Never Have I Ever, And That's A Problem
Roquelle tapped the end of her mechanical pencil against her bottom lip, feeling incredibly, terribly, and utterly bored. Her English teacher wasn’t helping.
“A common theme in literature, regardless of the era, is the concept of a new beginning,” she stated. Roquelle divided her attention between looking out of the window, and listening to her teacher’s words. “Oftentimes, the pivotal moment of the plot revolves around the main character making a life-changing decision. A fresh start, stemming from a desire to claim what they have deemed the key to their future.”
Roquelle edged her vision away from the scene outside, as her teacher continued.
“Though tragedies (both Greek and Shakespearean) have become popular enough to withstand the criticism of millennias and centuries, there are also the more upbeat tales to consider. The Odyssey is a hopeful epic of one man’s desire to get home. In modern society, there is the coming-of-age narrative that is so popular, it’s become its own genre!”
The teacher, looking up and seeing that most of her class was mentally elsewhere, latched onto the only interested soul. She locked eyes with Roquelle and grinned at the young woman.
“New beginnings are not just confined to spring. They are feelings that have inspired countless generations of authors, spanning across every country on the globe. And that is what I’d like you to write your paper on: How each of the three short stories we’ve read can be compared to this concept of ‘new beginnings’. Some may seem hard--for instance, the Edgar Allen Poe selection--but if you’ve been listening, I imagine you’ll have no trouble.”
Roquelle heard the groans of her classmates, and listened to them unzip backpacks to take out planners. Roquelle knew that she should be following suit, but she was in the middle of an epiphany. Her teacher’s words rang in her ears.
New beginnings. A fresh start. The key to the future that the person desires.
A smile curved Roquelle’s lips, growing inch by inch the longer she thought about it. That’s exactly what she needed. A new beginning.
A student in Roquelle’s year strutted into class, past the throng of students attempting to leave. Roquelle vaguely recognized her as her former lab partner, Lonnie Velasquez. Roquelle had always seen Lonnie as the flashy, well-dressed, type, but today, she was pulling out all the stops. Her hair was in a high ponytail, raised to expose her spine, left visible by an open-backed blouse. She turned to face the teacher, laying a manicured hand on her hip, giving Roquelle a full view of the tattoo between her shoulder blades. A blooming pink lotus stood out against Lonnie’s dark skin.
“Ma’am, can you give me the assignments that I’ve missed these past couple days?” Lonie requested, tipping her head to the side as she spoke. The teacher raised a critical eyebrow.
“That would depend. Were you absent because you were busy getting that tattoo?”
“Um...” Lonnie paused, changing her stance to something a little more battle-ready. “I don’t see how that would affect my ability to get my assignments.”
“Since you weren’t out due to an illness or funeral, I’m going to have to tell you to get your assignments from a classmate,” the teacher dictated. She arranged a pile of papers into order, tapping them against her desk. “That’s my policy; we went over it at the beginning of the semester.”
“Ma’am, are you discriminating against me for my decision to get inked?” Lonnie asked outright. Roquelle could hear the irritation seeping through her words. “It was all perfectly legal, and the principal clearly has no issue with it. If you have a personal problem with what I decide--”
“Nothing of the sort, Lonnie,” the teacher cut in sweetly. “I’m just telling you: follow the syllabus. If that’s it?”
Lonnie let out a huff. “Yeah. I guess that’s it. Excuse me.”
The teacher extended a hand past Lonnie. “Roquelle is right there in her seat. Why don’t you two talk, and she can catch you up on what you’ve missed?”
Lonnie turned to look at Roquelle, the barest glimmer of recognition shining in her eyes. Her red lips became a bit less pouty, and she nodded. Roquelle tried to smile back, but she was 70% that it came out looking creepy. She couldn’t help it though. She had just decided to break free from who she currently was, and then Lonnie shows up: the poster child for being true to yourself.
“Hey, let’s go talk!” Roquelle said a little too loudly, picking up her things in a rush. “Right in the hallway should be fine; just five minutes, okay?”
“Um, sure,” Lonnie agreed hesitantly, following Roquelle’s lead.
“Have fun you two,” their teacher murmured, looking to her lesson plan for the next class.
“You remember me, right?” Roquelle confirmed, the instant they were outside.
“Uh...science,” Lonnie replied. “We were partners for a little while. Then I got paired with Stevens.” Lonnie scrunched up her face. “Sorry, not to be rude, but what does this have to do with my assignments?”
“Nothing!” Roquelle cheered. “I’m here to enlist you!”
“My cousin’s the army brat, not me.” Lonnie held up her hands and pointed down at her wedges. Roquelle thought that they looked adorable, tying into a bow at the back of her ankle. “See these shoes? Can’t fight infantry troops in these puppies.”
“You’re the bravest person I know,” Roquelle went on. “And I’d like you to help me with something.”
“I’m not getting myself into any illegal activities,” Lonnie stated firmly, crossing her arms. “I have scholarships to look forward to.”
“No, no, nothing like that,” Roquelle assured her. “I just--would you like to hang out sometime?”
“Oh.” Lonnie drew out of her defensive stance. “Yeah, sure. I don’t see a problem with that. We got along pretty well as lab partners. And, truth be told, I could use a lot of help with this class.”
“Perfect!” Roquelle said, focusing only on Lonnie’s affirmation. “I’ll give you the details tomorrow, alright?”
“Uh, sure, I guess,” Lonnie replied, somewhat confused. She watched as Roquelle bounded away. “See you then.”
Lonnie was scared out of her skin when, the next morning, Roquelle popped out from behind a trashcan as the Hispanic girl was on her way to algebra.
“I’ve got it all ready!” Roquelle declared over Lonnie’s body.
“What, my funeral arrangements?” Lonnie shouted, hand pressed to her heart. “Jesus Christ, don’t jump out at people!”
“You good?” Roquelle asked innocently, kneeling down to Lonnie’s level. “I didn’t mean for you to fall down. Those shoes are kinda high, aren’t they?”
“Never mind,” Lonnie waved it away, sitting up. “What is it, Roquelle? If you wanted to give me my assignments, you didn’t need to do anything fancy. Just Facebooking me would’ve been fine.”
“Oh no, this isn’t about your homework,” Roquelle laughed. “This is about new beginnings.”
Lonnie’s face fell flat. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Come skip with me,” Roquelle said suddenly, taking Lonnie’s hand. She helped the girl to her feet. “You said that you wanted to hang out sometime, right?”
“Well, yes, but I was thinking more like the weekend?” Lonnie said. “Or after school? Now is a bit...sudden.”
“But it’s exciting, don’t you think?” Roquelle asked, gathering Lonnie’s fallen books and papers. She held them out like a peace treaty. Lonnie felt her resolve caving a little, looking at Roquelle’s eyes. They were practically sparkling with excitement. Whatever she had planned, Lonnie couldn’t help but want to join her; just to unravel the mystery.
“What did you have in mind?” Lonnie asked hesitantly, not giving any indication either way. She accepted her things, and the action unlocked Roquelle’s lips.
“I want to start being true to myself. I want to do things that I want to do. I’ve never done that before, did you know?” Roquelle didn’t wait for a reply from Lonnie. “I saw you and thought to myself, ‘There’s a girl who does whatever she wants, whenever she feels like it. No one tells her how to run her life. She’s everything I ever want to be.’ ”
“That’s...actually really flattering. Thank you,” Lonnie said, smiling.
“So who better to ask to help?” Roquelle finished.
“Help with what?” Lonnie asked. “Like, life advice?”
“I’ll let you know on the way,” Roquelle replied cryptically, breezing past Lonnie. She glanced at the girl from over her shoulder. “If you’re up for it,” she added, on a whim.
That sealed the deal for Lonnie. She hated algebra, anyway. Her face broke out into a grin, and she fished her keys from her jacket.“Let’s get going then, chica.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Lonnie said flatly, twenty minutes later. “I am not dissing my academic career for this.”
Roquelle looked between Lonnie and the strip mall they were parked at. “What do you mean?”
“Your whole ‘awakening’ or whatever is getting a massage?” Lonnie demanded.
“Figured it was a good start,” Roquelle shrugged.
“You get a massage when you’re 35 and have had a long work day. You get a massage as a gift from people you don’t really know. You get a massage for your freakin’ quinceañera!” Lonnie gripped the steering wheel and turned to glare at Roquelle. “You do not get a massage in the attempt to find yourself.”
“Well, it’s not really about ‘finding’ myself,” Roquelle corrected her classmate. “It’s more like I know exactly who I want to be, and just need to...go about getting to her. Complete some missions that will make me...brave enough to be that kind of person.”
“And what are these missions?” Lonnie asked, glad to be getting a clearer picture of the meaning behind their outing.
“It’s not like I’ve written them down or anything,” Roquelle said.
“Well, try doing it,” Lonnie said, turning around and bringing her book bag up to the front seat. She shoved an open notebook and pen at Roquelle. “Lists are your friend. Start listing. Then start explaining.”
Roquelle started down at the blank notebook paper, then glanced out of her window. “Can we do this outside? It’s a really nice day. With winter coming, we might not get too many more of these, y’know?”
“Yeah, alright. I’m gonna have a snack while we do that.”
Lonnie and Roquelle sat side by side on the curb of the strip mall. For the next ten minutes, Roquelle racked her brain and jotted things down, and Lonnie ate and thought. Finally, Roquelle let out a satisfied hum, alerting Lonnie that she was finished.
“How’s this?” Roquelle asked, handing over the list.
“You’re pretty weird, aren’t you?” Lonnie replied soon after she began reading. “Some of these are oddly specific. And others are just plain cliche. Petting chickens, golf carts, a flash mob, roof running, eating ice cream, sliding down railings... Are you sure we shouldn’t consider this a first draft and just--”
“No!” Roquelle burst, reaching forward and grasping the paper. She held it to her chest and looked up at Lonnie. “No, it’s... All of these things are things that I want to do. I need to do them. I picked them off the top of my head, out of everything in the world. So they’ve gotta be important. And they’ve gotta be done. In this order.” The tips of Roquelle’s shoes edged towards each other. “Okay?”
Lonnie stared at Roquelle, a bit of uncertainty lingering on her face. “And this list--this is gonna help you out? This is gonna do the whole...new beginnings thing that you want to do?”
Roquelle’s face brightened, jumping to her feet. “Yes, definitely!”
“And what exactly is this ‘new beginnings’ adventure for?” Lonnie asked, rising as well. She planted one hand on her hip and used the other to twirl her key ring around. “Because you’ve seriously been vague about that, I’m gettin’ pretty curious. I mean, it’s my time, my car, my gas--”
“We’ll go halfsies; don’t you fret!” Roquelle cheered, looping her arm through the one Lonnie had attached to her hip. Lonnie let out a cry as Roquelle dragged the two of them forward.
“It isn’t really about the money,” Lonnie confessed.
“Great, then! But just to be clear, I did clean my bank account of, like, $100 for this event.”
“Jeez, how expensive are we getting?”
“It’s mostly just, you know, for ‘in case’. Also, I spend most of my money on food on a daily basis anyway.”
Roquelle let go of Lonnie as they reached Lonnie’s 80’s style sedan. It was big, it was old, and Lonnie had mentioned a couple times that it was in need of a few dire repairs. But Roquelle liked it, and she had to admit that it suited Lonnie. The girl looked even cooler than usual whenever she slipped behind the wheel and draped her wrist across the top of it, as she did now. She glanced over at Roquelle as the girl put on her seatbelt.
“Where do you work, then?” she asked. “If you’ve got money to blow, you’ve got a job to go to.”
“Aw, that’s not the first question you’re supposed to ask!” Roquelle yelled, disappointed. She threw her arms into the air and they landed in her lap. “You’re supposed to flick on your shades and ask ‘Where to, Roquelle?’ ” Roquelle made her voice sound deep and mysterious as she spoke Lonnie’s supposed dialogue. “Anything else totally ruins the mood. Mood killer.”
“Give me the list,” Lonnie sighed, holding out a hand. “You can get the GPS going on my phone. It’s unlocked.”
Roquelle didn’t look at the iPhone Lonnie had stuck on the dashboard. “Nope, don’t need to.”
“You know where we’re going?” Lonnie confirmed, dropping her hand when Roquelle didn’t move.“Yeah,” Roquelle beamed. “We’re going to my house.”