Tonight, at the ten-kegger, Antonio is mine. I don’t know how I’m going to make it happen, but I’m finally going to be with him. And by the big Halloween party in a few weeks, we’ll be a couple. I just know it.
Antonio Gutierrrrrrez is a super-foxy guy with copper-flecked, wavy Breck-girl hair and hazel eyes rimmed by long lashes. I daydream a lot about those lashes brushing my neck. He lives in San Berdoo, the next city over, in the Westside, an old barrio, where teenage boys are either Mama-whooped pew warmers, choloed out gun-slingers, slur-tongued porcupine-arm junkies, or enlightened militant or mellow Chicanos. Antonio is a mellow Chicano who likes to read Ché, Malcolm X, Neruda, and Chicano poetry and listen to Hendrix. Coolest of all is that he calls me Raquel instead of Rachel. I wish I had the guts to tell him, “Move over rover, let Raquel take over. Let me stand next your fire.”
Ever since I met Antonio at a party two months ago, I’ve had a crush on him. I only get to talk to him at parties on the weekends, but I know he’s the one for me. Whenever I see him or think about him, the slow wah wah guitar in Bloodstone’s “Natural High” starts playing in my head and my guts twirl like a pinwheel.
Why do I feel this way
thinking about you every day?
And I don’t even know you
* * *
Chris pulls up to the front of my place and honks the horn. Lucky Chris. She turned 16 last January, so she already has a driver’s license. Her older brother is letting her drive one of the beat up cars he bought to fix up and sell, a primered ‘70 Cougar.
I shake my hips and stick out my chichis as I strut down the front walk to her car. The unusually hot weather is perfect for my outfit: a brown spaghetti strap dress with a turquoise and teal geometric print. Except, I had to wear my two-inch chocolate platform sandals instead of my cuter four-inch Carmen Miranda wedgies because Antonio isn’t much taller than me.
“Antonio’s gonna fall in love for sure!” Chris’s Southern drawl is just as thick as it was a year ago, when she first moved to town.
Sliding into the passenger bucket seat, I purr like Eartha Kitt, “He won’t be able to resist me.” I flutter my eyelashes, coated with five coats of navy blue mascara to make my ebony eyes stand out.
“Too bad Minerva can’t see us all purday,” Chris says, checking her make-up in the visor mirror as she pulls away from the curb.
“She’ll see us after the party. We’ll be wilted, but we’ll still look pretty.”
Although Minerva is the one who got her brothers to take us to these parties all summer long, once school started, she got all about the books and getting a high score on her SAT’s. Boring.
“It’s sad that Minerva doesn’t go out with us anymore,” Chris says. “I miss us three Mousesketeers.”
“I don’t want to sound mean, but I’m glad Minerva isn’t going. She’d bring us down with her feminist talk, saying that we don’t have to doll up like Barbie to get a guy. And I’m tired of her geek lectures about how partying is a waste of time. What a hypocrite.”
“Oh my, I didn’t realize you were mad at her.”
“Just shut-up Chris.” I squint my eyes at her, letting her know that I’m not mad, but she’ll get me there. “Crank up KCAL. I need some rock.”
“I love that we bicker like sisters.” Chris says, turning on the radio.
“Ramblin’ Man!” We both scream and start singing with the Allman Brothers band.
Chris and I have everything planned out. Since it’s Sunday and we’re not allowed to go out on a school night, we told our Mamas that we need to stay the night at Minerva’s to get help with a big algebra test tomorrow. It’s not a whole lie. We do need help, and we are going to Minerva’s: after the party.
Mama doesn’t care anyway. She took my baby sister Nat the Brat to stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s, so “she won’t be home alone.” Mama usually spends Saturday and Sunday evenings with her boyfriend Tom, dubbed Too-Good-Tom by Nat and me, and comes home real late, but tonight she’s going to stay over at his house. She thinks I don’t know, but I saw her put her overnight bag in a grocery bag and sneak it in the trunk of her car before she left.
Mama met Too-Good-Tom at Sears five months ago when he went up to her at the customer convenience counter to ask for directions to the bathroom. Romantic. It’s bad enough that my mother has a boyfriend, but he’s a jerk. Nat and I only met him once: the first and last time he picked up Mama for a date. He barely smiled when Mama introduced us, like we annoyed him or something. Mama thinks he looks like Lloyd Bridges in the reruns of Sea Hunt, which gets her all creamy. To me and Nat, he’s pale, skinny, and snooty. His nose is even turned up. We think he hates kids. But we do like having the house to ourselves on weekend nights.
Chris parks across the street from the party. She turns off the car and checks her watch. “5:45. Right on time.”
We planned to get here after the party started, when some people have already arrived so we’re not the first ones, but early enough to find parking. The street is steep and unpaved, and we didn’t want to hike in our heels.
The party is at a small ranch in Devore that belongs to the family of the Salazar boys: seven brothers and cousins who are in their twenties and popular in this party scene. After we pay the $5 cover at the gate to the backyard, we head across the dirt yard, straight for the kegs.
“We should have worn our overalls and farmin’ boots,” Chris says, looking down at the dust on her shoes. “I’m sweatin’ like a pig ‘n heat as it is.”
“I thought it would be fancy, like Bonanza, but this place looks like it’s been here since the 1800s,” I say, looking around the rustic and rusted ranchito. A rain and sun warped wooden fence, high enough that I’d need a stepstool to see over it, surrounds the yard. Red, fuchsia, and orange bougainvillea that looks like it’s never been trimmed is exploding from different sections of the fence. On one side of the yard, two goats and a kid stand beside each other in their pen, oblivious to the people, chewing on a pile of dry grass. At the other end, a patch of corn stalks, tomatoes, and other vegetables swollen and ready to pick are fenced off with chicken wire and wooden stakes. Cactus, the kind Grandma uses to make nopal scrambled eggs and nopal salad, fans out fat and tall against the back fence. The band is set up in front of the cactus and they start jamming Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Mighty, Mighty.”
Standing in the beer line, Chris and I dance to the beat, singing, “In our heart lies all the answers to the truth you can’t run from.” About 30 people are here, standing in line and clustered in little groups around the yard, drinking and getting high. We scope out the crowd for Antonio and Elias, Chris’s crush, or anyone else we know. Nobody. Not even Minerva’s brothers, who always come early to help set-up. Most everyone in this party scene is from San Berdoo and Colton, in high school or older, Chicano and Chicana. Some are white or black. Not many are from our town although it’s just fifteen minutes away. I guess they’re just not as cool as us.
The sun baking the ground makes the hay and animal stink rise from the dirt. Good thing the guys in front of us in the beer line light up: automatic incense.
I spot Antonio walking in with his buddies. He’s got on my favorite outfit: a white v-neck t under an unbuttoned blue and green plaid western shirt with the sleeves folded up to his elbows, showing his tanned push-up-muscle forearms, brown Levi cords, and brand-new wallabies. Bloodstone starts crooning in my ears and my stomach somersaults so fast I can’t breathe.
“You’re wearing matching colors, just like an old couple,” Chris teases. “But I don’t get why he’s wearing cords. His you-know-whats must be melting. Y’all won’t be able to have babies.”
“Get your mind out of his pants,” I push my side into hers. “He came prepared for the cold after it gets dark.”
Just then, the band finishes the song, and Chris and I clap and howl. Charles Montero, the lead singer and guitarist, is a good friend of Minerva’s brothers, so he’s become our friend, too. I love Charles’ band. They have horn and percussion sections and sound as good, sometimes better, than the bands they cover. The musicians are brown, black, Chinese, and white, so they named their band “Colours of Funk.” Terry, the sax player with a beach ball sized afro, picks up his flute and starts playing Tower of Power’s “Sparkling in the Sand.” Charles winks at me and announces, “This one is for Rachel.” I give him my big Bozo smile and mouth thank you.
“Ask Antonio to dance with you.” Chris nudges me with her elbow. A bunch of people walk into the party, and she straightens up and poses like a Seventeen model, scanning the crowd for Elias. She’s too dressed up for him, in a silver-blue satin halter-dress and four-inch matching suede wedgies that she bought with money her grandma in Mississippi sent her, money she’s supposed to put in her college savings account.
“But he hasn’t even noticed me, yet,” I whisper so the people around us can’t hear. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Antonio and his friends stop by a eucalyptus tree across the yard and light up.
“Tell him you have to dance because the song was dedicated to you.”
We reach the front of the line and each hand two bucks to the scruffy faced biker guy serving the beer. He pours cold Coors from a pitcher into two large waxed paper cups.
“Why do y’all put a slice of white bread in the pitcher?” Chris asks, using her slow, sweet drawl.
He gives her the funny look that everyone makes the first time they hear her southern accent. Then his face turns into a growl. “It keeps the froth down.”
We step aside, and Chris talks loud enough for him to hear. “It’s bad enough this beer looks and smells like piss; I have to taste wonder-why-it-doesn’t-kill-you-bread, too?”
“Mellow out,” I whisper without moving my lips, smiling at the biker guy. “You sound like Minerva.”
Antonio sees me and waves. His eyes squint the cute way they do when he smiles. I wave back, all excited, trying not to drop my purse and beer.
“Okay, I’m going to do it.” I turn my back to Antonio, chug my beer, grab Chris’s cup, chug it, and hand her my purse and the empty cups. “How’s my lipstick?”
Chris dabs the corners of my mouth with her fingertips. “Fine. Now get!” She gently smacks my butt.
I don’t know if it’s the beer or the way Antonio watches me cross the uneven dirt yard or that I’m scared he might turn me down and scared he might accept, but my platforms get heavy and wobbly with each step I take, and my head is ready to flap away, like a startled crow. I hope I don’t trip on a rock and fall and give a show of my panties to everyone.
“Hey, Rrrraquel.” He hands me a roach on the end of a feather clip.
I love the way he says my name. It’s all I can do to keep my stomach from shooting out of my belly. “No, thanks.” I take a deep breath. “Would you like to dance?”
“Sure,” he says. Just like that. So easy. He hands his beer and the roach to one of his buddies, takes my hand, and walks me past the two couples on the dirt dance floor, to the front of the band.
Lucky for me, the song is long, with flute and trumpet solos, and is still playing. Charles winks at me. I wink back and smile big because I finally have my man. Antonio twines his arms around my waist, and I wrap my arms around his neck, as though we slow dance all the time. I lay my head on his shoulder and inhale deep, finding comfort in the scents of pot and detergent in his Mama-washed clothes. His chest is hard against mine. Hermano works out. I wish I could check my pits. I get bad b.o. when I’m hot and nervous.
“You look really good in that dress.” His breath tickles my ear. “Did you go to a fancy party or something?”
I’m dressed up for you, I want to say. “Chris and I were at her aunt’s birthday dinner close by, so we stopped by to check out the band.” I manage to get the words out smoothly, like Chris and I had rehearsed on our way to the party.
“That guy your boyfriend?” Antonio points his chin toward Charles. His voice sharpens. “That why he dedicated a song to you?”
“You sound jealous. I like it.” I can’t believe I said that. My face feels hot. I hope it’s not turning red. I explain that Charles is a friend. “And he dedicated the song to me because he knows I love Tower of Power.”
“Okay then.” Antonio pulls me closer. We slowly rock back and forth, like a baby’s cradle. Charles sings the final, “You’re a diamond sparkling in the sand,” and the music stops. But Antonio doesn’t let me go.
“Want to see what the next song is?” He looks directly in my eyes.
I must have a beer buzz because I feel calm and can hold eye contact. “Sure.”
The keyboard player starts playing Chicago’s “Colour My World.” Antonio and I hug tight. I shut my eyes and thank Our Lady of Guadalupe for such a slow song.
“I’m glad you’re not dating that guy, or I’d have to kick his ass,” he chuckles.
“You’re kidding, right?” My stupid voice is high pitched and girly.
“About kicking his ass. But I’m glad you’re single. You are single, right?”
“Yeah,” I say, trying to sound cool, like I’m not about to break out singing: “And I’ll take to the sky on a natural high.”
“Because I’ve been wanting to ask you out for a while.” He gently lifts my chin with his fingertips; his lips are less than an inch from mine. His beer-pot breath wafts up my nose, like a love potion. “What do you think about that?”
“I like it.”
Our lips squish together and we start making out. Hermano knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t swab my teeth and the inside of my cheeks, like Arthur Cantu, my first kiss, or shove his tongue down my throat and smash his teeth into my lips, tearing my skin, like Johnny Montoya, my second kiss. Antonio’s kiss is smooth as tripe in a fresh bowl of menudo.
We turn round and round, like a 33 on the record player, through two more long slow songs, our mouths connected suction cups. I’m glad the Santa Anas aren’t blowing and bothering my allergies, clogging my nose.
The sun is almost finished slipping out of the sky when the band starts jamming Led Zepplin’s, “Heartbreaker.” Some spastic guy bumps into us and jabs us loose with his elbow. I feel like I just woke up, and it’s gotten cold. The backyard is packed now. We decide to get another beer and head for the line, where I find Chris looking like she’s ready to cry.
“He’s with O-livia.” Chris shakes her head. “She’s so pretty!”
Olivia is one of the prettiest white girls that come to these parties. She looks like a real Seventeen model with waist length yellow hair and seafoam green eyes.
“I’ll get the beers,” Antonio says and moves up with the line.
The next thing I know, Chris lurches her head forward and splashes a gallon of throw up onto the ground in front of us. I can’t help myself and look. It’s a mess of chunks of food they’re serving here—salad, refried beans, and barbecued goat—doused with some pink-orange liquid that smells like rotting oranges.
“Eeew,” the crowd cries and steps back.
Antonio rushes over with a hand full of napkins. “Is she alright?”
“I better take her home.” I wrap my arm in hers. “Will you help me take her to the car?”
He puts his arm in her free arm and we walk Chris out of the party.
“How’d you get so sick?” I ask.
“Tommy brought in a big bottle of tequila sunrise. When I saw Elias and Olivia walking in holding hands, I grabbed the bottle and chugged it all.”
We pass Patsy Rodriguez and her rough-edged girls, paying to get in at the gate. Patsy hollers, “Bitch!”
Patsy, or Queen Kong as everyone calls her behind her back, is diesel truck wide, skyscraper high, and angry. For no reason, she’ll decide she doesn’t like a pretty girl at a party and will drag the girl by her hair to the street and slam her head on the asphalt. Irene, the chola who was after me last year at school, is like a baby duck compared to Patsy. Even guys won’t mess with her. About a month ago, Patsy decided that she doesn’t like Chris. So far we’ve been able to ditch her.
“Get me out of here.” Chris swallows hard to keep from throwing up. The three of us pick up speed and are almost running.
Patsy yells behind us, “You better leave. I’ll tear your ass up!” Her girls laugh that we-can-snap-you-in-half laugh.
“She won’t jump you. Your vomit is a weapon,” I joke, but goose bumps are shooting up all over my body.
Chris splashes another gallon of throw up in the gutter beside the Cougar. Good thing her brother hasn’t painted it yet. I open the passenger door and Antonio helps her in.
“I can’t be in a moving car right now.” Chris gasps. “Let me sleep a while.”
“Are you sure?” I wipe her mouth with a tissue from my purse. I don’t know what to do. She’s never gotten sick before, let alone at a party.
“Yes, and get out of my face. Your beer breath makes me want to puke.”
We give her a large Jack in the Box cup Antonio found in the bushes to throw up in. She takes a whiff, says she likes the cola smell, and closes the car door.
I don’t feel comfortable leaving Chris alone in the car, so Antonio goes back inside to get us some beers and the keys to his buddy’s cherry sky blue ‘68 Camaro SS parked across the street from the Cougar. We’re going to sit inside until Chris is ready to go. A hot car and my man: my dreams have come true.
Now that it’s almost dark, the air is giving me a chill, so I get my jacket out of the trunk and put it on. Then, I start thinking too much and get nervous. I’ve never been alone with a guy before. Arthur kissed me in the Convention Center lobby during a dance. And Johnny surprised me. He grabbed me at the Swing Auditorium while I was rocking out to Robin Trower playing “Too Rolling Stoned.” Those kisses ended fast, and then I shined on the guys.
What if I burp in Antonio’s mouth or fart on accident? What if he thinks I want to do it and gets nasty? I’m ready to get in the Cougar and take off when Antonio comes walking up the street, holding a beer in each hand. My stomach starts twirling, and I can’t wait to kiss him again.
“Sorry it took so long,” Antonio says.
“No problem. Can I have one?” I reach out and he hands me a cup. I take a big chug.
“Hey, save some for later.”
“I’m so thirsty,” I say and take another big chug.
We check on Chris through the passenger window and laugh. She’s passed out with her mouth open wide, snoring.
After pushing in the Isley Brothers eight-track and adjusting the volume, Antonio climbs between the bucket front seats and slides across the tuck and roll leather backseat, into my arms. I’m feeling woozy and warm and take off my jacket. My stomach must be happy, too, because it stays still. Ronald Isley croons “I wanna be living for the love of you,” and we tangle together like weeds in an open field on a spring day. Antonio rubs his hands up and down my sides, on the outside of my dress. I’m ready to push him away if his hands get too close to my chichis or butt, or if they try to slip under my dress, but they don’t. Nice. I can trust him not to go too far. He wraps my legs around him, and we rub our crotches together, hard. I’m out of breath. I’m sparkling from the inside out. The inside of the car is sparkling, even the music. Antonio pulls my hair back and sucks a chain of hickeys around my neck. It hurts bad, but I clench my fists and take the pain because I want his mark, happy that I’m his girlfriend now.
It’s 11:46 when I pull the Cougar up to the front of Minerva’s house, and I hope she’s still up. Chris turns her face from the opened passenger window and says she feels better. She takes a swig of the mouthwash we keep in the glove compartment in case the cops stop us, spits it out in the gutter, and sips the last of ginger ale I stopped and bought her. Carrying our backpacks heavy with our books and clothes, we tap on Minerva’s bedroom door on the side of the house. I’m shivering it’s so cold now.
Minerva’s wearing her favorite old flannel shirt opened over an extra large t-shirt from her dad’s business. “AzTech Electric Company: Serving So Cali since 1965” is printed across the front in big black letters. Her hair is especially wild tonight, like when the Santa Anas gush through it.
“You guys are late.” She snaps, turns her back to us, and walks to her desk. Pages of notebook paper filled with algebra symbols are scattered on her desktop. Minerva is in calculus. If it weren’t for her, Chris and I wouldn’t be passing Algebra II. “What the fuck happened to you two? You said you’d be here by ten?”
“Sorry,” we both say and mumble.
“You stink like mouthwash and throw-up Chris,” Minerva shakes her head at us. “Man, I’m only awake because I was worried about you.” She picks up two packets of stapled notebook paper.
“Here’s your study sheet for your test. A lot of good it’ll do you now.”
“Sorry, we just…” I say, but Minerva cuts me off.
“Spare me the lies. I’m not your mom.” Minerva goes to her desk and starts picking up.
I haven’t been here since that night before school started and she announced that she was giving up partying to focus on her future. Her room looks the same. The Janis Joplin posters are still tacked on every wall. The purple glass bong I got her at the swap meet is still on her night stand. It’s filled with fresh white and peach roses from her garden, and an orange-haired troll is stuck on the bowl. The macramé roach clips she made dangle from her curtain. She wears them as hair decorations, now. Minerva doesn’t throw anything away. That’s the hippie recycler in her.
I flop into the purple bean bag loveseat beside her record player, where a Lola Beltran album is spinning. Minerva thinks that listening to her mom’s old records brings her spirit back. Last summer, whenever “Cucurrucucú Paloma” played, Minerva and I would jump up and sing loud and act dramatic, like we were nightclub singers in a Mexican movie. Minerva said her mother would love our show. Too bad those days are over.
“Vampires at the party?” Minerva gets up to take a closer look at my neck.
“I didn’t see those before. They must hurt.” Chris flinches.
They both lean over me and inspect my neck like doctors. I get up, pushing them out of the way, and step in front of Minerva’s full length mirror on the back of her door. My neck has a chain of purple robin-egg-sized hickeys. That’s why it felt so sore.
They both walk over and stand on either side of me.
“You didn’t do it did you?” Minerva talks to my reflection.
“No. She wouldn’t,” Chris says to Minerva’s reflection, and then she gawks at my reflection.
“I’m not a slut.” I turn and say it to Chris’s face.
Minerva reaches out to touch my neck. I smack her hand away and head to her bunk bed.
“Who did that to you?” Minerva scolds.
“Damn. You sound like a mother now.” I sit on the bottom bunk bed, ignoring their stares, and change into my t-shirt and boxers. “Antonio. And no, I…we didn’t do anything. He’s a perfect gentleman. You should have seen how good he took care of Chris.”
“I hate to tell you,” Chris says, “but gentlemen don’t give hickeys.”
“You’re just jealous because Elias likes Olivia instead of you.”
“You’re a bitch.” Chris stomps into the bathroom and slams the door behind her.
Minerva raises her arms. “Shshshsh! You’ll wake up my dad.” Then, she sits beside me and softens her voice. “Chris is right. Dudes don’t give girls they respect hickeys.”
“Dudes? What are you? Dirty Harry?”
“I thought that with all your feminist bullshit you’d be cool about it.”
“I’m trying to protect you. I hear what my brothers and their friends say about girls.”
“Well, I don’t need your protection.” I climb up to the top bunk and pull the sheet over my head.
Chris opens the bathroom door. “Rachel, tell me you’re sorry.”
“Let her sleep,” Minerva says. “Maybe it’ll bring some sense in her head.”
The next morning, I leave before they wake up and take the city bus to school. No way I’m letting them ruin my happiness.
The whole day, I proudly parade my octopus-bruise necklace down the halls of my high school, telling anyone who asks that they’re from my boyfriend Antonio.
Later that evening, I come to the table wearing my only turtleneck: an itchy wool sweater that Mama got me for trips to the snow. I hope I can pull it off, but it’s still hot inside and Mama’s baking pigs in a blanket in the oven.
“We’re not at the north pole.” Nat-the-brat rolls her eyes at me from across the table.
Luckily, Mama doesn’t hear her. She’s got the fan on over the stove and is busy stirring her green beans and onion dish in a pan with a spatula in one hand and sipping from her glass of generic 7-Up and cheap wine cocktail in the other.
“That barrette is cute,” I say, hoping to shut her up. “Did you get it at Kmart?”
“Mama, please tell her to change.” Nat shouts and fans herself with her paper napkin. “I’m getting hot just looking at her.”
“I have a sore throat,” I say and cough, “and Grandma always says to avoid getting a chill.”
Suddenly, without saying a word, Mama sets down the spatula and her glass on the kitchen counter and walks toward me, glaring at me. I usually tease her about how she looks like a Mexican-housewife-super hero in the big blue Mexican muumuu she changes into after work, with her hairspray-plastered “Wonder-Woman” do, cinnamon support hose thick as tights, and black ballet style slippers. But tonight I just sit quietly in my chair, watching her, my blood pumping so hard my veins feel like they’re going to burst.
When she reaches me, she yanks the fabric back from my neck, and shrieks. Next thing I know, she’s pulling me by the ear up the stairs.
“You’re hurting me.” I try to peel her fingers off my ear, and she digs her nails into my skin, so I let go.
Mama shoves me inside my bedroom and runs to the nightstand and unplugs the handset to the Princess phone she gave me for my last birthday. She waves it in my face.
“What the hell have you been doing?”
“Nothing, Mama. I promise.” My teeth are chattering I’m so scared.
Nat is standing in the doorway, her eyes and mouth opened wide, like when she watches a scary movie.
“Go eat your dinner.” Mama slams the door in her face. She turns to me, points the handset at my neck like it’s a knife, and pushes me against the wall. Her eyes are red and spit bubbles in the corners of her mouth.
“It was an accident. It’ll never happen again.”
She puts her face so close to mine that I can smell the wine going sour on her breath. “You’re damn right it’ll never happen again. You’re on restriction for a month.” She unplugs my box record player, puts it under her arm, stuffs the handset in her armpit, and heads for the door.
I remember that Antonio and I planned to meet at the Fleetwood Mac concert next Saturday. I’ll die if I can’t go. “But Mama.” I swallow to stop from sounding whiney. “I already paid $4.75 for that ticket. You said I could go. Remember?” Then I come up with a lie, fast. “I’m writing an essay on it for my English class.”
“You should have thought of that before you let a boy ring your neck like a chicken.” She slams the door behind her so hard the walls rattle.
* * *
Are you talking to me? I write on notebook paper. Mr. Martin, our cool, blonde surfer-dude science teacher has his back to the class as he goes over the periodic table. I fold the note into a triangle and pass it to Chris, sitting in the desk beside me. We haven’t spoken to each other since the other night at Minerva’s.
Moments later, Chris hands the triangle to me under the desk. Are you sorry for what you said?
I nod yes.
When the bell rings we leave class together.
“Your mom called my house last night. She and my mom talked for an hour.” Chris sighs as we walk toward the PE building. “I’m grounded until after Halloween.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, “for what I said about Elias and for getting you into trouble.”
“It’s okay.” Chris hangs her head. “You’re lucky your dad isn’t around.”
“I can’t believe you said that.” My family hasn’t heard from my father since last Christmas when he called to tell us he was living in Missouri. Mama has to work overtime because he still hasn’t sent her money for us girls.
“I didn’t mean it that way.” Chris rubs my back. “You know how ornery my dad is. He’s talking about sending me to live with my grandma in Mississippi until I graduate. She’s ornerier than him, real strict, and particular.”
Minerva passes us without saying hi.
“What’s her problem?” I ask.
“Your mom called her dad, too.”
“So, she can still talk to us at school.”
“I think she’s sick of us, Rachel.”
“Forget about her. She’ll get over it.” I wave my hand in her direction. “Help me figure out how to get a hold of Antonio to tell him I won’t be at the concert.”
“I’m staying out of it. I’m in enough trouble.”
“C’mon, best friends are there for each other.” I put my arm around her and smile my Bozo smile. That always gets her.
“Let things calm down. Your mom’s really upset. She told my mom she’s afraid you’re having sex.”
“Ugh! Why do you all think that?” I stomp off.
Mama’s been driving me to school every morning and having Grandpa pick me up in front of the administration building the minute school lets out and take me to his house. I thought she wanted to make sure I didn’t have fun. I can’t believe it’s to keep me from having sex. My eyes start to blur with tears, but I can’t deal with that now; I have to figure out how to get to Antonio.
After dinner, I’m in my bedroom, sitting in front of my vanity mirror, admiring my hickeys, replaying my night with Antonio in my mind. I hear the phone ring downstairs and crack open my door.
“Hello.” Mama answers it downstairs. “Who’s this?” she says in her angry voice. “Well, Antonio, are you the boy who disgraced my daughter?”
I sprint down the stairs to the kitchen and grab the phone out of Mama’s hand. She shoves me against the wall, and I freeze. Nat jumps up from where she’s lying in front of the TV and runs over to us.
“Go to your room,” Mama yells at her. Mama yanks the phone from my hand and slams it on the receiver. Then, she presses her hands into my chest and pins me to the wall.
“Are you having sex with this boy?” She spits in my face. Her breath smells like sour wine again.
“No. No,” I sob. I want her to believe me, but she glares at me with that disgusted look she gets when she sees women in the mall, showing too much leg or chi chi. Her left eye is twitching, and she’s breathing heavy out of her mouth. I can’t stand her looking at me this way, so I turn my eyes down to her hands.
“Damnit, Rachel. Tell me!” She pushes me harder against the wall.
Then it hits me that I’m fed up with her and everyone else thinking so lowly of me. “Yeah, I’m a big slut.”
She slaps my face hard. This just makes me madder.
“Why don’t you leave Nat and me alone again to go have sex with your stuck up boyfriend?”
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” She grabs my shoulders and shakes me.
I jerk sideways, break free of her, and run toward the front door.
“Come back here.” Mama runs after me.
I glance at Nat, watching us from the top of the stairs, fling open the door, and run outside.
“Rachel. You better get back here.” Mama chases me. “Rachel.”
There aren’t many streetlights on my street. It’s dark and hard to see. I don’t know where I’m going. I just run as fast as I can, until I can’t hear Mama anymore. When I reach Baseline Avenue, I wonder if I should call Antonio from a pay phone at my high school across the street. Then I realize I don’t have my wallet. I don’t have anything but what I’m wearing. Without thinking, I stick my thumb out in the direction of Antonio’s.
A dirty station wagon pulls over. A gray, creepy white man offers me a ride, and I tell him my mom is picking me up. Next, a lady in a flimsy yellow mailman-like jeep pulls over. She looks mid-thirties, about Mama’s age and has plain bobbed hair and librarian glasses. She seems safe.
“Where are you going?” She says in flat tone. No friendly smile.
“To the Westside. Fifth and Pico.”
“I’m going to the train station and can drop you off on the way,” she says without any personality.
I take a quick check of the inside of her jeep. It’s bare except for her purse sitting beside her. There isn’t even a backseat. I decide she’s okay and get in.
We head east down Baseline. I scan the street for Mama’s Charger, ready to duck. The jeep rattles, breaking up the silence. I’m ready for her to ask my name, ask me what I’m doing hitchhiking, but she doesn’t even look my way. So, I keep my eyes on the street, thinking about what I’ll say to Antonio when I get to his house. I don’t even know his address; I only know that he lives on Pico, three blocks north of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. That’s what he told me the night he gave me the hickeys.
The lady drops me off in front of the church and drives off before I can thank her.
The church bells ring nine times as I walk up Pico. The street is dark, empty. Only a thin slice of moon shines from the black sky. It’s cooler now, too. I suddenly remember that this is a rough neighborhood. Cholos and druggies roam here like rats. Goosebumps rise on my bare legs and arms. I wish I were wearing more than tennis, a t-shirt, and jeans.
I stand beneath a flickering streetlamp, in the middle of what I think is Antonio’s block, trying to tell which house is his. That night in the car, he said he liked to sit on his porch beneath the light at night and read. So far, the light is out on every front porch. Headlights turn onto Pico and slowly move toward me. As it gets closer, I can tell that it’s an Impala lowrider. I hope Antonio is inside.