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Monte Carlo Junior High

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Learning your way around a new school campus was a universally shitty experience for any new student but Franky was especially peeved to be navigating the maze of school hallways at Monte Carlo Junior High on her own. The school had assigned her an orientation peer-worker before first period. Unfortunately, “had” was the operative word in that sentence because just as soon as they walked out of the administrative office and down the first hallway, Jacqueline Holt handed Franky her class list and a school map and turned away on the heel of her pristine baby blue checkered vans, saying “this is yours.” 

“Where are you going?” Franky asked, bewildered by Jacqueline’s sudden dismissal. 

“Have you seen Mean Girls ?” Jacqueline passive-aggressively inquired with a question of her own. 

“The movie?” Franky confirmed. 

“Yeah! – so you get it then… except no friend group ever color-coordinates at Monte Carlo and we wouldn’t be caught dead ever saying ‘fetch’. Ew. And everyone calls me Jacs. Only my grandmother calls me Jacqueline.” 

And just like that, Jacs left Franky to navigate Monte Carlo Junior High School’s maze of hallways and classrooms by herself. As Jacs disappeared further and further down the hallway, Franky, too, was enveloped by swarms of students rushing to their lockers, chatting with their friends, and trying to finish off their homework before the school bell rang. 

***

Franky tried hard to get to her classes on time but she could never tell which direction she was going and there were just so many students clogging the hallways that she could barely see one foot ahead of her. She knew the crowd would thin itself out eventually and then she would finally be able to look around and figure out where she was on the school map Jacs had given her. Unfortunately, by that time the bell would also be ringing and Franky would officially be late to class.

It was time for 3 rd period and Franky had no idea where WAL-H2 was. This would be the third class that day that Franky was late to and Franky really hated being late. Not only did it make her feel like she wasn’t in control of the situation, it drew so much unnecessary, awkward attention to her and Franky preferred flying under the radar wherever she went, especially at a new school. 

Franky knew that her teachers would more than likely be quite understanding about her difficulty finding the classroom given that it was only her first day of school. Plus, being the new kid meant that her late arrival (and interruption) would make a perfect segue for them to formally introduce her to her classmates. Franky hated the whole ritual and eagerly awaited the moment that she was finally permitted to claim what was usually the worst seat in the classroom. Typically, the last seat was one that all the other students in the class had avoided for a reason – a reason, Franky had learned over the years and different schools she attended, would likely have to be discovered the hard way. 

1 st period was language arts and several students had snickered as she took the last open seat. She quickly discovered that the entire underside of the desk, located in the 6 th row against the interior wall, was covered in gum. Twice while trying to focus on what Ms. Conway was writing on the chalkboard ahead, Franky forgot about why that particular spot had been rejected by her peers and had crossed her legs under the desk. Within minutes of doing so, her knee would inevitably come into contact with a glob of the revolting substance, requiring Franky to scrape the disgusting chunks of gum from her jeans with her bare hands. 

Ms. Conway had called her over at the end of class and wordlessly handed her an antiseptic wipe. Franky nodded her appreciation and Ms. Conway turned back to erasing her writing on the board. Franky used the wipe to clean her hands. Thinking she was out of view, she crumpled it into a ball and faked a jump shot before mimicking a slam dunk into the trash bin. Unbeknownst to Franky, Ms. Conway had been watching out of the corner of her eye. 

2 nd period was Economics with Ms. Miles, a thin, pointy woman who had joked that Franky’s name would be easy to remember as they were reading The Economic Naturalist by Robert H. Frank. Franky had rolled her eyes and quickly made her way to the 2 nd to last row where the only empty seat in the class remained. She lifted the chair quickly and placed it down gently, before applying an increasing amount of weight on it to determine if the screws had been loosened. She had scoped the desk out on her way to the seat and could find no obvious signs of sabotage or tampering. She squeezed her eyes shut as she sat down gingerly and awaited the inevitable embarrassing moment but nothing happened. 15 or so seconds later, Franky realized her classmates hadn’t snickered or even paid much attention to her as she had sat down. She opened one eye and looked around to see if attention was still on her and was shocked to see almost every one of her classmates looking forward at the chalkboard. 

“Hey, you don’ gottsta worry about them doin’ nuffin’ to ya,” a booming voice next to her said, catching her off guard. Franky hadn’t paid much attention to who was sitting at the adjacent desk but she was certainly curious why this desk and chair were seemingly untouchable. Franky turned slightly to her left to better face her desk partner and stuck out her hand, “Franky Doyle, technically, it’s Francesca but please call me Franky. Nice to meet you.” 

At 12 years old, the highest scores Susan had ever achieved were the 99 th percentile ranks she got from her pediatrician at her yearly check-up for her height and weight classification. Her teeth were yellow, her hair was stringy and greasy, and she was clumsy and gruff as she reciprocated Franky’s hand-troduction. 

“I’m Susan Jenkins, I guess ya can call me Sue if short names are better or sumfin’?”

Franky wasn’t sure what to respond but there was something endearing about Susan Jenkins’ naivety. The fact that no one seemed to mess with her was an added bonus that Franky could benefit from. After all, she had been bounced from 3 group homes in the last 7 months for beating up older kids who thought they could push her around and muck up her stuff. Franky had been proud to teach each of them a lesson in respect of personal boundaries and property rights but her former social worker didn’t share her same enthusiasm. 

Instead, Ms. Murphy transferred her to a new school district and her case file along with it to a newbie social worker named Ms. Westfall. They hadn’t yet been acquainted but Ms. Westfall had called Franky the day before to apologize for being unable to accompany her on her first day at Monte Carlo Junior High. Franky had rolled her eyes at the insincere apology and assured Ms. Westfall that she would be just fine on her own as she was no stranger to taking care of herself. Ms. Westfall had clucked her tongue in disagreement but didn’t feel she had established sufficient rapport with Franky just yet to challenge her. Instead, she offered to pick Franky up from school and take her for ice cream to give them time to get to know one another. 

“Sounds like a first date, Ms. Westfall. I’m in,” Franky graciously accepted a ride home on her first day of school. Truth be told, she was relieved that Bridget had made the offer. She wasn’t entirely sure she knew which bus to take and there wasn’t anyone around who could be bothered to show her. 

Without missing a beat, Ms. Westfall had replied, “It’s not a date, first or otherwise, Franky. If you’re so keen on having a date though, consider making some new friends with people your own age. Alright?” Franky pretended to be gutted as she got off the phone. She knew Ms. Westfall was right but Franky didn’t want her to know that she knew that. 

“So, Susan, why won’t I have to worry about my desk or chair being messed around with?” Franky asked her new friend. 

“Because sittin’ next to me is worse punishment,” Susan replied, forlorn, “You dun haf to be friends wif me if you dun want to. Not gon’ force ya or nuffin’.”

“Fuck these bitches, no one tells Franky Doyle what to do,” Franky gave Susan her cheesiest, shit-eating grin and turned back to Ms. Miles’ lesson.

They had agreed to meet at the front of the cafeteria to eat lunch together. This isn’t so bad. Maybe I could like it here, Franky thought to herself. She suspected it was just as much a relief for Susan as it was to her to not have to eat lunch alone. They had gone in separate directions after that. Franky instantly regretted not asking Susan for directions to her Civics & CItizenship class with Mr. Stewart in WAL-H2 but by the time she had turned around to look for Susan, her new, tall friend had been swallowed up by the hoards of students making their way through the hallways. 

***

It should be 4 doors down on the left, Franky thought to herself as she emerged from the sea of students in the hallway. Finally, able to see what lay ahead, she came face-to-face with a wall where the corridor and classrooms should have been. Glancing down at the printed school floor plan in her left hand and looking back up at the wall again, she saw one door at the dead end of the hallway to her right and a staircase to her left – she was not in the right place. Again. “Fuck this!” she yelled to herself in frustration. She clenched her fists, the sound of the paper crumpling into her palm catching her attention, grounding her to reality once again. 

Franky went left and put her backpack down on the staircase. She turned the school floor map over and tried to figure out where she was but the dead-end hallway and staircase weren’t clearly marked on the drawing and Franky was no closer to finding WAL-H2. Exasperated, she looked around for a friendly face but saw no one she recognized in the crowd nearby. 

As the 3 rd period school bell rang, Franky heard someone yell “Fuck me, not again!” She was sure that she could make out some faint cries coming from the storage closet at the opposing end of the hallway. Franky slung her backpack smoothly over her shoulder and wandered over to the storage closet door. Amazingly, no other student was in the hallway to bear witness. Franky hoped she wouldn’t cop any blame for releasing whoever was behind the door or entering the storage closet. She contemplated walking away but the thought made her feel uneasy – she knew what she would want done if the tables were turned. 

Franky slid the arm sleeves of her hoodie over her hands and carefully removed the piece of metal that had been jammed into the door frame, locking whomever was on the other side of the door into the storage closet. She had remembered to wipe her fingerprints off of both sides before kicking the hunk of metal into the hallway corner. Slowly, she turned the doorknob with her sweatshirt-covered hand and opened the door. 

Susan was sitting on her heels, knees to her chest, with her arms wrapped tightly around her upper torso and legs. She was rocking back and forth and had big sloppy tears running down her face. She seemed relieved to discover it was Franky who had come to her rescue and Franky only hoped that Susan knew it hadn’t been her who had locked her into the storage closet.

“Oi, what’s going on?” Franky asked. 

“After we finished talkin’, I was mindin’ my business, hey,” Susan explained, “I was just headed to me class when suddenly these senior assholes grabbed me, tossed me in here, and locked the door on me somehow.”

“Fuck them”, Franky replied, “let’s get to class, hey?”

She helped Susan stand up and gave her a moment to catch her breath.

“I want ya to know sumfin’, Franky,” Susan said quietly.

“What’s that?”

“I wasn’t cryin’ ‘coz I was scared or nuffin’.”

“Uhhh… sure. Okay.”

“I never had a real friend before and I wasn’t sure when summin was goin’ to come rescue me. I kept thinkin’ Franky is gunna think I stood her up or sumfin’ and she won’t wanna be my friend no more. So that’s why I was cryin’ in there… Jus’ wanted you to know that,” Susan lamented.

“Aw, Sue, I am not good at this mushy stuff but don’t sweat it, we’ll defs have lunch together today,” Franky patted Susan on the shoulder uncomfortably, mustering all of her sincerity to reassure her new friend, “Besides, it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one in this school who has come out of the closet, hey!” Susan looked at Franky quizzically, “or not…” Franky faltered.

“But hey listen, I’m gonna need you to repay me the favor right away,” Susan’s head jerked sideways so she could get a full look at Franky while she was talking, “I’ve had a real shit time finding my classes today and I got ditched by my orientation peer-worker this morning. Think you can help me out with that?”

Relieved that Franky’s favor was truly just that, Susan smiled back, “For my friend Franks? Defs no problem, let me see what you got.”