Janet, Ramona and Bunny ride the bus together, meeting Ramona’s brother, Diego, at the bus loop.
All Diego’s friends were under strict rules, they couldn’t touch the girls. Flirting was okay, hitting on was acceptable, to an extent, but no touching. They touched, they got the hell beaten out of them. Diego had a reputation of being the toughest guy in school. He wasn’t all that huge, there were guys plenty bigger, who were terrified of him. But he was a swimmer, a boxer and a wrestler. He’d worked hard all his life, and had muscles most guys were jealous of and girls drooled over.
Janet had heard some older women commenting about him once and one lady said he was an Adonis. Janet didn’t know the word, but she went home and looked it up. She had to agree with the description. He was very handsome, almost godlike, with his dusky Latin looks.
Older girls watched as Diego and his buddies walked Ramona and the others to the auditorium for the opening assembly. Here, all their names would be read off by the assistant principal, and they’d go to their first class. In that home room, they would get their class schedules.
“You gotta sit in the sophomore section,” Diego told them, pointing to the right of center. “We sit in the senior section.” He and his friends whooped, doing complicated handshakes.
The girls found seats together and sat down. Janet watched as Diego and his buddies walked to the front row of the center section and made the boys there move so they could sit down. That would be their spot the rest of the year. No one would take it now that he’d claimed it.
“No guy is gonna want to ask me out,” Ramona whined. “Why does he have to be like that? I’ve got the right to date who I want.”
“I think it’s sweet,” Bunny said, gazing at Diego. “And he’s so dreamy….”
“Stop that!” Ramona socked her. “He’s my brother! You just keep those Betty Thoughts to yourself.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“She means don’t be thinking you’re going to seduce Diego,” Janet said with a toss of her head. “Because he won’t look at you twice. You’re like his little sister.” She voiced what she was thinking about herself. She hadn’t realized until today how fond she was of Ramona’s older brother. She was off limits, his baby sister’s best friend. She didn’t have a chance.
The principal walked on the stage to polite applause. He gave his usual first day speech. Mr. Harper was a pretty cool guy. He was nice and he was fair. Most of the students got along well with him, unless they got on his bad side.
Mr. Patrick, the assistant principal, was the opposite. He was mean and rude, especially to the Mexican and Indian kids. He was also kind of dumb. He always mispronounced a bunch of student names when he read them off. He made mistakes with class assignments too, so the counselors would be busy for the next week, fixing his errors.
Ramona’s name was read as “Ramon A. Hernandez.” She’d been assigned boy’s PE as her first class. Mortified, she went to the office to wait her turn to get that changed to girl’s PE.
Bunny Mason was called Benny and sent to health class. Finally, it was Janet’s turn.
“Janet Yarsky,” he said, butchering her last name.
At least he hadn’t sent her somewhere embarrassing. She had to admit that Yarkowsky wasn’t the easiest name and he hadn’t done too badly. She followed her teacher to English class. That was her favorite subject. In fact, she hoped one day to be an English teacher.
The young male teacher leading the group looked like he’d be fun. He was dressed in the weirdest combination of clothing she’d ever seen. His pants were wide stripes of mustard yellow and maroon. His pullover sweater was an ugly green that reminded Janet of pond scum. The shirt was pale blue and his tie was several shades of brown. His chestnut hair was in kind of a shaggy, Beatles cut and his blue eyes sparkled with happy enthusiasm. They got to the classroom and found seats. Fortunately, some of her friends were in the class.
“Hi, I’m Mr. Whitmore and this is Tenth Grade English. In here, we’ll study literature and writing. I’m the debate coach, so we’ll be giving that a try too. Maybe some of you will find out you’d like to argue.”
“I love to argue,” one big guy up front said with a grin. He waved his fists around.
Mr. Whitmore laughed. “Not that kind of arguing. Organized debate is more civilized.”
The big guy snorted, shrugging.
“It’s easy to cut a man down with your fists,” Mr. Whitmore said quietly. “It’s a lot harder to take him down with your words. In here, you’ll learn to verbally spar.”
The rest of the morning went pretty well. Janet had a couple of classes with Ramona and Bunny, then it was lunch time. In the cafeteria, the students had unofficial areas they sat in. The geeks and nerds sat in the corner talking about chess club and speaking in Latin. The stoners took their food to the parking lot where they ate and got smoked up before going back to class. Other groups were scattered around the cafeteria, all of them occupying most of the tables.
The girls stood there with their trays wondering where to sit. A piercing whistle got their attention. Standing on a bench, Diego waved to them. Blushing, they walked over to the table. His big friends made room and the girls sat down. There were other girls there, girlfriends and wanna be’s. Some frowned at Ramona, Janet and Bunny.
“What makes you think you can sit with us?” one girl in a tight white sweater said.
Diego had his arm around her shoulders, nibbling at her ear until she spoke. His arm left her shoulders and he shoved her away. “Since it’s my baby sister and her friends, chica. You be polite to my sister.”
©2020 Dellani Oakes
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