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Authors: Coe Booth

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Kendra

BOOK: Kendra
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Kendra
Coe Booth

for mom

ONE

There’s nothing really different about today. At least that’s what I’m sitting here trying to tell myself. Adonna is late, the way she always is, even though I called her twice already to tell her I’m about to leave her if she don’t get down here now. Nana’s in the kitchen, probably waiting for me to come outta my room so she can make sure I’m dressed decent for school. Like if she left for work before me, the first thing I’d do is change into the skankiest outfit I could find or something.

Like that’s even who I am.

Finally, the bell rings. I hear Nana open the door, and all she says is, “Babe’s in her room,” like she can’t even be bothered to say hi.

By the time Adonna gets down the hall, I’m standing up with my book bag on my shoulder and I can’t wait to get outta here.

“You ready?” Adonna asks, like it’s not obvious.

“I been ready.”

She drops her book bag on the floor and I see her looking on
my desk, at some of the new house plans I sketched. I know she thinks I’m wasting my time doing them, but she don’t say anything. Probably because she can see I’m not in the mood today. Instead, she turns to my full-length mirror and stares at herself like she’s ever gonna look anything but perfect. I mean, today she’s wearing her tight black jeans and a red cami with these cute little triangle cutouts around the neckline. Nana would never let me leave the apartment wearing something like that.

Adonna turns sideways, looks at her butt, then smiles. “So, Kendra, what time did y’all get back last night?”

“Late,” I say. “Almost midnight.”

“Oh, so that’s why Kenny was standing outside all late, trying to act like he was cleaning his truck, not waiting for Renée.”

Adonna says Renée like she’s cursing. She never makes it secret how she feels that Renée broke Kenny’s heart and that it’s Renée’s fault the man still can’t get over her.

I’m trying not to let anything get to me today. I mean, I know Adonna’s only looking out for her brother. My father. Can’t blame her for that. Even if it means disrespecting my mother.

“So how was the graduation, anyway?” Adonna asks, fixing her already perfect hair. She got it relaxed real straight at the Dominican place around the corner and it hangs on her shoulders with just a little curl at the end. “Boring as hell?”

I shrug. “No, it was okay.” There’s no way I’m gonna tell her about Princeton. Not with how she already feels about Renée.

“Any cute guys there?” She moves a piece of hair out from behind her ear, then fusses with it ’til it lays just right.

“Some,” I say. “White guys.”

“Nothing wrong with that.” Now she puts the hair back
where it was before, patting it into place and smiling at her own reflection.

Watching her, I have no doubt she could do this all day if I let her. It’s like time stops when she’s looking in the mirror. I sigh real loud. “Can we just go already?”

Adonna looks over at me. “What’s with the attitude today?”

I shake my head. “Nothing.”

“You know, Kendra, every time you see Renée, you start acting different.” She bends down and grabs her book bag fast like I’m rushing her or something. “What did she do this time? And where is she, anyway?”

“She didn’t come back with us.” I try to keep my voice flat and not let her know how upset I am. Because I thought Renée was coming home, too, and it wasn’t ’til we got out there that I realized she wasn’t planning on going anywhere. I mean, not one thing in her whole apartment was packed. “She’s still interviewing for teaching jobs, and, um, she don’t wanna pack up and move ’til she knows where she’s gonna be working.”

“Whatever,” Adonna says.

I hate when she does that. Especially because I know what she’s thinking, that Renée could have come home in the meantime, while she waited. And she probably could have. But that’s none of Adonna’s business.

“I gotta stop at the store,” she says. “Unless you got a tampon to give me.”

I give her a look like,
Don’t be stupid.

“Oh, I forgot. Your grandmother don’t want anything up in there!” She starts laughing. “She still threatening to have you checked by the doctor?”

I roll my eyes and walk outta my room in front of her. Yeah, I know Adonna’s just being herself, but I’m really getting tired of it.

When I pass the kitchen, Nana calls out, “Bye, girls.” She’s in there washing the breakfast dishes, but that don’t stop her from looking over her shoulder and giving me the once-over. “And, Babe, I want you coming home right after play practice.”

I try not to look behind me at Adonna. “Yes, Nana,” I say as I open the front door.

“That means
straight
home.”

“I know, Nana.”

This time I can’t help but see Adonna covering her mouth with her hand.

We leave the apartment and Adonna busts out laughing even before I can close the door behind me. “Yes, sir, Massa, sir,” she says. “I don’t know how you put up with that shit.”

I move away from the door and whisper, “What am I supposed to do? I still have to live with her.” I wanna add,
At least ’til Renée gets a job offer and decides where we’re gonna move
, but I don’t wanna bring up Renée’s name and get Adonna started again.

Not that I can stop her.

I press the button for the elevator and Adonna leans against the wall. “This is what I wanna know,” she says. “Renée graduated. She got her fancy Ph.D., and there’s no more degrees for her to get, right? So what kinda excuse is she gonna have now for not wanting you to live with her? ’Cause, knowing her, she’s gonna come up with something.”

I don’t wanna hear this. Not from her. Part of me just wants
to tell her to mind her own business, but I can’t. Because the other part has the same questions she does.

So instead, I just fold my arms in front of me and say, “I’m not gonna talk about this with you.”

“Fine. All I’m saying is, if she wanted to be here, she would have brought her ass home. That’s all.” She throws her hands up in the air. “I’m done now.”

“Good.”

“Good.”

I roll my eyes again. “Fine.”

I hate starting the day like this, fighting with Adonna. But I’m not gonna just take her crap. Not with the mood I’m in.

Things were supposed to be different today. At least that’s what I thought yesterday when me and Nana took an early morning train from Penn Station out to Princeton just in time for the big graduation. I was all happy, too, at first, sitting there on one of those folding chairs on that big lawn, watching all those people in their black caps and gowns. And Nana was so proud, bragging about Renée to all the people around us.

And then, afterward, there was some kinda reception across campus for all the Ph.D. graduates and their families. Me and Nana stood around eating the hors d’oeuvres while Renée took pictures with her friends. And I stood there watching her, seeing how happy she was and how everybody wanted to be in a picture with her, and I felt like I was just another person caught up in her glow.

Then, while I was standing there watching her, Renée’s classmates and professors kept coming over to me, saying stuff like “I know you must be so proud of your sister” and “Will you
be following your big sister to Princeton one day?” And since I didn’t know what I was supposed to say and what I wasn’t, I just put on a fake smile and kept my mouth closed.

Because it was the first time I knew for sure I didn’t exist when Renée was at college. I was just the little secret she kept in the Bronx. And that hurt.

As for Adonna, I know she don’t mean to hurt my feelings when she talks bad about Renée. I know she only wants me to be happy and all that, but she don’t understand.

For me to be happy, I need to be with Renée.

TWO

“That boy is too fine for his own self,” Adonna says, coming up behind me at lunch and completely cutting the cafeteria line like nobody else is even there.

I know who she’s talking about before I even look over. Nashawn Webb. Again.

He’s ahead of us in line, at the cash register, buying some potato chips and a Pepsi. And he’s smiling at the cashier, probably charming her the way he does every other girl in the school.

And yeah, he’s fine. Only problem is, he knows it.

“He ever say anything about me?” Adonna asks, reaching in front of me for a turkey sandwich in plastic wrap.

I sigh. “How many times do I have to tell you? We just have lockers next to each other. We’re not friends or anything.” I make myself look away from him. “And everybody in the whole school knows he likes you.”

Adonna smiles real big. “Yeah, I know. The only thing is, why does he dress like that? God, what kinda guy would come
out his house in jeans that old? And I’m not gonna say anything about them sneakers. Shit, what’s his problem?”

She always says the same thing about him, but today it annoys me. “You ever think he don’t have money for new clothes and expensive sneakers?”

“Guys can’t be dressing any ol’ way, you know that. Now girls, we can get away with some cheap ten-dollar-store clothes sometimes, but guys, they just can’t be doing that shit. They gotta be fly. If they ever expect to get a girl like me, they do.” She shakes her head. “Like I’m gonna be seen with him.”

I don’t say anything to her because there’s nothing I really can say. That’s just the way she is. Instead, I’m back to looking at Nashawn but, you know, trying to act like I’m not, just in case he looks over and sees me.

I gotta say, he does have the right combination. Pretty-boy face and strong, kinda athletic body. And there’s nothing wrong with his clothes, in my opinion. He always keeps his jeans and T-shirts nice and clean, and I know he don’t have all the newest styles or anything, but what he has looks good to me. On
him
, anyway.

Nashawn looks over in our direction and I lower my eyes. I don’t want him thinking I’m checking him out or anything. And the thought of making eye contact with him only makes me feel nervous. Personally, I don’t know how girls do it, act all friendly and natural around guys. I don’t think I could ever get that comfortable around them. Not any time soon, anyway.

When I look back up, Nashawn isn’t looking this way anymore. He’s too busy handing money to the cashier. I can’t help but wonder if he was looking at me just now. But that thought only lasts a second, ’til reality sets back in and I remember who
I’m standing in line next to. Because I know for a fact that when I’m with Adonna, nobody sees me. The spotlight is always on her.

The line moves a little, and I whisper to Adonna, “What are you gonna do if he asks you out?”

“He is fine, isn’t he?”

“Yeah,” I say, probably a little too fast. “I guess so.”

Nashawn gets his change and starts to walk across the cafeteria, and I turn my attention back to Adonna, who’s still watching him. No, matter of fact, she’s
staring
at him, smiling. And she has that look in her eyes, too. She wants to get him. And, knowing her, she will.

I pick up a yogurt smoothie and a bottled water. “That all you’re gonna eat?” Adonna asks me.

“Yeah, I’m not hungry.” I try to keep the attitude outta my voice, but it don’t really work. “Why?”

She shakes her head. “Nothing. It’s just, all of a sudden you’re not eating.” Then under her breath, she mumbles, “And we both know who’s the cause of that, don’t we?”

I keep my mouth closed because I’m not looking to get into a fight with her here in front of all the nosy kids they got at this school.

By the time we finish buying our food, Nashawn’s sitting at a table with all the other guys on the baseball team. Adonna gives him one last look, then we go over to the table where they got napkins, straws, and all that stuff. When we have everything we need, Adonna starts to walk over to the table she usually sits at, the one with all her sophomore friends. But I don’t move. Just looking at all those loud girls, I know I can’t do it. Not today.

I mean, Adonna’s friends are funny and everything, always talking
about everybody behind their backs, but I’m not in the mood. If I end up sitting there, I’m not gonna be any fun and Adonna’s gonna have to work real hard to get me to be part of the conversation. And she shouldn’t need to do that.

Sometimes I sit with this girl Mara that I went to middle school with. Me and her have a lot of classes together and both of us are working on the stage crew for the theater showcase this weekend. Only, most of the time, Mara sits with all those other kids we went to middle school with. Whenever I sit with them, it’s like I’m going back in time or something, and I don’t wanna go back.

“Come sit with us,” Adonna says, like she knows what I’m thinking.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I think I’m gonna go to the theater and work on the set before practice.”

Adonna leans her head to the side and gives me that look she been giving me for a while, like she’s analyzing me or something. “You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine,” I tell her. “I just have a lot of work to do, and I’m getting all stressed out.”

“It’s the freshman/sophomore showcase, not Broadway,” she says.

“I know, but I still want it to look good.”

“That don’t mean you have to work through lunch.”

I tried telling her a whole bunch of times that I actually like working on the set and being part of the crew, but she don’t get it. For her, the only fun thing about being involved with the theater is actually being on the stage in front of the audience like her friend Tanya is gonna be. Adonna just don’t get that being behind
the scenes can be fun, too, and that I don’t need to get applause to feel good about what I’m doing.

“C’mon, stay for a little while,” she says. “Eat with us, then go.”

“No, not today, Adonna. I can drink this in the theater.” Then when I see she still has that look on her face, I say, “You don’t have to worry about me. I’m okay.”

She shakes her head. “You know what I hate? I hate the way you let Renée control your emotions.”

I wanna say,
You know what I hate? I hate the way you talk about my mother
, but I don’t. I just tell her not to wait for me after school.

Maybe it’s not the best thing for me to be by myself. Maybe I should stay around other people that can make me laugh and forget everything. But I just don’t have the energy to act all happy. I can’t do it today. And, anyway, I do have a lot of work to do on that set.

And yeah, I know Adonna’s right. I do let Renée control my emotions. But I don’t know why Adonna’s always blaming Renée for that. It’s not Renée’s fault. It’s mine.

BOOK: Kendra
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