“Okay, well, I’m definitely not white or affluent or whatever.”
Jan’s expression softens a tad. “Maybe not, but you do have a lot of white things. Money. Nice house. Nice phone. Making it with Asia Afrodesia.”
Oh, for crying out— “I feel I should point out that we didn’t do anything except kiss and take creepy photos.”
“That’s not what the Internet says.”
“Since when has the Internet ever said anything meaningful?”
“Hm. Point. Still, I can’t help feeling…margined whenever we hang out together.”
“You mean marginalized.”
Jan throws his hands in the air. “Even my words are inferior!”
“They’re not inferior,” I say. “English just isn’t your first language.”
“And that’s the problem. I’m tired of not quite grasping the words, of not quite having enough money, of always having to be secondary to others. I’m tired of Ernie calling me ‘dirty Czech.’”
“I can guarantee he’d call you that even if you made a million bucks a year.”
Jan looks away. “It doesn’t matter. I’m finished being the poor kid of the group.”
“You’re not the poor kid of the group.”
“Except I am.”
I look away, too. “What do you think goes on when the rest of us aren’t hanging out with you? Like, we sit around going over the Runt Squad ledger? Who paid what, where, and when, and then we take turns complaining about how much or how little you contributed?” I sigh. “When I first started high school, I was terrified. I didn’t know anybody. I was anxious and alone, and I didn’t have any friends. I’d never had any friends before you guys. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that I know you. I don’t care about money or class or how many followers you have on Facebook or whatever. None of us cares, Jan.”
“Yeah, well, I do.”
“That’s totally something a white person would say.” Jan shakes his head. “How come it’s okay for rich people to pursue money and wealth, but when a poor person pursues the same thing, they’re told not to bother? How come when you’re rich the pursuit of money is all about being affirmative and resourceful and living your best life, but when you’re poor it’s always ‘money doesn’t make the man, money doesn’t buy happiness, you should be satisfied with your life the way it already is?’”
It’s not the worst advice in the world—but I don’t dare say that for fear of Jan thinking I’m exercising some kind of privilege.
“My point is,” he goes on, “it’s easier to be happy with yourself when you already have the things you want.”
OMG. Are Jan and I…are we having an argument?
Jan seems to be wondering the same thing, and faces me.
Will I earn any Bloodcoin if he decides to punch me in the face?
“You should go,” he says after a sec. “I’ve got some more mining to do before I call it a night. Also, the Ex-Husbands are managers now, and aren’t big fans of the ruckus we caused the last time we were here. Use the garden shed entrance. Old Bagu can’t see or hear for shits.”
I glance nervously over my shoulder. I’m in my default skin now, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still be found out—and I definitely don’t want to be found out, not by a bunch of lunatic Ex-Husbands who run a Bloodcoin carnival.
“Here.” I hand over my Bloodcoin tickets.
“What’s this for?” Jan asks.
“I’m never going to use them.”
“Are you sure?”
I start to turn away—
Jan stops me. “Theo?”
“Do me a favor and keep my, er, night job a secret?”
Feeling lost and confused and several shades worse than before I’d left in the first place, I nod and head back the way I came.
* * *
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