Hey, Nobody’s Perfect
Insulting a guy in a wheelchair–is that any way to start a romance?
Life was complicated enough for Sivia before Keeley came into her life.
Her parent’s divorce did not wipe out their traditional family values. Dad is still way too self-centered, Mom is still resentful, Russ is still shoving food in his mouth and Sivia doesn’t need any more drama. But when the new student, obnoxious and legless Keeley, becomes her project partner, her life becomes even more complicated.
Family friction, peer pressure and her overly controlling father are threats her budding relationship—but prejudices she never knew she had and doesn’t want to acknowledge are the biggest hurdle of all.
Injuring a body part was so not a good thing, but I thought I could make it work for me.
“Sivia, would you please get the door!” Mom shouted from inside the pantry, where she was trying to find the oat bran cereal.
What was it with bran and people over forty, anyway?
Mom pulled herself out of the pantry.
I rolled my eyes for effect, scuffed over to the door and fumbled with the lock. It took a few extra seconds with the jiggling and jostling, but I got it open. “Hi, Dad.”
“Hi, honey.” Dad kissed my forehead. His lips felt like icicles. His soaking-wet sweatshirt clung to his chest. It was hard to tell if he was wet from rain or from sweating through the two-mile run from his new “bachelor pad,” (yuck) as he called it. He used to just barge right in, before Mom changed the locks. He raged about that until she pointed out that she didn’t have a key to his place, that when he first moved out he didn’t even want to tell her where his apartment was.
Dad rubbed his hands together. “Spring rain! That means softball is just around the corner. How’s your wrist, Sivia?”
“Er, the swelling has gone down a little.” I gave him a lame smile to show I was trying to be brave through my vast pain.
“That’s great,” Dad said. “From now on, watch those sweeping gestures. Whacking the back of your hand on the corner of the kitchen table could have broken a bone.”
“Kurt,” Mom said, her voice heavy with exasperation—almost standard when talking to Dad these days. “The doctor said a bruised bone could take just as long to heal as a fracture.” She poured herself a bowl of oat bran and sat down to eat.
Dad ignored Mom’s comment. As usual. “Have you been putting ice on it, Sivia?”
“Yes. But!” I quickly added, “It still hurts. A lot! I totally can’t bend my wrist or move my two middle fingers.” I tried to project a wounded-puppy look.
“Keep it elevated,” Dad said. “Maybe you should get a new bandage. That one looks stretched out. And you know the rule. R.I.C.E. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation.”
“Yes, Dad.” I thought the bandage was fine, but I didn’t argue. Dad was so a control freak and way too health-conscious, but, as beyond annoying as it was, everything he said always turned out to be right. I grabbed two slices of whole wheat bread and shoved them into the toaster.
“You’ve got to take care of that wrist,” Dad said. “After all, softball is your calling.”
Mom let out a loud sigh.
“Er, yeah,” I said. With my good hand I tucked my hair behind my ear. Just last year, at Dad’s strong, um, “suggestion,” I’d switched from track to softball. I liked to run, but my speed was only average, at best. Dad didn’t like for me to spend time on being just average. Even good wasn’t good enough. That’s why I played up my bandaged wrist. Maybe it would give me the out I needed if Dad didn’t let up about his goals for my perfection in softball.
Suddenly there was a loud thud, bump, and crunch from the direction of the hallway. That would be Russ, jumping down the stairs. He skidded into the kitchen, his thick brown hair flopping down on his forehead, his arms wide open. “Ta-da!” he half sang. At twelve, he was the master of grand entrances. “Oops. Morning, Dad.”
“Rus-sell Gro-ner,” Dad said in his clipped, stern tone. “How many times have I told you not to jump down the stairs like that?”
“Four thousand, seven hundred and eighty-two? If I’m right, do I get a prize?”
Dad glared at Russ.
“Sorry.” Russ shrugged as he scuffed his foot back and forth. “I forgot.”
“Oh,” Dad said. “You forgot. How on earth could you—”
Mom let out a symphony of sighs, and scraped her chair on the floor as she stood to take her cereal bowl over to the dishwasher. She pressed her normally full lips down into a tight line.
“Now, Estelle.” Dad touched Mom’s elbow. “You know he shouldn’t be crashing around like that.”
Mom shot Dad a penetrating look. Dad flinched.
There was a knock on the door. Mom answered it. “Ted! What are you doing here at this hour?” Mom smoothed her short curly hair with her fingers and tightened the belt on her fuzzy blue robe.
My toast popped up.
Dad grabbed my arm and whispered in my ear. “Who the heck is that drip with the thick glasses, and why is he bothering your mother at this hour?”
“It’s Mr. Hawkins.” I slathered raspberry jam my toast. “A new guy from Mom’s office.” I was tempted to make him sound like more of a hunk type than he looked, just to make Dad more jealous than he already sounded, but I didn’t want to start any real trouble. And, really, Dad had given up any right to be jealous when he left Mom. Besides, I had to get ready for school.
“I have to catch the early flight up to Portland, Stelle,” Mr. Hawkins said to Mom, “but I knew you’d need these figures.” He handed her a folder.
“Why, Ted, thank you!” Mom’s smile brought a rosy glow to her cheeks. “I really appreciate this. I know you had to go out of your way.” She didn’t mention that he probably could have emailed or faxed them to her.
Dad looked as if he was going to puke.
“No trouble at all, Stelle.” Mr. Hawkins kind of slouched against the door, because otherwise he towered over Mom. He glanced at Dad and me for a nanosecond, then quickly said, “Well, Stelle, I’d better run if I’m going to make my flight.”
Mom crushed the folder against her chest. “Thanks again, Ted.”
“Any time, Stelle.” Mr. Hawkins ran his fingers through his thinning blonde hair. “Well, bye.”
“Bye, Ted.” Mom started to close the door as Mr. Hawkins left. Then she opened it and called after him, “Thanks again!”
“For crying out loud, Estelle,” Dad said. “He just dropped off some figures. You’re behaving as if he’d brought you candy and flowers. Act your age.”
“Look, Kurt,” Mom said in the monotone that was her signal she was not going to put up with any crap. “What I do now is my business. And I am acting my age.”
“Humph.” Dad turned to me as I chewed on my toast. “Sivia, jam’s no good for you. Isn’t there at least some peanut butter in this house? A good, natural, sugar-free peanut butter? You need a nourishing—”
“Don’t worry, Dad.” I headed for the refrigerator. “I’m getting a big glass of skim milk. Very nutritious.” Being a professor of Health Education at the university added to Dad’s fanaticism about our physical condition. He sometimes acted as if he’d be busted back to assistant professor if anyone at the university caught us looking out-of-shape.
“And Russ.” Dad shook his finger. “That doughnut is nothing but empty calories. Look at you. You’re getting pear-shaped. Estelle, don’t you keep any healthy food in this house?”
“That’s ‘healthful’ food,” Mom said, as she slowly and deliberately stirred two spoonfuls of sugar into her coffee. “Yes, there’s plenty. And Russ is not ‘pear-shaped.’ He just has a trace of baby fat, which is perfectly normal at his age!” She slammed her spoon into the sink.
“Gee, who says divorce is wiping out family traditions?” Russ bit into his doughnut, dribbling crumbs onto the floor. “We’re as dysfunctional as ever.”
“Now see here!” The veins on Dad’s neck popped out. “Ever since the divorce I show up here every morning to make sure you two kids eat a good breakfast, so you’ll grow up fit and strong!”
“An occasional doughnut won’t do any harm,” Mom said through clenched teeth. “Our children are fit.”
“And strong.” Russ lifted his doughnut as if he were pumping iron.
“I just want my kids to be the absolute best they can be,” Dad said to everyone in general and no one in particular. “Is that a crime?”
Mom stuck her hands on her hips. “Of course not, Kurt. I just wish you’d remember that nobody’s perfect.” She started to leave the room, then stopped and stared at Dad’s head. “Speaking of perfect, is it my imagination, or is your hair suddenly as dark as Sivia’s again?”
I checked out Dad’s hair. It was almost dry now, and I could see that Mom had hit on something. The touches of gray were gone.
Dad’s face burned red. The vein in his neck throbbed.
“Talk about acting your age ….” Mom fingered a lock of Dad’s hair. “What’s the matter? Was the gray making you look old enough to be Nicole’s father?”
“At twenty-six, Nicole is not a child.” Dad bit off each word. “Besides, I’m not seeing her anymore.”
“Oh. Excuse me,” Mom said. “I have trouble keeping up with your bimbos.”
Russ opened his mouth to say what I was sure would be something disastrous, so I stuffed another doughnut between his lips.
After a brief pause that apparently gave Mom’s comment the time it needed to find its mark, Dad exploded. “The women I date are not bimbos! And they certainly don’t come skulking around my place before dawn with some cheap, phony excuse to see me.”
“Don’t tell me you’re jealous of Ted Hawkins!” Mom tried to look indignant, but I could see she liked the idea.
“Jealous?” Dad pointed to himself. “Me? Of that wimp? Don’t be ridiculous.”
Russ reached for a third doughnut. He tried to act as if he thought Mom and Dad’s fights were a big joke, but the doughnut binges gave him away.
“I hate to break up this lovely family get-together,” I said. “But I have to get ready for school.”
Mom and Dad looked at each other, then the floor, then at me. Finally, Mom said, “I’ve got to get ready for work.” She gave Dad a small nod. “Good day, Kurt.”
Dad returned the nod. “Estelle.”
Russ started to follow Mom out of the kitchen, but Dad clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Russ, I’ll be over right after dinner to shoot baskets with you, then I’ll help you with your math homework.”
“You don’t have to help me with math,” Russ said.
“I know I don’t have to.” Dad patted Russ on the back. “I want to. You’ve got to keep that average up so you can get into a good college, and then into law school some day.”
“Sure, Dad.” Russ headed for the stairs. “How else will I get to be a judge on TV?”
Dad forced a small laugh, then, before I could escape, directed his attention toward me. “Sivia, I’ve talked to the softball coach at the university and she’s recommended someone I could hire to help train you.”
“Train me? But I already know how to fetch.” When that failed to get a laugh, I said, “Er, I don’t know. I … my hand. Maybe I won’t even be able to play softball.”
“Not play?” Dad actually gasped. “Don’t be ridiculous. Practice hasn’t even started yet. You’ll play. You’ll lead your team to another league championship!”
“Dad, you know what they say. ‘Don’t count your shiny trophies ….'”
“Don’t worry.” Dad gave me a reassuring smile. “As long as Willamette City High has its star pitcher, the number-one spot is guaranteed. In fact, I bet that this year you’ll lead them straight through the state playoffs. Imagine. Champs of the whole state of Oregon.”
I put on a big swallowing act, as if a softball-sized lump was forming in my throat. “What ….” Exaggerated gulp. “What if I don’t want … I mean, what if I can’t play? I mean, you know, if my hand doesn’t heal.” I held up my wrist, trying to make it look as limp and pathetic as possible.
“Relax. The doctor said it’ll be fine. Just put ice on it whenever you can, and keep it elevated.” Dad checked his watch. “I’ve gotta run. See you this evening.” He gave me a quick kiss and was gone.
So much for my wounded-bird routine. I dashed up to my room, running late, as usual. I suppose Dad meant well with his morning pit stops. But, more often than not, he and Mom would get into a fight, or he’d subject me or Russ to some lengthy piece of advice, or all of the above. Then we all had to operate at warp speed to get ready on time.
Just try to put on a touch of makeup all with one hand taped up. And then there was the matter of getting into my bra, even though it was a mere wisp of material. I mean, I didn’t have nearly as much to put into a bra as Marcy Stratton. She actually had curves. I just threw them. Other than exceptionally long legs, I didn’t have much of a body.
I also didn’t have what our softball coach, Ms. Romanos, called Marcy’s “leadership qualities.” After a season on the team with Marcy, I decided “leadership qualities” was teacher-speak for bossy-bitchy. She sprayed misery across the entire softball field with one of her insults or her infamous “Look,” something that teachers and coaches and other assorted authority figures of course never saw. It was a wrinkled-nose, half-sneer designed to make the recipient feel lower than the puddles on the locker room floor.
If I’d been tuff-stuff last year, I guarantee she’d have been on my back more. But as long as I kept a low profile, it wasn’t too bad, and I was pretty good at keeping a low profile. When I pitched in those two games at the end of the season though, she got on me. Between innings she gave me The Look if I allowed a hit or walked a batter.
“Sivia!” Russ pounded on my door. “Let’s get movin’!”
“Hang on.” I grabbed my books and rain poncho, flung open the door, and almost collided with Russ’s fist, which was poised to pound on the door again. “Ack!”
Russ lightly tapped my forehead, grinned, and grabbed his skateboard from the hall closet. We used to bicker a huge percentage of the time and, except under supreme parental pressure, wouldn’t be caught dead walking to school together. But lately we seemed to have sort of an undeclared truce going. Maybe Mom and Dad splitting up had something to do with it. Or maybe we were just losing our touch for creative insults.
As soon as we stepped out the back door, our puny, tiger-striped cat attacked Russ’s shoes.
“Tigger!” Russ shouted and stamped his foot. Tigger galloped across the yard and gleefully ran up the maple tree. At six, Tigger was no longer a kitten, but he’d never given up his morning ritual. He had a thing for Russ’s feet. If he wasn’t attacking them, he rubbed against them or curled up asleep on them. No one else’s feet were good enough. I and my feet resented this.
Though dark clouds menaced the sky, the heavy rain from last night had stopped. I was just hoping it would stay stopped when flat drops splashed on my poncho with big, fat splops.
“Hey, you know the old McCarthy house?” Russ asked as he effortlessly glided along on his skateboard, something I tried but never mastered. He seemed oblivious to the rain, but then he was often in a state of obliviousness.
“Over on Moss Street? What about it?” I pulled the hood on my poncho tighter, so the wind wouldn’t blow the rain down my neck.
“Someone’s moved in. And they’re building all these cool ramps around it. I’d trade anything to try my board over there.”
“I’m sure you would,” I said, “since you’ve spent most of your formative years on that thing.” He had the scars on his elbows and knees to prove it.
“Hey, maybe the new owners are professional skateboarders! Maybe I can meet them. Maybe they’ll let me ride that ramp—”
“Maybe you should focus some of that enthusiasm on your math homework, so Dad’ll get off your case.”
“Shoot, I got a B minus last term,” Russ said. “That’s not exactly flunking.”
“But you know you’ve got the brains to do better.” Gah! I was sounding just like Dad.
Russ stuck out his tongue. “You’re as bad as Dad,” he said, confirming my self-evaluation. With that, he wheeled around the corner toward the middle school.
I huddled deeper into my rain poncho and sighed.
The wind picked up and blew the rain sideways, right into my face. I shivered. It was awfully cold, considering that spring was only a few weeks away. It rarely snowed in this part of Oregon, but the damp chill seemed to slice right into the bone marrow on days like this.
Suddenly a truck whizzed by close to the curb, splashing me with a small ocean of water. My rain poncho did its job, but my feet were as wet as fish.
“Thanks a lot, fool!” I yelled at the driver. He immediately pulled over and stopped. I saw then that the truck was actually a van. A black van with a silvery, modernistic version of Pegasus, the winged horse, painted on the side. Uh, oh. I took a couple of steps back farther from the curb, in case it was some creep who purposely splashed innocent girls and then tried to grab them.
The driver, who looked about my age, leaned out the window. His dark hair stuck out like bristles on a brush. A large silver medallion on a thick chain swayed across his glowing pink sweatshirt, which had the sleeves cut off.
He beckoned to me with a hand clad in a black bicycle glove. “Sorry about that. Want a lift?”
“No, thank you.” I coated each word with frost. First, the jerk tries to drown me, then he tries to pick me up. Did he really think that was the way to seduce me? Or kidnap me? Or whatever.
“You sure?” he asked with a lopsided grin that almost bordered on being a smirk.
“Positive.” I pulled the hood of my poncho tighter and headed off for school. I hadn’t even stepped on school grounds yet, and already my day was disintegrating.
When I got to school, I swallowed a quick gulp of surprise. There in the parking lot was the black van. And the jerk parked in the “Disabled Parking” spot! He couldn’t walk an extra twenty feet to the front door? I hoped he’d get towed. It’d serve him right.
Once inside, I dripped all the way to my locker. My shoes squished with each step. I fumbled with my lock. Even though it was my wrist that was taped up, sometimes this injury could be a pain in the butt. Finally, I got the door open and hung up my poncho.
“Hi, Sivia.” Ilana Brower’s locker was next to mine. We’ve been friends since we were jump-rope champions together in second grade. She stared at my feet. “What happened? Did you step in a puddle?”
“Some clueless jerk with scruffy dark hair splashed me. I saw his van out front, and if I see him, I’ll make a grab for his shoes. Mine are never going to dry out.”
“My gym shoes are here somewhere.” Ilana fished around in the bottom of the book bag that was almost half her size. Her long bangs, which framed her most recent up-to-the-minute style of her brown-with-new-blonde-streaks hair, obscured her vision. “You could wear them.”
“Nice offer,” I said, “except my gunboats would never squeeze into them.”
“Your feet aren’t big, um, considering your height.” Ilana was being kind.
At five-eight, I was only an inch taller than Ilana, but my feet were two sizes larger. Besides, I liked classic clothes—boring, Ilana called them—whereas she leaned toward funky-spunky original. But then, I preferred to melt into the background, while Ilana enjoyed being more visible.
Just then I spotted Marcy Stratton and the usual swarm of guys buzzing down the hall. Todd Bowman, drop-dead handsome drone-of-the-day, had his fingers laced through Marcy’s. She stopped at her locker, and most of the worker bees except Todd dispersed. But Brad Coty, with whom I’d happily share my nectar, was still there, hanging around the fringes.
“Hi, Marcy.” I approached her cautiously. To make life easier, I tried to stay on her good side. I mean, if my wrist didn’t get me out of playing softball, I’d be stuck on the team with her. Besides, occasionally one or two of the guys who hovered around her were not only hot enough to be on fire, but actually showed active signs of intelligence too.
Marcy turned slowly and gave me a look that said, I can handle you. “Hello, um, Sivia, is it?” She curled her lip into a twisted smile that drove fear into the heart of most girls, but seemed to make guys want to start a little war over her. “How’s your hand? Will you be pitching this year?”
“Um. Well. It might be healed in time for softball.”
“That’s good.” Marcy almost sounded relieved.
“Th-thanks,” I said, surprised at both her comment and her tone.
“I mean, it’s good since no one has come along to replace you—so far.” Marcy selected her books and, as if she were a princess presenting her handkerchief to a knight about to go into battle, handed them to Todd. With a toss of her silky chestnut hair, she and Todd took off down the hall.
Brad, however, headed for his locker, which was right across the hall from mine. I looked for Ilana, but she had disappeared. She liked to get to French class early.
I took a deep breath and worked up the nerve to approach Brad. He was six-two, so I had to crane my neck to look up at him. “Hi.” Brilliant opening remark!
“Hi, Sivia.” Brad’s blue eyes crinkled as he bestowed one of his devastating smiles on me. “What’s up?”
What’s up? So casual, so relaxed, so not like me. “Up?” I chewed my lip, trying to think. Up? Up? What was up? Basketball! Yeah, that was it. Basketball. “Um, I just wanted to wish you good luck in the game tomorrow night.”
“Thanks.” Brad put his hand on my shoulder. The vibrations zapped straight to my heart, among other body parts. “You going? We need all the support we can get if we’re going to beat Springfield.”
“Of course. Sure. I’ll be there! I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” I babbled. Why did I have to suddenly be conversationally challenged?
“Great.” Brad winked at me. “See you there.”
I nodded and gulped, so uber-excited I couldn’t speak. Where were my always-get-an-A-in-Language-Arts skills when I needed them? I watched Brad stroll off to class. Class! I had thirty seconds to get to the absolute other end of school.
My shoes squish-squashed as I walked as quickly as possible without breaking into an actual run. Running was a cardinal sin at Willamette City High, and there was nothing Vice Principal Whipple liked better than to lurk in the shadows just before classes started and pounce on unsuspecting violators. His speed and quickness in collaring students earned him the well-deserved nickname, The Whip.
I race-walked into the Home Arts room just as the bell rang and took a seat at a table by the window. Except for not wanting detention, I really had no reason to hurry to this class. I signed up for Holiday Cooking only because I needed a Home Arts credit. I could’ve waited, but I decided to take it now in my sophomore year and get it over with.
“Ah, Miss Groner. Nice of you to join us,” said Ms. Baker, an aptly named Home Arts teacher if ever there was one. “But please store your books over on that counter.” She glanced at the clock. “I’m expecting a new student and he’s going to need to sit at the end of the table right where you deposited your books.”
I grabbed my books and trudged over to the counter, wondering why this new student just had to sit at the end of my table.
“Ah, Mr. Parrish. You’re late,” I heard Mrs. Baker say. “But since it’s your first day at Willamette City High I’ll excuse you this one time. You may take your place over there.”
“Oh, thank you Mrs. Baker.” The voice was faintly sarcastic and remotely familiar.
As soon as I sat down, I recognized the messy dark hair, the lopsided smile, and eyes that took in the whole room. “You’re the jerk—”
“Hello again.” He stuck out a bike-gloved hand. “I’m Keeley Parrish. Sorry about splashing you.” Briefly, he flashed a grin. “It was purely unintentional, I assure you.”
I didn’t want to stare. But I was afraid to look away. I was so surprised to see him that it’d taken a couple seconds for it to register that he was in a wheelchair.
Then I saw his legs. Or rather, I didn’t see his legs. I mean, he didn’t have any legs, except for these stubs that ended a few inches above where his knees would have been. That explained parking where he did. I felt myself shrinking. “S-s-s-o you’re Keeley,” I finally managed to whisper as I reached over to shake his outstretched hand. With a nervous glance at Ms. Baker, who was thumbing through some file cards, I added, “I-I’m Sivia Groner.”
“You’re friendlier than I thought from our first encounter.” One corner of his mouth twisted upward. “Why is that?”
I studied his face for a moment. He completely didn’t strike me as someone who was looking for pity. “Because you’re not as much of a total jerk as I thought you were.”
Keeley threw back his head and let out a deep laugh.
“Mr. Parrish. Ms. Groner.” Ms. Baker tapped the file cards on her desk. “If you’re quite through introducing yourselves, I’d like to get on with class.”
Keeley’s mouth twitched as if he was holding back another big laugh, but I felt my face turn red and hot. Five minutes into my first class of the term, and I was in trouble already! Plus, my feet were wet and cold. This Keeley Parrish guy was not getting my day off to a good start.
“We’ll do something in the kitchen most days, but this is your first major, long-term assignment. On the back of these file cards are various holiday cooking situations.” Ms. Baker held up the cards, as if we didn’t know what file cards looked like. “I’m going to pair you off, and then let each pair choose a card. Your assignment will be to write a paper on preparing something appropriate for the holiday. I want it as complete as though you were actually going to cook. I expect to see recipes, ingredients, preparation time, type of equipment you’d use, budget, number of guests you’d invite, how you’d set and decorate the table. You’ll prepare one dish in class.”
I moaned. I thought this class was going to be easy, baking cookies in class, stuff like that. I certainly hadn’t expected a major-sounding term paper.
Keeley nudged me and whispered, “Don’t worry. I like to cook, and I’m good at it. I’ll see that we get a good grade.”
“I’m thrilled you’re not worried.” As if he was going to be my cooking partner.
But after a couple minutes the odds looked overwhelming that we would be partners. No surprise—we were the only two left.
“… and Keeley and Sivia,” Ms. Baker concluded. My worst fears so confirmed! How was I going to work with this obnoxious stranger?
Ms. Baker then had the cooking teams select their cards. Everyone read theirs out loud.
“Fourth of July Picnic.”
“Mother’s Day Brunch.”
“Christmas Open House.”
“Sivia?” Mrs. Baker held out the one remaining card to me as if I had a choice.
I took the card and slowly turned it over.
“Well?” Keeley arched an eyebrow. “What’s it say?”
“Thanksgiving Dinner.” I groaned.
“That’s great.” Keeley grinned.
“What’s so great about Thanksgiving Dinner?” I grumbled.
“I wanted something that was a challenge.”
Gah! I hated to cook, and I liked meal-planning even less. So what did I get? A partner who wanted a “challenge.” I sighed. “I suppose sliced turkey from the deli and dehydrated mashed potatoes are out of the question.”
Keeley laughed. Maybe he thought I was joking, but I wasn’t looking forward to all the work, even if it was mostly on paper. Besides, how would I deal with Keeley? What would I say to a guy who used a wheelchair and who had practically no legs? How was I going to pretend I didn’t notice? I mean, there were disability acts and laws about discrimination. Would it be a felony if I said the wrong thing?
“Class,” Ms. Baker said, “now that you’ve all had a chance to discuss your assignments, I want you to go through these cookbooks and start getting some ideas for your menus. Of course, you’re certainly welcome to use your own cookbooks and recipes at home.”
I half-heartedly thumbed through a couple cookbooks. What a yawn.
Keeley madly took notes and generally behaved as if he were discovering the secrets of the universe. In my boredom I looked closely at his silver medallion. Etched on it was a picture of a more traditional Pegasus than the one on his van. Unfortunately, that was the most interesting part of class so far.
Luckily, it wasn’t long before the bell rang. I left Keeley still frantically taking notes, and headed for my next class. Within seconds, I heard his voice.
“Sivia.” Keeley wheeled up next to me. “I’ve got some ideas for our Thanksgiving dinner. What’s a good time for us to get together to talk about them?”
“Get together?” I quickened my pace, hoping to ditch him. “Um, I really don’t know.”
Keeley drew right along side of me again. “Why the hurry? What’s your next class?”
“U. S. History.” I walked even faster. I didn’t think a guy in a wheelchair would be so hard to shake.
“U. S. History. Hey, me too.”
“Oh.” I was practically running now, but Keeley soared along next to me.
Suddenly a thin figure with a skinny goatee jumped out from a doorway. Ack! The Whip!
“My, but we’re in an awful hurry,” he said.
“I-I-I was just showing K-Keeley here the way to U. S. History.” A feeble excuse, but the best I could come up with on short notice.
“You know the rules.” The Whip pulled a pad of detention slips from his coat pocket.
“But we weren’t running,” Keeley said. He must’ve been in the office before class and seen The Whip’s infamous List of Rules.
Mr. Whipple eyed Keeley’s wheelchair. “That’s just a technicality. Racing is the same thing.”
“Lawsuits are won and lost on technicalities.” Keeley grinned. “Sivia was just trying to keep up with me.” He assumed an innocent, almost angelic, appearance. “I didn’t want to be late to class on my first day.” He didn’t mention, of course, that he’d already been late for Holiday Cooking.
I blinked a couple times as I tilted my head to one side, hoping to out-innocent Keeley.
The Whip seemed to undergo a deep internal struggle. On the one hand, passing out detention slips was his favorite past-time. On the other hand, the unwritten rule was to give new students a break. He eyed me up and down. He could, of course, give a detention slip just to me. But he did have a central core of fair play, and Keeley had done a good job of pleading my case.
The Whip jammed the pad of detention slips back into his coat pocket. “I’m letting you off this time.” He shook a finger at us. “But make sure there is no ‘next time.'”
“Oh, yes sir,” Keeley said, the very model of politeness.
The Whip’s eyebrows flickered a little, but then he swiveled quickly and was gone.
I breathed a sigh of relief, and pointed to the next door down. “That’s our classroom.”
With seconds to spare I took a seat on the far side of the room. I should’ve picked a desk in the middle, because on the aisle Kelley was easily able to park right next to me.
He pulled a pencil and a clipboard out of a backpack slung across the back of his wheelchair. “When and where?” he said, apparently to me.
“You. Me. Plan our Thanksgiving dinner. When and where?”
I pretended not to hear. Fortunately, since I had not yet conjured up some devious way of avoiding the issue forever, Ms. Dolan swept into the room and called “Attention!” She clapped three times, jangling the collection of silver bracelets she wore on each arm, then started in on a lecture about the Civil War.
We were halfway through the Battle of Gettysburg, when the bell rang. I gathered my books and hurried out of class before Keeley could ask me about us getting together. Maybe it was because my feet were still cold and damp, but I wasn’t convinced that splashing me had been purely accidental. Some guys would do it to get attention. Just because Keeley used a wheelchair didn’t mean he wasn’t a jerk.
He didn’t turn up in my Italian or algebra classes, so I figured maybe I was safe for the rest of the day. I hoped to catch up with Marcy’s group at lunch, and I didn’t need Keeley tagging along. I knew he wouldn’t fit in with that crowd at all.
When I got to the lunchroom, the line was already as long as one of Ms. Dolan’s lectures. Way at the head of line stood Marcy, Todd, Brad, and assorted Marcy-devotee rabble. I waved, but Brad didn’t see me. I hoped that somehow I could get a seat near him.
“Hi, Sivia.” Keeley materialized right in back of me. “How’s the food here?”
“The lasagna’s not bad, the salads are fresh, and the French bread is great,” I said briskly, hoping to sound helpful, but not too friendly.
Somehow Keeley managed to guide his wheelchair with one hand and push his tray along the counter with the other. As I struggled to hold and balance my food with one hand bandaged, I had to admire his coordination. I wondered how long he’d been using a wheelchair. I also wondered about his legs. Or, rather, lack of legs. Had he been in a terrible car accident?
When we got to the desserts I could see that they’d be out of Keeley’s reach, since they were way in back on a pack of ice. I wondered if I should offer to help or maybe just go ahead and get one for him.
“Sivia, would you hand me a dish of chocolate pudding.”
“Sure.” Well, duh, that was easy.
I looked around the room and spotted Marcy and her swarm of admirers. It was a highly visible group. What wasn’t visible as any sign of empty chairs near Brad.
“Sivia!” I turned to see Ilana waving at me. “Over here.” She pointed to one of the empty seats at her table.
Since there was no opening near Brad, I went and sat next to Ilana. “Hi, what—”
“Room for one more?” It was Keeley. I’d totally forgotten he was right behind me.
“Sure,” Ilana said. She folded up the chair at the end of the table and moved it out of the way, then introduced herself. I could see her eyeing Keeley’s messy dark hair. She glanced at me and I nodded, indicating, yes, he’s the one who splashed me. To Keeley, she said, “I’m Ilana. You must be new here.”
“Yes. Nice name, Ilana.”
“We moved here just a few days ago,” Keeley said. “My Dad’s going to be part of the morning crew at KGLO, and Mom’s the new pastry chef at The Chantilly.”
Well, that explained his interest in cooking and his, er, outgoing personality. Dad always listened to KGLO. His middle-aged opinion was that the morning crew was wildly funny and totally deranged.
“Nice to meet you too.” Ilana gave me this look as if it really was nice to meet him. Of course, Keeley hadn’t splashed her—or chased her down the hall.
“Hey. Ilana.” Gavin Parr plopped down next to her, rattling his tray and tableware.
Gavin was a nice guy but, like Ilana, he was involved in anything and everything that might look good on a college application. He even went so far as to create Butt Out, the committee against smoking. With his brown curling hair and cleft chin he was pretty cute too. He asked me out a few months ago. But he’s two inches shorter than I am, and when he asked me to the movies, I just said no without really thinking. A knee-jerk reaction, emphasis on jerk.
“Hi, Gavin.” Ilana started to introduce him to Keeley.
“Wait, don’t tell me.” Gavin squinted and tilted his head to one side. “You’re Keeley Parrish.”
“The one, the only,” Keeley said. “And you’re … clairvoyant?”
“Not exactly. My Mom’s a sales rep at KGLO and she met your Dad there. He told her all about your family in vivid detail.”
“So my reputation has preceded me.” Keeley ran a hand across his hair.
For the first time, I really noticed his shoulders and arms, loaded with sculpted muscles. Did he lift weights or was it from pushing his wheelchair? In any case, he looked majorly buff. Not that I cared.
“Hey, Ilana,” Gavin said as he speared a piece of lasagna. “Aren’t you on the dance committee?”
“What dance?” Keeley asked.
“Just one of the dances we have at the end of each month to raise money,” Ilana explained. “Totally informal. They’re generally viewed as lame, but somehow they’re well attended enough to be slightly profitable.”
“If you could get a decent band, like Calamitous or Road Ramblers, you might haul in some real money,” I said.
“As if,” Ilana said. “We were lucky to get Twelve Toes. These days Calamitous and Road Ramblers are way beyond playing in school gyms for small change and minimal publicity.”
“Anyway, Ilana,” Gavin said, “since you’re on the committee, I wanted to offer my services.” He said this with a small half-bow. Did I mention that teachers love Gavin?
“That’s great.” Ilana’s smile brought a pink glow to her face. “I can use the help.” Did I mention that, despite Ilana’s up-to-the minute fashion tastes, she and Gavin sometimes acted as if they stepped out of my mother’s high school yearbook?
“And it won’t hurt to have another committee to put on my college applications,” Gavin said.
Ilana’s glow faded a bit, but it didn’t stop her from diving into a discussion of the merits of balloons versus streamers, which nobody except people obsessed with college-application forms cared about. But at least their yakking gave me a chance to eat without having to make conversation with Keeley. As I ate my French bread, I chewed on some observations too.
Keeley wasn’t totally the obnoxious jerk I’d thought he was at first. Though I preferred low-key guys like Brad, there was nothing wrong with being—let’s see, how could I put it politely?—a dorky extrovert. If Keeley reminded me of a pirate, with his silver medallion and crooked smile, what difference did it make? He simply wasn’t my type, that’s all.
I just wanted to hook up with someone like Brad. Well, not someone like Brad. Brad himself. So if I treated Keeley strictly as my cooking-class partner, nothing more, nothing less, well, there was nothing wrong with—
“A penny for your thoughts.” Keeley rested his chin in his hands as he looked me over.
“Sorry, I accept only PayPal.” Fortunately, the bell rang and I made my escape.
In the mass exodus from the lunchroom I lost track of Keeley, Ilana, and Gavin, but I bumped into Marcy. “Hi,” I said, wildly groping for a topic of conversation, since I’d spotted Brad just a few feet away. “Going to the game tomorrow night?” Dumb question. Marcy was head cheerleader. (Leave it to a squad of perfectly nice females to vote Marcy as their leader. I suspected coercion, blackmail or extortion, one of those organized-crime type deals. To me, that was the only credible explanation. Well, that and the fact that she was the only one who could do a triple-double back flip, or whatever it was called.) Seeing the am-talking-to-an-idiot look on Marcy’s face, I wanted to crawl under the linoleum.
“She’d better be there.” Todd grinned as he possessively squeezed her shoulder. “She has to cheer for me.”
Marcy bestowed one of her beauty-pageant-contestant smiles on Todd.
“Sivia said she’d be there to cheer us on, too,” Brad said.
My tongue immediately swelled up to the size of a basketball.
“Oh?” Marcy’s eyebrows twitched. Just barely, but they definitely did twitch. “Well. How. Nice.” She and Todd veered off toward the gym, and I found myself being shoved right into Brad. Sometimes being caught in the hallway undertow had its advantages. If only I could’ve thought of something more fascinating to say than, “Excuse me.”
“Sure,” Brad said. For a second his blue eyes met mine. He smiled. Then there was a shift in the human riptide, and he disappeared from sight.
I didn’t see him for the rest of the day. At my locker I struggled with my books and poncho. The bandage which I hoped might eventually be a blessing was just then very much a curse. Or so I thought as my books tumbled to the floor.
“I’ll get them.” Kneeling at my feet was Brad!
“Th-thanks,” I stammered as he handed me my books. Now I knew what romance novels were talking about when they tossed around the term Divine Ecstasy. I couldn’t decide whether his eyes were turquoise or robin’s egg blue.
“Doing your good deed for the day, Brad?” Marcy asked in a voice sweet as raspberry-chocolate truffles. She brushed some imaginary lint off his sleeve.
Brad blushed ever-so-slightly. “Hi, Marcy.”
Todd, who was holding Marcy’s other hand, pulled his lips into a thin line. Jealously radiated from his eyes like a lighthouse beacon. Then he glanced at me. “Hey, Sivia.” He gave me a little smile of, I don’t know, amusement? “You’re lookin’ good.”
Marcy impaled me with her icicle stare. I don’t know why. I was certainly no threat to her.
“H-hi, Todd.” I said, not sure what exactly Todd was up to. I mean, he didn’t usually waste any words on me.
I noticed Lona Randolph kind of hanging in the background. She was a cheerleader too, but shy and quiet except when she was cheering. From the way she looked at Todd, I guessed she would have loved to be the one whose hand he was holding. I wished she had the nerve to say something to him that would distract him from me, but apparently she didn’t.
“Hey, Sivia who’s that guy I’ve seen you hangin’ with today?” Todd said. “Not your boyfriend, I hope.”
Lona looked anxiously at me, as if she couldn’t stand the thought of yet another “competitor” for Todd’s attention. It must have been too much for her, because she turned and headed off in the direction of her locker. I wanted to shout after her, Wait, no, I am totally no rival when it comes to Todd!
Marcy arched her eyebrows in sort of an amused contempt.
I didn’t know what was going on with Marcy and Todd, but I resented being put in the middle. “He’s new in school,” I said evenly. “He’s in my cooking class.”
Just then Keeley wheeled around the corner and waved before stopping at his locker.
“New guy, huh?” Todd snickered. “Well, I’d say he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”