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High School Coming of Age People of Color

The elevator jolted to a stop. 

“Okay, cut it out.”

“Cut what out?”

“Stop screwing with the elevator. I know you don’t care about your grades but I need to get to class.”

“How do you think I’m screwing with the elevator?” Enrico pushed the buttons but nothing happened.

Mercedes gasped. “Oh no, you mean we’re stuck in here?”

“Looks like.”

She looked at the panel that contained two arrow buttons and a keyhole and nothing else. She rolled her eyes.

“Who the hell installs an elevator without an emergency phone?”

Enrico gaped at her and she sucked her teeth.

“What?” she snapped.

“You cursed.”

“Yeah, so.”

“I didn’t know you cursed.”

“Well, duh. I’m not a nun, you know.”

“You sure act like one.”

Mercedes snorted. 

“Why, because I don’t slap half a pound of makeup on my face and walk around in short skirts with my boobs out?”

He chuckled. “No, because you don’t go out on dates.”

“How do you know I don’t go out on dates?”

Enrico shrugged. “You know- guys talk.”

Mercedes rolled her eyes again. “Ugh! You mean like in the locker room?”

“Yeah.”

“So you guys just get together and brag about your conquests, right?”

“Something like that.”

“And you believe everything they say, huh?”

He shrugged.

She shook her head. “Pigs.”

“So do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Go out on dates?”

Mercedes glared at him. “Yeah, I go out with Nacho.”

“Who’s Nacho?”

“Nacho Business.”

He stared at her. She stared back.

“So are you still a virgin?” 

“OH.MY.GOD! What the hell is your problem?” Mercedes yelled.

“What? I’m just trying to make conversation.”

“That is also none of your business and why do you care so much anyway?”

“I don’t!”

“Good, then shut up!”

Silence. 

God, she hated this guy. Dubbed the Italian Stallion (gag), Enrico Spezia had to be the most pompous guy in Bergen County. Strutting around the halls with half a dozen girls mooning over him at any given time. Being the star player of their undefeated soccer team, Enrico seemed to be friends with just about every guy in school.

Mercedes had to admit Enrico was easy on the eyes. He was a Junior, like her, of average height with a lean, muscular body. He made it a point to remove his shirt at any given opportunity and the teachers were forever telling him to put it back on between classes. He had sharp, jade green eyes, and thick black hair that he slathered in hair products.

The trouble was he knew he was a “studmuffin” as her friends called him and Mercedes wrote him off immediately when he swaggered through the door of her homeroom on the first day of school. They never said so much as “boo” to each other in the seven months since so why all the questions about her social life? It was probably out of boredom since they were trapped in the school elevator.

She’d been taking the elevator to and from class since she tore her hamstrings during a volleyball game several weeks ago and needed a wheelchair to get around while they healed. Since anyone who helped carry her books and supplies got to ride in the elevator with her, Mercedes saw a boost in popularity. She knew it wouldn’t last. Some kids from the cool and popular cliques had previously said hi to her in the hallway on occasion but that was the extent of their interaction. She didn’t even agree to have Enrico carry her stuff. He just commandeered everything and wheeled her down the hall.

“That was a cool shot you took in your last game,” Enrico said, staring at the wall across from them. “Before you got hurt, I mean.”

“You saw it?”

“Yeah.”

“Didn’t you have practice that day?”

“I skipped it.” He shrugged.

“You skipped soccer practice? To watch a volleyball game?” She scoffed. “What, you can’t get your own little groupies to jump up and down for you?”

His head whipped around and she thought she saw a hurt expression on his face before it changed to anger.

“Damn, are you always this nasty?”

Mercedes grimaced. She didn’t mean to hurt him. Why would he care what she thought anyway?

“Sorry, you’re right. That was uncalled for.”

He leaned against the wall and slid down to the floor.

“Forget it.”

Silence.

“So, what do you do after school in the off-season? I never see you around.” He asked.

Mercedes bit back a retort about being busy with his harem and just shrugged.

“I work. Well, I did before my injury.”

“You do? Where?”

She was surprised he wanted to know but then figured he’d probably try to charm his way into some free merch.

“Slice of Sicily.”

“At the Garden State Plaza?”

She shook her head. 

“The Bergen Mall.”

“Oh.”

The "old people mall" tended to be frequented by senior citizens power walking its halls during the day and families with small children at night. It featured a Bradlees, a brassiere shop, a bank, and a pharmacy amongst an array of seriously uncool stores.

“Yeah, not a lot of cool kids want to hang around with their grandmas.” She chuckled. 

“Do you like it?”

“It’s okay. It pays the bills.”

Enrico snorted. 

“We’re in high school, what bills do you have?”

“I give most of my paychecks to my parents to help out whenever dad gets laid off.”

“Does that happen a lot?”

“Not usually. He got laid off for a few weeks last spring but his job is talking about another round of layoffs for the whole summer. Hopefully, I’ll be done with therapy by then and can work full time.”

“Damn. I work in my dad’s shop sometimes but not because I have to. I’m over here thinking you just sit under trees reading all day.”

Mercedes snorted. I wish, she thought but kept it to herself. 100 years ago she’d be considered a bluestocking. Apparently, she gave off the same vibe. At 16 years old, she knew her social life in high school was shot but hoped to have a fresh start at a better impression in college. You’re supposed to be smart in college, right?

“I wonder how long it’ll be before they get us out of here,” Mercedes said.

“Why, are you scared?”

“No.” She scoffed. “Are you?”

“Of course not.”

Silence.

“It’s okay if you are, Mercedes. I’ll protect you.”

Mercedes laughed. 

“Protect me from what? We’re in an elevator at school, not an Iraqi battlefield.”

“I know.” He looked affronted. “I’m just saying like if you’re afraid of enclosed spaces or something. I got you.”

Mercedes gaped at him. She never expected someone like him to be concerned about her. Why was he being so nice to her? It couldn’t be because he wanted to bang her. She was tall and lanky, her dark hair in a pixie cut that had the group of lunkheads he hung out with insisting she was a lesbian. Ugh! Is that what this was? Did he think maybe his magnificent dong could “turn her?”

“What?” he asked.

“Nothing, I’m just surprised.”

“About what?”

“You. You’re being so- nice.”

“Hey, I’m nice.”

“You are not.”

“What are you talking about? Of course, I am. Everybody loves me.”

“And he’s back.”

“You don’t think I’m nice?”

“I think you’re a douchebag.”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you. Whenever you’re surrounded by your goon squad you’re always boasting about stuff, saying nasty things about girls, and telling dirty jokes to make people uncomfortable. Does that sound like a nice person to you?”

“You’re a nice person.”

Mercedes shrugged. 

“I try to be.”

“Is that why you don’t date?”

Me cago en na, are we back to that again?”

“Come on, tell me.”

Silence.

“Please?”

Who was this guy?

Mercedes sighed, “I don’t date because I’m not interested in anybody, that’s all.”

“Not even girls.”

“Dude, not every girl with a short haircut is gay!”

Enrico put his hands up. 

“Okay, okay, sorry. I had to ask.”

“Did you though?”

Silence.

“So what kind of guys are you into?”

Mercedes snorted, “Like I’d tell you.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’ll make fun of me.”

“I would never make fun of you.” He said in earnest.

Mercedes looked at him. “Why not?”

“Because you’re a good person, and you’re really smart. And knowing how you help out your parents- it’s pretty cool.”

She couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks.”

“So…”

Mercedes rolled her eyes.

“Okay, fine. I like guys who are nice and smart with a good sense of humor.”

“And…”

“And what?”

“That’s it? You don’t want him to be a stud with a private jet and a fat bank account?”

“I don’t care about that. Lots of rich studs turn out to be douchebags. No thanks.”

“So all you’d want for a boyfriend is someone who’s nice and smart?”

Mercedes nodded. 

“With a good sense of humor so he’d also be interesting to talk to. No one wants to go out with a killjoy. He’d also have to treat me with respect.”

“So, like he’d open doors for you and shit like that.”

“Yeah, just like I’d open doors for him and shit like that.”

Enrico leaned his head back against the wall and looked up at the ceiling.

“Wow.”

“Did I blow your mind?” she joked.

He looked back at her. 

“Yeah, you did.”

“Hello? Is anyone in there?” A voice called from outside.

Enrico leapt to his feet as Mercedes called out,

“Yeah, we’re here!”

“Are you alright?”

“Yes.”

“Hold tight, the fire department is on the way. We’ll get you out of there very soon.”

Enrico and Mercedes looked at each other.

“Well, it won’t be long before everything’s back to normal. Thanks for offering to carry my stuff. Sorry you got stuck in here with me.” Mercedes said.

“That’s okay. It was nice.” Enrico smiled.

“Yeah, it was.” Mercedes nodded and smiled back, telling her heart to stop fluttering like that. 

“Sade?”

She turned away from the elevator to see her husband strolling toward her. 

“You’ll never guess who I just ran into.”

“Who?”

“Carlo, Vinnie, and the guys!”

“Ah yes, and how is the goon squad these days?”

Enrico laughed, his eyes twinkling.

“They didn’t do too badly for themselves. Rick has a line of dealerships and Vinnie’s wife is pregnant.”

Mercedes’ eyes widened. 

“Somebody actually married Vinnie?”

Amore mio, that’s not very nice.”

“Yeah, I know, sorry.”

Grinning, Enrico took her hand. 

“Come on, everyone’s meeting in the cafeteria. I can’t wait to show off my wife!”

He started to pull her along but she held back.

“What’s the matter?” he frowned.

“Rico, do you ever regret marrying me?”

His mouth fell open. 

“What? Never, why would you ask me that?”

Mercedes shrugged. 

“You know how it was in school. You were the big popular jock and heartthrob and I was just some geek with her nose stuck in a book.”

“You were never a geek.”

Mercedes gave him a look that made him burst out laughing.

“Okay, look. You were one of the really smart kids and you were nice to everyone. That’s what people remember.”

“I wasn’t nice to everyone.” She glanced back at the elevator.

Enrico followed her gaze and grinned.

“That was the day that changed my life.”

“Was it?”

“Yeah, I was always surrounded by people who kissed my ass and wanted things from me. The only person who never paid me any mind was you and I needed to know why. That day in the elevator I realized I had my priorities all wrong. I wanted people to like me for who I am, not for what I could do. Nobody liked me for me and suddenly I felt very lonely.”

“Well, you were kind of a douche.”

“Kind of a douche?”

“King of the douches? The Grand Pooba of Douchebaggery?” 

They laughed.

“Yeah, but you changed that for me. I thought all girls wanted was muscles, money, and flashy cars but when you said all you wanted was a nice, funny guy who treated you right, I thought, hey, I could be that guy.” He gazed at her with an intensity that gave her butterflies. “I know you struck out on the smart bit but at least I can make you laugh.”

Mercedes smiled as she wrapped her arms around Enrico’s neck.

“Oh, I don’t know. You were smart enough to marry me.”

“Smartest thing I ever did.” He said and pulled her into a kiss that still made her toes curl even after 20 years of marriage.



February 04, 2022 05:09

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1 comment

23:52 Feb 09, 2022

I love this story. You did such a beautiful job with the characters!

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