Better off Friends

Page 5


“Hey.” I tried to get Macallan’s attention back to me. “Do you wanna play a video game or something?”
“I want to finish the outline for my English paper.” She started scribbling in her notebook.
I picked up the tattered book she was reading. “Miss Lulu Bett?” I laughed. “You’re writing your author report on someone who wrote a book called Miss Lulu Bett?”
Macallan reached her hand out for the book. “Can you please be careful with that? It’s on loan from the library. It’s rare.”
I presented the book to her with both hands and a slight bow.
“And for your information, the author, Zona Gale, was born in Wisconsin and was the first woman ever awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It wouldn’t kill you to learn a little bit about the history of where you now live.”
“Uh-huh.” That was usually my reply whenever Macallan tried to educate me on pretty much anything. I did okay in school, I got decent enough grades, but I wasn’t the ultimate student like she was.
She kept her attention on her notebook. “Who are you going to write your report on? Dr. Seuss?”
“I do like green eggs and ham, Mac I am.”
She grimaced. “I don’t know why I even bother sometimes.”
She pretended to get back to work, but I could see the corners of her mouth start to turn.
I cautiously picked up the book again. “Maybe I should read this. I wonder what kind of bet Miss Lulu placed.”
Macallan groaned. “Mrs. Rodgers, do you need any help with supper?”
Mom popped her head into the doorway. “That’s okay. I think I’ve got it covered.”
But Macallan got up and went into the kitchen. “Are you sure?”
“Well, if you want, you can help me cut up some vegetables.” Mom gave her a smile.
Great, does this mean I have to help? I thought. Leave it to Macallan to make me look even more like a slacker.
Mom pulled out some green and red peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms from the grocery bag and handed Macallan the cutting board and a knife. Macallan looked between the knife and vegetables like she was trying to solve a difficult equation. She held the knife to the pepper, first one way, then another.
At one point she looked up at me, probably hoping for help. Like I had any clue about cooking. I’d almost burned our house down microwaving popcorn the past year. It had smelled like charred popcorn for over a week. I’d been wisely banned from the kitchen ever since.
“Is there a certain way you want them cut?” she asked Mom.
Mom opened her mouth and then it was like I saw a lightbulb go on over her head. She went over to Macallan and showed her the different ways to cut everything. Macallan’s green eyes were watching everything like she was gonna be graded on it.
“Thanks,” she said quietly when they were through. “There isn’t a lot of cooking at my house. Anymore.”
It was then that I realized why Macallan was enamored with Mom. It was Emily who’d told me about the car accident — Macallan hadn’t really said much about her mom to me. And I had no clue if I should’ve said something to her. Or asked. Like, what do you do in that circumstance?
Blimey if I knew.
Even though I was quickly becoming friends with Macallan and her group, I still felt like I needed some dudes in my life.
“What’s up, California?” Keith came up to me after class in early November. “How’s it hanging, bro?” But he said it like brah. I knew he was making fun of how I talked, but had he never heard himself? Everybody here had these nasally accents and overpronounced their vowels. I found it hilarious. “Saw you running ’round the track at gym. You’re pretty fast.”
“Thanks, man.”
I debated bragging to him that I was faster when it wasn’t so cold. Even though the snow from the first snowstorm of the year (which happened before Halloween) had melted, it was still freezing outside.
Part of me had already written off Keith and his group … and still I felt a little excited as Keith continued. “Yeah, maybe you could join our game sometime. Wide receiver or something. Do they even play football in La-La Land?” He laughed.
I decided to throw it right back at him. “I don’t know, man. Ever heard of this little thing called the Rose Bowl? Probably not, since the Badgers haven’t won it in years.”
“Ouch.” But Keith looked impressed.
I was a little rusty with the guy put-downs. Back in California, my buddies and I would spend hours ragging on each other, our families, the girls we liked. You name it. The bigger the put-down, the bigger the laugh. It was our own art form.
“Okay, California.” Keith nodded to himself. “I guess I’ll see you around. Don’t let those chicks start braiding your hair or doing your nails. Real men play football.”
“Yeah, totally.” We did this awkward handshake thing that made me feel even more like a tool. But hey, at least he was talking to me. That was a start.
I could tell right away that Macallan was not in a good mood after school. Mom had a meeting that was running late, so we had to walk the twenty minutes to my house. She hardly talked to me during the walk and didn’t even want to stop in Riverside Park. We always would stop in the park and goof around whenever we walked to my place. Even if it was cold out. But apparently not that day.
“Are you okay?” I finally asked her, mostly because the silence was super awkward.