Authors: Hillary Homzie
“Sorry.” He smiled. “But funny, right?” He rubbed his hands together.
“Squid. Focus.” I peered up at the clock on the brick wall of the library. I had to be home in forty-five minutes for dinner. Tonight was takeout Chinese food night.
Squid picked up the yo-yo and did some kind of elaborate trick. “Can you stop with your yo-yo?” I said.
“Sorry, sorry.” He snapped the yo-yo into his hand and palmed it.
Humming, Squid stared at the wall, and then turned to me. “I've had enough of the library. Can I come over to your house? Please. I want to see what a principal's house looks like.”
“Your eagerness is really creepy. Don't act like you're excited by stuff. Uneager is much better than eager.” I thought of Hayden. If I acted all eager, I was sure he'd think I was such a dork.
“You've got to look bored like this. Don't make your eyes get so big and poppy-outy. Slouch and then look past people when you talk to them. Like there might be something more interesting behind them.” I thought of me and Nia at the restaurant. “Make them want to make eye contact with you.”
I demonstrated for Squid, staring past him, which was a pretty easy thing to do.
Squid practiced it, but he made his eyes too big.
“More squinty. Not so alert,” I explained.
“Okay, okay.” Then he did it for a moment. He stared past me, and through me, and was completely unfazed and nonchalant-acting.
“Perfect,” I said.
“But that was sooooo boring to be that way.”
“It's what you have to do,” I explained patiently. “But if I want to go to your house, why should I lie? Why should I pretend that I don't want to go? Are you asking me to lie? I don't like to lie. Because I think it'd be cool to see where the principal lives.”
“I'm not asking you to become a liar,” I said. “You just have to be sly. It's like with my little cousin Forest. If I tell him he should eat broccoli, then he leaves it; but then I say, okay, you can't eat broccoli, it's just for big boys, he'll grab the plate back and start gobbling it up. It's called reverse psychology. You need to use it a little.”
“Okay, okay. I can do that. No problemo. Want to watch me? I can nail that.”
“And when you do speak, do like, just little bits. No complete sentences. Don't say âNo problemo.' And remember the not-so-eager-part.”
“Okay,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Whatev.”
“But Squid. This is important.”
Squid grinned and started cracking up. “See, I did it.”
“Yeah. That attitude was right-on. Like, you're a little bit tired of me.”
Squid yawned. “Boring.”
“Exactly, bored and slightly sarcastic. But huge amounts of sarcasm would take too much effort. Just mildly sarcastic.”
Squid shrugged. “Uh-huh.”
“That's it.” I jumped out of my seat. “This is a breakthrough!”
Squid didn't smile. He shrugged. “You're getting it, dude.”
He shrugged again. “Cool.” He slouched down into the chair.
“Squid, I'm liking it. This is good stuff. You just need to remember to apply it. In school and out of school.”
He looked at me a little confused. “All right, chief,” he said in a bored, low voice. “Whatever.”
He was almost scaring me. Suddenly, he wasn't completely Squid anymore.
At home Dad showed me a bouquet of flowers wrapped in clear plastic cellophane paper. “It's crazy,” he said. “But now that I have a girlfriend, I'm seeing flowers everywhere. And I just have to buy them.”
I took a bite of the shrimp with lobster sauce that Dad
had picked up from The Golden Lotus. Girlfriend? Did my dad just use the
word? I guess they had been dating now for three months, so it made sense. A few weeks ago I remember that Mynah/Mrs. Tate didn't want anyone to know anything about their dating situation. I guess since, technically, Dad was her boss, she didn't want anyone to think she was getting special treatment. “Girlfriend” sounded so regular and out in the open. Suddenly the shrimp stuck to my sides and clawed at me.
Dad flicked his eyes at the flowers. “They're fun, right?”
No, they were carnations. Red ones that looked dyed and cheesy. If he wanted to impress, he should buy her violet tulips. I needed to tell him how bad these were, but I wasn't going to do it.
No, let him suffer flower humiliation.
Luckily, the opportunity presented itself immediately.
After we finished dinner, there was a knock at the door. It was Mynah/Mrs. Tate.
Dad didn't look surprised at all. After he hugged her, he explained, “Mynah had to drop off Nia for art class.” Great. With Maddie. The art class where they first met and “bonded” over watercolors.
“I'd love to see some of her artwork,” said Dad, carefully hanging up Mynah's coat on a hanger.
“Me too,” said Mynah. “So far she hasn't brought back too much.”
That's because all she does is talk and goof off with Maddie,
She walked through the living room into the kitchen. Opening up the fridge, Mynah took out the Brita pitcher. Behind the pitcher was our turkey for Thanksgiving. Mynah and Nia were going to see relatives in Denver for Thanksgiving, so we didn't have to do it with them. I had that to be thankful for.
I watched Mynah fill up her glass. “Want some water?” she asked.
I shook my head. The filter had been in there forever and was probably poisoning the water, but I didn't say anything as she took a sip. I guess that was evil.
“If you're hungry, there's a salad from Whole Foods,” said Dad. “The kind with those pecans you like.”
“Yum,” Mynah said, as Dad got the salad out for her. “Y'all, I won't say no.” Since when did he get anything from Whole Foods? He called the place “Whole Paycheck.” Usually he shopped at King Soopers. This was definitely somehow Nia's hypnotic influence seeping into my family. The thing was, I had actually been telling my dad to buy stuff like organic milk for a while because it was healthier, but he kept on saying it was a rip-off. So,
partly, it annoyed me that the Tates had this abnormal influence over people, like my dad and Maddie.
Dad sat down next to her as I stood there feeling, suddenly, like a ghost in my own house. I had
clue that Mynah was coming over. Didn't she have a daughter? Nia? Why was I thinking about her? I shouldn't worry about Nia. Was I crazy?
Maybe suffering would make Nia more human. Nah.
My stomach twisted.
I didn't realize that he was going to put the flowers to good use so soon. Dad nodded over at the buckets of shrimp and lobster sauce on the counter. “Want some?”
“Oh, I'm good,” Mrs. Tate/Mynah said with way too much hidden meaning.
Later I called Nicole and Heather to entertain them with stories about coaching Squid and then I started sniff-crying, as I thought about Dad and Mynah. Mynah and Dad. The truth. That they were officially boyfriend and girlfriend.
“What's wrong, Sophie? Tell us,” said Heather.
“You have to,” said Nicole.
“Okay,” I said, sniffing again. And then I told them all about my dad and Mynah Bird.
I told them everything so fast that I started to babble. “My dad got her carnations,” I said. “Red ones. They looked brown on the tips and cheesy. And he called her his girlfriend. She thinks carnations are cute. I have a feeling she's going to stay overnight.”
“Wow,” said Nicole. “Think how you could go through her folders at night and let everyone know what's going to be on the pre-algebra test.”
“Now, there's an advantage for you, right?” said Heather.
“Not that I'm going to do that.” But it did make me feel better, and the three of us laughed on the phone about me being the pre-algebra spy for the entire seventh grade.
s I strolled into the caf, I checked out what Squid
was wearing. We'd had a four-day weekend because of Thanksgiving, and I was afraid that over that time, he might have reverted back, style-wise. Good, he had on his long-sleeved skateboarding T-shirt. There were no superheroes or zombies in sight.
But then I saw something that made my skin prickle and feel hive-y.
In the middle of the cafeteria, Elio and Squid and Gabriel had stacked a giant pile of Legos. Legos were cool. I mean, when I was seven I had actually gone to Legoland outside of San Diego, but that's because I was seven. This was middle school, and they were making spaceships and making spaceship-type sounds and laughing goofily about it. And everyone was staring and whispering at them, especially the Nia/Maddie table.
Legos. Really, that was one step away from building blocks.
Elio had some kind of master Lego builder T-shirt, as if he had planned some sort of geeky Lego-themed day.
Everything that I had worked so hard to build would crumble unless Squid distanced himself from Elio and Gabriel and their heaps of little plastic toys that snapped together. Step 9 (Find nonâyo-yo playing, nonâmuddy-footprint-measuring friends) of the Squid plan had to be activated, like now.
After lunch I approached Squid, as he was heading to put away his tray. “You're going to have to give yourself a little break from your pals,” I whispered.
Squid's eyebrows looked like a giant
. “What do you mean?”
“Like today, during lunch with the Legos. If you want to get onto the Hot List, you can't be hanging out with a bunch of guys who bring toys to school like that. You know about step eight of the plan.”
“Do we have to do that?”
I nodded. “Uh-huh.” As the bell rang, everyone began getting ready to leave the cafeteria. A group of guys lined up in front of the trash can and pitched their milk cartons into the trash like they were shooting hoops. One of the cartons bounced off my shoulder and a little bit of chocolate milk spilled out.
“Sorry,” said the guy who did it. I thought his name was Sergio.
“Whatever.” I grabbed a napkin off my tray and mopped up the spilled milk.
“You should have licked it off,” said Squid, laughing too loudly.
“No. See what I'm talking about? You need to be around normal people who act normally.” I flicked my eyes over at Elio and Gabriel who were scooping the Legos into Elio's backpack which had zombie stickers all over it. I lowered my voice. “They're influencing you to continue to act goofy and immature. It'd be better to eat by yourself or find some new kids to eat with. It'd just be for a few days. Squid, the List is coming out next Monday, one week. We're just talking five school days until December fifth.”
“No,” said Squid. “It'd hurt their feelings.”
I leaned into him. “It's the only way. Look, it would only be if someone was around. Like, if you guys were alone in your house you could talk about superheroes, build Legos, lick chocolate milk, and walk up lockers all you ever wanted.”
“You can't walk up lockers at home.”
“You know what I'm talking about.”
He glanced back at Elio and Gabriel, who were cracking up as they were flying one of their Lego-created
spaceships into Gabriel's lunch bag. “I get you,” said Squid.
“Just a few days,” I begged. “Okay? Can you do that?”
“Maybe,” said Squid. “I'll think about it.”
“Do you or do you not want to get on the Hot List? Do you want to get whatever girl you want in this school?”
“I'll do it,” he said, but he wasn't smiling about it.
I guess Squid did some thinking, because the next day at school, he didn't eat with Elio and Gabriel. I wasn't sure where he went but he wasn't in the caf at all. Maybe the courtyard? Or the bathroom?
After school it had really warmed up and was a balmy fifty-two, which was pretty warm for Boulder, especially at the end of November. Since soccer season had just ended, I was staying after school and waiting for Dad so that we could go home together. I'd hang out in the library to do homework. But today I did my homework outside since it was so nice.
I noticed a couple of guys skateboarding over by the parking lot. I wandered over to get a better view because they both seemed pretty cute. One had longish dark curly hair that touched the collar of his shirt and the other had
straight lighter brown hair with a mullet cut but looked cute.
It was Hayden riding his skateboard with â¦
I had to do a double take. Squid?
I mean it was Squid but it wasn't Squid.
Physically, it was still Squid. But when he glanced at me, the expression on his face was bored, just the way I had taught him. I had no idea that Squid could skateboard.
I was standing there for some time, and Squid kept on skating and high-fiving Hayden and all. Then I watched Elio and Gabriel also walk outside and stare at Squid. After gaping for a while, Elio called out tentatively, “Squid?”
Squid pushed his skateboard so it kind of flipped out from beneath his feet, twirled in the air and he caught it for a moment, and then it crashed onto the pavement. Okay, maybe he couldn't really skateboard. He had looked cool for about two seconds. But two very cool seconds, for sure.
Hayden stood next to him with his blue-blue eyes. For some reason, I noticed that he had a little ziggy scar along his chin. I thought it made him look tough in a good kind of way.
“Squid?” called out Gabriel. It came out as a question.
“Yeah,” he said.
“I didn't know you skateboarded,” said Gabriel.
“I dunno, kinda,” he said.
“He doesn't suck,” said Hayden.
“Whatever, I suck.” Squid shrugged.
“One more time, dude?” asked Hayden, who glanced over his shoulder and smiled at me. At me. I felt a bunchy feeling in my stomach and didn't know what to do. Did he think that I was scoping on him or obsessed in a desperate way?