The ceiling fan cluttered to a stop and someone in the back let out an exasperated sigh. Listening to them, Brandi picked up a book and began to fan herself, as other heads dropped onto desks with a loud clank. She rubbed her shoulders, suddenly feeling sticky and in need of water as she looked around the packed room. The air was almost stifling and she turned back towards the windows, wondering why nobody had gotten up to open them wider. Insanely jealous of the flowers and trees as they blew, she dropped a sheet of paper onto the desk and waited for it to take flight.
It didn’t and so she berated herself for leaving her water bottle on the counter that morning, before she had headed out. If her mother had been there, she reasoned, she would have remembered. She looked at the door again, this time distracted by the sound of feet as someone moved in the opposite direction. Going towards the gym.
She opened the book wider and flicked her wrist the way she had seen some Asian women at the market do it whenever the summer’s heat was getting to them. Up. Down. Left. Right. Not that she had a paper fan. Or knew anything about the art of fanning. But she was willing to try anything. At least once.
Sweat dripped from her brow. Collecting in pools at the base of her neck as she hung her head, suddenly remembering the 2003 blackout her mother had experienced while in New York. How her mother had said that it had been dreadful and her abuela had sworn that she had been made to climb more than ten flights of stairs. Thank goodness they had moved into a respectable brownstone after that. She shook her head, recalling her amusement at her grandmother’s plea. Now though, pulling at her collar, she could almost feel what it would have been like, as the humidity increased, and she felt as though she was being cooked.
The clock on the wall read 4:45. She could leave in fifteen minutes, if Mr. Perkins stuck to the rules and they managed to appease him. She looked down at her words on the page. They seemed more like something her mother would have termed chicken scratch. She pulled out a few strands of her hair which seemed to be going grey and then creased her brow, trying to figure out what was going on. Almost instinctively, she turned and gazed at Teresa who seemed unusually silent. And still.
“What’s up, four eyes?” Her old friend threw her an unwarranted scowl, and Brandi blinked, thinking at first that her friend had misspoken. Then she smiled, pretending that it was some kind of a joke. Jest. Rubbing her palms together, she relived their getting to know you sessions at summer caps when they had both agreed that life was better with a partner, because both their parents were single women. Back then, Brandi had almost relented wanting to divulge her mother’s sporadic dates, when Teresa revealed her mother’s propensity for bad dates. But she had kept quiet, knowing that her mother would never find anyone serious. Not until Nicholas. She held her breath, and gritted her teeth, remembering that the revelation about the glasses had come some time after mentioning uncle Ken’s illness and their plans to leave the state.
Not that Brandi hadn’t wanted a fresh start. In fact, she had been extremely curious about her father’s family and finding the family’s crest among her mother’s things, she had scoured the city’s many libraries in search of something that would reveal more. Agreed even to forgoing the summer film and music festivals in Bryant Park, which she usually went to with Jason. And his friends. Their numerous library tours also partially because she had developed an insatiable crush that her abuela had said would pass.
But she couldn’t pinpoint what was happening with Roger. Even though she felt as though they were both going the extra mile. No matter what, wasn’t she the one who was supposed to make sure that everyone else was safe?
Instead, she felt humiliated. Because the people here didn’t give her a chance to open up. Or to prove herself. And she was fed up of trying, like she had done at the party. Only to be left waiting. Stranded. And then having to deal with her mother and Nicholas. And their constant need for reflection. As if she could learn something from looking back. She slammed a hand into her head, thinking how Roger’s father had been too afraid to tell her father that he was leaving. She looked up at the door, thinking that she was stronger. That she could never do that. That all she had ever wanted was closure.
“Slow and steady wins the race,” Mr. Perkins said, looking down at her. Frowning at the lope-sided scribbles that barely resembled letters. Numbers. She felt a slight twitch on the corners of her lips and looked up as his ruler cracked on the side of her desk. He wiggled a finger. “You haven’t done much?” He looked at her, as if issuing a challenge.
And Brandi stood. Wanting him to be more specific about her errors.
He pushed her shoulders down. Made her sit up straight. “This is bad form. Who taught you penmanship?”
Brandi massaged her fingers, her mind going to her father again. She was almost certain that he was nothing like this burly beast, who questioned her skills and made wise-cracks about her form. She had attended a prep school in New York which may not have been lively or daring as this one. But at least, there she had people she could call her friends. People she could rely on. She passed a hand over her jeans and tried again. Doing her best to make straight strokes and round curves, the way her mother had taught her. Not that she had listened then. No, she had been too busy impersonating her grandmother’s doctor to notice that legibility counted for something.
And yet, the world wasn’t going anywhere. Even if she performed this one task. Silently, she grabbed hold of the pendant, hoping to whisk her teacher away. Whispering something that seemed like magic: Bring my father, home.