I made it through two months without anything too terrible happening. The routine was simple – wake up, go to class, come home and do online class, repeat. Weekends were spent on the virtual school, too. Jonathan and Emeline were pushing me to get done with them ahead of schedule.
I understood why, but all of the pressure was starting to make me feel like a balloon about to pop.
I sat at my desk, laptop opened to an assignment I should be doing. My bed called out to me, sending serious sleep rays. I yearned to crawl beneath the goose down comforter and slip into a nice nap, but I knew I had to finish what I was doing on the computer first.
Emeline and Jonathan were downstairs. Quality time. It made me sort of jealous, seeing them curled up on the couch like that. Adam was over at a friend's house, probably doing what he does best – soccer.
I got up from the desk and sat down at the bay window, taking the laptop with me. Maybe a change of scenery will make me actually want to do this. My eyes scanned over the paragraph of text I was supposed to read, but I didn't take in a word of it.
This is useless. Disgusted, I slammed the laptop shut and tossed it onto the bed. It landed on the comforter with a soft plunk. What to do, what to do. I wasn't too tired anymore. Just bored senseless.
I headed down stairs. Might as well eat the boredom away. The two lovebirds perched on the couch, watching a movie. I tiptoed into the kitchen and opened the fridge, looking for some leftovers to heat up. Pad Thai from last night, some spaghetti. I opened up the pantry, but there wasn't anything I wanted in there, either.
Armed with a bag of popcorn, I hurried back upstairs. I opened up the laptop, chewing slowly, and began to read the paragraph again. Just get it over with.
My mind trailed back to the hallways of Santa Monica High as I lazily checked the answers. Classes had been good so far. Even Algebra was sort of making sense to me, but only with the help of the internet. So far, I'd managed to keep a steady C-average on my assignments, but I knew I'd have to step up my game if I wanted the Davidson's approval.
Earning their praise, I'd decided, was my first and foremost priority. I was paranoid that they would change their minds, send me away – after all, I still wasn't theirs, technically. I belonged to the state, just another lonely kid floating from house to house. They could get fed up with me and my stupid dead mama drama, ship me back off to the orphanage with the mustard yellow hallways and the board games missing half the pieces.
The thought of being pushed out of their house was all too real to me. What did I have without them? A bunch of Venice Beach clothes and a haircut. They might not want me. Maybe couldn't deal with having two foster kids. It was scary stuff. So my plan was to blow them out of the water with my stellar grades.
Other than the academic stuff, my social life was still basically dead. I hung out with Raeanne and her friends at lunch. I'd exchanged maybe ten words with Amy sense the whole first day thing. I didn't like her, really – I'd catch her observing me with cold eyes constantly.
The old, street walking, miniskirt wearing, combat boot-stomping Eve would have smashed her nose in by now. And even though I was still essentially the same person, I'd restrained myself from all of my old bad habits. This place was a fresh start. There was no need to cram my fist down the throat of some uppity teenager. I'd get over it. Because in two years, give or take, I would never have to see her again.
I'd never cared much about what people think of me. There were bigger fish to fry out there. I'd had my hands full, so a lot of the time, normal teenage occurrences seemed alien to me. But here, now that things with my mother no longer existed, I started worrying about the little things the way people my age do.
At Theodore Roosevelt, boys had ignored me. But on the streets, sometimes, I had walked down the sidewalk and saw eyes following. Not teenage eyes, but older eyes. Eyes that came attached to bodies that usually had rough, calloused hands and cigarette stained teeth. Eyes that stared at you as they tipped their head back, guzzling a beer.
I knew all about those eyes, and the people who possessed them. Living with my mother had exposed me to them firsthand. Cooped up in an apartment with them, you learn a little bit more than you thought you would. You end up pleading with them to stop hurting you.
But that was the past, and now I was Eve Cantos, the high school student who lived in Ocean Park, California with the Davidsons. For the most part, I tried not to think about my mother, or Mitch, or anyone else from back then. It would only be good for bringing me pain.
Late at night, though, after everyone was asleep, I'd sit at the window sometimes and think about her. My Mom. Her long black hair and her glittery brown eyes, a beautiful version of me. I'd imagine her the way she was when I was a small child; young, vivacious, full of laughter and promise. Carefully curling her hair and applying baby pink lipstick as I sat on the toilet seat, watching her, mesmerized.
She'd wanted to be an actress. She performed in small theater productions. She'd wined and dined with low-budget directors, looking for opportunities. Each night, as she left, she'd kiss me on my forehead and deposit me downstairs at an elderly woman's apartment. She'd come home sullen, downhearted, drinking bottle after bottle of wine.
And then one day, she'd came home with a sparkle in her eyes that scared me. She stayed up for days, organizing and reorganizing. And when she fell asleep, I thought she was dead.
Ever since that night, my life had become so unstable it terrified me.
I pushed away the bag of popcorn, no longer hungry. My stomach felt like it was full of snakes and spiders, crawling and slithering up my throat. Closing the laptop, I crawled beneath the covers and shut my eyes tightly. A nap was what I needed. A nap would take away all of those bad memories I had just unearthed.
The next day, I woke up earlier than usual. It was still dark outside, a little blue rimming the horizon. I got a bottle of water and sat on the back porch, watching it get lighter and lighter outside until it was fully daylight.
Adam joined me, still in his pajamas – boxers and a t-shirt. "What are you doing up so early?" he asked, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
I shrugged. A male cardinal perched on the shed door, drawing attention to himself as the darker, less obvious female pecked around in the lush grass.
Adam stepped into the yard and picked up the soccer ball that rested beside the shed. We must have had a million soccer balls, strategically placed around the house.
"You've never played soccer, right?" he asked, bouncing the ball on his knee.
"No," I said, shaking my head.
He gestured for me to join him. "Wanna try?"
I looked down at what I was wearing: a tank top and running shorts. I stepped out in the yard. He kicked the ball at me; out of instinct I jetted it back, jamming one of my toes.
I swore, looking down at my pulsating pinky toe.
He laughed, kicking the ball back at me. "You have to point your foot towards the ground," he said. I did what he said; the ball soared through the air, landing between his feet. "Good job."
He bounced the ball on his head a few times, then kicked it towards the goal. It hurtled across the yard, smacked against the back fence over the goal and fell softly to the ground. He sighed. "I need to brush up on this stuff," he said, collecting the ball and tossing it over to me.
I mimicked him once again, but I didn't kick it the way I was supposed to, and put too much force in it. It hit the back fence hard, wobbling the wooden slats, and soared back at me. I ducked; the ball began rolling through the gate and out to the road.
"Crap," I said, chasing after it.
My foot throbbed as I ran through the gate, feet away from the ball. Finally, it stopped rolling, finding a resting spot in the middle of the road. I limped towards it, picked it up, and tried to hobble away quickly.
"That was a nice show!" Raeanne called from her porch, grinning.
I blushed a crimson shade I'd only seen in lipstick containers. She hopped off the porch and crossed the street. "What's with the limp?" she asked, grabbing the ball from me.
"I can't kick a soccer ball for crap," I said. Adam peered out from his spot at the gate; Raeanne tossed him the ball and he disappeared into the backyard.
"Practicing?" She asked. We walked back to her porch. She flopped down onto a rocking chair, crossing one leg the way guys did; ankle on knee.
"I guess, I don't know," I shrugged. She pointed at the porch swing. "You can sit, you know."
I sat down as if on command. She snorted. "Nice outfit, by the way."
"They're pajamas, Raeanne," I said stiffly.
"Then why are you wearing them outside?" she countered, arching one eyebrow.
I flashed a smile. "Maybe I sleep in a tree out in the back yard," I pointed my thumb to my house. "Not enough room over there for me."
Raeanne laughed. "Please, how many rooms does that thing have? Eight?"
"Four, actually," I corrected. "Two bathrooms."
She whistled lowly through her teeth. "Damn," she said. "We've got three. And we all share a bathroom," she shuddered.
I laughed. "That's not much of a difference though, really," I said. "Your house is older, isn't it?"
She nodded. "Been in the family a while," she leaned back. The rocking chair creaked softly.
Her voice changed when she talked about herself, I'd noticed. It dropped a few levels, became softer. She was like me, in that aspect – she didn't let anyone know much about her. I examined her face, wondering what her life had been like.
"What are you looking at?" she asked, eyebrows furrowed.
My eyes focused – they were aimed directly at hers. Quickly, I averted my gaze. "Sorry," I said flippantly. "I was daydreaming."
"Say," she said, changing the subject. "Have you done that English paper yet?"
I thought back for a moment. "No, I haven't," I admitted. "I haven't even started."
"Me either," she said. "What are you doing yours on?"
I shrugged. "I was just going to pick something that sounded cool and go for it."
She grinned. "Good idea," she said. "Wanna make today a study date?"
Date? She wants to date me? What the hell are you thinking, Eve. Study date. "Yeah! Sure. Why not?" I said, hiding my embarrassment.
She smiled. "I gotta shower. We can do it at your house."
Do it at my house. I sucked on my lip. You're an idiot, I told myself. "Sure," I said. "I'll be there."
She stood; I followed suit. "See you in an hour."
I hurried across the street. Company. Study date. The words felt foreign as they floated around in my skull. I didn't like having people over when my mother was alive – mostly because they were usually creepy old men with roaming hands.
I pulled on a t-shirt and some jeans, ran a comb through my hair. It looked like hell – I pulled it into a bun and called it quits.
"Emeline?" I called, pushing open the door to her office. She sat at her desk, typing away on her laptop.
"Yes?" she asked, not looking up from the screen.
"Um, my friend is coming over in a few," I said, trying to find the words. I'd never asked to have company. "Raeanne Connors? She lives across the street."
Emeline looked up, smiling. "Oh, yes," she said. "I know her mother. She's coming over?"
"Yes, ma'am," I said. "Well, if that's okay?"
She started typing again. "Of course, Eve," she said. "That's perfectly fine."
"Thank you." I shut the door behind me, leaving Emeline to her own devices.
Raeanne knocked on the door at around nine. Her hair was damp, the blue tints sparking in the sun. She wore a sleeveless gray shirt and cargo shorts, beat-up sneakers on each foot.
"Hello there, Eve," she said, grinning. In one hand she held her binder. "Gonna invite me in, or are we sitting in the heat?"
I smirked. "You're invited," I said, stepping aside to let her in. Jonathan peeked over the top of the couch. "Oh, Jonathan," I said. "This is Raeanne."
He greeted her warmly, then turned up the television. He wasn't one for words.
We headed upstairs, Raeanne following me. "Swank crib," she said, plucking a fake rose out of the pot on the table beneath the window and twirling it between her index finger and thumb.
"Yeah, it's pretty nice," I said, opening my door and letting her in first.
She looked around, chewing on a piece of gum. I leaned over my desk chair, exiting out of the virtual school report that was still pulled up on my laptop screen.
"Virtual school, huh?" Raeanne inquired. She sat down on the bay window seat, sitting the binder down beside her.
"Yeah," I said absently, logging off of the computer. The top of the chair dug into my stomach; I stood up and sat on the edge of my bed. Her eyes darted to the binder beside her as she twiddled her thumbs.
"How come?" she asked.
"Long story," I waved my hand airily. I didn't want to go into it – just more crap for me to explain. I grabbed my backpack off the desk chair, unzipped it, and pulled out my English binder.
Raeanne stared at me for a moment, contemplating as she chewed her gum. Finally, after a minutes worth of examination, she shrugged and opened up her folder.
"So, what is the general theme of this paper, anyway?" I asked.
"That stupid story we had to read."
I sighed. "I didn't even read it." I tossed the binder aside and fell back on the covers. "I don't want to do this."
I knew that it was my fault I was behind – I should've just gotten it done. I lay there, staring up at the ceiling while Raeanne dug through my backpack, pulling out my English book.
"How about I read it for you?" she suggested.
"No," I sat up, shaking my head. "Just give me the book." I held out my hand. She sat it in it, already flipped to the right page. I sighed and started reading.
By noon we had both finished our papers. I'd unfortunately left my most recent Algebra assignment on the desk – a red, highlighted D minus in the top corner.
"You're failing Algebra?" Raeanne asked, looking at the worksheet.
"Uh," was my intelligent answer. I snatched the paper away and sat down on it. "No." It wasn't a lie – technically, I wasn't failing the class. Just not living up to my dreaded "potential."
"Hey," she said, standing up. "Let me see it."
"Why?" I said, making sure she couldn't get the paper.
"Because I'm acing that class and I can help you, duh," she said.
I stared at her. "Are you really?"
"Yeah," she said. "Now move your ass and give it to me." She held her hand out. I handed the paper over to her.
She flipped it onto the back side, staring at all of the wrong answers, deciphering my messy scrawl with scrutinizing eyes. "Oh, this is easy," she said, sitting down beside me. "See, you added where you should have subtracted," Raeanne pointed to a spot on the paper. "Other than that, you did it right."
Well, that was good, I guess. Still a wrong answer, but I did everything right except for one step. I slowly exhaled through my mouth. It frustrated me, thinking of my failures. I was too prideful for my own good.
"If you need any help, just ask me."
We headed downstairs – she had to get home to do chores. I stood at the front door, watching her walk across the street.
Just ask me. I didn't ask for help. Never had. I either failed or excelled – either way, it was of my own doing. I didn't believe in tutoring or studying together. Mainly because I couldn't stand people questioning the way I did things.
Leaning against the doorjamb, I watched Raeanne walk up the pathway to her porch, running a hand through her spiky blonde and blue hair. Oh, come on. You know she's gay, right? Amy's snide voice in my head. She made a move on you yet?
I wondered if Raeanne would. If I was her type. She was a jokester, always trying to make people laugh. Was that "making a move"? More queer than a thirty eight dollar bill. I'd never been friends with someone gay before – at least, I hadn't known that any of my friends were gay.
Heading upstairs, I drummed my nails along the banister. Was I a lesbian? I'd never really thought girls were attractive. They were just there – short, tall, skinny, fat. Blonde hair, black hair, no hair. Whatever. None of them made a difference. But it was the same way with men to me, they were just there. I didn't prefer one over the other.
Sex, relationships, they'd never been a priority to me. Everything came down to survival. But now that I was living comfortably, I wondered about those things. The last person I'd been with was Mitch, all those months ago. I missed the touch, the sensations.
I sat at the desk, opening up my laptop. With all my school work, I didn't have time for anything else, really. It took everything out of me to stay focused. I didn't need any more complications.