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I whip my head in her direction. “Did you read my notes? That’s a total invasion of privacy,” I snap.
“Whoa,” Mom says calmly. “I most certainly did not read your notes, London Lane. I would never do that. Why would you suggest such a thing?”
“Because you know about the guy.”
“London, you told me about him,” Mom says, with an annoying smile.
“Oh,” I say, embarrassed. “Well, I don’t want to talk about him.”
“Whatever you say,” my mom says, with a little laugh that makes me want to scream. Thankfully, we’ve arrived at the school.
The moment the car stops in the drop-off zone, I jump out, slam the door, and walk purposefully inside Meridan High.
As the morning progresses, my hostility toward my mother morphs into anger toward the world. When Jason Samuels accidentally hits me in the shoulder with the basketball during PE, I chuck it right back at him.
When Page Thomas dares approach me about her stupid crush, I silence her with one knifelike look.
When the gorgeous Goth girl who will spend most days in the parking lot for the rest of the year runs into me in the hallway, I don’t apologize.
And when I throw open the library doors, storm through the metal detectors, and march to my seat for study hall, I’m ready to confront Luke about not calling or just ignore him completely.
But then he arrives. And speaks.
“Want to come to my house for lunch today?” he asks, all dimple and blue eyes.
“Yes,” I say. “Yes, I do.”
“What’s that?”
Jamie is way too nosy. I’ve only opened my bag to put my Spanish textbook in it before class, and she’s managed to log its contents in under two seconds.
“Nothing,” I say, glancing at the manila envelope before zipping the bag and easing it onto my shoulder.
Jamie is staring at me. She’s not buying “nothing.”
“Fine,” I say, pulling her away from my locker and in the direction of Spanish. “I’ll tell you, but it’s no big deal.”
“Sounds interesting,” she says, looping her arm through mine. Jamie and I will always walk like this: arm in arm. It’s our thing and I like it, particularly this morning, when I’m feeling like I need her strength to get through what’s ahead.
Then again, remembering this morning’s note, I know that she needs my strength today, too.
Jamie is looking at me expectantly.
“It’s some old photos and stuff,” I say quietly, as if it’s a secret.
“Of who?” Jamie asks.
“Of my dad,” I say, wincing.
“You and the dad thing lately…” Jamie’s voice trails off and she looks ahead to navigate us through the bustling hallway.
“I found them hidden in a box in my mom’s closet with some of my dad’s old ties and stuff.”
“You were snooping around in your mom’s closet?” Jamie asks, totally missing the point.
“Yes,” I say without explaining. “Anyway, that’s not the worst part.”
“What’s the worst part?” Jamie’s pretty eyes are back on me now.
“He sent me some birthday cards when I was little,” I say, feeling sick. Exactly three. Exactly three birthday cards that, apparently, my mother hid from me.
“What did they say?” Jamie asks, intrigued.
“Just normal stuff,” I lie. In truth, the cards are depressing. They’re sparse and apologetic.
But they’re there.
Jamie and I walk in silence the rest of the way to Spanish, me thinking about my dad, Jamie gripping my arm tightly because I think she knows she needs to right now.
“Is that him?” Jamie whispers as she leans forward toward me. Our desks are pushed together, head to head. We’re supposed to be translating a Spanish newspaper article into English.
Instead, Jamie is flirting with Anthony and I am looking at faded photographs that I’ve expertly hidden within the pages of my Spanish dictionary.
“I guess so,” I whisper back.
I’m not sure why we’re whispering: we’re supposed to talk during language lab. Ms. Garcia looks at us funny, so Jamie translates the headline of the story.
“El terremoto…” She reads aloud in Spanish as she writes the phrase, accentuating the tongue roll to make me giggle. I know she’s trying to lighten the mood.
I hear Amber Valentine behind me, struggling to pronounce “hambre,” or hungry. Giving up, she decides to amuse her partner by saying “tengo hamburger,” and I suspect the reason he laughs so hard at her stupid joke is that Amber Valentine looks like someone named Amber Valentine.
“Let me see another one,” Jamie commands when she’s finished writing. I offer her the dictionary with the photos inside.
As she checks them out, I look at the pictures upside down and backward, thinking to myself that my dad looks exactly as I’d imagine him to look.
He has kind eyes and a huge, openmouthed grin. Clearly, I got my hair color from him, but his skin is ghostlike and freckled, whereas mine is more creamy porcelain, like Mom’s. Wearing 90 SPF sunblock, I am capable of getting a tiny tint of tan; I see from photos that Dad is either white or burned.
I can almost hear an easy, booming laugh erupting from the worn images. His uniform of choice seems to be faded jeans and untucked shirts, and in it, he’s big and strong, ready to fight off monsters real or imagined.
Jamie pauses at a photo of my father teaching a preschool-aged me to swim. In the picture, he’s looking at my younger, more scraggly self with a mixture of admiration, curiosity, and blatant love. I feel like I’m going to cry.
Jamie glances my way and then turns the page.
“Is this your grandmother?” she asks quietly.
“Where?” I say, leaning toward her now. She turns the book in my direction and points to the background of a photo of my dad holding baby me.
There, standing behind us, is someone I hadn’t even noticed.
Someone I don’t know, but recognize.
Someone I haven’t met yet, but will.
My heartbeat quickens as I grab the dictionary and yank it back to my side of the desk island. I lean in closer and closer still, wishing that I had one of those tiny magnifying glass things that diamond dealers use.
There, in the middle of Spanish, with Jamie staring at me like she’s embarrassed to know me, something clicks.
The woman in the background of the photo is very clearly my grandmother. She is looking at baby me with such love and devotion that it almost hurts.
More than her expression, her appearance is the dead giveaway. Her hair matches mine and my father’s, and much of the rest of her is carbon copied in him and sprinkled in me.
“Twenty minutes,” Ms. Garcia calls to the class, interrupting my analysis.
Jamie mutters something profane under her breath and grabs our paper. She begins furiously translating.
“Want help?” I offer.
“No, keep obsessing,” she says without looking up.
“No problem.”
Twenty minutes later, Jamie has turned in the lab paper we’ll get back next week with a bright red B+ on top, and we’re gathering our things. I’m carefully sliding the dictionary back into my bag, trying not to let any photos loose.