It’s the first day of senior year—or as Plum puts it, “The Year Before Our Real Lives Can Finally Begin.” At lunch she and I eat Kraft cheese and French dressing sandwiches together in the cafetorium.
What an awful word: “cafetorium.” It sounds like a monster in a Syfy movie. The reality isn’t much better. At Andrew Jackson High School, a.k.a. A-Jax, it is a vast, impersonal, mental-asylum space with milk-colored walls and the forever stench of boiled meat. The inmates within are many, noisy, and dangerous.
Plum and I started Mad Sandwich Mondays sophomore year—the “wise fool” year, the year when we thought we would be stuck in the never-ending loop of high school and not–high school for eternity. We take turns bringing each other odd combinations, like peanut butter–cucumber,
pineapple-mayo, and bacon–Marshmallow Fluff.
“This is actually good,” I say, taking a bite of my sandwich. “It’s weirdly comforting.”
“My mom used to eat these when she was little. Hey, Bea?”
“Have you thought about what I said? About Harvard? Because the Early Action deadline is November first, and we should really get cracking on the application.”
“Oh, yeah. That.”
Over the summer Plum got the idea that we should go to Harvard together. She thinks we have a good chance of getting in because we have the two highest GPAs in school. I told her that my cousin Jin didn’t get into Harvard, and he had a 4.0, perfect regular and subject SATs, and a letter of recommendation from a U.S. senator, from some swank internship. Of course, this didn’t faze her one bit. The word “impossible” is not in Plum’s vocabulary.
Now she reaches into her backpack and extracts her sparkly gold notebook—nicknamed “The Golden Notebook,” after Doris Lessing’s novel. On the first page are an A list and a B list of the colleges she wants us to apply to. Harvard is at the very top and has a big pink heart around it. Included, too, are a bunch of due dates and requirements: transcripts, test scores, the Common App, et cetera. The guidance counselor,
Miss Beaven, is supposed to be doing all this, but with 798 seniors to get through, she’s probably slammed.
Plus, she’s Miss Beaven. Plum and I try not to talk to her or any other adults at A-Jax unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Plum sits up with an excited flutter of hands. “I know! Let’s go on a road trip to Boston. Columbus Day weekend! I’ve heard it really helps to visit the schools, do the tours, and suck up to the admissions people.” She blushes. “I mean, ‘make a good impression on.’ ”
I laugh. “It’s okay to say ‘suck up.’ Just not to their faces.”
Her eyes light up. “So we can go?”
“No, that’s not what I—”
But she is already looking at her calendar, rattling off dates, and talking about borrowing her parents’ Prius so we can save on gas.
I eat my Kraft cheese and French dressing sandwich and let Plum’s Disney-cheerful voice wash over me.
Maybe I should remind her that the heroine of The Golden Notebook has a mental breakdown.
Maybe I should just skip college altogether and become a cafetorium lady.
• • •
No, I’m not one of those slackers who want to check out after high school and drift aimlessly through life. Not like my
brother, Theo, who at age twenty-nine still works at CVS, shares a house with six other guys, and plays guitar for a garage band called the Angry Weasels. I think he thinks that beer is one of the four major food groups.
I’m also not depressed. I know all about depression from health class, the not eating and not sleeping and not wanting to get out of bed, and that’s definitely not me.
It’s just that I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next. Pretty much the only thing I enjoy doing besides hanging out with Plum is playing the piano. But there’s no way I can become a professional musician. Plus, lately, that part of my life has lost its spark and momentum—I’m not sure why.
Also, it’s not like anyone in my family shows any interest in my future whatsoever. Sometimes I envy those kids with the pushy helicopter parents, like Cassie Lindstrom’s mom, who videotapes her voice lessons and postmortems them afterward, or Zach Cormier’s dad, who puts his dance clips on YouTube and tweets about them:
@zachcorm made it to the finals at Nationals! Woot!
The only person who’s pushing me forward is Plum. And really, she’s just imposing her own blueprint on me, because as far as she’s concerned, we’re identical twins.
But we’re not. We are so not.
I love her, but she has no clue. About my future, my past, anything.
Although maybe that’s something we have in common.