“My schedule’s all wrong,” I said as the phone rang again, the row of red lights across it blinking. “I need to see a counselor.”
“Right, okay,” she said, grabbing the phone and holding one finger up at me, like she was pushing a pause button. “Hello, Guidance office. No, he’s not available now. Okay. Right, sure. Fine.” She hung the phone up, the cord wrapped around her wrist. “Now, what? You need a counselor?”
“I got the wrong schedule. I’m signed up for Band.”
“Band?” she blinked at me. “What’s wrong with Band?”
“Nothing,” I said as a kid carrying a clarinet case passed me, scowling. I lowered my voice. “Except I don’t play an instrument. I mean, I’ve never been in Band.”
“Well,” she said slowly as the phone rang again, “maybe it’s Introduction to Band. That’s the beginning level.”
“I never signed up for Band,” I said a little bit louder, just to be heard over the phone. “I don’t want to take it.”
“Fine, well, then write your name on this sheet,” she snapped, losing all patience whatsoever with debating the merits of musical training and grabbing the phone again in mid-ring. “We’ll get to you as soon as we can.”
I took a seat against the wall, under a shelf with a row of teenager-related books on it, with titles like Sharing Our Differences: Understanding Your Adolescent and Peer Pressure: Finding Your Own Way. My mother’s second book, Mixed Emotions: Mothers, Daughters, and the High School Years, was there too, which just put me in a worse mood. If I’d really felt like torturing myself, I could have picked it up and read again how good and strong our relationship was.
It was hot in the room, and everyone was talking too loud, crammed in together. A girl next to me was busy writing Die Die Die in all different colors on the cover of her notebook, a stack of Magic Markers beside her. I closed my eyes, thinking back to summer and cool pool water and long days with nothing to do except go swimming and sleep late.
I felt someone sit down beside me, leaning back against the wall close enough that their shoulder bumped mine. I pulled my arms across my chest, folding my knees against me. Then I felt a finger against my shoulder, poke poke poke. I opened my eyes, bracing myself for hours in Guidance Hell with Ginny Tabor.
But it wasn’t Ginny. It was Macon Faulkner, and he was grinning at me. “What’d you do?” he asked.
“What?” The Die Die Die girl had switched to the back cover, methodically filling letter after letter with green ink.
“What’d you do?” he said again, then gestured toward the front desk. “It’s only the first day and you’re already in trouble.”
“I am not,” I said. “My schedule’s messed up.”
“Oh, sure,” he said slowly, faking suspicion. He had on a baseball cap, his blond hair sticking out beneath, and a red T-shirt and jeans. He didn’t have a backpack, just one plain spiral notebook with a pen stuck in the binding. Macon Faulkner was definitely not the school type. “You’ve probably already gotten into a fight and been suspended.”
“No,” I said, and I don’t know if it was just the day I’d had or a sudden wave of Scarlett-like boldness, but I wasn’t nervous talking to him. “I got signed up for all the wrong classes.”
“Sure you did,” he said easily. He settled back against the wall. “Now, you know how to handle yourself in there, right?”
I looked at him. “What?”
“How to handle yourself,” He blinked at me. “Oh, please. You need big help. Okay, listen up. First, admit nothing. That’s the most important rule.”
“I’m not in trouble,” I told him.
“Second,” he said loudly, ignoring me, “try to divert them by mentioning anything about your therapist. For instance, say, ‘My therapist always says I have a problem with authority.’ Act real serious about it. Just the word ‘therapist’ will usually cut you some slack.”
I laughed. “Yeah, right.”
“It’s true. And if that doesn’t work, use the Jedi Mind Trick. But only if you really have to.”
“The Jedi Mind Trick.” He looked at me. “Didn’t you ever see Star Wars?”
I thought back. “Sure I did.”
“The Jedi Mind Trick is when you tell someone what you want them to think, and then they think it. Like, say I’m Mr. Mathers. And I say, ‘Macon, you’re already pushing the limits and it’s only the first day of school. Is this any kind of way to start the year?’ And you’re me. What do you say?”
I shook my head. “I have no idea.”
He rolled his eyes. “You say, ‘Mr. Mathers, you’re going to let this slide, because it’s only the first day, it was an honest mistake, and the fire got put out as quickly as it was started.”’
“The fire?” I said. “What fire?”
“The point is,” he said easily, flipping his hand, “that you just say that right back to him, very confidently. And then what does he say?”
“That you’re crazy?”
“No. He says, ‘Well, Macon, I’m going to let this slide because it’s only the first day, it was an honest mistake, and the fire got put out as quickly as it started.’”
I laughed. “He will not.”
“He will,” he said, nodding his head. “It’s the Jedi Mind Trick. Trust me.” And when he smiled at me, I almost did.
“I’m really not in trouble.” I handed him my schedule. “Unless that trick works on getting out of this stuff, I don’t think I can use it.”
He squinted at it. “Pre-calculus.” He looked up at me, raising his eyebrows. “Really?”
“No. I barely got through Algebra.”
He nodded at this; obviously we now had common ground. “French, P.E.... Hey, we’re in the same P.E, period.”
“Really?” Macon Faulkner and me, playing badminton. Learning golf strokes. Watching each other across a gymful of bouncing basketballs.
“Yep. Third period.” He kept reading, then reached up to take off his hat, shake his hair free, and put it back on backwards. “Science, English, blah, blah.... Oh! Looky here.”
I already knew what was coming.
“Band,” he said, smiling big. “You’re in Band.”