Positioned slightly higher in the eastern sky than it was earlier, the sun continued its warfare with the frozen droplets that hung above Penn Central High. From the front of the school, one could see the old brick masonry set up back in the 1950s, back when they moved up from North Philadelphia to a more modern, northerly location in the city. The glass gleamed its way from around the painted front door of forest green, complete with the protective gate-like diamonds that looked out from the inside of the tiny rectangular window on the top-left half of the door. Surrounding the school was a slightly cracked, weather-worn gray cement with bits of green sprouting on the inside, vegetation that had yet to be uprooted by the caretakers in order to show a cleaner, better property than it should be. Beyond that, the vegetation sprouted up along a lawn that had not been mowed in a week, slightly manicured but with shoots of green and dandelions coming up out of the ground. In case the clouds were going to go away, several large trees were perfectly placed, allowing for spaces between those who wanted protection and others that just wanted to take in the sun. All of this surrounding, from the cracked pavement to the red bricks and the trees reaching out towards the sky, was surrounded by a metal gridlocked gate, keeping everyone and everything in during classes while keeping a small opening around each side of the front for those that were coming in now. Along the street, a stream of students made their way through these gates, each one taking up a particular piece of the local real estate before the start of another day. Some of them found their place on the lawn, others stood around on the cracked pavement while some merely took a smoke along the wall, breathing in toxic fumes and expelling them in puffs for all to cough on. Still more continued to make their way into the school as the sun furthered its slow ascent, each one distributing themselves while waiting for the first bell and the beginning of another interesting day of studies.
By the time Jijy had finally reached the school and made her way through the small gate into the exterior confines, the grounds were already filled with all sorts of people: nice, grungy, formal, informal and anything else they could think of. The lucky thing about her journey was that she was so close to the school in the first place: while it may have seen ironic at the time of settlement, she did thank her dad for setting up Varghese Imports about a couple blocks and ten minutes from the high school. Not only did it allow an easy path to get from here to there, but it also really prevented her from going to or from school with anyone other than her own self. Sure a good chunk of time she was able to go in rather easily with her brother Paresh, but even then she could feel uneasy with her older brother staring at her, forcing her to get in some sort of small talk to make the two of them agreeable once again. There were many days, even those miserable enough to carry an umbrella or a pair of snow boots, where she just needed to go off and be by herself to think about what she had been through, what she was going through, and what was still to come. Being a teenager in this day and age was one where she really could not understand a good chunk of the time and she had to make sure she was keeping in control to prevent her from losing it. As she slowly made her way along the pavement, her book bag slung over her shoulder and with a large, black violin case hanging down from one of her arms, she merely took in the signs of the area, whether she liked what she felt or not. Within moments of arriving in school, she instantly could sense the disgusting tar and byproducts being thrown about close to the door, even though she was still far away from the area where the smokers were! Not wanting to lose the lemony aftertaste of breakfast, Jijy moved a bit further to the left, making her way onto the lawn, embracing the green blades that were being squished down under her feet.
Moving along, trying to ignore everyone and everything around her, Jijy started returning back to her thoughts, primarily those that came to her while she was walking to school this morning. The main concern, as typical, was about why she continued to have to put up with the weird stuff in her family all of the time. While Jijy knew that her family was probably a lot more like every other family out there (Indian or otherwise), there were just those things that just kept driving her crazy whenever she had to hang out near certain members. The primary focus at this time was her grandmother Hita, to whom she still had shivers over having to deliver her lemon cake this morning. If Hita was supposed to be her grandmother, a person that she was supposed to respect and care for due to her previous age and experience, then why in the world did she have to continue acting like such a...Jijy tried to think of the word to describe her granny as she made her way past a section of the shady tree, passing a couple of zonked out students and some studiers as she made her way across the lawn. There probably were two things that she probably could attribute the attitude of Hita on without getting too technical. The first: old age was finally making her senile. While she probably had a great life once upon a time and is now in the twilight of her existence, something must have happened to...well, she really didn't want to think about what Hita had become but all she knew is that the action made her think she was more like her than like a kind, sweet, maybe grumpy old woman. (then again, there were probably moments Hita was grumpy, but that was probably due to her own faults and angers...her granny loved her life, even at this time and place) She also wondered maybe if this was a sign of something not being right. Perhaps there was some illness Hita was not telling anyone about, particularly her own family. If the daffiness and the cute voice was hiding something...Jijy realized she was probably thinking a bit too hard on what was going on with her. She slumped her backpack further down her back as she realized how tired her arm was becoming. Sure she was used to carrying a violin back and forth from home to school, but that didn't mean she had an easy time doing so every single time she did.
Suddenly, an opening was spotted. It was a lump of green in the middle of the school lawn, open to the sun sure but at least enough space for her to relax until the bell rang. With quick tenacity, Jijy started pacing herself a bit faster to make sure she got there before someone else did. Sure she really didn't mind being alone or being with someone else, but as long as she was in her happy place it really didn't matter to her what she was doing. Navigating her way through the gossip, the jerks, the weirdoes and the who-knows-whats with all of the piercing and tattoos at their young age, she tried to make her way, her dark eyes on the spot, her braid bounding along the back of her neck keeping up pace. Just as long as there was no problems...no circumstance that was going to drive her crazy today...she was going to...
"You really sure you want to stand right there?"
Jijy stopped where she was at that moment, frozen in fear as she saw a body standing right in front of her, so close to her open paradise. In her way was a familiar guy that she had seen around the school occasionally but had never approached her until this very moment. Even though she had never spoken to him before, she knew exactly who he was from the way he appeared: the slender face, the combed short blonde hair with the black highlights, the gold necklace with the symbol of "infinity" in the classic side figure-8 pose hanging down towards his Adamís apple. The head looked normal enough, but she tried to look away from the rest of his body, particularly how that black T-shirt under his black and green flannel long-sleeve pushed up so tight against him or how well fit his jeans was against his body...no, Jijy thought, just concentrate on the face, and you'll be fine!
"Yeesh, its you...err, what's your name," the Indian girl quietly said, trying to hide away anything she felt as she stood there so close to her goal. As long as she got through this, she would be safe.
"You know me from chemistry, don't you?" the guy said back to her, his calm, collected voice piercing its way through Jijy's ears. "Or are you not really in the mood to talk today?"
"Um...can't you just let me through right now, doofus?" Jijy was sort of good that she used such an insulting word towards the guy since she was already starting to feel weird as he stood here, his body narrowing keeping her still. She felt a strange twitching feeling from the inside, the kind that she felt extremely awkward about. The pores around her body appeared to stand on end as she tried to continue her comments through her quiet voice. "I'm not really in the mood right now? School is going to start in a few minutes and I want to get ready for it."
"Yeah yeah, I guess miss unsociable doesn't want to talk to someone like me right now," the boy replied. He stopped for a moment as he gave off a quick smile in her direction, his crooked teeth gleaming giving off a pearly shine even as a couple of his bottom teeth appeared to be overlapping one another. While she couldn't help but laugh internally at the pathetic attempt he was trying to smile, she felt even more at unease than she did a moment earlier. She was starting to feel a small tug at the top of one of her suspenders, as if it was starting to push outwards due to something going on inside. Quietly, she put one of her brown hands with manicured fingers on top of the strap, trying to slightly hold it down and make sure it was not too tight as she started to speak again.
"Maybe if you had some sort of question regarding class, I would be able to help you. But other than that, I think I just want some breathing space before classes start. No offense." Her eyes tried to dart back and forth between the guy down to the rebellious suspender. Relaxing her breathing, she concentrated on her physical self as opposed to the physical self of the guy in front of her. For a moment, she thought she felt a tiny twinge around the other suspender as well, but as she continued her internal breathing, she started to feel like it was starting to calm down a bit. Within moments, she started to feel the one black suspender begin to slack up a bit and fall down as she continued her light breathing exercises.
"None taken, Punjabi princess. I already have the homework done rather easily, so I don't think I need the help," the boy said as he slowly started to turn around, realizing that his fun for the day was over. As he turned, the flannel shirt appeared to flow around with him in the breeze, showing that either he needed to tuck it in or buy something much smaller if he wanted to get away with wearing it. With a confident walk, he started side-stepping away from Jijy's open-space, allowing her to pass through. But before he left, he turned his head around one more time, with a confident gaze and a mischievous expression in his eye, and said one more thing to the Indian girl:
"Oh, and Jijy? You really shouldn't worry about your granny so much. I'm sure whatever is wrong with her, you'll be able to work it out in the end." At the end of the confident, the boy opened his mouth one more time with his crooked smile and gave off a quick blink, dead on right towards her eye! And with that, he hastened his step a bit and quickly walked towards the gate of the schoolyard, moving his way towards some other girl with long black hair.
With him finally out of the way and the open space near the tree still open, Jijy started making her way towards her ultimate destination. But while she had obtained victory in getting rid of the dweeb, she still had a nagging feeling in her head and a very sensitive body still on edge from his performance! Luckily, her breathing was preventing her from feeling any more tightness outside the regular rhythm of her chest as it heaved and fell from under her bra and long-sleeve shirt. Her hair felt a tad frizzled around her braid, but it was nothing she couldn't handle with a couple of minutes alone. Her pants really weren't feeling too much problem compared to her chest, but she did put her hands down around where they met her suspenders to make sure that nothing was out of place. Yep, the cute Indian girl was still herself, anxious and maybe a bit tired from waking up for school, but she was still as she was supposed to.
But while the problems weren't physical in nature, the thoughts were still gushering through her head as her foot started to touch the hazed light beaming down on the nearby tall grass stalks. She slowly descended her hand downwards to carefully put her violin case on the grass, then leaned down making sure everything was in working order before she began to place her small, firm rump on the green below her. She thought she felt a root from the nearby tree in the way, so she scooted over, raising herself slightly to get out of the way, then comfortably planting herself downwards. As she removed her backpack from her shoulder and started to loosen it up, Jijy's mind began to think about her reaction with that weird, slightly cute (no, not cute at all, she retorted back two seconds after thinking that) guy with the infinity necklace. Why exactly was he getting on my case, she thought, taking in a huge whiff of the nearby air as she started to ponder. Her nose felt a strange combination of car exhaust, perfume and grease from a nearby breakfast restaurant as her mind went off in a different direction. Jijy realized that she never really got in a good smell of that guy when he was around...was she too nervous to or just too concentrated on her own well-being to make sure she knew his scent? It wasn't like she was slipping, it was more like she was more concentrated on self-preservation than on making sure she knew when he was around again to avoid him altogether. Besides, before today he never even really tried to talk to her...heck, they never even were lab partners in chemistry! Did she do something that would attract him to her at this moment?
It was when she tried to question what she had done that she remembered the last words that he said. Just before that weird boy approached her, she was thinking about how much of a nuisance granny Hita had been this morning. And yet here comes this know-it-all she never spoke to before telling her not to worry!? Had he gotten a look at one of family pictures or something? Jijy knew she never showed her family off to anyone..well maybe her brother and perhaps father...and maybe a bit on her mother when she kept talking about how much a nag she was to her lunch friends. But she was so embarrassed about what her granny meant to her that she never mentioned her to hearing ears...and along comes this guy who knows that she has one! What exactly was up with him anyway? Why the heck would he know or even care about her stupid grandmother? And why...why in the world would he ever call her "Punjabi Princess" anyway? She wasn't even from Punjab...heck, her family told her so many stories about home that she didn't even know where in India they originated! Sure she knew they were from India, but...well OK, her father maybe had a home village but...
Jijy stopped in mid-thought. She looked down, realizing that the blades of grass were penetrating her slacks. She adjusted herself and then slowly turned around towards her backpack that stood next to her violin case. Slowly releasing the zipper, she opened the void and pulled out one of her textbooks..she didn't really know which one it was, she just wanted to get one of them out. She came to the realization that idle thought over stupidity was probably going to get her nowhere. She was never going to change her grandmother (nor her mother) no matter what they did, she was not going to figure out where in India her family comes from..and most importantly, she was not really in the mood to figure out the thought patterns of the opposite sex. All she really wanted to do was maybe a bit of distraction: get some studying done, prepare for classes, maybe get to the door before the bell rings. Flipping her braid for a moment in her free hand, she opened the textbook quietly and sat there, amidst the wild ones, the quiet ones, the chatterboxes and the game-players, the skateboarders and the lazy-bones. Jijy merged in with the Penn Central crowd, since she was just another student in a school with thousands of them. Maybe she studied a bit more than average or played an instrument, but other than that she was normal with nothing to stand her out from the divas and the drama queens.
After the bell rang for another school day, the entire Penn Central student body went inside for another day of learning...or at least an attempt to do so. Jijy ended up heading off to her first class of the day: first period geometry, which after the traumas of her family and that weird boy wasn't too much of a big deal to her. Sitting down around the third row from the front to the right side, she listened in to another set of proofs she had to do for homework regarding angular distribution in four-sided figures. As tricky as it sounded, it really wasn't too hard of an assignment and she had gotten all of her homework done rather quickly last night. The only really good thing about the class was that the teacher, a balding mustached man, already picked out prior to class who he was going to use to answer the previous night's homework. No pressure after a morning full of them was just what Jijy needed to relax in a class that could almost drive a student mad. But it wasn't all cheerful feelings: when she heard one of her classmates struggling to get through a proof regarding the congruency of the angles around two sides of a parallelogram, she really wished that she had been the one called on to do the problem. (mostly since if there is a consistent 360 degree within a four-sided object and the angles of one side are both the same as well as opposite the other angles on a 180 degree scale, then the two angles being compared must be congruent...well maybe that was a slightly simplistic proof, but Jijy knew what she was talking about)
Once Geometry ended, the Indian girl knew she had a bit of time on her hands with another morning of homeroom. Of course, there was a bit of a travel in order to get there: whomever decided to plot out her schedule for the year had no idea that her first period class was both the length of the school as well as down a flight of steps from her homeroom. But then again, when plotting out the location for the 10th Graders with the last names starting with "U", "V", and "W" up to "Waffley", the administration were not going to ask for feedback from any of the students going there. After stuffing her geometry book into her backpack and slinging it back over her shoulder, Jijy made her way through the crowded halls making her long trek towards her homeroom. The only good thing was that her violin was not with her now: since the orchestra room was a flight above her geometry class, she was able to put it in there before she started off on the day, making her daily journeys a whole lot easier. She was able to maneuver through the other students without too much trouble before opening the tan-colored door that lead to the stairwell downwards. Even then, she still had to make her way through an entire crowd of students, some going her way, some moving in the opposite direction on the other side, in order to get to the gray doors that would lead her down the hall to the second green door on the left side. No matter how she tried to understand it, getting to homeroom was a drag with practically the entire school in her way.
Within moments of entering the green door, she passed down several rows of seats towards the back, placing herself in the second-to-last row from the front, the second row from the right. Her homeroom teacher had not gotten to the class yet, but the seats were already filling up with several other 10th graders, some of whom she recognized from a couple of her classes, others she only made contact with now and never again for the rest of the day. Upon reaching her seat, she carefully placed her backpack behind her chair and placed herself in the small seat with the desk jutting out towards the seat right in front of her. Luckily that seatmate, which belonged to a large-boned white male similar in size to her brother (but probably not as reflexively nimble or good as soccer), had pushed himself closer to the nymph-like Jean Van Ack, who probably never even knew he existed or something. As she saw him inching closer to her seat, she sighed two-fold and brushed her braid with her thin hands. The first sigh was over how pathetic Carl Vaperski was in trying to get a cute girl like Jean to notice her. And the second was a sigh of relief: at least no stupid guy was going to pursue her like that.
Taking her mind off the seat in front of her...and most of the other people waiting for the homeroom teacher to appear, her mind started to drift once again...back to her grandmother. Why couldn't she just go out and get her own breakfast, preferably waking up and getting it after she had gone off to school for the day? As long as the windows and the shades were down when she was out, then no one would really notice her condition. It wasn't that much of a big deal...even if she had to wait for breakfast she would have gotten it eventually. Then again, she probably could smell the heavenly stench of those warm, delicious lemon-poppy cakes all the way from the kitchen to her room...with a heavenly scent like that, mostly everyone in her family would pretty much notice it the moment they entered the oven! But if she had just waited an hour longer, they still would have been warm, delicious and much easier to get and without having her granddaughter having to go over, get some for her, and then talk to her and her semi-sick mind. She didn't hate granny Hita: she still saw her as a wise, caring, concerned old woman that was looking out for the best for her and her family. Its just that she really didn't like some of the choices that her grandmother had made recently, choices that really made her sick to her stomach as she thought about it. Maybe it was a choice that was the best for her, but it hasn't made life easier for anyone other than herself! As the feelings flowed through her, Jijy decided to ease herself before she started stressing too much. She felt like she was on edge over nothing and it was not going to make anything today any better.
Then again, if Hita was one problem she had to put up with every day, then Tobias (whom she finally remembered the name after nearly forgetting it earlier) was one she really didn't encounter. That boy was probably one of the biggest troublemakers in school, consistently calling himself a ladies man to every girl that he met. Luckily, for the first year of high school, the two of them never even knew of each other's existence. Maybe she saw him in the hall or during the 9th grade assemblies on occasion, but there really wasn't anything to say to him or even to notice him for. Things remained the same when the 10th grade started: sure they were in the same chemistry class, but that was it. He usually went after his seatmates, particularly one of the Korean girls that always seemed to tease him by twirling one of her pigtails in her finger whenever they chatted. But today was the first time he specifically came up to her, right in front of her brown face, and made a comment to her...and she didn't like it one bit! Jijy tried to lean back in her chair, her shirt uncomfortably touching the straps, as she thought to herself about that jerk. With how he was showing off his crooked smile right in front of her...and had that flannel shirt opened with that tight shirt over his top...and the way the black highlights illuminated and enhanced his blond hair...what the heck was that idiot thinking!? Was he trying to show off in his stupid, dumb, teenage way? The good thing was that Jijy believed her mind, her emotions and hormones all well in check and balance, so she wasn't going to fall for his shenanigans. But the worst part of the whole deal: what the heck was that comment about her grandmother about anyway? Its bad enough to have her talking about Hita in her mind, but he had no right to make that comment if he never even knew her! Maybe, she thought, brushing her braid along her fingers as she nervously continued to ponder, he had gotten in a good view of her wallet and seen a picture of her family. Sure the picture was quite old: it was from when she was 12 and before that era of imbalance and growing pains, but that was probably the last time she could really look Hita in the eye and see her for the nice, sweet woman that she was...before she lost it. Maybe she had mentioned her in class...no, she would never do that. Why burden her classmates when they could use it against her some day? Well somehow or another, Tobias had learned about her and, in his own weird way, let her know that he knew...
"Varghese! Miss Varghese!?"
"Oh, um, here," Jijy said, quickly raising her hand into the sky as she heard her name being called for role-call by the husky female voice coming from the front. As she heard the teacher move on to "Roberto Velez", her hand quickly darted down and back onto her desk in front. A couple of sweat beads ran down her face...that was a close call, she thought to herself. Pushing her seat for a moment, she put her hand in her backpack and prepared to pull out something to work on during home period. Maybe a quick breeze through some English notes before next period...she knew there was a pop vocabulary quiz coming, but wasn't sure when it was going to be.