Here's how she wants it to go: After the graduation ceremony, when all the speeches are done, Jamie Tabata will walk off the stage with her, take her by the hand and say, "Ana Shen, would you please go to the dance with me tonight?"
Ana, of course, will say yes. She might even blush and squeeze his hand a little. And then she will go home, ignore her family for the next four hours and spend the fifth hour getting dressed (maybe the blue skirt and the pale blue tank top with the ruffles) and taming her hair. When Jamie shows up, they'll walk to the school together, even though it's a long walk. The gym will be lit up like the Fourth of July, with a mirror ball casting starlight and shadows so that even the bleachers look otherworldly. And their first dance will be a slow dance (but not too slow) and he will pull her close and say, "I've liked you since the first day I saw you."
Ana will say, "Me too." And the dance will end, but they will still both be standing there, his arms around her, and he will lean in and give her the most perfect--
"Now, our salutatorian, Ana Shen!" Principal Rubens bellows into the microphone. The mike squeals and Ana jumps out of her reverie.
Great, Ana. Daydreaming right in the middle of your own graduation. She's on her feet before she knows it. Jamie Tabata is making his way back to his seat. Valedictorian, first in their class. He smiles shyly at Ana. She's too embarrassed to smile back. She blushes. Ana's had a big old crush on Jamie since the second grade, and today is the last day of junior high school. She may never see him again after this. And "this" is a perfect chance to make a fool out of herself by flubbing her graduation speech.
She grins a bit too widely at Principal Rubens, an avocado-shaped man in a brown suit with a fringe of hair and beard to match. He holds his hand out to offer her the podium. Ana takes a deep breath and tries to focus.
The sun is out. It is a beautiful June day in Los Angeles. The soft whir of the freeway sounds like the earth breathing, like bees humming in a meadow. The sky is blue, sprinkled with airplanes like distant birds. The stage is set up at one end of the school's sports field, row upon row of plastic folding chairs before her, filled with purple graduation gowns and parents in business suits and Sunday dresses. Her family is somewhere in the crowd--parents, little brother, both sets of grandparents. Come on, Ana, she tells herself. Don't barf. Just do your speech.
She steps up to the mike and clears her throat.
"Good afternoon, soon-to-be graduates of Edison Junior High. My name is Ana Shen."
The crowd rumbles. Ana hesitates, to let the applause die down. It does, but the rumbling does not.
She begins again. "When we first started at Edison . . ." The rumbling is louder, louder than the freeway behind them. Louder than the crowd. She looks uncertainly at Principal Rubens.
"Is that an earthquake?" someone asks.
There is a sudden hush. And then, behind her, the roof of the gymnasium explodes. Or, rather, a geyser of water blows through the roof, shooting into the air like Old Faithful, three stories high. It arcs over the stage with a rainbow dazzle of water and sprays the back half of the sports field like a giant sprinkler. Ana ducks behind the podium as the water shoots overhead. People sitting in the back rows scream. The stream of water loses pressure and falls, like heavy rain, onto the graduates and their families. The purple dye in the gowns starts to run, and the graduates caught in the deluge do a little dance, yanking off their gowns and running past the edge of the falling water.
Oh no, thinks Ana. My hair.
It's not the kind of hair that stands up well to water. Ana clutches her graduation cap to her head. Principal Rubens jumps to his feet, pushing Ana to the side.
"Remain calm, everyone! Remain calm! We appear to have broken a pipe somewhere! Remain calm!"
No one remains calm, however. Teachers go scampering off the stage, and a few chairs are overturned as families plunge through the forming mud, looking for shelter and drier ground. "Head for the far end of the field!" Principal Rubens shouts into the microphone. It squeals again, and the sound works as an alarm. The teachers suddenly remember themselves and organize Ana's classmates into groups that can actually follow orders.
So much for how she wanted it to go. Ana climbs off the wet stage alone, her mortarboard dripping with purple water. Oddly, the rest of her is relatively dry. She doesn't even want to think about what her hair looks like. In the chaos, she spots Chelsea. They grab hands, find a relatively dry spot beneath a jacaranda tree and wait for an official announcement.
"Here." Chelsea offers Ana a dry graduation program.
"Thanks." Ana takes off her cap and shakes her hair out. She dries her face with the program, dissolving the proud letters declaring edison junior high commencement ceremonies.
Not the way Ana planned it at all.
"We should find our families," she says at last.
"Ah, they'll be fine," Chelsea replies. "Besides, look at this mess. They could be anywhere."
It's true. Ana surveys the devastation. It looks like Noah's flood has hit the sports field. Water is running toward the softball diamond, pooling at home plate and third. More of the students are pulling off their gowns. A few of them are laughing. Mostly the boys. The girls look mortified.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Sherri L. Smith. Copyright © 2008 by Sherri L. Smith. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.