“Bradley, I’m ready. I want to do it.” I look in the mirror and try again. “I want to have, uh, to have se--”
“SHAR, YOU WANT JUICE?” Mama’s voice, loud enough to be heard all the way in the next city, is like an electric jolt straight to my already-shot nerves.
“No, Mama,” I call back down. I give myself a little shake. “Bradley, it’s time.” Okay, that sounds way too ominous. “Bradley, I--”
“OKAY, I MAKE YOU JUICE.”
For crying out loud. “I said I don’t want any!” But she can’t hear me over the sound of the blender. Argh. Another deep inhale. Okay. “Bradley--”
“COME DRINK YOUR JUICE.”
I slam my fists on the dresser and stomp down the stairs. “I told you I didn’t want any,” I snap.
Mama frowns as she pushes the glass of bright-orange carrot juice toward me. “But I already make. Don’t waste food. There are children all over the world who are starving.”
“Why did you even ask me if you weren’t going to listen anyway?” I should know better than to get angry, but seriously. She’s always doing this, and I am not in the mood for juice.
“Shi Jun, you are being so ungrateful right now.”
It’s the Chinese name that sets me off. You might think naming me something that looks like a cross between “shallot” and “harlot” is the worst thing that a mother could possibly do. But nope. There’s worse. Much worse.
Don’t get me wrong, naming your only child Sharlot is pretty unforgivable in my book. But whenever I bring it up, Ma just tuts and says, “Mama tuh was wanting ‘Charlotte.’ Who knows why all these English names are not spelled the way they sound? Not like Indonesian names. Indonesian names sound exactly like they are spelled. Kartika. Hartati. All of them spell exactly like how they sound. Not spelled Car-tee-car. Kar-ti-ka! Easy, not like crazy English names.”
“Why give me an English name if you can’t even spell English words?” I’d yell (by the time we reach the part of the conversation where I weaponize my name, we’re usually yelling).
“Because I want what is best for my daughter!” she’d yell. “Everything I do is to give you a better life.”
And now here she is, using my Chinese name, even though she knows I hate it. And for good reason too, not because I’m ashamed of my heritage or anything. “Don’t use my Chinese name,” I snap snappishly.
“It’s good name,” she shoots back. “ ‘Scholar Army’! Good, strong name. All other girls name stupid names like Beautiful Flower or Beautiful Sky. I want my daughter to have the best name.”
“You used the wrong Chinese characters and ended up naming me Correct Bacteria.” See what I mean about the name Sharlot not being the worst thing she’s done? “How are you this bad at languages?” To be fair to Ma, Mandarin is hellishly difficult, with multiple different characters pronounced the same way. There are a lot of different characters that are pronounced “jun,” for example. Army, for one. Monarch, for another. It could also mean smart. But of all the possibilities, Ma had mistakenly picked the character that means bacteria. What are the chances?
“Chinese is a very hard language. You think I so spoiled like you, have private Mandarin teacher? No! I have to learn alone. I do everything myself--”
“Put yourself through school,” I mutter as she says, “Put myself through school.” I know the rest of this speech by heart, so I tune her out as she babbles on and on about how she raised me all by herself--no help from anyone!--and did I know how hard that was? REALLY HARD, SHARLOT. Really, really hard. So hard I almost die, you see my wrinkles?--I’m not even forty yet--Asians are not supposed to have wrinkles until they are sixty! You see? YOU SEE?
Usually I let her carry on for a while, get it out of her system. But not today. I just can’t deal with this today, so I fling the only weapon I know will work at her. “I have to go--gonna study before classes start.”
It works. Mama’s lips immediately clap shut and she rushes around the kitchen, finishing up the lunch that she always insists on making me.
The familiar feeling of guilt twinges in my chest as I watch Mama close the Tupperware container. Lately, she and I have been having more and more of these fights. They’re triggered by all sorts of things--me spending too much time playing computer games, me taking art electives instead of AP classes, me coming home late, and of course, the fact that I told her that when I apply to colleges in the fall, I’m choosing to major in art instead of something Asian-parent-approved like pre-law, pre-med, or business.
Which is why I’m so grateful for Bradley. Sweet, clueless Bradley Morgan, who’s so hot he takes my breath away every time I see him.
My phone beeps.
[Bradster 7:15AM]: Here!
I grab my schoolbag and mumble, “Michie is here.”
Mama slides the Tupperware container toward me, and I’m about to run for the door when the guilt becomes too much. Gritting my teeth, I grab the glass of juice and force it all down.
Mama smiles. “Good girl.”
“Don’t make me any more juice EVER.” I don’t know why I bother; I know she won’t listen. I pull on my shoes and run out the door. It’s a typical day in Southern California--blue skies, scorching heat, total bikini weather even though it’s technically not yet summer. Bradley is parked around the corner so that Ma, peering out the window, won’t see me climbing into his convertible instead of Michie’s sturdy Volvo. Every morning, my heart rate rises as I round the corner and see his silver car. And when he pops his face out the window and gives me that cheeky, boyish grin, my entire body relaxes.
“Hey, babe,” he says. “You look beautiful.”
No, you look beautiful, I want to say, but I manage not to. One should try not to appear too eager, even if one is this close to pouncing on another.
“I wish I could pick you up at the house instead of making you walk all the way down here,” he says. He always says this, and it always makes me melt a little more, knowing that he wants to do things properly, knowing that I’m being treated like something precious.
“I know, babe. But you know my mom.” My mouth tightens at the thought of Mama seeing Bradley on her doorstep. There’s one surefire way of scaring off a guy. Another thought brightens my mood. “My mom’s going to be working late today.”
“Oh?” Bradley drives out onto the main road carefully, looking left-right-left, his hands on the ten-two position. He’s like that: everything by the book. If he weren’t as chiseled as a Greek god, he probably would’ve had the shit beaten out of him every day. As it is, he’s the star of the basketball team, so he’s got everyone eating out of his huge, rugged hands. Even his hands are hot. I can’t stop stealing glances at them as he drives, admiring the way they make the steering wheel look tiny.
Okay, so I’m horny. And Bradley is a good-looking guy, I’ve established that, right? And we’ve been going out over a month, and like I told Michie, I’m ready. He and I have talked about this--hey, I’m a responsible girl and he’s a decent guy--and we’ve decided we should definitely totally do it before spring semester ends and junior year is over, which is in--ack!--three days. Just three days before summer vacation begins and Bradley’s whisked away to the East Coast for two weeks to visit his dad. His dad. I wish I could spend two weeks with my dad. Too bad I know nothing about him, aside from that he’s white. Anyway, back to the more urgent topic. Bradley’s had sex before, so I feel slightly self-conscious about it being my first time. But I just got to take the plunge, and Bradley’s probably the best guy to have my first time with.
“Yeah,” I say. “Her accounting firm landed a huge deal with some architecture firm--New Country or whatever. She actually told me last night that I’ll have to get used to not having her around as much like it’s a bad thing.” I snort at that.
“Oh, hey, is the deal with New Land Architecture?” Bradley says, his voice all bouncy and excited.
I frown. This is not how I foresaw this conversation going. “Yeah, I think so. Anyway--”
“Oh man, that’s so exciting! They’re the ones who built that new opera house in the city! The one I showed you on Instagram?”
Aside from being a beautiful jock, Bradley also happens to be an architecture buff, which is kind of how we got together. We had one of those classic rom-com meet-cutes where we reached for the same book at the library. I still can’t bring myself to tell him that I was, in fact, reaching for a book titled Modern Art and not Modern Architecture. Not when he so gallantly told me I could have it first, but only if I told him how I liked it. I’d slogged through Modern Architecture just so we could discuss it, and about thirty minutes in, we’d started making out.
“Yeah, cool, cool. So anyway, the house is going to be all empty, no one but you and me . . .” I trail off suggestively.
“Yeah?” He checks the rearview mirror and glances at me with a cheery smile.
I resist the urge to sigh. The guy’s so hot it’s practically blinding, but sometimes, Bradley can be a bit slow. Then I hate myself for being so mean, even if it’s just in my own head. That’s totally something Mama would do--measure everyone against some crazy lofty standards and then judge them when they inevitably fail to meet them. Plus, I guess it’s kind of unfair of me to consider him dumb when he’s actually brilliant when it comes to all things architecture.
“Um, I was thinking we could--you know.” I wiggle my eyebrows and then belatedly wonder if that came off creepy. Doesn’t matter, he’s got his eyes on the road. If only Mama knew what a safe driver Bradley is.
“Ooh, you wanna have a LAN party? We could invite Michie and Joel.”
For fuck’s sake. How can I make it any clearer that I’m not talking about gaming? “No, Bradley, I do not want to have a Fortnite party,” I snap. “I want to have sex!”
The car swerves. Honks blare, and I grip the door handle as the car swings to the side of the road and screeches to a halt.
Bradley turns to face me, his eyes wide. “Holy shit. Seriously?”
My insides twist, and suddenly, my cheeks are on fire. “Um, unless you don’t want to, which is fine--” I’d just kill myself, but it’s totally cool.
“No, of course I want to! I just-- Whoa.” Bradley’s mouth forms a perfect circle. “Okay, yeah. Cool!” He grins, leaning over to kiss me on the cheek. He checks the road and eases back into traffic.
Okay, cool. I have to stop myself from grinning like a loon. In just a few hours’ time, I, Sharlot Citra, will cease being a kid and become a *~~woman~~*. Or something less gross.
That afternoon, I stand in front of my mirror and practice posing for when I open the door to greet Bradley. Sexily rumpled hair, check. Minty-fresh breath, check. Spinach-less teeth, check. I take a deep breath and am somewhat surprised to find that it’s slightly shaky. But I’m going to do this, damn it. And Bradley is the perfect guy to do it with. But my stomach is churning and there are sweat droplets forming on my nose and above my upper lip, which is definitely not sexy. Please stop sweating, dear body. Just to be safe, I grab my tube of deodorant and roll it aggressively over my pits, then under my boobs.
There’s a knock at the front door, which makes me jump. I put down the deodorant with some reluctance. Holding it had been fortifying somehow, like holding a magical sword. Which is a totally normal way to feel about a tube of deodorant.
This is it. I go down the stairs with mounting trepidation and open the front door.
Bradley looks amazing, as always, even with his hair still wet from the school showers. Ew, the school shower. I push the image of the mold-infested showers out of my mind.
“Hey, you.” He grins that amazingly boyish grin at me and lowers his head to kiss me.
Normally, his kisses are all it takes to make me forget everything, but this time, I find myself stiffening and wanting to pull away. No, self! Why? I squeeze my eyes shut and kiss him back fiercely.
“Okay, whoa,” Bradley murmurs, stepping back slightly. He gives me a confused smile. “You okay?”
“Yeah, of course. Come on, let’s do it.” I pull him up the stairs and into my bedroom. I kick the door shut and practically pounce on him. Our hands are suddenly everywhere on each other, his fingers trailing fire down my waist. I yank off my top and Bradley actually stops breathing for a second. Thank you, Victoria’s Secret. This purple lacy bra cost me an entire month’s allowance, and it’s all worth it for that wide-eyed look on Bradley’s face.
When he finally exhales, it’s in the reverent sort of way that a curator might do when presented with priceless art. He swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing, and then kisses me again, gently this time. “God, you’re perfect.”
And again, though there’s an aching need to feel the entire length of his body pressing up against mine, a tiny--or maybe not so tiny--part of me quails. He catches the flicker of hesitation on my face and frowns.
“Babe, if you’re not ready, it’s okay--”
“Oh, I’m ready.” He doesn’t look convinced, so I prattle on. “It’s going to happen, Bradley. Your penis is going to go inside my vagina. Well, actually, your penis is going to go inside a condom, and then go inside--”
“I get it, okay!” He laughs. “If you’re sure.”
“I am.” Probably everybody gets last-minute jitters. Definitely probably. I shake off my doubts and grab his shirt, slightly more roughly than I had intended to. He stumbles a bit--why is this not as sexy and smooth as the movies make it out to be? His shirt comes off at last, and the sight of his abs literally makes me salivate, which is just as gross and creepy as it sounds.