By Matt Zakosek
Things don't change much in seventh-grade homeroom. Every day, one of these things happens, and most days, all of them do:
1 ) Billy French and Jennifer Sanders make out in a corner while the teacher pretends not to notice.
2 ) Kelly Ashford and Lisa Martin argue over who has the more expensive handbag.
3 ) I copy the history homework I borrow every morning from Gina on the bus.
But this Monday morning, two things were different. First of all, we had a substitute teacher. This was good because she didn't pay any attention to us. She sat at Mrs. Sawyer's desk and did her nails while we kids talked or slept.
The second thing happened about halfway through homeroom. The classroom door swung open and the vice principal stepped in, followed by a girl I had never seen before—with long eyelashes, pale skin, and not an ounce of fat on her.
Everyone paid a little more attention after that ( well, Billy and Jennifer didn't stop making out ) . New kids were always interesting. If the kid was cool, his first few weeks were spent deciding who to hang out with, and that determined if he would be popular or…well, invisible.
The sub stopped blowing on her nails. She spoke quietly with the vice principal, nodding a few times. She kept her arms at her sides, but I could see her flapping her hands to keep drying her fingernail polish. The vice principal left the room, leaving the sub and the new girl standing at the front of the class. All eyes turned to them.
The sub cleared her throat.
'Class,' she announced, 'this is Jamie Park, who joins us from Silver Spring, Maryland.' She paused, glanced once more at the new girl, and continued. 'I hope you will all give him a warm welcome.'
'Him?' Billy French shouted.
I was thinking the same thing myself.
The sub glared at Billy. 'Yes, him,' she repeated. 'Jamie, you may take a seat. There's one over there by Rian.'
'Thank you,' Jamie said quietly.
Jamie trudged to the empty seat next to me and slung down his backpack. For the first time, I noticed it had a picture of a unicorn on it. I fought the urge to snicker.
Jamie folded his hands in his lap and faced the front of the room uncomfortably. Around him, a few girls had gone back to gossiping and comparing outfits, but the boys were openly staring.
'Hey, faggot,' Kyle Dunway hissed. Jamie's eyes opened wide in panic. He reminded me of a cartoon character with those bulging eyes.
'Hey, sissy. You got any make-up I could borrow?' Trevor Ishida asked in a high-pitched voice. 'Want me to come over there and kick your girly butt?'
This time, Jamie didn't react in any way I could see. He just studied the graffiti that was etched into his desktop. Calpernia Addams Middle School sux. Where is my mind? And my personal favorite—Nowheresville, Illinois. Population: You.
Matt Zakosek ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) has written for the Chicago Sun-Times and for the Chicago Reader. This is the beginning of his 37,000-word young-adult novel, Boy in a Dress.