14. Girl doing homework.
Ms. President. That was what they were going to call Tania in just a few hours at the first school council meeting of the new school year. She had gone all out for her campaign—fundraising with bake sales, roping in her cousin who was studying art at college to design her logo and help her create posters, turning Bubbles, her family’s Labrador retriever, into her campaign mascot, and making sure all of her friends knew that she wanted to be the student council president because she wanted to make a difference—not just because it was a popularity contest.
At the official debate, Tania delivered her message with confidence. She would fight for better school lunches, better activities during gym class, and more funding for after-school activities. In the five minutes she had to speak, she shared a message that resonated with everyone—from the students who were sick of eating chicken nuggets that tasted like plastic to the ones who were tired of having nothing to do but walk around the track during gym.
She won the election with a landslide.
It was a bright beginning, but only a start. Tania knew she had a lot of work to do. As soon as she finished her homework, she was going to start working on her game plan for how she was going to deliver all of the promises she had made. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, but Tania always loved a good challenge.
13. Young Friends.
The Sleepover Club originally consisted of Anne and Lucy and began when they were five years old, when they were in the same kindergarten class and realized they had the same lunch box and lived on the same street. For two years, they were practically twins, and if one of them wasn’t in class, the teachers would always ask the other where she was.
So when Marina moved from California into the house next door to Lucy the summer before fourth grade and they started spending lots of time together, Anne was afraid she would get left behind, as she had seen her older sister and her friends break up and drift into different groups after starting middle school.
Thankfully, she had nothing to worry about. Marina was a friendly girl and before she knew it, Anne thought of her as another best friend. The three girls considered renaming their club to The Three Musketeers, but when Lucy pointed out that the Musketeers were boys and that perhaps there was a better name they could choose, they decided to stick with the original name. It was, as Marina pointed out, a better way to describe what their friendship was all about anyway.
But the day before Anne’s birthday in June, her parents told her that they were moving. When she told Lucy and Marina, they promised her their friendship would last forever, no matter where any of them were. And as they hugged, Anne knew it was true.
She started going gray at nineteen, during her first semester at college. She noticed the first few silvery strands while brushing her hair in the bathroom, getting ready for her parent’s annual Thanksgiving gala. They glowed in the fluorescent light, shining against the brunette waves that covered the rest of her head. She had reached for the tweezers and plucked them out without much thought.
Several months later, just before her 20th birthday, she noticed that several more had grown near where the others had been. She shrugged and decided to leave them there—perhaps they would grow into a stripe, and if not, there was always dye.
By 27 the gray had taken over half of her head. At first she dyed her hair in different shades of brunette, playing with highlights, lowlights, layers, and even occasional washes of fantasy colors. Purple was her favorite. Her newfound passion for changing her hair color came as a surprise to many of her friends and family, for she had never dyed it before. Some chastised her for ruining her hair. Nobody knew the truth.
At 35, she decided she was tired of putting in so much effort, and decided to just bleach all of it. She told her friends she was emulating Judy Jetson and filled her closet with magenta clothes. She said there was no cause for concern, that it was just an early mid-life crisis.
Now, at 60, she no longer had to lie. And she finally felt free.
Adam caught the butterfly for Samantha, who had the most beautiful orange hair and the best smile in Ms. Anderson’s third grade class. Everyone liked her, but he knew he liked her the most.
She had first spotted the butterfly on a cloudy day during recess when she was sitting with her friends on the jungle gym. It was perched on a flower in the grass next to the playground, a bright contrast to the otherwise brown and gray landscape. Samantha called out to everyone standing nearby, but by the time they turned to look, the butterfly had flown away.
But Adam had seen it, and he was determined to catch it for her.
He borrowed a butterfly catching net from his older sister and brought it in the next day, along with a freshly washed glass jar to keep it in. When it appeared again on the flower the next day, he was prepared, and quickly captured it and placed it in the jar.
He walked up to where Samantha was sitting with her friends on top of the monkey bars, their legs swinging and shoelaces dangling freely. He called up to her. She smiled as she looked down at him, but she didn’t come down.
He opened the jar and cupped the butterfly in his hands. The texture of its wings as they beat frantically against his palms was strange and sticky, and as he held it up to show her, it escaped into the sky.
Thank you so much! :)
With two months left to go, he is far more thrilled about the baby than she is. In fact, he liked to tell random strangers in the grocery store “We’re pregnant!” before she reminded him that it was her waist that had expanded four dress sizes, with an appetite to match, not his.
He has purchased five baby name books and has narrowed the list down to four, but Sophia is his favorite. Eventually their daughter will be named Lily, after her maternal grandmother, but he does not know that now.
He has already painted the nursery in various shades of bright green (because their daughter will bring spring into their lives). He has nothing against pink and blue, but they are all too normal for his child, who he is sure will be extraordinary, like the sun.
He has also organized a baby shower next month and plans to show The Little Rascals, which is one of his favorite films. He has been putting together such activities for months now, after having read somewhere that babies can learn through osmosis, so she has been forced to sit through several marathons of his favorite songs and movies so their daughter naturally develops good taste (thankfully, she likes them too).
She is amused by his enthusiasm—and secretly, she buys into it as well. During the afternoons when she and her daughter are alone, she tries to give her an emotional education, playing her songs by Joni Mitchell and Nina Simone.
My little cousin’s a big city girl who loves country roads. She laughs louder than everyone else in our family, but she always looks sad when she sleeps.
Last summer on my aunt’s suggestion, she took a two week break from her fancy job to travel around with me in my semi, since she hadn’t taken one vacation day in two years and it was beginning to show.
She turned up a few days after her mother called me and asked if she could come. After a quick cup of coffee, we set off for Tennessee, my next scheduled destination.
“Isn’t it funny?” she said several hours later when we stopped at a Taco John’s in Kentucky while staring out the window at the sunset. “You drive a truck and everyone back home thinks I’m some New York hot-shot now, but when it comes down to it, we’re both still hicks from the same small town in the middle of nowhere.”
When the sun finally dipped below the horizon, she turned back to me with a huge grin. “And there’s nothing more I’d like to do right now than to eat about five more of these taco burgers.”
Usually, the hours I spend on the road are always long and lonely, but those two weeks with my cousin in the passenger seat flew by faster than I could have ever imagined, and I have some great memories.
I hope she does too, and that she smiles now when she sleeps.
The first time Anne saw Ruthie was when she sat by her at the back of the bus, her eyes fluttering open and shut as she tried to stay awake before giving up and snuggling into her father’s fuzzy brown sweater.
Only after Ruthie fell asleep did Anne notice her father, who looked like he had sleepwalked onto the bus, his eyes completely devoid of any emotion. Out of curiosity more than pity, she tapped his shoulder to try and get his attention, but he didn’t react at all.
They sat in silence until an older woman who had just taken the seat across from Anne looked at Ruthie and told her they looked exactly alike before she turned to her father with a grin and said, “But she’s a daddy’s girl, ain’t she?”
Only then did life suddenly flood back into his eyes, and he turned to stare at Anne with an intensity that made her regret making the decision to sit by his daughter. She got up to change her seat, but he grasped her wrist right as she passed him and asked her to come on a date with them the following week.
The “No, sorry,” on the tip of her tongue turned into a “Yes, okay” when she turned her gaze back to Ruthie. She felt a strange connection to the girl, so she came to dinner and smiled brightly at the child she barely knew, even though she had nothing to say to her father.
Their grandmother had told the twins that mermaids lived near the coast and that she had been best friends with one for years. She said they lived for centuries, and that her friend had lived in the area for several hundred years, born when the Spanish arrived and changed its ancestral name to Cayo Hueso until now, when people came from everywhere to take in the crystal clear waters and to breathe in the kitschy tourist atmosphere. And so beginning from when they were eight years old to now, seventeen years later, whenever they came to her beach house in Key West, they would always surf out at sunset, hoping to find her.
Their older sister thought they were crazy and that they shouldn’t waste so much time every summer in search of mythical creatures. In her opinion, believing in bedtime stories was best left in childhood. For though it was sweet to think of an ancient mermaid becoming best friends with their grandmother, there was no way it could be real.
But then again, there was no way she could know that the mermaid had visited them in their dreams, that they had swum hand-in-hand through pearly underwater worlds where sparkling sunbeams filtered through the water and schools of tropical fish swirled around them like colorful, living scarves. There was no way she could possibly know that they often woke up with the scent of the sea on their pillows and seaweed in their hair. No way at all.
There were few things she enjoyed more than going to meet her daughter’s teachers. Lucy was a straight-A student and had never gotten in trouble once, the very picture of a straight-laced do-gooder who seemed naturally inclined to become the high school valedictorian someday. So when she showed up to parent-teacher conferences with her pink hair, raspy voice, and dresses trimmed with tulle and lace, they were never quite sure what to do with her.
She enjoyed confusing them—she knew they expected her to be just like all the other mothers in their school district, which was located in one of the poshest suburbs of the city. They had no idea she was a former teen mother, that she had moved in with her grandparents last year when she got kicked out of her apartment and worked her way through community college and had finally managed to transfer to the local university just last month. These were all things to be proud of, but Lucy’s teachers would never discover any of it, because they were too afraid to make small talk beyond how well Lucy was doing in school.
Ultimately, though, it didn’t matter. She dressed the way she did because it made her happy, and because doing so meant that Lucy thought she was the coolest mom ever. None of her friends’ mothers had pink hair, and for her that meant that her mother was the Fairy Queen. And that, to her, meant more than absolutely anything else.
5. Dog #5.
He was the stupidest dog she had ever had the misfortune of meeting and she hated him because despite his inability to listen to any sort of command or to control himself at all, he had some sort of magical powers that made everyone that met him fall utterly and hopelessly in love with him.
Everyone except her, of course. There was no way she would ever fall for his stupid puppy dog face. He wasn’t even a puppy—he was ancient, at least twelve years old, and he still hadn’t learned the basics of proper dog behavior, the slobbering dodo.
She definitely didn’t love him. She definitely didn’t love the way he slathered his drooly tongue all over her Converses whenever she put them on, the way he had decided for whatever reason that her new red backpack was the coolest chew toy on the planet, and the way he always somehow managed to sneak up on the sofa and eat her pizza when she wasn’t looking and then spend the rest of the evening trying to look innocent while serving up the most horrendous farts.
So she didn’t tell anyone she felt sick to her stomach when she found out he was ill and wasn’t going to get better, and that she cried when she found out there was nothing that could be done, and that it would be best if he was put to sleep.
But it wasn’t fair. Didn’t the stupid furball know she needed him?
Jason was sure that everyone would love the group activity he had come up with for the five year school reunion. Everyone loved Skittles, so even though the occupations of his former classmates ranged from single parents with multiple children to high flying junior executives who would probably soon be able to afford apartments in Manhattan, thanks to a lucky combo of inheritance money and wise investments, he was positive that a spontaneous class photoshoot with everyone dressed up as different flavors of Skittles in their old high school gym plus a few free drinks would be enough to loosen everyone up.
Jason had been voted “Most Optimistic” senior year and he was determined to put that title to good use. He had always believed in the power of genuine connection, and he thought it was silly that people got caught up in trying to prove how much better their lives had become since they had graduated from high school.
On the night of the reunion, he was pleased to see that his excitement seemed to be rubbing off on his classmates, who had admittedly seemed less than enthusiastic about the idea of dressing up as candy and jumping into the air.
As they all pressed against each other and shouted at the photographer with glee, Jason smiled and pretended to himself that the camaraderie was because of the connection they all still felt to each other and not because of the tequila shots he had just gotten for them.
For Valentine’s Day, she would always make a string of seven red paper cranes for each of her classmates instead of going to Walmart and buying generic cards like everyone else. Each one in the set would be made of different kinds of paper, some shiny and crinkly, some pale and elegant, some bold and hard on the eyes.
She would start on January 14th, making a few cranes every day until she finished her task. The living room was her studio, and everyone in her family knew not to step foot in there once the floor became covered with the crimson paper.
For the sets she made for her two best friends, she would run upstairs to her mother’s room with the cranes and spray them with her favorite perfume, which was heavy and smelled of tuberose and jasmine.
She always shrugged and said “I don’t know, I just like making them because they’re pretty,” when anyone asked her why she went to so much effort to make the cranes, but the real reason was because she had read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and she thought that if she managed to eventually fold a thousand cranes and give them away to her friends, she would be able to wish that nobody else in her family would ever get sick.
But because it was a secret and she could only fold cranes for Valentine’s Day, she worried that she wouldn’t finish in time before something bad happened again.
“Daddy, I found a dandelion!”
It wasn’t a dandelion, but it didn’t really matter, because she was smiling again after months.
“Wow! You know, you have to make a wish now.”
“What should I wish for?”
“You can wish for whatever you want.”
“Can I wish for Mommy to come back?”
“Mommy’s not coming back until Monday, sweetheart. You get to be with me today and tomorrow. ”
“Do you want a dog? You could wish for a dog. We can make that wish come true today.”
“No, Mommy already got me a dog.”
“Did she now?”
“Yeah. I named him Snowball. Can I wish for ice cream?”
“Can it be chocolate-chip?”
“Yes, sweetheart, it can be chocolate-chip.”
“Can it be in a sugar cone?”
“Yes, it can be in a sugar cone.”
“Actually I changed my mind. I don’t want ice cream anymore. You can make a wish instead, Daddy.”
She squeezed her fist around the stem of the shamrock flower as she placed her palm in his. Her skin was cool and dry, as usual. She had never been a warm-blooded child, and her mother had always been concerned about her circulation. But he had always suspected that it was because she somehow knew that her birth had been a final effort to reignite the dying flickers of a passion that had ultimately choked on divergent ambitions and a complete inability to communicate.
“So what are you going to wish for?”
“You’ll understand someday.”