So, school could’ve been better. Sometimes it seemed like homework was going to be the bane of my existence as it always kept coming and coming.
But on the bright side, school meant friends and the need to do homework meant that we could all get together to study. And being with other people was great!
Since Hidden Springs was pretty safe, our folks didn’t mind us hanging out in the park by ourselves, even when it got darker. So, we could all still chill together after schoolwork was out of the way. Like we did today.
“So, what’s the deal with Mr. Barnes’s new car? He’s been so excited about it all day. I mean, it’s nice but it’s still just a car,” Jeanine asked. She was already done with her assignment and stretching after sitting down for too long.
“It’s his favorite model,” explained my younger cousin Jeanne, as she continued writing her assignment. “Wouldn’t you be super excited if you could get a state of the art weight machine like you’ve been talking about?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Jeanine admitted. The Jeannies were best buds since birth. With their families extremely close, everyone joked that when Aunt Kate and Aunt Tia got pregnant around the same time, they planned for the kids to be friends. Whether they wanted their names to be similar is still up for question.
“Cars are ok,” Sergio Preston, Aunt Lana’s son, admitted. “But robots are way cooler.”
“Of course you think so! Do you still want to be a robot maker when you’re old enough?” I asked. My friend was into computers and technologies for as long as I knew him. Now that we were nearing the end of grade school, I thought he should really look into his options for that area of expertise.
“I don’t know, Phoenix. That kind of thing requires a lot of work… and college… I’m not sure I can do all that,” he made excuses.
“Why? It’s worth it if you want it. Besides, I know your folks would want you to go for it,” I was curious about Sergio’s reasons, but I already suspected what the deal was.
“He’s just scared,” Jeanine shrugged. “I don’t know why, though. Seriously, Sergio, go for the things you want. Otherwise you’ll regret it later on. At least that’s what my Dad says.”
“Going for the things you want is reasonable, provided you aren’t taking them from someone else,” Jeanne chimed in. “Like you did with that book you liked at the library, right Jeanine?”
“Oh, come on! It’s a library book. I’ll give it back,” my friend shrugged.
“Like you gave back that pencil to the kid from Bio?” Sergio chuckled.
“Ok, I have some… memory problems where it comes to giving stuff back,” Jeanine admitted. “At least, I’m not scared of everything.”
“Come on, folks, we all have our faults,” I tried to reason with my friends. Looking around the park, I noticed my older cousin Tiffani talking to a girl I’ve seen around but didn’t really know. “Hey, who is Tiff talking to?”
“Oh, that’s Rashida Sheppard,” explained Sergio.
“She went to that artsy school before, but her parents wanted her to focus on academics more, so they transferred her here,” Jeanne explained.
“But she hasn’t had time to make many friends here yet. She’s nice though, I’ve talked to her,” Jeanine informed us. The Jeannies were the people to go to for information it seemed, as even I couldn’t compete with their knowledge of the rumor mill.
“Her dad is a rocker, I hear,” Sergio chimed in. “Micah or something?”
“Oh!” the light bulb came on. “I think my Mom dated him! Before she met Dad! Obviously, things didn’t work out for them, which is probably for the best, since I wouldn’t have even been born if they stayed together. I wonder what Rashida is like.”
“Why not talk to her?” Jeanne looked up from her homework.
“I don’t know, man. Talking to girls is scary,” Sergio complained.
“You talk to us though,” Jeanine frowned.
“Yeah, but I’ve known you since we were that little! That’s different,” Sergio reasoned.
“Meh, I’ll just talk to her,” I announced and left my friends.
My cousin was discussing something about the sports tryouts at the local high school with the dark haired girl when I approached them.
“Hi, girls. How are you doing?” I never had any problems talking to new people.
“Hey, Phoenix. What’s up?” Tiff turned to me.
“Not much. Just wanted to introduce myself to someone I don’t know yet. You know me, I’m always looking to meet new people! I’m Phoenix, what’s your name?”
“Hi, I’m Rashida. I’m always happy to meet new people too. Hey, wait aren’t you Phoenix Collier? I think our parents used to date, didn’t they?” she smiled.
“Yeah, although officially, I’m not supposed to know about that. I just overheard my Mom talking about it to her friends one day,” I chuckled.
“Me too! I heard it by accident!” she laughed. “Parents are weird that way, aren’t they? But hey, we still love them.”
“Totally. So, you’ve just transferred to our school? How do you like it here?”
“Well, I’d like it more if the teachers weren’t trying to murder us with all the homework, but hey, I shouldn’t complain. At least, the people are nice,” she laughed.
“What were the people like at your old school?” I ventured.
“Eh. They were very artistic. But you guys are friendlier, so I like it here more,” she admitted.
“I’m sorry about your old school,” I frowned. “I hope they weren’t mean to you. You’re too nice.”
“Thanks, you’re cool too. And no worries, my old classmates were ok. So, what do you do for fun?”
“Video games, mostly. And watching reruns of old cartoons. Especially the funny ones,” I admitted.
“Like Tom and Jerry and the Looney Tunes? I love those! They knew how to make good comedy back then,” Rashida agreed.
“Yeah, those are some of my favorites actually,” I admitted. It seemed like she and I had a lot in common. “We should hang out together more!”
“Agreed. Although, we should probably not ignore the others, next time. I think Tiffani left ages ago,” she frowned.
“Yeah, Serge and Jean must have gone home some time ago too,” I noticed how she and I were the last ones at the park.
“We should head home, I think. See you in school?” she asked.
Back at home, I ran into Dad in the kitchen, out for a snack.
“Hello, Phoenix. How was your day?”
“It was good. There is a new girl at our school and we’re friends now,” I announced.
“That’s great,” he smiled. “You know, it always makes your Mom and I happy to hear you’re so outgoing. We were worried you’d take after us and be a total loner.”
“Were you scared to talk to people?” I was curious.
“Not scared. More like, not very good at it,” Dad explained.
“Why do you think someone might be scared of socializing with others, though?
“Well, I’m not sure. I think it mostly has to do with different personalities. Some people find the company of strangers intimidating and are afraid they’ll say the wrong thing,” he ventured. “Why? Is someone you know scared to talk to others?”
“Yeah, Sergio. But then, he’s afraid of many other things too,” I shrugged. “He sells himself short, really. He needs more confidence.”
“That he does. I remember Lana saying she worried about him sometimes. I think, in the long run, each person needs to build themselves up in order to have the kind of life they want. He’ll get there, eventually,” Dad smiled. “I’m glad you care, sonny. Now, you should get some sleep. School starts early tomorrow.”
Years passed. People got older. My sister Millie was about to be a legal adult. She has finally graduated from school and her grades were impressive – she was the school Valedictorian! And all that with a small kid, no less. My sister was a bad-ass, that much was for sure.
For a few months now, her boyfriend Quiang has been living with us too. Ever since he graduated a year ago, he has gone into the local police force. His parents wanted him to follow in their scientific footsteps, but he was adamant about wanting to make sure the town was a safe place to live, now that he was a father. If you were to ask me, though, he was too much of thrill-chaser to last in a lab. Not like my sister, who immediately after graduation got hired by the local research lab. So, in a way, the Wens were getting a child in the sciences after all!
Since Mom told me I could invite some people over, I invited my friends, but only two of them could make it to Millie’s birthday: Sergio and Rashida. This was going to be interesting: Mom didn’t know one of my best friends was her ex’s kid and I was kind of curious as to how she would react… I mean, she couldn’t possibly tell me not to be friends with Rashida, could she? It wouldn’t matter anyways – judging someone by their parents was completely unreasonable.
“Hey, Mom, my friends will be here soon! You’ll finally meet Rashida, like you wanted to,” I announced.
“That’s great! I’m always happy to see your friends, you know,” she smiled.
She certainly knew my friend’s parentage when she saw Rashida! I guess, my friend looked a lot like her mother, whose appearance my Mom knew very well… But no one could resist Rashi’s charms, not even Mom!
“Hello, Mrs. Collier, thank you for having me here,” my friend introduced herself with an open smile.
“Oh, you are very welcome, dear,” Mom quickly found her composure. “I hope you like cake, because we are having lots of it today!”
The rest of the birthday went off without a hitch. Everyone got along. Mom had no problem with me being friends with her former beau’s kid. Sergio didn’t complain The only trouble was, Dad and I had to try hard to keep watch on what we were saying: a few days ago, Quiang asked Dad for official permission to marry Millie and Dad happily gave it to him. Now we just had to try hard not to ruin the surprise!
Thankfully, we only had to wait until the day of my birthday, when the whole family went to the local pizza place for lunch. Throughout the meal, Quiang was shooting glances at Millie and the rest of us knew today was the day. I think, even Millie guessed at some point that something was up.
Afterwards, Mom and Dad took me and Terrence home, while Quiang and Millie went to the old lodge in the mountains.
As she later told me, once they were at the destination, he dropped down on one knee and pulled out a ring, telling her he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her and asking her to marry him. She knew he was hiding something, but she didn’t even know he went ring-shopping already. If anything, she thought he’ll want to wait until they were more ahead in their careers to tie the knot, but in all fairness, they did already want to be married.
I was happy for my sister. Like I knew since I was a kid, she and that guy were pretty much meant to be and it would’ve been weird if they ended up with anyone else.
So, a lot of happy tears were shed on the day of their wedding. Mostly by Mom and Dad, I’ll admit – they still couldn’t come to terms with the fact that little Millie was all grown up and getting married, even though she already had a kid of her own. I think, they were secretly happy that the new couple was still going to live with us for a bit longer, because they weren’t ready to see her go just yet. So, I wasn’t going to spoil their day by telling them that Millie and Quiang were already looking at houses.
Next to me, Rashida was also having trouble holding back tears at the matrimonial ceremony. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Weddings always inspire me. Two people officially united together as a family. That’s really something to aspire to.”
Behind her, Aunt Kate nodded and agreed, “So true. I still fondly remember the day of our wedding. We actually got married here too. Gerald was being fussy about the cake spoiling, but everything went great, remember, Ger?”
My uncle smiled fondly behind her, agreeing “One of the best days of my life. Just wait till it’s yours, kids.”
At this, Rashida smiled and looked at me, which made me feel really strange.
A few days ago, Rashi and I were hanging out at the local coffee shop and all our friends have already gone home, leaving the two of us alone. This was a good time to figure out things between us – for a while now, I’ve noticed that she’s been acting funny around me and I couldn’t explain what was up. When I asked the Jeannies, they looked at me like I’ve sprouted a second head.
“Wow, you’re a dork,” Jeanne laughed.
“Why?” I couldn’t understand.
“Because she likes you, you doofus!” Jeanine explained in exasperation. “How can you be so dense about it? She has a crush on you!”
“She’s had it since we were kids,” my cousin informed me. “We were starting to wonder if you’ll ever notice.”
So, after I recovered from the initial surprise of finding out one of my closest friends had a crush on me, I realized I was pretty happy about it. I mean, Rashida was gorgeous and we got along great – if she were to ask me out, I’d say yes in a heartbeat!
And that day, at the coffee shop, it was obvious that something was up between us. She kept shooting me furtive glances all morning, and I understood that my cousin and her friend were right.
She was about to leave, when I caught up with her outside the shop.
“Yes, Phoenix?” she turned around.
“Look, can I ask you something?” I wasn’t sure how to say this.
“What is it?”
“Do you like me? As in “like me” like me?” I blurted out.
“Uhh,” she sounded startled, blushing furiously. Yeah, she did.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.
“Because I didn’t think you felt the same way,” she admitted quietly.
“I’m sorry. I’m such an idiot. I should’ve realized this ages ago,” I admitted ruefully.
“So, what now?” she ventured carefully. “I really hope things don’t get weird between us.”
“Why? Why not give dating a try?” I asked.
“Are you serious?” she was dumbstruck.
“Of course! We’re already great friends, you like me, I like you… It can’t go wrong, can it?” I explained it.
“Phoenix… I should’ve told you before, I guess. But yeah, I really do like you,” she looked at me softly.
“So, will you be my girlfriend,” I pulled her close. She smelled like peppermint and cloves, and her skin was always so soft. I found myself lost in her eyes. She really was something. How did I not realize this before?
“I’d love to,” she whispered before our lips met in a kiss.
Yes. We definitely had that chemistry.
So today, at Millie’s wedding, Rashida was here in the status of my girlfriend. Which was why I felt really strange at her excitement about weddings. I liked her a lot, but we were a bit too young to think about that. Sure, Millie and Quiang were getting married before they were even twenty two, but they already had a kid together, so their situation was different.
Over cake, the matrimonial discussion continued. At some point, Quiang joined Rashida, Sergio, and I at our table.
“So, how are you enjoying the wedding, kids?” he winked.
“You aren’t that much older than us,” I chuckled. “Why are you calling us kids?”
“True. Just wait until it’s your wedding, then you’ll be talking down to the small fish, bro,” he laughed.
“That’s still far in the future,” I laughed.
Rashida smiled over her cake. I almost chocked on mine.
The truth was, I didn’t really understand the whole obsession with getting married. I mean, sure it was probably nice if you were with the love of your life, but the idea of being officially married to someone seemed overrated. After all, our families were lucky to not have been touched by the staggering divorce rates that plagued most of the world. So, what was even the point of saying “I do” at the altar?
Besides, people who loved one another could be perfectly happy together without getting married, right?