The next Friday was my scheduled girls’ day with Bridget, since it was a day off for her school. I had decided to play hooky just this once from my classes to hang out with her. Jeremy teased me mercilessly about it, laughing that he didn’t need an excuse to skip classes, nor would he ever say he was skipping “just this once”. Anyway, he and Stacey-Ann, one of the many girls he was dating, were also going off campus to see an afternoon movie, so he had agreed to get his mother’s car and be the chauffeur for all of us for the day.
“So just call me on my cellular when you’re done shopping,” he instructed us when he dropped the two of us off at Tropical Plaza. “Then we can go up by Mummy for dinner and she’ll drop us back to campus after.” Stacey-Ann looked enthused at his words, but I knew that she wasn’t invited back to the house for dinner. Jeremy knew better than to bring a girl he wasn’t at all serious about home.
“So that gives us about two hours or so,” I said to Bridget after we had gotten out of the car. “That should be enough for some nice window shopping, right?” Neither of us were really looking for anything in particular; the shopping trip was more about us getting a chance to bond and catch up. For me, it was also a chance to do one of my favourite activities: what my mother always called “walk plaza”. The mall system of shopping didn’t really exist in Jamaica like it did in North America; instead, on the island, most shopping still took place in plazas, where you had to walk outside to go from store to store. So it was a chance to go shopping, but to still get to enjoy the sunshine and the weather.
“So tell me all about how school is going!” I instructed my little cousin, as we were browsing around our first clothing store. “Do you like high school so far?”
Bridget shrugged. “It’s not so bad. It’s a big difference from prep school, but most of my friends are at the same school as me. I like most of my teachers, except for this one who is very mean. But that’s my maths teacher and I’m good at maths, so I don’t think he’ll bother me too much.”
“I don’t want to hear about teachers, Bridget,” I teased. “I want to hear if there are any cute boys!”
My little cousin giggled and looked embarrassed. “No! I hate boys!”
“ALL boys? Every single boy in your school, and on the island, and on the face of the earth?” I asked, eyebrow raised.
Bridget rolled her eyes. “Well, not all of them, obviously. But most of them are just so fool-fool and so facety!”
“So is there any boy that you know who’s not stupid? Any one at all? Come on, there has to be at least one.”
My cousin giggled again and wouldn’t meet my eye, so I knew that I was on to something. “Well…there is one, I guess. His name is Stephen. He’s nice enough. He’s having a birthday party next week.”
“Ooh, that sounds exciting. I take it you’re going?”
“Yeah, I guess so. He invited a bunch of people.”
“Well, do you have an outfit to wear?”
Bridget shook her head shyly. “I don’t want to ask Mummy if I can buy something new. She’ll think that I like him, and then she’ll bother me about him all the time.” I could sympathize; when I was fifteen, my mother had called the parents of a boy who lived in the neighbourhood and invited them over for dinner just because he had called the house three times. I had been mortified and needless to say, the boy had stopped calling.
I put an arm around my cousin’s shoulder. “Well, my dear, that’s exactly why I’m here. That’s going to be our mission for this shopping trip then, to find you a nice outfit to wear to this birthday party. It will be my treat.”
With our goal for the afternoon set, the two of us had a great time walking through the stores in the plazas and looking around for clothes to buy. While we were shopping, Bridget told me all of the first form gossip, which I found highly amusing. She told me which girls were nice, which ones were stuck-up, who was malicing who, and who liked who. It reminded me of when I had been in grade seven, and how every little thing had seemed so important then. Since leaving Jamaica, I had wished for a brother or sister a million times and this was exactly why. I would have loved to been able to do this all the time.
Two hours later, we had bought a very nice top and skirt for Bridget to wear. I also had a new bathing suit, sandals and pair of earrings. “OK, Bridget, you need to find a pair of shoes in here,” I declared as we entered one final store and I hung up my cell phone. “This is your last chance; your brother just called and said he’ll be here to pick us up soon.”
“OK, OK, I’ll find something here, I promise.”
I was too tired, and now too broke, to look for shoes for myself, so I just stood by the door while my cousin looked around in order to avoid temptation. I figured I would people-watch instead. Every time the door opened, the bell above the door would ring and I would glance over to see who was walking in. First in was a spry elderly woman and her plump middle-aged daughter, laughing heartily over some joke that they’d just shared. Next in came two boys about fourteen years old in school uniforms, both of whom kept timidly sneaking peeks at me out of the corners of their eyes. A pretty woman in her thirties decked out in fabulous clothes and weighed down by jewellery breezed in, laughing cheerily into her cell phone. The bell rang again, and a guy walked in wearing the typical white coat of UWI’s medical students. My heart skipped a beat when I realized that it was Kevin.
He didn’t notice me at first when he walked in to the store. I was about to call out to him when I realized that he was holding the door open for somebody, and that the somebody was the same girl that I had seen him dancing with at the party. She was wearing the female version of the UWI medical student coat.
My heart completely sank. This can’t be a coincidence, I thought forlornly. There has to be something going on between those two. I was glad that I hadn’t called his name. I was actually devising a plan for Bridget and I to get out of the store without him even knowing I was there, but my cousin nipped that in the bud.
“Nadiya!” called out Bridget, excitedly. “What do you think of these shoes?” she asked, holding up one black shoe.
Kevin turned around at hearing my name. “Hey, Nadiya, I didn’t even see you standing there!”
I gave him a small smile, and made sure to include the girl. “Yeah, I’m just here shopping with Jeremy’s sister.”
Bridget walked over to the three of us, still holding the shoe in her hand. “Nadiya, what do you think of this one?” she asked again impatiently.
“It looks good, and it will go really well with the outfit. Go ask the saleswoman if they have your size, and if they do, we’ll buy it.”
As Bridget walked over to the saleswoman, I turned back to the two med students. I couldn’t be bitter towards the girl, so I extended my hand. “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met before. I’m Nadiya.”
“Hi, nice to meet you,” the girl said with a bright smile. “I’m Lily.” She was even prettier when she smiled. I couldn’t help doing an appraisal of myself and then the girl. I looked fine that day, but I suddenly felt like I looked childish in my navy tank top, blue jean capris and flip-flops. Lily looked so professional and mature in her white jacket and blue pencil skirt, and more importantly, she looked so good beside Kevin. They looked like the perfect pair in their matching outfits. “Where are you from?” Lily continued pleasantly. “I can tell by your accent that you’re not from Jamaica.”
“Well, I was born here, but I guess I’m a Canadian now. I grew up in Toronto. I’m actually just doing a year here at UWI as an exchange student.”
“Oh, that’s great! Are you enjoying it so far?”
“I’m having a wonderful time so far actually. I’m really glad that I decided to do it.”
“I have a lot of family around there, you know, in Brampton. Toronto is a really nice city.”
“Yeah, it is, I love it.”
Kevin interrupted. “Oh! Lily, you’ll never guess what. Nadiya was actually in our class in grade one.”
“Are you serious? Wow, what a small world!” My ears perked up. Could this mean that Lily and Kevin were just long-time friends then? If he’d already known her for years when he told me he wasn’t looking for a relationship, then chances were there was nothing going on between them!
“That’s so funny, you were in that class too?” I asked innocently. “That’s crazy. And you guys have stayed close all this time?”
Lily linked arms possessively with Kevin. “Well, we’re certainly much closer now than we were then! At the time, he was just one of the annoying boys in the class. But now, I love this guy to death.” She stared up dotingly at Kevin, who looked a combination of mildly pleased and mildly embarrassed, and my heart sank right back down again.
“Hey, Nadiya,” Lily continued, turning back to me, “a bunch of us are going to the beach a week from Saturday, to Ocho Rios. Do you want to come along with us? We can catch up on the last decade,” she added with a laugh.
“I think that Jeremy and some girl or the other are coming too,” added Kevin. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re just going down for the day, so we’ll be back by night time.”
“Um, sure, I’d love to go.” I actually was not relishing the idea of watching Lily and Kevin frolicking together on the beach, now that it was clear that they were a couple. But I absolutely loved the beach, a place that I had only been to once since my arrival in Jamaica. I just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to go to Ochi. Plus, I had just bought a new bathing suit that I was eager for a chance to wear.
“You know what,” said Kevin, looking like he had just had a thought, “you should bring that guy you’re dating.”
I looked at him in surprise. How does he know about Omar? So much for my plan to keep my name off the rumour mill!
He laughed at the surprised look on my face. “Listen, you obviously don’t know how fast gossip flies around UWI. But seriously, I hear things are going well with you two. You should bring him along.”
I felt completely flustered. “Uh, OK, I’ll see if he’s free.”
Bridget came over to us with the shoes in her box, ready to buy them. “Um, sorry, you guys, we have to get going. Jeremy’s probably waiting outside for us by now. I’ve got to go pay for these.”
“It was nice to meet you, Nadiya!” said Lily cheerily. “So we’ll see you next Saturday?”
“Yeah, definitely, see you next Saturday.”
Kevin flashed the beautiful smile that made me melt, and then he and Lily breezed out the door.
“What am I going to do?” I was wailing to Adrianne the next day in my room. “Why did I agree to this?”
Adrianne raised an eyebrow. “I have no idea.” Seeing the look on my face, she quickly added, “But you don’t know that they’re a couple. They could just be friends.”
“Oh, really? Jeremy is bringing a girl, so that’s one couple that’s going. I talked to him last night and he said that Kamal and his girlfriend, another couple, are going. Kevin told me to bring Omar because he thinks we’re a couple! No, Adrianne, I’m telling you, they’re dating. I’m sure it’s fairly new because his cousin told me he was single the night I first met him,” I mused to myself. “But I saw them dancing at the party, and now this? You should have seen the way she grabbed on to him and looked at him and the icky-sweet things she said. Trust me, they’re together.”
“OK, well, worst-case scenario, let’s say they are dating. Then so what? It’s his loss. You have Omar, right? You told me what a great time you had on the date with him…how nice he is…how funny he is… What happened to all that?”
I sighed loudly and flopped back on my bed. “I like Omar, I really do. He’s really fun…”
“But he’s just not Kevin?”
I sighed again. “Not even close.” I hadn’t realized just how true that was until I saw Kevin in the store today, but now it was obvious to me.
“You can’t think that way. I mean, really, you barely know him! If Kevin’s taken, you can’t waste your time worrying about him. Listen, why don’t you just go to Ochi and try to enjoy your day, regardless of who is or isn’t there, or is or isn’t a couple? Jus’ cease and seckle, man.” She kissed her teeth, feigning annoyance.
“You’re right, you’re right. I’ll just go with Omar and have a great time.” But I knew that would be easier said than done.