September 6, 1983
The first history class of the year hasn’t even started, and I know exactly how it’s going to unfold, minute by minute, period by period. I have the entire academic year pegged. At least, I swear I do, until Tammy Thompson walks in.
Something about her is different.
Maybe it’s her hair. It used to be pin-straight and red. Now it’s short, tousled, and redder. It could be her smile. In freshman year, she was semi-popular and at least semi-fine-with-it, but now we’re sophomores and she’s got a grin that says she’s determined to win friends and influence prom queen elections. (Not that we can go to prom as sophomores, unless an upperclassman invites us, an event so rare and special that people in this school talk about it like it’s a meteor sighting.)
Maybe it’s the fact that when I see her, music infiltrates my brain.
Soft, obnoxious music.
Wait. My brain would never play Hall and Oates. I twist around in my seat and realize that Ned Wright is in the back of the room with a boombox perched on his shoulder. He’s turned it down so Miss Click—sitting at her desk, ignoring us like a pro, acting like we don’t exist until the bell rings—won’t confiscate it. When class starts, he’ll slide it under his desk and use it as a footrest. (He’s been doing this since eighth grade. He’s also a pro.) But for right now, Tammy Thompson is strolling across the room on a cloud of “Kiss on My List” and raspberry-scented . . . something. Lotion? Shampoo? Whatever it is, it reminds me of the scratch-and-sniff stickers I collected with a fervor back in middle school.
She slides into a seat, and her friends greet her in high-pitched flutters.
“Oh my gosh, your hair.”
“How was the beach, Tam?”
Maybe that’s the difference—she’s got a new nickname to go with her fresh haircut and enhanced smiling capabilities. “Tam,” I whisper, quietly enough that nobody can hear me under the how-was-your-summer uproar.
Miss Click looks up. Ominously.
One minute until class starts. If I was a run-of-the-mill nerd, like I’m pretending to be, I would have a stack of pristine, unsullied white notebook pages ready to go. I would have already done a few chapters of the reading to get a jump start. My pencils would all have perfect, identical, weapons-grade points.
As it is, I plunge down at the last minute and rummage in my bag, looking for my history textbook and anything that will leave a mark on paper. There’s a graveyard of gum on the underside of the desk. And the perm I let Kate talk me into right at the end of summer—the perm that made my scalp tingle for a week and still makes my head smell perpetually like overcooked eggs—means my hair is big enough that I have to be extra careful how much space I leave for clearance.
I almost hit my head on the underside of the desk when I hear her start to sing.
Tammy’s voice rises over . . . Hall’s? Oates’s? It’s bold and sweet and, yes, she uses vibrato as generously as I peanut butter my sandwiches, but the point is she’s not afraid. Everyone can hear her. I come back up from my deep dive into my backpack and look around at our classmates, but nobody seems to care that Tam is now singing her heart out in the middle of the room with thirty seconds to go until class starts. And she doesn’t seem to care if anyone is watching.
What does that feel like?
I spin my pencil, feeling every one of the six edges on my finger.
Then the bell rings, Miss Click stands up, and everything slides back into place, exactly the way I thought it would be.
Including when Steve Harrington shows up three and a half minutes late, looking lost, probably because his hair flopped into his eyes and he couldn’t see any of the classroom numbers. How does he get anywhere with that hair? It looks even bigger than it did last year.
“Hey, people,” he says.
Everyone laughs like the part in a sitcom where the audience guffaws at the main character’s not-particularly-funny motto. They know they don’t have to do that in real life, right? Even Miss Click beams at him like his hair somehow cured cancer. That’s an extreme and rarefied level of popularity, where even the teachers don’t glare at you because you’re simply too socially precious.
Steve jams himself into the desk next to Tam.
She turns the color of a fresh raspberry.
This whole thing is so ridiculous that my brain glitches and my fingers stop working and my pencil drops to the linoleum with a hard clatter. When I go to pick it up, it’s just out of reach. I duck, I grasp, but I can’t quite get it. When I finally do, I feel so triumphant that I come up way too fast and knock my head on the underside of the desk. Aka the gum graveyard. My head clangs hard, and my frizzed-out perm touches a dozen ancient pieces of gum at once. They’re so hardened that they don’t stick to me.
Which is good. And also horrifying.
“Robin, do you need to go to the nurse’s office?” Miss Click asks with a pitying look as I resurface. Her concern is touching.
“Unless the nurse has a time machine that will take me back exactly one class period, no.”
“All right, then,” she says, launching into her first-class- of-the-year monologue.
At least the attention of my classmates doesn’t last long. And Tam doesn’t even seem to notice my disgrace. (Not that I want her to.) But it bothers me, just a tiny bit, that the reason she doesn’t notice me is that she’s too busy humming “Kiss on My List” while she stares at Steve Harrington.