Today Tonight Tomorrow(11)

I’m still in the world of the success guide—particularly, item number seven. Go to prom with boyfriend and Kirby and Mara. Since Spencer and I broke up right before, prom didn’t happen. I would have gone without a date, but I worried I’d end up being Kirby and Mara’s third wheel, and I didn’t want to ruin the night for them.

It shouldn’t hit me as hard as it does that my life didn’t go quite according to plan. And yet here’s the physical proof of it. High school is ending, and it’s only today that I’m realizing everything I didn’t do.

It’s a relief when the clock hits 8:15. I spring to my feet, throwing the list into my backpack and my backpack over my shoulder. Time for the final test of my high school career.

“I have to prep for the assembly,” I say.

Kirby tears open a Snickers she found in her locker abyss. “Whatever happens, you’re a winner to us,” she says in a tone that’s probably meant to be encouraging, but from her, it comes out sounding sarcastic. She must hear it, because she winces. “Sorry. That sounded nicer in my head.”

I try to smile. “I believe you.”

“Go, go,” Mara says. “I’ll make sure Kirby disposes of any other potentially hazardous materials.”

As I head for the auditorium, their laughter takes a while to fade.

I’m leaving Seattle at the end of the summer, but Kirby and Mara are going to the University of Washington. Together. Mara wants to study dance, and Kirby plans to take one class in each discipline before deciding on her major. I’ll see them on breaks, of course, but I wonder if the distance will push me farther away. If this friendship is another thing I can’t take with me to college.

Rowan Roth’s Guide to High School Success

By Rowan Luisa Roth, age 14

To be opened only by Rowan Luisa Roth, age 18

Figure out what to do with your bangs.

Obtain the Perfect High School Boyfriend (heretofore known as PHSB), ideally by the middle of 10th grade, summer after 11th grade at the latest. Minimum requirements:

- Loves reading

- Respectable taste in music

- Vegetarian

Hang out with Kirby and Mara EVERY WEEKEND! (As much as you love books, please don’t forget about the outside world.)

Make out with PHSB under the bleachers during a football game.

Become fluent in Spanish.

Never tell anyone you like romance novels unless you’re 100 percent sure they won’t be royally awful about it.

Go to prom with your PHSB and Kirby and Mara. Find a fantastic dress, rent a limo, eat at a fancy restaurant. The whole John Hughes experience, minus the toxic masculinity. The night will culminate in a hotel room, where you and PHSB will declare your love for each other and lose your virginities in a tender, romantic way that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Get into a college with a great secondary education program to fulfill your lifelong dream of becoming an English teacher to MOLD YOUNG MINDS!!!

Become Westview valedictorian.

Destroy Neil McNair. Make him regret ever writing that Great Gatsby essay and everything he’s done since then.

9:07 a.m.

“… SCREAM IT LOUD for the blue and white—

Westview Wolf Pack, time to fight!”

At the end of our school’s fight song, we all throw back our heads and howl. My first Wolf Pack experience at a football game freshman year, I was embarrassed and intimidated, but now I love the noise, the energy. The way, just for a moment, we all forget to be self-conscious.

It’s the last time I’ll howl with this exact mix of people.

Backstage, I hand over student council secretary Chantal Okafor’s yearbook, and she passes me mine.

“I think I used up the last of your space,” Chantal says. “I hope it’s you. For valedictorian, I mean.”

The high school success guide burns in my backpack. I try to focus on the fact that I have three months with Mara and Kirby ahead of me. We can have a perfect last summer before high school: music festivals, days at the beach, nights complaining how cold the water at the beach was.

But that doesn’t account for everything else. Sure, it was a semi-joke, but I haven’t even accomplished the most basic item on the list: figuring out my bangs. If I can’t figure out my bangs, how could I have expected to become valedictorian? Logically, I know those things aren’t linked, but I’ve had four freaking years. My hair should make more sense than my future.

The line about becoming an English teacher struck me too. In middle school, I had a phase where I pretended to grade papers and dreamed up a reading list or two. My fourteen-year-old self called it a “lifelong dream,” but I can barely remember it. I picture myself at fourteen, brimming with optimism, wanting to get that guide exactly right. My favorite books got happily-ever-afters—why couldn’t I?

I cling to number nine on the list. Valedictorian is still possible. It’s nearly mine.

I smile at Chantal and tuck my yearbook into my backpack. “Thank you. Are you excited for Spelman?”

“Oh yeah. I can’t wait to leave all the high school drama behind.” Chantal’s braids twirl as she jerks her head in McNair’s direction. He’s reviewing his index cards, his lips forming the words. Amateur—I don’t need index cards. His head is bent in concentration, and his glasses are slipping down his nose. If I didn’t despise him, I’d march over there and shove them up. Maybe superglue them to the backs of his ears. “You’ve got to be excited too, right? No more Neil?”

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