Jessie’s Girl

The school bus groans to a stop, doors creaking open to let out a swarm of middle-schoolers. A sea of Converse, skinny jeans, and iPhones flow past me. Most of the crowd is gripped with winter break rowdiness as they run to their houses. Someone drops into the seat next to me, jostling my arm so I almost drop my phone. I glare under my bangs.

“Sorry,” she mutters.

I select a song on Spotify, raise the volume, and turn to look out the window. Santa’s sleigh taking off from dead grass, lights wound around brown palm trees, blow-up Grinches sitting on dry bushes. Your typical Floridian December. The last girl hops on the bus as 1D starts a new song. The bus groans into gear, the engine rumbling too loud for me to hear Harry’s sweet voice crooning in my ears. I sigh and yank out my earbuds. As I’m shoving them into my backpack, the girl turns and smiles.

“I’m Alicia,” she says.

“I know.” I turn to the window and pretend to be engrossed in the passing warehouses and parking lots. I’m Alicia, I mock in my head. As if I don’t know who Alicia Mendez is. Seventh grade class president. Center of the soccer team. Only seventh grader to smile and show me, a lowly sixth grader, around at orientation. Guess she doesn’t remember. She and I sit, backpack to backpack, until the bus stops again and we both stand. She hangs back and holds an arm out.

“After you.”

I catch a glimpse of her dark curls and big eyes as I step past her and down the stairs. I’m heading to my apartment building when she strolls in front of me. She’s wearing distressed skinny jeans, purple Converse, and a Feminist AF tee, the complete opposite of my own button down and Birkenstocks.

“I’m Alicia,” she says slowly, “and you are?”

I sigh. “Jessie.”

“Okay.” She smacks lime green gum into a bubble. “Come on.” She tugs on my arm. I look from my building to the one she’s tugging me to. I’m mad at her. Right? She doesn’t remember me. But I mean, we did only meet on one time . . .

She tilts her head and watches me.  “Coming?” she asks. I look back at my building. I don’t want to go home right now so I might as well go with her. We start walking toward the apartment building two over from mine. She pulls me to 3B and opens the door.

“Ma!” she shouts. When there is no answer she pulls me inside and slams the door. She leads the way down a hallway and into a room papered floor to ceiling with posters of Blink 182, Nirvana, P!nk, Smashing Pumpkins, and a ton of other bands I’ve never heard of. My mother would never let me do something like this. There are so many posters I can’t even tell the wall color.

“Nice room.”

She puts on a CD, something with horns and drums and a girl’s voice singing, and flops onto the bed. I stand in the doorway a moment, staring at her. She looks up at me and rolls her eyes then sighs and pats the bed next to her.

“Come on then,” she yells over the music.

I walk to the bed and sit next to her. Laughing, she tugs me back until I’m lying beside her. I look over, into her eyes. They’re brown but not just brown, I notice. There are flecks of gold and honey surrounded by a line of pure brown. Her lips curve slightly and I blush, glancing away, when I realize I’ve been caught staring. She rolls to her back and tosses an arm above her head. I wait, not breathing, wondering if she’s going to yell at me. After a few moments, I close my eyes and breathe out slowly.

“Do you like Bowling for Soup?” she asks.

“Do I bowl . . . for soup?”

Alicia laughs, long and loud, a booming sound that comes from her belly. I smile. I like that sound. Her laughter slows until she looks at me. Then it starts again, full force. I cock an eyebrow and she rolls to her side, clutching her stomach.

“Soup!” she howls.

I giggle. I still don’t know what the heck she was talking about but her laugh is so loud and fun that I can’t help but join her.

After our laughing fit has died down, we end up on our backs, staring at the posters on her ceiling. She turns to me and is about to say something when we hear the front door open.

“Shit, my ma’s home.” She jumps up and turns the music down. “Hey Ma!” she shouts.  Her mother comes down the hallway and peeks in.

Hija!  And who is this?”

“Ma, this is Jessie.”

“Yessie,” her mother says, putting a Spanish lilt to it.

“Ma’am,” I say.

Qué preciosa!” she squeals.  “I am Ms. Mariana.”

“Mamí,” Jessie says, “you’re making her uncomfortable.”

“Oh, n-no,” I stutter.  “No, she isn’t.”

Alicia and her mother have a conversation in Spanish that I can’t follow. I look from one to the other and back again. Alicia sounds irritated.

“I think I’m going to go,” I say.

Alicia’s mom stops gesturing and looks at me. “Stay for dinner, Yessie.”

I stand and walk to the door. “Thank you, but I need to get home.” I’m sure my mom will be mad that I’m not back yet.

Once I close the door behind me, I sprint around her building and over to mine, not stopping until I’m in front of my door.

“Crud,” I mutter. I’d left my backpack—and my key—in Alicia’s bedroom.

“Jessie?” Alicia says from behind me. I turn to see her with my backpack slung over one shoulder. “Sorry about my ma,” she says.

“It’s fine!” I practically shout. I wish my mom were as cool as hers.

“Come over tomorrow?”

I grin and nod. She smiles, hands me my bag, and turns to walk away. “Around noon,” she says over her shoulder.

I nod again, even though she can’t see it, fish my key from my bag and go inside. Mom’s waiting for me. I kick off my shoes, drop my bag, and follow her into the kitchen.

“Jessica,” she says. She slams open a cabinet, grabs a bowl, and slaps some spaghetti into it. I swallow and look down. “Where were you?” Mom asks.

“A friend’s,” I tell my rainbow socks.

Mom laughs. “You don’t have friends.”

I sit at the table and mumble, “Someone from school.”

Mom thumps the bowl in front of me. “I had dinner ready an hour ago.” I slink down in my seat and twirl the cold spaghetti. Mom slams into the chair across from me and starts eating. I push my noodles around for a bit, until Mom’s almost done.

“I really do have a new friend,” I tell her.

She sighs. “That’s great, honey.” She stands and leaves the kitchen. I sit at the table, listening to her move around in her room. “Don’t wait up,” she calls as she closes the front door.

“I never do,” I say as I take our bowls to the sink and wash them. After the dishes are done, I change into pajamas and settle in to watch Gilmore Girls.

But I can’t focus on a thing Rory and Lorelai are saying. All I can think about is Alicia. She’s so pretty. I can hardly believe she wants me to come over tomorrow. What if she’s pranking me, like in 10 Things I Hate About You? I bite my lip and hug Lohan, my Care Bear, to my chest. I guess… I guess I’ll just go over there tomorrow and see what happens. That decided, I head to my room and settle in with the third Princess Diaries book before I fall asleep.

The next morning, I wake up at eight and wander through the apartment. What do I do for the next four hours? I eat a bowl of Froot Loops then lie back down, staring at my ceiling. Sometimes I hate breaks. I never know what to do. While my classmates are trolling the mall and going to movies, I sit at home. Mom doesn’t want me to go out by myself until I’m fifteen. Not that it matters since I don’t have friends anyway. I hug Lohan to my chest, fighting the urge to cry. When we moved here last year Mom said it would be awesome, a new start. She promised me we’d stay here and I’d make tons of friends. It will be great, she said.

“Right,” I laugh.  “Great.”

I clutch Lohan tighter and squeeze my eyes shut. After a few minutes, I relax my hold.

“Alicia is my friend now,” I tell Lohan. “We’re going to have a great year.”

At 11:47, I lock the door to my apartment and head over to Alicia’s. My hand shakes a little when I lift it but before I get the chance to knock, Alicia’s mom pulls the door open.

“Yessie!” she squeals. “Hola! Adelante, come in.” She pulls me in and closes the door.  “Alicia is in her bedroom.” She gestures me on and I walk down the hall to Alicia’s room.“Is my mom being totally weird again?” she asks once I close the door behind me.  “No! Of course not,” I sputter.“You mean of course yes,” Alicia says, the “duh” evident in her tone. I want her to like me so I nod. “Come sit.” She pats the bed next to her. Once I’m sitting, she turns on the little TV next to her bed and we watch South Park until her mom opens the door three hours later. “Alicia,” Ms. Mariana says as she turns off the TV, “I do not want you watching this filth.”

Alicia mutters “bitch” under her breath and lounges back. Her mom’s eyes fill and I can tell that she heard Alicia. She stares at her daughter for a moment, then turns and leaves, closing the door behind her.

“God!” Alicia says. “Can you believe her?”

I want to say I can’t believe her. Her mom is amazing. I don’t get how she can treat her like that. But I don’t say anything. She’s the only friend I have. Instead, I shake my head. Alicia pulls me down so I’m lying next to her. After a minute, she rolls over, resting her head on my shoulder. I freeze, unsure what to do.

“Hey,” she says softly. “It’s okay.” She reaches up and turns my face toward hers then settles her hand on my neck. We stare at each other, her eyes soft and crinkled at the edges. I look down at her mouth, still curved up on one side. She flicks her tongue out and I snap my gaze back to hers. But she isn’t looking at my eyes anymore. She’s looking at my mouth. I draw my lower lip in, biting it, unsure. “Jessie,” she murmurs and flicks her eyes back to mine. Slowly she increases the pressure on my neck, drawing me closer. She stops when our mouths are barely touching, hers tickling mine as she whispers my name again. My eyes flutter closed. I wait for the pressure of her lips on mine but it doesn’t come. I feel her pull back.

I blush. “A-Alicia?”

She smiles softly. “Are you sure?”


“I want you to be sure.”

I look down, at her lips, and shake my head softly. “I’ve never been kissed,” I whisper.

I stare at her mouth for a moment, waiting for her response. She lifts my chin.

“That’s nothing to be embarrassed by, Jessie.”

“Of course it is. I’m twelve!”

Both sides of Alicia’s mouth turn up this time. She leans in and presses her lips to mine.

“There,” she whispers against my lips. I shiver and her eyes crinkle. She presses her mouth more firmly against mine. Her lips are warm, soft. They taste like lemon chapstick. I sigh and she slips her tongue into my mouth. Gasping, I pull back. Alicia tilts her head to one side and watches me. I look back at her and try to decide what to do. She rests her head on one hand and tosses her curls over one shoulder. I can’t believe I’m here right now. I’m with a girl. A very beautiful girl. I reach out and touch her cheek. Such smooth skin. Smooth skin, soft lips, small nose.

“It’s okay,” she says. “I want you to be comfortable.” She lies on her back and holds out one arm. I lie next to her and she pulls me close. We end up with my head on her shoulder and her arm around me. I remain still for a long moment, listening to her breathe. She trails her fingers up and down my arm, rhythmically.

“Alicia,” I whisper without lifting my head, “what are we doing?”

“We’re lying in my bed.”

“No, I mean…”

Her fingers stop rubbing my arm. “Why do we have to define it?”

“I just… I’ve never done…” I pause, searching for the right word, but all I can come up with is, “this before.”

“I know you haven’t.”

I lie in silence, trying not to let her know how confused I am. She kisses my hair and shifts so she’s sitting. I sit up too and clasp my hands to my knees.

“Jessie,” she sighs. “I don’t know what this is. I’ve never really done this before either.”

I look at my hands and mumble, “Oh.”

We sit there for a moment then she nudges my side with her elbow. “Want to bowl for soup?” she asks. I look up to find her grinning at me. I smile back. She jumps up, takes my hand, and leads me into the kitchen.

We’ve just set up nine cans of Campbell’s chunky chicken noodle when Ms. Mariana walks in.

Qué es esto?”Alicia and I look at each other and burst into laughter. We show her mom the cantaloupe we were going to use for a ball.  “No, hijas,” Ms. Mariana says. She turns and leaves the room. Alicia and I look at each other then lean down to pick up the soup cans. “Use this,” Ms. Mariana says, coming back in the room carrying a soccer ball.  ***

“I want to show your mama you are in good hands,” Ms. Mariana says that Saturday. So the next day she and Alicia come over with a tray of brownies for Mom and me.

“Mom,” I say. “This is Alicia and her mom, Ms. Mariana.”

Mom pinches her lips together and nods, taking the tray from Ms. M. I offer them a seat in the living room and we all sit in silence until Mom says, “Well, I have to get ready for work.”

“Oh!” Ms. M says, jumping up. “Of course. And Alicia and I must be getting to church.”

She and Alicia leave and Mom turns to me. “Do whatever,” she tells me. “Just don’t bring that…” Mom struggles for a word, settling for finishing with, “her into my house again.”

“Mom!” “Don’t ‘Mom’ me,” she shouts. “I don’t care who you see outside, but I will not have my house soiled by their kind.”

I run to my room and slam the door. After a few minutes, Mom opens the door. She’s changed into a short red dress and black heels.

“Don’t wait up,” she says, then closes my door. I know I won’t see her for a while.  That’s her I’m-not-a-Mom-I’m-a-single-woman dress. I make myself some ramen and settle in to re-watch Jessica Jones but turn it off before she even gets her first client. I can’t focus on girl power while I’m trying to figure out this whole Alicia thing.

She kissed me. Full-on tongue-kissed me. And I think I liked it. I remember the way her hand felt on my cheek, the way her tongue felt on mine, and I shiver. I definitely liked it.

After that, I went to Alicia’s nearly every day. Except Sunday—that’s their church day. If I could, I’d be at their house all the time, but Ms. Mariana thinks it’s good for me to see my mom every once in a while. Whatever. Half the time Mom’s not here anyway, and when she is, all we do is fight. Now, on the Thursday before Christmas, I’m getting ready to spend a few nights at Alicia’s when I hear Mom come home. I quickly stuff Lohan into my overnight bag then zip it and open my door. Mom is standing at the threshold to my room, the sleeve of her red dress sagging.

“You been at that girl’s agin?” she slurs. I glare at her but don’t respond. “Answer me!”

“I’m going to Alicia’s,” I say—and run. When I get to Alicia’s apartment building, I stop to try to slow my breathing. My lip pokes out and my chin quivers. My chest heaves as I attempt to catch my breath. I hunch down, head between my knees, and try not to cry. Why can’t my mom be like Ms. Mariana? She’s a real mother.

“Yessie?” Ms. Mariana says from behind me. I straighten and wipe my eyes before turning. “Amor, what is wrong?”

“I wish you were my mother,” I say. She hums and opens her arms. I rush into them and hold her tight.

“Come, preciosa. Alicia, she is out, but you come inside. We will make arroz con pollo.”

Ms. Mariana and I go inside. I put my bag in Alicia’s room then go back to the kitchen. Ms. M pulls out the chicken and I begin the rice.

“What are you doing for Christmas, hija?”

“Nothing special. Mom will probably go out.”

Ms. Mariana snorts. “You will come here. Jesús is meant to be celebrated.”

I grin and nod.

Later, as Ms. Mariana is pulling the chicken out of the oven, Alicia opens the front door.

“Smells delicious, Mamí.”

Gracias, Alicia. Yessie helped cook so you can set the table.”

Alicia looks from her mother to me then back again before yanking open the silverware drawer and pulling out knives. She mutters under her breath and Ms. Mariana turns sharply.


“Nothing,” Alicia sulks. “I’m just tired of sharing Jessie with you.”

I fill a plate and hand it to Alicia but she walks past me without taking it. I look down and bring the plate to my own seat at the table. Ms. M says grace then begins eating. I cut my chicken into tiny pieces, wondering if I’m the one Alicia is mad at or not. Finally, Ms. Mariana sets down her fork, wipes her mouth, and turns to her daughter.

“Alicia,” she says sternly, “I want you to apologize.”

“Sorry,” she tells her plate.

Ms. M nods and turns to me. “You are staying tonight, sí?

“Yes ma’am.”

“Good. Alicia will wash the dishes.”

Alicia looks up from her plate then shoves herself away from the table. I bring my plate to the sink and hurry to her room. I’m in the middle of repacking my bag when she comes in.

“God, my mom is such a bitch,” she says. “Where are you going?”

“I thought you would want me to go home.”

“No way!” She collapses onto her bed and turns on the radio. Something loud and screamy comes out of the speakers.

“What the heck is this?” I shout.

“Korn. Ma hates them!” She presses repeat.

I can kind of see why. I’m not sure what this is but it certainly isn’t music. Alicia pulls out her phone and I’m left to do whatever. This is how our nights usually go. We watch TV and sometimes we play cards but mostly we talk or listen to music. I pull out my Harry Potter and settle in next to her.

Hours later, I drift to sleep—despite the third repetition of the pseudo-music.

On Christmas Eve, I pack my bag and sneak out of the apartment. I’m pretty sure Mom isn’t home but I don’t want to argue with her if she is. I’m too excited to finally be happy on Christmas.

When I get to Alicia’s apartment, she and her mom are already wearing pajamas.

“Go change,” Ms. M says.

“Tradition,” Alicia tells me. I shrug and change into my Cookie Monster pajama pants and a tank top. When I get back to the living room, Alicia and her mom are sitting on the couch and there are three mugs on the coffee table. I sit in the arm chair and take a glass. The cocoa is chocolaty and foamy and a little spicy. I hum in appreciation and Alicia laughs.

“Mexican hot chocolate. Another tradition.”

“We will sit and be thankful for the birth of Jesús,” Ms. M. says. So we sit for a while, watching the play of lights on the Christmas tree. I’m sure Ms. M is actually thinking of Jesus, but I’m not. I’m thinking about Alicia. She looks so pretty with the rainbow glow lighting up her eyes. She looks at me and winks and I can tell she’s thinking the same thing. After a while, Ms. M claps and says, “Okay, hijas.  Time for bed or Santa will not come.”

I look at the lack of presents under the tree, then raise an eyebrow at Alicia. “I thought you guys just didn’t do presents,” I whisper as we walk to her room.

“Ma loves the Santa thing,” Alicia whispers back.

I grin and we settle into bed. I can’t wait for morning!

I jolt awake as Alicia rolls over and reaches for me in the dark. “Jess,” she whispers. I take her hand and she laces her fingers through mine. “I had a bad dream.”


She scoots closer to me. “I don’t want to talk about it.” She sighs and lays her head on my shoulder. I wrap my arm around her and rub her shoulder, listening for her breathing to deepen.

“Jess?” she murmurs. I stop rubbing but don’t say anything. She pushes herself up on her arm and I can see her silhouette in the dim moonlight. I bring one hand to her face and trace her forehead, her eyebrows, her cheek, her chin. Her lips. She flicks her tongue out and it catches my finger. My breath hitches. She smiles against my finger and leans in to me. I move so my hand is cupping her cheek and we kiss, softly, sweetly. Her hand settles on my hip, just under my tank top.

“I think I love you,” she whispers against my lips. I suck in a breath.

“M-me too,” I say.

She smiles widely and slides her hand up my stomach.

“Alicia!” I cry and slap my hand over hers.

“Shh,” she laughs. “It’s okay.” I search her face for a moment then slowly take my hand from hers. She runs her hand up, barely touching me.

Suddenly the door opens and Ms. Mariana turns the light on. Alicia scrambles up but her hand gets caught in my tank and she yanks it back. Ms. Mariana crosses herself.

“Yessica?” she says. “Alicia?”

I look at Alicia. She’s looking at the floor.

Qué es esto, Alicia?” Ms. Mariana shouts.

No sé, Mamí,” Alicia mutters.

No sé?” Ms. M stalks to Alicia. “No sé?” She forces Alicia to look up then shouts at her in Spanish. I’ve picked up enough to figure out that she was putting gifts under the tree when she heard me yelp. She yells so much that spit flies into Alicia’s face. She doesn’t wipe it away and soon it mingles with the tears flowing down her cheeks. “Y tú!” she shouts, turning to me. “Get out of my house.” Her accent has gotten heavier and I can’t understand what she’s saying at first. “Go!” she screams. I jump and run past her, not even stopping to pick up Lohan from Jessie’s bed.

When I get to my apartment, tears are streaming down my face and my breath is coming in hiccupping sobs. I try the door, hoping Mom left it unlocked, but she didn’t. I check under the mat but of course, she left the spare inside. I hate that she’s always forgetting her key! I slide down the wall and huddle in front of the door, trying to warm my bare feet and arms.

What’s going to happen? Why did Ms. Mariana freak out so bad? I mean, okay. She caught us kissing. But it was just kissing. And she loves us. She loves me. She’ll get over it. Right? Sighing, I lay my head on my arms and try not to think about how cold I am.

When I wake in the morning, my arms are stiff and my neck hurts from being in that position so long. I stand and stretch then try the door again. Still locked. What did I expect? Mom wouldn’t have left me outside if she’d come home. I guess I should go back to Alicia’s. Maybe they’ve calmed down by now. I walk quickly to their apartment, mindful of the fact that I’m still wearing my Cookie Monster pajamas. When I get close, I see my bag in front of their door. There is a note pinned to it.

Don’t come back.

It’s written in Ms. Mariana’s loopy cursive. My lower lip begins to quiver. They don’t want me. Quickly I grab my bag and run back to my apartment. Once I fumble my key out of my bag and open the door, I rush to my bedroom.

“Jessie?” my mother calls from the kitchen. Crap. I thought she wasn’t home.

“Not now, Mom,” I yell back and slam my door, clicking the lock in place just before she tries to turn the knob.

“Open up!” She pounds her fist on the door. I throw my bag to the floor and grab Lohan then huddle on my bed, listening to my mother rant. She sounds like she’s still drunk. “You’re never home, and then when you are, all you do is yell at me and slam doors in my face and I am sick of it! Get your ass out here, girl.”

I glare at the door through my tears. I know my mom doesn’t care about me, doesn’t really want anything to do with me. But I thought Ms. Mariana loved me. She told me she did. I can’t believe she could be this mean.

“No,” I whisper. No. She can’t be this mean, this unfeeling. I just have to talk to her.

Mind made up, I get up and wipe my face. Quickly, I change into a dress and light jacket. Mom is still going on at the door so I turn on the radio, hoping she won’t notice the window opening. I climb out my window and into a flowerbed, stepping on a petunia in my rush to get away from the apartments. I start walking the mile to the church they go to.

As I walk, I try to figure out what I’m going to say.

“Ms. Mariana. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I just was lying there and Alicia started kissing me.”

No. That won’t work. I can’t put this all on Alicia. I kissed her back.

“What’s the problem, Ms. M? It’s just a kiss.”

Again, probably no.

“I thought you loved me. Don’t you want me to be happy?”

I can’t say that either! I sigh loudly.

Finally, I get to St. Agostino. I run to the entrance, searching for Alicia or Ms. Mariana. A dozen people try to talk to me but I don’t stop to listen. I need to find Alicia or her mom. I’m making another sweep of the lobby when Alicia comes out of the bathroom and stalks up to me.

“Go away,” she hisses.

“What? But Alicia—”

“Go away! We don’t want you here.”

“Alicia, come,” Ms. Mariana says from behind me. I turn and start walking to her. “Not you,” she says, looking over my head. “Only Alicia.”

“But . . . Ms. Mariana. Please.”

“You will leave.” She says each word slowly and in precise English. “We will not have your perversion here.”

“My . . .? But it was Alicia who—”

“Come on, Mamí,” Alicia says, interrupting me. She takes Ms. Mariana’s arm and leads her into the sanctuary. They walk to a pew, heads held high, not looking back once. The choir in the front of the room starts singing and I stand where they left me, not knowing what to do, until the last person has entered the sanctuary. I slip in and sit in a pew near the back.

Once Mass is over, Alicia and Ms. Mariana hurry to the door and I rush to follow them.

“Ms. Mariana!” I shout. She stops abruptly and turns to me. Her jaw is clenched and her lips are white from the tension. She waits for me to walk to her.

“Did I not make myself clear?”

“I just . . . I need to talk to you.”

“I have no desire to speak to you. Alicia told me what you did. You are disgusting.”

I gape at them.

“What I did?”

Alicia shoots me a look. “Yes, what you did. You’re the dyke, not me.”

Ms. Mariana shushes Alicia then looks down her nose at me. “Do not embarrass me here, Jessica.”

My body jerks when I hear her say my name. She said it correctly. In that moment, I know. She won’t talk to me. She won’t let me explain. She doesn’t care. As far as she’s concerned, I corrupted her daughter. She won’t forgive me. I turn and run from the church, through the sunny courtyard, past the procession of cars, and into the grove of trees near the cemetery. I stumble around the trees until I trip on a root and fall. I lay in a heap under a palm tree, my tears dripping to the dirt below me.

Why did I think she would talk to me? Of course she would side with her daughter. Her real daughter. I should have known it was too good to be true when she called me her hija, her amor. I lie in the dirt for a few moments more, then rub my face and get up. I need to go home.

“Get moving, Jessie,” Mom calls through my door. I groan and cover my head with my pillow, not ready to face the first day of seventh grade. “Jessie!”

“I’m up,” I shout back. Jeez. Ever since I came home in my dirty dress, Mom has been all over me. I guess it’s nice to know she cares—but really? Give me a break. One week does not negate the whole rest of my life.

I get up and pull on a pair of jeans and a tee. There. I’m ready.

“You’re going to wear that?” Mom asks when she sees me.

I nod and grab a Poptart.

“For God’s sake, Jessie! I made you pancakes.”

I open the Poptart and bite into it.

“Fine,” Mom sighs. “Whatever.” She watches me eat for a moment. After I’ve taken another bite, she says, “I wish you’d go see the therapist I told you—”

“Mom. Stop.” She’s been trying to get me to see this therapist her friend recommended, someone who helps “troubled teens.” Apparently I’m a troubled teen now. Whatever. Mom’ll give up if I just wait her out. She always does.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you?” she asks. I roll my eyes. She puts her hands up and walks over, kissing me on the top of the head. “Have a great day, sweetie!”

I roll my eyes again and leave, heading for the bus stop. Who does she think she’s kidding? One week of being home all the time and not drinking and suddenly she’s the “sweetie” type? Please.

On the way to the bus stop, I pull out my phone and headphones. After selecting my Selena Gomez playlist, I walk slowly. I don’t want to wait at the bus stop for ten minutes. When I get close enough to see the bus is already there, I speed up, almost running, and wave my arms at the driver. He doesn’t see me and the bus lurches into motion. I run full out, waving and yelling. He looks over and glares at me but stops the bus. I heave myself up the stairs and find that inside, it’s mostly empty. Alicia is near the middle and a few kids are in the back.

“Siddown, kid,” the driver says. I sit behind him. Alicia slides up and scoots into the seat next to me. The bus starts moving again. I sit, rigid, trying not to sway into Alicia as the bus rocks over railroad tracks.

“Jessie,” Alicia says. I turn the volume up. “Jess,” she tries again. I hum along. Alicia huffs and pulls my headphones off. I turn and frown at her.


“We need to talk.”

“You didn’t think so two weeks ago.”

“Look, Jessie, I’m sorry. My mom is super religious.” She pauses and looks at me, eyebrows up and lip quivering. “I want…” She looks down and takes my hand. “I want to be with you.” She looks back up at me and I see tears shining in her eyes.

She wants to be with me! But is that what I want? Can I get over what she did to me, what her mother did to me? I feel so betrayed, even now. But maybe we can make it work. Maybe…

“But my mom can’t know,” Alicia says, interrupting my thoughts.

I stare at her. She looks at me and chews her lip. Finally, I say, “Really? Are you seriously proposing that we sneak around behind your mother’s back?”

“Well…” She trails off. I raise an eyebrow and she looks down. “Yes,” she whispers. I scoff. “Jessie, I love you.”

I laugh and pull my hand from hers. “But I’m a dyke, remember?”

She covers her face with her hands and starts crying. I turn, facing forward, and put my headphones back on.