The next morning, Hassan nodded in satisfaction at his chosen apparel as he brushed gel into his hair. He smirked at his reflection in his mirror as he grabbed his backpack, before running downstairs. Yes, he was ready. Nervous for his first day at the Seven Hills Middle School? Psh. Nerves were overrated.
Fatima was waiting downstairs, for once wearing normal clothes (so, not a college sweatshirt). She had a math textbook open on the kitchen table beside her, and Hassan raised his eyebrows.
“Last minute studying?” he asked, snorting to himself.
She rolled her eyes at him but didn’t deny it. “You ready?”
He nodded, smirking, as he sat down heavily at the table and gestured for Fatima to get him something to eat. She glared at him and didn’t move, simply sipping her cup of dood and flipping to another page of the textbook.
“Api, please,” he whined. “I want milk.”
“Get it yourself,” she replied, not looking up.
He scowled, just as Ammi came downstairs.
“Are you ready for your first day?” she questioned eagerly, looking more awake than anyone should on a Monday.
Fatima gave her best innocent smile. “Yes, Ammi.”
Hassan did his best to imitate her. “Yes, Ammi,” he said sweetly.
Fatima glared at him as Ammi set a glass of milk down in front of him. “Here, beta, drink some dood to grow big and strong, okay?” Hassan beamed at her and gave Fatima a smug look.
Shayan was waiting at the entrance to the school as Fatima dropped Hassan off at the middle school. Hassan grinned at the sight of his cousin (he seemed to have updated his wardrobe a bit, too—he’d traded out his usual polo for a Nautica shirt).
“Shayan!” he called to him.
“Hey,” Shayan replied with his slight Indian accent, walking over. “Sorry we couldn’t come over yesterday after you guys got here. I forgot I had a quiz today, and I had to study, so…” Shayan’s voice trailed off.
Hassan laughed. “It’s okay. It was like ten at night, anyway.”
Shayan smiled. “Come on, let’s go.” He led Hassan through the door, where Hassan was met by a tidal wave of loud laughter and talking. He groaned and resisted the urge to run outside. Wasn’t Seven Hills supposed to be a tiny, elite, private middle school? Psh, he thought to himself. Maybe it was a tiny, elite, private middle school full of loud, angst-riddled middle schoolers.
Shayan pulled on Hassan’s arm, leading him over to the front office where Hassan was handed a lanyard (wait, they had to scan a card to enter buildings? This was like a spy movie), a schedule, and a locker combination. He barely registered what was happening as Shayan struggled to explain the block schedule and where all Hassan’s classes were. Feeling rather stupid, he turned to his cousin.
“Okay, slow down. I don’t get it.”
Shayan grinned. “Sorry. Here, your schedule’s kind of like mine. I’ll show you where to go. Let’s go to your locker first.”
Hassan nodded, relieved. That sounded reasonable. But as soon as they left the relative quiet of the office, Hassan was once again hit by the horrible, horrible sound. He winced.
“You’ll get used to it,” Shayan assured him, laughing. “There’s your locker.” Shayan pointed at a locker on the right side of the big open space where all the students were gathered… oh dear. It was right behind a cluster of girls—from where Hassan was standing, a few of them seemed to be desi. One girl—short, with straight black hair—threw her head back with laughter as she pointed at something on her iCell, and Hassan noticed a furious blush spreading up his cousin’s face. Hassan smirked to himself.
“Yo, Shayan, who’s that?”
Shayan groaned. “Um. This girl named Anaiya. Everyone ships me with her.”
Hassan glanced up from the circles he’d been tracing in the mulch. “Is she cute?”
Shayan blushed flaming red and didn’t reply.
“Is she smart?”
Shayan’s face had managed, in a couple of seconds, to change from brown to bright crimson. “Stop it, Hassan,” he stammered. Hassan fought to keep from laughing at Shayan’s just barely noticeable Indian accent.
Throwing away all his prior reservations about barging through the group of girls, Hassan grabbed Shayan’s arm and practically dragged him towards his locker.
“Excuse me, sorry,” he muttered brusquely as he hit someone (maybe multiple someones) in the face with his backpack. Shayan detached himself from Hassan as soon as they arrived, looking anywhere but at Anaiya. Hassan smirked and shoved him lightly in her direction as he struggled to get his locker open.
“…ew, his joote are ugly,” Hassan heard someone say from behind him. He whirled around in indignation—his shoes were not ugly, thank you very much. The cluster of girls (yes, a few of them were brown—that’s why he heard them speak Hindi— and there was another one, probably Japanese or Korean, he speculated. Oh, and an Arab one.) Shayan was standing awkwardly to the side, sneaking glances at Anaiya, but the girls were busy shooting him contemptuous glances. He glared right back at them.
“Meri joote both pyaara hai,” snapped Hassan to the one who’d been talking as he finally managed to heave his backpack into his locker (why was it so heavy?). My shoes are very nice.
The tall girl with curly hair rolled her eyes at him. “No,” she said, raising her eyebrows. “They’re not.”
Hassan stared at her in barely-masked horror. For one, was she insulting his favorite pair of Yeezys? And secondly, what kind of person talked to a stranger like that? He scowled at her, ignoring the fact that wow, her eyelashes were really, really long. “Well, it’s not like yours are much better.”
Shayan turned around in time to witness the exchange. Snorting, he pulled Hassan away from the girls before he started a fight. “Calm down, bro.”
“Bro?” repeated Hassan, exasperatedly. Shayan really wasn’t suited to saying slang words, and yet he always insisted on adding a few “cool” words into his vernacular. After all, as Shayan always said, he had been the state spelling bee champion.
Shayan shrugged and led Hassan to his first class.
The first thing Hassan noticed about eighth grade art was that the Asian posse was in that class. He rolled his eyes at the sight, frowning at the recollection of his favorite shoes being slandered. Shayan laughed and pulled him over to a different table.
“Guys, this is my cousin Hassan,” said Shayan as he sat down. “He’s coming to Seven Hills for the rest of the year.”
Hassan studied the other boys sitting near him. There was one whom he instantly liked, with neatly gelled hair and good taste in Vineyard Vines shirts, but the rest all seemed like the type of person Hassan tried very hard to avoid: gaming geeks, with no social life, usually wearing athletic shorts or sweats paired with nerdy hoodies. Hassan looked at them with barely-masked distaste before turning away. One of the gamer-boys was wearing a shirt with a Clash Royale character on it, and Hassan crushed the urge to go talk to him about the new strategy that he’d come up with (he simply could not be seen with kids like that. It’d be social suicide.). Instead, he glanced over at the well-dressed boy.
Shayan saw where Hassan’s gaze had traveled and grinned. “Hassan, this is Jason.”
Jason slapped Hassan on the back. “Nice jacket, man.” Raising his eyebrows and shooting a look at the gamer-boys, Jason whispered, “Unlike them over there.”
Hassan smirked. This was someone he could be friends with.
The next few classes were moderately simple. Hassan followed Shayan around, and when Shayan wasn’t in a class with him, he walked with Jason. Soon, he’d been introduced to just about all the other well-dressed boys in the grade. Hassan smiled inwardly with satisfaction, feeling quite proud of himself as a kid named Owen asked about Hassan’s Yeezys. He’d known he didn’t need to be nervous. And of course, as always, he was right.
And then came lunch—the easiest way to find out who was cool and who was most definitely not. After buying a disgusting and oily school lunch of greasy pizza, Hassan followed Shayan over to where a tall Asian kid was standing.
“Hey,” said Hassan, elbowing Shayan. “Aren’t we going to go sit with them?” he asked, gesturing at where Jason, and Owen, and the others were sitting.
Shayan grinned. “Yeah, but we’re waiting for Tommy.”
Tommy? “Uh, who’s that?”
Shayan pointed at the Asian kid. “Him.”
Hassan groaned to himself as Tommy turned around. That kid was basically Shayan, but… not Indian. He had a questionable hairstyle, plus big nerd-frame glasses and a gray t-shirt (at least it wasn’t a striped polo). Just from looking, Hassan could tell that this Tommy was the type to get straight A’s in every class. And he probably plays violin, too, Hassan thought to himself with a smirk. Tommy seemed like the type who would play violin and read encyclopedias in his free time. No wonder he and Shayan were friends.
Soon, Shayan and Tommy were animatedly discussing their recent math quiz grades while Hassan stared longingly at the popular table. Finally, they made their way over to Jason and his friends (wait, why were the nerds also sitting here?), and Hassan collapsed into a chair, relieved, as the topic of conversation finally shifted from grades to Adidas.
Hassan’s last class was gym. He’d ditched Shayan and Tommy to walk with Owen (a more preferable choice than that tall, violin-playing Asian kid, ugh), and they partnered up for the fitness activity. Though Hassan was stronger than Fatima, that wasn’t really saying much, and he realized this as soon as he finished the forty sit-ups. Owen had finished far before him, and Hassan fought down a blush as he realized that he was one of the last ones to complete the set. He was now starting to understand why Fatima had started working out recently, even though he knew his sister was doing it to stay skinny (she claimed she was trying to stay fit, but he knew the truth). He scanned the room awkwardly, only to see Curly-haired Indian Girl smirking at him. Hassan fought back the urge to pull out each one of those curls, one by one. After all, it wasn’t his fault he was weak!
But Hassan’s mood soon shifted when he found out that they were playing cricket (his and Shayan’s absolute favorite sport). He and Shayan immediately found each other in the crowd of kids, even after the teacher sorted them onto different teams, and both of them planned strategies until finally they had to go to their positions. Hassan took his place as the wicket keeper, grinning. Now was his chance to prove himself.
And he did. After gym, Jason and all his friends were congratulating Hassan on a great win against Shayan’s team, and Hassan shot a smug look at Tommy, who’d scored zero points, feeling infinitely satisfied.
Fatima came to the car pick-up area to take Hassan home promptly at 3:15. Hassan reluctantly said bye to Owen and waved at Shayan, who was chatting with Jason. Hassan studied them for a moment before walking down the steps to the car. Since when was Shayan friends with Jason? The stereotypical Indian kid and the cool, popular kid? This didn’t add up.
As Hassan slid into the car, he decided that Jason was most definitely using Shayan, only hanging out with him to get homework answers. He felt a twinge of sympathy, but he dismissed it with a shrug. Shayan still had Tommy to hang out with, anyway.