Making the team

You know what stinks? Sitting in the hallway doing your best friend’s AP English homework and listening to Kendra Holland talk about her cookies.

Mrs. Thomson asked me if I would do hall duty for her during my study hall and I said sure. I don’t know how to say no. When Conor asked me to help him write his paper, I knew it would turn into me writing it for him, but I said yes anyway. I hate Greek mythology.

Conor is my best friend. We’re on the yearbook committee together. He’s really smart, but sometimes he doesn’t feel like doing all of his own work so he gets me to help him. He’s two years older than me, but I can still do his homework.

He’s a really good photographer and he’s good with computers, but he’s really shy so he doesn’t like talking to people he doesn’t know. Last week, he went into the school store where Kendra was working and he tried to take her picture for the yearbook, but she yelled at him because she didn’t have her hair done that day. She kicked him out of the store.

I can’t stand Kendra. She’s a varsity cheerleader. She has black, wavy hair that goes all the way down her back. Today she’s wearing a purple dress with black leggings and stupid Ugg boots. She’s telling Donte Jackson how she and her stupid friends made Christmas cookies last weekend and took pictures of them and posted them on Facebook. Donte’s a basketball player and he’s really cute.

What Kendra doesn’t know is that Conor has had a crush on her the whole time he’s been in high school. He thinks she’s so pretty. It probably took him weeks to get up the nerve to go in there to take her picture. And then she threw him out. Girls like her make me sick.

Conor is kind of cute, but we don’t like each other that way. And anyway, I’m already going with Josh Ferling. Josh isn’t my type. He drives a pickup truck and he hunts. But I do like how he isn’t scared of anything. One time Josh and I were at the fair and this guy working at one of the booths yelled “Hey” and pretended like he was going to throw a ball at me, but he didn’t do it.

Josh was like, “You got a problem, man? What is your problem?” And the guy was like, “No, man, I don’t have a problem. No disrespect.”

So at least I know Josh won’t let some mean boy drag me off into the woods.

Conor wouldn’t fight for a girl. He’s not a fighter. Like if he ever got up the nerve to ask Kendra to the prom and she said yes and then some guy like Donte tried to beat him up over it, he would totally let Donte have Kendra.

Josh wouldn’t do that. He never lets anyone else win. Neither one of them knows how to pick their battles.

But I do. I tried out for cheerleading last year and didn’t even make junior varsity. I’m going to lose four pounds and try out again this spring for next year.

Conor says I could lose it easy if I ran track like him. He says I don’t need to lose it, but I could. Conor says I’m kind of pretty, but I think he just says that so I’ll write his papers when he doesn’t feel like it. We have the same lunch period. Sometimes for lunch all I eat is a brownie that I got from the school store. Conor says if I would just eat normal food like him I’d probably feel better and not be so cranky all the time.

Whatever. I pig out every day when I get out of school. Me and Kylie go to the store and get Doritos and Skittles and sodas. But I’m going to stop now and lose four pounds before tryouts this year. I’m not just a yearbook nerd. They’ll see. This year, I’m going to make the team.

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Election Day

Not the red suit, Caroline thought, as she watched Judy speaking to Chelsea Kramer on the morning news. The blue suit. She was supposed to wear the blue suit on Election Day.

Among the many things Caroline missed about her job as Judy Roche’s campaign manager was giving her hair and makeup advice. But Judy’s hair looked fabulous today with bouncing silver curls that must have taken more than an hour to create. The blue suit would have been better.

There was a part of Caroline that was still invested in the campaign, a part that still cared whether Judy beat Ron McAllister in the race for state Senate. And then there was the practical part, glad to be done with all the histrionics and hype, not just for this year, but for good.

Todd had stared at her speechless when she told him after dinner one night last summer that she’d taken a job as a school custodian. He was taken aback and even tried to talk her out of quitting Judy’s campaign. This was after he’d complained for months about her hours, about the middle-of-the-night phone calls and the press conferences that just had to take place on Friday afternoons, while he sat in traffic phoning the daycare center.

“Todd,” she told him flatly, “I just can’t do this anymore. I’m writing speeches in my sleep, and quite frankly, I don’t care anymore that McCallister wrote a paper once saying women shouldn’t work. He says he’s changed his mind. I don’t care. If they elect him, it’s because they want someone in office who thinks we should arm teachers with automatic weapons. Maybe we should. Maybe that would be a good idea.”

“So instead of running around in a Jones New York suit playing with your cell phone all day, you want to push a mop and a bucket around a high school?” Todd asked incredulously.

“Yep,” Caroline said.

“I don’t believe it.”

“I didn’t tell you the best part,” she told him, “I’ll be home at 4 p.m. every day. I can pick Owen up from preschool.”

Caroline always referred to the daycare as ‘preschool.’ It made her feel better.

“It’s not a daycare,” she had told Todd when Owen enrolled. “They have a curriculum.”

Caroline thought Todd would be thrilled when she told him she was quitting the campaign.

“I just think if you quit, you’re going to regret it,” he said.

“I already told Judy,” she said. “Alex Rhodes is replacing me. He can’t wait. Did I mention I’m getting a raise?”

It was true. Caroline would make $6,000 a year more as a full-time school custodian than she had as Judy’s campaign manager. And she’d never have to work evenings or weekends. And she’d be enrolled in the state’s retirement program. And she’d have job security.

“I’m doing it,” she told Todd.

And it was better than Caroline had imagined. Instead of spending her every waking minute worrying about McCallister’s numbers and trying to get college kids to find people who hated McCallister enough that they would tell the press about the time he got wasted at a strip club, Caroline’s life was predictable and easy. She changed light bulbs, buffered the floors, folded up lunch tables, talked to kids about their Facebook drama.

Now she was really doing something to make the world a better place. A teenage girl thinks it’s the end of the world when someone “unfriends” her on Facebook, until you remind her that she never liked the other girl anyway, and that the other girl goes to another school, in another county, and things are really better off this way.

There would be no kids at the school today. It was Election Day. All the better, Caroline thought. Adults don’t leave smashed packages of ketchup on the floor.

At 3:30 p.m., just as Caroline was finishing up for the day, she went into the gymnasium where people were voting. She had to get into the storage closet next to the boys’ locker room where they kept the extra jugs of antibacterial soap.

A line of voters snaked around the table where people were waiting to show the election workers their identification.

“Are you in line?” one woman asked Caroline.

“No,” she said. “I’m just a custodian. I’m just trying to get through here so I can get to the closet over there.”

Just a custodian. The more she said it, the more she liked it. When she worked as Judy’s campaign manager, she had always hesitated about telling people what she did for a living. Telling someone you were a school custodian may have ended the conversation just as abruptly, but not for the same reasons.

The sun shone through the trees as Caroline left the school. The leaves were still clinging this year, unlike last year, when the branches were bare on Election Day.

Caroline really hoped Judy won the race, but she wasn’t going to stay up late to find out. As she started the car and headed toward Little Lives Learning Center, Caroline thought about how she loved arriving home to a clean house. She had used her raise to hire a housekeeper.