My name is Andrea.
My locker is the fourth one down from Mrs. Donough's room. She's the teacher they call the Doughnut.
The Doughnut teaches earth science and I think she's all right, but I guess you can't be a fat teacher with a last name like Donough and get off easy. If you look like adorable little Kimberlee Dorcus, with her tiny sweaters and lip-glossed mouth, not too many people will call you the Dork because of your last name. But the Doughnut isn't cute and perky. Kimberlee is.
Actually, I consider myself lucky not to have a horrible last name. It's Anderson. Andrea Anderson. If I had a last name like Beagle or Dumley, I'd be screwed. There are kids with ugly faces or bad skin, annoying personalities or fat thighs. There's the girl with the receding chin that makes her nose look like a ski jump. The boy with bad breath. These are the kids who learn to keep to the edges, to hide.
Then there's that other category of kids. The Desirables. Them.
I am definitely not one of them. I am plainish, boring, nervous. Average student. No school activities. Andrea Anderson, a Nothing. I just am.
It's better to know where one falls in the social stratosphere, and I fall somewhere between Too Lame to Invite to a Party and Too Ugly to Go Out With. I move through the halls of school as if I'm not really there. The hallways between classes are like the stage in the school auditorium. There are actors performing roles from different plays, not noticing that a million other performances are going on at the same time. Simmonsville High School Presents: Act 1--Cheerleader Ashley Gets Bad Haircut and Cries. Act 2--Psycho Tries to Make Crystal Meth in Science Lab. Act 3--Future Valedictorian Accused of Cheating on History Test. Some acts, naturally, are accompanied by predictable choreography. And it's the choreography of the Cheerleaders I'm watching from my locker: they are huddled around Cheerleader Ashley-with-Bad-Haircut's locker. Ashley-with-Bad-Haircut dabs at tear-stained cheeks in a tiny locker mirror.
"It'll grow back, honey," Teena Santucci is saying, running her jewel-color fingernails through her own glossy hair. Teena wears a diamond-studded bar through her navel that makes me shudder because it had to hurt, didn't it?
The Doughnut sticks her lightbulb head out her door. She looks right through me to the Cheerleaders and sighs.
"Okay, ladies, get to homeroom."
Ashley-with-Bad-Haircut frantically repairs her makeup as the Cheerleaders drift away.
"The bell hasn't even rung yet, Mrs. Donough," Teena mouths off, but she's already heading down the hall. The Doughnut ignores her and pulls her big head back into her classroom.
The bell rings, and it's just me and sniffling Ashley in the hall. Ashley grabs a notebook from her locker. She slams it shut. She sees me looking at her and looks back, not smiling.
"Tell me the truth," she says.
Her eyes are red-rimmed, outlined with gray eyeliner. Her face and neck are flushed and pretty, like she's just dashed back to the sidelines from the center of the basketball court. She's wearing a blue kilt and a tight baby-doll T-shirt just concealing her stomach.
Her hair isn't so bad, I decide. But I hesitate to tell her. If I say it looks okay, she'll think I'm kissing up. If I say it's horrible, she'll think I'm a jerk.
"About my hair," she says when I don't answer right away. She points to her head as if I'm stupid. What used to be a sleek ponytail is now a short bob, gelled to stick out here and there. Tousled.
"I guess it matters more how you like it, not how I like it," I say, shrugging.
"Well, I hate it," she barks.
I shrug again and shut my locker.
"Doesn't make a difference to me either way," I say.
Ashley doesn't respond. I notice from the corner of my eye that she's still standing there, facing me.
I look up.
Ashley's face is registering surprise. She blinks hard at me. I wonder briefly if she's angry.
"Oh, it's so stupid," she laughs suddenly. "You know, when I was seven, my brother cut my hair. Snipped my bangs back so far it looked like the first two inches of my forehead had been shaved.
"Took months for it to grow back. Every kid in the neighborhood called me Forehead. I survived it, and I'll survive the jackasses who make fun of me today."
Ashley flicks her hair with cherry-red fingernails and heads for her homeroom.
"It's not like I have a choice, do I?" she whispers as she passes me. I'm surprised by how confiding her voice sounds. Like maybe she thinks I matter.
Homeroom with Mr. Diego.
Mr. Diego wears consignment store clothes and forgets to trim his ear hair. He whispers things like "Carpe diem" as forlorn homeroom students trudge in. Or he glares at us from his big metal desk.
It depends on the day.
Today he's glaring. The nerdy kid next to me whispers that Mr. Diego needs drugs for manic depression. I smile and the nerdy kid's face floods with relief, as if he's grateful. That's one thing about high school I've learned--even when you're unnoticed, there's usually someone else with a more painful role than loneliness. Girls who get their bras snapped in gym class, boys who endure a fist squashing their brown-bag lunches in the cafeteria. Both noticed and hated. Sometimes that's a solace, to not be one of them.
In homeroom with Mr. Diego, the students sit in alphabetical order. I'm in the first row, last seat. Diego does roll call: Allessandro, Almand, Amman, Anderson. Two football players copy someone else's homework next to me. Nicole Belloff is digging a pack of gum free from her overstuffed purse.
"Nicole, you just dropped a tampon on the floor," one of the football players says. Nicole frantically dives for her purse, groping beneath her chair. The football players both burst out laughing, and Nicole shoots them a dark look.
"Works every time, brother," laughs one football player. The pair high-five each other, then look around the room with gloomy boredom.
A few stragglers come in and take their seats.
"The bell rang eight minutes ago." Mr. Diego's voice is icy. The room gets quiet, but we all know Mr. Diego won't do anything. No one really gets to his homeroom right on time. Sure enough, he sighs and continues roll call.
"Carson, Muriel. Carson, Peter. Chistaldo. Chow."
"Purina Dog Chow!" hoots a football player.
Same joke, different day.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Skin Deep by E. M. Crane. Copyright © 2008 by E. M. Crane. 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.