“Bye, Mom. Love you,” I say routinely as I kiss her cheek and jump off the passenger’s side of the minivan. I don’t wait for an answer, because it’s usually a very silent “mmm” before she drives off. I pull out my phone to check the time.
Damn it. 7:40 a.m. I really shouldn’t have had that bowl of rice and eggs my mom tempted me with.
Usually, I would rush for my mom to get me to school just a bit earlier, to avoid some people. I had been really good about this until now. Ugh. I conk myself on the head in irritation.
As I approach my locker, I could hear familiar giggles behind me. Okay, so I could either remain walking at the center of the hall, or I can walk more towards the side near where the lockers are lined up against the walls. If I stay in the center and what I predict will happen happens, my books that sit in my arms could drop and then I’d have to go through the hassle of picking them up. If I move towards the side, I might get hurt by clashing into the lockers, but at least my books will be safe.
I decide to move to the right a bit as I slowly walk down the hallway.
Almost on cue, I get a heavy shove from behind me and my shoulder takes a hard hit on the lockers, one of the locks probably leaving a circular bruise on my right arm. I wince at the throbbing pain.
God damn it! I wore a tank top today! Now I can’t take off my jacket all day, even in California’s weird “it’s still summer, bitch” autumn weather.
“Better watch where you’re going, fat cunt,” Karen sneered as she and Wendy walk away, arms locked. I continue to walk, almost limping because I think my hip took some of the hit, too. Glaring at them, I start trying to cheer myself up with the funny thought of how silly they looked with their arms locked.
Karen was shorter than the smallest freshman here (the jocks verified it) and Wendy was almost a foot taller. When together, their silhouette looks like a mother holding hands with her annoying daughter. I’m not mean, they just chose to hate on me since they started being Natasha’s minions.
Natasha was my childhood friend who I chose to stop being friends with because I decided she was a bad influence and a terrible distraction from school. At least that was what I told her. But that’s something to talk about at another time. Anyway, instead of doing the mature thing and moving on to make better, more popular friends and forget about me, she decided to gain brainless minion friends who worshipped her every action and torment me daily.
I’m not spineless; I just don’t want trouble. The things they do to me are small: shoving me in the hallway, pulling my pants down in P.E., stealing my bra in the locker room. I mean sure, it bothers me in the moment, but when I think about it, I’m proud of them for coming up with a well-devised schedule to torture me bit by bit. Every passing period, I am met with one shove. Who says brainless can’t be efficient?
I usually get to school early enough to get to class with my stuff and avoid their attempts. It gets boring so I’ve either prepared myself with earphones or engage in some odd conversation with whatever teacher I have first period. This year, it’s Mrs. Francis, a woman young at heart who, this past summer, had gotten married. She’s still getting used to her new last name and people sometimes have to shout her name for her to realize they’re talking to her. Then she would tell them to calm their faces before she shoves whiteboard markers up their nostrils.
I like her.
I guess I won’t be getting to her early enough today. I sigh as I reach my locker. Turning the dial, I repeat the numbers under my breath. Just as I manage to open it, I sense someone approaching me.
“Hey Tam,” Vinh greets, leaning the back of his head against the locker beside mine. He likes to pronounce my name the way it sounds in proper Vietnamese, which instead of rhyming with ham, it sounds more like tum with a harder t.
“Hey, what’s up?” I slowly grab textbooks from the pile in my arm and slide them into my locker. Seriously, they need to start using only E-books all the time; these things are so heavy, I can feel my back slumping.
“Why aren’t you in Francis’ class? I was looking for you.” He pulls my hood off and I scowl at the cold morning breeze that hits the back of my neck. My hair, which was lazily twisted into a bun with a pencil, loosens. I hear the pencil hit the floor, and as I bend over to pick it up, my long dark brown locks of hair fall into my vision. Standing back up, I carelessly flip it onto one side as I place the pencil in my locker.
“Why are you here so early anyway? Aren’t you supposed to still be at home, asleep?” I don’t even look at him as I try to remember what books I need for first and second period. It’s been a month of school already; I should get my head checked.
“Remember that guy I met online, Jeremy? He’s going to be at this party tonight and he told me, short notice, so now I’m begging you, short notice. Please please please have it in your soul to sneak out and come with me to this thing,” he pleads in his funny squeaky voice of his while holding steady puppy dog eyes.
“Ugh, fine. Whatever, but I have to tutor Damon tonight first.” I roll my eyes, but in actuality, I am relieved that Vinh is trying to move on. A few months ago, he wouldn’t leave his room when Scarlett, his now ex-girlfriend, broke up with him for a no-good reason. I saw him fall for her and fall for her hard. Poor kid, I thought I had lost him there for a while, but he’s finally slowly back to himself, and I guess I have dating apps to thank.
“Oooh Damon! Gettin’ swanky!” He grabs his long keychain lanyard that hangs from his pocket and starts swinging it like it’s a-
“For the love of god, shut up! He just needs help raising his grades!” I protested through my teeth as I give him a look of urgent shut up right now or people will hear you!
“Whatever you do, wrap the thing before you hide it in your lady garden. And don’t forget to let me know after if it’s a cucumber, eggplant, or stump.” He taps his index finger on the tip of my nose.
“Stump?” I give him a puzzled expression.
“Chode,” he explains briefly. I nod in acknowledgement as I close my locker and lean my right side against the lockers to face him. Ow, nevermind. I wince at the pain and ease into it. Upon seeing my flinch, he asks, “Did they get you again?”
“Yeah, just earlier. At least I didn’t get my books knocked over.” I shrug.
He inhales through his teeth, as if to say my bad and apologizes, “Yeah sorry about that. I may have told Karen that she has a middle aged mom’s name.”
“She resembled the great Napoleon Bonaparte on the inside and out. That part she actually took well,” he says matter-of-factly.
“She didn’t know who that was, did she?” I pull small lollipop out of my pocket, pull its wrapper off, and plopped it in my mouth.
“Nope,” he answers proudly, “She’s probably only mad now because she had to look that up.” We both laugh, only to be joined with a distant laughter that catches our attention. I tilt my head and Vinh turns his to see a group of jocks walking through the hall and center of attention was none other than the Silas Cravens. My eyebrows furrow.
“I thought he was away on vacation still?” I say as I point towards Silas with the tip of my lollipop.
“You have got to check your online feed more, Cookie. He announced his arrival last night.” He pulls out his phone and shows me a text post.
“It’s weird seeing him without his brother.” Silas was always more known to be the younger brother of Dylan Cravens, most charming and confident playboy at this school. For two whole years, Silas was everywhere his brother was, doing what Dylan would do, or so I heard. Seeing him now, standing on his own on his first day of our junior year, felt unsettling.
“Don’t care. Still hella hot. Almost as hot as the boy you’ll be having in your bedroom tonight! Just date him already!” Vinh encouraged as he tugs at my arm to walk with him to class.
After school, I stupidly decided that instead of sitting in the shade to wait for a ride with Damon, who had offered earlier, I would walk home in the blazing sun, in my pair of short shorts and tank top. I can feel my tan lines getting worse by the second. To make my walk home faster and more endurable, I made up a game where I would run the parts of the sidewalk that had sun and walk the parts where a Mother Nature graciously provided shade from a tree. Pretty soon, I was steps away from home.
My home was a two story townhouse where only my mom and I resided. After my dad passed, my mom found herself even more attached to this home, so she works tirelessly to keep it. Upstairs is my room, hers, and a bathroom we could share, although I usually end up using the one downstairs in the hall next to the kitchen and garage.
Upon entering, I greet my mom with the phrase that pays (in smiles because she taught me this from the age of five), “Dạ thưa Mom, con mới về,” which really just means “Hey Mom, I just got home,” but like in a more respectful manner.
On the fridge, which she knew was the first place I’d go when I get home, she left a note saying she was at work, but will come home for food at around 4. It’s her own little way of saying, “Hey I’ll be watching and making sure you don’t get pregnant with that boy.”
She hasn’t met Damon, yet because he hasn’t been to my house. This is the first time, and she knew that, so of course she was going to check up on us. Because she can bring some crackers to hold down the lunch hunger until four in the afternoon JUST so she could run home and glare at her own daughter while eating a giant bowl of rice and watermelon (ew by the way) before leaving for work AGAIN.
Whatever. It’s not even like that between me and Damen. He’s a desperate guy in need of keeping his grades sports-worthy and I’m a girl who can easily be bribed with mainstream candy bars.
“Hello?” I hear a voice by the door.
“Oh my god, if I had known you’d be here so soon, I should have just stayed there and taken you up on your ride.” I say loudly as I approach the mesh door to unlock it.
“Well, I offered!” Damon chuckles as he enters. “Nice place.”
“Thanks. I’m sure it’s blushing.” I walk back to the fridge. “Thirsty?”
“Alright, you can’t say things like that and not expect me to make it into a dirty joke!” I turn around to see his lips curled up in amusement. I stand there for a second, tilting my head a bit and scrunching my face up. Somehow understanding my response, he finally apologizes, “Sorry. I’ll have a water if you got one.”
“No, I don’t have any. But if you want, I could get you some salt for that thirsty tongue of yours,” I answer sarcastically before tossing him a water bottle from the fridge.
Afterwards, we headed upstairs and set up everything, including opening the right books, laying out the right notes, and I even have my mini whiteboard ready. Within five minutes, were ready to go, and an hour later, I was surprised I was still patient enough with the amount of confusion of physics going on in this kid’s head.
“Well this formula is for projection, so the initial position goes here and initial velocity goes here and when they ask for time, you have to use factoring or the quadratic formula to solve for…” I was explaining a problem to Damon when I heard my door creak.
In popped my mom’s head, smiling at Damon before looking over to me and asking, “Tại sao hai đứa không học ở phòng khách mà lại ngồi ở đây?” Basically “Why are you sitting here and not studying in the living room?”
I look over to Damon and smile before turning back to her to answer, “mấy đứa con của hàng xóm ồn quá!” “The neighbor’s kids are too loud!”
She nods in understanding and left the door wide open as she walks off. She always did that, but I’m sure this time, it had meaning to it.
“That’s pretty cool,” he utters thinking to himself.
“What is?” I rest my cheek on my palm, which my elbow supports on top of my knee while I sit cross legged. I could feel my hair spilling towards gravity as I tilt my head. It’s a nice sensation to have the coolness of my hair touch the part of my shoulders that are probably still a little sensitive from walking in the sun. Damon blinks at me for a moment before taking in a deep breath while running his fingers through his warm brown hair, which sat in short locks on his head.
“I just think it’s cool that you can speak this whole other language. I wish I could do that,” he response through his exhale.
“You wish you could learn another language, or just know all the bad words?” I ask suspiciously while stroking my chin with my thumb and index finger as if I had a beard. He laughs out loud while shaking his head. His body is so toned, I couldn’t see a single jiggle as he laughed. Nope. He can’t be human.
“No, but seriously,” he finally says, looking into my eyes, “You’re pretty amazing.” It feels like this is an important moment. The way he said it, was like how Vinh said “I like you” to Scarlett. Yes, I was there. He said he needed moral support as he asked out the girl of his dreams.
Damon holds my gaze for a while until he reaches his hand up to my face, where he tucked a loose lock of hair behind my ear and smiled. What the hell? What do I do?
I smile back at him, pretending like there weren’t alarm horns blasting inside my brain. This is literally a moment that happens in movies, the ones I used to dream about, but it wasn’t what I expected it to be. I just feel awkward, and dumbstruck, like a deer in the headlights. Instead of acknowledging the moment, I fought to keep the academic talk going for the remaining time.
At around 11 p.m. I get a text from Vinh saying he was outside. I had to make sure my mom was asleep so I shut off my lights and remained quiet for at least an hour. Tip toeing through the living room, I stub my big left toe on the coffee table, but manage to keep the volume as low as I can while I groan in agony. Finally, out in the cold night breeze, I curse at my foot.
“Ready?” Vinh walks up to me and hugs me. I nod.
The party was held at a house I wasn’t familiar with. It stood on a huge lot and the house was packed with people. It had a modern style to it, but still true to the neighborhood, which had more of a homey feeling. As I walk into the house, I get knocked out of my breath as the Silas Cravens bumps into me, making us both fall on the floor. The contents inside his beer can and shot glass empty onto my chest, where his hands were as he fell on top of me, eyes leveled.
“Hi,” he greets me for the first time ever with a massively stupid grin on his face.