“School’s fine,” I said.
She nodded, and then she was gone. Always moving, doing, surviving.
I turned to my brother. “So?”
“Tomorrow,” he said, “we’re going to meet after school.”
“And if we get a teacher to supervise,” Carlos said, “we could make it an official club on campus.”
“Nice.” I beamed at my brother.
“I know, right?”
“So, uh, small detail,” I said, frowning. “Something I think you might’ve forgotten—?”
Navid raised an eyebrow.
“Who’s going to teach us to breakdance?”
“I am,” Navid said, and smiled.
My brother had a bench press in his bedroom that took up half the floor. He found it, disassembled and rusted, next to a dumpster one day, and he hauled it back to one of our old apartments, fixed it, spray-painted it, and slowly amassed a collection of weights to go with it. He dragged that thing around with us everywhere we moved. He loved to train, my brother. To run. To box. He used to take gymnastic classes until they got to be too expensive, and I think he secretly wanted to be a personal trainer. He’d been working out since he was twelve; he was all muscle and virtually no body fat, and I knew this because he liked to update me on his body-fat percentage on a regular basis. Once, when I’d said, “Good for you,” he’d pinched my arm and pursed his lips and said, “Not bad, not bad, but you could stand to build more muscle,” and he’d been forcing me to work out with him and his bench press ever since.
So when he said he wanted to teach us how to breakdance, I believed him.
But things were about to get weird.
It happened a lot, right? In high school? Lab partners. That shit. I hated that shit. It was always an ordeal for me, the awkward, agonizing embarrassment of having no one to work with, having to talk to the teacher quietly at the end of class to tell her you don’t have a partner, could you work by yourself, would that be possible, and she’d say no, she’d smile beatifically, she’d think she was doing you a favor by making you the third in a pair that had been very excited about working the hell alone, Jesus Christ—
Well, it didn’t happen that way this time.
This time God parted the heavens and slapped some sense into my teacher who made us partner off at random, selecting pairs based on our seats, and that was how I found myself in the sudden position of being ordered to skin a dead cat with the guy who hit me in the shoulder with his bio book on the first day of school.
His name was Ocean.
People took one look at my face and they expected my name to be strange, but one look at this dude’s very Ken-Barbie face and I had not expected his name to be Ocean.
“My parents are weird,” was all he said by way of explanation.
We skinned the dead cat in silence, mostly because it was disgusting and no one wanted to narrate the experience of cutting into sopping flesh that stank of formaldehyde, and all I could think was that high school was so stupid, and what the hell were we doing, why was this a requirement oh my God this was so sick, so sick, I couldn’t believe we had to work on the same dead cat for two months—
“I can’t stay long, but I have a little time after school,” Ocean said. It felt like a sudden statement, but I realized only then that he’d been talking for a while; I was so focused on this flimsy scalpel in my hand that I hadn’t noticed.
I looked up. “Excuse me?”
He was filling out his lab sheet. “We still have to write a report for today’s findings,” he said, and glanced up at the clock. “But the bell is about to ring. So we should probably finish this after school.” He looked at me. “Right?”
“Oh. Well. I can’t meet after school.”
Ocean went a little pink around the ears. “Oh,” he said. “Right. I get it. Are you— I mean, are you not allowed, to, like—”
“Wow,” I said, my eyes going wide. “Wow.” I shook my head, washed my hands, and sighed.
“Wow what?” he said quietly.
I looked at him. “Listen, I don’t know what you’ve already decided about what you think my life is like, but I’m not about to be sold off by my parents for a pile of goats, okay?”
“Herd of goats,” he said, clearing his throat. “It’s a herd—”
“Whatever the hell kind of goats, I don’t care.”
“I just happen to have shit to do after school.”
“So maybe we can figure this out some other way,” I said. “Okay?”
“Oh. Okay. What, uh, what are you doing after school?”
I’d been stuffing my things into my backpack when he asked the question, and I was so caught off guard I dropped my pencil case. I reached down to grab it. When I stood up he was staring at me.
“What?” I said. “Why do you care?”
He looked really uncomfortable now. “I don’t know.”
I studied him just long enough to analyze the situation. Maybe I was being a little too hard on Ocean with the weird parents. I shoved my pencil case into my backpack and zipped the whole thing away. Adjusted the straps over my shoulders. “I’m joining a breakdancing crew,” I said.
Ocean frowned and smiled at the same time. “Is that a joke?”
I rolled my eyes. The bell rang.
“I have to go,” I said.
“But what about the lab work?”
I mulled over my options and finally just wrote down my phone number. I handed it to him. “You can text me. We’ll work on it tonight.”
He stared at the piece of paper.
“But be careful with that,” I said, nodding at the paper, “because if you text me too much, you’ll have to marry me. It’s the rules of my religion.”
He blanched. “Wait. What?”
I was almost smiling. “I have to go, Ocean.”
“Wait— No, seriously— You’re joking, right?”
“Wow,” I said, and I shook my head. “Bye.”
My brother, as promised, had managed to get a teacher to sign off on the whole breakdancing thing. We’d have paperwork by the end of the week to make the club official, which meant that, for the first time in my life, I’d be involved in an extracurricular activity, which felt strange. Extracurricular activities weren’t really my thing.
Still, I was over the goddamn moon.
I’d always wanted to do something like this. Breakdancing was something I’d admired forever and always from afar; I’d watched b-girls perform in competitions and I thought they looked so cool—so strong. I wanted to be like them. But breakdancing wasn’t like ballet; it wasn’t something you could look up in the yellow pages. There weren’t breakdancing schools, not where I lived. There weren’t retired breakdancers just lying around, waiting for my parents to pay them in Persian food to teach me to perfect a flare. I wasn’t sure I’d have been able to do something like this if it weren’t for Navid. He’d confessed to me, last night, that he’d been secretly learning and practicing on his own these last couple of years, and I was blown away by how much he’d progressed all by himself. Of the two of us, he was the one who’d really taken our dream seriously—and the realization made me both proud of him and disappointed in myself.
Navid was taking a risk.
We moved around so much that I felt like I could never make plans anymore. I never made commitments, never joined school clubs. Never bought a yearbook. I never memorized phone numbers or street names or learned anything more than was absolutely necessary about the town I lived in. There didn’t seem to be a point. Navid had struggled with this, too, in his own way, but he said he was done waiting for the right moment. He would be graduating this year, and he finally wanted to give breakdancing a shot before he went off to college and everything changed. I was proud of him.
I waved when I walked into our first practice.
We were meeting in one of the dance rooms inside the school’s gym, and my brother’s three new friends looked me up and down again, even though we’d already met. They seemed to be assessing me.