CHAPTER ONE. ALL RISE, NO SHINE.
There was fur on my face and
I still couldn’t breathe. Madonna was singing a vintage tune and everything was black. I put my hands to my face and
screamed. A furry mass went flying as I gasped, trying to fill up on air.
“Cause we are living in a material world and I am a Material…”
“Oreo!” No wonder I had such an odd dream. It felt so real. For some genius
reason my kitty Oreo had chosen to try to wake me up by sitting on my face. Aaaaargh! Stupid dream. As if Danté could
ever do anything to hurt me.
loser!” It was my li’l sis Destiny, yelling from the shower. The best thing in the world is that the bathroom
that we share is in my bedroom. “You gonna sleep the whole day away?”
I looked at the clock and jumped out of bed. “It’s seven o’clock!”
“Yeah, master of the obvious,” Destiny
said. “I turned off your alarm forty minutes ago. It was too loud.”
I grabbed my scrawled checklist. “Well now I only have a half an hour to get ready for
the biggest day of my life. Thanks Des.” I was jarred back into my so-called life with the sound of my parents arguing,
as usual, downstairs. Why should today be any different? Whatevs. I’d been holding my breath for the past three months
and now the day was here. First day of school and as the fogies say, I can exhale. June sixth, the last day of school was
the best day of my life. And today was going to top it no matter what.
Destiny emerged from the bathroom in a fluffy yellow robe. My fluffy yellow robe. She resembled
Pocahontas right down to her boring jet black, waist length ponytail. She kept her hair long for her ridiculous medieval
adventure games. “And I should care just because it’s your b-day?” she asked as the door closed
Oh, that’s right! My birthday
too. September 14th. The first day of senior year, Danté’s return, and my birthday. Triple yay.
New possibilities. A day to forget that last year was the year of the un-discussable humiliating incident. But let’s
not speak of that now. On to the future.
wrong, Oreo?” I asked my kitty, trying to make up for scaring her as I ran into the bathroom and yanked off my yellow
polka dot PJs. Oreo wagged her tail violently looking more like a dog than a cat and jumped back onto my white canopy bed.
Maybe she was PMSing too. She'd been acting funny all week.
I sang along with my alarm clock and bounced into the shower. I usually hated the first day of school because
everyone is filled with fakery. “Had a good summer? Did you make it out to the country? Missed you much,” which
we all know is B.S. because people who truly miss each other could have called, texted, facebooked, myspaced, youtubed,
land lined, snail mailed or sent a bloody telegram if it was so agonizing. The only people with good excuses are handsome
young rap scions who have been stuck on a yacht with their mogul dad and his current baby’s mama in the South of France
for the past three months. Lucky for me I happen to have just such a young man.
My AB (almost boyfriend) Danté James is the son of hip-hop royal Shell the Boy Wonder
and completely responsible for my summer amnesia. On the last day of school Danté grabbed me and hugged me. Hugged
me! I knew instantly that I would not be able to think of anything else until I saw him again. I came home and took every
photo of Chris Brown and Corbin Bleu off of my wall. It just wasn’t worth it staring at a pretend boyfriends when
I had a real almost boyfriend of my very own. And anyway, the room looked much better as a gallery for my cool paintings
In June Danté sent me a whopping
21 text messages, 16 in July and 9 in August. For some reason, his messages stopped coming 3 weeks ago. He must have lost
his phone. Happens. But before that his texts made teaching art to 7-year-old brats at the Police Athletic League Summer
Camp almost bearable. The summer was endless and now here we are. Here I am. Ready to be freed from my misery. Yes!
Oh no! I held my head under the water. Danté
Delirium made me soak and lather my hair with my favorite vanilla shampoo. Now any black girl in the world or anyone with
curly hair period can tell you that it is mistako numbero uno to attempt to wash and go on a big day. What was I thinking?
Even pseudo mixed black girl hair like mine needed time to marinate. And who had time to condition?
Don’t panic. Don’t panic. I grabbed a towel and stepped out
of the shower. Hair gel. Lots. I slicked my ‘do into a high, taught bun. Darn it. Too Disney
princess. And now I was a mess of gel. Shoot. I pulled the bun apart and ran the gel through my thick curls that
hung at about the length of my barely there boobies.
My mom knocked and entered at the same time. I hate that. “Time for birthday breakfast. Daddy and I have something
very important to talk to you about.” An older me, I guess Mom was attractive enough for her age. The down-turn in
her sing-songy Guyanese lilt signaled trouble. I tried to yell that I was in a hurry but she was already gone. Something
“very important” could mean anything from someone getting hit by a bus to us not taking out the garbage “properly.”
My mom is no stranger to fits of exaggeration. They probably just wanted to corner me into a discussion about putting my
art applications to the side and checking out pre-law programs.
There was another knock at the door. No doubt the beginning of the birthday parade. After mom it would be
dad, then GranGran Chia.
“Come back later,”
I shouted, desperately molding my wayward hair into awkward shapes. I peeked out of the bathroom as the door creaked
“Uh- uh, Rory, you look like an un-pruned
hedge.” It was my bestie Krissy. “Nice horns.”
“Thanks for your support!” I yelled.
“Happy Birthday!” Krissy sang, and plopped down on the bed. She was wearing a purple tie
with matching suspenders on a crisp white shirt. Her uniform skirt was a mass of neat pleats and her socks were at regulation
level. We had planned our first day outfits for the past two weeks with our Bestie number 3, Aleksis: Anything cute,
purple and unique, with tiaras to stand out. “How does it feel to be 17, hag?”
“Please. You’re only a few months younger than me,” I said,
downplaying my simultaneous fear and excitement about the whole thing. “And I’m not officially 17 until
11:12 tonight. My mom always stresses that in her long story of my painful birth.” I jumped into my skirt and added
an unnecessary bra.
Krissy stood and modeled
her outfit. “Check out the look.”
nodded in appreciation. “Banging.” Krissy lived in the Bronx so my house was on her way to school. On Mondays,
her mother came for “religious” consultations with my Gran so Krissy got a ride over. Some of the neighbors called
Gran a witch doctor but her obeah healings, love potions and cowrie shell predictions worked nine times out of ten. “You’re
model-tastic,” I said
Krissy giggled, covering
her braces with her hand unconsciously like she always did, and patted down her fro. Krissy hated having her name shortened.
She always insisted on Krystle, but everybody just called her Krissy anyway. “Pinky swear on the Popularity Pact!”
“Pinky Swear on the Popularity
Pact,” I repeated. We were ready. Over the summer we decided to dedicate real energy to ending our reign of geekdom.
Krissy, genius that she is, analyzed what factors really make people popular. I created rules to go with her data
and voila! We were on the way to being winners. We locked pinkies and the door flew open. Destiny.
“Why doesn’t anybody KNOCK and WAIT?” I shouted.
“D&D check,” she whispered, closing the door
behind her. Dungeons and Dragons was Destiny’s obsession. My parents took her computer away to force her to get a life.
“Nice hair, “ Destiny said as she opened my laptop.
“Mira, Rory, hurry so that we can get outta here. And Des is right. That hair is beastly,” Krissy said.
Her family was Cuban but for some reason she pretended that she was Dominican.
“Working on it,” I growled, slicking my curls back. Nothing was going to get me
down today. I dipped back into the bathroom and put on the polo shirt and sweater in the perfect shade of purple.
“Whaddaya think?” I asked giving a twirl.
“Nice,” Krissy said.
Destiny chimed in. I ignored her and inspected my face. My bushy eyebrows were under control. My skin was nice and even.
I grabbed an eyeliner pencil and emphasized the slight slant in my eyes. I was working what I had. “Gloss or no gloss.
Talking to you, Krissy,” I specified.
you add gloss you’re trying to hard, Rory.”
I grabbed the tube of lip-gloss and shined up. I always do the opposite of whatever beauty advice Krissy offers.
Now if we’re talking chemistry or economics, then she’s the man. I took my new purple backpack, and hastily started
looking around my desk for the school supplies on my list. I shoved my new notebooks, pens and other crap into the bag.
My outfit was cross-listed and planned to the tee. Unfortunately my actual school junk wasn’t.
“Thanks,” Destiny called, bouncing out of the room.
As soon as the door closed Krissy got serious. “I
wasn’t gonna bring it up but did he call?”
“Not technically,” I answered, grabbing a handful of mechanical pencils.
“What does that mean, Rory?”
“It means that he hasn’t actually called but I feel his vibe. He’s
thinking of me. I know it.” I hesitated, then quickly turned my back and printed my new schedule.
“Oooh. What?” Krissy smelled blood. She
knew there was more.
She stood up.” Tell me.”
“Fine.” I pulled out my orange bedazzled phone. “I made a
video for him.” I rustled through the buttons, cue-ing it up.
Krissy backed up. “Um, you’re my girl Rory, but I don’t wanna see you, you know,
“I’m not naked,
stupid, look. I made it for fun. I’m not gonna send it.” I pressed play and Krissy and I watched my face fill
up the small screen. I could see why Gran Gran said that I was all chin. It was that stupid MJ cleft.
“Hi Danté, it’s me Aurora, you know your Rory-licious,”
the me in the phone said. “I just had to tell you thank you so much for being the best part of my life. Here’s
where I would sing Danté, if I could, but you know I can’t so how about if I rap instead.” Then I launched
into a stupid fake rap version of Wind Beneath My Wings with beat boxing.
“No way!” Krissy burst out laughing.
“It’s just for kicks and giggles, K. It’s not like I would ever send
it.” Suddenly I felt very exposed. “Let’s get going.”
“That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen! Play it again,” Krissy
“No,” I said. “Grow up.”
“Come on, Rory!” Krissy started jostling me
for the phone and I held it over my head. The only advantage of being tall.
“NO!” I shouted.
Krissy lunged for the phone and then we heard it beeeeeep. Oh no. That sound that could only mean one thing. One
of us had pressed send. Oh man. Danté had mail. We both launched into blame and accusations.
“You made me…” Krissy said.
“Oh my God!” I shrieked.
“I’m sorry, Rory.”
“You ruined my entire life and now you’re sorry?” I asked.
“Maybe it’s not as bad as it seems.” Krissy leaned against
my hot pink wall biting her fingernails, a habit picked up from her mom. We looked down at the screen, now a loop of my
bad singing and faux beat boxing.
calm,” Krissy said.
“Stay calm? Stay
“Listen, everything happens
for a reason, Rory. Maybe this is to bring you guys closer.”
“You are not my friend, Krissy Ferrer. You have never been my friend.” This was crazy.
“I need damage control. Maybe I could tell Danté that I was suffering from scarlet fever.”
“Or maybe now he can be your real boyfriend instead
of your almost boyfriend.”
Like you and Fat Boy?” I glared at Krissy and the phone beeped again. Now I had mail. I was scared to look.
“Well, the worst that could happen is that he says,
I hate you, Rorylicious, and I never wanna see you again.”
“Thanks, Krissy.” I held my breath and opened the new messages folder. A text from Danté
himself. I opened it.
shouted. Victory and relief. A smiley face. All was right with the world again. I was freed from my four-minute dungeon!
Did I mention that I’d inherited my mother’s touch of the dramatic? Next to the smile face it said, “NEWSROOM.
4th PERIOD.” Yes!
Thank me later, Krissy said.”
yeah, our tiaras,” I remembered. Aleksis’ idea for us to really stand out. I pulled mine from my dresser and
Krissy took hers from her bag. We put them on. It actually made my hair look better. Krissy’s seemed weird on top of
her bushy afro but I didn’t say anything.
come down right now and let’s have a birthday breakfast,” my mother yelled.
“Yeah, you’re getting older by the minute, stupid,” Destiny called from
the next room. We stepped into the hallway at the same time. The walls were covered with framed pics of my fam in
Guyana. While I wore my uniform blue skirt with my adorable purple sweater, matching nails and low black pumps, her Copperfield
sophomore uniform was still the horrendous plaid tunic.
“Nice Des,” I said. “I think that I saw the mail lady wearing the same thing.”
“You had to wear it too,” she shrieked, clomping
down the stairs of our family brownstone. Destiny was three years younger than I was but considered herself two eons
Copperfield is K through twelve and
since my mother teaches there, Destiny and I get a free education. Good thing because tuition at the second oldest school
in the country is $40 thou a year each. My dad teaches at Columbia U just over the park from our house. So the first
day of school is a big deal in my house. Practically my whole fam was on their way to Copperfield. Can you imagine?
“Mom, I can’t do a special breakfast!”
I ran down the stairs with Krissy right behind me. “We have to go.” As I entered the eat-in kitchen I immediately
felt awful. My mom had laid out a spread of fluffy pancakes, fresh bread, cheese, strawberries, scrambled eggs, OJ, fruit,
yogurt. The works.
“I just wanted to do
something nice,” she said, eyes cast down at her blue dress. I looked at the table and everyone waited for my
reaction. Except my dad. He read the paper, trying to stay clear of any beef. We could overhear Gran Gran with Mrs. Ferrer,
Krissy’s mother, since the religious consultation area used to be the pantry. Pray, pray, Gran was telling Mrs. Ferrer.
“Sorry Mommy.” Aw. “It’s just I
wanna get a jump on things,” I said as Destiny settled in at the table and poured a gallon of maple syrup onto her
“Go, we will eat. Enjoy the coronation,”
my mother said referencing the crowns on our heads.
“Oh!” My dad got up as if he suddenly remembered what day it was. He looked Middle Eastern but just
checked off black or South Asian on census type things. “Well happy birthday, Pumpkin.” He hugged me tight.
“You only turn 17 once, Rory. Treasure this day. Soon it will be lost and your childhood buried.”
“Okayyy. Thanks dad...” I whispered to Krissy
as we broke out, “For the total doom and gloom report.” If we didn’t time things perfectly either Krissy’s
mom or my mom would insist on driving us to school. We preferred to take the subway. Now I know that might sound backwards,
but being caged with one of our moms for 40 blocks was more horrific than the smelly drunk who stumbled onto the 6 at 103rd
“We gotta hit Aleksis back,”
I remembered. It was her birthday too. “She sent me 12 messages last night.”
“Aleksis can stand to keep making calls until the last minute. She only
has to crawl past her doorman to make it in time for homeroom,” Kristal said as we walked to the subway.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “We gotta trek down
from SOHA.” Oh, where’s SOHA? Well you may call it Southern Harlem. I dialed Aleksis’ number as we
passed a man selling cigarettes, and put it on speaker.
“What up, wenches,” Aleksis answered.
“Happy Birthday, hag,” Krissy and I shouted. Every year Alexis and I celebrated our birthdays together.
Well, I kind of piggybacked on whatever she was doing.
“Muchas gracias.” Aleksis made a kissy sound.
“OK, so we’re wearing our purple,” Krissy said.
“And tiaras,” I cosigned. “Got your gear on?”
“Ready,” Aleksis said.
“How late are you aiming for?” I asked.
“Early late,” Aleksis said. “It’s the first day. I gotta
be there semi on time.”
Krissy said. “Wait ‘til later in the semester to hit ‘em off with your trademark patented super late but
no demerits thang.”
Aleksis said, as we made it to the East 125th Street entrance. “So Emma said that Jeffrey told her that
Danté has been back from Europe for 3 whole days.”
“All good,” I said, feeling a more than a little uncomfortable at the news. “We both had school
shopping and stuff to do, I’m sure.”
sure,” Aleksis said.
gushed Krissy, glad for any chance to spill the beans. “Rory made this crazy video singing and carrying on about Danté
and his Rorylicious and I accidentally hit SEND.”
“Say word!” Aleksis thrived on drama.
“Word,” Krissy said.
I added. ”He smileyed back but some of us have to commute so we’ll spill the rest later.”
“Send it pleeeeeeease,” Aleksis said. “I promise I won’t
laugh too hard.”
“Word out.” Aleksis hung
I sent her the video and we descended into
the City’s dark underbelly known as subterranean transit. There were cliques of public and private school kids
everywhere with back-to-school-it is. Everyone’s clothes were a little too pressed, not yet broken into. Freshly done
‘do’s and cuts.
Sign. The subways
were a mess. I know. That’s not a real sign; the subways are always a mess. What was weird about it was that I felt
energy gushing at me from everywhere. There was a rush of emotions. Like crashing waves but no water. On top of that, my
contacts were glazing over. It was so weird. Everyone I looked at had a weird little colored glow around them. Hazy. Except
not like my contacts were dirty. More like when I was 12 and realized that I was as blind as a bat in the first place. Whatevs.
It's my 17th birthday and nothing is going to ruin it. At least we scored seats.
As Krissy babbled on about her new classes I started feeling hot then woozy. It was like
words, voices, emotions were all coming at me. As I looked at each face I knew what people were going through. Love, hate,
anger, sadness, revenge. I can’t explain it, but I went through every emotion in like 5 minutes. I looked over at
Krissy. She was still talking but I couldn’t really hear her. A man in a black raincoat seemed like he was waiting
for me to pass out. The kid next to me was squirting milk from his nose as a game. His mother didn’t notice. This
was not the place to faint.
“Can we get
off early and walk?” I asked Krissy. She looked at me, probably thinking of the whole episode from last year and nodded.
The fresh air was good. I felt a renewed boost of confidence
about the new year. And with Danté’s smiley faced affirmation? Oh man! With Danté as my BF, the popularity
pact was sealed. Like Ms. Macintosh says, everybody deserves to live their best lives, right?