The Beginning of Breaking Rank:
Every Thursday is uniform day. As much as I like R.O.T.C., the uniform is kind of tragic. Truly, I’m a wonder to behold. I’m black polyester from top to bottom, iron-creased from buttoned wrist to bell-bottomed toe. A Color Guard cord drapes around my shoulder like one of my grandma’s macramé projects. The glory of it all, though, has to be the hat. It resembles the newspaper kind I used to make as a kid. If I were ever lost at sea, I wouldn’t need to send out an S.O.S.; I could just turn my goofy hat over, crawl in, and float to shore.
But the shoes; I love the shoes. As I wait for school to start, I sit in my enormous car and crank open my Kiwi shoe polish, which is a fixture in my backpack the way lip-gloss is for most girls. I spit into it, wrap a corner of an old rag around two fingers, and rub them around in the goo. Soon enough my fingers ache from the forceful little circles I’m making on the leather. But they’ve got to be perfect. Shined shoes command respect. No one can look down at them and not be impressed. I slip them back on my feet. And even though they feel heavier than my backpack when it’s full, I like feeling the weight of them as they hit the floor, especially inside of Bailey High. Because in a year and a half, these shoes are going to march me the hell out of high school and into the Navy where I can start my real life.
Unfortunately, now that my shoes are shined, my hands resemble an auto mechanic’s. I pack my things up and want to go wash the cakey black residue from my nail beds, but there’s Zee’s history paper. He’s left it in my car in his haste to get to the smoking pit. Lovely. I grab it and go. The things people do for best friends. If the wet grass fucks up my shoes, or if I’m late, he’s dead.
The smoking pit is behind the cafeteria near where the Mack trucks unload the sweaty canned peas and whatnot that’s supposed to be lunch. I’m able to stay on cement surfaces until I’m about ten feet away. I stop there. As if ruining the shine on my shoes weren’t enough of a deterrent, Zee and his ferocious Chihuahua of a girlfriend have become a Velcro island of morning make-out glory between drags.
He rips himself away to see me waving his paper at him. When he notices I’m not going to bring it to him, he approaches while lighting up a new cig.
“You left it in my car.”
“Thanks, Tarin. Sorry I made you come out here.” As he takes it, his eyes apologize, too. They’re gray mostly, with flecks of blue, and they have no secrets.