With the Fire on High(5)

“I know, I know. I’ve fought the administration tooth and nail to keep Advisory small and with the same students, but there just isn’t room anywhere else. I’ve met the student and I think he’ll be a great fit. He’s registering today, but when he comes in tomorrow make sure you’re all on your best behavior. I just wanted to give you a heads-up. Now, let’s talk about electives.”

Ms. Fuentes smiles and slides a handout onto each of our desks.

“Look carefully at this list, think about what class is the best fit, and get back to me tomorrow.”

We all pick up our bags at the ringing bell. I wave to Ms. Fuentes on my way out, looking at the long list of electives. The old favorites are still there: Photography, Creative Writing, Woodshop, Dance. And there, tucked at the bottom of the list:

Culinary Arts: Spain Immersion.

The class title balloons and rises above the rest, growing in my vision until I can’t make out the other words. In all my time at Schomburg Charter there has never been a culinary arts elective—even though the school has both a classroom kitchen and an unused café from years past. I imagine this class is going to fill right up.

And for a second, excitement bubbles inside me like a simmering pot. I can finally take an official cooking class, and one with a specific regional focus. And then I remember, it’s senior year. The responsible thing to do would be to stay with my current schedule and keep my study hall. Not add another class or more work. I turn down the simmer of excitement until it dies.

Two periods later, I meet Angelica at the cafeteria entrance and she eyes the line as if she’s trying to find someone who will let us cut. “Did you see the graphic design elective? You should take it with me!”

I shake my head. Girl knows I’m not doing no damn—dang—graphic design. “Angelica, we both know I can’t even stick-figure draw.”

She stops craning her neck and we get on the back of the line, where I rummage through my bag.

“Your stick figures are beautiful. Don’t hate on yourself. But no class can compete with the culinary arts class, right? That class was made for you.”

When she sees me pulling out my phone, she presses her hand to lower mine. “Girl, what are you doing? The summer must have canceled your brain. You know your phone will get taken if a security guard sees you pull it out. They live for that shit.”

“’Buela has a doctor’s appointment at four thirty and I may not have time to check in later. I just wanted to send a quick text to see how Babygirl’s drop-off went.”

Angelica changes sides with me to cover my body from any security guards or teachers who might be watching. The cafeteria ladies see me, but the only thing they care about is lunch portions and keeping the line moving. I check to make sure no one from the daycare called, send a text to ’Buela, and drop my phone back into my bag.

“Thanks for covering me.”

“I’m going to need to you do the same thing when I send this thirst trap pic to Laura.”

I shake my head with a smile. We pay for our lunch and make our way back to the table by the windows. One thing about Angelica: she’s a pit bull once she sinks her teeth into an idea. And she’s right back on discussing electives as soon as we grab a seat.

“Emoni, I see you doing that thing.”

I groan and take a bite of my sandwich. I want to save my yummy applesauce for last. “What thing?” I say around a mouthful of turkey. If they put a little chutney on the bread, or a nice garlic spread and toasted it, this sandwich would be bomb. My fingers itch to take out my phone to write down a recipe idea.

“That martyr thing you do when you want something but convince yourself you can’t have it because of Babygirl, or ’Buela.”

I swallow. Is she right? Is that what I’m doing? Sometimes your girl reads you better than anyone else. “I just wish I had it figured out like you, Gelly. The girlfriend, the art school dreams, the grades.”

She points her spork at me. “You’re stronger than anyone I know, Emoni Santiago. It’s senior year, the last time we get to just be teenagers. If you can’t try something new now, when can you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I’d like to learn how to cook food from Spain.”

Behind her glasses, Angelica’s eyes get wide. “Girl, you know it’s not just learning to cook food from Spain, it’s learning to cook food in Spain. My advisor told me there’s a weeklong trip in the spring.”

Schomburg has offered immersion classes before. A pre-Columbian history class that took students to an archeological site in Mexico, a fashion design class that took students on a tour of old textile mills in New England. There’s never been a class I wanted to take, or a trip I thought I could afford.

And you have no business taking this class when you could have a study hall, and you can’t afford this trip either, Emoni. But I don’t say anything out loud to Angelica. I just take another bite of my sandwich, close my eyes, and savor, because I can’t think of a single way to make my life more how I imagine it, but I can imagine a hundred ways to make this sandwich better. And sometimes focusing on what you can control is the only way to lessen the pang in your chest when you think about the things you can’t.

Kitchen Sink Conversations

“Babygirl! You already look like you’ve grown!” I pick her up and twirl her around the living room.

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