I didn’t recognize the number, but I picked up right away. “Hello?”
She was crying. I heard it when she spoke. “I’m failing chemistry, and Caleb’s in love with your sister.”
“Chemistry, I can help you with. Caleb, I cannot.” Not to mention I didn’t want to. Why did she kiss me? Why did I care? Because I’d never planned to kiss a woman I wasn’t married to, or at least well on the way to being married to. She kissed me. Yeah, right. You kissed back.
“Why would you help me with chemistry?”
Because you’re crying. “Why not?”
She groaned. “You’re too nice.”
“I’ve got some time before work. Do you want to meet somewhere, and I’ll teach you chemistry?” Why was I doing this? She does weird things to you, and you’re her back-up plan.
My house was out of the question. If Ommy saw me spending time alone with a white girl, she would kill me. If Mirriam saw me spending time with this white girl, she would kill me and maybe Kailee, too. “It’s up to you.”
“Give me five minutes. I need to make sure Jackson’s not home.”
“Are you not supposed to be alone with guys?” I wasn’t going behind this guy’s back. I had a little sister to protect, too.
She was quiet for a minute, and then a loud breath filled my receiver. “Jackson has PTSD and a really strong dislike for Muslims. I’m sorry. I know what that sounds like, but he went to war.”
By the same reasoning shouldn’t I have had a really strong dislike for white people? Especially white people that tagged my garage? “Am I supposed to feel sorry for this guy? Because I don’t. I’m actually not that fond of white guys in cammis. You know one pointed a gun at my little sister? She was fifteen.” That was reason enough for me to hate them. Forget the fact they killed my dad.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to start a fight. I thought if Jackson was home, we should find somewhere else.” She hesitated, but something in her voice told me she wasn’t done talking. “I’m sorry for what happened to Mirriam, too.”
Calm down, Abrahem. It’s not like it’s her fault. “Meet me at Starbuck’s. I’ll buy the coffee.”
Fifteen minutes later, I was at Starbucks walking toward the counter, but Kailee bound up to me with two cups in her hand. “Here,” she said, offering me one. “It’s a white chocolate mocha.” It was 100 degrees outside, but I took the hot mocha. “I can’t make you pay for coffee so you can help me. That’s as screwed up as you driving me home that night was.”
And somehow I didn’t regret driving her home.
“I’ve got us a table over here.” She pointed to the back corner. There was a table with a book opened in the center and a paper sprawled across it. And a little pink laptop flipped open at the edge near the bench side.
I followed her to the table and took a seat on the bench. She scooted in beside me and flicked her eyes to her laptop. Her cheeks filled with color, and too soon, she put a hand on the top of the laptop to snap it closed. I chuckled, wondering what she didn’t want me to see and leaned in. I wasn’t sure what the big deal was. There was a pale pink website up with a banner that read, “Passion for Fashion.” A mannequin wearing a purple party dress and black knitted sweater took up most of the page. The left column had an “About Me” and several other buttons. I was looking at some kind of blog. Why was she so embarrassed of that?
I traced my eyes from the computer to Kailee who was bright red. “I guess it’s too late now,” she said. Then she whispered, “Please, don’t make fun of me.”
“Why would I make fun of you?” Then I realized something. “You have a blog?”
She nodded but still looked embarrassed.
What looked like an archive was labeled “Carissa’s Collections.” “Who is Carissa?”
“My mom,” her voice was quiet.
“Why did you give your blog her name?”
“My friends would laugh if they knew I did this, and I miss her.”
“It’s okay,” she said, but it wasn’t. I was beginning to get a better picture of this girl who tagged houses and kissed guys. Her mom had abandoned her, her dad was never around, and from what she said her brother was a jerk. The poor girl was looking for acceptance. I was consumed with a need to protect this girl and a desire to take her in my arms and tell everything would be okay.
“Why would your friends make fun of your blog? It’s pretty good.”
She sighed. “It’s a military town at best and a farm town at worst. I want to be a fashion designer. It’s not very likely.”
“Are you blogging your designs?”
“Not really. I find things and put them together to make something new. I alter them if I have to, but what I do is mostly find rejected pieces of clothing and make them new. Once a week, I go to Austin because they have awesome Goodwills, and I buy random stuff. I’ll hit them all if I have to. Then I come home and resurrect something from discarded junk. I even found my mannequin there.”
“And you don’t tell anyone about this?”
She shook her head. “When I’m blogging, I just say I can’t talk because I’m grounded or I’m doing homework.”
“What’s the point of a blog if you keep it a secret?”
“I have five hundred followers.”
We set to work on chemistry, and when I showed up here, I half expected Kailee to be stupid and waste my time. She wasn’t. She asked questions and took notes. She tried to solve equations and got mad when I gave her the answers. There was a side to this girl she didn’t show anyone. She was letting me in, and I was happier about it than I probably should have been.
“How are your other classes going?” I asked.
“Fine,” she said without looking up. “I’m not stupid. I just didn’t have time to study until recently, and you can’t do chem without studying.”
“You didn’t have time to study because you were at cheerleading practice?”
She dropped her pen and her head shot up. “You know what? I have a feeling if I didn’t have time to study because I was at debate practice you wouldn’t be nearly as disgusted by it.”
“I like to cheer. Why is that so horrible?”
“I’m willing to bet you don’t really like it. At least not as much as you act like you do. And it wouldn’t be so horrible if you could cheer and pass chem.”
She sighed. “I do like it. Why else would I do it?”
“To be homecoming queen and get Caleb’s attention.”
“I do like it, though.”
I laughed. “But being homecoming queen and keeping Caleb’s attention was more important than chemistry, right?”
“I’m working on chemistry now.”
“Because you have to.”
“I don’t have to. I could graduate without it, but I wouldn’t get into college. Look, I know I screwed up, but do you have to bring it up?
“Fair enough. I’m glad you’re working now. You’re smart, Kailee. I haven’t explained anything twice.”
We worked until dinnertime. “That was a good session. We’re getting chicken. Where do you get chicken around here?”
She looked at me like I was a Martian. “Fried chicken?”
“You eat fried chicken in Iraq?”
“We have KFC.”
She laughed. “We can do way better than KFC. If you’re nice, I’ll cook for you. Or we can grab Popeye’s. I refuse to eat KFC.”
“What about your racist brother?”
“He’s not coming home tonight. He texted me.”
“You want to know how to make fried chicken?”
I nodded. “It’s not like Ommy or Mirriam are ever going to make me fried chicken. Can I ask you something?”
“How did you learn to cook with your mother gone?”
Her eyes tightened. “I’ve been cooking since my last nanny quit. Jackson can’t feed himself. We’ll have to stop at the grocery store.”
“Aren’t you ashamed to be seen with a raghead?”
“Only if you’re embarrassed to be seen with a cheerleader.”
“It’s not something I ever thought I would do, but I’m fine unless you break out with pom-poms in the middle of the checkout line. I might leave you there then.”
She rolled her eyes. “Follow me, Abe.”
“That’s not my name.” But it didn’t annoy me the way it did the first time she said it.