Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
--The First Amendment to the United States Constitution
I was in English when it happened.
AP Literature, to be specific. Next to me were Eric Rogerman, who listened to his iPod during class and was prematurely balding, and Mary Aberfeld, who smelled alternately like cheese and pickles and was prematurely balding, too. Behind me sat Dara and Dana Hoebermann, identical twins with lazy eyes and a penchant for gossip. The rest of the class, more or less, was filled with people I didn't particularly care about--not in a rude way, don't get me wrong, but in the sense that my life with or without them would be exactly the same.
It was the third day of school. So far, we'd read scenes from Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare, 1597) out loud while Mrs. Bloom spoke the stage directions with an affected British accent.
Fact: Bloom is a complete nutjob.
It wouldn't surprise me to learn she was from another planet entirely, one where it was acceptable to leave your house in the morning with curlers nestled in your hair, wearing a necklace of baby spoons and forks strung on mint-flavored dental floss. (I won't even try to explain that one.)
Still, there's nothing better than performing Shakespeare--even if it's not onstage. I'd been stuck with the role of the Nurse; at first, this offended me beyond belief. The Nurse was old and probably fat. Definitely fugly. One of the title roles was being played by Marisa T. Karava, the only person I knew who wrote her middle initial on papers and who if asked her name, would reply "Marisa T. Karava." (I could therefore only assume that the "T" stood for "Tool.")
Marisa read Juliet's lines with about as much enthusiasm as I had for going to the dentist. I'd almost suggested to Mrs. Bloom that she'd made a terrible casting mistake, but then I realized I sort of liked reading the Nurse. To spice things up in class, I spoke every other word with a cockney accent. It threw people off, which was a good thing. Jed thought I was predictable, and I despised that label. I wanted to be spontaneous. Fun. Carefree.
Here's the scoop on Jed, my boyfriend: two years before, as a sophomore, he'd become the first underclassman in Bennington's history to be elected student body president. He'd held on to the title ever since. Jed excelled at the game of (high school) politics--patting the right backs, shaking the right hands, kissing the right asses.
I was the girl he could be himself around, loosen his tie around (literally; Jed wore a tie to school every day), even complain around. I'm not sure if it was love, but our relationship was definitely more than your typical high school fling. Jed understood me, which was what I liked most about him. Not that his father was nouveau riche or that he was a Dartmouth legacy or that his wardrobe consisted almost entirely of buttery pastels or even that he ran the morning announcements, which were pretty much his own television show that aired for ten minutes during homeroom.
Fact: At the Bennington School, a disgustingly posh preparatory on the outskirts of Manhattan (and by that I mean Long Island), the morning announcements are presented on televisions throughout the school--one per classroom--in this ridiculous sort of variety show that Jed hosts. One of the privileges of being student body president.
Typically, student groups wrote up their own messages and Jed performed them like monologues while the show filmed live in the video production room behind the auditorium. At Bennington, the morning announcements were a Pretty Big Deal, and Jed Brantley was a Pretty Big Deal for delivering them.
But he was an Even Bigger Deal for dating me.
Marisa had just butchered the balcony scene (Romeo. Pause. Oh Rom-e-o. Wherefore cough art thou yawn Rom-e-o?) when Mrs. Bloom glanced at the clock and flipped on the TV screen above the blackboard.
"Do you like being the center of attention? Are you blind?" Jed asked. He was wearing a ribbed sweater, hair swooped over his right eye in a way that made me want to brush it back. "Auditions for The Miracle Worker are this week and the Drama Club wants you to be there on Friday!"
I really shouldn't let him write his own jokes.
"Now, there's something important I have to say," he said.
My ears perked.
"Most of you know my girlfriend, Marni." A few kids turned around to stare at me.
"Short blond hair, sort of pretty, nice gams."
Sort of pretty? Gams? I attempted to hide my eyes behind my fingers.
"I just want to say how much I've enjoyed dating you this past year," Jed continued.
"You've been a great girlfriend."
A few girls "awwwed," even though his little speech was definitely not aww-worthy. Some of the guys on the opposite side of the room rolled their eyes and I silently applauded them. I had no idea what Jed was doing.
"That being said, it's time to let you know that we're through. I've met someone else who's really great and, uh, doesn't like her friends more than me. Sorry. I'm sure you understand." Jed straightened a few papers on his desk and then said, "Hey, Darcy!" before the announcements were over and the screen turned blue.
No one looked at me, and no one made any noise. At all. The room was so silent I could hear myself breathe. I could hear the soft hum of Eric's iPod and the sound Mrs. Bloom's shoes made against the floor. My arms began to tingle and my stomach swirled like water in a toilet bowl.
"Can you believe that?" I heard Dara Hoebermann say.
"That effing sucked," Dana replied. "Even more than the time I ate a Popsicle for breakfast and my tongue was stained orange."
"That was this morning," said Dara.
Excerpted from The Diamonds by Ted Michael. Copyright © 2009 by Ted Michael. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.