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Authors: Malín Alegría

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BOOK: Crossing the Line
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“Mija,”
her mother cried again over the diners' chatter. “Mr. Longoria just called.”

Fabi stopped in her tracks, hot full plates suspended over her head.

“You okay,
mija
?” her mother asked, cleaning down the glass counter that held Mexican candies, cigarettes, and other trinkets.

“I think I'm going to be sick.”

Her mother continued on, ignoring the look of utter horror on Fabi's face. “He said something about a box of tampons. Do you know what he's talking about?”

“Tapón?”
asked Grandpa Frank, who was hard of hearing. “Get some prune juice,
mija
, if you're
tapada
.”

“No, I said ‘tampon,' not ‘
tapón
'!” her mom corrected him, loud enough for the whole restaurant to stop all conversation and stare at Fabi in a hushed silence.

Fabi felt all the blood drain from her face. “Oh, no,” she groaned to herself.

“Tampons?” cried Abuelita Alpha. “Nooooo. Good girls don't use that stuff. It makes you lose your virginity. That's for
pirujas
!”

The customers, many of whom Fabi had grown up with, broke their abrupt silence with sudden roars of laughter.

“Not true,” called Grandma Trini from the opposite side of the room. She jumped up and took the tray of hot plates from Fabi, setting it down on the nearest table. Fabiola sighed with relief, as she'd completely forgotten about the orders she'd been holding.

The customers at the table next to her protested that they hadn't ordered those plates, but Grandma Trini told them this was better, to stop complaining and eat. Then she turned back to Fabi and petted her hand, looking down pointedly, her sparkly false eyelashes fluttering. “
Mija
, we need to talk about what goes on down there, so that you don't hurt yourself.”

Fabi jumped back.
This cannot be happening
, she thought.

“Magda,” yelled Grandma Trini over Fabi's head, “have you had THE TALK … you know … boys … and the stuff that happens
down there
? We should have THE TALK. I remember when I was her age …”

Fabi felt her ears burning. She just wanted to disappear.

“When you were her age,” interrupted Abuelita Alpha, “you were chasing every boy
en el valle
—
sinvergüenza
. I will not have you teaching my granddaughters —”

“I was not chasing boys!” protested Trini. “Men were chasing me! And they are not YOUR granddaughters only!”

Just then a hand appeared, like divine intervention, and pulled Fabi to the back of the restaurant and into the restroom. As usual, it was her baby sister, Alexis, to the rescue! Alexis slammed the bathroom door behind them and Fabiola sank down to the floor, covering her face with her hands. She wanted to dissolve into the pink tiled walls. “Oh, my God! I can't believe that just happened. I can never show my face in there again. I hope there was no one from school there.”

Alexis started to laugh. “Fabi,
estás loca
. What possessed you to buy tampons from our
Sunday school
teacher?”

“Hey, it's not funny!”

“No?” Alexis said, laughing even harder. She leaned against the wall for support as she held her stomach and wiped the tears from her eyes.

“Well, maybe a little.” Fabiola tried to keep a straight face. She looked at her sister and couldn't help cracking up along with her. “Oh, please, stop,” Fabi protested, applying pressure to the cramp on her left side from laughing so hard. “You're going to make me pee my pants.”

“Well, there's the toilet,” Alexis cried, doubling over in hysterics.

When the girls finally got control over their giggles, Fabi pulled herself up to wash her face. Her sister was running her fingers over her newly flatironed hair. Even though they were sisters by blood, they really looked nothing alike.

Grandma Trini said they were like different flowers from the same garden. Alexis got her light-colored skin and petite figure from their mother's Basque roots. Fabi's strong indigenous features and thick frame stemmed from her dad's family in Mexico. They were made from the same ingredients, but as different as mild and
picante
chili.

And Fabi didn't understand her sister's latest obsession with flat hair. Sure, everyone at the mall was doing it, but Alexis naturally had the most beautiful soft curls. Fabi would trade her plain hair for her sister's any day.

“Poor Mom,” Alexis commented as she adjusted her sparkly silver headband.

“What do you mean?” Fabi asked. “I was the one crucified in there.”

“Yeah, but Mom is the one who has to deal with them all day long,” Alexis explained. “You should consider yourself lucky that you didn't have to sit through Grandma Trini's ‘how to insert a tampon' workshop.” The two sisters busted out laughing again.

“Hey, let's get out of here, go somewhere else for the afternoon,” Fabi said.

“How? And where? I have to practice my violin scales.” Alexis peeked through the cracked door. “Besides, the wolves are still out there.”

Fabiola thought for a second. “Okay, then.” She looked up at the small window that led to the back alley — freedom. “Help me up here and we can climb out. Then we can go find some fun.”

 

Grandpa Frank lived around the corner from the restaurant. He grew the sweetest watermelons in the Valley. The Garza girls were used to jumping the fence to grab whatever they wanted since his backyard grew an abundance of food this time of year. When Grandpa Frank had retired from the military, he made his living selling his fruit and vegetables at the
pulga
in Alton on Sundays. But these days he could hardly drive himself anywhere anymore, and there were always tons of stuff up for grabs in his garden.

The girls picked a couple of small, round watermelons and headed to the house of their aunt Consuelo, Santiago's mom. She lived a couple of blocks down in a new gated community with a sweet pool and a Jacuzzi. After locating the key, hidden under the aloe vera potted plant, they let themselves into their aunt's house. Alexis borrowed a sexy bikini while Fabi put on an old T-shirt and shorts. In just a few minutes they were cooling off in the pool, trying to out-cannonball each other splash for splash.

“Now this is how I should have spent my whole summer,” Fabi lamented with a sigh, lifting herself out of the water to relax in a lounge chair.

Alexis appeared a few moments later and stretched out in the chair next to her sister. She closed her eyes as if going to sleep. “I can't believe I'm starting high school next week.” She opened one eye and looked over. “Do you think people will like me?”

Fabi shot up. “What? Are you crazy? Of course they're going to like you. Just be yourself and people will
love
you.” Alexis didn't look convinced. “Besides, lots of your friends from junior high will be there. And, you'll have me there, too. I'll take good care of you,” Fabi added reassuringly.

“I don't know what I would do without you,” Alexis said, reaching out to squeeze her hand. “You're the best sister in the world.”

Fabi beamed with pride. She closed her eyes and soaked in the delicious warm rays of the sun. She heard her sister get up to go back in the water.

“Hey, wetbacks!” a boy's voice called out from behind them. Fabi opened her eyes and sat up, staring openmouthed at Alexis, who was just as shocked. Who was calling them wetbacks?

But before Fabi could find the source of the insult, there was a huge splash. Moments later, Fabi's sister was bobbing up from under the water, coughing and screeching. Before Fabi could say anything, two big, strong hands grabbed her and pulled her up and out of her chair.

It was Santiago — of course.
That jerk
, Fabi thought as he tried to push her into the pool. But Fabi reached out and held tightly to his forearms. They tumbled into the pool together with a big splash. Alexis screamed happily and jumped on Santiago's back, trying to dunk him. Fabi swam over and splashed water on her cousin, who was yelling, “I give up! I give up!”

It was a perfect ending to summer.

T
he day was sure to be a scorcher. It was only 7:30 in the morning and the Dos Rios High marquee said it was 85 degrees. Fabiola looked over at her younger sister, who was holding tightly to her new backpack, slung over her right shoulder, heavily loaded down with new school supplies.

“Don't worry,” Fabi said, giving her sister's arm a squeeze. “I won't let anyone pick on you.”

Alexis tried to smile, but she looked small and fragile beside the towering high school students. Fabi could easily remember what her own first day at Dos Rios High had been like — it was only last year that she'd been standing where her sister was now. The imposing new building with its grand marble dome, numerous palm trees, and pretty fountains seemed out of place in their small, dusty town. It reminded Fabi of a storybook oasis in
One Thousand and One Arabian Nights
. If it weren't for her best friend Georgia Rae having such a good sense of direction, they would have been lost all year. Fabi felt a touch of sadness. Georgia Rae was starting her first day at Mac High today. It was just thirty miles away, but it felt like the opposite side of the moon.

“Let me see your schedule,” Fabi said to Alexis. She reviewed the list quickly. “Okay, you have Mrs. Lara for freshman English. She's real nice. Try to sit in the front of the room. That way she won't call on you as much. Eww, you have Mr. Goss for science,” Fabi went on, making a gagging expression. “We used to call him Mr. Gross. He spits when he talks, so try to sit at the very back.” Alexis's eyes widened in alarm. “It's not that big a deal. C'mon.” Fabi started climbing the steps. “I'll walk you over.”

Alexis sighed. “Thanks. I can't help being so nervous. Look at my hand.” It was shaking. “I don't know what I would do without you — hey!” A short, gawky boy with long, sweeping bangs rushed right into her.

“Excuse you!” Fabi called out at him. The boy adjusted the stack of books he was carrying to pull out his earplugs. He smiled sheepishly, hip-hop music blasting from the tiny speakers, and mouthed “Sorry” before hurrying back down the hallway. Fabi rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders at Alexis. Then she looked back at the river of students streaming up and down the halls.

“The thing about high school,” Fabi said, navigating her little sister expertly around a swarm of girls fixing their hair in a locker mirror, “is that there are rules — just like in the real world. Once you understand the rules, everything falls into place.”

“Rules?” Alexis asked, looking everywhere in awe.

They were standing in the main hall that fed into five adjacent buildings. Hundreds of students pushed through the entrance-way. Fabi noted the new faces. Dos Rios High served all the small towns in the area by busing the students in. The chatter of friends reunited after the summer was deafening. Fabiola scuffed her Vans at the emblem of the two catfish fighting each other etched into the linoleum floor. “See those beef-heads over there in the yellow and black matching jackets?” she asked her sister. The group of boys she was referring to were high-fiving and punching each other on the shoulders in some barbaric masculinity rite. “Those are the jocks. Big, burly, all into sports. Not much for personality, though.”

Alexis smiled. “They're cute.”

“Don't waste your time,” Fabi said sternly. “Those guys only hang out with cheerleaders or girls from the dance squad. Like I said, there are rules.”

Fabi turned toward a crowd of gorgeous girls with perfect hair, manicured nails, and beautiful skin. They looked like they'd just stepped out of a fashion magazine, and reeked of money. “Those are the
fresas
, mostly rich kids from Mexico. They won't even look at you unless you're wearing the ‘right' designer clothes. There are the popular kids who are all into student council, school spirit, and bake sales. In the computer lab and library you find the geeks and nerds. Then there are the emos, who wear all black with lots of black eyeliner.” A girl with rainbow hair and a nose ring marched by in combat boots, just as Fabi added, “And the freaks. They come in all shapes and sizes.”

“What are you?” Alexis asked, trying to figure out her place in this new world.

Fabi looked around. “I guess I'm normal.”

“Normal?” Alexis laughed. “Yeah.” Fabi grinned. “Normal.”

A group of familiar faces approached Fabi. “Who's this?” a girl with straight black hair and cute glasses asked. Alexis blushed and shrank back behind Fabi.

“Guys,” Fabi announced, her voice full of pride, “you remember my little sister, Alexis. Alexis, these are my friends. This is Noelia, and Violet, and this is Mona.”

“No way!” said Violet, practically shouting.

“You're so big! I mean,
older
,” Mona said admiringly.

“And so pretty,” added Noelia. “I love your hair.”

Alexis played with her straightened locks and said, “Oh, this? You guys are just being nice. How much did my sister pay you to say those things to me?”

“Your sister,” teased Mona, “never has money.”

“She's worse than my grandma, who saves her money in an old shoe,” added Noelia, giggling.

“Oh, you guys think you're sooo funny,” Fabiola cut in. “Ha ha.” She pushed her sister away from the group. “Watch out for those girls,” she said loud enough for them to hear. “They're trouble.”

“That's why you love us,” Violet replied, throwing kisses in the air. “See ya!”

“Your friends are nice,” Alexis said as they walked down the hall.

“Yeah, I guess, but don't flatter them.”

Alexis smiled. “I'll try to remember that.”

Fabi noticed Alexis staring across the hall and followed her gaze. She didn't like what she saw. Luckily, just then the bell rang. “C'mon, let's hurry,” she told her sister, trying to pull her away.

“Who's that?” Alexis asked, not budging.

“I don't know. C'mon, let's hurry or you're going to be late.”

“You're lying,” Alexis said quietly. “I can tell when you're lying because you start blinking a lot.”

“No, I don't.” Fabi grabbed her sister by the elbow and dragged her down the hall.

“Yes, you do,” Alexis giggled. “Oh, c'mon,” she protested, trying to twist out of her sister's grip, looking over her shoulder. “This is high school, Fabi, and for the first time I don't know everybody. It's the greatest feeling. High school is supposed to be the best time of our lives.” She stopped struggling and bit her lower lip. “I want to have fun. Do crazy things.”

Fabi tried to reassure her sister. She didn't want to be overbearing. “You will do crazy things. I promise. But trust me on this: You don't want to do them with Dex.”

Alexis's eyes lit up. “That's his name? Dex. Dex what? I thought you didn't know him.”

“Dex Nada, because that boy is
nada
to you.”

“You like him?” Alexis asked, her eyes growing cautious.

Fabiola tripped over her foot. “
Dex Andrews?
Oh, God, no.”

“Great!” Alexis cheered.

“No, that's not what I meant.”

“Then you do like him?”

“No, I mean I don't like him. Besides, he has a girlfriend. She's not very nice.” Fabi stopped in front of a doorway and said, “Here's your homeroom.”

Alexis just stared back at her with a confused expression. “Listen,” Fabi said with a sigh, “you've just got to trust me on this one. I'll explain at lunch, okay? I'll meet you by the main entrance.” Then Fabi hurried away to her own classroom on the second floor. Alexis watched her sister leave, lingering at the door for a moment. Then she quickly turned into the classroom to find a seat.

 

Fabi waited patiently by the main entrance as promised, but her sister never materialized. She stared down the hallway, wondering what could be keeping her. Lunch had started over twenty minutes ago. She wished Georgia Rae were here. Then they could split up and look for her.
Alexis is so small
, Fabi thought. She could be stuffed in a locker someplace or getting bullied in some corner of the mazelike building. Worry started to grow in her stomach. Maybe her sister had gone ahead to the cafeteria? Maybe she couldn't find the main entrance? Fabi couldn't stand to wait a moment longer and hurried down the hallway to the lunchroom.

The cafeteria was crammed with bodies. How was she supposed to find her sister in here? Every girl seemed to be wearing glittery headbands and have straightened brown hair. A high-pitched laugh made her turn around. It had come from a group of students hovering over the back corner table. Something pulled Fabi over for a closer look.

There, in the center of the table, speaking with animated flair, was her little sister. The people around her looked enraptured by whatever she was saying. Alexis seemed to be in her element — carefree, confident, and funny. It was such a stark contrast to the timid and shy kid Fabi had left that morning.

Alexis saw Fabi approach and waved her over. Fabi was glad her sister had made friends. She'd known that Alexis had nothing to worry about. Fabi planned to tease her about it later.

But as Fabiola got closer, she noticed who Alexis was with, and flinched unconsciously. Now she wished she had warned her sister better about who to stay away from. Alexis beamed with excitement. “Hey, Fabi, where have you been? Lunch is almost over,” she said, without a care in the world. “I thought you were supposed to look after me,” she joked. The crowd laughed with her.

Fabi felt an uncomfortable heat prick her ears. “I was waiting in the main entrance, where we agreed to meet.”

Alexis guiltily raised her fingertips to her puckered lips. “Oops, that's right. My bad. Well, it is my first day,” she said, more to the group sitting with her than to Fabi. “Hey, come sit with us,” she added, scooting a boy over so her sister could squeeze in. Fabi looked at the space her sister made for her and knew she wouldn't fit, but she didn't want to admit that. The popular kids in their matching Hollister outfits waited to see what Fabi would do. She could feel their eyes assessing her wardrobe. Although there was a dress code at Dos Rios High, it was rarely enforced. Fabi didn't care much for clothes — just give her a comfortable pair of jeans and her Vans and she was happy. The popular kids stared at her like she had two heads.

“It's okay,” Fabi said, growing flustered. “I forgot that I promised Ms. Muñoz to stop by her class at lunch.”

“Fa-bi,” Alexis said in an irritated voice.

“It's cool, really.” She tried to smile, pretending that all was good. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay. And you are. So I should go.” Fabi turned and hurried out of the cafeteria.

She stood in the hallway. Her heart felt heavy, but she didn't want to think about it. Not here. Not where anyone could see her. She let her feet guide her up to the second floor, past the library and science rooms. She just wanted to be alone.

This was not how she envisioned Alexis's first day at school. Alexis was
her
sister. Fabi wanted to be the one to introduce her to people and share her first experiences. Now she felt crushed. It was like the day she'd found out that Santa was actually her uncle Chunky in a red suit. Fabi wanted to cry, but that was just stupid. She couldn't keep Alexis to herself like some toy.

And then she stopped suddenly at the sound of loud smacking lips. It was coming from around the corner.

“Please don't do that,” a guy's voice said.

“Oh, baby, I missed you so much,” whined the girl. “Didn't you get my texts?”

“I got them.” The guy's voice was cold and dry. “I got your calls, e-mails, and notes, too.”

Fabiola jerked back against the wall. She wanted to run the other way. But she was paralyzed when she heard something loud smash the lockers.

“Damn it, Dex,” the girl growled. “Don't make me mad. You don't want to see me mad. You're acting ridiculous. Just give me another chance.”

“Get off me,” Dex stammered. “This is not working. I already told you. I need some space.”

“Please don't do this!” the girl cried. Her voice cracked as if she was about to sob. “Please don't. You want space? I'll give you space! I'll do anything you want. Just please don't leave me. I need you. I love you.”

“Stop! Stop this right now.”

Fabi heard shuffling steps.

“No way!” the guy said. “Take your hands off me. You're acting crazy!” Then Dex Andrews came around the corner in a half sprint. Fabi recognized his tall athletic frame. But just in case she hadn't, he'd had his name shaved into the back of his hair like a tattoo design. Dex was determined to get out of there quick, which was a good thing for Fabi, who was standing flat against a doorway.

“Dex!” cried Melodee Stanton, following him around the corner. But Dex was gone. Melodee stood there, sniffling. Her black mascara was running down her cheeks. “I thought I smelled menudo,” she said in a cold, evil voice. Melodee stared at Fabiola with her gray eyes, which she always covered with tons of smoky eye shadow. “Did you enjoy the show?”

Fabi tried to think of something quick. “I'm sorry. I was just walking and I didn't mean to …”

“Didn't mean to what?” snapped Melodee, trying to pull herself together. “Didn't mean to be a stupid loser? But you are!” Melodee wiped her cheek and then combed her fingers through her layered blonde hair. “You better not tell anyone about what you just heard. You got it, Fatty?”

Fabi wanted to correct her. Ever since that stupid AmeriCorps teacher from New York mispronounced her nickname as “Fatty,” everyone, especially Dex Andrews and his friends, thought it was so hilarious to call her that. She had hoped that people would mature over the summer break, but obviously some hadn't.

BOOK: Crossing the Line
5.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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