By JD Rockel
Rosa had been fidgeting as they worked the locks. Looking at the school map from her packet she said, “Ella before we find the classrooms I need to find the lady’s room. There’s one around the corner. Wait here for me, I’ll be right back.”
Ella stood by the lockers staring past the hustle and bustle around her. While she wanted to focus on the boys, her anxiety made that hard. On the walls between some of the classrooms were announcements and posters. A brightly colored poster with glittering stars caught her eye across the hall. She saw the word dance on the poster. Hmm, a dance. I need to check this out. She stepped towards the poster without looking to her side.
“Ouch!” The brief but sharp pain in her foot brought Ella back to reality. A body pushed against her and she tumbled backward onto the floor.
Landing on top of her, a startled voice said, “I’m sorry. You stepped out in front of me. Are you OK?”
Ella’s focus sharpened onto the most beautiful brown eyes she had ever seen. As she scanned up past his forehead, she saw softly curled hair of exactly the same color. “I think so,” she said.
“Let me help you up. Again, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s OK. I wasn’t looking when I started walking.”
The boy got up and reached down to help Ella. Taking hold of both hands, he helped her to her feet. Once standing, Ella found herself looking into a concerned but handsome face. “Hi, I’m Jerry. I guess I was moving too fast. Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yes, Jerry. My foot hurts a bit, but I think it’s OK. I’m Ella. What a way to meet someone.”
“I agree, Ella. Maybe we can meet again under more controlled circumstances.” Jerry chuckled and Ella bashfully joined in. She bent over slightly to wipe imaginary dirt off her pants.
“That would be nice, Jerry.”
“I’ll look for you later, Ella.” Jerry took off down the hall and Ella watched him until he disappeared.
Rosa came up behind her sister. “Thanks, Ella. I really needed to go.”
“Huh?” Still dazed, Ella turned around. “Right. What were we doing?”
“We were finding our first classroom.” Holding the packet up in front of Ella’s face, Rosa said, “My classroom is A132.”
Ella shook her head and blinked her eyes. Glancing down at her packet she said, “Mine is A212. It’s not fair being split up for our classes. We’re learning the same stuff.”
“I don’t know. Maybe they got word that we were troublemakers in the past.”
Ella scrunched her eyebrows and lips, putting on her I’m not amused face. Glaring at Rosa she said, “That was a long time ago. I doubt they do such thorough background checks.”
Ella was the primary troublemaker of the past. Rosa, wanting to be the good sister, obliged Ella’s devious plans. While Ella never planned anything dangerous, switching places caused its share of unrest in the classroom.
Rosa looked at the map of the school again. “According to this, my classroom is on the other side of this group of rooms. Yours is upstairs on the second floor above our lockers. There are stairs at the end of this hall.” Rosa pointed towards the stairs.
“Come with me please, Rosa.” The encounter with Jerry had her head spinning and her stomach feeling queasy.
“Sure, sis. Joined at the hip, right?”
They pushed through the crowd of students and made their way to the stairs. Climbing the stairs, the room was easily found.
“I’m leaving you here, Ella, so I can find my room.”
“I understand. I’ll try to be OK.”
“You will be fine. I’ll pray for you on my way back downstairs. Maybe you’ll meet someone nice here. Look through your packet. There’s plenty to do while you wait.”
“Thanks, sis.” Ella tried to relax. She entered the nearly empty classroom and selected a seat straight in from the door. Slumping into the seat, Ella closed her eyes. Between the anxiety and some pain from the collision, tears welled up in her eyes.
Ella felt a chill, as though her neck got tickled by something and it traveled down to her stomach. Ella felt as though she was being watched. She looked towards the door and saw a boy gazing in. Even with tears in her eyes, she was sure he was looking at her. Was that Jerry? Ella blinked hard to clear her eyes and peered at the door. The boy was gone.
* * *
Ella’s wondering over what she saw was interrupted by a girl to her left.
“Excuse me, my name is Emily. Can we be classroom buddies?”
Classroom buddies? Really? Emily was nearly as joyful as Joss, but without the deep dimples. Her wavy, light brown hair fell over her shoulders and down her back. The blue top she wore had shoulder straps that crisscrossed under her neck, framing her oval face. The slightest hint of a dimple highlighted her chin.
Ella turned to her left and said, “Hello. What do classroom buddies do exactly?”
“Oh, I’m just teasing. I’m hoping to make some friends right away. My parents moved here to Wisconsin from Pennsylvania over the summer. So, I don’t know anyone yet.”
“OK Emily, that’s fair. My name is Ella, short for Rochelle. I’ve lived around here all my life. I could help you find stuff outside of school.”
“Oh, that would be so helpful. Thanks, Ella. Finding good pizza and subs in a new town can be a formidable task.”
“I agree with that. Pizza is the holy grail of food. An adventure to track down, and once found, shared only with close friends.”
Emily and Ella both laughed. Maybe finding new friends wouldn’t be that hard, at least for girlfriends.
“Have you looked in your packet yet,” Ella asked?
“No. I was just about to when you walked in. I didn’t want to lose an opportunity.”
Ella looked around. She counted seven other people besides Emily. Perhaps she was shyer than she let on and hadn’t introduced herself to them. Or perhaps they all turned her down. Ella’s anxiety began to rise. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to look through my packet,” Ella said.
“That’s fine. I need to look at mine too. I’m sure we will have plenty of opportunities to talk.”
Ella sat straight forward at her desk and pulled all the papers out of her packet. The first page said, “Welcome to High School” with a photo of very happy-looking students and teachers. That’s reassuring. The next page was a statement of the school’s mission and Respect Pledge. Ella read through the Mission Statement. It called the school a “learning community where all people are accepted and supported”. I hope that’s true. It also spoke of responsible, productive, life-long learners with the community sharing a commitment to education. This sounded very positive to Ella. She now had a mission to make sure Mom and Dad were involved in her schooling. Of course, they had been, but this made it official for high school.
Is there anything fun to do here? She kept looking through the packet and pulled out the Germantown High School Student Handbook next. She got to page 18, Code of Classroom Conduct, and quickly flipped through the rest. Does anyone actually read this stuff?
Eventually, she found Athletics and Activities. Scanning the Clubs, a couple stood out: Best Buddies; Cups of Controversy; Emerging Women’s Salon; G-town Power; Men’s Choir – Now that’s a club I could spend time in. Ella imagined being the center of attention from a choir of men. Many of the others made no sense from their names. I guess I will have to do some research.
Halfway through the booklet Ella felt overwhelmed again and put it all away. The next piece of paper described some other clubs and activities. Later. She glanced at the school activity calendar. Hmm, Back to School Dance. That’s what the poster was about. I will certainly check into that. Finally, she found her class schedule. She decided she was too tired to think about it. Putting everything back in the envelope, she slouched in her chair.
Another dozen students entered her classroom before the adult there spoke up. “Good morning, I’m Mr. Edwards. I teach math here. Welcome to first period.” Mr. Edwards was young. Ella figured he couldn’t be over thirty. With short brown hair and sideburns, Mr. Edwards looked quite amenable.
He continued, “If you have talked to anyone who attended Germantown High School over the past years, you know that they got their info packets in the mail. The printing company didn’t get the packets done in time. Therefore, you had the great pleasure of standing in long lines being bored to death this morning. As you are all freshmen, or should I say fresh-people to be politically correct, just go with the flow as you find your classes today.”
The class laughed. Mr. Edwards continued, “The bell to first period has been delayed today until everyone gets their packets. If you have looked inside your envelope, you may have been overwhelmed by the amount of information.”
That’s for sure. Ella was glad that her math teacher had some sensitivity to what she was feeling.
“All I will say is, don’t throw anything away. You will find the information useful eventually. Scan through it all and get an idea of where to find information. One thing you will definitely want to read in its entirety is the Student Handbook… NOT!”
Again, all the students broke out into laughter. Ella was feeling a lot better. Mr. Edwards continued his banter for some time. He was also responsible for issuing laptops to the students. Working off a list, he called off names. Each student walked up, signed the list, and took a laptop.
“OK, here we go. You can access the book material on the laptops, or… you can use these dinosaurs of paper books? Who wants a dinosaur?” A few students raised their hands. Mr. Edwards made short work of introducing the material they would be learning and passed out class expectations and assignments. Throughout the necessary first day’s work, he kept up a good amount of comical banter.
It didn’t take long for the next bell to ring. “Remember what I said about running in the halls. Oh, never mind. Get out of here.”
The rest of the day involved going from class to class. Ella looked at her class schedule and the map during each class to find out where she had to go next. As time passed, her backpack filled with a few books and assignments. Fortunately, she had brought a notebook to keep track of all the information. She caught up with Rosa between lunches. Ella was upset that they didn’t get the same lunch period either. At the end of the day, she found Rosa at their lockers.
Rosa saw her coming. “Ready to go home, Ella?”
“I sure am. I’m exhausted.”
Walking to the bus Ella caught a glimpse of both Joss and Emily. They smiled and waved. There was no more feeling of being watched and she didn’t see Jerry’s face again. It was so strange. What would tomorrow bring? She was too tired to think about it.