Alarm blaring for the third time in fifteen minutes, a long and thin arm stretched itself across the bed and towards the right nightstand where the clock rested, a fist pounding the off button for the final time.
There was a peaceful silence that fell over the brightly lit room before Emmerson James exhaled sharply. Knowing his bedroom light had already been cut on at some point by his mother, Emmerson kept his face buried in his pillow, weighed down and hidden by the large mass of hair atop his head.
Without bothering to lift his head up, Emmerson switched on his radio and waited for a groove to move him just enough to climb out of bed.
“Don’t let me pass this room one more time and all I see is the top of that afro. I know seniors at your school get a late start, but you still need to be out of this house on time.”
“Can I skip today, please?”
Emily, his mother, stopped in her tracks and took a few steps back, leaning against the doorframe.
She smiled warmly as she looked in on her seventeen-year-old. “Mr. Perfect Attendance wants to skip a day? I know that yesterday was your first day, and that’s always a tough one, but it couldn’t have been that bad.”
Finally sitting up, Emmerson pushed his unkempt hair out of his face. As always, he was shirtless, shivering a bit as cold air circulating through his bedroom hit him. His expression was anything but excitement or the extreme joy he was known for. Neither of his dimples came out to play, and that saddened Emily a bit. Certain it was just growing pains, she hoped Emmerson would be his happy and quirky self again, and soon. “No Mom, it isn’t. I’m just extra tired today.”
“Aren’t you all still on that block schedule? Which do you have today?”
He nodded, pushing the comforter aside. Throwing his legs over the side of his bed, his feet touched the floor and found their way into the slippers he kept close by. “B, which is only three classes and a lunch break. I get out at noon today.”
“Aww, Sweetie, noon will be here before you know it. Want me to take my lunch break around that time to come and pick you up?”
“No Ma’am. I’ll just catch the bus and come straight home. A good nap and I’ll be fine by the time you get home.”
“Alright, well I’ll leave some money for you on my dresser. Make sure you order yourself something to eat until I get home. Or do you want me to tell Mack to bring you something?” Emmerson shook his head, his hair moving from left to right with each turn. “Well. have a good day, Sweetie. I love you.”
“I love you too, Mom.”
Emmerson waited until he heard his bedroom door close, sitting still with his eyes closed until he found the energy to do anything else.
When he finally got up, stretched and gave himself a small pep talk to get himself together, Emmerson grabbed all his undergarments and headed straight for the bathroom. Since he no longer had to share it with anyone, he took some extra time to look himself over.
In less than a year, he’d sprung tall like a bean stalk, just over six feet tall and towering over his siblings and parents. Despite his best efforts to gain weight, and muscles, he remained slim in size. Sighing, he leaned close to the mirror just to see how bad his latest bout of acne was.
It was just what he needed at the start of a new year, just when he was making attempts to come out of his shell and be sociable with people outside of his circle of siblings and his lone best friend. “Puberty hit everybody else at twelve and thirteen. Life, you just had to come at me super late, and in the most disrespectful ways.” He frowned, bending down to see if his elder sister had left behind anything he could clean his face with. “At least they’re not all over my face this time. I can handle this. I can hide it with my hair.”
Before long, he’d showered and done what he felt was a decent enough job with making his blemishes less noticeable. He trimmed the little mustache he’d been growing in and shaped his afro, patting it down just enough so that he wouldn’t be told anything about the length of his hair.
He rushed back to his bedroom, picking out the first pieces of clothing that grabbed his attention when he opened his closet. Free of uniforms for the first time in his academic career, Emmerson dressed in a dark pair of corduroy jeans, with a neatly pressed button-down dress shirt. Though he knew his school was strict on clothing with more than a single solid color, he liked the design printed all over it. He opted to be bold with at least one part of his look today. He left two of the top buttons undone and tucked the shirt into his jeans. Grabbing the sweater vest he’d picked out, a shade or two lighter than his jeans, he layered it over his shirt and fixed the collar of his shirt until he was comfortable with how it looked. He put on the first pair of dark leather loafers he spotted in the corner where he kept most of his shoes, feeling satisfied with the look he’d thrown together.
Moving to his dresser, he picked up two of the medallions his older sister had given him, one which held an image of Nefertiti, and put them on. He made sure they were visible atop his clothing. He put on a single ring, sprayed on a bit of his cologne and grabbed his backpack before rushing out the door. Though he knew his mother would have preferred for him to grab some of the breakfast she’d cooked, Emmerson decided to skip it to make up for the time he’d wasted lollygagging and hitting his snooze button.
The sun was shining brightly, bringing just enough warmth to knock away a bit of the chill that had been residing over the city for well over two weeks.
As he’d done every school morning since his freshman year, Emmerson made it to his designated bus stop at seven forty-five on the dot, meeting up with one person he’d been able to forge some sort of bond with during his recent years of social anxiety and awkwardness. His best friend, Quinton Williams.
Like Emmerson, Quinton stood tall and lanky, sporting an afro that most at their prestigious private school found unruly and unpleasant by school standards. Two of very few African-American students in attendance, both boys made it a point to stand out in every way possible. From their looks, to the way they handled themselves among their peers and schoolmates, to the way they viewed and handled their education and the expectations put on them from day one. At the top of their class, they were daily reminders for Carson Preparatory that young black boys could indeed excel, and could do so without the special privileges they were supposed to be afforded with a better education. All while remaining true to themselves and providing positive examples for the other African-American students too afraid to be anything other than what was expected.
“I thought you weren’t coming today?”
Emmerson looked up from his focus on the sidewalk, shrugging his shoulders as the young boys came face to face. “I wasn’t. But I know my mom; even if I say I’m fine and just want to stay home, she’ll worry herself and call all day long thinking I’m sick.”
Quinton nodded, pulling a half-filled bag of peanut butter cookies from his backpack. He handed them to Emmerson. “That’s from my mom, she made them early this morning and insisted I bring some to you. Since I thought you weren’t coming, I was just going to eat them all myself.”
Emmerson smiled lightly, accepting the bag just as their bus pulled up. “Tell her I said thanks.” He sighed, waiting patiently for their bus driver to open the door. “So, we didn’t get to talk yesterday. What are our non-academic plans for this year? ‘Cause being the good and quiet nerd is cool. I mean, the better my grades, the higher my allowance is every grading period and you know my old man gives the big money out now. Anyway, I was thinking how I’ve gone all the way from Kindergarten to now as an unknown, with no luck interacting with people or even talking to girls.”
“You had that stroke of luck that one time last year, Emmerson”
“Quite possibly because I knew I’d never see that girl again. And I haven’t since that night at the fair. I’m just tired of always being afraid to step up and express myself to others, tired of being so timid when it comes to being social. I’m a goofball, I think I’m funny. I’m talented, caring, supportive, and loving. Intelligent, well-versed, and so many other things. Yet I can’t bring myself to make that known to anyone outside of you and my family.”
Quinton nodded, and the boys stepped onto the bus, saying good morning as they made their way back to one of the empty seats. As always, all eyes were on them, moving from their hair, to their faces, to their clothing of choice. They often felt like walking attractions, oddities among a sea of students who felt a need to blend, look, and act the same. That was all anyone knew of them; the black boys that dressed oddly.
They took their seats on the very last row, making themselves comfortable. “You make it sound like being shy has been a bad thing though. At least, it’s always worked for me because I can use it as an excuse to avoid all the stupid questions I’ve been asked throughout my years of attending private schools. I just sit there, looking nervous and scared, they walk away saying he must be shy. Whatever works to keep ignorant folks out my face, I say.”
Emmerson laughed. “But you’re still more outgoing than I am, Quinton. At least you put yourself out there to be on the basketball team, some of the class committees and all of that. You interact with people, you just don’t like to do more than what’s required of you. I can’t even build up the nerve to raise my hand to answer questions in class. That’s just pathetic.”
“I only joined the team because my dad made me. The committees and stuff, I just did because it looked good on all my college applications and some of the scholarships I applied for. You know they weren’t going to give all the great scholarships to both of us, regardless of me being right behind you in the top five of our class. Other than those things, I still don’t do as much as I feel I should as a seventeen-year-old. No type of social life. Then again, before their divorce my parents made me to stay in the house, didn’t play that going out and hanging out stuff. It’s only the last year that I’ve told myself to stay in the house and focus on school only.” Quinton sat back in his spot, staring out the window as they moved through the neighborhood to pick up other students. “I don’t know, Man. It’s not too much for us to get involved with in school where we can make new friends. At least friends that mean well. I know for sure, at school, I’m not about to change anything about myself just to be seen or noticed by the popular set. And there’s not too much going on within our neighborhood that we could get in on and the neighbors won’t think we’re up to no-good or trying to rob them.”
“True, true. I guess the bottom line is that we’re just going to have to get out there and live a little more.”
“And most certainly venture out in the hopes of finding some pretty girls to get to know and hang with, because I can’t put myself through the misery of dating the girls at Carson Prep again. And you know why.”
Both boys looked forward and noticed that, as always, two girls were turned around in their seats and staring directly at them. While neither boy discriminated, nor did they feel they had a complete preference in the type of young women they liked just yet, both knew that they were not and would never be willing to date the Caucasian girls in their school. The ones that fantasized about having African-American boyfriends, just to say they tried the trend, while talking badly about African-Americans to their friends. Neither had time or the desire to deal with unnecessary drama or the type of problems that would come within their very first relationships.
“If girls stare at me like that, I think I’d prefer to stay shy and single… for life.”
Quinton dropped his head, snickering at how loudly Emmerson spoke. It caused both girls to turn around in their seats, murmuring among themselves in embarrassment. They made the rest of their trip to school in silence. Emmerson quietly plotted out all he hoped to do, most of which he was certain he would have to force himself to do.
Silently he prayed that he could break out of his shell. This year had to be a good one, he had to make it count.
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