New Girl - By Paige Harbison


THE PANORAMIC VIEW OUTSIDE THE WINDOWS of the bus showed a world that wasn’t mine. It was chilly in early September and the trees were pine, not palm.

I grew up in St. Augustine, Florida. My life so far had been made up of conversations over noisy fans, shrieking at the sight of pony-size bugs in the shower, and coming home from the beach to find an alarmingly sunburned reflection waiting for me in the mirror. When I took my Labrador, Jasper, for a walk, it meant running in the surf and tossing a tennis ball into the waves. I hardly ever got in the car without my thighs sticking to the hot seats, and most of my neighbors were renters or vacationers. It wasn’t Hawaii, but it wasn’t New Hampshire, either. And that, unfortunately for this warm-weather girl, was where I found myself now.

Towering trees of dark, thick green loomed over the highway we rode down. It was fifty-five degrees out, the sun had already set at six, and it was only September second. St. Augustine isn’t bliss all year round, and I’m the first to admit it, but it’s never this cold yet. Not this early in the year. My friends back home were still going for swims after school every day and requesting outdoor seating at restaurants. Restaurants that I was already craving to order from again.

Behind me I was leaving all of the warmth of home, my best friends, and a really comfortable queen-size bed that lay next to a big window that overlooked the beach and filled my room with the smell of salty sand. I was leaving all of that for a boarding school. Up north. Where I knew no one.

I’d never been the new girl before, and I barely knew what to think. But every time I remembered that that would be my new identity, a surge of nervous anticipation spread from my chest right down to the pit of my stomach. I was about to step into the spotlight in front of eight hundred other students. Would they wait for me to dance and entertain them, or would they expect me to walk right across the stage and back out of sight?

And which would I do?

My parents had called this a “surprise.” Poor, deluded, lovely things that they are. It turned out that they had been submitting an application for me every year since I’d begged to go to boarding school in eighth grade. I’d found this place on Google somewhere, and excitedly called them to the computer where I’d gone on and on about how much fun it would be.

This was right after I’d finished all of the Harry Potter books, unsurprisingly, and would have given anything to be swept away and told that my life was more than it seemed. When my first application was submitted and rejected, I’d burst into adolescent tears. When I had stepped into my new huge, public high school for the first time, I’d felt sick with regret that I couldn’t be somewhere else. It felt so plain, so black-and-white.

But by the time my parents presented me with the fruits of their secret labors, I’d grown to really love my “plain” life—largely thanks to them, admittedly. Not even in that “never know what you’ve got until it’s gone” kind of way. I was happy all the time. Sheltered and comfortable, true. Dreading college and being away from everything, also true. But I was happy.

I had a best friend, Leah, who was regularly in and out of the same relationship with one guy, a crew of other fun friends that I wasn’t as close to but had plenty of fun with, and a seriously fantastic little family that I loved to come home to. If anything went badly in the rest of my life, there was always my mother to reassure me that the thing I really needed was a pedicure, and off we’d skip. My father could always come back from the grocery store with a York Peppermint Pattie and a tube of Pringles, knowing that my way to my happiness is often found through junk food. My four-year-old sister, Lily, could always cheer me up with a crayon drawing, or even the overheard sounds of her tiny voice in another room playing out some story with her toys. Not to mention again the warm breeze that whistled through my window every night, while I drifted off to sleep with Jasper curled up on my feet.