“I think I figured out a part of your back story,” I said to Grayson as I placed my lunch food tray on the table. “Do I get a level up?”
“No way – you used a cheat code!” Grayson said.
“I did not use a – can we stop with the video game metaphors, please?” I said. “Cara told me that you used to have a lot of friends before.”
“Who’s Cara?” Grayson asked. “And how does she know so much about me?”
“She’s this girl from my Math class,” I said. “She hangs out a lot at that ice cream store. Cool Treats.”
Grayson looked at me, and then took a big bite out of his cupcake. I watched him as he chewed it.
“Spit it out!”
“The cafeteria food isn’t that bad, you know,” Grayson said after he swallowed. “And just so you know, I like this cupcake. It’s red velvet, my favorite flavor.”
“Not the cupcake,” I said. “I mean whatever your back story is.”
“You don’t see me asking for your back story!” Grayson said. “Tell me your back story and I’ll tell you mine.”
Back story? I didn’t have a back story. “I don’t have a back story.”
“Sure you do. Everyone’s got one.”
“Well, even if I do have one, it’s not very interesting.”
“I still want to hear it anyway.”
See, this was what I didn’t get about Grayson. How come he talked like he was so honest one hundred percent of the time? And why was the guy so interested in me? I’m not sure I’ve met someone who was so interested in somebody else’s life. “Well, I was born on the 15th of March, at 3:00 pm,” I started. Grayson gave me a look.
I held up my hands in protest. “Well, what am I supposed to say, huh?” I said. “Nothing ever happens to me. The most exciting thing that’s happened in my life was that I moved here. Oh, and my mom left when I was thirteen, so now it’s just me and my dad. That’s the thing bestseller books are made of, right? There’s always a character with a parent who left.”
Grayson was quiet now. “I’m sorry I asked,” he said after a while.
I lightened up. “No, it’s fine,” I said. “Well, I’ve told you my back story, now tell me yours.”
Grayson bit his lower lip and tapped on the table. I think he was deciding what to say. “I was going to tell you,” he said, “that I did have a lot of friends back then. But…I never really felt like they were my friends, you know? Like, I just stuck to them by default because I was afraid I’d be lonely without them. Then, one day, one of my friends left her phone at my house, and I checked the messages, and…turns out they were all talking shit about me behind my back.”
“Grayson, that sucks,” I said. “Your friends are assholes.”
Grayson shrugged. “It’s all bullshit, anyway,” he said. “So then I returned her phone, told them I never wanted to talk to them again, and now I’m here. But what’s pretty cool is that I am actually a ton happier without them than with them. It’s like…it’s the moment you’re scared to be lonely when you need to spend the most time with yourself.”
“Greatest irony of the world,” I said.
“But they weren’t all assholes,” he said. “There was one who wasn’t talking shit about me, and now even if we’re not close we still talk from time to time. Speaking of him, he’s coming this way now.”
A guy holding a book came to our table. “Hey, Grayson, here’s your copy of Stargirl,” he said, giving Grayson the book. “You’re right; it was a pretty great book.”
“Thank you,” Grayson said in a singsong tone. “By the way, have you met Jeremy? Jeremy, this is David. David, Jeremy.”
“Oh, hey, you’re the new kid!” David said, pointing at me.
“Yes, that is correct,” I said. Everyone seemed to know me but no one actually wanted to talk to me and know know me. Hmm, but I guess this was high school.
David left and Grayson continued his speech. “But, hey, you could never go wrong with Carpe Diem, right? Name me one reason you can go wrong with Carpe Diem.”
I smiled. I guess Grayson and I had more in common than I thought. But what made us different was that he actually stood up and did something. He stopped digging his own grave. And as for me, it was time I do the same. I was done with being just a character in my story. It was time I picked up the pen and started being the writer instead.
After classes ended, Grayson decided to head home and work on a project. I went home, too; but along the way, I stopped for another Cold Treat. At the table, I was writing a list of reasons why you could go wrong with Carpe Diem:
List of Reasons Why You Could Go Wrong With Carpe Diem:
1.) The day probably does not want to be seized. I mean, why are we being so inconsiderate? Put yourself in the day’s shoes for a change – would you want to be seized?
2.) According to New Webster’s Dictionary, seize is defined as “to take suddenly and hold firmly.” Seems a lot like kidnapping to me.
3.) You can’t spell seizure without seize, and I for one do not want to end up in a hospital.
4.) What if the guy who invented the saying meant cease, and he just didn’t know what to spell? Then it’d be cease the day, which would be the complete opposite.
I was about to add how Carpe Diem was an anagram for “Die, Camper!” and “Me, Die? Crap” when Cara came up to me and in a panicked voice asked, “Do you want to run the register?”
“The register,” Cara said. “I need someone to run it while I make the ice creams. I could do it both myself but that new Disney movie is showing and kids get free ice cream when they buy Disney movie tickets. It’s gonna be a rampage in here.”
“Don’t you have someone else for that?”
“Her dad just called in and said she can’t make it, she got into an accident or something,” Cara said. “Look, we’ll even pay you under the counter.”
And that is how I got my first work experience.
It was a strange experience. Kids were swarming in everywhere. The shop was five times more crowded than it would’ve been had it been a usual work day. There was this one kid that wouldn’t stop singing Let It Go even if I’m pretty sure the movie showing wasn’t Frozen. This other kid had a very long discussion with me about the characters in the film before she finally ordered her mango cheesecake.
As for the register, thankfully, I was a fast learner. There wasn’t much to learn, anyway. Almost all the customers just used their ticket stubs.
“Wanna catch a movie after this?” I asked after the day had slowed down.
“Please, for the love of God, do not say that new Disney movie,” Cara said. “I don’t care how good it is; I curse the day my parents made a deal with the nearby movie house.”
“Well, you wouldn’t be able to pay for all those All Time Low albums you buy, now would you?” a voice behind me asked.
I turned around. Standing behind me was a woman in a red shirt – part of me guessed she was the manager of the place. Another part of me guessed she was –
“Mom!” Cara said. “You’re early.”
“And who’s this?” Cara’s mom said, looking at me.
“Oh, that’s Jeremy, we know each other from school,” Cara said. “Drew couldn’t make it. I asked him to take his place. Dad was okay with it and said we could pay him under the counter -”
“Well, your father never tells me anything, that’s for sure,” Cara’s mom said. Then she gave both me and Cara a look. “You guys aren’t dating, are you?”
“No!” Cara shouted, almost a bit too excessively. (I mean, is it really that terrible for her to date me?)
Cara’s mom leaned into Cara and whispered (or whatever counted as a whisper, I could still hear it) “You know, Cara, you no longer need to wait for the guy to ask you out. Sure, it’s really embarrassing, but if you never -”
“Thank you, Mom, but we’re just friends, really,” Cara said. “Anyway, it’s the end of my shift. Jeremy and I are gonna watch that new Disney movie.”
“What was that all about?” I asked as we walked down the street. “And are we really watching that new Disney movie?”
“No, you idiot, I just couldn’t find another excuse to go out,” Cara said. She sighed. “I’m sorry, that came out of my mouth wrong.”
“Did you mean to call me moron?”
Cara gave me a look.
“It’s just that, my parents get me so mad sometimes,” Cara said. “Which is why I never wanna tell them about me because I know they’d just freak! I should just get emancipated or something!”
“Your parents don’t know you’re a -?”
“I never told them,” Cara said. “I already know what their reactions are going to be. My mom and dad make homophobic side comments all the time and they don’t realize that they hate on me.”
I…I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how Cara felt. I had a dad who I was really close with, and my mom, well, she’d been gone from my life for seven years so it didn’t matter what she felt of me. But I hated the fact that some parents wanted their kids to be a certain way. I hated the fact that some parents were disappointed in how their children turned out to be.
I hated the fact that some parents could never see their kid as more than just their kid.
But before I could say anything, any word of comfort, Cara said, “Look, I’ve got to get somewhere, someone’s waiting for me. Is it okay if I give you your payment tomorrow? Can we meet up at the library?”
I nodded. “Sure thing,” I said. “My classes end at three.”
“So do mine,” Cara said. “So I’ll see you…three fifteen? Somewhere around that time. I’ll call you. Anyway, I should get going. Bye, Jeremy.”
“Bye,” I waved.
As I walked back home, I tried to imagine myself if Cara’s shoes. Would I still tell my parents? Certainly my dad would approve; he was the best man at his best friend’s wedding with another man. My mom…well, there wouldn’t be a need to tell her, now would there be? She had another family now. But what if her son was gay? Would she approve? Did she even have a son, or was that a daughter? I couldn’t remember.
People like Cara deserve better. Anyone who’s afraid of being who they are deserves better.
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