“I have decided that today is a No Homework day,” I announced as I placed my breakfast tray on the table. While most of my friends liked to sleep in and skip breakfast most mornings, Larry and Walter were early risers and had been joining Sarah and I ever since the early-morning fire drill last week.
Walter raised his eyebrows in my direction. “So, what are you going to do? Sleep through class?”
I rolled my eyes. He could be so clueless sometimes. “No. I’m going to work in class. I’m just not going to do any work during my free periods.”
Sarah’s phone chirped and she wiggled in her chair as she read the message. “Ooh. Yay! Sally said Crystal could stay over.”
Larry winked in my direction. “Did you ask your roommate before inviting your sister?”
She hit him playfully on the arm. “Yes. Melinda agreed it sounded fun. Oh. I should teach you all how to introduce yourselves.”
I couldn’t help but laugh as Walter shoved an entire slice of toast in his mouth. “Walter’s manners aren’t that bad.”
Sarah sent me a confused look. “Huh? No. I mean, I’ll interpret for you, but she would love if you could introduce yourselves. I’ll teach you the alphabet.”
Walter sent Sarah a confused look. “Ya may is ow ice see dunnin shpeek English.”
Walter swallowed the food in his mouth. “I said, you make it sound like she doesn’t speak English.”
“She doesn’t. She’s Deaf. She signs.” Sarah looked around the table. “I’m sure I’ve mentioned that.”
I shook my head. “Nope.”
“Huh. Well, anyway, I’ll teach you to say nice to meet you.”
Walter put another slice of toast in his mouth, before running the fingers of his right hand along his left palm. He made two fists, extended his pointer fingers and brought his hands together, then pointed at Sarah. After pointing to himself, he held up his right hand near his shoulder and contorted his fingers into several shapes before taking a drink of his orange juice.
We all stared at him. My face probably held the same dumbfounded look I saw on Larry and Sarah’s faces. My roommate found her voice first.
Walter shook his head. “Nope. That’s pretty much all I know. Nice to meet you and the alphabet.”
I sent him a curious look. “Was it hard to learn?”
“Nah. It’s easy. Watch. A is an apple.” He made a fist, resting his thumb beside his forefinger.
Sarah narrowed her eyes. “How is that an apple?”
Walter drew a circle around his fingers. “That’s an apple. Laying on its side.” He pointed to his thumb. “That’s the leaves on the stem. And B is a bunch of bananas.” He held up four fingers close together, his thumb pointing across his palm.
Sarah shook her head. “No, it’s not.”
Walter shrugged, cupping his hand in a half-moon shape. “It is to me. C is a croissant.”
“Okay. I’ll give you that one.”
Walter smirked, making a circle with all his fingers before sticking up his pointer finger. “D is a donut. On a stick.”
Sarah glared at Walter. I couldn’t stop giggling. Larry just shook his head.
“Bro. Is everything about food with you?”
Walter ate a forkful of eggs with a shrug. Sarah pursed her lips.
“Don’t you dare tell me E is an eggplant.”
Walter put his thumb across his palm and rested his fingers on it. He held it out towards Sarah, chomping his fingers up and down like teeth. “My fingers are eating my thumb.”
I laughed even harder. Even Sarah had to smile, rolling her eyes towards me. I understood. Boys. What are you going to do with them?
I lifted my own hand, copying Walter’s motions. Apple. Bananas. Croissant. Donut. Eating. Sarah’s eyes widened.
“You know the alphabet already, too?”
I shook my head. “Nah. Walter’s food thing really works. It’s not so hard to remember.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Walter and Larry exchange smirks behind their juice glasses.
I worked hard all day to keep my promise to myself. All week long, I had been working on my drawing assignments during my free second period. But, not today. Today, I went to the box office after class. The woman behind the desk looked up as I entered.
“May I help you?”
“Um, yeah. I think so. A friend of mine said I could get a locker for my flute?”
The woman nodded. “May I have your ID please?”
I passed her the card and she started clicking some keys on her computer and writing on a square of paper. A moment later, she passed me my ID and the paper.
“You’re on the third floor. You know the way?”
I started nodding, then shook my head. “No, actually. I only know how to get to the loft.”
She smiled, pointing across the gallery. “Go through that door. You’ll see two doors beside the bathroom. Take the stairs upstairs. You’ll find the locker.”
“Thanks.” I grabbed my portfolio and followed her directions. She was right. The locker was easy enough to find. I tried the combination and it opened on the first try.
The locker wasn’t very wide, but it was extremely deep. It held my art portfolio with room for my flute. I was so ecstatic, I was tempted to leave it there. Except, I needed to do my drawing assignment tomorrow night.
With a sigh, I headed back to my dorm to ditch the paper suitcase. My mom called on my way there.
“Hey, baby girl. How was your first week of classes?”
The last thing I wanted was to let my parents know how much I was struggling to keep up with my homework. I tried to sound more confident than I felt. “It’s going great. I’m really enjoying my classes.”
“That’s nice. And are you making friends?”
“Yeah. There’s a big group of us that have dinner together and a smaller group of us that eat breakfast and lunch. How’re things at home?”
My mother proceeded to spend the next ten minutes telling me stories about my eleven-year-old brother, things that were going on in our neighborhood, and gossip about some of my friends from home that she had heard in church last weekend. I was surprised that her stories didn’t make me feel homesick. Sure, I missed my parents. I even missed my brother. But, I didn’t miss them enough that I ached to go home.
Since we weren’t supposed to be on the phone during the class day, I paced in front of my dorm until I noticed an increase of foot traffic on the paths. I took that as a sign classes were nearly over.
“Hey, mom? I need to get to physics. I’ll talk to you later?”
“Sure thing, Baby Girl. Have a great time.”
“I will. Thanks. Bye.”
I ended the call and ran to my room. After throwing my portfolio on my bed, I headed right back outside. I spent the entire walk to the science center feeling guilty. I hadn’t exactly lied to my mother. I really was enjoying being at Hartfield. But, I wasn’t exactly enjoying my classes. I had no idea what anyone was saying half the time.
Physics was a prime example of this. For the next half hour, I dutifully copied everything Mr. Wilson wrote on the board, despite the fact I had no idea what he was saying. The words made absolutely no sense to me, but I hoped Walter would be able to interpret it when we studied tomorrow night.
But, not today. Today was a No Homework day. After class, I went to find Sarah in the fishbowl lounge and tried to forget about physics.
As I settled into one of the chairs I saw Larry and Walter in the corridor. Walter spent the entire period teaching me more food cues to remember how to fingerspell the alphabet. Beside him, Sarah looked irritated by his methods, but by the end of the period, I was confident I would be able to introduce myself to Crystal later.
Most of my friends were excused from their last-period classes to get ready for their various games this afternoon. Since Mr. Johnson had a Saturday free day, I was able to join the for lunch. When they all headed en masse to the TRAC, I went back to my dorm to change into my weekend clothes.
Tossing my bag on the bed, I grabbed my jeans and the Hartfield T-shirt I had bought earlier this week. After changing, I unpacked my bag so I could carry just the essentials around campus. As I placed the final book in it’s place, a knock on the door made me jump.
I turned around. “It’s open!”
Although I had never met them, as soon as the door opened, I recognized Sarah’s family. Other than being a few inches shorter than me, her eleven-year-old sister could have been her twin. They shared their mother’s slender figure and their father’s golden complexion. Crystal’s dark hair was separated into two short pigtails, with a black ribbon around one and a gold ribbon around the other, matching the colors in the Hartfield T-shirt that was slightly too large for her petite frame.
I waved and gestured that they should come inside. “Hi. I’m Melinda. It’s nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Tran.” Remembering what Sarah and Walter had shown me that morning, I looked at Crystal, pointed to myself and slowly signed my name. Muffin, eating, linguini, ice cream with a spoon, nectarine (I still couldn’t quite see how that one worked), donut on a stick, apple.
Crystal smiled and began signing so fast, I was surprised her mother was able to interpret for her. “I’m so excited to sleepover tonight. Where’s Sarah?”
“She’s at her game already. Should we go find it?”
I led the way across campus to the fields behind the TRAC. It was my first time traveling past the MAC, but Sarah’s directions were detailed enough that I had no trouble finding the thirds field hockey field. Mrs. Tran laid a couple of large blankets on the ground, sitting on one with her husband while Crystal and I sat on the other one.
I looked around, trying to find my roommate. There were two groups of girls huddled with their coaches in front of the goals. The team closer to us was obviously the Hartfield team. They wore gold jerseys with black numbers that matched their skirts. The other team had maroon skirts and jerseys with white numbers. I had just identified Sarah as number eleven when an official, wearing a black skirt and bright yellow shirt, blew a whistle. Sarah waved in our direction as she followed her team to her bench.
Sarah was one of the girls who started the game. As they headed onto the field, Crystal pointed between me and her phone. I had no idea what she was trying to tell me, but I pulled my own phone out of my pocket. When she gestured that I should give it to her, I unlocked it and she snatched it from my hand.
Crystal didn’t respond. I contemplated telling her parents, but she returned it quickly enough. I immediately realized she had added herself to my contacts. Before I could say anything, my phone began signaling incoming texts. Crystal typed at a furious pace, sending her messages one sentence at a time.
Sarah had played field hockey in middle school, so Crystal was able to teach me some of the basics. Sure, it meant spending more time looking at my phone than the game, but within a few minutes, I really started to understand what was going on.
“Hey, Melinda. What’d we miss?”
I looked away from the game to see Dre and Caroline settling beside me on the blanket. Pete and Noah found some spots behind us. I pointed to the field.
“Sarah started the game. Jessie just went out. We’re winning, two-nothing.”
As we turned our attention back to the game, I realized this had been exactly what I had needed. Having a No Homework Saturday and spending my day with my friends. For the first time all week, I wasn’t stressing out about my schoolwork. I was determined to make this feeling last as long as possible.
Saturday, September 16
(Author’s Note: I could use your help! What should Melinda write about today?)
Pat’s story will begin in March