So I showed up at YOTO after school. Deon said he’d take a few hours personal time and drive me. But I said nope. I gotta do this myself. I did accept the fare for the rapid transit, though.
Man, the place is colorful. I wondered if they made every kid that stayed here paint a mandala. I thought about the one I’d paint–something with the colors of the mountains.
Thinking about the mountains helped me relax. I put on a smile and walked in. Deon had called ahead, so they were expecting me.
I saw the coordinator, Aadhya Mahajan, first thing. She didn’t say much, just “Hello, darling. Come in and make yourself at home. We’ll do the intake later.”
That was OK by me. I wanted to look around before I had to sit down and fill out papers and stuff.
Nadja Aguirre and Danny Denvers were sitting in the kitchen. They both said hello, but not much more than that. I got the distinct impression that people value privacy here. That’s OK by me, too, seeing as we’re all living here together.
Marquise Mitchel was in the kitchen stirring cake batter. I took one look at his Mohawk and decided he was OK.
I stood back and watched. Everybody gave me my space. When Marquise put the cake in the oven, I made some veggie BLTs. The fridge was stocked with everything awesome, even this cool tempeh bacon that tastes so good. I’m going to see if I can find some way to get avocados. They’d go great with this tempeh bacon.
Vivaan Gupta, the co-director, walked through the kitchen. “Nice to see you making yourself at home, Jazz,” he said, just like we’d already been introduced and everything.
It was kind of cool how everybody there made me feel welcome but not conspicuous at the same time. I was so worried about a ton of questions or being put on the spot. But that didn’t happen. I just belonged.
It turns out they’ve got an unwritten “No Questions” rule. You don’t ask anybody about themselves or their past. I mean, you can ask, “What are you reading?” or “How was your day at school?” or “How’s it going?” or “Do you wanna play basketball?” Little everyday stuff. What they call “transactional questions.” But you just stay away from the prying questions.
They say, “You can talk about yourself, but you don’t ask about others. You wait until they talk to you.”
I’m waiting until Nadja talks to me. She’s beautiful. Her eyes look like mystery. Come to think of it, everybody here, their eyes show so much. If their stories are like mine, and I know they are, then I can say that their eyes show loss, bravery, resolve, betrayal, hurt, and hope.
Nadja doesn’t go to my school. None of the kids do. Mostly, they go to the neighborhood school here in Magnolia Promenade, and one or two ride the bus into Willow Creek. I’m the only one to take the RT to the city. I’m glad. This way, my being here is something that I can keep to myself. I wish all the world had the “No Questions-Wait Til They Talk” rule.
Nadja did talk a little bit my first night there.
“Do you like algebra?” she asked.
“Uh huh,” I replied.
“I love it,” she said. “I want to be a doctor one day. I love to feel my brain grow, and algebra forms new dendrites.”
It was still light when I went to bed. I felt tired. I felt so tired.
The bed is beautiful. It has clean sheets and no one else has slept in it since the sheets were changed. It has a mattress and four legs and a quilted headboard.
It was so early when I went to bed, and I thought I might sleep forever. It’s quiet. I’m inside. Nobody’s asking questions. And I can sleep.
Author’s Notes: With the exception of Marquise Mitchel (who’s a game-generated Townie), all these beautiful teens came from the Gallery. I’ll be writing a “YOTO Teens” post at some point so that I can introduce them and give credit to Simmers who created them.