You are invited to my book signing event.
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Author Talk and Book Signing with Emem Uko
Where: East Boston Public Library: 365 Bremen St, Boston, MA 02128
When: June 2, 2018
Time: 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM
Emem Uko is the author of four books, including fast-selling novel, Notice Me, a tale of the pressure a young artist faces from the public when steps into the limelight.
She has captivated the attention of readers, as well as aspiring writers, with her young adult books. She holds both Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Business Administration and is well known for her art skills. She resides in Massachusetts and works as a development associate at Chestnut Hill Benevolent Association. "It's all thanks to the richness in diversity in Massachusetts that I continue to find inspiration to write. Rides on buses or trains usually do the trick." Keep up with updates of Emem's current writing projects on her website, Amazon page, and Facebook page.
Monday, March 12, 2018
There got to a time when the Oscars red carpet started to lose its fashion fun and creativity. Not this year. 2018 was impressive. Here are some of my favorite picks in no particular order.
*I do not own the images
Thursday, March 1, 2018
Coming up with character names is one of the best parts of writing a book in my opinion. I put so much thought into the names that thinking back, it seems ridiculous and like a waste of time and energy. But that's not the case. I find that questions about the character names arise when readers notice the oddity of the name or feel like there is a meaning behind my reason for choosing a certain name. It so happens that Notice Me, my latest book, is filled with names that are 'interesting.'
Let's start with the main character, Anders. Anders' name was very easy to come up with because I had spoken with a stranger and he said his name was Anderson, but he pronounced it as Ander - son (like son, daughter). It stuck. I didn't want a long name for my main character and I wanted a name with no particular meaning behind it because he was going to have a complex-no-ethnicity-in particular-background. I randomly called him Anders and deleted the last two letters.
Now, his parents' names took a lot of thinking on my part. The Quigleys. You think they're English, right? Feng Quigley is Anders' father's name. What do you think now? Exactly. I have mixed ethnicity with his name but my description of him makes him even more colorful and there's a reason for that.Feng is an Asian name and I was leaning toward the Chinese meaning. Quigley is “very British” like it has been described to me. Yes, I picked that for origin and sound-sake. Feng Quigley, put together, gives a light and heavy feel. Feng, like the wind, is light and smooth. Quigley, added to it, makes it seem heavy, but Anders’ father, a slightly big man, is formed around his name. He is a baker after all.
Everest Quigley is Anders' mother's name. I wanted a name for a slim, regular, but larger-than-life woman. It seemed perfect to me when I thought of the mountain.
These names were created to add to the ambiguity of the characters' ethnicity because that is not my main focus in the book. But you can tell that the Quigley household embraces multiculturalism. My aim is to make the reader input wherever they want Anders to be from and whatever country they think he moved to. I made it vague on purpose and I think you'll enjoy it immensely.
This name game didn't end with the main character and his family. Here are the others. The band members - Trance, Twine, and Alphonso. I discovered that Trance was actually a real name for boys, but I named him this just because you'll see in the book how his behavior makes people react. No, he doesn't put people in a trance. The reason for the name, Twine, doesn't have to do with strength so much as it has to do with the appearance of the character. His muscly self can tie down the attention of swooning fans. Alphonso, a popular name in real life, was chosen for origin sake. I wanted to add a different flavor to the band members and this Italian/ Spanish name was my best choice.
The girls - Reva and Mabel-Agatha (don't laugh at the second name because it does grow on you). The meaning of Reva in Latin is to regain strength and there's another meaning in Hindu. But I chose this name for the Hebrew meaning, "to tie." Mabel means "lovable" and Agatha means "good." Now, do you understand why I said, "don't laugh?" The names together may sound ridiculous, but their meanings make them awesome!
That's it for the name-game from my book, Notice Me. Feel free to ask me questions about how I came up with other names you discover in the book.
Monday, February 26, 2018
|Featured on Readers' Hideaway|
It all started with a message alert on my phone. When I clicked on it and realized that I didn’t recognize the sender, I almost deleted it and only stopped short when I saw a glimpse of the message. It was a compliment about one of my books. It said something like, “‘Said book’ is a page-turner that…” I had to accept the sender’s “request” to read the whole message. In excitement, I accepted it. I got the chance to read the message, but by the time it ended, I was hot with temper and had already called him a dozen awful names. Who did he think he was?
His message had actually started out with great compliments. He’d really understood the nuances of the characters in my book and mentioned how much he’d enjoyed the reality of the story. But then, just like that, the compliments disappeared, and it seemed to become critiques unfolding into distasteful words toward the protagonist. I was mad. Yes, the protagonist is not the likable sort, but he had no right to distort the character as to how he understood her. His understanding of the protagonist was lacking, and I sensed him to be an “egotistical nonentity” of a person. I actually wrote that phrase as a response to his message.
For the sake of privacy, and the fact that this book is based on true events, I will not reveal his first message to me. Just know that my response was fiery and insulting as well, an action that I might have regretted, if it hadn’t formed into a friendship that I so much cherish even unto this moment.
When I responded to his message with insults of my own, I became remorseful because I wasn’t the kind of person to fall for cheap shots like that. I knew that publishing my work would come with admiration and criticisms, and I was supposed to be ready. This person was clearly a troll, who had read my book, no doubt. He seemed to have thought deeply about it though. I should have been happy about that. I guess I wasn’t in a mood to tolerate someone who cheapened the actions of a character who temporarily forgot her life plans for love. He bashed her every move, even going as far as mentioning chapters and paragraphs. He called her names that were so disrespectful that I clenched my teeth to keep from screaming. I justified my reaction, but I should have known better. I fell right into his trap. In hindsight, we’re both glad I did.
Chapter 1 (An
The “you’ve got a message” icon was lit. He’d responded to my lengthy insults, and I could not have anticipated his response for the life of me. It started out with multiple smiley faces, a few sentences replying to my earlier response, and then another comment about another book of mine.
I’m not exactly sure if I can explain the mix of emotions that swirled in my head, but I can say that seeing his reaction convinced me that I was chatting with a mad person. But I was curious, so I made myself a cup of coffee first, and then opened the message he’d sent me and read everything word for word. This time, I was in control of my emotions and although his second message to me was less harsh, I believe it was because he genuinely enjoyed the second book.
After the smiley faces, his message had expressed enjoyment for being scolded for the first time in a long time. He dropped a hint that in real life, no one had the guts to do that anymore, and he usually got hate messages on his social media from trolls. But he’d never gotten a response like this, because he’d never responded on his social media comments or messages. All he did was post things that his fans liked, and those who weren’t fans let him know what hateful thoughts they harbored toward him. I was the first person he’d ever written to on a social media page he’d just created for this purpose. He’d thought about this for over three weeks, because he wanted to let me know that I did have a talent for writing and room for growth, but he also wanted to share that I shouldn’t waver from my unique style of writing. I shouldn’t follow trends, and I should keep my voice alive. Even so, he wouldn’t take back what he’d said about the other book. It was after this explanation that he’d critiqued the next book.
My mind raced beyond any speed limit. Who is he?
My response to his second message started out with an apology for my previous message to him. Then I thanked him for what he’d written about the second book and I asked who he was. I didn’t get a reply to this until after a month; yes, you read that correctly. But I continued to check his profile, which was active, but made ‘private.’ It had one follower, me, and also followed one person, me. The name used was a generic male first and last name and that was all there was to it.
The third message I finally received after a month said, “Well done. I like how she’s developed.” That meant he’d read my newest book, which had just been released a couple of weeks ago. I was happy that I’d gotten a fan in such an avid reader, but I was uneasy about who he might be.
“Yay, welcome back,” I said sarcastically. “You didn’t have to disappear just because you didn’t want to tell me who you were. You should have just written, ‘no comment.’
“Missed me?” he replied.
“Don’t flatter yourself. It just made me wonder about the weirdo I was chatting with.”
“I’m glad you wondered. Weirdo, I am. A handsome one, too.”
“Sheesh, there’s no proof.”
“It’s better that way.”
“For you maybe. This is weird for me. I don’t feel comfortable chatting with someone I don’t know. No face, no followers, too weird.”
“I’m not a creep.”
“Can’t prove that either. Anyway, I’m grateful that you took the time to read my books. That’s every writers’ dream. Thank you so much.”
“I liked your writing style when I read your book for the first time, even if I absolutely couldn’t stand that character.”
“Hey, can you stop now? Anyway, thanks again. Gotta go.”
I saw the message before I closed my page. Another message came in.
“Do you want a story? I’ll tell you who I am eventually.”
My hair started to itch with the mix of curiosity and excitement. My fingers started to tap the table in a fast tempo, just as fast as my mind was racing. I wanted to know who he was. I didn’t have to write the story if I didn’t like it. I wouldn’t tell him this, of course.
I typed, “I’m in.”
Chapter 2 (Who Am I?)
“I just wanted to tell someone because if I continued to keep it in, I knew I’d burst. I don’t know you, but I like what I’ve learned about you from your social media accounts. You strike me as an honest person and I feel like I can trust you. It doesn’t hurt that you have a friendly face, too.”
“Lol, friendly face? I’m told I have a death stare that actually makes people pee their pants.”
“Really? That’s funny. I guess I can’t see that through your photos.”
“Nope, my photos are usually cute and smiley. Real life is different. I’m super tall, too, so imagine how imposing I’d look.”
“That’s quite hard to imagine. I just see a tall doll-like person with so much hair.”
“Lol. So I guess my approachable face made you choose me to be your ghost writer?”
“Actually, my original intent was not to write a book. I was just bored and thought you’d be a nice person to chat with.”
“Ah, gullible me.”
“Haha. Well, I didn’t think you were going to respond to my message. When I tell you my story, you can do whatever you want with it. It doesn’t matter to me, as long as I can stay anonymous. I just think that you might want to write it, because you’re obviously a good writer, and because it would be too good to pass.”
“That’s my middle name.”
“*rolling eyes emoji*”
“Haha. But I’m really glad you responded.”
“That makes one of us.”
“You don’t mean that *sad face emoji*”
“Not a hundred percent. I’m still wondering what I’ve gotten myself into, considering that I have no clue who I’m chatting with, and the person is claiming to be someone that no one would dare talk to disrespectfully in real life. That’s what you wrote earlier. Are you some kind of dictator?”
“Hahaha, are you scared? Just think the opposite.”
“Okay, a chubby-faced underage girl?”
“Funny. Tell me something? I’m guessing you’re very popular since you said you get hate messages from internet trolls and you don’t respond to comments.”
“Stop it. Anybody can guess as much. I just want to know what you do.”
“That’s easy. Music.”
At this, I couldn’t stop myself from imagining who he could be. Possibilities from ballad to rock singers flashed across my mind. But I couldn’t imagine which one would get hold of my books, read them, and write to me about them. Which popular singer had that kind of time? Which popular singer could find books that weren’t on display on the shelves of Barnes & Noble?
But I reasoned that I followed a lot of musicians online, and I usually commented on their pages when they posted interesting photos. It was possible that one of them had seen my comment and curiously clicked on my page. Maybe that’s how he’d gotten to know that I was a writer. Or, I could just ask him.
“Musician? Wow! But that doesn’t help me because I follow many musicians online.”
“You don’t follow me.”
“Wait, what? Then how did you find my books?”
“No, seriously I'm curious. How did you know that I was a writer?”
“Through a blog.”
“Sorry, can’t remember. I just recall seeing the book cover and ordering the ebook.”
“You Celebs order things online by yourselves?”
“Haha, very funny.”
“Okay, and then you read the book and decided to be mean about it.”
“Not exactly. I read the book and searched for the author, and learned about her other book, purchased it and read it. Then ‘watched out’ for more of her works, since her website advised keeping up with her on social media.”
I rolled my eyes involuntarily. “Cool. So one day you decided to write to that author?”
Who is he? “Are you going to give me another clue as to who you are? If I don’t follow you, then there’s no starting point for finding you.”
“That’s actually preferable.”
“Well, I need to know who you are.”
“You will, in due time.”
I exhaled impatiently. “I have to be honest with you. I don’t feel comfortable chatting with you.”
“That is harsh.”
“It’s the truth. You’re a popular musician that I don’t follow online. It means that I have no interest in your music.”
“You don’t follow every musician that you listen to, do you?”
“But I know that you enjoy my music.”
“How is that?”
“You’ve mentioned us somewhere.”
“You’re in a band? Hmm, I guess we’re getting somewhere.”
“Yes, we are. It’s a four-man band and that’s where I’m going to stop for today. Like I said, you will know more in due time.”
“Four-man band. That’s like every band. Oh well, thanks for giving me some clues. I just hope you’re not a weirdo, because, like I said earlier, I don’t feel comfortable chatting with you.”
“I understand that, but try not to be too concerned about me. I’m not going to jump out of the screen and bite.”
“Sure, if you say so.”
“I say so. Anyway, something just came up. I have to stop now, but I’ll be sure to chat with you tomorrow.”
“Sure. Have fun.”
“I’ll try. I can’t wait for you to hear my story.”
“Can't wait either.“
“Can't wait either.“
Chapter 3 (Stunned At First Meet)
I’ve had sleepless nights in my life, but this time it was due to an overactive mind that just wouldn’t stop cooking up ideas and scenarios. The fact that I could possibly be talking to a famous person, who had something juicy to share with me, sounded like a far-fetched dream. In fact, I found myself looking at my phone multiple times a day just to make sure that I hadn’t make up the online encounter in my head.
It became a habit to just mutter, “who is he?” and then I would regain my composure and smile apologetically to someone who thought I was asking them the question.
Sometimes I would find myself giddy with excitement, as I wondered why I was the person chosen by this mystery musician to be his chat-buddy.
But as days went by, I started to regain my usual sense of normalcy and told myself that it was just a new wave of scam. The scam artist knew that there’d be some sad individual out there who would respond to unbelievable tales just to feel good about themselves. Pathetic. I shook my head.
And then out of the blue, another message. “Hi.”
“The thing that came up actually took you seventeen days?”
“Oooo, someone missed Mr. Wierdo.”
“I’m just saying. Your last message said we were going to chat the next day and then that didn’t happen. Not even the day after, or the day after…”
“You should have sent me a message if you missed me that much.”
“Well, I just figured you were busy being a musician.”
“I was. We had a ‘fan-meet’ in Europe with my band.”
“Fan-meet? So, you really are a popular musician?”
“You’re still skeptical, I see.”
“I’ll continue to be until I know who you are.”
“You will. Nice dress by the way. It’s a good color for you.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked as my eyes widened in confusion.
“The picture you posted yesterday.”
“Oh, that, thanks.”
“Hahaha. What did you think I meant?”
“Nothing! Are you going to start your story or what?”
“Are you mad at me?”
“Nope. I just think you’re dragging this out. I’d like to get something before you disappear again.”
“Aww, don’t be mad. I won’t disappear again, I promise. Even if I’m busy, I’ll say hi.”
“Whatever. Waiting for the story.”
“*sad face emoji* I feel like you’re just friends with me because of my story.”
“It took you a while to realize that. The story, please.”
“*shocked face emoji*”
“Fine. I’m leaving.”
“Wait. I’m just thinking of the best way to narrate it. Texting will be too tedious. I’ll use voice messaging.”
My excitement ramped up so high that I feared it would burst from my head. I’d get to hear his voice or would he use those robotic voice things? Sheesh, I rolled my eyes. “Okay,” I responded.
I saw the prompt that showed me that a message was being recorded. I waited patiently, watching my phone and breathing quietly, as though any sound would impact his recording. I get to hear how he sounds, I mused. This is actually real. This is actually happening.
After about three minutes and a few seconds, I got the voice message. Then an accompanying text message that said,
“There you go. Let’s begin from the first time I saw her.”
My eyes popped wider. “Her.” Ooooh, this is going to be good.
I clicked and listened.
He had an accent…
It was loud. There were flashes from all corners, phone cameras, and real cameras. He was concentrating on the photos and memorabilia that were placed in front of him for his autograph. His band would be playing at the Arena in the evening, but first, was the fan-meet. They had greeted the fans, he had crooned a verse of one of their popular songs, “She’s mine,” which was currently at number two in the country’s top-fifty charts. The fans had gone wild with excitement, and he’d blessed them with his signature wink and lip-bite.
Then came agenda number two, autograph time. They’d finished signing for the VIPs. This time was for the next expensive ticket holders. He’d mastered the art of autographing with the noise and blinding flashes. He knew that it would be rude to put on earphones or plugs, because he needed to give his fans his attention. He was very good at drowning out sounds. He also had a rule of keeping eye contact. He focused on the faces of his fans, and not on their phones or cameras, which tended to produce lightning sparks in the form of flashes at hundred miles per hour.
But on this day, he was a bit nervous. He’d fumbled twice on the lyrics earlier during rehearsals He knew that there was nothing to be nervous about, because he’d written those verses, but the Arena had given him quite a shock, since it was the largest venue they’d ever performed in. It wasn’t his first time here, but it was the first after major reconstruction had made the venue even bigger. So as he signed autographs, he realized that he had to remind himself to smile, make eye contact, and listen intently in order to answer the questions that his fans asked him during their turn. But when the next person in the line came forward, a photo was placed in front of him without a word. His eyes were focused on the thighs of the pair of jeans that faced him, and smiling at the red dyed patch that was the shape of a heart, he looked up.
It was when he got stamped on his foot by his bandmate sitting on his right-hand side, that he realized that he’d been looking at her face all along.
Paralyzed, was how you could describe him in that moment. It was the unusual shades of brown colors in her full, neck length hair. It was her large almond-shaped eyes that held the largest and darkest irises he’d ever seen. It was the oval-shaped face with a tiny nose that rose up as though she’d just argued with someone. It was those bare lips that looked too full for a face so angelic and innocent. Her long neck held a black choker with an “R” alphabet pendant, and he’d just been looking at her clavicle when he felt the thud on his foot. She’d just stared back at him, straight-faced and emotionless.
He cleared his throat, “What’s your name?” He asked as he readied his pen to autograph the photo. This photo, he noticed excitedly, was one of just him. Most fans had brought the recent photo that the band had taken together in their latest magazine shoot. A version of that group photo was being sold outside the Arena.
But she’d brought a photo of him, one of his favorites, he might add, that was taken when he’d had a solo performance a couple of years back in Thailand. He’d liked that haircut, and that was a very good year for him and his band.
“Make it to Mabel-Agatha.”
His widened eyes weren’t caused by the interesting nature of both names together. It was her voice. It was the deep hoarseness of her voice, which didn’t fit the immaculate image that stood right in front of him, dressed in an Elmo T-shirt underneath a jeans jacket a darker shade from her pants. This girl was unusual and he was whipped.
He cleared his throat again. “Nice names.”
She shrugged. “I don’t think they go well with each other, but I love my roommate so I can’t tell her that to her face.”
He was smiling sheepishly at the face that wasn’t smiling back, and trying so hard to look at what he was signing at the same time. He had to think twice before spelling “Agatha” and then he unknowingly started composing a poem too.
It was as one of the security men came to push the line ahead, that he noticed that he’d caused quite a holdup. He reluctantly gave her back the photo, and then watched her move to his bandmate. That was when she smiled, and his heart gave a lurch of awe and extreme disappointment at the same time.
She didn’t look his way. She had eyes only for Twine, the band’s muscular drummer.
He knew he had to concentrate on the autographs of the other fans, but it was difficult. Then she smiled again, so widely this time that he thought he was going to die because he couldn’t breathe. Twine lingered when he gave her the photo, and that made him a bit furious, but he tried his best to hold it in.
It was when she disappeared into the line that he replayed their conversation in his head. “Mabel-Agatha wasn’t her name, but her roommates. Why didn’t she ask for him to sign a photo for her? A thought brewed in his head, but he quickly dismissed it. Even if she liked only Twine from the group, it didn’t make sense to just ask for only his autograph, did it?
She didn’t attend agenda three, photo ops. He searched the crowd frantically, looking for a girl with height at approximately five feet six inches and so many shades of brown in her hair, an Elmo T-shirt, a dark jean jacket and a gray backpack.
She wasn’t anywhere.
“Hey T, what was the name of the girl that looked like a doll with a cracked voice?”
“The one you signed for who had really full lips and was very, very happy to see you.”
Twine raised an eyebrow. “Uh, they were all very, very happy to see me.”
“Ass,” he muttered in anger and walked away.
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Thursday, February 15, 2018
Here is another book from me. In coming weeks, I'll share interesting tidbits that make this book a unique read. There will also be free chapters too. For now, here is a blurb, and some links to purchase it. Happy Reading!!
|Notice Me by Emem Uko|
Music DJ? Sure. Being the frontman of a popular band in a foreign country? Never in his wildest dreams. Anders finds himself living a cool life but at a price of projecting an effeminate image to the public.
His fans love it. They’ve only known him since his makeover after his debut as a singer. They don’t know the manly Anders. But the girl he wants to notice him thinks he’s not her type. Now he has to choose between his public image and his private life. Millions of fans versus one? Their happiness or his happiness?
"Emem Uko takes you on a suspense-filled journey on the behind-the-scenes struggle of a lead vocalist of a boy band. A journey of growth, loss and finding a long-needed love. It is music to your ears. You will want it on repeat."
Friday, December 8, 2017
Winter is coming! and there are free days in the season to chill with a hot book...see what I did here? Okay, so I don't have enough outlets and connections to spread the word about Hers to Tell but I have Z and S, my fun blog. I know this is barely a popular medium that gets traffic but I trust that anyone who sees this post will share it. Thank you in advance.
I started writing a while ago, just for fun. I still don't think I'm a great writer but I do know how to tell a good story. Writing books preserve the stories and get them in the hands of more people. My first published work, Facade, was not planned. But its wonderful reception lessened my fear of writing and I have continued to do so since then.
Now, I am shamelessly promoting my suspense novel, Hers to Tell because I want to share this book with everyone. It is a good book and I'm only saying this because of the positive comments I've gotten about it. If it is that good, why isn't it on the best lists out there? It will be, one day. But to get it there, I need you to pick it up, share it, and talk about it. There are good writers out there who already have the right connections to spread the word about their books even before they're published. They can get their books buzzing with a snap of the finger. There are also good writers who don't have the connections but have the support of readers who can change the game. I know I fall into this category and am grateful for that because I know the power of word of mouth.
Hers to Tell has gotten some buzz, but it needs to continue in order to get it to where it should be. Where do I want it to be? At the top of lists that appreciate a good book. I am busy writing other books at the moment but I know that I should never stop promoting my past works, especially if I like them. So please bear with me for doing this. I was told that I wasn't doing enough.
Here are some reviews and feedback of Hers to Tell.
Bella Naija weighs in on Hers to Tell
Amazon Reviews of Hers to Tell
Please Re-post and Share this.
P.S. Below are links to the first three chapters of Hers to Tell and where to purchase the book.
First Three Chapters
Barnes and Noble
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
All my tasks for Thursday were almost done when I checked my organizer. Phew! This is a relief because it was getting dark. I looked through my list again just to make sure I had only “squats,” “writing to a friend about the Etsy website,” and “finishing up the last two pages of The Fiery Cross.” Yes, that was all I had to do.
It had been a long day with errands to run from the moment I put away my dirty breakfast dishes. I had agreed to accompany my auntie Valerie to her dentist appointment to lend a squeezing hand. This errand wasn’t included in my organizer, which threw off my “Thursday to-do” list, but I still managed to tackle each task one after the other as I consulted the list throughout the day. I knelt down on the floor by my laptop to send a quick message to my friend about the website.
I rested my palms on the keyboard, feeling the heat radiating from the surface of the laptop. I had left the laptop on throughout the day, something that wasn’t good for it. But I liked the feeling of the warmth as I began to type.
Hey, this is the link for Etsy, and it’s really easy to use. I just take photos of the items I want to sell with my camera, crop them nicely, say a few things about them and post. No stress at all. The only hard work is getting people to know about the items. That’s why I post the links on Facebook and Twitter so people can click on the links and see the items that I have listed for sale on Etsy. Anyway, please use this link to apply so we can both get Etsy rewards. Okay. Ciao J
Message sent. Now it’s time to do my squats. I had read somewhere, probably in a magazine while waiting in line to check out at a grocery store, that squats made the bum perky. I definitely want a perky bum. I started a routine where I do thirty squats in the mornings and thirty more before bed. It had been two weeks now, and I didn’t think my bum had become perky yet. I’d look at the mirror, and then I’d always wish I had taken a before photo to be able to compare. I’d never know now unless it became so noticeable that someone mentioned it. Oh well, I know that results don’t happen overnight. The squats weren’t too painful, so I figured I would continue. What was the harm? Twenty three, twenty four, twenty five…thirty…my thighs are on fire ouch. Where’s my water?
I took a big gulp from the water bottle on my dresser. I heard footsteps coming toward my room; then there was a knock on my door. It was Valerie.
“Emma,” she called, sounding hasty. “Please come and help me with this TV.”
As I turned toward the door, I put down the bottle, almost knocking it over with my elbow. Oops! “Coming,” I answered.
Valerie was trying to get her new yoga DVD to play. I noticed that the problem was that she had selected the wrong TV channel. Slender, long-legged, and pretty, she took fitness seriously. It didn’t matter what time of the day, my auntie would get a workout in. I haven’t been one to be too serious about exercise, but since I started living with Valerie a year ago, I have gotten more and more motivated about exercising. And I noticed that I look better so I asked myself why I never started working out earlier. Valerie overheard me and said I was lucky I was only nineteen years old. She thought it was a good age to get it right.
“When I was eighteen, I couldn’t find my chin from my neck. Moving to LA was the best thing I ever did because I became shallow enough to lose the pounds,” she said nonchalantly.
Well, what can I say? She looks great, and I thank LA for doing that for her.
I graduated high school at seventeen, two years ago. I know I’m a smarty-pants, and I’m extremely proud of it. I am clean and organized, beautiful, and have a good sense of humor. I sound like a braggart, but it’s true. I’ve been told numerous times by friends and random people that I have a combination of qualities that is rare. Apparently, the funny girls are either fat or ugly, and the beautiful girls are dumb. But I seem to have it all.
At sixteen, my body had developed well. A senior in high school who stood at five feet nine inches tall, slim, with boobs and hips that came out at the right time. I couldn’t pass a group of boys without making them drool. The funny thing was, I didn’t wear skimpy outfits. I was all jeans and T-shirt, flats, and satchel, with brown hair left to fall on my face in wild curls that sprung to my back, and ide brown eyes slightly slanted, long nose, cheekbones that stood out so much that the admiration got old pretty quickly, and full lips that I always kept looking luscious with my cherry flavored lip gloss. But I knew that what people saw was not real. I owned the face, and I saw what they did not see.
High School was easy for me. I didn’t feel the anxiety one gets when they wake up in the morning and think of the long day of hard classes, bullies, gossips, and the smell of the hallways and bathrooms. I was generally comfortable with my high school experience. Freshman year, which is typically awkward and uncertain for some, turned out to be full of easy classes, new friends, and cool teachers for me. As the school year progressed, cliques started to form. Even though I wasn’t tagged as a popular kid or in their clique, I was still well-known. This was largely because of my physical features; my height made it impossible for me to go unnoticed among my sea of short friends. Once, at my school’s homecoming dance, a lady who was an alumna, tried to make conversation with me. I remember she said I had a nice smile, which was a lie, by the way, but I thanked her and quickly pursed my lips. She has tilted her head and assessed me from head to toe. What lie is it going to be now? I thought, matching her demeanor and closing my eyes to slits like hers.
“You are randomly and exotically confusing,” she said to me. That was my cue to walk away. I wasn’t surprised about her confusion. She was not the first. So I mumbled something unintelligible and walked toward the stage where a band was playing and joined the crowd of dancers.
I was mostly quiet, and that was because of my inclination to know a person before opening up to them; I didn’t trust people easily. Once I got to know people better, I was occasionally funny. I was smart because I took schoolwork seriously. I would study until I got something or ask questions until it was clarified. The consequence was the gift of being my “teachers’ pet,” a phrase I welcomed wholeheartedly. I had numerous friends who were boys, none of whom I ever dated like the other girls did. I didn’t yearn to know any boy on a deeply personal level. I knew the responsibilities of having a boyfriend in high school; the need to be perfect was too daunting a goal to strive for. I was okay with having them as just friends.
I was slender, which Sasha mistook for fragile because she did not anticipate the beating she got after she called me jigsaw and proceeded to force my mouth open and prove to the whole world that I wasn’t as perfect as I seemed.
Yes, I have horrible dentition, and I have refused to wear braces. Braces, to me, are the beginning of social awkwardness that can never be forgotten as long as social media is alive and well. I’d rather keep my teeth clean and in its scattered magnificence. After all, even my widest smile doesn’t show the lower row of my teeth, which is the jagged part. God knew what he was doing when he gave me my full lips.
I admit that I do not fit any reasonable social group according to those “theorists” out there. One would expect a beautiful girl to be in the mean girls’ club. But I wasn’t. It’s almost a given that a girl like me, with my physical assets, would expose them in sexy outfits; flaunt them if you’ve got them, right? It was a no for me because I was in love with my jeans and T-shirts. What about the theories that suggested that the smart girl would be socially awkward? I’m sorry I don’t happen to be uncomfortable around people. I was just someone in high school who was so different that I became appealing. My schoolmates either moped or adored me or became jealous or emulated me or were just confused on how to accept my persona. I hid behind the perfection that they projected on me.
My teachers always had so much faith in me and were eager to be part of my college-selection process. By the time I started sophomore year, my calculus teacher already started advising me to expand my college interest to include MIT. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I wasn’t interested in attending college. I went ahead and indulged them while they smiled cheek to cheek and swooned about the prestigious colleges that had accepted me.
I got into all four colleges I applied to. I turned them all down. All my life I have always been a listener and doer. I needed more challenge. I love to learn, but the classes that were chosen for me in school never met the challenge I craved. I knew that if I continued to do what people wanted for me, I was never going to be fully satisfied with my life.
People would advise me time after time to pursue something that they knew I could do very well. Where’s the fulfillment in that? As a kid, my mother dressed me a certain way, princess-like to be precise. I never argued and pleased her even though I hated it. My father wanted me to study science; I never objected in order to please him too. Friends and strangers described me the way they perceived I was, I never disputed their assessment.
Senior year of high school was when I gave myself a hard look in the mirror after eight years of dodging my true image. I was going to work on myself to better understand what was within and without. I needed to focus on what I wanted for myself and accept the challenge. I knew that once I did this, I would be more comfortable with the person I really was.
When I was eight years old
They all continued to cheer, with forced whistles that sounded like some spittle accompanied the sound out of the mouth. I strutted down the corridor, catwalking like my life depended on it, twirling, and then turning to walk back to the starting point. I held back my smile that was trying to escape from the stern look, remembering that “models don’t laugh.” I reached the starting point, sighing heavily from the sense of achievement. I looked at my friends and supposed judges for their verdict. Frieda and Lucy continued to cheer while Paula had a doubtful, sort of pensive face.
“Do your shoes hurt?” Paula asked me, gazing intensely at my feet.
“No,” I replied, feeling triumphant at the cheers I got for walking like those models I saw on TV.
“Okay,” Paula said to me. “You looked like you were limping.” And without further explanation, she turned and skipped away, shouting, “It’s my turn.”
I gawked at Paula’s departing figure, confused about what she had just said. I thought I demonstrated the catwalk very well. Why did she call my walk “limping?” I let this go because my eight-year-old mentality did not understand.
When I was nine years old
Everyone was so excited as my teacher informed us.
“So the camera crew will set up at the playground, and Mrs. Green will teach you all the song. You will all be on TV.”
There were answering cheers from all of us.
Mrs. Green, a rosy-cheeked, jolly, round woman, arrived with the camera crew that afternoon, and every kid in my grade was ushered to the playground. We were made to sit in a semicircle as Mrs. Green sat down on a low yellow wooden chair, facing us. She narrated a story about a race between a tortoise and a hare and how the tortoise won the race. I did not expect the outcome. After the story, Mrs. Green taught us two nursery rhymes and a song. She taught us slowly, and after a few repetitions, the majority of us knew enough of the words to sing together with Mrs. Green.
“Who would like to read this story to everyone?” Mrs. Green asked.
We were all quiet. I eventually raised my hand and was given the sheet of paper. I was camera-ready in that moment with my clean school uniform and my pair of bright white pair of socks and clean shoes, distinguishable among dirty socks worn by boys who liked to play in the mud. My hair was cropped short and combed neatly, but I patted it once more as I walked to the seat that was designated for the reader. I sat down and looked up at the camera as it focused on me. “Ready?” Mrs. Green asked, smiling with her red cheeks puffed out in excitement.
I nodded and swallowed, straightening my paper on the desk. I rubbed my palms on my skirt because they began to sweat. The cameraman started counting down to begin filming: five, four, three, two, one - action!
Mrs. Green visited our school five more times after that, and I got to read twice more. The third time, I volunteered again to read, but my teacher thought it best to let another classmate read. No one else wanted to read. He persisted for another volunteer, even adding a reward of candy, but no one else offered. Then he shook his head and randomly pointed at a boy who was noticeably trying to hide inside himself. I wondered why he was going through all the trouble when I was clearly willing to read for no reward at all.
While all the kids were having a snack afterward, I walked over to go ask my teacher for some water. I overheard him saying, “The parents were wondering if she was the only kid who could read. After all, other kids are more suitable for television. I couldn’t let her read again today.”
Thursday, 6:55 p.m.
“Thanks, dear. Do you want to join me?” Valerie asked, laying down her yoga mat.
“Nah, I already did some jumping jacks earlier, thanks,” I said. She just laughed and pressed play to begin her yoga exercise.
Valerie always tells me that it isn’t enough to just skip or do some jumping jacks or jogs on a spot. Of course I know that, but I’m a believer in half is better than none.
I went into the bathroom for a shower, but first, my nightly ritual. I opened the cabinet and reached for my tweezers. There was a lone eyebrow hair hanging limply on the tip. I blew it away and began working on my excessively thick eyebrows. Plucking and tweezing at the wayward strands, my eyes in pain, but I endured because I knew the outcome would be worth it. I would take the pinching sensation any day over a unibrow. I grabbed my shower cap that was hanging behind the bathroom door and put it on my hair to cover my messy bun. I drew open the shower curtain and jumped into the bathtub. I put my palm under the running water, cold for some time until I felt it begin to warm, then pulled the knob underneath the tap to get the water spraying from the showerhead.
The sensation of the warm water on my skin was relaxing. Just what I needed after the day I’d had. I lathered myself as my mind wandered to the TV show that I watched last night. How could she have broken up with him? I wondered. Never would I break up with a guy who had eyes like that. He was just too fine for words. I have watched this TV show diligently because of this guy. I couldn’t imagine how any male could be as beautiful. Dark hair, grey eyes, yum! I smiled to myself as I toweled my body quickly because it was cold, and I was beginning to shiver.
I put on my nightgown and got ready for bed after a small dinner of avocado wrap. I brushed my teeth and then picked up my book to read. I slumped on my bed and regretted it immediately as one of the legs was squeaky and sounded like it would break off. So I settled on my side, being careful not to shake the bed too much. As I opened my book, my phone rang--urgh! I stretched to pick up my phone from the night stand not wanting to get out of bed. Pete was calling.
You see, Pete is a guy I have never met. He had asked me to be his “friend” on Facebook, and I accepted his friend request. I only did it because I noticed we had many mutual friends, and it didn’t hurt that he was good on the eyes. I just thought it was going to be one of those situations where I would enjoy looking at the nice photos he posts and that would be the extent of our friendship. Or I could add the occasional “Happy Birthday” when Facebook reminded me that it was his birthday. But that wasn’t the case. We didn’t say anything to each other for over two months after I had accepted his friend request.
Then came the day I posted a photo of myself in a short blue dress, and I got a surprise message. Pete wasn’t subtle about his approach. He hit the nail in the head. He complimented my appearance like he had taken time to analyze the whole outfit, me in it, and my pose. Funny enough, I wasn’t uncomfortable, considering that it was not a happy time for me. I just mused at the realization that someone who didn’t know me could be so raw and direct.
I replied his message with a simple “Thanks,” and the rest was history. He switched from the message box to the chat box. He left the chat box and transferred to phone messages. Yes, I gave him my number. He included picture messages, and before long, I started getting naked photos from him. This so-called relationship between us was odd, but I allowed it. I needed a distraction in my life, and Pete couldn’t have showed up at a more perfect time.
I was surprised that he wasn’t shy to show me photos of his “package,” although I held on to mine tightly when he asked. I never asked him to send me those photos, but I never complained about them either. When he had bragged about the size, I just thought, sure. But when I saw it, my brain had this ringing sound that just didn’t quit. I couldn’t imagine how long I looked at it without blinking. This was real life, I thought. I have to say, I was impressed, and his hopes of “doing me” is something I smiled about because I knew that we were never ever going to meet face to face. But I never said this to him in order to not bruise his ego.
“Hey,” Pete said, rap song loud in the background.
“Hi,” I responded, so sure I knew what he was calling about.
“How are you, sweetie?”
Oh that’s new. Concerned about my well-being? Surprise, surprise!
“Good,” I replied. “Just getting ready for bed, you?”
“I have your latest picture on my screen right now, and I’m using it,” he said, laughter in his voice.
“Eww, Pete, gross. Really?” I feigned disgust.
“Yeah, don’t blame me. You go putting sexy photos like that, and you expect me to ignore it? I can’t, babe. That’s what you do to me.”
“I’m glad you’re having fun,” I said.
“Can we Skype?”
I didn’t expect this question. I really wanted this to be what it really was, a distraction. I wasn’t ready to bring any guy into my life, not even if it was only electronically. “My laptop is broken,” I lied.
“Use your phone,” Pete said.
“While I would like to Skype with you, I’m afraid I can’t add the app on my phone. It’s going to mess up my data plan,” I explained, hoping he would fall for that excuse.
“Come on,” Pete urged. “I need to see you.”
“Hmm,” I sighed.
Not that I didn’t want to do something that exciting, but I disliked video chats, so I never did them. Plus I didn’t want to encourage any close relationship with him.
“How about this?” I suggested. “I’ll send you a photo of myself. It’s the best I can do. Take it or leave it.”
I heard him sigh because he could tell that I wouldn’t change my mind.
“Okay. I’m waiting,” he responded, almost grumbling.
I cut off the phone and went into the bathroom and took some photos with my reflection on the mirror--click.
I went back into my bedroom as I sent the photos to him. I heard my phone buzz for a text message that I had received. It was from Pete, and it read, “Thank you, beautiful.”
I smiled, picked up my book, and proceeded to finish up the remaining pages.
Friday, 6:50 a.m.
I heard my alarm. “Urgh!”
I slammed the snooze button. I knew I had to wake up because today was an important day. After repeatedly trying to convince myself that I could sleep for a few more minutes without oversleeping, I decided not to take that chance and crawled slowly out of bed and into the bathroom. When I turned off the shower and began to dry myself, I heard Valerie close the refrigerator door, probably taking her lunch for work.
“Bye, honey, and good luck,” she called out to me as she shut the door that led to the garage.
I walked into my room to dress up. I had brought out an outfit last night before I went to bed. It was a slightly baggy pair of jeans, mainly known as boyfriend jeans, which were ripped in the thighs and knees. I had also brought out a gray tank top, and navy-blue Nike running shoes.
I dressed up and faced my mirror as I got my hair into a big pulled-back braid. I didn’t wear makeup. I wondered if I should eat something, but I decided to skip breakfast. It was too early for me. So I hung my satchel on my shoulder and picked up my car keys from the table. Heading to the door, I stopped by the mirror and looked at my reflection.
I took a deep breath in and then out, steaming up my mirror. I stood there for a few minutes as the steam cleared, just staring at my face. “Nothing to hide,” I said out loud.
I kept looking at my face as I wished I had had this hairstyle the whole time people said that I was beautiful. The braid exposed my face. I wasn’t hiding behind my hair. If they had seen me this way and still called me a beauty, then it would have been real.
“This can be a different kind of beauty, right?” I asked myself out loud. We’ll see. “It’s go time,” I said to myself and walked out.
When I was seventeen
I was in my graduation gown looking at the standing mirror in my dorm room. There was a smile on my face. I had just finished high school, and I was proud of myself. I looked at my appearance, head to toe and back to head, with hair pulled back underneath my cap. I took it off and let my hair down and put the cap back on. Much better, I thought. Taking careful steps, I exited my dorm room. I was still getting used to my painful new heels that I got specially for the occasion.
The ceremony was over, and the crowd trickled to a large lawn at the front of the auditorium. I found a few classmates who called out to me to take pictures with them and later I joined my family to do the same with them. It was a very sunny, warm, and breezy day, making tree shade the best area to cool off.
I was genuinely excited about the photographs I was taking. With my diploma in hand, I posed, making sure that my curls overflowed in their right places and my smile was wide but my teeth did not show. Immersed in the ecstatic chatters and laughter, one thing was clear in my mind, I hadn’t accomplished all I really wanted, not yet.
It wasn’t about a high school diploma. It wasn’t about my college prospects. I knew I wanted to do one thing, but it was the most terrifying thing I could ever think of, and I was sure that I would fail woefully if I ventured it.
That fear started to creep into me. Not only did my heart begin to race, cold set in and there were goose bumps on my arms.
“Sheesh,” I exclaimed out of irritation.
The best thing for me to do was to rid myself of that fear. My graduation day was supposed to be about merriment, not an interview with myself about my next life goal. I will look for a happy group of people to mingle with, I thought as I turned around.
I saw him leaning against a tree, talking to my classmate’s brother. I felt rooted to the ground. My mind went blank, and I couldn’t will myself to do anything. I just stood there like a moron, gawking at a boy I had never seen before. I had never entertained the thought of dating anyone because I just didn’t want to. The boys in my school were boys, and I didn’t want to deal with immaturity. Even my encounters with college boys did not give me the urge to consider dating. But at that moment, I forgot everything, including myself. My brain took a break, leaving me in a vegetative state of lust. Then I let my heart surrender to my feelings, and I wish I hadn’t. I regained my composure after a couple of minutes, but I couldn’t stop staring. I tried squeezing my palms and wiggling my legs just to make sure I had recovered. I heard my name. It was Valerie calling.
“Over here, Emma!”
I walked briskly to meet up with her and my parents.
“Congrats, Emma,” Stella said as I passed by her taking photos with her family. Stella is the closest person I have to a best friend.
I blew her kiss and tried to focus on the graduation activities around me, but all I could think about was finding out who he was. I wasn’t sure how I was going to sneak away from taking pictures to make this happen, but I was determined to find a way. After numerous clicks and flashes, I excused myself under the guise of going to congratulate some friends.
He was still leaning against the tree, looking at his phone. Should I just walk up to him? I wondered. I decided to meet up with my classmate’s brother instead n order to ask about who he was.
I hadn’t gotten close to where they stood when he suddenly looked up at me and wouldn’t look away.
“Yeah!” I rejoiced in my head, but then my knees buckled, and I fell on my face.
Two hands held my elbows and helped me up. I was still reeling with embarrassment and couldn’t look up. The person bent, picked up my cap from the ground, and handed it over to me. I had to look up. My eyes met a smiling face, and I forgot my embarrassment.
“Hi,” he said with his right hand stretched to me.
I shook his hand and answered hi back. His palm was cool, and his eyes were warm, light brown, almost amber I think. I couldn’t stare for long, and I dropped my eyes to his mouth. My goodness, did he have straight white teeth! I thought. I looked up at his face and remembered to say thanks to him for helping me off the ground.
His name was Adam, and he was here for his cousin Rose’s graduation, a girl I had taken few classes with. Her brother was Phil, the guy I had seen talking with Adam earlier. Phil had a face that no girl could deny was hot. He looked like he spent too much time grooming himself and would be one of those boys who struggled for mirror time with their girlfriends. I regarded him as someone who was too much into his appearance.
Rose was gorgeous and now Adam. I concluded that attractiveness definitely ran in their family.
Adam asked if I would have dinner with him and his cousins just like that. I didn’t mind that it was going to be a group thing, but I was already having dinner with my family, so we rescheduled for the next night. It was going to be just us, and I was thrilled. I gave him my number, grasping my phone hard as it started to slide out of my nervous sweaty palms. He left me with a swimming stomach and a light head. He only smiled at me, and this happened. My goodness he has great teeth.
“Stella, I’m a little nervous.” My phone was on speaker, and I was talking to Stella as I dressed for dinner with Adam.
My bed looked like an eruption of a clothes volcano. After trying so many outfits, I decided to go with Stella’s advice, “wear the first outfit you picked.”
“Wow, I can’t believe it. Emma is interested in a boy,” she snorted.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I answered, feigning anger. “Of course I’m interested. He just graduated from college. He’s twenty-three and mature.”
“Wow, Emma is interested in older boys. Makes sense to me now. I couldn’t understand why you didn’t want to hump all those fishes that swam after you in school,” Stella said, overly excited.
“Eww, Stella, humping fishes sounds wrong.”
Stella was laughing. “Is he tall?”
“Yeah, probably six two or three.”
“Ha! Perfect,” Stella said happily.
As good a best friend as Stella is to me, I have never confided in her a hundred percent. I have never confided totally in my parents, so why would I in someone outside the family? Don’t get me wrong, Stella is amazing. It’s just that, I’d have to be extra-courageous to say something to somebody that might change my life forever once it’s out there. So I just share the minimum and let the rest reside in my head. At this moment, all I was worried about was getting through this date with Adam and hoping it didn’t suck in the end.
I heard the doorbell ring. “Bye, Stella, I have to go.”
Stella started making kissing noises. “You better get to third base, and I want to hear everything about it,” Stella said.
As I went down the stairs, I almost lost my footing and held tightly to the railing. Adam jumped, but he saw in time that I wasn’t going to fall on my face again. I noticed he did this thing with his eyes that looked like he was squinting, but then you felt like he was looking into your soul. Then he said something to you, not serious; but with that squinty look, it felt serious.
Anyone looking at us from afar would automatically think he was deep in a romantic conversation with me. He seems focused, like he had to concentrate to say what he was saying because he could not say it with a plain face, you know what I mean? Okay, maybe you don’t, but this didn’t help me because I’d get a little flustered when he looked at me like that. I’m not overstating it; that was how he managed to make me feel from the first time we spoke.
“Hi,” I stammered when I got to the foot of the stairs.
“You look ravishing,” Adam said.
“You look…great,” I said, but that was an understatement.
He stood there in his maroon dress shirt and dark pants, shiny shoes, tall with a buzz cut and muscular self, so that for minutes, I found it hard to swallow. My mom’s voice was my saving grace.
“Make sure you take your key,” my mom called out in her loud voice from the back porch.
I locked the door behind me, and Adam stretched his right hand to me, palm up. I took it. We interlaced our fingers together, and it felt natural to me. I did not know this guy, but I felt like I did. I quietly walked with him to his car, a sleek Lexus. I don’t speak cars, but I knew the logo at least. He opened the door for me, and I got in, buckled my seat belt, and watched as he went over to the driver’s door.
In that short minute, I wondered if I was okay. It was too soon to feel so comfortable with someone I barely knew. This seemed too sweet yet rushed. But we both seemed to understand something that wasn’t said out loud, and we both appeared to feel calm about it. When Adam buckled up, he looked at me, smiled, and I smiled back but I looked away at the interlaced fingers on my laps.
“What?” He asked.
“Nothing,” I said.
“Don’t be shy with me,” he said but with a voice that held back laughter.
I liked the way he sounded. It almost seemed like he had to whisper because his voice was too deep. And when I answered okay, he had a short laugh that was surprisingly soft. I really liked it.
Adam began to drive. I had no idea where we were going, but I didn’t want to ask questions. The music that played was soft rock. I think that was Adam Levin’s voice I was hearing, but it was too low to tell. Let’s just say that his choice of music did not surprise me.
It was quiet in the car, and almost on cue, we both talked at once.
“Sorry,” I said.
“No, you go first,” he said.
“Oh I…I…well, I was just wondering how long you’ll be here.”
Adam didn’t live in Boston. He had just visited to attend the graduation.
“Do you want me to stay longer?”
I couldn’t answer that. Okay, I could, but I thought it was ridiculous. How was I sure that after tonight I wouldn’t want to be far away from him forever? I just said, “Boston is nice. I’m sure you haven’t seen half of what the city has to offer.”
He just laughed his short sweet laugh. “Okay,” was all he said.
“Your turn,” I said to him.
“My turn for what?” he asked.
“Well, you were going to say something.”
“Oh yeah, I was going to ask how you felt about going to a concert after dinner.”
“Oh?” he asked. “You don’t have to.”
“No, it’s not that.” I said. I had heels on and I wore a dress, so I just couldn’t imagine standing or dancing for long in my shoes. “What concert?”
“It’s the Coldplay concert. You’ll change into something comfortable of course,” he said like he read my thoughts.
“You know I didn’t bring any comfortable clothes, right?” I asked.
“That’s not going to be a problem,” he said as he smiled at me.
Mischievous I like. “Wait a minute, when and how did you get tickets? They’ve been sold-out for months.”
“I have my ways,” he said and he looked at me. For that split second, I forgot that he could kill us since he needed to concentrate on the road, and he wasn’t.
The restaurant was dimly lit and airy. I liked the location because it overlooked a lake. I could see the boats and yachts, and even though they looked idle, I thought they did something magical to the lake at night. Adam passed me the drink menu, and I looked at him with a frown. He took it back, laughing, and said he knew the exact drink he was going to order for me. Then we looked through the dinner menu and ordered our meals. I could sense his eyes on me, and I tried not to panic. As great as it was to be the center of attention at this moment, I was beginning to dread it. I had to strike a conversation immediately.
“So tell me about Adam,” I said.
I got a wide smile in return. Adam folded his hands on the table and moved them as though what he was going to tell me was a secret.
“Adam is not interesting,” he said to me.
“I doubt that,” I returned.
“Okay.” His face took a slightly serious tone, which for some reason made me feel uneasy.
Maybe he isn’t comfortable with me yet, I thought. Just as I was about to tell him that he didn’t need to tell me anything, he began to talk about Adam.
“Adam is a boy.”
This made me laugh out loud. He laughed also. Phew!
He continued, “I like football and my mom. I like my dad too, but not as much. While I loved college and my frat life, I feel like I will enjoy this next phase of myself more. I am a one-girl kind of person, and I love cars and music. I’m an only child. Parents divorced when I was thirteen, and I’m ashamed that I have lived with my mom all this while and will be moving out in two weeks.” Then he squinted at me like he was expecting me to say something disapproving and painful.
“Where are you moving to?” I asked.
“Here,” he said without blinking.
Wait, what? I mused.
“I got a job here, and I am partly here to look for an apartment,” Adam said.
Almost immediately, I regretted asking. My voice took a high note, which could only mean that I was too happy to hear it. I would try not to make assumptions until this night ended, and I was convinced that there was going to be a second date.
“Yes, really, Emma,” he said, smiling.
I liked how he pronounced my name. It was almost like he said Em-ma, sort of like I had two short names in one.
“Okay,” I said with a shrug, like I didn’t care much, but it was too late because it was clear that I was faking, and that made him laugh.
“What about you?”
“What about me?” I asked.
“Well, graduate, are you going to be here for college?” he asked.
I’m not sure why my stomach sank a little, but I started to think he wouldn’t like the idea that I was not going to college. I knew I liked Adam, but I was not going to reconsider my decision not to go to college. I really had to focus on my next step in life, and it didn’t include college.
“I’m not going to college, Adam.” I paid attention to his features while I said that to him. No reaction, or maybe he was just good at hiding his expressions.
“Didn’t you get into any?” He asked.
I smiled. “I got into all.”
“Then what’s your reason for not wanting to go?” He sat up and drew nearer, like he didn’t want to miss out on my interesting excuse for not wanting to attend college.
How was I going to answer this question without giving away too much or lying? “I guess I need to make up my mind about what I really want to do,” I said him. This was partly the truth because I knew what I wanted to do, but I needed to assure myself that I could and should.
“You don’t know what you want to do?” He had a look of disbelief. I wondered why. “From what I’ve noticed about you so far, I wouldn’t have pegged you for someone who was still deciding,” he said. “You seem to me like a person who knows what she wants.”
And he just totally figured me out. I smiled because he was right and also because it felt weird for him to know me so well in a very short time.
“Well, thanks, Adam. I have decided not to rush so I don’t end up doing something I’ll hate.”
Our food came. Adam’s was first, and I didn’t know that I had my mouth open in shock. I had no idea that he had ordered ribs for a dozen people. That platter was huge. He noticed my face and said, “I love meat.”
“Yes, you do,” I replied, and he laughed.
My shrimp meal came.
“Nice,” he said, pointing at my plate.
“It looks great, right? I asked as I took a fork full.
“Umm,” I replied because I had a bite of food in my mouth.
“It’s your turn. Tell me things you want me to know about yourself other than the fact that you’re stunning, smart, and clumsy.”
I’ve been called beautiful and most of its synonyms all my life. While I appreciated Adam’s compliments, I worried. Don’t get me wrong, attraction is good but I would have preferred to be noticed mostly for my smarts first. I decided to let it slide and said thanks but that I wasn’t a clumsy person. He just happened to be present the two times that I had ever tripped in my life.
“I have an older brother, Eddie, who lives in Miami. I live with my mom and dad, who aren’t aware that I’m not going to college by the way. Matter of fact, you are the only one who knows at the moment.”
“I love music, books, and shopping. I like to try things that pump my adrenaline.”
“Daredevil huh?” he asked.
“Not exactly, I just have those days when I like the thrill of doing something quite dangerous.”
Adam dropped his fork and knife, interlaced his fingers, and rested them under his chin. He had a slight smile that was to his right cheek, and he looked at me straight on. I got uncomfortable, feeling my ears get hot.
“Eat your food, Adam,” I said, trying to get him to give me less attention. I didn’t anticipate how nerve-racking it would feel to have someone who supposedly liked you, across from you, looking straight at you like they could count every pore on your face. This had to be one of the most uncomfortable moments I’ve gone through, ever.
People admire me from afar. People compliment me from afar. I have only sat this close to my parents. Please eat your food, Adam, and stop looking at me like that, I pleaded silently. Did he hear me? No way. Maybe he saw that I was uncomfortable because he picked up his silverware and cut into his ribs.
Adam opened the door of the restaurant as we exited. I walked out and then felt his hand on the small of my back, guiding me to where he parked. I felt something shoot up through my spine and caught my breath. I had to breathe out quietly and acted like I didn’t know his hand was there.
“We are going to go get ourselves something casual,” Adam said as we got into the car.
“Where?” I asked.
“One of those stores I saw earlier.”
We walked into a clothing store called Styling, and almost immediately, it seemed like we were very important. Eyes were on Adam and me, Adam for the most part. I didn’t blame those girls and women, but I secretly screamed, back off.
Adam was definitely not less than six two. You could tell he was well-built because his shirt did nothing to hide those muscles. His pants looked like they were tailored on him, and then that face – the lips that always looked red, hot, inviting. He walked like a boot-camp instructor, with an air of a rich kid. I just liked being around him while he was admired. I knew I didn’t need him to make me look good, and I was grateful for that, but I liked being with him. Thank goodness I wasn’t bad-looking because I would have imagined people wondering what he was doing with that “fugly being!”
One of the salespeople walked over to us and greeted us. He was looking at Adam too much, and Adam was so oblivious, it was cute.
“Interested in anything in particular today?” Rashawn asked Adam.
“Yes. Where do you have ladies’ casual clothing?” Adam asked.
“Right this way,” Rashawn said.
We followed Rashawn as he showed us where the jeans, T-shirts, skirts, shorts, blouses, and dresses were.
“Thanks,” Adam said.
Rashawn stood right there even though he knew we didn’t need his help anymore. I was about to frown at him, but I thought it looked funny to have a guy admire your guy. Wait a minute. Is he my guy yet? I guess we’ll see.
I walked out of the dressing room, and Adam was sitting on a low futon looking at his phone. He looked up and assessed me. “Yes, this one,” he said.
I had already tried two outfits earlier: skinny dark-blue jeans and a red low-cut top and short yellow skirt and white sparkly tank top. He said yes to both.
“You’re not helping, Adam,” I said to him scowling.
“That’s because you’ve got the body for all of them,” he said with a smile.
I decided to take what I had on; red skinny pants and black polka-dot tank top.
“You need a flat pair of something,” Adam said.
I laughed. How thoughtful. I picked up black flats, and we were on our way out. I won’t mention the fact that I thought everything was overpriced, but Adam just smiled his side smile when he saw my face as I noticed the total price.
While I was thinking of where I could possibly change and if I should go back into the store, Adam said, “We have enough time to get to my hotel.”
“Your hotel?” I asked shakily.
“Yes, I need to change to something casual too,” Adam said.
I didn’t say anything further. He could have easily taken me back home to change my clothes, but he didn’t.
We entered the parking lot of the hotel, and Adam opened my door.
“Thanks,” I said, holding my shopping bag with the pants, tank top, and pair of flats in it.
I let him lead the way, walking slowly, partly because of my high heels and also because I wanted to admire him from behind. We got into the elevator and stopped at the twenty-third floor. He opened the door, and I was greeted with cool air that smelled wonderful. It was a suite, impeccably designed and it looked extremely clean. I followed him past the living room to another room that was way too large. It was his bedroom, and I didn’t know if I was invited, but I went in anyway.
“Wow,” I blurted out without meaning to.
“What?” he asked.
“I like your room,” I said, then immediately regretted it because he had that face that definitely held back something raw.
Then I looked at the large bay windows with curtains that were open, overlooking the city. Adam’s hotel room was in the middle of downtown Boston, and the view from his bedroom window, which showed the lights and the river, was beautiful at night. Adam closed the curtains as he turned on the lights. I looked around, and okay, I was sure cleaners came in here all the time, but I liked how he placed his keys and wallet on his reading desk - careful and straight. Looked like a clean guy to me or with a case of OCD, either way, I could care less.
Adam turned to me and just stared, leaning on the table. It was silent in here, and apart from hearing my heartbeat, I could hear the silent buzz from the AC. The lights he put on were quite dim, so his face was shadowy and looked a little intimidating. He cleared his throat and pointed to the bathroom door.
“You can change in there, while I go ahead and do the same here.”
I nodded and made my way to the bathroom. It was huge when I turned on the light. Mirrors seemed to be at every corner. I looked at my reflection: my eyes looked bigger than usual, and the neckline of my dress was a little low. I may not have adjusted it well after I changed back in the dressing room in the store. My hair was a little out of place. It took a lot of pins to get it to stay in its appointed sections. My nose was a little shiny, but all in all, I looked smashing. I smiled and then stopped smiling when I looked too long. Time to dress up, Emma, I thought to myself.
I walked out of the bathroom with my dress and heels in the shopping bag. Adam didn’t have a shirt on yet. He was looking at something on his laptop and turned when he heard me.
“All done?” he asked, looking surprised.
“Yeah?” I said, raising my eyebrows.
He closed his laptop, got up, walked to his bed, and picked up a shirt. He had already changed his pants to jeans. I could only see his side when he wore his shirt. It was hard and muscular; that line can only be there if there’s a six-pack and the side rib.
I looked away because I felt like I was doing something really bad by casually admiring his body. He wore a light-blue dress shirt and folded the long sleeves to his elbow. Someone really likes dress shirts, I thought. He left three buttons open as he had done to the one he’d worn earlier, but he did not tuck in this one. I kind of liked his style. He took a bottle of water from his refrigerator and asked if I wanted one. I shook my head, no, because I couldn’t find my voice. After he drank some water, he put his wallet in his back pocket, held his phone and keys on one hand, and took my hand with the other, leading me out without a word.
It was packed and noisy, but I liked it. Adam led us fluidly to our spot; everyone seemed to give him the right of way as we walked. I stood in front of him, and he held my waist. I had my head tilted slightly backwards as I leaned on his shoulder.
When the music started, the screams were incredible. After the opening-act finished, out came Coldplay, and it seemed like I was going to be deaf by the time the concert was over. I felt Adam’s breath on my neck and his heartbeat on my shoulder. His touch and embrace seemed familiar to me. I felt so comfortable, and I wished we could stay like this forever, seriously.
We started to sing together with the crowd, jump on the spot, and sway from side to side. At some point in the night, I’m not sure what song it was, but it was quiet, as quiet as a concert could be, and the lead singer Chris Martin’s voice and the piano were going softly. Some people, who knew the song, sang quietly because that was the mood of the music. When Chris Martin sang the chorus again with one other band member, the part where it said, “I will light you up with my love and even when your heart races, it won’t be an attack but a high,” Adam bent his head to mine while he raised my chin and kissed me.
First, softly and then deeply. Our lips felt hot, searching, and intense, like this kiss had been building up for some time. My knees felt like jelly, and I feared for my balance because Adam’s arm on my waist seemed to be the only thing that kept me on my feet. I couldn’t hear anything, not the music, not the concertgoers’ screams. I could feel my own pulse on neck sprinting, my heartbeat out of control, and lungs warning me for air.
Just when I was sure that I would pass out if I continued to kiss Adam, he paused his lips, turned me to face him, and hugged me. I just stayed put because I couldn’t think, and I was sure I wouldn’t have remembered how to stand on my own if I tried.
The car lights flashed on my front porch as Adam drove into the driveway. The windows of the house were all dark. I would be surprised if my parents were still awake. Adam turned to me and touched the side of my face. His palm was cold, and I think that was what caused me to shiver. He gave me a kiss on the cheek without saying a word. He unbuckled his seat belt and opened the car door. While he walked over to my side, I fumbled for my shopping bag in the backseat. He already opened my door for me. I got out, but he didn’t get out of the way. It was so quiet and dark, but I could trace the planes of his face. It was shadowy from the car lights. I hesitated, thinking of what to say.
“Thanks for tonight. I truly enjoyed myself,” I said to Adam.
I’m not sure why my voice was shaky, maybe because I couldn’t make out where he was looking, but I had the feeling that he was looking straight into my eyes. Then he cleared his throat.
“I’m glad,” he said. “I leave tomorrow, but can I see you when I get back in two weeks?”
“Totally,” I replied. Urgh, I answered too hastily, I scolded myself.
“Okay,” he said. He walked closer to me and carefully placed his lips on mine. He let his hand slide to my waist, got both of my palms, and squeezed them gently. Then he whispered, “Sweet dreams.”
I nodded with a smile as I thought, oh, absolutely. I watched as he drove away, and then I took off my shoes and walked barefoot to the front steps where I just sat, with so many emotions swirling in me that I couldn’t think of anything in particular.
“Come on, Stella. Don’t you think it’s actually too soon?”
Stella had called me the next morning even before I had the chance to go downstairs for breakfast, and she was surprised that I had picked up my phone from my bedroom. She had expected to hear me answer tiredly from a hotel bed.
“I’m just saying. You were so excited I thought it was gonna happen.”
“Nope it didn’t, and it’s better that way,” I replied.
“Okay, tell me, tell me, after you changed your clothes in his bathroom, what happened?” She asked with a melodic voice, stressing bathroom.
“I went out, and he got ready, and we left.” I didn’t want to reiterate the half-naked scene and how I had to control my eyes, but Stella caught the “he got ready” part, and I had to explain what I meant by that.
“He had to put on a shirt,” I said, giggling.
“Oooh, niceee!” said Stella. “So tell me, Em, six packs, V line…”
“Yes, six packs intact and everything. I had to keep myself from running over and mauling him,” I said with a sigh, remembering that bod.
“Okay, okay, so you guys went to the concert…”
“Yes, we got there, and it was packed. So cool, Stella, you had to be there.”
“That’s why I have you narrating. So you guys danced, I’m assuming?”
“And kissed…,” I said. I heard an excited shriek on the other end of the cellphone line.
“Oh my, oh my, tell me, how was it?” Stella asked excitedly.
“Stella, all I can say is I didn’t want it to end. I’m totally sold. He can have me any day.”
“Eeeeee… Em is in love, Em is in love,” Stella sang. I didn’t argue because I thought I might as well be. “Wow, what has he done to my friend? So you guys going on a second date?” Stella asked.
“Probably. He asked if he could see me again, and guess what my answer was?”
I went down stairs for breakfast, skipping two steps and whistling. I knew it wasn’t like me to whistle, but I couldn’t help myself. I could smell fried eggs and coffee, and somehow, I didn’t have the tension that had been eating at me for a while. I knew I had to tell my parents that I wasn’t planning on going to college, but I didn’t know a good time to break the news. Sometime between leaving my bedroom and going down the first step, I decided this morning was the best time.
My dad was pouring a cup of coffee from the coffee pot, and he put his cup on a saucer as he headed for the dining table. My mom was dishing some eggs on our plates, and the toaster made its ding sound.
“Morning, Dad. Morning, Mom,” I said as I walked to the counter where the toaster was to put the toasted slices of bread on a plate.
“Someone sounds jolly,” my mom responded.
“Morning,” my dad said. He was already looking at his iPad, probably at the morning news.
The toaster makes four slices at a time, so I put in another two because we ate six slices among the three of us and then took the plate of toast to the dining table. I took my seat while my mom brought our plates of eggs and a cup of coffee for me.
“So how was your date?” my mom asked as she took her seat.
“Fine,” I said without looking up.
Okay, I haven’t really spoken about boyfriends with my mom. Sure, there were the occasional guys stopping by from school and my mom just asking who they were. The guys were mostly at my home for group projects. Sometimes, the topic of boys came up when there was a school dance, and my mom would try to find out if I had a date. I always had a date, but I never showed complete interest in anyone before - for my mother to give me the talk.
I knew she was not going to do that right now, not during breakfast and not in front of my dad, but I was pretty sure that fine wasn’t going to end the conversation. So I decided to tell her some things I did on my date, minus the things I knew should be left out for the sake of my father’s ears.
“We went to this really nice restaurant overlooking the lake at Massachusetts Avenue. It was awesome.”
“Oh, wow,” my mom said. “Restaurants there are pricey. Was the food good?”
“Yeah, tasty. I asked for more.”
My dad looked up at me, eyebrows raised.
“No, you didn’t,” my mom said.
“Of course not,” I said. “But I was close.”
My mom laughed.
“So Adam seems like a nice person,” my mom continued.
Come on, not now, I thought. Meanwhile, my dad had his, “I can’t hear you guys because I’m concentrating really hard on what I’m doing” face.
“Yes, he’s nice,” I responded. “We also went to a concert.”
I switched topics. I saw the side of my dad’s mouth twitch like he was going to smile. He just sipped his coffee and tapped on his iPad. On a normal morning, my mom would nag about how breakfast was the most important meal and had to be eaten with grace – okay, not with grace – but she would have told my dad to “ditch that thing until breakfast was done.” Surprisingly, Adam was more important than breakfast today.
“Nice,” my mom said. “Concerts are great as long as you don’t have that one kid who keeps screaming nonstop and crying her eyes out,” she said.
“Yeah,” I agreed without quite understanding. I wanted the concert conversation to end there, so I refrained from asking for clarification.
“So any chance for a second date?” my mom asked.
Okay I have to change the topic. “Hopefully,” I responded. “Sometime after two weeks.”
“Why after two weeks?” my mom asked, looking a little confused.
“Oh, Adam has to go back home, but he’ll be moving to Boston in two weeks. He got a job here.”
“Great. I’m not a fan of long-distance relationships, so that’s good.”
“Yes, mom,” I agreed. “Umm, Mom, Dad…,” This is it, I thought.
My dad raised his head from his iPad to look at me. Mom looked at me too, still with the smile on her face.
“I’m not going to college.”
“You gotta be kidding me!” my mom yelled.
My dad was still looking at me, expressionless, but I knew that look very well. When my dad tries not to say something he’ll later regret, he looks at you for a while. I always thought he was formulating his sentence, eliminating all curse words and rearranging every phrase so he could present the sentences pleasantly. But make no mistake, he will present it with a tone that will give you chills, and have you rethinking your actions.
Softly, my dad said, “You are not going to college because?”
I let out an audible breath, not aware that I had been holding it. I arranged my response and looked him in the eye as I answered.
“Because I don’t need it for what I really want to do.”
“And what you really want to do is?” my father asked with a slight edge in his voice, tilting his head to his right side.
Oh boy! This is not good. When my dad bends his head that way, a major self-assessment lesson is on its way. If I give my dad the chance to say more with his head tilted, I will cower and back out of my decision when he is done. Not gonna happen, I have to make a convincing case.
This response brought the room to a complete halt. You could hear a pin drop. My mom’s face lost its color, like all the blood had drained from it, and my dad’s eyes had narrowed into slits, eyeing me. Come on, say something, I pleaded with my eyes.
“Acting?” my mom repeated. She got up from the dining table and started clearing the dishes. My dad was still looking at me; then, I watched his face soften. What’s happening?
“You never took acting classes,” my dad said.
“I did. I just never participated during stage productions or anything major, just class projects,” I responded.
“And you like acting?” my dad asked, his expression looking a little amused.
“Yes, I do. I got great feedback from my teachers, and, Dad, I enjoy it. It’s effortless,” I said.
“Biology is effortless to you too,” my dad said, but with a trace of humor.
“Many things are effortless to me, Dad, but not like acting. With acting, I get to become someone else temporarily and explore behaviors that may be new to me. I may not agree with my character’s values, but that’s the fun of it, Dad, doing something that I won’t normally do. I want this,” I said.
“I wouldn’t have pegged you for being interested in acting,” my dad said to me, looking thoughtful. “When did you decide you wanted to do this?” he asked.
In that moment, I was transported to the day I decided to become an actress, the day I took my last acting class exams. Up until that moment, I still considered a career in mathematics. As a child, people around me had instilled in my mind that I had a gift for grasping mathematics easily. I didn’t want to become a teacher, so I had wondered what other cool ambition would be perfect for a mathematician. Then I came up with “Math Scientist,” which sounded cool for a while until I took my first acting class. I loved every moment I spent learning and practicing scenes. When I was assigned a character, it flowed out of me like I was made for the role. The reactions I got from my classmates and teachers encouraged me, and the satisfaction I felt after every acting project was all I needed to confirm that I wanted to become an actress. I knew my parents weren’t going to be thrilled about the idea because they categorized acting as an unserious profession. I had talent in other fields of study, but acting was, without a doubt, my passion.
My parents may be disappointed in my career choice but I knew they wouldn’t stop me from going ahead with it. I could study acting in college, but I didn’t see any point to it. I was comfortable with the idea of delving into acting jobs immediately. I just needed to convince myself that it was the right thing for me, and no one, except myself, was stopping me.
“I’ve always wanted to act since freshman year, but I made up my mind during finals week,” I responded.
“And you are very sure that you want to act?”
“Yes, Dad, I’m sure.”
“Emma, do not think I wouldn’t support you. It’s just that I know you can do more. You got into all the schools to which you applied. Do you know how rare that opportunity is? Granted, you’ll be saving us a whole lot of money, but I want you to have a future. Acting is uncertain. Your mom would know.”
“What? Was Mom an actress?” I asked with my eyes too wide to believe what I had just heard.
“For a minute,” my dad said, laughing.
“Hey, I heard that,” my mom’s voice called out from the kitchen.
My mom walked back to the dining room with a glass of water, looking me in the eye. I didn’t look away. “Look, Emma, I’m your mom, and you know I will support you in every way and in everything you do. It’s just that I don’t think acting is for you.”
My dad got up at this point. It was his cue to get away from the inevitable mother-daughter fight. He had said his piece, and he supported me. It was now my mom’s turn. I just didn’t believe I heard that from my mom’s mouth. All my life, my parents have said how I was too gifted for a normal human. How I could handle anything that was thrown my way but now acting was not for me?
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked my mom with a voice I didn’t mean to use, but I was getting angry and couldn’t help it.
“Emma, watch your tone,” my mom said quietly. “Like your dad said, I was in that world briefly, and I saw that it was all hype. I just don’t want you getting into something that is a waste of time and has no rewards.”
Nope, that’s not it. I know why she doesn’t want me to act, but why won’t she just say it as it is?
“The fact that you didn’t make it doesn’t mean that I’ll fail at it too,” I spat out and didn’t think of the weight of my words until they were out of my mouth. Too late, but I was too angry to admit it wasn’t fair of me.
My mom did not seem angry. She just sighed and sat down. “Emma, I’m not trying to be discouraging here,” she said.
“That’s exactly what you’re doing,” I retorted.
“Okay, I get it. It’s just difficult for me to understand this new twist. You’ve never shown interest or done things that remotely hinted at a love for acting. You have to love the field to be able to survive it. It’s a grueling occupation.”
“Mom!,” I almost screamed. “You didn’t pay enough attention, that’s why. I’ve always done what you and Dad wanted me to do. Did you ever wonder if I was interested in anything else? It’s always been something that you think I’ll be comfortable with. I get it. You’re protecting me, but have you sat back and thought if you’re doing me more harm than good?”
My mom didn’t like what I had said at all. Her face was flushed, and she lowered her eyes. With quivering lips and a low quiet voice, she said, “I had no idea I’ve been tying you down. I really had no idea. Pursue acting, Emma. One thing I’m sure of is that you excel in whatever you do. I hope you find a way to make this work. You’ve got my support.”
She got up and walked to the back door into the yard. I felt tears stinging my eyes, but I wasn’t going to cry. I had been disrespectful, and I was sorry, but this was about myself. I had to think of accepting myself and what I really want for myself. If I throw acting away, then I’ll be closed off forever. With acting, I’ll be exposing my physicality and emotions, which will be challenging because I’m used to generating solutions to problems without emotions. Tackling this challenge will give me total satisfaction. I only get this satisfaction in my acting classes, and I realized that if I adopted another profession, then I would deprive myself of happiness.