Short, skinny, redheaded, redfaced, sitting in the principal's office. There is not a single soul who hasn't seen me like this in the whole school, and I'm neither proud nor ashamed. Some things are what they are, and my reputation is the one thing I won't fight.
The seats in the principal's office are plastic, the shiny white kind I had always thought were single-use, but they're scratched up to the point of a matte finish. I sit here, grinding my teeth and staring out the window of the reception like a kid on the highway.
When the chair next to me scrapes under the pressure of the most gorgeous boy I have ever seen before, who I had never seen before, I hold my breath.
'Are you okay?' he says. 'Your, your face. It's so red its's..yeah'
'Penn Jenkins.' I hold out my hand and exhale.
Jacob Eisler is the love of my life, I decide within minutes of meeting him. He's bespectacled, taller than me by inches and inches and here on scholarship. When I walk home I feel faint as I realise how many things he could change my mind about. Love, babies, marriage. This is my least favourite feeling, out of all of the horrible things I feel.
My mother has always told me that the worst it ever is, in terms of the anger and pain and hatred welling in your soul, is when you are 13 years old. I am twelve and ten months and I do not know how much worse it could get. I'm chemically angry, chronically disliked and in constant trouble. I break things before they have chances to form, things like friendships, seedlings in plastic cups on the science lab windowsill. Not that I want to be friends with the people I know, not the boys and definitely not the girls.
My mum comes home from work early and picks me up from school - two day suspension. My head's spinning in the back of her car.
I don't participate or enjoy girl talk on the regular - it's vacuous, drippy nonsense. I want to shake every girl I know and scream 'What does it feel like to be so blissfully ignorant? How could you possibly be so happy about nothing?'
But I have participated in enough girl talk to know I have a crush on Jacob Eisler.
I want to hold his hand.
I want to rip my hand off.
I want to kiss him in the rain.
I want it to rain acid.
I sleep late and my mum never wakes me up, even for school. She likes the peace in the house when I'm asleep, since every other moment feels like watching dark clouds roll in over a blue sky. I feel it too, it's a kind of tension that never ceases.
But she's got no reason to wake me up for the next two days so I sleep through all the phone calls, negotiations with the principals. I wake up to
'Is Penelope home?'
'No,' my mother answers 'she's out.'
And then I go kick in the legs of my desk barefoot until they start to falter.
She comes in when I'm rubbing the bruises on my foot, watching the purple drain in and out under my fingertips.
'Penn, it's dinner time.'
I comply and come down to eat soup, spaghetti, whatever it is quietly. When I look up across the table I see Jacob for a split second, sitting in my dad's seat.
'Penn, what's on your mind?' my mum coos. She knows I hate that tone of voice, but she is tired and can't speak much louder.
'I met a boy.'
'Oh, that's nice. What's he like?' She's placid as a lake.
'He's tall and new to the school. Brown hair, brown eyes.'
'Well, that's very nice indeed.' she says, scrubbing a plate clean over the sink, old scars peeking out from the neckline of her shirt.
I can't blame her for not being more interested. I wouldn't be. I hate this kind of talk like I hate sitting still - it sucks all the character out through your skin and leaves you boring, vacant.
I trawl the internet for advice about crushes, but too much of it seems to advise me on getting my affections returned. I would hate that. How do I make the feelings go away? That's what I want to know.
I scroll through article after article about how to fix a broken heart, how to get over him, about falling out of love.
LOVE? I have a crush, my first one and this feeling of obsession, of needing something so badly from one person who I didn't handpick - it's alien to me. Do I get more control when I fall in love? I wouldn't think so.
So I slam my computer shut and try to think my way out. But all I see is brown hair falling over a perfect pair of brown eyes, his voice ringing in my ear like the harps angels play.
Wouldn't it be nice, Penn? a softer version of my own voice repeats inside my head.
'NO!' I scream.
Going to school again involves a meeting with the principal, signing a behaviour contract and apologising to the teacher I disrespected. I have done this many times before, but when I walk in on a rainy Thursday morning I see a different kind of storm brewing on the principals face.
It would appear even Arnold Jenkins' surviving daughter runs out of chances eventually.
He did too.
I pass Jacob on my way to my locker and he grimaces, walking with a pack of new friends. His eyes flicker on and off mine, on and off.
Weeks pass and my interactions with Jacob stay short and impersonal. He seems shy, reserved when he talks to me, otherwise, he's life of the party in the back of my Science, English and Math classes. I sit next to him sometimes and he mostly ignores me. The minute he says a word to me, I feel alive, and also violently ill.
One day, lunch time arrives and I'm struck by some sort of confidence. I take my lunchbox out of my bag, close my locker and walk over to Jacob's lunch table. He's there, with two other boys.
'Hi!' I say in a chirpy tone, rather alien to me.
'Hi?' they all seem confused.
I talk with them for a while, try to fill awkward silences, sometimes I say things and they take a good look at each other before they respond with one word.
I get up to go to the bathroom around the corner and come back. I don't see them, but I hear giggling.
I turn around, fast enough to catch a glimpse of Jacob running, fast as lightening in the other direction, round the next corner.
I stand, staring at the empty table.
I want to be angry. I want to be scary. But it comes to me that I'm not scary, I sat still and pretty up until Dad tried to beat up the wrong person and died. And the wrong person wasn't Mum.
It definitely wasn't me.
A split second later. I'm crying in a bathroom stall, like the dumbest girl who ever lived. And when girl talk echoes all the way down the hall to right outside the door, I barely notice.
Til they they knock.
'What?' I squeak.
'What's wrong?' I recognise the voice as belonging to Anna-Jane Priestly, a girl who excels at girl talk in a way I'll never be able to comprehend.
I stay silent.
'Is it your dad?' her friend says.
'NO! It's just this stupid boy, and it's all so stupid, and ughhhhhhh!' I sob.
'Ohhh my god!' they sigh in unison.
'Forget about him, whoever he is, he's nooooot worttth it.'
'You're so pretty, Penn. He's probably fucking munted, every guy in our grade is.'
They go on and on, saying words I hated hearing in the halls, words that took on a different meaning when addressed to me. I was watching empty glasses fill up with substance.
When I come out to wash my face they smile at me and tell me I can sit with them.
'Who is he?' Anna-Jane says with a smirk.
'Why does that matter?'
'Because I wanna fuck him upppppp.'
In all these years I've known and hated these girls, this is the first conversation I've really had with them.
They're more fond of four letter words, not love, but fuck, and cunt, and shit, than I had imagined.
They made me laugh until I couldn't remember his name.