SURFACE | 2

2 | JEREMIAH

Since freshman year Kaiya and Jeremiah had a standing lunch date every Monday and Tuesday at Ichiban Hibachi and Sushi Grill. Before Jeremiah got his license and inherited his mom’s old midnight blue Volkswagen Jetta they would walk the three blocks down the sycamore lined street from the football field to the cobblestone pavement of the strip mall, just talking or sharing a large bowl of frozen yogurt. Though they saw each other every Sunday and multiple times throughout the week because their small families were close, Jeremiah’s baseball practices and deejay gigs and Kaiya’s Honor Society, after-school theatre club, and internship with the World Africana Museum curator kept them busy in addition to all the schoolwork they had to finish. And with the HGA study party coming up, this lunch date was bound to turn into a business meeting instead of catching up.

“So what’s the plan?” Jeremiah asked as he opened the passenger side door for Kaiya to get in.

Just before she answered him, someone shouted “Right face!” like an army general running backwards followed by two straight lines of guys running in hand-cut sleeveless shirts – or top at all – and gym shorts. By the length of the lines, the lack of females, and the fact that Liam Steele was at the head of them, Jeremiah guessed it was the wrestling team and some football elites. They were parading through the parking lot again when they could have been using the football field as per usual. It was like watching a bad re-run of Baywatch or a scene from 90210.

“Seriously?”

Kaiya chuckled a little and closed the door. “Let them exercise.”

“That’s not exercising – that’s ridiculous. Isn’t going without a shirt against school policy?” said Jeremiah. “School’s still in session.”

“And it’s football season.”

“Fall,” he responded as he got into the driver’s seat and switched on the A/C. “Fall is football season, not summer.”

“That just gives them more of a reason to go without shirt.”

Jeremiah rolled his eyes before he pulled off into the street. “Please stop making excuses for them. You just want to see Liam with no shirt on. Feeding your fantasies.”

“Just drive; I’m hungry.” She adjusted the vents then looked at Jeremiah with her tongue sticking out. “I do not have fantasies about Liam.”

“You lie.”

Kaiya had been crushing on Liam since she and her mother moved to the neighborhood from California the summer before eighth grade. With him being in the position of her best friend – she still hadn’t made many female friends – Jeremiah was responsible for listening to and caring for her love life. She told him about every guy as the winds of her tastes changed, including his older brother Joey, but somehow she always returned to the great Liam Steele. Every time she mentioned Liam and whatever obsession she had with him, it was like she dragged Jeremiah into her dreamland of perfection where she and Liam were married off into a white-pickety future. It was stupid to him that she was constantly trying to fit Liam into her life: she was wasting her time and energy on him.

Liam was the epitome of preacher’s kid living a double life and Jeremiah was sick of hearing things about him. Liam made captain of the wrestling team. Liam’s doing another sermon. Liam’s leading worship. Liam wrote another song. All Jeremiah heard was Liam could do no wrong. Didn’t he already get enough of this at church? It seemed like every other Sunday Pastor Levi had some cute anecdote of how baby Levi used to imitate him, preaching in front of stuffed animals, or how trustworthy he was when it came to managing his responsibilities of the house and his schoolwork.

How could anyone not see that? Liam spent most of his free time with the college crews at the parties where Jeremiah was called to deejay. Jeremiah wasn’t one to judge – he was at those parties, too, playing the music they paid him to play. Staying away from their fun kept him from seeing his father’s face in the mirror when he woke up the next morning. He also refused to act like he knew more or had it all together; there were just things he wouldn’t do because he knew better. He was smarter than that and his mother and Coach Otero kept a short leash. But somehow Liam’s actions never added up to how he portrayed himself on school grounds or at church. It seemed like no one could see that but him. Just because Liam was the pastor’s son and did well in school should not make him poster boy for teenager of the year.

“Why do you like him so much?” Jeremiah asked as he held the glass door open for her.

Kaiya rolled her eyes with a smirk as she entered the dimly lit building, following the hostess to a booth against the exposed brick wall at the back of the room. He walked close behind her, allowing her to scoot into the center of the leather seat.

“Don’t start that, Miah. Let’s just eat, talk about the study party and then go back to school,” she ordered as she opened the menu and kept her focus down. “What do you want?”

“I want you to stop acting the way you do whenever he comes around or you hear his name. You change into this starstruck groupie or something.”

“Starstruck groupie?”

Before Jeremiah could respond to the raised eyebrow and angered look on her face, a middle-aged waitress stopped at their table with a plate of edamame and placed two green- and red-topped bottles of soy sauce in front of them. They both ordered their usuals – spicy tuna rolls and shrimp tempura that they would share – and Kaiya kept her lips pursed as she stared at him.

He glanced over and laughed. “You heard me. He’s not even all that great. You treat him like he can do no wrong when you know he’s living life.”

“I know he’s tried some stuff.”

“Oh he’s beyond trying it, Kaiya,” he retorted while taking out his iPad, “And please don’t make any excuses for him. He needs to be held accountable.”

“More than you?”

Jeremiah clenched his teeth together and glared at her.

Every time. She did this every time Liam came up. It was annoying. He was not in competition with Liam for who was the most sinless or sinful. All he did was speak the truth.

“Can we get back to the study party and your list of songs, please?”

Kaiya smacked her lips. “You brought him up.”

Yes, he did bring Liam up to prove a point and it had come back to bite him. He had known Liam since the fifth grade and they were somewhat friends, but things started to get awkward and unfriendly between them when they hit middle school. Summer came and went, puberty and hormones kicked in, and girls started crowding around the new Liam—tallest sixth grader playing rugby and wrestling—leaving Jeremiah the computer nerd with the glasses to play with his music alone. People only paid attention to him once Joey taught him how to work the turntables with his computer and let him tag along to all the high school and college parties. And yet, Liam’s shadow was cast so big that no one seemed to get out of it.

Liam always won. Even when he lost—game or match—he always won everyone’s affection.

Jeremiah glanced down at his iPad and moved around some apps to keep from looking up at Kaiya. “I kinda wanted you to see through his charade, not take up for him.”

“I’m not taking sides, Miah.”

“I think you already have,” he let out a deep sigh, then looked up at her, “Skrip or Dee-1?”

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