October 21, 2014
Mornings were the toughest because Saan never slept enough and caffeine had little effect on him. To keep awake, he chose a seat in the front row but even that couldn’t prevent him from sitting bent over with his head in his arms. Luckily, Mr. Beasley understood and didn’t give him too hard of a time. It wasn’t as if he skipped assignments or played hooky, so aside from looking like a mope, he wasn’t doing much to disrupt the class.
“Saan, can I talk to you for a minute?” Mr. Beasley asked when the bell rang.
“Yes. I’m sorry. I’m just really tired.”
“Maybe this isn’t my place, but have you gone to the doctor lately?”
“I have and everything is fine.”
“Oh, god no,” Saan said. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Have you thought about scaling down your extracurricular activities?”
“The problem I have is if I’m not tired enough I’ll just be in bed wide awake with my mind racing,” Saan said.
“What do you think of during those times?”
“Nothing. Just the normal stuff. I’ll be okay. I’ll just have to figure out a way to get to sleep sooner.”
By lunchtime he was wide awake and sitting with his teammates at a table in the school’s square. He picked at the grilled chicken salad his mother packed for him but he had no appetite. He felt empty yet his body felt like it was pulling in on itself. But, he knew he needed to eat to have enough energy for practice so he shoveled the salad without tasting anything and gobbled the tuna sandwich and two bananas as well.
Brandon’s eyes blurred from staring at the laptop, each word came out slower than the next. He grabbed his copy of Choke from the bookshelf because it was the thinnest of the five unread books and headed out the door with no specific destination.
He walked aimlessly looking at storefronts in the downtown area. Besides the Starbucks and movie theater, just about everything was a mom and pop shop. There were a handful of barbers and hair stylists, a few dozen restaurants and bars, an Asian food market and even a couple music stores.
Brandon stumbled into Sally’s Books. “New and maybe passed around books.” He went to Tom the cashier to show him the book he walked in with.
“You can leave it with me or lug it around the store with you.”
Brandon opted for the former.
“If you’re looking for anything specific, please let me know,” Tom said.
“I’ll just browse for a while.”
It was impossible to explain why some of the books were in their specific sections, yet, there was a huge selection of books under “Miscellany.”
Brandon tripped over Elaine while he was staring at a large leather bound Steinbeck anthology sitting on top of a bookcase. He tumbled and fell to the ground in a heap. She shrieked and almost ripped apart Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.
“I told you not to sit on the ground,” Tom said from the cash register.
She accepted his apology and offer of coffee as well.
They sat outside Rubia’s. She with a latte and he with a double Americano. Unlike the other night, her hair was curly but relatively normal, and she wore a ribbed sweater with tattered sleeves.
“I still can’t believe you made me buy back my own copy of this book,” Elaine said.
“At least he sold it to you for what they bought it from you for.”
Elaine didn’t keep books. Once she finished something she would announce it on Facebook and offer it to her friend. If she didn’t get any takers within a couple of days, she would sell it to the second hand store. Sometimes, it was a book she bought from there, and after a while, they just let her make trades.
“There’s also this thing called a library, where they’re free,” Elaine said as she picked up her mug.
“Look, when I want to read East of Eden, I want it right away.”
“No one really wants to read East of Eden.”
“Have you read East of Eden?”
“What if I haven’t?”
“Would you like to borrow East of Eden?” Brandon asked.
Back in the loft, Elaine stared at his bookcases and shook her head. She didn’t believe he could find any of his books.
“Where’s Moby Dick?”
“Never read it. Don’t have a copy.”
“Pride and Prejudice?”
“Summer before senior year of high school, so it’s down toward the beginning.”
After dinner, Saan saw the Giants were up 7-0 in game one of the World Series and went to practiced jump shots in the backyard with his youngest siblings, who were both adopted. Thirteen-year-old Francesca was white and eleven-year-old Dexter was black. He also had an older half-brother, Cheng, 20, who was in his second year in the NBA and two sisters, Isabelle, 16, and Carmen, 15.
Saan smiled at the memory of a then nine-year-old Dexter explaining adoption to Francesca. Just because you’re both white doesn’t mean mom’s your mom mom. They were good kids. Bright and considerate and happy.
At 8:30 their mother, Erica, came to the court to corral the two young ones for baths and bedtime. She stood slanted with hands on her hips. When the ball bounced to her, she heaved it toward the basket and missed everything. Her children serenaded her, “Airballll! Airballll!” Dexter threw her the ball and she missed again to the children’s delight.
“Don’t stay up too late, honey,” she said.
“Just going into the batting cage for a while. Goodnight, mom.”
He filched a bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the pantry that night and took three big swigs before hiding the bottle in an old shoe box with medals and ribbons from elementary and middle school. He chewed on an Altoid while staring at the ceiling fan and waited, but he started thinking about upcoming tests and papers… his teammates who had a hard time reading… Jenna in physics class with the limp… Mrs. Fair and her cancer… Dexter having to explain his white mother and Asian father… the player from St. Mary’s calling him a dirty chink after sacking him… if Mary actually liked him.
He went to the closet and took three more swigs.