Denton Kensington sat at the breakfast table, sipping tomato juice. With a sharp flick of his wrist, he straightened up the Financial Times and had a look at the date.
Friday, April 12.
He had been in America for not even eight months. It seemed so much longer.
As he unfolded the paper, his mother came up behind him and hugged him around the shoulders.
"I'm so proud of you, dear." She smothered his
forehead with a kiss. "Both your father and I are so proud."
Denton pulled away. "Argh, Mum, you'll wrinkle my shirt. I just pressed it."
"And it looks lovely, dear. You look lovely."
"In America, looking lovely isn't exactly cool," Denton explained. "As a matter of fact, I don't think it's cool anywhere."
"Well, maybe it should be." His mother smiled. "Looking lovely will get you a good job and a good girl. Who wouldn't want that?"
"Well, I don't happen to have either," Denton told her.
"That's because you're only thirteen, dear."
"Don't remind me," Denton grumbled.
Back in England, there were other kids like Denton--prim, proper, and concerned with world affairs and correct grammar. He used to at least chat with those kids in school, sometimes share a chuckle or two. On occasion, he had even invited them over to his house to watch old movies on the couch or build model sailboats in his father's study.
That had all ended when his father got a banking job in New York City, bought a house in some strange little town called Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, and moved the family overseas. Eighth grade, as it was called in America, soon followed.
Eighth grade was full of far too many swaggering, boorish boys and chatterbox girls. While they had plenty of those in England too, it wasn't all of them. It might not have been all of them in New Jersey either, but to Denton it certainly seemed like it.
His new school was enormous. There were four hundred kids in the eighth grade alone. To find five or six he could connect with seemed an awfully big task. After months of empty searches, he stopped looking for friends. Time was better spent studying, getting ready for university. Cambridge or Oxford--those were the only ones worth attending, in Denton's mind. And if he was going to get into either, if he was going to find his way back to his beloved England, he had to focus on his future.
"How old would you rather be?" Denton's mother asked him.
Denton thought it over for a moment. "Forty-seven," he finally said.
"Forty-seven?" His mother laughed. "That's a peculiar age to pick."
"At forty-seven, I'd have a good retirement plan already established," Denton explained. "Perhaps I'd be able to afford a Bentley. I could be a barrister. That certainly beats eighth grade."
"Don't be so sure about that," his mother said, fixing the part in his hair with her long, elegant fingers. "Thirteen is a grand age. And I think you'll find today will be a grand day. Your best in America. Maybe your best ever."
Denton looked up at her with more than a little suspicion. "I wouldn't count on that," he said.
He turned to the kitchen window and looked out into morning. Instead of his quaint English hometown of Ruttle-on-Tillsbury, where his family once had a garden with immaculate hedgerows, tulips, and fountains, he was treated to the images of suburban Ho-Ho-Kus: his neighbors' stinky little pug and their rickety old trampoline.
He hated pugs (too slobbery!). He hated trampolines (too dangerous!). He hated _Ho-_Ho-_Kus (too . . . too . . . New Jersey!). But this was his life.
School that day started no grander than any other day.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't Harry Snotter, the ol' Duke of Dork," Tyler Kelly said in homeroom. He finished the sentiment with a knuckle punch to Denton's arm.
"Blimey!" Denton howled. "What was that for?"
"I don't know." Tyler shrugged. " 'Cause you say stupid stuff like 'blimey.' "
"But I said it after you punched me," Denton pleaded.
"I can predict the future," Tyler said. Then he punched him another time.
"See," Tyler said. "I knew you'd say it again. Just keepin' you honest, Frodo." Tyler raised his fist once more and swung it down. Denton flinched. But Tyler's fist stopped short, about two inches from Denton's arm.
"You're lucky," Tyler said. "You wouldn't have said it this time. You were going to say 'Crikey!' or something like that." He cackled loudly to himself, then turned and walked away, leaving Denton to rub his bruised arm.
Denton's first class of the day was social studies, where he was to give a presentation on Bangladesh. He took his place at the front of the classroom and launched into it almost as soon as the other kids had reached their seats. And while Denton's teacher was absolutely charmed by his masterful distillation of facts, by his commentary on agriculture and population density and religion and just about everything you could say about a country half a world away, his fellow students were less than enthusiastic.
Surely the girls will be impressed by my knowledge, Denton had thought. But even the girls who used to peer coyly over their books at Denton when he first came to school were now thoroughly uninterested. They sent texts under their desks. Or they drew inky temporary tattoos on the skin of their hands. Some just stared at the walls, their faces tired and blank.
After he finished, he bowed and received absolutely no applause. Then he took a seat at his desk. At that moment, he felt truly like a foreigner, for lack of a better word.
And his next class was gym. And gym was even worse.
Denton wasn't opposed to sports. In England he had played cricket and water polo and even a bit of rugby. But physical education in America was nowhere near as civilized as all that. It was organized chaos--all obstacle courses and foam balls and greasy mesh pinnies. Not to mention the fact that Coach McKenzie was a tyrant. He was constantly pointing his meaty finger at Denton, commanding him to shinny up ropes, to run wind sprints, to serve as a _crash-_test dummy for the more muscular boys to throw to the mats during wrestling demonstrations.
Lacing up his sneakers in the locker room, Denton felt a tap on his shoulder. He hesitated to turn around. He had fallen victim to too many sneak attacks over the years.