When her alarm clock ignited with piercing unfriendliness a few minutes past 6 A.M., Brin didn’t hit the snooze button. She sat up, shook her head in frustration, and swung her pillow at the clock. When it smashed against the bathroom door, her cat jumped off her tower and investigated the loud noise.
“Did I break it, Cleo?”
The petite cat, no longer a kitten, didn’t answer her. Instead, she yawned, curled up into a ball, and fell back to sleep.
“You’re a big help,” Brin said, rolling out of bed and crawling past her cat to the bathroom. She turned on the light and peered up at the shower door. She wanted to cry.
It was official. Winter vacation was over. School was back in session. She was to unhappily welcome five more miserable months of suffering, through English with the dreadful Ms. Beedle, through French with the nasty Mr. Jickling, and through Algebra 3-4 with the inaptly named Mrs. Hugs.
However, she knew this was the semester that mattered, the one before senior year, the one where her grades would actually make a difference when she applied to colleges next fall. She couldn’t slack off. She couldn’t skate by with a modicum of interest. As her mom kept insisting, Brin had to focus.
Thank God for Intro to Film, she thought.
As Brin pressed her feet against the shower door and rested her head against the cabinet under the towels, she reached up to the sink to grab her cell phone, which had been charging most of the night. She scanned through her Contact List and tapped the appropriate button.
Her buddy answered right away. “Hello?” The male voice on the other end sounded more tired and miserable than she.
“Hey. You awake?”
“I am now.”
“What do you say we ditch?” Brin said, sitting Indian style on the cold bathroom floor. “Nobody ditches on the first day back.”
“Yeah, because the first day back is easy.” She could tell he was getting out of bed, because she could hear his dog Sam begging for food in the background.
“I still think we should ditch, Ash. It’s not the worst idea I’ve ever come up with.”
“No,” he said. “There’s a silver lining at school today, and you know exactly what that is.”
She sighed. “I know what that is.”
It had been something Brin, and especially Ash, had been waiting for with great anticipation since the class was introduced last year at Grisly High. It was a class only for juniors and seniors, so last year they had to wait. But now Brin and Ash were signed in, sworn in, and in the system, ready to enjoy the semester-long Intro to Film.
“What do you think he’s gonna show first?”
“I don’t know, Ash.”
“Citizen Kane? That would seem the obvious choice.”
“I don’t know.”
“Or Gone With the Wind? No, that one’s too long. It would take us more than a week to finish it.”
“We’ll find out later today,” she said.
Brin could tell Ash was smiling on the other end. “So you’re not gonna ditch?”
She shook her head. “I guess not. I’ll see you soon.”
Brin hung up the phone, awkwardly stood up, and peered at her pale disaster of a face in the mirror. She leaned forward, noticing a small pimple above her left eyebrow. She promptly squeezed it.
She ran her hand through her long, black, laughably messy hair, and cracked her neck, twice. She brushed her teeth with impressive speed.
“Today is going to be a great day,” she said to herself, her mouth full of Colgate Whitening.
She promptly laughed and spit out the toothpaste.
“Who am I kidding? It’s going to be a terrible day!”
Brin stepped into the shower and waited more than two minutes for the water to turn warm.
“Couldn’t you put at least a little make-up on?” Brin’s mother Tessa asked as Brin stepped into the kitchen. It was too dark inside. Brin turned on an extra light.
“Mom, I look fine.”
“You look fine. But you could look better. With just a little—”
Brin shook her head. “I’m not gonna be Miss Nevada, Mom. No matter how much you want me to be.”
She took some scrambled eggs from the pan, along with a slice of plain toast. She poured herself some orange juice and took a sip.
Her mom was eating a bowl of Special K. Thin and pretty, with short brunette hair and plump red lips, Brin’s forty-nine-year-old mom looked remarkably young for her age. “You’re a beautiful girl, honey. You could really turn heads if you only—”
“I’m not interested in dating anyone, Mom. How many times do you I have to tell you?”
Tessa shook her head. “It’s not normal for a girl your age to not be interested in boys!”
“I’ll date guys when I’m older. When I’m in college. When the boys aren’t selfish and stupid pricks like they are at Grisly High.”
“Honey, are you a lesbian?”
Brin stared at her mother in shock. The woman was serious. “What? Mom, no—”
“It’d be OK if you were—”
“Mom.” Brin wanted to scream. “I’m not gay. I just… I don’t need a guy to take care of me. I don’t need a guy to make me feel complete! I’m happy being single. Can’t I just focus on myself right now?”
“There must be someone at your school who you think is cute.”
Brin tossed her knife loudly on the table. Clearly her mom wasn’t getting the point. “Can I just eat my breakfast? Please?”
Tessa took a sip of coffee and turned away from her daughter.
They continued to eat. Brin perused the newspaper, which was extra slim on this overcast Monday morning.
“It’s a big week, this week,” Tessa said, after a few minutes of quiet.
“I know,” Brin said. “First week back at school.”
“That’s not what I was referring to.”
Brin stared at her mother. She didn’t know what she was talking about.
“This Saturday, your grandparents are coming in. To help us pay our respects.”
Oh, Brin thought.
Brin stood up from the table and tossed her plate into the dishwasher.
“If your father was here, he would—”
“Can we talk about this later?” Brin turned away from her mother, who looked uncomfortably on the verge of tears. “Can I just go to school? Try to enjoy my week?”
“We need to talk about it, Brin. I know how you must be feeling.”
“You’re not fine. I’m not fine, either. It’s OK.”
Brin grabbed her backpack and headed out the front door. “I’ll see you later.”
Her mother didn’t respond. If she did, Brin didn’t hear her. Brin needed to get out of there. She needed to get to school, to find normalcy, even just for a few hours.
She tried to hold back tears as she pulled out of the driveway and sped down the wide neighborhood street.
“I miss you, Dad,” she said to herself. “I really, really miss you.”
The tiny town of Grisly rests between Reno and Carson City in Northern Nevada, and is only five miles away from the famed Virginia City. It’s not the size of the biggest little city in the world, nor the size of the state’s capital, but Grisly is populated enough to feature its own set of schools, two supermarkets, and a post office It has a handful of bars—one gay—and a two-screen movie theatre that is far more intimate than any of Reno’s sketchy multiplexes. The high school, only four years old, is so modernized and well regarded that some of Reno and Carson City’s youth have sneaked their way past their district regulations in order to attend. Not only does Grisly High feature Northern Nevada’s first-ever film class, but it also has yoga, Pilates, photography, ceramics, and a women’s fiction class specifically designed for young feminists.
As Brin pulled up to the student parking lot, she noticed her friend Ash a few stalls down trying to scrub the frost off the windshield of his black Volkswagon Beetle.
She laughed, stepped out into the cold, and tiptoed toward him. She crept up to him so quietly he didn’t notice her presence.
“Hey dork!” she shouted.
Ash screamed like a little girl and fell to his knees. He darted his angry eyes up at Brin.
“Ha-ha,” she said. “Scared you.”
“That wasn’t funny.”
“What the hell are you doing scrubbing the snow off your windshield?”
She pulled him up off the ground. He tried wiping the snow off his butt, but to no avail. “Because I couldn’t see out of it, stupid.”
Brin stared at him perplexed. “So how did you get here?”
He smiled, boastfully. “I was a cautious driver.”
She rolled her eyes and tugged on his shoulder. “Come on. Class starts in three minutes.”
“I have P.E.”
“Oh, your favorite.”
He slugged her playfully on her side. An inch shorter than Brin, Ash had short brown hair, tan skin, a freckled face, and a mole on his right cheek. He was a cute in a dorky sort of way, and he liked women, even though his feminine car suggested otherwise.
“What do you have first?” Ash said.
“Oh, that sucks. Why are you still in a foreign language class?”
“I don’t really know anymore.”
“Je ne sais pas?”
Brin didn’t laugh at his horrible French. She just nodded.
The two buddies, who had known each other since kindergarten, made their way up the ten large steps to the front entrance of the school.
“What do you have sixth period?” Ash couldn’t contain his enthusiasm.
“You know what I have, smart-ass. It’s with you.”
“Could it be Intro to Film?”
Brin nodded. “There’s a good chance.”
“Oh my God, I’m so excited!” Ash danced down the hallway for a moment, even though the bell was about to ring and they would both be tardy in due time. The dance brought his shoulders down to the floor and his butt high up in the air. Ash wasn’t just excited for the film class; he apparently wanted to marry it.
“Therapy,” Brin said with a laugh. “You need lots and lots of therapy.”
When the bell above them rang loud enough to burst their tender eardrums, they waved good-bye to each other and ran toward their first period classes.
Brin departed her Algebra class after fifth period feeling like she had been pummeled through a pinball machine for most of the rigorous school day. She already had at least two hours of homework to look forward to, which included over thirty math problems and the memorization of a Shakespeare sonnet.
As she made her way down the hall, seeing Ash jumping up and down in excitement, she realized, however, that the strains of the day had been worth it, just to make it to this moment.
Brin and Ash were movie buffs, no doubt about it, Ash to a more obsessive extent, but Brin obsessive just the same. Their tastes in films differed; she detested horror and science fiction, while Ash worshiped them. She preferred screwball comedies and talky independent films, while Ash didn’t much care for them. Their tastes collided, thankfully, with the classics of the fifties and sixties, particularly any titles with her favorite film star, Audrey Hepburn. They both enjoyed older films a lot and found themselves some nights watching Billy Wilder double features. The two were adventurous film buffs, willing to try almost anything, even old foreign movies. Since the fourth grade they had been watching movies at Ash’s house almost every Friday night.
“We could watch Vertigo,” Ash said, meeting up with Brin in the hallway.
“I don’t want to watch anything scary,” Brin said.
“Hitchcock isn’t scary, Brin! His movies are fun! And they’re essential if you love movies. If you can handle Wait Until Dark with Ms. Hepburn, you can handle an Alfred Hitchcock movie.”
“Maybe. Vertigo is the one where he has a fear of heights, right?”
“Yes. I’ve seen it twenty times.”
Her eyebrows rose. “Your infatuation with Alfred Hitchcock amazes me. After twenty times how could you possibly want to watch it again?”
“So I can watch you watch it.”
She glared at the boy. “That sounds scarier than watching the actual movie.”
Brin and Ash made their way toward Classroom 220. They smiled at each other when they reached the end of the hallway.
“You ready?” Brin said.
“Born ready,” Ash said. “This better not be a bust.”
“I know, right?”
“If it is, I’m kidnapping this teacher, and I’m gonna teach the class.”
She smiled and shook her head. “Come on, smart-ass.”
Brin entered the classroom, turned sharply to her left, and screamed.