A 15-year-old girl…her mysterious guy…her Indian dad…her American mom…one truly evil aunt…and tons of drama and laughs! Fans of the movies Bend it Like Beckham and Monsoon Summer, or of the novel Born Confused will love What I Meant… (Random House) and its cross-cultural drama and humor…
“Gina, what’s your problem?”
“See that?” she says. “You haven’t got a clue.”
Gina’s fists are clutched, and I just know she wants to hit me.
The buses rumble to life.
Gina turns on her heel and rushes to bus 72. I know I should follow, but I can’t.
The buses pull away, belching their exhaust.
I swallow hard. Guess today I’m a walker. I hitch up my backpack and head toward the main road.
Try to forget about it, I think. At least for now. There’s nothing I can do about it now, right?
But how can I forget? My best friend hates me. And she’s right, I haven’t a clue why. It’s like she’s keeping a huge secret from me or something. Oh God. What if it’s something really bad? Like what if something’s terribly wrong with her and she can’t bear to tell me?
I tell myself I’m being stupid. And I tell myself to relax and try to enjoy this beautiful day. The sky is a deep blue, and the lighting is making what leaves remain on the trees glitter yellow or red or orange. And I notice I’m not alone, because on a day like today, lots of kids decide to walk home. I nod and wave to the ones I recognize, and soon I’m walking with Janice Druthers and some of her powder-puff football team, talking about how their team is going to get crushed in their game later today, and debating whether they should all wear French braids.
Doylestown is actually a great place for walking when your life isn’t falling to pieces. You see restaurants stuffed with diners, and the bookstore window with the latest reads, the trendy clothes on the racks of A Special Gift, and zillions of scented candles at the Poor Richards store. There’s also a miniature old-fashioned barbershop complete with pole, and the shoe shop where Lola the Scotty dog waits beside the entrance to play with whoever enters. Next to her is a hopeful sign: Dogs Welcome.
By the time we reach Planet Smoothie, it’s jammed with students. Megan, holding a giant smoothie in her hand, spots us through the window and waves for us to come in. Frankly, I’m tempted. After the day I’ve had I could use some nourishment.
Nourishment. Oh no. The doctor’s appointment is today. Right after school. Mom’s probably going to think I’m late on purpose to avoid the whole thing, which will make her think I really do have an eating disorder to hide. I wave bye to everyone, and I rush on.
I’m by Nat’s Pizzeria just as the door bursts open, and out leaps none other than Jason, a slice in his hand. He races past me down the street, and I half expect a cop to be chasing him.
Great. I have to hurry home in the same direction. He’ll probably think I’m following him. He probably saw me by Nat’s and thought, “Gah! It’s that crazy stalker chick, just like in Fatal Attraction.”
I cross at the light, and much to my relief, there’s no sign of Jason ahead. Okay. So I can just hurry on home. I won’t be much later than the bus, and no harm done.
No harm done. Yeah right. Somehow everywhere I turn there’s been nothing but harm done.
The rich smell of roasting coffee beans wafts from the open door of Coffee & Cream. This makes me think of Michelle Baldarasi who works there, which makes me think of Gina, which makes me feel really crappy.
“Can I interest you in a matinee?”
I pause. The metallic voice came from the County Theater. I turn, and there’s Jason inside the tiny glass ticket booth, wiping pizza sauce from his chin with a paper napkin.
I’m totally caught by surprise, and it takes a moment for me to respond. “No thanks,” I finally say, and turn away, ready to move on.
“There’s a great art film opening. Very funny, very different.”
His metallic voice coming through the tiny speaker, the way he’s stuffed in the little glass booth like an arcade gypsy… I imagine depositing a quarter, and his mechanical mouth telling me my fortune. I step closer. “I didn’t know you worked here.”
He shrugged. “I guess you don’t see too many movies here.”
“I do.” Well, sort of. The County is where I saw Bend it Like Beckham, and Monsoon Wedding.
“I work mostly afternoons,” he says and smiles.
I catch myself about to smile back. God! What am I doing? Here he is being all Mr. Nice Guy so he doesn’t have to feel guilty about this whole seedy Sara thing, and I’m responding like a Scotty Dog that’s been given a new squeaky toy. Unbelievable! I am so incredibly gullible.
Okay. Now I’m mad. “Look, Jason. I don’t really know you, and you don’t really know me. No harm done, right? Later.”
An elderly couple steps up to purchase tickets from him. This is my cue. I’m walking away. To my shock, I hear a voice, not metallic, say, “Hey, Sang?”
Jason’s right behind me. The couple seems perplexed, peering into the empty glass booth.
“That’s just it,” Jason says, falling into step beside me, because I refuse to stop. “I don’t really know you, and you don’t really know me. But I’d like to, you know, know.” He’s blushing.
I stop. Now I’m the one who’s perplexed. “You know Sara well enough.”
“I’d like to know you.”
“And how many girls do you want to know?” I say, and cross my arms. “On average.”
He rubs his forehead. “I’m an idiot. Never mind.” He’s backing away. “Sorry.”
Oh, God. He looks really upset. What if he was being sincere? What if all along he really was interested in me and not stupid Sara? She was probably throwing herself at him and he was probably trying to get away from her without being nasty, and I was just too stupid to see the truth.
Now he’s back in the ticket booth, looking flustered as he fumbles with coins and tickets. “Enjoy the show,” he says to the elderly folks.
I should go home. Be the good girl. The dutiful daughter.
I’m at the booth. “Two tickets,” I say, “for Friday night, if you’re free.”
He looks up and we both stand there, two idiots grinning at each other through the glass.