For years I watched him hold hands with girls who didn't look anything like me. And some of them had dark hair. Some of them wore jeans. Plenty of them didn't have their ears pierced.
But they all had one thing in common: None of them were Asian.
Now when I have a crush on someone, I don't wonder if they like the same music as me, or if they watch the same kind of movies, or if we'll get along the way Jamie and I did. I wonder if they like Asian girls.
I stare at Henry's and Lauren's pictures. They're both posing like they're on a modeling reality TV show, and above their heads is the caption: BEST-LOOKING.
Lauren Finch is pretty. Not just because she has good skin and the right clothes. She has the right everything. She's universally appealing. Her nose is tiny, her eyebrows are close to her eyes, and everything about her is bright and brilliant, like someone turned up the highlights on her real-life filter.
She doesn't have to wonder if guys will like her because of her race. Nobody will tell her she's "pretty, for a white girl." She's just pretty, period.
I don't stand a chance.
Because I will never be bright and brilliant like Lauren. I have pale skin and dark hair, and my eyes are too small. She's colors and candy; I'm pencils and smudges.
I close the yearbook, tired of wishing I were someone else and tired of feeling like everyone expects me to be someone else.
"I know you aren't putting that away without asking me to sign it." Emery plops onto the metal stool next to me. Her shoulder bag drops to the floor like it weighs fifty pounds.
"I thought you'd ditched class after lunch or something," I say with a grin.
"And ruin four years of perfect attendance? Never." Emery scrunches her nose and pats the table. "Come on, hand it over."
I slide the yearbook toward her and laugh. "You might struggle to find any free space."
Emery tucks a curl of auburn hair behind her ear. "Kiko." She frowns. "You haven't asked anyone else to sign this?"
I roll my eyes like it's only a stupid yearbook and why would I care?
It doesn't fool Emery, who sighs like I'm a little puppy who just won't learn. "You can act like you don't care now, but in ten years, when you look back through this, you're going to wish you had made more of an effort."
Sometimes I can't tell whether Emery knows she's the only person I talk to, or if she just talks to so many people that she never really notices. "Okay." I shrug dismissively. "I'll ask Mr. Miller to sign it after you."
Emery snorts and scratches her pen hurriedly against the inside cover. A small tattoo of an arrow sits below her wrist. When she's finished, she slides the yearbook back toward me.
"Thanks," I say.
She taps her taxicab-yellow fingernails against the wooden table. "Are you going to Lauren's party tonight?"
My body freezes. "Lauren Finch?"
"Yeah, here," Emery says, pulling out an orange card from her bag and placing it on top of my yearbook. "They've been passing them around to the seniors on the down-low."
I look back down, reading the rest of the text.
Pre-Graduation Party at Lauren Finch's House
TONIGHT at 7pm
362 Arlington Road
I've never been invited to a party before. Not one without chaperones and sleeping bags, anyway. I don't know why, but it feels intimidating.
"I know what you're thinking." Emery interrupts my thoughts. "You hate parties and people and loud music. But literally everyone is going. You can't honestly miss the last real high school party of our lives."
"I don't hate those things," I correct. I mean, I don't think I do. I've never had the opportunity to find out.
And then I think of Mom. I think of her going through my yearbook, inadvertently reminding me how I'll never be as pretty as the other girls at school, how pretty she was when she was my age, how I'll never be as pretty as her, and I suddenly want to be anywhere other than my own house.