Composting

I’m washing carrots in the school’s kitchen sink when Jasper Chen and Milo Alvarez walk in holding hands. The minute they see me their fingers fly apart.

“Hi, Clementine,” Milo says, ever polite.

I nod, letting the cool water splash over my hands, pretending I’m not watching Jasper.

He picks up a crate of onions, and I try to ignore the way my skin hums while I watch his biceps flex.

The wet carrots glimmer with a deep orange as I set them on the cutting board at the vegetable station. The delicate green fringe is tangled together. I take a chef’s knife and whack the tops of the carrots, freeing them from their tangled mess. If only I could do the same to my feelings for Jasper Chen.

The carrot tops smell like fresh cut grass, and my lips tingle as I remember Jasper and I kissing, kissing, kissing last month in carrot patch. I want to take that memory, tie it up in a big plastic bag, and throw it out. But here at Wild Garden High School we compost.

Milo and Jasper chop onions at the station next to me. Jasper’s eyes tear up like the morning he told me about Milo, while we were weeding the garden.

“It just happened, Clem.” He yanked out a weed and put it in our compost bucket. “I know it’s not fair to you, but I love him.”

Slash, slash, slash. My knife hacks through the thick orange carrots over and over until there are dozens of tiny pieces.

Milo and I were part of the initial first grade class here. My parents were excited for me to go to a public school where we learned to garden and cook along with reading, writing, and arithmetic.

In first grade, I was the kind of girl who colored the radish in my garden journal such a deep shade of red that I broke the crayon in half. Milo was the kind of boy who took both halves, sharpened each, and said it was lucky that I had made twice as many red crayons for our table. So I understand how Milo’s presence is like sunshine at the golden hour, even if my own heart feels like unwanted vegetable waste.

Jasper wipes his eyes as he chops. Did he sign up for onions as penance for falling in love with someone who isn’t me?

I scoop up the peels from their table into a bucket with my carrot greens.

“Thanks,” Jasper says. “Hey, have you signed up as a mentor yet? There’s this kid in my apartment building named Ellie who needs someone as cool as you.”

Jasper didn’t start here at Wild Garden until seventh grade, four years ago. During our weekly nature days, he and I would race each other up to the big branch of the oak tree. He was surprisingly good at climbing, considering he had gone to one of those old-fashioned elementary schools that didn’t have nature days. I loved to sit on that high branch and look out at rooftop solar panels on the apartment buildings in the distance.

At the big gray compost bin near the kitchen door, I dump the onion skins and carrot greens on top of the other organic waste— potato peels, eggshells, and coffee grounds. The smell is rich and earthy.

Above the kitchen compost bin a white board hangs with names of the kids in this year’s first grade class. High schoolers sign up as garden mentors.

The first time I planted radishes, I was so excited I smashed all the seeds together. My mentor, Indigo, gently took my hand and used their finger to push one seed by itself. Then they licked their finger to pick up the seed, like they were a magical fairy, and showed me how to tuck it in a secret hide out in the soil. I planted all my radish seeds as carefully as Indigo after that.

I scan the list of this year’s first graders until I see Ellie’s name. I watched her chasing kids around the blacktop at recess the other day. Her clothes were stained in blue paint, her long hair tangled as if she never combed it. I write my name next to hers.

In a few weeks, these carrot tops and onion skins will turn into rich new soil, just in time for radish planting with Ellie.

Gloveless

by Rowena Eureka

In the fall, she wore black leather gloves and took on an Emo-Goth-Punk look. She had mint green lambswool gloves to wear inside in the winter. In the spring, she wore red spandex gloves to add a “pop of color” – as her older sister Kailey would say. In summer, her purple satin gloves stretched up to her elbows, framing her gauzy maxi skirts with an elegant retro-flowerchild look.

One June day, when the air felt like bath water, Sasha sat on the grass outside the cafeteria writing a French skit with Evan Martin, wondering what would happen if she went gloveless.

Sasha and Evan both liked to use movie scenes in their skits. When Madame Rétat first paired them together, they pretended they were about to be crushed by the Death Star trash compactor while they shouted out commands in French, getting pushed closer and closer together until they remembered the French word for stop, and were saved at the last moment. Sasha still remembered how her red spandex glove pressed against Evan’s bare wrist.

 When Sasha was little she thought that touch empaths were just a story she and Mama made up. But the older she got, the more confusing it was to touch people. Whenever she and Kailey fought over anything, all it took was a handshake before her sister’s feelings leaked into Sasha’s head and she had trouble prioritizing her own wants — even her own needs — over Kailey’s.

Ironically, Kailey was the one who got Sasha the gloves for her thirteenth birthday. They were supposed to be a “fun fashion accessory.” Mama had only sent Sasha to Paris that summer to visit Grand-mère, where she drank big bowls of café au lait, while learning the family secret.

Her older Kailey clearly did NOT get the empath gene. She had no idea she had given Sasha armor.

“You used to be so sweet,” Kailey said, “then you became a teenager.”

Sasha was never letting a relationship be that one-sided again.

As she and Evan sat in the grass, the humidity frizzing her hair, Sasha listened to Evan discuss his summer plans. He was taking a SAT prep class and had chosen Star Wars as his new monthly movie theme, because Sasha said she liked the newer Star Wars movies. 

“The SAT class will get me for just three hours,” Evan said. “Afternoons are for skateboarding, evenings for movies.” He had seen older movies Sasha had never heard of, like all those Ingrid Bergman films from his last month’s theme.

Sasha thumbed at the edge of her glove, daring herself to take it off.

Today was the last full day of classes. 

If it went badly, she wouldn’t see Evan all summer. They didn’t hang out in the same friend circles.

But Sasha wanted to see Evan this summer.

Now was her only chance.

“Cool purple gloves,” Evan said as he leaned back on his elbows, spreading his toned legs out across the grass.

“Thanks,” Sasha said. “It was time to break out the summer gloves.”

She was fifteen and had still never touched a boy.

“Do you ever get hot wearing gloves?” Evan asked.

It was her opening.

He didn’t know what he was asking, but he had asked.

“Yeah, sometimes,” Sasha said.

“Is it like a religious thing?”

They had been skit partners for four weeks and Evan had never asked her why she wore gloves. He seemed to get that she didn’t want to talk about them before. She had never tried to explain touch empaths to anyone. It would make her sound like a freak.

“No, I…I just always wear them.”

Evan nodded. “I get it. It’s who you are.”

His long fingers were just inches away.

Sasha decided to be daring.

“I’m just not big on touching people,” she said.

“Really?” Evan asked.

Sasha nodded. God, she couldn’t believe she just blurted that out.

“So, you never touch anyone?”

She shrugged. “I like my privacy. Sometimes people are…too much, ya know?”

 It was like the humidity was truth serum.

 “I get it.” Evan said. “That’s why I skateboard. I just need to cruise down a hill and let everything fade away.”

“Yeah,” Sasha said.

 Was she missing out by not feeling Evan’s feelings?

Evan plucked a blade of grass and wound it around his finger. “So…what about kissing?”

“Kissing?” Sasha asked.

“Yeah, you know, what Ingrid Bergman called the secret you tell to someone’s mouth instead of their ear. Is that out too?”

Sasha had never thought of kissing as two-way communication.

Would Evan know her feelings, too?

That was scary.

 “So I’d be telling you my secrets?”

Evan grinned. “I bet you have good ones.”

Sasha looked over by the building where the rest of the class sat. Everyone, including Madam Rétat, was on their phones. The last days of school had their own rules.

“You know,” Sasha said, her heart beating so fast she could feel the blood pulsing in her ears. “If you wanted to kiss me, that would be totally fine.”

Evan’s full lips quivered, the left side rising just a little.

“Every day since you did that original Star Wars movie skit with me,” he said.

He leaned in and touched his lips to hers.

Evan liked her. He really liked her.

 Sasha stilled her lips. Maybe this was too much.

Evan paused.

He was worried. He wondered if she was okay, if he had done something wrong.

Sasha pressed her lips into Evan’s, sending her own feelings back. She really liked him, too.

Ingrid Bergman was right. Evan had heard her secrets.