It’s 1975—early morning, the first day of school, and already Janet’s in a bad mood, thanks to her mother and sister.
Janet wanted to cry, but with Sookie and Mama both glaring at her, she wouldn’t let the tears come. She dressed in a fury. Angry, hurt tears burned in her eyes. She didn’t say goodbye, just grabbed her lunch she’d made the night before, and left. She slammed the door behind her, starling some birds in the trees next door.
Sookie didn’t come to the bus stop. She hadn’t expected her to. Mama didn’t want her baby girl on the bus with all the big kids, afraid she’d get hurt. It was okay that Janet had ridden the bus since kindergarten, big kids or not. The bus wasn’t good enough for Miss Sookie. It was just as well. Janet didn’t want people to know they were related.
Janet’s friends were waiting for her, all dressed in their new clothing. Janet had saved her money from her job at the A&W Drive-In, to buy her things. She looked just as fresh and nice as they did.
Her pink T-shirt had big, fuchsia rhinestone lips on the front. Her hot pants were denim. Her long, tanned legs made the other girls jealous, as did her full lips and black, curly hair.
They didn’t know the Secret Janet carried inside her. If they did, she wondered how they’d act. She told everyone there was Indian blood way back, but that wasn’t it. Her daddy was half black, but didn’t look it. He’d passed for years as a white man. Wasn’t until Janet was born, a nice cafe au lait, with kinky curls, that her mama suspected.
That was how it started. Her Southern born mama couldn’t forgive him for being black. When Janet was five, he left them. They moved from Texas to Nebraska. Mama hooked up with some guy, and Sookie was born about a year later.
Mama had kin in Nebraska, which was why they’d moved there. Kin that didn’t know she’d married a black man. She could hide her shame away, forget about him. Only every day, Janet was a reminder.
The bus pulled up and stopped. There was the usual tussle to see who got on first. Today, as always, the big boys won. They hopped on and took seats at the back. The girls let the little kids go on before them. Mr. Prost, the driver, told them thank you.
“I believe you girls have all grown at least three inches apiece,” he said after greeting them each by name. “High school now. My, my.”
Mr. Prost had been their bus driver as long as Janet could remember. He was a nice, grandfatherly type. Janet loved Mr. Prost, and wished he was her granddaddy. Mama’s father was a mean old cuss who smoked and drank too much. She’d never met her father’s father. He was the black sheep and kept well hidden.
Bunny, her friend since second grade, bounced in the seat beside her. “I can’t wait to get to high school! Betty says the boys are real cute!”
Betty was Bunny’s older sister. Janet suspected she was boy crazy and had told Bunny often enough.
“Not the ones we know,” she said, cutting her eyes at the back of the bus.
“Those are sophomore boys!” Betty rolled her eyes. “I mean juniors and seniors.”
“What are those older boys gonna want with us?” Janet asked. “We’re little kids compared to them.”
“I know! They’re men!” Bunny said with a dreamy sigh.
Janet made a disgusted noise. Come to think, Bunny was as boy crazy as her sister. The difference was, Bunny didn’t sleep around like Betty did…. Yet. She was a little afraid her friend was going to follow in her sister’s footsteps.
“Junior high is behind us now,” Bunny continued. “We’re not around boys anymore. We’re gonna be seeing real men every day.”
“They’re no more men than that bunch back there,” Janet said.
“They aren’t men until they’re eighteen,” Ramona said. “That’s what my father says.”
“Betty says they’re real men once they make it with a girl,” Bunny contradicted with a toss of her head.
“Well, she’s the expert,” Ramona said dryly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Bunny demanded.
“Nothing….” Ramona tossed her straight, black hair over her shoulder. “Oh, nothing….”
“Ramona Hernandez, you tell me!” Bunny growled. “What are you saying about my sister?”
“What I heard,” Ramona said, ignoring her. “What I heard was that she’s been through most of the male population. What I heard, is lots of the guys are men now because of Betty.”
“Who told you a lie like that?” Bunny screeched.
Ramona flounced off the bus, ignoring Bunny’s protestations. Janet knew Ramona’s source was her older brother, Diego, who had more experience than just about any guy around. He never talked about it, but the girls did. Many of them had fallen for the dark haired, sloe eyed Mexican man. Janet could see the appeal, he was gorgeous. He’d only ever treated her like a sister, so she figured she didn’t stand a chance. She could admire how good looking he was from a distance.
Diego and his buddies were waiting for them at the bus loop. He drove a car and offered Ramona a ride, but she didn’t want to crowd in the car with his loud, obnoxious friends. Diego wanted it clear to every man at the school that Ramona was his baby sister. He’d taken Bunny and Janet under his protective wing as well, since they had no older brothers. He put his arms possessively around the girls as they walked in the school surrounded by his huge, male friends.
©2020 Dellani Oakes
To Buy Dellani’s Books