It was a perfectly ordinary day. Her mother woke her up for school. She showered, put on her favorite outfit, the matching shorts and sleeveless top covered with sunflowers, her favorite and proceeded to the breakfast nook. The short set had been a hit since she wore it on the first day of seventh grade. The weather was still warm and the cool crisp of fall was still a good month away.
“The yellow clothes again?” Her mother asked with an amused smile.
”Yellow is my favorite color, ma. And I just washed this outfit so it’s clean and doesn’t need to be ironed,” she smiled sheepishly.
She has worn this outfit at least once a week (twice if you count weekends) for the last three weeks. She loved the way the clothes made her feel – beautiful and trendy – a far fetch from her mothers hand me down dresses that were stuffed in the back of her closet. Her mom thought just because her and her preteen daughter were the same size, she could save them some money by repurposing her old clothes for her seventh-grader. Jade (Jadesolaoluwa) was not so convinced. She didn’t want to hurt her mothers feelings but silk blouses and knee length skirts were not exactly in vogue in middle school.
Jade quickly made her breakfast selection from the spread before her. A bowl of oatmeal and two pieces of bacon. She gulped down her oatmeal and devoured the bacon with the appetite of an Olympian and rushed for her book bag.
“I gotta go, Mommy. The bus is gonna be here soon.” Jade rushed out the front door, letting the screen door bang behind her before her mother could remind her not to slam the door.
”SORRY, MA!” Jade yelled over her shoulder by way of apology and ran to the bus stop in front of her house.
Her classmates from the neighborhood were already gathered.
”Hey Jade!” One of them called to her.
Jade rolled her eyes at the mispronounciation of her name. Her classmates insisted on calling “Jade” (rhymes with “shade”) like the stone when her name is actually “JAH-DAY.” It wasn’t worth the hassel to constantly remind them that her name was Yoruba and had a different pronunciation despite the common spelling.
“Hey,” she replied with a half hearted wave at no one in particular, her eyes searching for a familiar face. Her eyes lit up when she spotted her best friend (well, best American friend), Aubrey.
Aubrey waved Jade over, and the two immediately began to chatter about everything, as if they hadn’t spoken just last night.
“So, guess what Ashley told me? Brandon has been asking about you!” Aubrey squealed in an excited whisper.
Jade’s heart fluttered. Brandon was the only boy in their grade she had ever had a crush on. He got good grades, he was cute and unlike the other ninety-nine percent of their class, he didn’t use foul language. Jade had never heard him use a curse word, even when there were no teachers around. The decision to have a crush on him was a very scientific one. She went through the entire class rooster and eliminated every other boy because he wasn’t cute enough, his grades weren’t high enough (based on who complained during report card time each year) or he had a dirty mouth. Brandom was the only one who made the cut. Aaron Alcon had been a close second until she remembered the “dirty joke” he told on the bus last year.
No. Brandon was the best choice. The more she thought about him the more her heart raced. She couldn’t wait to be eighteen. That’s the age you were considered adult enough to be married. Brandon could propose and they would be engaged throughout college. She had it all planned out.
Jade found herself giggling at her thoughts even as Aubrey rattled on about her plan to make sure her and Brandon become a couple.
“So, I will call you and Ashley on three-way then Ashley will call Brandon and get him to repeat what he said about you so you can hear. Then Ashley will ask him if he wants to go out with you then if he says yes, we all hang up and get him to call you. It’s gonna be perfect!” Aubrey beamed at her ingenious plan. If she got her way, Jade would have her first boyfriend before the day was over, she told Jade in so many words.
Jade’s heart thumped at the possibilities. “Boyfriend? I didn’t say I wanted a boyfriend! You know what my mom would do to me if she found out I was talking to boys? Nigerian parents aren’t like American parents, Aubrey. She would beat my behind and lock me in my room till she can ship me to my Grandma in Nigeria. I’m not about to get in trouble for a boy!” Jade exclaimed with a firm shake of her head.
An innocent crush was one thing, but a boyfriend? Her mother would kill her. She had been too scared to even write about Brandon in her journal for fear that her mother would read it and end her life. She was not about to put her life at risk for Brandon and his dimples or Aubrey and her wild plans.
The school day was perfectly boring except for the excitement during lunch when Jennifer B. (not to be confused with Jennifer A., Jennifer W, or Jennie from science), tripped and spilled her entire lunch tray on the floor of the cafeteria. It took a full 30 minutes and several threats of silent lunch or ISS for her classmates to calm down.
Jade felt bad for Jennifer but silently thanked God it wasn’t her.
When the dismissal bell rang, Jade rushed to catch up with Aubrey.
“I want to retake the last math test and Ms. Delgado says I can stay after today and try for a higher score. Can you stay with me so we can ride the after school bus together?” Jade asked, grabbing Aubrey’s arm.
”But you made a B on that test. That’s a good grade! Why are you retaking something that you got a B on?” Aubrey asked, clearly perplexed.
”Because it’s an 88, it brings down my grade in the class. I’ve been trying for an A all year. A “B” in math means that I can’t go anywhere or do anything except come home and study if my mom finds out. If she sees my report card like that, forget about seeing at any games or the homecoming dance this year,” Jade explained.
Her and Aubrey clearly came from different worlds. Aubrey’s world included sleepovers at other people’s homes, going to the movies with boys and being rewarded for making A/B honor rolls. All these were foreign concepts in Jade’s house. School was her full-time job (according to her parents) so there was no allowable excuses for not getting straight A’s; boys were absolutely and positively a “no,” there was to be no fraternization with them in any capacity and the only “sleepover” she could attend were when her entire family was visiting relatives out of town and they slept at her aunt’s house.
“The dance team is practicing after school today and my mom said I could join next year so I guess I can watch them while you’re taking your test,” Aubrey agreed with a roll of her eyes and fained annoyance.
”Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Jade gave Aubrey a quick hug and ran towards her science class.
It only took her 30 minutes to complete the new test Ms. Delgado came up with. Jade was sure her score would be higher on this one.
“Thanks, Ms. Delgado,” Jade smiled as she returned the completed test and pencil to the teachers desk.
She hurried towards the gym to find Aubrey when a familiar voice called out to her.
”Jade, wait up!” Brandon ran to catch up with her, flashing a shy smile when their eyes finally met.
“Hi, Brandon!” Jade replied with a grin, hoping she didn’t sound as nervous as she felt.
“Can I talk to you real quick? We can go by the stairs. It won’t take long,” Brandon asked with a boyish glint in his eyes.
Jade’s heart thumped as her eyes widened. The “stairs” that Brandon mentioned was a notorious make-out spot for middle school couples. Most would meet under the stairs between classes to exchange steamy embraces fueled by raging hormones.
“Th-the st-stairs? S-sure!” Jade stammered, telling herself not to panic.
When they arrived at the dreaded yet anticipated location, Jade stopped. Brandon stood beside her, silent. When he took her hand and held it, Jade froze.
Was this really happening? It was like someone had stolen her deepest desires and built this moment she had dreamt about it a thousand times before.
Jade refused to meet his eyes, afraid what would meet her there. What if this was all a joke? She couldn’t dare react until she knew for sure. When Brandon’s head began to lower towards hers, she knew he would kiss her. As if by instincts, her eyes closed.
When their lips meant, Jade’s heart felt like it would fly out of her chest.
“My mom is gonna kill me!” the thought interrupted the magic moment before she could stop it.
Brandon’s lips were soft and tasted like Chapstick and Bubblicious gum. Panic of being caught by a teacher and how she would explain it to her mother began to set in, Jade stepped back to break free of Brandon’s embrace. His once feather light touch grew insistent. Before she could escape, Brandon was undoing buttons, and attempting to caress under her clothes.
“Brandon! Stop! What the heck are you doing?” Jade pushed Brandon’s hand away, attempting to redo the buttons that were undone, and smooth down her clothes.
”Come on, everyone knows that you like me. Don’t be a baby!” Brandon chided with a smirk, the gleam in his eyes more mischievous than boyish now.
“You mean I use to like you. You’re a jerk. You’re just like every other boy,” Jade spat at him as angry tears danced in her eyes.
Her mother was right. American boys were nothing but trouble.
(August, 1995 somewhere in middle America)