We ventured on to our next period, lunch, outside on the eternally humid patio under the grey sky after grabbing our trays of pizza. I ate with my normal group--- Darien, Hannah, Marcus, Jessica and Lizzy. They all sat there, pouring over homework. I didn’t question it. Junior year had been pretty tough so far, which didn’t make it any easier to ask:
“Can any of you help me run the bakery after school? Mom’s staying home with dad.”
There was an awkward pause, then Jessica glanced up from under her bangs shyly. “Sorry but I really need to study for semester exams….” she bit her lip before continuing on, “and weren’t you working there all last week? You should take a break.”
The rest of the table agreed whole-heartedly. Darien’s---who had the highest GPA of our class--- blue eyes had grown to the size of plates from the horror that anyone could have wasted all their time frying beignets when a major test was on the horizon---which according to him meant any tests in the future. For their sakes I pretended to give in. Sheepishly, I started working on my homework, a sign of surrender.
My classes passed at their usual slow, boring pace. Ms. Calcasieu’s slurred Cajun accent was impossible to understand, which pretty much put our English class to sleep. She would stand at the front of the room in her grandma-like outfits (even though she was only fifty) lecturing the back wall without a clue as to whether or not we paid attention. Or maybe she had given up. At least some kids managed to make themselves useful: the chubby carrot topped boy in front of me had learned how to shoot exceptional gum wads into the trash can without catching Ms. Calcasieu’s dreary eye. After my next and last period, art, Elisabeth caught up with me in the hallway.
“You’re still going to work.” It wasn’t a question. We had known each other too long. She crossed her arms expectantly, her chocolate brown eyes furrowed.
I sighed. “Well what else am I supposed to do?” I asked more harshly than intended. Go home? See the bits and pieces of my father that were scrapped out of that wrecked police car four years ago, try so hard to communicate through the entrapment of his own body? Watch my mother force a smile, pretend that everything’s all right? Normally these thoughts stayed in my subconscious, but when that touchy subject was overly probed they tended to trickle through. Elisabeth’s expression softened. Obviously, my thoughts had shown on my face. I was so bad at faking emotions---probably why my attempt at theater in middle school epically failed.
“Tina…I can help if you want…” Liz asked hesitantly. We both remembered what happened the last time she tried baking. An entire batch of beignets had been coated in powdered sugar before going in fryer and came out ink black. Eggshells inside the fruitcakes. Halfway cooked bread loaves. Lizzy’s heart was in the right place, but she wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. And cooking was not her forte.