“Momma, it’s not that big of a deal! Just cramps from my period.”

The worry lines on her forehead dissipated a little. “Oh, all right. Let’s get you home so you can go straight to bed. I’ll fix you some hot soup and a pot of tea with lemon.”


“Thanks, Momma!” I turned up the radio, pushing the preset buttons until I found some decent music, as opposed to that classical crap my mother always listened to in the car.

“No problem, baby.” She patted my knee as she pulled out from the parking lot. “It’s not every day my baby gets her first period. This is a big event.”

I thought about Jason’s big-ass mouth broadcasting it and muttered, “If you only knew.”

Later that evening, my daddy brought up a dinner tray with roast beef, potatoes, carrots, and greens. “Hey, princess!”

“Hey, Daddy!” I was so happy to see him. He always enhanced my mood. “How was your day?”

“Just fine,” he replied, setting the tray down on my nightstand. “We’re having a bit of trouble getting the beams situated for the top floor, but we’ll get it straight in the morning.”

“That’s cool!” I looked over at the tray and noticed a bunch of small daffodils crammed beside the plate. “Oh, Daddy, you picked me flowers!”

He chuckled, flashing his cinematic smile at me. “ Actually, those are from Jason.”

“Jason! That trick ass!”I covered my mouth, realizing my slip.

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“Zoe, what did I tell you about using profanity?”

“I’m sorry, Daddy,” I pouted. “Jason just makes me plain ole sick sometimes. You have no idea what he did to me today!”

“Yes, I do. He told meeverything.”

“He did?”

My daddy nodded, trying to suppress a smile, and I wastooooooooothrough. My first period was becoming the event of the freakin’ century. I didn’t even want my daddy to know I had one.

“Uh-huh, sounds like another lover’s spat to me.”

I popped him gently on the arm. “I hate him, Daddy!”

“Hate is a very strong word.” He picked up the flowers and held them out to me. “Besides, he can’t be all that bad. He sent me up here with these flowers and his apology.”


“Indeed! Jason’s extremely sorry about spreading your private business all over the school.”

“Well, I don’t even want to hear all that,” I hissed. “He can just forget about me ever speaking to him again.”

“Is that so?”

“No question!”

My daddy pulled a crumpled piece of notebook paper out of his shirt pocket and set it down on the blanket beside me. “He must be a mind reader then, because he wrote you a letter.”

I didn’t say another word. I couldn’t find any words to say. Part of me was dying to read the note in hopes it would declare his love for me. The other part was afraid it would be disappointing.

My daddy kissed me on the cheek and headed toward the door. “Goodnight, sweetheart!”

“Goodnight, Daddy!”

He hesitated once he got out into the hallway. “By the way, if youshoulddecide to talk to Jason, he and I will be down in the garage for the next couple of hours.”

I almost jumped out of my skin.“He’s over here? Now? In this house?”

“Yep, he sure is. We’re working on that china cabinet I promised your mother for the dining room.”

With that, he closed the door, and I heard his footsteps going down the stairs.

I sat there for a few moments, trying to drown myself in the episode ofMiami Vicethat was on.

As fine as Phillip Michael Thomas was back in those days, it was no use. I had to know what was in the note. I slowly unfolded the paper, smoothing out the creases as I went along.


I know you’re pissed at me. I was wrong to do what I did. Please forgive me. It’s just that I like you so much, and you hurt my feelings the other day. You probably don’t care, since you’ve hatedme since you moved here. Chandler was mad at me today. I told her the truth though. I told her I wanted to go with you. She said I should stay with her because you would never date me anyway. Is that true? Are you still seeing that Mohammed dude? The Muslim with the raggedy car? If so, I’ll leave you alone. Either way, please accept my apology. I’ll see you at school tomorrow, and maybe we can go roller-skating or to a movie this weekend. I can ask my mother to drive us and pick us up.Love Always, Jason

Now, you might find

this hard to believe, but I swear I didn’t take a breath for at least five minutes. Jason and I were going to be together. Fugg a Mohammed! Fugg a Chandler! I was going to accept his apology and tell him I wanted to go with him the very next day, or there wasn’t a dog in the entire state of Georgia.


All of the dogs must have gone farther south with the birds, because I never got the opportunity to accept Jason’s apology. I fully intended to. I put on the most provocative, hoochified outfit I could find in my thirteen-year-old closet. It was a tight pink leotard with some form-fitting black capri pants. I went to school the next day on a mission to get my man, Chandler or no Chandler.

I planned to pull Jason aside at lunchtime and tell him I did want to go with him, wherever the hell it was he wanted to go when he’d asked me to go with him. I sprayed on some cotton-candy-scented body spray, put on some cherry-flavored lip gloss, and pinned my hair up so I would look older and sexier. I even folded my white bobby socks down as far as they would go so I could show off a little leg.

I was on my way to the cafeteria to put my plan into action when the guidance counselor, Mr. Turner, grabbedme gently by the wrist and asked me to follow him to his office. I couldn’t imagine what he wanted to talk to me about. Then I narrowed it down to throwing the tray of food in Lyle’s stinky face the day before. I was all set to defend myself, but I froze when we walked into his office and my mother was sitting in one of the brown metal chairs, crying her eyes out.

I only half-listened while she explained my father’s death to me. I remember hearing the wordssteel beamandconstruction siteandaccidental release. It didn’t seem real. After all, my father had brought a tray of food up to my room just the night before, teasing me about Jason and delivering his note. I remembered his smile, what he had on, what he smelled like, everything. Yet in the blink of an eye he was gone, and my life would never be the same.

Ironically, the death of my father is what finally bridged the gap between Jason and I. Jason had become extremely attached to my father during the years he got to know him and was crushed when he heard the news. He came over to our house that evening, and while all the adults tried to comfort my mother, he comforted me. We sat out on the front stoop, and he held me for what seemed like hours. We both shed tears all over each other and talked about the happy memories we had of my father. Jason said he was determined to finish the china cabinet he and my father had been building together. He kept his word a month later, and my mother still cherishes it to this very day.

The day of my father’s funeral was rainy and dreary. Several of his friends and family members came from near and far. It was all a blur to me. I barely made it through the service, especially when his brother, my uncle Winslow, a minister from Houston, gave the eulogy. Hetalked extensively about their childhood antics. Hearing things about my father that I never knew saddened me to the point of complete withdrawal. Jason held one of my hands at the graveside, and Brina held the other one. When it was time to leave in the limousine with my mother and the rest of my father’s immediate family members, I let go of their hands and never looked back. I just wanted to be alone in my misery.

For months I kept to myself whenever possible. I would come straight home from school; I dropped out of all of my extracurricular activities and instructed my mother to tell Brina, Jason, and whoever else I was busy when they called. It was Jason who was the persistent one, though. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He often came over to visit me, and we were actually civilized to one another. It was a great feeling. He was the only person my age I remotely felt like being around—probably because I was head over heels in love with him.My mother was now a single parent, just like Brina’s mother, and had to take on a second job to make ends meet. I felt so bad about it, but I wasn’t old enough to get a real job. I baby-sat whenever I could for people in the neighborhood. Being around infants and toddlers was cool because they didn’t ask me a lot of questions. I made yet another promise to myself. I swore one day I would take care of my mother and make sure money and comfort were always present in her life.

Summer came, and I was sitting on the front porch steps one night. It was a clear night, and the stars were so beautiful. I was always fascinated with stars, and my eyeswere so affixed on them that night, I didn’t see Jason approaching me until he was less than ten feet away from me.“What are you doing, Zoe?” He sat down on the step below the one I was sitting on and leaned his elbow beside my thigh.

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