One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.
couldn’t deny the feeling of betrayal as she looked through the car window at
the group of girls gathering for field hockey practice. Alyssa had said she
didn’t want to play field hockey anymore, that she wanted to do a summer
softball league. She hadn’t said that Harper couldn’t make the switch
too, but it was clear to her twin that Alyssa wanted some independence. ‘We are
fourteen now, after all,’ Alyssa had said with a complicated smile that was
more mean than understanding, a facial expression Harper could never quite get
to appear on her face. Her face that looked a lot like Alyssa’s.
on, sweetie,’ her mother Paula said. Her mother smiled encouragingly at the
group of girls beyond the car window. ‘Daddy will pick you up in a few hours,
okay? Have fun and make sure to drink water. It’s another scorcher today!’
repressed the need to roll her eyes and tried to control her expression like
be fine, mom. I’ll see you later.’
hopped out of the car, her field hockey stick banging against the doorframe a
little, and jogged over.
felt lopsided without Alyssa, like she could fall over any second. Or that the
Earth was tipping drunkenly beneath her and she wouldn’t have anyone to hold
girls in Harper’s grade looked over, but none of them made any sign of
recognition and Harper was fairly sure they knew her name. Twins stood out like
that. They were probably unsure of which twin she was.
It’s Harper, right?’ A tall, supermodel of a high schooler noticed her first.
Harper said, trying not to sound too relieved.
Stacy, I’m the captain this year.’ Stacy gestured to the clipboard in her
great,’ Harper said a bit breathlessly. There was no way Stacy was only
eighteen, with her long limbs and stylish bob haircut. She looked like someone
from the cover of the Cosmo magazines she and Alyssa stole from their
mom, before their little sister Delia ratted on them.
girls, gather round!’ Stacy called, turning to the group at large. Harper took
a half-step away, not wanting to look like the teacher’s pet. Or captain’s.
went over the plan for the day, all of it sounding incredibly difficult and
though Harper would never admit it out loud, she was thankful that her mom had
made her bring three bottles of water.
eyes slid over the group of girls. There were about fifty in total. They all
had similar willowy builds to Stacy, all lean muscle and tanned skin from
tropical vacations no doubt. How were some of these girls only a few years
older? Her own age? They all looked like superheroes. On closer inspection, she
also noticed that most of them were wearing similar shorts and fitted tank
tops. Each one had a shimmery logo, something designer. Harped tugged at the
hem of her Backstreet Boys t-shirt and tried not to give in to the sudden
itchy-feeling she associated with bad omens. Her body instinctively leaned to
the left, but Alyssa’s familiar form wasn’t there to catch her.
were told to warm up with a jog through the neighborhood that ran along the
school grounds. The group stretched and fragmented, not every girl able to go
in a uniform pace. Harper, to her surprise, found she could keep up with Stacy
and the other seniors. She and Alyssa had taken up going for jogs in the spring
to get out of the house and avoid homework. Harper hadn’t realized the runs had
actually done anything besides make her brain blank and fuzzy for a little
while. A small smile crept around the corners of her mouth and she breathed
looped back to the starting point, each older girl complaining of being rusty,
or having drank too many Mike’s at the party last night. Stacy barely looked
like she’d moved at all. She grinned at Harper around her water bottle.
freshman to complete the Fun Run!’ She said to the other seniors. A few of the
other girls took notice of Harper for the first time. Not all of their stares
were friendly, but in the giddy fog of adrenaline, Harper didn’t find herself
cowed. Stacy’s praise washed over her, protecting her.
Fun Run is roughly 5K and we do that for every warm-up,’ Stacy said to Harper.
‘Most girls don’t keep form off-season. They’ll all trickle in over the next
twenty minutes or so. The good thing about finishing early is a longer break.’
the last girls showed up, mostly shell-shocked freshman, Stacy grouped everyone
to start running drills. Harper found she had more energy than before she’d
started running and hadn’t thought of Alyssa once.
large group of boys coalesced on the other side of the field, kicking soccer
balls and each other. Linnea, a tall, sharp-eyed girl in Harper’s grade,
straightened up. She looked like a hawk that had just caught a scent. Harper
was infinitely grateful the gaze wasn’t trained on her. It looked positively
shit,’ a mousy-looking girl next to Linnea whispered. ‘Gavin will be over
there, won’t he?’
fucking shit, Jill,’ Linnea snapped, not taking her gaze off the group of boys.
‘He’s the captain of the varsity team, isn’t he?’
one in years,’ Jill said, almost in reverence.
praise him, you zealot.’
on girls, let’s get back to our drills!’ Stacy called, noticing their group
standing, facing the boys. ‘There will be time to ogle boys later!’
few other girls around them laughed. Harper blushed furiously but Linnea looked
meaner than ever. Disregarding the drill to dribble through stout orange cones,
she whacked the neon green ball with righteous force, sending it zooming away from
the field of play. Jill ran to retrieve it.
live near Gavin, don’t you Harper?’ Linnea said, as if noticing her for the
was true, Gavin Hawkins’ family lived in the same neighborhood as Harper’s. Her
mom was good friends with Mrs. Hawkins. Her dad wasn’t a fan but he certainly
was good at faking it at barbecues and birthday parties. Alyssa must’ve gotten
that skill from him.
shrugged. ‘Our moms are friends but I don’t really know him.’
nodded, as if Harper had something that could be agreed or contended with.
Harper didn’t know how to answer and bent to receive a pass from Jill on her
needed an excuse to break eye contact with Linnea. She knew Linnea was Gavin’s
recent ex-girlfriend. She hadn’t been entirely truthful though. Just because
she said she didn’t know Gavin now didn’t mean she hadn’t ever.
She swore Linnea was still watching her as she ran the drill.
Stacy was too. ‘Nice handling, Harper! Linnea, you try.’ She had jogged over to
watch Linnea, teeth bared, receive the ball.
leaned in conspiratorially. ‘It’s always dangerous practicing on the same field
as the boys’ soccer team.’
laughed as if she too thought boys were nonsense.
boyfriend is heading off to NYU in a couple months,’ Stacy said, watching
Linnea maneuver another cone. Harper didn’t know whether or not to answer, as
it didn’t sound like Stacy was talking to her anymore.
blinked and her glamorous smile was back. ‘Nice job, Lin!’ she called, before
jogging away to watch another group.
seemed so lovely that Harper almost felt a pang of annoyance towards this
mystery boy for making her face crease like that, if for a moment. Harper
glanced at Linnea, who kept sneaking glances over at the soccer team, who
admittedly hadn’t looked over at the field hockey team once. She thought of
Alyssa, striking out on her own and forcing Harper to do the same. Harper found
that she was still standing.
© Katie Higgins, 2019. All rights reserved.
‘First Day’ was inspired by Alice Pidgeon, Looking Over My Shoulder to Childhood Days and After, (2:619), in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.
I was really stuck on the line Alice Pidgeon wrote about waking up to find out a dolly her father had ordered for her had arrived. I started thinking about how ideas of status and class permeate to children and how those ideas create their own sort of social structure amongst young people, teenagers in particular. ‘First Day’ came from wanting to frame that idea in a contemporary (suburban American) context.
Katie Higgins is from Chelmsford, Massachusetts. She earned her BA in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2017. During her time at UMass, she worked as a writing tutor, helping students and faculty alike on a myriad of writing projects. In 2015 she studied at Trinity College, Oxford, where she won the award for the best essay in English literature. She is currently pursuing a masters degree in creative writing at Brunel University London. In her free time she can be found window shopping for funky hats, knitting scarves she’ll never wear or breaking a sweat at the gym. She writes primarily for young adults, firmly believing that teenagers are both the most compelling characters and engaging readers. She and her funky hats can be found on Instagram at @katmarhii.