The Name Game
Esmerelda Shorte goes to the most prestigious private school in Connecticut. The teachers are perfect, her friends are perfect, and nothing could go wrong...
Until the day her teacher takes her class on a fieldtrip to Baskerville High, a school for delinquent kids that have been kicked out of normal school, and gives them a year long assignment.... to become somebody else.
We hold each others gaze across the room, his iridescent blue eyes caught on mine, the look on his face unreadable. He crumples the slip of paper in his hand.
I finally break our death stare and glance down at my own slip.
I do not belong here. Not in this desk, not in this room, not in this school. I only arrived here at 9 oâ€™clock this morning, on a large yellow bus filled with the other students in my homeroom.
I go to a school called Jameson Prep, a private school on the cost. Itâ€™s nearly impossible to get into, what with its prestigious background and wide city history. My parents payed a lot of good money to get me into that school. They payed good money for me to be taught by the best teachers in the country. Itâ€™s one of Connecticutâ€™s best schools. I had to be a genius to make it even through the first few days.
But here I am, sitting here, in this strange school filled with delinquents, partnering up with this boy whose gaze is drilling its way through the top of my head. I stare at my hands clenched in my lap. The diamond ring my mother gave me for my birthday seems to be dimmed by all of the bad ego floating in this wretched place.
This was all the idea of my homeroom teacher, Miss Allard. Sheâ€™s the nicest teacher in the school, and the principal trusts her judgment more than anybody elseâ€™s. That is why I am here right now, suffering in silence.
This is Baskerville High. Itâ€™s a school for kids that canâ€™t learn in normal environments. Itâ€™s all of the kids that have terrible backgrounds, all of the kids that nobody else wants. Theyâ€™re nothing but the rejects.
She brought us here for a special project that she wonâ€™t tell us about. But apparently, it has to do with this boy. His eyes are fakely blue and his hair is dyed an inhuman shade of blonde. Thereâ€™s a piercing in one of his ears and in the side of his nose. Heâ€™s wearing a pair of black skinny jeans. His shirt is a bright red v-neck. I glance down at the slip of paper in my hand again, reading each letter of his name slower.
Ashton. His name is Ashton.
I glance up at the boy for half a second, but his attention it turned towards the front of the classroom, where his homeroom teacher, Mr. Livingstone, is standing patiently at the board. Heâ€™s a taller man with broad shoulders and a slight pudge on his belly. His hair is peppered with gray. For a guy that deals with kids like them all the time, Iâ€™m surprised at how calm he seems to be.
The chatter dies down in the room as he turns and uncaps a dry erase marker, beginning to sketch words out. His handwriting is sloppy and quick. No teacher at my school would ever be caught dead with handwriting like that.
But it almost slips my mind as I watch what heâ€™s writing. Iâ€™ve been waiting all morning to discover what relation I am to have with the fake boy sitting across from me. The guilt punches me in the gut. Iâ€™m being so judgmental. When did I become this way?
And then Mr. Livingstone steps away from the board.
The Name Game.
Whispers break out across the class. A few of the girls give nervous giggles. Miss Allard smiles, satisfied.
â€œThis,â€ Mr. Livingstone says, â€œIs the project that you will be working on all year.â€
And suddenly, the comments start to fly. The chatter is stronger and angrier this time. I can feel the bad ego spreading like wildfire. All tension has broken. A few people stand up out of their chairs as if to protest. An entire year?
I look quickly towards Ashton again and find that heâ€™s giving me the same shocked, slightly terrified look, his mouth opened slightly like he wants to protest but doesnâ€™t know what to say. He almost looks hurt.
â€œCalm down!â€ Miss Allard says, holding her arms up to calm everybody. â€œCalm!â€
Everybody jumps in their seats and turn immediately toward the front of the room, their voices disappearing as if chopped short. Mr. Livingstone has a whistle in his mouth. He drops it.
â€œShut up!â€ he calls, his voice loud. â€œLet us explain!â€
All of the private school kids gasp in astonishment at the way heâ€™s spoken. The delinquents just sigh and sit back in their seats.
â€œWe did our best to create a social project,â€ Miss Allard says, brushing her long, dark hair back from her shoulders. She does that when sheâ€™s nervous. â€œAnd this was what we came up with.â€
â€œOver the course of the next year, we will use what we like to call the â€œLord of the Fliesâ€ method,â€ Mr. Livingstone says. He glances pointedly at me, as if Iâ€™m the reason the class has been so terrible. â€œThe method is that the way you look and dress changes the way that you act around and towards other people.â€
No complaints so far. The kids stare at him in awe, waiting for the rest of the story.
â€œSo what you will do,â€ he says, â€œIs trade appearances with the person you drew.â€
A chorused gasp spreads throughout the classroom as the private school girls over react like the drama queens theyâ€™ve been bred to be. I glance back at Ashton again. I expect to find him looking disgusted, but the look on his face is rather calm. Almost amused.
â€œYou will exchange contact information and start spending time together,â€ he says. â€œMake each other over. Teach each other your hobbies. Train them to be the kind of person that you are.â€
I try to imagine myself with my hair fake-blonde, piercings in my nose, dressing as stylishly as he is, but I canâ€™t even imagine. My bland school uniform has never given me room for individuality. I donâ€™t even know what Iâ€™ll make him wear.
â€œGet comfortable with them,â€ Miss Allard says, approaching the back of the room. â€œTheyâ€™re here all year.â€
When the teachers dismiss the kids to go and make friends with their partners, neither Ashton nor I move from where we sit. We just stare across the room in silence at each other, eyes locked, faces emotionless.
I am about to become him. Heâ€™s about to become me.