Coming out of eleventh grade pre-calculus, Nati turned to look down the corridor, searching among the sea of bodies for the one face she knew better than her own. Rhonda, her best friend for the past ten years, was Nati’s opposite in every way. Ebony skin contrasted with Nati’s honey complexion. Rhonda wore goddess braids that hung to her full hips, while Nati was athletically built and wore her silky hair in a pixie cut.
When she spotted Rhonda, Nati groaned inwardly. Isaiah was in his soccer uniform and slides, cleats in one hand. He leaned in to say something. Rhonda laughed in that way Nati could hear in her mind even over the hundreds of voices and footsteps of the other students in the hall. She spotted Nati then and waved wildly like one of those crazy windsocks that enticed people into car dealerships. Plastering on a fake smile, Nati waved back.
Outside the building ten minutes later, she couldn’t take the whispers and giggles any longer. She started towards home.
“Nati, wait!” Rhonda came running up behind her. “What are you doing?”
“I have things to do. Standing around watching you giggle at Isaiah isn’t on the agenda.” It came out harsher than Nati meant it to, and she silently kicked herself.
Rhonda stopped and grabbed Nati’s arm, forcing her to turn. “Okay, what is your problem? Every time he’s around you start acting like a bitch.”
Nati glared and wrenched out of Rhonda’s grip. “No, you’re rude and I’m not your third wheel.”
Rhonda crossed her arms and squinted one eye, which meant she was studying Nati like a math problem. “Nah, fam. That ain’t it. Oh my God, do you like him? That’s why you’re mad?”
“Why wouldn’t you tell me? I’m you’re best friend! If I knew—”
“I don’t like him.”
“It’s not a big deal, Nat. I’m not that into him. I’ll back off.”
Nati huffed out a breath and covered her face with both hands. She’d known for months now that this moment was coming, and she’d dreaded it every day. When she pulled her hands away, her face chilled where the remnants of her tears remained. “Rhonda, I don’t like Isaiah, but yes, seeing you together makes me jealous. There, I said it.”
Rhonda’s shoulders relaxed. “Come on, girl. It’s not like any dude will come between us. Chicks before—”
“It’s not that,” Nati mumbled.
“Well then what? I don’t und—”
“I have feelings for you.” Nati looked Rhonda in the eye. “More than friendship feelings.”
Rhonda’s mouth hung open, and she stared at Nati, speechless. Nati felt her own face crumple and pressure built in her throat as if someone were squeezing her windpipe. And her heart—cracks were splintering through it. Little by little pieces fell away until it was just a pile of rubble in her chest.
The next morning, Nati buried herself under the covers and pillows when her brother Asim knocked on the door.
“Nat, let’s go! We’re gonna be late!”
If she ignored him, he’d just barge in, and she didn’t want him to see her all red-eyed and swollen-nosed. “Not going. I’m sick.”
He came into the room. “Bullshit. I’d feel it if you were sick—twin privilege. And how come Rhonda’s not here? You two have a fight?”
In her haze of humiliation and misery, Nati forgot to factor in that Rhonda always picked her up in the mornings. “No.”
The blanket was ripped out of her grip, and Asim wrestled the pillow away from her. “What the hell, Nati? What’s wrong with you?”
“Asim, just leave me alone, please. I don’t want to talk about it. I can’t…” Her throat seized up as a new wave of tears began.
Spindly arms wrapped around her, and her head was pulled to the crook of Asim’s neck.
“Sis, what happened? Whatever it is, you can tell me.”
Could she? If losing Rhonda was devastating, the same reaction from Asim would strike her dead on the spot. This was the only secret she’d ever kept from him. Nati cried for long moments, anticipating what Asim might say. If she couldn’t trust him, there wasn’t a single person on the planet she could. “I told Rhonda… that… I… have feelings for her.”
Nati waited for Asim to tense up, to pull away. He kept hugging her and rubbing slow circles on her back. After a minute, he said, “I guess she didn’t take it well?”
“What? I don’t know. She didn’t say anything and then I kind of ran away.”
She felt Asim shake his head. After a while, he said, “Okay, stay here.”
“Why?” Her voice rose an octave. “What are you about to do?” Nati clung to Asim’s wrist as he tried to get up.
“Nothing. Just stay here.” He left the room.
Had she been wrong about being able to trust him? But that was impossible. The main reason she hadn’t told him before was because she hadn’t wanted to accept the truth herself. With no hope left, Nati pulled the covers back up and curled into a ball.
A few minutes later, the door opened. When she peeked out, Asim was kicking it shut. He had a tray with two mugs and two foil packets that looked like toaster cakes. His laptop was snuggled under one arm. “I told Jaddi we both ate something bad at school yesterday. You know he doesn’t trust the lunches. And I brought cocoa and strawberry cakes. Scoot over.”
Nati’s eyes began to leak again. “You didn’t have to—”
“Shut up. What are we watching? Netflix or anime?” Asim sat and swung his legs up onto the bed. “And don’t worry about Rhonda. You probably just caught her off guard. She’ll probably be knocking on the door after school.”
She hoped he was right as she lay her head on his shoulder and accepted one of the steaming mugs.