Forever Now (Forever - Book 1) (7 page)

BOOK: Forever Now (Forever - Book 1)
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“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you for taking care of me.”

 

 

Chapter 7

 

“Behavior is what a man does, not what he thinks, feels, or believes.”

---Emily Dickinson

 

“What is this?” Dahlia asked me in the cafeteria line.

“There was a debate about it last year,” I said.

She lifted her plate to eye-level and studied Hoover High’s attempt at providing healthy lunches for its students.

“A real debate?” Dahlia asked.

I nodded. “Most of the students think it’s squirrel, but I heard the lunch ladies talking. It’s a veggie burger. It’s the alfalfa sprouts that make it look like that.”

“I’ve never seen alfalfa sprouts do this.”

“I think it’s the way they fry them,” I said.

“Do you think it’s safe?”

“No. Joey Franklin swears he got diverticulitis from eating one. I’m doing double chips today.” On veggie burger day, I usually went with a bag of Cheetos and backed it up with a bag of Baked Lays, just to stay on the healthy side.

Actually, I wasn’t afraid of the veggie burger. I had lived off school food for about thirteen years and had successfully digested far scarier “food” than Hoover High’s veggie burger.

I could recall a fish sandwich in fourth grade that took down the entire school with grade A food poisoning, but I came out of it with nary a burp.

I had a survivalist, industrial-strength stomach.

I was the Liam Neeson of digestive juices.

Dahlia gave her plate back to the lunch lady. “Wise,” she said and picked up two bags of Chex Mix and put it on her tray. She threw a package of Oreos onto mine. “But we should stay away from soda since we’re eating junk food for lunch.”

“How about chocolate milk, then?” I suggested.

“Perfect.”

Dahlia and I had fallen into a nice routine in the month we had known each other. Every day we would sit next to each other in our morning classes. I would help her in humanities, and she would help me in math. Then we would eat together, even though the “in” crowd tried to get Dahlia over to their table several times.

The first time Jillian Glass, the head of the cheerleading squad, came over to our table to try and recruit her, Dahlia turned it around. “Why don’t you sit with
us
?” she asked the mean girl. “There’s plenty of room.”

Asking someone to defect from the popular table was like asking Abraham Lincoln to change sides in the Civil War.

Not happening.

So not done.

Jillian scowled, mumbled “What ev’,” and stormed away, tossing her long hair.

Dahlia didn’t seem to notice. She was constantly happy, as if she was in a happiness bubble. A tough, The Rock kind of strong bubble that couldn’t be popped.

Nothing and nobody got her down. She was happy to cheer with the cheerleaders, emote with the drama geeks, trade eyeliners with the socs, and eat lunch with the invisible girl.

She was her own person, and she was so content being herself that she only saw the good in everyone else. Her happiness bubble also made her fearless. I thought she was wonderful. After twelve miserable years of school, I was finally happy to be there.

One friend was all it took to turn the Hoover High gulag into someplace fun. It just took one Dahlia.

“My dad is getting my car painted next week,” she told me while chewing on a mouthful of Chex Mix. “The color is ’Lavender Night.’ It’s got glitter in it. Doesn’t that sound dreamy?”

“A car sounds dreamy,” I said. It had been so long since I had even ridden in a car. I had to take two buses to get to the supermarket. I didn’t know where my mom’s car was. Cruz figured she sold it to have more money for Mexico.

I would have loved a car, even a glittery purple one.

“Let’s go for a ride after school,” Dahlia offered. “We could go to a place downtown I’ve heard of where Beat poets perform while you get your hair dyed. It’s also supposed to serve kickass cappuccinos.”

It sounded heavenly. All except the hair dye part. But I had to babysit after school, and I doubted I could afford Beat poetry and cappuccinos. I couldn’t even afford Kraft mac-n-cheese.

“I can’t. I’m babysitting today.”

Dahlia cocked her head to the side, making a flood of curls flop over her left eye. “Maybe another day? I keep inviting you to stuff, but you never accept. Should I give up?”

No! Don’t give up!
A voice was screaming in my head, but I couldn’t get it to come out of my mouth. I didn’t want her to give up. I wanted her to be my best friend, and I wanted us to go all over town in her purple glittery car and have fun.

Just like other girls.

Just like I had always wanted.

But I didn’t know how it was possible. Most of the time, she went to school parties where I wasn’t welcome. She couldn’t seem to understand that I wasn’t a popular girl like her. And that wasn’t the worst thing. The worst thing was: What if she found out that my mother had skipped the country and left me behind without any money?

Dahlia snapped her head back to center and blew a thick curl off her face. “I’m not going to give up,” she said, smiling. “Besides, I have something lined up that you can’t refuse.”

I got a lump in my throat, and I tried to swallow. I was afraid of not being able to refuse.

The school bell rang. “Don’t be afraid,” Dahlia said. “It’s something you’re going to really like.”

 

***

 

I arrived home early that Friday at around 5:00. Babysitting had been a breeze. The Maclaren triplets had slept two hours, which allowed me to get most of my homework done. So, I was in a great mood when I walked up the path to my front door.

My open front door.

Cruz was standing on the front porch wearing a bathing suit and nothing else. He looked a lot like a Greek statue. The hard solid, marble kind of statue, perfectly proportioned in yum. His hair blew in the breeze, and his chest rose and fell with heavy breathing.

I still got waves of urges to lick him, but so far I had held back. Right about then I was battling a pretty strong licking urge. It was a toss up who was going to win. But the fact that Cruz wasn’t alone put the odds on my side.

Our landlord was standing on the porch with him, and I didn’t think he was there for a social visit. Cruz’s arms were crossed in front of his chest, probably to keep himself from punching out our landlord, who was wagging his finger in Cruz’s face and hollering at him.

“Who the hell are you?” the landlord asked him.

“I already explained, Mr. Stevens. I’m a friend of the family.”

“Lord, that woman is going young!”

“It’s not like that,” Cruz explained. He grinned, which I knew meant that he was embarrassed. I would be, too, if I was him and I was accused of dating my mother.

“Hi, Mr. Stevens,” I said, interrupting the conversation. “It’s me, Tess.”

He blinked a couple times, as if he was trying to reboot his brain and remember who I was. I detected a glimmer of recognition in his eyes and then relief.

“Where’s your mother?” he demanded.

“Well—“ I started. I caught Cruz throwing me a warning look. I had to be careful. If our landlord realized my mother had taken off without even leaving her contact information, he would call the cops, and I would wind up in a foster home.

My heart pounded in my chest. I was sure they could hear it.
Thump. Thump.
It was like the Marines Marching Band in there. How could they not hear it? I was a one-person rave.

I tried to calm myself enough to think of an excuse for my mom’s disappearance. Where could she be? On retreat? At a spa? On a secret mission to Afghanistan? What would the landlord believe?

Thump. Thump.
My heart wouldn’t slow down. I couldn’t get words out. I tried to remember the symptoms of a heart attack. Were sweating, panicking, and a heart on the verge of exploding symptoms? I was either having a heart attack, or I was the drummer for Kiss.

I opened my mouth and willed words to come out.

Nothing.

Not a peep.

Faced with the terror of being homeless, I forgot how to speak. Mr. Stevens didn’t care, anyway. He wasn’t interested in giving me a chance to explain.

“Do you know you’re three months behind in the rent?” he demanded, his voice rising an octave. He sounded a lot like the Wicked Witch of the West, and I was half-expecting him to send flying monkeys after me.

“Three months?” Cruz asked.

“Three months?” I repeated, finally getting words out.

Cruz and I looked at each other. His face reflected my emotions.

Surprise.

Sadness.

Defeat.

My mother only left a month ago. We expected to be a month behind, but not three. How could we get three months of rent together?

“How much is the rent?” Cruz finally asked.

“Twelve-hundred a month. What’s it to you, boy?”

I had saved two-hundred, and I knew that Cruz had just gotten his first paycheck.

“We can give you seven hundred and the rest next week,” Cruz said.

“All twenty-nine-hundred?” the landlord asked.

Two thousand, nine hundred dollars. It was an impossible amount of money. He might as well have said a million dollars or a billion dollars. He might as well have said he needed me to turn my head all the way around or do the splits on a crate of dynamite.

I mean, impossible.

We could never get that much money together. We would have to win the lottery, invent Twitter, or get a Hip Hop contract to get that much money.

Tears burned the back of my eyes, threatening to pop out in a steady stream. I knew I would start blubbering any second. Faced with being a homeless orphan with their future flushed down the toilet, who wouldn’t blubber?

I was about to drop to my knees, clutch onto the front of Mr. Stevens’ Dockers, and beg him to let us live in the house for free, when Cruz said something crazy.

“Yep, twenty-nine-hundred,” he said, although his voice was a little croaky, like it was hard for him to speak the actual words. Of course it was hard for him to speak the actual words! They were crazy words. Only a lunatic would say those words.

A lunatic who was convinced he had been abducted by aliens from Jupiter and had to learn their alien Jupiter language would hear Cruz say, “Yep, twenty-nine-hundred,” and think: Blook bluck fep, which in Jupiter language means, “Those are crazy words!”

I flicked my eyes towards him, urging him to take back his crazy, but he wouldn’t look at me.

The landlord didn’t seem convinced at first, but just like everyone else who are willing to believe all kinds of baloney to make their lives easier, he latched onto Cruz’s promise and nodded. “Okay. Where’s the seven-hundred?”

I sprinted upstairs, dug my cookie tin from under my bed and emptied it. Cruz ran into in his room, and I heard a drawer open and close. We met at the top of the stairs, both holding fistfuls of cash.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

We ran downstairs and handed the landlord his money. He counted it twice. “Next week,” he said, sticking his finger in Cruz’s face.

“Next week,” Cruz agreed.

We stood on the front porch and watched the landlord walk down the front path, open his car door, get in, close the door, start the engine, and drive away. When he turned the corner at the end of the street and we were sure that he would leave us alone for at least a week, we walked back into the house and collapsed onto the bottom stair, sitting side by side.

“Cruz—“I started.

“I’ll get it,” he said.

“But—“

“I’ll get it,” he repeated.

The landlord’s visit was a reminder of the barbarians at the gate. The ever-present danger. We had been fooling ourselves, thinking that we could make this work. We had slipped into an almost comfortable routine where I went to school and babysitting, and Cruz went to work and modeling auditions, and we would come home, make canned tomato soup, and then I would write in my notebooks, and he would go out with his beautiful friends.

Safe.

At least I had thought we were safe. It hadn’t seemed to matter that we were throwing away bills and we hadn’t heard a peep from our parents. But now, reality hit me like a ton of bricks. Like a landlord wearing Dockers and a short-sleeved buttoned down striped shirt.

“This will never work,” I said on the step. I hadn’t meant to say anything. I didn’t want to be Debbie Downer when Cruz was working so hard to help me.

“We have no choice. It has to work.”

“I was going to go to Paris and learn how to write,” I said. This time the tears really did come. I wiped my nose on the hem of my t-shirt and sniffed.

Cruz turned to face me and raised his eyebrow. “I know. I think that’s great.”

He had beautiful eyes. Big, brown, and soft, like I could snuggle up inside them.

“I can’t go to Paris,” I said. “I don’t have any money. How will I get there? How will I pay for the school?”

“Why do you want to go to Paris?” He asked the question as if he really wanted to know. He was interested in my thoughts and feelings, which still came as a surprise to me.

“Paris is everything I’m not,” I said. “Beautiful, exciting, sophisticated. All the greatest writers have lived there.”

“I can see you becoming a great writer.”

“You can?”

“Yes,” he said smiling ear to ear. “You’ll be very famous, and you won’t talk to me anymore. You’ll only hang around your famous writer friends. You won’t even take my calls.”

It was ludicrous. I would always talk to him, if he let me. He was the perfect one, the one destined to be rich and famous. Couldn’t he see that someday he would be the one to forget about
me
?”

“Your calls? You’ll call me?” I asked.

“Or write letters. You being a writer and all, maybe you would prefer letters.” I would love letters. I had never written an actual letter to anyone.

“Letters would be great,” I said.

Cruz smiled. “Let’s find something to eat.”

He helped me up and put his arm around me as we walked to the kitchen. “You’re such an idiot.” He laughed.

BOOK: Forever Now (Forever - Book 1)
5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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