“Did you see the exchange student in the caf?” Lindsay asks Gretchen over her pile of pepperoni (she’s off carbs this week).
“Huh?” Gretchen perks up.
“The tall pasty kid with the floppy hair.”
“We have exchange students here?” Gretchen is new at the public high school, and from what she can tell, it has nothing like the programs at her previous prep-school.
“That’s what Becca said.”
“Becca’s a bitch.”
“Hell to the yeah.”
“Wait, how do you become an exchange student?”
Lindsay shrugs. “I don’t know, but it sounds awful. Floppy hair is staying with Vernon.” She grimaces. “Ew.”
Gretchen picks up her half-eaten peanut butter and jelly on Eggos and dumps it in the trash can and heads for the caf.
“Where are you going?” Lindsay calls from her spot under the tree.
Gretchen ignores her and scans the tables for a pasty guy with floppy hair. She finds him sitting with Vernon Barbara, the biggest loser of the senior class. He’s always throwing ragers like he’s spent too many hours rewatching Animal House and makes this awful drink he calls trash juice. He’s so vile.
“You, are you the foreign kid?” Gretchen asks the guy.
Pasty looks side to side. “Are you talking to me?” His accent is cuter than his face.
“Yeah. How did you do this exchange thing? I want to get the hell out of my parents’ house. Maybe they can send me someplace cool like Barcelona or Hong Kong.”
“Do you speak Catalan or Cantonese?”
“I take French.”
“Je m'appelle Jimmy,” he says.
Gretchen makes a face at him. “Je m'appelle Josephine.”
“Her name is Gretchen,” Vernon butts in.
“I wasn’t talking to you.” She glares at him.
“Why’d you say your name was Josephine?”
“That’s my French name.”
“Josephine isn’t French for Gretchen.”
“No shit, Jimmy,” she spits.
The bell rings and Gretchen winces. “Fuck, my head.” Gretchen scans the room for Edgar. He’s leaning up against the wall talking to a theater nerd. “Gotta go. There’s my dealer.” Gretchen grabs a pen from her backpack and writes her number on Jimmy’s arm. “You should call me. You can tell me about this exchange program thing and where ever it is you’re from. England, right?”
“Yes,” he answers dopily.
“Don’t call her, bro. Gretchen’s fourteen. I mean, look at her chest. It’s like two swollen mosquito bites,” Vernon says. “She’s not worth going to jail for.”
“Eat shit and die,” she retorts. “I’m going to be fifteen next month,” she lies. “I skipped a grade,” Gretchen explains. She spots Edgar walking out of the caf and yells at him. “Edgar! Wait up!” She runs to catch up with him.
“Hey, Gretchen,” he says as he slows down. “What can I do for you?”
Gretchen pulls out a twenty. “I need two dime bags.”
“I can hook you up after school. Come by the van,” Edgar says under his breath and scanning the halls.
“You’re so paranoid.” Gretchen laughs. “Nobody gives a shit if you’re selling.”
“Shh, keep your voice down.”
Gretchen laughs again.
“You’re higher than a kite. What are you on?”
“I snorted some Adderall in the bathroom before lunch.”
Edgar rolls his eyes.
“What? I was bored. My English class is reading A Christmas Carol.” She makes a face. “I read that at my old school!”
“Hey, maybe you could tutor me.”
Gretchen giggles harder. Edgar is a senior.
“No, seriously. I’m failing and if I don’t pass with a D in History and English, then I’m not going to graduate.”
“Wow, that sucks.”
“Yeah, and my mom says if I don’t get my diploma, I’m going to have to enlist like my brothers.”
“You really can’t pull off a buzz cut with a head like that,” Lindsay says, appearing out of nowhere.
“Where did you come from?” Gretchen asks her.
“You’re standing in front of my locker.” Lindsay points to her locker that is covered in penis drawings.
Edgar touches his head and gives Lindsay a worried look. “Anyway, think about it. I’ll give you a discount,” he says to Gretchen.
Gretchen has a wad of cash in her backpack. She gets money for every A she earns. Her parents think that’s good parenting after she got kicked out of her prep school for “not living up to her potential,” but Gretchen’s been smoking it or blowing it up her nose ever since she started school here in the fall, so the joke’s on them. “I’ll tutor you for free and I’ll keep paying you for the weed, too.”
“Why would you do that?”
Gretchen smiles at him. “Because we like your head just the way it is.”
Gretchen gets a call from Jimmy later that afternoon. Edgar’s over at her place and they’re studying for his History test--he’s not dumb; he just thinks about things a lot before deciding on an answer.
“This is Jimmy Shive-Overly, you wrote your number on my arm.”
“Hey, you should come over. I can smoke you out after we finish homework.”
“He’s my dealer.”
“Are you sure you’re fourteen?”
“How old are you?”
“Eighteen. I’m taking a gap year to study abroad before uni.”
Gretchen laughs. “Just come over.” She gives him her address and hangs up. Then she IMs Lindsay to come over.
Edgar can’t focus on studying after Lindsay gets there. She’s wearing a really short skirt and complaining about how pot is making her fat.
“Pot doesn’t make you fat, Linds. It’s the entire pizza you eat when you’re high that’s the problem.”
“I don’t see a problem,” Edgar offers. “I think you look pretty the way you are.”
“Well aren’t you a sweetheart,” Lindsay says while fellating a pen.
Jimmy arrives not long after, winded, and very sweaty. “I had to ride Vernon’s bike. It’s quite far to your house.”
“Don’t you drive?” Lindsay asks. “Everybody drives. This is LA.”
“You don’t have a license,” Gretchen reminds her.
Lindsay rolls her eyes. “I still drove over here.”
“You’re crazy,” Gretchen says. “You’re going to get your license suspended before you even get one.”
“Guys, I really need to study or I’m not going to pass this test,” Edgar interjects.
Lindsay leans forward so her top slips down. “Just copy. That’s what I do.”
“That’s also why you’re repeating the tenth grade for the second time.”
“Psh.” Lindsay flips her hair. “Edgar, who cares about History. It’s old and boring.”
“I like History,” Jimmy chimes in, “but Literature is my favorite subject.”
Gretchen mimics Jimmy with his accent. “Literature! You sound like Posh Spice!”
Jimmy looks around the room again. “Who, me? Me? Posh?” He laughs maniacally.
“You’re hilarious.” Lindsay claps. “Do it again! Say stuff.”
Lindsay and Gretchen dissolve into a fit of laughter and Edgar finally shuts his book.
“It’s no use, I’m never going to pass.” Edgar runs a hand through his curly hair.
“We’re getting nowhere with these two,” Jimmy grumps.
Edgar looks defeated. “I can give you a lift home after Gretchen smokes you out.”
“I could tutor you, if you like?” Jimmy suggests.
“Really?” Edgar asks hopefully.
Jimmy smiles. “Sure, why not?”
“Are you guys going to make out?” Lindsay asks.
Gretchen loses it again. She can hardly catch her breath from laughing. She doesn’t even care that she’s stuck in her parents’ stupid house, and forced to go to the public high school and take bonehead classes. She has friends over for the first time in ages, and sure, they’re total weirdos, but for once, she feels like she belongs.