Fiction series: Playing hooky
I had been looking forward to Senior year since the moment I stepped foot into Melrose High. I wasn’t sure how a month had already flown by.
God knows I was spending more time focused on perfecting my fake life than attempting to try with my real one. I was starting to feel like I was really contributing to society. People in the office were actually acknowledging me — not like at school where the same kids I’d been going to school with since the first grade acted like they didn’t know who I was.
I’d become so consumed with impressing Oliver that I’d been neglecting, let’s admit it, my only friends. Not to mention the lack of interest I’d been showing my parents. I just knew something was going to erupt soon, but I just didn’t care too much about holding onto my World’s Greatest Daughter title.
“Amal?” I heard Kristen’s voice behind me. She was standing in the opening of my cubicle. A stack of papers filled her hands. “Can we have a quick chat?” I nodded my head and trailed after her. I was just barely able to keep up with her fast pace. “Hey Oliver, do you have a minute?” It sounded more like a demand than a question. Kristen stood by the door as she waited for me to catch up. I was starting to feel queasy. It could have possibly been the combination of a chocolate shake, half a deli sandwich, and a soft pretzel I had eaten when I snuck up to the break room.
Great, I thought as I sunk into the winged back chair across from Oliver’s desk. Kristen must have found out about how I was abusing the limit of free food I was allowed to have. I’m so getting fired.
“What’s going on ladies?” Oliver tilted the screen of his MacBook down and interlocked his fingers as he rested his hands on his desk. His silky brown hair was neatly parted to the side, but his shirt was unbuttoned from the top. I could just imagine from the tired look on his face that he did it as a way to de-stress.
“I couldn’t believe what I was looking at when I went over these.” Kristen opened up the file folders in her hands and laid them onto Oliver’s desk. He leaned his elbows on the glass table top as his eyes perused the papers. I grabbed my stomach as the knots tightened. This was it. They were going to know I was a complete phony. I was stealing all the food and I couldn’t even do basic business math. How could I believe pretending to be a college senior was possible?
“Oh my God,” Oliver whispered as his fingers rested over his lips. The tension between his brows grew deeper with every sweeping movement of his eyes.
“This is unbelievable,” Kristen was leaning over Oliver’s desk. “I figured it was an oversight, so I ran the numbers again…and again….and again.” She stood up straight as the grin on her face grew.
“Amal, why didn’t you tell me?” Oliver shot a look towards me. I was in mid-stomach-grabbing wince when I froze.
Oliver began laughing with relief as he rocked back in his chair. Apparently I was too juvenile for the conversation. He had already turned his attention back to Kristen. “I knew it! I knew it!” His words grew more firm with each word. Kristen joined in on his laughter. I leaned forward, confused about how I should feel. Where were Cliff Notes when you needed it?
“You were right, Oliver. She’s one smart cookie,” Kristen finally looked towards me and smiled. She could tell by the look on my face that I needed to be briefed about the current situation. “Amal, I can’t believe you were able to find a gap in our expenditure. Our company has been losing hundreds of thousands of dollars and we had no idea. We’ve been trying to crunch the numbers for weeks!”
“Honestly, if it wasn’t for the sample you gave me to work off of, I wouldn’t have known where to start,” I tried down playing my apparent success.
“That’s it!” Oliver clapped his hands together as he shot up out of his chair. “Amal, you’re getting promoted.” He swiftly shuffled the papers back into their folders. “But first I need to show these to Dad. Then, I’m taking you out to lunch to celebrate.” His green eyes gleamed with happiness as he looked up at me.
I was briefly sent into a trance and tried hard to bring myself back to reality. “I’m sorry I can’t. I have class in a bit.” I looked over at the digital clock on Oliver’s desk. Fear struck my body once again. There was no way I was going to make it to class on time unless I left right this moment. I bolted towards the door and Oliver held his hand over the knob.
“Oh, come on, we’re in college, Amal. What’s one missed class?” Um, everything. Especially since I’m in high school.
Oliver swiftly grabbed the papers and headed to his father’s office. I nervously fiddled with my cell phone as I walked down to the lobby. I didn’t know how long Oliver was planning on taking and I was starting to worry about Chloe and Lane. They would potentially freak out if I wasn’t at school without warning. At the same time, I didn’t want to blow my cover. So, I did what I had become accustomed to doing: I lied. I told them I was sick and probably wouldn’t make it to class.
“You ready?” Oliver sang as he pranced down the lobby stairs. He wasn’t wearing his suit jacket anymore. His grin illuminated his face and gave him a more relaxed vibe. The only thing missing were blue chirping cartoon birds on either side of him. I hadn’t seen this side of Oliver in a while.
I smiled and nodded as I stood up and followed behind him. As we walked out of the building, a shiny black sports car pulled up to us. I didn’t know much about cars, or even care for that matter, but this thing was nice. A young man jumped out of the driver’s side and raced around to open the car door on my side. He waited as I slowly crept up to it hoping that I didn’t damage it with any sudden movements.
I clenched my purse for most of the ride over to the restaurant. I trusted that Oliver knew how to deal with LA traffic, I just didn’t trust the other drivers he was cutting off.
When we finally arrived, the hostess knew exactly who Oliver was. She grabbed a couple of menus and led us into a private, yet visible, corner table.
“Will you be having the usual, Mr. Bennett?” she asked and turned her attention towards me after Oliver confirmed. “And can I get you anything to drink as well?”
“I’ll take a Coke. Thank you.” I smiled at her before she walked away. My eyes drifted over the menu and straight at Oliver.
“Coke? We’re suppose to be celebrating.” His face rested on his hands as he watched me roll my eyes. “I can’t believe you caught those errors.”
I watched over his shoulder as a crowd of businessmen walked in. The streets were slowly starting to fill with the normal lunch time crowd. “I can’t believe it either. I’m still not quiet so sure what I did, but whatever it is, I can’t believe it either,” I laughed.Oliver rolled his eyes. There wasn’t anything he could do to hide the smile on his face. “You have such a cute laugh.” I became shy and looked back down at the menu. There was an awkward moment of silence as I tried to figure out how to respond. What was I suppose to say? Thanks?
“So…” Oliver’s finger pulled the menu in front of me away from my face. I slowly looked up to see a questioning look on his face. “I was thinking now that you’ve kinda proved yourself maybe you could be a little more hands on? Curating presentations, setting up meetings with artists…and…”
“And what?” I hesitated to ask.
“And, well, I needed your help with our winter blow out party. It’s the biggest party we have all year. And this year my dad handed the reigns over to me. He’s never done that, Amal. He’s been talking about retirement and I just know if this party goes perfectly he’ll be handing the company down to me.”
“Wow.” I whispered. Must be nice.
“I know. I just…” He reached across the table to grab onto my hands. “…I really need your help.”
“Um,” I mumbled. There were too many feels going on at one time. “Of course!” I finally mustered up the words.
Our waitress came back with our drinks. I hadn’t realized the time passing as the two of us got carried away in our conversation. He told me more about the event from the past years, and it sounded like what an after party after the Grammy’s would be like. When I finally looked down at my phone, I practically jumped out of my chair. School was already over half an hour ago.
Oliver was startled by my reaction. I tried to explain how I had an exam coming up and I needed to be at a study group meeting.
Time wouldn’t have been an issue if my mom wasn’t a housewife. There was never any “playing hooky,” because she was always home. She ran the house like clockwork, and knew everyone’s schedule.
Because of traffic, I didn’t pull up to the house until almost two hours after school ended. Dear God, help me!
I tried to sneak in quietly through the back door, hoping that I could make it upstairs without her noticing. If she didn’t know when I’d gone upstairs, she wouldn’t know what time I came home. Easy!
As I cracked open the back door, to my surprise my mom, flung the door wide open. “Amal Ansari, where have you been?” She pulled me by the ear and dragged me inside as I winced in pain. “Hmm?” she loudly hummed demanding an answer.
“I was at school!” I pleaded. “I had to stay late for a project!”
My mom let go of my ear and folded her arms. She then proceeded to give me a look. It was a look I’d never seen before. It was one that was starting to make my stomach turn. “I’m going to give you one more chance. Don’t lie to me, Amal.”
“Mom, I’m telling the truth.” I said it so confidently I almost believed it myself.
I watched as my mom’s shoulders dropped as her eyes drilled into mine. It was the longest three seconds of my life.
“Your father thought there was something going on with you. Something maybe to do with Sophia. You’ve been…different since this summer when you saw her. You know that Aunty and Uncle have told us the trouble she causes, always after boys and parties.”
I tried to cut my mom off, but she held up her hand and continued. “I told your father he was crazy. That we were blessed with an angel…but I’m starting to see that he’s been right all along. You’ve disappointed me to today, Amal.” Knife to my heart.
“Mom…” I could hardly get the word out. My throat was closing up as I watched her turn around and grab a file folder from the kitchen counter.
“Lane stopped by to see how you were doing. Imagine my surprise when she wanted to know how you were doing. She dropped off some papers your Latin teacher gave back today.” I felt steam radiating from my ears, knowing that Lane was the one to blow my cover. But I can’t blame her. My mom handed the folder to me, but kept a tight grip on it.
“Whatever you’re doing, Amal, just make sure you don’t hurt your father.”
She stormed out of the kitchen and I did the same. I ran up the stairs and into my room, tears starting to form. I felt so irritated and trapped and alone. How am I going to keep this up? How am I going to be the person my parents needed me to be and fulfill my own wants and needs? I held my head between my hands as I laid back on my bed. I didn’t know how I would ever explain things to my mom.
I opened up the folder Lane had left behind for me. The culprit of this whole ordeal. The first paper was our Latin exam from last class. It had already been graded and handed back. I pulled it out and almost choked when I saw my grade. A letter I had never seen before. There, written in bright red ink, was a big, huge F.
Read the last installment here.
(Image via iStock.)