Silvia led the way, Rebecca by her side, Lucita just a few feet behind her, trailing behind them, taking in the new building that would be her home, where the tiles were a rusty red highlighted only by the cream-colored walls, covered in flaking paint, revealing the cracks in the surface. The steps were narrow, and in her three in high wedge sandals, she felt as if she would fall over at any moment.
Using the wall as a rail, Lucita felt the uneven surface, cold beneath her touch. She wanted to pull her hand away from the lifeless plaster, but if she did, she would stumble. And who would catch her if she fell? Certainly not this Rebecca, but maybe this Silvia. Or maybe they would let her tumble down, only to point and laugh at her like everyone else did. Maybe they were already laughing at her.
Silvia looked back at Lucita, watching her as her gaze flickered to the walls, hands tracing against the paint, the cracks, the rain-torn paint. Something about her looked sad as she steadied herself down the stairs, making her way down the small rusty red concrete steps. But there was more. She saw a bit of herself there, an anger she was familiar with. She saw it in her reflection when she thought about how her friends treated her. Or lack of.
Silvia knew that mixture of pain and anger in her eyes. She just didn’t know what to make of it. Would this girl even be friends with them, or would she huddle away in the halls? Silvia had caught some of the fierceness in her through that flash of rage, but what good was unfiltered rage? Would it be a barrier between them or the bridge?
Trying not to run away, Rebecca stuck to Silvia’s side like glue. She knew she wasn’t being friendly right now, but every time Silvia told her just to forget about her crush on Blake, a little piece of her broke. Rebecca knew, she understood the truth to what Silvia was saying, but that didn’t mean anything. Things changed, and her giving up, Rebecca just couldn’t do it. She had already given up a lot in middle school, given up on her friends seeing her, but Blake, that was the one thing she couldn’t give up because sometimes, when he looked at her, she felt like he saw her when no one else did. And Rebecca just couldn’t give up on that feeling.
Taking a peek behind her, Rebecca caught Lucita just staring at the wall as she followed them down the small stairs to the first-floor landing. She must have sensed Rebecca staring because she looked up and offered her the slightest of smiles, gentle and sad. Rebecca could understand why Silvia was being friendly to her, because of that sadness that seemed to linger on her lips, clouding her happiness, despite how high this new girl held her head up. Something had broken her, hurt in ways that marked her and overshadowed whatever light she had in her.
Despite seeing that, Rebecca still didn’t want anything to do with the girl. More importantly, she did not want her around Blake with her big brown eyes and long lashes, batting away, drawing his attention. She was just the type he liked: pretty.
Lucita could feel her shield cracking, the defense she kept up to keep from being laughed at, bullied, and the silence in the air was weaving between those cracks reminding her of her longing, her sadness. Reminding her of everything that had ever broken her spirit.
“So,” began Lucita, breaking the silence, pulling up her shield, repairing those cracks, “do you guys go to South Broward?”
“Yeah,” muttered Rebecca, not too politely.
“Are you going to be joining us,” stated Silvia, glaring at Rebecca.
“Yeah. I enrolled right before Christmas break.”
“Cool, cool. Where did you go to school before?”
“Oh, well I was supposed to go to Miramar High, but there was no bus pick-up spot, and my mom couldn’t drive me, so I ended up being homeschooled. It hurt me, though. The county didn’t accept any of my honors credits which sucks because now I can’t take any of the classes I was supposed to. Just my luck though, always shitty.” She tried to laugh it off, but Rebecca just rolled her eyes, unable to stomach the pity story. Lucita had just revealed that she was pretty and smart, which was just her luck. Awesome.
Lucita caught the eye roll but shrugged it off anyway. She just had to act normal and get through the day, squashing the sense of nausea that kept creeping up. Just act normal, she told herself repeatedly, spinning the words around and around in her head, don’t scare them away by telling your pitiful life story.
“You seem pretty lucky,” blurbed Silvia, feet touching the first-floor landing. “I mean, what do you mean by shitty luck?”
Lucita just stood there, a deer in the headlights. Why had she said that? “Oh, it’s nothing, forget I said anything. So tell me about the school.” It wasn’t the smoothest recovery, but it was better than nothing, better than letting these two strangers see the damaged little girl she used to be.
“School colors are red and gold,” blurbed Rebecca before Silvia could speak. Unlike Silvia, she didn’t care to hear what this girl’s definition of shitty luck meant. She was pretty and smart; girls like that had luck dripping from their hair.
Something inside Lucita tensed. Those colors were the same as her middle school as if haunting her. Bringing back all those memories of running and hiding and crying in the stale urine-smelling bathrooms.
“And the mascot is a bulldog,” continued Rebecca, oblivious to Lucita’s unease. “It’s big, there’s a courtyard, and that’s just about it.”
“Sounds a lot nicer than the school my friends go to.” The ache in her chest that had been lingering since the morning pressed down on her heart. She missed her friends. She missed Cyrus.
“What school do they go to?” asked Silvia.
“Oh, well half of them went to Miramar High, and the other half went to Everglades High.” She looked up at the clear blue sky, hoping to get rid of the sorrow within her. But that didn’t help. The sky was always blue, always sunny, permanently stagnant. No time to feel, she thought, looking back at them. She looked back ahead of her, fighting off her need to be alone. You didn’t make friends by being alone.
“Isn’t Miramar like the ghetto,” said Rebecca.
“Dude, not cool!”
The outburst almost made Lucita laugh, somehow making her feel lighter, her fear slipping away from her heart. “No, it’s cool. Um, to some people. My mom was once robbed at gunpoint, so it definitely wasn’t the safest place.”
“That’s intense shit.” Silvia just stared at her, bewildered. Not by the story, but by how suddenly it looked as though she was happy as if the new smile on her face was genuine.
“Yeah, I guess so. Never caught the guy, though.” She peeked over her shoulder, looking past the hallway to the pool. “Hey, do you know those people?” Lucita nodded forward, and Silvia and Rebecca followed her gaze. Rebecca smiled at the sight of Blake. Unfortunately, he was not alone but with a blond that Rebecca recognized from school.
“That’s Blake,” said Silvia.
“Oh.” So this was Blake, the guy that Rebecca liked. The guy that she liked so much she felt threatened by Lucita. It was silly to be threatened by her. She wasn’t pretty behind her thin purple glasses; she was just plain. Yet that didn’t stop people from giving her unwanted attention and lying to her about how pretty she was.
Still, she thought about turning away and going back home. Rebecca reminded her a lot of herself, and she didn’t want to put whatever budding friendship (if it was even that) in jeopardy. But there wasn’t anything Rebecca had to worry about. Was he cute? Maybe, but he wasn’t Cyrus, and that was enough to make her stay away.
“Hey Blake,” said Rebecca casually as they approached him. Rebecca watched him turn his soft brown head towards her. For a moment he saw her, but then his honey-brown eyes drifted behind her, towards Lucita. Of course. The only bright side was that he was no longer looking at the bikini-clad blond.
“‘Sup, Becca,” said Blake, his eyes never leaving Lucita. Silvia rolled her eyes, suppressing a smirk. Typical Blake.
“This is Lucita,” started Rebecca addressing the elephant between them, or rather between her and Blake. “She just moved in.”
“Cool, nice to meet you,” he said, turning his back on the blond completely. Silvia began to chuckle at Blake’s absurdity and his ability to change his attention from one girl to another, ignoring girls completely for other girls. Rebecca just stared at her, eyes wide, telling her to shut up. Lucita, on the other hand, just bit her bottom lip and smiled along. She understood why Silvia was laughing, even if Rebecca didn’t. Play nice, she told herself.
After a second, Rebecca calmed down. Blake barely knew this girl and was already staring at her like some love-sick puppy. It was funny, if only because of the apparent unease that began to fall over Lucita’s slight smile.
“Anyway, how’s your vacation going?” asked Rebecca.
“Huh, oh, pretty good. Got some new video games for Christmas. Silvia, why the hell are you laughing?” Silvia only started laughing even more. She couldn’t stand him, and seeing him now; it was just funny how stupid he looked.
Taking a deep breath, wiping away the laughing tears, she began to regain her composure . . . slightly.
“No reason, dude. So who’s your friend?” She peeked over at the angry girl. “Don’t I know you?”
“We have biology together. I’m Evie.”
“Oh yeah. Anyway, Evie, this is Lucita.”
“I heard,” said Evie. She glared at Lucita, picking at the cuticles beneath her small fake nails.
Nice girl, thought Lucita sarcastically. “Nice to meet you guys.”
“I haven’t seen you around South Broward,” he asked ignoring everyone around them.
“That’s because she just moved in dumbass,” muttered Silvia.
Lucita coughed, swallowing up her laugh. “I haven’t started yet. I enrolled just before the break started. I start when school picks up.”
“Cool. Well, I look forward to seeing you around. Maybe we could hang out sometime?”
“Maybe.” She said casually, hiding back her small repulsion from him. But she stood there and smiled, giving away nothing. Her cheeks began to pinch together, burning from all the phony smiling. But she had to be someone different, she had to be normal like Cyrus said. Except this wasn’t her, this would never be her. She should have stayed in bed depressed, quiet, and hidden. She should have stayed alone.
“Anyway,” began Rebecca, “we better get going. We promised Lucita we’d show her around. Bye.” Rebecca turned back the way they came, eager to escape his ignorance. These were those moments she thought about giving up, but for a moment there, he had seen her. Not anymore. Not with her around.
Trailing after Rebecca, eyebrows arched, Silvia followed, confused. Could Blake even tell that Becca was angry? Of course not; he was just stupid, always stupid, and always selfish. Tugging at Lucita’s arm, she dragged her along, worried about the smirk on her face. What did it mean?
“Why are you smiling?”
“Cause that dude is hilarious,” she laughed, following them around the corner, back near the staircase.
“Don’t tell me you like him,” asked Silvia, worried.
Lucita shook her head as though the idea were hilarious, smiling genuinely. “God, no, he’s not my type.”
“What is your type,” asked Rebecca.
“Oh, um, I’m not really sure. I mean, I think blonds are cute. Other than that, I have a crush on the actor who played Harry Potter. I guess that’s kind of my type.” Then she thought about Cyrus, tall, lean. Cyrus, with his light brown hair that turned to gold in the sun. Catching the stares from Rebecca and Silvia, she shook her head slightly, pushing away her daydreams.
“What’s your type?” asked Lucita noticing Silvia watching her.
“Blake’s her type,” began Silvia, “and I don’t really have a type.”
“I could tell,” said Lucita looking at Rebecca, causing her cheeks to darken. Lucita sucked in her stomach. Why did she say that? What was wrong with her?
“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to put you on the spot or anything.”
“It’s fine. I didn’t realize it was that noticeable.”
“It’s not. I just pay attention a lot. I like to pay attention to details.” Stop talking Luci, she told herself, her smile faltering. She was tired, tired of smiling, tired of pretending. No one cared about her anyway; no one ever would, so why should she bother pretending to be someone normal, someone ordinary?
Silvia stared at her, watching her face harden, watching her smile vanish as if she was cracking.
“You okay?” asked Silvia.
“Yeah, I’m fine, just tired. I feel like my cheeks are pinching my face.” No one laughed, which was good because it wasn’t a joke, but it hurt to know they had seen this version of her, this side of her she liked to keep hidden. But she was just too tired to care; her bun was on too tight, the dress was sticking to her with sweat from the heat, her stomach grumbling reminding her that she hadn’t eaten, had forgotten amidst the tears and sadness.
Silvia studied the girl standing there, her form wavering, her eyes blinking and blinking, and her breath slightly shallow. Silvia scrunched up her eyes, watching her, hoping she wasn’t about to faint.
“Well,” started Lucita, the feeling of nausea rising, “thank you for taking me out. I appreciated it. See you around!” She smiled weakly, starting back on her way home, reminded that it wasn’t a home. It was a prison in an unknown land.
Silvia and Rebecca stood there, watching the white floral dress vanish up the stairs. There was something so mesmerizing about watching the girl smile, about watching her laugh, and then watching her crumble beneath the weight of something. It must be hard leaving everything you knew behind and starting over. Silvia sort of envied her.
“Why do you think she looks so sad,” asked Silvia.
Rebecca shrugged. “I don’t know. It must suck leaving all your friends behind. I’d be sad. Wouldn’t you?”
No. “Yeah, probably. I’ll see you later, Becca.”
“‘Kay. See you later, Vee.”
Rebecca stood there, watching her run away down the hallway into the sun, and then she returned to the pool. Opening the white gate that creaked at the hinges, covered in rust at the corners, and kicking off her flip-flops, Becca walked towards the pool’s deep end. Her reflection greeted her, hair sticking up in the front, breasts sticking out of her shirt, stuck to the fabric. Taking a step back, she ran and dove, clothes on. Who cared about her clothes that were already wet anyway, wet from her hair and clinging to her imperfect curves. Swimming up, she floated there again, staring at the fluffy clouds, watching them inch by with the wind. She had to wonder why Lucita had looked so sad and angry when there was such beauty around her captured in the bright blue sky.
Walking back to her building near the back of the complex, Silvia kept her head down, studying her nails, picking off the flaking color. A form stopped her, pushing her back, catching Silvia off guard. But his hand wrapped around her arm tightly, holding her still, too close for comfort.
“Get off me, Blake.”
“What, a guy can’t say hi?”
“A guy can say hi. What you can’t do is touch me.” She yanked her arms from him, knocking him back a step. His stupid grin only widened.
“What if I like saying hi to you?”
“I don’t like it. Trust me, I prefer it when you ignore me.” She crossed her arms and waited for him to get out of his way on the narrow pathway. He didn’t.
“What do you want, Blake.”
“How well do you know that Lucita chick? Think she’s single?”
“You’re unbelievable,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“A guy can’t be curious?”
“Get out of my way Blake.”
“So you don’t know?”
“Move!” she screamed, finally pushing past him. Always the same, always a pig, she thought as she ran home, eager to escape him.
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.