You started seventh grade at Central Blandon Junior High, two weeks and three days after moving in with Robert. Veronica had thrown a fit even she knew was futile, about leaving her old high school just before junior year. She’d given it a good effort anyway, and that argument, you later realized (you’d listened from your half-open bedroom door), was Veronica completely shedding any inhibitions or uncertainties she still clung to in the mother-daughter dynamic between Jane and herself.
“Fuck you,” she said, standing her ground, and she wasn’t just an insolent, unhappy teenager in that moment. To you, at least, they were equal.
“Veronica,” Jane began, but Veronica was well past the warning stages.
“Veronica what?” Your sister spat back. She seemed to fill the small living room until Jane all but disappeared from it. It was the first time you remembered being frightened of Veronica – she challenged your mother as though she had the power, in her almost-sixteen year old self, to bring the world -- hers and your own -- crashing down. “I. Am. Not. Moving,” she continued, punctuating every word like a gunshot. “I’m not going to some central hicktown bullshit high school, I like it here, and I do not want to live with Mr. Deal. You don’t want to live with Mr. Deal either and you know it, so why are you acting like this is some amazing offer we can’t refuse? He’s creepy and gross and we’re fine on our own. We’re enough, aren’t we, me and Babe-o?”
Around enough, Veronica’s voice cracked and you knew that, despite her best attempt, she had lost, because Jane moved, then, crossing the living room from the corner Veronica had banished her to, and put her arms, tentatively but firmly, around your sister’s shoulders.
“Of course you are,” you heard her repeat, again and again. “Of course you are.”
But enough or not, you found yourself, books clutched tightly to your chest, walking alone up the sidewalk that led to Central Blandon Junior High on the first day of school that year.
You had always liked school, though in the same way you liked playing soccer or getting your hair cut – you didn’t mind any of these things, but they all seemed to exist solely in their own moments. When they were over, they slipped out of your conscious and you moved on without hesitation to the next present tense.
That wasn’t to say you were a bad student – math and science, especially, came swiftly to your recall when you needed them. Really, you were simply underwhelmed with the process of organized learning. Education, you found, was both more memorable and more applicable when it came in the form of Veronica observing and explaining the complications of your own life.
Veronica had been furious about changing schools, but, walking through the doors of your new junior high school, it seemed to you the most basic components were the same as that of your previous school.
The building was different, of course – smaller in general, with narrower hallways and fewer classrooms, but tight packs of girls still stood, shrieking and hanging on to one another in front of their lockers (which were, predictably, the same shade of army-issue olive green as in your old school), while the boys, spread out pseudo-casually up and down the hallway, insulted one another good-naturedly, occasionally roughing each other up before something or someone else grabbed their attention and they moved on to whatever was more important.
You didn’t blend well – Veronica made sure of that, ignoring Jane’s protests and picking out pink and green polka dotted tights for you to wear, under a jean skirt with a mustard colored tank top and your long brown hair in a high side ponytail (“She looks like the eighties reincarnated, Veronica, for Christ’s sake.” “The eighties are back, Mom, okay? You look great, Babe-o. And if anyone gives you any shit, it’s ‘cause they’re ugly and jealous and you should punch them.”) – but you didn’t mind, really. You never had trouble with kids, boys or girls, your own age. Being distantly friendly came to you as simply and easily as being brash and unrepentant came to Veronica. You’d found, after a few years of letting Veronica use you as her own personal Barbie doll, that you could disarm an odd look or sideways glance with a quick shrug and a smile. You were liked, then, by most all of your peers, but passively; Veronica’s strong, abrasive personality, while alienating her from some, ensured that she also collected fierce devotees wherever she went.
You had been content up until seventh grade with your status – your role, you supposed – as the quiet kid with the willing smile, but that year, you’d shared a lunch table with Angela Brennan, who marched up to you in homeroom your first morning, seated herself on the edge of your desk, and, frowning, told you she liked your hair but that your tights made her want to vomit. She was petite, with delicate features and pale blonde hair, but she was more fiercely Veronica than anyone else you had ever met, and you’d told her, smiling back, that she probably really wanted to vomit because she was ugly. You weren’t sure where the words came from, and you remembered the unfamiliar sensation of your heart thudding through your stomach and behind your ears. She had blinked at you, silent and unmoving, before demanding you eat lunch with her that day.
With Angela came Rachel and Jackie, but, even that first day, you understood that she controlled them in the same way Veronica controlled the girls that attached themselves to her; wholly, and wholly without intent. They eyed you warily from across the Formica table when Angela introduced you (“This is Avery. Turns out her sister made her wear the tights but they’re not as ugly as we thought anyway. Right, guys? Right.”) and you came, slowly and utterly, upon the alarming realization that they were afraid of you.
Over the course of the forty-five minute lunch period, you fielded a wide range of stares and sidelong glances, ranging from open hostility to confusion to uncertain acceptance. By the time the bell rang, Rachel and Jackie were hanging off your every word. (“I liked your tights from the beginning,” Jackie whispered to you on your way back into the classroom.)
You had never been so uncomfortable or so panicked. You were not Veronica and you couldn’t be Veronica, but suddenly, Angela was rolling her eyes at you from across the room when the teacher turned her back and Rachel had pulled her own long hair into a sweeping side ponytail in the bathroom (“Like this, Avery?”).
Oh God, you had thought, sitting still in your desk and trying to recall everything Veronica had ever said to you. When you took a deep breath and mouthed tool to Angela, nodding at your teacher and scratching your forehead with your middle finger, like you’d seen Veronica do countless times in Mr. Deal’s direction, she covered her mouth, shoulders shaking with silent peals of laughter.
You relaxed, and even allowed yourself a smile. You weren’t Veronica. You weren’t Veronica, and you never would be, but maybe you could discover, for once, what life was like for her.