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Ralphie Tastes Like Mango

Ralphie Tastes Like Mango

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Published by Christine Stoddard
"Ralphie Tastes Like Mango" is a humorous novella about a secret teenage romance that takes place in contemporary times. Read how the protagonist, Valerie, navigates her way through the world of strict parents, a punk beauty sister, a shocking friend, and more! Learn more about writer and interdisciplinary artist Christine Stoddard at www.christinestoddard.com
"Ralphie Tastes Like Mango" is a humorous novella about a secret teenage romance that takes place in contemporary times. Read how the protagonist, Valerie, navigates her way through the world of strict parents, a punk beauty sister, a shocking friend, and more! Learn more about writer and interdisciplinary artist Christine Stoddard at www.christinestoddard.com

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Published by: Christine Stoddard on Jun 23, 2009
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09/30/2012

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“Ralphie Tastes Like Mango” By Christine Stoddard “Why did you grope me?

” Ralphie asked, half-grinning in that endearing way that exposed his yellow teeth. I tried to remember how many times my tongue had grazed those canines, savored his saliva, and then retreated back into my own mouth for a brief rest. Of course the number was far higher than any human mind could grasp. And I don’t say that proudly, only matter-of-factly. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and Ralphie and I like to make-out. “Why?” I asked, pausing for the kind of dramatic emphasis I knew he craved. I always paused that way before I kissed my Ralphie, even if he denied that he liked suspense. “Because you’re my man and I wanted to touch you.” I said it so smugly that going “Hmph” afterwards would have been perfectly appropriate. It was so smug that I almost felt like having a crumpet with some sugar tea---two lumps only--just after that. But then I realized that the only thing I wanted to taste was Ralphie. No crumpet or sugar tea tasted as good as he did, gourmet or otherwise. Oh, God, this boy made me so sappy! Damn sugar tea. It’s not 1872. Ralphie eyed me, shook his head, and laughed like the little boy he had been before I touched his pants in that vulgar flight of curiosity. “But I thought you were a good girl.” He nudged me softly somewhere in between my shoulder and my elbow. I shivered the same way he did when I pressed my hand to his crotch in the theater just two nights ago. That guilty shiver. The sort of shiver you had to experience before you learned to describe it and even then you’d rather tremble again than be bothered to speak. I called it the Lover Shudder. And I was Lover Shuddering now. “Come on,” he prodded. “Why won’t you tell me?” I sighed in mock frustration, on the verge of a trademark giggle. “You obviously have yet to realize that I am only

generally a good girl--not strictly one--but I am most definitely not a nice girl.” Again, I deserved that crumpet for my prissiness. Or that kiss. And the latter was certainly sweeter. Ralphie met that statement with a cocked head and a slightly raised eyebrow, an expression that demanded my further explanation. He pulled me into his chest so that I sunk a little deeper into his lap, bringing me even closer to our topic of discussion. I wonder if I would feel him boing up soon. A mix of rich deodorant and generic brand soap was his signature scent, nothing fancy or even sexy, at least not to the general public’s nose. But it was the perfect scent to me. I didn’t care if his mom bought his deodorant on sale with one the million coupons she clipped out of the paper every Sunday. “Remember when I claimed to be a bitch?” I started, winging my defense as I tried to ignore the tiny thumping against my thigh. “Well, such a statement can hardly be refuted when its veracity is so blatant.” When I said that last word, the thumping fittingly became harder. “Anyone who sincerely knows me can only describe me in Machiavellian terms. I want something, I get it.” He looked a tad perplexed, but, perhaps not knowing how to otherwise handle his confusion, pecked me on the cheek. “You smart girl,” he whispered. Not satisfied with a mere peck, I leaned in for more and happily received it. His eager thumping continued against my thigh. Nothing was better than a French kiss: lips against lips, tongue against tongue, chest against chest… After a couple minutes of warm spit exchange, Ralphie gently pushed me away. “You tricked me,” he pouted. “What?” “You’re not giving me a direct response!”

“To what?” “My question.” “What question?” “You know.” “No, I don’t.” “The question.” “I forgot the question.” Ralphie pulled me in again so that my headed landed quite naturally on his shoulder. We paused there for a moment until I pecked his neck and then he pecked mine. “You’re really not being fair,” he whined. “I just want to know why you groped me. I mean, I’m not complaining or anything. I liked it, but it surprised me. I didn’t think you would do that. So…why did you?” I sat there in silence. How could I tell him that I had wanted to do that more for myself than for him? How could I explain the thrill it gave me to suddenly seize what I had been wondering about so much over the past couple of months? I had never touched a boy there before---I had never even seen a boy there before and I still hadn’t seen Ralphie---but recently I had found myself wanting to just...grab. I vowed that I would not make contact with his bare flesh the first time I put my hand there. I had promised myself that I would just feel him over his pants and stop as soon as he went flaccid again. And I honored that promise. It was our first formal date ever. I mean, we were still sneaking around the night that I groped him, but that date was still different. Up until then, we wandered off the high

school campus during lunchtime or met each other for about an hour after school before we both had to head home to start our tedious chores and our even more tedious homework. Those were the days of fast-food restaurants and making any excuse to “study in the library after school.” We stole kisses behind propped open history textbooks and wiped French fry salt on each other’s shirts in the backseat of Ralphie’s car. If our parents had known about us, they would have been angry. We were supposed to focus on our schoolwork and get into good colleges. (I’m going burn every copy of U.S. News and World Report in the country someday. Screw those rankings.) We weren’t supposed to be dating, but that didn’t prevent us from breaking the rules anyway. Nobody was going to get in the way of us having a real date. School was over so we had to find any excuse we could to see each other---even if it meant lying. I had never lied to my parents before so I thought it was time for me to engage in some bona fide teenage rebellion, even if it was a few years delayed. It was time for me to act out and I had a decent reason: I wanted to be with Ralphie and I wasn’t going to let anything prevent us from spinning our fairytale. Prince Charming was taking me out, regardless of whether or not it was okay with Mother and Father Dearest. The night was truly romantic, the kind of night that you long for after watching a chick flick or reading a chick lit novel. And the fact that Ralphie planned it all made it even more romantic. He made reservations at an upscale Thai restaurant and bought two tickets at the finest theatre in town for Brahm’s “Dracula.” From bamboo chopsticks to velvet-cushioned seats, it was a whirlwind of colors, smells, and giddy stomach-curling sensations. I laughed with vermicelli in my mouth, gagged on a peanut, and almost left our tickets behind at the Thai place and, still, it was too perfect. I was falling in love for the first time ever. Wasn’t it the perfect night to both reward him and answer my questions about male anatomy? It would be a hands-on

learning experience, better than anything any textbook could offer. Long before Ralphie picked me up at my friend Wendy’s house (I was “sleeping over”), I chose a sleeveless velvet dress for the evening. He had to be able to kiss my shoulders with no obtrusions. That always made me giggle. After a glance in the mirror and a quick analysis of my best and worst features, I swiped on three thick layers of bronze eye shadow and curled my eyelashes so that they fluttered like the profiles of black butterflies. A swipe of petroleum jelly on my lips completed the look. The reflection staring back at me from Wendy’s mirror provided all the reassurance I needed. I was pretty for sure. But that wouldn’t surprise him at all. What would surprise him would be what I did later that night. Wendy sighed, “I wish MY boyfriend would take me out to classy places.” “You don’t HAVE a boyfriend.” I said it so quickly that I didn’t realize what was coming out of my mouth. “Ugh. Don’t remind me. It’s depressing.” “You’re just too picky, Wendy.” “Am not! I would be happy with a guy like Ralphie…as long as he didn’t play Halo. Or, you know, act like a guy.” “ALL guys like Ralphie play Halo. And ALL guys act like guys. They’re…guys.” Had I been less excited, I might have been more eloquent. “Whatever. I’ll find some sweet nerdy guy who doesn’t.” “Of course. And if not, you can always go lesbian!” We laughed at the stupid joke. I squeezed Wendy and thought about the squeeze I would give Ralphie later that night. It

I thought it was better not to say anything when she had steak everyday for a week after she quit.was bad how my plan kept distracting me. “You’re beautiful. innocent eyes with wisps of red hair grazing her eyelids.” And it was true. At least I would get to execute it soon. the ones I don’t want to strangle. Wendy and I sat on her bed. I glanced at my friend’s even features and her big.” “But what about that small minority? You know. in which she literally ONLY ate grapefruits. “I thought you liked wal---“ “Nuts are fattening. No wonder I scare those jerks off.” “Trust me---you don’t want to date most of the guys at school. You don’t have to diet. Wendy unearthed all of the walnuts wedged inside her brownies and placed them on my plate.” I sensed another one of her quirky diet plans coming on. snacking on semi-stale brownies that her Grandma mailed her in a tin for her birthday. She was tallish with freckled porcelain skin that was always rosy at the cheeks. They’re jerks. I turned on the radio. I’m so white I could pass for a ghost. and then turned it off. “Tell that to the guys at school. grumbled at what they were playing on every station. Wendy.” .” “And brownies aren’t?” “Shut up. Your boy should be here soon. Thank Buddha for indie bands and mixed CDs. She lunged into a new one every month or so and none of them ever were ever the least bit effective. You’re a healthy weight and you look great. My favorite was her grapefruit one.

Regardless. So we went to find our seats. the lights darkened and we put the programs down. I saw a few nice dresses and wondered what I would look like in each one of them. I mean.” At some point. Move over. We were early enough that we didn’t have to climb over anyone. a sort of stumbling process that always makes me feel incredibly awkward. “But college isn’t now. and rhinestone earrings. He wouldn’t want to hear my fashion monologue. You think I want to be single that whole time? I’ll be miserable if I don’t have someone to take me to the Homecoming Dance and Prom and…” Just then the doorbell rang and I ended the conversation then. more awkward than usual. I plopped my curly head on Ralphie’s shoulder as the curtains opened. After dinner. Maybe they don’t say it because most of the nice boys are quiet and shy. There was a black satin one that is wearer paired with long lace gloves. retainers and all. commenting on actors’ biographies or their headshots. . Ralphie and I sat down and read through the programs. but I just shook my head. too. but none as young as Ralphie and I. Petersburg Ballet’s rendition of “Carmen.“They think you’re beautiful. Ralphie and I strolled into the theatre. silver pumps. My scrawny Knight in Shining Armor was here. She was so glamorous. Suddenly my dress came off as too “schoolgirl. too. maybe taking a break from the kids for the night. there will be plenty of cuties in college. especially if they were selfdeprecating. young and elegant. There were ads for upcoming events. Most of the other couples were middle-aged. Romeo---you have fiercely adorable competition. like the St. We still have the rest of the summer and all of senior year.” Ralphie asked what I was thinking. It was exactly my mother’s phrase.” I cringed at the last statement a moment later. There were other young couples.

though. she twirled the strands of hair growing from the nape of her neck and cleared her throat. He kept grinning and I kept touching. feeling deliciously dirty. I leaned in and snuggled into Ralphie’s chest. young Dracula emerged from his coffin in search of warm blood. but I didn’t stop until Ralphie went flaccid. Her disapproval didn’t deter me. calm. But then again maybe high school was too long ago for her to remember. It didn’t matter because as soon as Dracula opened his mouth. and hearing. He was still very warm. I grabbed him. We were no longer watching . Dracula flashed his fangs to the audience. The woman seemed about sixty years old and wore a long-sleeved black dress about as stylish as a nun’s habit. smiling. swelling in the cloud of his peppery cologne. as well. The Lover Shudder overcame me and. A moment passed as I reconsidered what I was about to do. Whatever. not listening. maybe. I was searching for something warm. He was hot. even disgusted---or maybe I just imagined it. too. but my hand moved before I finished the thought. She seemed shocked.Thirty minutes into the play. in reaction. tickling my peach fuzz. I’m not sure how long the groping lasted. not watching. c’mon lady. My hand was where it belonged. for a while. rubbing against that silk tie. but I didn’t notice what happened afterwards. Perhaps a gong sounded. I thought. I had been looking. but then he sat there. my hand crept into his lap. even if what I was doing was relatively innocent. reminding me that the event was over. Ralphie stroked the back of my neck with his thumb. Nervously. Once I finished. “Why did you grope me?” Ralphie repeated. Ralphie wrapped his arm around my waist where it stayed until the very end of the show---not that the storyline mattered to me anymore. The lady next to him glanced at us and then quickly glanced away. The tech crew fiddled with the strobe lights. I smiled almost as serenely as Ralphie. Oh. you were our age once. He jolted forward very slightly as I squeezed him.

He was indifferent to anything and everything else. I never had to meet with Mr.” “Work. though I would have stayed longer if I could have. not letting go of me. I was paid to make out with my boyfriend. “But your parents won’t be home for another hour. an internship with the local weekly newspaper.” He pecked my forehead. I technically had a job. “I have to go. was incredibly relaxed because he was on the verge of retiring. Russell and was allowed to email all of my articles to him inside of literally handing them in. That was then. but my supervisor.“Dracula” and Ralphie wanted an answer. not certain if I should ask the question I had been waiting to ask. I paused.” Ralphie chuckled---and indeed the word was amusing given the situation. But I was the one to gently push him away this time. He only required me to . Mr. Essentially. this was now.” I quipped in my Queen Victoria accent. his release was all he had his mind on. and he had to know what then was all about. Russell. But why did you do it?” “Do you wish I hadn’t?” His eyes bulged slightly. Then he pulled me into his lap to smother me in his habitually wet kisses. He wanted to escape the office as soon as possible and until then.” I said. “My mother’s picking me up from ‘work’ today. “Did you like it?” He blushed. “Of course I liked it. Ralphie blushed again and ended his persistence. “Not at all! But why did you do it?” “Hmmm…my direct response is your privilege.

Charlotte.” Ralphie whispered in my ear before seizing it with his lips. My mother would arrive sometime within the next ten to fifteen minutes. startling a flock of pigeons. Her eyes definitely didn’t greet me. Especially since I wasn’t supposed to have a boyfriend. But that only demanded ten minutes of my time every Monday. (Only Wendy was privy to the secret. Then I hopped out and stood in front of the newspaper office as Ralphie drove away. I worked the standard Monday through Friday.come into the office to pick up copies of the latest issue so I could distribute them around town. helping out with chores and completing my summer homework---not gallivanting around with my boyfriend. trying to act pleasantly surprised instead of horrified. “You want a ride there?” “Yes. climbing over my younger sister.” He tapped me on the seat of my pants in a mock spank.) As far as she was concerned. 9-5. she would expect me to spend the rest of my time at home with her. The . I jumped into the family car. Mom!” I said. I was free. If she had arrived just a couple minutes earlier. Valerie. since she wouldn’t budge. If she knew the truth. The rest of the time. we nuzzled noses and said good-bye.’ but she was too engrossed in her iPod for me to really tell. Ralphie’s had been enough and at least the subject of his queries didn’t terrify me. “Go to work. I sat down on the bus stop bench in front of the office and almost immediately heard her voice. Five minutes later. “Valerie!” Mom called. please—“ But before I could finish that statement. “Hi. Ralphie scooped me up in his arms and took me to his car. The last thing I needed was another interrogation. Of course I didn’t tell my mother that. She might have mumbled ‘hello. “Okay. Or sooner. she would’ve seen Ralphie and she would’ve asked many more questions than I wanted to answer.

take those earbuds out. “I just wanted to say that I know. I knew she still wore that expressionless expression of hers. If she had an emergency. Mom just couldn’t know about Ralphie---she just couldn’t! I would be in so much trouble! I wasn’t supposed to be kissing a boy. I started breathing quickly. but not loudly enough for Mom or Charlotte to notice. he wouldn’t answer his phone because he was too busy dreaming about retirement. tense silence. I was at work! And the night I went to the theatre with Ralphie. Of course---what did she have to worry about right now? It was going to be the first time in all of our history as siblings that I was going to be the “bad” one! . And Mom wouldn’t have bothered calling Wendy’s house because it was only two blocks away from ours. She was unusually terse. but maintained her angsty. but instead nestled into the seat beside her and asked my mother how her day was. I was helping with a fundraiser for the newspaper’s premier syndicated funny page and then slept over at Wendy’s! My supervisor was unreachable. she would sooner run over than call.only commonality she and I had was the fact that we were both strangely friends with Wendy. How could she have found out about Ralphie? I had been so careful in fabricating my story. If my mother ever tried calling him.” Then there was an odd. wordless demeanor. “Fine. Charlotte was scrolling through her playlist and bobbing her head.” Charlotte did as she was told. Even though I was too anxious to glance over at her. I was tempted to pluck one of buds out of her ear. The facts all matched up perfectly. let alone groping him in the classiest theatre in town! What if she knew where my hand had been? What if she found out where I had touched Ralphie? Discovering that I had a boyfriend was punishable enough but the groping?! “Charlotte.” Mom flatly stated.

. as your sister. All of them were gray except for a little white misfit. Mom snapped. “Huh?” “Now. Charlotte. There was now an old woman feeding the pigeons I scared away when Ralphie dropped me off. wondering about this mysterious book for a few seconds before I started fantasizing about kissing Ralphie again. You’re paranoid. “I found the book. I was on the verge of cardiac arrest. “There’s no need to pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. I sat there.” WHAT?!? What book? Ralphie and I didn’t have a book! Maybe she didn’t know! Maybe I was safe after all! Charlotte said it before I did. No knowledge of Ralphie groping whatsoever. “Charlotte!” I hated to witness my mother even the slightest bit irritated so my eyes remained on the pigeons.” I exhaled and my heart returned to its normal pace. too.Mom repeated.” “Mom. Mom’s black linking with Charlotte’s green.” My heartbeat quickened. Charlotte popped her ear buds back in and faced the window.” Mom started. “Mom. tapping my feet.” “Charlotte. it’s her right to know. In fact. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I would be more offended if you hid it from me than if you were just open about it. somehow pounding even faster than it had been just a moment before.” Their eyes met in the front mirror. The reason why I’m bringing this up in front of Valerie is because I believe that. It’s perfectly okay to admit this to your own mother. “I just wanted to let you know that I know.

Charlotte slowly turned around. They didn’t even read the titles or anything--they just jammed them into my bag!” “But all the other books were about adoption and sexuality. the girl was a rock ‘n roll version of Barbie. but she was a hundred times more feminine than I was. especially since I was so certain she wasn’t. My mother sighed. whose is it and why was it in your room?” “Some guys from summer school stuffed a bunch of discard books into my backpack when we were at the library. Such bright makeup would’ve annoyed Ralphie. . Even if Ralphie didn’t complain about the flavor of lipstick. that’s not even mine! And I’m definitely no lesbo!” I wanted to join the old woman feeding pigeons. I could care less whether or not my sister was lesbian. It’s okay.” Her fuchsia glossed lips cupped into a yawn that her pianist fingers slid up to cover. okay? It’s okay. “So if the book isn’t yours. to put in the background. “What?” “I’m talking to you!” “Yeah. We were researching the nineteenth century for our play and we needed some books as props.” My sister scrunched up her face in picture-perfect confusion. but I don’t know what you’re talking about. At least then I could escape the scream-fest. “And since you’re not telling me. you know. you’re just wasting my time. After all. I still wouldn’t wear it. “THAT book? Mom. “The book about coming out! About being gay! I found it in your room today and I just wanted to say that it’s all right. or at least not in the large amounts Charlotte favored.” Charlotte said through gritted teeth. She might be into alternative lifestyles.

Valerie?” “Could I go help that old woman feed the pigeons?” “No. Valerie?” “Fine. I mean. How was your day. Just wanted to clear that up. The old woman waddled around the corner. “Hey.Charlotte---except for a few about the rainforest. most of them are pretty outdated. clutching an empty plastic bag. I had to endure the Q & A. Mom?” “What. and I didn’t have anything to feed the birds. just as we started driving away. I was right---no more bread.” That statement sort of perplexed me. This was a family discussion and since I was part of the family. I guess the library was getting rid of a lot of those books. Mom turned around to face Charlotte. The pigeon woman was probably running out of bread crumbs.” Silence again. anyway. How do you explain that? I mean the rainforest books didn’t surprise me but the ones about…” “Beats me. good. especially compared to her daughters’ ringlet topped heads. . I decided to break it. “Are you sure there’s nothing you want to confess?” “Yeah! Positive. “Did you begin those college applications yet?” “Why would she want to go to college?” Charlotte quipped.” And Mom’s hair is definitely straight. Mom half-smiled and started the ignition.” I squeaked. I’m as straight as your hair. At least I wasn’t the one being attacked. “Okay. but I didn’t question it. She probably has rabies.

though. and she wanted to work for a bison farm in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I wish we . yeah? And what’s your scene.” “She’s going to college because she has good grades and wants to have a career someday. She loved to remind me of what a nerd I was. the one often who surpassed parental expectations and she was the wild child.” “A what?” Mom asked. Steph. “Um. lady. and every other clichéd description of the daughter who continually disrespected her parents and embarrassed the family.” “South Dakota?” I laughed. no. Val-Val? Nerdsville? You already know their native language! Guess you won’t have to learn that one. French. “A bison herder. of the fact that I spoke five languages fluently (English. though. I’ll need a dictionary if I ever visit you. responsible daughter. I had my role and she had hers. Spanish.) You can imagine that she and I had our differences---I wanted to become a writer and translator at a foreign publishing house.“It’s totally overrated. “That doesn’t seem like your scene. It’s a real chill job in the Black Hills.” Of course she had to pull one of her less-than-clever puns. It’s only May. It had always been that way.” “Oh. mainly so she could strut around in cowboy boots. I’d live on a ranch and wear cowboy boots everyday. I haven’t started them yet.” Mom answered. the black sheep. “I’m gonna be a bison herder. Portuguese) and read an additional one (Latin. Mom. School just let out---“ Charlotte interrupted me with. I was the older. Italian.

I wanted to write beautiful Italian romance novels. “Charlotte! Would you be nice to your sister? There’s nothing wrong with doing well in school. Your father’s . blah. cow-killer. blah.” “Well. damn it. “Stop arguing! Act your age!” “Thanks for the permission. live in the French countryside with Ralphie. It’s what every other American teenager is doing.” “I just don’t understand why she spends all her time doing something worthless when she could save a seal or work to stop global warming. I don’t care what every other American teenager is doing. “I’ll act my age. Who cares about language and literature when there’s text messaging?” “Language isn’t worthless!” I shouted.” Charlotte yelled. “Yeah.” “Letters aren’t everything. Mom. but I still had my dreams. I wasn’t stuffy! I had my dreams. We’re almost home and we’re going out to dinner tonight. I’m a writer and letters are everything. and vacation in Spain and Portugal. but neither one of us would ever admit that. I was so angry that she thought I was a stiff. But I was tired of being so good and she must have been tired of always being bad. alright! I’ll go smoke pot and get knocked up now. but they have the power to say anything---everything!” “Stop preaching and go eat a steak. yeah. You need to stop that sass.could switch and I bet she did too. too. They weren’t quite as outlandish as hers.” “Just because you’re vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to---“ “SHUT UP!” Mom screamed. blah.

” Mom emerged from the car. I want us to have a nice meal. along with Cuckoo clocks. Nobody owned ugly birdfeeders in Europe. Our lawn was freshly cut. Our waitress glanced at us as she passed by with a stack of dirty plates and then laughed. and walked into the house.had a hard day at work. so unlike a Mediterranean villa.” I gulped. like the freakin’ Brady Bunch.” Charlotte muttered. smelling almost excruciatingly suburban. “Where are we going out to dinner. Charlotte pressed her right pointer finger into her cheek and twisted it with a smile. Theirs were probably all handpainted in the Swiss Alps.” she said as she pulled into the driveway. “Wait here while I use the bathroom. “That Mexican-Salvadorian chicken place near the Metro. In yet another effort to ignore me. He licked a blob of guacamole off of my chin after I unsuccessfully tried to wipe my face clean.” Mom repeated. a rotten birdfeeder hung crookedly from the giant Magnolia in our front yard. Proof that teasing stems from jealousy then…or at least Charlotte’s. What if she recognized me??? Jesus! How many panic attacks could I have in one hour? “Casa María. She perpetually bothered me about them but Mom says that when Charlotte was about five years old. mocking my goody-goody dimples. In typical American fashion. “Yeah. Charlotte turned up her music . smoothed down her skirt in the back. Mom?” I asked. Your father should be out in a minute. she asked why God couldn’t have given her any. I wouldn’t have to fret about my parents discovering that I had gone on a secret date just a few hours before. that’s the one. If I were in Europe right now. “Casa María?” Ralphie and I had eaten lunch there earlier in the day.” “Like the freakin’ Brady Bunch. so don’t aggravate him even more.

Dad?” “Oh! Don’t even get me started!” He sounded serious.” said one of his daughters. Casa María’s was a typical family restaurant. I was becoming too skilled at it. huh?” “Yup. but it was one of the only places we could afford to eat out on our budget. “Good. I wondered what Ralphie was doing that evening and how fast we could run away to Europe. “How was your day. “How was your day.” “Anything interesting happen at the newspaper office today?” “Not really. girls. sparklier jewelry than she had on before. nothing fancy.so loud that I could hear it through her ear buds. too. like it was someplace .” “Hi. I alphabetized their archives from the 1970’s. Dad. I liked how Mom dressed up for it. Valerie?” “Fine. All we could hear was the buzzing of Charlotte’s iPod until Mom returned. my father entered the car. You can guess which one it was. Funny how the town hasn’t changed much since then. I won’t…” We quit talking. wearing prettier. just as boring as ever. “Um…alright then.” Charlotte grumbled and turned up her music even louder.” I lied. “Hi. but before I had much time to contemplate all our escape possibilities.

my mother scrutinized my face. When Charlotte was staring out the window (something she normally did to ignore me). “Let’s go!” Mom said. and quickly did my eyes. Val?” “Uh. If one of their waitresses recognized me. we were at Casa María’s. I rummaged through my purse for a scrunchie and pulled my hair back into a frizzy ponytail.special. This is where my ingenuity came in. I’d have to have a lot of explaining to do. My palms were wet. shifting back and forth in my seat.” We both paused. So what if the makeup was a little messy? Maybe this bad clown get-up would save me. I tore off my scarf and unbuttoned my blouse to expose the camisole I had on underneath. it’s in the car. I kept squirming. Then I sat there. “Can we go to Sally’s Diner instead?”. after checking that our seatbelts were buckled. yeah. In the meantime.” “And your hair’s in a ponytail?” “Yes. Then my mother shrugged her shoulders. Ten minutes later.” We stepped into the restaurant where the bright chili pepper . I was getting hot. thirty seconds before I probably would have shouted. “Are you wearing eye shadow.” “What happened to your scarf?” “Oh. “Okay. and took off. grabbed her bright purple eye shadow. trying to enjoy the ride. I had to disguise myself. After Mom parked and we all got out of the car. wiggling my fingers and toes. I snatched her leopard print clutch.

Her nametag read Esperanza. ever full. since the restaurant was in need of so much of it. Mom glared at Charlotte after Esperanza left. the jukebox or the stale tortilla chips and she just blushed.” Charlotte rolled her eyes and put the iPod into her clutch. Senior Skip Days at the high school…never.’ Ironic.” Dad said. offering us another batch of the salty things.Christmas lights nearly blinded us. “They better have vegetarian dishes here.” I replied. not even on weekends. We took another basketful. we’ll have chips. either. “Noting else to dreenk?” She probably expected us to beg Dad for soda.” .” He used his airy and polite tone. holidays. “And water for everyone. but she didn’t like soda. “No. “Ju want cheeps?” Esperanza asked. the one reserved exclusively for strangers. but they were honestly even staler than the first bunch and irritated my lips. Now my family and I clustered in the main lobby. Ralphie had joked about its age when we ate here earlier that day. There were hardly any people in the restaurant so the hostess attended to us right away. “You better stop listening to music. please. thank you. Ralphie ate them anyway and insisted that I eat what was supposed to be his third taco. He had asked the waitress what was older. A Mexican song blared from a dilapidated jukebox near the bar. Charlotte didn’t respond. the Spanish word for ‘hope. plenty of ice. Esperanza looked at Charlotte and me. It was never. especially in the same day? “Yes. Esperanza seated us at a corner booth where we smelled old cigarettes and hot sauce. ever. Did I really have to stomach more of those blasted things.

” Dad muttered. It was surprising considering how few people went in and out of Casa María’s each day and how noisy Ralphie and I had probably been. My mother was Mexican-American. Besides. Meanwhile.” “Cool. Thankfully Esperanza didn’t recognize me. I have distinctive facial features. and long. Her cheekbones were high and her lips were very full.” Mom said. after all. Mom therefore had dark brown skin. “Or hmmm…spicy beef stew. Ralphie and I witnessed a toddler spill his lemonade after his mother insisted that he finish his taco before eating desert. “Pulled pork and yucca. guacamole sandwiches. but both of her parents were Mayans from Mexico City. “Could I go to the bathroom? Please wait for me before you order. I guess the black bean patties don’t sound half bad. They come with cheesy rice. actually---tamales. etc. Yeah. at least. I was.” “Of course. nachos and jalapeño dip. black eyes. What about you. She was born in Austin.” I put down the menu and turned to Mom. ebony hair with scattered white strands. tamales. Val?” “Enchiladas maybe. No. Maybe this joint ain’t a dump after all. my father was of Irish descent and his entire physique screamed it. cabbage pupusas. mixed so people naturally seemed to notice me because I looked different. Everything about her face seemed big and animated. Bean burritos.” “Quesadillas for me.“They do. trying to ignore the sticky floor. “Turn to page 5 of the menu. Disgusting that nobody had cleaned up the puddle. Dad had .” I walked to the bathroom.” Dad followed. Texas and had never lived anywhere else until she married Dad.

Both of us had very defined hourglass figures. We both shared our father’s curls but couldn’t claim either one of their hair colors. . but our skin was our own--olive instead of deep brown or glowing porcelain. He was of average height with a boxy build and strong hands that seemed a little too large for him. afraid of the rats or roaches that might be lurking inside. “more grassy than muddy” as Mom would say. Even worse---because of my powerful sense of smell---I detected heaps of mothballs and overly lemony soap. My mother’s parents. even if the words that came out of them were rarely similar---wide and pouty. That was the main difference between us. actually. I hated the feel of powder. besides our noses. even if I thought the description was something of an overstatement.red corkscrew curls and shiny blue eyes that contrasted against his ruddy freckled face. would be disgusted. I opened the bathroom door cautiously. Charlotte and I were a poignant combination of our parents. Charlotte’s was stubby and somewhat upturned. in the words of family and strangers alike. The floor was absolutely soaked and toilet paper was strewn everywhere. former restaurant owners back in Mexico.” I moistened a paper towel under the rusty faucet and wiped the make-up from my eyelids. Charlotte was shorter and fuller. but I was taller and more slender. After noting no pests. I couldn’t understand how Charlotte could wear so much of it. whereas mine was longer and more Mediterranean. Ours was ashy brown with flecks of gold if we stood in the sunlight. I went in and closed the creaking door behind me. Our mouths were also the same as each other’s. we also shared our father’s British teeth. We were. Unfortunately. “Gross. Charlotte had light green eyes and mine were hazel. with slightly chubbier bottom lips. beautiful.

” My father called over the waitress. even if I may have looked vaguely familiar. I gently removed the scrunchie from my hair and then shook out my mine so that it settled into its normal fresh-from-the-windy-beach look. And even though I had only seen his parents once or twice in passing at events like Back-to-School night. but I knew that mop of messy hair. she would ask questions and those questions would involve me lying. Ready to order?” “Yup. though. so they didn’t recognize me. “No. I plopped down beside Charlotte and smiled. Lying always made me feel guilty even though it was starting to become a regular practice in my life. perhaps too broadly because Mom said I seemed nervous. and that faded polo. . I recognized them. but if my mother even suspected that he and I liked each other. I preferred her to remain naïve rather than me having to flat out lie to her. completely ignoring my boyfriend. This was too coincidental: Ralphie and his family were dining just five feet in front of me! I couldn’t see Ralphie’s face because I was standing directly behind him. like clumpy mascara and lip gunk. I’m fine!” I blurted. After all of the eye shadow was gone. “Well. I left the bathroom. That was my Ralphie. Her freckles popped out from her tan skin. a plump woman named Sonia. but nearly ran back inside. His mere presence could not have gotten me in trouble. those bony shoulders. I darted back to my family’s booth. So I did what was best for Ralphie and me. I was myself again and not some pseudo-Charlotte. that sunburnt neck.especially in addition to other caked on cosmetics. that’s good. I had never met them. The reflection in the mirror winked back at me.

I could see the crotch of his pants bulging. señorita?” I was too scattered to properly think. Gracias. the same restaurant where he had lunched with her not too many . Sonia turned to me. Meanwhile. De order will be ready soon. and while Mom asked Sonia a few questions before she ordered. but he must have been too surprised to do that.” Dad studied me and spoke slowly. I accidentally caught Ralphie’s eye. pen poised over her notepad. I’m not sure with what excuse.” I could see him from where was I sitting. probably to use the bathroom. Ralphie stood up. “I mean. stunned to see his forbidden sweetheart with her family at the same restaurant as his. not sure where he had gone or even if he was still standing there.“Ju ready to order?” she asked. and suddenly erected. “Pickle pizza!” Sonia wrinkled her brow quizzically. No. “What’s the matter. a hot dog. He had only now spotted me. my mind gravitated to thoughts of Ralphie and “Dracula. “Yes. Mom. Usually he tried to scoot his excited member into one of his pant legs. “What would ju like. Valerie?” “Nothing at all!” “You just seem so…tense. and Charlotte placed their orders. un chorizo. Ralphie immediately spun around and darted into the men’s room.” Dad answered and then he. Even from several yards away. a sausage!” “Chorizo?” “¡Sí!” “Okay. I avoided looking at Ralphie. after all.” “Tense? Why would I be tense?” I chuckled.

wasn’t as fortunate as I was. let alone call her my sister? I can’t believe we have the same genes!” She stretched out her hands in front of her to admire her nails. looking just as nervous as I was. a Central American rice drink that my parents must have ordered when I went to the bathroom.” said Charlotte. “That’s sweet stuff. Mi abuelita made eet. I’m glad ju like. “No!” I spewed out tiny chips of ice onto the table. Or at least I don’t believe I am. of everything he and I had worked hard for just falling apart right then and there.” “Jes. “Ju want refills?” “Yeah. “I’m not acting strangely.hours before. “You’re acting strangely. I had a brimming cup in front of me that I hadn’t even seen. Maybe it’s the temperature change. it was painfully unlucky for us both. At least I had another . I---“ Sonia returned to the table with a pitcher of horchata. wagging her empty cup in Sonia’s face. He. eet is. I was so afraid of my parents discovering our relationship. lady. “I don’t know.” “She always does. He sat there. They were painted black with press-on roses.” Charlotte sniffed. It’s steaming outside and here it’s so chilly. I stole a glance at Ralphie’s table. Are you sick? What happened in the bathroom? You’re not constipated. Mom shot her infamous frown at her.” As she poured Charlotte more horchata. Dad. With so many restaurants in town. are you?” I coughed out the water I had begun to drink. her signature manicure. however. “Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to go to the same school as this dork face.

For once. just when I was beginning to relax again. “Postres?” Dad mumbled. I appreciated Charlotte’s presence in my life. I could glance at him every now and then to admire him. My mother was shocked by how “hungry” I was. Those robin’s egg blue eyes were enough to sooth me at least temporarily. After Sonia scrambled into the kitchen. “Are you applying to the University of Virginia?” . but in Ralphie’s family. I managed to snatch a couple scoops of refried beans from her bowl. the spotlight was always on him. and then disappeared. even reaching over onto my parents’ plates to scrape off measly grains of rice. “Deserts. At least if Ralphie were here. The next forty-five minutes or so were uncomfortable until Ralphie’s family finally left.” Ralphie and his family gobbled up flan for desert. he mouthed ‘I love you’ and I beamed. When Charlotte wasn’t paying attention. Great. I kept stuffing myself with food to have an excuse not to chat. Now it was time for the grueling Q & A. Dad pummeled me with the usual college questions. “Um. approaching our table with a stack of plates wedged under her right arm. well. requested the check. “Would ju like postres?” Sonia asked. paid it.sibling to distract my parents. but I pretended I hadn’t had lunch. Before Ralphie left my field of vision. He nodded his head and ordered mango ice cream for all of us. for some reason I had a stomachache so I didn’t feel like eating---and now I’m starving!” “I can see that.” Mom and I whispered. in years.

Dad. but---“ “What about William and Mary?” “I will. no. I’d like to hear this list.” “True. Chapel Hill?” “Seems too similar to UVA and since I don’t qualify for instate tuition in North Carolina. They have a famous language program.” “Good. What about George Mason?” “It’s a commuter school! That’s not for me. “Why don’t you listen to your father’s suggestions first?” “No. but it’s close to home and they might give you a scholarship. Dad?” “Valerie.” Mom interrupted. Most of the students there study politics. You could enter the Foreign Service at some point.“I thought about it. Do you just want a list of the schools I like best. what’s the point?” “You’re right.” “American?” “Nah.” . I can make suggestions afterwards. but I realize that’s not an option you’re considering right now. She’s right. How about Georgetown?” “I don’t want to become a lawyer.” “GW?” “Nope.

“I like William and Mary. “Ewww…what is this?” Mom.” “William and Mary’s public. “Una hormiga!” I shouted. maybe UVA. and Charlotte put down their spoons and watched me inspect my food. Sonia! Let’s stop talking about college. “Mango ice cream!” “Delicious!” Mom said. señorita. Tulane---“ “All liberal arts colleges save for UVA. There was a fat. I picked up my spoon and almost stuck it into my mango mound when I spotted something wiggling about. All of your back-ups are private. eh? Those are going to be expensive. Dad. “Get it out!” I was so loud that Sonia could hear me from across the restaurant. “Thank you. This ant is not supposed to be here. Ju want another bowl?” But before I could respond. Grinnell. alright?” Dad grumbled something as Sonia left again and shoved a spoonful of ice cream into his mouth. “Lo siento. What if you don’t get accepted? Then what are you---“ Sonia placed our dessert bowls on the table.” I cleared my throat.” “And extremely competitive. red ant drowning in my ice cream. the cook stumbled out of the kitchen and grabbed the bowl from Sonia’s hands. She immediately seized my bowl and scrunched her nose up at the helpless insect.“Okay. Middlebury. “Una . I imagined that these discussions took place in Ralphie’s house all the time and pitied him again for being an only child.

where his gaze lingered far too long. jur boyfriend can come back and we will refund him for the cheeps. and then to my chest. dees is no way to treat such a frequent customer. His jiggly arms and belly reminded me of my mother’s vulgar brother. “That was shameful eenough! But the boss said to sell them to ju anyway and now he is not even here to see this hormiga in jur ice cream! If ju want. contributing to his already unpleasant appearance. down to lips. it would have then.” I cringed.O. slowly shifted to my hair. Buy a tube of lipstick and it’ll be a gift for the both of ju. . The ant desperately needed a rescuer. “Right there.hormiga? Where?” He burped a second after asking the question. The cook continued. I promeese!” I shuddered. “We should have given those stale cheeps to ju and jur boyfriend for free. “I’ll refund ju now so ju can hand the money to jur boyfriend or even keep it for jurself. They could sit on the sofa all weekend watching soccer together and chewing guava candy with their mouths open. ju came here twice in one day!” My parents raised their eyebrows in unison.S.” Sonia wagged her finger at the six little legs that were now the only visible portion of the bug’s body. He had uttered the forbidden word and my parents’ eyebrows shot up even higher. His eyes locked on mine. “Really. eh?” He let out an insolent laugh. as Sonia stood there holding the bowl with the squirming ant.” the cook went on. Carlitos. I mean. farting like bean-eating pigs. Slowly. The cook seemed like the perfect companion for Carlitos. signal. If it could send an S. The cook began to apologize and then looked at me. I was living a day of Shakespearean irony. again irritated by the mention of Ralphie in the presence of my parents. “In fact. his eyes reverted to my face.

” And he’s a regular Romeo or Mr. We’ll work at the same publishing house. Darcy or even Tristan. “A boyfriend?” “I came here during lunch with a boy from school.” The cook almost bowed and went into the kitchen with Sonia. I couldn’t help but tell the truth at that point.” Ralphie’s too smart for that. At the very least. “Where does he go to school? What grade is he in?” “Our school. I added to myself.” Thankfully my trademark “My direct response is your privilege” didn’t pop out instead.” my father cut in. but please just bring us the check and don’t charge us for my daughter’s ice cream. nearly whimpering. “We’re fine. Not that she had done that to Charlotte but this was another matter. but almost old enough to be a junior like me. Now it was her turn to be silent as Mom conducted the second interrogation of the day. with buffalo as my only company. he’ll become a famous book illustrator. He’s a sophomore. I wish I didn’t have to explain these sorts of things to my mother. “Is he in any of Charlotte’s classes?” “No. I felt too guilty to think up a lie. At least she didn’t tie me up and throw me into a dark room or drive me out to the middle of nowhere. I don’t know what the deal is with these stale chips. “What’s his name?” “Ralphie Catalano. He actually reads and he would never dream of becoming a bison herder. I had done something wrong. Surely my mother was . Charlotte folded five or six sticks of gum into her mouth and plugged herself in. too embarrassed to say something so mawkish aloud.“Sir.” I said.

not an actual boyfriend. Mom was incredibly picky about boys. I knew better than to ask her to quit it. Shortly after we pulled out of the parking lot. If I had had food in my mouth just then. she continually poked me in the ribs and didn’t stop until we arrived home. no matter how trivial. But as far as she was concerned at this point. Wasn’t everyone young and in love once? “I want to meet him. “O-okay. Charlotte wrapped up her ear buds and put her iPod away for the rest of the evening. “How about tomorrow night? Your father and I bought tickets to ‘Dracula’. Apparently my sister was lesbian and I was a whore. W-when?” She would find any reason to criticize him.” The words hung there. we all piled into the car. especially ones dating her daughter. lest I suffer her furious wrath of Latina Mother. I would hold a grudge against ants and mango ice cream for as long as I lived. In a typical burst of annoying playfulness. The night sky was so calm in comparison to the chaos overwhelming my family. eager to pry about my blossoming love life. Ralphie was just my crush. . They were 15% off because your father purchased them online. How many coincidences can you have in one week---let alone in a single day? Certainly. Mom posed a few more questions. Mom was probably still in denial. I would have spat it out.more understanding than the woman who glanced over at me groping Ralphie. She didn’t know how often I saw Ralphie---and I was going to ensure that she didn’t find out.” Charlotte rolled her eyes at Mom’s obsessive frugality. Instead I stuttered. After Dad paid the check. still chewing enough peppermint gum to attract Santa’s entire workshop of elves.

then turned to my mother. coyotes. like a beeping noise. Then I’ll see you on Monday like usual.m.m. Mom cleared her throat. I fumbled with the keys. After possibly breaking my mother’s trust in me. Dad pressed the red button to replay the message. She hadn’t decided where to place it yet. please to pick up another hundred copies of the newspaper.” Dad skipped the next message and looked directly at me. raced upstairs to my room after tripping over a box of Aztecan souvenirs. and jaguars. tropical birds. “What does Mr. Have a nice night. careful not to knock any of the thrift shop treasures off the cluttered steps. Mom yelled my name up the stairs and I walked down. May 14 around 8 p. I heard my parents enter the house. Dad cursed after bumping into the cracked chimenea Mom bought at a yard sale and dropped off in the living room. A moment later. It was my supervisor’s voice: “Evening. I moved into the kitchen where Mom and Dad stood before the answering machine. as if asking her how to proceed. The central library in the county over just ordered a subscription. I couldn’t afford to break anything else that day. Russell mean he’ll . followed by garbled speech. Charlotte made a snide remark about Dad’s clumsiness and then there was another sound. Ralphie had probably sent me a message about what happened tonight. Just as I began logging in. Mr. I’ll give you the address and all the other details when I see you tomorrow. Russell calling for Valerie on Wednesday.I ran out the car door so I could get into the house and check my email. and flipped open my laptop. Valerie. It was the answering machine. I need you to come into the office tomorrow at 9 a. There were about a dozen clay turtles. but eventually got inside.

which only prompted him to kiss me harder. He started pecking me all over my face. “You know. Ralphie tasted like mango and I couldn’t hate anything associated with Ralphie. I was caught in the middle of a monologue about pape lay-out and typefaces when he suddenly pecked me on the forehead. that’s why I suddenly remembered all of this---I had ordered mango ice cream at the restaurant.see you on Monday like usual? Why wouldn’t seeing you tomorrow be ‘like usual. The game of Follow the Leader inspired me to kiss him right on the mouth.” he whispered at some point in between kisses. and I mirrored each one of his kisses.” I had never felt so ticklish before. I .’ too?” It was too much for one day. pressing my lips everywhere from his nose to his chin to his ears. out of this whole day and straight to my first kiss with Ralphie. My lips grabbed his and I pulled slightly. We had done nothing but pecking for the first two months we were together because we were both so shy and now we were really kissing. and shoulders. I was so happy that I began giggling almost incessantly. Ralphie sheepishly blurted. “Me neither. Soon our new routine became faster and faster. out of the house. He tasted sweet like mango. “I’ve never done this before. We giggled and he leant in to pull mine. Ralphie pecked my cheek. Then I did the same to him. each kiss lasting longer and longer. His hands were now firmly planted on my waist. Even if it was mango ice cream that led to my demise today. In fact. I tingled as I pulled his again. My mind returned to those kisses. A moment later. My brain flashed out of the kitchen. probably from the candy he had in his lunch. I was nestled in his lap at school near the outdoor tennis courts. I couldn’t hate it. neck.

As often as people told me I was gorgeous. “VALERIE!” “I don’t know what to tell you. Right. after all. I was with my parents in Hell. He wiped the blades of glass I had clinging to my skirt and I plucked a couple from the seat of his jeans. “Valerie?” “Yeah?” “Are you finally going to explain what’s happening?” Still in a daze. I wasn’t with Ralphie in Heaven. Too late.” But it was not the time to be arrogant. Mom stood in the kitchen before me.” And then we continued kissing until the bell rang.went hard the first time I ever hugged you. Valerie. after eight months of dating. I never really felt that way. even teasingly. Ralphie and I were only friends. Then we held hands and headed to class as if we had just finished a platonic picnic lunch. “Because you were attractive and it was the first time I had ever hugged a girl who wasn’t my cousin. “My direct response is your privilege. As far as everyone else was concerned. Then I blinked. Our first kiss was a make-out session and that was the furthest we had ever gone up until I groped him over his pants. As we noticed other people head inside the school building. Ralphie and I stood up. pointing at the answering machine. I muttered. We blushed as we made eye contact.” “Why?” I couldn’t imagine ever being that pretty to anyone. probably for a full half hour or even forty-five minutes.” .

“Just…I want to meet him. There will be plenty of boys in the future. I can’t believe that you would lie to us like this! This isn’t like you at all! I would expect this from Charlotte. Valerie---downright superb. have you? You’ve been lying to your father and me. That’s what I did whenever my mother attacked Charlotte.” “And you will. Ask if he’ll come watch ‘Dracula’ with us. haven’t you? Haven’t you?” I was speechless. I don’t care about how many boys there will be in the future. “I want to meet him. motionless. ever from you! Why didn’t you tell us there was a boy? Why didn’t you ask us if you could have a boyfriend?” A voice I didn’t recognize responded. Charlotte must have shut herself into her room. the navy and black plaid pattern of his shirt disappearing from my peripheral vision. but never.” my mother said as she sat down on the cooler parked in front of the stove.“You haven’t been going to work. and thoughtless. But I love Ralphie. that you wanted me to concentrate on school right now.” “He’ll have to ask his parents first. “Where have you been going instead.” . I thought. I want to know what the big deal’s about---if he’s worth all this time. He better be a stupendous boy. You always said I would have plenty of time later in life. “Because you always said that you wanted me to wait until college. I’ll still like Ralphie best. Valerie? Have you been spending time with this boy when you were supposed to be at the office?” Dad backed out of the kitchen.

” The refrigerator buzzed as Mom and I were silent. It was a windy day and I missed my Ralphie. and unwrapped one of the chocolates. Not too long before sunset. I kept having imaginary conversations with him in my head. When my parents last took me to the beach. beneath all of the candy. At least half of my wish was granted. too. I scoured the shore for a rock or shell I could bring back to Ralphie. but I didn’t sleep.” Mom finally said. All of my wandering had paid off. I was fully awake even if I was dazed. with rounded crests and a pointy tip. immediately opened the box. Unbeknownst to me. When he gave the box to me on our anniversary. A good boy. Mostly I encountered many unromantic mussel shells.” “He’s a nice boy. Nothing particularly struck me until I saw a piece of rose-colored rock shaped vaguely like a heart. He found a box of my favorite Mexican chocolate and packed the necklace at the very bottom. I wished it would explode. Ralphie took that quartz and carved it into a full-fledged heart. I smiled and picked it up. Then he drilled a hole through its upper third and ran a leather cord through it. Mom. as he should. even if I was in a beautiful place. “Please just go to bed. I clasped the necklace Ralphie had given me for our six-month anniversary around my neck and squeezed its charm until the crude quartz heart left an impression in the palm of my hand. it had been four months since Ralphie and I began dating.“Of course. That way the conversation would end then. I kissed him. I did go to bed. “We can discuss this in the morning. . Valerie. but there were scallop shells and chips of sea glass here and there.” And the conversation died there.

“Look under. I wasn’t Charlotte. in bed without my Ralphie.” He probably didn’t even ask them. Why is she so paranoid? Why is it that all of my friends were allowed to start dating freshman year or even in middle school. I pushed the chocolates aside and unearthed the necklace.” Mom would snap in that overly cynical way that always made me wonder about her past love life. “Why didn’t he talk?” Mom would ask. “Does he have something to hide?” Or Ralphie might try to hug or kiss me in front of my parents and Mom would accuse him of being too forward. My mother might decide he was being rude or even suspect that he wasn’t trustworthy. “Oh. His saliva was always so warm. Ralphie!” He put the necklace on for me and then I climbed into his lap so we could start yet another kissing session.“Wait. In fact. he probably had another girlfriend that he wanted to see that night instead and was lying about his parents not giving him permission to go to “Dracula. And now there I was. Or even worse. I was going to graduate from high school with honors and attend a good college and lead a successful life. whereas I had to wait until college? I did well in school and was in no danger of dropping out.” He grinned a little shyly. what if his parents wouldn’t let him go? Then Mom would warn me he wasn’t truly interested in me and that was just trying to use his parents’ words as an excuse not to see me. . “He obviously only wants one thing. dreading his meeting my parents.” Ralphie said. He was so quiet with strangers that my parents might be offended.

My parents couldn’t disapprove. Russell to say I wouldn’t be coming in to the office until mid-afternoon. anyway. Then I called Mr. . Russell. I was mostly worried that Ralphie’s parents would have other plans for the evening. He would check it first thing in the morning. scrunched my sheets up to my chin.” “Why?” “I dunno. and hopefully have an answer by the end of the evening. He was the male version of me. so his parents wouldn’t be thrilled to discover he had had a secret girlfriend since late August. I had just poured myself a bowl of cereal about half an hour ago. I rolled out of bed and opened up my laptop. He wasn’t supposed to date until senior year. It was definitely a strange request. like usual. I explained the whole situation to Ralphie and then emailed it to him. laughing sort of awkwardly. and put the rest in the fridge because I wasn’t especially hungry. Almost as soon as I ended my conversation with Mr. I couldn’t understand what he was saying. and fell asleep. taken a couple of bites. either. Ralphie’s name blinked on my cell phone screen. Ralphie was the ideal son who always obeyed his mother and father.’ I crawled back into bed. Shortly after I pressed ‘Send. They probably wouldn’t believe it.” “Does she want to judge if I’m pretty enough for her son?” I asked. “She what?” “My mother asked to see your photograph. When Ralphie called my cell phone after breakfast the next day. In a flurry of typing.

Just show her the portrait my father took of me for the Homecoming Dance. I’m sure. Tell me if she thinks I’m blue ribbon worthy. right?” “No. good.” “Now when will your mother make her final decision?” “Sometime today. wasn’t I the one who kept saying we should let our parents know?” “Yeah. Val. too. Maybe then she’ll allow you to meet my parents.” “Well.” “Well.” “You might look too sexy in that.“I guess she wants to see that you’re not a tramp or anything.” “I’m not showing any cleavage and I’m in a floor-length gown!” “I’m kidding! Fine.” I responded with equal sarcasm.” . I’ll show her that one. ya know. I described you as a huge slut. Did you also tell her what a bargain I was? I offer a family discount. Valerie. you assured her I wasn’t. the kind you find lingering outside of creepy gas stations late at night with too much boobage and leg showing. Maybe she’s interested?” “Ewww!” “No. Ralphie!” “True. but you were just as scared as I was.” “Great. seriously. “Oh.

from weeding his garden to napping in his bed to venturing to local parks--laughing and kissing every chance we had.” “I love you. and Metro stations. I finally meandered to the newspaper office. stores.“You’ll call me then?” “Yes. I would lounge around Ralphie’s house. I passed by several sites Ralphie and I had been to together: restaurants.” “Bye. Then we would spend the rest of the day engaged in miscellaneous activities. On the way there.” “Bye. Wish me luck. parks. I’ll talk to you later. On a normal summer day. mi amor.” I remained in my room for the rest of the morning. assuming Ralphie was even allowed to come.” “Suerte. like I . It all hinged on how the night at “Dracula” went. I prayed that he and I would visit those places in the future---that we would have a future. right before he prepared grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.” “I love you. Ralphie would also read one of his old storybooks to me everyday. He and I would watch his family’s home videos together so I could observe him during all the stages of his life I had never known him---from a loud newborn to a meddlesome toddler to a scheming elementary school boy. anxiously trying to distract myself with reading. I felt almost diaphanous for the rest of the day. too. picked up copies of the latest issue. and then wandered to the library that placed a new subscription. My parents had left for work before I had even woken up and Charlotte was at summer school. baby. I wouldn’t be here and I certainly wouldn’t be at work.

” My mother knocked on the front door around 5 p.” “And?” “He can go.m. and I let her in. Ralphie called me.wasn’t real.” “Of course. a camisole.m. and a pink stone necklace she bought at a ticky-tacky tourist trap in Mexico. When I returned home. She worked at a non-profit organization that paid for cleft-lip and palette operations in Third World countries. So when? Where? What are all the details?” “I’ll have to wait until my parents come home so I can ask them all about it. I couldn’t believe what my parents knew and I had an even harder time thinking about how they knew. Mom. Everything around me seemed fictitious.” .” She handed me her briefcase and I placed it in the coat closet. “Um…Ralphie called.” “Ah. I could tell she was tired. “Hi. She probably didn’t sleep the night before either.” “Hi. “I’m allowed to go!” “That’s wonderful! I guess I was pretty enough. She basically set her own hours but was normally home around 4 or 5 p.” “He wanted to have all the details. She was wearing her usual uniform: a pale gray skirt suit.

She even criticized Mom sometimes for working for an organization that benefited humans instead of animals.m.” “Again?” “Why not?” “Well. He needs to come to our house at 5:30 p. If Ralphie ordered a steak like he normally did. and we’ll all cram into his car so I can judge his driving. So should Ralphie dress up?” “Let him wear what he deems most appropriate. “We won’t miss her. tell him what I said. No matter what I did to try and occupy myself.” Mom removed her blazer and flapped it to shake some dust off. so your father and I can chat with the boy.” “Okay. but we’ll go to dinner first. She’ll be at Wendy’s house.” That was definitely a test. it’s just that the theatre’s such a formal place…” “But we already spent a lot of money on those tickets.” I had to catch myself from saying. “Charlotte won’t come. “So I’ll call him back?” “Yeah. Friday came too slowly. Charlotte would destroy him. When the day finally came.“The play’s on Friday at 7 p..” She would only make Ralphie more uncomfortable by scaring him off with another one of her rants about animal rights. Mom would automatically deduct points from her overall rating of him. If Ralphie didn’t show up in khakis and a polo at the very least. I’d warn him to deck out in a suit and a silk tie. I began preparing as soon as I .m. We’re eating at Casa María’s.

and put her . so I did---even though most of what I thought up was incredibly far-fetched. A man in a giant penguin suit could rob us in Casa María’s parking lot before we went to dinner or one of us could choke on a stale tortilla chip. The skirt fell just an inch or two above the knee and had a modest slit in the back. opened the door. even worse. even if he couldn’t run his fingers through it tonight. At least Mom would approve of that. an entire colony of ants could gnaw on our table until it collapsed. It was sleeveless with a low enough neckline to show off my collarbone but nothing more. so we’d have to repeat the painful dinner all over the next day. Now I felt as pretty as a bridesmaid. like Charlotte who never even touched razors. In other words. even though I had worn them for numerous occasions before and felt glamorous. Diiing-diing-diing-dong. I settled on a burgundy velvet dress. I jumped up and ran down the stairs. Another ant could invade my ice cream again or. The theater’s usher would sneer at her usual mini-dress and platform boots. just the way Ralphie liked it. At some point. which meant single and overweight. I shaved my legs even though they weren’t in need of shaving and slathered them in lotion. I hated feeling like Tarantula Woman. annoyingly long for a doorbell. I dove into my closet and rifled through all of my best dresses. How could two sisters who had lived their whole lives together be so different? I splayed myself out on my bed and stared at the ceiling. I would wear my hair down. getting sawdust all over our nice clothes. I tried to imagine what Charlotte would have worn if she had tagged along and shuddered. not very pretty at all. hugged my mom.woke up. I must have stayed on my bed for hours because I didn’t get up until the doorbell rang. Suddenly all of them seemed too drab. tempted to consider everything that could go wrong tonight. Maybe we would go to the theater only to discover that we had tickets for Saturday instead.

” Mom said. as a sophomore. SAT scores. the doorbell rang again. Ready to go. Mom?” “My black dress. Val. GPA requirements.” As soon as she was out of earshot. “Mom! Dad’s here!” .” I thanked her. I hadn’t really worried about my father’s reception of Ralphie until now.” “Okay. he had hardly taken any of the major exams. even though.” Then I turned around to call my mother. I see. “What an elegant dress. “Look at you. already dressed up. Dad!” “Hey. Then he’d press Ralphie for all of his standardized test scores. and student population. punching up the goody-goody. I’m going upstairs now to get ready. She was stricter and had greater say in raising me than Dad did.briefcase in the coat closet for her. I sighed loudly and collapsed onto the floor. Of course it was Dad. The better I behaved. He’d probably bring up college and quiz Ralphie about the size of various institutions’ endowments. “Hi.” “Yup. As I was debating how detailed the potential college conversation would delve. Dad might mention some boring topics. though. Call me when your father arrives. the usual routine.” “With your pearls?” “Probably. “What are you wearing. mainly because I had to worry a lot more about Mom’s reaction. the smoother the evening would go. I popped up to look through the peephole.

I prayed he wasn’t adjusting a wedgie. again. she would sense I had entered her nesting ground for militant vegetarianism. just as my parents were coming down the stairs. except for Charlotte’s lair. a white shirt. this is Ralphie Catalano and these are my parents. It had to be Ralphie. I would survive. Ralphie!” I would have kissed him right then if my parents. with Mom directly behind Ralphie. Mr. milling in and out of every room. weren’t standing behind me. who was facing away from the car as she asked Dad a question. I took a deep breath and headed to Ralphie’s car with the rest of the party. plopped right down on my lap. I thanked him and then whipped around to Mom and Dad.” They all shook hands and exchanged pleasantries as I dashed into the kitchen to put my flowers in some water. I guess carnivores had a foreign stench she had learned to detect. I took the front passenger’s seat almost immediately. For some reason one of his hands was behind his back. Ralphie flashed his yellow teeth in what I knew to be the handsomest smile in the world. the doorbell rang. He had on a solid red tie. “Now. and a black suit with black shoes. Mom and Dad scooted into the back. “Oh. Valerie is precious. I winced as she realized her mistake and bolted up.” She . but Mom. “Um. I sprinted to the front door and pounced upon the doorknob. and Mrs. After placing the flowers on the windowsill. McCarten. which was forbidden territory. My fear vanished a second later when he produced a bouquet of roses that matched my dress. young man. drive carefully.I noodled around the house for the next half hour. especially with Mom and Dad standing right there. Even if she wasn’t home. There was a little confusion over seating. When I least expected it (I was tinkering with a parrotshaped napkin holder in the dining room). the jittery driver.

I was actually jealous. If there had been a bite mark in her burrito. eager to kiss my Ralphie. but Ralphie and I weren’t listening. although quite doubtfully.launched into her lecture about the importance of buckling up. Wendy opened her eyes and froze at the sight of her girlfriend’s family. I wondered if it was their first kiss and what Wendy tasted like. considering how much I wanted to wander off with Ralphie right then. she tasted like mango. and I just stood there. That’s why you’re my girl. I was shocked. Casa María’s was nearly empty. but not daring with parental company. When the passionate make-out ended. Mom. but we didn’t sit down right away. “I know you’re precious.” I flushed. None in sight. those black fingernails resting on Wendy’s chubby cheeks. No surprise there. Ralphie. Esperanza escorted us to the back of the restaurant where the bigger tables were. I would have guessed she had bean breath. Charlotte was locking lips with Wendy in one of the booths. clasping her face in her hands. couldn’t understand the . but there wasn’t. Charlotte. Meanwhile their owners were doing quite the opposite: they were definitely getting hot. whose back was to us. in no rush to end our nonplussed spectatorship. But there would be no wandering off anytime soon. Wendy liked boys. Maybe. Ralphie muttered to me. Two plates with burritos (surely vegetarian) rested on the table. After asking how many of us there would be. For a moment. Dad. probably getting cold. We got to Casa María’s and I caught myself inspecting the lot for giant penguins. Evidently she had taken my joke about swinging the other way seriously. Maybe he and I would have a few minutes to ourselves later on.

” Charlotte shot back. Wendy fixed her eyes on my calves while Charlotte fixed her eyes on Mom.” “Surprise. “Not completely.” she said. She didn’t hesitate with the snarky remark.” “What is it that that nerd over there says…my direct response is your privilege? Maybe I didn’t think it was any of . “You mean I lied to you about my sexual orientation---about the fact that I’m lesbian.” Ralphie twiddled with his tie. eyes as wide as the plates on the table. “I wish you had told me the truth when I asked. “I am with Wendy. so I began winding my hair around my right index finger and swaying back and forth. “You lied to me. What a surprise.” “I’m not referring to that. You’re all looking splendidly bourgeois this evening. twisting it sharply enough to form wrinkles. Unfortunately. “Well.” “Oh. loudly enough for the couple five tables away to hear. my necklace was too short to fidget with much.” Mom cleared her throat.” Mom whispered. I copied him and grabbed my necklace.stunned expression on Wendy’s face. thinking it was wise to fiddle with something. “What’s the matter?” Wendy pointed at us. hi family.” Dad elongated the word into four syllables. and Charlotte turned around. “That’s a good word to characterize my thoughts right now.

didn’t she? “Charlotte. absolutely relieved of the worry that had plagued us for the past couple of days. Well. We have no prejudice against---” “So? Even still.’” I pinched myself and then glanced at Ralphie. but it was probably Ralphie because I was too excited to form any words. who I would call later that night to learn that she really had felt desperate about not having a boyfriend and kissed her when Charlotte said that she loved her. Have fun. Then my family took off with Wendy. .” Great. I was too happy to ponder over the curious scene I had witnessed only moments ago.your business. “Be back by 10:30 p. who mouthed something I couldn’t understand. I’m going to work on a bison farm like I said. You and your dumb demand that I get honor roll every semester so I can go to a top-tier college that Dad can brag about to everyone you meet.” I wasn’t sure if Ralphie or I said it.m. and I are going home. Ralphie and I sat down. Dad. I would have to wait until college to begin dating. We had unintentionally secured our victory.” “What about geek bait times two over there?” “Ralphie and Valerie are going to stay here and then go watch ‘Dracula.” “Your father and I would’ve tolerated it.” “We will. But after my parents left. I don’t care about college. We’re taking Wendy to her house and then you. I’m calling a cab. she just HAD to say that in front of Ralphie. My father handed the tickets to Ralphie and said.

please. “Make that two.Sonia came over.” ---The End--- . I chuckled. And hold the ants. “Hola.” Ralphie blurted. There was no question. ¿cómo están? What would ju like?” “Mango ice cream. So it was mutually agreed. delighted by the Lover Shudder that overcame me.

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