We’ve learned to classify animals by kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. In the morning Franny is a perfect specimen of the Beachus Boyus, Californicus Girl. She has real blonde hair, so blond, it’s almost white. Her skin is so tan, she looks like a photo negative. My hair is red, my face like a mortal blush, as if the humiliation I swallowed first semester, learning to drink and kiss has finally leeched out my pores.
Franny and I are also members of the ski club, so every winter Saturday we travel to a different mountain.
On the bus to Killington, she lifts my ski band and whispers, “I have a crush on Peter Randolph, alias Baby Cakes.”
I look up the aisle at two sophomores, “See the guy sitting next to him? That’s Jimmy Schultz, code name, Cutie Pie.”
We muffle our giggles with bulky mittens.
Every ride up the icy chairlift, we scan the slopes for Baby Cakes and Cutie Pie.
Franny sighs. “Wouldn’t it be heaven to bomb down a black diamond with them?”
I nod. “In deep powder.”
Biology becomes our debriefing period for sightings of our beloved species.
Franny reports, “I saw Baby Cakes coming out of gym.”
“Did he say hi?”
“No, but he looked at me.”
“That means hi.”
“You think so?”
I emphasize the word, “Definitely.”
Franny flips her hair behind her back. “You spot Cutie Pie today?”
“Not yet. I usually pass him sixth period in the foreign language hall.”
When ski season is almost over, Franny asks if I want to be her tryout partner for cheerleading.
My auto response, “Sure.”
After school, we jostle for position in a gym full of squealers.
Miss Novak, the cheerleading coach, stands in front of the locker room doors. “Girls! Listen up! Cindy will demonstrate the cheer you’ll be doing for tryouts in two weeks.”
Cindy Dickinson, captain of the varsity squad, steps up in her uniform skirt and sweater. She slashes her arms horizontally then vertically chanting, “S-U-C-C-E-S-S that’s the way you spell success. Who shall have it can’t you guess? N.H.S.” Three running steps, a squat, and lift off into a spread eagle.
Miss Novak nods at Cindy and the horde of hopefuls. “OK, girls, now try it with Cindy.”
Franny and I make our first attempt. It’s not too complicated. Both of us stayed after school for the G.A.A. unit on gymnastics, so the jump is easy.
Miss Novak steps to the front. “Thanks Cindy! Girls feel free to practice until the late bus. I’ll be here if you want help. See you in two weeks.”
S-U-C-C-E-S-S that’s the way you spell success… Whether or not my arms are slashing, whether I’m in algebra or world history, the words repeat over and over like the Oscar Meyer Weiner song that you don’t really want to sing, but you can’t get out of your head. I practice with Franny every afternoon after school. I practice after dinner in my living room in full view of my parents, as if the altitude of my leap can lift their disappointment in my previous escapades.
The night before tryouts, our channel 6 weather man, predicts a polar blast.
Franny calls, “It’s gonna be FREE-ZING, so my mom said I can wear pants to school even though it’s against the rules. Ask your mom, and we’ll be twins.”
I’m sick of standing at the bus stop in a mini-skirt and knee socks, my thighs purple with goose bumps. “Sure, if she says yes, I’ll wear my maroon corduroys.”
“I’ll wear my blue ones.”
First period, Franny and I slide into our biology seats in matching cords and slash our hands beneath the lab table in a silent S-U-C-C-E-S-S. Tammy Bergeron, the student office aid, delivers pink slips to Mr. Lange who looks up with concern.
We turn our heads to each other as if to say who us?
He nods, and before distributing the tools for dissecting a fetal pig, hands us our discipline forms.
Mr. De Blaise, the assistant principal, is waiting for us in his office. We know him well because sometimes we walk to Franny’s house for lunch, even though we’re not supposed to leave school grounds, and we don’t bother to get back in time for personal typing or basic art. We take our seats against the wall.
He rolls his eyes. “Do your mothers know you’re wearing slacks?”
We shake our heads yes, trying not to laugh.
“We’ll see.” He lifts the phone, directing his secretary to get our mothers’ numbers. I hear chunks of the conversations.
My mom, “I couldn’t imagine there’d be a problem…”
Franny’s mom, “You called me at work… For God’s sake! It’s twenty-six degrees below zero!”
“A rule is a rule.” He hangs up.
Franny and I are almost the same size, and she lives closest, so the plan is for Mr. De Blaise to pop us in his Buick and drive to Franny’s where we’ll each change into one of her skirts. Then lickety-split back to school.
He drives the few blocks and parks. Franny lets her barking, snarling husky into the fenced-in area between Mr. De Blaise and her back door. That gives us plenty of time to change, practice S-U-C-C-E-S-S, and down a box of Animal Crackers.
After school, we enter the gym in white gym suits with the rest of the girls. The female gym teachers fill a row of chairs. A clipboard in every lap, a pencil in every hand.
Miss Novak stands. “When you and your partner are called, please step to the front.” Four pairs of girls line up before the judges. At Miss Novak’s whistle, each group begins. Franny and I do our best then watch till the very end.
Next day, results are posted by the gym door. Franny and I bookend the list. My name is at the top in alphabetical order. I peek at Franny and search the names again. Franny backs away. I am the only freshman selected for the junior varsity squad.
This is a misclassification. Don’t the judges know it was all Franny’s idea; she’s the one who actually enjoys football and knows how to score. She’s the real cheerleader, the Beachus Boyus Californicus Girl.
I follow Franny out the gym door, but what can I say? The reality of her friendship is worth more than any deep powder dream with a cutie pie I barely know. Boys only pick me for the wrong reasons; maybe the gym teachers did too.
I lag behind and call out, “Sorry!”
Franny stands on the other side of the main door. “For what? You deserve it.”
If she knew my heart, she’d know I don’t deserve anything. I thought cheerleader was a premium brand like Maxwell House coffee, good to the last drop. But there’s nothing good in me. Shame is my middle name, yet I still enjoy getting in trouble.
S-U-C-C-E-S-S who shall have it can’t you guess?
Franny lets the door slam behind her. If this is success, I’m not sure I want it.