| Teen Serial |

Upper Class: Chapter 45

“Meeting Shan’s mother feels more like a job interview with a boss who already hates you”

MY hair is not hair-ing. I am ready to give up. I am ready to grab a hat, stuff it on, and call it a day.

Take deep breaths. In and then out. Okay.

I look in the mirror again. Maybe a French braid? Bold choice but sometimes it’s the only solution.

I twist the hair deftly, pull out a few baby hairs in the front, and peer into the mirror.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Not, of course, that Shan’s mother actually cares what my hair looks like. But still. Gotta make a good first impression and all that. Libby’s driving me to meet them at the bagel place.

I’m actually nervous.

“First date?” Libby jokes, watching me slide into the car, pull down the visor mirror, and examine my reflection anxiously.

“You would know,” I retort. “And no, meeting Shan’s mother feels more like a job interview with a boss who already hates you.”

Libby looks at me sideways. “She does not hate you.”

I lean back and close my eyes. “Oh? I’m pretty sure half the reason her daughter moved a million miles away from her was to be near me. Even if it’s not true, she probably thinks I encouraged Shan to defy her.”

Libby swings into the parking lot and looks at me in the suddenly silent car. “Then show her she’s wrong.”

I swallow. “Yeah. I guess. Thanks, Libs. I know how busy you are.”

She smiles and leans over to hug me. “My pleasure. Call me if you need me, okay?”

I nod. “Yup. Yup, yup, yup.” My palms are sweating.

Libby laughs and gives me a little shove. “Go!”

I go.


The cafe is quiet, peaceful. I think about how nice it would be to just be here with a friend, ordering the breakfast for two and sipping hot chocolate.

Instead… I look around. There.

Shan is sitting hunched over, her usual uniform — oversized sweatshirt and short skirt — nowhere in sight. Instead she’s wearing an adorable colorful sweater, a black pleated skirt, and the cutest lace boots that I immediately fall in love with and must have.

Her mother’s back is to me, but her blonde sheitel is a chic lob.

Swallow. Deep breath. Dry palms on skirt. Walk.

My brain directs my frozen body; next thing I know, Shan is standing up to hug me. I hug her back automatically, stand like an idiot for a moment, and then slide into the empty chair.

“You must be Naomi.”

Shan’s mother’s voice is slow and melodious.

“I must be,” I parrot back and then blush. Why’d I say that?

Mrs. Davis laughs. “Welcome! Should we get the breakfast special? And some hot chocolate?”

Oh, this lady was good. I smile weakly. “Sounds great.”

Shan’s mom looks…nice. Like really nice. Also, really young. She reminds me of Debbi’s mom. And nothing of my own.

Our food arrives, and we dig in.

“So, Naomi. Shan tells me what a good friend you are. Thank you!” Mrs. Davis beams.

I blink; an image of us schmoozing in a car till midnight, blasting music, fills my mind.

“Yeah, well, Shan’s the best,” I say firmly.

Mrs. Davis looks at her eldest warmly. “Oh, I know. I missed her too much.”

Shan rolls her eyes, her cheekbones pink. “Missed my babysitting help, you mean.”

Mrs. Davis laughs again. “Oh, that, too, I won’t deny it. So Shan, tell me about life here. Is it wonderful? I see Naomi is as amazing as you said she’d be. And what else? How are the classes, the shopping, the traffic?”

Shan opens her mouth, probably to complain about the traffic, and then she starts to cry.

Right there, in the bagel place.

We sit in silence a moment, letting her cry, and then Mrs. Davis pulls her daughter into a hug.

“I hate it here,” Shan sobs. “I hate everything about this place. Everything! Except Naomi, of course. But otherwise, I’m miserable.”

The smile drops off her mom’s face. “Shan! But you said it was amazing, you’re never coming back home, you’re starting over…”

Shan rubs her hands over her face, tugging at her eyelids. “I only said that to prove to you that I don’t need you. You told me to leave, so I left. I don’t need to be with people who don’t want me.”

Now Mrs. Davis is crying as well. “I only said that because you were so miserable at home. If I honestly thought you were going to leave, I would never have even mentioned it. I love you, sweetie. Every day without you has been terrible.”

Shan cries harder; they hug tightly.

Okay, this is officially my cue to leave. I’m officially a third wheel.

I get up, use the restroom, call Libby to pick me up, grab a bentsher, and they don’t notice a thing.

Cool, maybe I’m invisible.

I motion to Shan’s mother, a little wave goodbye; she nods over Shan’s head.

The day is cool but sunny; I turn my face upward toward the warmth.

My life isn’t perfect, my mother isn’t perfect, in fact, even I’m not perfect.

But one thing I know for sure, I think, as I wait for my big sister to pick me up, is that no matter how terrible I can be, and no matter how much she wouldn’t really mean it, Ma would never tell me to leave, even out of anger.

And maybe now I understand Shan’s pain at long last.


To be continued…


(Originally featured in Cozey, Issue 992)

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