"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." ~Mother Teresa
“Mom, you’re coming to my soccer game right? It starts at six,” Pearl said as my mother walked around the kitchen looking for her purse.
“Of course honey,” she said distractedly, shifting the weight of a fussy Asher on her hip.
He was up all night crying, even though he had gotten over his cold a few days ago. It was a week after I drove Alivia home, a week after the prank. Not much had changed. People recognized me more and everyone acted like we were best friends. Sometimes whenever I would see Alivia in the halls, she would smile a little. Sawyer simply gave me a nod, like he approved of me.
Thankfully, no one had asked me to pull another prank. We had a Cross Country meet Tuesday, so I had my meet for the week out of the way. Pearl’s game was tonight at home, so I would be there taking some pictures. She seemed to have her heart set on convincing Mom to be there.
“Mom,” Pearl stated more directly.
I sighed and pushed my spoon around my cereal bowl. I wanted to tell her that it was no use. My parents had so many things going on that they barely have time to eat, let alone come to our stuff. I learned that the hard way.
“What Pearl?” Mom sighed, straightening herself as she put her now found purse over her shoulder. She bounced Asher up and down on her hip, looking at my sister with an exhausted expression.
“My game. Tonight at six. I’m a starting midfielder on varsity and it’s home,” she said proudly. “You’ll be there right? Promise?”
“I wouldn’t miss it,” she answered, shuffling through magazines on the counter. I wondered if she was even listening.
“Will you make sure Dad comes too?” Pearl requested hopefully.
“I don’t know sweetheart.”
Mom was moving again, grabbing Asher’s previously packed diaper bag and starting for the door.
“Please?” she prodded.
“I’ll try,” my mother answered. She gave her a kiss on the cheek, then looked at me. “Tin Tin, don’t be late for school, it’s already seven.”
“I won’t,” I mumbled as Mom shut the door.
Typically, I didn’t see either of my parents in the mornings. Dad leaves so early for work and Mom currently doesn’t have a job, so she sleeps in then hunts for one during the day. I guess today she had an early job interview. Usually, she drops Asher off at Grandma’s on the way to her search. That’s probably why he’s so cranky-- she woke him up too early.
“She’ll come,” Pearl said, gazing at me. It sounded like she was trying to convince herself of it. “I know she will.”
I nodded and then got up and poured my remaining milk in the sink while she headed upstairs to retrieve her backpack. Whatever made Pearl so hopeful about Mom coming, I had no idea. My hope was that it would pass; it’s hard to watch someone experience the disappointment that follows high hopes.
  
The bell rang, signaling the end of fifth period and the beginning of first lunch. I had third lunch, so I stayed in art for a type of free study hall while the other two lunch groups went on. Hayden had his headphones in, Marcus’ nose was in a chemistry book, and Jimmy was sketching some sort of dragon.
Sighing, I pulled out my own chemistry homework and began on the review questions for the test Friday, which was the next day. Chemistry was okay, it wasn’t my favorite, but not the worst. My worst subject that I loathed going to was Pre-Calculous. Math was never my thing.
Absentmindedly, my gaze shifted to Alivia. She was staring at her paper, analyzing it from bottom to top. This time, she was sitting alone. I looked around for her bandie friends and saw them sitting a few tables away. I caught myself wondering why they left her.
My heart tugged at me to go and sit with her, but what would the guys think? It wasn’t like I was having a ton of fun over here anyway. None of us were talking, we were engrossed in our own thing.
She pushed her hair over her shoulder and put both elbows on the table. Then she pulled out her phone. I watched her facial expression go from excited to upset in a matter of seconds. Drawing my eyebrows together, I squinted, as if I could read her mind when I did.
Setting the phone down, she ran a hand through her hair and locked stares with me. I felt like I had just been caught doing something wrong.
Instead of looking away, I waved and smiled a little. She sighed and smiled weakly back, then went back to sketching.
“Earth to Tin Tin,” Jimmy whispered from beside me, elbowing my side. I scooted away from him, annoyed. He just laughed. “Checking out Ace’s stalker, eh?”
“Yeah, whatever,” I muttered, rolling my eyes and forcing myself to focus on chemistry.
The next forty minutes were the longest of my life. Jimmy kept bringing up how I was checking her out and that I only agreed to prank her to get her attention. I denied it, but he just seemed to grow stronger with every rebuke. When lunch rolled around, he wasn’t much better about it. Of course, he just told everyone and they thought it was the “funniest thing in the world”.
Eventually Marcus convinced them to stop, but not until he had a good laugh about it himself. I nearly shouted for joy when lunch was over. For some reason, I’ve noticed that I’ve been getting really short with my group lately. They were just so annoying and immature-- especially when they brought up Alivia. It was beginning to get on my nerves.
Whenever they would make fun of her -- or anyone -- from across the room, I would look away and keep silent. I didn’t want to make fun of Alivia; especially since I now knew that they have been picking on her for a while. I didn’t exactly want to stick up for her either. I barely knew her. Plus, I wanted to keep my friends.
“She’s such an idiot,” Ace said, laughing. Everyone turned to look. I just diverted my gaze to my food. It could be Alivia or someone else, either way I don’t wanna see it.
“Look at that, trying to talk to Hayden in the lunch line,” Jimmy said. I could see him shaking his head with a smirk out of the corner of my eye.
“Someone should seriously tell her to stop being so friendly to everyone,” Marcus remarked. “I mean, look at her! She’s so perky!”
Everyone was laughing by now. I forced myself to keep a blank expression and not look up.
“Oh, Hayden’s getting mad... Tin Tin, you gotta watch this!” Jimmy said from beside me, pulling at my sleeve.
I looked up reluctantly and saw Hayden’s very uninterested expression glaring down at an innocent Freshman, thankfully not Alivia. She just continued to ask him questions with a smile. I really wanted to shake her, tell her not to mess with Hayden before anything bad happened, and direct her to a better person to talk to.
I stayed rooted to my spot, eyes glued to the pair of them, baffled by how much I actually cared about this unknown girl’s fate.
“Here he goes..,” a girl next to Ace, his girlfriend of the week, stated in anticipation.
Suddenly, Hayden grabbed a bottle of pop from a kid passing him who also sat with us. He asked him if he could have a drink and then winked so the girl couldn’t see. I saw the guy nod and then move on. Hayden opened the bottle and then acted like he was going to drink it.
I almost missed it, thinking this was a dead end of a show. Right before I was about to turn away, I saw him dump the pop right over her head. Not all of it, maybe half. She was shocked, dripping with soda and staring at Hayden with wide eyes. He snickered and the whole table roared with laughter.
I saw another girl crossing the lunch room, looking angry. She took the younger girl by the arm, then pulled her out into the lobby. That’s when I realized I was sitting with them. The people who pranked Alvia and poured drinks on people for fun. The bullies.
That was the first time I remember being truly ashamed of my friends.
  
I started walking down the parking lot that same day, my insides burning with confusion. That day just felt... Off. It was all weird, how I suddenly hated being with my group. How I literally saw them as bullies. I’ve never thought that what they were doing was wrong, I didn’t understand why I did at that moment.
My hands went to my camera, where I started absentmindedly playing with the lens cap, popping it on and off. I gazed at the back of the football stands as we descended down the walkway, behind the middle school, to the soccer fields. With my backpack bumping steadily against my back, I was suddenly taken back to the day I saw Alivia on the street, walking alone.
My mind wandered to what she was doing.
“Dude, what’s wrong with you?” someone said from beside me, hitting me on the arm. I turned to look at Ace, the Senior I had pranked Alivia for. I rolled my eyes and rubbed my shoulder, abruptly annoyed.
I had looked up to Ace forever it seemed like. He was who everyone wanted to be-- athletic, decent grades, popularity. Supposedly good-hearted. To me in that moment, he was being heartless and rude by snapping me out of the thoughts and regrets of what he made me do.
“Nothing,” I mumbled, glancing to the gravel ground of the back parking lot.
“Hey, I appreciate what you did. Alivia kinda needed a reality check, don’t ya think?” he laughed, nudging me. I stepped away. I didn’t want to cause an argument with this guy. He was taller and more muscular than a puny cross country runner like me.
“It’s whatever,” I said under my breath, speeding up my pace.
“It was something,” he chuckled. “Never saw someone so shocked before in their lives.”
“Would you quit!” I exclaimed out of nowhere. I stopped walking and stood in front of him. Our group fell silent. We didn’t move all together. “That stupid prank was over a week ago and I’m sick of hearing about it and Alivia Olson. Have some respect and quit gossiping about her. It’s rude.”
They all stared at me, wide eyed and silent for several moments before Ace’s girlfriend -- I think her name was Shelly -- pushed her way through them and stood right in front of me, hands on her hips, flawless, make-up eyes glaring at me.
“And what makes you think you can talk to him that way? He was just congratulating you on your accomplishments and you’re being ungrateful. Why don’t you get back in you place and just—”
“Shelly, just leave him alone,” Ace said, sounding irritated. “If he wants to be that way, he can. At least we know he isn’t a wimp.”
With that, Ace walked passed me, dragging Shelly with him, who tossed her hair and glared at me over her shoulder while Ace showed the ticket people his season pass. The rest of the group filed past me, not seeming to care. Jimmy and Marcus didn’t even stop.
Deep down, I found myself glad that I had gotten rid of them. I paid my way to get in then began taking pictures of the varsity team warming up. I had seen them play a few times, but never really sat down and watched. I snapped a few photos of Pearl going in to practice her shot, then moved onto other players.
“Hey Tin Tin!”
I spun around from my place on the corner of the field and saw Grandma behind me. My nerves were slightly calmed from standing up to Ace earlier and I broke into a smile.
“Hi,” I replied wearily. I hugged her tight before I realized she was holding Asher too. He immediately latched onto my side and I held him, giving Grandma a break. Who knows how far away she parked.
“How was practice today?” she asked me, adjusting Asher’s diaper bag on her shoulder. I suddenly remembered Mom taking that same bag with her this morning. She was suppose to be there.
“Fine. We ran, sweat-- the works,” I answered.
“Good, good. I brought snacks so we don’t have to eat concession food. Oh and Pearl left her notebook at my house yesterday, don’t let me forget to give it to her,” she requested, looking past me and to the players.
I turned around and saw Pearl running towards us, already sweating a little from her warm up. Her ponytail swung back and forth along the back of her green uniform.
“Miss Pearlene, why I haven’t seen you since yesterday!” Grandma teased. “How are you? Nervous?”
“Where’s Mom?” Pearl asked immediately, letting her arms drop to her sides.
A confused look crossed my grandma’s face and I knew what was coming. Mom had bailed, only for the millionth time. I was used to it, but Pearl...
“You mom? She’s at a job interview about thirty minutes away, honey. She said she won’t be back until tonight. Why?”
Pearl had never looked that disappointed. She gazed to the ground, tucking a piece of hair behind her hair as she did, as if ashamed of herself. Then, she slowly looked up and locked stares with me, her eyes filling with tears. Fury rose in me.
“She told me that she’d make it,” she whispered. “Mom said she would come.”
“Oh sweetheart,” Grandma soothed, now distraught. She pulled Pearl into a hug, who was still staring at me.
“Didn’t she Tin Tin? She said she’d come,” Pearl continued to ramble, her expression like she was begging for food. My anger grew.
“Yes,” I managed through clenched teeth. “She most certainly did.”
“Well, I’m sure she’ll try her best to make it to the next one,” Grandma tried as Pearl pulled back from the embrace. She swiped the tears away quickly.
“No she won’t,” Pearl objected quietly. “I even texted her to remind her today and she said that she’d come. If she isn’t here now, she will never be.”
“Now don’t say that,” Grandma said, rubbing Pearl’s arms.
“She has a point,” I blurted. Both of them looked at me. “Do you know how many cross country meets she missed? All of the speeches I gave? I’m done even telling her to come, because I know she never will.”
“That’s no way to talk about your mother,” Grandma scolded. I could see behind her eyes that she understood though. “I will try my best to get her to something, okay? I’m sure she’ll remember, she’s just late. Chin up Pearlene, God will take good care of all of us.”
Grandma went to church ever Sunday and Wednesday, only missing it for us. She tried to take Pearl and I to church when we were younger, but Dad wouldn’t allow it. Usually, she’ll slip a little statement like that when she’s talking to us and our parents aren’t around. Neither Pearl or I latched onto anything. We never thought of it too much.
“If God loved me, why would He let Mom skip?” Pearl asked bitterly.
“Sometimes God allows things to happen because He knows we can endure through them. Don’t take it personal, your mom and God both love you very much.”
Pearl just looked even more upset. Her coach called her name and she muttered that she had to go. We watched her run over to the sidelines and Grandma sighed.
“You do know you’re loved, right Tin Tin?” she asked gently.
I couldn’t meet her gaze. I never thought about whether I was loved or not before. Now that my friends are turning on me, or rather, I was turning on them, I was beginning to feel a little lonely. I wouldn’t say I was loved by anyone. Not truly loved.
Swallowing, I forced myself to look her in the eye. Her concerned expression seemed to add age to her healthy, but thin, face. Emotion bubbled up inside my chest. I didn’t know what to say to her.
“Only by you,” was my answer. She smiled a little, but seemed even more distraught. I set Asher on the ground and walked away, hearing the little man calling my name just made my heart ache.
What did love even feel like?
  
I sat through the rest of the game, battling off the question and watching with eyes glazed over by anger. Pearl scored all three goals that night, seeming to be on fire.
She acted victorious when it happened, but when she looked to the stands, her eyes found me. I always smiled and gave her a thumbs up. She would mouth the word “Mom?” to me and I would have to answer with a no. Then she’d play harder than ever, fueled by her frustrations.
Mom never came.