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I'm getting back into reading and this book was AMAZING and easy to follow. It is so relatable to me and certain scenes made my heart flutter. Its a great wlw book.
16 April 2021 (19:28)
good mix of races, gender, politics and love..cool
20 May 2021 (16:20)
As someone who is Asian, Gay, and had a cheating problem in the family, this was an eye-opening experience. I felt comfort in this book despite having a cheating-driven plot. I felt represented. I don't normally like the cheating plots but the accurate portrayal of WOC and PCO in general balances it.
15 June 2021 (06:13)
This book was so disappointing, i almost finish it but it was so dumb and so toxic, the principal character is an asshole, she is racist girl, who doesn't want the other people to know that she is a lesbian, and tried to hide her girlfriend from everyone, their friends are so stupid and selfish, IN HALF OF THE BOOK THEY TRY TO CONVINCE HER THAT MAYBE SHE IS NOT A LESBIAN AND TRY TO MAKE HER KISS A BOY, AFTER SHE TOLD THEM THAT SHE DIDN'T WANTED TO DO THAT, whatever it's so stupid and so annoying
27 August 2021 (10:24)
Umm why doesn't it wanna download
30 March 2022 (09:37)
Personally not a fan, I appreciated the representation and cultural references. I however was not really a fan of the MC character development, she made no major growth and only seemed to do what everyone expected/wanted. Her parents dynamic was pretty toxic and the MC opinions were a little slanted considering she’s of Asian decent.
08 April 2022 (03:26)
DEDICATION For Joan CONTENTS Dedication Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40 Chapter 41 Chapter 42 A Note from the Author A Word about Poetry Poems in Order of Appearance A Few Online Resources Sources Acknowledgments Back Ad About the Author Books by Misa Sugiura Credits Copyright About the Publisher 1 “SANA, CHOTTO . . . HANASHI GA ARUN-YA-KEDO.” Uh-oh. Something big is about to go down. It’s Sunday afternoon and we’re almost ready to leave the beach at Lake Michigan, where I’ve begged Mom to take me for my birthday. It’s just the two of us because Dad is away on business—he’s always away on business—and I’m crouched at the edge of the water, collecting sea glass. I’ve decided I’m not leaving the beach until I’ve found sixteen pieces, one for each year. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed, but at least I’ll have a handful of magic in my pocket. Sixteen surprises. Sixteen secret treasures I’ve found in the sand. And now this: hanashi ga arun’. Mom never asks if I want to “chat” unless she’s actually gearing up for a Serious Discussion. She walks over and stands next to me, but I’m too anxious to look up, so I continue picking through the sand as possible Serious Discussion Topics scroll through my head: She’s pregnant. She has cancer. She’s making me go to Japan for the summer. “It’s about Dad,” she says. Dad’s leaving us. He’s dying. He— “Dad got a new job with start-up company in California.” —what? “It’s the company called GoBotX,” she says. “They make the robots for hospital surgery.” I don’t care what the company makes. “Did yo; u say California?” When I say Serious Discussion, I suppose I should really say Big Announcement Followed by Brief and Unhelpful Q&A Before Mom Closes Topic: “How long have you known?” “Dad applied last month. He signed contract today.” “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” “No need.” “What do you mean, no need?” She shrugs. “No need. Not your decision.” “But that’s not fair!” “‘Fair’ doesn’t matter.” “But—” “Complaining doesn’t do any good.” “Are we all moving? When?” “Dad will go in two weeks, at end of May. He will find a house to live, and we will go at end of June.” She doesn’t know the answers to the rest of my questions: Where will we live, where will I go to school, what am I supposed to do all summer all by myself. Then she says, “No more questions. It is decided, so nothing we can do. Clean the sand off your feet before we get in the car.” We don’t talk on the way home. Mom’s not the type to apologize or ask questions like, “How does that make you feel?” My own unanswered questions swim in circles around the silence like giant schools of fish, chased by the most important question of all—the only one I can’t ask. When we get home, I go to my room to finish some homework. But before I start, I take out a lacquer box that Mom and Dad bought for me when we visited Japan seven years ago. It’s a deep, rich orange red, and it has three cherry blossoms painted on it in real gold. Inside, I keep my pearl earrings, a picture of me with my best friend, Trish Campbell, when we were six, all the sea glass I’ve collected from trips to Lake Michigan, and a slip of paper with a phone number on it. I pour in my new sea glass, take out the piece of paper, and stare at the numbers. They start with a San Francisco area code. Could this be the real reason we’re moving? The paper is small and narrow, almost like something I might pull out of a fortune cookie. Like if I turn it over, I’ll find my fortune—my family’s fortune—on the other side: Yes, these numbers are important. No, these numbers are meaningless. But of course the back of the paper is as blank as ever. I bury the phone number under the other things, put the box away, and lie down on my bed to think. A few minutes later, Mom comes in and frowns when she sees me lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling. Mom is the most practical person I know. She doesn’t sugarcoat things, and she doesn’t look for a bright side. Which is okay right now, because a fake spiel about exciting new experiences, great weather, and new friends would just piss me off. “I am sorry that you have to leave your friends,” she says, not looking one bit sorry, “but the pouting doesn’t make your life better. It just prevents you from doing your homeworks.” Then again, it probably wouldn’t kill her to show a little sympathy. Also, she’s totally off base about what’s upsetting me. But since correcting her is out of the question, I just turn and face the wall. “Jibun no koto bakkari kangaen’no yame-nasai. Chanto henji shina-sai.” I don’t think I’m being selfish. But since “AAAGGGGHHHH! I’M NOT BEING SELFISH!” is probably not the “proper reply” she’s looking for, I just say, “I’m not pouting. I’m thinking.” “There is nothing to think about. If you want to think, you can think of being grateful for a father who works so hard to get the good job.” “It’s not that I’m not grateful—” “Ever since he was teenager,” she continues, “Dad dreamed of working for the Silicon Valley start-up. That’s why he came to United States.” “But what about me? Don’t my dreams count?” Okay, maybe now I’m being a little selfish. Especially since the truth is that I don’t actually have what might be called dreams. What I have are more like hopes: Straight As. A love life. A crowd of real friends to hang out with. But it’s also true that if I did have dreams, they wouldn’t count anyway. Not to Mom. “You are too young for the dream,” she says. (See?) I want to remind her that she just said Dad’s start-up job was a teenage dream. But she has a conveniently short memory about things she’s just said that contradict other things she’s just said, so instead, I switch tracks. “What about your dreams?” “My dream is not important.” “Ugh. Come on, Mom.” She crosses her arms. “My dream is to make the good family. I can do that in Wisconsin or California.” “Mom, why do you say stuff like that? Like, ‘Oh, our lives are just going to change forever, no big deal.’ It is a big deal! It’s a huge deal!” I can hear myself getting screechy, but I can’t help it. Dad changes our lives around without consulting anyone—well, without consulting me—and Mom just . . . lets it happen. It would make anyone screechy. “Shikkari shinasai,” she snaps. But I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that: gather myself into a tight little bundle with everything in its place—shikkari—like she wants. I put my head under my pillow. She’s quiet for so long that I begin to wonder if she’s left the room. When I peek out from under the pillow, she’s waiting for me, her face softer, even a little sad. “Gaman shinasai,” she says, and walks away. Gaman. Endure. Bear it without complaining. Her life’s motto and my life’s bane. 2 I’M UNDER ORDERS TO PACK ALL OF MY belongings into boxes labeled KEEP and THROW AWAY by the end of the week. Which is harder than you’d think, because who knew I had so much stuff? I’m drowning in a sea of books, old papers, and odds and ends that I’ve spent over a decade smushing into the corners of my closet, cramming into the back of my desk drawers, and piling on the edges of my bookshelf. It started off easily enough: My lacquer box: KEEP Four Super Balls from who knows where or when: THROW AWAY Collection of poems by Emily Dickinson, my favorite poet: KEEP Assorted elementary school certificates: Perfect Attendance, Fourth Grade Math Olympiad Participant, etc.: THROW AWAY But now it’s getting tricky, because some of the things I’ve dug out have some messy feelings attached to them, and I’d rather not go there right now. Don’t think. Just sort. The wedding picture that I found in the attic last year and that Mom refuses to display because it’s “showing off.” KEEP. The Hogwarts robe that I loved so much, I wore it two Halloweens in a row. I’d meant to be Hermione but everyone said I was (who else?) Cho Chang. THROW AWAY. A cheap plastic vase left over from my thirteenth birthday party, which three girls skipped to go to the movies instead. THROW AWAY. Don’t think. As I toss the vase into the THROW AWAY box, a scrap of fabric flutters out: a swim team ribbon that I found in the Glen Lake Country Club parking lot when I was seven. Hmm. Now that’s a feeling I can do something about. All the best families in Glen Lake belong to the Glen Lake Country Club, which has a historic redbrick clubhouse, a lush green golf course, and a lily-white membership. Back in grade school, when Trish and I spent more time together, she used to bring me with her to the club all the time during summer vacation for barbecues and lazy afternoons at the pool. But in high school, she became suddenly, dazzlingly popular. The boys and queen bees started swarming, her Instagram filled up with likes and pictures of people who barely acknowledged me in the halls, and our country club days became a thing of the past. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like she’s been mean, or anything. Days might go by without her texting me, but she always answers my texts right away. She’s usually too busy to hang out with me, but she’s always apologetic. And even though it’s painful to sit on the edges of her crowd at lunch, listening to stories about parties I haven’t been invited to, it’s not like anyone’s ever asked me to leave the table. When we used to see more of each other, Trish was always after me to “open up” and “spill everything.” Which, whatever, she’s an oversharer. For example, she texted me seconds after Toby Benton, her first boyfriend, put his hand up her shirt in eighth grade. (OMG I just let Toby touch my boob!! Under my shirt!! ) But whenever I thought about telling her anything important, I froze. Even now, when people talk at lunch about who wants to hook up with who, or who hopes their dad gets custody on the weekends because he’s totally cool about drinking at the house—I feel relieved that no one’s especially interested in me or my life. I don’t want anyone poking around and freaking out about what’s wrong with my family, what’s wrong with me. Like what if I’d answered honestly the first time Trish asked me at the beginning of freshman year, “Sana, who do you like?” “Well actually, Trish, I think I might have a crush on you.” Nope. Forget it. Not happening. I’m not even a hundred percent sure it’s true, and life is already complicated enough. But now . . . things have changed. I mean, we leave in three weeks, and I might never see her again. So I’m going to ask her to bring me to the first Glen Lake Country Club barbecue of the summer, for old times’ sake. I’ve got nothing to lose, right? We’ll get drunk together for the first and probably last time—I’ve never been drunk before—and maybe . . . maybe if all goes well, she’ll get nostalgic, we’ll bond again, and . . . and . . . something good will happen. I don’t want to think too hard about what, exactly. But something good. On Friday, I find Trish in the parking lot after school, sitting with her boyfriend, Daniel, on the hood of his car. Daniel is a big-shot football player, with a face like your favorite love song and a body like fireworks on the Fourth of July; sadly, though, he doesn’t have the brains or a personality to match. His biggest claim to fame is that he got a Mustang for his sixteenth birthday—and one week and a six-pack of Milwaukee’s Best later, he drove it into a tree and his dad gave him another Mustang. When I ask Trish about the barbecue, it turns out she’s already going with Daniel, but she seems excited to have me come, too. “Oooooh!” she says. “We. Are going. To get. So. Wasted. Together. It’ll be so much fun! And Daniel can drive us back to my house afterward.” She snuggles up to him. “Right, honey?” “Sorry, babe, but Drew and Brad are back from college and they’re bringing a bottle of Jägermeister tomorrow night.” As he says this, a couple of football bros walk by. “Did you hear that?” he shouts at them. “Jäger shots!” The three of them high-five each other and howl together like a pack of teenage werewolves, and for the millionth time, I wonder what Trish sees in him. Beyond the obvious, I mean. When Daniel sees that Trish—thank goodness—is unmoved, he whines, “Come on, make someone else drive.” Trish rolls her eyes at me. Then she wraps herself around Daniel and says, “I’ll make it worth your while,” and whispers something to him. She starts nibbling his ear and kissing his neck, and pretty soon they’re making out right in front of me, and I have to look away or I’ll vomit. If she’s using her womanly wiles to get her way, he seems to be falling for it—though from the sound of it she’s having as much fun as he is. But at least he seems to have agreed to drive. Trish and Daniel arrive to collect me and my overnight bag at six o’clock on Saturday. I’ve persuaded Mom to let me go by reminding her of all the times I used to tag along with Trish’s family to the club when I was younger. “Her parents will be there the whole time,” I said, which is true. The plan is to begin sneaking vodka from flasks during dinner, while the adults are too busy getting drunk themselves to care. Then we’ll go to the golf course to finish up. I can hardly wait. All I ever hear about is how much fun it is to get drunk, and I am so ready to try it out and be part of Trish’s life again, even if it’s just for one night. We arrive at dusk, and pretty soon Trish and I are on the patio with barbecue on our plates and orange juice (and vodka—shh!) in our cups, surrounded by a hive of popular girls. Minutes into my first drink, my face starts to feel warm, and Trish says, “Sana, are you okay?” “What?” “Your face is, like, turning red. Like you have a sunburn.” I rush to the bathroom to check the mirror. I’m flushed and my eyes look puffy, as if I’m having an allergic reaction. I’m about to start trying to remember what I’ve eaten when I take another look in the mirror and recognize someone: Mom. I look just like Mom when she has a glass of wine with dinner. Dad, too, come to think of it. I realize it’s the alcohol, and I don’t dare take another sip. Plus my head is starting to throb, and I have a feeling it will get worse the more I drink. Great. Leave it to my parents to make it genetically impossible for me to fit in—as if my hair and eyes weren’t enough to make me stand out in a crowd of white kids, now I can’t even get drunk with everyone. Trish makes sympathetic cooing sounds when I tell her I can’t drink, but then something catches her eye, and she squeals. “Ooh, Sana, look—there’s Mark Schiller! He told me when we got here that he thinks you look hot! I bet he’s looking for you! Come on, let’s go dance!” She grabs my hand and drags me to the dance floor, collecting members of the hive on the way. In a couple of minutes, the guys wander over as well. Trish vanishes for a moment, then reappears. And suddenly, despite my genetically enforced sobriety, I’m feeling pretty good. Pretty great, actually. I mean, look at me. Here I am dancing, surrounded by the cream of the social crop with Trish by my side and ignoring Daniel for once. Then it gets even better. The first notes of that old Beach Boys version of “California Girls” start to play, and Trish shouts, “I requested this for you, California girl!” She gives me a hug while the entire hive shrieks, “Sanaaaa!” over the music, and now I feel positively giddy. I wonder if just that little bit of vodka and orange juice was enough to get me drunk, after all. The Beach Boys begin cataloging the different girls in the United States—the hip East Coast girls and the Southern girls with sexy accents, and when they get to Midwest farmers’ daughters, we all raise our arms and scream our Midwestern hearts out. We scream for good old-fashioned Midwestern values and hospitality, for prairies and cornfields, for the Heartland. No matter what, I vow, I will always be a Midwesterner. Things are pretty good here, really. Soon, Trish decides it’s time to get back to the business of eating and drinking. As we retrieve our plates and cups, Maddie Larssen turns to me and says, “Hey, Sana, you know during ‘California Girls’ when they were like, ‘Midwest farmers’ daughters’ and you were all, ‘Wooo!’ like, super loud? That was so cute!” “Well, I’ll never get to do that again,” I remind her. “I’ll look like a freak if I yell for the Midwest when I’m living in California.” “Omigod, Sana, you look like a freak yelling for the Midwest now!” She giggles. Everyone laughs. “I mean, you do not look like a Midwest farmer’s daughter!” A dense, cold fog blooms in my chest, and all I can do is stare. “Oh, honey, we’re not being mean. It’s just so . . . sweet,” Trish says. “It’s like you forgot that you’re like, Asian or whatever. I totally forget, too. But that’s good, right? Like it doesn’t matter that you’re not white, you know? You’re like, one of us!” “I guess,” I mumble. Emily Whittaker puts her arm around me. “You’re not mad, are you?” “Yeah, I mean, it’s not like we’re being racist or anything,” adds Trish. “It’s just cute how you forgot. Come on, Sana, we love you!” And with that, all the girls chime in: “We love you, Sana!” What can I do? I swallow my pride and give them a smile. Gaman. Hah. Mom would be pleased. With the racism issue safely behind us, the vodka flows, and Trish drifts toward Daniel. Mark appears at my side to escort me to the golf course. Oh, right. I’d forgotten about Mark. I study him. He is cute, in a golden retriever kind of way. He’s a swimmer, so he’s tanned and muscular, with chlorine-bleached hair that keeps falling over his big brown eyes. Kissing him might be fun. It would certainly be less complicated than kissing Trish. We sit in a circle on the grass, and I find myself snuggled up next to Mark, with his arm draped over my shoulder. Daniel wants to play “I Never,” where one person says something they’ve never done, and everyone who’s done it has to drink. Even if I were able to drink, I’d have to stop now—I’ve never done anything. I’ve never cut class. I’ve never been high in front of my parents. I’ve never crashed my car into a tree. Predictably, the game starts getting dirty. I’ve never sexted. I’ve never done it in my parents’ bed. I’ve never done it in a car. “I’ve never done it outside,” someone says, and Trish and Daniel don’t drink. The group starts chanting, “Do it! Do it!” and the two of them grin at each other and stumble off into the darkness to whoops and cheers. The icy fog that’s been hovering in my chest congeals into a hard gray ball. Fine. I scooch in closer to Mark. When he asks me to take a walk around the course, I agree. It’s a nice night for a first kiss—a star-spangled sky, the silver bangle of a crescent moon suspended above the trees. We sit silently at the edge of a sand trap, so close our legs are touching. Then Mark leans in to kiss me, and in the moment before his lips touch mine, my heart flutters. Maybe this will be magical. Maybe it will sweep me off my feet. But the moment passes and my first kiss turns out to be just a lot of his tongue in my mouth, and all I can think is ick. I put up with it for a couple of minutes in case it gets better. It doesn’t. His hand strays toward my butt. I push it back. It starts creeping up my shirt. I push it down. Between getting my face sucked off, worrying about where Mark’s hand is going to go next, and wondering what I’ll do when it gets there, I can’t— “Relax,” he says. “Stop fighting.” “I’m not fighting.” “You’re all tense. C’mon, just let go. Have fun.” He moves in again. “You’re so hot,” he whispers. And there’s his tongue again. And his hand. Hands. Must. Get. Out of here. Think. Think of an excuse. I push him away, a little harder than I mean to. “Um . . . I feel a little weird kissing you out here. It uh, doesn’t feel very private.” Which is true. He nuzzles my neck. “Don’t worry. No one cares.” Also true, unfortunately. “Yeah, but . . . maybe another time.” I stand up, and Mark stands up with me. “You sure?” he says, wrapping his arms around me and slobbering on my ear. Ew. “Uh, yeah. I’m sure. Maybe you can text me.” I twist away and try to smile. Mark shoves his hands in his pockets and walks back to the group with me. He doesn’t look at me again. I never should have come to this stupid party. At two in the morning, I leave Daniel and Mark playing Thumper with their buddies at the fifth hole, and drive Trish and myself back to her house. As I help Trish to bed, she flings her arms around me and slurs, “Omigod, that was so much fun. You’re such a good friend,” and passes out. On Sunday morning I get up early. I don’t even bother waking Trish. I just change clothes, pack up my stuff, and text her: Hope you slept OK. Too bad we didn’t get to hang out like we planned. See you Monday Against my better judgment, I add a heart and a smiley face. Her phone chirps, and I pad downstairs. Mrs. Campbell is in the kitchen, nursing a coffee and, from the looks of her wan face, a hangover. “Oh, hi, Sana honey. I’m sorry I’m such a mess—I keep thinking I’m still young enough to handle more than a couple drinks.” She winks. “I didn’t hear you girls come home last night,” she adds, yawning. “Did you have fun?” “Oh . . . yeah,” I lie. “Trish didn’t drink too much, did she?” “What? Oh. Uh.” “Oh, honey, it’s okay. I know she drinks,” says Mrs. Campbell with a smile. “I just want her to do it responsibly, you know?” I nod. I wonder if she knows what else Trish may or may not be doing responsibly, but all I say is, “Oh, she was fine. Maybe she had a little too much.” Mrs. Campbell tilts her head and smiles—ruefully? Affectionately? “That girl. Just like her mother.” Then, as if seeing me for the first time, her eyes widen in surprise. “You’ve got your bag. Are you leaving? So early?” “Yeah, my mom needs me to help her pack today.” Another lie. “I wish you and Trish hung out more.” Mrs. Campbell sighs. “You’re such a good influence. You study hard, you get good grades, you don’t drink . . . such a sweetheart.” She sighs again and smiles at me. “We’re really going to miss you, Sana.” “I’ll miss you, too.” “Grab a cinnamon roll on your way out, honey. They’re delicious. I’m so glad I thought to buy them yesterday—I just can’t face making breakfast right now.” She winks again. Then, as I take a roll and head toward the door, “Do you need a ride home?” “No, it’s just a couple of miles. It’s a nice day. I’ll walk.” “Really?” Mrs. Campbell puts her coffee cup down and leans forward, as if she’s considering getting up. Her mouth purses into a little frown of doubt. “Yes, it’s fine.” “Well, if you’re sure,” she says. Her face relaxes into a relieved smile, and she sinks back into her chair. “Bye, honey! Oh—try not to slam the door on your way out, okay?” I thank her and head out, shutting the door behind me as quietly as I can. 3 THE END OF SCHOOL COINCIDES WITH A WEEK of hot humidity and humming cicadas that make the air feel so oppressive, I want to push it out of the way like a too-heavy blanket. But our last night in Wisconsin brings a sudden rush of cool wind, the smell of water, and the splotch-splotch-splotch of the first raindrops on the sidewalk. Mom and I pack the car to the sound of rain pelting the roof of the garage like wild applause for show-stopping flash-boom-bangs of lightning and thunder. In the morning, the world offers the scent of wet asphalt and earth, the sparkle of rain on bright green grass, and the magic of shape-shifting oil rainbows in puddles. It’s dawn, the best time to start a road trip. Mom locks the door for the last time, and we roll through the silent streets of Glen Lake in our packed-to-the-gills white Prius. We grab one last coffee at the Starbucks on Kohler Avenue before heading west on I-94 toward California, toward Dad and his new job, toward a brand-new life. When I was twelve, Mom, Dad, and I took a weeklong summer trip to Wisconsin Dells, a resort town that grew around the spot where the Wisconsin River has carved its own tiny version of the Grand Canyon—the Dells. It’s only a couple of hours west of Glen Lake on I-94, and everyone goes there for weekend trips. Mom was driving because Dad had returned late the night before from a business trip to California; I sat in the front seat as navigator while Dad slept in the back. As so often happens when she drives someplace new, Mom took the wrong exit and got lost. But she didn’t want to wake Dad up, so I fished his phone out of his jacket pocket for her. “This would be a lot easier if you’d just let me have a smartphone,” I grumbled, entering his password and tapping on the map app. “I don’t need such expensive toy, and you don’t need, either. The regular cell phone for communication is enough for twelve-year-old.” “Turn around and go three miles back to the highway.” As I played with the map to get a better picture of our route, a text message popped up at the top of the screen. It was in Japanese, from an area code I didn’t recognize. I’m about as literate as a first-grader in Japanese, despite Mom’s best efforts and two miserable years of Saturday Japanese school in Milwaukee, so I couldn’t read most of what the text said. I was about to ask Mom to take a look when another message appeared that I could read. It said, Hearts and lips? Who would send Dad something like that? It had to be a mistake. I tapped the text and discovered that it was part of a long thread between Dad and someone who was apparently a huge fan of emojis—hearts, kissing smiley faces, shoes, and lips being her particular favorites. I looked out the window at the cornfields. There had to be some explanation. Maybe Dad had a niece or a little girl cousin who loved emojis that he’d never told us about. Living in the United States. Whose name he hadn’t saved in his contacts list. Who’d texted emojis of a bikini, a wineglass, and the ever-present lips exactly two weeks ago, the morning he left for a three-day business trip . . . “Sana, chotto! Tsugi wa?” What next, indeed. I fumbled with the phone. “Um, go west—take this first entrance ramp on the right. For seven miles.” As Mom negotiated the merge, gripping the steering wheel anxiously and casting many a backward glance out the window, irritation crawled up my spine like a snake. She was a terrible driver. For starters, she couldn’t—or wouldn’t—keep constant pressure on the gas. She alternated between pushing down and easing off the gas pedal, so that we were always either speeding up or slowing down: vrROOoom . . . vrROOoom. On straightaways, she did what people do when they pretend to drive, turning the wheel quickly left and right, left and right, making a thousand unnecessary adjustments as she jiggled the car cautiously down the road. It was maddening. I could see Dad wanting a break from that. I looked at Mom and tried to see her as Dad might. She is short—at twelve years old I was already pushing past her. Her hair was true black, not almost-brown like mine, cut in a shoulder-length bob and pulled back on one side—childishly, I thought—with a barrette. She had a classic moon face, a soft oval, with the high nose bridge and long earlobes that I inherited. “Lucky,” she told me once, rubbing my ears affectionately, “and high class,” stroking the bridge of my nose. She was no fashion model, but she was pretty enough. I looked back at Dad. Dad, who was always working, who traveled a couple of times a month and always brought back presents for me. Who used to tell me stories, and fling me into the air, and slip me candy when Mom wasn’t looking. But that was when I was little. In the past couple of years, he had somehow faded into just a nice guy who drifted in and out of the background of my life. Who were they to each other? Dad always said they’d known each other all their lives. Baba, Dad’s mom, once told me the whole story, and it had sounded so romantic: Dad had gotten very sad and sick while he was in grad school, and Mom had taken care of him, and they’d fallen in love and gotten married. But that was all I knew. It was a long time ago. Did they still love each other? Could they have stopped? I decided not to say anything about the text. Not talking about it meant that it wasn’t a big deal. And if it wasn’t a big deal, it might not even be true. But even if I didn’t talk about it, I couldn’t forget about it. I checked the number, wrote it down, and later put it in my lacquer box. I Googled it and learned that it had a San Francisco area code. For the next few weeks, every time Dad stayed out late, every night he was on a trip, I thought about the phone number in my box and I gnawed my suspicions to shreds. But I said nothing. Months went by. Nothing changed between my parents. No one talked about having affairs. No one filed for divorce. My silence paid off. But for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of the phone number. Maybe I was still suspicious—sometimes I thought I’d call it one day and find out for sure who it belonged to. But I never did, and the phone number slowly disappeared under my growing collection of sea glass. The number is still tucked safely in my little lacquer box, which in turn is tucked safely in my suitcase next to my Emily Dickinson poems. I watch neighborhoods of cookie-cutter McMansions slip by and give way to miles and miles of cornfields as Mom and I lurch and jiggle our way across the state, across the country, away from the land of Midwest farmers’ daughters and toward the land of the California girl. 4 IT’S BEEN FOUR WEEKS SINCE WE ARRIVED. FOUR weeks, and I’ve spent the entire time doing nothing, going nowhere, and meeting no one. Scratch that. Mom and I have spent the entire time unpacking, arranging, and rearranging furniture, going to Ikea, Target, and Costco, and meeting . . . no one. On the other hand, it’s not like I had a full social calendar back in Wisconsin. And it’s better than going to math day camp, which is how I spent last summer. Today’s list of errands takes us to Bed Bath & Beyond to pick up a bath mat, a step stool, and a duvet cover and new sheets for my bed. When we walk in the door, I do a quick scan-and-count. A Latino couple, a few Asian women, a couple of white men . . . ding-ding-ding! It’s majority minority! Mr. Williams, my world history teacher last year, was always saying how this is happening in America, but I’d never actually seen it until we moved here. I get a kick out of it every time. In Wisconsin, when Mom and Dad spoke Japanese in public, I could feel people not-staring. I couldn’t even linger a few feet away and pretend I was with another family—all anyone had to do was look at my face and hair to know who I was with. But here in San Jose, we blend in. In fact, it’s beyond blending—here, we are completely inconspicuous. We fade into the background—dark hair, Asian faces, foreign language, and all. I love it. I’m reveling in our anonymity as we approach the bedding section, which is where life gets difficult. No matter what I choose, Mom points out flaws that, once she’s shown me, I can’t unsee: Sky blue with a pattern that looks like dandelion seeds floating across it? “Makes me feel like allergy.” Pale gray with a single cherry blossom branch? “Only good for spring.” Pure white with a bold arabesque print down the middle? “Looks like Raw-shock.” “It’s Rorshach, Mom.” “Raw-shock.” And then, oh, this one. Powder blue with a deep blue coral plant (or is it an animal?) that grows from the bottom corner and spreads intricate, lacy branches across the fabric. It’s perfect. “How about this?” I ask, patting it lovingly. Mom runs her own hand over it. “Ahhhn. It makes me feel like sandy, like drippy—” “Mom! Can’t you just let me like something without telling me what’s wrong with it? It’s my bed! It’s my room! This is America, Mom. Let me express myself a little!” She snorts. “Hah! That’s the problem with America. Be different is cool, express yourself is cool, and don’t care how the other people feel. It’s so selfish.” Right. How could I have forgotten? For Mom, different equals disrespectful. “Can I help you? Looks like you’re having a little trouble deciding on something.” . . . aaand a stupid, useless store clerk has overheard our stupid, useless argument. Great. Why can’t she just leave us alone? Or actually . . . maybe she can stay. She’s about my age and height with light brown skin and black hair pulled into a ponytail that spills in waves down her back. Brown eyes, clear and wide, under delicately arched eyebrows. Cupid’s bow lips with a slick of rose lip gloss. A dimple on her chin. Shimmery dark green nail polish at the tips of slender fingers. And the way she stands—not clerkish at all. Graceful. Regal, even. Like she’s a queen in disguise. I’m hooked. Who is she? I stand up a little straighter. “ . . . any normal pattern?” Mom is saying. “Mom, I really like this one.” My voice is reasonable, well modulated, mature. No more petulant whining. Must impress Fascinating Store Girl. “Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it?” Fascinating Store Girl says. “It’s my favorite, actually.” She smiles at me, and my brain goes a little flittery. Fascinating Store Girl and I have the same taste in duvet covers. How cool is that? “Oh! Yes, I see. It’s beautiful!” Mom smiles and nods thoughtfully, and even picks up the plastic-wrapped package, but I know from experience that she’s lying through her teeth. I’ve seen her do the fake smile and nod with tons of store clerks, and besides, hundred-and-eighty-degree changes of heart are not her thing. “Thank you for your helping!” she chirps. Fascinating Store Girl takes this as her cue to say, “You’re welcome. Let me know if you need anything!” and fade discreetly into the background. Much to my disappointment. Mom picks out a sensible blue-and-white windowpane print while I protest (quietly, this time). “Mom, even the store person liked my choice.” “Hn. She is Mexican.” “What?” “If she likes it, then it is Mexican taste.” “Mom!” Mom is genuinely confused. “What?” “How do you even know she’s Mexican? And you say that like it’s a bad thing.” “I just guessed. Mexican taste is not Japanese taste,” she says simply, as if that explained everything. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Actually, I can. You’d think that being a member of a racial minority would make her extra sensitive, but Mom has something racist, ignorant, or just plain weird to say about everyone who’s not Japanese: Koreans are melodramatic and smell bad; Jewish people like purple; white Americans are selfish, disrespectful, and love guns. And apparently Mexicans have bad taste. “Mom, that’s racist,” I say. “Just because she likes it, doesn’t mean it’s ‘Mexican taste.’ And even if it was, it shouldn’t matter.” “I didn’t say it’s bad. I just said I don’t like it. It’s not racism if I don’t like Mexican taste.” This is pretty much always how it goes, and at this point I know it’s useless to argue. I resign myself to the Mom-approved duvet cover, and fume while Mom finds the other items we came for. There are two lines at checkout, and—oh! There’s Fascinating Store Girl at the cash register on the left. I steer Mom in her direction. She’s got such a nice smile. She even has pretty ears. “Did you find everything you need?” She gives Mom and me a quick customer-service-y smile and starts scanning. Beep. Notice me. Notice me. Notice me. Beep. Look up. Look up. Look up. Beep. Oh well. But when she scans the sheets, she looks up and says, “Oh, so you didn’t go with that other set, huh?” Mom smiles apologetically. “No, we decided this one.” “I really liked the other one,” I say, suddenly desperate to make a connection. “Just . . . you know.” I jerk my head at Mom, who ignores me. Omigod, what. Did I. Just. Do. That wasn’t bonding over similar taste in bed linens. That was acting like a spoiled brat. Smooth, Sana. Nice going. “Aah,” says Fascinating Store Girl, and goes back to scanning. But not before she gives me a smile. Wait, what? “That’ll be two hundred sixteen dollars and fifty-seven cents. Cash, credit, or debit?” Or did I imagine it? Or maybe she was smiling at Mom and me both, to be polite? No, it was definitely at me. Maybe we did just have a bonding moment. Did we? Aggh, just stop. Mom finishes paying, Fascinating Store Girl says, “Bye, have a nice day,” (Did she smile at me again? I mean, at me specifically? Omigod, stop.) and it’s on to Mitsuwa Marketplace, the Japanese grocery store, for tofu, Japanese eggplant, and soba noodles. I follow Mom around Mitsuwa and think about Fascinating Store Girl. How cool would it be if I ran into her somewhere? Like maybe at that Starbucks across the street from Bed Bath & Beyond. Maybe I’d be there after another of our endless errands (I could leave Mom at home. This is my fantasy, after all.), and Fascinating Store Girl would be stopping by after work. Maybe we’d start talking, and I would be witty and funny and say all the right things, and we’d become best friends. And then maybe one evening we’d be splashing around in the pool in her backyard (hey, it’s a fantasy, remember?), and she’d swim over to me and we’d look into each other’s eyes, and . . . Maybe it’s better not to go there. Mom and I go home to spend another ridiculously beautiful afternoon indoors—Mom fussing over dinner, and me fussing over the details of my fantasy, trying to steer it in a safer direction, trying to think about boys instead. But no matter how handsome the boys are, no matter how ripped their bodies or how green their eyes, those fantasies end up feeling as pale and empty as the California sky. 5 TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, AND AFTER a week of careful deliberation, I’ve picked an outfit that will look good without standing out too much: a cute jean miniskirt, a fitted scoop-neck white tee, and gladiator sandals that Mom almost refused to buy. (“Why do you want to look like Roman soldier?”) I twist my hair into a loose bun, with a few strands poking out artfully here and there. Putting it up makes room for a silk cord necklace with multicolored glass beads that look good against my skin. I wish I had cool earrings to go with it, but Mom thinks that pierced ears are for barbarians. But whatever, I’m starting to realize that I’ve spent too much of my time moping and sulking. It’s time for a change. New school, new attitude. Let’s go. My new attitude and I walk into the kitchen, where Mom is scrambling eggs. “Sana, kaminoké naoshi-nasai.” “Mom, there’s nothing wrong with my hair. I did it like this on purpose.” “Darashi-nai.” She is always telling me that I’m darashi-nai. It means disrespectfully messy, sloppy, or careless—it’s what she says when my ponytail is loose or my shirt is untucked or my jeans have holes in them. “It’s fine, Mom. In fact, I think it looks good.” “People don’t want to be your friend if you have the messy hair. Teachers think you are disrespectful student. First impression is important for first day of school.” “Mom, I know.” Like I’d really leave the house looking like a mess on my very first day at a new school. I’m about to tell her that she’s supposed to try to make me feel good about myself, not criticize me, when I catch a glimpse of her face. Her forehead is creased with worry. It dawns on me that she might be just as nervous about my first day as I am. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, but I guess it’s nice to know she cares. Maybe I should forgive her for complaining about my hair. “You look like porky-pine.” Arrggh! Forget it. And of course now I’m worried that she’s right. I go back to my room and yank my hair into a regular, boring old ponytail. I walk glumly to school, eyes on the sidewalk. The air is chilly and the sky is gray—sweater weather. But it’s an illusion. The clouds are actually fog that always “burns off” by midmorning, as the weather reporters like to say. The neighborhood is full of pale wooden ranch houses just like ours. Concrete driveways serve as walkways to front doors set atop a gray concrete step or two. Faded green lawns stretch down the block, punctuated by the odd rosebush or line of shrubbery—or even odder, a palm tree and a redwood tree next door to each other. There’s even a yard full of cacti. We live three blocks from school, and as I approach the campus, my heart starts tripping over itself. I would be panting if not for the lump in my throat. When kids in movies and TV shows first arrive at a new school, they always look around and take a deep breath before plunging in, but not me. Pausing for even a moment would be like holding up a big sign saying, “Hi, I’m new! Please stare.” Not that there’s an “in” to plunge into, anyway. The school is basically a collection of long, low, rectangular buildings divided into classrooms and separated by strips of grass and concrete, all sprawled haphazardly around a quasi-central quad. I studied the map over the weekend, but there are so many buildings and so many intersections that I’m sure I’ll get turned around at some point. Okay, stop. This is ridiculous. New school, new attitude, remember? What was that saying—fake it till you make it? Or how about carpe diem? Or maybe Just Do It? So in the spirit of faking it till I make it, seizing the day, and just doing it, in—or actually around the first building—I plunge. Without pausing. Miraculously, I find my way to my first-period class (trigonometry, room 27) a few minutes early. I peek inside. The desks are arranged in classic schoolhouse fashion, in six rows of six, with a table and a whiteboard at the front. The teacher—Mr. Green, according to my schedule—is busy with something at the back of the room. A boy wearing a black T-shirt, torn black jeans, and combat boots—looks like the goth uniform is the same nationwide—lounges at a desk in the middle, picking his fingernails; two girls in cheerleader uniforms sit close to the door, giggling over a phone. As I falter on the threshold, Mr. Green walks over and greets me. “Hi, there. Who are you?” “Sana Kiyohara.” “Nice to meet you, Sana,” he says, and points to the whiteboard. “I’m assigning seats, so check the board and find your seat.” Sure enough, there’s my name printed in a box right in the middle of a grid of thirty-five other boxes. “I see you’re right over there, in front of Caleb,” says Mr. Green. The box below mine is labeled “Caleb Miller.” The goth. Caleb glances up when he hears his name, and I see a nose ring and an eyebrow ring. Expressionless, he goes back to his fingernails. New school, new attitude. Fake it till you make it. I walk to my desk, sit down, and say, “Hi.” His eyes flick up and back down. “Hi.” He continues picking at what I can now see is black nail polish. “I’m new.” Facepalm. I quit. Forget faking it—I can’t do this. But Caleb looks up with real interest now. He considers me for a couple of seconds, leans forward, and whispers, “Run.” A joke! I smile. “No, seriously,” he says. “Get out while you can. This place is a cesspool.” “Then why are you here?” “Because my mom’ll kick my ass if I ditch the first day of school.” He asks me where I’m from, why I moved, and all I have to do is answer. I relax a little. This is easy. As other kids wander into class, Caleb forgets about asking questions and gives me his opinion of each one, starting with the two cheerleaders: “They actually think people give a fuck about them, for some reason.” A tall Asian boy with gelled hair: “Andy Chin. President of the junior class. He thinks he’s the shit but he’s just another dumbass.” A gaggle of Asian girls: “You’ll probably end up being friends with them. They’re nice, but they’re all the same, and I don’t mean that they look the same—they are the same.” What the . . . ? Did he just say—my shock must show on my face, because Caleb interrupts himself. “No, really. They are.” “Why do you think I’m going to be friends with them?” He looks at me like I’ve missed something obvious. “You’re Asian. They’re Asian. You do the math.” Sounds like your math is racist, I think, but I say nothing. “What? Didn’t the Asian kids all hang out together at your old school?” “No.” “How many Asian kids were at your school?” “Like, three.” “And you weren’t friends?” “No.” He is nonplussed, but steadfast. “Well, wait and see. I’ll bet you anything that’s who you end up with. People think they’re unique, but they’re really stereotypes. It’s just the way they are. They want to be in a group, and they’ll sacrifice their individuality to fit in.” This from a guy who probably dresses just like his friends. But I don’t see the point in arguing with this twenty-first-century Holden Caulfield, and anyway, Mr. Green has started talking. Mr. Green has everybody pair up and interview each other: name, how we feel about math, one little-known fact about ourselves. Apparently he’s one of those math teachers who thinks he’s an English teacher. Caleb and I are partners. When it’s our turn, I introduce him and then wait while Caleb intones, “This is Sana, she likes math but doesn’t love it, and she hates broccoli.” As he lowers himself back into his chair, he adds, “Oh—she’s new.” He grins at me as he sits down, and I’m so stunned I can’t even react. Anderson High School is huge—2,500 students—so I’d hoped I could sneak by anonymously today, but there’s no chance of that now. I can feel my cheeks burning as everyone perks up a little and kids all over the classroom practically fall out of their desks trying to get a better look at the new girl. I have never felt so conspicuous, so . . . scrutinized, and I begin to understand what writers mean when they say that a character wishes the ground would open up and swallow them whole. Finally I muster up a feeble smile, shrug my shoulders, and wave my hand at shoulder level, the universal sign for, “Hi, I’m really embarrassed.” Andy Chin, class president and alleged dumbass, leans back, flashes a smile, and says with a smarmy wink, “Stick with me, baby. I’ll introduce you to all the right people.” Groans. He holds his arms out wide, in protest. “What? I was being ironic.” Behind me, Caleb mutters, “No, he wasn’t.” Finally, we start doing math, and I take notes dutifully for the remainder of class. When the bell rings, I surreptitiously check my map for my Spanish classroom as I close my notebook, trying to make it look like I’m going over my notes one last time. “Sana?” I snap the notebook shut and look up. It’s one of the Asian girls. She’s tiny, with huge eyes and an open smile. “Hi. I’m Elaine. And that’s Hanh, and that’s Reggie.” She gestures to two other girls who are waiting at the door. They wave. One of them is tall and thin, with long, straight black hair, wearing coral lip gloss. The other has her hair woven into an elaborate braid, and has a pleasant, round-cheeked face. “We were wondering if you want to have lunch with us after second period. What class do you have next?” “Oh. Uh, sure, thanks. Um, I have Spanish. Spanish III with . . . Reyes.” “Cool! Same as us! Come on, we can go together!” Elaine’s enormous eyes light up, and she actually claps her hands. I feel like if we were six years old instead of sixteen, she’d offer one of those hands for me to hold, and ask if I wanted to be her best friend. I finish packing my backpack, and we start threading our way through the desks toward the door. Elaine is already throwing questions around like confetti: What’s Wisconsin like? Is it cold? Is it full of white people? Where do I live now? What’s my class schedule? Caleb, just walking out the door, turns and mouths, “I told you,” and disappears. Walking to Spanish is a totally different experience than walking to trig. The fog has burned off, the chill has lifted, and the weather is California-perfect: sunny, warm-but-not-hot, a cloudless and faintly blue sky overhead. I’m feeling a little sheepish because Caleb seems to have been right about the Asian thing, but mostly I’m feeling glad to be part of a group as we stroll to our next class. Hanh is the tall, thin one, and Reggie is the one with the round cheeks and fancy braid. As we walk, we listen to Elaine talk about Jimmy Tran, who was assigned to sit next to her in trig and is walking several paces ahead of us. “He has the most beautiful eyes. Don’t you think he has gorgeous eyes?” she asks me. “You say that about every guy you ever like,” says Hanh, pulling out a mirror to touch up her lip gloss. “I so don’t. You’re such a— Shhh!” Jimmy has stopped to talk to someone, and we’re coming right up on him. “Hi, Jimmy!” Hanh trills as we walk by. Jimmy nods at us, confused. Elaine stares straight ahead, and once we’ve passed him, she starts sissy-hitting Hanh and hissing, “Omigod, I can’t believe you!” Hanh just flips her hair, bats her eyelashes, and coos, “Oh, Jimmy, you have such gorgeous eyes!” Reggie smothers a laugh and Elaine flits around Hanh like a squirrel, scolding and shushing and smacking her arm. I’m enjoying the show when I happen to look away for a moment, and something way more interesting catches my eye. It’s Fascinating Store Girl from Bed Bath & Beyond. 6 SHE’S WALKING DOWN THE BREEZEWAY TOWARD us. Her hair is down today. She’s wearing skinny jeans and a navy blue T-shirt that says ANDERSON CROSS-COUNTRY on it in sky blue. A sea-star pendant dangles from a silver chain around her neck. Not that I care what she’s wearing or what she looks like. She spots a couple of guys beyond us and heads over to meet them, so she doesn’t see me. Which is a good thing because I’ve just realized I’m staring at her. Jeez. Stop. When I drag my attention back to my new friends, Hanh is still fake-gushing about Jimmy and his eyes and Elaine is still trying to make Hanh shut up. But Reggie looks at me and shakes her head. “These two,” she says, like she’s their babysitter. “Sometimes I just can’t with them.” “Yeah . . . Hey, Reggie, see that girl over there, with the cross-country T-shirt? Talking to those two guys?” “You mean that Mexican girl?” “Uh, I guess. How do you know she’s Mexican?” “I dunno. Most of the Latino kids around here are Mexican. I mean, some of them are like, Nicaraguan or whatever, but mostly they’re Mexican—Mexican American,” she corrects herself. “Though, actually, everyone just says Mexican. Kind of like how we say Asian instead of Asian American. Ethnic pride and all that, right?” “What’s her name?” “Jamie Ramirez. Why?” Jamie Ramirez. “Hey, Sana, why do you want to know?” I pretend not to hear the question, and Reggie doesn’t get a chance to ask a third time because the bell rings and we have to go to class. Lunch. There are rows of lunch tables in the “multipurpose room,” but everything else is outside—the hot-lunch line, the snack bar line, the vending machines, and most of the kids, who are eating their lunches on the ground or at cement picnic tables scattered around the quad. All the school clubs and sports teams have set up tables in the quad as well, to recruit new members. We sit behind the Vietnamese Student Association table, but after gobbling down their lunches, Elaine and Hanh have to go and register new members. Reggie stays and finishes eating with me before leaving to hand out flyers and recruit freshmen for the Volunteer Club. “Don’t worry,” she says apologetically, “lunch tomorrow’ll be more chill.” It’s not so bad being alone with nowhere to sit, though, since half the school seems to be wandering from table to table anyway. I start at the Volunteer Club and make a slow circuit around the quad. Water polo. Dance team. Queer Straight Alliance. Poetry Club. Animé Club. Polynesian Student Union. “Hey, Sana.” It’s Caleb the goth. Where the heck did he come from? “Oh, hey.” “Your friends abandon you already?” he asks, falling in step with me. “No, they all had to work tables for their clubs.” “Oh, right.” He scans the quad, taking in the tables and the mobs milling around them. “Ugh. This is so pointless.” “Huh?” “All these clubs do is meet once a week to organize fundraisers. Or they get together and do the same boring hobbies they do at home. They get a faculty advisor and call it a club, and suddenly their hobby becomes important and they can be president of something and put it on their college applications: President of the Animé Club? Riiight. That’s significant.” “Mm-hm.” This “everyone is a shallow hypocrite but me” act is getting irritating. I wonder if Caleb is just going to follow me around for the rest of lunch period. “Anyway,” he continues, “I was with my friends over there—” He gestures across the quad toward a group of kids sitting under a tree, all dressed in black. “—and saw you alone, so I thought I’d ask you if you wanted to sit with us for lunch.” “Oh. Um.” That was nice. But . . . “You know, I think I’m just going to walk around and check out the rest of the clubs and stuff. I don’t mind being alone.” “Ohhh, okay. You don’t want me around.” “No, it’s not that. I mean—” “Yeah, yeah, I know when I’m not wanted.” “No, I just really want to see—” “No, whatever. I see how it is.” That’s it. I do want him gone. “’Bye.” I wave him off, and his mouth and eyes open wide in mock outrage. I can’t help smiling a little. It’s kind of nice to joke around with someone, even if it’s a dork like Caleb. I turn back to my circuit and find that I’m approaching the cross-country table. Fascinating Store Girl—I mean, Jamie Ramirez—was wearing a cross-country T-shirt, wasn’t she? A sport could be a good thing. Clubs typically meet just once a week, like Caleb said, but I feel like I’ll need something to do every day, or I’ll die of boredom. Sports teams practice every day. Hanh and Reggie are on the badminton team, but I am not going to play badminton. Especially not after they told me that the entire team is Asian. Plus, how silly would I feel whiffing one of those teeny rackets around? But running is something I could do. I get to the cross-country table just in time to see Jamie take off. Darn. I mean, whatever. It’s just, she looks so interesting. She’s headed toward the Latino Student Union table. Maybe I’ll swing over and say hi on my way to see Elaine and Hanh, just to see if she remembers me from— “Hi, did you want to sign up for cross-country?” It’s an Indian girl with possibly the longest ponytail I’ve ever seen. “What? Oh. Yes.” The girl’s name is Priti, and she’s the girls’ team captain. Priti and Coach Kieran take my name and email, hand me a couple of forms, and tell me to show up after school outside the gym in running clothes as soon as I can get signatures on the parent permission slip and the physician-release form certifying that I won’t drop dead of a heart attack during practice. On my way to the Vietnamese Student Association table, I see that Jamie’s still at the Latino Student Union table, in animated conversation with a girl wearing a Niners jersey and lipstick that’s about three shades darker than I would have chosen; the kind of dark red that’s named after a fancy wine, like Pinot Noir. Maybe the lipstick is making her lips look pouty, but she looks like she’s in a very bad mood. I almost change my mind about detouring in their direction. Almost. And now here I am, directly in front of Jamie and Pinot Noir, clearing my throat to get their attention, and now they’re looking at me like, “Yeah?” Pinot Noir, in particular, looks annoyed at the interruption. Here goes nothing. Fake it till you make it. I smile at Jamie. “Hi.” “Hey.” She looks at me curiously. “You need something?” “No, I just, um. I just recognized you. From Bed Bath and Beyond. I came in a couple of weeks ago and I was going to get that duvet cover with the blue coral design on it—you said it was your favorite? But my mom ended up making me get something else.” Her head tilts, her forehead wrinkles. . . . Omigod. She doesn’t remember. “Sorry,” she says, shaking her head. “We get a ton of customers toward the end of summer. . . .” “No—no, it’s okay. I uh . . . just thought I’d say hi. You know, just in case.” Oh, God. I feel like such a loser. Pinot Noir throws her head back and cackles. “Ha! Like she’d remember you. You’re funny.” Then she folds her arms, clearly ready to wrap this up and get back to whatever it was she was all upset about before. “All right. Say hi, Jamie.” Pinot Noir tilts her head at me. “Hi,” says Jamie. “Nice to meet you—what’s your name?” “Sana.” “I’m Jamie.” Still incredibly awkward, but better. At least she’s smiling at me. But Pinot Noir ruins it. “I’m Christina. Did you want to sign up for LSU?” “LSU?” “Uh, Latino Student Union?” she says, pointing to the banner hanging from the table next to us. “Oh. Uh, no.” “Okay, then.” She raises her eyebrows at me. “Bye.” “Bye.” “Bye,” says Jamie, and she’s still smiling but I can see the pity in her eyes. How could I have been so thick? Pinot—I mean, Christina—is right. I went into that store two weeks ago and I thought Jamie would recognize me? Like I was something special? What was I thinking? Who was I kidding? If I had a wall I’d be banging my head against it right now. Note to self: No more faking it till I make it. Also: Stay away from Christina. She’s mean. 7 “TADAIMA,” I CALL AS I WALK IN THE DOOR. I kick my shoes off and arrange them neatly in the shoe cabinet in the foyer. “Okairi,” Mom calls back. I drop my backpack in my room and head to the kitchen for a snack. “How was school?” she asks in Japanese. She’s just prepared some green tea, and she pours me a cup to go with the cookies I’ve pulled out of the cupboard. “Okay.” “Do you have homework?” “Yes.” “How much?” I shrug. “An hour. It’s only the first day.” “Did you make any nice friends?” “A couple of people. They’re Asian, actually.” “Japanese?” She perks up a little. “No. Vietnamese and I think maybe Chinese.” “Hmm,” she says, sipping her tea. “Be careful. Chinese people can be untrustworthy.” “Mom!” “It’s true. I know what you think. You always point your finger and say, ‘You’re wrong. That’s a stereotype!’ but you don’t know the world. If enough people act a certain way, others will name what they see. If those people don’t like it, they shouldn’t act the way they do.” Time to change the subject. “I’m thinking of joining the cross-country team.” “Crossing country?” she repeats in English. “Long-distance running.” She frowns. “You aren’t a fast runner.” “You don’t have to be. It’s about endurance. You know, slow and steady wins the race. Anyway, I’m faster than you think.” I have no idea if this is true—the fact is, I’m worried that I’m not fast enough, too. But someone has to stand up for me. “I know how fast you are. I’ve seen you run.” “Mom. I just want to try. Can’t I just try?” I can feel my neck tightening, hear my voice rising to a petulant whine. Mom heaves a sigh. “There will be girls who are natural runners on that team, not like you. You’ll have to work harder than everyone else to keep up.” “I know, Mom. Of course I’ll work hard.” She sighs again. “Okay, then. Do your best. Work hard.” She holds her hand out, and I put the permission slip and doctor’s form in it. “Maybe it will make your legs more shapely,” she muses. This is too much. “God,” I snap. “Would it kill you to be a little supportive?” “I’m just being honest,” she says with a huff. “You and I have the same legs—short and thick-kneed. Not good for running. And I am very supportive—I let you join the team, I encouraged you to work hard, and I said that crossing-country will make your legs look good. What else should I say?” “How about, ‘You’re going to be great?’ That’s what an American mom would say.” Mom looks stung. “Too bad for you, then. I am not American. I am Japanese. I don’t know if you’re going to be great—how can I say that? I can want all kinds of things for you, but I only know that you can do your best. I am teaching you to see the world the way it is, not the way you want it to be. That’s my job.” I’m on my bed reading when Dad gets home at nine o’clock. He’s working later than ever with this start-up. He walks in the door, and from my room I can hear the evening routine, same as always: He says, “Tadaima!” Mom answers, “Okairi!” He says, “Aaahh, I’m exhausted. I’m going to take a bath.” Mom says, “What about dinner?” Dad says, “After my bath.” And three . . . two . . . one . . . He sticks his head in my doorway and says, “Oi, Sana-chan.” “Hi, Dad.” “Did you have a good day? First day of school, right?” “It was okay.” “Lots of homework?” “Not too much. I finished it before dinner.” “Ah, good girl.” He comes in and pats me on the head like a puppy, and walks out. After his bath, he’ll eat dinner and work until he goes to bed, probably without saying another word to me except “good night.” It wasn’t always this way. When I was little, Dad used to tell me stories at night. His favorite—and mine, even though it was sad—was the story of Yama-sachi, who went to the bottom of the sea and married Toyo-tama-himé, the Dragon King’s lovely daughter. The Dragon King gave him two huge jewels—one to bring the tides in, and one to send them out again—and sent him back to live with Toyo-tama-himé on land. They lived happily together in their home by the sea until she gave birth to their son. She told him to let her do it alone, but he peeked in on her, and was horrified to see her in her true form, as a sea dragon. Heartbroken, the dragon princess fled back to her father’s kingdom and never returned. “She should have told him right away, so he wouldn’t be surprised,” I said the first time I heard the story. “I think she was afraid. Maybe she thought he wouldn’t love her if he knew.” “Then he shouldn’t have peeked.” “No, perhaps not. Sometimes it’s better not to know everything about a person.” “But when he found out, she should have stayed! I bet he still loved her.” “Yes, I think he did. But she didn’t want him to be ashamed of her.” “If you found out I was a sea dragon, would you still love me?” “Of course. I would keep you as a pet and feed you lots of seaweed.” “Sea dragons like frozen custard, actually.” “Seaweed flavored?” “No!” I made a face. “Chocolate!” The next night, Dad arrived home just before bedtime. “Sana-chan!” he called as he came in the door. “Oidé!” I jumped up from my bed, where I’d been reading, and flew to meet him, knowing this would buy me a sizable chunk of before-bed playtime, and maybe a repeat telling of Yama-sachi and Toyo-tama-himé. Dad had a conspiratorial grin on his face and a white paper bag in his hands. I recognized the logo right away—it was from LeDuc’s Frozen Custard, my favorite dessert place of all time. “I went after work with friends,” he said, holding the bag up like a prize. “I told them I had a dragon to feed at home. Do you want some?” “Yes!” I shrieked, jumping up and down. “Yes! Can I have some now?” “Jiro-chan!” Mom protested from the kitchen. “It’s her bedtime!” “Eh-yan. It’s okay. Let her have some fun,” he replied, and led me—skipping and making my best dragon noises—into the kitchen, where I devoured a bowl of cold, creamy, custardy goodness under Mom’s disapproving gaze. When I was twelve, shortly after I discovered the strange text on Dad’s phone, Dad brought home a different surprise present: pearl earrings, the ones I keep in my box. “They’re like the two Tide Jewels,” Dad said when I opened the box, “from the story of Yama-sachi and Toyo-tama-himé.” They were beautiful—smooth and white, with a luminous pink sheen. “Everyone—even an ugly oyster—has power and beauty inside. But sometimes they keep it a secret. And sometimes it takes patience to find it.” The best part, though, was that they had posts for pierced ears. I thought this meant that I was going to be allowed to get my ears pierced—like getting a set of keys in a gift box before being led to the new car waiting in the driveway with a big bow on top. “Akan.” Of course Mom would forbid it. Apparently the earrings were not Mom-approved, and no amount of wailing and whining on my part could change her mind. “Not while you live with us.” I thought very seriously about running away. Dad smiled at me. “Mom’s right—I should have checked. I know you’re angry, but you should remember what I said about the pearls. Your mother, especially, has great strength and beauty inside her.” I was not so sure. “Keep them for when you do get pierced ears,” he said to me later. “They are very special pearls, and I want you to wear them one day.” So into my lacquer box they went, these beautiful jewels that grew around grains of sand, so powerful they could control the tides, hidden away and waiting for a future free from Mom’s old Japanese ways. 8 ELAINE AND HANH MEET ME IN FRONT OF campus before school. While we wait for Reggie to arrive, Hanh fishes a mirror out of her bag and starts applying makeup. Elaine keeps an eye out for Jimmy. We’re talking about what clubs I should join, and I’m telling them about cross-country as Reggie walks up to us. “Holy pain and suffering, Batman,” she says. “Why? You get hot and sweaty and tired, and what—your races are going to be much more fun? No, just more hot, sweaty running. Plus no one cares about cross-country—no offense—so you just have to like, toil in obscurity for nothing.” “Yeah, but I can’t do any of the other sports. Anyway, I got my mom to let me do it,” I say. “But first we had to have this whole argument about whether I was good enough, and how everyone else is probably better than me, so I’m going to have to work extra hard. . . . Not one word of support. She’s the worst.” The words are barely out of my mouth before I regret saying them. I feel like I’ve shared an ugly secret. Hanh puts on the last touches of lip gloss, examines her reflection, and says, “She’s not the worst. It’s just Asian Mom Syndrome.” “Wha—huh? Is that, like, a thing?” “What? Yeah, it’s a thing! What’s wrong with you? Did you think you had a white mom?” says Reggie, smiling. I just stare at her. “No.” “Maybe there weren’t any Asian moms where she’s from,” Elaine offers. I nod. “Oh, right. Seriously?” I nod again. “God, wow. That is so weird,” says Hanh. “Okay, so Asian moms. Ask any Asian with an immigrant mom. They’ll tell you. There’s like a million videos about it on YouTube.” “Get good grades is better than have friends,” says Elaine in an exaggerated Vietnamese accent, shaking her finger. “No tampon. Tampon makes you lose virginity,” says Reggie firmly. Hanh puts her hand on her hip, scowls, and says, “Why you want boyfriend? No boyfriend until graduate from college.” Wow. Mom’s not that extreme, but still, it all rings true. I try out something weird Mom said once: “Pair of socks is good Christmas present for teacher,” and Reggie high-fives me. “Total Asian mom!” cries Hanh, and then she squawks in that heavy Vietnamese accent, “Cut the toenail at night is bad luck! Don’t eat too much, you get fat! Only A minus? Why you not work harder? Teenager wear makeup is for prostitute!” I look around at Hanh, Reggie, and Elaine, and feel something I’ve never felt before. I’ve only just met them, but they get me like none of my Midwestern friends ever did. They don’t think I’m weird or feel sorry for me. They make me feel normal. And special at the same time, somehow, like we’re all part of an exclusive club with a secret handshake and everything. I hadn’t realized how much of my life—of myself—I’d been trying to keep hidden in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, I was constantly trying to escape the fact that I was Asian, and hoping that people either didn’t notice or didn’t care. Now, I feel like it’s springtime and my new friends have just peeled off a hot, heavy jacket. I can be openly Asian. For the first time in my life, I feel like I belong. Hanh says, “You’re lucky you got your mom to say yes. I wanted to do cross-country when I was a freshman, but my mom wouldn’t let me.” I’m a little surprised to hear this from Hanh. I mean, I don’t really know her yet, but she doesn’t seem the type. The girls who ran cross-country at my old school were typically Plain Janes who didn’t mind toiling in obscurity and getting hot and sweaty for nothing, as Reggie puts it. But Hanh is fashion-model pretty, and I get the feeling she knows it, the way she’s always flipping her hair and checking out guys. Not only that, but here she is in full makeup. And she doesn’t dress like she has an Asian mom, either. Today she has on a spaghetti-strap cami covered up with a cute crocheted shrug. “Why wouldn’t your mom let you do cross-country?” I ask. “Well, it was actually my grandmother.” “What?” “Yeah, she didn’t want me running around in shorts and a tank top where you could see the bra underneath. She said it was ‘immodest.’” Hanh puts air quotes around “immodest” and rolls her eyes. “She was like, ‘I’m not going to let you run all over town looking like a prostitute.’” “Whoa. For real?” “The old ones are the worst,” says Elaine. “They want everything to be like it was when they grew up, so it’s like, old-fashioned even for being Asian.” “And she’s my dad’s mom,” says Hanh, “and my mom pretty much just does whatever she says. It sucks.” “Your grandma’s the worst, for sure. Even my mom feels sorry for you,” Reggie says, shaking her head. “Thank God my grandparents are still in Hong Kong.” I look at Hanh’s cute little camisole. “How come you get to wear that, then?” “She doesn’t know I’m wearing it. I give my friend Janet money, and she buys my ‘inappropriate’ clothes online and brings them to school for me. Then I put a jacket on over stuff like this before I leave my room.” “What about laundry?” “Hanh just gives me all the clothes that she’s not allowed to wear, and I take them home and do them with my laundry,” says Elaine. “My mom makes me do my own laundry, so I’m the only other one who knows. Except Reggie and you.” “Genius,” I say, impressed. “You do what you have to,” says Hanh, looking down modestly. Reggie grins. “It’s in our sneaky Asian blood.” “Hell, yeah.” Hanh and Reggie high-five. I could get used to being a member of this club. Anderson High School is on a block schedule, which means that from Monday through Thursday, we have four classes a day for eighty minutes each, and on Fridays we have eight classes for forty minutes each. Mondays and Wednesdays are my big days, with trig, Spanish, Honors American Lit, and psychology. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have physics, P.E., a blessed eighty-minute free period—which almost makes up for the exercise in torture that is block-schedule periods of trig—and Honors American History. Ms. Owen, who I have for Honors American Lit, is my favorite teacher so far. She’s probably Mom’s age, but much cooler, with a swingy bob haircut, lots of black clothes, and a laid-back attitude. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s a big Emily Dickinson fan. “Dickinson might be my favorite—my favorite—writer to teach,” Ms. Owen says as she goes over the curriculum for the year on the second day of class. (The first day was spent entirely on touchy-feely get-to-know-you activities.) Then she’s off on a tangent about poetry in general. “Poetry demands exploration. It demands excavation. But we just don’t have enough time this year to give it the attention it deserves. So I want you to take some initiative to discover what excites you.” She hands out a bunch of blank notebooks—poetry journals, she calls them—which we’re supposed to write in throughout the year. All we have to do is look for cool poems (“Poems that speak to you,” Ms. Owen says. “Poems that resonate.”), copy them down, and write about them. We can do literary analysis, write our personal reactions, write about the poet, whatever. Just explore and excavate. Talk about easy points. And I know just what to start with. POETRY JOURNAL, HONORS AMERICAN LITERATURE THURSDAY, AUGUST 20 “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” by Emily Dickinson This is the poem that inspired me to get my own book of Emily Dickinson poems. Dickinson is cool (and sometimes frustrating) because her poems seem really short and simple, but they’re not. I sometimes used to feel like I was nobody. Like no one cared about me. In this poem, Dickinson makes being nobody into something cool: “I’m Nobody!” When you capitalize a word, it becomes more important, like a name or a title. Or maybe it’s like Truth-with-a-capital-T, like it’s the universal concept of Nobody-ness. The exclamation mark makes being Nobody kind of exciting and fun. And she says that she and the reader get to be Nobodies together without telling anyone, like a secret club. In the next stanza she talks about how “dreary” it would be to be Somebody, like a frog announcing your name all day long to “an admiring Bog!” It reminds me of popular people who think their group is the center of the universe. Except that being a frog announcing your name over and over in a bog seems lonely, too. So I don’t know for sure about that one. If you’re Nobody together with someone, doesn’t that make you Somebody? At least to each other? That can’t be bad, right? This is what I mean by Emily Dickinson being more complicated than she seems at first. 9 THE PHYSICIAN’S RELEASE FORM FINALLY arrived yesterday afternoon. I’m wearing a University of Wisconsin Bucky the Badger tank top that Trish’s mom gave me as a going-away present, and I’m headed out of the locker room to practice, forms in hand and heart in mouth. There are only four people stretching when I arrive at the fence between the parking lot and the track, and Jamie is one of them. She’s wearing a sleek black tank top over a running bra and she looks great—I’m sorry, but anyone would think so—and I begin to regret wearing my derpy Bucky the Badger tank. Look at her! At the others! Long, lean, muscular legs. Runner’s legs. Not like my short, thick Hobbit legs. Mom was right. Cross-country was a mistake. It’s not too late to change my mind. I make a slow, casual arc so it’s not too obvious that I’m chickening out and running away—ho-hum, just out for a little stroll after school with medical and parent permission forms in my hand—and I’ve almost made it all the way around when someone says, “Hey! Bed Bath and Beyond, right?” Jamie. She’s making fun of me. Keep walking. Pretend you didn’t hear. “Hey, wait up!” I hear footsteps, and then there’s a hand on my shoulder. “Sana! Aren’t you Sana?” She remembers my name. “Oh! Hi, sorry. Um, Jamie, right?” “Mm-hm. You coming out for cross-country?” “Oh. Uh . . .” No means I leave now and avoid risking further humiliation. Yes means possibly, possibly . . . “You should.” “Yes! Yes, I am.” Further humiliation and possibly, possibly it is. “That’s Coach Kieran. Come with me and you can give him your forms.” Jamie walks me over to Coach Kieran, who’s pacing the sidewalk and muttering over a clipboard. “Hey, Coach. This is Sana . . . what’s your last name?” “Kiyohara.” “Oh, right,” he says, taking my paperwork. “You signed up last week. You’re a junior, right? No running experience? Okay. You can start with the JV team, then—none of them are here yet. Have you met the captains?” He calls the other kids over: Priti and two Indian boys. “You’ve met Priti already,” says Coach, nodding at her. “This is Jagwinder, the boys’ captain—we call him Jag—and this is Arjun.” And with that, he returns his focus to his clipboard and wanders off. Jag and Arjun are tall, lanky, and handsome. Jag leans over and shakes my hand, and asks, “Have you run cross-country before?” I shake my head. “You’re gonna love it,” he says. “Best sport ever.” Jag looks to Arjun, who says, “Speak for yourself, bruh—I only do it so I can stay in good enough shape to run away from all the ladies when they get to be too much. They just can’t get enough of all this”—he gestures to himself—“spicy Indian hotness. It’s exhausting, know what I mean? They’re relentless.” He nods and waggles his eyebrows at Priti, Jamie, and me. “Amiright, ladies?” Jamie rolls her eyes and shows Arjun her palm. Priti starts coughing, “Loser! Loser!” Then she adds, turning to me but really talking to the guys, “They’re delusional. Especially Arjun. Don’t listen to anything he says. Everyone knows he’s a virgin.” “Bruhhhh!” Jag cackles, while Jamie and Priti high-five each other. Arjun just shrugs good-naturedly and assures us that he is a skilled but very discreet lover. Other kids start showing up, and soon there are about forty of us milling around. There’s Jimmy, that guy that Elaine has a crush on. There’s Janet Lee, from my physics class, the one who buys clothes for Hanh. She’s a short, sturdy-looking girl with decidedly Asian features, except for the hazel eyes and light brown hair. Eventually, Coach Kieran calls for our attention. “Okay, three-mile loop, everyone. Varsity, do an extra half mile out and back. Janet, you stick with Sana today and help with the route, okay? Make sure she doesn’t get lost.” Three miles? But that’s so . . . far. A knot of anxiety starts to form in my stomach. The JV girls immediately start whining, except for Janet, who does a mini-victory dance. “No fair!” “Why just Janet?” “Why can’t we all stick with Sana?” “C’mon, Coach, we’re tired. Pleeeeease?” Great. They all think I’m slow. The knot in my stomach tightens and my cheeks start to burn as I stare at my feet. “Aw, shut up, JV. You’re such babies. Sana’ll probably kick your ass. Right, Sana?” It’s Jamie, and she’s smiling at me. Right at me. I don’t want to disappoint her, but I know in my bones that I’ll be lucky to get out of this alive, so I sort of half shrug, half shake my head no. Jamie folds her arms. “Don’t say no. You haven’t even tried yet.” Oh, God. And now she thinks I’m a wimp. Coach breaks in and says, “Okay, runners, enough chitchat. Go. See you back here in thirty minutes.” With that, the guys take off, a jumbled pack of skinny arms and legs that stretches out as they make their way through the parking lot and down the street. The varsity girls are close behind, ponytails bouncing and swinging, and then it’s our turn to head out. My stomach still hurts and my heart is pounding as if I’ve already run a thousand miles, but now I have no choice. We’re on the move. I fall in at the back of the pack with Janet at my side. “Start off slower than you think you need to,” she advises me as we turn onto the sidewalk. “Save a little for the second half.” I nod—no need to remind me. We run through the neighborhood to West San Carlos Avenue, the main commercial street, then past a Korean grocery store before looping back through another neighborhood. We’re past halfway, and I’m feeling pretty good about myself because we’ve left a few of the JV runners behind us. But I also feel like my lungs are going to burst. Why am I doing this, again? Oh, right. I’m chasing the slim, slim chance that Jamie might notice me. That is, if my legs don’t collapse beneath me first. Maybe there’s another, less painful way to get to know her. Janet asks me, “Are you okay? Do you want to walk for a bit?” I don’t even have enough oxygen to answer. I just nod my head gratefully and start walking. “Hey!” We look up, and it’s Jamie, running toward us on her extra half mile out and back, presumably. Only we’re still a mile away from school, instead of half a mile, which means she’s run extra, extra far to reach us. And she still looks great. “I’ll take over,” she says to Janet when she reaches us. “You can run back.” “Gee, thanks, Jamie, you’re a pal,” says Janet, but she smiles and doesn’t hesitate. “Great job, Sana! See you back at school!” She waves and takes off so fast that I feel guilty for having held her back with me. Then Jamie turns to me and says, “Why are you walking? You can run.” “I don’t think I can.” “C’mon, don’t wuss out on me. You can do it,” she insists. “Just go slow. We’ll walk ten more steps, and then we’ll run all the way back to school. I’ll help you through it.” I’m not so sure anyone can help me, but I’m sure as heck not going to wuss out in front of Jamie. “Okay.” We pick up the pace, and in a quarter mile, I feel like I’m going to fall apart. Literally. My arms will drop off first, then my legs, then as my body hits the ground, my head will snap off and roll away. Jamie, who is loping easily alongside me, says, “Keep going. We’ll take it down a notch, but keep going.” I’m panting. I’m so desperate for rest, I think I might cry. I glance at her. Please, let me stop. “You can do it,” she insists. “Control your breathing.” I try. “You look like you’re about to cry. Relax your face.” Well, I am about to cry. But I fix my face, and oddly, I feel a teeny, tiny bit better. “Come on, you can do it.” And finally, I do. I drag myself into the parking lot thinking, I never want to do that again. But Jamie pats me on the back and says, “Way to tough it out, Sana. I’m impressed.” I’m bent over double, hands on my knees, gasping, but I feel a tiny fizz of energy inside because Jamie is impressed. And frankly, so am I. I raise my head to look at her. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack.” “Yeah, I kinda did, too.” She grins at me. “But you’re tough. You’ll get used to it.” “‘You’ll get used to it?’ Not, ‘It gets easier’?” “No, it does get easier. But it also gets harder—you know, like school. The better you get, the harder you have to work. Coach always says you gotta have something special to run cross-country.” “A death wish?” Jamie laughs and gives me a push. Yes. She thinks I’m funny. “I like you,” she says. “C’mon, let’s get a drink.” She leads me to the water station, and we’re smiling at each other as we walk. “So what classes are you in?” “Uh . . . trig, Spanish Three, Honors American Lit, Honors American History, physics, psychology.” The same list sounded normal when I told Reggie, Elaine, and Hanh, but now it suddenly sounds like I’m showing off about how smart I am, and I wish I hadn’t rattled it off so quickly. But Jamie says, “Yeah, me too! How come we’re not in anything together? Who do you have for trig?” “Green.” And now I’m embarrassed that I assumed she wasn’t in any classes with me. Should I say something? But Jamie just keeps going. “Lucky. I have The Bird. She’s like, epically bad. And she’s a bitch.” Ohhkay, that seems a little harsh. I’m probably a prude, but it just seems wrong to use swear words about teachers. Though I’ve actually already heard of Mrs. Byrd, and she does seem to be a bit of a legend in the—in that category. Jamie launches into a long list of The Bird’s many and varied punishments for crimes real and imagined—mostly tardies, talking, and late homework. “Everyone’s terrified of her,” says Jamie. It’s hard for me to imagine Jamie being terrified of anyone. Coach calls everyone back, and I don’t get another chance to talk to Jamie for the rest of practice. Oh well. Hopefully I’ll get a chance tomorrow. On the way home, I indulge in a little fantasy about being best friends with Jamie. We’re in all the same classes, basically, so she could come over after school and we could do our homework together. And then I’d say, “Wanna stay over?” and she’d say, “Sure,” and we’d curl up under a blanket together and share a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, and eat popcorn and watch movies together, and she could sleep in my bed, and we’d stay up all night talking. It wouldn’t be like with Trish. Jamie’s much nicer, I can tell. So if I ever felt like, say . . . oh, I don’t know . . . kissing her, let’s say, I’d feel totally comfortable telling her. And I bet she’d probably be open to it. Just for fun. Okay, maybe that’s going a little too far. Still. Cross-country was definitely the right decision. 10 CALEB, THE GOTH FROM TRIG, CALLED IT THAT first day. I’ve become one of the Asian girls. It wasn’t like I had much of a choice—they kind of snapped me right up—but it’s fine. So we’re all Asian. Who cares? I’ve noticed that a lot of kids at school tend to hang out with kids with the same ethnic background: the Filipino kids all seem to know each other, groups of turbaned Sikh boys hang out in pods, and the Samoan kids have a couple of lunch tables all to themselves. I see Jamie during lunch every day, but she’s all the way across the quad. I wish I could walk up and say hi to her, but her friends make me nervous. For one thing, they don’t seem very welcoming. Christina is . . . mean. JJ, one of the guys, is in psychology with me, and he just sits there all through class with his arms folded and his legs stretched out in front of him, and he never knows any answers. I bet they’d think I’m a sheltered little Asian nerd. Technically they’re not wrong, but I’m not eager to go over and test that theory. Next week is a special week where the whole school will be participating in some kind of anti-drug campaign. Greg Nakamura, the student body president, got on the P.A. during first period and read a short anti-drug blurb and a long list of all the Special Activities meant to remind us that it’s fun not to do drugs. In addition to the activities, we’re supposed to come dressed according to a different theme each day: Mexican on Macarena Monday (Dance Away Drugs!), boots on Tuesday (Give Drugs the Boot!), etc. Student government representatives will go around during first period and count the number of people in each classroom who are dressed for the theme. The classroom with the most thematically dressed people in one week wins a pizza party. Groans from everyone, everywhere. Well, almost everyone. The cheerleaders, Stacy and Rochelle, are pleading, “Come on, you guys! It’ll be fun!” Andy Chin, in his role as junior class president, is going, “Show some spirit! Help fight drugs! Come on, we could win a pizza party!” Caleb says, loudly enough for Andy to hear, “Don’t do drugs. Because pizza.” Andy just grins and shrugs. Caleb leans over and whispers, “He’s such a hypocrite. He gets high every weekend.” I’ve heard that Andy is kind of a party animal, but really? I have a hard time believing it after all the confirmation I’ve had about other Asian parents being as strict as—or stricter than—mine. “How do you know?” “We have the same . . . source. If you know what I mean.” My mouth drops open. Nice. Way to reveal what a nerd I am. “What? It’s not a big deal.” “I know it’s not a big deal,” I say defensively. Caleb mimics me in a prim falsetto, “I know it’s not a big deal.” Mr. Green is at the front of the room saying, “Time to talk about cosines,” which gives me a good excuse to turn around and ignore Caleb. When class ends, Caleb continues our conversation. “C’mon, don’t get all shocked on me,” he says. And then, jerking his chin at Andy, “All the cool kids do it.” “Well, how does he?” “I heard his parents are like, these high-powered people who travel all the time. He gets the house to himself a couple weekends a month, apparently.” “Huh.” I can’t imagine my parents leaving me alone in the house for an evening, let alone a whole weekend. “Not your parents, huh?” “Never.” “Hey, have lunch with us,” he says, in a bizarre change of subject. “My mom made, like, a hundred chocolate chip cookies and I brought them for us all.” When I hesitate, he says, “What—you so in with your Asian friends that you’re too good to hang out with anyone else?” What the—? “Fine,” I hear myself say. “But those cookies better be really good.” Thankfully, Elaine and Hanh have a VSA meeting today, so I don’t have to explain anything to them. When I tell Reggie that I’m eating lunch with the goths, she says, a little incredulously, “What? Why?” I explain that Caleb won’t leave me alone, and that he’s promised me cookies, and I offer to save some for her. She gives me a skeptical, raised-eyebrow stare—one of her specialties, I’ve noticed—and shoos me off. I sidle up to the goth tree, where Caleb and his friends are already dipping into a huge Tupperware container full of cookies. They all look up, and Caleb makes room for me next to him and introduces me: Ginny, Thom, Brett, Andrew, Luisa. Ginny, the girl sitting next to Caleb, scoots over, and I sit down between them. “We’re talking about that ridiculous anti-drug stuff next week.” I help myself to a cookie and roll my eyes, as I’m sure they’re expecting me to. “Right?” “Like any of that’s going to keep people from doing drugs. All anyone cares about is winning pizza anyway.” A guy named Thom shakes his head and says, “Seriously. Macarena Monday? What the fuck does the Macarena have to do with drugs? I don’t even think it’s really Mexican.” “Knowing Lowell, she’s probably trying to get the Mexican kids involved,” says Luisa. “She probably thinks we’ll get all excited and want to do the Macarena.” “Who’s Lowell?” I ask. “Mrs. Lowell. She’s activities director and student government advisor.” “How ’bout, you have to be high to want to do the Macarena,” Caleb offers. “They should call it Marijuana Monday,” Thom says. “Dress up in a Mexican costume and dance away drugs to a song that’s not from Mexico because no one who dances does drugs. God, it’s so fucked up on so many levels, it makes me want to puke.” About halfway through lunch, I realize that I haven’t hung out with white kids since I left Wisconsin. How’s that for weird? The bell rings and we start gathering up our things. I say good-bye and head off to English, but Caleb tags along after me for a few steps. “Hey. That wasn’t so bad, was it?” I shake my head. “Your friends are nice.” Caleb looks at me, as if he’s making up his mind about something. Then he says, “So, uh, we’re all probably gonna just chill at my house on Saturday. That’s usually what we do.” “Huh?” “My mom’s going to be around, too, if your mom is hung up about stuff like that.” Oh. He’s inviting me over to his house. Okay. It suddenly occurs to me that Caleb might like me—like, like me-like me. “Um . . . I think I have to stay home to help my mom with some stuff.” “Oh. Sure, okay, no problem. See ya.” He raises his hand in a half wave and turns and walks off. Maybe he’s just being friendly? “See ya.” He’s just being friendly. Yeah, that’s probably what it is. It has to be. 11 OMIGOD, SOMEONE PINCH ME. JAMIE—JAMIE!—IS walking home with me. Right now. I know. My fantasy is coming true. Ten minutes ago, we were all straggling out of the locker room after practice, hair still damp from the showers, hauling our hundred-pound backpacks and saying good-bye to each other as kids piled into cars or headed to the bus stop. I was starting off on my walk home when I heard Jamie complaining to Priti. “My brother spilled soda all over the laptop last night, so now I won’t be able to finish that online assessment for tomorrow.” An idea sprang to life in my head. “Hey, wanna come over to my house?” “Huh?” Jamie turned to look at me. “I mean, uh. I live just a couple of blocks from here. You could use my computer. You know, to do your homework. Or whatever. And catch a later bus home. If you want.” Her eyebrows shot up. She took a quick look around her, then pointed to herself—Me? “Or . . . not. No big deal, I just, you know. Just thought I’d—” “No, that would be great.” She hesitated. “You sure it’s okay?” “Oh, totally. No problem.” “Sweet. Thanks.” She smiled at me and I smiled back and after a couple seconds of smiling at each other I started to feel silly, so I looked away. But I’ve been smiling all the way home. After a brief, mortifying, and very Japanese introduction to Mom (Hello, I’m sorry my daughter is such a loser, it’s so kind of you to be nice to her, I really owe you one), we escape to my room, and Jamie checks out my bookshelf while I run to the kitchen for some snacks. “Emily Dickinson?” she says when I return laden with Diet Cokes, a bag of kettle corn, and a bowl of rice crackers. Oh, no. “Yeah. I know, I’m a nerd.” “No, that’s cool. We had to read a poem by her in eighth grade: ‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’ I liked it.” “That’s the poem that made me want to get that book!” “But I don’t get her sometimes—she’s a little weird for me, you know? This shy white lady shut up in her house all day writing poems. All those white writer ladies ever did was sit around and write and sew—Charlotte Brontë, Emily Dickinson, the Little Women chick . . .” “No, they did other things. Like knit lace and drink tea.” I giggle, and she laughs with me, which feels kind of magical for some reason. “Louisa May Alcott,” Jamie says next. “Oh, right.” She adds, “You should read Sandra Cisneros. She wrote this poem called ‘Loose Woman’ that’s like the opposite of ‘I’m Nobody.’ She says whatever she wants, she does whatever she wants, and she doesn’t give a shit about what people say. No sitting around inside and sewing.” Note to self: Google “Loose Woman” by Sandra Cisneros. But I have to defend Emily. “I don’t think she cared what people said. I mean, she didn’t mind people thinking she was weird or whatever. I thought that was kind of the point of ‘I’m Nobody.’” Jamie chews her lip. “Huh. Yeah, I guess you’re right.” She smiles. “You need to read ‘Loose Woman,’ though. It’s pretty great.” Oh, I will. She moves on. “Ooh, this is pretty,” she says, taking down my red lacquer box. “Oh. That’s—” “Huh?” She opens it. —private. “Oh, nothing. I was just going to say my parents gave it to me.” She admires the pearl earrings. “Wow. Are these real?” “Yeah.” “Best friend?” She holds up the photo of Trish and me. “Meh. Used to be.” She holds up the phone number. “Someone my dad knows. I don’t know why it’s in there.” Now she’s playing with bits of sea glass in her palm. “Where’d you get these? They’re so pretty.” “I know, right? I used to like to collect them whenever we went to the beach—Lake Michigan. When I was little, I’d pretend they were like, magic stones from an underwater kingdom and I was actually the long-lost princess . . . kinda silly, I know.” “No.” Jamie looks up and smiles. “It’s not silly. I was thinking the same thing. Like, they’re pieces of your soul that got lost or something. Like who you really are, like the princess. Or like people who make it through a tough time—you know, like you start off sharp and broken, and then over time you become smooth and beautiful and like, your own piece.” If I didn’t have a crush on her before, I definitely do now. A girl-crush, I mean. “You’re laughing at me. You think I’m a total nerd. I can tell from your face,” she says. “No! No, I think you’re . . . cool.” “Oh, right. I heard you hesitate there. You totally think I’m a nerd.” She smiles. “That’s okay. We can be nerds together. Poetry nerds.” “You saying I’m a nerd, then?” She looks at me and raises an eyebrow. “Your own personal volume of Emily Dickinson?” “Oh, okay, fine. You win. Nerds together.” I lie on the bed and Jamie sits on the floor as we do our trig homework. She finishes ahead of me. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch her stretch, shut her textbook, and slide it into her backpack. So unfair. I turn back to working out how deep I would have to dig to reach a bed of coal that is tilted at twelve degrees and comes to the surface six kilometers from my property. Right. Like that would ever happen in real life. I struggle to put together an equation involving opposite and adjacent sides, angles and tangents. Or maybe cosines. Algebra and geometry were easy, but I just can’t put the pieces of trigonometry together in a way that makes sense to me. I don’t even really understand what some of the pieces are. I look up to see Jamie watching me. Ack. Please let me not have been doing something embarrassing without realizing it, like making a funny face or picking a zit or something. I don’t think I was. “What?” “Oh! Nothing,” she says, looking away. “I was just, you know. Nothing.” Omigod. Is it my imagination, or is she blushing? I feel my own cheeks grow warm, and I pretend to play with my hair so I can cover my face. Could it be? Maybe. But I could be wrong. Slow down. Make some space. Redirect. “God. I cannot do this trig homework. How is it so easy for you?” “Seriously?” “Seriously.” “It’s not hard.” “It is for me.” She groans dramatically and climbs onto my bed. “Scoot over. I’ll help you.” Both of us on the bed. Okay. I scoot over as directed, and I’m still lying down and she’s sitting, but my bed isn’t that big, so there’s a pretty significant stretch of my body that’s touching hers. She didn’t have to get on the bed and sit this close, but she did. She’s so close I can feel her thigh on my ribs. But she’s just helping me with my math homework. Still, there’s the way she was looking at me before—she wasn’t just staring off into space and I happened to be in her line of sight. She was gazing at me—at me—I know she was. Well, I think she was. Was she? “Hey, pay attention!” She nudges me with her knee. “Sorry. It’s just so . . . boring and confusing.” And thinking about you is just as confusing, but so much more interesting. “It’s not. Just listen.” I make a superhuman effort to focus on trigonometry. Tangent, sine, cosine. All too soon, it’s six thirty, time for Jamie to go back to school and catch her bus. As she packs up to go, she holds out the Emily Dickinson. “Can I borrow this?” “Sure. Nerd.” “Thanks. Nerd.” We walk to the bus stop together, and lean against the little bus shelter, so close we’re almost touching. We gaze down the street in silence. The bus appears, and as Jamie stands up and hoists her backpack, it throws her off balance and she stumbles sideways a little. “Whoa! Sorry,” she says, catching herself on my arm. A shivery little zing! shoots up my spine. A good zing. A great zing. I try to catch her eye, but she’s already headed toward the curb. She climbs onto the bus while I stand there with my heart bang-bang-booming like a bass drum, and she waves good-bye as the door closes behind her. My hand waves back, but my mind seems to have left the premises. I turn and walk home, alternately feeling like I’m going to levitate and float away on a pink cotton candy cloud, and feeling like I’m teetering on the edge of a huge cliff, looking down into a wild and windy abyss. I like her. Like, like her-like her. No doubt. Even more than I liked Trish. She’s smart, she’s beautiful, she’s real, she’s romantic. She thinks pieces of sea glass are like pieces of a lost soul, for crying out loud. I like her so much I can hardly even breathe. But I so don’t need this. After a lifetime of feeling different and out of place, I finally fit in. I’m finally comfortable. I can finally work on the subtler points of being uniquely me, instead of having to explain the obvious Asian flag that everyone can see. I don’t want to fly a new freak flag. I really, really don’t. When I get back, Mom is using her little wooden pestle to grind sesame seeds in a special ceramic bowl. She’s making broiled mackerel for dinner—my favorite—with sides of vinegar-sugar cucumber salad, boiled spinach with ground sesame seeds and sea salt, and, of course, rice and miso soup. I wonder if I should have asked Jamie to stay for dinner, but then decide that the mackerel would probably have grossed her out. Broiled mackerel is served with its head and tail on, and you basically pull the meat off the bones in little chunks until there’s just a skeleton and a fish head left. You’re pretty much face-to-face—literally—with the fact that you’re eating a dead fish. “Did you finish your homeworks?” asks Mom. “I have a little Spanish left to do, and a couple of chapters to read for English.” “Dinner is in twenty minutes. You can do some more homeworks or set the table.” Not a word about Jamie. Which is a little strange because she often has something to say about the few friends that I’ve ever brought home—usually that they’re prettier, taller, smarter, or more polite than me. But still. I’m curious. When we sit down to eat, and after I serve myself some mackerel, I hand it to Mom and ask, “So what do you think about Jamie?” Mom pokes her chopsticks into the fish and tears out a piece. “She wears lot of makeups.” “So?” “Too much.” She tears off another hunk. In Mom’s eyes, any amount of makeup is too much, so I’m not surprised. “I think she looks pretty.” “Too much makeups is not pretty. Girl should look like girlish, not like trying to be grown-up.” “She’s not trying to be grown-up. She just wears makeup. Lots of girls do.” An image of Christina’s Pinot Noir lips flashes in my mind, along with a flicker of doubt. Why does her makeup bug me, but not Jamie’s? “Hn.” My mom digs the mackerel’s eye out of its socket—it’s her favorite part—and pops it into her mouth. “She doesn’t look like good student.” The pronouncement of death. My mom will never approve of anyone who is not a good student. Not that I need her approval. “Mom, she’s in all the same classes as me.” “Affirmative action.” “Mom!” “She’s a Mexican, isn’t she? Schools just want to say they have multiculture in advanced classes.” “Just because she’s Mexican American doesn’t mean she’s a bad student.” But Mom’s not having it. She picks a stray fishbone out of her mouth and says, “The Mexicans are lazy, and not so smart—look how long they live in America, and they still need the Spanish language on everything—even for driver’s license and voting! That is lazy. I only live here for seventeen years and I had to learn English for driver’s license, reading newspaper, and everything. I didn’t ask for everything to be in Japanese.” “Mom. Jamie’s not lazy. Mexicans aren’t lazy. It’s way more complicated than that.” “I didn’t say Jamie i