“The usual,” I say, smiling back. “What’s up with you?”
“Hanging out with these losers.” Lorraine gestures to the guys at her side. “This is my boyfriend, Julian. That’s Dylan. They play in a band together,” she says.
Julian is African American, incredibly good-looking, with cappuccino-colored skin and dreadlocks. He’s wearing a red beanie and has tattoos all over his forearms. Kayla smiles at Dylan, the surfer-type boy with messy blond hair wearing mirrored aviator sunglasses and a T-shirt with Bob Marley’s face on the front. I can tell she’s already developed a massive crush on him.
“Cheerleaders, huh?” Dylan asks.
I sigh a little. “Good guess. How can you tell?”
It’s not like we’re wearing our uniforms or anything, and I don’t like the way he said cheerleaders, as if we’re just chicks who shake their pom-poms. Our squad won Regionals last year. We’re just as much athletes as the guys in helmets we supposedly “cheer” for. (They lose every year. Our squad has a better winning percentage. Burn.)
Dylan smirks. “Dorky white tennis shoes are pretty much a dead giveaway.”
“Leave her alone, Dylan. She’s a friend of mine,” Lo says.
“My older sister was a cheerleader,” he says somewhat apologetically.
“It’s okay,” says Kayla, who’s practically drooling over him even though she’s trying to appear disinterested. “Where do you guys go to school?”
“We graduated last year. Dylan’s at Valley College. I’m taking some time off and focusing on music,” Julian says. “I might go back to become a sound engineer. I’m still figuring things out.”
Lo tosses her hair over her shoulder. “Want to come over on Friday?” she asks. “I’m having a few people over for a kick back. It’ll be chill. My parents are out of town.”
“I don’t know,” I say, hesitating to commit, even as I feel Kayla’s intense stare on me. “Midterms are coming up and you know what my parents are like. And Kayla and I already have plans that night.” To sit at home and bake chocolate-chip cookies, but I don’t mention that.
“We can change them!” Kayla chirps.
“Yeah, come on, Jas,” Lorraine says. “It’ll be fun. Hang out for a change.”
“Fine. Maybe. Message me the details?” I hate letting people down and I do miss Lo.
“Will do,” Lorraine says. “See you guys then. Bye, Jas. Bye, Kayla.”
Kayla seems shocked Lorraine even knows her name but recovers quickly. “Cool, thanks, Lo.” She looks at the boys. “Are you guys going to be there?”
Julian seems amused. He exchanges glances with Dylan. I’m not sure what they’re trying to say to each other. Boys. I can never read them.
“Yeah, we’ll be there,” says Julian, and Dylan nods.
“Excellent,” says Kayla.
* * *
Kayla and I walk to her brand-new pearly-white Dodge Charger, which her parents bought her for her seventeenth birthday. We throw our backpacks onto the backseat and plop into the front seats, overheated and exhausted, although I can tell Kayla’s in a good mood from the party invitation and meeting those guys.
I’m catching a ride to the hospital where my mom works. I don’t know how to drive yet, and it’s kind of embarrassing, especially since I live in LA (okay, Chatsworth, but no one ever wants to admit they live in the Valley).
Daddy always promises to teach me how to drive, but there hasn’t been any time in either of our schedules, especially since I’ve been training so hard at cheer. Right now I don’t really have time to go anywhere besides school and practice, so I don’t mind too much.
Kayla turns on the ignition and rolls the windows down. “He was cute, right? Did he seem into me? Dylan?”
“Who can tell behind those aviator shades?” I say, teasing her on her “bad boy” taste. As she drives out of the lot and down the highway next to the school, I change the subject. Once Kayla gets going on boy-talk, she’ll never stop, and I want to bring up something more important. “Hey, your tumbling is looking really good,” I say.
Kayla rolls her eyes. “Thanks, but I don’t need false compliments.”
I search Kayla’s face for a hint of sarcasm, but I don’t see any. “I wasn’t being fake with you,” I say.
“It’s not about whether I can do the movements,” she says.
“Of course not. You’ve always been one of the best on the team.”
Idling at a stoplight, Kayla turns to me. “I don’t need you to make me feel better about myself, Jas. You could just ask what’s been going on with me. I feel like you barely exist outside of practice anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, and I really am. I know Kayla’s needed me and I’ve neglected her. “I’m a terrible friend.”
“You’re not. I know how important being the best is for you, so I understand that you need to work so hard. But don’t forget that I’m here for you too.”
I lean my head on Kayla’s shoulder. “Thanks, K. So what’s been going on with you? Are you still going out with that guy? What was his name? Jason?”
“Girl, we really do need to catch up. I only went on, like, two dates with him. If you can even count them as dates... On the last one, he took me to an arcade, then expected me to watch him play video games. I said I was going to the bathroom and ditched him to play mini golf next door with one of the guys who works at the arcade.”
We both start laughing at her story, and I know that Kayla has forgiven me for being so absent lately. “I know you’ve noticed that I’ve been missing my marks more than normal,” she continues. “But it’s not because of boys.”
I stay silent. I know Kayla well enough to understand that she’s not going to quit talking until she’s said everything she needs to get out. Talking is her way of processing things, while I tend to keep things bottled up inside until something’s bothering me so bad that I finally explode in tears.
“My parents are separating. Dad moved out last week. He’s living in his own apartment in Simi Valley.” She takes a deep breath and her upper lip quivers.
“Oh my God. What happened?” I ask, feeling the bottom drop out of my stomach. I knew things were bad at home, but not this bad. No matter how old you are, your parents getting divorced is still every kid’s nightmare. I feel awful for her.
Kayla shakes her head. “I don’t know. I think Dad had an affair, but they’re not saying anything. I guess Mom doesn’t want Brian and me to hate him for forever.” Her little brother is Danny’s age.
“Of course not. But that’s terrible.” I lean over and give Kayla as much of a hug as I can while she’s driving. “I’m so sorry, K. I don’t know what to say.” I feel my eyes watering.
Kayla gives me a little side hug back and wipes her eyes too. “It’s okay. I’m glad I told you.”
“Do you want to have movie night at my house instead? You can get away from your place for a while,” I suggest.
“You mean on Friday? I thought we were hitting Lo’s party after the game...”
“Ugh, I don’t know,” I say. “It’s not a party anyway. It’s a kick back.”
“You know a kick back is just a code name for a total rager. Right? I can’t go without you.”
“Yes, you can,” I say. “You don’t need me.”
“We’re going to that party,” she says determinedly. “It’s senior year, Jas. It’s about time you had a little fun.”
Dylan has no idea what’s coming at him. What Kayla wants, Kayla gets. Especially when it comes to boys. Then she drops them like flies and they leave sad comments online, asking why she never texts them back. I wish I had her confidence in that arena. It’s not that I’m shy around guys, but with my parents being so strict along with my tough academic slate and all my extracurrriculars, I’ve never really had the time or opportunity to have a boyfriend.