The dreaded English project was finally over. Natalia had been paired up with Isaac Hopkins, Stonewood High's darling boy, for their AP Literature midterm project, and she hated it. While half the school was completely infatuated with his charm, Natalia found him arrogant and stubborn—a pain to try and do a group project.
"I think it turned out well," Isaac said proudly, looking at the finished manuscript. The pair had to adapt a chapter of The Great Gatsby into a different time period. Natalia and Isaac's time period—Ancient Greece.
"It'll do," Natalia commented.
"You could at least be excited about it," Isaac complained. "We spent a lot of time on this."
"That's for sure," Natalia muttered. Isaac didn't hear her. "Well, it's good that it's done," she said, wanting him to leave. "I'll hang on to it and bring it to English on Monday."
"You don't trust me?" Isaac said, feigning hurt.
"No," Natalia said bluntly.
"Whatever," Isaac said. "I have to go to football practice before school Monday morning, anyway. I don't want to forget it my 6AM haze."
Natalia also had to get up at 6AM every day, not for sports but for zero period class, but didn't mention that. "Sounds good." She stood up from her chair at the table and headed toward her front door, hoping Isaac would take a hint. He did.
"I guess I'll see you on Monday," Isaac said.
"See you Monday," Natalia politely replied. She opened the door for Isaac and he left without another word.
Shutting the door behind him, Natalia exhaled in relief. She hated having people in her house, but especially boys who thought more about football then literally anything else. It seemed like a gross invasion of privacy to her.
Just as Natalia was about to step away from the front door, she heard it.
The tornado warning rang loud and clear. Natalia groaned and started toward the backyard to hunker down in the shelter. Then she paused.
Natalia went back to her front door and threw it open. Heavy wind had already begun to pick up. Paused right outside her front door was Isaac, staring at the sky. He turned around at the sound of the door opening.
The two stared at each other.
Isaac walked back toward the house. "So, uh," he started, "I hate to inconvenience you, but, I'd really rather not die in a giant cyclone today."
"Come on," Natalia said, jerking her head for him to enter the house.
"Thanks," Isaac muttered as her crossed over the threshold.
Natalia quickly led him through her house and to the back yard. She and Isaac threw open the door open and when they were both in, Natalia slammed it behind them, securely closing it, and descended the rest of the way down.
The shelter was simple—a couple benches, some blankets, bottled water, nonperishable food, and battery-operated lights, but it worked. Isaac watched Natalia come the rest of the way into the shelter and take a seat on the bench opposite of him.
"How long do you think this will last?" Isaac asked.
"No idea," Natalia said, "hopefully not long."
"Right," Isaac said. "Well, thanks again for letting me stay."
"I feel like it would be poor etiquette to allow your English partner get murdered by a tornado before the project is even turned in."
To her surprise, Isaac softly laughed at that. Ignoring him, Natalia let the room fall into awkward silence once again.
Isaac apparently did not do well with awkward silences. "So are you going to the homecoming game next week?"
"Isaac, do I seem like the type of person who goes to watch football games?" Natalia asked testily.
"Well then what great, exciting thing do you do on Friday night?" Isaac shot back. "Or on Saturday, for that matter, given that the obvious assumption is you aren't going to the dance either."
"I don't think what I do with my free time is any of your business," Natalia snapped.
"Right, you can't have anyone knowing what an exciting life you live," Isaac sneered. "Wouldn't want to damage your 'I don't care about anything' image."
"At least I don't suck up to everyone I meet trying to get them to like me."
"At least people like me."
An ugly silence followed.
"I, I didn't," Isaac began to say.
"No, it's fine," Natalia muttered, looking away from him. "We both know I don't have any friends. I don't exactly fit in here."
It was true. Natalia moved into the area halfway through junior year—not the best environment for making friends.
"I'm sorry, though," Isaac said. "I shouldn't have said that."
"Thanks," Natalia said. "But it only hurt because you're right. No one wants to be friends with the only non-white girl in school."
"I never thought about it like that," Isaac said. "Is it very different here than from where you're from?"
"I used to live in Austin, so yeah," Natalia replied. "Big Texan city versus small Oklahoma town, like day and night."
"I've never been out of the state," Isaac said wistfully. "I'd love to go to Austin."
Natalia stared at him. "Really?" she said in disbelief. "You've never travelled anywhere?"
Isaac shook his head. "My parents always say they're saving for my college. They don't want to waste any money that could potentially get me into a good school."
"They run the hardware store downtown, right?" Natalia asked. There was only one of each type of store, so she didn't need to specify which hardware store.
He nodded. "Yeah. They want me to go learn business at college and then come back and help them with it, eventually take it over."
"But that's not what you want?" Natalia prodded.
Isaac was silent. Natalia wondered if he had caught on to how weird the situation was. The two of them never spoke outside of academics, and here they were, in Natalia's tornado shelter, talking about very personal subjects.
"Honestly, I hate the idea of being a businessman," Isaac finally said. "It just sounds dull to me."
"So what do you want to do?" Natalia asked. "If you could do anything."
Natalia didn't pry. "My mom wants me to be a doctor. Or a lawyer. You know, the usual moneymaking, smart people jobs."
"Let me guess," Isaac said, "not your idea of a great life."
"I don't know," Natalia answered honestly. "I don't know what I want to do. I guess, I guess I just don't want to go straight to college."
Isaac looked at her in surprise. "Really? Take a gap year?"
"Yeah, I still have family back in Austin," Natalia explained. "I don't know, I think I'd just like to go live there for a year. My aunt works at this physical therapy place, and they're always looking for front desk receptionists. I'd just want to take a year and just work, experience some new things instead of just another set of classrooms."
"Veterinary school," Isaac said after a moment. "I want to be a veterinarian."
Natalia was taken aback. She never would have guessed that.
"I've never actually told anyone that," Isaac said quietly.
"Why?" Natalia asked.
"It's expensive," Isaac sighed, "and I know what my parents will say. And I guess all my friends just think I'll become some great big businessman and run an empire of hardware stores. Working with animals, not quite a vision anyone has for me."
"It requires empathy," Natalia said. "I guess the great football team captain can't be seen with actual feelings." She said the last bit teasingly, but at her words Isaac stood and began to pace the short length of the room.
"Yeah, you're right," he said bitterly. "And you want to know something else?" He continued without allowing Natalia to say anything. "I hate football. Hate it."
"But you kept going all four years?" Natalia questioned. "Seems like a waste of time."
"I don't know, I guess," Isaac grumbled, sitting back down on the bench. "It can lead to scholarships. And my parents wanted me to keep at it."
"Yeah, well, I get the parental pressure," Natalia sighed. "My mom became this super successful lawyer and raised me as a single mom, and she only came to the country at 11 years old. It's a lot to live up to. Keeps the pressure high."
"My parents just want to keep my life structured," Isaac said sounding miserable. "They don't want me going of the rails." He paused. "I guess you wouldn't know about this."
"Know about what?" Natalia asked. She looked at him puzzled. He looked miserable.
"My older sister, Alina," he explained. "She was a couple years older than me."
"Was?" Natalia asked cautiously.
"It was the summer before my sophomore year, before you were here," Isaac said, "and Alina was going to be a senior. She was at some party and there was drinking and next thing you know the car she was in was up against a tree. She died a little while later in the hospital."
Natalia felt sick. "My god, Isaac," she said softly, "I had no idea."
"Yeah well, the beginning of that school year everyone was talking about it," he said. "Memorials and people sharing memories and writing 'RIP Alina' in bathrooms. But a few months later its like it never happened. People move on. And that why my parents want to keep me in sports. They figure if I never have an unstructured moment, nothing can go wrong."
Natalia had nothing to say to that. The pair sat listening to the wind howl outside. "I'm sorry, too," she finally said.
"What I said about always trying to get people to like you. I imagine you just have good people skills."
"Must be all my customer service experience working at the hardware store," Isaac said wisely.
"But you really don't have to apologize, I was being a jerk," Isaac said.
"But I do," Natalia countered. "I judged you, and I shouldn't have."
"Who knew that getting you as an English partner would lead to such a therapy session," Isaac joked.
"Oh, don't think this is free," Natalia shot back. "I'm charging you for all this wonderful advice."
"What advice would that be?" Isaac said sarcastically.
"Go be a damn veterinarian," Natalia said.
Isaac looked shocked.
"Don't base the rest of your life on someone else's wish," Natalia said. "Make yourself happy. That's the only thing you can do to make everyone around you happy."
"Tell you what," Isaac said. "I'll go be a veterinarian when you take a gap year with your aunt in Austin."
Natalia smiled. "Sounds like a plan."
Both of their heads turned toward the door at the All Clear siren. Natalia checked her watch. "Almost 45 minutes," she announced.
"Could have been worse," Isaac reasoned. He went up to the shelter door and pulled it open. "After you," he said, gesturing.
Natalia walked outside. Despite everything being blown around and a mess, nothing was damaged.
"I guess that means our English project is safe," Isaac said, coming to stand next to her and staring at her intact house.
"Good," Natalia said. "I'd hate to have to redo that."
Isaac groaned. "I don't even want to think about that."
Natalia smiled and led him back through the house and to the front door. "Are you sure you're actually going to leave this time?"
"I will try my best," Isaac said, stepping out of the front door. He turned around to face her. "So, I guess I'll see you Monday," he said awkwardly.
Natalia nodded. "Yeah," she said. "I'll see you on Monday.