Already stressed over the test she was about to take, it didn’t help when the teacher came over and handed her a slip: P. Thomas, Office, asap. She read it and didn’t know if she was relieved or annoyed, but decided annoyed. Yet, all she said was, “I’ll be right back.”
Pammy grabbed her purse and headed toward the office, hoping it was nothing. She knew juniors and seniors were called to the office all the time so it didn’t seem like a big deal, just really bad timing. She thought maybe it was to pick up prom tickets – as everyone had to sign a no drug/alcohol on premises pledge.
However, when she got to the office, the secretary who was on the phone motioned her toward the principal’s office. Pammy thought, “This isn’t good.”
She gave the door a soft tap, then slowly opened it, but as soon as Dr. Winston saw her, he smiled and said, “Pammy, come in, come in. Thanks for coming down so quickly.”
John Winston was a big guy, but he got out of his chair easily and headed in Pammy’s direction while his words were tumbling out apologetically. “I know this is short notice, but I just learned about this myself. We have a rep from the Sherman County education department who’d like to talk to some of our stronger students.”
“Party at my house on Saturday.” Olivia leaned forward eagerly, looking Adam up and down. I rolled my eyes behind her back; her attempts at flirting with him were the opposite of subtle. “You’ll be there, won’t you?”
Adam’s eyes lit up. “You know I will.”
“Great. 8pm. Bring some booze.” She winked at him.
“Lauren can come too, right?”
“I’m fine, don’t worry about it,” I said immediately.
“Don’t be silly.” He frowned at me. “You’re with me now, you get to come to parties! Right, Liv?”
“Uh, yeah. Sure,” Olivia said, sounding anything but sure. She raised her eyebrows at her friends, and I saw one of them try to suppress a smile.
Adam either hadn’t noticed, or just pretended not to. “See? We’ll be there.” He put his arm around me, and I tried not to squirm.
Jezenel Wilson pulled a hair tie from the chest pocket of her loose-fitting mining suit and gathered up the delicate strands of her long, red hair. Her pale, freckled face broke into a smile as she angled the spaceship toward the rough cave mouth that marked the entrance to her Grandfather's asteroid mine.
She landed the little ship and got dressed to go outside. After a quick whoosh of air, she exited the airlock and hopped to the asteroid's craggy surface.
Inside the cave, there was a circular port door that marked the entrance to what Grandpa called his hobbit hole. She had asked him when she was little what a hobbit was and he had told her it was from a book he had read as a boy.
"Lost my copy of that book way back in 2185, when I had that mine fire that nearly killed me," he had said. "Let me find another print copy and you can read it just like I did when I was a boy back on Earth."
He never had given her that book.
"Grandpa, I'm home," she called once she was inside. She eyed the dark path leading into the heart of the asteroid before turning toward their living quarters. The mine down there was deep and curvy and still full of ore, even after nearly forty years of extraction.
"Grandpa?" she called.
He wasn't in his room and his bed was made. A red light blinked on the com. She picked it up and punched in the message code, fearing the worst.
Drifting back home, moving absently through the burbling chatter and snapping flip flops that flow along the promenade, Daisy hovers at their patio, the scene of last night’s barbeque. She and Dad had celebrated with swordfish kabobs after her first terrifying lesson in his beloved Millennium Falcon. Milly, for short, the ’66 Mustang Dad had fabricated from 6 cylinders to a hybrid, was her father’s baby. Graduating from the Toyota she drove in driver’s ed, to ever gaining the confidence to fly solo in his legendary machine was a fantasy.
To mark the occasion, Dad offered Daisy, her first sanctioned beer. “You’re learning to drive; you should learn to drink beer and then conclude why you should never do both at the same time.”
“Way to message, Dad.” Daisy smiled, grabbed the beer and toasted him.
The hibachi, TV trays and beach chairs arranged exactly as they left them. Now a still life, for a party of ghosts.
Someone tugs her inside to settle on the vinyl couch. Inert, she is submerged by a running stream of neighbors, friends, pies, and casseroles that pool in the kitchen. She has no sensation when they hug her, her eyes unprepared to meet theirs, she can only hear their murmurings: “He was so young. Who will look after Daisy? An aunt, she’s coming. She’s in shock. Sixteen, or on the cusp.”
Yesterday, the surf was blown out so she and Dad messed around with a vintage longboard he picked up for $10, bright orange and ridiculous. Daisy pranced up and down all eleven feet of it while riding the sloppy foam. Naming the board Sidewalk, they laughed hysterically, capturing the attention of three teenage boys. Embarrassed, Daisy dove into the next small wavelet, bashfully hiding in her mother’s skirts. Dad assured her, once she came up for air, “Those guys just saw an amazing girl who didn’t care what they thought. That’s killer, Daze. U-B-U.”
My legs dangle over the edge.
One hundred feet above the ground, the cars resemble Matchbox toys, the streets illuminated carpets. Up here, problems should look smaller. They don’t.
I’ve lost one sneaker. Hopefully, it didn’t hit some poor bastard on the head—I don’t plan on hurting anyone, except myself. I wiggle my toes and notice I’m wearing mismatched socks. One green, one black. One foot’s happy, the other sad.
“You made it this far,” the monster says, perched next to me. Blistered leathery skin, hairless. It looks pinched with its hollowed eyes and sunken cheeks. I haven’t fed it since my last hospital stay.
“Don’t you wanna jump?” Crimson irises gleam.
Right. That’s why I climbed ten flights of stairs to the abandoned floor, ignoring the Keep Out signs. I pick a piece of lint off my AC/DC T-shirt and snort at the absurdity of this gesture. In a few minutes, Angus Young and the boys will be soaked in blood anyway.
So will the pavement.
A slimy lump gets stuck in my throat.
“You’re not having second thoughts, are you?” Its tone is ninety percent accusation, ten percent disappointment.
Arrith pulled her gaze away from the walls and focused on where the doctor was gesturing for her to sit. The chair was a sleek mixture of white cushions and steel rods and looked like it might recline. She sat down carefully, ready to lean forward and catch herself if the seat suddenly rocked backwards. It didn’t, which probably meant it was controlled electronically and wouldn’t move until the doctor typed in a command.
Arrith scooted back until she could feel the top cushion pressing snugly against her shoulder blades. She’d briefly considered perching on the edge of the chair, but had decided that such a position might look suspicious. It wasn’t as if she’d be making a mad dash out of a doctor’s office, no matter how much she might wish to.
The doctor’s dark blonde hair pulled back into a no-nonsense bun. She sat down across from Arrith and offered a smile that was too large and too bright to be genuine.
“Hello there, Arrith. Thank you so much for coming in today.”
Arrith nodded, knowing it was the polite thing to do. She wondered why grown-ups said things like that…as if she’d had any say over whether or not she came to this appointment. She hadn’t even known about it until last night, when her mother had stuck her head into Arrith’s room and casually mentioned it.
She had, of course, first frowned at seeing the book in Arrith’s hands.
“Is that for a school assignment?” she’d asked.
April 11, 12:06 AM
The booze smelled sour on his breath as he stumbled into her and asked, “Want to get out of here?” She had given him no signs that she was interested, in fact, the only reason Jess was even out tonight was to celebrate her friend’s birthday. She had been guilted. There had been puppy dog eyes.
Then an arm circled her waist from beside her and a clean-shaven man that did not seem like he had spent the better part of the last three hours doing shots with his buddies said, “Sorry man, she’s taken.”
August 18, 8:31 PM
“Honey, it’s not that we don’t like Cole it’s just that, well, it’s only been four months. How much can you really know about a man in four months?” Jess’s mother was trying to keep the panicked pleading from her voice.
“Mom, I love him. He loves me, that’s all I need to know.” Her heart was filled with warmth for the man who entered her life a stranger and had since never ceased to show his love for her. The way he would pull her tighter whenever they were out and another man seemed to look her way. The way he would show up unexpectedly to surprise her with lunch at work. And of course there was the proposal, no one saw that coming.
The cherry of his cigarette makes the darkness incandescent. We’re also eating cherries. At least I am. All he does is crush them in his fists until the pulpy juice drips between his fingers.
It’s no secret why he asked me to his family’s orchard, though we’re both very good at pretending. My heart spiked as I walked here and hasn’t stopped thudding since. I don’t know if I should feel sad or relieved that he can’t hear its telltale arrhythmia.
“Want a drag?” he signs one-handedly.
I’m about to give my token answer for everything: I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t kiss other boys. But I want to touch the place his lips touched, so I take the cigarette from him and curl my mouth around the damp cylinder.
I cough, and his laughter is a quiet vibration next to me.
“Graduation’s a week away. What will you do afterward?” Asking this is a distraction, a way to stop overthinking about what we’re doing here, and what my parents would think, and—
He gestures around at his kingdom. “Anything,” he signs. “Anything but this.”
The day Sophia received the acceptance letter in the mail was the worst day of her life. She didn’t even have to open the packet to know she was accepted. The size gave it away. Placing the stack of mail on her dining room table, Sophia glanced around the still house. She needed to get the letter out of the room unnoticed as soon as possible.
Her parents had been waiting for this day to come for years. Having both attended graduate school up north, they found it fitting that she, too, follow in their footsteps. They had loved their education so much that the two of them decided to stay in Cambridge, instead of moving south like they had originally planned. This way, Sophia would be able to get the “finest education” while living at home, in which there would be no possible way for her to “forget her culture”. Every day since the interview, they had asked Sophia to bring the mail in as soon as she got back from school. It was the only thing that kept her parents going--the anticipation.
Sophia’s mother stood at the kitchen island, fiercely chopping plantains for the night’s dinner. As per usual, her dark brown curls were tied back, and she was wearing the same cooking apron that she always wore. Sophia had never really thought that she and her mom looked alike, but their identical hair, high cheekbones, and brown eyes said otherwise.
Her mom turned to her, noticing Sophia’s staring.
“Anything good?” The one thing Sophia hadn’t gotten from either of her parents were their Nigerian accents. Hers seemed to have gotten lost at baggage claim when they had arrived in America.
“Anything good” was code for did the letter from her alma matter come in the mail, granting her daughter acceptance?
An arid wind swept across Kiro’s face. He flattened his nostril flaps to block out the dust and frowned.
“This is grave folly.”
“You sound like an elder. You’re not on the Council yet, Kiro-lin.”
Kiro raised an eyebrow at the honorific. Anouche ignored him and tipped back her canteen to let a narrow stream dribble onto her tongue, before wrapping her dust hood back around her face.
For the hundredth time she wished she had more native features––the sun-dark skin, the strong-muscled legs designed for walking through shifting sand, the second set of clear eyelids that protected against swirling grit. Instead, she was a throwback to the now extinct Offworlders. The two peoples had intermingled, but the pale skin and fragile stature of the aliens had bowed to natural selection, unsuited for this desert world. Still, Anouche hoped that the freakish blood running through her veins would be good for something. Perhaps she’d succeed where everyone else had failed.
Squinting, she glanced up. The first sun had reached its zenith, and its smaller red sister marched across the sky, close behind. Their rays turned the air into a shimmering, sweltering curtain.