About this Series
About the Author
Also by Simone Elkeles
To Dr. Neal Gordon
who helps me find my way through this crazy thing called life
Being a boy in a Latino familia isn't easy, especially when your papa always expects you to fail and reminds you every day that you're flawed.
I wake up to the sound of mi papa yelling. I don't know if he's yelling at me or one of my sisters. Since mi'ama left to go take care of my ailing grandparents back in Mexico six months ago, he hasn't figured out that freaking out for every little thing doesn't solve any of our problems. I've learned to tune him out.
This morning is no different.
I'm pumped it's the first day of my senior year. I should graduate in June, but I'm not one hundred percent convinced it'll happen. Listen, I'm not bragging about bein' a straight-C student in my core classes, but I take pride in the fact that I've never flunked a class. I did get a D in Spanish last semester. Senora Suarez expected me to excel in her class because I'm Mexican. She had no clue I'm decent enough when it comes to speaking, but whether it's English or Spanish, spelling isn't my thing.
In the kitchen, my sister Marissa is sitting at the table reading a book as she takes spoonfuls of cereal. Her hair is in a big brown ponytail on top of her head, and I swear it looks like she ironed her T-shirt and jeans. Marissa is an overachiever... and that's an understatement. Most of the time she's so focused on getting the approval of Papa that she doesn't notice the world around her. Marissa hasn't figured out it's a lost cause to try to make him notice that she's worthy of his attention.
It would actually be funny if it weren't so damn pathetic.
Papa storms into the kitchen wearing a suit and tie, his Bluetooth headset stuck in his ear. "Where were you last night?" he asks me.
I would pretend I don't hear him, but that'd just piss him off more. I walk past him and scan the contents of our refrigerator as I answer, "La playa."
"The beach? Victor, look at me when I'm talking to you." His voice is like steel wool scratching against raw skin.
I stop and turn around to look at him even though I'd rather listen to Marissa talk for hours about mathematical equations or her theories about space and matter than be in his presence.
Papa narrows his eyes at me.
When I was younger, I was afraid of him. In Little League baseball, he'd pull me from the game if I struck out or missed a pop fly. When I started playing football, he'd have a fit if I missed a tackle and would shove me hard against the wall when we got home as a reminder that I was a failure and an embarrassment.
With him, there is no winning.
I'm not afraid of him anymore and he knows it. I think it annoys him more than anything. Something clicked freshman year after one of his rants. I walked away and he wasn't strong enough to hold me back anymore.
I can smell coffee mixed with the stench of cigarettes on his breath as he gets right in my face. "I heard there was a fight at the beach last night. ?Participo? Were you a part of it?"
He obviously hasn't seen my raw knuckles. "No," I lie.
He steps back and straightens his suit jacket. "Bueno. I don't need to hear gossip at the office about my son being some kind of thug. No reading at the kitchen table," Papa bellows to my sister in a loud, authoritative voice as he sits down with a cup of steaming-hot coffee.
Marissa quickly closes her book and places it beside her, then continues eating in silence.
Papa downs the rest of his coffee while reading a bunch of texts and e-mails on his phone, then places the mug in the sink and leaves the house without another word. As soon as he's out of sight, the tension in my neck loosens.
Dani, Marissa's twin and the extrovert of our familia, enters the kitchen wearing shorts that practically show her culo and a shirt that's a few sizes too small. I shake my head. While Marissa excels in school, Dani excels in spending money and showing the most amount of skin possible.
Usually I don't pull rank, but... it's the first day of school and mi'ama made me promise to take care of my sisters. The last thing I need is to be threatening half the guys at school who want to stare at my freshman sister's ass.
"Dani, are you kiddin' me?" I say.
Dani flips her professionally highlighted hair back and shrugs. "What?"
"You're not goin' to school wearin' that."
My sister rolls her eyes and puffs out a frustrated breath. "Seriously, Vic, you're starting to be a culero. Lighten up."
I give her the stare of a big brother who's not about to back down. I'm not an asshole. As much as Dani wants to look and act like she's eighteen, she's only fourteen. Getting attention for her body ain't gonna happen on my watch.
"You're not wearin' that skimpy crap to school," I say. "Period, end of story."
She tries to stare me down, but she should know that never works.
"Fine," she says in a huff, hurrying upstairs and appearing a few minutes later wearing skintight jeans and a white tank that doesn't hug her body. It's practically see-through, but it's better than the other crap she had on.
"This good enough for you?" Dani asks, mocking me by twirling around as if she's modeling the clothes.
"Whatever. Que esta bien... it's fine."
She grabs a granola bar from the pantry. "Adios. And before you ask who's driving me to school, I got a ride from Cassidy Richards." She tosses me a sideways glance. "You remember her, Vic. Don't you?"
She can't be serious. "Cassidy Richards?"
Oh, hell. I can tell by the sinister look on her face that she is serious.
"Why are you goin' to school with my ex?" I ask.
Dani takes a bite of the granola bar. "One, because she's a junior and can drive to school. Two, she's popular and can introduce me to all the cool people. Three, she offered to drive me. N
eed I say more?"
Cassidy Richards and I have dated on and off since the beginning of last year. We broke up for good before the summer. She has this annoying habit of posting shit online about me. It's not like she calls me out and tags me in the posts, but everyone at school knows her "breakup quotes" are aimed at me. Things like:
IF YOU'RE AFRAID OF COMMITMENT, YOU DON'T DESERVE ME
NO GIRL WILL TREAT YOU AS GOOD AS I DID
I GAVE YOU EVERYTHING AND YOU SHIT ON ME
I'M BETTER WITHOUT YOU THAN WITH YOU
and my personal favorite...
MY EX IS A DOUCHE
Yeah, that's Cassidy. Slinging the insults until she decides she wants me back. Then my phone blows up with texts saying how much she misses me. The last time we broke up, I vowed we'd never get back together. Cassidy is the poster child for drama queens. I don't do drama. At least, not anymore.
"What's wrong with our sister?" I ask Marissa after Dani struts out of the house.
Marissa shrugs. "Don't ask."
Marissa sets her bowl in the sink and follows me outside when I hear a car honk. My best friend, Trey, is parked on our driveway, sitting proudly in his old beat-up Honda Civic with over two hundred thousand miles on it.
He sticks his head out the car window and calls out to my sister, "Hey, Marissa! Want a ride?"
"No thanks, Trey," she says, pushing her glasses up on her nose as she walks away. "I want to take the bus."
When I get in the car, Trey gives me a questioning look. "Let me see if I comprehend this accurately. Your freshman sister wants to take the bus?"
"She's excessively bizarre, Vic."
"You mean weird?"
Trey looks at me sideways. He tries to sprinkle sophisticated words into our conversations. Basically he sounds like a mixture of an Ivy League scholar and a kid from the hood. I make fun of him, because while he's a walking dictionary I just use the most amount of simple words possible.
"Let's just say Marissa probably considers ridin' the bus a high school social experiment and will write a paper on it for sociology class," I tell him.
Trey's engine sputters twice before he backs out of my driveway. "As I said, your sister is bizarre."
"What about your sister?" I ask. "She walks around like she's some kind of Hollywood celebrity ever since Jet got her that modeling gig."
"I'm not denying that my sister is eccentric," he says, amused. "Speaking of eccentric, Cassidy Richards just pulled out of your driveway with Dani. I thought I had the wrong house. Why was she here?"
"I don't know what Cassidy's up to," I say.
Trey laughs. "She wants to be your girlfriend again. That's what's up."
Just the thought of it makes me shiver. "Not gonna happen."
"Next month is the homecoming dance," he says. "Maybe she wants a date and you're it. If you don't have another girl to ask, you might as well acquiesce and go with her. You're not going stag, that's for sure."
Hell, homecoming is the last thing on my mind. "Let's change the subject, man. I don't want to talk about Cassidy or homecoming. Or acquiesce, whatever that means. Talk so normal people can understand you."
"Don't you want to increase your vocab, Vic?"
He shrugs. "Fine. So let's talk about the fight you got yourself into last night," Trey says. "You okay? I heard it was brutal."
"Yeah. I mean, the dude totally clocked Heather." I look down at my busted knuckles. I'd heard that Heather's boyfriend was into boxing and stuff, but I had no clue he used her as a punching bag until last night when I saw him hit her at the beach. She tried to blow it off, saying it was the first time he'd been abusive to her.
I don't give a shit if it was the first time or fiftieth time. The dude needed to know that you don't hit a chick without consequences.
"I would have backed you up if I'd known about it," Trey says.
Trey is in line to be valedictorian, and he's always been squeaky-clean. He worries about his grades just as much as his reputation, which is why I didn't want him getting involved in a fight that could have ended with the cops being called.
"I took care of it," I tell him.
I always take care of business. Trey uses his words. I use my fists.
Unlike Trey, I don't care about my grades because whether I study or not I do shitty on tests and quizzes. Being a dumbass in school is a curse I was born with.
Trey's cell dings three times.
"It's a text from Monika. Read it to me," he says, refusing to text and drive. He doesn't take his eyes off the road and his hands stay at the ten-and-two position like we were taught sophomore year in driver's ed class. "What does she want?" he asks.
"She wants you to break up with her so I can date her."
Trey chuckles. "Yeah, right. Vic, the day my girlfriend would go out with you is the day you get on the honor roll."
That's a true but depressing thought. "Well, that's never gonna happen."
"Exactly." He gestures toward his cell. "So what did she say?"
"She said, 'Hey.'"
"Text her 'Hey' back."
I roll my eyes. "You guys are fuckin' boring."
"Oh yeah? If you acquired a girlfriend, what would you be texting her?"
"You don't acquire a girlfriend, Trey. But if I had one, I'd text her a helluva lot more than 'Hey.' Especially if I had a vocabulary like yours." I'd probably say something along the lines of how I thought about her all night and can't get her out of my mind.
"I text my side chicks dirty stuff," he jokes. "Do I get street cred for that?"
"Yeah, right." Everyone knows that Trey and his girlfriend, Monika Fox, are inseparable and will most likely get married one day. He wouldn't cheat on her.
The truth is, Trey has no clue I've been in love with Monika for years.
But he's dating her, so under our unspoken Code of Bros, she's eternally off-limits.
Even if I can't get her out of my mind.
I hate getting out of bed in the morning, even during the summer months when I can sleep until noon. Today is the first day of my senior year. When my alarm woke me at six this morning, I was reminded that summer vacation is over.
I shuffle, semi-hunched over, to the bathroom. After I brush my teeth, I stare at the medicine bottle on the counter. The pills are staring back at me, saying, "Take me!"
I pop one in my mouth and swallow it with a cupful of water.
"Monika!" Mom yells from the foyer. "You up?"
"Yeah!" I call out before I step in the shower.
"Good. I'm making your breakfast soon, so hurry up! I don't want it to get cold."
In the shower, I close my eyes and let the hot water wash over my body. When I get out, I feel a hundred times better... closer to normal. And when I walk downstairs in my cheerleading uniform, the required attire for cheerleaders on the first day of school, I'm pumped.
Adrenaline is racing through my veins. I'm ready for this. I feel great right now.
"You look so cute," Mom says, kissing me on the cheek. My mother places a plate full of pancakes in the middle of the table and another plate with two eggs in front of me. "Here," she says.
I laugh. "This is enough for the entire Fremont High student body, Mom."
"Your mother got carried away," Dad says, appearing in the doorway wearing khakis and a custom button-down shirt with the name Dr. Neal Fox embroidered on it. I used to wish my dad was a different kind of doctor than a plastic surgeon, but then I met a patient of his who had his face bitten by a Pit Bull. He told me my dad was his hero. He said he would have wanted to die if my dad hadn't helped him, and that changed my perspective on everything.
Dad kisses the top of my head. "How are you feeling, sweetie?"
"Great," I tell him.
"Did you take your pills?"
"Yes, Dad. You ask me that question every morning, and I always give you the same answer. When will you
"He'll probably text you every morning when you're in college," Mom says, nudging my dad playfully.
My dad gives me a guilty grin as he wraps his arms around my mom's waist and kisses her. "You know me so well, darling."
Yes, my parents flirt with each other. Sometimes I groan about it, but most of my friends' parents are divorced or not living together. It's comforting knowing that my parents actually love each other.
Mom, who works as an advertising executive, pulls out her cell and points it at me.
I raise a brow. "What are you doing, Mom?"
"Taking a picture of you on your first day of senior year. It's so exciting!" Her grin is so wide I want to laugh.
"Umm... Mom, I'm not graduating high school yet," I tell her. "It's just the first day. What if I get all Cs? Or Ds? Are you going to take a picture of me then?"
"Of course we will, Monika," Dad says as he takes a sip of his morning tea. "But if you get all As you can pick what college you want to go to. That'll be a bonus."
"No pressure there, Dad," I say jokingly. It's no secret that my dad graduated at the top of his class.
"We just want you to do your best," Mom says, snapping another pic. "If you don't, your uncle Thomas will come here and talk some sense into you."
"Cool. I love Uncle Thomas, even if he is a hardass." I give my parents a questioning look. "If Cs are my best, you're both okay with it?"
My parents glance at each other, then look back at me.
"You're not a C student, Monika," Mom says.
"And neither is your boyfriend," Dad chimes in. "From what I understand, Trey is on track to be valedictorian of Fremont High."
"How did you know?"
He holds up his mug in salute. "Trey told me. That boy is a genius."
Leave it to my boyfriend to talk to my father about colleges and school rank. That and football are his go-to topics of conversation.
My cell buzzes. It's a text from Genius Boy himself.
TREY: I'm outside. You ready?
ME: Yeah. 1 sec.
"Genius Boy is here," I tell my parents, shoving the rest of a pancake into my mouth.
"Does he want to come in?" Dad asks. "Tell him there's plenty of leftover pancakes and eggs."
ME: My p's want to know if you want pancakes & eggs.
TREY: I already ate. Make sure you tell them I said thanks!
ME: Kiss ass.
I take another forkful of eggs, hug my parents good-bye as I set my dishes in the sink, and head out the door.