Corliss, p.1
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       Corliss, p.1

         Part #1 of Girls of Spindrift series by V. C. Andrews
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  “You ain’t a momma’s girl, girl. You a momma, and you ain’t even had a child,” Lily Putney told me.

  She spit the words at me. Anyone watching how aggressively she had approached me and seeing the hateful expression on her face would think I had done something terrible to her, something unforgivable.

  Her normally big eyes bulged out even further, like two egg yolks about to explode in the pan.

  Her lips stretched and became two thinning, about-to-snap rubber bands.

  She looked angry enough to breathe fire.

  And she clenched her teeth, which I thought could turn into fangs at any moment. She was so over-the-top that I had trouble not laughing, which I knew would have resulted in something more violent. There was nothing magical about my perception, but my ability to anticipate what most of the kids in my school were about to say or do was usually spot-on, as my father would say. I had what I knew was a habit that annoyed the other students at school, the habit of finishing their sentences. Yes, I was impatient and I suppose a little intolerant. But this wasn’t the catalyst for Lily’s hostile moves and words. It was something far less personally insulting.

  All I had done was say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” when she offered me the X. And for that, she called me a momma, meaning that I behaved like one. In her mind and unfortunately in the minds of her friends, a momma was someone too old and proper to enjoy a good time and, consequently, someone who would ruin yours.

  Her friends, who were classmates of mine, too, closed in like a bunch of white blood cells attacking an infection.

  That’s not an accidental comparison. I had duplicated the immunity process in a group of cells during my lab period in school today, so the topic was on my mind. Mr. Benjamin, our biology teacher, was so impressed that he embarrassed me with compliments, especially when he began raving about me in the hallway to Dr. Storey, our school principal, all the while keeping his hand on my shoulder so I didn’t run off in the middle of his words, which was something I usually did when any of my teachers spoke hyperbolically about me. I felt that the more attention drawn to me, the less chance I had to develop good friends in my school—not that I had any girlfriends I could call good friends. The motive most had to befriend me was to get help with their homework.

  My shying away from compliments wasn’t simply because I feared people envying me for my intelligence. It went beyond that. Sometimes when someone is as brainy as I am, the average and even above-average students get annoyed because the spotlight on that person washes the others out. Everyone anticipated that I would win every possible academic award on graduation day. I would surely be the valedictorian, with the highest average ever for someone graduating from this school. Other parents might growl or grunt when my name was called repeatedly. I might moan myself.

  I had just left the gym, where the spring school party was, and come into the bathroom, where I was surprised to find Lily and her clique. The moment I had entered, she had pounced on me with her offer. I had hesitated to attend this party. I knew how bad it could get, but despite what the girls in my class thought about me, I, too, wanted to have a good time. However, unlike them, I didn’t think I had to set my brain on fire to do it. Unless some of them did that, they were bored—and to them, there was nothing worse than being bored. A list of their causes of boredom could paper over the walls of their bedrooms. Every day, they tried to outdo one another by adding to the list of what bored them the most.

  Being in class was dreary no matter who the teacher was or what the subject was. Homework was dreadfully boring and was always thought to be a punishment or a burden.

  Being with your family was boring.

  Going to family affairs like birthdays, anniversaries, and even Christmas dinners was extra boring.

  Watching most television was boring, especially if you had to do it with your family.

  Eating a good breakfast was so boring you could fall asleep chewing and swallowing, especially if your mother was standing over you and telling you what was good for you.

  Reading was boring, unless it was a tweet.

  Being in the library, where it was very quiet, was as boring as sleeping. It turned stomachs into beehives and tongues into fish flopping on the shore.

  Doing anything regularly, like brushing your teeth, taking a bath or a shower, brushing your hair, washing your clothes, cleaning up your room, or, if you had to, watching your younger brothers or sisters, was borrrrrrring beyond belief. Sharing your suffering was the only way to cool off the rage. Some of these girls breathed complaints instead of oxygen from the moment they stepped out of their homes.

  Boredom was worse than death, because boredom lasted longer, and the stress might give you pimples or something worse, like an inferiority complex. You could go crazy!

  To them, even though they came to this school party, it was in and of itself boring because it was a school-sponsored party, so the only way to enjoy it was to . . . forget it!

  And how did you forget it?

  You lit up your brain with some designer drug and took a trip to some other planet.

  “What, are you too smart to do the things we do, Corliss Simon?” Marsha Bloom asked, shaking her head at me. She smiled coldly. It was a smile that could freeze molten lava. “Or are you just too good for us?”

  Marsha was a tall, light-brown-haired girl with hazel-brown eyes that always looked tired to me. Like Lily, she had her hands on her hips, and turned her shoulders as she stepped close enough to me that I could tell she hadn’t brushed her teeth or eaten a mint after her last cigarette. She looked like she could punch a hole in the wall with her elbows.

  This was clearly what everyone meant by “getting in your face.”

  Marsha was one of those white girls who, for some reason, were always trying to act and sound tougher than anyone else. I imagined she hated herself.

  “It’s not a matter of being too good, and it’s not a matter of being too smart, Marsha. But it is a matter of being wise enough to avoid serious trouble,” I said calmly, which only annoyed her more.

  “Wise enough?” She grimaced as if I had just made her swallow sour milk.

  I knew I sounded like Albert Einstein, but I couldn’t help it. Truth, facts, clinically proven statistics—they all had a habit of spilling out of my mouth. At any given moment, I could recite most of Wikipedia.

  Suddenly, I surprised Lily by plucking the pill out of her palm. Then I held it up between my thumb and forefinger so all the girls could see. Their attention was fixed on me now, anticipating that I would just give in and swallow it, but I was going to disappoint them.

  “If this is really what Lily thinks it is, what whoever sold it to her told her it is, it’s probably MDMA.”

  “No, it ain’t,” Lily said, wagging her head at me. “It’s X.”

  “That’s what X is supposed to be, Lily, methylenedioxymethamphetamine.”

  “Huh?” Agatha Looman said. She was right beside Lily now. Aggie, as she was better known, was a broad-shouldered black girl with a pretty face smothered under her fat jelly cheeks. She had very big breasts, heavy hips, and thighs like fire hydrants, and she was proud of that, no matter how many lectures M
rs. Turman, the school nurse, gave her about being overweight. She might as well tattoo her arm with high blood pressure and diabetes.

  “Can you talk English? How can you expect us to know what that is, much less say it?”

  “MDMA,” I said, still holding up the pill, “if this is indeed it, and it might not be, is a semisynthetic member of the amphetamine class of psychoactive drugs. You don’t really know the dosage. You didn’t exactly get it from a sanctioned vendor.”

  “Huh? Sanctioned vendor?”

  “Yes, it might make you feel really good, or it might cause brain damage, serious brain damage. It’s been known to cause severe depression, panic attacks, and frightening short-term memory confusion, among other things.”

  I paused and put the pill up to my temple like I would the barrel of a pistol. “Taking any drug someone sold you on the street is like playing Russian roulette with a thirty-eight-caliber.” I put it back in Lily’s palm and added, “You could end up in a wheelchair, drooling, in some institution.”

  For a moment, no one spoke. My description had taken the steam out of them, as they contemplated their own mortality, but, like with anyone our age, it lasted only a moment.

  We don’t get sick.

  We don’t have bad trips.

  We don’t die.

  Lily smirked, shook her head, and stepped back as if I breathed disease. “Man, if anyone could spoil a good time, it’s you, girl. When you finally have sex, you’ll probably ruin it by telling the dude exactly what’s going on in his boy body and what’s going on in you while you’re doing it.

  “You know what I mean,” she said, now playing more to her friends. “Those sperm fishes swimmin’ around those eggs.” She stepped forward again, used her right hand to illustrate by moving it like a fish in my face, and then stopped to add, “Yours are probably poached, anyway.”

  The girls laughed.

  “She’ll probably have a textbook out with some illustrations showing him exactly what’s the proper way,” Marsha said, quickly picking up where Lily left off. She spoke through her nose to imitate Mrs. Turman in health class. She pressed her forefinger against her thumb and held her hand up. “You know, you put your thing in here and stir . . .”

  “And of course, she’ll tell him the safe way,” Aggie said. “Corliss always gotta do what’s safe. She’s probably too scared to ride a roller coaster, even.”

  “Roller coaster? That girl’s too scared to ride a bike,” Marsha said. “Even a three-wheeler.”

  The girls laughed. The bathroom was their classroom. They could feel superior. In it, they were the teachers, and I was the student.

  “Think whatever you want,” I said in a tired tone. I was angry with myself for even trying to help them.

  “You hopeless, girl,” Lily said, wagging her head with a sincere expression of pity.

  Maybe I was hopeless when it came to making friends or having a good time. Sometimes I felt that way about myself. There was no doubt I was a type of poison to them, killing them with reality and truth.

  “So if she’s so hopeless, why are we hanging in this girls’ room so long and trying to get her to do some X with us?” Terri Morris asked.

  They looked at her as if she had said the most brilliant thing of all.

  “Good question. This is a waste of my time,” Lily said. She popped her pill and smiled at me. “Go back out there and hold hands with Jackson Marshall. Corliss here hangs with him, but now if you want, Aggie, you can instead.”

  “If he washed those hands properly,” Aggie said.

  “Jackson will always wash properly. His mommy makes him and checks behind his ears ’fore she lets him out of the house.”

  The laughter carried them out of the girls’ room and left me staring at the door. Their laughter lingered and echoed in my mind. I hated feeling so defeated, especially by them. My IQ was at least fifty points higher than that of the most intelligent of their group, and their prospects for any sort of success in life were practically nil. And yet I felt depressed, like I was the one with an indistinct future.

  Nevertheless, I gazed with a little regret at the door. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that a part of me wanted to go out with them, to do what they did and be with them, be accepted by them. They ran the school. Other students stepped aside when they marched through the halls. There were plenty of times, more lately, maybe, when I wanted to break out and have a wild time, if simply to get out from under the label pasted on my forehead: Miss Goody Two-Shoes, the A-Plus-Plus Girl Wonder. Was I someone’s lab experiment? I was off the charts when it came to intelligence tests. And the whole school knew it. Even my teachers were intimidated. I deliberately answered questions wrong sometimes. But they knew when I did. Everyone knew.

  It was almost as if I were double-jointed or something and could twist my arms and legs around myself. I really did have nightmares about ending up in some circus in a glass cage, doing math sums faster than an accompanying computer or babbling facts about anything in the world. People would pay to ask me any questions and try to stump me.

  But there were other, more important things to worry about. Financial problems seemed to be raining down on us these days. My mother had to return to the Korean laundry on Venice Boulevard in West LA, where she had worked washing and ironing and occasionally doing some tailoring. She was very good at that and was one of the most responsible workers they’d ever had, so when she asked for her old job back, they were eager to have her.

  However, I felt bad for my mom. She had been hoping to be more of a mother and more of a wife. It was the life she had chosen, and she didn’t like pawning off her responsibilities on someone else, even if that someone else was me. For her, family was more important than fame or developing a career. Her face would brighten with Christmas-tree lights when she talked about my father, me, or my brother and sister. Everyone assumed I’d be something like a nuclear physicist, but I feared that even if I won the Nobel Prize, I’d never feel the joy I knew she felt in her heart by doing what was simply expected of her as a wife and mother. How could she be so satisfied with only the smiles of her children and the appreciation of her husband? Where was the magic in that, the secret formula for such contentment? You don’t study for it; you don’t need a degree. That was a secret no one would even think to solve. It wasn’t important enough and paled next to the pursuit of stem cells or even a better furniture polish.

  On the other hand, who knew me well enough to see what turmoil was in my heart or even expected there would be any for a genius like me? How could someone so brilliant that she knew more than her teachers be unhappy? I certainly didn’t want my parents to feel sorry for me. I was out there like a high-flying kite, catching the wind of their dreams.

  My father was the head of security at Ram Studios in Burbank. He made a good salary, but with my ten-year-old brother, Randall, and my eight-year-old sister, Andrea, needing more and more, along with the rise in insurance and house maintenance, our costs had grown exponentially in the bad financial times. I hated to see my parents agonizing over every dollar spent.

  My mother going back to work meant that I had to take on more responsibilities at home. I didn’t mind that so much, and it certainly didn’t have the slightest effect on my schoolwork. Probably nothing could.

  Although neither of my parents talked about it very much, especially now, I had been diagnosed as a gifted child when I was in the first grade. My teacher, Mrs. Cardin, thought she was seeing and hearing things when I spoke or wrote. I was so far advanced in my thinking. I believe I enjoyed the constant amazement on her face more than anything else when I read from books used in high school and did math problems that were beyond most junior high students.

  She would put me off in a corner of the classroom to work on the more difficult materials she had borrowed from the junior and senior high school teachers. Even then, I was separated from my
classmates, who peered at me with confusion and wonder. What made me so special? Practically every day, the grade-school principal, Mrs. Greene, brought someone in from some other school or even, I heard later, from a college to witness me performing these astonishing educational feats that I thought were easy.

  I also remember my parents, especially my father, looking stunned when Mrs. Greene brought in the high school psychologist, Dr. Fromer, to evaluate me and then had a meeting with my parents and me. My father kept looking at me as Dr. Fromer went over the testing and the results. It made me feel funny, made me feel as if my own father were looking at me for the first time ever. Dr. Fromer was suggesting that I could be another Albert Einstein.

  “I knew she was smart,” my father said. “She’s done lots of things that made us take note, but we never thought she was as smart as you’re saying. Gifted, huh?”

  “That’s a technical description based on her scores. She’s very special.” Dr. Fromer explained how they measured IQ and what my numbers meant. “We’ll do the best we can for her, but she’s very special,” he repeated, with more emphasis. He made it clearly sound like they couldn’t do enough. I was already beyond what they could provide.

  My parents were impressed, but I thought he made me sound too strange. I really did wonder if I would end up in a circus or on some television show in which professors threw questions at me from every angle and some bell rang with each of my answers. Defeat the young genius and win a trip to Paris or something.

  “I’m not particularly smart,” my father said. “But I’m no dummy. I graduated easily from high school, and so did Mary.” He nodded at my mother. “But we never had anyone like her in either of our families, right, Mary?”

  “Not that I recall,” my mother said. She always dressed up when she was going to the school, and because she did, my father made sure to put on his best sports jacket and a tie. She smiled at me. “We’d be proud of her no matter what. We have no famous people in our families, but we have no fools, either.”

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