For the first time ever I’m dying for class to start. Not because I’m wild about American government, believe me. The guy who teaches it, Mr. Halverson, should have done us all a patriotic favor and retired about the time the ink was drying on his beloved Constitution. I’m desperate to talk to Jen, my best friend. I have the worst news. I just found out last night, thanks to Mom’s plans for me and my brothers, that my whole summer is ruined. I feel completely helpless, like I have no say whatsoever in how my life gets lived.
I really need to talk to Jen. I texted her all through homeroom, trying to get her to meet me in the bathroom before class, or at least to show up early for a change. No luck. She must not have been able to look at her cell phone, or worse, it was confiscated. That’s what Halverson would do to mine now if he saw me checking it every three seconds. All I can do is wait, eyes glued to the hall door.
If I know Jen, she’ll waltz into class the very instant the bell rings. Before the bell stops ringing she’ll be in her seat, hands folded, smiling. This keeps teachers with the “in your seat” rule from getting to mark her tardy, even though they know she’s purposely pushing the being on time thing to a technicality.
The bell rings. Sure enough, Jen strolls in. She crosses right in front of Halverson to get to her desk in the last row, four over from me. The whole way, as if she’s got all the time in the world, she’s gathering her blond hair up into one of those twisted knots she’s so good at. She’s the first one on the attendance sheet: Jennifer Abbot. Just as her butt is coming in for a landing, she piles her hair on top of her head, clips it into place and calls out “Here” before old Halverson finishes calling her name. It makes him nuts. Of course, I’ve been in my seat for five minutes, and as soon as he’s called my name, twenty-fourth on the list—Casey Stern—I give Jen the “check your cell” sign, tap-tap-tapping my own, which I have hidden in the palm of my hand. She shakes her head, air-slices her throat and sticks out her tongue in the “dead battery” sign. Fine, we’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way. Using my hands under my desk, I give Jen the Signal.
Jen rolls her eyes. I glare hard at her and jerk my head in Halverson’s direction.
“Come on. Please,” I say in the loudest whisper I dare use. Halverson’s ears are like satellite dishes on the sides of his head; we’re sure he can hear us think.
Jen glares back at me in a way that I’m supposed to understand means there is no way in hell she’s going to give Halverson the Big M.
“You’ve got to. I need to talk to you now.” I practically split my lip, I’m mouthing the words so hard.
The thing is, I know in the end she’ll do it. Jen isn’t a coward. This is just the sort of thing she loves to pull off. She’ll be bragging about it at break. I could never do it—I might go along with some of the stuff she pulls, sure, but I’m never the one who initiates things.
Last year, on our first day of seventh grade, they had us fill out these questionnaires in homeroom. There were a bunch of questions about our favorite subjects and interests and what kinds of clubs we might like to join. I was halfway through mine, neatly filling it out in pencil with careful answers, trying to make sure I got it all right and was giving an accurate picture of myself, when I looked over at Jen. In bright purple ink she had answered every question with a joke. For “What do you enjoy most about school?” she wrote, “Being absent.” For which subject she liked best she answered “Fire Drills.” For favorite pastimes and hobbies she said “BOYS!!” When Jen glanced over at mine she rolled her eyes, plucked my pencil out of my hand and filled in a couple of answers for me with things I would never say. I laughed with her until we got shushed by the teacher, but after the bell rang and Jen had run off to her first class, I stayed behind and erased her answers, then filled them in the way I knew I was supposed to.
Jen turns her head away from me and pretends to concentrate on the blackboard, copying down the reading assignment and study questions. I wait. Sure enough, two minutes later Jen closes her notebook, smooths her miniskirt and walks up to the front blackboard. She waits politely behind Halverson until he’s finished scratching out the names of the Supreme Court justices in his crimpy, scraggly hand- writing.
“Mr. Halverson, uh, could I, uh, talk to you in the hall for a second?” She’s blushing! I can’t believe it. Jen’s sooo good at this; I could never blush on cue.
They step into the hall. Although I can see them from my desk, I can just barely hear them. I lean forward and cup my ears, trying to look as if I’m messing with my hair so no one will notice. All I need is to have the whole class leaning forward, trying to listen with me.
“Mr. Halverson,” Jen says. “Casey’s got a little problem. I mean, she’s had an accident and she, you know . . . It’s that time of the month and her skirt . . .”
Halverson starts to nod. He throws up his hands to keep Jen from saying another word.
Two seconds later they’re back in class. Jen nods at me. My face sizzles as I get my stuff, tie my jean jacket around my waist and slip out the door. Jen is right behind me.
We slap our hands over our mouths and fly down the hall until we crash through the swinging doors and into the cold, wet-smelling girls’ restroom.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Problem with Paradise by Lesley Dahl. Copyright © 2006 by Lesley Dahl. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte 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.