"You are not normal!" Francie screeched, waving a pale-pink-tipped finger at Sydney. "What kind of person takes Spanish and Chinese as electives?"
Sydney Bristow rolled her eyes, but a soft smile stole across her mouth. She'd only known Francie Calfo since the summer and already she was used to these occasional flare-ups. With her melodic voice and her flair for the dramatic, Francie could easily turn an everyday conversation into a highly charged debate.
"Tell her, Baxter," Francie said, elbowing her new boyfriend's lean, basketball-player arms. "Tell her that you're supposed to take electives like Famous French Films or Ballroom Dancing when you're a freshman."
"Hey, man, I'm staying out of it," Baxter replied, lifting his large hands in a gesture of surrender. "You two just keep on talking. I'm going to keep an eye out for that guy who sells ice cream." He swiveled around on the bench and leaned against the table, checking out the UCLA scene on a sunny September day.
"Come on, Fran. I like languages," Sydney said, turning her eyes back to her Spanish textbook. "I'm good at them. And besides, if I hope to get a teaching fellowship in a foreign country someday, it'll improve my odds."
Francie leaned forward. "Yes, but will it help you get guys?"
Sydney laughed. "I don't know. Foreign guys, maybe." She wished Francie would give it a rest. Ever since she'd started dating Baxter a couple of weeks ago, Francie had seemed intent on finding Sydney a guy of her own. Sydney had to admit she wouldn't mind either. But with one exception, she hadn't met any guys she would even consider going out with.
"So you're serious about this master teacher plan, huh?" Francie asked through a mouthful of salad. "You really see yourself standing in front of a classroom molding hundreds of minds? Young, obnoxious, sex-crazed minds?"
"Speak for yourself," Sydney said, stretching back so that her white T-shirt rose slightly over her non-pierced navel. Although she wouldn't say so to Francie, she'd actually been trying to picture herself in that very position. Giving lectures at a podium. Scrawling passages from Sartre across dusty blackboards. Gossiping with the other overworked, underpaid teachers in cramped, coffee-cup-strewn lounges. Doing the whole teacher thing.
Only one thing was wrong with her mental picture. It wasn't happening for her. Not good for an education major.
Sydney had been looking forward to college forever. She had sailed through her college boards, so she hadn't had to suffer through any of UCLA's required courses. So far she was having no trouble with her classes. It was the students who were daunting. Everyone here was a standout--high school valedictorians (she among them), goal-scoring quarterbacks, computer geeks, drama queens, and rah-rah cheerleaders, all trying to fit in.
Not that she'd gotten to know anybody. Nope, out of the, oh, 30,000 students or so at UCLA, Sydney knew a whopping total of three: Francie, Baxter, and her friend from track, Todd de Rossi. The introductory courses, with their large lecture halls and even larger lecture groups, overwhelmed her. And while she had never been intimidated by brilliance, being around faculty members who were among the top scholars and scientists in the United States was a bit unsettling. She had witnessed upperclassmen engaging in lively debates and discussions with professors in the halls or as they walked across Dickson Plaza. One day, she'd overheard a professor offer to meet with a student over coffee to discuss a problem he was having. The professor's generosity impressed her--and made her wistful.
I bet Mom was like that, Sydney thought now, clicking her pen open and shut. Laura Bristow had been a highly regarded professor of literature at UCLA. She had had a passion for learning and for teaching. But that was before she died in a car accident when Sydney was six.
It had been a typical, hazy Friday night in Los Angeles. Sydney's parents had gone out to the movies while she stayed home with her nanny. A car had come from the opposite direction, crossing over the road's centerline. Her father had swerved to avoid it, and had careened off a bridge. He had survived. Her mother had not.
"She didn't have time to know what was happening," Sydney's father had told her tiny, heartbroken six-year-old self, as if that small consolation made it all better.
Dad. Calm, cool, and utterly disconnected. The man was capable of smiling--there was proof of that in a sterling-silver-Tiffany-framed photograph he kept on top of his bedroom dresser of him and her mom and Sydney one sunny day in Venice. Mom, her hands on Sydney's bare, slightly peeling shoulders, laughing with her mouth half open. Sydney, holding a dripping ice cream cone, a smudge of chocolate on her chin, wearing that tank top with the rainbow decal. Dad, smiling over at his wife, at her obvious happiness.
Sydney couldn't remember ever seeing that smile in the flesh.
After her mother died, Sydney had grown up under her father's distant eye, spending more time isolated with her books than with family or friends. As time passed, her recollections of her mother faded. Just a few memories remained. . . . Catching fireflies in old applesauce jars with holes punched in the lids on a hot summer night. Riding the Matterhorn at Disneyland, screaming and laughing at the same time. Baking brownies and taking turns licking the orange Pyrex bowl clean. Watching her mother, her long dark glossy hair pulled back in a chignon, thumb through her collection of large, beautifully leather-bound books--a gift from her father that was now part of Sydney's own library.
It hadn't taken long for Francie to speculate that Sydney wanted to become a teacher not because she had a deep-seated passion to teach, but as a way to honor her mother's memory.
Was Francie right? Probably.From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Recruited by Lynn Mason. Copyright © 2002 by Lynn Mason. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.