Cast of Thousands, Chapter 10
The children pushed and elbowed past each other in their haste to make it to class on time. A gaggle of perfectly groomed volleyball players swept past her, chirruping about the latest B2K album. Jessica dodged them and pressed on. She estimated that if she stopped by her locker and got the combination right on the first try and grabbed the right books without spilling the rest of the locker's contents across the hallway floor, she would have a whole minute left over to get from one classroom to the other. She hoped she could manage to only go to the bathroom before classes that did not require anything from her locker.
She managed to ride the current of students most of the way to her favorite class. She loved the art room. It was held in woodshop, so there were massive battered wooden tables with ancient vice grips at each corner and huge metal bases. The walls were lined with arcane power tools and dangerous metal- and wood-working equipment.
Occasionally an older student trying to make up an assignment would come in and use one during class, spitting sparks and wood shavings all over. If she squinted and ignored the sweet scent of sawdust, she could imagine she was looking at a medieval torture chamber.
Their current project was to design an oversized dollar bill, changing it in whatever way pleased them. Jessica was playing with different colors in her first draft, and she spent a happy hour coloring things in, humming to herself obliviously.
Before she knew it, the bell rang again, jolting her out of her reverie. Jessica sat back on her stool and reviewed her work. It was certainly vibrant with color, but as the hour had worn on she had gotten sloppy and ended up outside of the lines in several places. The effect was a little as if someone had drawn a dollar bill in a child's coloring book and let them at it.
"That's wonderful, Jessica. Very spontaneous and playful," the art teacher said on her way out of the classroom. Well, at least the art world approved of her messy drawing. She rolled it up to take home and work on later, and headed back out of the classroom.
P.E., in Jessica's opinion, was best forgotten. At least the weather had cooled down a little; running the mile in mid-afternoon in the September heat had been a grueling experience.
Now she sat in Chorus, one of her elective classes. She drummed her toes on the floor impatiently, waiting for the class to quiet down. The teacher didn't seem to care, wandering around in front of the class talking to individual students, signing things, searching for sheets of music and binders and an extra music stand.
Jessica wiggled in frustration. She had discovered that she really enjoyed singing, and she wanted it to hurry up and start already. The class made a horrible enough din together, but it was loud enough that she could close her eyes and let go, singing out without inhibitions. It made her feel clean and calm inside, like she could speak out about anything, like she could create beautiful music without any instruments.
She had begun to occupy herself with an elaborate fantasy of becoming an operatic star and performing in front of thousands, when she heard her name.
"Jeeeeeessica...." someone behind her was calling softly. "Jeeeessicaaaaa...."
She turned around, but nobody seemed to be trying to get her attention. Maybe she was mishearing them.
Jess turned back and begun dreaming again.
"Jessssssicaaaa! Oh, Jessica!"
She turned around more quickly and saw the three girls behind her exchanging a look and giggling.
She sighed to herself and turned back to the front, trying with all her might to ignore them.
The call came several more times, with increasing insistence, but Jessica was busy performing the starring role in "Phantom of the Opera" and barely heard them. Finally one of them kicked her chair sharply. "Hey! Jessica!"
She gave in and turned around, only to be met with three barely contained looks of total innocence. "What?" one of the girls said. "Why are you looking at us?"
"Oh my god, that's SO mature, you guys," Jessica said sarcastically. "YOU'RE not in third grade or anything."
They spluttered in fake indignation. "What? What are you talking about? That's so mean!"
"Whatever," Jessica said crossly, turning back around.
Silence reigned for a few minutes, as much as it could in the noisy and crowded music room. Jessica tried to return to her fantasies, but found that she couldn't stop listening for the next word from the three girls. She sighed shortly and turned her attention to examining the subtle pattern of colors in the thin and battered harvest-gold carpeting. She attempted to dig the toe of her sandal into it to determine whether it was made of plastic or just some brutally tough fiber. Below the raked steps on which their folding chairs were arranged, the teacher fluttered around distractedly like some extravagant bird.
Finally, she felt a gentle movement at the end of her ponytail. She concentrated on it, and felt a slight tugging on her hair. Suddenly she whipped around and, borrowing a trick of Kelly's, looked shocked and horrified and hissed, "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?"
The girls froze, one with her arm still outstretched.
Finally one of them blustered, "I don't know what you're talking about!"
"Yeah! How rude!" another one added.
"Yeah, we weren't even talking to you!" the third added, withdrawing her hand.
"Oh!!" Jessica said exasperatedly, turning away.