Warm AnimalsChapter One| Romy| Hands Up Heads Down
Neapolitan ice cream was a weird way to describe myself. Perhaps it was the fact that I had inherited my dad's Chinese features. With the silky, pin-straight black as ink hair, high cheek bones, and deep, dark as mud coloured eyes. Or that I was a body double for my mother. From her I got the straight, little pointed nose, her Irish fair skin complexion that dared the sun to burn—which, it always did—or the fact that my mother's boyfriend was a coach and gym teacher on the reservation at the Quileute Tribal School. My memory has always been hazy on this detail, but I barely remember anything about my dad, other than the fact that my mirror reminds me that he was once part of my life. I remember being bullied for my appearance and other children wondering if I was adopted. Pulling their eyes back into slits even though my eyes were the round shape of my mother's. Mocking me, following me around and calling me names. A couple of times I was caught in fights, I guess you could say there was a bit of Irish in me after all. But I don't quite remember at what age my mother first met Tony. I remember running around the neighborhood, jeans all torn at the knees, running up my front steps, and meeting this hulking tall, man with a shiny braid down his back. His face was warm and wise. He regarded me fondly and never pushed too hard to get to know me. We'd play emotional chicken—offering small idle chit chat, little bits, and pieces of ourselves before one of us would walk away awkwardly. Until one day I came home with a split lip, scraped up knuckles, and a fresh shiner under my right eye.
Without a word, he passed a bag of frozen peas from the freezer and poured a glass of orange juice. For some reason it didn't seem odd to me that he was in our house, he just…fit. His lips twitched, fighting back a smile when I had warily looked up at him under the crumpled bag of peas, unsure what the consequences may be.
"I hope you gave them hell."
And that was it, that was when I knew he was okay in my books. It was hard not to like him. He instantly became a father figure to me as naturally as a fish in water. He harnessed the fire in me and enrolled me in sports. Anything and everything until he found one where it became an instant catharsis. It wasn't long before I stopped getting scrapes and bruises from fights, but bruises from practice. A bump on the head, a bruised shin, grass-stained knees, and I treasured every single minute of it. He and my mother dated for another couple of months after my last fight before he had to move back to La Push. My little fourteen-year-old heart sank as I watched him leave, but my mother assured me he was not gone for good and I would be seeing him again. After years of dating long distance, going back and forth to La Push, and Bellingham, my mother and I packed our bags out of our tiny town house and moved in with Tony.
Beads of perspiration rolled down my jaw as I savoured every moment my muscles stretched and burned as I willed myself to push forth, music blaring into my head phones keeping me going as I ran another mile. My hands found my knees as I steadied myself for air, holding the stitch that had formed in my side. The sun was beginning to rise, and I knew I would only have an hour to get ready for school. I raised an arm and sniffed myself, scrunching up my nose at my own scent and walked into the air-conditioned house. Morning coffee filled the kitchen with its rich aroma—just the way my mom liked it—and I nodded over at Tony, reading the paper, and eating his staple: eggs sunny-side up, and brown toast.
"Good morning tiger," his face wrinkled near the corners of his eyes as he smiled at my direction.
"That's you Tony-Tiger," stealing myself a piece of toast off his plate, "mum up yet?" I mumbled through a mouthful.
He chuckled and shook his head slightly, "you know your mother, she's probably running late again."
I rolled my eyes and darted up the stairs to the main bathroom. Sweet crooning sounds of my mother's voice singing old love songs could be heard through the sounds of the shower faucet.
"Mom!" My hands pounded against the door, "mom I need to shower, I'm going to be late!"
"Sorry love! I have an important meeting today in Port Angeles, maybe Tony can drive you to school early and you can shower there?"
A groan escaped my throat like a frog. The thought of showering in the girl's change room was at the bottom of my list of things I wanted to do on my first day. If I were to bump in to anyone there, it would definitely be a cold start to the day. Quickly I shoved the clothes I had wanted to wear into my school bag and ran an old shirt over my face to mop up the sweat. Strands of my baby hairs stood out around me like a dandelion puff, and without much help from my clammy hands, I ran downstairs and broke the news to Tony.
"Alright kiddo, grab something to eat and meet me at the truck in five. Clara! Good luck today! Love you!" Tony called up the stairs.
My cheeks blushed at the sound of my mother calling down her affections to Tony. It made me genuinely happy to see her blissfully in love with this man. What can I say? But I guess in my own ways I love him too. He moved his long braid behind him as he reminded me—five minutes—before he went out to start the car. I grabbed an apple, poured myself a steaming hot cup of jo into a thermos, couple of granola bars into the bag and began blending my protein shake, when my cell chirped.
-Are you trying out for the team after school?
Tony's nephew Clay had become some what close to me since I moved to La Push. My only friend that I was able to make over the summer, showing me around the best running trails, and which places had the best dives to eat at.
-With Tony watching out for me, do I have a choice?
I replied sarcastically, placing an emoji with a tongue sticking out for good measure. A horn honked twice signalling my five minutes were up. With my bag slung over my shoulder and both beverages in each hand, apple in my mouth like a suckling pig, I was quite the sight as I marched towards the black truck.
"Slow down there, going to attract all the boys." Tony laughed jokingly, taking the coffee and bag away from me and stowing it between the seats.
"Yeah, I think my total lack of allure shot that horse in the face," I quoted.
My hands were sticky from the apple core resting between my fingers by the time we arrived outside the school's back entrance. I licked my chapped lips nervously as I stared at the brown doors leading to the gymnasium.
"You alright there Romy?"
I fumbled with the strap of my bag, wiping the sticky apple juice on my leggings as I mustered up the courage to walk in to the school. My face must have given away my nervousness as I felt him shift in his seat to look at me, one hand on the steering wheel, the other holding out the thermos of coffee.
"Look, it's a small school, everyone knows everyone—"
"Oh, that makes it better," my palms were getting sweaty.
"But you have me and Clay at your back. Now get in there and just enjoy yourself."
"It's high school, what is there to enjoy." I closed my eyes at the sour tone in my voice. "Okay, okay…I'll try."
"There's the spirit. If you need anything you know where to find me."
The trash bin echoed at the toss of my apple core, with my shaker bottle tucked squarely under an arm, I pulled open the door and stomped my way into the gym. It smelt of cleaner, stale air, and perhaps a hint of musk that probably would never be able to be fully erased from the floorboards. The girl's change rooms were to the left and with fifteen minutes left, I ran in and stripped down to my birthday suit and let the cold-water splash over me. My skin was covered in goosebumps as I soaped up my hair. My body adjusted quickly to the frigid temperature, the soapy lather dripped down my legs and down the drain. Thoughts of the possibility of making friends weighed heavily down in the pit of my stomach. Like I had swallowed a stone, my stomach flipped as I over thought my awkwardness, the lack of feminine wiles—mainly my lack of curves, straight torso, and muscular legs—and hoped with all my being that the teachers wouldn't call on me to introduce myself like they did in the movies.
The sound of the morning bell knocked me out of my trail of thought as I cursed loudly. My hands wrung out the rest of the water my hair had soaked up and quickly grabbed the towel out of my bag and wrapped it around myself. Hurriedly I pulled the pair of jeans out of the bag and dried off my boobs before tossing the towel into the hamper. My clothes clung to my damp skin as I hopped on one foot, pulling my baby blue jeans up my thigh, wiggling my butt in, and looping the navy belt tight against my waist.
"GOOOOOOOOOOD MORNING QTS! AND WELCOME BACK!" The announcement blared through the speakers and knew I was definitely late for my first class.
With one arm fighting its way into my white t-shirt and the other slipping on my black converse shoes, I stumbled into the hallway and like an oaf, crashed into a wall. Or, what I thought was a wall until it grabbed hold of my shoulders.
My head poked through the neck hole of my t-shirt and my face flushed instantly. He had short, trimmed, jet black hair similar colour to mine, sharp angular jaw and a cute smile that appeared at the sight of the blush creeping down my neck.
I nodded, fully realizing that my shirt was still half way on, my grey Nike sports bra on full display, and my face turned crimson.
"Y-yeah, sorry!" My bags clattered to the ground as I scrambled to pull my shirt down, tucking the front into the waistline of my jeans and looking around for the other shoe.
"You have soap in your hair."
Again, I nodded, trying hard not to meet his gaze…I found my shoe and brought it up waving it in my hand in a "AHA!" gesture.
"Sorry again, got to run!"
Mentally I started kicking myself. Great start Romy, that was a great first impression. My bag hung limply off my elbow as I scampered down the hall and into Mrs. Salmon's room. Rows and rows of eyes landed on me. Their eyebrows arched at my appearance. Sopping wet hair that left a drenched mark down my back, small soapy bubbles probably still lingering in the black strands of my hair—that boy in the hall had pointed out—one shoe in hand, and my face bright pink.
"Well you must be Rosemary." Mrs. Salmon peered at me over her thin spectacles.
My eyes closed, praying.
"Class this is Rosemary Quinn. Rosemary, since you're already standing, why don't you give us a little introduction about yourself?"
Well this is a nightmare.
The cafeteria was a buzz with chatter. People crowded in groups at the round tables. Orange lunch trays dotted every table as I clutched mine close to my chest. People walked past, eyes flickering over to catch glimpses of me, the new girl. Nervously, I chewed at my bottom lip, my eyes scanning the room for Clay. Rain was starting to patter against the large windows that framed the two walls of the cafeteria. The sky had opened up its grey curtains and I sighed at the thought of trying out for the soccer team on a wet field. Failing to catch sight of Clay's stocky frame, I wandered to the far corner and plopped my tray on the empty table and fiddled with the chocolate milk carton.
"Hey, can I sit?"
My fingers stopped fiddling with the lip of the carton, my face froze in surprise at the tall, lean figure standing in front of me. His sweet smile was all it took for me to start biting down at my lip again. Just breathe, be friendly...
"Y-yeah, sure." Was all I could stutter out as he pulled out one of the plastic, navy chairs and pushed his orange tray, piled with food, across from me. "Carbo loading?"
"Oh, sorry, none of my business." I took a long swig from the carton and started on the baby carrots.
"I'm Seth by the way, Seth Clearwater." He mumbled through closed lips as he chewed his food, his eyes twinkling, "We bumped into each other this morning."
I could feel the flush of heat creep up my neck as I remembered the scene that played out this morning. The hard body that I had crashed into. His kind eyes, and the slight dimples by the corner of his mouth when he smiled.
"Oh, sorry about that again."
"You're coach's daughter, right?"
"Tony?" A baby carrot sat still between my teeth, it was hard to come up with an answer without divulging too much of myself. Though I could hear Tony's sage words float through my mind. Everyone knows everyone here. Just enjoy yourself. He was one teenage movie cliché sentence away from saying "BE YOU! Get out there! Make friends." But he knew me too well. I chomped down on the carrot and chewed thoughtfully, "I guess…I guess he's kind of like my dad."
Seth's eyebrows arched, waiting expectantly for more.
"Oh, I'm Romy."
His smile came back in full force, it made his eyes squint, and showed off his pearly whites. I couldn't help but notice that he was…cute. Adorable. Kind of like a puppy. An awkward silence emerged between bites of my grilled chicken wrap, my eyes looking every where but his eyes. Two more orange trays joined the table with a clatter and my eyes shot up to meet equally tall figures, both lean and tanned as Seth.
"Can you believe they ran out of tater tots?" One of them whined as he shimmied himself into a chair beside Seth.
"Just five minutes late to lunch and the animals descend. Now we have…fish sticks." The other sat on the opposite side of Seth, grimacing at the equally tall mound of food on his tray.
I could feel my face heat up, eating quickly to escape the table but it was too late. Their eyes were on me and they shared equally mischievous smiles.
"Brady, Collin, this is Romy. Romy, Collin, Brady." Seth introduced, sitting back, and taking a long drag from his juice box. "She's new here."
"Yo, Romy. How do you like it here?" The one I believe was Collin grinned over at me.
"It's alright." I swallowed the last bite of my wrap hard and regretted it as it dragged down my throat. Okay, try to be a little nicer… "Um, a lot of nice running trails."
"You like to run?" Seth's face lit up, a french-fry sticking out from the corner of his mouth. "That's cool."
"Yeah, it's kind of my thing, I guess. It's relaxing." I ran a hand through my now dry hair, it fell lifelessly against my shoulder. "W-what about you guys?"
"We like to run too." Brady winked, nudging Seth with his shoulder.
There must have been an inside joke there somewhere because the trio started to laugh. Suddenly uncomfortable and at my limit of small talk, I started to clean up my tray, crumpling the checkered paper in the palm of my fist and finishing the chocolate milk in one big gulp. I managed a smile, trying hard for sincere instead of the awkward thin-lipped smile my mom always chided me for.
"It was nice, to um, meet you guys."
My chair scraped against the linoleum floor as I stood up, swinging my bag over my shoulder with one hand and grabbing the tray, walking towards the trash, and dumping the contents with the other. I could feel one of the tall boys standing beside me and I wondered if I had inadvertently come across a black cat for my luck today.
"Sorry about those two." It was Seth, his voice was low, just enough for me to hear, his shoulders hunched up slightly and his hands in his short's pockets. He kind of looked shy. "Brady's my cousin, and Collin is a good friend. They mean well but they don't know how to socialise with people."
"That makes three of us," I mumbled, pushing the strap of my bag higher onto my shoulder.
He was tall, a good head taller than me. My eyes couldn't help themselves as they scanned him from his long legs up to his wide, round shoulders. His chest was defined but narrow, and his arms were long and sinewy.
"If you ever need a running partner, or someone to show you around the rez…y'know I'll be happy to be a tour guide."
It was a feeling I never felt before. Something warmed inside my chest. His face was honest, and I didn't have the heart to tell him that Clay had already offered. Wherever Clay may be, I tapped my fingers in slight irritation.
"Yeah, sure. That would be…nice"
I couldn't help but smile back at the glowing grin he shot me before he loped back to the table where Collin and Brady sat waving back at me.
As I exited the cafeteria and made my way to a tree outside, shoving my headphones in and blasting my playlist on high volume, I wondered if…I had successfully made a friend.