Bethany (takes a very risky, yet brave, chance)
he way I see it, everyone has a type, and if you likethick Black girls of slightly above--average height with very clear, medium brown skin, dimples, and boobs just big enough to consider a reduction in the future, then I’m the girl for you. My type? Oliver Gutierrez, hands down. Problem is, I haven’t figured out if I’m the kind of person he’d go for. He’s had a few girlfriends in his sixteen years and there’s been no pattern among them that I’ve been able to surmise. But today I am determined to find out if I fit intothat randomness. Today, I’m gonna ask Oliver Gutierrez to homecoming.
“You want me to come with?” my best friend Tatum asks as we step out of Ms. Robinson’s fourth period English class. We both have lunch next, with our other besties Glory and Saylor, and Tatum’s girlfriend, Emily. I need to stop by my locker to grab my lunch. Oliver’s locker is next to mine. He has fifth period lunch too. This is my moment to catch him and pop the big question. I’ll push all my anxiety to the side. That weird, fast--talking mumbly thing I do when I get nervous will absolutely not happen. I’ll flash Oliver a sweet, confident smile and ask him if he wants to join me on one of the biggest nights of the year.
It just sucks I have to do the asking in a crowded hallway and not on a quiet, starlit night on Venice Beach like I’d envisioned a million times.
“No. I have to do this on my own,” I say as we stop at Tatum’s locker. I wait as they swap out their books and grab their lunch. Then Tatum turns to face me. They put their hands on my shoulders and I hone in on the blue--and--silverglitter artfully streaked all over their beautiful honey-brown face. There’s a football game tonight. Tatum has some very intense cheerleading to do.
“Bethany Greene, you are an irresistible goddess.”
“She’s right!” some random freshman agrees as she pushes by us.
“Thanks?” I say to the random freshman’s back before I refocus on Tatum’s glitter.
“You walk right up to that boy and you let him know that taking you to homecoming will be the best decision of his life. You can do this.”
“I can do this.”
“You’re beautiful and I love you. Go get ’em, champ,”Tatum says. Nothing uplifts you like a cheerleader telling you you’re beautiful. I can do this. I’m gonna do this. Right now. I let out a deep breath and march down the hall. I turn the corner into the west wing and spot Oliver, head and shoulders over our classmates. He’s wearing his royal--blue home jersey, with the number 87 ironed onto the shoulders. He looks good.
I’m what my moms call a late bloomer
. I’ve always been more interested in other things that had nothing to do with boys, but sometime over the summer that changed. Actually, I’m lying. I know the exact moment things changed. I had my friends over to swim in my pool. Glory’s boyfriend and the other juniors on the football team came by after they’d finished one of their preseason workouts. It was all fun and games until a splash fight devolved into something else. I was laughing, trying not to think about how long it was going to take me to blow--dry my knotless braids, when suddenly Oliver picked me up and effortlessly lifted me over his shoulder.
The air left my lungs, water flying all around us. Over the sound of my high--pitched screech, I could hear Glory telling Landon to put her down. I think their plan was some sort of backward chicken fight. I grabbed Oliver’s thick waist and held on for dear life until he put me down. I couldn’t find my breath, between the water running down my face and the odd laughter bubbling out of my lungs. He playfully pushed me out of the way, wrestling Landon into the deep end. The moment between us was over and so was my late bloomer status. Boys had officially entered the chat.
That night after my three--part skincare routine, I brushedmy teeth, kissed the moms good night, exchanged the last few sisterly insults with Jocelyn and Trinity before they were due back to college in a couple days. I climbed into bed and instead of watching my favorite chef on YouTube, all I could think about was Oliver. How strong he was, his tan skin, the tiny pimples on the small of his back, and the few hairs on his upper lip laying the foundation for what would hopefully be a full mustache one day.
That moment in the pool changed everything. My eyes had been opened to how truly hot boys can be and I’m a little embarrassed to say this crush on Oliver has occupied too much of my mind since. I only have one choice. I have to ask him to the dance.
I walk a little faster and catch up with him just as he closes his locker door. He steps back a bit, his eyes flashing wide the second he sees me, and I know I’ve made my first mistake. I’ve come in a little too hot, but I can still fix it.
“Hey, Greene. What’s up?”
“Hey,” I breathe. “How’s it going?”
“Good. You coming to the game tonight?” he asks. It’s something so little, but he hikes his backpack over his broad shoulder and all I can think about is that afternoon in my pool. How he’s built enough to support allthis
, all of me.
“Oh yeah. I’ll be there. I gotta emotionally support Glory while she emotionally supports Landon. Cheer on Tatum while they cheer for you.”
“Nice.” He smiles, flashing his slightly crooked incisor, and I quickly wonder what we’ll name our first child. “You heading to lunch?”
“Um, yeah. There was something I wanted to ask you first.”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“Well. I was thinking—-I was wondering if you wanted to be my date to homecoming. To the dance. Landon and Glory are going together of course. So we could all be together.”Stupid
, my brain immediately shouts at me. This is not a group thing. It’s you and Oliver. Pure romance. “Not that it would be a double date thing. I mean, half the school will be there, so technically it’s like a huge group date. But you and I would be there together.”
I finally close my mouth and give him a chance to answer. As I look up at him, I already know what he’s going to say. It takes about two seconds for all the stages of yikes to jump across his face. Shock, fear, a desperate need for an escape, bargaining, then finally acceptance. I’m holding out hope as he winces and starts scratching the back of his neck, but my body is already working on its own physiological reactions to the blow that my mind still hopes isn’t coming. My face feels all hot and my throat feels like it’s closing.
“Oh man, B. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Oh?” I choke out.
“Yeah, I was actually going to ask Poppy Carlisle after lunch.” See, I can’t blame him for that. Poppy Carlisle just transferred to our school last month, and beyond still having that new--car smell, she’s like dumb hot. I mean, I’m cute, but if I weren’t painfully straight, I would also have the hots for Poppy Carlisle. She’s also newly single, having just kicked Jacob Yeun to the curb. I’m shocked she doesn’t already have a date for the dance. But apparently she will. After lunch, when Oliver asks her.
“Oh” is all I can say.
“And I mean—-aren’t you scared of this?” he asks, motioning between us. “Lan said you’d rather chew off your own arm than let a boy touch you. Homecoming won’t be much fun if you don’t even want me to hold your hand.” And there it is. Right there, my past just came back to beat my ass right in the middle of the hallway.
So yeah, fine, part of my being a “late bloomer” involved somewhat of a revulsion when it came to boys, but more importantly the concept of doing it with a boy. But that wasn’t because I was scared, exactly. I just didn’t understand it. And yes, maybe at the end of freshman year when Glory told us she and Landon had done it I burst into tears in the middle of the crowded lunch quad.
Unfortunately, a few people overheard my overacting and the news that the mere thought of someone else having sex was enough to make me cry spread through Culver City High School, and I’m sure the greater Los Angeles County, like an uncontained brush fire. So yeah, I’m a late bloomer as far as my family is concerned. But I’m paranoid and a bit prudish to the rest of my school.
“That’s not what I said at all.” Yes, it is, it’s exactly what I said. “Plus, that was two years ago.”
“Okay, but, like, I wanna have fun at homecoming and I think it’s just a lot of pressure on me to be your first everything
. And yeah, we can go as friends, but I don’t really wanna spend the night after the big game with afriend
.” I let out a slow breath, trying to process the levels of this humiliation, but Oliver keeps talking. “And you know I’m trying to make it to the league. What if I don’tlive up to your expectations and you have a horrible time, and run back to tell your moms?”
Both my moms played in the WNBA. Now my mom Teresais an assistant coach for the Lakers and my other mom, Melissa, has her own show on the National Sports Network. You can catchBefore the Buzzer
weekday afternoons at two p.m. “Yeah, they have connections, but neither of them are the vengeful type. Besides, even if you make it to the league, you won’t be draft ready for a while. I don’t think our date will factor in.”
It really hits me then that he’s already said no, and I’m still standing here, trying to haggle with him.
“Still, it’s the Lakers, Beth.”
“Yeah, okay.” I muster up a hint of a smile. “Well, I hope Poppy says yes. She seems pretty cool.”
“Hey, thanks. We good?” He smiles back and I can just see it: Tonight when I’m in bed wiping the world’s most pathetic tears from my eyes, I won’t be thinking of that afternoon in my pool and the way the water dripped down his face. I’ll be thinking of this pity smile. I’ll be thinking of the first time I ever got up the courage to ask someone out and how they said no.
And then it happens, the true kiss of death. He lightly nudges my shoulder. The bro nudge. I will never get a chance to make out with Oliver Gutierrez. We are officially just friends.
“Yeah, we’re good.”
“Cool. See ya at the game.”
“Yeah, I’ll see ya.”
Oliver turns and walks toward the quad. In the distanceI hear the bell ring. My feet carry me a few yards to my own locker. My whole body numb, I grab my three--tiered isolated lunch box with the watercolor strawberry print. The highlight of my day. I put a lot of effort into my sandwiches. And I think that might be part of my problem. I need to focus a little bit more on showing boys, specifically Oliver, that I’m a new woman, capable of some really intense hand--holding and some quality end--of--the--night smooching. A new woman afraid of nothing. Kinda.
Copyright © 2023 by Rebekah Weatherspoon. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.