Birds of PreyA Story by Lina Rivera
The second of three short stories for the winners of my "Promote Vizcaya" Kickstarter contest. This one is for Marleen who requested a fast pace and good dialogue.
Suddenly lost inside a fantasy
Everything not quite what it seems to be
Jamie and Kyle weren’t twins. In fact, they weren’t even brothers.
“They’ve been best friends since birth,” Carla explained to me when I asked about the matching pair of brunettes standing by the lockers across from mine. “You’re not interested are you?” She asked with a raised eyebrow. “Okay, let me answer that for you. You’re NOT interested.” She slammed her locker shut and took my hand, pulling me before I could stare a bit more.
“Why am I not interested?” I asked trying to keep up. It was my first day at this school and I wanted to take in as much as possible, but Carla seemed to be in a constant state of hurry.
“Because at this school there are rules, and you follow them, and that’s all there is to it.”
If she had been facing my direction instead of wherever she was leading me, she would’ve seen the confused look upon my face.
“I’m going to need a little more of a reason than that.”
Carla opened the door to our next class and ushered me in. We sat toward the front because in the three periods I had known her, I had come to the conclusion that she was the only person in this school that paid attention to anything the teachers said.
I opened my notebook and took out a pen so I could doodle. Once I saw Carla settled in, I leaned toward her to follow up my previous statement.
“So are they like the bad kids or something?”
“What?” Carla had obviously moved on to thinking about more important things. “Oh, those two? No. I mean sure. Yeah. They’re the bad kids. Stay away from them.”
That didn’t sound convincing.
I decided to leave it be, but as I peeked around to see if the same kids from the previous classes were in there, I noticed the brunettes sitting toward the back talking to a few other people.
“You’re looking. Why are you looking?” Carla asked as she noticed where my eyes had gone.
“I can’t look?”
“I told you. You’re not interested.”
“Okay, but that doesn’t mean I can’t look.” I said as I took another peek. One of the boys spotted me and gave me a little smile. I smiled back.
“Stop that,” Carla said.
I looked back at her and gave her a weird look because she was being weird. When I looked back at the boy, he was no longer looking in my direction.
Lunch at this new school was just like lunch at all the other schools " loud. I grabbed my quesadillas from the lunch line and sat with Carla at a table for four. I wondered if she had any friends that would join us, but since I hadn’t seen her talk to anyone else that day, I figured she didn’t. In fact, I was starting to suspect that the reason the school had assigned her to show me around that day was to give her some company.
Again Carla caught me looking at the brunette boys that sat at a table for ten where people had pulled up extra chairs to join in.
“Do you just hate popular kids?” I decided to ask her. I needed to figure out what her deal was with these boys.
“I hate most people,” Carla said as she mixed her salad around and added more dressing to mix it more before trying it. “I can’t wait to get out of here and go to college. These last two years are not moving fast enough.”
“Oh-kay,” I said not knowing how to respond to her bitter tone. I ate my quesadilla and wished I had faced the other direction so I could watch all the action in the cafeteria.
Halfway through eating I just couldn’t take it anymore.
“Okay, look, I’m new, so I need you to tell me about the social aspects. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’ve been amazing helping me get to my classes and catching me up on the work I’ve missed from the start of the school year, but I don’t hate people so…”
“Look around,” Carla said.
I looked around and then looked back at her.
“You didn’t really look.”
“What am I looking at?”
“There are two types of people at this school,” Carla explained. “Us and them. Us being those that aren’t white, them being those that are.”
I thought she was joking. I looked around again wondering why she thought we were stuck in the 1950’s or something. But as I scanned the cafeteria again, I found that she was right. The cafeteria was pretty segregated between the white kids and all the other kids, most of whom were Latino like Carla and me.
“What is this? The 50’s or something?” I asked.
“It’s this town. It’s always been like this. The white people hate the Latinos because they think we’re all illegal immigrants who aren’t worth anything. They’re all old families that pretty much own all the land and run things. I don’t know how you ended up here, but if your parents were smart, they’d move back out quick and take you with them.”
“Yeah, but,” I protested as I looked around and back at her, “I mean, that’s the parents and stuff right? Not the kids.”
“Where do you think the kids get it from? The mayor of this town and the sheriff of this town control everything that happens and are always going around harassing anyone who’s not white just because they can. Your two little boyfriends over there? One’s the son of the mayor, and the other is the son of the sheriff. You’re in honors classes so I’m assuming you’re smart enough to know the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
My brows furrowed as disappointment showed in my face. I looked over again at the table, seeing the boys and their friends in a new light. This time when the one boy looked toward me, I quickly looked away.
Slipping and falling through the looking glass
Catching a glimpse at all that lies behind the masks
“Did you know that you’ve moved us into a crazy racist town?” I asked my parents at dinner that night. “The school cafeteria is seriously segregated.”
“It’s Texas,” my dad said as he scooped more of the chicken fettuccini he had made onto his plate. My dad was an amazing cook and always experimented with recipes. He said it calmed him from his work stress.
“And it’s temporary,” my mom said in a way that made it clear to my dad that he better not get any crazy ideas about permanently moving here. “Just until your dad’s done with his work.”
“How about we experiment with home schooling?” I suggested.
“How about you experiment with finishing your dinner so we can finish that puzzle we started?” Dad said and I rolled my eyes, but laughed anyway, and finished dinner.
The heat in Texas was unbearable. I discovered this on the school bus which lacked air conditioning. Not only had my parents moved me into a racist town, but they also moved me into a poor one that couldn’t provide basic necessities to students. I got off the bus and re-worked the pony tail that held back my dark brown curls. Thanks to the heat and humidity, my curls were now all over the place. I made a pit stop at the girls room to try and put it all back in some respectable order, and then walked to my locker, wondering why Carla wasn’t there waiting for me. It was only Day 2 and already I expected her to be waiting for me with some agenda for the day.
“You suck worse at it than you did yesterday,” came one of the boy’s voices and I tried hard to ignore it as I organized my locker while waiting for Carla. I would not turn around. I would not turn around.
“Or you found some new cheat codes that you’re not sharing,” came the other’s voice. “Either way, you’re the one that sucks.”
“Just admit I’m better at it than you.”
“Hell no. You’re a cheater.”
I couldn’t resist. I looked over my shoulder.
Seeing them interact, their differences became a bit more obvious. One was slightly taller than other, only slightly in a way where they’d have to be standing right next to each other to notice. Their straight brown hair looked as if someone had taken a bowl of hair and placed it right upon their heads. Their bangs both swooped to the right. One was a little lankier than the other, but it was only obvious because his clothes were a bit more fitted than the other boy’s, who seemed to favor a more relaxed fit. And as they both simultaneously looked at me, I saw that one had dark brown eyes and the other had electric blue ones. I looked away and into my locker, knowing that I was blushing at being caught.
I grabbed my folder and slammed my locker carelessly in a rush to get to first period. I had never been so embarrassed.
Once in my seat, I realized that Carla was already sitting there, prepared and sitting at attention. I guess she normally got to school really early. That would’ve been good to know before I needlessly waited at my locker and ended up getting caught staring. Ugh.
“You okay?” She asked looking me over with her wise brown eyes. “You look flustered.”
“I’m fine. Just…yeah fine. I was running late.”
“That sucks,” she said and looked back toward the front where the teacher had just stood.
When I walked into fourth period with Carla, the boy with the brown eyes looked at me and smiled. Now I was convinced that the two friends had had a great laugh at my expense and I was probably the punch line of their inside jokes for the day. I gave him a half smile anyway because I had no issues with laughing at myself. It had been a ridiculous moment. If I didn’t laugh about it, I’d probably cry.
“What was that?” Carla asked once we were seated.
“What was what?”
“You know what. Jamie smiled at you and you smiled at him.”
“Is that his name?” I asked looking back toward him. He was still looking in my direction even as his friend talked to him about something.
“You know that’s his name. I told you that yesterday. Jamie and Kyle. They’re not related and they’re bad and you need to stay away from them.”
“I don’t know why he keeps smiling at me,” I said turning my attention to her. “I swear I didn’t do anything. I haven’t talked to him or anything.”
“Because you’re new. Everyone always smiles at the new girl.”
“Even the bad people?” I challenged her.
Carla sighed and waved her hand. “Look, just don’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s your life. Do what you want. But when it all blows up in your face, and it will, don’t come crying to me.”
“When what blows up in my face? I haven’t even talked to him,” I said trying to keep my voice down enough to not be overheard.
“Just be careful,” Carla said with a finite tone.
During class I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a lot more about all of this that Carla wasn’t telling me. Did she have history with Jamie and Kyle? Did she have a crush on them and got turned down because she wasn’t white? I wanted to know what the deal was, and I wished Carla would just spell everything out.
While I stood in line at lunch, I mentally rationalized that Carla was warning me for a reason, and that I needed to stay away from the boys as much as possible. I would no longer look in their direction or smile at Jamie. I wasn’t even going to be at this school next year to get caught up in some crazy drama, so I resolved to just stick by Carla’s side and play by her rules.
“Hey, so what’s your name?”
It took me a moment to realize that someone had directed that question toward me. I turned to the person behind me in line and found Jamie. Damn it.
“Marisol,” I told him. “But everyone calls me Mari.” I said it with the Spanish accent that my family and friends always used. I hoped he didn’t say it because I didn’t want him to butcher it. I should’ve left it at Marisol.
“Mari,” he said perfectly and my eyes widened. “I’m Jamie. It’s nice to meet you.”
I still hadn’t gotten over him saying my name right so it took me a moment to say, “Uh, yeah. It’s nice to meet you too.”
“You just move into town?” He asked as he motioned that the line had moved.
I felt dumb and excited all at once. I vowed to pay attention to the line more as I talked to him so he didn’t have to point it out to me again. Between this morning and now, Jamie probably thought I was stupid, which just made me paranoid that he assumed that anyway based upon Carla’s warning about this town.
“Yeah. My dad had to come here to work.”
“Oh cool. What does he do?”
I picked up a chicken sandwich and put it on my tray before answering.
“He’s a research meteorologist. He’s here collecting data on the drought in the region to study it further.”
“Wow, that’s really cool,” he said grabbing a chicken sandwich as well.
“Yeah. What does your dad do?” I guess I asked because I wanted proof that Carla was telling the truth, even though I completely believed her.
“He’s the town sheriff,” Jamie said. “Lame right?”
“Um, no, I mean, every town needs a sheriff.”
“I guess,” he said with a shrug. “So, since you’re new and all, you probably don’t know where everyone hangs out huh?”
“Not really. The only person I’ve really talked to here has been Carla,” I said looking around to see where she was. I spotted her by the drinks giving me an unbelieving look.
Jamie looked over as well and then back at me and nodded.
“Our town doesn’t have a mall or any typical place to hang out, so we just hang out at the park near Main Street. There’s an ice cream place that’s really good. Maybe you can stop by after school today. I’ll be there.”
“I’ll ask my parents. Thanks for telling me about it.”
“No problem,” he said with another gorgeous smile and then I had to pay for my food and leave him. I was hoping that he followed me or kept talking to me, but after he paid he headed to the big table of friends waiting for him.
When I sat across from Carla at our table, I knew I was in for it.
“He started talking to me,” I started before she could. “I didn’t even know he was behind me in line.”
“Like I said, your life,” she said as she did her salad dressing ritual once again.
“But it’s really not like that. Although he did invite me to hang out with him after school. Is that weird? He said they hang out at a park near Main Street. Have you hung out there?” I was rambling, but I didn’t want her to think I was hiding anything from her. Somehow that made me feel like I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Which I wasn’t.
“Why would I hang out there? I hate people remember?” Carla said looking a bit frustrated by my talking. “Have fun. There’s a good ice cream place down there.”
“That’s what he said.”
“Hm,” was her only response to that and she ate her salad while I ate my chicken sandwich.
You disappear with the dawn
You only see what you want
When you’re out with the birds of prey
I really wished I could’ve somehow convinced Carla to go to the park with me. I didn’t know anyone else, and as I approached the park, I couldn’t help but to notice that only white kids were hanging out there. Before Carla had said anything, I wouldn’t have even noticed the discrepancy. I came up with a plan to say I was just walking by if anyone asked what I was doing in the area. I absently wondered if there were signs around that said “Whites Only.” I swear this town was stuck in another century.
“Hey,” Jamie said when he saw me and he jogged over from where he had been standing by a tree with his friends. “You made it.”
“Am I allowed to be here?” I asked without thinking.
“I don’t know,” he said looking at me strangely. “Did you ask your parents?”
“No, I mean… never mind,” I said waving it off and laughing nervously. “I’m weird. Don’t mind me.”
He smiled at me and pointed across the street. “Want to get some ice cream?”
“Yes please. It’s so hot out,” I said fanning myself for effect.
Jamie shouted out to his friends that he was going to get ice cream and that he’d be right back. I wondered why he didn’t introduce me first or anything, but I did notice that Kyle looked between us and then looked at Jamie with a questioning glance. Or maybe I was just seeing things. Carla had me so paranoid about everything.
The ice cream shop was a cool haven from the late afternoon heat. I wanted to stay within its small, pink-and-white-striped, well ventilated, walls forever. We stood in a small line of other students I recognized from school and then it was our turn.
Jamie ordered a vanilla caramel chocolate chip cookie dough concoction that the ice cream guy molded together for him into a waffle cone. It looked amazing so I followed his lead and ordered the same thing.
“You want to sit in here or go back out?” Jamie asked as he grabbed us small plastic spoons.
“In here? It’s nice and cool.”
Jamie nodded and picked a small table for two next to the storefront window.
“So what do you and your friends do at the park?” I asked as I fell in love with ice cream. They weren’t kidding. The ice cream was sweet and creamy and perfectly refreshing.
“Just hang out. There’s not much to do in town. Unless you play football or basketball or something. Or maybe if you’re a cheerleader.”
“So you’re not a cheerleader?” I teased and he laughed. It was a warm laugh and had a little chuckle thrown into the mix. He looked adorable.
“Not this year. Maybe I’ll try out for the squad next year. I have to work on my leg kicks.”
“Yeah, those are tough,” I said laughing as well. “So if sports aren’t your thing then what is?”
“I like playing video games. Until spring. Then I run track. It’s the only sport I’ve ever been decent at. What about you?”
“I like video games too. And I’ve never been decent at any sport unfortunately. I’m that girl that always gets picked last when they make people choose teams in PE.”
“I wouldn’t pick you last,” he said and I felt my stomach do this weird flutter thing.
“You haven’t seen how much I suck at sports. Just wait.”
He smiled and looked out the window, watching as his friends laughed about something. Then Kyle chased some girl who laughed when he grabbed her.
“We can go back outside if you want,” I said thinking that I probably had bored him already. It hadn’t seemed like our conversation was going bad, but maybe I was reading him wrong.
“Huh?” He asked and then shook his head, “No, I was just watching. It’s good to see Kyle happy like that,” he said as he took another bite of his ice cream. I didn’t press him to explain, because it seemed personal, but he filled in the details. “Kyle’s had a rough time since things ended with him and Carla earlier this year.”
I almost choked on my ice cream. No I think I did choke on my ice cream. I couldn’t breathe and it took multiple attempts at coughing to get the flow of air going again.
“Are you okay?” Jamie asked as he hit my back a few times.
“Mhmm,” I said nodding with watery eyes. I put my ice cream down and took a sip of the water that he had sprung to get me. When I could finally speak again I said, “Kyle and Carla were together?”
“Yeah,” Jamie said handing me a napkin so I could wipe my eyes. “She didn’t tell you?”
I shook my head and drank more water as I got myself back together.
“She failed to mention it,” I said, and then added, “I mean, I’ve only known her for two days so it’s not like she’s had a chance to talk about things like that.” I didn’t want him to think that we sat around discussing him and his friend. That just seemed like it would be pathetic.
“Yeah, I guess that makes sense,” he nodded.
“So, um, why did things between them end?” I tried to ask casually as I scooped some ice cream with my spoon. I was much better prepared to handle this conversation and eat at the same time now.
Jamie sighed and looked outside again before back at her.
“It’s kind of complicated. I guess she’ll tell you about it one day.”
“Oh,” I said and nodded. My curiosity was through the roof, so I decided to try and get its attention on other things. Like him. “What about you? Any girlfriend? Or ex-girlfriend with a complicated break up?”
He smiled and shook his head, causing his shiny, brown hair to shift lower and closer to his eye. I wanted to reach over and smooth it to the side again for him.
“No girlfriend. I have an ex, but it’s not complicated. We just didn’t have a lot in common. She’s a cheerleader. And as you know, I’m not.” He cheesed and I busted out laughing. He was too much, but I wanted more. I was so in trouble. “What about you?”
“No. No boyfriend. No ex. I’m boring.”
“I doubt that,” he said and then one of his friends came in looking for him.
“Jamie, come on, we’re gonna go to Chase’s and check out his new truck.”
“Give me a sec,” he said, and when his friend left Jamie rolled his eyes. “My exciting life. You wouldn’t happen to be into trucks would you?”
“Not really?” I answered, but I was into him, so I said, “But maybe you could show me what’s so exciting about Chase’s new truck?”
Jamie smiled and we left the ice cream shop together.
Chase wasn’t someone who went to school with them. I was introduced to a guy who hadn’t bothered with a shirt as he greeted the kids that piled out of their trucks to see him. I had ridden with Jamie, Kyle, and the girl that Kyle had been chasing. And now we were out of the car and looking at a brand new, red, Chevy truck that Chase kept calling, “Beautiful.”
“If we weren’t in a drought we could take her mudding,” one of the friends joked and Chase told him to get the hell out of here.
“I’m taking good care of this one,” he said and then led them inside his tiny wooden house that looked like it could use a coat of paint and new steps leading up to the porch.
“He graduated a few years ago,” Jamie explained as I kept looking at him for answers. “He’s a cool guy, and he hooks us up with free beer.”
Now it all made sense. I sat a little nervously beside Jamie on the couch, thinking that I had gotten myself into some crazy mess.
“So where’d you come from?” The girl with Kyle suddenly asked me. Chase started passing out beers to everyone and the boys got into a conversation about the truck.
“I’m from Florida. My family just moved into town.”
“I’ve been to Florida,” she said. “I have family in Niceville. Ever been there?”
I shook my head.
“I’m from Tampa. I only really know that area,” I explained.
“Oh I’ve been there. I went to Busch Gardens once,” she said and I smiled at her.
“I love Busch Gardens.”
“I do too,” Kyle said.
“The hell?” Jamie said laughing at him. “You’ve never been there.”
“It sounds like a place I’d like.”
“You’re stupid,” the girl said nudging his shoulder playfully.
“Alright, we’ll take her for a spin,” Chase said to a request by one of the other friends, “We’ll go down to the county line and turn around.”
“Man, don’t go that way. You gotta pass through the hood and they’ll f**k your car up,” one of the friends joked as some of the other guys laughed.
As small as this town was, I had a hard time imagining that they even had a hood to begin with. I looked at Jamie who seemed to not be paying attention as he drank his beer.
“Let them try,” Chase said. “I got my rifle ready.”
“Wanna go for a walk?” Jamie asked me. I smiled and nodded.
We left the house and Jamie showed me a trail that extended from Chase’s backyard. He brought his beer with him and told me to be careful where I stepped.
“Chase does a lot of target practice back here,” Jamie said, pointing out the bottles of beer that had been splattered into small pieces of glass.
“He’s fulfilling all my stereotypes of people in Texas. Guns, trucks, beer, no shirt…” I smiled to let him know I meant it as a joke.
“Congrats, you’ve just met the poster child of our town then,” Jamie said with his own smile, but then the smile faded as he took another drink from his beer and stopped by a solitary, dried-out tree in the flat, brown land around them. “I can’t wait to get out of this town.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Anywhere but here. Maybe Houston or Austin. I don’t know.”
“I hear Austin is cool. They have a big music scene.”
“Yeah,” he said, but he seemed to be far away. I wanted to hug him and tell him everything would be fine, but I wasn’t sure what the problem was and I didn’t think it was my place. But I was bad at resisting my emotions so I gave him a small, quick hug and pulled away.
“Sorry. You seemed like you needed a hug,” I explained.
“I did. Thanks. The only other person who ever knows when I need a hug is Kyle. He gives good hugs.”
I smiled at that. The idea of Kyle giving Jamie a hug was too adorable for words.
“Aww,” I cooed.
“Yeah, go ahead make fun.”
“No! I think it’s too cute. You guys are really close, huh?”
“We were born days apart. Our families are best friends so they pretty much raised us like brothers. He’s the only person in the world who really understands me, and I’m that person for him, too.”
“That’s great that you guys have each other.”
“We’re kind of all we have.” He must’ve seen the confused look on my face because he elaborated. “We’re both kind of the disappointments in our families. It’s hard to explain.”
“Oh,” I said because I didn’t quite understand, so I changed the subject for his sake. “So is this part of the great tour of town? What am I looking at right now? It’s amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Are you kidding?” He asked with a smirk.
“Kind of, but I really have never seen so much nothing in my life. And why isn’t your grass green at least? This whole town needs more color.”
“You’re in prairie land, not to mention the weird drought phase we’re in,” Jamie said, “But generally this is how the prairies look anyway. I think it’s because we’re close to where the desert starts to the south and west.”
“In Florida everything is green and it rains almost every day, and I grew up near the ocean so no matter where I went, I always saw water somewhere.”
“That sounds like paradise.”
“I never thought it was until right this second,” I admitted and looked into his brown eyes. Somehow his brown eyes were prettier than mine, or maybe I just appreciated his more because they were on him.
He stared into my eyes as well, and it seemed that time stopped for that moment as we lost ourselves in each other’s gazes, but then a loud horn noise shattered the mood and we both looked back to see the friends piling into their trucks.
I was disappointed when we turned to head back to the house. I wanted more quiet time with Jamie instead of being around the rest of these people. When we got to the trucks, Chase called out to Jamie.
“Hop in, man. Let’s get this show on the road.”
Kyle, along with the other friends, was already in the back and I thought that maybe I should’ve asked Jamie to take me home at that point, but he was already climbing in and extended his hand out to me to help me in. I wasn’t sure what the point of riding in the truck was, but I figured it would be a brand new experience I could probably share with my friends back in Tampa when I returned.
“Hold on tight,” Chase said, and next thing I knew, I was holding onto Jamie’s arm for dear life as the truck bounced out of the dirt driveway and onto the main road. He sped down the empty two lane road as one of the other friends tried to stand up.
“That’s not smart,” I mentioned to Jamie.
“He’s not a smart guy,” Jamie pointed out as he grabbed the guy’s shirt to try and pull him down into a seating position.
“Go down Robin Lane,” one of the guys shouted at Chase. “Let’s see how it handles those bumps.”
“No!” Kyle’s girl said. I finally found out that her name was Haley when he asked her what was wrong. “I’m going to throw up if we do that.”
“See this is why we can’t invite girls anywhere,” another of the boys lamented.
The riding in the back of the truck thing got boring, and soon I was on Haley’s side when she started complaining that she was hungry and that we should go back and get food.
Chase turned around and started speeding down the road again, causing me to hold on to Jamie’s arm tightly all over again. I shouldn’t have been surprised when the red and blue lights of a patrol car came on, and a siren roared behind us.
Before I knew what was happening, everyone was jumping out of the truck and someone had grabbed my arm and pulled me close to him. I realized it was Chase who had done it as he spoke to the officer.
“How’s it going, Sheriff?” Chase said and my eyes widened as I realized this was Jamie’s dad. “We were just taking my new red beauty for a spin.”
The Sheriff was an imposing man. Tall, bulky, and with a large cowboy hat that looked twice the size it needed to be for his head.
“Well I can tell she drives well. Well above the speed limit that is.”
“I was just showing off for the kids,” Chase said. “I’m sorry about that.”
I noticed the sheriff look right at me before looking over at his son. Without saying a word he motioned for his son to walk over to him.
Kyle looked worried at Jamie who walked over to his dad.
“You been drinking?” The sheriff asked Jamie.
“Yes, sir,” Jamie said barely looking up at his father.
“All your friends been drinking?”
“Not all of them.”
The sheriff looked at Jamie for a long moment then looked up at Kyle and motioned him over as well. I started to get really nervous and Chase must’ve sensed that because he gripped my arm a little tighter as if warning me not to say or do anything.
“Both of you get in the car,” the sheriff told them. I locked eyes with Jamie just before his head disappeared into the sheriff’s car.
The sheriff walked over to Chase and looked at me and then back at him.
“The next time you put my boys in danger like that, I will see to it that you get a fine so large that you’ll have to sell this truck to pay it. You read me?”
“Loud and clear, Sheriff.”
The sheriff looked at the other kids then said, “All of you get on home.” And then he left.
It wasn’t until the car was gone that Chase relaxed his grip on my arm.
“Sorry,” he said to me, “I didn’t want him to think you were with his kid. That wouldn’t have ended well for either of you.”
I looked at Chase confused. “What do you mean?”
Chase smiled and opened the passenger door for me.
“I like that you don’t understand,” he said.
I climbed into the truck, Haley climbing in next to me. On the drive back to Chase’s home, he sort of laid things out.
“Jamie’s dad is a dick,” Chase said. “But he’s also the one guy in this town you don’t want to cross.”
“Because he’s the sheriff?” I ventured.
“Because he’s…” Chase drifted off in thought.
“Him and the mayor go hunting down by the border sometimes with their posse,” Haley filled in. “They’re all about protecting the border, but to them that means shooting any illegal immigrants dead on the spot. No rounding them up and arresting them. Just aim and shoot.”
I sat horrified. That couldn’t be true. People didn’t just do things like that.
“But that would be illegal. It’s murder,” I said.
“Who’s going to turn him in?” Haley asked. “Everyone just looks the other way.”
“Most people around here agree with him anyway,” Chase added. “They’re happy someone’s doing something about the illegal immigration problem.”
I didn’t know where to begin with that. It was all so wrong and suddenly I thought of my own parents and myself. Were we in danger in this town?
“So basically,” I said trying to wrap my head around all this, “even though I’m not illegal or anything, if he thought Jamie and I were friends, he’d like kill me?”
“I doubt he’d kill you,” Chase said, “But he’d make sure Jamie never talked to you again.”
Both Haley and Chase stayed quiet, and I didn’t press the issue. I didn’t think I wanted to know the answer. So instead I asked about Kyle.
“Is that what happened between Kyle and Carla?”
More silence, but finally Chase said, “That’s a complicated question to answer.”
I wondered why everyone kept saying that.
Taking the blue pill only made you cry
And all that the red pill did was make you forget why
It took every ounce of will power that I had to not talk to Carla about what I had learned the previous night. I kept all our conversations superficial, asking her about school work or if she had any fun plans for the weekend. In fourth, when I finally saw Jamie, he didn’t look in my direction and kept to himself. He didn’t even talk to Kyle like he normally did. Kyle looked at Jamie with concern, but didn’t press the matter.
In lunch, once we were seated at our table, I verbally cornered Carla.
“Why didn’t you tell me that you and Kyle used to be together?”
Carla didn’t look stunned by my question. Instead she looked resigned, as if knowing it was a matter of time before I’d find out.
“It wasn’t really any of your business,” she said coolly.
I sighed and pushed my tray to the side a little so I had room to put my arms on the table and lean in a bit.
“You’re right. It’s not. But you told me to stay away from them for a reason, and you made it seem like they were bad, not that you were just upset at being dumped or something.”
“Is that what they told you while you were hanging out with them hoping to be their new best friend?” Carla looked hurt and angry at the implication.
“No. Jamie didn’t say much of anything. Just that it was complicated.”
“It’s complicated…” she said as if considering that phrase. “That’s such an interesting way for them to spin it.”
I was confused.
“What do you mean?”
Carla shook her head and grabbed her backpack.
“Nothing. I guess it’s complicated.” She got up and didn’t bother saying anything else as she left me alone at the table.
After school, Jamie was waiting by my locker.
“Do you have to go straight home?” He asked as I looked at him surprised.
“Uh, no. No.” I shook my head as if he needed a third confirmation.
“Good. I want to show you something.”
I grabbed my things and followed him to a nice looking silver truck, which he explained as he drove was one of his dad’s. At the mention of his dad I wanted to ask him what happened when he got home, but I kept the conversation safe instead.
“So where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise,” he said smiling over at me. It was the first time that day I had seen him do so.
We drove past more empty fields of brown grass, seeming to get further and further away from the center of town. There were barns intermittently along the way, and grazing cows of every color and variety dotting the landscape.
Jamie pulled into a dirt road that led up to a farm house that was two stories and painted a light green color. There was a tall metal windmill spinning beside it which for some reason put a smile on my face.
“Is this your house?” I asked him as we got out of the truck.
“I wish,” he said taking my hand which caused a small shiver of excitement to go up my arm. There was no way he didn’t notice the smile that sprung upon my face. “This is the only nice thing in town. I thought you’d like to see it.”
He led me around the house and to the back where a large greenhouse existed. The door was open and we went right in to what suddenly felt like another world. Green was everywhere. There were trees and plants and flowers and ivy snaking along the window panes and hanging from the vaulted glass ceiling. Fans blew air all around as little mists of water sprayed from sprinklers above us.
“This is amazing,” I said taking it all in.
“I knew you’d like it.”
“Are we allowed to be here?”
“I am. This is where I work during the summer. Trying to save up to get out of town after graduation.” He explained as he led me through it. “The couple that lives here and owns this are older. Like my grandparents’ age. So they need all the help they can get. They sell plants all around the region.”
“Wow,” was all I could say as I reached out to touch the moist leaf of a tree that reminded me a lot of the palms back home.
“This is also where I come and hide, when I don’t want to be home.”
I looked at him in understanding.
“So is that what we’re doing? Hiding?”
“For a little bit.”
He leaned against a table full of purple tropical looking flowers, finally letting go of my hand as he urged me to explore, but all I wanted to do was keep holding his hand and stay by his side. I went ahead and looked around, thinking about how he would probably come in here and water all the plants and take perfect care of them. If I were these plants, I’d be the happiest plants ever. Realizing I was starting to make myself gag at my own cheesiness, I headed back over to Jamie who hadn’t moved from his position.
I stood before him and smiled and took his hands into mine again as I swung them lightly back and forth between us.
“This is definitely the coolest thing in this town. Do a lot of people know about it?”
“They know about it,” he said squeezing my hands gently, “They just forget about it, or don’t think about it. Most people in town don’t ever really go anywhere outside of church or the bar.”
The mention of this made me think of his dad for some reason and I frowned a little.
“Did you get into a lot of trouble last night?” I finally asked.
He shrugged and then sighed before answering.
“My dad doesn’t care much for Chase. He thinks he’s trash and that if I hang out with him I’ll become just like him. That’s something my dad worries about a lot " that I’ll turn out like anyone that’s not him.”
“From what I hear, he wouldn’t care much for me either.”
Jamie looked at me with sad brown eyes.
“Don’t take it personal,” he said. “My dad doesn’t care for anyone who’s not family or friend. If he had it his way, he’d have his own piece of land that no one would ever bother him on.”
“I kinda feel that someone with that attitude shouldn’t be the sheriff.”
“I agree,” Jamie shrugged, “But the people of this town voted him in. He feels he’s doing the right thing.”
“Is shooting illegal immigrants at the border the right thing?” I wished I hadn’t asked, but the words tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them. I didn’t want to waste my time with Jamie talking about his crazy racist dad, and yet, I had to know how he felt about it all.
“Who told you that?” Jamie asked letting go of my hands as he tensed up.
“People. They talk. Are they lying?”
He didn’t answer and instead walked away from me. I didn’t know what to think and I followed him until we were outside again.
“I’m sorry,” I said as I caught up to him. “That was out of line. I just…people said that and it really disturbed me.”
He stopped walking and turned to look at me.
“You know, no one brings that up to me. No one says to me that they question my dad’s methods. You know what people say to me? They come up to me and tell me that my dad’s a hero. That they’re happy someone has the courage to do something about the illegals. I wonder if they mean it, or if they just say that to me because they think that’s what they’re supposed to say. Like I’ll go and run to my dad and tell on them or something.”
“Someone once said to me the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but you obviously aren’t like your dad. I’m not saying that in a good or bad way. It’s just an observation.”
“I learned at a young age that I didn’t want to be like him,” Jamie said and he hesitated slightly before turning around and lifting the back of his shirt.
I gasped as I saw the large welts left by, what I assumed was, a belt.
“Oh my God,” I said as my hand flew to my mouth in shock.
He pulled his shirt back down and turned to look at me, then said, “I’m too scared of him to ever want to be like him.”
I felt tears pool in my eyes and I gave him another hug, making sure to keep my arms above where the damage had been done. I hugged him tight and buried my head into his warm chest. There was nothing more either of us could say after that. So after a few moments, he led me back to the greenhouse so he could hide for a little bit longer.
You only see what you want
When you’re out with the birds of prey
The weeks flew by after that, and I spent my days in school hanging out with Carla and my time after school hanging out with Jamie at the greenhouse. It felt like I was living two lives, co-existing in two worlds at the same time. I hadn’t told Carla about what I did after school. As far as she knew, I was going straight home to study or do homework since that’s what she did.
Which is why I was surprised when she asked me one day if I wanted to come over to her house after school.
“My parents want to meet you,” she explained, “I guess I talked about you one too many times. But they said I should invite you over for dinner.”
I was touched and had a feeling that her parents were excited she had a friend. I still thought it was weird that Carla didn’t really talk to anyone, especially since she had been dating Kyle. Even now Haley talked to me whenever she saw me in the halls and some of their other friends said “hi” whenever we passed each other on the way to class. None of them ever said anything to Carla.
“Sure I’ll come over,” I told her with a big smile. “It’ll be fun.”
“We can study also.”
“Or we can just do fun stuff.”
Carla shrugged, but I could see the small hint of a smile on her face.
Carla lived in the western part of town, near the vast cotton fields that she had mentioned most of the people in her area worked in. Her parents were some of the few in her neighborhood that didn’t work on the farms. Her mother was an elementary school teacher and her father worked at the local pharmacy. They lived in an old wooden house, much like Chase’s, but theirs was kept up well, painted a soft sky blue and with a well kept yard that made me think of Jamie’s greenhouse.
The moment I walked into the house I fell in love with it. It smelled amazing thanks to the dinner that her mother had already started preparing. The inside was decorated warmly with a lot of family photos on the wall and I peeked at them as Carla led me to her room.
“I didn’t know you have a brother,” I said as I looked at an adorable family portrait.
Carla didn’t answer until we were in her room. She closed the door and I looked around and smiled at how incredibly nerdy she was. There were posters of inspirational quotes and a wall of shelves full of more books than I’d ever read in a lifetime. I loved it.
“His name is Eric,” she said as she put her backpack down. “He died earlier this year.”
I didn’t know what to say as my eyes widened.
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s been a tough year for my family,” she said sitting on her bed and taking off her sneakers. “My parents haven’t completely come to terms with it. There’s a lot of pretending that happens in this house. You’ll see it tonight. My parents will pretend to be happy that you’re over, and they’ll treat you warmly because we haven’t had any real guests since the funeral. When dinner is over they’ll disappear into their room and you won’t see them again.”
“I can’t imagine,” I said sitting on her bed beside her. “Have you come to terms with it?”
“How do you come to terms with losing the person you’re closest to? He was my best friend. We shared everything. We had so many inside jokes.” She shrugged again and waved her hand in the air. “I hope you have a better plan for having fun here than this.”
I blinked back my emotions at seeing her like this and forced a smile as I grabbed my backpack. “I brought the latest issues of some fun magazines with quizzes I haven’t taken yet.” I pulled the magazines out, grateful for the distraction. “So which quiz do you want to take first? ‘Which jeans fit your personality?’ or ‘How do you know if he’s really into you?”
“Let’s go with the jeans,” Carla said.
We had fun with the quizzes and I had fun eating the amazing enchiladas that her mom had cooked. Carla’s parents were very nice, but just as she said, there was something missing from their eyes. It was as if they were going through the motions and I realized that Carla hadn’t invited me over because her parents thought she needed a friend. She invited me over because she thought her parents needed new life in the house.
Around the time that Thanksgiving began to approach, Haley had cornered me in the hallway to deal with a pressing school matter.
“We need more help with the Homecoming hallway decorating. You wouldn’t mind helping us out would you? I promise it’s fun. We order pizza and play music really loud and it’s more like a mini party than actual work.”
I was so touched that she asked me that I immediately agreed. When I had told Carla about it, she had just sighed and told me to have fun. I had been hoping she wanted to do it too, but I probably should’ve known better.
“I’m so glad you’re helping,” Haley reiterated when I met them in the junior hallway after school. “Come help Kyle and me with the streamers.”
I followed her to where Kyle was linking strips of construction paper together to make a set of streamers. He smiled and said “hey” and passed me some of the extras so I could help out.
One of the students turned the radio up as a country song that apparently everyone knew came on. They all started singing it loudly as if it was an anthem. I had never heard the song in my life and felt like I was in some other world. I took that moment to glance around for any signs of Jamie. I had no idea why he wasn’t there helping.
“Not a country fan are you?” Kyle asked and I shook my head.
“Not really. I guess I mostly listen to pop or hip hop.”
Kyle nodded and turned the attention of his blue eyes back to the streamer.
A loud clank startled them and Haley groaned as she stood up to go see the damage that the students on the other side of the hall had caused. That left Kyle and I alone with the construction paper strips. There was a slightly awkward silence as I realized that I had never been alone with Kyle before.
“Jamie’s getting the pizza with some of the other guys. He should be here soon,” Kyle said as if reading my thoughts.
“Oh,” I said casually with a shrug. I wasn’t going to pretend that I hadn’t been wondering so I left it at that. Part of me wanted to take this moment to ask him about him and Carla, but the rational side of me knew that I couldn’t just ask him about it.
“He liked you the moment he saw you,” Kyle said, and I looked at him surprised.
“Yeah. He was hesitant to talk to you because you were with Carla all the time, but he took a chance. I kinda wish he hadn’t.”
That blunt honesty was unexpected. I stopped linking strips of paper and turned my complete attention to him.
“What?” I asked thinking I may have heard him wrong.
“Things are complicated enough for him. The last thing he needs is something that might get him into more trouble with his dad.”
“Complicated is a word that gets thrown around a lot in this town,” I observed.
“Well, it’s a complicated town.”
“So are you going to tell me to stop talking to him?” I could hear the defensiveness in my voice and I mentally told myself to calm down. We were having a civil conversation.
“Not at all. I’m just saying that I wish he hadn’t. Now that he has, what’s done is done. He likes you. I think he’s enamored with the idea that you’re not from here. Jamie likes to be reminded that there’s another world outside of this town.”
“Is that how you feel too?”
Kyle shrugged as he took a moment to refill the tape dispenser.
“I used to. Now I don’t care much anymore. I’ll still go wherever he goes. There’s nothing for me here. I’m just not sure there’s anything for me out there either.”
My eyebrows furrowed as I looked at him. I wondered if this had to do with him and Carla. Jamie had mentioned that he hadn’t seen Kyle happy since the break up. Since it was on my mind, I blurted out the question that had been playing at the tip of my tongue.
“Is it because of whatever happened between you and Carla?”
Kyle tensed up and I closed my eyes. Why couldn’t I contain myself from asking these types of questions?
“Sorry,” I said quickly. “It’s none of my business. I don’t know why I asked.”
“It’s okay,” Kyle said letting out a small breath as he shook his head. “The short answer is yes. The long answer…I just can’t talk about it.”
“Okay,” I said nodding. I actually appreciated that he answered at all. “But, I just want to ask one more thing. Sorry. I just…the reason that you wish Jamie hadn’t talked to me, is it because you think whatever happened between you guys could happen between us?” I wasn’t even sure what I was asking, but I was worried that his dad or Jamie’s dad had been the reason Kyle and Carla broke up.
Kyle shook his head and simply said, “No.”
“Those guys are such idiots,” Haley said sitting back down on the floor with them exasperated. “How do you knock over cans of paint like that? Now we can’t paint everything we wanted, but we’ll see how much we can get done with how much we have left.”
I listened to Haley complain, but kept an eye on Kyle realizing just how sad his blue eyes really were. Then I thought about how lonely Carla was. Then I was just upset with this town for somehow doing this to them even though I still didn’t what had happened or what had been done.
I knew Jamie wouldn’t be able to ask me to the Homecoming dance. I was okay with that and had already made plans with Carla to hang out at her house and watch movies while stuffing ourselves with popcorn and brownies.
“Hey, Mari,” said a boy who was in my second period class. His name was Ruben and I knew him from Carla’s bus when I would go to her house after school. He lived in her neighborhood just a few houses away. I knew this because I had to be honest with myself and admit that I thought he was really cute and had watched to see where he lived just out of curiosity. He had shaggy dark brown hair that he flipped easily out of his eyes with a flick of his head, and brown eyes so dark that they almost looked black. He was the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome.
“Hey,” I said, pushing curls behind my ear, knowing they were probably sticking out and looking messy. My hair and I had an ongoing battle that I tended to lose.
“I just wanted to know if you had a date to the dance.” He brought a fist up to his mouth and cleared his throat a bit. I thought that was adorable.
“I didn’t. I had already made plans with Carla though to hang out with her at her house.”
“Ah,” he said nodding in understanding. “That’s nice of you to keep her company. It’s really good that she’s made a friend this year.”
I looked at him and blinked a few times before saying anything. He probably thought I was weird, but I had to do that in order to not attack him with a million questions.
“Yeah I’m surprised she doesn’t have more of them,” I finally said in a calm and rational tone. I didn’t want to scare Ruben, so I needed to keep up this uninterested way of being interested.
“She used to. She used to have a lot actually. She was one of the more popular girls at this school, but after her brother died she closed herself off completely. No one blames her for it. Everyone deals with grief differently right? That’s what my grandma’s always saying.”
“But didn’t anyone try and reach out to her?” I tried hard to imagine how it was to be at this school when the news hit.
“Everyone did. But like I said, she closed herself off. She stopped talking to everyone, yelled at people to leave her alone. You know, after awhile, you have to move on. Even though you know she can’t. Or won’t.” Ruben shrugged and I nodded completely understanding.
“How did he die?” I figured if he was talking, I might as well keep asking.
“He got into a fight down by the train tracks. It was a bunch of kids. Some argument started, someone pulled out a gun, and that was it.”
I bit my lip, suddenly feeling horrified and upset for Carla all over again.
“Do they know who did it? Like who the kid was that shot and killed him?”
Ruben let out a small laugh.
“A bunch of Mexican kids get into an argument by the train tracks and one of them ends up dead. You think the cops around here care who did it? They never caught anyone. Said it was probably an accident. Never bothered to investigate it and are just waiting for the rest of us to do the same to each other. That’s how they think. Like we’re nothing. Disposable human beings.”
I felt anger rise within me again as I shook my head. It wasn’t right.
“Poor Carla,” I said. “I can’t even imagine how she feels.”
“Yeah,” Ruben said somberly before sighing. “So this was a depressing way of telling me you didn’t want to be my date to the dance.”
“Oh God, I’m so sorry,” I said feeling bad and smiling apologetically, “I swear that if I hadn’t already made plans with Carla I would’ve said yes. I actually really wanted to go check it out.”
“I understand,” Ruben said with a small laugh. “Trust me, I’m really happy you’re there for her. Someone should be.”
I nodded and apologized again and laughed when he said to keep my schedule open for prom. I wasn’t sure if I’d still be in town then, but I told him I would.
On Homecoming Day, Jamie asked me to meet him at the greenhouse to help him pick out the best corsage to give to his date. I knew he was taking one of Haley’s friends, but my stomach still sank at the request. It just reminded me of how annoyed I was that he couldn’t take me.
I arrived at the home and said hello to the owners who were sitting on their porch enjoying the slightly cooler weather.
“He’s already back there,” the female owner called out with a smile and I thanked her, waving to them both as I disappeared behind their home.
I walked into the greenhouse and called out Jamie’s name. The lights suddenly dimmed and I turned around and saw Jamie by the switch, dressed in his suit looking at me with a smile.
“Um?” I said and shrugged at him waiting for more information.
He said nothing until he stood in front of me and slid a gorgeous wrist corsage with small white and purple flowers on them around my wrist.
“Since I wanted you to be my date, I thought we’d do our own Homecoming Dance before I went to the less important one later.”
I wish I could’ve kept my smile from taking over my face.
“I didn’t even wear a dress.”
“You look beautiful,” he said and he reached over to where his iPod sat and pressed play as a slow Adele song began playing from the small speakers he had attached to it. “Will you dance with me?”
I almost said “no” to mess with him, but I just nodded and wrapped my arms around his neck as he wrapped his arms around my waist. We swayed to the song and then I laughed.
“I didn’t figure you for an Adele fan,” I explained.
“Okay, confession. I peeked at your playlist one time when you weren’t paying attention.”
“You sneaky person you,” I chided with mock indignation.
“I had to know what I was working with,” he said with a chuckle. “You have a lot of weird things on there. Bands I’ve never heard of.”
“I like to think of my musical taste as eclectic.”
“Nah, I think ‘weird’s the better description for it.”
He smiled and said nothing more about it as we slow danced in the greenroom surrounded by the happy green plants and the light mist that sprayed at intervals. When the song reached its crescendo, Jamie leaned in and gave me a kiss that made me feel like I was the song itself " soft, smooth, soulful, and full of emotion.
When he pulled his lips away I looked into his brown eyes, wanting to say so many profound things, and yet the only words that came out were, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he said amused.
“I mean…I don’t know why I just thanked you,” I said with a little laugh. “I am so weird.”
“Are you sure you’re not eclectic?” He teased me and I laughed as well.
We danced some more, and kissed even more than that, and I didn’t want our private Homecoming Dance to end, but when it did he walked me back to my mom’s car, holding my hand. When he finally let go it was to bring it up to my cheek as he gave me one final kiss before saying goodbye.
As I drove back home, I let Adele play in the car as I replayed in my head what had just happened. I was in such a great mood, and so lost in my daydream, that I almost missed the sign warning me to slow down for a traffic check point.
I saw it just as I registered the police lights ahead and I quickly pressed the brake. I noticed a plumbing van pulled over on the side of the road. Next to it were about fifteen women and men lined up with their arms pulled behind their backs. I slowed down to see what was happening and then spotted Jamie’s dad with a rifle lazily pointed toward them as he barked orders to his deputies.
It looked like a scene out of a movie, and my gut wrenched at the idea that these people had probably been smuggled in across the border and had had the misfortune of being driven through this town before reaching their final destination. I felt awful for them and caught the eyes of Jamie’s father looking at me. He motioned for me to keep driving.
Instead of driving to Carla’s, I drove home first because I had to tell my parents what I had seen.
“Yeah,” my dad said with a sigh, “That sounds like exactly what you think it is.”
“We should do something,” I said. “Those poor people. What if he shoots them?”
“He won’t shoot them,” my mom assured me. “They’ll just send them to jail and turn them over to the border patrol to be sent back.”
“No!” I shouted. “Haley told me that the sheriff and mayor kill the illegals they come across.”
My dad could see how upset I was, so he put his arm on my shoulder to calm me down.
“Mari, go to your friend’s house. Have a good time, and I’ll find out what I can for you, okay? I bet you I’ll find out that they’ve been deported and are alive.”
Nodding, I thanked my dad and went to get my sleeping bag and duffel bag for my stay at Carla’s.
“I just took the clothes out of the dryer so I added your pajamas and your favorite T-shirt to your bag,” my mom said as she followed me into the room.
“Thanks, mom,” I told her as I grabbed my things.
She crossed her arms and smiled at me, nodding toward the wrist corsage. I had been so distracted by what I had seen on the road that I had forgotten to take it off before getting inside the house.
“I thought you weren’t going to the dance,” she said.
“I’m not. I was just…pretending that I was going to the dance. Carla and I are doing like our own mini version at her house. I went to get this as part of our mini version. She has dresses we’re going to try on. For a laugh.” It sounded more and more ridiculous as I added things, so I finally shut up and just hoped my mom went with it.
“Alright,” she said, “Well I hope you two have fun.”
“We will,” I promised her.
I was happy she let me go without any further questions, even though I could see from the look in her eyes that she had many more.
They watch and they feed
I probably should have taken off the wrist corsage before I got into Carla’s home, but I was so in love with it that I didn’t want to. I thought her reaction would just consist of her rolling her eyes, but instead she gave it a good look and crossed her arms.
“What is that?”
“A wrist corsage,” I said extending my arm so she could see it. We were still standing in her living room, and I motioned that we should go to her room so I could drop off my bag which was starting to feel heavy.
“Yeah,” I said. “I know what you’re thinking. It’s cheesy. But I can’t help it. It’s so pretty.”
“Wow.” Carla shook her head and stormed off to her bedroom. I barely caught up with her before she threw the door shut.
I let out a small breath of patience and opened the door, placing my bag down and looking at her as I shut the door gently behind me.
“I’ll take it off. It’s really not a big deal.”
“Okay, go ahead and stand there and say it’s not a big deal that he didn’t have the balls to take you to prom, but is playing with your emotions by giving you a corsage.”
“He couldn’t take me. You know that.”
“Exactly. You shouldn’t even be talking to him. What further proof do you need? Where do you think this is going to go?”
“We’re just friends.”
“Friends don’t give each other corsages!”
I looked at her and down at the small white and purple flowers on my wrist. I didn’t understand why she was being so mean about this, but I figured it had to do with her and Kyle. I looked back up at her, seeing the mixture of sadness and anger in her brown eyes.
“Did Kyle never have the balls to take you to a school dance either?”
Her eyes fell. Carla sat on her bed and clasped her hands on her lap while looking straight ahead. It was obvious that she was caught up in her memories.
“No, he did have the balls. We went to prom together earlier this year.”
Surprised to hear this I walked over to her and sat beside her on her bed.
“Really?” I asked. If Kyle could do it, why couldn’t Jamie? I didn’t want to feel hurt, so I tried to focus on Carla at the moment.
She nodded slowly, still staring at the wall.
“It was an amazing night,” Carla began. “I had this really pretty spring green dress and he got me a wrist corsage a lot like that one, except with white and green flowers instead of white and purple. Kyle always liked my hair down, so I left it down for him even though it was really hot that day. He looked so cute,” she said biting her lip. “He had this really nice suit on, with a pale green tie, and his hair did that swoopy thing to the side that it always does. My brother borrowed my mom’s car and Kyle and I went with him and his date. We met up with Jamie and his girlfriend at the prom. Everything was fine. More than fine. We ate dinner and danced, hung out, had a lot of fun.”
I couldn’t help but smile as she told her story. I could envision it all perfectly and I really wish I had been here to see Carla and Kyle together. It seemed like they were both really happy then.
“After the dance we decided to go to the train tracks to hang out. We didn’t want to go home just yet. We didn’t want it to end. No trains come through town anymore so the tracks are old and rusted and have weeds growing over them. People hang out there sometimes because there’s really nothing better to do around here. So there we were, the six of us, talking, having fun, when all of a sudden we see headlights coming our way. At first we thought it was more kids coming to hang out, but Kyle recognized his dad’s truck almost instantly. He told me to get out of there. We got into the car, but when Kyle’s dad got out of the truck…”
Carla shook her head and took a deep breath before continuing.
“He was so angry. He was yelling at him, asking if it was true that he had taken me to the dance. I guess his dad had told him not to, but I didn’t know that until that moment. Jamie tried to get Kyle’s dad to calm down, but that wasn’t going to happen. Not that night. When Kyle finally told his dad that it was true, Kyle’s dad just…he just started hitting him. Punching him. Jamie tried to stop him, but Kyle’s dad pushed Jamie to the ground. That’s when I jumped out of the car to try and help. My brother followed me to try and pull me back, but I wasn’t thinking. I just wanted Kyle’s dad to stop.”
I raised my hand to my mouth in shock as tears began to fall from Carla’s eyes. Her voice quivered, but she continued.
“I tried to push him away from Kyle, but he was strong and slapped me away. That’s when my brother jumped on him. I yelled for my brother to get off him and I looked over at Kyle who was also trying to get up to help out, but he was too hurt. I got up just as I heard the shot. At first I didn’t register what it was, but then I heard another shot and I knew. I saw my brother fall, and I saw Kyle’s dad with the gun pointed right at where he had been on top of him.”
Now the tears were coming from my eyes. This couldn’t be how her brother had died. This couldn’t be something that really happened to her. To them. To everyone involved. It was too horrible and too senseless to be real.
“I know I screamed, but I couldn’t hear it. I couldn’t hear anything. I ran to my brother and told him to hold tight and that we would get him help. But even then I knew it was too late. I knew by the time we got to the hospital he’d be gone. He shot him right in the chest and I could feel his heart as it stopped beating.”
Carla couldn’t say anymore words after that. She collapsed into my arms as her body shook with the sobs of reopened wounds. Nothing I said or did would be enough, so I just held her and let her cry as much as she needed, trying to keep my own tears back. If I were Carla, and my boyfriend’s dad had just killed my brother, I think I would’ve also made the choice to cut everyone off and keep to myself. That was the only way she could assure herself that everyone around her would be safe. I understood then that breaking up was all they could do to make sure they and their loved ones stayed alive. All of Carla’s warnings to me had come from this tragedy, and I suddenly appreciated how much she was looking out for me even before really getting to know me. Being with Jamie could get us all killed. As I kept my arms around her, I looked down at the corsage on my wrist and suddenly didn’t think it looked so beautiful.
The Monday after the dance, I went to school not wanting to see Jamie or Kyle at all. In fact, I had gone home on Sunday and told my parents everything that Carla had told me, and then I confessed about the wrist corsage and how I had been seeing Jamie.
My parents had understood and my mom had given me the tightest hug she had ever given me, but they agreed that I should probably stop seeing him, especially since we’d most likely be leaving in a few months.
So that was what I decided to do, and ignoring Jamie was how I planned to do that. In the hallway I looked over at Jamie and Kyle as Haley hugged Kyle and kept gushing about the amazing night she had had at Homecoming. I noticed how Kyle smiled at her, but I also noticed that he seemed to be putting it on a bit for her. I realized that Haley probably had no idea what had happened at Prom, just like how no one except for the six people who had been there, Carla’s parents, and now me and my parents, knew.
The town had been fed a story about a bunch of Latino kids getting into an argument. Worst of all, the whole town had believed it, when in reality the mayor of the town had shot an innocent, defenseless, teenage kid in cold blood.
Jamie looked over and caught me staring and smiled as he waved at me. I shut my locker and hurried away to my first period class.
After school, I found Jamie leaning by my locker. He had assumed that we’d hang out at the greenhouse, but I shook my head at him as I opened my locker to put my book away.
“What’s going on?” He asked with a confused look on his face. “You keep purposely avoiding me today.”
“I’m going to Carla’s after school today. We have to study for a test.”
“Okay, but that doesn’t explain why you’ve been avoiding me all day. Is this about me not taking you to Homecoming?”
I slammed my locker and walked away from him. I couldn’t talk to him about things here even if I wanted to, and I didn’t feel like talking to him at all. I wished that my parents had never brought me to this backwards, crazy, racist town.
“Mari,” he said grabbing my arm just as I approached the end of the hallway. “Talk to me.”
Exasperated, I turned and looked at him and just shook my head.
“No,” I said, and I pulled my arm away and went out the heavy double doors.
I knew he’d follow and I just hoped I could get onto Carla’s bus without him trying to talk to me again. The crowd of kids pouring out of the school helped break up his pursuit and when I got on the bus, I realized Carla wasn’t on it yet. I picked an empty seat for us and sat by the window, placing my bag down beside me even though everyone knew that I was already expecting Carla to sit there.
From my window view, I saw Jamie stop Carla when she got to the bus and ask what was going on and why I wasn’t talking to him. Carla hesitated and a look passed between them. Without her saying a word, Jamie understood, and he took a few steps back and then turned and hurried away.
I shut my eyes to keep my tears at bay, and opened them when I felt my bag shift. I pulled it onto my lap and let out a small breath before looking toward Carla who just looked at me.
“I hate this town,” I finally said.
Carla nodded and put her arm around me, leaning her head on my shoulder. There was no need for us to talk the rest of the bus ride.
When Carla mentioned that her and her family were skipping Thanksgiving this year because it would be too painful, my dad had the idea to invite them over, and if they said no, to take them some plates of food. If there were awards given for best Thanksgiving meals, I’m convinced my dad would win them all. This year he was going to try deep frying the turkey for the first time, and my mom and I were already salivating at the idea.
“I know you might not want to,” I said to Carla as I pitched the idea to her right after we were let out of school for our Thanksgiving break. “And I completely understand, but either way you’re getting fed that night, so it’s up to you guys if you want to do it when it’s fresh off the stove, or later.” I tried to keep the mood light and smiled, but I knew the anguish she must have felt as the first Thanksgiving without her brother approached.
“I promise I’ll talk to them about it,” Carla said, and we gave each other big hugs before parting for the holiday.
When we had last talked on the phone, it sounded as if they weren’t going to come over, which is why on Thanksgiving, I was surprised to hear the doorbell ring.
“Oh my God, I think they’re here!” I said to my mom as I abandoned the pumpkin pie filling I had been mixing in the bowl and ran to open the door. “Hey!” I said as I swung the door open and then my face fell in confusion and disappointment.
“Hi,” Kyle said standing there looking unfazed by my bombastic greeting.
“Hi,” I said trying to make sense of why he was at my door. “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to talk to you,” his blue eyes looked past me, and I glanced over my shoulder to see that my mom had come out to see who it was as she wiped her hands on a dishtowel. “I’m sorry, you’re probably busy with getting dinner ready and everything.”
“No, it’s okay,” I said.
“Why don’t you come inside?” My mom said coming over to the door. She probably thought this was Jamie, so I quickly introduced them.
“Mom, this is Kyle.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Kyle,” my mom said now looking at me unsure. Good. I wasn’t the only one confused anymore. “How about I make you guys some hot chocolate while you talk. Come inside,” she said again with a smile.
I let Kyle in and took him to the living room to talk. I started feeling nervous that Carla and her family might change their minds and show up out of nowhere, so hopefully what he wanted to talk about was quick.
“So what’s going on?” I asked as I motioned for him to sit on the couch. I sat on the other side of the couch and faced him.
“So I know that you know about what happened between me and Carla,” he said, his blue eyes looking a little glassy, as if he’d either been crying or drinking too much. The faint hint of alcohol that I smelled from him made me think it was a combination of both. “And I…I can’t stop thinking about her today. My parents and my family members are all at the house, acting like it’s this happy day, and all I keep thinking about is how sad Carla has to be. How empty their house must feel.” I could see his eyes begin to moisten, and I kept strong for him even though I felt my own emotions start to dip into sadness.
“I’m really sorry,” I said. Again I felt I had nothing good enough to say, so I just went with what was normally said. I felt so lame as I watched him fall apart.
“I don’t know why I came over here,” he said looking around my living room. I think he was trying to get his mind off the tears that threatened to fall. “I just didn’t want to be there. And going to Jamie’s would’ve been the same thing.”
“It’s okay that you did,” I reassured him, and then because I didn’t know what else to say, I asked him, “Have you been drinking?”
“Just a little,” he admitted as he looked around as if making sure my parents weren’t listening. “It helps sometimes. When I don’t want to think about it. It didn’t really work today.”
I didn’t like hearing that and I know I looked like a concerned parent when my mom came in with the two hot chocolates. She gave me a look and I shook my head at her to not ask anything.
“Here you go, and I’ll bring out some cheese and crackers to go with it,” she said, dropping off the beverages and disappearing again.
“Is your mom always this nice?” Kyle asked, looking over his shoulder as he watched her leave.
“I don’t know. I guess? I think she’s just happy to have company. My parents don’t really know anyone in this town,” I explained. “Is your mom nice?” I knew better than to ask about his dad, but I did wonder if his whole family was mean or if it was just his dad.
“Sometimes,” he said as he picked up the hot chocolate and held it in his hands. I picked mine up as well and did the same, knowing it needed a little time to cool off. “My dad stresses her out a lot so she doesn’t get to be as nice as she could be.”
“Does she know?”
He shook his head and looked down at the hot chocolate.
“Wow,” I whispered to myself, and then said to him, “So your dad never told anyone?”
“He told Jamie’s dad. That was it. He told us that night to not tell anyone and that he’d take care of everything. So that’s what he did.”
All I could do was shake my head. Why didn’t justice exist in this town?
“I wish there was a way for people to know the truth,” I said.
“It wouldn’t make a difference. My dad and Jamie’s dad would spin it in their favor. Like self-defense or something.”
“Only half the town would believe that though,” I pointed out. “You keep forgetting that the other half is Latino and would probably be outraged by it.”
“I don’t think you understand,” Kyle said trying a sip of the hot chocolate. “The Latinos in this town don’t have a voice. They keep to themselves and try and stay under the radar. Even if they were outraged they wouldn’t do anything about it. In fact, I’m pretty sure that a lot of them already don’t believe the story that went around after it happened. They’ve just chosen to keep out of it. They’re not going to give up everything and put their lives and their family’s lives in danger just to try and get justice.”
“I still feel like something can be done. I mean look at you, look at Carla. She’s become an anti-social outcast, and you’re bordering on being an alcoholic, if you’re not one already. And what about Jamie? Does he drink too when he doesn’t want to think about it? What does he do to deal with his dad’s beatings or to stop himself from thinking about the night he couldn’t save his best friend from having his life destroyed?”
Kyle put the cup down and abruptly stood up.
“I should go,” he said. “My parents are going to start wondering where I disappeared to.”
I sighed and stood up, mentally chastising myself for pushing too hard.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was out of line.”
“No,” he said. “You’re just worried. I understand. Jamie and I can take care of ourselves. We have each other. It’s Carla that I worry about every day. Thank you, Mari. For being there for her. I swear you were sent here just to help her through all of this.”
He turned to leave and I followed him to the door, holding it open as he stepped outside. He turned around and looked at me again.
“We had this huge plan. The three of us. We were going to leave here after we graduated and go somewhere far away from this town and our parents. We were going to get jobs and live in a one bedroom apartment until we made enough money for a two bedroom one. We had a list of all the restaurants we wouldn’t mind working at, and I was going to be a stressed cook, and Jamie was going to be a lazy bus boy, and Carla was going to be a sassy waitress. That’s what we joked about anyway. We used to laugh all the time about all the different scenarios of how we’d get in trouble working at a restaurant together.”
I bit my lip and forced a smile, but I just wanted to cry at their lost dreams.
“Carla wants to be a doctor. That’s why she studies so hard. I never told her, but I had a plan when we left here to save up all the money I could from working to help her go to college. She should see her dreams come true.”
“And what about your dreams?” I asked him.
“She was my dream. All I wanted was her. I wanted to be a supportive husband that did whatever she needed to make sure she could be a doctor, and once she had her degree and started working, I figured I could go to school and get a degree and be a teacher like her mom. I always liked her mom’s stories about her day at work.” He shrugged and sighed then said, “Tell your mom thanks for the hot chocolate. It was really good.”
“I’ll let her know,” I told him.
He nodded and then left. I made sure he got into his car okay before I closed the door and took a moment to mentally compose myself. I felt as if I had been on another emotional rollercoaster and I needed a breather before going back into the kitchen to help my mom with the desserts.
When I walked back in, I could tell by how my mom was pretending to look for something that she had been listening the entire time. I returned to the bowl I had left and started mixing the pumpkin pie filling once more.
“I know you heard everything,” I told her. “You know what he told me before he left? He said he used to like hearing Carla’s mom’s stories about her day at work. He used to talk to Carla’s mom. A lot. Do you think she was scared of what might happen? Do you think she blames herself for what happened? For not stopping their relationship when she had the chance?”
“I don’t know, baby,” my mom said coming over to me and running her hand down my back to calm me. She knew I was about to bawl. “That’s something we’ll probably never know. But as a mother, I can tell you that she probably saw how happy he made her and just wanted Carla to have that in her life. That’s how we parents are. Always wanting our kids to be happy.”
“I don’t think that’s how Kyle’s or Jamie’s parents are.”
“You might be surprised.”
I looked at my mom with disbelief.
“How? They both don’t have a problem abusing their sons, or making them lie about a horrific act. Neither of their parents will let them love who they want to love. How would I ever believe that their parents want them to be happy?”
“I don’t understand their mentality,” she said, “but I do know that racism is driven by fear. Their parents are scared, for what reason, I don’t know, but they are. And since they let that fear drive them, they do horrible things, but it doesn’t mean they don’t love their sons or want what’s best for them. Don’t get me wrong, what they’re doing to their sons is wrong, but you still can’t judge how they feel about them.”
“I think that’s crap,” I said bluntly. “Jamie once told me that their parents consider him and Kyle to be the disappointments in their families. It’s because they’re not like them, and now I think I understand even more. They’re not racists, they’re not bullies, they’re not feared. They’re everything that their fathers are not, and I think their fathers hate them for it and abuse them for it, and maybe they think they can keep beating them down until they become just like them.”
“Maybe because that’s what was done to them,” my mom said and I stopped mixing and just looked at her. “Maybe they think they’ve failed at parenting because their kids are weak in their eyes, and they’re trying to toughen them up because…”
“Stop,” I said. “Just stop. If they’re trying to toughen up their sons out of love then I think it’s worse than them just being bad people who don’t care, because at least that way they weren’t consciously choosing to ruin their children’s lives.”
My mom sighed and pulled me into a hug then gave me a small kiss on the head before letting me go.
We didn’t talk about Jamie or Kyle or their parents for the rest of the day, and after we were done eating our dinner, we packed up several plates and went to drop them off at Carla’s.
I woke up the day after Thanksgiving thinking about Jamie. I had a feeling I knew where I’d find him if I wanted to. A day off from school after a whole day spent with his family for the holiday was probably enough of a combination to make him escape to his green house. I packed a couple of plates of leftovers and got dressed, heading out to his hallowed place. I didn’t know why I suddenly felt like talking to him. Nothing had changed, and nothing would change, but still…
I saw his truck as soon as I arrived and parked beside it, taking a moment to make sure my hair was okay and that my nerves weren’t acting crazy. I missed him. I missed coming here and hanging out with him and kissing him. I probably should have turned right around and left, but I got out of the car with the plates of food and headed straight to his sanctuary.
A radio played from the corner and the sound of water coming from a hose filtered through the notes of the song. I followed the sound of the water and found Jamie sitting on one of the tables, loosely hanging on to the hose as it drenched a potted plant while he stared off into space.
“I think you could put that one in the middle of the desert and it’d survive for decades with the amount of water you’ve put in it.”
He snapped out of his thoughts and looked at me surprised. Jamie glanced down at the hose and said, “s**t,” before hopping off the table and turning off the water.
I smiled and put the plates down on the table.
“I brought you some leftovers. I’m sure you had a lot to eat, but my dad’s the best cook so…”
Insecurity ran through me as I began to wonder if I should have come in at all. He still hadn’t said anything and he just stared at me.
“I’m sorry. Maybe I shouldn’t be here.”
“Why are you here?” He asked and I shook my head.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I woke up thinking about you. Kyle came to talk to me yesterday. It was so random, but it made me realize how much I really miss you.”
“I miss you too,” he said as his eyes fell and he walked over to me before looking back up at me. “But I think you’re right in staying away from me.”
That hurt to hear, but I nodded.
“I wish there was something we could do,” I said pulling myself to sit up on the table. “A way to expose Kyle’s dad for what he did and maybe put him in jail.”
Jamie’s eyes furrowed and he shook his head as he began to pace.
“What is it?” I asked him as I observed him look distraught by my statement.
“If you put him in jail, then you’d have to put my dad in jail for helping to cover it up, and maybe Kyle and I would go to jail for keeping the truth from everyone, and …” Jamie stopped pacing and looked at me. “I don’t want my dad to go to jail, and I don’t want Kyle’s dad to go to jail. I just want them to realize what they’ve done is wrong and change their ways, and become better people and the dads that we need them to be.”
I narrowed my eyes to try and understand, but it was difficult for me to do so. All I saw were two evil men who deserved to be locked up for a very long time. But what if it was my dad? I shook my head.
“That’s not going to happen,” I told him. “I’m sorry that you have sucky dads, but they’re murderers and they deserve to pay for what they’ve done.” Jamie glared at me and I struggled in my confusion. “I thought you said you were scared of him? Where’s this coming from? I’m sorry if I’m being so blunt, but I’ve had to watch Carla fall apart one too many times and all I keep thinking is that it was so senseless. It didn’t have to happen. It’s maddening.”
“What’s maddening is that you weren’t there, and you’re not from this town, and these aren’t people you know, but you act like you have all the answers and are right about everything you say.”
Not expecting the verbal chastising, I sat up straight and looked at him shocked.
“I’m sorry,” I said even though I felt confused and not sorry at all. Something had changed. Something inside of Jamie had changed, and I didn’t understand why. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I do that all the time. I’m too honest about my thoughts.”
“You can’t just come into someone else’s town and walk around like you’re better than everyone because you think we’re all stupid, and racist, and stereotypes.”
“I don’t think that,” I said looking right into his eyes so he understood and believed me. “Why would you think I think that? I don’t think you’re any of those things.”
“Yes you do. And your family does too. That’s why your dad called the feds in to investigate my dad and Kyle’s dad. That’s why they’ve been in town questioning people and following my dad everywhere he goes. So now you and your family have made things worse for everyone, and now people are really going to start getting hurt, and it’s all because you couldn’t keep your opinions to yourself.”
What was he talking about? Maybe he had been drinking as well.
“Jamie, I have no idea what you’re talking about. My dad didn’t call the feds. He wouldn’t do that. He’s a scientist who keeps to himself and just gets his work done. He’s not the type to get involved.”
“I’m supposed to believe that? You guys move in, you find out the truth about what happened, and suddenly guys in suits are showing up to our door with search warrants and asking questions? Right.” He ran his hand through his silky brown hair and let out a frustrated sigh. “Just get out of here. Get out of my life and stay out of it. And stay out of Kyle’s, and if you feel like doing her any favors, you should also stay out of Carla’s. In fact, you should probably get the hell out of town. You and your ‘too good for this town’ family.”
The tears that threatened to spill from my eyes couldn’t hide how they were trying to still understand. I got down from the table and shook my head at him. A sniffle escaped before I could say anything, and since I didn’t want to break down in front of him, I rushed out of there and got into my car, making sure I was at least half a mile away before I let the tears fall.
My parents looked at me just as confused as I had felt only moments ago. I finally got the tears to stop, but the words had still come out sloppy as I trembled in telling them what Jamie had told me.
“Did you really call them?” I asked my dad again.
“No,” he said and I could tell from his widened eyes that he was telling the truth. He had no idea what was going on.
“Someone must’ve used us being new in town to take the opportunity to do so,” my mother reasoned.
“You need to leave,” my dad said. “Both of you. I’ll drive you to the airport tonight and you take the first flight out that you can get. I’ll worry about sending the rest of the things.”
“No!” I said grabbing my dad’s hand. “You can’t stay either. You’re the main person they’ll come after.”
“I’ll be fine,” he said squeezing my hand to comfort me. “I think I know what’s going on here, and I think I can be of some help to the whole situation.”
“What do you mean?” My mom asked for the both of us.
“When you told me about the van that the sheriff had pulled over, I went to make sure the people were okay for you. I asked one of the workers on the farms if they had heard anything about it. He told me that they were held overnight before the proper authorities were called. Some of them were beaten. All were turned over alive.”
More tears spilled from my eyes as I shook my head.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“They were alive. That’s all that mattered,” my dad said. “All I can think is that maybe I said something to the worker to maybe inspire him to call someone. Or maybe I gave him false hope by asking in the first place. I don’t know. I just know that if the feds are going around asking questions, then I’m going to stay here and answer them. The two of you don’t need to be involved.”
I shook my head and stood up, pulling my hand away.
“I can’t leave Carla here alone,” I said thinking of how vulnerable her family would be in all this. “I can’t leave.”
“You’re leaving and that’s final,” my dad said raising his voice a bit. I knew he didn’t want to, but I knew he was scared enough to yell if necessary.
I backed off and ran to my room, grabbing my phone to warn Carla about everything I had learned.
My mom and I packed lightly, but even still I kept thinking about everything I didn’t want to leave behind. So I kept reopening my bag to fit more stuff in, and then I looked at the dried flowers of the corsage Jamie had given me.
It didn’t feel right to leave it behind, just as it didn’t feel right to leave him and Carla and Kyle behind. But not running when he had the chance was what had gotten Carla’s brother killed. I couldn’t make the same mistake. I couldn’t do that to my parents, so I left the corsage on my desk and zipped up my bag, shouldering it and taking one last look around my room before shutting off the light and closing the door.
“Okay, I’m done,” I said as I came into the living room.
The doorbell rang.
My parents looked at each other and my dad motioned for us to go in the kitchen. I didn’t go all the way, peeking from behind the living room wall as he opened the door. My mom had a phone in her hand, but I wondered who she’d call that would actually help.
“Can I help you?” My dad said and I recognized Jamie’s dad’s voice instantly.
“I think you’ve helped enough already,” he said.
I dropped my bag and ran back into the living room, not thinking, but only reacting to the sound of a voice that could put my father into danger. I stood in front of my dad who immediately grabbed me.
“Mari, what are you doing?” He said trying to move me away. “Go to your room.”
“No,” I said and looked at Jamie’s dad. “No, I want to talk to him. I want to say something to him.”
“This doesn’t concern you,” Jamie’s father said with narrowed eyes.
“You’re right. It doesn’t,” I said. “And it doesn’t concern my family either. Nothing that you do, or that anyone in this town does, has anything to do with us, but it does have to do with your family. Your legacy. Your son. The one that’s going to get hurt in the end.”
“Mari, please,” my dad said gripping my arms tighter.
“You have no right to speak to me like this,” the sheriff said and I knew that I was on the verge of something bad happening, so I spoke quicker.
“Just listen to me. Please. Jamie loves you. Despite everything, he loves you, and he wants you to be okay, and he wants you to love him for who he is. Something inside of him has changed in the past couple of weeks. He’s not the person he was when I first met him, and maybe that’s what you wanted. Maybe you’re breaking him in to be the person you want him to be, but if you keep breaking him, there might be nothing left when you’re done. He loves you. That’s all I wanted to tell you.”
Tears fell and I was mad at myself for showing so much weakness in front of this bully. He didn’t deserve to see that side of me, but I had said what I had to say.
“She’s right,” a voice said from outside in the darkness and I looked around to see who it was.
From the shadows emerged Chase, pointing a rifle right at the sheriff.
“Chase, what are you doing?” Jamie’s dad asked just as surprised as the rest of us. “You put that gun right on down.”
“Don’t worry, Sheriff. I wouldn’t dare use it on you,” Chase said. “I just have it here so you don’t get any bright ideas to use any of your own artillery. Now go on and leave these people alone.”
“This here is none of your business, Chase,” the Sheriff said.
“Oh but it is. You see, I’m the one who called the feds on you and your pal. After my friends in the hood let me know about what you did to those people you caught down by my parts, I thought maybe enough was enough. So I made some phone calls and our nice visitors in suits showed up. I had a nice long conversation with the both of them and managed to get some contact information for some of the guys you roughed up. You’re getting careless these days, Sheriff. Usually that’s a sign of someone who’s too cocky.” Chase shook his head at him and raised the rifle a bit more when the Sheriff made a lurch at him. “That doesn’t seem smart with a gun this close to your head does it? How does it feel to be on this side of things?”
“You’re going to pay for this,” the Sheriff said as he backed away.
“Yeah, I kinda already figured that. But you know, whatever you have in store for me, will be worth it to see you and your buddy locked up for life. Now get moving. These people have done nothing to you and you don’t want to add them to your already long rap sheet.”
The sheriff took one last look at me and then at Chase and left. Chase didn’t put his rifle down until the patrol car was well out of view.
“I don’t know what to say,” I said to Chase.
“How about we start with you coming in,” my dad said opening the door and welcoming him into our home.
Chase nodded at my dad and put his rifle down, laying it by the entrance as he came in.
“I’m sorry that you guys had to get all caught up in this business,” Chase said to my dad. He smiled and tipped his head politely to my mom. “I didn’t think this could wait until after y’all had left.”
“No it’s fine,” my dad said motioning for him to take a seat.
“I’ll make some coffee,” my mom said as she disappeared into the kitchen.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around this town having a hood,” I said not able to think past the events of the last few minutes. My mind was everywhere, and nothing in it made sense.
“Well it’s probably not the kind of hood you’re thinking of,” Chase explained. “It’s this part of town that’s all trailer parks. It’s where the people who can’t get hired at the farms live if they don’t have other jobs in town. Good people live there, but like every other place with a bad reputation, only the bad people get the attention, so people are scared to go down there. That’s where my mom raised me for most of my life. That was before she died and left me with my grandma in the house I inherited and live in now.”
I nodded in understanding then asked the other main question that was on my mind.
“So you told the feds everything? Even what happened on the night that Carla’s brother was murdered?”
Chase raised his eyebrow and looked at me waiting for more information, but then he just nodded and said, “Huh. I guess I always figured that story they told about it wasn’t true. So what happened?”
My dad looked at me with encouragement and I told Chase everything I had learned. It wasn’t my place to do so, but after everything he had just done for me and my family, I figured I owed him the truth of that night.
Chase looked thoughtful when I was done and my mom came out with a tray of coffees that she set down. She took a seat as Chase thanked her and grabbed his cup.
“I should’ve known those two were involved,” Chase said. “It had their stench all over it. However, it’s not my place or yours to tell the feds about it. It’s those three kids’ story to tell.”
“What about Jamie’s ex? Or Eric’s date that night? They were both there as well,” I pointed out.
“And more than likely they don’t know about the investigation taking place. Since no one knew who was involved, no one knows who to ask. Including the feds. Like I said, that’s a story that one of them is going to have to choose to tell. Those guys are here trying to nail these two for their crimes against the illegal immigrants they’ve encountered. It’s not their job to find every single crime these guys are guilty for.”
It didn’t seem fair, but I understood. I just wanted Carla’s brother and his family to get the justice they deserved. I wasn’t sure if having them locked up for their other crimes would be enough.
Chase stayed for a little bit longer and then finally got up to leave after checking his watch.
“You’ve been very hospitable,” he said to my mom with a smile. “You won’t have to worry about the sheriff. He’s smarter than you think. He knows things are crumbling around him. He’ll try and stay out of the way as much as possible. Put on a good face. The usual.” Chase shook my dad’s hand and pulled me into a hug giving me a pat on the back. “Take care, spunky girl,” he said and then he left.
That night I prayed as hard as I could for nothing bad to happen to Chase. Even if he believed the sheriff would lie low, I didn’t have that much faith in the man.
Keeping my mouth shut was not a gift I had been born with. As the days went on I found it more and more difficult to keep from running to the feds and telling them everything. But I knew Chase was right, and I knew that my role in this town’s drama was now done. I had done everything I could, and now it was up to Jamie, Kyle, and Carla to do what they needed to do next. I vowed to support their decisions, whatever they ended up deciding.
Carla and I didn’t speak much about it in school. She needed the distraction of superficial things, so I talked to her about the latest celebrity gossip I had read and what latest silly quizzes I had found for us to take. Neither Jamie nor Kyle talked to me, and they didn’t bother looking in my direction as they walked by me in the halls. Now I felt just like Carla, and I was okay with that.
On the last day before school got out for Christmas break, murmurs ran through the hallways and out of nowhere people started looking at Carla.
I looked around wondering what was going on. Carla appeared to be lost as well. It was Ruben who came up to us and out of nowhere gave Carla a big hug. When he pulled away, Ruben simply said, “I’m so sorry.”
“For what?” Carla asked looking a little disturbed by this action.
“For everything,” he said. “We all never believed the story they told us, but we just didn’t know what the truth was.”
I noticed Haley across from us at her locker with tears in her eyes, and she came over and gave Carla a hug as well before walking away.
Someone had told, and it hadn’t been Carla.
“How did everyone find out?” I asked Ruben as the world seemed to stop. No one moved from their positions in the hallway as they watched on.
“Kyle told the feds everything and then called the news stations in the area to leak the story. He said justice needed to be served for the death of Eric DeCampo, and that people needed to remember his name as the name of inspiration and hope for a better future for our town.”
Carla slid to the ground as her body shuddered with sobs she had kept pent up for so long. I crouched down to hold her and Ruben told everyone in the hallway to get moving. I don’t know how long we stayed there, alone in the hallway after everyone had left, and I didn’t care. I held her and thought about how Kyle had done this for her because he still loved her. He chose her and her family over his own.
Both Jamie’s and Kyle’s dads were arrested and charged for several crimes, including the death of Eric DeCampo. Kyle’s dad had been accused of the actual murder, while Jamie’s dad had been accused for obstruction of justice and official misconduct. They were both being held without bond and waiting for trial when my dad announced it was time to go back home to Florida.
Carla was in my room helping me pack my things up, even though she kept coming up with ideas on how to get me to stay. Unfortunately, none of them would be convincing enough for my parents. She promised she would send me a copy of the yearbook when it came out. I put my final books in a box and looked at her.
“I think you should talk to Kyle.”
Carla looked at me as if wondering where the thought had come from and asked, “Why?”
“Because he’s still in love with you, and he ratted his dad out for you, and now he’s more alone and probably feeling ostracized because instead of being the son of the town mayor, he’s about to become the son of a convicted murderer. He’s going to be alone, and you’re already alone, and you two should maybe have each other.”
Carla shook her head and put the stack of magazines she had been holding in the box.
“I can’t,” she said. “It’ll just make me think of that night, and I want to move on from that night.”
“Kyle didn’t pull the trigger, Carla. It wasn’t his fault.”
She stayed silent for a moment, grabbing a couple of shirts from the pile I had made and folding them to put in the box.
“Kyle has Jamie,” she finally said. “He doesn’t need me.”
“And who are you going to have?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Maybe I’ll start talking to some people again. Ruben and his friends have been really supportive through all of this.”
I smiled really liking the idea.
“I think that’s a great start,” I said and sighed as I started folding shirts as well. “I wish I could take you to Tampa with me. I think you’d love it there.”
“I think I would too. Maybe I can come visit you over the summer.”
That was the best idea I had heard yet. We spent the rest of the evening packing, talking about what I’d show her when she came to visit, and having quiet moments lost in thought. I knew that no matter what, Carla would be a friend that I would have for the rest of my life.
There was one person that I knew I’d have to see before I left. I hadn’t spoken to him since that day he had told me about the feds being in town, and now I felt as if I had lost my complete connection with him. But I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to him.
When I arrived at the greenhouse, the woman on the porch looked at me with a bit of sadness in her eyes.
“He’s not here, honey,” she said when I got out of the car.
“Do you know where he is?”
“I’m afraid not. He hasn’t been by in weeks.”
I thanked her and got back in the car. I drove around town trying to think of where else he could be, and even tried calling Haley to see if she knew. She didn’t, but she gave a list of other places to try. When nothing panned out, I pulled over to the side of the road and rest my head against the steering wheel in exasperation. Where was he?
I looked up and saw a bright red truck pass by and I realized there was one place I hadn’t checked yet. I started the car back up and drove straight to Chase’s.
Chase’s truck was nowhere in sight, so I went ahead and parked and walked out to where Jamie had taken me when we had gone for our walk. As I got closer I could hear bursts of loud shots, and I looked around wondering how safe it was for me to be walking out there alone.
I found Jamie, holding out a gun with one hand as he shot at a bottle on a box. I didn’t like this. The Jamie I had known for a short little time didn’t seem like the type to spend his days at target practice. I saw that his other arm was down by his side, and he was holding a beer bottle.
I closed my eyes, counted to ten, and opened them again when I heard another shot go off. I had to make sure I didn’t cry.
“So this is an interesting new hobby,” I said breaking him out of whatever zone he was in.
He looked over at me and then back at the targets, shooting another bottle off another box.
“I’m going to assume that since drinking and driving is illegal, that drinking and shooting probably are too,” I continued. He could ignore me all he wanted. I was still going to say goodbye.
He took a drink of his beer before lining up his next shot.
“So, I’m leaving tomorrow morning. Back to Florida,” I said wishing this wasn’t how I saw him last. I liked the fantasy I had had that morning about us in the greenhouse, dancing one last time, maybe even getting one final kiss. I had no idea why I even thought that could be a possibility, but then again, that’s what fantasies were for. “And I just couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to you. So… Goodbye.”
I watched him as his hand fell a little. He had heard me. The words had registered. But then he straightened his hand up a bit and let the next shot ring.
I left him there alone.
Carla and I couldn’t stop hugging each other as my dad put the final boxes in the U-haul trailer. We didn’t want to let go, and more than once she threatened to just jump in the car and have us kidnap her.
“I have a calendar and I’m marking off the days until I come visit you,” she said fanning her face to try and keep her tears at bay.
“Summer will be here before we both know it,” I told her, and hugged her for the zillionth time.
A truck pulled up to our house and Carla and I both looked over to see Kyle and Jamie get out. I froze, unsure of why they were there and what they were doing.
It was like a flashback to when I first got here, the two of them side by side, looking as if they were twins. Only this time, they didn’t look as happy as they did before. But then again, I didn’t really know them then. Maybe I just hadn’t noticed at the beginning how sad they had been all along.
“Hi,” Kyle said standing in front of me and Carla with his hands in his jeans pockets. He glanced at Carla momentarily then back at me before continuing. “I just wanted to wish you a good trip, and to thank you for everything you did, and to say bye. You’ll be missed around here.”
I don’t know why, but it touched me so much that I threw my arms around Kyle and hugged him tight. He was such a good guy, and maybe one day Carla would be able to have him back in her life. He hugged me back with a good squeeze and I smiled thinking of how Jamie had said that Kyle gave the best hugs. He really did.
When I let go, I smiled at him and then looked at Jamie.
“Can we walk for a second?” Jamie asked me.
I looked back at my parents to ask for permission for this small delay, and smiled as they both nodded at the same time.
We strolled down the sidewalk for a moment before Jamie spoke.
“I’m sorry about yesterday. I’ve been really angry lately. About a lot of things.”
“My mom keeps trying to get me to go with her to visit my dad in prison, but I can’t. I have this fear that if I go and see him, I’ll feel bad for him, and I don’t want to feel bad for him. I have to remind myself how wrong he was so I don’t repeat his mistakes.”
“Is that what yesterday was?”
“A little,” he said with a shrug. “Yesterday was mostly me not caring. Chase has been letting me crash at his place so I don’t have to be at home dealing with my mom. She’s in denial of a lot of it. Chase ran out on an errand or something so I took one of his guns and some beer and said ‘f**k it,’ you know? Maybe I wanted to see what it was like to be intoxicated with a false sense of power.”
“And?” I looked at him as he continued to walk while looking down at the sidewalk.
“I thought it was sad. I thought that if I had to make myself believe that I was somebody, by putting fear into someone else, then it probably meant that I wasn’t anybody at all.”
I stopped walking and stared at him. He stopped as well and finally looked at me. I saw the glimmer of the Jamie I had first met, and I wanted to hold him and tell him that he was amazing and that everything was going to be okay.
“I think that’s an amazing and very true conclusion you came to,” I said with a small smile. “Are you still planning on getting out of here after you graduate or do you think you’ll stick around now?”
“There’s no way I’m staying,” he said without a beat. “Our parents didn’t get to be in power because it was a fluke or they got lucky. People in this town believe in what they were doing, and it won’t stop just because they got locked up. Maybe a year will go by before they start up again, but our dads’ posse will keep doing what they always did, and by the time we graduate, they’ll probably have their new racist sheriff lined up. Nothing’s really going to change much around here, except that maybe a few more people like us will be a little more vocal when things start to go really bad. Our dads’ friends are really upset with Kyle right now for what he did, but they won’t touch him because of his dad. It’s still not safe for us, and it’s not safe for Carla.”
At the mention of her name, we both looked back to see that Carla was helping my dad rearrange some things in the backseat while Kyle sat in the driver’s side of his truck waiting for Jamie.
“One more year right?” I said.
“So where are you guys going to go after that year is done?”
“I don’t know. I was thinking of maybe visiting Tampa. I hear there’s this place out there that Kyle really likes called Busch Gardens.”
I laughed and nodded.
“Yeah, just imagine how much more he’s going to like it when he actually goes there,” I joked.
“I know,” Jamie said with a soft smile. It was good to see one on his face again.
We looked at each other for several seconds without speaking, and then I thought about something Kyle had said about him probably only liking me because I reminded him that there was more out there than this town. It made me sad that Kyle was probably right, but I was happy to have at least made Jamie a little happy while I was here.
“So as you can see, I won’t make it for prom. Try to not be too heartbroken.”
“You too. When you’re at your prom in Tampa.”
I grinned and shook my head at him. I was going to miss Jamie. I extended my hand and was happy when he took it and shook it, but then he pulled me into a hug and I wrapped my arms around his waist, memorizing how amazing he felt. I was going to miss him more than I had originally thought. We pulled away from each other and I nodded toward the way we came.
“I can’t keep my parents waiting any longer. We were supposed to be gone already.”
Jamie nodded and we turned to walk back, and when we did we saw a sight that made us both smile.
Carla had gone over to Kyle’s truck and was standing by it, talking to him with her arms crossed. She was guarded, but she was trying, and Kyle was listening to every word she said.
Without uttering a word to each other, Jamie and I both slowed down our walk, taking as much time as we could to get back. When we did Carla stepped away from the truck and went back to the safety of my parents’ car. Jamie waved bye to me as he got into the passenger side, and Kyle waved as well. I waved back as I watched them leave.
I looked over at Carla with a questioning glance.
“I was just asking him how he was holding up,” she said, her arms still crossed.
I smirked and gave her yet another long hug before getting in the car.
I’m sure Jamie was right and that the town wouldn’t change much, but I knew that the three of them had changed a lot and maybe that was enough. I knew for certain though that I had changed as well, and even though a part of me wished that I had never learned how horrible and cruel the world could really be, I was glad that I had learned that there were always people in the world that were willing to risk everything for what was right and just. I just wish, for the sake of my new friends, that it hadn’t come at such a high price.
© 2013 Lina Rivera