“Today has not been a good daaaaay,” I sang to myself.
Dang! I was trying my best to have a positive outlook when I walked through those doors. True, it was my first day of high school, but it was also true that all that positivity got shot down quickly.
“Good morning, honey. Who are you looking for?” the tall, brown-skinned woman had asked.
“Yes, sweetie. I’m Mrs. Daniels, the assistant principal. You must be looking for your mother Mrs. Taylor. You’re starting seventh grade tomorrow, right?”
“Uhhh . . .”
“Don’t be shy now. Seventh grade is a big deal! Honey, in two more years you’ll be walking these halls on your way to your classes. Your mom already told me she’d be bringing you today because you guys start school tomorrow. I’ll show you to your mom’s classroom.” I stood there ogling Mrs. Daniels through my round blue glasses, confused. That is, until I realized she thought I was too young to be there.
“Aaah! I’m . . . actually looking for my first period class,” I replied.
“Oooh! So you’re really a student here?” she asked, eyes wide. “I . . . I thought you were Mrs. Taylor’s daughter. I’m so sorry, sweetie.”
“That’s okay. And no ma’am, I’m not Mrs. Taylor’s daughter. I’m a freshman. Looking for room 204.”
“Oh, my goodness! But you look so young . . .” She smiled. “Room 204 is right down this hall. Make a right when you reach the end. It’ll be smack dab in the middle so you won’t miss it. Welcome to your first day of high school, honey.”
“Thank you,” I replied, and headed toward the class where my day would only get worse.
Kids kept bumping into me, ignoring the fact that I was even present. “Yes, I know I’m only five feet, but dang—I am not invisible!” I shouted, getting the attention of a few students who were just about to whiz right past me. “Hey!” I shouted. “Watch where you’re going!” I told another guy who almost made me fall as he raced by. Shoot, maybe I am invisible after all.
Yeah, so what I didn’t stand out in a crowd. Big deal! My looks were pretty basic: short with a butter-brown skin tone. Not fat, but thick (Mom always said it was baby fat). I had a baby face and usually kept my long, frizzy reddish-brown hair in a ponytail. Nothing to get excited about. Probably not the type of girl most people noticed anyway, but damn I was still here.
Just a few minutes later, I headed to my locker, and it got stuck. It took forever to find the janitor. I got to my biology class with one-minute left. The teacher scowled as I sat down.
“The way we spend our time defines who we are,” she announced, looking directly at me.
By lunchtime, I was ready to call it a day. I’d heard of kids getting homeschooled. Maybe my parents will go for it, I thought. I would have labeled today as the worst day ever, if it had not been for him.
I entered the lunchroom and looked around for my two best friends, Amelia Wright and Nathan Campbell aka Millie and Nate. They were my two favorite people in the whole world. They were both standing in the lunch line looking for me. Nate waved me over, and I slugged my way across the room, defeated. I guess the sad look on my face spoke of my first day of school woes because when I walked up, they instantly turned me in the opposite direction.
“Go find us a table,” Millie ordered.
“I got your food, Lay,” Nate said.
“Okay,” I replied.
I sat down at the first table I saw and put my head in my hands.
“Hey, can I sit down?” someone asked.
“Sure,” I said, without looking up. The weight of the bench shifted when he sat down. His cologne was so intoxicating it made me look up. The moment we locked eyes, I was mesmerized. And for a few moments, we were the only ones in the lunchroom. He smiled, and I melted. We just sat there staring into each other’s eyes.
“Ay yo, Dee!” someone called from across the room. He broke the stare and got up from the table. He took a step but stopped and turned around.
“Hey, don’t sweat it. It’s just the first day.” Dee winked and walked away.
If I died right then, I would have lived a full life. He walked toward a group of guys and sat down. I watched so hard I didn’t see Millie and Nate come and sit next to me.
“Oh my God, girl! Who is that?” Millie said.
“I don’t know. He got up before I could catch his name,” I replied, still looking at him.
“That’s Donte Evans,” Nate added.
“Oooooh, so that’s the guy everyone has been talking about,” Millie said. “And now I see why.”
Donte Evans, the cutest, sexiest boy in school had to be about five feet nine inches tall already at age fourteen. He had brown wavy hair and the most beautiful brown eyes I had ever seen. Smooth dark-brown skin and his body was ripped. His smile lit up the whole room. We were both incoming freshmen at Oak Park-River Forest High School, and from what I saw, he had already made a name for himself. The only freshman picked for the varsity football team. Every girl stared as he walked by, and every guy greeted him. He was already high school royalty, and I was sure I wasn’t his type.
“What did he say to you?” Nate asked, curiously.
“Nothing. He asked if he could sit down. He sat for a second but someone called him from across the room. He got up and left, that was it.”
I couldn’t stop staring. He was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen, next to Nate. Although Nate and I were just friends, we were always kind of sweet on each other. Millie teased us about it because we were in denial, I guess. We were both kind of awkward and never actually told each other how we felt. But Nate was definitely a cutie. He was average height with a slim build, like a basketball player. Nate had this smooth milk-chocolate skin, and he had already started growing a mustache. But what I loved most about Nate was his personality. He always had me laughing, and he was so sweet. He constantly took care of Millie and me. I used to be crazy about him. But now I had stars in my eyes for the new boy, Donte Evans.
Nate, Millie, and I were sitting there enjoying our lunch when a couple of guys kept eyeballing Millie. She ignored them because she was used to guys staring. Millie was drop dead gorgeous. I sometimes wondered how we were even friends. We were total opposites.
Millie was a caramel complexion with these sexy slanted eyes. Her body was curvaceous, and she had nice-size breasts and a booty. I was thick, but my body was built like a boy, no breasts, very little booty, and no curves. Millie was a couple of inches taller than me. But that wasn’t all there was to her; Millie had style. She always rocked the latest fashions, kept her hair, nails, and makeup done. I, on the other hand, hardly ever wore makeup unless it was a special occasion, and most times my hair was either in a frizzy ponytail or a frizzy bun. But nevertheless, Millie would kill her own momma for me. That’s how tight we were. We had been friends since kindergarten. I was an only child and Millie had a baby brother, so we more like sisters. Nate came along in middle school, and we had been as thick as thieves ever since.
As lunch was ending, I went to put my tray away and managed to make eye contact with Donte one more time, and again he smiled. I smiled back, but then some girl sitting next to him gave me a nasty look. I thought maybe she was looking past me, so I looked over my shoulder, but there was no one there. Millie and Nate caught up with me, and we went on to class. I couldn’t get that girl’s evil glare out of my head. I’m sure I didn’t know her.
A couple of weeks later, I found out her name was Latreese Monroe, and she was bidding to become Donte’s girlfriend. I overheard some girls in the bathroom talking about how she would threaten any girl that looked at him too hard. Latreese was what guys called a redbone. She was beautiful with light brown eyes—one of those perfect girls that never had a hair out of place. Her style was off the chain; she always had on some super fly outfit with shoes and a purse to match. But she was as mean as a snake and treated most girls in our freshman class like they were beneath her. Well, I knew I would never be in the running, so I just watched Donte from the sidelines.
Sometimes I would sneak and watch the football team practice. Latreese was a cheerleader, but that didn’t stop me from sneaking a peek at Donte. He was the big man on campus, but he was also really down-to-earth and cool with everyone. Even though he was the finest boy in our freshman class, probably in the whole school, he didn’t act all big-headed about it. He actually seemed kind of shy.
I had my first run-in with Latreese at our first pep rally. Millie and I were sitting behind the cheerleading squad when Latreese started complaining about one of her teachers.
“Ms. Sanderson needs to go to AA. She must be a functioning alcoholic. You know how you get to see the real person once they’re drunk? She’s gotta be prejudice. The only reason she gave me a bad grade is because I’m black. I just don’t understand why she doesn’t like me. Everybody likes me . . .”
And blah, blah, blah, I thought as I laughed out loud. She glared at me as if I were a disease.
“Hey, Rayven. Who is that lame[WL1] sitting behind you?” Latreese sneered.
Rayven turned and looked at me. Up to this point, Rayven and I had been cool. I had biology with her, and we were in the same group. She had always been friendly; we would make small talk while waiting our turn for the Bunsen burners. But she turned toward Latreese, laughed and said, “Girl, I don’t know.”
“Hey, India. You know her?” Latreese asked.
Before India could respond, Rayven said, “Ugh, girl. India wouldn’t be caught dead talking to someone like her.”
“Well, she better keep her nose in her own business,” Latreese spat.
I frowned and turned away. I didn’t know this chick. I had never seen her before we started high school, but she acted as if she hated me.
“Well, if you wasn’t standing right in front of us talking loud as hell, she wouldn’t be in your damn business,” Millie stated.
Before they could say anything, the coach told them to line up. They just shot her a dirty look and walked away.
“Thanks for having my back,” I said in a trembling voice and swallowed the tears that threatened to fall.
“Girl, don’t worry about it, but you gotta toughen up, or else you won’t survive high school.”
Millie was right, my freshman year of high school was rough. After the pep rally, Latreese and her minions went out of their way to mess with me. Nate, Millie, and I usually walked home together. Nate lived on the block behind mine. Our houses were separated by the alley. Millie only went so far because she lived in the opposite direction. But Nate made the basketball team, and he had practice after school. I had to walk the rest of the way home alone. Rayven and I only lived two blocks from each other, and they started following me home. Latreese would talk shit about my hair, my clothes, whatever she could say to make me feel bad about myself, and her minions would be cracking up. I wasn’t a fighter, so I would pull out my Walkman, put on my music, and ignore them. Music had always been my refuge from the outside world. Since about age five, I had been singing my troubles away. I had an amazing voice.
One day out of the blue, Millie walked me all the way home. Surprisingly, they didn’t follow me that day. I don’t know how she knew, but Millie had gotten wind of what they were doing. They stopped after that. But it didn’t stop the torment in school. Rayven would bring me notes from Latreese saying I was ugly and needed to do something with my hair. She would toss me the note, but I wouldn’t read it; I would just leave the note folded on my desk. She started giving the notes to other people to read to me. Millie would be so mad at me for not fighting back, but I just wasn’t a fighter. They didn’t actually touch me, so I pretended not to care. The truth was, I was crying on the inside because I had never done anything to these girls, and I couldn’t understand the torment.
Still I continued to watch Donte from the sidelines though. He was so dreamy and fly. He always managed to speak to me in the halls, or come to our table in the lunchroom and ask me about homework. This just made the torment worse. But it was all worth it just to get some attention from him.
One day after Donte said “what’s up” to me in the hall, I walked into the lunchroom and got hit in the head with an apple. Someone threw it so hard it knocked me clean out. I woke up in the nurse’s office. And I refused to snitch, although I should have. The nurse sent me home. Millie and Nate came to check on me after school.
I was lying on the couch watching TV when the doorbell rang. Before I could get up, the door opened. It was my dad with Millie and Nate behind him.
“Hey girl, you a’ight?” Millie asked.
“Yeah, I have a lump on top of my head, but other than that I’m all good,” I responded, getting off the couch.
We went into the kitchen, grabbed some chips and three pops, and headed into my room. As soon as I closed the door, Nate blurted out, “Ya best friend is crazy!”
“What happened?” I asked.
“I was about to go upside those bitches head. That’s what happened!” Millie said, rolling her eyes.
They sat on my bed and told me what went down. After I got knocked out, Millie raced over to them and tried to climb over the table. Nate had to hold Millie back.
“I knew if she got a hold of Latreese she would be suspended for sure,” he said.
“Donte stopped me and asked what was going on,” Millie said. “I told him he better get his girl before I get a hold of her.”
“He was confused, like . . . he didn’t know why they were messing with you,” Nate said.
“I told him, he was the reason. He said he would take care of it,” said Millie.
“Really?” I exclaimed, surprised that he would even concern himself with me. Inside I was smiling.
After that, Latreese didn’t bother me anymore, but it was bittersweet because Donte didn’t talk to me either.
[WL1]Use a term from the 90s.