Home > Opposite of Always(11)

Opposite of Always(11)
Justin A. Reynolds

At my parents’ thirtieth anniversary party.

Okay, so a limited world premiere.

And with a yard full of fifty-year-olds, not necessarily our target demographic.

But still.

A hundred and twenty-five people are a hundred and twenty-five people, right?

We’re pretty amped.

But shhhh, whatever you do, don’t tell my parents that we’ve formed a three-piece band, that we’ve been practicing nonstop for months, and that it’s our way of saying thank you to two of the most awesome people this universe has ever produced.

It’s a surprise.


I consider texting Kate, but I remember something my mom once said, that my dad had “wooed her with long handwritten letters.” But my handwriting’s terrible, and I’d like Kate to get my messages sometime this year, so.

I toss my laptop onto my bed. Click Compose.

Heeeey Kate . . .

Too informal.


Wut up Kate,

Nope. Trying too hard to be cool.


Dear Kate,

Classic, right?

Dear Kate,

How do you feel about student dances? Particularly high school student dances. And if you are not vehemently opposed to the idea, would you perhaps entertain the idea of attending one, say, with me? I promise you this will not be like in the movies where the high school loser shows up to the dance with some college knockout and is the envy of all his tormenters while simultaneously the king of the Soul Train dance line—where all of the cute, previously unavailable high school girls ooh and aah and wonder aloud when did Jack King become such a stud, while his best friends cheer him on, knowing that he had it in him all along.

I am not popular, but I am not unpopular. I am squarely in the middle. Meaning, your attendance will draw little to no fanfare, because people rarely notice me. I am largely obscure.

In case any of the above was unclear, what I am attempting to say is: Will you go to prom with me, Kate?

Please (print out and) circle: YES/NO/MAYBE



PS While this will no doubt further remind you of my high-school-dom, aka I still live at home with my parents and as such am forced to abide by their rules, I would like to inform you that I am currently sentenced to community service. The community is my neighbor. The service is dog doody. And sadly, that’s no typo. Yes, doody, not duty. I’ll explain when I see you.


Please email me back soon, though, because otherwise I may die.

That is all.

* * *

Dear Jack,

I (mostly) like to follow instructions. Therefore, as you might imagine, I was super stoked to print out your last email, circle my decision, and then—

Well, that was the part where things went south.

You see, I do not have your mailing address.


My only choice was to save your email as a PDF file, open a PDF editor, circle my answer using one of their highlighter options, save the file again, upload it to my email, and then send it back to you. Hence, the attachment. I know, I know, we’re taught to be mistrustful of attachments. But please do not be afraid to open it, as it does not contain any malware and/or explosions. To my knowledge. At least at the time of me sending you this email. I cannot be held responsible for any alterations that might’ve happened after I hit Send.

I will tell you this. I am not overtly opposed to dances, even the high school variety. But I am opposed to dancing. Rather, my body is. Contrary to stereotype, not all black people are born with incredible rhythm and timing. Most of what I do on the dance floor is a sad variation of the two-step, and even then I lose count. So, please keep this in mind when (and if) you extend any future invitations involving you, me, and music.

Also, it sucks about your community service. But perhaps you can use this time to reflect on what led you down this criminal path (I’m guessing it has something to do with visiting me in your mom’s car??) and how you can regain your footing as a doody-ful citizen. I feel as though that would be a constructive use of your time, considering your propensity for breaking the rules. The car thing plus your reckless abandon of cereal-eating etiquette—you totally finished the last of the milk, dude!

Okay, I have to end this because as I am writing you I am not studying, and not studying, while fun, is grade cyanide.

All Best,


PS Did you know your initials spell JK? I bet you didn’t. (JK!)

[File attached: YesNoMaybe.pdf—scanned with no viruses detected]

I download Kate’s attachment and this is what I find:

* * *

In case any of the above was unclear, what I am attempting to say is: Will you go to prom with me, Kate?

Please (print out and) circle: YES/NO/MAYBE

* * *

How Not to Be So Alone in This World

Although my parents are disappointed in me (no, not in you, honey—in your actions. We love you, Jackie Bear) and despite my well-documented probationary status, they still let Franny sleep over on Friday. No, this is not the mixed signals mistake that parents sometimes make—when they tell you one thing but then almost immediately contradict themselves—rather, it’s because Franny’s grandma works nights every other weekend, and for the last few years, whenever he’s wanted, Mom and Dad have let him crash at our house, no questions asked. This weekend is no exception. And I’m grateful for his company.

Probation isn’t terrible (cut grass, scoop poop, stay out of trouble), but add the fact that I have a terrible case of Kate-on-the-brain, and that I can’t shake her MAYBE and all of its possible meanings from my head, and, well, any distraction is welcome.

As always, Franny insists we eat dinner with my parents. In the dining room.

“You know how I feel about eating in kitchens,” Franny says.

“I know, I know. But eating in the kitchen is, like, convenient. You know, because the food is already there.”

“Kitchens are cool, man, but it’s called the dining room for a reason. It’s begging for us to dine in it.”

I’ve heard this argument before. But I think the real reason Franny’s infatuated with the dining room is because his abuela refuses to let anyone within a hundred feet of theirs, the table and chairs literally zipped in protective plastic.

I know when I’m beat. “Fine, man. Whatever. Dining room it is.”

Franny smiles. “I knew you’d see it my way.” He sniffs the air. “Bro, you need a shower. Like, bad.”

I groan. “I had to clean up Ms. Nolan’s yard today. I’ve never seen so much dog crap in my life.”

“Do the crime, pay the time, bro.”

“Whatever. How’s Abuela?”

Franny shrugs. “Working her ass off, as usual.”


“I worry about her. She’s healthy and all that, but I wish I could do more, you know?” Abuela’s raised him since he was nine. I’m lucky, though, he’s always saying. A lot of kids in my hood don’t even have one person they can count on.

Franny’s abuela is the definition of count on. At any one time she’s working two jobs to make ends meet. Plus, she’s forever taking on side jobs, hunched over her sewing machine altering suits, christening gowns, and probably every wedding dress ever worn in Ohio. Franny pitches in, bagging groceries at the Dollar Den and spraying deodorizer into beat-up shoes at the bowling alley.

“I saw your mom’s commercial,” Franny says, grinning.

“Don’t even say it, man.”

“I love your mom, you know that, but.”

“Franny, I’m warning you, man.”

“She’s just so beautiful, man. Like, I don’t know how you can stand it.”

“Uh, she’s my mom, that’s pretty much how.”

My parents love Franny. Most parents do. His parental charms aren’t surprising, though. He is all kinds of trustworthy. If my parents are ever on the fence about letting me do fill in the blank, just mentioning that Franny will also be doing fill in the blank almost always tips the scales yes.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Franny is the superathlete son my mom didn’t get biologically. Mom played college ball, and was pretty good. A lady in the streets, but a beast on the court, she enjoys saying. (Side point: the way Mom behaves at sporting events—arguing with the refs, shouting out plays to the coaches, razzing the opponent’s mascot—is a handy reminder that “fan” is short for fanatic.)

Anyway, Mom and I (and usually Dad) go to all of Franny’s games (basketball, football, baseball, track meets), saving a seat for Abuela because her jobs keep her running late. Brown-people time, Franny always says, shrugging his shoulders and laughing as Abuela shows up huffing and puffing at the end of the first quarter.

“So, how’s your lady friend, young squire?” Franny asks. He drops his overnight bag onto my bedroom floor.

Instantly, I’m all teeth and cheeks.

What does it mean that just the mention of Kate makes me cheese stupidly?

“Helloooooo? Jack?” Franny calls. He tosses a rolled-up sock at me, but I’m unfazed. I’m elsewhere, soaring above the hills of Kateland.

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