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Sophomore Year Is Greek to Me
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1

Just before the clock ticks over into a brand-new year, one that is going to be completely different from any I've experienced before, my dad and I get on a plane—my first overseas flight—heading to Greece. I look out the window, take a deep breath . . . and then we soar off into the sky.

Fourteen-Hour Trip Not Nearly As Awesome As Anticipated

During the course of the seemingly endless journey from New York to Athens today, Zona Lowell, 15, realised she was on the verge of jumping out the plane window.

The food was horrible, and my dad was snoring practically the entire time. As usual, field reporting reveals that real life is not as glamorous as anticipated."

Hopefully seeing a bit of the world will help."

Mr. Lowell then went back to sleep and was unavailable for further comment.

Filed, 9:23 p.m., somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.

My dad, on the other hand, is just plain cranky. He hates long flights, which makes his choice of career kind of ironic.

Well, he'll get no sympathy from me—this was his idea, after all.

We collect Tony, our exceptionally grumpy Scottish terrier, stumble through customs, get our passports stamped (my first stamp!), and retrieve our luggage.

Dad is riffling through a sheaf of papers, looking for the one that will tell us how to get to our sublet. Does jet lag set in immediately.

Maybe I won't be hopelessly lost after all . . .

There's a big glassed-in smoking area in the middle of the airport, which is weird to see—in New York City, smoking is banned everywhere. "Dad! "This is no time to revert to atrocious habits. Pull it together."

We changed a bunch of money at JFK before we took off, so we plunk down eight euros apiece for train tickets. According to the not-very-friendly woman at the ticket window, a regular ride (not from the airport) is only €1.2, but still. Apparently not.

We roll our suitcases (and poor, miserable Tony) down a long tunnel until we get to the platform. In Athens there are three lines: blue, red, and green. It would be incredibly straightforward if not for the fact that I can't pronounce—and therefore remember—any of the names of the stations.

We sit down to wait for the train, which arrives at the airport every half hour according to the electronic sign. Poor guy. At least in Greece pets don't have to be quarantined after entering the country—then we might not have been able to bring him at all.

The train platform's waiting area is bright white and has plants all around. With the sun shining in from overhead, it actually looks like an atrium in here, minus the birds.

The train finally arrives. We lug our stuff through the doors, and right on cue, Tony starts howling. My sleep-deprived brain wonders when more traditional passengers will put in an appearance, like the NYC subway staples "lady eating sunflower seeds and spitting the shells on the ground" or "guy with no pants screaming about the apocalypse." Shockingly, their Greek counterparts don't appear; only tidy, quiet passengers fill the train. The seats are covered with fabric and totally spotless, and there isn't a single piece of litter on the floor. Even the poles look especially shiny.

Four more stops and we've reached our final destination. We walk out onto a sun-dappled platform filled with potted trees and drag our belongings up the escalator and out of the station.

So this is it: my first official view of Athens, and my new home.

If you want to know the truth . . . it kind of looks like Brooklyn.

There's a cobbled platform with steps (and a ramp, thank the lord) leading from the station down to the sidewalk, and straight ahead is a store that looks like a typical deli. It's a neighbourhood. Just like my neighbourhood in New York, really.

Or for everything to be white from a fine layer of ancient dust. People feeding one another grapes. Something more, well, Greek.

To our left is a ramp leading to a highway overpass. The cars look different—boxier—and they have strange-looking licence plates. Not a single person appears to be wearing a toga.

So far.

My dad has his stack of papers out again, and Tony is barking his head off at two dogs who are hanging out by the door to the station. They have collars and tags, but no leashes or obvious owners. Tony is losing his mind, scrabbling against the sides of his carrier.

"Anthony Oliver Lowell! He knows that.

He looks chastened and switches from barking to a low growl. I'm tempted to let him out of his carrier to stretch his legs—I'm sure he's been miserable cooped up for almost an entire day—but the other dogs make me nervous.

"Can we get a cab. Do we even know where we're going. Dad is sitting on top of his big suitcase, looking like he's about to fall over. One of the strange dogs comes over and sniffs his leg.

"Dad. Dad!"

He starts, snorts, and looks back at the papers. He is holding them upside down.

"Okay, Dad, this isn't far at all. Let's roll."

No steel rods helpfully sticking out of the sidewalk here. We turn down the wrong street, which has almost the exact same name as the right street, and after correcting our mistake finally get to a building that looks like, well, a building. Where are the columns. Where are the decorative urns. Where are the goats.!

Wait—you know what. Hang on. After all, a good reporter should start a story at the beginning so that her readers have all the facts.

Let me try this again:

My name is Zona Lowell.

2

Dad Blindsides Innocent Daughter At Breakfast Table

In an unprecedented display of cruelty and sneakiness, internationally renowned newspaper journalist David Lowell announced today over a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats that he would be completely ruining his daughter's entire life by forcing her to go live in Greece for six months, effective January 1. The aforementioned daughter, Zona, 15, could not believe it when her father (known for being somewhat eccentric but marginally cool nonetheless) told her she was being uprooted from her life and forced to live halfway across the world where she didn't know a soul except for Lowell himself (a man to whom she would never be speaking again, thank you very much).

Zona's plans to emancipate herself were thwarted by the realisation that she had recently spent all her hard-earned babysitting/birthday money on an iPad mini and wouldn't be able to pay rent or buy food. Her insistence on moving in with her best friend Hilary's family was scoffed at by Evil Dictator Lowell.

Lowell's paltry excuses that this story "could be his legacy" and that "any normal teenager would jump at the chance for such an exciting adventure" fell on deaf ears.

Filed, 10:37 a.m., Lower East Side, NYC.

"You're kidding," Hilary said, looking at me in disbelief over the round, sticky table in the Starbucks on 26th and Sixth. The Bauers live on the Upper West Side, which is kind of a pain to get to from my neighbourhood (the Lower East Side), so in these kinds of dire circumstances—when a phone call will simply not suffice—a convenient meeting place is essential.

We were supposed to be making winter break plans, but instead were talking about my impending and total disappearance. Hil shifted in her seat. "Zo, you can't move. It's the middle of the school year. And, I mean, what about—"

"What about the fact that I'm going to be stuck for half a year—at least, by the way, he said ‘at least'— What about that. Has the man even considered the ramifications of his unilateral decision. This is an affront to—"

"Okay, Captain Vocab. Calm down," Hilary chided sweetly. Everything distressing is better expressed in multisyllabic words, or at least my brain thinks so.

"They probably don't even have Starbucks there." I was about to burst into tears . . . over Starbucks. In a Starbucks. How tragicomic was this going to get.

"Well, everywhere has Starbucks," Hilary said helpfully. She looked down at her hot cider like, if she focused on it hard enough, she wouldn't cry, either. Great.

"I mean, I get it: Greece, economy, political upheaval, crisis, whatever, huge story . . . Like, doesn't he get that being the only sophomore ever chosen to be features editor is kind of a huge deal."

"Hey!

She gave me a wry smile in return.

" She sighed. "Me too."

"Intentions. A life. A small life, but a life all the same. Doesn't that count for anything.

Okay . . . I mean, I knew that my dad writing his new magazine piece—which he thought could be the basis for an entire book—

For one thing, Dad is old—not, like, Methuselah old, but he's older than most of my friends' dads by a lot. He's won two Pulitzer Prizes—one's hanging in the bathroom of our apartment. My dad's a bit on the disorganised side, except when it comes to his writing. Then the mess is referred to as "organised chaos." Our whole apartment is basically stacks of papers and discs and flash drives and other objects that are not to be touched by anyone except the person who put them there (and occasionally Tony, who doesn't care much about personal space).

It's precarious, but it's home.

Anyway, Dad was forty-six when I was born—which was after he met my mom, obviously—and he agreed to stay put in NYC for a while. I personally don't think he ever really intended to stay, and probably he wouldn't have . . . if my mom hadn't died right after giving birth to me.

So it's been just me and my dad for the last fifteen years. And for the most part it's been pretty cool, actually. Growing up with a dad who writes for newspapers and magazines is great. And of course I had a million crazy "aunts" and "uncles" all over the city—local informer types and other writer friends of my dad's.

Oh, and his nickname for me is Ace—as in "ace reporter." Sensing a theme yet.

World Totally Unsurprised To Learn Of Girl's Predisposition To Writing, Journalism

In a truly unshocking turn of events, Zona Lowell, daughter of acclaimed writer David Lowell, wishes to pursue a career in journalism like her dad.

"You know that saying, ‘Like father, like daughter'. Turns out it's a real thing," said the owner of the deli near the Lowells' apartment.

As the masses recover from this extraordinary revelation, we will continue our exclusive coverage of how the sky is blue and gravity is real.

Filed, 4:13 p.m., NYC.

We maintain our piles of important personal property with only a once-in-a-while argument over who stole whose copy of Newsweek. We treat each other like equals, really.) He trusts me.

But now.

Forget it.

He could stash me somewhere for six months instead of interrupting my sophomore year of high school.

No, this was a straight-up trick.

3

She lived her whole life in Crete (which, according to various accredited sources, is the largest and most populous island in Greece. Also, Zeus was born in a cave there. So, my mom . . . and also Zeus) until the day she ran off with my dad. But that's kind of it.

Don't go thinking this is all sad or anything like that. It isn't. You can't miss what you've never had, and in my family there's a dad and a daughter and a dog.

Here's the thing, though: in the last couple of years, my dad had started tossing around random comments involving me meeting this slew of relatives.

There's another part to this story, as I guess there usually is when it comes to family stuff . . .

I know, super morbid— And of course I've thought about the possibility of him . . . dying. It's just . . . too much. This is the time to have an immature attitude, isn't it.

So when he said we were moving to Greece—moving! Not even just taking a vacation!—

Hilary knew all this stuff, of course. (Well, almost all of it— More on that later. And then it'd all just . . . go away. Right. Don't things sometimes happen that way.

So. Back to Starbucks and me not taking the news very well at all.

"Maybe he's just testing your level of loyalty to the Reflector. See how hard you'll fight to stay here, you know. Like, a co-journalistic ethics and devotion test or something . . .." Hil trailed off. Ugh, this is so unfair!"

(Seriously, where do teachers come up with this stuff.) Hil was new in school, and we bonded immediately over her notebook, which had pictures from the Narnia movie on it. My dad and I are considered . . . eccentric, to put it nicely. Poor, to put it bluntly. The parents of my kindergarten classmates weren't rushing to set me up with playdates once they found out we lived in a less-than-pristine two-bedroom rental apartment in a (gasp!) non-elevator building—at least, not until they figured out my dad is that David Lowell, the one who wrote the famous piece on 9/11. I never minded sitting by myself with a book, but meeting Hilary was just . . . serendipity.

He was pretty messed up, obviously, and didn't want to touch the money. He had a lawyer put it in a trust for my schooling, and that's the only thing it's ever been used for. Again, pretty morbid . . . No pity parties, please, okay.)

And now we're going to be parted by a giant body of water.!

Hilary was drawing a sad face on the table with Splenda. "And what about Matty." she continued."

Matt Klausner is the third member of our trio, who joined the ranks in seventh grade during a mind-blowingly boring school dance. Who would let me copy their chemistry homework.!

Hilary blew away her Splenda portrait.

"

"Maybe your dad will change his mind and decide to write about something else," she suggested quietly.

We both knew that'd never happen. When David Lowell decided to write something, he wrote it.

4

When I got home, Dad was in his study working with the door closed—probably looking up ways to further sabotage my high school career/life. It said: Ornery Daughter Comes to Senses, Celebrates Impending Adventure.

Interesting.

Not the world's most concise headline, but it'd do.

It said: Come on, Ace. Look on the bright side. For me. . . . For you.

"You guys. Guess what." Matty said, sliding in next to me at the lunch table later that day.

And when Matt Klausner leads with an open-ended question, you never know what path you might be lured down.

"If this has anything to do with that piercing place in the Village, the answer is still no," Hilary said.

Matt grinned. "My cousin Paulette got her tongue pierced there, and when my uncle saw it, he helpfully removed it for her . . . with pliers. Then she watched the hole close in the mirror. She said it took two hours."

"This is what you wanted to tell us." Hilary asked, horrified.

"No, it is not, so if you'd just—"

"Your cousin stared at her tongue in the mirror for two hours. What's wrong with her."

"Well, she's not that interesting." Matt shrugged, stealing some tater tots from my plate.

"You're seriously the worst," Hil said.

Were you two sitting here moaning about the fact that Zona gets to leave this cesspool and live in one of the most gorgeous places on the planet. Are we having a cry-athon in the caf."

"Hey! "If you want to switch itineraries with me, feel free to—"

But maybe . . . maybe you don't even care." Matt glared at us, folding his hands on the tabletop.

"Sorry, sorry," Hilary said. "What's up."

"Well, now I'm not sure you deserve to know . . ." He sniffed petulantly.

"Pleaaaaaase, Matty, most handsome of men. Please, pretty please, tell us the exciting news. It's all we want in the world.

We're dorks, but it's so fun.

"Okay, you've forced it out of me!" Matt exclaimed at last. Like. Someone."

Silence.

"Hello. Anyone. This is a landmark event." Matt folded his arms across his chest. She looked at me.

"Is this a joke." Hil finally said.

"How dare you! I've never been so insulted in my—"

"It's just that . . . you never like anyone. The school filled with ‘horrible, hideous, juvenile, totally uninspired guys you could never in a million years imagine touching with a ten-foot pole'."

"Ugh, of course it isn't someone from this freak show. It's"—Matt leaned in conspiratorially—"the counter guy at the Starbucks on 12th Street." He flung his arms in the air triumphantly.

Today's Special Interest Story: Deluded Teen Professes Love For 30-Year-Old (Minimum) Barista

Matthew Klausner, a Manhattan resident, revealed today that he thinks he has a snowball's chance in hell of going on a date of any kind with the much older and most likely not looking to be put in prison Scott NoIdeaLastName.

Klausner's friends tried to say encouraging things after the young man's revelation, including, "Well, it's great that you figured out your type!" and "Have you completely lost your mind.!" but the subject of their best intentions remained unmoved.

For more information, please see "Mary-Kay Letourneau" and "Truly Terrible Ideas."

Filed, 12:18 p.m., Manhattan.

"Should I say ‘Is this a joke' again." Hilary asked."

"Scoff all you want, but we have a connexion. He gave me a free package of those chocolate-covered graham crackers today," Matt said smugly.

"Wow. Did he hand them to you through the window of his white van before asking you to climb in. Hilary laughed. Matt did not look amused. "Matty, come on. You can't be serious. This guy is like . . . old. Too old."

"Love knows no age restrictions. Weren't your parents, like, twenty years apart or something."

Twenty-five years, actually. So not the point.

"Besides," Matty went on, "he's not old, he's mature. He can get me into clubs. And maybe you guys, too, if you're good."

"Gee," I said with wide eyes, "I can't think of anything I'd enjoy more than hanging out with you and your new faux-boyfriend in a—"

"What do you call a cougar if he's a guy." Hilary interjected thoughtfully. "A lion."

"— Thanks for the invite, though."

"Oh, here we go. Back to Sadsville." Matt slumped in his chair. "Can't you take a minute to be encouraging."

"NO!

Hil flung her sandwich crust at him. "Definitely not," she added.

"You two just want everyone to be as miserable as you are." Matt narrowed his eyes and flung the bread back.

"Matty, that's not fair. Of course we want you to meet someone. I knew Matt got bummed out because there were basically no other gay guys in our school—well, not many who'd admit it, anyway—and he wanted to hook up and have crushes like everybody else.

"He's not elderly! He's probably, like . . . twenty-four!"

He scowled at us again. Then the bell rang and we all heaved a collective sigh. "Well, this was fun," Matt said morosely. Then he brightened. "I've got a free period . . . Anyone want to go get coffee."

"Seriously, though, you guys, what's a male cougar." Hilary asked again. "A tiger."

Zona, why don't you do a little undercover journalism and find out for us."

"Also, you've had enough coffee for today, sir."

"Gee, thanks." Hilary rolled her eyes resignedly and looked pointedly at Matt. "No coffee for you." He sniffed haughtily and started doing something on his phone—probably tweeting about how no one understood him.

5

Young Journalist Daydreams Through Entire Meeting

Instead of paying attention during what would likely be one of the last opportunities to contribute in her official capacity as features editor, Zona Lowell spent the entire weekly Reflector meeting wondering if she could somehow make her dad change his evil, stubborn mind. She also gave some thought to what the paper's editor-in-chief, handsome senior Benjamin Walker, would look like with his shirt off.

When called on for her thoughts, Zona managed to say, "Oh, yeah—totally agree," which made absolutely no sense, since the question was "What are you thinking for the features theme next month."

Filed, 2:24 p.m., Manhattan.

". . .) Unfortunately, he A) had a girlfriend and B) didn't care about me even before he had a girlfriend.

The only bright spot to my Greece trip, really, was that maybe there'd be some cute guys there. Guys who liked reading biographies, and utilised correct punctuation, and didn't have to try to be cool. Basically, exact replicas of Ben, only Greek. And single. And not oblivious to my love.

Hilary was on the other side of the room chatting about a new article with ü

"Hey, Zona—" It was Ben. Touching me. On my actual body. It was going to be a "What the hell." speech. Of course, news travels fast in high school.

Why did he have to be EIC. For one thing, it was way easier to pretend he had a secret crush on me in those days, because you could never be sure who he was taking pictures of. But then again, that's exactly how he ended up with his girlfriend, Kelsey, so . . . Ugh— I had more important things to focus on, like—

"Zona. You in there." he asked. Oh, terrific. He was doing the crinkly-eyed smile thing.

"Yeah, sorry, just spacing,

"Seems to be your thing today," Ben replied.

"Yeah, sorry about that—" By your chiselled good looks. Run away with me. "So, um," I continued, "I guess you heard through the grapevine about my dad's new story—"

"Don't you mean the olive vine."

"

"Not a very good one," he conceded, shrugging. He looked down at the desk and moved a few index cards around. Great. He looked back up. "Anyway, it sounds amazing. I'd kill to be there with your dad while he's researching— You must be pretty psyched."

"Yeah, I guess . . ."

He looked genuinely shocked. "Seriously. Why."

"Well, I have responsibilities, um, to the paper, and—"

"Oh, yeah—our beloved Reflector. And working on actual news that isn't about someone running a bra up the flagpole. Again." Ben held up his iPad, which had a photo-editing programme open with a picture of a bright blue bra flapping in the wind.

Maybe I should've been more psyched . . . but all the kids who were excited on my behalf didn't actually know the whole story.

Maybe Ben would offer to go with me. He could help carry my suitcase. Dad would probably be completely on board with that plan.

It's too bad—your work on the last two issues has been awesome."

He was.! How excited, exactly.

"If you want to recommend somebody . . . Or I could just go through the other applications from the end of last year and see if anyone is still interested in the job . . ." He trailed off, his attention suddenly distracted by his phone. Probably a romantic text from Kelsey. He cracked a smile and started typing a reply.

"Yeah, so," I began, scrambling for something to say before dashing away, "I'm honestly devastated about leaving you in the lurch like this, especially because I was elated about getting the position . . ."

He glanced up at me.) "Sorry, Zona, that was totally rude. Um, yeah . . ." His eyes flicked back to his phone. "But don't feel bad. You'll be back next year! Have an amazing time in Greece—"

And . . . he was back to texting. 'Kay. Bye.

Hil followed close behind me.

"Did he already know." she asked.

"Yeah. He's going to replace me. It's just all happening in five seconds, you know. I'd already filled up half its silver-lined pages with my ideas for features articles, interesting layouts, surveys, interviews . . .

This totally sucks." Hilary scuffed the ugly linoleum tiles with her studded Converse high-top sneaker. "Want to come over later. We can order in Thai and hang out on the terrace and they won't bother us."

She lives in a gorgeous penthouse with massive floor-to-ceiling windows, a view for days, and every gadget in the world. They have a fridge that's about the size of my bedroom, and it's always chock-full of fancy cheese and desserts that her parents never eat because they're always at work or charity events. Don't get me wrong—the Lower East Side is more my style, and I honestly wouldn't trade . . . but the Bauers' is a very nice place to visit.

Again. And that could take all night . . .

She squeezed me in a quick hug. "If you change your mind, just text me. 'Kay."

Product Details

About the Author

Meredith Zeitlinis the author of"Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters," as well as a voiceover artist who has worked in commercials, film and television shows. She also writes a column for"Ladygunn Magazine, "changes her hair color every few months, and has many fancy pairs of spectacles. Meredith lives in Brooklyn, New York. Follow her on Twitter @zeitlingeist"

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