Thirteen-year-old Abigail Presley tapped her lilac, high top sneakers on the wet pavement outside an East Nashville rambler with a U-Haul trailer in the driveway. Her left arm hung awkwardly at her side in a long-sleeve top while she held an open golf umbrella in her right hand with her backpack slung over her right shoulder. She wore her strawberry hair in a ponytail with low-cut jeans that barely hugged her lanky hips. Mascara with black eye liner and a dark plum lipstick brought a measure of sophistication to her youthful appearance.
She collapsed the umbrella in light drizzle and stepped toward the brown two-door Stanza rolling up to the driveway. She shifted her backpack off her shoulder and opened the passenger door to hear the thumping bass from an Eminem track. “What took you so long?” she asked the driver, a petite platinum blonde in a white McDonald’s uniform with Nicole imprinted on a bronze name tag.
“I had to open this morning. Then I had to take an unscheduled break to come get you.”
Abby pulled the door shut with her floral print backpack on her lap and the wet umbrella wedged beside her seat. “I think the fast food gods will survive without you.”
Nicole adjusted the radio volume and drove away. “I can’t always leave work to come get you.”
“I can’t walk to school from here.”
“You could have taken the bus.”
Abby unzipped a side compartment on her backpack. “Not on my first day. My dad should have taken me.”
“He has an audition this morning.”
Abby gazed through her window with tranquil blue eyes the color of a Colorado sky. “I know,” she said assertively. She rubbed her hand on her damp pant leg.
Nicole shifted the Stanza into fourth with a noticeable clunk. “Are those my jeans?”
“Mine were dirty.”
“Where did you get the makeup?”
Abby twirled the end of her ponytail between her fingers. “I’m going to be late for school.”
“I don’t mind if you borrow my stuff, but your dad doesn’t want you to wear it.”
“My dad doesn’t get to choose my clothes anymore.”
Nicole checked her mirrors and changed lanes. In some ways, she saw her former self in Abby’s skin—young, naïve, and always mad about something. Cute boys were the center of her universe, and no one understood her problems. “I wasn’t talking about the clothes.”
“The makeup makes me look older.”
Nicole spied Abby reaching for a pack of cigarettes crammed inside a zippered compartment. “Don’t let your dad find those.”
Nicole pointed to the red Marlboros.
“They aren’t mine.”
“You’re just holding them for a friend?”
“I’m thirteen. I’m not a kid anymore.”
“How’s your arm?”
Abby adjusted her position. “It’s fine.”
“I remember thirteen,” Nicole empathized. “Don’t be so quick to grow up.”
“You sound like my dad.”
“Your dad’s a great guy.”
“When he’s around.”
“He works hard for you.”
“He works hard for his music.”
“He loves you more.”
Abby curled her hand around the pack of cigarettes and stuffed them in her jeans. “Drop me off before we get there.”
“I can hold the umbrella.”
Nicole slowed near the school zone. “Are you sure?”
Abby waited for the car to stop and got out. “I’m good,” she said, leaning left to shift the backpack on her right shoulder before she deployed her umbrella with the same arm.
“Your dad will pick you up,” Nicole offered as Abby kicked the door shut.
* * *
Abby plodded toward the school’s main entrance and shook her collapsed umbrella above a non-slip mat inside. She wiped the rain off her face with her forearm and observed the thinning herd of students scrambling to beat the final bell. A moment later, a towering, full-figured woman with a cinnamon complexion, braided hair, and a look to suggest she knew bullshit when she heard it, rolled up like a tank on enemy patrol.
“You must be Miss Presley,” the woman greeted Abby. “I’m Principal Hendrix. Glad you could make it this morning.”
“My ride was late.”
Principal Hendrix extended her left hand, which Abby grabbed awkwardly with her right as the final bell rang out.
“I’m new,” Abby stated flatly.
“My dad’s going to pick me up this afternoon.”
Principal Hendrix pointed to the clock on the wall. “Let’s get through this morning, first.”
“I don’t know where to go.”
Abby feigned a polite smile. She hated the new kid in school label—one she’d worn more times than she deserved. She trailed her new principal through a labyrinth of hallways with dented lockers and cinder-block walls painted dark brown to hide graffiti. A resource officer roamed outside the empty cafeteria decked with spirit banners. The school looked old. It smelled old, too, like the basement in the house she used to live in.
“You’ve been assigned to Mrs. Dotti’s homeroom,” Principal Hendrix instructed Abby outside a class full of seventh grade students. “She’ll have a copy of your schedule. She can show you to your locker and answer any questions you have. Your lunch rotation starts at 12:15. Good luck today. I suspect we’ll see more of each other soon.”
Abby took a hesitant step toward the hangman’s gallows, where rows of curious students stared in her direction. She kept a laser focus on the teacher at the front of the room with an open textbook in her hand. “Welcome,” she heard Mrs. Dotti greet her, followed by, “Take any open seat you like.”
Abby loped along the perimeter toward a spot near the back of the class, her adrenaline pumping as she avoided eye contact with everyone in the room. She hated Nicole for making her late. She hated her dad for making her move again. She missed her school in Tulsa, and most of all, she missed her friends in her old neighborhood.
She set her backpack on the floor and leaned her dripping umbrella against the back wall. She shuffled between two desks, her sense of anonymity returning when the class faced forward again. But as she maneuvered to take her seat, she slipped on a patch of wet tile and fell sideways toward a student who pushed off to help break her fall, inadvertently dislodging Abby’s prosthetic forearm from the socket in her sleeve.