Lucita lay tangled in her blue cat-torn sheets, frumpy and an accurate representation of her life, in her bed that was crammed too tightly into the room of her new apartment. Cream-painted boxes labeled in sharpies, filled with books and other crap her and her mother had collected over the years, lined the wall. A new place, a new life. A new school. It was always tough for her to start a new school, meet new people, and make new friends. She wasn’t the making friends kind of girl. She was the wallflower who somehow made friends. Who somehow had friends that were now miles away, unable to see her. Of all the things she didn’t want to do, she most certainly did not want to start a new school in the middle of the year. No, thank you. No, Lucita would much rather stay in her new room with its high windows and grainy plaster-like ceiling.
She missed her friends back in Miramar and wondered if they missed her at all. Did they? Was she memorable enough? Had they only been her friends out of pity? Or had they liked her Gothic style, her red and black hair. Maybe they would message her online. Or call her. Or text her. Or maybe, just maybe, she could be less needy and make new friends, friends she could actually see daily. She just needed more time and the three weeks that made up Christmas vacation had not been enough time to adapt. No, what Lucita needed was a Summer vacation. Yeah, that sounded about right. A nice long three-month-long vacation would give her the time she needed to breathe and figure out how to work this new change into her new life. And then maybe she could start over and be a new person, a better person who didn’t drown in a puddle of self-pity.
Vibrations ran through the bed jarring her thoughts, bringing her back to reality. Kicking off the covers that had wound themselves between her legs, she hunted for her phone that had to be somewhere on the bed. It had to be; she always kept the damn thing within arm’s reach, needed the connections held between the color-coded wires. Kicking her sheets off the bed, she watched her phone stumble onto the floor. Of all the people to call her, it had to be him. The boy her fourteen-year-old mind loved. Letting it ring a few more times she smiled, butterflies lifting up her spirits as they flew through her stomach. He knew how she felt about him and despite their past still gave her the time of day. Even now when they were so far apart.
“Wow, you sound horrible. You okay?” Even over the phone, he was charming, his voice soft and just a little nasally. Many people have teased him about it, but not Lucita; she had loved how it made him seem just a little bit more within arm’s reach, a little more tangible instead of a dream.
“Yeah, I just, you know, I miss everyone back there.”
“We’re only a few miles apart. I’ll come by. My mom asks about you and wants to know if you’re doing okay. You are doing okay, right?” His voice broke up a bit, hinted with some warning, a tone that offered himself up to her. A protectiveness that played through the connection, sometimes foreign, sometimes homely.
“Yeah, everything’s great. It’s all great. I promise.”
“Okay, just making sure. But as for everyone else, that’s what phones and the Internet are for.”
“I have dial-up.”
“You can still communicate with us; it’s not like you live in the Dark Ages. Although dial-up is pretty close.”
Rolling her eyes, Lucita laid back in bed. “Whatever, Cy, tease me all you like. I know you miss me.”
“Of course I do. Who else is going to wait for me after every class and peek at me around corners like a little stalker.” He let out an emphatic sigh. “Man, I’m totally going to miss that.” Lucita laughed, rolling her eyes even more. He would never let her forget that she had kind of stalked him. But only sort of. It was a small school; it’s not like she could avoid seeing him. But then again, he might have had a point.
Sitting up, she leaned forward, taking a peek at her reflection in the mirror. She had forgotten to wash off her makeup from the day before and now mascara and eyeliner cascaded down her face like old train tracks, lining up for more tears. Had she cried that much last night? Had her mother heard her, had her mother seen her face when she woke her to give her a kiss goodbye before she went off to work? If she had noticed, she hadn’t said anything, always running late, always stuck in her own world, too self-involved to pay attention to the flaws around her.
Was Lucita’s pale face just another flaw? Was the black makeup too much, did it only serve to make her pale face look even paler. She turned away, ashamed of herself. Whoever heard of a pale Mexican? But it fit weirdly. If she couldn’t speak the language, much to her mother’s disappointment, why should she look like she could?
His voice broke her reverie. “Hey, look I gotta go, do yourself a favor, and go out for a walk in something other than black. How ‘bout that spring dress your mother gave you? Make some friends, okay?”
Twirling her hair on her finger, she crossed her legs, willing him to stay on the phone. “Yeah okay. I’ll talk to you later then.”
“You bet. If I could, I would miss piano practice. You know I hate it.” He was rambling now, a particular trait of his that she found particularly adorable. It always made her feel better to know that, in some small way, he needed her as much as she needed him.
“You rock, and you know it.”
“Doesn’t mean I have to like playing it. Look I’ll play this piece we’re working on for you later.”
“Bye.” He hung up quickly, leaving her holding the phone, willing him to come back, call her, talk to her. But that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. But besides everything that had happened between them, he was still sweet to her. And he was right. Taking one last peek at her reflection, she pulled herself together. She was going to be a different person, a better person.
It took her a while to wash off all the mascara and the eyeliner that had smeared her face. But when it was gone, she already felt like a different person. As if by washing the make-up, she had washed off who she had once been. If only it were that easy. But it was a step in the right direction.
With a clean face, she hunted down the dress in the back of her closet. All the way in the back, behind tons of black clothing and tons of T-shirts covered in the things she loved. The dress was nothing like the old her, the girl who wore nothing but black, but it was something she would wear. It had looked cute in the store when she had gone with her mother, and some small part of her liked the idea of being someone else. This would be the moment she broke it in deciding that this would be her new starting point.
Slipping on the dress had been the easy part, careful to avoid the long white marks on her stomach, carefully placed there, carefully hidden from her mother. Slipping on the white wedged sandals she loved had also been easy. It was the reflection staring back at her that seemed like a farce. The strange appearance, the lie. Could this be the new her? Or would it be more pretending to be something else, something false? Fixing her black hair into a tight bun, pulling her bangs out to cascade alongside her face, she did her makeup. Silver eyeliner, clear lip gloss. Everything that said, she was a different person. But was she, could she be, or would she fall into the same patterns of self-destruction and self-loathing? She just needs to be normal. Normal was good, it was what was accepted. Except that wasn’t her. Before she could change her mind and strip off the facade, the doorbell rang. Who the hell could that be?
Floating beneath the blue, catching the sun’s rays as they bounced off the top of the water, sprinkling diamonds beneath it, Rebecca stared, holding her breath, seeking the light as it swam into the chlorine-saturated depths of her dinky apartment pool where leaves floated alongside her. Lungs aching, she pushed herself up, gasping for a fresh breath of humid Floridian. Floating above, rising to the surface of the water, she shut her eyes, waving her arms back and forth to keep herself afloat. Swimming was what defined her; it was what made her, the only thing that made her smile within her dreary life. Picking herself up, she moved forward to the edge of the pool, looking up at her apartment door, shading her eyes with her hand. She couldn’t wait to escape her family, the tan and maroon-colored apartment building, where she lived rent-free with her parents and property managers. She hated the place, where everyone seemed to know where she was and who she was, but didn’t quite see her. That was how her life had always been, and for a moment, she had thought high school would be different, but when the year had started, nothing changed. Pushing herself on the pool’s edge, she looked down at her reflection. She wasn’t nimble; she wasn’t thin, she was voluptuous in all the wrong places. Thick legs, big bust.
If only she could escape to the ocean, where she could surf and bathe in the sun and the sand and be happy away from her family, where she could be seen by her friends who just seemed to look right through her.
Grabbing the towel from behind her, she pulled it over her shoulders to hide her breasts in the reflection. She hated them. Hated how they didn’t fit into anything she owned, hated how people stared.
“Rebecca ven aquí.” Pulled from her thoughts, Rebecca looked up at her mother who stood by the banister, her long black hair tied tightly around her head into a tight bun, lips set in a firm straight line. Her mother waved at her to come over quickly. Rolling her eyes, Rebecca wrapped the towel around her waist. Suddenly out of the corner of her eye, she saw him. Blake Andrews. Her crush. He walked by the pool with a garbage bag, flip-flops slapping against the concrete.
“Rebecca!” Her mother called again, this time, her arms crossed. Blake paused, looking back at Rebecca, offering her a small smile and a wave. But he was like everyone else, he was her friend, but he only saw through her, didn’t see her. And they even had a few classes together but rarely spoke despite being friends. Cheeks red, she waved quickly, running off, making her way up the small narrow steps to the third-floor where she lived.
Her mother grabbed her arm tightly, pulling her in, almost making her trip and fall over the threshold.
“Sheesh mom, no puedes ser un poco más discreto?” She chastised her mom, asking her to just be a little more discrete, just for her. Rebecca didn’t need people, especially her mother, calling attention to her.
“Ahora no, Rebecca. Vístete y lleva estos tamales a nuestros nuevos vecinos.”
Rebecca turned and stared at her mother and the plate of tamales waiting for her on the coffee table by the door. “Wait, we don’t know anything about them, what if they’re vegetarian? What if they’re not even home? Esto no tiene sentido.” She really didn’t want to deliver food over to the girl she had seen in the middle of the night, dressed in black carrying a cat in a box to the apartment, sneaking in like she was hiding something. No, she would rather stay in the house or float away in the pool, underwater, where the sun shined diamonds.
“If they aren’t home, we’ll invite them to dinner, and if they’re vegetarian will make something they can eat. ¡Apúrate!”
Rolling her eyes, Rebecca hurried off her to her room and changed as quickly as she could, her long brown chlorine-stained hair dripping onto her clothes, making everything stick to her body.
Slipping into her orange flip-flops, she stared at the plate of tamales, biting into the inside of her lip. She could just take the plate and dump the food into the dumpster before hiding away at Silvia’s apartment until it was time to go home. But Rebecca somehow knew her mother would find out. She somehow knew about everything that was going on in her apartment. So reluctantly, Rebecca picked up the rectangular glass tray full of the tamales she knew would taste delicious.
Just around the corner, that’s all she had to do to get there, just walk up to the new tenant’s apartment, #323, knock and say hello, welcome them to the neighborhood before walking away as quickly as she could. She didn’t need to see the girl, and she sure as hell didn’t need more friends in her life that would just look through her.
So she walked on ahead, head down, towards the apartment, and with a deep breath, she rang the doorbell.
Silvia was running around looking for Rebecca, trying to escape from Blake who was roaming around looking for anyone to flirt it. Because he thought he was oh so very special and oh so very perfect. He wasn’t. Blake was just another guy, another boy who believed he was the shit. All she needed to do was stay away from him, that’s all she had to do. If Silvia could avoid Blake forever, she would do it. But that was the thing about high school and why it sucked because she saw him every day there and sat just a few feet away from him in more than one class.
She didn’t understand what Rebecca saw in him. But then again, once upon a time, Silvia had seen something in him. But it had been a lie, there was nothing beneath his looks, just more superficiality.
Walking around, she tucked her hands in her pockets. There was nothing special about her, nothing she could think of that set her apart from everyone she knew. She was just ordinary and knew it. Ordinary brown eyes, average black hair, plain olive skin that defined her Portuguese heritage. Leaning against the banister on the second-floor landing, She could see Blake in the distance, dumping a large black trash bag into the dumpster right at the corner. Looking away to pick at her nails, she studied her cuticles, the dry pink skin attached to her aquamarine nail polish, cracking and flaking off at the sides. Everything about her was ordinary, even her choice of nail polish that brought out nothing of who she might be. Of course, maybe if she knew the answer herself she would she could answer it.
Silvia didn’t know who she was, she was just Silvia or Vee to her friends. She was just Vee, the loyal friend, the constant companion who stayed by their sides and moved forward alongside them. She was just Vee, the sidekick, and that hadn’t changed from middle school to high school. No variables here like in Algebra, just constants.
Her phone buzzed, bringing her out of her reverie. Elizabeth’s picture popped up on the screen. Elizabeth, her bossy kind-of-a-friend. They were friends by association, and also because Elizabeth knew her secret. The one secret that Silvia regretted telling Elizabeth every day because now it meant Elizabeth was her friend . . . kind of. They didn’t even have anything in common. She liked rock while Silvia liked hip-hop. They had nothing in common. And yet here she was, calling up Silvia, and here stood Silvia, ready to answer.
“I heard some new girl moved into your apartment complex?” Just like Elizabeth she thought, doesn’t even say hi or ask how someone is doing, just goes right into what she wants to know.
“Becca tells you everything doesn’t she.”
“We’re friends, of course, she does. She also said that the girl got the nice apartment that overlooks the pool and that she moved in, in the dead of night. If you ask me, she sounds kind of cool. But I guess we won’t know until we meet her.”
“Yeah, right, you never know,” she said absentmindedly taking a seat on the hard gravel-like walkway, practically ignoring her as she played with her Tinker Bell anklet.
“Well let me know if you chat her up. I actually just called cause I thought you might know something. On my way to Temple. Call you later.”
“Okay.” Please don’t.
Hanging up as quickly as possible, she stood back up, shoving her phone into her pocket.. And that was when she saw Rebecca on the floor above her, heading to the new apartment. Why not give the new girl a shot, she thought, pulling herself together, running after Rebecca.
Utterly confused, Lucita stared into space outside her bathroom door, where the empty hallway waited for her. The doorbell rang again, and she shook her head, putting her makeup away into the small vanity cabinet above the porcelain sink. Who could possibly be knocking on her door? Tiptoeing to her door, she peeked out the peephole. Some girl who looked around her age stood at the door holding a tray of food. Deep breathe, she told herself, smoothing down the wrinkles in her white spring dress. This was her chance. Opening the door, the girl jerked, looking right at her, as if shocked that she was there.
“Oh, hey, um my mom and I wanted to welcome you to the com—” She interrupted by some girl running up and calling the name Rebecca who must be the girl in front of her. The girl stopped, stunned at Lucita’s appearance. What were they thinking, that no one lived here? They both studied her just like everyone did as if searching for her flaws like it was a game. Heart racing, she swallowed down her nerves and straightened her back.
“Um hi, I’m Lucita.”
The girl, Rebecca, shook her head and looked up at her. There was something dark in her honey brown eyes that she recognized.
“Huh, oh sorry, I’m Rebecca, and this is Silvia.”
“’Sup. You like the place?”
The girl Rebecca just looked over at her, lips pursed. Silvia just winked over at her, giving Lucita a genuine smile. It was nice.
Rebecca turned her attention back to Lucita. “Here, as a welcome gift.” She held out the tray to Lucita who took it. “They’re tamales with meat, sorry my . . . ”
“I love tamales. Thank you,” said Lucita taking the tray of food from her. The familiar darkness still didn’t leave the eyes. Looking down, as something brushed past her, she gasped her cat ran out.
“Oh my god, uh can you take these back for just a second please I need to get him.” Without waiting she shoved the tray back into her chest and jumped from the door threshold to grab her fluffy little—not so little—mixed cat with his folded down ears.
“Madre de Dios Lunita you are so not allowed to run away.” Picking up her cat, fur flying into her face, she kissed him on the head and placed him carefully on the white tile floor,b winking at him as she closed the door on him, trapping him inside. Turning back, a smile plastered on her face, she took the tray back from Rebecca, her smile stretched a little too tightly on her face.
“Thanks, he’s a curious cat and loves the fresh air.”
Silvia noticed something about the girl, how her eyes mismatched her smile that looked a little more than forced. After the look Rebecca gave her, Silvia knew she was going to be angry with what she was about to say.
“Hey, you wanna hang out with us? I came up here to grab Becca for a walk around the apartment, you’re more than welcome to join me. You look—” She stopped talking when she saw the smile falter, her eye twitch in discomfort. But it was gone as quickly as it appeared and it almost made Silvia feel a little sorry for the girl. It had to suck, to be away from everyone she ever knew, a life that was washed away by something a simple as a move. On the one hand Silvia almost envied her, the clean slate she had, but on the other hand, she had no one beside her in the foreign place. But there was warmth in the eyes, and something made her smile turn softer, more genuine.
“I’d love to come, thank you. Um, just let me set this inside. I’ll be back in a sec.” She walked inside, and as soon as the door closed, Rebecca smacked Silvia. Oh no she didn’t.
“What was that for?”
“Blake is walking around and little miss perfect here in her white dress and sparkling smile is totally going to get all his attention. What were you thinking!”
“You are wacked girl. Seriously if Blake hasn’t noticed you by now, he’s not worth your time. Besides, she’s new, and she seems lonely. I’m just trying to be nice.”
Lucita stood on the other side of the door, eyes closed, hands behind her back that pressed against the cold white door. She knew she recognized that darkness in her eyes. Maybe pretending to be someone else was the wrong decision, maybe trying to be someone new was just as bad as being herself. There would always be those people who disliked her for no reason, no matter what. So why did she bother? It was a stupid question she knew the answer to. Eyes open, she pressed the back of her head against the door. Just try, she told herself. One deep breath later, she worked her smile back on her face and headed back outside. Both girls looked at her and once again, met their gazes. For a moment she thought Rebecca’s smile was just a bit faker than her own and somehow, that thought brought her comfort. At least she wasn’t the only one trying something new. Keys in hand she locked the door.
New Girl (Memoirs of the Third Floor #1)
Lucita is starting at a new school. Silvia is keeping a secret. Rebecca is struggling with herself. Three girls and their friends have entered high school, and for each of them, it’s hard enough without having to deal with friends, betrayal, and their insecurities. High School is tough enough without having to be the new girl.