“What up shorty, you lost?”
I looked up from my schedule and saw a guy walking towards me.
He grinned. “You look like you need help.”
“I guess…” I was in the parking lot at school. It was my first day of 10th grade and the light wind, rustling against my arms was making me aware of my nerves.
“Can I walk you to class?” The guy took my schedule.
I pulled my backpack higher up on my shoulder, making my dress shift in the fall breeze. The air was warm, with a hint of spice in it, letting me know orange leaves would be hitting the ground soon.
I had on Tori, my best friend's, red and white baby doll dress. It had tiny, white flowers all over and a cinched waist. I loved the dress, and the way it accentuated my long legs down to my strapped sandals.
“Sure…” I nudged Tori’s cat eyed sunglasses up against my ponytail and twirled one of the folds of the dress around my thumb.
What time is it?
I leaned, rocking slightly on my heel as kids rushed past me and the guy. East Kentwood was shaped like a “U” and we were standing in the center. There was a concrete lot in the middle where the teachers parked, along with the upperclassmen that were able to drive to school. Three flag poles stood guard in the middle of the drive, one for East Kentwood, one for Michigan, and a red white and blue flag for the U.S.
I looked around the lot, taking in the number of students coming and going. The girls looked trendier than they did in ninth grade. Instead of t-shirts and gym shoes, they had on maxi dresses and open toed sandals, with Dooney and Bourke purses slung over their shoulders. A group of girls wore black and crimson cheer uniforms, with “EK” painted on their cheeks in red. Probably for the pep rally.
“Aggh, Shannon!” One of the girls screamed. “I’ve missed you!” She ran, bouncing on her toes as she hugged the girl. Glitter sparkled off her ponytail in the sunlight.
I smiled. I’d always wanted to be a cheerleader. Not trying out for the team was one of my big regrets. I had a lot of regrets.
I played with the strap on my purse as the parking lot buzzed with first day energy, and jitters from not knowing what to expect on the huge campus.
The guys looked bulkier than they did the year before. Their shoulders were square and their necks were wide, like they’d been lifting weights. A group of them strolled past us, jokingly shoving each other. They had on letterman jackets with our falcon mascot emblazoned on the back. There was a confidence in the way they pushed their way through the busy lot with their chests leading the way. They must have been on the football team.
I held my hand over my eyes to block the sun out. I only had a few minutes before I'd be late for class.
“Let's see…” The guy ran his finger across my paper. He had a swag about him that I liked. He was a little shorter than me, he reminded me of this rapper I listened to. They had the same dark complexion and bald head. His chiseled features would have fit perfectly in the background of one of my favorite artist's videos.
“You were lost, huh?” He grabbed my backpack. “I got that...”
It was my first day on the main campus. East Kentwood was big. We had our own building in ninth grade. There were at least 700 freshman. Every time I pulled up to my school I thought about how it looked more like a university than a high school, from the olympic sized pool to the ice skating rink that I hoped I would finally be able to try out.
“Follow me.” The guy threw his head up.
I drummed my fingers across the smooth leather of my purse as we walked. I was looking forward to being in the older building. I’d felt like I was suffocating in ninth grade.
A new atmosphere will make things better.
I needed something new.
I’d stopped hanging with Hannah and broke up with David in the summertime. I didn’t want to deal with either of them. Hannah was too much trouble, and David tried too hard to act like he cared, and I didn’t want to be bothered with anybody trying to love me. I’d loved Gideon and that didn’t work.
Even if nothing had happened that night at the prayer meeting, things had changed.
I followed the guy, thinking about how Sophomore year was going to be different. I hadn’t changed much physically, I was still arms and legs, or statuesque like Mom called me when I was little and I would get self conscious about my height. My amber skin still shone in the sun. I wore my ponytail a little higher than the year before, but besides that, things on the outside were the same. Inside, everything was different.
Dad had moved to Arizona.
That was what he had wanted to talk to me about in front of Mom's apartment.
Things haven’t been right for a while now… I remembered him, saying.
That day changed the world. He'd run out of engineering contracts so he said he had to leave. I was used to my twin cousins, Serena and Sam visiting in the summertime, and hanging out with Tori at Dad's house from Friday night to Sunday afternoon when everyone else was getting out of church.
Dad had always been there, fussing at me and Tori, telling us to be good people, taking us places he said would enlighten our minds, like the Museum of Natural Arts and History in Chicago, or the planetarium; with him gone none of the things we did before could happen. I didn't have little things Mom couldn't afford, like hair supplies, or extra cash for Hungry Howie’s Pizza after school. I didn’t feel right asking for field trip money, so if there was a scheduled trip I'd wait until after my permission slip was due and act like I forgot to return it. I didn't feel right asking for nail polish remover, or small things, like socks.
Mom had showed me how to sew up my old socks that had holes in them from being worn out, but I never did because I hated the feel of crooked seams on my toes.
I hadn’t felt right asking for anything after getting back from Texas.
“Nobody told your mother to leave!” Dad would say when he went off on a rant about Mom. “I don’t give a dab-blame what the court says, I’m not paying them to split up my family! This is your mother's doing. I told that woman not to take you out of my house!"
He'd karate chop his hand, mad, like the day he’d ripped up their agreement when he picked me up after Mom took me. I’d nod from the passenger seat of our station wagon like I hadn’t heard it before.
"If it wasn't for your mother I'd have jobs - good jobs. You can come live with me anytime you want to. You can come live with me right now! Under no uncertain terms will I...”
Dad said he would visit. I knew he would because he always did what he said, but I was hurt. I acted like I didn’t care, but I felt like I was bleeding inside. All that fighting he did to get me — Mom kidnapping me and him fighting to get me back, just to leave. That’s what everybody did.
Gideon had disappeared after freshman year.
After convincing me I was his girl, even though he was seven years older than me, he stopped showing up.
I was in shock. I hated Gideon, but at the same time I loved him and that made no sense. I had gotten used to him coming over every Wednesday, and the way he would force himself on me. It wasn’t fair. How could he be there one day, then turn around and never come back? I didn’t ask him to be my boyfriend.
He was the one who said we were together.
Maybe he’d gotten bored…or maybe coming all the way to Mom’s house was an inconvenience. I knew he was mad when I didn’t move into Breton Court with Dad like I told him I was going to, but that wasn’t a good enough reason to disappear.
Maybe he decided to build a family with his new baby.
I smoothed my flyaways into my ponytail as I followed the guy across the parking lot. “Hey girl,” I waved at a familiar face.
“Hey, Tiff!” Monique took her headphones off and waved back. Her hair was in microbraids like the singer, Brandy, and she wore a flowy, bohemian dress with a faded, vintage backpack draped over her arm. She had on big gold earrings and body jewelry around her waist, they matched her laid back personality, perfectly. I admired her style. Monique got along with everyone. She was one of those girls that would hug you in the morning before class and tell you to have a great day, and mean it. I wished I could be as comfortable as she was in her skin. Her coppery, nutmeg skin tone was my favorite characteristic of hers. I liked my own shade of brown, too. My favorite feature of mine was my freckles, but most people didn’t know I had them; they must have been one of those features that people saw without “seeing.” I’d started wearing foundation in the summer, but the butterscotch freckles splashed across my nose still shone through enough for people who had known me for a long time to stop mid-sentence and squint, “How come I didn’t know you had freckles…?”
“What's up with you, girl?” The guy showing me to class bopped through the mob of students, tipping two fingers towards Monique in a salute.
“Hey, you!" Monique waved, keeping up with the crowd. "It’s been a while, I'll check you two out later, ok?”
"Bye." I went back to my thoughts about the past year. The idea of Gideon being with someone other than me made my chest hurt.
I’d thought I was his girlfriend, that was the reason I’d put up with him treating me like I didn’t exist, and him having sex with me when I didn’t want to. But his real girlfriend was the one he’d had the baby by. I didn’t know about her until after his son was born.
I’d never asked Gideon questions, even when he would go MIA. I was too scared. He was grown. She was the one he’d stopped coming over for, for weeks, then picked back up like nothing had happened. She might have been the reason he disappeared for good. Or he found somebody he liked better. Someone younger, or more experienced and who knew what he wanted them to do.
I had wanted to be upset about Gideon leaving me behind, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to crumble. I didn’t feel like I deserved to care one way or the other. The pain that tried to find its way into my subconscious was embarrassing to me. Gideon didn’t care about me, so I shouldn’t have let myself feel anything for him. I was stupid for thinking he liked me. I was just a girl he had used, I wasn’t supposed to fall in love. I couldn’t feel anything but the ache in my heart that wouldn’t go away.
I sighed. I hated thinking about Gideon.
I loved him — or I felt like I loved him. Ever since I’d gotten taken, things in my heart were flipped upside down. Right was wrong and wrong was right, and I didn’t know if I knew what love was anymore. There was a hole in my heart.
I swept my bangs to the side and adjusted Tori’s glasses.
Maybe I’ll get more involved in school…
The thought cheered me up.
I liked sports. I ran track in middle school. I always placed in hurdles and long jump. Mom said I was a natural because of my long legs. The feeling of the wind against my skin was an adrenaline boost. I’d tip my head back and run until it felt like I was floating and I could leave my fears behind. East Kentwood had tons of extra-curricular activities but I hadn’t participated, I’d spent all ninth grade dealing with Gideon and his boys. Since I’d met him I hadn’t done anything like a regular teenager would.
That was freshman year. Gideon being gone had given me a chance to think. I had changed. I was tired of giving in to what people wanted. I’d made a vow to myself that things would be different after I got over the fact that Dad had left.
Summertime was off the hook.
Mom had moved us into Camelot at the end of ninth grade. Camelot was a low-income housing complex where the rent was based on how much money you made. The projects. Everybody lived there. There were chicks with no job and two kids, and their rent was $45 a month. Camelot was off the chain. There was nothing but single mothers, boyfriends, drug dealers, and kids. It had a park that was always packed, and a basketball court that filled up in the evening like the one at Dad’s old apartment.
In the summertime mosquitoes buzzed in the street lamps, almost as loud as the hum from the chics on their porches yelling at their kids and gossiping. I got a kick out of how live things were after living in Kentwood. The suburbs was boring.
Tori and her mom had moved into Camelot when I was in 3rd grade. Mom had put in an application to get us on the waiting list when she first got back from Texas. We moved in as soon as her name came up. It wasn’t ghetto, just hood. The townhouses were nice, and there was a lot of space for kids to play.
Mom got a job working around the corner at a retirement community. She said it felt like she could breathe again after struggling for so long to pay the bills. I was excited to be around so many teenagers my age. Living close to Tori was the icing on the cake for me. I thought I would never see her again when I was in Texas, now I could walk around the corner to her house.
I was already cool with Tori’s friends from when I would stay the night, once I moved into Camelot we were inseparable. We would take all day getting dressed, go up to the courts, walk to the mall, or go out to eat. Everything was in walking distance. Our group consisted of me, Tori, Shonda, Brianne, and Shae. They were more like my sisters than my friends. They were all three to four years older than me.
I had changed.
Just not how I was supposed to.
I messed with this guy named Brandon that lived around the corner. I was cool with his sister, but me and him had hardly ever hung out. He asked me to come chill with him one day. I didn’t even like him, but I ended up going, and we kicked it in the basement. I had sex with him, just because.
I met Ronnie one day when I stayed the night at Tori's house. Me and Ronnie started kickin’ it over the phone, and it was on after that. He was a Cass Avenue boy. Cass was a street in the city that everybody looked at like a gang. His house was just beyond an abandoned parking lot that had more broken glass in it than cars, and where teenagers would stay out half the night playing basketball until it got too late for the police not to mess with them. It seemed like a dark cloud hung over Ronnie’s neighborhood. Like the kids there would never have enough, kinda like me. He would call me a cab and have me ditch it at his boys’ house so we could kick it. I’d tell Mom I was staying the night at Tori’s so she wouldn’t wonder where I was.
Ronnie was fine. He had cinnamon brown skin with a hint of red in it. His dimples were so deep I’d get lost in his smile whenever he’d laugh. He was smart, but all he did was sell weed and smoke. He got on house arrest for getting caught selling halfway through the summer. I would visit him at his grandmother's house, but after a while I started hearing about him messing with other chics, so I backed off.
I went to middle school with Mark. His sister had her own place down the street from me. He spent the summer with her so he could be closer to his friends that lived in Camelot. He’d call after his sister put her kids to bed and let me know when it was okay to come over. I’d listen at the bottom of the steps before leaving the house; Mom would be in her room with the television turned down low, listening to TBN while she fell asleep. Her TV stayed on the Christian station.
After making sure Mom wasn't paying attention I'd leave. The air would be sticky during the walk to Mark’s sister’s house at dusk, the most humid part of the day. Little kids would be going inside for the night and the adults and teenagers would replace them at the basketball court. I’d stay gone for hours and be back home before Mom knew I was gone. Me and Mark had sex and drank, on repeat, all summer. His sister would get me Fuzzy Navel Boone’s Farm, and Mark would drink shots of E&J straight out the bottle. I’d get tore up off a couple sips. Tori had always called me a lightweight. One night Mark looked at me weird.
“Don’t you think we should be together?"
“ ‘Be together,’ like what?”
“Like, kick it.”
I put my shoes on to leave. “No..."
“Why?” His jaw tightened, shifting back and forth. He narrowed his eyes. “That’s what people do when they like each other.”
Mark didn’t understand how I could sleep with him and not want to be in a relationship. We had been messing around like that for a long time. I had never been like that before. He knew middle school, Tiffany. That version of me was gone. He kept asking me to be with him, but I didn’t want him getting close. I didn’t trust him. I didn’t want my heart getting involved with anyone ever again. I figured if I didn’t feel anything for the guys I was messing with they couldn’t hurt me.
That was over the summer.
I had cut everybody off before school started. Gideon was gone and I didn’t want to blame my actions on him. I didn't want a reputation. Part of me really did want to change for good. I acted cold, but I was hurt because the most important people in my life had betrayed me. I wanted to be better, I just didn’t know if I could.
“What’s your name?” The guy looked over his shoulder as we cut across the parking lot.
“Pretty. Miss. Tiffany." He grinned. “My name’s Julian.”
“Nice meeting you.”
“It’s nice to meet you, too." Julian stopped and gave this guy a play. “What up bro, I ain’t seen you all summer...”
Dude slapped his hand and leaned into a hug. “What’s up Julian?”
“Nothin’ much, just doin’ this school thing.”
“I feel you…”
“No doubt,” Julian threw up his head, walking backwards. “You been in the studio?”
“Not lately. We gon’ have to go lay down some tracks.”
“Fa sho’.” Julian grinned, pointing at him. “You better get to class, bro. You runnin’ late.”
“You crazy…” Dude laughed.
“I’mma check you out at lunch,” Julian snapped. “One.”
Julian swerved to get out of the way of traffic going towards the west wing. He couldn’t get two feet without stopping to speak to somebody. We reached the door, and he held it open as the smell of hamburgers greeted us.
“The cafeteria is over there.” He pointed to a room full of tables. “It’s smaller than the one in the east wing, but most of your classes are on this side...”
I smiled at how he walked with a bounce in his step. Like he had music playing in his ears.
“It’s quicker to come through the parking lot than the building...” he said as we stepped into the foyer. “...you’ll get the hang of it after a couple days.” I felt his gaze on me as I walked through the door ahead of him.
I let Julian take the lead as we turned down the hall.
He's kinda cute. I thought.
Julian pulled my schedule back out and stopped outside a door with kids rushing to get to their seats. “Here you go.” He looked at the clock on the wall outside the classroom and shot me a crooked grin. “I got you here on time, too.”
“Thanks, I would have still been looking for it.”
“No problem.” He slid my backpack off his shoulder and handed it to me.
I looked at him warily. “Aren't you going to be late?”
“Nah...all the teachers know me around here.”
I giggled. “What’s that got to do with you being late?”
A tall man, who I guessed was my teacher, walked towards us, greeting the last few students coming into the room.
“What up Mr. Delaney!” Julian called over my shoulder.
“Julian! Long time no see.” Mr. Delaney pat him on the back. “You’re not in my class. What are you doing on this side of campus?”
Julian motioned towards me. “You know me, just helping out a friend.”
My teacher smiled.“Good man...” He nodded at the wall. “Just make sure you keep an eye on the clock.”
Julian gave him a pound. “Good lookin’ out, sir.”
I shook my head as Mr. Delaney went back to his desk. “You do know everybody.”
“I told you.” He said with a twinkle in his eye.
I looked around the room. The empty chairs were filling up. “Thank you for walking me...”
“You’re welcome.” He stepped aside for one of my classmates. “Aye, we should exchange numbers before you go.” He winked. “Just in case you ever need help...”
Restore | A Lost Girl's Journey to Hope | Book Two... Coming Soon!!!
In the meantime check out Restore Book One Here!!