The detention room is really just a regular classroom with a notebook paper sign bearing the word DETENTION hung crookedly in the window on the door.
No one knows who wrote the sign or when, but based on the fading letters and fraying edges and slightly yellow color, I'm thinking some dean with sideburns and polyester slacks way back in the '70s.
I keep waiting for them to make a computerized version with nice clean letters in "ALL CAPS" and laminated with clean, square corners so it looks at least half-professional, but every week it's the same falling sign, held up with the same yellowed tape.
I'm thinking I should make the new sign myself—I'm in here enough—but that kind of defeats the purpose.
I mean, why be a goodie-goodie making laminated door signs for the dean if you're sitting in detention, right?
There's still a minute or two before the final bell of the day, so Cara leans in the doorway, adjusting her pink pencil skirt and candy cane striped, skin-tight blouse as she teeters on too-high heels.
"I can't believe you're in here again," she says with a sigh, poking her head around to see the same cast of characters as last week, and the week before—and the week before that. "I mean, I could see if anyone else cool had gotten busted today, but looks like a lot of lame-os to me."
I grin and nod noncommittally, because she's only half-right. As usual.
"Hey," I bluff. "It's not my fault. Celia Strong just happened to slip and fall in the C-wing girls' room."
Cara arches her eyebrows and says, vaguely teacher-like, "Well, it was your skateboard she slipped on."
I arch an eyebrow back. "Well, maybe a snob like Celia Strong should use another bathroom if she doesn't like sharing it with girls like me."
With a frown, Cara twirls a bright red pigtail around one matching fingernail. "Yeah, well, I wouldn't care except you said you'd go with me to the mall after school and help me pick out a belly ring for the Fall Formal."
I snort. "I think you can deal without me. Besides, I'm sure one of your 'math-a-lete' friends would die for the chance to spend Friday night with you."
She sighs. "Yeah, well, I try to keep my 'math-a-lete' friends and my belly rings separate; know what I mean?"
I slug her on the arm, leaving a slight pink impression from my skull ring. "So, what, you're just slumming with me then?"
Before she can answer, the bell rings, and she scoots, none-too-eager to run into Dean Devlin; although, I try to tell her the guy is never on time.
The seats in detention are arranged in a semi-circle rather than rows; this is supposed to "prevent temptation to talk to your neighbor." At least, according to Dean Devlin, but all the setup really does is give me a better look at Darren Dark.
He's sitting, as usual, in the very first chair in the semi-circle—which just happens to be the least amount of footsteps from the door.
The only other two kids stupid enough to get detention on a Friday are two freshmen who, from the looks of it, got in a food fight in the cafeteria and haven't cleaned up yet. Amateurs.
They are sitting on the opposite end of the semi-circle, directly across from Darren and on the other side of the room, whispering amongst themselves despite the sign on the wall just over their heads that reads, "NO TALKING AT ANY TIME!"
I shrug, survey the room like I haven't ever been here before, and slink into a chair in the middle of the semi-circle.
I figure this way it looks like I want to be as far from both groups as possible, but really, there are only about six desks between me and Darren, and if you ask me, that's about five desks too many.
As usual, Darren doesn't even look my way.
As usual, I don't look in his direction, either; well, not so he can tell, anyway.
Ever since stumbling upon Darren in detention a few months ago, I have mastered my peripheral vision. Well, that and hiding behind my big Chemistry book and peeking out when I know he's retying his shoelaces or carving his name in the desk and won't look back.
Darren is wearing his standard weekday uniform: wheat-colored cords stretched over his long, lanky legs, battered blue high-tops so dark they might as well be black, and his rock concert T-shirt of the day.
He'd probably call it "retro thrift shop" chic; I call it "stuck in the '70s" lame. And not in a good way, either.
His hair is scruffy and blonde with blackish roots, and mostly I prefer guys with short hair, and black or brown, but Darren is one of those guys you can't picture wearing their hair any other way, you know?
His cheeks are hollow, his chin-bones chiseled, and his long, crooked nose perfectly imperfect; he's not male-model handsome, but all the pieces flow together so well he might as well be.
His nails are painted black but they're faded and chipping, like maybe he thought it would be a good idea late one night and has since changed his mind.
I'm with him on that one.
He's reading a book called Great Warlocks of the 18th Century, and to get this ball rolling before Dean Devlin shows up and rains on our private parade, I snort and ask, "Good book?"
I forget I'm pretending to be sitting behind my two-thousand-ninety-eight-page Highlights of Modern Chemistry book, so he snorts back. "Better than yours."
"Doubt it," I murmur. "At least I can prove the scientific formula for sodium."
He puts down the book—mission accomplished!
"What's that supposed to mean?"
I sigh and put my book down so I can see him better. "Nothing, just that I'd rather spend my time on stuff that's real, that's all."
"What, witches and warlocks and demons and ghouls aren't real because you can't see them?"
I shake my head. "No, warlocks and ghouls aren't real because they don't exist."
"How would you know anyway?" he asks, shrugging in the direction of the front door so vehemently his blond hair spills across his surprisingly broad shoulders. "When's the last time you and your little friend there even tried looking for the truth anywhere other than the mall?"
"We don't always go to the mall," I say.
He reaches for his book with a chuckle. "And she misses the point completely."
I look at his faded, retro concert T-shirt, grasping at straws, and make a tsk-ing sound against the roof of my mouth to keep his attention; it doesn't work.
"Grave Dirt?" I blurt out quickly, before he can pick his book back up and cover half his beautiful face with the predictably black with red-lettered cover. "What's that, some gross-out scary movie or something?"
"What are you, dead from the neck up? Grave Dirt is a heavy metal band. The heavy metal band, of all-time, ever. Period. End of story. Case closed."
His nostrils are flaring cutely and his dark chocolate eyes are ablaze.
I don't think I've ever seen him this upset before, except maybe for that time last week when I told him I thought Michael Myers would waste both Freddy and Jason in a fair fight!
I shrug. Again. "Never heard of it."
"I'm not surprised," he says, picking up his book anyway. "They probably don't play their music on the Airhead Channel."
I'm about to offer up another witty comeback, when the door swings open, and Dean Devlin, all five-feet-two inches of him, stands planted firmly in the doorway.
"I hope that wasn't talking I heard." His words come out on what I'm sure is meant to be a bellow as he twirls the edges of his handlebar moustache between a greasy forefinger and a thumb. "And, if it was, I hope you enjoyed it because it's the last talking you'll be doing for the next fifty-two minutes!"
I sigh, almost as loudly as Darren harrumphs, settling back behind my gigantor Chemistry book, angled so I won't miss a single one of Darren's breaths in the next "fifty-two minutes" or so.
I mean, why does Cara think an otherwise straight-B student would wind up in detention every Friday?
"Honey?" Mom asks, as I stir fry tofu and snap peas in a marinade of soy sauce, molasses, and hot mustard. It's kind of a secret recipe; try not to spread it around.
"Yeah?" I ask back as I check on the brown rice, which is still three minutes away from being fluffy as opposed to mushy, which we both hate, but will eat if we're really, really hungry.
"Can you come here a sec?"
Her voice is . . . odd: not quite nervous, not quite foreboding, not quite quivering, but a little bit of all three.
"Right now?" I peer through the open kitchen door and into the living room, where I see a very unfamiliar sight: Mom watching—gasp—TV!
Usually it's a strict dinnertime rule: TV bad, smooth jazz radio station good.
"Right now," she snaps. Another rarity.
Mom is a reformed hippie, peace and love and roasting marshmallows, and all that good stuff.
Even when I do something really wrong, which is not so very often and never all that wrong to begin with, the most she does is squeal, whine, or give me the occasional guilt-trip; snapping—like TV—is not really in her repertoire.
Reluctantly, I turn down the heat on the wok and the rice and scamper into our living room.
On the TV is the news, and on the news is a story about a "heavy metal god"—or so says the caption scrolling beneath his picture—called, get this, "Wormwood Rot."
I make a sarcastic "clucking" sound—heavy metal is so dead—but Mom ignores me, glued to the set from her perch on the corner of the coffee table.
If she were any closer, she'd be a part of the actual newscast.
Wormwood Rot's picture is grainy but shows a sweaty blond guy, way past his prime, holding up two shiny wooden drumsticks—which look a lot younger than he does—as he prepares to pound heck out of a black drum set that gleams in front of his bulging pot belly.
On the biggest drum, facing a cheering crowd, are the words "Grave Dirt" written in—naturally—blood red lettering.
Hmm, now where have I heard that name before?
"Cheesy, much?" I quip, but Mom shoots me daggers, presses the mute button, and pulls me down next to her on the coffee table.
Wow . . . sitting down on the coffee table . . . with my mother?
Now I know it must be a national holiday or something.
"Honey," she says, looking at me intently, her normally full, pink lips a thin gray line as she struggles for words. "I have a . . . confession to make."
"I knew it." I joke, inching away because, seriously, we're sitting way too close at this point. "You're not really a vegetarian! Does this mean you want me to toss some hamburger meat in the stir fry tonight—?"
"Becca!" She shouts. "That man, on the screen . . . he's not just another heavy metal god, honey. He's not just some stranger. He—well . . . he's your . . . your father."
"What?" I look between Mom and the TV, which is now showing a closed gate outside a big farmhouse where people are lighting candles and straightening framed pictures of the blond dude they keep calling Wormwood Rot. "When? How? Why?"
"Just, obviously, honey, it was a long time ago, in another lifetime and—"
"Can I meet him?" I ask, and by the look on her face, I surprise her. I dunno, maybe she thought I'd be mad or something.
I am shocked and mad, sure, okay—she never told me in seventeen whole years?—but that can wait.
For now, first things first.
If I've got a Dad, and his name is Wormwood Rot, and he's in some heavy metal rock band called Grave Dirt . . . then I'm definitely meeting him!
She stares at me awkwardly, and I'm about to ask again—maybe even insist—when she says, "Honey, why do you think he's on the news? Wormwood, I mean . . . your father? Becca, he's . . . dead."