“C’mon Hibi, please?! I’m begging you! I’ll do your chores for a week!”
“I already told you, Orchid, I would if I could. Mom really wants to take you guys. “
“Ughhhh. This sucks!”
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting a little? It’s not that bad. So Mom wants to drive you to your first day of high school. What’s the big deal?”
“The big deal? The big deal is that you know damn well she won’t just drop us off and let us go. She’s going to get out with us and hug us and, God, everyone’s going to see!”
I shrugged and threw five new notebooks and a pack of pens into my backpack. “Dunno what to tell you, Orch. She did it with me and I survived. Just play it cool and no one will care. But I promise you, if you throw a hissy fit in the school parking lot? Yeah, you’ll never live it down. “
Before he could reply, Mom’s voice sounded up the steps. “Boys, come on! I want to take pictures.”
“Did she just say pictures?”
“Yep. She sure did and Orchid…you remember where she took my first day, freshman year pictures.” I let that sink in as I slung my backpack over my shoulder.
With a laugh I nodded towards our bedroom door. “C’mon Orch. Mom’s waiting.”
Twenty minutes later I was pulling out of the drive by myself while Orch rode off in the SUV with Mom, Dad, Fleur, Blossom, Calla and Soph. I was still laughing at the miserable look on his face when I pulled up to Uncle Jer and Aunt Pink’s house. Salty was out the door before I even honked and within seconds we were headed out for our first day of senior year.
Mom and Dad were still there, along with Uncle Jer, fussing over Orch, Fleur and Zu. Lucky for Orch, Dad must have talked some sense into Mom because they were all gathered near the school sign which was just about as far from the entrance and most prying eyes as you could get. I really couldn’t help honking as we flew past them and turned into the main parking lot, Salt cracking up when Orch gave us a very rude gesture.
By the time we’d parked and made our way slowly through the lot, talking to kids we knew along the way, Orchid, Zu and Fleur had managed to escape the parents and were trudging towards the front door. As we drew even, I tossed an arm around Orch’s neck with a grin. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“It was excruciating and you know it.”
I turned to Fleur, who’d drawn near my left side. Her I felt more sympathy for. Fleur had always been shy and I knew today would be hard for her. She seemed to be doing okay and even grinned as I winked at her but it was clear she was nervous. Even Mazu, who normally doesn’t get shaken by much, looked a little nervous.
I looked up and saw a couple of our friends motioning us over and looked back at my brother and sister. “Okay you two, you’re on your own. Orch, remember what I said-play it cool and Fleur-“ I touched her chin gently and gave her my most reassuring smile, “If anyone gives you any shit, you tell them your big brother’s going to break them in half.”
With a roll of his eyes, Orchid took off, Fleur and Zu, following close behind him.
Salty and I killed the last fifteen minutes before the bell rang catching up with some of our friends as we went into the school and scoped out the kids filing through the halls. Mostly the same old faces, but I hadn’t seen a lot of them in a couple months so it was nice to catch up.
Salty and I had first period together and we took seats next to each other in the back. We had the perfect view of the door and as a couple friends of ours filed in, we motioned them to the back with us. I gave Gilt a quick fist bump as he sat down in a chair he’d dragged from the next table. Gilt I’d seen tons of this summer-he was one of my best friends, right after Salty.
His triplet sister, Goldleaf, sat at a table with our friend Calypso, leaving us free to listen to Salty tell us, in great detail, about the girl he’d gone out with over the weekend.
Glancing up, I saw their triplet brother, Silverleaf, pause in the hall by the open classroom door and silently begged for him to keep walking. I guess my relief was obvious when he did because Gilt started laughing. “He always tells me to have you call him, you know.”
If I rolled my eyes any harder, they might roll right out of my head. Silverleaf and I had had a few dates when I was 16 and it hadn’t gone well. To say the guy was full of himself was an understatement. “Hell. No!…No offense, Gilt.”
“None taken. I’m well aware my brother is a huge douche. I live with him, remember?” With a laugh I looked back up…and that’s when I saw him.
The most gorgeous guy had just walked into the classroom. He was beautiful-all deep lavender skin and purple-pink hair and stunning lilac-pink eyes. I knew immediately he must have just transferred because I would not have forgotten someone like that.
“HIBI!” A sharp smack to the back of my head drew my attention back to my friends who were all laughing at me.
Rubbing at the sore spot, I glared at Salty. “What the hell was that for!”
Salt snorted, “Just trying to keep you from making an ass of yourself. Any longer and you’d have been drooling.”
“Whatever.” Sure my dusky cheeks would betray my embarrassment I turned forward only to find myself looking right at my new purple crush as he made his way past the filled tables, stopping at the empty seat right in front of me.
He gave a nervous little smile before motioning to the seat. “Anyone sitting here?”
Salty chimed in before I had a chance to blink. “Nope. You should sit there. I’m Salty, by the way, short for Salt Water Taffy.”
“Oh. Hey Salty. I’m Pais.” And then he looked to me, still smiling, and I realized I’d been grinning like a fool. I couldn’t take my eyes off his as I reached out my hand. “Hibiscus.”
Four classes, three of which were with Pais, later, I didn’t know any more about him other than what I’d figured out that morning in homeroom-that’s he’s gorgeous and pretty nice to boot. Salty, Gilt and I made our way across the school lawn to settle under a tree while we ate. I caught myself scanning the kids I could see for any flash of purple and completely missed Goldie joining us.
Gilt’s voice broke through my thoughts. “So, Hibi, guess I’ll be taking all your notes for history this year huh?”
“Uh…be my guest, but why?”
“Really? Tell me one thing the teacher said. Tell me what SUBJECT he discussed?”
“What? He talked about…” Come to think of it, I really hadn’t heard a word he said. “He talked about history.”
“Exactly. Now tell me six things about Pais.”
“Pais? What? Please. C’mon. Just because I wasn’t listening to Mr. Quartz drone on and on doesn’t mean I was watching Pais.”
Gilt raised his eyebrow. “Dude, I’m straight and I was checking out Pais. You were practically drooling.”
“I was not!”
I should have known Salty wouldn’t keep out of it. “He was the same way in Chemistry. I’m surprised he didn’t doodle little hearts in his notebook with Pais’ name.”
“He did do that. In Algebra.”
I looked at Goldleaf with my jaw hanging open. Sweet, quiet Goldleaf sold me out? “Et tu Brute’?”
“You kept doodling Hibi heart Pais in your notebook.”
She returned my glare with an apologetic look. “Well you did.”
I turned my attention to a suddenly wildly interesting blade of grass, trying unsuccessfully to ignore Gilt and Salty’s gales of laughter. I guess that’s why I didn’t notice Calypso coming.
“Hey guys. Pais and I had fourth period together and I invited him to eat with us.”
Salty immediately made a production of moving his stuff out of the way. “Hey Pais! You can sit here.” Shooting Salty the dirtiest look I could muster, I dragged my backpack out of the way, clearing more space for Pais and Calypso. He sat down next to me wearing that same, nervous looking smile from this morning.
“It’s Hibiscus, right?”
“Yep, but everyone calls me Hibi.”
“Hibi. Got it. I think we have the same first three classes, Hibi.”
I felt that flush rising in my cheeks again. He’d noticed what I had been unable to miss and there was no point in denying it. “Yeah, we do.”
Ignoring the mock kissy faces Salt was making at me from behind Pais, I decided to try to get to know a little more about him. Nothing wrong with being friendly, right?
Nope. Definitely nothing wrong with a little friendly conversation.
All too soon, lunch period was over. I’d learned a lot about Pais.
He’d grown up in Starlight Shores and just moved to Bridgeport a couple weeks prior when his Father took a new job here. He had a sister, Freisa, who was a junior here and another little sister, Mara, who was only two. He played soccer and baseball but he’d also dabbled in swimming some, though never on a school team like I was. He liked to skate and play xbox. I even learned we liked a some of the same bands when he zeroed in on the pins on my backpack and mentioned a couple of them.
What I didn’t find out was if he was into girls or guys. It never came up and it’s not really the type of thing you bring up the first day you meet someone. At least I don’t.
My afternoon schedule was light. Advanced Art, Computer Science and Study Hall. Pais showed up in both my last two classes but we didn’t have much chance to talk in either class so I didn’t really find out anything new about him that day.
The next few days were about the same. Pais started talking to all of us more as he got more comfortable. He sat with us at lunch. And pretty much every day after last period he and I would walk together to his locker where I’d say goodbye and go on to my locker. By the end of that first week, I’d learned more about him…but still had no idea about the one thing I really wanted to know.
Goldleaf was in my art class and was only too happy to speculate along with me as we got right to work on our painting assignment that Friday.
“I really think he’s straight, Goldie. I mean, I’m clearly into guys and you’d think he’d have said something if he was too. Even if it was just solidarity thing, you know?”
“How is he supposed to know you’re into guys?”
I pointed to my backpack and the cluster of pride pins all over it. “Hello? Little obvious don’t you think? Or he could, you know, talk to anyone on campus. It’s not like I haven’t been out since middle school.”
She nodded, “True…but what if he’s not out? Even if he’s gay, and figured out that you are, that doesn’t mean he’s going to be comfortable saying anything. We just met him this week.”
I could always count on Goldie to be the level headed one. I nodded with a sigh. “You’re right. I don’t even know why I’m obsessing over it.”
Goldie didn’t miss a beat. “Because he’s hot as hell and, not going to lie, Hib, a big part of me is hoping he’s straight so I can throw myself at him.”
If you knew Goldie, you’d understand why that made me laugh so loud that Mrs. Pearl threatened to separate us. Imagining quiet, introverted, little Goldleaf throwing herself at anyone was bizarre though Pais was just good looking enough to make it seem almost possible.
We didn’t get a chance to talk about it anymore, though, because my little outburst meant we couldn’t talk at all for the rest of the period.
Like always, after study hall, Pais walked with me down the hall until we got to his locker. I knew Orch, Fleur, Salty and Zu would all be waiting for me so I said goodbye and headed on to my own locker. It only took me a minute to get what I needed and head for the car. Just as I reached the edge of the lot, I heard my name.
“Hibiscus! Hibi, hey!”
It was Pais. I really didn’t know what to think when he stopped in front of me, his lips curved in that, now familiar, shy little smile. “Sup, Pais?”
“I was, well I was wondering something. I’m still pretty new to Bridgeport and I was thinking…well I wanted to know if you would want to maybe get together…to show me around and stuff.”
“Oh! Sure. There’s a lot to do. I bet the guys would help too.”
He glanced up, looking disappointed. “Oh. I mean, that’s cool and I’d love to hang out sometime but I was sort of hoping for just the two of us. I mean…I was thinking maybe we could…go to dinner or something?
My heart nearly stopped when I realized what he’d really been asking. “Pais…are you asking me out?”
I guess that answered my question. He was into guys. More specifically, he was into me.