The New Era
1. as the truth or facts of a situation.
2. to the fullest degree; genuinely or properly.
synonyms: actually, in reality, in fact, as a matter of fact, in truth, genuinely, truly, honestly.
T A Y A
Question: “What’s your story? What are your greatest accomplishments? What are your aspirations for the future?”
None. Sorry College App, I had absolutely no stories to tell you.
For the past two and a half months, I had been staring at the same set of questions. I had all summer to start writing my college essay, and so far the total word count was zero point pathetic.
All my life I lived by the rules: I obeyed authorities, I colored inside the lines, and I never got into trouble. So when it was time for me to think for myself and decide what I want to be, I hadn’t got a clue. My whole existence had been reduced to nothing but a blank white page.
There was an episode on Friends where Rachel said, ”all my life, everyone’s told me, ‘You’re a shoe! You’re a shoe!’ Well what if I don’t want to be a shoe? What if I want to be a purse or a hat?"
At least she knew she didn’t want to be a shoe. I wished I knew that much.
This entire summer, I was debating myself on the way I had been living my life. I realized now that I had never done anything remotely crazy or brave in my seventeen years of existence. Playing it safe all these years had got me nowhere.
So on the last day of summer break, fueled by my desperate need for a breakthrough, I decided to dye my hair bright platinum blonde. It was supposed to be a metaphor, signaling the birth of the new and improved Taya Leigh Williams.
It was weird seeing my own reflection in the mirror for the first time. The old Taya would freak out and get super insecure, but not the new Taya. Taya 2.0 would be fierce and always down to try new things.
Plus, I didn’t look that bad. I might actually pull it off—
“Taya Leigh Williams! What in the world happened to your hair?” mom’s high-pitched voice pulled me out of my daydreaming.
She was standing outside my bedroom door, with a pie on her hand, and her mouth on the floor.
“Mom, relax. I just bleached them a little,”
She stepped closer and began assessing my hair more carefully.
“You had beautiful brown hair and now it’s all... white. Like old people white,”
“It’s called platinum blonde,”
“What did you do that for?”
“Well tomorrow’s the first day back to school. I just feel like it’s time for a little change...”
My whole high school career had been somewhat... bland. Zero love life, no dramas, and no fights. That sounded peaceful, yes, but also very boring.
Sure, the old Taya’s play-it-safe policy was a big reason behind the lack of excitement in my high school days. But there was something else. The reason why my love life was drier than the Sub-Saharan desert was this: Ryder Jake Williams.
To the world, Ryder was RJ— the talented young surfer who was one of the most popular guys at school. But to me he was just Ry; my annoying older cousin.
Ryder’s dad and my dad were brothers. My dad was serving in the United States Navy, and he’d be deployed for months at a time. Since he wasn’t around much, he’d told Ryder to keep an eye out for me from time to time.
Somehow that translated into Ryder being an overprotective, psychotic older brother.
Ryder made sure no one dared to mess with me. That was great when we were little and kids tried to steal my lunch. He would beat the crap out of them. But once we hit high school, Ryder was a bit too much for me.
For instance, when I told him Ellis from Algebra asked me out in freshman year, his response was:
“Hell no. You’re not dating no boys on this island. You’re joining the fucking nunnery.”
Then Ryder went to have a little chat with Ellis, and a few days later Ellis transferred schools. True story.
Thankfully, this year Ryder had graduated and he’d be off to college. This was the perfect time for the new Taya to make an entrance. I was super excited for this. This year would be a great year, I could just tell. I was taking control of my life, making brave choices, and becoming my own person.
Heck, maybe I could even find love?
“See mom, it’s the beginning of a new era. And a new me, hence the new hair,”
“Okay, I get it. And well, it’s a very... bright era, that’s for sure,” mom said, brushing my hair with her fingers.
“If only it could be as bright as her future,” Kai’s voice echoed from behind her.
Kai was my little brother, the annoying nutjob who I hate and love at the same time.
“Oh look at that, my two kids are growing up so fast. Taya’s gonna be a senior tomorrow and Kai’s a junior in high school. I’m so proud of you two,” mom said, pausing for a second before adding, “and I feel so old now,”
“Hey sis, Donald Trump called, said he wants his hair back,”
“Shut up!” I was about to jump him when he hid himself behind mom’s back.
“Careful, the pie!” mom squealed.
I settled with just knocking his head quickly with my knuckles.
“Okay, that’s enough, you’re gonna ruin the pie,” mom said again.
“What’s that?” Kai asked.
“Why it’s just my world-famous blueberry pie. And I need one of you to drop this off at Uncle Peter’s,” mom turned to look at us both.
The old Taya would be the good sibling and volunteered herself. The new Taya though, wouldn’t be pushed around so easily.
I was about to make a comment on how I was the one who did it last time and that it was Kai’s turn now. But when I turned to look at him, he was already nowhere to be found.
Mom turned to me and flashed me a sorry smile.
After a solid ten-minute bike ride, I finally reached my uncle’s house and parked my bike lazily on the front lawn. I noticed that the house was empty, but I knew where they kept the keys. So I let myself in and placed the pie neatly on the kitchen counter, next to a framed portrait of Aunt Layla.
Uncle Peter lost his wife eight years ago. Mom always said that they were in desperate need of a feminine touch. So every now and then, she’d send me or my brother over with some good old-fashioned baked goods
As I was about to leave the house, I noticed the garage door was slightly open and that the light was on. I walked over to check, and sure enough—Ryder was in there.
His shirtless body was covered in his tattoos and sweat. He was hunched over a trashcan with smoke coming out of it. He quickly turned around as I swung the garage door open.
“Hey Ry,” I greeted cheerfully.
“T, what’s up?” He did a double look when he saw me, probably because of my hair.
“Just dropping off a pie my mom made for you guys. What’s this, are you starting a bonfire in the garage?” and that was when I noticed the logo of University of Hawaii on the papers Ryder was burning.
“Ryder Jake Williams! Is that...?”
“My college acceptance letters. Yep,”
“And you’re burning them? Are you crazy?”
“They’re the crazy ones. Why on earth would they accept me?”
“Dude, your dad’s gonna flip!”
“Yeah well it’s my life and I’m living it,” he said curtly, putting all arguments to rest.
The fire crackled on, burning away Ryder’s future as a college freshman.
“So it’s for sure, huh? You’re gonna ditch college and be a professional surfer?”
“How’s that for certainty?” he said as he poured some more gas to the fire.
“You’re so dramatic, you know that?” I rolled my eyes at him. That got him to smile. “So when are you gonna tell your dad?”
“It’s not when, but how. No matter what I say, he’s just not gonna listen to me, T,”
“Still, you need to talk to him. He’s your dad. He’s only looking out for you,”
“But he just doesn’t get it, surfing’s my dream,” he took a deep breath as his eyes darted to the ceiling. “If only my mom was here. She’d know just what to say,” his eyes were glassy for a second, but he was quick to hide it.
“Well, I for one am happy for you. You know exactly what you want and you go for it. I don’t know about Uncle Peter, but I’m behind you one hundred percent,”
“To be honest I’m kind of jealous. I’m gonna be a senior tomorrow and I still don’t know what I wanna do after high school,”
“Hey, don’t stress too much about it. You’ll figure it out. I know there’s still a good brain somewhere underneath that bleached madness you call hair,” he grinned and shuffled my hair to every direction.
“Hey!” I protested, squirming away.
“What’s that all about, anyway?” he was referring to the hair.
“Nothing, just trying out something new—”
Just then, Ryder’s phone vibrated and he swiftly took it out of his back pocket. After reading the text, he quickly mumbled, “Oh, I gotta go,”
I watched as Ryder quickly put the fire out and cleaned himself with a towel.
“Where are you going?”
“It’s a full moon tonight,” he said matter-of-factly.
Ah, of course, the infamous full-moon party at Blake Harrison’s. On every night with a full moon, Blake Harrison hosted a party at his parents’ mansion-like beach house. The coolest kids on the island always got an invite.
All these years, I never got a chance to go. But since I was on a mission to turn things around, I suddenly got a bright idea...
“Ry! Can I come to the party?” I said quickly and Ryder’s eyes shot up. “Pretty please?”
He studied my face, furrowing his eyebrows.
“No, you’re not coming to that party,” he said finally.
My smile dropped to the floor as soon as he said it.
“Why not? I’ll be good, I promise,”
“T, it’s not you I’m worried about. It’s everyone else,” he paused for a second before saying, “Blake’s parties are known to have a reputation,”
Of course I knew all about that reputation. Blake’s parties were always over the top and scandalous. It was notoriously known as the place where girls in our school came to lose their virginity. I couldn’t really blame them though, the place was crawling with hot surfers and teenage hormones.
Blake Harrison’s dad owned half the island, so unless you’d been living under a rock, you’d know who Blake Harrison was. Not only that he was so drop-dead gorgeous he looked like a model that just walked out of a photo shoot, he was also a surfer, captain of the football team, student body president– and was currently single.
No human being should ever be this perfect.
Blake and Ryder were best friends ever since they were little. They even learned how to surf together.
Just like any normal teenage girl on the island, I had been crushing on Blake Harrison all my stupid life. Being Ryder’s little cousin-sister, I managed to get front-row seats in witnessing the fabulous life of Blake Harrison. But being Ryder’s little cousin-sister, I was never allowed to participate.
“Look Ry, the past three years you’ve made it very clear to all your friends and to all the boys at school that I’m off-limits. You’ve even scared away David Lee from sitting next to me at the cafeteria, even though he only came to talk to me about homework,”
“Bullshit, that’s what guys would say to—”
“Stop. Just stop it. I’m seventeen years old and I’m gonna be a freaking senior. I’m old and wise enough to handle these things on my own. I appreciate you being all big-brothery with my dad gone all the time and stuff, but enough is enough. I mean, how am I suppose to find love with you going ape-shit anytime a member of the opposite sex comes to talk to me?”
He shook his head quickly and said, “Those things don’t exist, T,”
“What don’t exist?”
“Love. That shit ain’t real.”
“You don’t mean that. I’ve seen you with a lot of girls. Heck, you’ve probably been with half the girls on the island. You can’t possibly say you’ve never felt anything for any of them?”
I studied his face intently but he just shrugged.
“No way...” my jaw had fallen to the floor.
“You’re not coming to the party and that’s final. Now I gotta go,”
“Wait!” I yelled quickly and he stopped his tracks.
“I don’t wanna do this, but you’re taking me to the party or I’ll tell Uncle Peter that you burned your college acceptance letter,”
“You wouldn’t dare,” his eyes widened in shock.
I took my phone out and pretended to call someone.
“Hello? Uncle Pete—”
“Fine, fine, I’ll take you!” he said quickly and I put my phone away. My eyes lit up in excitement as he let out a defeated sigh.
“But you’re not talking to no guys at the party. None,”
Ignoring Ryder’s disapproving glare, I did my little happy dance and made my way out the garage.
As we drove off to Blake’s party in Ryder’s truck, I couldn’t help but to notice the beautiful full moon outside the window. My heart was pounding in excitement.
I turned to Ryder who had his gaze straight on the road. If he was excited, he didn’t show it at all. This night could be the beginning of the New Taya, it was a big deal for me. But to him, this was just another night.
“You know, I really hope you’ll find her someday,” I said to him.
“Love,” I grinned.
Ryder rolled his eyes in response.
Sure, who was I to lecture him about love? I hadn’t had first-hand experience with it either. I had only read about it in books or seen it in movies. The love that I knew only existed in my fantasy.
But still, with every mile we passed, somehow I had this strong feeling we were getting closer and closer.