Maria inhales a gulp of smoke from her freshly lit Players Light cigarette, then blows it out slowly, letting the smoke hang in the air around her head. She stares blankly at the large, white and blue building ahead of her. The words PEACH VALLEY SENIOR SECONDARY SCHOOL inhabit almost the entire triangular shaped frame above the entrance doors. Everything about this place is all very new to her. She has been attending this school for only two weeks. In fact, she has been in Canada for only three weeks.
Maria is from Madrid, Spain; born and raised. Her father, Enriquez, is an electrical engineer and her mother, Teresa, is a nurse. It turns out that the CEO of Perez-Alcatraz Ingenieria knows the CEO of Altec; a world away. It so happened that Altec needed an electrical engineer to work in Peach Valley and Enriquez was the perfect candidate.
Having to pack up and leave her friends, grandparents and relatives behind had been quite tough on Maria, especially since it is her grad year. But Maria has always been the one to embrace a new adventure. Despite the odd bout of homesickness, she has accepted her new home. Canadians are so nice and she has already made several friends.
Maria's home life, though, is quite the opposite. It never measured up to her blissful high school experience. On their journey, the fifty-year-old rustic clay tea-set that has been handed down to Teresa from her mother vanished without a trace. Teresa loved that tea-set and when customs at Vancouver International Airport told her that they were unable to trace its location, she was devastated. The missing tea-pot put a huge damper on the Hernandez's move into their new home. Maria had to deal with her mother's rotten temper and emotional outbursts ever since they settled in. It has been nothing but pure hell.
The day after they moved into their new house -- before they could even take the time to unpack and settle in -- Enriquez started his new job, working long hours, five days a week. He always arrives home, tired and irritated and, for these reasons possibly, feels inclined to yell at Maria. Every time she hears the hum of her father's SUV pull up the driveway, she braces herself for the next round of scathing, condescending reprimands.
"Maria, why can't you be as diligent as your brother!"
"Juan is only eight for god's sake," she wants to tell him.
"Maria, change your attitude! A loud mouth and a sharp tongue is not acceptable in this family! Maria, you're grounded until you improve your grades! Maria! Maria! Maria!"
What her father constantly fails to realize is that he is the one who needs an attitude check. But no. He has to find every reason imaginable to be angry at her. Maria is done with trying to please him. She has given up years ago. Her eighteenth birthday is just four months away, the time of graduation, so on the first day of summer, she is going to search for full time work. Once she has secured a decent paying job as a server, Maria is going to move far enough away from home where she doesn't have to see or even worry about her family. She might even return to her old job in Madrid for that matter.
Once her cigarette has burnt down to the butt, Maria flicks it on the ground in a nonchalant manner, then crushes it with the heel of her boot. Slowly, she steps through the double doors, then makes her way down the hall. Not watching where she is going, Maria walks into someone, but Maria doesn’t realize it’s Anya -- the school’s biggest loner -- until she stoops down to help Anya pick up her books.
"Don't worry about it," Anya says.
Her voice is so soft that Maria can hardly hear her above the lively chatter of the other students in the hallway. Maria looks up at her and, for a moment, she studies Anya's features and the clothes she is wearing. Anya is so pretty, but she doesn't realize how homely her shaggy clothes make her look. "You're Anya, right?"
Anya forces a smile. "Yes. And you’re Maria. You sat beside me in History I remember, and we exchanged a few notes."
"I know. That was my first day at this school.”
Anya appears to be astounded by Maria's good diction of the English language, despite her Spanish accent.
"How did you learn to speak English so well?"
"Oh, I took several English classes, and my dad often speaks English to us at home. He worked with a lot of Brits and Americans," Maria says with a shrug of her shoulders.
"Well, that probably explains why you’ve had no problem making friends with the popular crowd.”
Maria is slightly taken aback by the offhanded tone in Anya's voice. "Do you have a problem with that?" she says, shooting her a pointed look.
"Oh no, not at all. Maria, I didn't mean to sound so rude, it's just…I'm not much of a morning person."
The look on Maria's face softens. "I understand how you feel."
"I have to run."
Maria crumples her brow. "But we have, like, ten minutes before the bell rings."
"I have to talk to Mrs. Cummings about our project. I'll see you there."
She disappears down the hall before Maria has a chance to respond to her remark. She breathes out a sigh and smoothes her long, dark curls with her fingers. "That is one weird chick," she says under her breath.
"Hey, Maria," someone yells from behind.
Carly! Oh God, I hope she didn't see me talking to Anya. Maria turns around to face her.
Carly is the most gorgeous girl in the school: she is tall, slender and she boasts a head full of straight, blond hair, a set of deep blue eyes and salon tanned skin. Maria not only admires Carly for her natural beauty, but also because she comes from a wealthy family. And she happens to be the most popular girl in school.
"Maria, did I just see you talking to Anya?" she says, tossing her glossy hair over one shoulder.
The scornful look on Carly’s face makes Maria feel uncomfortable, but she doesn't want to rock the boat. I'm so lucky that Carly chose me to be her friend. I've always had lots of friends, but none of them were from rich families, so I better not blow it. "No."
Carly casts her a suspicious look.
"I was talking to a girl who looked like Anya. There is another girl in this school who looks like Anya, isn't there?"
Carly throws her head back and laughs loudly. "Maria, you're so funny. It would be a bad thing if there was another girl who looked like Anya."
"It probably wouldn't be all that bad if she wore the same clothes as us," Maria says with a small shrug of her shoulders.
Carly sneers. "Anya is such a loser, and so is her freak boyfriend, Patrick."
Maria's mouth drops. "Anya is going out with him? I thought they were only best friends."
"Well, I don't know if they’re going out, but they might as well be. They hang out together all the time. It's a good thing they have each other because if they didn't, this place would be a hell on earth for both of them. Nobody wants anything to do with them. How they got accepted into Mr. Hawthorne's advanced acting class is beyond my comprehension. Between you and me," Carly says, lowering her voice, "Mr. Hawthorne can't tell the difference between talent and mediocrity."
Maria tugs on a strand of hair. She is at a complete loss of words. Anya is a strange girl, but she isn't anything what Carly makes her out to be: at least I don't think so.
Carly lays her hand on Maria's arm. "I know what you're thinking, Maria, and I can't blame you for thinking that way. You've been at this school for only two weeks and so you don't know Anya." The look on her face hardens. "But once you do, you will hate her too."
The bell rings, abruptly ending their conversation, much to Maria's relief.
The animated smile instantly reappears on Carly's face. "Sit with me in English?"
"Okay," Maria says. Carly hates Anya for whatever reason, but Maria actually likes the girl. She could try to be friends with both of them; it won’t go over well with Carly, but it’s worth a try anyway.