Kayla whips around the corner into the parking lot of the hospital. “You have to come. I need you to be my wing-woman. Just tell your parents you’re staying at my house. It’ll be the truth. I’ll drive us back after the party.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “You know them. My mom will call while we’re supposed to be at your house, asking to talk to your mom, trying to pretend that she’s not checking up on me.”
I want to go to Lo’s. I do. But I also don’t want to lie to my parents, no matter how much we disagree. I know everyone thinks I’m one of the good girls, but I can’t afford to mess up like other kids. I’m an immigrant in this country. My dad always told me we have to work twice as hard as anyone else just to get to the same place, which is why I work four times as hard—because I want to succeed.
“What’s Lo going to say?” Kayla asks. “You told her you’d be there.”
I stare out the window at the palm trees lining the edge of the parking lot. Why do I feel guilty for just thinking about doing things most teenagers do? “No, I said maybe.”
“Why do I even bother?” Kayla says, clearly annoyed. “Your maybe always means no.”
Fair enough, but if I didn’t always say no to things, I might not be getting the biggest yes of my life now—the golden ticket in my backpack. The one that will bring me straight to the top of the heap, where I belong.
The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources—because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.
—LYNDON B. JOHNSON
I SAY BYE to Kayla and hope she’s not too irritated with me, and promise I’ll think about going to Lo’s party, then I head into the hospital. My mom has been working there for a few years now. She’s what they call an environmental service worker, which basically means she’s a glorified janitor. She has to do everything from mopping the hallways to washing dirty sheets. I feel bad for her, especially this year. Her job is already hard, but the hospital administration changed a few months ago and they started laying off some of Mom’s coworkers, which means she’s doing double the work she used to do. I know she’s worried about losing her job too.
I started volunteering at the hospital in the gift shop when I was a freshman, then I assisted the nurses, but a year ago I started interviewing patients for a storytelling project. It’s part of a research study to see how connections and being heard can affect the healing process, especially for elderly patients. Apparently patients need personal interactions, especially during recovery, and these moments can even alleviate physical symptoms. Hearing my mom talk about how sad it was that so many of the people at the hospital never had anyone visit made me excited to help out. I wrote about my experiences for my essay for the National Scholarship too. Patients need to know that people care about them, that someone is listening to what they have to say. For many of them, that someone is me.
Trying to shake off disappointing Kayla, I head through the doors to the ER lobby. Gladys, an older woman with curly white hair that she wears in ringlets close to her scalp, sits behind the counter where new patients fill out their paperwork. She’s talking to an older gentleman wearing a fancy navy blue suit standing next to a tall boy who looks like he’s around my age. They look like father and son, except the son has dark, chestnut-colored hair and his dad’s is more wheat-colored.
While the boy listens to his father, I sneak a peek at him. He’s tan, although maybe not so much tan as a natural golden-brown color. He must be mixed. Caucasian dad, Latina mom maybe? I can tell because I’m pretty mixed myself. Filipinos are a little of everything. (I’m Filipino Chinese Hawaiian French.) This guy has deep brown eyes and cut-glass cheekbones, and he’s wearing a navy suit with a green tie and brown dress shoes. Although his clothes are perfectly put together, his hair looks like he’s been running his hands through it too much. When he smiles at something his father says, I notice a dimple on one cheek. He glances over and catches me staring, and I blush, because he’s really cute. My heart rate immediately goes up and I’m lucky I’m not hooked up to a machine right now.
His father shakes Gladys’s hand. “Thank you, Mrs. Robertson. I appreciate your help.” He walks toward the elevator but the son lingers behind. “Go ahead, Dad. I forgot something.”
I say hi to Gladys and she hands me the folder with the list of today’s patients who’ve signed up to be part of the project. The boy is still standing next to me. When Gladys gets up from her chair, she raises an eyebrow in my direction, then makes herself look busy at the filing cabinet.
I can feel him looking at me, but he doesn’t say anything, so I finally do. “What did you forget?” I blurt.
“I forgot to get your number,” he says, his voice low and rich.
My blush deepens, and when our eyes meet, I feel a spark inside, like I’m all lit up from within. He smiles at me from under his long, floppy bangs. It makes me want to run my own hands through his hair, which looks so thick and glossy and inviting. I’ve never felt so attracted to anyone before, and I’m a little shocked at how much I want to touch him—a shoulder, an elbow.
Somehow I find myself digging for my phone. I don’t know why, but I can’t remember my number, let alone my name right now.
Gladys yells from the window. “Jazzy baby!” she calls. “I’ve got another patient for you!”
I’m mortified, but the boy’s smile grows wider. He takes my phone from my hand. I didn’t even realize I was holding it.
“Tell you what. Why don’t you text me? That way it’s up to you. I can tell your mother taught you never to talk to strangers.” He punches in his number, takes a quick, goofy selfie to go with his contact info and hands it back to me. His fingers are warm, but dry. My hand feels electric.
I pocket my phone, trying to look as cool as he does. I shrug, as if I could care less.
When he’s gone, Gladys comes back to the window with an amused expression and a slip of paper with another name for me. “What did he want? Although I can guess,” she teases.
“Who is he?” I ask, ignoring the teasing.
“Congressman Blakely’s son. His dad represents our district. They were here visiting a relative.”
I take a surreptitious look at my phone, at the mug shot he just took. He’s smiling like a doofus. A very handsome doofus who does things like take a girl’s phone on a whim. ROYCE BLAKELY, it reads. Royce? What kind of ridiculous name is Royce?
Gladys smirks. “Cute, isn’t he?”
I roll my eyes. “He’d be even cuter if he didn’t wear a suit. Who wears a suit in LA?”
“Be careful what you say,” Gladys says, tapping the counter with a pen. “When you’re older, you’ll want your man to dress better. Some can get pretty lazy. After enough years together, you could find yourself begging him not to wear sweatpants to the Christmas party. Like I know I’ll have to do with Bob again this year.”
I laugh and say goodbye to her, then take the elevator up to the floor where they keep the people who have chronic illnesses or have to stay at the hospital for long periods of time. Mom makes friends with a lot of these patients, since she cleans their rooms every day. When she comes home quieter than normal, I know she’s lost one of them.
Most of our family still lives in the Philippines, so I understand what it’s like to be away from people you love. But at least I know they’re still alive. I can’t even imagine what I would do if I knew I would never be able to visit them again. It’s been a few years since we were back in Manila, and I miss it. I miss my grandparents’ huge house in the province, where at any time of day you can find neighbors, friends and relatives gathered at the courtyard tables playing mah-jongg or cards. Their house is like the community center for the village, always open and welcome to all.
I look down at my phone again. His name is Royce. Seriously? Am I supposed to call him that? Why don’t you text me? That way it’s up to you, he said. He’s not a stranger. He’s a congressman’s son. I mean, you’re supposed to know your congressman, right? I can be a good citizen.
jasmindls: Hey it’s me, I send.
I get a text back immediately.
royceb: jazzy baby?
jasmindls: The one and the same, Rolls Royce.
jasmindls: Is that your real name or did your parents just really want a car?
royceb: if you must know, I’m named after my uncle who died.
jasmindls: Oh god! Sorry. My bad.
royceb: no, it’s mine. my uncle’s alive.
royceb: actually he just got in a car accident, that’s why we were at the hospital.
royceb: so you have a problem with my name huh?
jasmindls: I dunno I kind of like fancy cars.
so should I call you Jazzy for short?