When I arrive at the school district's SAC stadium, hoards of people are still getting in. This really is a bigger deal than I made the games out to be ... then again, this is our kickoff game, so maybe the latter games aren't as packed. I stand uncomfortably in line sandwiched between fans of our team and the rival school, Parkwood High, their fans donning navy blue attire and a few with plastic Ram horns. Thank goodness I thought to bring my earplugs out. 20 minutes and a $10 ticket later and I finally make it inside. The bright flood of orange and white on the right side of the stadium leads me to where I need to be. Damned school colors leave us looking like a bunch of traffic cones.
The game is ending its first quarter, but with how many people are still coming in and the amount in the stands already, I can tell this is going to be challenging; nevertheless, I start walking around the stadium on the lookout. I'm certainly losing hope after what I imagine to be 10 minutes, but feels like an eternity. Not only I'm failing at the task at hand, but I realize I stick out like a sore thumb dressed in my blue shirt and black jeans ... like an enemy infiltrant.
"Come on what are you doing?!"
That callout leads my eyes down to the right of section 17. In the crowd, I can make out that famous jet-black hair towards the bottom, around three rows from the field. I make my way down, feeling sick with how steep these steps are.
"Don't fumble the ball, don't fumble the -- OH! Darn it!" Mallory yells. It's a bit disconnecting seeing her in an environment like this, much less being this into the game ... it makes my heart flutter, seeing this different side to Mal.
"Just a 'family pride' thing, huh?" I joke dryly. Mal looks up and shakes her head in disbelief.
"Zo!" she gasps. "What are you doing here?"
My voice is suddenly drowned out by the roar of cheers in the stands.
"I'll tell you it's definitely not for the reasons everyone else is clearly here for," I raise my voice, taking a seat next to Mal.
"You didn't show up at school! I got worried about you!" Mal matches my volume.
"You did?" I ask.
"Duh, of course, I did!" Mal replies. "You haven't missed a day of school since you broke your leg back in February!" Wow, I'd forgotten all about that, actually.
"Yeah ... overslept," I tell her, that being somewhat true since I didn't hear my alarm clock go off like usual ... of course that is because I turned it off.
"Well, I'm actually glad you're here," Mal says, putting her hand on my leg. Oh, please don't start bouncing. "I wanted to say I'm sorry for the things I said yesterday in the hallway. It wasn't fair to throw that at you."
I'll be honest, I expected this apology to come, but only because that's routine with us. We get into it, and we both apologize. But this time, I don't think it was warranted on her end.
"No, it's okay," I say. "I think you were fair to say them."
"How do you figure that?"
How do I figure that ... I guess ...
"I guess when there are a few people naysaying you, it overpowers the many others that are cheering you on," I simply put it, ironically to a wave of cheers. I say this knowing I'm not totally absolved of my actions, but teenagers can be mean. It's no secret to the people in our grade -- or really our school -- that I'm a top performer (I've got the transcripts and awards to prove it). I wear it proudly because I've worked my ass off to be on top. What's hard is that no one in our grade but Mallory knows that I struggle with dyscalculia, so when I'm struggling in class all they see is someone who hasn't got a clue what they're doing. And seeing someone usually at the top of their game falter? They feed off the vulnerability to make themselves feel better about not giving it their all. Or who knows -- maybe they're going through the same thing as me and don't know how to deal with it, either, so passing gossip notes and snickering is the only way they know how. Either way, it's not an excuse to treat me that way ... and I have no excuse to let them, or myself, get in the way of what I need.
"I haven't given myself a fair shot in a lot of ways," I speak. "Maybe it's been a way to not get my hopes up, especially with ..."
"Yeah, I understand."
"But I'm gonna fix that! Or try at least..." I pause. Try... what does that mean to me? If I'm going to take this chance on myself, I need to maximize it to its fullest potential. And that might just mean ...
"I'm going to go through with the tutoring," I declare. I don't have time to process the words when Mallory starts clapping her hands.
"Yay! Oh my gosh, I'm so proud of you!" Mallory squeals, pulling me in for a hug. Okay, so maybe a part of me is still doing this for her, but can you blame me? If I could have a bottle of her enthusiasm in my reach at all times, I'd never give up on anything.
"And hey, maybe Ms. Carmone will let you switch tutors," Mallory mentions.
"Yeah, I have no doubt she would..." I agree. I look to the field, and the players are leaving whilst the marching band starts filling in their place.
"Is it halftime already?" I ask, wondering where the time went.
"Yup, and after the band performs, the cheer squad is having their performance," Mal explains "Hopefully, my parents will get back soon ..."
While Mallory talks, I notice in the corner of my eye a big, orange fox. There's only one person, to my knowledge, that's giving Fireside Freddy life. I think about what Mallory just said, the whole switching tutors bit. If I'm going to take this on, I need to take all this on by the chin. That said, I can't do that if I'm not comfortable with who's teaching me. Maybe Yazmin Sanchez could take this on ... who knows, but I can't leave any stone unturned.
"Hey, uh, I'll be right back," I inform Mallory. "Have to pee."
I don't think she heard me because she raised an eyebrow. "You gotta eat?"
"No I got to --" I stop, thinking about the ramifications of saying the word "pee" aloud. "I'll be right back!"
I leave my seat and walk up the steps (trying not to lose my balance in the process), and it's time to embark on Mission #2.
My stomach rumbles with a 7.8 magnitude, and it doesn't help that I'm surrounded by concession stands and bathroom lines stretching far and wide. No time for that, though, once I come across a jumble of orange and white cheerleading uniforms up ahead. I walk a bit faster, trying my best to bump into anybody around, but that quickly fails. I look up and see a perplexed Jhene in front of me.
"Zora? What are you doing here?" she asks, almost impatiently.
"Jhene, hello, uh..." I'm blank as I look past Jhene at the other cheerleaders. They may be villains, or at least villain apprentices, but man if they don't look good doing it. I shake my head and snap to.
"Uh, how long until you're on?" I inquire.
"I don't know, like, 5 minutes?"
"Cool." I bite my lip. "Is Havana over there?"
"Great, gotta go," I note, then I rush past Jhene. "Oh, by the way, I need a ride home from your folks!" I see her face contorted with confusion for a split second, but I need to get to Havana before they go on. After a flurry of "excuse me"s on my end and "watch where you're going!"'s on the cheerleader's end, I finally meet with Freddy's backside. I tap on his arm -- her arm? Their arm!
"Havana!" I call out. Havana whips around a lot faster than I imagined, almost knocking me over.
"Hm?" I hear her, albeit muffled under the gigantic fox head.
"Havana, it's me, Zo."
"We're eating pho?" she mishears me. Geez, what is with everyone and eating tonight?!
"No, it's Zo! Take the head off!" I yell. There's a pause, I assume for her to process what I just said.
"Hang on, I'm gonna just --" Next thing I know, Havana slips the fox's head off. I'll admit I felt an eye roll creeping up on me, but I fight the urge. She whips her hair wildly, her braids no longer constrained to a mascot prison, then she looks at me.
"Zo? What are you --"
"Please don't ask me what I'm doing here, it'll be explained in time," I exasperate.
"O-okay, but I gotta get ready for our show --"
"I know, just give me two minutes." Whatever happens in these next two minutes will make or break my future, so I need to act carefully. Havana watches me intently, ready to listen, and I got to say it's not as intimidating when 90% of her body is that of a fuzzy animal.
"Look... I can't do it on my own, this trigonometry stuff," I start. "I don't want to. I want help. And what I said yesterday ... that was just me feeling insecure about my pride."
"Ah ... so, I didn't do anything to make you comfortable with me?" Havana speaks. Well, not directly, but that's irrelevant.
"You know what's uncomfortable?" I ask. "All my life, everything I did I excelled in, or at least came close. I was brought up that way -- everything had to be right or nothing was. I didn't want to disappoint my ..."
I tap my foot vigorously. I'm here to sort things out, not to go on a tangent.
"...myself. So imagine getting it right ... and then math happens. And sure, all this time I couldn't have known it was something more than me just not understanding it, but to barely scrape by year after year since at least 8th grade ... it's tough."
"I get what you mean," Havana relates. "Let's just say there's a reason I'm the school mascot now..." I always wondered about that -- Havana used to be a part of our football team, the first girl in the school to do it. What changed?
"Uh, anyway, continue," Havana diverts before she can elaborate.
"Getting a dyscalculia diagnosis hasn't been easy to navigate. Especially when it's felt like most of my life I've had to navigate so much on my own." Gosh, I'm starting to sound like a broken record.
"That must be really hard," Havana sympathizes.
"Heh, if life is hard then trigonometry is like passing a kidney stone," I catch myself. "N-not that I've had to do that or anything."
"Anyway, that's why I need a tutor," I go on. "And I'm hoping ..."
I'm hoping to find someone who can help me. I'm hoping to trust whoever gets assigned to me to help. I'm hoping my new tutor and I can get through it. Any variation of these should be leaving my mouth. Pick one, I'm telling myself. That's just the thing, though ... I know someone who can be all these things, and if not because I need to open myself up to it, it's because Ms. Carmone trusts them enough to put this responsibility in their hands.
And she's standing right in front of me. Damn.
"I'm hoping I haven't blown my chances with you," I fess up. Havana just looks at me, unsure of what to say I guess. I start tasting blood from the inside of my cheek I've been biting it so much.
"Sommers! Let's go," Someone calls out to Havana. Looks like two minutes turned into that five after all. Havana acknowledges them but turns her attention back to me.
"So ..." I gulp. No turning back. "Will you be my tutor again?" There's a lot of weight to this question: even after that word vomit I blurted out, I did it all with the slightest bit of hope that Havana would forgive and forget. Now that I'm standing here, seconds on the clock before she's got to go out and perform, I realize that she doesn't owe me that. She could very well reject me, and I'd have to be okay with it because I'm the one who made this happen. I never should've opened my big mouth in the first place.
"Zo..." Havana speaks. I brace myself for the blow, but then she flashes that signature Sommers smile at me.
"I couldn't let myself walk away from you that easily," she accepts. I have to look down at my feet to make sure I'm still bound to gravity because the weight lifted off my shoulders is astronomical. Havana extends her right hand -- or rather, paw -- to me.
"So, we back on?" I look at Havana, then at her hand. I lend out my left hand and shake it firmly.
"We're back on."
Just then, Jhene comes around the corner and starts scolding Havana for wasting time. We part ways, but I stop and turn back.
"Havana!" Havana and Jhene look back at me. "We're learning sine, cosine, and tangent!"