"It's better to be a good listener than a good talker, because the good listener can remember what was said." As hard as it is for me to admit that my father says anything that makes sense, when I apply that little ditty to conversations with my best friend, Cherise, he hits the nail right on the head. Whenever we do something that doesn't pertain to her, like standing in front of the study abroad office, she gets really antsy. Most times it's a lot of eye-rolling and an occasional huff, but today she doesn't last more than ten seconds before she says, "So why are we standing here again? For that nerd thing you're trying to get into?"
I look at her sideways and grumble, "Yes, for YSSAP."
Cherise has been my best friend since the third grade, and over the past six and a half years, this type of conversation has played itself out time and time again. I guess that's what I get for doing ninety-five percent of the listening. "YSSAP, Young Scholars Study Abroad Program."
"Sounds like loads of fun," she sighs.
"Don't be a hater because you can't get in. You wish you could go to Spain for free."
"Whatever. Like I'd want to be in Spain with a bunch of shribs."
"I'm not a shrib"--her latest term for loser.
"If you say so . . . So how long do you plan on standing here?"
"I guess until someone comes out of the office."
Apparently that's all she needed to hear. She starts tapping on the door, waiting about three seconds before knocking harder. "There ain't nobody in there, Teenie. Let's go."
Teenie, that's what my girls call me. I'm five feet and one-quarter inch, one hundred and one pounds, with all my books in my book bag and a pair of waterlogged Timberlands on. "But they're supposed to put the acceptance list up."
"Do you see anyone coming to the door?" She says this as we've put about twenty feet between the office and ourselves.
I turn and look back, but don't see anyone. "No."
"That's what I thought. If you want to get anywhere in this world, you gotta be aggressive! Be, Be aggressive!"
"What the hell was that?"
"It's one of the cheers that I have to do for tryouts, which is why I don't want to waste time standing in front of that door with you when I should be practicing."
"What time do the cheerleading tryouts start?"
"In twenty minutes."
"Oh. Sorry." I'm not really into the cheerleading thing, but Cherise definitely has the look: long hair, light skin, and a big butt, an apple bottom. She has all the makings of a video vixen.
"I don't know why you're so scared to try out for the squad."
"I'm not scared." I am scared, but she doesn't need to know that. "I told you like fifty times I'm going to get my braces off."
"You're getting your braces off today?"
Make that ninety-six percent of the listening.
Since I've been home, I've been standing in the mirror, staring at my teeth. It took the dentist an hour and a half to take my braces off, but part of me wants to go back to his office and tell him to put them right back on. My teeth are gigantic, looking like some supersized Chiclets. They don't taste like them, though, since I've been rubbing my tongue across them for the better part of an hour.
I hate being wound up like this. These are the times that I need Cherise the most, but as usual, when I'm desperate for help, she's never around. It's not every day that a girl gets her braces taken off, and after three years of being called everything from "Tin Grin" to "Metal Mouth," the least she could do is be online when she's supposed to be. Cherise was supposed to log on to Instant Messenger forty-five minutes ago. Honestly, she should know better.
I'll be pissed if she's on the phone talking to one of those meatheads from the football team or has me blocked so I won't see if she's online. There are ways around that.
Appletini: crystal u there? Bottle of Crys: yup, sup? Appletini: nuthin' much. u c cherise online? Bottle of Crys: Nope Appletini: k thanx. ttyl
Guess she really isn't online, so I have to sit here and kill time. There are about twenty other windows flashing. I don't feel like chatting to any of my cousins in Barbados. I have one of those families with like thirty-something grandchildren.
My mother thinks lack of education and birth-control methods are the reasons my father's parents had so many kids. She may have a point, but I kind of agree with my dad's take on the situation. He says, "It ain't got a ting to do wit birff control. Dem people [his parents] was so cheap, dey ain' want to pay nobody to tend dee land. So dey make dee servants."
My paternal grandparents had fourteen children. My father was the first boy, after four girls. He has told many stories about shucking sugarcane and how he has the calluses on his hands to prove it. He embellishes, claiming he had to walk ten miles to and from school each day, uphill in both directions. I know he worked hard when he was growing up, busting his hump so we would have a better life than he did. Despite his family being well off, nothing came easy for him. I think he works too hard, but that's all he knows.
Now I definitely don't feel like chatting to my cousins in Barbados. They'll want to know when I'm coming down and then ask me to bring them some clothes. They never give me any money to pay for stuff, always asking for designer T-shirts and things like that, like I'm some kind of millionaire.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Teenie by Christopher Grant. Copyright © 2010 by Christopher Grant. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.