I roll my eyes. “He’s a weirdo.”
“Yeah, and what the fuck does that even mean? Like, is he seriously that distracted by teenage girl legs?” Becca giggles.
“I think he is,” I say, remembering when he sent Georgia Williams home to change when she wore a short skirt to school for the Spring band concert. “Or at least, he thinks the other boys in our grade are.”
“Yeah. But why should what the boys think change what we wear? Besides, they see enough of our legs outside of school,” says Becca.
“Plus -- what about in gym? Everyone wears shorts,” Sophie adds.
“Hypocrites,” I mutter.
“Creeps,” says Sophie.
“Sexist pigs,” Becca spits.
I stare wistfully at my bare legs, wishing desperately to be back in elementary school, when teachers still saw us as kids.
We stay at the mall another hour or so. I come back with the shorts, along with an assortment of t-shirts -- all of which I’ve carefully inspected to ensure I’m not showing too much shoulder or too much cleavage that I could be called out for them. If I pick out something a little too risque, Sophie is sure to remind me: “Remember Cindy Crawler last year. She got sent home for just showing a bra strap.”
“No, she got sent home for going braless after Mr. Hintz got her in trouble about the bra strap,” Becca reminds her.
“Oh right.” Sophia rolls her eyes. “Point being, Grace, you don’t want to be her. If her bra straps weren’t distracting before that, they definitely were afterwards.”
The first day of school comes far too soon. I wake up half an hour before I usually would, just to make sure I won’t be late. Standing in front of the mirror, I scrutinize my new shorts. As hard as I try, I can’t find anything about my legs to be distracting. I look about the same as any of the other girls I’ve seen this summer. American Eagle jean shorts are pretty much uniform when it comes to teenagers. Why shouldn’t I wear them to school?
I walk into the cafeteria to get my schedule with everyone else, and I’m sure I made the right choice. I can spot at least 4 or 5 other people wearing shorts like mine. I breathe a sigh of relief and join my friends at our table.
A long day of class syllabuses and back-to-school gossip follows. My day goes pretty well -- until 6th period, that is. Mr. Hughes’ US History. We’re just entering the classroom, and figuring out where to sit, when he calls my name.
“Grace Connors! What made you think those shorts were appropriate to wear to school?” I freeze. My stomach churns as every eye in the classroom turns towards me. I feel my face flush.
“Ms. Connors? The dress code clearly states your legs must be covered to mid-thigh.”
“I -- but -- aren’t they?”
“Would you like me to get out a ruler?”
“Take the pass by the door and head to the Principal’s office, please. We’ll see you back in class when you’ve learned to dress yourself properly.” Admitting embarrassed defeat, I gather my books exit the class, studiously avoiding eye contact with Becca and Sophie. I make my way to Mr. Lucas’s office, and sit outside the door, trying to push down the lump in my throat. My first day of school, and I’ve already managed to get myself in trouble.
Mr. Lucas opens the door. “Grace Connors?”
“That’s me.” I stand up, and follow him into the office.
“Mr. Hughes called down about a dress code violation.” His eyes dropped to my thighs, and then back up again. “Have a seat, Grace.”
I do as I’m told.
“Do you know why this dress code rule exists?”
I gulp, and shake my head.
Mr. Lucas sighs. “This is a school. We want it to be a safe environment, and one that’s free from distractions.”
I stared down at my legs. Are they really a distraction?
Mr. Lucas sighs again. “This is a conversation you can have with your parents. I’ll call them now, so they can bring you some more appropriate clothes.” He picks up the phone and dials, while I sink back into my seat and try to make myself invisible.
My mom doesn’t answer, so he calls my dad instead. I wait in his office while he leaves work, stops home, and arrives at the school with a pair of my jeans. They don’t go with the t-shirt I’m wearing, and they’re last year’s -- a little too small -- but at this point I’m just glad to be out of my new shorts. Mr. Lucas looks me up and down and nods approvingly. Then he turns to my dad.
“Thank you, Mr. Connors. I’m sorry you had to take off work for this.” They shake hands.
“Of course, Mr. Lucas. Grace, I’m disappointed in you. You’re a beautiful young woman, you know that. There’s no need to be dressing in such a revealing way at school. I expect your mother will have some things to say to you tonight.”
“You can go back to class now, Grace,” says Mr. Lucas. “It’s 6th period.” I nod, and slowly walk away down the hall. But I don’t go back to class. Instead, I go back into the bathroom and stare at my reflection in the mirror. My body seems alien, an entity separate from myself. I look myself in the eye, and realize I’m crying.