- Pages: 304 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: Dial Books
- ISBN: 9780593109977
An Excerpt From
Sunny G's Series of Rash Decisions
THE LIFE PROMTASTIC
Ever look in the mirror and think to yourself: I look fantastic. My face, my nose, my eyes, the blond streak in my hair, my body, these clothes. Everything is lit.
Yep. Me neither.
I’m in the gender-neutral bathroom at prom, where an alarming number of people are not washing their hands. I’m staring at my phone, unable to commit to pressing the “add to story” button on this post. I hit delete and take more photos from several different angles, experimenting with various facial expressions ranging from Oh, I didn’t see you there to I am Sunny Gill Rebranded: Hear Me Roar.
It’s a little jarring looking at this new face in the mirror. I’ve been in here for eight minutes and counting, trying to regroup. I was ready to do this thing, make this my big night. Then I find Stefan sitting front and center at the table I was randomly assigned to. Of all people, it had to be him, the dude who made my life a fucking nightmare from seventh grade on. So I bolted straight to the bathroom, and now I’m reassessing all the grooming choices I’ve made since Thursday. Including the blond streak I had added at Super Cuts, hoping for a bit of whimsy.
It’s not that I don’t like this new face. It just feels like a stranger staring back at me—the beard and turban gone, replaced by gelled-up, wavy, shoulder-length hair. My beard was never a sexy Jason-Momoa-as-Aquaman beard, or wild and dangerous like Dafydd the Feeble’s from the Jamie Snollygoster series me and Ngozi are obsessed with. Not as cool as my brother Goldy’s manicured designer dari, with the twirled-up mustache, or as intimidating as the rough bristles of Papa’s salt-and-pepper beard. But it was uniquely mine: a sparse, soft layer of black sprinkled over my cheeks.
Almost all of the older warriors and sorcerers in Jamie Snollygoster have beards, a sign of wisdom and courage, hard-won from a lifetime of wielding magic and battling baddies. Or maybe they don’t have time for grooming? A good ten pages of book one was spent on the first years contemplating their future beards. That’s what initially drew me to Dafydd—his magnificently wild I-don’t-care beard.
The summer before ninth grade I made the transition from wearing a patka—the kid version of the turban—to the one adults wear: the pag or dastaar. I was excited. My beard was lightly coming in, I could recite a respectable number of pauris from the opening sacred composition of our Holy Scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib. I’d had enough of the childish patka. I was ready to man up and claim the dastaar. Plus Goldy thinks anyone who has a beard and is still wearing the patka deserves all the ridicule they get. He calls it the Sikh toddler look.
Before I committed, I spent hours researching turban styles, watching Sikh TikTok stars, Punjabi singers, and vloggers on YouTube. I even uncovered some fun facts. For example: The word dastaar comes from the Farsi dast-e-yār, meaning “the hand of the Divine.” And the word dolband became turban thanks to the terrible pronunciation of the French and English.
An eternal optimist, I thought I would glide on in to my first day at Barstow High, the most badass ninth grader wearing dollar store sunglasses, a turquoise dastaar, tied patiala shahi style. I walked in with the swagger of a Punjabi singer or Bollywood star ready to defend the honor of his girl/family/village with a dramatic AF preamble before unleashing The Thappar of Pain #ttp. I had high hopes. No more bullying. Reverence. Awe. Girls swooning.
It took one terrorist comment from Stefan to unravel it all.
I wish I had Papa’s confidence. His pag has always been one style that takes him ten minutes to tie: mildly creased and pointed, super wide and loose. Hair is one of the fundamental outward physical characteristics of being a Sikh, and the one that Papa says is the easiest thing to do: “You don’t even have to do anything. Let nature take its course!”
My brother, Goldy? His confidence is on another level. Never a planner. No research, no watching turban-tying tutorials, nothing. Probably woke up every morning and rocked whatever turban style he felt like. For his prom, he wore a ridiculous silk teal peacock dastaar. He got drunk that night and needed me—his little brother—to once again cover for him. Yet he’s the one Mama and Papa talk about like he is the most amazing son that ever existed.
My hand instinctively pats the journal inside my bright orange-and-red skull-on-fire crocheted pouch—part of my Dafydd the Feeble cosplay. Biji—my grandmother—and I sell the pouches, among other things, on Loom the Fandom, our Etsy store. Well, technically the store is on Etsy—that’s where you have to go to actually buy things. But my social media business presence is on Instagram, where I answer questions and post pics. The pouches do pretty well. You’d be surprised by how many people design amazing pocketless costumes and forget to make matching accessories. The mark of a beginning cosplayer: a kickass cosplay ruined by a fucking tote bag from Trader Joe’s. My pouch is a lifesaver. It holds all my manly essentials: breath mints, hand sanitizer, phone, money, cards, a small set of keys, and of course, Goldy’s journal. Which is kinda mine now.
I’m glad nobody else from our Bramble-core heavy metal band, Unkempt, is here, because they would all be taking shifts telling me how anti-canon it is to wear my crocheted pouch without a kilt or armor. Especially Ngozi, my best friend and the lead singer. She thinks she gets a say in everything about my life. Do I get a say in hers? Not bloody likely. She’s British. Says weird shit like that all the time. But when I say anything, suddenly it’s “Sunny, you plonker.” Or “Leave it out, Sunny.” Which are not even legit Britishisms, they’re from some obscure Brit TV show she and her mom watch.
Every year me, Ngozi, and the rest of Unkempt play at the Snollygoster Soiree, an annual shindig dedicated to the world of Jamie Snollygoster. Even though Jamie has millions of fans and is the star of the Snollygoster series, me and Ngozi never liked the entitled fucker. Maybe he just reminds us of Stefan with his “jokes” about people’s weight and the way they speak. Or perhaps it’s that Jamie couldn’t just sit his ass down and memorize some fucking spells instead of looking for illuminated maps by opening doors nobody told him to open.
Plenty of other fans feel the same way, which is why the heavy metal Bramble-core subgenre is even a thing. Me and Ngozi immediately loved the two minor characters, Dafydd and Safia Brambleberry, father and daughter sorcerers who lived at the unnamed tavern just outside the grounds of Malmesbury Academy. We started writing about them in our fanfiction, which quickly turned into songs. We both felt like Safia should have been the real hero of the books anyway.
Aside from his beard, I liked Dafydd because he was a solid friend to Jamie and loyal, like tragically loyal even to shady-ass people who had a vendetta against him. And he didn’t give a shit when people tried to ridicule him for only owning one style of armored cloak for every single occasion. Soirees, battles, serving mead at the tavern. Unbothered. The way I pretend to be online and wish I were in real life. I look up at my face in the mirror and sigh. It would be nice if Ngozi had just come here to Normal Prom. But she definitely won’t; this is as far from her scene as you can get. There’s no way she would stand for this dress code, which has no restrictions on what the boys wear, but the girls can’t even show their shoulders or ankles, like we’re in Victorian England. Still, I wish she were here. Even if she was scowling silently at the table, mocking the suit I’m wearing and my face.
Maybe I should text her?
Ngozi just doesn’t understand that this year I want to do something different, that there’s a world of magical possibilities even here at Normal Prom.
She probably thinks I’m here because of a girl. But alas, there is no girl. Just a lifetime of watching rom-coms in Hindi, Punjabi, and English. I wish there were someone I could make a grand declaration of love to. But it’s just me and my tanhai, aka angst. Terminal.
Like Ngozi’s one to talk anyway. She’s just as awkward around girls as I am. Plus, she’s hardly the only one annoyed with me tonight. I’m also supposed to be at home for Goldy’s barsi, marking the anniversary of his death. Like he’ll miss me or something.
Everyone is constantly telling me what I’m supposed to be doing. Goldy made it out of Fresno, fucked it all up, and now he’s gone. And even though Mama and Papa have never said anything, there’s no way I can leave now. They probably, definitely expect me to stay in Fresno for the rest of my life under their watchful eye. I don’t even like alcohol. The smell, the taste, the idea of not being in control of your own body and thoughts? No fucking thank you. Even in death, Goldy manages to be a dark, stinking cloud looming over my head.
Goldy’s the reason I’m here at Normal Prom in the first place. Kind of. A few months ago, I found this notebook behind a bookshelf in his room. A journal from when he was at rehab It was a real mess, kind of like his approach to life: unorganized, completely unfettered by consequences, reaping all the benefits.
I loosen the tassels and flip open the pouch. I remove the notebook and look intently at it. When I found it, I re-covered it with a simple crochet sleeve using three different colored wools: teal, green, and yellow. You can still see Goldy’s original, tattered cover underneath: a picture of a peacock with faded teal feathers.
I flip through the notebook, hoping something insightful will suddenly come tumbling out. But it’s the same as it was when I first found it. Inside is pure chaos: some journal entries, blank pages, doodles, artwork, random poems, words in large letters. My eyes land on the word rahao, which I learned about at Khalsa School. It means to pause and think deeply about the central message of a shabad—a sacred musical poetic composition.
On a blank page after all his gibberish, I’ve written out a heading for a new list: Sunny G’s Series of Rash Decisions.
It comes right after Goldy’s final almost-entry: Goldy’s List of Ways to Be a Better Dude. Dated a few days before he died. But no actual list accompanies it. Just blank pages upon blank pages, a sea of nothingness. The finality of the blank pages kind of freaked me out. That’s why I started the rash decisions list.
No more obedient Sunny G who does whatever everyone tells him to do. Time for Sunny to make reckless life choices.
The first and so far only entries in my rash decisions notebook:
1) Change face
2) Go to prom
I close up the notebook and place it back in my pouch.
I look at the draft of the Insta post on my phone. Creating hashtags and captions is much easier for my Loom the Fandom account. Those I can come up with in seven seconds flat. They’re usually inspirational quotes, along with a photo of something I crocheted available for purchase. The latest: a cup of masala cha wearing a crocheted tea cozy, sunset in the background. The caption: “Don’t just let life pass you by wondering what if. BE the IF.”
I’m fucking profound on social.
But I need a better shot for my personal Insta. I pause and lean over the sink, angling my chin upward. That’s when I notice it. An out-of-place nose hair. Things quickly spiral out of control because it goes like this: You notice the nose hair, you destroy said nose hair, and think that’s the end of it. But there’s a plot twist. More nose hairs. You question whether these really are new or they’ve been here this entire time. You realize the futility of destroying them all after the fourth one. By then your eyes are a watery mess, making it look like you’ve been crying five fucking minutes into prom. Blasted. Nose. Hairs.
I make another attempt at a selfie, pinching two fingers together to zoom in close. I gasp as I notice my meatloaf-sized sideburns. I don’t remember why I thought it would be a good idea to do them myself. They look uneven. Am I overthinking? Perhaps it’s my posture, I rationalize. I cover my face with my thumb and index finger, like there’s a secret carpenter’s level pulsing through my veins. Sure enough, the results are clear. Fresno, we have a problem: One sideburn is slightly lopsided. I notice the nose hairs again. Like arrows being shot from my Nostril Army of Archers.
I consider tucking them back inside, but WHAT IF I SNEEZE? Or there’s, like, a gust of wind just as I am saying something super insightful? I’ll tell you what: It will send all the nose hairs tumbling out and I will become a goddamn meme. That’s what.
I glance back at this new draft. I look like a dude carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. I type: Time for Prom! #SunnyAtProm #AwesomeTime #PromBathroomSelfie #NewFaceWhoDis #WeDidIt.
I zoom in close on my phone camera. My hair is a mess. This angle makes it look like it’s been elf-locked even though it’s tangle-free. I could use one of Safia Brambleberry’s spells right about now, even though Ngozi thinks the whole idea of an anti-frizz hair enchantment is some white supremacy bullshit.
Mama would probably just tell me to use baking soda and vinegar on my hair. She thinks those two things alone can fix all the world’s problems: hair straightener, beard re-grower, oven cleaner, skin exfoliator, toilet bowl freshener. If Mama were a doctor, instead of working at the video store, I bet ninety percent of her remedies would involve baking soda and vinegar. The other ten percent would be turmeric, which she always cooks with. “It is antiseptic,” she says. “You should always be prepared for calamity.”
Baking soda, vinegar, turmeric, knots, and spilling the latest tea in Bollywood. Those are the things me and Mama talk about. We don’t talk about Goldy. Not even in euphemisms.
You’d think a year would be enough time to accept that my brother is gone, to learn to start using the past tense. I still feel a lump in my throat when I use the words that feel so final: dead, death, cremation, alcoholic. No more playing video games with my brother, getting yelled at for following him around everywhere. It’s just so definitive. Gone.
The bathroom door flings open, and I can feel my left buttock twitch before I even see him. Chiseled White Boy Face Stefan. That’s what Ngozi and I call him because he looks like the Eurocentric vision the author—E. B. Goyle—probably had in mind when she described Jamie Snollygoster’s face in the books: “They had never seen a boy so handsome. His cheeks were chiseled as though the Gods Themselves had come down to do the work, his nose, slender and ending at an angle, lips as red as roses, a beautiful sharp dimpled chin.” Our beloved series has got plenty of problems. That’s the reason we started writing fanfiction in the first place.
Stefan doesn’t look all that. His dimpled chin looks more like a chin-with-two-butt-cheeks trying real hard to pretend they’re not butt cheeks. But he does have that face that they love to cast on TV shows: the hazy blue eyes, and pale skin, like he hunts vampires in his spare time. Uses the phrase chai tea non-ironically, thinks telling racist jokes about a variety of races makes him an equal opportunity offender and not just . . . racist squared.
He brushes past me, handles his business, then sidles up next to me and turns on the faucet. My face is still turned upward from the nostril viewing and I’m frozen there, so as not to look like a doofus. And in so doing, feel like a much bigger doofus. Of the million universal nerdy things he could mock me for, he always goes for the lazy racism, with geographically and culturally inaccurate jabs that have surprisingly not gotten more complex over the years. Five years in, and it’s still terrorist, ISIS, jihad, with plenty of microaggressions thrown in. You’d think I’d have some comebacks by now. You’d be wrong.
I’m ready for the blow, but he just checks himself out in the mirror as he lathers up his hands, rinses them off. Then shakes his head in annoyance at something on the wall as my face lowers to a normal elevation. “Hand dryers, man,” he says, catching me off guard.
I suck my teeth at the hand dryer like it’s been talking shit about my family, and inhale deeply in an attempt to avoid stuttering. “S-spreads more g-germs than paper towels.” I watch Stefan’s face to see if he noticed the stutter. “But what you gonna do?” I add, like I’m a gangster from the 1940s. “C-can’t wipe your hands on your pants.”
The sound of the hand dryer stops. He laughs. “See ya back at the table.”
I nod as he makes his way out of the bathroom.
Surreal. I have never had an encounter with Stefan that didn’t involve some kind of humiliation. My very first interaction with Stefan was in seventh grade when we had to introduce ourselves, which is a really stressful activity for any kid, double for a kid who stutters and looks the way I do. And then Stefan happened. I was in the middle of stuttering on the first syllable of my name when Stefan muttered “t-t-terrorist,” and some of the other kids started laughing, which completely threw me off and I started stuttering like a machine that’s short-circuiting. Until the teacher interrupted me, finished my sentence, then told me to sit down. In high school, it evolved into a cruel strategy just for laughs, where Stefan would constantly interrupt me, just to make me stutter and feel like shit. He made school hell. I got a little reprieve when Ngozi entered the picture in the middle of ninth grade, bringing along all kinds of other things: the Jamie Snollygoster series, the joy of fanfiction, and the Bramble-core heavy metal scene that we discovered together.
I take a deep breath and exhale as quietly as I can. I hate that I’m so predictable. But those days are behind me now. And in a few weeks all of this is going to be over. Maybe this plan is working after all.
I wash my hands. As the hand dryer loudly spreads germs all over them again, I feel a giddiness. Is this what happy feels like?
As I exit the bathroom, I finish up my post. Sometimes, I write as the caption, you gotta stop saying Fres-No, and start saying Fres-Yes!
I’m sitting at the table watching Stefan not notice me. I quickly realize it’s not just him, it’s everyone here. Just carrying on with their conversations, paying no attention to me at all. So this is what it feels like to blend in. I could get used to this.
I don’t know the names of everyone at the table, but recognize some of the faces from middle school or elementary, others from classes or rallies. Maybe some of them feel that way about me, like I look vaguely familiar, but without the beard and turban, they don’t realize I’m me?
I’m surprised Jasmine isn’t saying anything about my face. She never actively bullies me, but does occasionally join in the yuk-yuks with Stefan and his minions. Jasmine’s not especially religious, but we have occasionally bonded over the delicious glory of muttar paneer and jalebis at Sikh functions. I glance at her hair. It’s dark red, almost maroon, and falls neatly to the tops of her shoulders. Her prom dress is a deep shade of green, matching her eye shadow. An odd choice, but definitely in line with this year’s prom theme: nature.
I clear my throat and wait for a tiny lull in the conversation to dive in.
“Th-this ambience is interesting,” I say. The stutter is barely noticeable—nice.
“Ambience is a good way to put it,” Stefan replies, looking up briefly from his phone. It’s still jarring to hear him speak to me like a human.
“It’s like the Green Goblin exploded all over the gym,” Pushpa says.
“You w-would think someone would b-be like, this is too much green, man,” I say.
I bite my lip to refrain from adding, “YES. I have just started a conversation!” Out of habit, I lift my hand and my fingers clasp my now nonexistent beard.
The Prom Committee interpreted the theme of nature as making everything green instead of actually going green. And not like an elegant hunter green or whatever. I’m talking plastic terrible-for-the-environment bleh-green tablecloths, plates, cups, cutlery, and trees made out of crumpled-up brown paper stapled to the doors, with green paper serving as foliage.
Even the centerpieces are green jars filled with fungus-topped pebbles, meant to resemble some kind of otherworldly moss. Green streamers flutter as the exhaust fans in the corner of the rooms go full blast. I love the cheesiness of it all.
Life doesn’t have to look as extravagant as the Hvede Gala from the books. I look around the room and my heart swells as I look at all the hideous décor, the clamor at all the tables around the room, the dinky dance floor. This is lit. It’s what I imagined prom would look like, from all the years watching old teen movies, like Sixteen Candles and Ten Things I Hate About You. The magic is here. Most of these kids don’t realize it because they don’t speak rom-com as well as I can, but this is it. After tonight, nothing will ever be the same.
I know why Ngozi is annoyed with me. This decision doesn’t involve her. That’s what she’s mad about. Meanwhile, she’s leaving for Berkeley over the summer to study neuroscience or some shit. Don’t remember her consulting me about that. So this night is it. Literally everything changes. After this, it’s just formalities and paperwork: settling accounts before graduation, ordering our caps and gowns, making sure we’re doing superficial meaningful things with our friends, that kind of busywork to distract us from the fact that everything is a fleeting moment, high school is a blip, our friends, our family, none of it is as important as we think it is.
The kitchen staff bring pitchers of water over for each table. I’m surprised they trust us with glass. I look down at my phone. I’m kinda glad everyone has their phones out and that this is how people communicate. Makes it so much less intimidating when you run out of things to talk about. I can’t imagine the days when you had to just stare at a person the entire time and come up with things to say.
I think about some universal things to enter into the conversation. Weather. Food. Skin. You’d be surprised how versatile of a talking point that last one is. Who would not want to be complimented on their skin? If someone said something like, “Hey Sunny, nice skin, yo,” I’d be like, “Much appreciated, braah. Let me walk you through my morning and nighttime skincare routine. I have just switched moisturizers and no longer use beard oil on account of not having a beard.” Then I’d pause, giving everyone enough time to chortle, possibly even guffaw.
Another reason I’m glad Ngozi isn’t here is because I know what she’d probably say. “You’re off your trolley. What the donkey bollocks sort of chat-up line is that? Why don’t you just tell people you think their skin is soft and you want to wear it like a blanket?” Just because she’s British, she has the audacity to claim my Dafydd accent and syntax are not quite cutting the mustard. Like she would know. My accent is fucking flawless.
I sit in silence and concentrate on not sucking my teeth, a habit I picked up from Ngozi. Not sure if it’s a Nigerian thing or a Ghanaian thing or just an Ngozi thing. Her dad is Nigerian and her mom is Ghanaian, which she claims means she is the ultimate authority on jollof rice, and can define the perfect rice to tomato ratio.
Jasmine does have lovely skin. It looks lighter than usual, though nothing competes with Stefan’s vampire aesthetic. Fluorescent lighting? Extra layer of concealer? Skin-lightening cream from the desi store? Uhhhh. No. I should probably stay away from anything that could be construed as “your face is looking rather fair and lovely today, much whiter and more beautiful than usual.” I could talk about the shape of people’s skulls. Okay. This is definitely venturing into creepy territory. I see Ngozi’s point.
Besides, the conversation at the table has already shifted to their usual adulation of gods and goddesses of star-spangled spandex, aka superheroes in comic books. Way out of my depth. Fortunately, there is internet on my phone. I glance down at the tabs I’ve opened. Which ones are the Avengers again? Are they DC or Marvel? Is Ms. Marvel the blond lady or the desi girl? There’s so much to consider, I might as well give up. I focus on figuring out how to contribute, perhaps a compliment on someone’s ensemble? That’s when I notice Jasmine’s dress again. She has Jasmine-ified it all along the sides and the trim and places where nothing all that exciting happens. I look closer and see that not only are there comic book panels sewn into the fabric (which looks like polyester or cotton, maybe?), there are some kind of light-up tracks strategically placed all over the dress.
I wonder what she used for the lights. It looks like an updated version of a Tron-dress she wore at NerdFest a few years ago. It can’t be LED strips. Way too much light diffusion. Dressmaking is not really my forte, although I do dabble. The girl sitting next to her, Paola, is wearing a flowing white prom dress with a large gold necklace and matching white hijab. I don’t know her that well, but has she Paola-fied her dress too?
Stefan catches me looking at the ridiculous purple vest he’s wearing. He rises and waddles exaggeratedly toward me. Oh, no. I don’t know why he’s waddling. Is he mocking me again? Or maybe an injury? He’s not an athlete. Unless chess club has suddenly become a contact sport.
Stefan gestures to the vest. “Ordered it from Italy three months ago.”
Satisfied, he starts waddling back, then pauses. “I got my umbrella in the car,” he adds, talking to nobody in particular.
This seems like an odd thing to say, even for Stefan.
I slowly piece things together. They’re all in cosplay! All of them. Superheroes. This is going to be one wild night. Apparently, I have something in common with everyone here, even Stefan. Who knew!
“Y-you’re that villain plant woman from Batman,” I say to Jasmine.
The table roars with laughter.
“Poison Ivy, yeah,” Jasmine says as she squints at me, like she’s trying to place me. “Stefan is the Penguin.”
This shit is clearly against school policy. I’m the only dumbass wearing straight-up school-sanctioned Prom Attire with zero alterations: an expensive, uninspired black tux I rented from the place listed on the school website like a rule-abiding hobbit. I don’t believe this. For once, I’m the only one not in cosplay. Only I am. I’m dressed as boring-ass-guy-in-tight-suit-at-prom instead of my usual Dafydd the Feeble cosplay: this crocheted pouch, plus my armor and a chain mail helmet with custom-made mustache and beard combination because it’s canon.
These pants are much tighter than I anticipated.
My nostrils flare, and I feel the nose hairs expand, my sideburns flopping, my newly cropped and streaked hair rising up. Stefan is making his Thinking Face, which requires a lot of concentration, a puckering of the mouth, a squinting of the eyes. It’s the face he makes when he’s about to say something terrible, usually about me, for a cheap laugh. Or perhaps it’s the face he makes when he’s constipated and needs to go to the bathroom.
“Holy shit!” Stefan says, leaping up from his chair again. “What happened to that whole ISIS garden on your face?” Stefan says loudly, inches away from me, running a hand slowly over his face, his eyes searing into mine. “ISIS garden or not, I’d recognize that sss-sssss-tutter anywhere,” he says, then looks around the table and laughs. He’s probably been sitting here this whole time coming up with what he thinks is a hilarious joke. Nobody laughs, which is worse than people actually laughing because they’re just sitting there quietly and letting him get away with it.
“You look a million times better,” Stefan says, like I did it for him. “Why’d you do it?”
Everyone is staring at me. I realize they’re waiting for me to speak, but the words aren’t quite coming out. “W-www-ww.” I’m in the dreaded perpetual mid-stutter zone. I feel the muscles in my face tense as I try to just get out this sentence, this word. As fleeting as I know this moment is, it sure is taking a long fucking time to end. My fingernails dig into my palms as the stuttering increases rapidly, even though I’m attempting to control my breathing with a hand on my diaphragm—a technique I learned in a YouTube video about stuttering. It’s a lost cause.
As much as Goldy struggled with everything else in his life—coming out as gay, admitting to being an alcoholic, thinking he was bigger, smarter than what life had in store for him—he never seemed to question his dastaar. I have no clue whether or not he struggled spiritually with his faith. Aside from Biji, nobody in our family is super religious, but we go to the gurdwara on most important Sundays. Mama and Papa mostly like to socialize, while Biji gets to eat sweet parshad or extra syrupy gulab jamun without anyone monitoring her sugar intake. Shortly before Goldy died, he would occasionally join Biji with reciting path in the evenings. Dude volunteered ONE TIME to serve food at the community kitchen and Mama and Papa won’t stop bringing it up like he cured world hunger or something and didn’t relapse a couple weeks later. Everyone is still staring at me. I want to tell Stefan, “ISIS is geographically and racially inaccurate.” I wish this new face would give me more authority and the power to really put him in his place. Why can’t I stand up, smash a glass on the floor, look right at Stefan and everyone at the table and be like, “Foul-smelling swamp demons! A curse on all your lafunga houses!” Followed by a hush, and a flurry of videos of the showdown being uploaded to social media. #TeamSunny #SunnyDestroysStefan.
It doesn’t matter. They’ve moved on. Everyone zones out as my voice moves from a stuttering stuck record to a low mumble that trails off. I take a deep breath when I realize it’s over. I’ve never understood why my stutter is so frustratingly illogical.
Jasmine looks up from her phone. “Stefan.” Her voice sounds dangerous. Maybe she’s going to let him have it? Finally, after all these years.
“’Sup,” he says.
“Remember when I told you to be careful not to put the keg in Amy’s garage or her parents would find it and totally freak? And then you were all, ‘Whaddya think I am, some kinda idiot?’”
“That’s not what I sound like.”
There’s a pause.
“I had to use so many hookups to get that keg,” Stefan says.
“I swear to God, if you talk about the fucking keg . . .”
“Torpedo keg,” Stefan clarifies.
“ONE MORE GODDAMN TIME.” Jasmine lets out an exasperated sigh. “Because of your keg. Sorry, your torpedo keg.” She looks up to glare at Stefan. He bites his lower lip. “The after-party is canceled. Amy’s parents are staying home. Now what?”
There is a moment of complete, mournful silence at the table.
“Well,” Stefan says sheepishly. “That sucks. But the plan was to wait for the photo booth to take photos and video for the ’gram anyway, then bounce. So same plan except instead of going to what’s-her-face’s house, we’ll just go to the Snollygoster Soiree. They prolly got alcohol. Maybe not a torpedo keg.” He shrugs. “We’re dressed for it anyway.”
“Oh, what a good idea. Let me just get on that,” Jasmine says, dramatically punching in numbers on a gigantic imaginary phone, simulating logging on to the site for tickets. “Looks like it’s sold out. Who could have predicted that, on the night of prom?” Jasmine is steaming mad. “FYI. It’s been sold out for two weeks.”
“Don’t worry,” Paola says, her voice diplomatic. “We ain’t staying here for five hours listening to this goofy-ass music and looking at these people all night.”
I must admit, this scenario has not occurred in any of the prom-themed movies or novels I’ve watched or read. People sometimes go through a bunch of obstacles to arrive at prom, but no matter whether they’re drunk and happy or drunk and sad or drunk and mad, they still stay at prom. That’s what’s supposed to happen. What is this leaving prom shit?
“Don’t Fannypack Gill over here got a hookup?” Stefan says, pointing at me like I’m a menu item. Wait, is he talking about Dafydd the Feeble’s custom-designed pouch? Did he just compare this carefully crocheted sporran—a warrior’s pouch—to a mass-produced cheap piece of junk American tourists wear in Europe so they get mugged quicker?
This. Mother. Fucker.
I curl up my fists, like I’m going to start a prison fight.
“Oh yeah, you doing poetry or something at the Snollygoster Soiree?” Paola says.
“Sorcery metal,” I reply. “The subgenre is Bramble-core, b-b-but our band is Unk-k—”
“Sounds fucking dangerous,” Stefan interrupts me like a shithead. “Isn’t bramble like a jam or a soap or something?”
“Hello. Safia Brambleberry?” Jasmine says, lilting her voice upward but still not happy with Stefan or the situation at hand. Still, she’s the only relatively rational one in this group. The rest of them give me blank looks.
“B-brambles are thorned trailing vines that g-grow in the countryside in the Petrichor F-F-Fiefdom. Brambleberries grow on the bramble, so brambleberries are the general name for things like thimbleberries, gruffleberries, angleberries.” I realize, aside from thimbleberries, none of these juicy berries exist in real life.
“Oh,” Paola says.
“You’re talking about the book about that one dude who falls through a toilet?” Stefan says, unimpressed. He doesn’t say it in a mean way, just in a totally dismissive, clueless way, which is five times as annoying. I am at a loss for words. Such an oversimplification of The Ballad of the Boy Who Fell Out of the Tesco Bog, the first book in the Jamie Snollygoster series, where, yes, he does fall through the toilet, which, it is very clearly explained, is a fucking portal, so he ends up thousands of miles beneath the surface of the Earth we know. It’s like if I said, “Oh yeah, Spider-Man, that one comic book about the boy who gets bit by a magical spider.” Bet that would make everyone at this table mad.
I frown mightily because when I think of the perfect thing to say to him, boy is he gonna be sorry.
“Well, they probably hooked you up with extra tickets, right?” Stefan says, looking right at me. Then everyone else turns to look at me too.
“Oh. Uh,” I say. Sweat trickles above my eyebrows. It’s an exhilarating yet nauseating position I’m in. So much perceived power. And no actual power. I kind of have an extra ticket. It’s my ticket, which I’m clearly not going to be using. E-ticket, rather. But it’s nontransferable because I’m a performer. Says so in big, fat, bold letters.
Of all the ways to shut this down, I choose to go with “Yuppers,” smacking my lips loudly as I pat my crocheted man-bag.
All eyes remain on me.
“It i-is. It is going to be a very awesome party,” I say. “Th-the awesome . . . est.”
The lights dim. Ah, Mr. DJ. A fast track to get the kids on the dance floor. But no one moves. Except me.
“Well,” I say, standing. “I’m going to go urinate.” And with that, I briskly walk away from the table, in the opposite direction of the bathroom, out of sight.
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