At that moment, with a good-luck kiss to Jase, Nico gathers up all her fabulously understated possessions and struts her radiant, lanky everything up to the stage. She's like some wild, exotic animal that roams the hallways: You might not want to pet her, but you can't pull your eyes away. Her hair is always shiny, her face matte, and her subtle veneer of disdain firmly in place. To be around her is to wonder if she's thinking your sweater gives her a migraine, your Spanish pronunciation grates on her ears, or your highlights are so '07. Tossing her long blond mane, she straddles the interrogation chair like she's about to do a number from Chicago. Anyone else and I'd snicker, but when Nico Sargossi does it you actually wish she was about to perform a number from Chicago.
Mrs. Gesop snaps at us, and Caitlyn hustles up the steps with me in tow, bras in place, hands in our pockets. I swing my bag to my feet and sit down across from Kara, who's removed her baseball cap and knotted her glossy brown hair above her head with a pencil.
"Jessica O'Rourke. But everyone calls me Jesse, no 'i.'"
"Since November third."
"Social security number?"
I reel it off, trying to catch Caitlyn's eye to see if she might also be having her identity stolen.
Kara sits back, putting a breath of space between the table and her impressive superstructure, which seems to be tamped down in a sports bra. "Okay, Jesse, no 'i,' tell me a little about yourself, your family, activities, who are your best friends?"
"Um, Caitlyn Duggan. She's sitting right there." I point to her, sitting two interview tables over.
"How long have you been friends?"
"When we were little we lived across the street from each other, so our moms traded off child care. You know, each working part-time."
"So your mom works. Anything ... "
"Okay." She scrunches up her little ski-jump nose and chews on the end of her pen while I wonder if Caitlyn is re-casting the rusted crapbox as a vintage sports car. "And school?"
"I, uh, like school just fine. I mean, we're all on the home stretch to parole, right? We probably liked it more four years ago."
"Who do you hate?"
"In school." She suppresses a smile.
"Oh." I think for a moment, and she taps her chewed pen impatiently. "No one, really. . . . I mean, you know, trapped with the same people since first grade, some are bound to get on your nerves, but am I, like, feuding with anyone? No, I cannot afford to feud."
"What do you mean afford?" She writes afford on her notepad, and I notice the tenacious remnants of brown polish at the base of her nails.
"I work after school at the Prickly Pear, I help my mom at her job on weekends, I keep my grades up so I can get a scholarship—I'll be the first in my family to go to college. I don't have the time not to get along with people."
"I date," I say defensively. "I mean, not at this exact second. Last year. Dan. We broke up."
"Which one's Dan?" she asks, dropping her glasses down her nose to survey the seated masses, her green eyes twinkly when unshielded.
I point over the rows to where Dan sits with his lacrosse teammates, blowing his nose. Probably has another sinus infection. Poor Dan.
"Oh. Okay." She scribbles more notes on the yellow paper. I try again to get Caitlyn's attention, but she's engrossed in her interview, flipping her freshly released hair from shoulder to shoulder.