A YA short story by: Paula Jones
“So… he told me he remembered me from a party because he supposedly asked me to dance and I said, “Sure, I’ll be right back.” But then he never found me after I walked away. That’s sweet, right? But honestly…I DO NOT remember him! I think what happened is he asked my cousin Jade, you remember her? The short one? Well, I know everyone in my family’s short- but nobody’s shorter than Jade. And she has purple streaks in her hair, it’s cut in like a – a whaddya call it? A pixie. A pixie cut. You know her? I think you met her last summer at my parent’s barbeque. All she ate was salad. My mom was mad. She’s vegan. Not my mom, Jade. Well, the guy obviously can’t tell anyone in my family apart because I don’t have purple streaks in my hair and I’m not four foot eight, I’m like at least five two, but he definitely asked her and he thinks I’m her! So, anyways, he… Oh! Oh! Hang on, it’s Heath! Hold that thought…”
I watched Via lean off the bed and grab her cell phone, which had earlier fallen to the floor as she was gesturing.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the person telling the long winded story and doing all of the talking through the length of a one way conversation wasn’t typically the one who said “Hold that thought.”
“Heath!” She sweetly sang into the phone, “Hey youuu.”
She put him on speaker and leaning back, I stretched out to make myself comfortable on her bed.
I had a feeling she’d be on the phone with him for a while.
Staring at the ceiling, I listened to the two of them laugh as she coyly reigned him in.
“Yeah Babe, we should soooo definitely go there again …yeah! I did looove those ribs, you were so right about that, yeah, but next time… um, maybe just us? Like, you and me minus your friends….”
She spoke softly.
Via always used that voice when she spoke to Heath.
I thought it was kind of funny, the way her normally loud voice would shrink all the down to a Marilyn Monroe-like whisper as soon as Heath was within earshot.
And you know what? Somehow, the soft voice always worked on him…. it caught his attention, centered him, and pretty much turned the rough and tumble high school QB into a ball of putty in her hands.
“Yeah, you’re right. Maybe tomorrow we can go back, just us.” He quickly agreed.
Smiling to myself, I had to give it to Via, my friend had mad skills. And the hilarious part was that she didn’t even try!
I guess that kind of game just comes naturally to some people.
Unfortunately, there were a lot of kids at school who didn’t get that she really wasn’t trying. It irked my nerves when people talked about her like she was purposely manipulative or ditzy.
Their jealousy blinded them from seeing that, at heart, Via was an artist who made life her canvas.
A free spirit is a rare thing. I mean, how many people do you know who, with no reservations and no fear, embrace life?
Honestly, most of us just aren’t that strong.
I say it takes strength to be this way because to live life to the fullest is, unfortunately, a good way to get to know pain. You have to take the good with the bad and Via happily skipped through life, just following her heart even when it led her to trouble…
Recently, it led her to Heath.
As cute as he was, I had to admit that the guy came with a lot of baggage.
At least twice, he’d almost been kicked off the football team for unnecessary fighting.
Then, there was Heath’s “secret” DWI arrest that everyone in our school knew about. Somehow, Via had managed to hide it from her parents.
“So, I thought you’d be at practice after school, what happened? ” He asked.
“No Babes, I’m chilaxing with my Italian twin this afternoon.” Via replied.
“You’re with Gia?” He said my name with exaggerated disgust.
Smiling, I knew he wasn’t serious.
“Yeah, sorry. I gotta make time for my friends…but, you know I like you, right?”
“Is she there right now? Put her on.” He jokingly demanded.
“Put me on?!” I repeated, “What am I, a t-shirt?”
“You’re on speaker Heath.” Via laughed, “She can hear you.”
“Yeah, I know, I hear her.” He said, “Um, excuse me, I need to schedule an appointment with my girlfriend; tomorrow, after school.”
Smiling, I sat up and Via rolled her eyes at me. Tossing her long, black hair she glanced affectionately down at her cell phone as if it was Heath.
“First I’m a t-shirt, now I’m your girlfriend’s secretary?” I replied.
“No! Be political Gia, you’re her personal assistant.” He replied.
Via and I looked at each other.
That’s when it hit me,
“Heath. Do you mean politically correct?”
“Yeah.” He replied, “You know what I mean.”
Trying not to laugh, I avoided my best friend’s eyes and listened as her boyfriend went on,
“See what happens when I spend a day without you Via? I can’t remember English!”
Via, of course, was extremely flattered,
“Aww, babes, we just saw each other at school, was that not enough?…”
I seriously doubted that Heath ever remembered English, even when Via was around.
He was a nice guy and all, when he wasn’t drinking or getting in fights that is, but I knew my friend could do way better.
“So, Gia!” Heath suddenly called, “Can you schedule that for me?”
“Actually, tomorrow we’re planning a Johnny Depp film festival. So, if you feel like hanging out with us and watching girly movies, yeah, sure.” I said.
“Oh!” Via exclaimed, “I forgot! Yeah Babes, seriously, I promised Gia we’d do that tomorrow. So, maybe you and me can hang out Saturday night?”
There was nothing but quiet from his end of the line.
I watched Via hold her breath.
Briefly meeting my eyes, she shrugged, bit her lip and glanced down at the phone.
“We haven’t gone anywhere in like two weeks.” He finally replied.
“We just went to that restaurant a few days ag-” She started.
“That doesn’t count, you said you wanted to do something without my friends around. That’s what you want, right?”
Watching her squirm, I realized I’d made a mistake about who turned who to putty.
I’d had it backwards…
“Yeah, you’re right. Gia won’t mind if we watch movies another time. Right ?”
She gave me a pathetic and almost embarrassed sort of look. So I smiled and nodded as I said,
“Of course not. That’s fine.”
“Awesome, so later tonight you’ll call and make us a reservation, right babe?” Heath asked.
Suddenly, there was a knock on Via’s bedroom door.
“Via! đến đây ” Her mother called from the other side of the door.
“Oh, Heath! I gotta go, love ya, bye!” She pressed “end call” and then her eyes widened as she promptly threw her phone on the floor before screaming.
Jumping to her feet, Via shouted,
“OH NOOOOOOOOOO!” She hit her palm against her forehead.
“What’s wrong with you?!” I exclaimed, suppressing a laugh. She looked a little crazy.
“Via!” Mrs. Nguyen’s voice repeated and I saw the locked doorknob twist and turn.
“Uh… should I open the door for your mom?” I asked, sliding off of her bed.
Moving towards me, she dramatically threw herself against my shoulder, burying her face in my arm,
” I CAN’T BELIEVE I JUST SAID THAT!! I …said…I LOVE YOU!! Ugh, he’s gonna think I’m like…”
Mrs. Nguyen began to bang on the door and by now she was shouting in English,
“Via! Open this door now!”
“Hold that thought.” Stealing her phrase, I patted my friend on the head and nudged her away from me before hurrying to open the door for her mom.
Mrs. Nguyen stood in the doorway and her eyebrows rose in surprise when she saw me,
“Oh! Gia? I didn’t know you were here.”
“Yes ma’am.” I replied.
“Well, you look really nice today. I like your hair this way, it’s so curly.” With a serious expression on her face, she entered the room and touched my hair. I suddenly felt self conscious as she gave me an appraising once over, “Did Via help you with it?”
Via and her mother always looked perfect.
Even at that moment, while they were supposedly relaxing at home, her mother wore a spotless white suit and her makeup was flawless.
“Thanks, um no. It’s naturally curly. I didn’t feel like straightening it this morning.”
My hair is so naturally curly that Latonya, one of my other best friends from school, calls it an Italian Afro and I agree. An Afro I have. Normally, I straighten it, but that morning I just wasn’t up for the dramatics of using my old flat iron, which had some kind of an electrical short.
Mrs. Nguyen finally decided to offer me a brief smile as she said,
” Nice. I didn’t realize that. I know Via’s always trying to show you new hairstyles and those things but I’d like for you to teach my daughter how to behave properly. She’s a pretty girl, but that’s all she thinks about; her hair, her clothes, her boyfriends…”
“Mom!” Via cried, as she approached the two of us.
It seemed like every conversation I had with Mrs. Nguyen went about the same. She’d give me her opinion of how I looked on that particular day. She’d follow it up with either an offer of some food because I was too thin or a plea for me to teach her daughter to behave properly.
I never really knew what to say…
“Via! Why didn’t you wash the dishes like I asked you to? It’s a simple request, you come home, wash the dishes and when our guests come over there’s no gossip about our house being a mess because our daugh – ”
“She’s not a guest, she’s your sister! Does she really care if we have dishes in the sink?” Via interrupted.
“Yes!! She does! She cares if her niece never lifts a finger-”
“Really Mom, please, you’re embarrassing me!” Via frowned, placing her hand on her hip.
Mrs. Nguyen returned her daughter’s frown and rattled off something in Vietnamese.
Via reddened and I watched them glare at each other.
“Then why do you and dad waste money on a cleaning lady if I have to wash everyone’s dishes?” Via retorted to whatever it was her mom had said.
“She’s not a “cleaning lady”! She’s your cousin!” Her mother’s voice rose and she rolled her eyes in irritation.
“Mom, Ana’s Mexican! How can she be my cousin, what are you talking about?”
“Yen is not Mexican, she moved here from Vietnam eight months ago. Why are we still arguing? Go Wash The Dishes! Now! My sister will be here in ten minutes.”
Via didn’t move,
“Yen?! …Wha…the only cleaning lady I’ve seen is Ana and the last time I offered to help her wash the dishes she told me not to worry about it-”
I looked at Mrs. Nguyen as she replied,
“Ana doesn’t work here anymore. If you came home after school instead of partying with that alcoholic Twix or whatever candy bar your boyfriend is named after-”
“Heath does not drink anymore! I told you that! Ugh! Moooommm!” Via actually stomped her foot like a child and I would’ve laughed if she didn’t seriously look like she was going to cry, “Did you fire Ana?”
Mrs. Nguyen gave me a brief glance before lowering her voice and quickly nodding as she replied,
“We had no choice. She stole over a thousand dollars from us.”
Via’s jaw dropped and she stared at her mother.
I watched with curiosity as her eyes actually filled with tears.
“Via, please…go do the dishes.” Mrs. Nguyen said with a sigh.
Wiping away a tear, Via left her mother’s presence and with hunched shoulders, stalked off to their downstairs kitchen.
As I turned to follow her, I gave Mrs. Nguyen a sympathetic smile.
“You see what I mean?” She quietly asked, shaking her head.
Unsure of how to respond, I made some sort of awkward “Hmm” noise. Via was my friend and I couldn’t speak ill of her, but yes, I did see what her mother meant.
“She’s so emotional. It makes me wonder…Lately, she’s yelling, crying, angry, then sad. I don’t know….I hope she didn’t do something stupid and … oh…” her voice trailed off and she paused for a moment, “If Via continues on this path- I can’t- we’ll have to send her to live with my other sister in Nebraska. It would be better for her there.”
But as long as I’d known my best friend, she’d always been something like an emotional roller coaster.
The first time I’d met her (seventh grade of Junior High) Latonya and I had come upon her crying hysterically in the girl’s bathroom because some boy didn’t ask her to the Winter Formal. Latonya and I exchanged glances as we comforted her and tried not to laugh. Literally, less than fifteen minutes later, the three of us were giggling at the bad grammar in a note some random guy had slipped in Via’s locker, asking her out.
“You wouldn’t really send her away, would you?”
“I love my daughter…but, she’s not like her brother; Van went through his adolescence with no problem. But Via, ever since she became a teenager, it’s problem after problem. Via gets in trouble with another boy, skips another day of school, stays out all night again, without ever asking me takes my car to go to a party…she’s too much! One day she’s going to get herself in trouble and I’m afraid for her. But, her father won’t listen to what I tell him, Via’s his baby so he doesn’t see what I see. Men are like toys to her. She controls them.”
I watched Ms. Nguyen sadly shake her head. She looked me and sighed. I realized that she wasn’t really looking at me, she was staring past me, thinking about something.
I felt my cell phone vibrate and instantly knew it was an appointment reminder. Mrs. Nguyen, hearing the sound, came out of her thoughts and glanced at my buzzing phone.
“Um- sorry about that, it’s an appointment reminder. My Dad asked me to pick up my little sister from Day Care.”
“Oh, of course… how is your father? Is he coping?”
Gulping, I quickly nodded,
“Yeah, he’s good.”
She gave my shoulder a pat and nodded,
“Good. I’m glad to hear that, your mom would be so proud of the way you and your sisters take care of him.”
I shifted uncomfortably on my feet,
“Uh, thanks…so, I’ll-I’ll go and tell Via goodbye.”
“OK.” Suddenly taking my hands, she looked into my eyes, “Gia, you’re a good girl, and a good friend to my daughter. If you and your family ever need anything, just say the word.”
Smiling awkwardly, I nodded as she let go of my hands.
Excusing myself , I quickly made my way to their large staircase and hurried down to the first floor.
Everything about the Nguyen’s house was …polished.
Ms. Nguyen, an excessively detailed Interior Designer and Mr. Nguyen, an oncologist who was rarely at home worked hard for their well cared for home.
The first time Via had invited me to their house, I remembered walking through their front door and just standing there in shock.
From my perspective, it wasn’t a house, it was a mansion.
But, as the years went by, I’d come to feel like the Nguyen’s “mansion” was a sort of second home, granted it was a very different home from the tiny one I shared with my father and three sisters, but I felt comfortable there.
Passing through their large dining room, I approached the kitchen and stuck my head around the corner.
Via was standing in front of the kitchen sink with the water running on a sink full of dishes.
My heart melted when I saw that she was still crying.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, making my way towards her.
She jumped at the sound of my voice.
Grabbing a paper towel, she quickly wiped away her tears, but it didn’t help, because she just kept crying.
“Via?” She didn’t reply and I wasn’t sure what to do.
Seemingly out of the blue, one of my mom’s favorite little sayings ran through my head, “When in doubt, hug.”
My mom was pretty smart, so I took her advice.
“I’m OK, it’s OK….no, it’s not OK. But, I don’t deserve pity.” She said, patting my shoulder and moving away from me, towards the sink.
With mascaraed tears still leaking, leaving skinny black trails down her face, she began to wash the dishes.
“Do you need anything? Is there anything I can do?” I asked.
“Can I borrow a time machine?” Laughing weakly, she shook her head, “I’m so stupid.”
“Do you want to tell me what’s going on?” I asked, “If this is about the “I love you” thing, I don’t really think Heath will care that much. He’ll still like you-even if, um, if he thinks you love him.”
Biting her lip, she washed out a cup, giving it her full attention.
“No, it’s not that. It’s more like …everything people say about me…and sometimes they think I don’t know, but I know what they say, I’m not stupid…..but some of it, like, maybe it’s true…. I just never make the right decisions. I’m so stupid.” She quietly said.
Shaking my head, I raised my voice,
“Via, that’s not true! Nobody’s perfect, you’re not, I’m not, none of us are. But one of the good things about you that makes you so specialis you’re not afraid to make mistakes. Do you know how many people never do what they really want to because they’re afraid of-”
“Or maybe because they’re smart.” She replied.
“Well, lots of people live to regret saying no to what they really want…but you’re brave. I admire that. A lot of people do.”
“No…I made a mistake.” That’s when the crying started again.
“Everyone does….” Then, my voice trailed off because I thought back to Mrs. Nguyen’s suspicions regarding her daughter’s erratic behavior, “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No, thanks though. Sorry for being such a-”
“Don’t give me that! No apologies! I’m glad you’re my friend Via, I love you and you’re awesome.” Giving her another hug, I stepped away and reached in my pocket for my car keys, “I gotta pick up the bambino.”
“OK, tell Gabs I said hi.” She quietly said, giving me some semblance of a smile.
“She’ll love that, she’ll probably want to come see you though.” I replied. My little sister loved Via. At first, it used to make me jealous, because she was my sister. But, eventually I realized how dumb it was to be jealous for the attention of a toddler.
“Bye.” I turned and headed for the door.
“Bye and thanks Gia.” She called after me.
The more I thought about it, the weirder it became.
What mistake had Via made?
There was something nagging me and I couldn’t let it go.
To Read The Rest of Almost Twins CLICK HERE!
For more short stories, please visit my website at www.yourvervemagazineonline.info
Paula J : )