(This is one of 10 preview chapters for Boys & Girls: Part I. You can see the rest of the chapters on the official page)
September 2nd, 2016
Kinsky, California, USA
What’s the Story, Morning Glory?
Sadja looked into the mirror. Her eye bags were back, and she fiddled with them for a bit before finally deciding to cover them with makeup. She took a few steps back, showing her full body in the bra and underwear she was wearing. She turned to the left, then turned to the right. A tuft of the black bangs from her bobbed hair fell in front of her eyes, and she blew it back to the side where it belonged. She did a full 360 rotation, sliding on her feet, and in one slick movement pulled out her hand from behind her back and pointed a finger gun at the mirror. With one eye open she cocked her thumb, giving a little Pow! sound through her lips.
Eventually, she got dressed. She wore a brown corduroy jacket over an off-shoulder top, with black jeans. As she got to the head of the stairs, she leaned over the railing and called out in Farsi:
I’m heading off to school!
A older, female voice downstairs answered her plainly: Okay.
Sadja ran down the steps, heading towards the door. On the counter next to her keys was a box of Frosted Flakes. She grabbed her keys first, sticking them into her pockets. From the box she poured a handful of cereal in her palm, throwing it into her mouth all in one go, and left the house.
Kat was in the dance practice room. She was performing the same move, a spin, over and over again, watching herself in the mirror and continuing to try to get it just how she wanted it. During one of these spins, a voice spoke behind her.
“Careful girl, you’re gonna give yourself vertigo at this rate.”
She turned around. Sadja was there, leaning against the doorframe.
“Hey babe,” Kat sat down, stretching out her legs. She wore black yoga pants and a beige top which cut off at the midriff. “You’re here early.”
“Just felt like it today.” Sadja dropped her bag by Kat’s, against the wall. As she walked forward she took off her jacket, tossing it behind her. “You practicing something in particular?”
“Oh, just part of a bit I want to try doing.”
Sadja looked at the two of them in the mirror, then sat down close by. “I’m looking forward to seeing it, in all its glory.”
“What about you? Anything you want to include in the concert?”
Sadja shook her head. “It’s your call, boss.”
Kat turned and glared at her friend. “I’m not your boss.”
Sadja stretched her arms out above her head, closing her eyes and smiling. “Whatever you say. Still glad you got it over Natalie.”
Kat, throwing aside the comment, got up and walked over to her backpack. Sadja spoke again.
“Hey, if you could give me one thing — just, don’t put me in a solo, alright? Last thing I need is to get up there and have everyone realize I’ve just been faking being able to sing.”
The blonde-haired captain put her finger to her chin, feigning deep thought. “I can’t make any promises.”
“I’m kidding!” The girl called out, then kneeled down in front of her backpack, muttering to herself. “Mostly.”
Time skipped ahead to lunch. The group was dispersed now, with Ash and Emily in a meeting with student government and Rodrigo, Lukas, and Cole hanging out separately. Maria leaned against a column, watching the bustle of the courtyard, a yogurt in hand that was mostly stirred and rarely touched. She didn’t immediately notice Sadja sitting down next to her.
“Hey there.” Sadja’s tone was a lot more forlorn than what it had been with Kat. Maria turned to her, giving her a weak smile.
“You doing good, love?”
Maria turned back to the courtyard, her face back to a plain frown. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
The two looked out at the courtyard, surveying the people together. Sadja’s eyes stopped, and she smiled.
“They’re cute together, aren’t they?”
Maria knew who she was talking about. She turned her eyes a bit to the left, spotting Aaron and Rose together. Rose hung a strawberry over Aaron’s head, and he playfully chomped it out of her hand, causing her to laugh out in delight.
Sadja turned back to Maria. “Did you know Rodrigo set them up?”
Maria faced her. “Really?”
“Yeah. Who knew he could be such a matchmaker.”
Maria looked back down at yogurt, and gave it yet another swirl. Sadja interlocked her hands, leaning forward. “You excited for Lizzi’s?”
“Oh, yeah.” Maria gave a partial laugh, though it sounded more like a breath of air. “I mean, I’m tight on money… we’re tight on money, so… might just look.”
“Maria, we’ll find you something. I promise.”
The Cortez shook her head. “No, really. It’s fine, I can just wear the one I wore last year.”
“You mean the one that got punch spilled all over?” Sadja put her hands on the table, palms down, towards Maria. “We will find you something. Promise.”
Maria looked at back at her companion, a cloud of doubt in her mind. Then she turned back to the courtyard.
It was after school. Maria walked alone down the hall to her car, until she passed by someone she thought looked familiar.
The tall, dark-skinned teenager stopped. He turned his head towards Maria, her face reflecting off his rounded sunglasses.
“Oh, yeah. You’re Maria, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, I am. I just wanted to say… thanks. For fixing my car the other day.”
Russell grinned. “It was nothin’. Took me a few minutes.”
“I know it was nothing for you, but it still meant something. Thank you.”
He didn’t immediately reply back. Instead, he turned his whole body around to face Maria, looking at her in the eyes through his glasses.
“I got a lil bro. He’s three. Name’s Mahalo. Gets on my nerves sometimes, but… I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
He turned back around, heading back his separate way. He took a few more steps before Maria spoke out again.
“Hey, is it okay if I ask you something?”
“Why do you always wear those sunglasses everywhere?”
Russell chuckled. One more time, he turned his head towards Maria. “Oh, it’s just a little secret I have.”
With one hand he took off the glasses, then looked up to the girl. His eyes were blue, a bright blue, that held such a luxurious intensity that they resembled more the glimmering of sapphires than irises.
Maria smiled. “They look beautiful.”
“Mmm.” Russell made the noise indifferently. He put the sunglasses back on, and continued walking. “Keep up the good fight, Sister.”
Maria continued her walk down the hall.
Sometime later, the same latina girl parked her cheap car outside a clothing boutique, and walked inside. The three girls who she recognized — Kat, Sadja, Rose — looked up at her as she walked in.
Kat, who sat on top of one of the displays, dropped her feet down to the floor to meet Maria, spinning her finger around as a gesture to gather everyone up. “Alright girls, let’s get to it.”
The girls scouted the racks for dresses. The occasion was Homecoming, but more subtly to take a break from reality. To ignore it, just this once.
Sadja walked down the row, brushing her hand across the clothes as she went. “God, I still can’t believe I don’t fit in mine from last year. I don’t even know what happened.”
Rose laughed from behind her. “Girl, you think that’s bad — try having a boyfriend that eats, like, ten thousand calories a day and never gains weight.”
While the others continued to converse, Maria stood out. An uneasy feeling began to settle inside her, as she realized her fear had come to fruition. She was an observer, coming to observe. She wasn’t a part of it, nor did she feel part of it in any way.
“Oh my God,” she heard Kat gasp behind her, as the singer girl singled out a dress among the whole. “Maria, try this one!”
Maria walked over to her. It was red — a brilliant red, that shined the light of the store off its surface with an appropriate sense of ardour. The dress made an impact on her. But the price did, too.
“K-Kat, I… I can’t afford this.”
“That’s fine! Just try it. I wanna see it on you.” Kat took the dress off the rack and pushed it into Maria’s hands. Maria grabbed it, feeling its soft, delicate nature in her hands. With hesitation she walked over to the dressing room.
As she put on the dress, the lingering dread from before began to manifest itself. Am I just a toy to them? She looked at herself in the mirror, the beauty of her figure being clouded in all obscurity by the thoughts in her mind. Am I just doing this for them? Are they using me?
No, no. That’s not it. Maria opened the door out of the dressing room. I’ve known them for years. They wouldn’t do this. Not now.
She walked out into the open air. Kat was the first one to see her, her eyes widened. The others turned to see her as well, gasping with smiles on their faces.
“Maria, you look… incredible!” Kat was clearly pleased.
Maria was not. “Okay, well, like I said, I can’t buy this.” She was clearly frustrated, exasperating out the lines.
“That’s okay, I’ll buy it for you.”
Maria stopped. Her face immediately changed, she stuttered as she tried to get out her words. “N-n-no, no, that’s fine. Really, you don’t-”
“It’s okay! I’m the one who’s the trust fund baby.” Kat walked up to her, putting her hand on her shoulder. “Just treat it like a gift, alright?”
See? You were being stupid. A smile came over Maria’s face. She grabbed Kat and hugged her tightly. “Thank you, so much.”
Kat hugged her back. “Don’t mention it.”
A little later, the girls got into the checkout line. Kat went up first, bringing the red dress down on the counter.
The cashier punched some buttons on the computer. “What’s the name on the account?”
“Hey Kat, you not getting anything?” Rose called out from the back of the line.
“Nah, I’ll be fine. I can just wear the dress I wore last year. You know, the dark blue one? With the stars?”
Rose gave her thumbs up in approval. The cashier handed back the dress, in a bag with the receipt. The two girls walked out of the store, sitting down by the sidewalk and waiting for the other two to finish up. While Kat scrolled on her phone, Maria spoke up.
Kat looked away from her phone and back up toward her friend. “What’s up?”
“Weird question, but… how did you meet Cole and Lukas?”
Kat gave a little laugh, looking down at her feet. “Oh, it’s a funny story. Kind of long, though.”
“Tell me. I don’t think I’ve heard it before.”
The girl with the ponytail looked up to the cloudy sky, trying to remember the bits and details. “Well… when I was seven, my dad moved us to Kinsky, his hometown. I was going to a brand new school, and didn’t know anyone…”