As I follow Kayla outside, Dylan pulls up in a beat-up, rusted-out Camaro. “How are you going to get your car back?” I ask her.
“He’ll pick us up in the morning. Then I’ll take you back home.”
“Isn’t your mom going to notice the car’s gone?”
“Probably not. Since Dad left, Mom doesn’t really care what I do. She doesn’t have the same expectations of me that your parents do for you, Jasmine.”
“Yes, she does,” I tell her. “Stop talking like that.” I guess sometimes I am lucky—my parents can be pains about rules and they’re way too strict, but at least they’ve always pushed me to do well.
When we walk up, Dylan gets out and puts his arm around Kayla, leading her to the passenger side. I follow behind them, thinking over what Kayla said about expectations.
Until now, I thought everything I did—the grades, student council, cheer—was because my parents expected me to do it. Watching Kayla flirt with Dylan in the front seat, I realize that’s not quite the truth.
I did all those things for me. I did them because I love them. Because they make me who I am. I like studying, I like doing well in school. Academics have always been easy for me, and I like pushing myself and topping everyone else. I’m super competitive and I always have to win. Whether I get to go to D.C. or not, I am a National Scholar.
I’m not going to lower my expectations of myself because the law and some politicians say I don’t belong. I deserve that scholarship. The United States Department of Education thinks so too.
I’m going to figure out a way to go to Washington, D.C. The president will be expecting me.
It is never too late to be what you might have been.
IT’S A WEEK after Lo’s party and I still haven’t figured out how to put my plan to storm the Capitol into action. Royce and I have been texting again. He saw pictures of me from the party that Kayla posted on Instagram and tagged me in, and said it looked fun. But he never showed up during either of my volunteer shifts at the hospital, so maybe he was mad I didn’t invite him? Who knows. I have other things to worry about right now anyway, but I am disappointed I didn’t get to see him.
I haven’t really talked to my parents. I guess we’re living in détente and denial right now. We’re learning about the Cold War in AP European History, which makes me America and my parents the Soviet Union, I guess?
After cheer practice on Wednesday, Kayla drives me to the hospital again. She’s a different person since she’s met Dylan—bouncy and giddy and girlish. I’m happy for her. He seems all right. I thought he was too cool for school, but he’s sweet to her. On Monday he was even nice enough to drive me to the hospital when Kayla couldn’t because she had to pick up her brother from after-school care. Now that her dad’s moved out, her mom needs more help.
“Did Dylan say anything about me by the way?” she asks. “The other day?”
“He says he’s totally in love and wants to marry you,” I joke. “I don’t know. We didn’t really talk about you.”
“You didn’t!” she squeals. “Why not!”
“All right, we did. He thinks you’re a ‘cool chick.’”
“He likes me, right?”
“He wouldn’t drive your best friend to a hospital if he didn’t,” I say.
I hug her goodbye and go visit my favorite patient. I’ve known her for only a week and a half, but Millie is already high on my list. She told me the other day that she’s an immigrant too. Her family moved from Germany when she was a teenager, which is why she still has a slight accent.
“You look great today. Your cheeks are so rosy,” I tell her when I arrive. Sitting down next to her hospital bed, I notice that someone has styled her hair, and I can see the Beverly Hills socialite she used to be.
“You flatter me too much,” Millie says. “I was never what they call a great beauty. But I’ll tell you, I never lacked attention from handsome men either.”
“Was your husband handsome?” I ask, taking out my notebook. “You said he did something in politics. Right?”
“Yes, he worked for the city. And he was very good-looking! I would have never married someone I wasn’t completely attracted to—both intellectually and physically.”
I think about how handsome Royce is—and funny and smart too—and feel myself beginning to blush, which Millie quickly notices.
“I’m sorry, Jasmine. That’s always been a trait of mine. I’m terribly forthcoming. I think my husband loved that about me. My mother always said I never had enough tact.”
“My best friend Kayla’s like that too, although she’s too honest about some things. It gets her in trouble.”
Millie gestures for me to open the window blinds. “You don’t strike me as someone who’d keep her opinions to herself though.”
Opening the blinds, I consider what I mean about Kayla’s honesty. “I try not to lie. And Kayla lies about stupid teenager things, like where she’s going or which boy she happens to be dating that minute, but she’s honest about how she feels. I wish I could be more like her in that way.” I wish I could tell Millie about my family’s situation. I think about it all the time, and the secret is starting to weigh on me.
“You’ll learn. In some ways you get braver as you get older. That’s why old biddies like me get away with saying whatever they want.”
We laugh together.
“We’re supposed to be talking about you,” I say, sitting back down. “What made you fall in love with your husband?”
“He was a dreamer, I suppose. People tend to think of politicians as pragmatic, doing what’s sensible, what’s realistic. It’s all a myth. Every single one is an idealist. Politicians are more about all kinds of crazy ideas than they are about what actually works.”
Does Millie know Royce’s dad, I wonder. Would she call him an idealist? I consider asking her, but I try to remind myself of the purpose of the project. This interview is to help Millie heal; it’s not for me. She’s here due to some heart trouble, and she told me she’d been in and out of the hospital for months now.
“What kind of politician was your husband?” I ask.
“A district attorney.”
“How did the two of you meet?”
“He helped us with a permit we needed for one of our buildings,” Millie straightens herself in her bed.
“Do you miss your work?” I ask, because she sounded a little wistful.
“A little. My sons run the company now.” She leans up in her bed. “Could you help me adjust this pillow? I’ve had a kink in my back all day.” As I shift her pillows behind her, Millie turns to put her hand on my shoulder. “I’ve had something on my mind lately, Jasmine. May I ask you a question? It’s only a little personal.”
I nod. “Yes. Of course.”
“What’s your happiest memory?” Millie asks.
I think for a moment, scanning through my happiest moments. My grandmother giving me the amber glass. Being named cheer captain at the end of last school year. Falling asleep on a mattress on the floor my first night in America, snuggled up to Danny, his little toddler’s body warm against me. I was scared, but I was also so excited to begin a new life.
Before I can even answer her, Millie starts up again. “Do you ever sense a little silver sliver of sadness around your happy memories?”
“I’m not sure what you mean...”
“I do. There’s something about remembering that just isn’t the same as the real thing. No matter how happy it makes you feel. When you remember something, you have to recognize that the moment will never happen again.”