wasn’t my place anymore, and I would never see it again. My parents had sold it with the house, and now I was lost in this strange, unfriendly world.

            A lady with big hair and mean lines on her face came out of the office.

            “Hello there. What’s your name?” she asked me in a high false voice, a big, insincere grin splitting her soft, doughy face. I turned away from her to bury my face in my mother’s hip, silently pleading with her not to leave me here. But she did anyways. The lady took my hand as my mother left, as if she knew I was thinking of running after her. She had bony fingers that were like a vice, and I imagined she would pinch me if I were bad. I tried to tug my hand free, but she kept her hold on me, squeezing until the bones in my hand ground together. She pulled me towards a set of dirty steps, one set led up, the other went down. I was hoping we would go up, but instead we went down, where the lights were dim and yellow, and there were no windows to let in the sun. The bathrooms were at the bottom of the steps, and I saw four classrooms, their doors standing open. Only four.

            “This is the fourth grade,” the lady tells me. “Upstairs is the fifth grade. There is the bathroom, and this is your classroom.” She pulls me inside, and I think of a wolf spider, dragging its prey into its’ underground lair. I shuffle my feet until she is all but dragging me along. There are already several students there, maybe fourteen all told, sitting at the scarred desks. They all turn to look at me, and I suddenly feel hot, my mouth impossibly dry. I am at least able to pull my sweaty hand free of the woman’s viselike grip.

            The teacher seems to have been waiting for me. She stands up from her desk with a wide smile, beckoning me to the front of the room. Though she is pretty, her eyes are cold as she moves to lead me in front of the class.

            “Everyone, we have a new student today,” she says, putting her arm around me. I feel my spine stiffen at the unwelcome familiarity of her touch. “Tell us your name, and a little bit about yourself,” she instructs me, and I blanch. Apparently, this was the entire class. So few. My old class had been at least three times this size, and the teacher had been kind, with a smiling mouth and warm hazel eyes. She had given me a new book when I had left, and the whole class had thrown a going-away party for me. Suddenly, I missed them so much it brought tears to my eyes.

            “I’m Courtney, and I came from Ohio,” I manage to say, my voice scratching in my dry throat. The entire class is silent, waiting for me to say more. I don’t want to say anymore because of all the unfriendly eyes watching me. Finally, the teacher steps up next to me and puts her hand on my shoulder.

            “We are all very glad you could join us, Courtney. Just take a seat there, and we’ll introduce ourselves to you.” She is pointing at a desk in the front row, directly in front of the blackboard. I ignore her and move to the very back row, where I was safer from the cold scrutiny of these new classmates. She looks like she is going to argue and make me sit in front, but she doesn’t, and I blow out a sigh of relief.

            I daydream as the teacher introduces herself, then the rest of the class. I think of my table in my old class, of Joseph, Michelle, and Thomas. The class I had been in was a mix of 4th and 5th grade, a sort of in-between. Michelle had been a fifth grader, quiet and sometimes dim, but very likable. Joseph was a fourth grader, and he had played the violin in strings class with me. I had loved the way his mouth quirked up on one side when he talked to me. Thomas had been a fifth grader, too, but he had trouble reading, so I had always helped him. I wondered what they were doing now, my group, and if Joseph had found a new girl to smile at, or if Thomas had found someone else to read for him.

            The teacher is handing out an assignment. “We’re starting a new lesson today,” she says. I look at the paper and groan to myself. Dinosaurs. We had studied dinosaurs in the first week of school in my old class. I had learned about brontosaurs, t-rexes, and triceratops already.

            “My dad says there’s no dinosaurs because God made people,” a girl with shiny brown hair growing to her waist spoke up. I stared at the back of her head in wonder. That was the stupidest thing I had ever heard, and growing up with the twins, I had heard a lot of stupid things. Was I doomed to spend the next decade with a tiny group of idiots?
            The assignment is to write a story about finding a dinosaur skeleton. That’s okay, I like writing. I rub my pencil between my fingers as I thought about what I wanted to write. The one thing that stuck out in my mind was something my father had told us about on the long drive here. A wooly mammoth had been discovered frozen in ice, thousands of years old, and still intact. Now that was cool, something worth writing about. The words flowed smoothly from my mind onto the paper in front of me. I had to use more paper because there wasn’t enough room for me to finish on the first page. I ignored the fidgeting and rustling around me, and kept on writing. Finally, the teacher asked us to stop writing and share our stories. I look up, and realize I am the only one still writing. She tells me to go first. I don’t want to, but I do anyways.

            “On Saturday, on my way home from school…” I began. At once, there was a flurry of talking among my new classmates.

            “You had to go to school on a Saturday?” one boy asks, incredulous.

            “No, I didn’t,” I reply, “but there are some schools that do. It’s just a story.” There comes another flurry of questions and protests, but I ignore them and continue. When I finish, the teacher stares at me for a long moment before speaking. I cannot read the expression on her face.

            “I asked you to write about dinosaurs. You wrote about a wooly mammoth. A wooly mammoth is not a dinosaur,” she informed me, and I flushed hotly as the classroom erupted into titters.

            “I know,” I snapped, irritated. Everyone knows wooly mammoths are not dinosaurs- they had hair!

“Why didn’t you follow my instructions,“ she asked me.                     

“I’ve already studied dinosaurs. I want to learn about the Ice Age,” I told her, trying to imitate my mother’s cool disdain. The teacher gives me an odd look, and calls for recess. I can tell she wants to talk to me, but I crumple up the pages I had written and drop them in the trash as I slip out ahead of the others to find my way outside. The school is so small, I don’t have any trouble at all. In my old school, there used to be hall monitors to lead us to our classrooms, least we got lost in the grand halls. There were even signs that showed you where the exits were.

            The sunlight is a comfort, but it doesn’t warm the chill that had settled deep in my bones. My hands stop shaking, though, and I breathe deeply, drawing in the green scent of the nearby woods. There is a tiny playground with a bright orange slide, a set of swings and a hanging tire, but they are all crowded with groups of unfamiliar children. I go to sit near the woods, to listen to the wind in the trees, the one familiar thing in this uncaring place. I pick leaves and sticks and begin to build one of the fairy houses me and my best friends, Christy and Carrie used to build in Ohio, in the woods behind the house where I used to live.

            “Hey you- new girl!” someone yells, and I ignore them. Something hard smacks me on the side of the head, causing a flash of bright white pain before my eyes. I look up to see a group of boys nearby, throwing gravel at me. Little pieces of rock bite my bare arms and sting my neck. I duck my head over the little house, trying to ignore them as they come closer.

“What are you doing?” one asks, his voice shrill and pushy. Another kicks down the little house under my hands. I jump up and clench my fists.

“Leave me alone!” I shout at them, but they only laugh when my eyes fill with tears.

“Ooh, what’re ya gonna do, ball on us?” one of them taunted me, poking my arm with a finger. The others laughed, adding their own idiotic comments and shoving me back and forth. With a scream of rage, I jumped at the one who had kicked down the fairy house. He stepped out of the way and gave me a shove, and I went sprawling on my belly in the grass. The following burst of laughter sliced into me like hot knives.

I couldn’t control sobs that tore from my throat as I pushed myself to my feet. Pushing past my tormenters, I hurried into the trees, murmuring comforts to myself.

“You’re not allowed to go in there,” one of the boys called after me. I see a deadfall, a mound of brush and leaves to crouch behind, out of sight, but not out of hearing.

“What is she doing, anyways?” another one asks.

“She’s talking to the trees,” another snickered.

“What- do they talk back to you, crazy girl?” Another burst of laughter, and then they were moving away. I stayed where I was, frozen behind the deadfall.

“Why can’t they just leave us alone?” I whispered to myself. “They’re just stupid kids,” I reassured myself, “we should feel sorry for them.” I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to stop the tears from flowing down my face. They were hot. How can my tears be hot when I’m so cold inside?

“Hey!” someone calls, and it isn’t one of those jerks, it’s a grown-up’s voice. “You’re not allowed in the woods. Come out here where I can see you!” Hastily, I try to wipe the tears from my face as I step out of the woods, but more kept coming. There are leaves and sticks caught in my hair, and my knees are dirty and damp from the bare earth. There’s a woman waiting for me at the edge of the woods, and behind her, the group of boys stand clustered together, grinning at me. I want to go home, but I don’t know where home is anymore. My family lives in an apartment now, and I couldn’t bring myself to think of it as home; it smelled like other people, not us.

The woman grabs my arm and marches me back inside. I don’t want to be in that cold place; it feels a lot like the icy knot in the pit of my stomach. I wanted to be in the sun with the wind in my hair the smell of earth in my nose, and the trees whispering secrets to me. Only I can’t understand the trees here; they don’t whisper the same as the ones in Ohio did.

I start shanking again when I see she is taking me to the principal’s office. In four years at my old school, I had never even met the principal, and here I was being marched into his office on my very first day. She pushes me inside, and tells him I had run off in the woods, then leaves. The principal has silvery-white hair, blue eyes, and a stuffy dress suit, like the one my dad wore.

“I didn’t run off,” I told him when he gestured for me to sit down and fussed with some papers. I sat, running my fingers through my curls to shake out some of the leaves and sticks.

“I don’t know what it was like where you came from,” he began, as if I had come from a land far, far away. Though, it might as well have been, when I compared it to this hiccup of a town. “-not allowed in the woods here,” the principal was saying when I pulled my focus back to him. As if I hadn’t been able to figure that out for myself! He smiled at me then and I decided that he really didn’t seem as bad as the others I had met today; at least his eyes were kind as he passed me a tissue. “You need to stay on the playground where Connie can see you,” he explained in a gentle tone. “Will you promise not to go in the woods anymore?” he asked. With some reluctance, I nodded and wiped the tears from my cheeks.

“So what do you think of your new school so far?” he asked. I blinked at him for a moment, trying to keep the tears back, but they flowed down my cheeks anyways. I wanted to tell him his school sucks, that it is dirty and the kids are unkind, but I don’t.

“It’s nice,” I choked. “I just miss my old school.” He hands me another tissue.

“Just give it some time. I’m sure you will come to love it here,” he reassured me. “Why don’t I take you to the bathroom so you can wash your face, and I’ll walk you back to your classroom?” he suggested. I stared at him for a long moment.

“I’m sure I can find my way, thanks,” I said. There was a back door that opened up on the playground. Maybe I could sneak out and wait in the woods until the school buses came.

“Nonetheless,” he said, smiling at me as he rose and came around his desk. I kept my eyes glued to the floor in front of me as he led me to the bathroom. I puttered around, flushing the toilet and running water in the sink, hoping he would just leave. When I finally emerged, he gave me another indulgent smile, then took my hand and led me back to my classroom.

Everyone was already there, coloring paper dinosaurs. The teacher came to the door and took my hand from the principal. I felt like a dog on a leash. A bad dog. She leads me to my desk and hands me a box of crayons and a paper with a smiling brontosaurus on it. ‘Since when do dinosaurs smile?’ I wondered, scowling as I arranged my crayons on the desktop. The surface is uneven, and they won’t stay in place, so I put them back in the box. I color the head of the dinosaur black so I couldn’t see it smiling at me, and then colored the eyes red. The body was huge, taking up most of the paper, blank and undetailed. I started coloring it with a pretty blue crayon, but the desktop was so scarred, it scrapes the crayon and leaves dark bumps of wax where it should have been smooth and uniform. Annoyed, I slid the paper on top of a book, and selected a different crayon to try and fix the bumpy section.

When I finish, the picture is a truly ugly thing, so I draw purple grass at its feet, a green sky over its head and a blue sun in the top corner. The teacher asks us to hang our pictures around the room. One of the boys dumps an entire bottle of glue onto the back of his, and then sticks it to the bookshelf. While the teacher is trying to get it off without ruining the picture, another boy started hollering. He had stapled two of his fingers together, and was dancing around in front of the teacher’s desk, howling, his face red, with fat tears dripping off his chin.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” I say out loud. “What a bunch of idiots.” A girl nearby shoots me a dirty look and then gathers a bunch of her friends. I can hear them laughing together, and feel their disdainful glances on my back as I crumple up my picture and toss it in the trash.

Finally, it’s lunchtime. I want to be outside, but I don’t want to be near any of them. I take the book my old teacher had given me and settled on the edge of the playground, near the parking lot. Hungrily, I read her kind inscription on the inside cover, missing her so much I thought I might choke. Would I ever fit in with these kids? Was there a friend for me among so few hostile faces?



© 2015 Courtney

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sounds like the making of a good book,and the theme is great it is hard to pull up stakes and move
sometimes or most of the time the children has no idea

Posted 6 Years Ago

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Added on April 17, 2015
Last Updated on April 17, 2015
Tags: new, school, courtney, hurd, short story



Platteville, WI