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  • Writer's pictureLuna

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Updated: Oct 9, 2023



Chapter 1



“What is an example of an opinion?” Ms. Hart asks. I raise my hand. I know the perfect example.

“Yes, Kareem.” My teacher smiles at me.

“Upma is the best lunch,” I say proudly. The whole classroom bursts into laughter. What?

“What the heck’s upma?” a boy sneers. I feel my face grow hot. My sight is blurry with tears. The next thing I know, Ms. Hart is crouching at my desk. “You okay?” she asks me.

“Yes,” I say. “I just need some time alone.” I get up and run toward the door, my heart dropping to my knees.

I run down the hallway, my feet clomping hard. India is my home, not here. My breath is raggedy. I slip and my elbow hits the ground. “Owww,” I groan. But I get up quickly. I don’t want anyone to see me like this. Back home I was called Tough Luck.

“Here comes Tough Luck,” my best friend Aisha would say. We were neighbors back in India.

I head to the girls’ bathroom and lock myself in a stall. My eyes sting with tears. But I will not cry. I wipe my eyes with the back of my hand, when I hear a voice.

“Anybody in there?”

“I am,” I say, my voice cracking. I open the stall door a crack.

A blond girl with white skin and rosy red cheeks walks over to me. Her hair is pulled back into a ponytail and she takes long, bouncy steps.

“What are you doing in here?” she asks.

“What do you think?” I say.

“Crying.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Well, your face is all red and you're sniffling like crazy.”

“Not true.”

“What’s wrong?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Tell me.”

“Fine.” I tell her about how I had just moved to the U.S and about the incident in class and how everyone had laughed. I tell her about how hard it was to leave the traditions and people I knew so well. The whole time she just stays there, calmly listening and nodding. When I finish she clasps her hands together.

“Wow,” she says softly. “That’s hard.” There’s a pause. “I never got a chance to ask you your name, by the way.”

“Kareem,” I say, looking at my toes.

“Kelly,” she says. “Give me one sec, I have to go to the bathroom.”

Kelly disappears into a stall and locks the door. When she gets back we pause awkwardly. Finally, Kelly speaks. “I guess I should get back to class. We’re working on paper collages and I don’t want to miss it!

“Me too,” I say softly. But I don’t ever want to go back to that classroom again.

“I’ll see you around sometime.” Kelly smiles and lifts her hand up for a high five.

I smile back but leave her hanging.



I cautiously leave the bathroom and stand outside of the door of our classroom. I look into the little window. Everyone is writing in their journals their heads bent down over the page. I take a deep breath and enter. A few people stare at me. I want to melt into a puddle. I reach my desk and hastily get out my journal. I realize I’ve been holding my breath. I let it out and start writing.

Chapter 2




That afternoon after school, the tiny apartment that me and Ma own smells like buttery parathas. Ma doesn’t have a job, so she is usually at home when I get home from school. She goes on interviews while I’m at school too, but rarely gets second interviews. She used to be an occupational therapist back in India.

“How was your day?” Ma asks.

“Fine,” I say. “I met someone.”

“And is this person your… I don’t know… friend?”

Silence.

“Uhhh… not really? I just met her in the bathroom today. It’s…nothing special.” I stuff a big bite of paratha into my mouth.

“What’s her name?”

“Kelly.”

“Tell me about her.”

“Stop Ma. I don’t want you to use your dumb therapy techniques on me.” I knew I shouldn’t have told her about Kelly.

“I’m just trying to help you darling,” Ma says. She squeezes me into a hug. She smells like tulips and soap. Usually I love her smell, but today I push her away.

“What’s wrong honey?” Ma looks hurt.

“Nothing,” I say.

“Open up, Kareem. Seriously,” Ma says with a stern look on her face. Her happy mood has disappeared.

“Why do you want to know everything about my day anyway?”

“Because I’m concerned.”

“Well stop being concerned, Ma. Seriously!” I blurt back. Ma draws back.

“Go to your room!”

“Fine!” “Anything for you to leave me alone,” I mutter under my breath.


Chapter 3



The next day at school, Kelly comes up to me at lunch. I am walking to a table at the corner with my tiffin box.

“Hi,” I say, as she runs up alongside me.

“Today in social studies we had a pop quiz and it was the worst,” Kelly groans. I don’t want to talk. I start to walk faster, but Kelly grabs my arm. “Do you want to sit with me and my friends?”

I think: Nope, not happening. I say: “Sure.” Kelly leads me to a table with 5 girls sitting at it. Two of them look like twins, with long, brown hair and matching blue eyes.

“This is Maddy, Sara, Marla, Elise, and Li.” She points to each girl as she says their name. Li flashes me a big smile. Braces line her teeth. I give her a tight grin and turn back to Kelly.

“These are your friends?”

“Yeah. They’re really nice.”

I set my box down on the table and slide into a seat. “What’s your name?” Elise asks me.

“Kareem,” I say.

“Nice name.”

“Thanks.”

“You moved from India right?” Maddy asks.

“Yeah,” I answer. I start to relax.

“So, can we be your friends?” Marla asks. I clench my teeth. This was the exact question I have been avoiding.

“I guess so…” I say quietly. “Sure.”

“Hey. Why are you being so negative about it? We’re good people.” Marla’s voice is fierce. Elise puts a hand on Marla’s shoulder.

“Marla, stop.” Great. All I need now is another argument.

“What? She’s such a jerk.”

I feel something inside me start to snap. I had to leave my home for this dumb school. Who cares that there was a better opportunity in the U.S? Did Ma check with me before changing my life as I know it? My mouth is talking a million miles a minute as I argue with Marla. I start to talk in Hindu and English, I’m so angry with my life.

Why can’t I go back in time? Why can’t I convince Ma to move us back?




Chapter 4


When I get home that day, Ma is sitting at the kitchen counter, her head bent over a piece of paper. “Hi Kareem,” she says as I walk in. She puts her elbow over the paper and smiles up at me.

“What are you working on, Ma?” I ask.

“Nothing,” she says, shoving it in the junk drawer. “I have to pop out to the market for a second, so I made handvo for a snack. It’s in the fridge, top shelf.”

“Oh, yum! My favorite!” My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Ma kisses my head and is out the door. I take the handvo out of the fridge and put it in the oven. Now to wait. I get my favorite book, Wish, and plop down onto the couch. Soon, I am absorbed. But not absorbed enough. I think about the paper. What is Ma hiding?

I dog-ear my page and set the book down on the coffee table. Junk drawer, right? I head to the kitchen and pull it open, only to discover a thousand dollar bill sitting smack-dab in the middle.

My mouth falls open. ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS ARE DUE! If Ma didn’t tell me something that important, then what else is she hiding? Oh, I know. She just doesn’t trust her own daughter. She just doesn’t trust me. My hands grip the sides of the drawer. I feel a scream building up in my throat. My palms ball into sweaty fists. This is not over.


That night, right before bed I sit on my desk and flip my notebook to a fresh sheet of paper. I write:


How I can help Ma get her bill paid:


  • Help her make a business (maybe jewelry?) (might get in trouble for doing it without her)

  • Enter a cooking contest for a lot of money (probably won’t win)

  • Do a business of my own (lots of lemonade stands? Ma will ask why I’m doing so many)



Now I am at a loss as to what to write next. I decide that that’s enough ideas for tonight. I switch off my light and hop into bed, pulling the covers to my chin.





Chapter 5



At lunchtime the next day, Kelly is out sick. Li calls me over. “Hey, Kareem!” She waves her hand like a flag, beckoning me over. I clench my teeth. Marla is sitting there too. I reluctantly walk over to her and set my stuff down on the table. I open my tiffin box. Shahi egg curry today.

“Hey, Mean Kareem. We don’t want to eat with you,” Marla says in her snobby voice. I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. Why would Li call me over if she didn’t want to sit with me?

“I want to sit with her,” Li says, putting her hands on her hips. Li’s words are like music to my ears. I am so happy. But now is not the time to be happy.

“I was just having a bad day,” I say in a faint voice. But by then, Li and Marla are full on arguing. I feel like I’m falling into a black hole.

“That is no excuse. You can’t just –”

“I’m sorry, okay?” I say loudly. I feel my voice echo around the gym. Heads turn. Why? WHY? Why did I yell so loud? Why do I have to be noticed? I’m just a small Indian girl that has no place in this world.

“Uh, you're still mean,” Marla blurts out. Laughter fills the cafeteria. I feel like screaming. I fight to control my body and my actions. I want to punch something. My hands are sweaty. Don’t make a scene, Kareem. Control yourself, control yourself, control yourself. Focus on your breathing.

I want to cry. Don’t cry, Kareem. DO NOT CRY! Ground yourself… That’s it…

Focus on what’s around you.

The lunch tables… bulletin board…window.

Take deep breaths. Smell the flowers… blow out the candle. Finally, I feel strong enough to continue eating.


⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️



In math that day, Mr. Stevenson is explaining long division problems. “... then you bring the 2 up…” I drift in and out of reality. “... and I’d like Kareem to solve this one. Kareem, could you come on up, please?” At the sound of my name, I lift my head up. He wants me to solve the problem?

“Me?” I point to myself.

“Yes you.”

“But –”

“No buts.”

So I get out of my seat and go to the front of the room toward the whiteboard. Here in America, we have whiteboards. In India we used blackboards. I uncap a marker and inhale the scent.

“What are you doing?” someone shouts out. My cheeks turn red with embarrassment. I quickly start copying the division problem. I love the way the marker squeaks. When I get to solving it though… I have trouble. I just cannot focus. My mind swirls elsewhere. From the first day of school to what happened in the lunchr– everyone’s waiting!

I scramble to get something down. Anything! I’m desperate. I search my brain down to its deepest thoughts. My knees feel like Jell-o. “M - Mr. Stevenson, I - I don’t get it,” I stammer.

“Okay,” he says cheerfully. “Do you want to call on a friend for help?”

“No,” I say, barely a whisper.

“Okay then. Please return to your seat.” Mr. Stevenson looks disappointed. I grip the marker in my hand and walk down the aisle.

“Nerd girl,” someone whispers to me. I look down at my toes.

“Dork,” someone else whispers. I am overflowing with anger. I sit down at my desk and punch my math notebook as hard as I can. Two times… three times. I am flat-out raging. Ma always said I had anger issues. I never believed her. Now I do. Someone grabs my arm.

“Kareem, STOP!” But I can’t stop. I’m possessed. My mouth twists into an evil smile. I feel like I’m underwater. Blub, blub, blub. Blurb, blurb.

Until, a voice jolts me back to reality. “Kareem! KAREEM!”

“What?” I ask, dazed. My math notebook is ripped. Everyone is staring at me. Kelly! I forgot Kelly was in this math class. Kelly looks at me with a concerned expression.

“Stop!” I yell at her. “You're not my babysitter!” I turn away because I am dreading the look on Kelly’s face.


⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️



That day, I ride the bus home. Nobody wants to sit with me. I find a seat at the back and settle in. I stare longingly out the window at everyone that has their group of friends. “Can you scooch over a bit?” Ugh. Kelly. Why does she keep coming back to me after I’ve been so mean?

“Hi Kelly.”

“I haven’t been liking all the friend drama that’s going on,” she says as she drops her backpack onto the seat.

“I just…” I decide to tell her the truth. “It’s just been hard moving to a new school and country. With kids that already have their own friendships with no space for me.” I take a deep breath. “And it’s been a little hard at home. My mom has a bunch of bills to pay and I don’t know what to do or how to help.”

Kelly’s mouth falls open. “I could have helped! I could have gotten the whole gang to help too!”

“No, Kelly.” I say. “Please don’t tell anyone else. I want this just to be between you and me.” Kelly sips her water.

“What should we do?” she asks.

“Well, I started brainstorming last night. Ma loves to make jewelry. Maybe we can help her make a business.”

“Good idea!”

“Yeah! We could call it Shyla’s Jewelry.” Shyla is Ma’s name. “Plus, Ma has a whole collection of spare jewelry that she doesn’t need.”

“It’s perfect!”

“But how are we going to pull it off?” I say nervously. “I could get in serious trouble with Ma if she found out I was doing it without her permission.”

“She’ll be thankful that we’re helping her pay the bill. Plus, wouldn’t you be willing to sacrifice not bending the rules a little for doing something life-changingly good?”

“I guess. But again, how are we going to pull it off?”

”Well, we could advertise it. Put it on people’s doors, tell them the address to go to. Set up booths. Your Ma will have jewelry ready. We could find her supply, take pictures of each one, and tell people the amount we have of it. You could encourage her to make more of each kind. That way, we have satisfied customers.”

“We still have to make the poster, price, and name of the business.”

“We could meet up at my house tomorrow after school. That way we can work out the details.”

“Okay,” I say.



Chapter 6


Kelly’s house has two stories and a big backyard. Much bigger than mine, anyway. When we get inside, Kelly offers me a juice pop.

“What’s a juice pop?” I ask.

“You don’t know what a juice pop is?” Kelly exclaims, gaping at me. “Only the best snack in the world! You have to try one.” Kelly sticks her head in the freezer and comes out with two frozen things that have sticks jabbed into the bottom. “You lick them. Like this.” Kelly rubs her tongue against the pop. I mimic her.

“Mmm!” I say. The juice pop is so refreshing. When we’re done, we go up to Kelly’s room.

“Where are your parents?” I ask her.

“They’re both at work, but my brother is here. He’s fourteen,” she says. There's silence.

“We came here for a reason.” Kelly suddenly bursts out. “We have to talk about the jewelry business.” Her outburst surprises me.

“But you don’t know what the jewelry looks like,” I remind her.

“Well, I guess you're right. It might even be hard to make the poster and everything because we don’t have any pictures to paste on. Plus, I don’t even know what they look like so we can’t decide what to charge for them. Ugh, I really thought we would get to start on the business today! I guess not. Those thoughts never crossed my mind when we were planning this,” Kelly reprimands.

“Same,” I say. “I haven’t looked at Ma’s jewelry in a long time either so I can’t give you the overview. It might be kind of hard to talk about it now…”

“Hey, do you want to meet my brother?” Kelly asks, right out of the blue.

“Sure,” I say. We walk down a hallway and Kelly lightly raps at a door.

“Come in.” A muffled voice says from the other side. I can hear the banging of drums. We walk in and there are piles of clothes on the floor.

“Hey little sis,” he says, pausing at his drums. “Who’s the small girl?”

I look down at myself. Am I really that small? “Oh that’s my best friend Kareem,” Kelly responds. Best friend. She called me her best friend. And for the first time, I start to believe it too. We are best friends. Or, best American friends. But I’m not ready to say it out loud. A smile lights up my face.

“Well, get out now,” he says, waving us away like we’re pieces of dust.

“Okay, okay,” Kelly says, rolling her eyes. We leave the room and Kelly and I both say at the same time “Brothers!” We burst out laughing.



Chapter 7



When I get home, I head to my room before Ma can question me. I get my portable Polaroid camera and run into Ma’s room. She keeps this little jewelry box on her dresser. I pick it up, bring it to my room, and shut the door.

I’m sure Kelly won’t mind if I take some pictures of Ma’s jewelry for the poster and for her to see. Plus, I want a little time on my own with Ma’s jewelry. I lay the bracelets and necklaces on my bed and start snapping pictures. I don’t get all of them, knowing that me and Kelly could just write “+ more”. I try to get the perfect angle every time. Since I have a Poloroid camera, the pictures print right away. I watch as they slowly slide out of the slot. I pack the photos into an envelope to show Kelly the next day.


⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


“Oh, I love them!” Kelly shrieks when I show them to her at school. I’m so glad she’s not mad.

During free time, we visit the art room to paste the photos onto a big sheet of poster paper. We agree that seven dollars per item is a reasonable price. We add the address, so when we do a booth people can visit us. When we’re done, it looks like this:






Chapter 8


That day after school, I lay in bed reading. Suddenly, a thought hits me. What if Ma doesn’t want me and Kelly to sell her jewelry? I tell myself that Ma will be grateful. She will be okay with it. But I have to make sure. I resolve to ask her about it tonight at dinner.

At dinner that night, we’re having chicken biryani. Ma is sitting across from me. I spear my fork into a piece of chicken and nibble at it.

“How is school going?” Ma asks me.

“Good,” I say. Which is the truth. I made a great friend!

“Anything going on?” I realize this is my chance. It’s now or never. I take a big swig of my water and begin.

“My best friend Kelly and I want to sell your jewelry. I wanted to know if you’re okay with it first. I saw your bill and I just wanted to help. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, honey.” Ma is silent. I can see her eyes glistening. Please, please, please let it be okay. “I told you I would handle the bill.” This conversation is taking the wrong turn.

“I really wanted to help right then and there, Ma. It’s hard to wait for something like that.”

“When I say something, I mean it Kareem,” Ma says sternly. “But I’m glad you wanted to help.” I get up from the table and scrape the food I didn’t eat into the trash. I start to go to my room to get ready for bed when Ma says:

“And Kareem? It’s fine if you sell my jewelry.” I wipe my sweating forehead. It’s like there was a huge bag of rocks on my shoulders and someone finally lifted them off of me, relieving me.

“Thanks Ma!” I run over to her and give her a huge hug. “I won’t let you down, I promise!”

But as I’m walking down the hallway and into my room I’m starting to wonder, why did I make that promise so soon? What if we do?


⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


“I got a second interview, I got a second interview!” Ma says excitedly when she picks me up from school the next day. For a second I don’t know what she’s talking about. Then realization hits. She passed her first interview as a job for an occupational therapist and is going onto her next one! I gasp.

“That’s great, Ma!” I exclaim. I am so, so, so happy for Ma. This is rare!

“Remember, one month ago when I said I’d be doing my first one?” Ma asks me.

“Yeah,” I say.

“I did it and I passed!”

“Great job Ma! When is your next interview?” I ask.

“In a week when you’re at school. Oh, I am so nervous!”

“You’ll do great Ma!” I say, “I believe in you!” Maybe our life will turn around. Maybe things will be okay again. “Which hospital?”

“Cassy Hospital!” Ma looks so happy. Our life is finally turning around. I think, I know, we will finally have a place in America.



“So, can you make some more of these, these, these, and these?” I say, pointing at my list of jewelry I want Ma to make. Ma told me that she has a lot of free time on her hands and I can ask her to help whenever.

“Okay,” Ma responds. She rushes into her room for her jewelry kit. She got it back in India. In a few seconds, she emerges. “Now, I’m going to be working on the couch, so don’t interrupt me. Maybe you could read or something.” But I don’t want to read. Instead I say:

“I’m going to call Kelly.” I pick up our old-style telephone and punch in her number. (She gave it to me at lunch yesterday.) She answers on the third ring.

“Hey Kareem.” she says, sniffling.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“I have to move to a new school.” Kelly’s voice is wavering and I can tell she’s struggling not to cry.

“You do?!?” This was it. I finally had a best friend. And now she’s going to be taken away from me. “You can’t move!”

“My parents dropped the bomb on me yesterday.” Kelly is crying now. “D-do you have Messages?”

“What’s Messages?” I ask.

“It’s an app where you can communicate with people.”

“No.”

“I’ll tell you how to get it.” Kelly explains how to get the app and use it. Pretty soon, I can hear Kelly’s dad calling to her in the background. “Got to go,” she says. “Text me later.”

“I will.” And with that, I hang up the phone.


⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


It’s a yucky, rainy, Monday and we are running laps in gym class around the indoor track. My legs feel like they’re about to fall off. Coach Dave makes us run fifteen laps to warm up at the beginning of gym. Every. Single. Day. And I’m only on lap five. All of the other kids are ahead of me. I slow to a walk. Suddenly, I hear a knock, knock, knock on the gym door. Coach Dave runs to answer it.

“Oh, hello Shyla! Nice to see you! Yes, yes, I’ll bring her over here.” I crane my neck. Shyla?

“Kareem, your mother has brought you your lunch. You forgot it at home.” Coach Dave yells in my direction.

“Darling, I’m here,” Ma says loudly. No, no, no, no, no, no. I try to send brain waves to tell her to stop embarrassing me. It doesn’t work.

“Ooh, Kareem needs her mommy,” a girl with freckles blurts out. Thank goodness Marla isn’t in this class right now. I try to become invisible as I slowly walk over to Ma.

“Here’s your tiffin box, honey,” Ma says cheerfully. Stop!!!! I scream in my head.

“Thanks,” I mumble. Please, please go now. Luckily, Ma leaves in a few minutes. A girl points and whispers to her friend as I’m heading back to my place on the gym floor. I bury my face in my hands.

Why does everyone assume what my personality is? Everyone thinks I’m bad and silly and weird. But then I have the realization. I am, in their eyes. Black floods in as my eyelids close. I see myself sitting inside a black hole. Completely and utterly alone. But then Kelly pops out of the darkness. And Li, and Elise, and Maddy, and Sara, and I realize that Kelly and her friends see the good in me. They see me for more than where I came from. That is a good quality to have in friends.




After school that day, I finally have time to text Kelly. Here is our conversation:







Kelly then texts me that she’ll be in charge of bringing the chairs, sign, table and tablecloth, and can I please bring Ma’s jewelry? I tell her yes and we both text each other bye. I leave to help Ma make dinner.




Chapter 9


That night, I stare up at the cracks in the ceiling. I can’t fall asleep. I’m getting tired of school without Kelly. Maybe I could ask Li to be my friend. Kelly’s words still lingered in my mind. Best friend. Suddenly, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I got up and texted her: you are my best friend in America. She answered immediately. You are my best friend everywhere. A smile flickers across my face. We are best friends in all places. I text.


The next day, I tell Ma I want to go to the school playground because I’m going to sell some of her jewelry. “Okay,” she says. I quickly pack my bag with Ma’s jewelry. We get in the car and drive to school. I tell Ma I want her to drop me off.

“Are you sure?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say. “I know these premises like home.”

“Okay,” Ma says with hesitation. “Be safe.”

“I will.” I step out of the car and Ma drives away. I find Kelly near the swings.

“Let’s rock and roll,” she says. Kelly brought the folding table, tablecloth, chairs, and our sign, just like we planned. I slip my bag off my shoulder and take out Ma’s jewelry. We go to the field where everyone can see us and drape the maroon tablecloth over the table. I set Ma’s jewelry into piles. We tape the sign to the front of the booth and sit in the chairs Kelly brought. The sun is beating down on us. Soon though, we get a customer.

“Hello,” a lady says.

“Hello, would you like to purchase?” I ask.

“Yes please.”

“Which one would you like?” Kelly asks.

“Can I get one of your bangle bracelets?”

“Oh, yes!” I am so happy. She gives me seven dollars and I hand her a bangle bracelet.

“Y'know, I really love your jewelry. And I’m the head of the Canfee Fair coming up. I was thinking that maybe you could participate? You get to keep the money you make.” When I hear this, I feel like I am floating into the air.

“YES!” Kelly and I scream in unison.

“Okay. I can register you tonight. It’s on February 13 at Hoffman park. Completely free to have a booth there.” February 13. One week from now.

“Oh thank you! What’s your name?” I ask.

“Call me Misty. Oh! I have to run to a meeting soon! Bye girls!”

“Have a nice day!” Kelly says excitedly. As soon as Misty leaves we start dancing.

“Yeah!” I scream. At the end of the day, we earn two hundred thirty dollars. I’d call it a success! Kelly gives me the money to show Ma. Sure enough, when I do, her mouth breaks into a smile.

“Hey Ma?” I ask her.

“Yes?”

“Will you drive us to the Canfee Fair in one week so we can sell some more of your jewelry?” I ask hopefully.

“Of course darling,” Ma answers willingly.

“Thank you Ma!” I say, ecstatic. I give her a big hug.



Chapter 10


It’s language arts the next day at school, when something hits me. I have to apologize to Marla at some point. Otherwise, she’s never going to forgive me. And then she’ll go out of her way to make my life miserable. Might as well get it over with. But should I really risk it? I ask myself. Now’s the time, now’s the time, I answer in my brain because I know I’m going to have to do it. I clutch my pencil and try to calm down as I walk over to Marla.

Gulp. “Sorry for being a jerk,” I say timidly.

Marla looks surprised for a second. “It’s okay,” she finally answers. Did I really just hear what I thought I heard? “By the way, what were you doing at the park yesterday?”

Oh no, oh no. “You were there?”

“Yeah. What were you doing?”

I didn’t really want to tell her that I was there because Ma has a one thousand dollar bill that I need to help her with by doing a jewelry business with Kelly. What should I say? What should I say? I rack my brain like crazy.

“I… I was playing on the tower.”

“No you weren’t. You and Kelly had a booth of some sort.”

“No we didn’t. Stop asking.”

“Okay fine. Liar.”

If I could smack myself, I would. I just totally blew my chance at any sliver of making up with Marla. But my number one concern was: what if Marla went to the Canfee Fair? She would know right away that something was up. Then I would have to tell her the truth because I would have no other choice. How would I explain my situation to her? On second thought, I go over to her again. “Are you going to the Canfee Fair?”

“Ugh. You are so annoying!” Marla sticks her tongue out at me.

“Last question,” I say shyly. I feel like I’m shrinking.

“Yes, I’m going to the fair! Everyone’s going!” She says it like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

I suck in a breath. Everyone? Most people will think that you’re just there to earn some money, I remind myself. Nothing else. No one will know. I feel my shoulders start to relax. But Marla will keep asking and keep asking why I was selling jewelry at the park and at the Canfee Fair and ask what was wrong and then I would have to tell her the truth. I start to panic. But if that’s the only way to stop Marla from being mean to me, I’ll do whatever it takes, I remind myself. Even if it means telling Marla my life problem.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


Kelly and I are working like crazy. Our booth at the Canfee Fair has to be perfect. Ma is making jewelry downstairs and we are upstairs revising the sign and pasting decorated paper onto an old metal lunchbox that is going to be our money box.

The Canfee Fair is tomorrow. Kelly brought her folding table and tablecloth from home for the next day. We work furiously through the afternoon and into the night. Kelly stays for dinner. I am a little worried about what she thinks of our food. Luckily, when she takes the first bite she yells: “I love it!” right out loud. I am relieved. Kelly stays for a sleepover that night since we’re leaving first thing in the morning.


In the morning, we eat breakfast quickly. I have a wagon stashed in the garage from when I was little – so we load it with our sign, table, tablecloth, folding chairs, jewelry, and money box. We push the wagon into the trunk of Ma’s car, get in, and she pulls out of the driveway. We are finally on our way!

When we get to Hoffman park, Ma pulls into a parking spot on the curb. We take the wagon out of the trunk and hoist it down to the road. When we enter the park, swarms of people crowd me, Kelly, and Ma. I look around for Misty. “There she is!” I exclaim. I point to the friendly face.

“Misty!” Kelly yells. We all run toward her.

“Hello fellow jewelry-makers. You ready to rock it? Follow me to your booth station.” I wave bye to Ma and Misty leads us to a wide open space just big enough for a folding table. “I‘ll give you some time to set up.” Once Misty leaves, I ask Kelly a question.

“Why is Marla being so mean?”

“She… she just… she’s just afraid that you’re going to steal my friendship from her.”

“Do you guys have a strong connection?” I ask.

“We’ve been best friends since we were little.” Kelly has a sad look on her face — like she’s remembering something. “When I met you, you became my best friend.”

“I understand,” I say quietly. I resume organizing the jewelry into little piles on the now set up table. “We don’t have to be best friends.”

“But Kareem. I want to be best friends with you now, not her. I’m kinda past her.”

“But if it makes it better…”

“Listen Kareem. You are my best friend.” Those words filled my heart with love.

“Thank you,” I whisper to Kelly. Like maybe if I say something too loudly it will ruin the moment.

“Well anyways,” Kelly says, bringing me back to reality. “We’re finally open for business!” Kelly was right. While we were talking we had set the table up with the tablecloth, jewelry, and the sign. We both sit in the chairs and wait for people to come.

I pull out the Tupperware of leftover biryani Ma had packed me and begin eating it. I hope this works, I hope this works. I hope we earn enough money for Ma’s bill. Please, please, work.




Chapter 11


“YES!” I scream as loud as I can. I don’t even care that everyone near our booth turns around to stare at Kelly and I. A huge crowd had gathered near our booth ten minutes into our opening time. “We did it! Our business was a success!” I hope, I silently add in my head. But I’m an optimist.

“How much money did we earn today?” Kelly asks.

“I don’t know yet, but I just know it is enough,” I say. I cross my fingers behind my back. “Let’s count it now!”

I give Kelly half the stack of bills and her lips move silently as she counts. I begin counting my half.

“One hundred fifty two,” I say.

“Three hundred ninety eight,” Kelly says.

“Two hundred eighty dollars plus three hundred fifteen dollars plus two hundred thirty dollars from our last booth equals…” I quickly calculate the answer. “Seven hundred eighty dollars.”

The answer hits me hard. Not enough, not enough, not enough. I failed, I failed, I failed. I feel sick. The whole world is fading away. A dark pit. This was the most important thing in the world for me. Suddenly, I feel a hand on my shoulder, just like the first day of school. But it’s not Kelly.

“You okay Kareem?” a voice asks me.

I jolt back to reality. Marla. The Marla that has been so mean to me. But this Marla is softer. Kinder. “Yeah,” I say back.

“What’s wrong?”

I have to tell her now, don’t I? I resolved it to myself. Right? I glance at Kelly, who’s braiding her hair behind her back. She gives me the thumbs up sign. Here goes…

“My mother has a one thousand dollar bill that I’m helping her take care of. That’s why you saw me at the playground the other day. That’s why I’m here now,” I say quickly.

“Oh, Kareem. I didn’t know,” Marla says softly, her voice full of regret. “I’m sorry.”

I finally have the courage. “Me too.” I say. Marla and I may not be best friends, but we aren’t enemies either.


Chapter 12


I am quiet the whole ride home. When Ma asks me what’s wrong, I answer with a firm shake of my head. When I get home, I bury my face in the pillows on my bed. I don’t want to tell Ma that we failed. I hear the front door open and close so I know Ma is getting the mail from the big apartment mailbox. The house is quiet for a few moments. The silence wraps around me and strangles me, forcing me to think. A few seconds later, Ma walks back in and the door slams. I hear a piercing scream. I panic. The door to my room richots off the opposite wall.

“Ma!” I yell. I hear crying. But it sounds like… happy crying? Sobbing laughing? My feet thud frantically down the stairs. Ma is lying on the couch, laughing, her eyes tearing up. I see an opened envelope with a letter lying next to it on the kitchen island. I pick it up and read it quickly.

It says:



Cassy Hospital


Dear Shyla Ranastaki, I am pleased to inform you you will be working

at Cassy Hospital with our team. You have successfully completed

the necessary measures needed for employment. Please sign below and

bring this to your next meeting with us, details below. We will call

you back soon to ensure you have gotten this letter.

We are delighted to have you on our team.


Sincerely, Cassy Hospital



Signature: ________________________________




“Ahhhhhhh!!!!!! Ma you got the job!!!!” I scream. I pull Ma from the couch and we start dancing around together. It feels so good to see Ma so happy. That means that Ma can pay the last two-hundred twenty dollars with her new job! I decide I have to tell her how the fair went at some point. And that point is now. I take a deep breath.

“We were two-hundred twenty dollars short.” I can feel tears welling up again. Then I remember Ma’s new job. “But you can pay back the two-hundred twenty dollars with your new job!” I say cheerfully.

“That’s right! This new job pays so well. One day into working and I can knock that bill out of the way!” Ma exclaims.

“I bet you will!” I say. I love this feeling. The feeling of knowing that everything’s going to be okay for us. Then Ma and I start dancing again and we turn on Ma’s favorite song: Blinding Lights. I never want this day to end.


As soon as the buses pull up to the curb, I scan on and choose a seat in the back. My knee is bobbing up and down for being in the same position for too long. I shift in my seat and stare restlessly out the window. Ma was sure she would earn the money to pay the bill today and I insisted I go with her to turn it in to the bank. Now I am so impatient, I wish the bus would speed up.

When it is finally, finally, my stop I run to the apartment building at top-speed.

“Let’s go!” I yell as I burst through the door.

“Okay, okay,” Ma says as she fits the money from the fair carefully into an envelope, putting the money she earned today on top. We go downstairs and Ma drives us to the bank.

When we walk in, I stand in a corner, watching Ma give a man the money. She fills out a few forms and then Ma walks back to me, smiling.

“Woohoo! We’re officially up to date! I think this calls for a celebration–”

“With Kelly and her family tomorrow!” I finish Ma’s sentence for her. Ma pulls out her phone and starts typing.


Ding, dong. I rush to answer the door.

“Kelly!” I say. She is standing there with her mom and dad.

“Kareem!” she says. We both burst into laughter.

“We paid the bill! The money from the fair helped a lot!”

“Yay!” Kelly says, hugging me. “That’s great!”

“Yeah! Now we’re up to date!” I smile the biggest smile of my life. Kelly returns it.

“Girls!” Ma calls out from the kitchen. “Time for dinner!” We both rush to sit down at the table. Big heaping plates of chicken biryani are piled in front of us. I take a big bite. The chicken is tender and juicy and the rice has the perfect seasoning.

“This is the best chicken biryani I’ve ever had in my life!” I declare. Everyone laughs.

“Me too!” Kelly says, lifting her spoon in the air.

After dinner we leave the kitchen and go to my room. I sit on the bed and Kelly sits on the floor underneath me. I braid another strand of Kelly’s hair. “I wish you were still at school.” I say.

“Me too,” she responds.

“Maddy, Sara, Elise, and Li are good people. Marla now… but I sort of understand where Marla was coming from. I mean, I just came in and swept you away.”

“It wasn’t your fault. I was the one who became your best friend. I did it because I wanted to do it. I feel like Marla and I are growing apart.” I put a hand on Kelly’s shoulder.

“That’s okay. Sometimes you just have to let things change.” I think about how we had to move to America. “You and Marla will still be very close. Just not best friends. And you will always remember when you were best friends. That will let nothing tear you apart.”

“Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it.”

“Ice cream time!” Ma yells from the kitchen.

“But for now, let’s have dessert!”







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