Classes started a couple weeks after the funeral and as I held my schedule in front of me, my eyes casually scanned the hallway for Cindy. I had auto shop first period and AP English next, followed by Journalism, so I probably wasn’t going to see her til way later in the day. I had gone with a new look that year, keeping my hair shorter in the back and combing the front forward. Shaving less often. Those were the only new things I had going for me. Same ol’ black backpack and Skechers I’d had since freshman year.
Auto shop was far from all my other classes, which was too bad because I’d really have liked time to wash up before I went back into the hallways. Since it was my third year taking the class, I was teacher’s aide, which meant I’d be walking around with elbow grease. But the way things went that first day was that I had to run to AP English, and wound up in the back, which would make it harder for the teacher to notice me. It was hard enough getting any positive feedback being brown in a room full of blondies.
I sat down as the bell rung and made myself at home while the teacher, Mr. MacArthur, passed role. He asked us to stand up and introduce ourselves, a pointless task indeed since we’d all pretty much known each other since grade school. “Say something new no one knows about you,” he replied to the groaning. I was glad I was last cause I’d have plenty of time to think about it.
Ten minutes later, I was coming up and still had nothing. Just then the door opened and a Latina girl whom I’d met after the funeral came in. She was my “uncle” Manolo’s daughter. They’d arrived to eat at Estefano’s just as my uncle Jorge and I had been leaving. I was trying to remember her name… Nestle? Messly? Leslie?
“My name is Meztli Carbajal. I was assigned to the wrong English class and had to fix my schedule just now at the office. Here’s my note.”
Mr. MacArthur pretended to look through stacks of papers on his desk. “Well, Messly, you’re not on my list. You’d have to have tested into this class.”
“I know I’m not on your list, that’s why I brought the note.” She held out her hand with the note facing the room so we could all see it was legit.
The teacher stood up and towered over her. He took the note, pulled up his glasses, and held it really close to his face, as if inspecting the ink quality used to write it.
“Alright, Miss Carbajal, I’ll pencil you into my list.”
“I’m not trying this class out. I’ll be here all year.”
“Yes, of course. Welcome. Class, why don’t we all welcome Miss Carbajal with a round of applause?” Some kids applauded awkwardly. “You see, Miss Carbajal, you can relax, you’re one of us now.”
“Yeah, I’m sure I’m blending right in.” And she marched toward the last open seat, beside me. I turned to look at her half way between utter amazement at the way she’d stood up for herself and also trying not to laugh.
As the role call/ introductions started up again, I passed her a note. “DANG GIRL. Can you be my bodyguard?”
She crumpled it and shoved it in her backpack, only to take it back out three seconds later, un-crumple it and write in purple ink: “What’d I miss?”
I replied in Spanish, mostly cause I wanted to test her bilingual skills: “Se estan presentando la bola de boludos.” The morons are presenting themselves.
She handed the note back to me with the letter “a” in the second word circled in red and an accent over it. Nice.
“George Lara,” the teacher seemed to holler.
Oh! I was up. Uhm. Still had nothing new. “Present! Uhm, my uncle died like last week.” That should merit some empathy.
“Nice to meet you Mr. Lara,” replied Mr. MacArthur.
“Please, call me George.” The class giggled. I wasn’t usually comfortable being the center of attention or anything, but I felt emboldened by Meztli’s presence.
“Take a seat, George. …Messly Carbajal? We already know you’re here. Tell us something about yourself other than you tend to run late.”
“I just moved here from San Jose and my uncle also just passed away.”
“Are you two cousins?”
Meztli and I looked at each other. It was weird, like I’d known her my whole life but definitely not in a cousin sort of way. We replied simultaneously. I said, “No,” while she said “Yes.”
“Well which is it? No or yes?”
I slowly nodded while Meztli shook her head.
“Well George and Messly, you have plenty of time to make up your minds. But not on our time.”
So I guess I got my English teacher to notice me after all.
After class, it turned out Meztli had Journalism too, so we walked down the hall together. I stopped at my locker, and it so happened that hers was near mine.
“Hey, I wanna ask you something,” she said.
“So ask it.”
“I wasn’t asking for your permission to ask the question.”
“Just ask already.”
“No. Now I’m not going to because you’re telling me to.”
“Loca.” Crazy girl.
Just then, someone standing behind my locker door knocked on it. It was Cindy, wearing a jean skirt and a bright pink strappy camisole with a white transparent cardigan over it.
“Hi!” she said, standing over her tip toes to peer over my locker door. Suddenly, I was embarrassed I still had elbow grease from homeroom.
“Hey Cindy. This is my cousin, Meztli.”
“Nice to meet you.”
Meztli replied, “Oh, so now I’m your cousin.”
I gave her the meanest look I could afford. She strapped her messenger bag over her shoulder and yelled, “Nice to meet you too!” as she skipped off.
Cindy went on talking about her schedule and soccer practice but to be honest I didn’t hear half the stuff she was saying. As I walked her to her class, my legs felt heavier and heavier and were somehow muffling her voice.