Being home on break was just what I needed to recharge and refocus. The best part was seeing my brother Alton, who bombarded Anne and me with questions about college.
“Were the classes hard? Did you go to any parties? Were there cute girls there?”
“How are we supposed to know if the girls are cute?” Anne asked, laughing.
“College was pretty great,” I lied. “It’s good to have freedom to do what you want whenever you want.”
“Which is why you are failing, right Rach?”
“Hey!” I turned to my sister. “You promised not to say anything!”
“It’s just Alton,” she shrugged at me. “He’s not going to tell.”
“Are you really failing?” Alton asked me, his tone turning worried.
“Yeah. I had a bad quarter. It will get better.”
Alton begged me to take him out for a driving lesson. I have no idea why I agreed. I spent the entire trip gripping my seat and praying. Alton just laughed at my nerves and insisted that he was doing really well. Since we only stalled out once, I suppose he was right. Nevertheless, I was glad when the lesson was over.
We stopped at dad’s shop downtown. Dad was there checking up on the place. Even though he had retired and sold everything to our cousin Rico, Alton told me that Dad spent a lot of time over there making sure that it was still running smoothly.
“Dad drives Rico insane,” Alton told me. “He questions every decision. Like the new cash register system Rico installed. Dad says it’s a waste of money. Rico updated the front of the store, too. Dad told him that he would have moved the dresses to the back.”
“Dad misses the place,” I said. “I don’t know why he ever gave it up.”
Later, Alton and I went to the park to go skating. Normally I wouldn’t have agreed to go, but I had decided to become more physically fit. Skating was exercise, as Alton pointed out to me. I couldn’t argue, so I ended up on the rink with him.
I took a few falls, but then I got into a kind of groove. Eventually I was skating along the edge without having to hold onto anything. I was feeling pretty good even though Alton kept lapping me and telling me to hurry up.
When I got tired, I went to find my brother to let him know I was going to get us something to eat. Skating works up quite the appetite! That’s when I saw the real reason that Alton dragged me to the skating rink in the first place.
My brother had a girlfriend! I couldn’t believe it.
During our entire break, Anne, Alton and I made several trips to the park. I got pretty good at skating. Often we’d eat there. I made good use of the grills, I must admit. Neither of my siblings complained.
Ok, that’s not true. Anne often said, “Rach, most people have hotdogs cooked over the fire out here. Who but you would make us grilled fish fry and vegetables?”
“I’m trying to eat healthy,” I defended myself. “Hotdogs are bad for you.”
By the time winter break was over, all of my unhappiness about school was gone. We’d had a good time being at home. I may not have lost a lot of weight or anything, but I was feeling pretty good about myself again.
“When we get back to school, I’m going to keep exercising,” I told my sister. “I may not ever be a size 6, but at least I feel good. That’s all that’s important, right?”
One other change Anne and I decided on for our next term at college was to move out of the dorms. This time we rented a house with two other girls. There names were Jennifer and Amy. Amy was a mousy girl who was studying education and Jennifer was a wild girl who was studying business.
Having roommates instead of dorm-mates, was a lot more relaxing. I kept my promise to myself that I wasn’t going to go to a lot of parties or get involved with any boys. I was pretty content with hanging out with just the girls.
I also kept my promise to keep exercising and studying more. Anne was a big help.
“I can really tell this is working for you Rach,” Anne said. “Have you noticed that your clothes are fitting loser?”
“Yeah! I actually bought a size large t-shirt at the university store the other day. The XL shirt was way too big!”
“That’s awesome. I knew you could do it.”
“I know. And now I just have to pass my finals!”
“You can do that, too.”
This time, when I got my report card back, I was much happier than I was after first term. All of the work I’d put into it had paid off. I passed each of my exams and I hadn’t gotten anything below a B- in any of my classes. My GPA was still crap, but at least it had gone up.
Going home was bitter-sweet this time. I was really excited about my grades and everything, but I was not excited about seeing my little brother graduate from high school. I was really proud of him—he’d made valedictorian (I was the only stupid one in our family), but I was sad, too. Alton had always said he was going to join the military after high school. He had dreams of being an astronaut. I was really happy for him and supportive of his dream, but I didn’t want to see him go away.
It wasn’t long before Anne and returned to school. Our summer had been fairly uneventful. We’d decided to move back in with Amy and Jennifer. We liked them both; they were fun to hang around with.
Living in our house instead of the dorms, I was really able to focus on myself and reaching my goals. By winter-time, I knew that I was doing really well. Everyone commented on how skinny I was, and for the first time, even I could see it when I looked in the mirror.
Maybe because I was feeling so good about myself, maybe that’s why I took one look at Travis Jones and knew right away that I wanted him. Unlike how I felt with Mohammed, I didn’t even think about how Travis would see me. I didn’t wonder if he’d think I was fat or if he’d like me. I just wanted him.
We had a few classes together, so I made a point to move closer and closer to where he sat. I wanted him to see me a few times before I approached him. I made sure that whenever he looked my way, I smiled at him.
Then, after the first time he smiled back at me, I approached him after class.
“Hi,” I said. I was really proud of myself for being able to talk to him before he talked to me. The old me wouldn’t have done that. “I’m Rachel. I sit behind you in Theory.”
“Hi,” he said back. I liked his voice; it sounded like smooth caramel. “I’m Travis.”
“I know,” I smiled at him. He smiled back. I melted a little at seeing his perfectly straight white teeth. “I’ve been watching you,” I admitted. “I hoped you’d talk to me, but I got impatient, so I’m talking to you.”
Inside I was doing a little jig. Go me! Not only had I confidently approached him and talked to him, but I’d even made a flirt out of it and told him what I’d done. Ha ha!
“I wanted to talk to you,” Travis admitted, “I guess I was too shy.”
“Well then it’s a good thing I wasn’t shy. Wanna go play table tennis upstairs?”
So that was our first date—at least in my mind it was. Travis played pretty well, but I hadn’t lost my beginner’s luck from when I first played in Mohammed’s frat house. I beat him. I took it as a point in his favor that he just laughed it off and told me he had had fun.
“I’m glad,” I said. “I had fun, too. We should do it again sometime.”
“We should,” Travis agreed. “But maybe we can go bowling or something. I might stand a chance of beating you.”
“I’ve never bowled before,” I said, flirting. “You’ll have to show me how.”
I gave Travis my number and he agreed to call me. I was ecstatic!
Travis and I didn’t go out again right away. He did call and we talked for a few hours on the phone. He also made a point of talking to me after class, too, but we never went up to the rec room to play table tennis or pool or anything else.
Our first official date (one where he asked me), was actually a study date. Does that even count? We met in the lecture hall and used our book apps to quiz each other for our up-coming test.
“It’s so frustrating!” I confided in my sister. “I mean, we’ve never been on a real date. No dinners or movies or anything.”
“But he calls you all the time, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah. We talk about class and stuff.”
“Well that’s something.”
“It’s not enough! I want to date him. I want to kiss him.”
“You want to sleep with him…”
“Not on the first date!”
“Wait until you see him. He’s so hot!”
Both Anne and I laughed until we couldn’t breathe. Our exercising forgotten. When we’d calmed down, I said, “Should I ask him out again? I mean, do you think that’s what I should do?”
“You said he told you he was shy.”
“Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to ask him out.”
When I spoke to Travis later that day on the phone, I casually mentioned that Anne and I were going to go ice-skating later that week.
“I didn’t know you skated,” Travis said.
“My brother taught me,” I told him. “I’m ok at it. Would you like to join us?”
Ok, so it wasn’t a ‘will you go out with me’ sort of question, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do ask him point blank like that. I figured if it was more casual, then he wouldn’t be offended that I asked him out first. I didn’t want to insult his masculinity or anything. And maybe if we had a great time, he’d ask me out for a real date.
Turns out that Travis wasn’t a bad ice-skater either. We had a really fun time. The best part was when he took my hands and we skated together for awhile. Then he suggested that we go and make a snow-man together. We laughed like kids playing, and had a lot of fun.
I completely forgot I’d dragged my sister out there with us. She had skated for awhile and then refused to join us building our version of Frosty.
“I’m getting kind of cold,” she said. “I’m going to head home. I can make some cocoa or something and you can have it when you get home. You’re welcome to come to our house,” Anne smiled and winked at me. I just glared at her and hoped that Travis hadn’t noticed.
We followed Anne home. She had made cocoa like she said she would, but it was awful. I tossed it down the sink and told her that I’d make more.
“I’ll make dinner, too,” I said. “I’m studying to be a chef,” I told Travis for about the 5th time. “What’s your favorite food?”
He told me he liked fried banana sandwiches, which was an easy thing to whip up. Anne and Travis turned on the stereo, but I could hear them talking as I was preparing the food. When I brought the plate of sandwiches out, Travis and my sister were in deep conversation. I was so happy that they were getting along.
Travis finally asked me out on a real date to go bowling. “I’ve got a friend who wants to join us,” he told me. “Do you think your sister would feel comfortable going on a blind date?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess so. Is he cute? Is he nice? Is he funny?”
“I suppose he is. He’s a good friend. He’s a dude, so I have no idea if girls think he’s cute. Maybe?”
“I’ll tell Anne he’s hot. She’ll be more likely to agree.”
Harold Assange wasn’t bad to look at. He wasn’t as hot as Travis, in my opinion, but Anne seemed to find him ok. He had ice-blue eyes and blond-ish hair. I thought he dressed sort of nerdy, but he wasn’t my date, so who was I to judge?
Of the four of us, Travis was by far the best bowler. But we all had a good time. I was happy to see that my sister and Harold were getting along. They talked about careers and their majors. Turns out Harold was in the Sports program just like Travis. Travis was studying to be a trainer and Harold was planning to go into the military or be a cop.
After bowling, Harold suggested we all head over to the diner to eat.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I’m hungry,” he said. “Bowling gives me an appetite.”
“I could always eat,” I agreed. Anne and Travis also agreed.
By the time the boys took us home, I knew that this was the best night of my life. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Hanging out with Travis and Harold became a regular thing for Anne and me, but it was playing havoc on my promise to keep my grades up. Anne helped me as much as she could, but I knew my grades were slipping.
It was stressful trying to keep up with everything, and when I get stressed, I tend to eat. So, not only was my school work suffering, but so was my waist-line.
I started making excuses about it when Anne asked. “I’m trying out a new recipe from class,” I’d say to explain why I’d made a heaping plate of Ratatouille. “It’s organic,” I’d swear…and it was…but nothing is healthy if you eat it in huge portions like I was.
Travis and Harold continued to hang out with us, but I knew that nothing more serious would come of it even if I wanted it to. We were all just great friends! I comforted myself with Travis’ favorite, fried banana sandwiches.
By the time graduation came Anne graduated with honors and I managed to get enough credits just to walk. Worst of all, I was back to my original weight. I had no idea what I was going to do with myself now that I was done with school, either. What restaurant would hire the person who had barely graduated from culinary school?