I don’t agree with Coach’s choice for captain. I think more responsibility might help pull Kayla back toward the team. Everyone likes her. They’ll listen to her, but Coach won’t change her mind. I hope Kayla doesn’t take the news too hard.
After Coach tells the team about my award and how I’ll be heading to D.C., all the girls come up to congratulate me and give me hugs.
“Don’t forget us when you’re rich and famous,” says Deandra.
“The little people,” agrees Emily.
Courtney, who’s almost six feet tall, laughs at that. The others beam—everyone’s so happy for me.
“I’d never forget you guys!” I tell them. “Otherwise you’ll throw me off the pyramid and won’t catch me!”
“Girl, you got that right,” they say and laugh.
They’re all here, except for Kayla. She doesn’t come up to hug me or congratulate me. And that’s how I know she’s mad.
* * *
After practice, I wait for Kayla to change out of her cheer clothes. Walking out of the bathroom stall, she brushes by me and opens her backpack on the locker room bench.
“Why didn’t you tell me about the scholarship?” She doesn’t look up from the floor. “I have to find out with everyone else?”
Right. I never told her about it. I’d meant to, but then with everything that happened, it just slipped my mind. I feel my cheeks burn. “I don’t know. The day I heard the news, I wanted to tell my family first, and then I sort of forgot...”
“But if you’re going to D.C. this weekend, haven’t you known for, like, almost a month already? Did you think I’d be jealous or something? That’s messed up.”
I walk over to her and sit down on the bench next to her backpack. “No, it’s not that. I’m sorry. Things have been weird. At home, I mean. I didn’t even know I was going to D.C. until a couple days ago.”
Finished stuffing clothes inside her backpack, Kayla zips up the sides. “Things are weird at home for you? At least your parents don’t hate each other.”
I gently grab her arm, turning her toward me. “There’s a lot going on that I haven’t told you about. First of all, my mom lost her job at the hospital.”
Her eyes widen. “Oh my God, Jas, I’m so sorry. Is she okay? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was embarrassed. I know I shouldn’t be, but I just... Ugh. And I’m so sorry I haven’t been there for you as much as I should have been. I told myself you were busy with Dylan and you didn’t need me. But I’m here now. Tell me what’s going on with you too.”
Kayla sighs. Tears are building up in her eyes. “I just thought you didn’t care. You’ve been totally MIA for the last few weeks. Things have gotten so bad at home. Dad’s gone, and Mom spends as much time out of the house as possible. And I’m stuck watching Brian on the weekends. I hate everything. I just want my life to go back to normal.”
I feel the same way, but I don’t say anything. Instead, I hug Kayla until she’s done crying. Then I go to one of the stalls to get a wad of toilet paper so she can wipe her eyes and blow her nose.
“How’s Dylan?” I ask. Talking about boys always makes Kayla feel better. She instantly lights up.
“He’s good.” She sniffles. “I really like him. He’s not like any other guy I’ve dated. He’s really chill and easy to hang out with. I just...feel like I can totally be myself around him.”
“That’s amazing,” I say, feeling wistful. It’s not as if Royce and I have been in contact lately. We sort of lost the thread—okay, fine, I dropped it. I’ll probably never see him again.
“What are you going to do on your trip?” Kayla asks.
“There’s a tour of the Capitol, and there’s this fancy reception for the National Scholars. And I’m supposed to meet the president, I guess.”
“The president?” She wipes her nose, then throws the tissue away. “Wow, Jas, that’s huge. How fancy is this dinner? What are you going to wear?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that yet.”
Kayla pulls me up from the bench. “We have to get out of here,” she says. “We’re going shopping!”
* * *
By Wednesday afternoon, I’ve got my bags completely packed. I stuffed a little blue glass bottle inside my suitcase so I can scoop up some dirt from the capital to add to my collection.
We’re on the way to the airport. My brothers stayed home with one of Mom’s friends. Dad and Lola Cherry are along for the ride. Lola Cherry is in her seventies, wearing large Jackie O glasses, and has the demeanor of someone who was quite the looker in her youth. She dyes her hair black and wears bright red lipstick, but like the typical Filipino matron, lives in comfortable housedresses and flip-flops.
I’ve been sort of dreading this moment when I leave them. It’s the first time I’ll be on my own anywhere, and I know how Mom can be. She’s worried and talking a hundred miles an hour. “You need to be careful out there. Washington, D.C., is filled with strange old men. You keep them away from you. Button up your blouse. And no makeup.”
“A chaperone is picking me up at the airport,” I say, nibbling my nails. “You’re overreacting.”
“I don’t know this chaperone,” Mom says.
“Me either,” Dad says. “He could be a space alien for all I know.”
“Daddy,” I say. “Just stop. You’re being silly. And it’s a girl.”
Lola Cherry sits in the backseat, snickering. “If you were smart, Jasmine, you would take me along,” she says.
“Why? So you can flirt with all the old congressmen?” Dad says.
Lola clicks her tongue. “I don’t flirt,” she says. “I don’t have to say a thing. They’ll come to me because of my beauty. They’ll take me to dinner on the town. I want to see this Washington, D.C., nightlife.”
I laugh. I should probably take Lola Cherry—she’d probably have more fun than me.
“Lola Cherry!” Mom says. “You’re not helping. These people have no scruples.”
“I know,” Lola says, winking at me.
I grin back.
“Ay,” Mom says. “I knew we shouldn’t have let you come with us.”
“So you can keep torturing your daughter on your own?”
“I’m not torturing her,” Mom says. “She needs to hear these things.”
“Mom,” I say. “I’ll be fine. It’s perfectly safe. This is a huge award. There’s a ton of security. Nothing will happen to me! Quit worrying. And you know what? That reform bill is going to pass the House. I can feel it. Everything will be okay.” My heart begins to beat faster, as I think about everything that’s at stake.
“That bill better pass,” Dad says. “Or the UFO is going to pick us up and take us away.”
“Dad, quit with the space alien jokes,” I sigh.
“Don’t tell me you’re getting tired of them already.”