The next semester, they all end up in English Lit together, and it doesn’t take long for Kim to realize that even though Trini is generally quiet and contained compared to Zach and Jason, it is clear that Ms. Applewhite is not impressed with her.
“Miss Kwan, if you’ll remove that earbud, I’m sure you’ll hear the question I just asked you,” Applewhite says, tone rising in annoyance as she crosses her arms over her chest.
Trini’s eyes snap up from where she’s taking notes in her composition book—actual notes, unlike Kim and Billy’s folded jokes or Zach’s song lyrics. “Sorry. I didn’t hear,” she says.
“Her earbud isn’t even in her ear,” Kim whispers to Billy when she notices the cord is only looped around Trini’s neck. Her iPod is silent in her pocket.
Billy just shrugs. “Ms. Applewhite doesn’t like Trini,” he whispers back.
No shit, Kim wants to say, but doesn’t want to transfer her sudden wave or irritated protectiveness onto Billy. “You asked how Lord of the Flies uses fear in metaphor,” she says a little louder, echoing Applewhite’s question. “I think the Beast is the best example of—“
“I asked Trini, Miss Hart,” Applewhite says sourly. “And I’m still waiting for an answer.”
Kim glances over at Trini’s notebook and sees metaphor and symbolism in a clear heading across Trini’s notes in her favorite purple pen. Trini has plenty of ideas, and her book is littered in highlighter and Post-It notes.
Instead, she leans back in her seat, and says, “I don’t know, Ms. A. But I do know that if there were a bunch of girls on that island, things would’ve gone a lot smoother.” She shoots her a cocky smirk, the kind that would usually make Kim’s knees go weak in a different setting. “And I would’ve been much more interested in this pre-pubescent garbage you’ve oh-so-originally assigned us.”
The room goes quiet before people start laughing and jeering. Zack hollers out his approval; Jason goes a little pink around the ears, though he’s smiling.
“That wasn’t really the question, but she has a point,” Billy says, nodding at Trini in support.
Kim doesn’t cheer or smile or do anything, really. She feels a little uncomfortable, especially when Trini ignores the catcalls around her and ducks back down in her notebook, drawing tight spirals in the margins.
Kim knows she’s not a model student, but she’s always tried to be decent. She’d never in a million years think of mouthing off to a teacher like that, especially about something so…trivial. Sure, Applewhite was being kind of a jerk, but she’d been a jerk for as long as Kim could remember. This was high school. Adults were supposed to be jerks.
“You can see me after class, Trini,” Applewhite says, scowling at Trini.
“Looking forward to it,” Trini deadpans.
The class quiets as Applewhite moves on, but Kim can’t pay attention. Her eyes are trained on her girlfriend, on the curtain of dark hair under her yellow beanie, on the bored look on her face.
She knew the answer, Kim thinks. Why didn’t she just say it and get it over with?
“Why do you do that?” Kim asks the question against the smooth skin of Trini’s neck where she’s warm and sweet-smelling.
Trini leans back, brow arched. “What, this?” She runs her fingers up Kim’s ribs, making Kim laugh and squirm away. “Because you always react like such a dork.” She presses Kim further up the hood of Jason’s red Corvette—a gift from his dad after he passed the last school year with straight A’s and eventually got his license back.
Good thing he, Zack, and Billy are too busy trying make something explode in Billy’s backyard to see how they’re defiling his precious baby. Trini would normally be all over the explosions, but Kim promised her a different kind of explosive experience once they got alone, which was a perfect guise to ask Trini what she’d been wondering ever since English Lit.
“No, I mean, what happened in class today,” she says, lacing her fingers through Trini’s. “With Applewhite.”
Trini looks at her blankly. “What about it?” She’s so damn cute with her pouty lips and dark eyes and Kim just want to kiss her and forget anything ever happened, but she’s done that before…with guys. Ignored things that bugged her. She doesn’t want to do that with someone she actually likes.
“I don’t want to sound like a bitch,” Kim starts cautiously, “but you sort of egg her on.”
Trini takes a step back. “Kimberly, are you insinuating that I have,” she mock gasps, “an attitude problem?”
“Oh, definitely,” Kim says, grinning. “I love your attitude problem.” She tucks her hands beneath Trini’s flannel, seeking the warm small of her back between her cropped tee and her jeans. “But I saw your notes. You totally read the book, and got it. Why didn’t you just rattle off something lame?”
Trini shrugs. “Why should I? She has a thing against me. She thinks I’m some hood chola dyke or something else equally racist or homophobic.” There’s real acid in her voice, and it startles Kim. “I don’t need that from her, or anyone.”
“Hey,” Kim says, catching Trini’s hands again. It’s nearing fall and the air is cooling; Trini’s fingers are a little cold. She tucks them in her palms to warm them up. “You’re right. The day you take shit from anyone is the day we’re all doomed.” She thinks of Trini bitch-slapping Rita Repulsa into nothingness and knows that statement is literal. “But I think Applewhite just doesn’t like people who don’t give a crap. You get perfect test scores and then you…sass.” She cringes, knowing she sounds like her mom. We don’t use sass, beti, her mom always said. We use our heads.
“Maybe,” Trini says. She hops up on the hood next to Kim, gazing out over the Angel Grove sunset. “Maybe she’s on her rag. Maybe her husband said something stupid this morning.” She looks down at her lap. “But maybe she just thinks I’m shit on her shoe.”
Kim’s chest tightens. “Nobody could ever think that,” she murmurs. She tucks a strand of Trini’s hair behind her ear so she can see her eyes. “You’re Trini-freakin’-Kwan.”
“To you,” Trini says, a small smile creeping to her lips. “You make me feel like I’m…more.”
You are so much more, Kim thinks fiercely. Instead, she cups Trini’s chin and kisses her, soft and gentle. The hood of the car is cool under them, but she tugs Trini down anyways, their lips meeting again and again in increasing heat until they’re both panting, fingers tangled in each other’s hair and jackets and zippers. “I guess I’m just used to being the good little Indian girl,” Kim gasps, shivering when Trini’s lips trace a path down her neck. “You’re so much braver than me.”
“We don’t have to be good little anythings together,” Trini says and right as she kisses the top of Kim’s breast, the car horn honks beneath then, startling them apart.
“Could you not?” Jason says from the garage entrance where he’s holding up his key fob, Zack and Billy trailing behind him. They smell like smoke.
“I do whatever I want,” Trini says, giving Jason a cheerful middle finger. She swoops down and kisses Kim before hopping off the car. “I’m Trini-freakin’-Kwan!”
The next day in class, Trini brings in a hardback copy of a book called Beauty Queens, and when discussion begins, she is the first to raise her hand.
Applewhite’s eyes widen. “Yes, Trini?”
“I actually wanted to bring up the idea of an all-female island again,” she says, ignoring the titters around her. “I brought some notes and a few sources. Maybe we can…” she pauses, obviously biting her tongue as she finds the right words, “add it to the table?”
At first, Applewhite looks skeptical, but she sees Trini’s book on her desk on top of her folder of notes. “I’d like that,” she says, smiling a little. “Thanks for showing some initiative.” She looks almost proud, and the discussions starts without a hitch.
Kim glances over at Trini, and when she catches her eye, they both smile.