CHAPTER TWO - Luann, Bag Lady
“Luann!” Bernice bounced on the back seat of the school bus, waving frantically at Luann. Her long kinky hair bobbed around her glasses.
Bernice had done this every single day, all year, as if Luann wouldn’t remember where to sit. For a brainiac, Bernice could be pretty dumb.
Delta was next to Bernice, exuding her usual calm dignity. She was always cool and self-assured. Luann figured Delta got her confidence from being African-American. Maybe her dark skin protected her from the harsh rays of life.
Luann shifted her backpack and moved down the narrow isle, wondering why Bernice never picked a seat at the front. Luann hated walking through the full bus; she always felt like everyone was looking at her.
Luann was self-conscious in front of people, especially since the Humiliating Button Incident. It happened in ninth grade English. She was giving an oral report and noticed several students grinning and smirking. She finished reading, then turned to the teacher, Mrs.Donan. “Very good, Luann. Come over here for a minute.” Mrs. Donan held out a safety pin and whispered, “Maybe you’d better go to the girl’s room and fix your blouse.” Luann looked down and saw that the middle button of her blouse had fallen off and her lime green bra was grinning at the world.
Now, as she moved down the aisle of the bus, fairly certain that all her buttons, snaps, clasps and zippers were secure, she still felt exposed, as if all eyes were on her, analyzing, judging, snickering.
She kept her gaze firmly fixed on Bernice and Delta.
Or maybe NO one was looking. Being ogled was annoying but being ignored was awful. She thought of checking to see if anyone was looking at her. But maybe that would seem conceited...
Luann hated it when her head buzzed with these stupid thoughts. She hoped it was one of those weird adolescent things that you eventually grew out of.
“Sit,” said Bernice, patting the seat next to her, as if Luann wouldn’t know what to do otherwise.
“Ready for the English final?” asked Delta.
“Pretty much,” said Luann, plopping onto the seat. The three of them had third period English together and the final today was half their grade. Luann had spent a large chunk of last night’s study time making angry diary entries and she stayed up too late. She had trouble getting to sleep, then had bizarre dreams about Aaron and Tiffany enjoying a juicy Big Value while she and Gunther chewed a soggy 99 Cent Special.
“Did you stay up too late?” asked Bernice. “You have big blue bags under your eyes.”
“Yeah,” confirmed Delta. “Unless you’re trying a new makeup look -- which frankly isn’t real flattering.”
Luann rummaged through her purse and got out a mirror.
“Oh, jeez. I’m a total bag lady!”
“You didn’t notice when you got ready this morning?” asked Delta.
“No! I looked fine in the mirror at home!”
“You can’t trust home lighting,” stated Bernice. “You think you look great then you step into the glare of daylight and you’re Freddy Kruger.”
Luann nudged at her bags. She rolled her finger up, trying to deflate the puffs, like squeezing out an air mattress.
“Don’t mess with them, Luann,” warned Delta. “You’ll make ‘em look worse.”
Luann tossed the mirror into her purse. “I HATE worrying about how I look,” she hissed.
“Then don’t,” said Delta. “You look fine.”
Luann turned to Delta. “I don’t want to look “FINE,” Delta. I want to look...”
What? Luann flipped words in her mind: Pretty? Beautiful? Gorgeous? Tiffany-like?
“What?” asked Delta. “You want to look what?”
“I don’t know,” said Luann, tossing her purse on the seat. “I mean, I don’t need to be supermodel perfect or anything, I just wish I didn’t have bags and grease and zits and flakes and flat hair and plump thighs and big feet and all the other annoying things I have to worry about.”
“Jeez,” said Bernice. “Someone missed their nap time.”
Delta said, “Even supermodels have problems. No one’s perfect.”
Luann snorted. “Yeah, pity the poor models with their bad hair day and annual blemish.”
“In the grand sweep of life, looks aren’t that important.” Delta always considered the grand sweep of things.
Bernice patted Luann’s knee. “If you want to feel better, just look at a supermarket magazine. Beautiful people are even more miserable than you are. All that glamor and they’re still messed up.”
“If looks aren’t important,” said Luann, “then why are all the most popular people in school good looking? How come all the cute guys and girls have umpteen crushes? How come they’re the first ones with party invitations and prom dates?”
“Because,” said Delta, “that’s what’s important right now.”
“Oh. Well, pardon me, Delta, but I personally happen to be living ‘right now.’ ”
Delta smiled. “Everything’s temporary. Today’s babes are tomorrow’s blobs.”
Bernice added, “Y’know, a lot of great people were considered homely: Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt...”
“Gosh,” said Luann. “This swell advice is SO not helping.”
The bus made its final stop and two girls got on. Luann didn’t know either of them, although she’d seen them get on the bus here every day. One was tall and slender with long, shimmery black hair and beautiful dark eyes. The other girl was somewhat pudgy, her short curly hair framing a worried, squinty expression.
As they came down the aisle, you could tell which of the two was being admired. Heads turned to follow Miss Shimmery, while poor Squinty could have been carrying a live moose and no one would’ve noticed.
Luann leaned close to Bernice and Delta. “Ok, look at these two and tell me which one you’d rather be.”
Bernice and Delta looked at the girls. Shimmery floated to a seat, flipped her hair and sat down. Squinty bumped along, juggling a water bottle, a violin case and a huge backpack. She dropped into a seat, letting out a wheeze.
Delta said, “Sure, judge them on looks and it’s no contest. But what if the tall one has a drug habit and just learned she’s pregnant and ends up living in a run-down apartment with five screaming kids and no future? And what if the short one becomes a brilliant violinist who travels the world bringing pleasure to millions, earning great wealth and respect?”
“Somehow that doesn’t seem likely, Delta,” observed Bernice.
“Okay. What if the pretty girl’s personality is ugly and the plain one’s is beautiful?”
“Why can’t it be just the opposite?” asked Luann.
“It can be. That’s my whole point. Appearance doesn’t really mean anything.”
Luann looked at Shimmery. She was politely listening to the boy next to her who looked like the luckiest guy on the planet, knocking himself out to impress her. Squinty was sipping her water bottle while the boy next to her gazed out the window.
Luann knew that looks didn’t matter in an intellectual, theoretical, advice column way. But in real life, looks did matter.
She’d rather be Shimmery than Squinty any day. Who wouldn’t?
Luann got out her mirror and checked her eye bags. They looked worse from being poked.
Delta was right. As usual.
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