Plus, in fifth grade you could remember even further back, all the way back to first and second grade—you still walked down those same halls! As long as you were in that elementary school, in that physical space, everything that happened had happened equally to everyone. But middle school? A different story. Turned out, what happened in elementary school stayed in elementary school. In sixth grade the playing field lurched to an impossible angle. How did it happen, the summer between fifth and sixth grade, how could it happen so abruptly that a level playing field could tilt so violently, tilt precisely like the Titanic, in a matter of mere hours the night before the first day of sixth grade?
The sliders were clearly the ones who had not anticipated the tilt. Anyone who was going to get off the boat safely had gotten off already. In June? Too late! The last days of August, sixth grade begins, the great slide happens, the playing field tilts, and Meredith finds herself clinging to the ship, somewhere near the middle, around the shuffleboard courts, say. She had not gotten the memo about the iceberg.
And since then, since literally that first day of sixth grade, over two years ago, she had been trying to get her footing, trying to find her place. Now she met her best friends Jules and Kristy at the corner of the parking lot where a herd of school buses belched and hissed. Kristy had been battling a head cold all week and had a tissue pressed to her nose, lest some shiny snot be detected by the snot police.
They entered the school through the tall glass doors in the front—there was a security guard, but he was unarmed, and mostly for show. They went to their lockers. This was the most dangerous part of the day, the unstructured time at the lockers. Any social advantage that was to be gained would be gained during these precious few minutes. Of course, the opposite was also true. Meredith knew this all too well. Since the beginning of the school year Lisa Bellow had had a picture of a boy in her locker, taped on the inside of the door. Meredith could see it out of the corner of her eye while she unloaded her books and supplies into her own locker.
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In the photograph, the boy was standing on a white sandy beach. He was wearing black board shorts and sunglasses and holding a blue Frisbee. It was just that everything about the photograph, every grain of sand, every crest of every wave, every finger and toe, was so beautiful. Once Lisa caught Meredith staring at the picture. The message was clear: not only was Meredith unworthy of looking at the picture of the beautiful boyfriend, but she was also unworthy of any actual verbal response from Lisa.
This was no surprise. Despite the proximity of their lockers, Lisa had not spoken a single word to Meredith for the entire year.
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Lisa Bellow and her friends had gotten the memo about the iceberg. It was possible that they had written the memo. It was even conceivable, Meredith had long ago decided, that they had somehow been responsible for the iceberg in the first place. Lisa and her pack, a half dozen girls with all-season-tanned legs and perky little boobs, had outgrown middle school boys by about November of seventh grade.
Now, in eighth grade, some of them were dating boys that Evan knew, and Evan was a senior. She felt herself withering inside, and instead of saying something clever just scooted toward the center of her chair and forever since made sure she was positioned correctly. Meredith hated them. Jules and Kristy hated them. Most of the girls hated them. But then why were they the most popular girls in the school? This was partly because they clearly worked hard to be indistinguishable from one another, like Stormtroopers, Meredith often thought as she watched them cut a swath down the eighth-grade hall.
The Fall of Lisa Bellow | Book by Susan Perabo | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster
Lisa was always attached to Becca Nichols or Abby Luckett or Amanda Hammels or one of the aspirant bitches, and they stood apart and sneered at your inadequacies those known and unknown to you and rolled their eyes with such unabashed superiority that you really had no earthly choice but to despise them. These were girls, Meredith thought, who could only be loved by their grandparents and maybe—maybe—Jesus. And yet, Meredith always thought. And yet. She was at least ten pounds overweight, and she was forever saying something she thought was funny until the instant it passed her lips, at which point she realized it was idiotic.
Sometimes she lay in bed at night listing her attributes in a calculated, disinterested manner, as if she were not herself but a project she was working on for the science fair. She could say, totally objectively, that she was very good, likely in the top 5 percent, of American thirteen-year-old girls at math. And she was good, likely top 25 percent, of American thirteen-year-old girls at field hockey, clarinet, and bumper pool.
Yes, there were other talents: eavesdropping, for one, a cousin to staring but less obvious to outside observers. Picking things up off the bottom of a swimming pool with her toes. And pretending, perhaps her greatest but least useful skill—certainly less useful than retrieving a pair of sunken goggles. No special gift set her apart from any of the other ten million thirteen-year-olds in the world. Last year Jules had won an award for an essay about diversity; Evan had been the best catcher in the whole region; even Lisa Bellow was awesome at being a bitch.
Still, Meredith always reminded herself when at her lowest, at least there were actual freaking thoughts in her brain, unlike Lisa Bellow and company.
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Also, she regularly reminded herself, there were lots of girls who were way less popular than she was. The girls at the very bottom—like the bottom 10 percent—were staying at the very bottom, because they were there for a real and universally agreed upon reason, drugged out, silent, or just hopelessly weird. But then there were the girls who made up the huge middle—the lower-middle and the middle-middle and the higher-middle.
This was 80 percent of the eighth grade class, which at their school meant about a hundred girls, and the movement within this middle group seemed to shift daily, sometimes hourly. And then of course there were the popular girls, the top 10 percent—Lisa and Abby and Becca and Amanda and the rest. On this day, Wednesday the eighth of October, Meredith and Jules and Kristy were on the high end of the middle-middle. Meredith did not know exactly what she herself aspired to, socially. She only knew that she aspired. The class was made tolerable almost entirely by the presence of Steven Overbeck, who sat directly behind her and sometimes whispered passages from the earnest social studies textbook in funny accents.
Her favorite was when he drew elaborate watches on his wrists with his blue Bic pen. Once he drew a watch that was broken, the springs jutting from the face, the numbers scattered across his arm. She thought Steven Overbeck was probably a genius. Today the teacher was called away in the middle of the lesson and the room predictably erupted into chaos a split second after her departure. Steven asked if he could draw a watch on her wrist.
With his blue Bic pen he lightly drew a circle on the top of her wrist and she broke out in goose bumps on both arms. She prayed he did not notice. She looked up at the clock. Just pick a time. But choose wisely.
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His blond bangs sprouted up in a way that looked intentional—a little boy-band-ish, even—but which she knew was totally accidental, probably the result of a fitful sleep. This added to his appeal. Two fifteen. He drew the straps and then, with only the tips of his fingers, turned her hand over and drew the buckle on the back of her wrist. Her heart was hammering, and it continued to hammer throughout the library period. It was like study hall but with no help. It was like reading practice, so the school could announce to the community that it embraced reading.
It was Kristy who suffered the most, who was sick with worry half the time. What if someone heard? What if someone said something about the sound her pee made hitting the toilet water? These were the things that weighed on her. An hour later, at lunch, Jules swung in beside her. Can you even imagine? Her name was Kelly something. They were in eighth grade.
She was our age. Tampons gross me out. Kristy sat down. Meredith hated gym more than any other class because she did not like changing with the other girls in the locker room. She would have changed in the bathroom stalls if she could—this was what she did in the summer, at the local pool—but that was not allowed in the school gym locker room. She had tried it once in sixth grade, she and Kristy both, and the gym teacher had come through and shouted at them that the bathroom stalls were not for dressing out, that they were big girls now and could change with everybody else.
Two years later Meredith still did not feel like a big girl. Meredith regarded with a mixture of awe and disgust the girls who stood casually naked before their lockers. Of course Lisa and her pack were among this group, but there were others, too, people she actually liked. She did not understand how they could speak to each other with ease, as if their pubic hair was invisible, as if their breasts were no more to be hidden than their arms. They were like another species to her, obscene in their nonchalance. The day ended with math.
This was her wheelhouse, and thank god it came at the end of the day, in the nick of time, because math she got.
When they did problems on the white board she wrote with confidence, sometimes even a cheereful, uncharacteristic arrogance. She was in Algebra II with only a handful of other students, working well ahead of the rest of the eighth grade. Today they had a test on rational functions. She had studied last night. She was well prepared. If so, find the missing value. With five minutes left in class and only one problem to go, her pencil point broke, and she stupidly had not brought a backup, so she had to get up and rush to the sharpener.
Then the pencil got stuck in the sharpener and she had to wrestle with it and the class looked up at her, unhappily as one, and Mrs. She knew it was now well past She looked at the clock on the wall. It was In just a few minutes she would be headed home.
Maybe she would stop at the Deli Barn on the way. Maybe she would reward herself with a large root beer. The promise of this gave her a burst of strength, and with one last violent, class-distracting grind, she was able to twist her battered pencil free.
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Hawley has said he thinks has excellent movie potential. It was chartered by David Bateman, the head of what sounds a lot like Fox News. He was accompanied by his wife, Maggie, and their young children, Rachel and JJ. Sarah is perfectly drawn in only a few strokes. Beach sunsets bore her. Finally, the barely described crew members: pilot, co-pilot, beautiful stewardess and armed Bateman bodyguard. Sixteen minutes after takeoff, all but two of these people are dead. And Mr. Hawley spends the rest of the book presenting what would be a variation on the classic locked-room whodunit, except for the big and noisy new element he throws in: an egomaniacal talk show commentator, Bill Cunningham, who is obsessed with the plane crash and determined to mourn and exploit the death of his boss.
So, early in the book, right after the crash, Scott manages to swim to Montauk in pitch darkness, despite a dislocated shoulder, with the 4-year-old JJ in tow. Hawley, that makes him suspect. And we, the readers, would really like to know why that plane went down. But Mr. Hawley does a beautiful job of turning his book into an extended tease, with separate chapters about each passenger and revelations about why each could have been a target. Where shall we start? How about with Scott himself? Even if he sounds badly disoriented back on dry land, his most recent paintings have depicted a series of transportation catastrophes.
They were spooky to begin with.