“Honey, I am so proud of you,” my mom coos.
I smile, though confused. I had just walked in the door. What could I have done to be receiving such adoration already?
I head for the kitchen, still smiling.
Mom is talking on the phone.
That explains it. She isn’t talking to me. She doesn’t even know I’m home.
“You’ve worked so hard all summer, and now graduation is really within your sights,” she continues gushing.
My dad doesn’t look up from the cilantro he’s chopping, but I know he’s pissed. He hates when mom talks on the phone with her students, worried she’ll get sued someday.
I’m with dad. It’s creepy. I hate catching sight of my teachers at the grocery store. I can’t image actually calling them on the phone.
Mom finally hangs up, looking like a lovestruck teenager who’s finally been asked to prom. “Daniella passed all her math requirements this summer,” she says.
“You mean the requirements Waverleigh passed two years ago?” Dad asks. “Wow. You must be so proud.”
Mom ignores him and returns to a pile of essays on the table. She adds several comments to a paper until it contains more of her own writing then her student’s.
“So I have to run a sub-twenty minute 5K for state.” I change the subject.
Mom, who ran in college, merely nods. Dad whistles low and mutters about how he couldn’t run that fast if murderous chihuahuas were chasing him.
“How was school?” Mom asks, not waiting for the answer. “There is still time for you to switch back to classes at the college you know.”
Yes. I knew. Last spring, I’d decided that since Denise would be gone anyways, I wasn’t going to bother with high school. Much to mom’s delight, I’d planned to spend my senior year at Spokane Falls Community College instead, taking college classes for free while knocking out my remaining high school requirements. I’d aced the placement tests and signed up for morning courses that wouldn’t interfere with cross country practice.
But then Jeremy moved into the house that Denise’s family vacated. He and I spent those first weeks of June in that breathless bliss of a new relationship. We spent July arguing about whether college coursework would cut into “us time,” and by August he had won the fight. So back to high school I went. With him. He joined the cross country team too, claiming that seven miles training runs was worth seeing me in those short racing shorts.
Mom hadn’t been thrilled.
“I’m coming to your meet tomorrow,” Dad says. He puts the cheese grater in front of mom, silently suggesting that maybe she could help with dinner. She goes back to her papers.
“Dad, you totally don’t have to come! It’s all the way in Wenatchee. You’d have to get up at five in the morning and drive two hours just to watch me run three miles. That’s a ridiculous way to spend a Saturday.”
“I’m sleeping until six, then driving fast,” he says. “Besides, I switched shifts with Jillian at the restaurant. Now she has a Saturday night off. I can’t go back on that promise.”
He smiles. Mom doesn’t. We have dinner.Like a dumbass, I spend half the night on the phone. Jeremy sends me pictures and sweet messages all night, then calls to talk all soft and slow and how much we love each other. I keep trying to hang up and then he messages me about missing my voice, and then he calls me again and I’m back at square one. We finally go to sleep three hours before our alarms go off. He picks me up at 4:45 and I fall asleep in his truck as he drives us to school to catch the bus with our team. On the bus and unroll my sleeping bag and pillow underneath. After three years of early morning cross country meets, I have perfected the art of sleeping on the bus. No leaning against cold windows for me, the floor is the way to go. I sleep through Coach yelling at all the people who showed up late. I sleep through forty people clamoring to get on the bus. I sleep through Coach meeting with everyone on the Varsity team to go over their individual race strategies. I wake up when the bus turns off I-90 onto dusty desert roads that Seattle’s rain never reaches. I reach for my phone. It’s full of messages from the guy who is sitting six inches above me. There’s a picture of me, sleeping, clutching his ankles. Over it, Jeremy had scrawled: “My feet love you back.” I look up and he’s smiling down so sweetly at me, like my messed up hair is the best thing he’s seen in his whole life.
“Hey baby, good morning,” I say. “Did you sleep at all?”
“Nope,” he says. “You were holding me upright.” Jeremy says this with no malice in his voice, but I feel a little twist somewhere in my stomach. If his race doesn’t go well, he’ll blame it on me. How can I have been so stupid as to let myself curl up around him?
At the start line, the seven of us huddled up and everyone looked to me for the race plan, of which I had none. I’d missed my chance to talk to Coach.