My best friend Danielle frowns and yanks her lip gloss from my hand. “Where were you when God was giving out lips?” she asks.
But before I can answer, she takes a tissue from her purse and starts scrubbing my lips like a crazy woman. “You got lip gloss everywhere, girl. I swear you got the thinnest lips I ever saw.”
I lean forward and mumble, “I don’t get to practice all the time like you
My mama never lets me wear makeup, not even lip gloss. She says twelve is too young to be thinking about stuff like that. It’ll only draw attention from the wrong people. She really means boys.
She’s nothing like Danielle’s mama, who’s been letting her wear makeup since sixth grade. On the very day she turned twelve. My mama has been around my great-aunt Millie too long. And those old-fashioned, backwoods Mississippi ways have rubbed off on her.
So every morning I meet up in the restroom with Danielle and her second best friend A. J. and put on some of Danielle’s makeup. And since Danielle is helping me with my lip gloss, A. J., who hates being ignored, has to throw in her two cents.
She smiles a mean smile and says, “She was probably off somewhere looking for a doughnut. And by the time she looked up, God had run out of lip-making material.”
She always says the dumbest things. So I say something smart back to her. “I see you were doing the same thing when he was giving out cute faces.”
But before I can pat myself on the back for roasting her, A. J. plants her hands on her hips and looks me up and down. She smacks her gum real loud then nods and says, “I see you came around twice though when he was giving out chins.”
Then she just cracks up, like her jokes are so funny.
“Whatever,” I say. I think about checking her again about her ugly face. But she already knows I hate being plump way more than she hates being ugly—even if she does look like her grandma—like an old woman with a supermodel’s body.
“There,” Danielle says, turning me to face the mirror. “Perfect.”
A. J. frowns at me in the mirror but doesn’t say anything.
“You look good, Ken Kim,” Danielle assures me.
A. J. smirks then leans back and gives me that look again. She crosses her arms over her perfect chest and says, “Maybe you can get some of that fat sucked off them cheeks and injected into them paper-thin lips.”
She cracks up again. And it doesn’t even bother her that she’s the only one laughing.
“Stop hatin’, A. J.,” Danielle says.
A. J. slings her purse over her shoulder and heads toward the door. She yanks it open then turns and locks her eyes on me. “Ain’t nothing to hate,” she says.
I take a deep breath to fight back the tears, but Danielle already knows what’s up.
“Girl, you better not start crying,” she says, grabbing a tissue from her purse. “You know that mascara ain’t waterproof.”
I quickly dab away a tear before it falls. “Why does she hate me?” I murmur.
Danielle shrugs. “She’s just jealous.”
“Seriously, Danielle?” I step back and let her take a good look at my t-shirt hugging the roll of fat around my waist.
Danielle flashes a devilish grin. “Yeah, but look at that face.”
We both laugh until Danielle stops and says, “A. J. acts like I’m not supposed to have any friends except her.”
I grunt and pretend I’m not one bit jealous that she was A.J.’s friend long before she was mine.
Danielle shrugs. “She’s really not that bad. She only acts that way when you’re around.”
“Thanks a lot,” I roll my eyes and say.
A. J. has been snubbing me since the first day we met last year in sixth grade. It all started when she saw my name “Ken K. Easton” on the class roster and thought I was a boy.
“Ken,” she’d said, running her finger over my name in a way that gave me goose bumps. “He sounds cute.”
I was standing right behind her, so I said, “I’m not a he. I’m a she.”
A. J. whisked around and observed me from head to toe, then turned up her nose and said, “That’s a stupid name for a girl.”
But Danielle turned to me and said, “Hi. I’m Danielle. Nice to meet you,
I smiled and said, “It’s actually Ken Kim. They always forget to spell out ‘Kim’. So everybody thinks I’m a boy.”
“Ken Kim,” Danielle said sweetly. “That’s an interesting name. It sounds Chinese or something.”
“It’s not. I’m named after my daddy.”
A. J. smirked. “Your dad’s name is Kim? What kind of name is that for a man?” She emphasized “man” like she was trying to imply something.
“My daddy’s name is Ken,” I said. “Kenneth, really. But my name is Ken Kim. First name Ken. Middle name Kim. My mama named me Ken, after my daddy. But the Kim part was my aunt’s idea.”
A. J. looked at me like I had barfed up my breakfast. After a few seconds, she wrinkled up her old-lady face and said, “Who cares.”
But Danielle smiled and said, “I like your name. It’s cool.”
“It’s stupid,” A. J. said. Then she rolled her eyes and walked away. She hasn’t stopped torturing me since.
Danielle throws her purse over her shoulder. “Let’s get out of here, girl,” she says. “You know Mr. Davis wasn’t kidding yesterday when he said: ‘If you’re late, count on staying with Mrs. Conley in the detention room for the day.’”
“And you know I don’t wanna miss this field trip,” I say, grabbing my backpack from the counter. “Thanks to Mr. Davis’ no-mama-chaperoned-field-trip rule, I don’t have to worry about my mama tagging along, breathing down my neck.”
Danielle beams. “We can finally sit together on the bus!”
“Yeah, if A. J. doesn’t try to knock me off the seat.”
Danielle stops at the door and sighs. “It’s gonna be a great day, Ken Kim. Don’t let A. J. spoil it.”
I half smile and mumble, “I won’t.”
Danielle shakes her head. “It’s not that serious, girl. Don’t let her bully you.”
“You’re right,” I say, relaxing my shoulders a bit. “Today is gonna be great. And I’d be a fool to let A. J. ruin it for me.”
* * * *
Everybody is all excited because Mr. Gibbons, a.k.a. Mr. Joyride, is our driver today. But Mama would have a fit if she knew, especially since we’re going on the interstate. She swore she was gonna get Mr. Gibbons fired the last time he drove us to a field trip.
But lucky for me, Mama doesn’t know, or I would be at home with pinched-face Aunt Millie right now, trying to ignore the sound of old-time gospel music blaring from her fifty-year-old radio.
Instead, I’m listening to Danielle’s iPod. And Mama would kill me if she knew that too, seeing that Danielle’s mama lets her listen to whatever she wants.
A reggae song about a man being gunned down and left for dead is playing right now, and my eyes are tearing up. Every time I hear that song I think about my daddy, Kenneth Leon Johnson, Jr. He died right after I was born.
Mama says some fool shot him for no good reason then just ran off and let him die. But Aunt Millie says Mama’s lying.
Every time I bring it up, she says, “Child, that boy ain’t dead. Your mama just tells herself that lie because that boy ran off and left her. He ran off right after you were born.”
But Mama says that Aunt Millie is the liar. And I believe Mama. Because if my daddy was alive, I know he’d come see me.
“Hey, K. K.!” A. J. yells from the front of the bus.
I take out the earphones and glare at her. She knows I hate being called K.
A. J. points toward the side of the bus, where Mr. Davis and Ms. Randell are checking their class lists. “Mr. Davis wants to see you,” she says.
“What for?” I ask.
A. J. shrugs. “How should I know?”
I hand Danielle her iPod and ask her to save my seat.
I head toward the front of the bus as A. J. heads toward the back. She politely moves to the side and lets me pass. And as soon as I do, she heads for my seat.
“You’re so green,” she turns to me and says.
She plops right in my spot beside Danielle. And Danielle doesn’t say a word.
I look out the window and see Mr. Davis and Ms. Randell engaged in conversation, and I don’t waste my time or theirs. Because I know Mr. Davis didn’t call for me.
I look around for a seat, but they're all taken except Mr. Davis’, Ms. Randell’s, and one other. Reluctantly, I plop down on the seat behind Mr. Joyride, right beside Leonard George, who always smells like poop.