Hi everyone! Here is my newest story. It's quite a bit different from my last, but will still focus on the relationship between the two main characters as they continue being drawn together to work a mystery. Let me know what you think!
"No way. I'm not doing it."
"Margaret, please. Be reasonable."
"I am being reasonable. Reason is the only factor I'm using right now, and I'm absolutely not doing it!"
"Yes, you are. Putting up a fight is only going to make matters worse."
"There is no way on God's green earth that I'm going to work with him."
Professor Dearing's forehead crinkled, and her misty eyes narrowed. "You're working with him. End of story. Suck up the attitude."
I exhaled defiantly and fell into step with Professor Dearing. Her low heels clacked on the linoleum floor as the two of us headed down the hallway towards the threshold of hell: the campus media room.
"Have I not properly explained to you our history? How difficult he is to work with? How insulting he is?" – My face pinched at the thought of his arrogant one – "How I want to punch the stupid expression off his stup –"
"You've explained at great length your – erm – struggles. I have no wish to revisit these stories. You'll be working together for one afternoon – one interview. It's not the end of the world."
"Yes, it is!" I drawled and raised my hands in exasperation. "James O'Brian is the worst human being on the planet."
"I wish I was! Trust me." We were nearing the media room now. Dearing's clicking heels were counting the seconds until our dreaded arrival. "He's the most conceited, selfish, pompous person I've ever met. I refuse to work with James. He'll be the death of me!"
Just as I finished my sentence, another one entered my ears, the voice causing my already riled disposition to intensify.
"Margaret Ren? You're kidding me. Tell me you're kidding me. You said the last interview was the last one I'd have to do with her. I'm not doing another."
Through the door leading to the media room, I was met with the face of the person voted "most punchable" – in my own personal yearbook, at least – and my eyes reduced to slits. James's eyes, the exact color of sludge, mimicked my own, and both of us stood at a standstill. The first person to make a move was the first person down.
"Right," Professor Jacobs said, running a hand over his brow as if he was sweating, "you both set then?"
"I've already spoken to Margaret about the interview. She'll be ready tomorrow with questions." Dearing's voice was clean and crisp, like the animosity between James's and me was nonexistent. "James will just need to do the camerawork."
If only it were that simple.
The four us, separated only by the media room doorway, stood facing each other like some twisted Western standoff.
Jacob's cleared his throat. "It's one interview. And it shouldn't take longer than ten minutes."
James broke eye contact, crossed him arms, and huffed a breath. "You're not considering post-production times."
My eyes must have been nearly invisible now as my lids were drawn as far together as possible without loss of sight.
"Oh, for goodness sakes, you two! You're both adults! Act like it." Dearing's gaze bounced between James and me. Before I knew it, James's muddy eyes were back on mine.
"Ren," he said disdainfully, and I felt like hurtling myself towards him. Since I had had the misfortune of knowing James, he had always referred to me by my last name. It would land me in an asylum one day.
"Don't look at me, don't talk to me, and don't tell me what to do – same rules as always. Got it?"
James's jaw clenched, and so did my stomach in repulsion. "Fine."
"Great," Jacob's said in a fragile tone. He then wiped a real bead of sweat from his brow. "Interview's tomorrow on the football field. Two o'clock. Don't forget."
"Wish I could," I said and then snapped my body away from the doorframe. I heard Dearing walking behind me. "You owe me," I said when she appeared at my side.
"You're in the media club. What were you expecting?"
As soon as I stepped into the doorway of my apartment, I was bombarded by my mother. Despite her small frame, she had the tendency to take up nearly the entire living room with her firm posture and scowling expression. Though, in her defense, the space was quite small. In fact, the entire apartment was rather small – or quaint, as my mother insisted – but, despite always being in close quarters with my erratic family, it never bothered me much.
What did bother me was the glowering frown sewn to my mother's mouth, hands on her hips and nose tossed into the air. I was short, barely five feet, but my mother only stood as tall as my chin. Somehow, though, she always seemed to tower over me.
"What's this?" she said and lifted a piece of paper into the air, nearly slicing me across the face. I hadn't noticed it in her clutches a moment ago.
"Mama – what?" I said and focused on the flailing paper. Once my eyes adjusted, I knew what it was immediately. I thought about evading, but there weren't many hiding places in our tiny apartment. "It's nothing."
"No," she said, stomping her foot as I attempted to maneuver around her frame. "It's not nothing. This says you got a D in on your Statistics quiz."
I sighed. "Which shouldn't be shocking considering I'm awful at math."
"No," my mother said, once again getting to use her favorite word. "Not so. You're good at math. You just don't know it yet."
Eyebrows cocked and loaded, I said, "Oh, is that so? Any idea when I'll figure that out?"
"No more D's," she said, squaring her shoulders. "You need to get into university. No university will accept you with a D in Statistics."
"Mama, please." I squeezed by her and she followed. "It's one D. And I'm not even getting a degree in math. Relax."
"No." I was this close to rolling my eyes, but the storm sure to ensure was enough to make the act not worth it. "What will Jian say, hmm?"
Jian was my stepfather. I didn't know my real father, and Jian had been in my life since I was very young. So much so, I referred to his as Baba.
"Baba's not going to care." It was the truth. While he was a stickler when it came to grades and academics, he knew my heart didn't lie anywhere close to the mathematics field. As long as I maintained decent grades and continued on a path towards a bachelor's degree, he would be happy.
"No." My mother stomped her foot. "He will care. You need to do better. Okay, Margaret?"
My name always sounded so strange coming from her mouth. My mother had a faint accent, but this wasn't the reason it struck me. I often felt far removed from her – and the rest of my family for that matter – like I didn't quite belong. While I shared many of her characteristics, dark eyes and hair, fair skin, and dainty nose, I was only half Chinese. The other half of me was a mystery. It was as though I was stuck somewhere between being white and Chinese; I couldn't claim one over the other.
Just then, my two younger sisters, Ling and Lui, emerged through the front door, further exemplifying the notion. My sisters were both Chinese and came bearing Chinese names. I was often given the once over when out with my family, and when one of them said my name, the looks would only increase.
"Did anyone follow you home?" my mother asked the twins.
The both looked at each other and shook their heads.
"Were you paying attention?" she asked, a hand resuming its place on her hip.
They looked to each other again and nodded, though rather unbelievingly.
I feigned a sigh. "Mama, no one is following anybody. The entire community is Chinese. We all know each other." My mother was paranoid about us being followed. I remembered her similar interrogations from my youth.
My mother clicked her tongue. "Dinner is at six," she said, which ended the conversation. "Don't be late."
"It's always at six," I said. "If I'm late, walk five steps to my bedroom and you'll find me." I shot my mother a sideways grin to soften the impact. Despite her rigid disposition, she carried a wicked sense of humor – if only she remembered to harness it.
My mother's rich eyes eased and, through a faintest of smiles, waved me off with her delicate hand. I then said "hello" to my sisters and squeezed my way out of the packed living room and into my bedroom.
Once inside, I thought about the impending doom awaiting me on the football field tomorrow afternoon. James O'Brian better behave himself, or I wouldn't hesitate snatching his precious video camera and smashing it to pieces.
The next day arrived too soon. Before I knew it, I was standing on the football field surrounded by a variety of fall produce; squash, corn, and apples were scattered around booths as far as the eye could see. The football field was almost unrecognizable with the campus Fall Festival overtaking its boundaries.
I joined the journalism and media club when I entered into my freshman year at Columbia Pacific Community College. I took part in journalism club in high school too; it was segment of my physiology. I loved asking questions during interviews and generating a story. To me, there was nothing more thrilling. It was why I was transferring to university next year with the full intention of receiving a degree in Journalism and not math, much to the chagrin of my mother.
Standing amidst the many booths of produce, I let the mild sun warm my skin. Our city was experiencing what we referred to as an Indian Summer. While it was early October, the sun decided to continue showing its face. The rain, I knew, was inevitable, but I enjoyed taking advantage of the warmer weather while it still lingered.
A gust of wind blew causing my ebony hair to sway out of place. It should have been my sign what I dreaded most was quickly approaching. Palming my strands back into order, I glanced out towards the end of the Fall Festival and noticed James was sauntering near, his arrogant face angular and set.
As he drew closer, he features became clear; brown, muddy eyes were set into a fair, long face. His cheekbones were pronounced, as well as his browbone which bore two thin streaks of hair, and his longer-than-average nose was a straight line. His dark, brown hair whipped in the wind, and I noticed he became increasingly taller as he approached.
"You're early," he said in his gruff, annoyed tone. It instantly boiled my blood.
"So are you." I crossed my arms. "Trying to beat me here?"
James scoffed and unwound the large video camera from around his neck. "Hardly. I know you've been here since this morning just so you could claim you arrived first."
It was my turn to scoff. "Well, turns out I was here first."
James shook his head as his eyes expanded. "We going to get this over with?"
My arms crossed tighter against my chest. "Just waiting on you."
"And the man of the hour." James scoured the Fall Festival.
We were assigned to interview the campus football quarterback and superstar, Derek Gorman. His family resided across the river from me in – as my community referred to it – the Westlake Mansion District. They supposedly maintained a rather impressive garden, and Derek was bringing his home-grown pumpkins for display in hopes of winning the Harvester's Award.
Over half the campus lived in the Westlake Mansion District, James included, while the other half hailed from the opposing side of the river, mainly dwelling in community apartments. I wasn't sure what the Westlaker's referred to us as, but I was certain they had some derogatory name or another.
"He's probably off signing autographs," James said.
I agreed but didn't say so. "I said you weren't supposed to talk me. Or look at me. You've done both."
James fiddled with the lens of his camera. "I haven't told you how to do your job yet."
"There's still time." I angled my body away from his and craned my neck to see if Derek was close by. Moments later, my prayers were answered, and the limber, but solid frame of Derek appeared. His signature buttermilk smile was attached to his face, as though already under the impression he was being filmed.
"Derek, hi!" I exclaimed, waving him over.
He saw my signal, ran a hand through his wheatlike hair, and lumbered over. "Are you Margaret Ren? The one interviewing me?"
"You don't look like a Margaret."
The desperate urge to pinch my nose was hard to control. It was even more difficult when I heard James snickering behind me. I shot him the nastiest look I could muster and, like magic, painted a pleasant expression on my face once I returned to meet Derek.
"Why don't we go to your stand?"
"Sure!" Derek said. "Follow me."
A few minutes later, James was rolling the camera as I interviewed Derek. His pumpkins, while slightly bigger than average, didn't strike me as anything special. I was certain the nearest grocery store would have pumpkins of equivalent quality. This didn't matter though; Derek Gorman's family grew them – or, they hired people to tend to them – and, somehow, this was the news students on campus wanted to hear about.
"How long do they take to grow?" I asked, inspecting a mid-size pumpkin in my hands.
"Oh, um, probably a few months. Maybe a little longer. I, um, can't quite remember."
Even from behind the camera I could see James's mouth upturned into a smile at Derek's answer.
"Did you know the largest pumpkin ever grown was upwards of two thousand pounds?" I said. "What's the largest pumpkin you've grown?"
"Not that big, but, um, close, definitely close," Derek said, smiling crookedly into the camera. "I only brought the smaller ones because most people probably couldn't get the bigger ones home."
"Very considerate. I'm sure if you have any pictures of these large pumpkins, people would love to see."
"Oh, um, yeah. Yeah, I, um, could bring some pictures in." Derek looked away for a moment.
"What does your family do with all these pumpkins?" I asked.
Derek shrugged. "Not sure. Just hoping to win the Harvester's Award this year. Why not, you know?"
It was physically painful to stop myself from rolling my eyes. I nodded slowly and took a deep breath. Meanwhile, my moment spent gaining composure apparently presented itself with a chance for James to add his two cents.
"What does the Harvester's Award mean to you, Derek?"
I snapped my eyes towards James's, whose were still hidden behind the camera, but I knew he could see me fuming.
"It's, um, just another award to get, you know? I've got a lot already, why not add to the collection?" Derek shot me a sincere smile.
"Great," I said briskly. "Well, that's all we need. Thank you so much for the taking the time to interview. And good luck with your pumpkins." I set the one in my hand back on his stand.
"This is, um, going to be broadcasted on campus, right?" Derek asked.
"It will be," I said.
"Okay, good. Cool. Thanks." Derek's attention then shifted to a girl standing beside his booth, her expression dreamy. He was quick to march over towards her, and, finally, I let my eyes rolls with all their pent-up annoyance.
"What was that?" I said as James approached.
"A stereotypical jock who pretends to grow produce to get even more recognition."
"No," I said, a hand resting on my hip. "What was with your question? You're the camera guy, not the interviewer."
James narrowed his eyes. "Your interview was boring. I was just sprucing it up."
My mouth hinged open as I exhaled a puff of air. "My interview was not boring! It's not my fault the person being interviewed has a head full of ninety-nine percent air."
"And what's the remaining one percent?"
"The word 'um'," I said quickly.
I thought I almost saw James break into a smile but figured it must have been a trick of light. He scratched his head, wrapped the camera strap back around his neck, and looked towards campus.
"We still need to edit."
"I know. This isn't my first interview." I followed James's sightline to campus.
"Let's work on it tonight. Shouldn't take long."
"I can't tonight. I have to walk my sisters to their violin class."
The lines of James's forehead grew more pronounced. "I don't need a life story, Ren."
The familiar feeling of wanting to ram my elbow in James's trachea returned.
"Tomorrow then? Five o'clock? We have to turn it in by Thursday."
"Fine," I exhaled. "Tomorrow."
"Fine," James said, a rather strong impression of my own throaty retort.
The two of then split ways, although headed in the same direction, and ambled back to campus with as much space separating us as possible.