We got back from the concert way later than I had expected. The concert had started at six and went on until about eight fifteen. We went backstage and spent almost a full hour with Rhyme and Reason. I had expected them to all be stuck up and unbearable, but they were all polite and fun. They happily took photos with us and I even sensed a connection between one of the members and Toby. Then Dash had asked us if we were hungry and after over three hours of screaming, we were all famished, so we went to a local hamburger joint to eat some late dinner. We had our burgers, milkshakes and French fries all taking our sweet time and finally, hours later, it was Toby who glanced at his watch and shriek, “Holy crap, it’s midnight!”
Then we all scrambled to pay our tab and get home. Toby was closest so we dropped him off first. He said that his parents were out of town and his older brother was watching him, so he wouldn’t be facing the wrath of any parents. By the time Dash drove me home, it was almost twelve-thirty.
He had pulled up in the driveway and observed the house with me.
“I don’t see any lights on, maybe your Aunt Esta went to bed?” He said, hopefully.
“I hope so. Shit! I really didn’t want to break any of her rules, especially my first time going out. I just hope I don’t get grounded.” I bit my lower lip at the thought. My mom had never grounded me after I reached fifteen. One day she just decided that I was mature enough to set my own schedule and so she didn’t care if I waltzed in at two AM. She was right though. I always made it home at a reasonable time and never got into the kind of trouble that was rampant in my neighborhood.
I turned to Dash. “Well, here goes nothing. See you in school.” I was about to say something else, when Dash leaned in and pecked me on the mouth. By the time I registered what had happened, he was pulling back. I stared at him for a moment, unsure of what had happened. Had he meant to kiss me on the cheek and his aim was off? Did he want to kiss me on the mouth but was afraid of getting slapped? I realized I had been staring at him for far too long.
“Are you okay?” Dash finally asked me.
I flung my arms around his neck and gave him a long, lingering kiss. He returned my kiss gladly, wrapping his arms around my waist. Our kiss seemed to last forever and I only pulled back when I was running out of air. Dash was grinning ear to ear when I finally looked at him.
“What?” I asked, laughing.
“That was amazing,” He responded. “I’ve never been kissed like that before.”
“I take it this is your first time going out with a girl from the wrong side of the tracks,” I laughed.
“After that I would gladly move to the wrong side of the tracks,” Dash laughed. “You better get inside before your Aunt sends the cops after you.” He was still laughing.
I smiled. “It would have been worth it.” I gave him a gentle kiss on the nose before I hopped out of the car. Running up the front walk way, I waved to him as he pulled out of the driveway and headed home.
Straightening myself up, I quietly opened the door and very softly slunk into the house. I turned, gently closing the front door. I paused for a second, listening for any sound of disturbance. Across the street, I heard the neighbor’s dog bark. There were no other sounds. Perfect. I thought to myself. I am one stealthy ninja teenager.
I crept out of the foyer and into the hallway leading to the stairs. All of a sudden, a light flicked on and I was looking at Aunt Esta, clad in her frilly pink bathrobe.
“Good evening, Valentine. Or should I say good morning?” Aunt Esta asked me.
“Hehehe,” I tittered nervously. “Hey there,” I sputtered, “what’s new?”
“So how did the concert go?” Aunt Esta asked, leaning against the wall and crossing her arms over her chest.
“Well, the concert was great, we had a blast. Rhyme and Reason were really sweet. We got a ton of pictures with them. Afterward, we went out for burgers and we kind of lost track of the time. Uh, sorry about that. It was a mistake. I promise never to do it again,” I said in one breath.
“Damn straight you’re never doing it again,” Aunt Esta then laughed. “Well, I know you must have been excited to meet the band and everything. I guess I can forgive you this time. But please, if you’re going to be late next time, use your cell phone to call me and let me know where you are.”
“Oh right, my cell phone.” I had completely forgotten about it. Whoops.
“Yes, your cell phone. Now get off to bed, you have a history paper to work on tomorrow.”
I smiled at Aunt Esta and headed upstairs. “Night!” I called from outside my bedroom.
“Good night, sweetheart!” She called back.
I stepped inside my room and shut the door. I couldn’t believe what an amazing night I had just had. The concert was perfect, the band was great, I had so much fun with my new best friend, and then a kiss from my crush. I wondered if anyone, anywhere had ever had a night as good as this.
As I got ready for bed I was floating on air. I brushed my teeth, brushed my hair, got into my night clothes, scrubbed off my makeup, updated my Facebook and laid down, completely content in the knowledge that I had just had the most magical night of my life.
Too bad it hadn’t been the most magical week of my life. The first thing I did when I got up was to check Facebook. I had gotten several comments from classmates congratulating me on the concert, but they all sounded slightly sarcastic. There were also comments on some of the photos Toby had uploaded. I glanced through them. In one shot, the band, Toby, Dash and myself were all making funny faces. Underneath that photo someone who I didn’t recognize had written, “Too bad about your face.” I narrowed my eyes.
Seriously? What is wrong with these people?
I closed the lid of my laptop and willed myself to forget it. To forget about my classmates and their petty nonsense and recapture the moment I had had last night. Unfortunately, it was gone. I was overtaken by a sudden wave of worry. I thought about Dash. Did he really like the aggressive kiss I had attacked him with last night? Had he been polite to me by acting like he enjoyed it? He hadn’t mentioned me on his Facebook page. Did he think of me as someone he could potential date or was he just slumming it with me for a while?
Paranoia overtook me as I loaded my computer again and rechecked his Facebook page. There was a new post.
Had the most amazing night of my life last night. I know I’m only 17, but it’s going to be hard to top this one.
I smiled at the mention. But then I frowned. Maybe he was referring to meeting the band and not to kissing me. How self-absorbed could I be to think that my kisses were enough to make someone call it the best night of their life? Besides, although his status clearly read single, he had so many girls posting on his Facebook wall. Was he still harboring feelings for one of them? Was he just biding his time before his mom was transferred again, when he would never have to be around me anymore?
I stopped. I didn’t like this way of thinking. But somehow I couldn’t stop the theories and accusations from swirling in my head. Maybe if I just spoke to him, I pondered. But I hardly wanted to speak with him while I was this crazy. What would he think if I started grilling him on all of the girls that posted on his Facebook wall and exactly what his last status meant? No, that would definitely not go over well.
Instead, I decided to text Toby. I grabbed my phone and opened it to find that I had three messages. One was from an old friend that I hadn’t seen since I moved. I texted her back a short message. The two other messages were from Toby.
Big bro busted me for coming back after curfew.
Rents say grounded for two weeks. FML.
I winced. I felt bad for Toby. I wondered if I could talk some sense into his parents. It was an honest mistake. Yes, we should have been paying more attention to the time, but we were all so excited about the concert and excited about our growing new friendships. Isn’t that criminal. I shook my head. That was so unfair. I texted Toby back.
That blows. So sorry. 😦
I put my phone down and wondered what to do for the day. It was Saturday and I had already finished all of my homework before I left for the concert yesterday, with the exception of the history paper. I wondered if it would look like I was desperate if I texted Dash and asked him out. Of course, that’s exactly what a girl from the wrong side of the tracks would do. I thought for a second. Probably shouldn’t do it then. Dash might have liked the charm last night when I kissed him, but I was pretty sure that I shouldn’t pursue him like that.
I laid back down on my bed. What should I do now? There was a book I could read for English class, but that would put me ahead of the class. Mrs. Klass would not appreciate that. I frowned. In my old life, I would have just called a friend to go shopping or see a movie. Now, with one new friend grounded and the other unsure of how to proceed, I had nothing to do for the next two days.
If I was a perfect teenager, I would spend my time looking up scholarships and grants for college and researching how to write college application essays. However, I was not a perfect teenager. I grabbed my jacket, my purse, and my phone and took off downstairs. I knew what I needed. I needed a job.
When I got to the foot of the stairs I could already hear Aunt Esta in the kitchen, eating her breakfast and sipping her morning coffee. I entered the kitchen and smiled at my aunt. “Aunt Esta, can you take me to the strip mall down the street?” I asked.
“Sure, honey, do you need something at the store?”
“No, I’d like to find a job,” I informed her.
“Oh, okay. By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you; where you are in getting your driver’s license?” She took another sip from her cup.
“I passed all the tests and requirements, but we couldn’t afford for me to actually get the license,” I said, bowing my head. It was embarrassing to tell my aunt that her sister hadn’t had the twenty dollars needed to get her sixteen year old daughter a driver’s license.
“Well, after we get you a job, we’re going to get you a license.” Aunt Esta said, nodding her head to me. “Let me get dressed and I’ll take you down to the strip mall.”
“Sure thing. Is there any coffee left?” I asked, sniffing the air. I loved the smell of coffee in the morning.
“Yes, it’s in the pot on the counter,” Aunt Esta said, licking her fingers.
“Awesome,” I said, helping myself to the coffee. Aunt Esta got up and went upstairs as I enjoyed my coffee. I noted the blueberry muffins on the countertop that I had selected from the grocery store last week and helped myself to one of those. I was licking the last crumbs from my fingers when Aunt Esta reemerged, fully dressed and with her purse.
She motioned for me to follow her and I grabbed my things and followed suit. We got into her new car and rode the half a mile to the strip mall close to the house. “So do you have a resume to take with you?” Aunt Esta asked.
“Do I really need one? I just want a part-time job doing something menial. I’m not applying to be president of the company.”
Aunt Esta thought for a second, “Probably not, but it wouldn’t hurt if you wrote one up at some point. You can never been too prepared for a job interview.”
“True,” I said, thoughtfully.
Aunt Esta pulled into the parking lot and parked. “Do you want me to come with you?” She asked.
“Nah, I’ll be fine,” I replied, “shouldn’t take me long to go through here.” I said, gesturing to the strip mall. There were several restaurants, some locally-owned shops, and a Laundromat. “I’ll give you a call when I’ve got a job,” I said, confidently, sliding my purse over my shoulder.
“Sure thing,” Aunt Esta responded, “I need some things at the grocery store anyway.”
“See you in a few,” I said, heading off towards the first shop. It was a small store called We Love to Party that sold party supplies. I could stock shelves and answer phones. I entered and was greeted by a woman in her mid-fifties.
“Hello dear, are you looking for anything in particular today?” She asked me, politely.
“I was actually wondering if you were hiring right now,” I said.
“Yes, we are, did you see our ad in Sunday’s paper?” She asked me, beaming.
“No, I didn’t. Just got lucky,” I laughed.
“Well, the job pays eight dollars an hour. You can work evenings and weekends. Mostly you’ll be answering the phones, helping out customers, restocking shelves and setting up displays. Do you think you can do that?”
“Sure!” I said, a little too eagerly. “Not a problem at all. When do you want me to start?”
“Well, I’ve got all the help I need here today, but can you come back tomorrow? We open at ten.” She said, pointing to their store hours.
“Yeah, that would be perfect. Should I wear anything specific?” I asked.
“Just jeans and t-shirts are fine. We like to keep it casual,” She laughed. “Oh wait, I need you to fill out some information,” She said, suddenly remembering.
The woman disappeared into the back then emerged a few seconds later with an application sheet. She handed me a pen and I went to the counter to write down all of my current information.
“Oh, I’m Essie, by the way,” She said, sticking her hand out.
“Nice to meet you, Essie. I’m Valentine,” I said.
“Valentine?” She asked, looking a little confused.
“Uh yeah, I was born on Valentine’s Day,” I explained.
Essie smiled at me and I went back to writing. I got down all of my information quickly and had to check my cell phone to see what the number for it actually was. I probably should learn that, I thought to myself. I finished quickly and handed the paper back to Essie.
“Do you have a driver’s license, honey?” Essie asked me.
“Not yet, I’m going in for my test in a few days.” I informed her. I hoped I would pass the first time. Now that I had a job, I needed to have transportation. I wonder if Aunt Esta would let me borrow her car for work.
“Great! I’ll see you tomorrow morning, okay?” Essie asked, glancing over my information.
“Yeah, see you then,” I smiled at her. I had a feeling I would like this job. After turning in my application, I left the store and took my time walking to Farm Fresh. All in all, I felt like my depression was lifting. True, the situation in school had not improved, but I was developing a relationship with Dash, I now had a job and I had a new friend in Toby. Things weren’t that bad, all things considered.
I entered the Farm Fresh and scanned the aisles for Aunt Esta. I walked around for a while before discovering her in the bread aisle, trying to decide between wheat bread and white bread.
“Either is good for me,” I told her, startling her out of her thoughts.
“Oh, there you are. How did it go? Is anyone looking for new employees?” She asked, putting the wheat bread into her mini-cart.
“Yeah, We Like To Party hired me. I start tomorrow.”
“That’s great, sweetheart. We go there every time it’s someone’s birthday at work. It’s a great little shop. I know you’ll love working there.” Together we walked to the next aisle and into the frozen foods section.
“Did you like that Hearthstone pizza I got the other night?” She asked, stopping in front of the freezers stuffed full of frozen pizza.
I wrinkled my nose. “Not really. It wasn’t that great,” I admitted. “I liked the Freezer’s Friend pizza better.” I wondered what my mom would think of my new diet of frozen pizza and take out. She would probably be horrified at what Aunt Esta was feeding me. I glanced down the aisle.
Aunt Esta opened one of the freezer doors and took out a meat lover’s Frozen Friends pizza. She added it to her mini-cart, then referenced her cell phone grocery list. “Do you want to pick out some milk, honey? Then we just need something sweet for desert and we’re all set to go.”
“Can we get a cake?” I asked, “just a small one.” I made a size reference with my hands, displaying an eight inch round cake.
“Yeah, that sounds great. Go grab something from the bakery. Just make sure it’s not strawberry,” She added.
I smiled. No one in the family seemed to like strawberry cake. I made my way over to the bakery section at the front of the store and began to look through the cake. It was between a chocolate cake with pink icing or a yellow cake with blue icing, when I looked up and noticed Tanya Tucker and her family making their way into the store.
Shit! I thought desperately, ducking behind the freshly baked breads. Tanya was Whitney Prescott’s second in command. There was no way I wanted her to see me. I couldn’t imagine what she would say to me when she wasn’t in school, where I couldn’t easily tell on her. Tanya’s family, with a very bored looking Tanya, drifted past the breads and started into the produce section. I peered from around the aisle, confident that she didn’t see me. Not even looking, I grabbed the chocolate cake and made my way back to the freezer section. I quickly found Aunt Esta and added the cake to the cart. She had moved over to the milk section and was debating between two percent and skim.
“Welcome back,” She smiled at me. “What do you think; do you want to get skim milk like that time, or do you want to be naughty and get two percent?”
I laughed, “Let’s live on the wild side and get two percent.”
Aunt Esta grabbed a gallon of two percent and fit it onto the bottom of the mini-cart, next to the cake.
“Well, looks like we’ve got everything we need. Let’s head home,” She said, warmly.
“Sure,” I responded.
We started walking towards the registers and were almost home free when I saw Aunt Esta turn and wave to someone. “Oh look honey, it’s Debra Tucker. She used to work in my office. Debra!” Aunt Esta called out. I turned to see who she was talking to and realized in horror that she was waving over Tanya Tucker’s family. My eyes went wide. Debra, her husband, Tanya and what looked like Tanya’s younger brother came down the soup aisle and greeted Aunt Esta.
“Esta Davis, I don’t believe it!” Debra said. She was a nice looking woman in early forties. She was well kept and attractive. “I haven’t seen you in ages!” She exclaimed, giving Aunt Esta a hug. “How have you been?” She inquired.
“I’ve been great, Debbie. It’s so nice to see you. Oh, this is my niece, Valentine. She just moved here with me.” Aunt Esta said, gesturing to me. I gave Debra a small wave.
“Hello there, Valentine. That’s a pretty name,” Debra commented. I smiled politely although I knew from experience that what she said was just a nice way of commenting on my odd moniker. “Don’t you go to school with Tanya?” She asked, looking at her daughter.
“Oh yeah,” I said, acting like I had just noticed Tanya standing there. “Hi, Tanya.”
“Hi,” Tanya responded, rolling her eyes. Debra gave her daughter a small shove.
“Did you finish the problem for pre-calc yet?” I asked, floundering for conversation.
“Yeah, I did them ages ago,” Tanya said as if I had just asked the most ridiculous question imaginable.
“Tanya! Be polite!” Debra hissed at her. Tanya acted like she didn’t even notice.
“Valentine, why don’t you come over sometime to hang out with Tanya?” Debra asked.
I smiled like my life depended on it. How could I subtly get across to her that I would rather peel my own skin off and eat it?
“That sounds like a great idea,” Aunt Esta said, making it worse. “I know Valentine needs some close girlfriends. I got a call from the principal the other day and he said that there was a bullying problem at school. I was quite shocked to hear it.”
“A bullying problem?” Debra furrowed her brows. “That’s terrible. Tanya, do you know anything about it?”
“No,” Tanya said, rolling her eyes again.
I longed to blurt out that Tanya knew everything about it as she was at the forefront of the assault. But I stayed quiet. I also silently cursed Mr. Patterson for blabbing about my little problem to Aunt Esta. It didn’t concern her. There was no reason to worry her about my problems.
“Well, I’m glad you told me about this, Esta. I will definitely bring it up at the next PTA meeting. I was just reading an article online about bullying in schools and it’s a terrible problem that can get out of control quickly.”
Perfect, I thought to myself, more parents involved.
Tanya rolled her eyes a third time. I wondered if her eyes would start to get sore after a while or if she had built up enough muscle from constant use for that not to happen. “Can we go?” Tanya asked, sounding bored.
Debra acted like she didn’t hear what Tanya said. “Well, it was nice talking to you Esta. I hope to see you at the next PTA meeting. We’re going to have a lot to discuss,” Debra said.
“It was great to see you too, Debbie,” Esta smiled. “I’ll definitely be at the next meeting. Talk to you soon!”
Debra and her family said their goodbyes and Tanya shot me one last death glare before she slunk off after her family.
Aunt Esta turned to me after they were out of ear shot.
“Valentine, is that one of the girls who’s involved with the bullying?” She asked.
I blinked, What gave her away? I questioned sarcastically. “Yeah, she is,” I said, honestly.
“She seems like a total bitch,” Aunt Esta observed. I laughed.
“She is,” I assured her. Tanya was the girl who had told me that my history class was on the second floor my first day at the school. I had been completely lost and had stopped to ask her for directions. I only found out later that the school is all one floor and the stairs I found led me out for the roof. I was stuck up there until one of the janitors went out for a smoke break. When I finally made my way to school, almost a half hour late, I had mumbled something about getting lost and didn’t add anything about Tanya’s involvement. I quietly wondered what the parents would decide at the next PTA meeting and whether or not it would actually do any good.
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