Mika’s Black Cougar

Marisa Chenery

 

Chapter 1

The school loomed in front of me. My stomach was queasy from just thinking of what I’d have to endure. And oh how I dreaded having to go inside alone. All the other years, I always had my best friend, Cathy, to help brave the first day of school, but not this year. Cathy and her family had moved from Vernon over the summer. I still felt a little lost without her. We’ve been best friends since the first grade. Now I’d have to face going through the eleventh grade alone, something I didn’t look forward to.

With a deep breath, I slowly headed to the school’s entrance. A group of what looked like grade-eight boys jostled me out of their way as they rushed by. I shook my head at their exuberance. Vernon Secondary School, in British Columbia, taught grades eight to twelve. It seemed to me that each year the grade eights got younger-looking. The group of boys who had just passed me sounded as if none of their voices had even started to change.

I adjusted the strap of my backpack on my shoulder and sighed before I pulled open the door to the school. The lobby was overly full as other students crowded around the class lists taped on the wall as they tried to find their homerooms. I decided to hang back until the crowd thinned a bit. Once I didn’t have to fear getting trampled by a bunch of thirteen-year-olds, I went to find my name on the list of homerooms. I found the T’s and ran my finger down the sheet of paper until I came to my name—Mika Taylor. I groaned to myself when I found it. I had Math for my homeroom. I hated Math, and to have it first thing in the morning didn’t help matters.

I still had another ten minutes before the first bell rang, but I decided to go to my homeroom anyway. It wasn’t as if I had any friends to meet up with first. Cathy had been my only friend at school. I’m not the type of girl who fits in with the popular crowd. Never an outgoing person, I’ve always had trouble making friends. Not that I’d be accepted in the popular crowd, even if I could bring myself to be more outgoing. I just wasn’t like them. I didn’t have the need to have a bunch of friends to hang out with. Cathy had been more than enough for me.

It didn’t take me long to find my Math classroom. Since I arrived before anyone else I had my choice of seats. I picked a desk in the front row. I pulled out one of my new binders from my backpack and then placed it on the center of the desk. With pencil in hand, I waited for the bell to ring.

More kids trickled in and the other desks around me were slowly taken. Mr. Morrison, the Math teacher, arrived a couple seconds before the second bell rang. As he pushed the door closed, one last kid slipped inside.

I tried not to stare as Trent Hunter walked by me as he headed for an empty desk at the back of the classroom. I’d developed a major crush on him last year, and from the way my heart pounded at seeing him again, I knew I still had one. Not that Trent had ever given me the time of day, but it still didn’t stop me from admiring him from afar. Trent was a full-blooded Okanagan Indian. I could spend hours staring at his copper-colored skin and long, black hair. What I wouldn’t give to have his brown eyes look at me with interest just once.

When Mr. Morrison addressed the class, I brought my wayward thoughts back under control. I kept my eyes focused on the front of the classroom as the teacher passed out our schedules and then gave us our locker numbers. Halfway through the class, I couldn’t resist taking a quick look behind me at the back of the room. My gaze unerringly latched on to Trent. He had his head down as he wrote something in his binder. I sighed to myself and focused back on the teacher.

The rest of the class seemed to fly by. After the bell rang at the end of the period, I stuffed my binder into my backpack and then left the class. I made sure I didn’t look at the back of the room when I walked through the door. With my new schedule in my hand, I walked down the hall, looking at what class I had next. I had Science, another subject that didn’t thrill me.

Science turned out to be boring, and I didn’t have Trent in this class for distraction. Ms. Syler droned on about what we would learn this year and the various assignments we were expected to complete. The bell couldn’t ring soon enough. My next class was English, which I liked. I’m a bit of a bookworm. I’ve always loved to read. I love to get lost in other worlds and places, to experience someone else’s life through the pages of a book. Reading lets me escape the boring reality of my own life for a time. As in my other two classes, I sat at the front of the room.

With English over, I dreaded what came next—lunch period. Even though we didn’t have that many classes together, Cathy and I always sat together in the cafeteria during lunch. I hated to eat alone. Nothing screamed “loser” more than having to sit at a table by yourself.

Since I’d taken my time getting to the cafeteria most of the tables were already full. I spotted an empty one close to the doors. I quickly walked to it and sat in a chair at the end. I pulled my bagged lunch out of my backpack and then set it on the table. As I took out my sandwich, I wished I’d remembered to bring a book to read. If I had, I could have gotten lost in my own little world while I ate. That way I wouldn’t have felt as if everyone stared in my direction.

Determined to get through lunch without feeling too uncomfortable, I picked up my sandwich and started to eat. I kept my gaze down, not wanting to see if anyone stared. The other end of my table soon became occupied by three grade-eight girls. I groaned to myself. They spoke in loud voices as they gushed over all the older high-school boys they’d seen. I glanced at them. All three of them were pretty, and were dressed in the latest style. Not like me. I dress for comfort, not style. My jeans may be a couple years old, but I had them broken in just the way I liked them. The pale pink t-shirt I wore may have been plain, but it was one of my favorites. I knew these girls would have no trouble finding boyfriends.

By this time, I’d finished my sandwich. I pulled out the rest of what Mom had packed in my lunch—a juice box and some chocolate chip cookies. As I munched on the cookies, I looked up at the big clock on the wall across from where I sat. I still had another fifty minutes before lunch was over. Now that I’d looked up, I quickly scanned the crowded cafeteria, hoping to catch a glimpse of the one person I wouldn’t mind staring at me.

I’d taken a sip from my juice box when I found where Trent sat, alone as usual. I sucked in a breath when I realized for once he stared right at me, which in turn made me choke on my juice. I couldn’t tear my gaze away from him, even though I must have looked really attractive with my face flushed as I tried to cough up one of my lungs. Trent gave me a crooked smile as I continued to choke. Embarrassed, I quickly looked away. Once I could breathe again, I gathered up what remained of my lunch and then slung my backpack over my shoulder. I was sure I looked like crap with my streaming eyes and hot face. I threw the rest of my lunch into the garbage can on the way out of the cafeteria.

I ducked into the girls’ washroom. As I caught a glimpse of myself in the large mirror on the wall, I grimaced. My face was slightly red and my eyes still watered a tiny bit.

“Smooth move, Mika,” I whispered to my reflection.

A damp paper towel cooled down my face, and also took care of my eyes. Trent finally noticed me, and I, of course, had to make myself look like a dork by choking. Real attractive. Not. I’d be lucky if he ever looked my way again. If Cathy had been there, she would have told me not to let it bother me—that I should take it as a good sign that Trent actually looked right at me. I tried to tell myself those very same things, but it didn’t sound as convincing without Cathy being the one to say them.

I gave myself a final look over in the mirror. I ran my fingers through my long locks. I have naturally dark blonde hair, which I got from Mom. My hair and blue eyes are my best features. Everything else about me is average. Average height, average looks, average body. I stuck my tongue out at my reflection. I took a deep breath and left the safety of the girls’ washroom. Not wanting to go back to the cafeteria, I decided to spend the rest of lunch outside.

* * * *

My final two classes, Gym and History, proved to be uneventful. By the time the last bell of the day rang I felt more than ready to go home. If today had been any indication, this school year would be one I couldn’t wait to have over.

At least I didn’t have to take the bus this year. Over the summer Dad had bought a new car and generously donated his old one, an eight-year-old Nissan Sentra in metallic gray, to me. It wasn’t much to look at, but it got me around wherever I wanted to go.

The parking lot became a mad rush as everyone tried to leave the school at the same time. I eased my car into the line-up and inched my way closer to the parking lot exit. While I waited for the next vehicle in front to move up, someone walked between the cars. I tightened my hands on the steering wheel as Trent walked in front of mine. He seemed to pause for a few seconds as he turned his head to look right at me through the windshield. There was no mistaking the interest that flashed in his brown eyes. I gulped and stared back.

A horn-honk came from the car behind me. I jumped and looked in my rearview mirror to find the boy in the vehicle behind me waving for me to go. I shifted my gaze to the front only to see the back of Trent as he walked away. The car honked again. I felt tempted to flip the guy off, but thought better of it. With my luck, he’d get out of his car and yell at me if I did.

On the drive home I couldn’t stop thinking about Trent. He’d never acted as if he knew I existed before. What was so different about today that he finally noticed me? I had no idea. I hadn’t changed that much over the summer. If anything, Trent seemed to be the one who had while school had been out. He looked taller. He had to be at least six foot now, and he seemed to have packed on more muscle. I hadn’t missed the well-defined muscles on his chest and arms. The black t-shirt he wore fit snug enough to show them off. I’d promised to email Cathy after I got home from school on the first day. I’d have to make sure I told her about Trent not treating me as if I were invisible.

After I arrived at home, I parked my car at the side of the driveway so Dad could put his new one in the garage. I pushed open the front door and called out to Mom. “Mom, I’m home.” She’d always been at home for me and my younger brother, Jared.

“I’m in the kitchen, Mika.”

I put my backpack on the floor near the stairs and headed to the kitchen. Mom sat at the table, sipping on a cup of tea. She smiled when I walked into the room. Even though Mom chose to stay at home with her kids rather than leave us at babysitters while she went off to work, it didn’t mean she didn’t take care of herself. Just about as slim as I am, she by no means looks forty-five years old. Now that I’m older, we sometimes get mistaken for sisters. Of course Mom loves that. I cringe every time I hear someone say it.

Mom kicked a chair away from the table for me to sit down. “So, how did the first day of school go not having your sidekick with you?”

I rolled my eyes as I sat. “Cathy wasn’t my sidekick, Mom. It was okay, I guess.”

“You two were just about joined at the hip. I imagine it had to be a bit rough without her at school.”

“Yeah, it was a bit tough, especially at lunch.”

“Didn’t you find any new friends to sit with?”

I shook my head. “No. It’s kind of hard to make them when you’re considered the freak of the school.”

Mom chuckled. “Oh, come on, it can’t be that bad.”

“Yeah, Mom, it is that bad. You know I’m not into the whole clothes and boys thing the girls in the popular crowd are. I’d rather read a book than go shopping with a bunch of giggling girls any day. And I’m not about to change just so I can fit in.”

“I never would expect you to. I just hoped maybe you’d met one who’s new to school and doesn’t know anyone.”

“Nope. Sorry, I didn’t run into any new girls.”

“How about boys? Did you see that Okanagan boy you and Cathy used to moon over last year? What’s his name?”

“Trent.” I felt my face heat up. “Yes, I saw him.”

Mom gave me a knowing smile. “If I had to go by how red your face is right now, I’d say he saw you as well.”

I placed my hands on my hot cheeks. “Mom!”

“What? Fine, I won’t say anything else about Trent. Go on. I’m sure you’re just itching to email Cathy all about your first day back at school. I’ll call you when dinner is ready.”

Glad to escape the kitchen before Mom decided to ask any more questions about Trent, I grabbed my backpack on the way up the stairs to my bedroom. When I walked by my brother’s bedroom, I heard the sound of one of his video games through his closed door. Jared could spend a whole day doing nothing but playing them.

Inside my bedroom, I shut the door and then turned on my laptop. As I waited for it to boot up, I threw my backpack into the corner and sat on my bed. Once the computer was ready, I took it off my dresser and brought it to my bed. I checked my emails first. I saw Cathy had already emailed me, which didn’t surprise me. Patience didn’t happen to be one of Cathy’s virtues. She’d probably sent it the second she got home from school to remind me to email her about how things went on my first day without her.

Sure enough, when I opened her email, the first thing I read in capital letters was, EMAIL ME. Cathy proceeded to tell me I had twenty minutes to write back before she sent another one. I opened a new message and typed up how my school day had gone. I waited until the end of the email to tell Cathy everything in great detail. I knew she’d demand more if I only glossed over it. I told her how Trent had looked at me twice. I hit the send button and sat back to wait for Cathy’s response. All of five minutes later, my laptop beeped to let me know I had a new message.

Cathy’s second email told me to sign in to my instant messenger. Once I did, she bombarded me with messages. She wanted to know how Trent looked, what he wore today and anything else I could think of that I hadn’t yet told her about him. Wishing Cathy was with me, I spent the next two hours exchanging messages with her. After Mom called me for dinner, I promised Cathy I’d be online tomorrow right after school.

As I headed downstairs, I tried to push thoughts of Trent aside. Now that I’d gone over every detail with Cathy with a fine-tooth comb, I’d convinced myself Trent noticing me had to be a fluke. Even though Cathy seemed pretty sure Trent would in some way acknowledge my presence at school tomorrow, I had my doubts. It wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up looking right through me as everyone else did in the school.