Mornings in the Sheridan house are known to be loud and chaotic affairs--with Mondays being especially disastrous. Today is no different.
“Yazz, open the door!” I shout. I’ve been standing outside the door to the bathroom I share with my younger sister for the last ten minutes. I’m going to be late.
I love my sister, and aside from weekday mornings, we generally get along. I can’t say that I’d kill for her, but I might be willing to help her bury a body. Right now, though, Yasmine Sheridan is the one I want to murder.
“I swear to God, Yasmine, if you don’t open this door in the next two minutes, I’m going to kick it down.”
“Kai!” Mom shouts from downstairs. “Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain.”
I roll my eyes. As if that’s what’s important right now. I don’t say this, though, because I really don’t have time to get into an argument about religion with Mom--that’s reserved for Sunday mornings, when I refuse to go to church.
I bang on the door again and it opens midknock. Yazz steps from the steam-filled room and fixes me with an exasperated look.
“If you got up earlier, we wouldn’t have to do this all the time. Time management is key to living a successful life.” Yazz is thirteen years old but has the personality of a middle-aged woman who yells at the neighborhood kids to get off her lawn. “When you head to college in a few months, you won’t have me to help you. So let’s work on that, shall we?”
She taps me on the shoulder as if to encourage me. By the time I think of an appropriate response it’s already too late. She’s closed her bedroom door, and I am left standing there like a scolded child. Who would believe that I’m four years older?
“Breakfast is ready,” Dad shouts.
“I still need to shower!” I call back.
“You’re going to be late, Kai. Donny will be here soon.”
“I know, Mom!” Muttering under my breath, I enter the bathroom. I start the shower and find only lukewarm water waiting for me. I get that it’s spring and this is California, but I like my water like I like my coffee--almost scorching.
Ten minutes later, I emerge a new man. There isn’t time for me to shave, and I can only hope that the teachers won’t punish me for it. With a towel around my waist, I race back to my bedroom and quickly put on my uniform--tan pants and a crisp white button-down shirt. Fairvale Academy is flexible on a great many things, but the dress code is something that the school isn’t willing to budge on.
I look for my tie. I rifle through the piles of clothes that lie forgotten on my bedroom floor. I’m not the neatest person in the world, which earns me countless lectures from Mom and Dad. But I figure that within the sanctity of my own bedroom, I am allowed to be my true self--which encompasses my sometimes forgetting to put my dirty clothes in the laundry basket.
I find the crimson-and-white-striped tie. It’s odd that the school emblem is two stylized eagles, given that our mascot is the cougar, but this is Fairvale Academy, so we don’t question it . . . much. I transferred from a public middle school, and the private school uniform took some getting used to. I’d much rather wear jeans and a T-shirt.
I pick up my blazer from where I threw it Friday afternoon. I cringe at the wrinkles and try to smooth them out. But there’s simply no saving this dull navy monstrosity.
I take the stairs two at a time. My house has a no-shoe policy, so my socked feet slip on the hardwood floors, and I only save myself from falling by gripping the kitchen island.
“One day you’re going to end up breaking something,” Mom warns. She’s seated at the island, reading the newspaper on her iPad. Mom is dressed and ready for the day. Her bottle-blond hair is pulled back in a ponytail. There’s a stack of Dad’s pancakes on her plate, and my stomach growls at the sight.
“You better eat something quick, boytjie,” Dad says. He’s still got his South African accent despite having lived in the United States for almost two decades now. My mom is White, and my dad is mixed race. When I was younger, I didn’t understand the stares that they got--the stares that I got--but now I do. People have an idea of what love should be, and my parents loving each other doesn’t fit into everyone’s perfect vision. Dad has always said that racists are sad people trying to make the rest of the world just as sad. Their hatred is something we should pity them for because it keeps them from living full lives.
My phone buzzes. I pull it from my pocket and open the three musketeers group chat with Donny and Priya. After finishing the Dumas book last summer, I convinced them to watch the movie with me. The whole “All for one and one for all” motto was so extra that it seemed perfectly made for us.
I scroll past the memes that Donny shared last night and find the text telling me that he’s here.
“No time,” I say as I head to the cabinet where Mom keeps the breakfast bars. She makes sure we always have some on hand because most mornings I tend to run late. I rip open the wrapper and take a big bite.
“He got the oversleeping from you, dear,” Mom says to Dad.
“Well, I have an excuse. My body hasn’t adapted to this time zone.”
“It’s been twenty years. I think that excuse is over.”
Mom and Dad met when she was doing volunteer work with a church in South Africa. It just so happened that Dad attended that same church. They fell in love, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Bye!” I call as I race from the kitchen. I stop at the door to put on my school shoes, grab my messenger bag from the hook, and gobble down the rest of the breakfast bar.
“Have a great day,” Dad calls.
“Love you,” Mom adds.
“You too,” I say, my mouth still slightly full. I exit the house and walk toward the sports car that a teenager has no business owning. I climb into the back seat. Donny is driving and Priya is in the front seat.
“Donny, when you’re at Caltech, please invent an alarm that will actually wake me up,” I say by way of greeting.
Donny and Priya have both already been accepted into their first-choice colleges. In a few months’ time, Donny will be off to Pasadena and Priya to UCLA. I’m currently waiting to hear back from Tisch. Every time I think about my dream being on the line, I feel sick. Any day now I will hear if I made the cut.
It’s sad to think that these morning routines will be coming to an end soon. Donny and I met freshman year, and we’ve been best friends ever since. Priya adopted us several days later, insisting that without her, Donny and I would be lost little sheep. We’d never admit it to her, but she was probably right.
“There is a way,” Priya says. “It’s called willpower.”
“You sound just like Yazz.”
“The Force is strong in that one,” Priya says.
“Priya made us watch Star Wars again.” Donny catches my eye in the rearview mirror. “You should have come with.”
“Nah, you guys need your date nights,” I say.
“If a theater is showing any of the Star Wars movies, then it is a given that I must attend,” Priya says. “It’s a family tradition. My dad literally made sure it was the first movie I could ever remember watching. My father is nothing if not dedicated.”
“Does your mom still want him to get rid of his figurine collection?” I ask.
Priya snorts. “I think that will only be possible if he dies. There are three things my father loves more than anything in this world: his family, his job, and his Star Wars collection.”
“My dad’s the same with Manchester United,” I say. “Just this weekend he woke up at three a.m. to watch them get thrashed by Chelsea.”
“I wish my dad had a hobby,” Donny says. “Then he wouldn’t be nagging me about my grades all the time. He wants me to be better at math.”
“Impossible,” I say. “Until you, I didn’t even know someone could get such a high math grade.”
Donny laughs. “Math skills and bad family names are Duckworth traditions.” He twists to look at me when we stop at a red light. “Did you do the homework?” he asks. “I struggled on the last two equations.”
“Please, Donald. Let’s not ruin Kai’s morning by asking him about math.” My suckage at math is a longtime running joke among my friends, as is the legendary test on which I got one equation right and no more--that’s a success if you ask me.
Priya is allowed to call him Donald, but no one, absolutely no one, is allowed to use his full name: Donald Duckworth IV. I kid you not, the family name has been passed down from one generation to the next like some prized heirloom. Spoiler alert: it’s not.
Priya looks at me. “By the way, did you finish your script? The deadline is today, right?”
I groan. “I have a bit left to finish at lunch today. I think I have a date with the computer lab.” For each of the plays that we study, my drama teacher, Mrs. Henning, allows her students to audition to write a school play based on it. The deadline for the Romeo and Juliet one is after lunch today. I still don’t have an ending. All my ideas blow, and I’ve spent hours staring at a blinking cursor, the blank page matching my blank mind. But it’s now or never. Last year I came close to being selected: my modernized version of Hamlet was the runner-up. This year I want to be chosen. It’s one of my goals for my senior year.
“That’s cutting it close.”
“You don’t need to tell me that, Priya,” I say. Priya only allows her friends to call her by her shortened name. She says it is a reward for all those who put in the time and effort to learn how to say her full name correctly. There is one thing that Priyanka Reddy doesn’t tolerate, and that is laziness. Donny is just Donny to everyone--so he’s the exact opposite. Maybe they truly are meant to be together.
“Still not going well?” Donny asks.
“Each word is like pulling teeth.” I close my eyes. “I just haven’t been inspired. Retelling Romeo and Juliet is tough.” Especially when I have no real dating experience is what I don’t add. “But I’m determined. I have to win this year.”
“Potential is what matters. I’m sure Henning is looking for that instead of perfection. You’re talented. You’ll do great!” Priya opens the glove compartment and finds her makeup bag. As much as this is Donny’s car, it’s also a part of our group. The Quackmobile holds little pieces of all of us.
The truth is, Donny’s family has more money than they know what to do with. When the term old money is thrown around, the Duckworth family is definitely on the list. For Donny’s birthday last year, his parents bought him this beautiful red Mustang--with racing stripes to boot. Donny was ecstatic at first, but then he saw the vanity license plate, quack iv, and outright refused to drive it. Of course, Priya and I convinced him otherwise, because who cares about some stupid license plate anyway? And from that day on, the three musketeers had a steed to ride.
We pull into the school’s parking lot after a quick ten-minute drive. My house is the closest to school--not in a gated community--which is why I get picked up last.
“Oh, the latest issue of the Herald is out,” Priya says, looking at her phone.
“For someone you hate, you follow Shannon’s newspaper editorials pretty diligently.”
“I can hate the person but appreciate their work.” She glares at me. “I contain multitudes.”
“Anything good?” Donny asks, changing the topic.
“There’s an interview with Bryson’s latest ex.”
“Who asked Bryson out last week?” I ask.
“Isabella from my biology class,” Priya says.
“Which one?” There are four seniors named Isabella.
We climb from the Quackmobile and Priya opens her Instagram. She clicks on #DateMeBrysonKeller and holds up a picture to us. It’s of a brunette girl and Bryson.
“Isabella Mendini.” Priya turns the screen back to her and sighs. “It should be illegal for Bryson to have this bone structure.”
She isn’t wrong. Of course, my admiration is only done from afar and in secret. My heart beats for another.
As if my thoughts have summoned him, my unrequited crush saunters into view. Isaac is tall with curly blond hair and blue eyes that remind me of the ocean. He has his blazer thrown over his shoulder, and he’s holding a soccer ball under his arm. Why does he need a soccer ball to go to school? Who knows? But it’s a common sight when it comes to Isaac.
We head toward the school entrance, studying the chaos that surrounds us. Ever since the dare started, Monday mornings have become a circus. A crowd lingers at the entrance, mostly spectators. Bryson has kept to the rule that only seniors can take part. It seems that they’re all waiting for the arrival of the man of the hour.
“It’s amazing how the dare has spread,” Donny says. When it first started, it was mostly the girls from cheerleading and the soccer team who asked Bryson out. Then the girls from drama class. But now the dare is out there, and people with no real connection to Bryson and those activities are stepping up to ask him out for fun.
“I heard Eric say that if he could ask Bryson out, he would,” Priya says.
I try not to react to the news of another boy wanting to ask Bryson out.
“Eric?” Donny asks. “The gay one?”
I’m pretty sure, like 85 percent sure, that Donny will be fine with me being gay. Generally, he seems really supportive. It’s him saying stuff like this, though, that makes me hesitate.
Priya smacks Donny on the arm. “Eric Ferguson,” she says. “That’s his name.”
I plan on telling both Priya and Donny . . . after we’ve graduated from high school. I don’t plan on coming out until then, because even in a school with out-and-proud students and an active LGBTQ club, “gay” is still a label. It doesn’t matter that Eric is a state champion in chess or even that he’s the vice principal’s son. Those are all second to his sexuality. That’s the thing with labels: they tend to stick to you like unwanted gum. It’s why I’m so careful not to be labeled. More than anything, I do not want to be Kai Sheridan, “the gay one.”
Copyright © 2020 by Kevin van Whye. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.