I’ve fallen behind again, ugh. Sunday I worked sixteen hours, and I should have posted to let you all know that there was no way I could upload as per my usual schedule. Since I’ll be working double shifts for the next three Sundays, I’ll go ahead and modify my schedule. I will upload a new chapter every Wednesday. I think that will help me stay on track without pulling my hair out. In all honesty uploading these chapters has been really enjoyable (and yes, even the editing process too.) I just don’t want to keep letting down any of my readers. I really appreciate those of you out there in the audience!
So without further ado, here is chapter 7.
So it’s been that long.
At the sophomores’ table in the early morning, just before class, I look down at Danny’s digital watch and take in the date: February 5.
Almost a month since Ana broke up with me.
I’ve come this far.
“Thanks man,” Danny tells me, sticking his other arm in the sleeve of his black and grey-striped collared shirt and holding out his hand. I give him the watch back and say, “No problem.”
“I’m already falling asleep,” he says, shaking his head and blinking hard. “Working early mornings at McDonald’s is killing me.” His lips spread into a furtive grin. “But it costs money owning a Mustang.”
“What!” I say, gaping.
“What year?” LeRoy asks, walking past me and setting his backpack down. He nods at me, his dark eyes locking with mine. My glance is like knives, but he looks at Danny before the message can sink in.
“Sup man,” Danny says to LeRoy, slapping hands with him. “And it’s a sixty-six. Blue coupe.”
“Psh, you can’t afford that,” Josh says matter-of-factly. LeRoy nods in agreement, and I swear his pupils dilate.
“Very nice, man.” He pauses to stretch his arms over his head and yawn, then sighs and looks around with a kind of sleepy satisfaction. “You guys seen Ana?”
“I’ll see you guys later,” I tell Josh and Danny, turning around as soon as they say their goodbyes.
Taking two more steps, I turn back and look at LeRoy, feeling emotionally haggard.
“Sorry man. You don’t have to go.” He gestures toward the pavilion. “I was just about to head over there.”
I just shake my head. “Don’t even worry about it,” I tell him, feeling an ache in my chest. “I’m not feeling too good.”
LeRoy just nods, his eyes deepening with…what? Sympathy, or trepidation maybe.
“Don’t get sick,” he calls after me as I keep walking. “The meet’s coming up.”
“I know,” I say, keeping on and feeling the sun’s rays on me. “I know.”
I jog into the math building right as the first bell rings, wanting to get out of the growing heat.
As I take a seat in my desk, I notice Chris come in, followed by none other than Malerie Knighten. She swaggers in and plops down in her desk two rows away from me, taking a deep gulp of air. She glances at me and closes her eyes before looking away.
“Certainly looks like it’s going to be another hot day,” Mr. Harrison remarks from behind his desk, where he’s checking the Weather Channel on his computer, as usual.
Great. More burning.
“Now today,” Mr. Harrison says, standing with a stack of papers as the tardy bell rings, “we’re going to begin our project on three-dimensional geometric shapes. We’ll be working on this for three weeks.”
Some people hoot and give each other high-fives.
“Yes, yes, you should all be excited.” Mr. Harrison tosses me a paper and moves on. “This is the only week in which your homework will strictly come from the work you do in class; no homework or tests. Now, you all will be working in teams, but I’ll do the assigning.”
Now people groan and boo.
“Let’s see,” Mr. Harrison pulls out his student roster, “I’ll make this simple. There are eight rows and four columns. So, everyone stand up and find the person in the same row and with one column of desks between you. That is your partner.”
I turn, pretty sure that I already know who it is for me. And sure enough, Malerie looks at me with an even smile that says, ‘Oh good, we’re partners.’
With a couple of drags and shoves I get two desks against each other, and then sit so that Malerie and I are face to face. She looks at me with an eyebrow cocked, as if I’m a boy doing a man’s job.
“So,” she looks over the project paper, “we have to build a 3-D something out of shish kabob sticks. Ingenious.”
“Yup.” I think for a few seconds. “How about a triangle…er, triangular pyramid?”
“You kidding?” Malerie glances at me like I’d just asked her to prom while naked. “From what I heard at my old school, spheres are the easiest.”
“Alright,” I say, trying to be cooperative. “A sphere it is.”
“Good,” Malerie says, beaming at me. “I’ll draw up the diagram and guess how many sticks we’re gonna need.” She snatches a piece of loose paper from my binder and begins sketching on it.
I stare at her. “Okay, sure.” Getting right down to business.
I glance at Chris for help. He catches my look and raises his eyebrows as if to say, ‘Sucks that you got the new girl.’
Then I look at his partner, a sleepless-looking Jordan Sykes, and give Chris the same look back as Jordan folds his head on his desk and passes out.
“So,” I say after awhile, “anything I can do?”
“Um, if you can stop by the store or something and pick up the sticks, that’d be good.”
“Alright,” I mutter, not feeling any less useless.
Malerie looks up from her drawing. “Sorry, but I tend to handle the planning part of the project better.”
“It’s cool,” I reply, opening my math binder and pulling out my test review. “I can start tonight putting it together tonight at my house once I get some hot glue.”
“Sounds good,” Malerie chirps. A couple more minutes of silence go by. I’m still on problem three, not feeling like concentrating at all.
“So you like it here?” I ask Malerie, ready to make some conversation.
“Didn’t you hear what I said yesterday?”
“Yeah, but I kinda got the feeling that you just said you hated it here to see the looks on everyone’s faces.”
“Well,” she smiles, “you’re half right, Ross. But I really do think this town’s a hellhole.”
I laugh. “Yeah, it’s not the nicest place in Texas.”
“I’m still trying to get it,” she says, crossing her legs. “There are a lot of Mexicans down here. That was the first thing I noticed.”
“No kidding,” I say, “that’s just part of being ten miles from the border. But I like this school. I’ve met a lot of good people here so far.”
Tilting her head and studying me, she says with some hesitation, “Maybe I will, too.”
I stay silent, trying not to get her hopes up with any false promises. The valley may be a cultural melting pot, but that sure as hell doesn’t mean friendly honest people are easy to find.
“So, do you go to the nurse often?” she asks softly.
“Yesterday,” she continues. “I’m sorry if it freaked you out. What I was going through.”
I shake my head. “No. It’s okay. I mean, I’ve seen worse.”
“Oh,” she laughs sourly, “that’s nice, thanks.”
“I’m just saying-”
“I get it,” Malerie says, standing with her black pull-string bag, “you don’t want to talk about it. Look, I have to go anyway. Doctor’s appointment.”
A few people watch her as she walks out the door, except Mr. Harrison, who’s doing another crossword puzzle with his eyebrows furrowed. LeRoy, watching her leave, says under his breath, “Moody.”
For a second I want to tell LeRoy to shut up. But I’m looking at the paper on my desk, taking it all in. The drawings on Malerie’s paper – the perfectly scaled 3-D sphere, a Dalmatian, and a girl with long hair sitting by a lake – are all finely detailed and utterly amazing.
“That workout was easy, chump,” a voice says behind me. Too tired and ticked off that it’s already 5:30 and mom still hasn’t shown up, I kick my track bag under the bench and keep staring straight ahead.
“Dude,” Jeb replies, “I’ve never even ran around a track until last week.”
Out of the corner of my eye I see Jeb and Johan climb over the hilly mounds of grass and head toward me. I smirk a little. Jeb had thrown up today in the middle of practice, barfing majestically right after he finished an 800 and stood by the bleachers.
“Now I’m doing like three miles of running every day.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Johan says, rolling his eyes, “fat people hafta complain more when they work out.”
Jeb scoffs in disbelief, obviously wondering how he classifies as fat. I laugh a little and look away.
“Hey you,” Johan calls, to me apparently.
“I have a name.”
“Okay, sorry,” he says, stopping by me. “I kinda forgot it.”
“R-Ross, right?” Jeb offers. I glance at him.
“Correcto. Thanks, Jebediah Valdez. Johan Vasquez here needed a little refresher.”
Jeb grins sheepishly, and Johan gives a ‘Yeah, whatever’ look to no one in particular.
“So yeah, Ross. Did you think that today’s practice was hard?”
“Yeah,” I say truthfully, “but it’s hard pretty much every day. Just something you get used to I guess.”
“Exactly!” Johan yelps at Jeb. “He just proved my point! You’re getting in shape, girl.”
Jeb just shrugs. A guy of few words, I guess. But I had already figured that the first day he had shown up in track.
Now Johan on the other hand, he seems like a hyperactive chatterbox. Interesting little contrast.
“So yeah,” Johan says, plopping down on the bench next to me, “tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day.”
I scoot over a little bit.
“You guys gonna do anything with your girls?”
“Naw, I’m single,” Jeb says, looking off.
“I don’t have a girl,” I add, feeling a little anger creep back from the scab on my heart.
“What!” Johan glances at both of us. “You guys gay or something?”
“Hardly. I broke up with my girl last month.”
Then I think about what I just said.
“Actually, she broke up with me.”
Whoa, was that the actual truth that just came out of my mouth? And to sophomores I barely know?
“Ouch,” Johan gives me a pained look, “bummer.” He stands up. “You guys have a dance here right?”
“Yup. Valentine’s Presentation. It’s on Thursday.” Like I need to remember that.
“Sweet. I’ll be there.” He hikes up his backpack and starts walking off. “Hope you guys get a date by then.”
I say nothing.
Once Johan is across the parking lot, iPod ear buds in, I glance at Jeb, who’s still staring off.
“So this is your first year in track, huh?”
“What?” He shakes his head. “Oh, yeah it is.”
“Cool. You’ll stop puking after like the second week, but it helps if you don’t eat the cafeteria’s burgers at lunch.”
“Oh, thanks,” Jeb says, letting himself smile. “Yeah, I had two with cheese today.”
I laugh. “Damn. No wonder you hurled so much.”
“Yeah,” Jeb sighs, “it’s a really different workout from basketball.”
“How long were you in basketball?”
“Just my freshman year, last year. I knew I wasn’t any good, hardly ever made any free-throws. So I quit before coach asked me to.”
“I guess so.” He sounds bummed out about remembering, and I’m reminded of the sheer number of us who have been displaced in one way or another.
“Maybe track’s your real sport,” I offer. I catch a glance of mom’s car hauling it down Shary road. “It’s hard to get into it, but once you do you’ll never want to stop running. Like you chasing the hottest girl you’ve ever seen.”
Jeb laughs a little. “Yeah, but I need a lot of practice. I still suck.”
Mom pulls into the parking lot, speeding toward us like a maniac.
“You’ll get better,” I stand, grabbing my bag, “trust me. People never suck at anything forever.”
As I start walking, Jeb calls after me: “Thanks, man.”
“No problem,” I say, throwing up my free hand, “later.”
Mom gives me an apologetic look as I get to the car, but I shrug. Today has had so many highs and lows, I don’t feel the need to stress myself out. I feel okay now, I guess since I just made a couple of new friends.