It’s not really an excuse, but aside from art, my classes bored me stiff, even Spanish. The teacher had such a horrible accent, I could hardly understand whether he was speaking English or Spanish at any given moment. Angelica and Natalie kept walking to school with me. At first it shocked me when they talked about skipping classes. I mean, they were in the illustrious IB program, not the drivel I had to slog through every day.
But there was a mall near the school, and eventually I went along with them, partly because they offered to help me buy makeup and get my nails done properly. Mom’s never been into that stuff. She and Dad would rather hike a mountain than go to a formal dinner, though they don’t do either now. He’s always at work. But I was woefully ignorant of girly things.
Nail polish was my gateway drug.
See? I may not be in AP classes anymore, but I still plan on college, if I live that long.
Anyway, that first time I went to the mall with them, they showed me posters of French and American manicures and they debated which was better. Angelica acted like I was someone special when I agreed with her that the American manicure looked better. It was more natural-looking. We got a kit to do an American manicure, two different emery boards and a pair of cuticle scissors, mascara, eyeliner, and eye shadow that they said would really make my eyes pop, by which I figured out they meant my eyes would stand out more with the makeup. By the time we had it all in the basket, I realized I hadn’t brought enough cash. It was embarrassing, but I admitted I hadn’t realized how much I’d need. Natalie offered to put the American manicure kit back on the shelf and pick up a clear polish, since I liked the natural look.
We got home about the same time we’d get there if we’d been in classes all day. We dropped by my house long enough to tell my mom that we’d made it back to the gated community safely. I dropped off my pack. We’d put all my stuff into Angelica’s bag—I’d have to keep it at her house or my mother would want to know when and where I’d gotten it. I couldn’t very well tell her I ditched school. We all went to Angelica’s house to do our manicures. Angelica had some of the stuff we needed, but they used what I’d bought, too.
When our nails were all shaped and ready for polish, Natalie got this devious smile on her face and said to wait, while she opened her pack. She pulled out the American manicure kit.
“You went ahead and bought it?” I asked. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Of course I didn’t have to buy it. I just put it into my pack.”
“You stole it?”
“It was overpriced.”
If I’d said I wanted no part of it and gone home that day, I would have lost the only people I talked to outside of school. Looking back, that sure would have been the better choice. But I really liked the way those nails looked, so I went along with them and let them do my nails with the stolen kit. So I guess my Gateway drug wasn’t really nail polish, it was the whole kit.
“The only people I talked to outside of school.” You notice I didn’t call them my only friends outside of school? Of course I am writing this with hindsight—I know now they were not my friends—but even back then, on some level I knew they were simply entertaining themselves with me. I thought that meant they were helping the little country bumpkin learn city ways. That would have inferred that they liked me, but they didn’t. They proved that, alright, but not until December.
Through the fall, I went back and forth within myself about the shoplifting. I mean, I used the kit, so did that make me just as guilty as Natalie? I avoided most of their trips to the mall, saying a teacher had called home and my parents were suspicious of my explanation. Having invented this phone call, I then had to invent an explanation. So I said I’d told my parents I had a crush on a boy and had been so upset seeing him locking lips with a girl on the way into art class, and that I had hidden in the bathroom to compose myself.
Angelica and Natalie considered my imaginary excuse to be brilliant and cursed the teacher for being a busy-body who’d call home if I missed class. Other teachers didn’t do that. I blamed Mr. Bonhomme’s artistic nature for caring too much.
In reality, he rarely took attendance. I was more concerned one of the other teachers might say something if I was absent too often, though that was probably me being paranoid. The classes I was in had so many losers in them that a quarter of the seats were empty most days. I doubted any teacher phone calls home for absent students. But Angelica and Natalie bought the excuse. That was all that mattered. We still walked to school together, and often I’d run into them on the way home.
And they still asked me to go to the mall with them, maybe when there was a sub in art.
I thought they liked me.
The Incident is contemporary YA (Young Adult). Following time-honored tradition, I’m publishing it here in installments. To be alerted when the next segment goes online, “follow” this blog. The entire story will be published here. You are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to publish the story elsewhere. Thank you.