Lucita sat in her mother’s car as they went to school. In the passenger side mirror, she caught her reflection. Her eyes were heavily lined in black eyeliner. Her mother had told her not to wear so much muck on her face, but Lucita didn’t care, and her mother had just sighed and let her be and even fixed it, smudging the side of the eyelid to repair her flare. Lucita looked over at her mother, who smiled at her sweetly. Smiling back briefly, she turned to look back at her reflection. She was tired, having arrived the night before last from Chicago; she was more than just physically exhausted. Her trip had been emotionally exhausting, as she had to deal with her stupid family.
“Grandma is going to get you a new phone eventually,” said her mother as she turned right onto University Street. Lucita shrugged.
“I won’t apologize to her. It would be facetious.”
Her mother laughed. “What normal teenager uses the word facetious?”
“Normal is highly overrated.” This time, she cracked a more genuine smile. Her mother and she had bonded over the summer, and now, Lucita better understood her mother. It made a living with her much better.
“You’ll be fine. I’ll talk to her.”
“She won’t listen; the women in this family are way too stubborn.”
“I know, mija,” she laughed, “But I’ll still try.”
Lucita shrugged. It honestly didn’t matter, not anymore. So she wouldn’t have a cell phone, it would be worse. Things could always be worse.
Looking away from her reflection, she saw her school approach. Oh boy…
Silvia stood with Rebecca – Becca preferably – Blake, Elizabeth, and Jason. She couldn’t stand Blake being here, but wherever Jason was, he was. Joy. And the fact that he and Becca were suddenly buddy-buddy bothered her.
And then there was Lucita.
She had vanished. She was just gone. But where did she go? She never answered any of her phone calls or text messages. She didn’t even bother messaging her back online. She went to visit her family in Chicago, but it’s like she dropped off the map when she arrived.
“So none of you guys heard from her,” asked Jason for, like, the zillionth time. It was obvious he was still crushing on her…hard. Becca looked at her while Elizabeth played with her phone, trying to text Lucita again. It seemed like she was taking this “abandonment” the hardest. The girl thought way too highly of herself. Like Jason, Silvia was more worried about Lucita. Something must have happened.
“She still isn’t texting me back,” announced Elizabeth.
“Maybe she’s gone for good,” snickered Blake. Rebecca gave him a stern look, and he quickly apologized. Okay, now that right there was weird, she thought.
“She’s here.” Silvia followed Jason’s gaze. Yup, there she was. She was getting out of her mother’s maroon station wagon. It was not the most stylish vehicle, but Lucita didn’t mind. She looked around, and Silvia waved her arm to catch her attention through the throng of students. Lucita saw her. She seemed to shuffle, almost uncomfortable, as if trying to avoid touching anyway as she squeezed past people to them. She was all in black, and as she got closer, Silvia noticed she was wearing a lot of eyeliner.
“Hey? Seriously, is that all—”
“My grandmother took my phone…I don’t really want to talk about it. Things happened, and my grandma refused to get me a new phone.” Lucita shrugged as though it were nothing as she stuffed her hands in her pocket.
“Well, you’re here,” said Elizabeth, hugging her. “Your grandmother must have really pissed you off.”
“Pretty much. She’s difficult.”
“And you’re not?” snickered Blake
This time, Lucita glared at him. “I will punch you, Blake, and get away with it, so shut up.”
“Ignore him,” said Silvia, “Come on, you need to see what your first class is.”
“She has French with me,” began Elizabeth, looking over at her, “You excited?”
Lucita grinned. “Oh yeah, super excited.” Elizabeth looked back at her phone. In that brief moment, Silvia saw something happen. Jason and Lucita’s eyes met, and there was something there. Jason hadn’t sounded so urgent when he had asked everyone if they had heard from her. He had sounded curious. They had talked. Silvia knew it.
“Lucita, let’s go find Lucas.”
Pulling away from Jason, she looked at her, eyes scrunched up. “Lucas is gone.”
“He’s gone. His mother got a job in Orlando, so they moved.”
“So you’re single?”
“Drop dead, Blake,” said Silvia and Lucita in unison. They burst out laughing, leading past the school gates and into the courtyard.
“So, do you keep in touch?” asked Elizabeth, adjusting her shoulder bag. Standing side by side, Silvia noted that they almost looked like sisters. How had she never noticed before?
“I guess. Mainly online. Other than that, not really. I was bummed about it at first, but I’m kind of over it. He’s just a dude.”
“So, not even on your socials?”
“Technically, they’re supposed to be deleted, so not really, especially at home.” There was something different about her that Silvia was starting to see. It was almost like Lucita was a different person. Last year, she always had her head held high. Now, though, it was like she was unsure of herself, sad with who she was. The air of confidence and arrogance had diminished a little.
“Oh,” was all Silvia could say. They all stood around quietly until the bell rang. Jason kissed Elizabeth on the cheek, peeking up to look at Lucita again. What did he know? What secret passed between them? Blake tapped his shoulder, catching Silvia’s stare. He had seen what she had. He gave her his usual one-sided cocky grin that exuded his arrogance. Silvia rolled her eyes, pulling Becca alongside her as she walked away.
“See you guys later.” Lucita and Elizabeth waved goodbye, making their way to the staircase.
“Vee, you don’t think something is going on between those two, do you?” whispered Becca.
So she had seen it too. “No, at least I don’t think so. Can’t say I blame him, though. Liz pays more attention to her phone lately than to him.”
“She’s always been like that, though.”
“Blake knows what’s going on. I could tell.”
“Do you want me to ask him about it?”
Silvia looked over at her incredulously. “Why?”
“Oh, no reason. See you later, Vee.” Silvia watched her run off. What the hell was going on, thought Silvia, making a run for class.
Rebecca got her food tray, looking for her friends. This year, they all had the same lunch period. Blake included. He smiled at her, making butterflies swarm in her stomach.
“Hey.” He leaned over, kissing her on the cheek. Rebecca looked around nervously. “Don’t worry; everyone else is busy getting their lunch.” He sounded sour, not that Rebecca could blame him.
“I will tell them, just give it a little time. I promise.”
“I know. I know you’re better than Silvy.” It still stung when he called Silvia by her nickname as if something was still between them. But it sounded like it was nothing, just common as if that was just how he knew her. At least, that’s what she hoped.
“Hey Blake,” she began, picking at her food, “Do you know what’s going on between Jason and Lucita.”
“Nothing that you’re thinking. They just became the best of friends.” He took a bite of his burger. “They have a secret, I can tell you, but it has nothing to do with cheating. He’s not cheating on Liz with Lucita.”
“Oh, okay then.”
“Yeah, apparently, some serious shit went down with her family while she was in Chicago.” He shrugged it off, nodding his head forward. Rebecca turned to look, seeing Lucita and Silvia approach her. Lucita looked over at Blake indifferently while Silvia just eyed him with hate. Yeah, telling them that she was dating Blake would be hard.
“You have this lunch period?” asked Lucita, studying him with her heavily lined eyes that only made her eyes look bigger. How she eyed him was frightening, as though she was contemplating something. Rebecca never noticed she could be so scary while being so indifferent.
“Yup,” sneered Blake.
Her eyebrows raised. “Really, a sneer?”
“I think this is a charming smile.”
Something dangerous flashed in her eyes. “There is nothing charming about you.”
“I’m sure your family would say the same about you.”
Rebecca was sure that if looks could kill, he would be dead. Lucita’s chest rose, and her ears twitched like a cat’s while her fists clenched.
“Okay, what’s going on?” Rebecca almost jumped but was relieved to see Jason and Elizabeth arrive to tame Lucita. Those two always seemed to make peace where there was none, as if they were the group’s parents. And where Blake was concerned, who always knew how to get under someone’s skin.
Blake leaned back into his seat. “Lucita and I were just conversing about how charming we think the other is.”
“It ended in each of us thinking the other is repulsive.” Grinning, she took a big bite out of her fried chicken. Rebecca watched her. Lucita never really ate lunch. It was odd to see her attempting to eat it, forced as if she was trying to make sure everyone knew she was okay. Jason glared at Blake while he sat beside Lucita, between her and Elizabeth.
Chitter, chatter soon filled the air. Rebecca listened to Lucita talk about her summer, about how her family sucked, about how she had thrown her phone at the wall near her grandmother’s head, and how it shattered. She gave no other details, however. No reason for her actions other than her family sucked. But there must have been something to set her off. Lucita never did anything without a reason.
“So nothing fun happened?” asked Silvia.
“No.” The answer was simple, but as Lucita looked down at her plate, grabbing her carton of milk, she looked sad, more unlike herself than she had earlier.
“Really, Luci, tell the gang what happened,” snickered Blake. Rebecca scowled at him, but he didn’t relent this time. So instead, Lucita lashed out, her hand around his throat, shocking everyone, eyes narrow and filled with rage, nails tucked into the skin of his neck.
“Luci!” exclaimed Silvia, running around the table to block the view from the school security. Joining her were both Jason and Elizabeth, all three paired to block the sight of violence from the security team.
“Blake needs to learn.”
“P-psycho,” he stuttered. Rebecca watched as she smiled, her fingers tightening.
“Let him go,” muttered Elizabeth, gently touching her arm. “It’s not his fault.” She knew something. Elizabeth, as always, knew something. Rebecca watched Lucita’s smile vanish, eyes cleared as if something in her mind finally snapped back together. Quickly releasing him, she grabbed her bag and stumbled away, muttering how sorry she was.
They watched her shove through the crowd as a group, her pace quickening. Rebecca watched her vanish into the stairwell across the courtyard, the place that had been their refuge the previous year.
Elizabeth grabbed her backpack and lunch. “I’m going after her.” No one said anything, they just watched her go. Rebecca caught Jason staring after her but wondered which girl he considered following. The damaged beauty or the loyal friend.
“Do you really have to be so obvious,” said Blake as he sat next to Jason in their chemistry class. Jason eyed his friend, giving him a look and telling him to shut up.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, you know exactly what I am talking about. Your stupid crush on your girlfriend’s best friend, who just happens to apparently be psycho.” Blake shook his head and rubbed his neck. Jason could still see where Lucita had embedded her nails.
“I don’t have a crush on her, and you deserved what you got.”
Blake rolled his eyes, leaning back into the blue plastic chair. “Sure you don’t, and I beg to differ.”
“I don’t like her that way.”
“Yeah,” scoffed Blake, “That’s why you lit up like a beacon when you saw her right.”
“Yeah, I got that,” Blake continued, ignoring him, “That you know more than Becca and Vee doesn’t mean a thing, right? I mean, those two girls are in the dark about everything. Heck, even they think you’re cheating on Liza with Luci.
Jason was getting tired of this conversation and of his friend. “Yeah, because you have no secrets, right? When will you and Becca tell everyone that you’re dating?”
“It’ll happen,” muttered Blake, turning his back to him slightly, a pencil twirling in his hand.
“Make sure you don’t cheat on the girl. Silvia will hate you forever if you do that.”
“I don’t give a shit what Syl thinks.”
“Sure you don’t.” Jason leaned forward on the black granite table, happy with himself. Looking up briefly, he caught sight of Lucita, picking at her nails across the hall. Looking at the clock, he ran up, giving Blake a bullshit excuse about having to use the restroom. She looked up and smiled when she saw him, not her fake smile from earlier, but a real one that looked lighter, less hateful.
“You okay?” She smelled like flowers.
Lucita shook her head, her smile faltering. “No, everything feels wrong, rotten. I hate everything.”
“It’ll get better.”
“Maybe.” She bit her lip, but the smile returned when she looked back at him.
“It’ll be okay, trust me.” She shrugged, and Jason sighed. “So,” he began changing the subject, “What class is this?”
“Cool.” He shoved his hands into his pockets, looking her up and down, finally taking in her appearance. She was dressed in black, depressing and sad, making him want to hold her. Her eyes suddenly met his, and she wondered if she could read his mind.
“You should get to class.”
“Yeah. I’ll see you late, Luci.” She nodded before hugging him tightly. Jason tightened his arms around her briefly before pulling away to make it back to class.
Blake looked at him curiously as he took his seat. “That was a long bathroom break.”
“I ran into Elizabeth,” he lied.
As the final bell rang, Lucita quickly shoved everything into her bag, eager to evade the people she didn’t know.
The day had gone painfully slow, so much so she thought she was suffocating. She thought that she was going to pass out. A part of her wanted to pass out, but everyone would see just how pathetic she was.
Spinning around to the voice of Silvia, Lucita stood still. She had been avoiding her friends since lunch. She had let them see that side of her, the violent side, the side she hated and loathed. The side of her she wished she didn’t have. But Silvia had caught her.
“You okay? I was worried before lunch, but I got really worried after that. You were…I mean…Blake totally deserved it, but it was still scary. But, yeah, the asshole totally deserved it. He’s such a piece of shit.”
Lucita couldn’t help but laugh and smile. Silvia had that effect on her, addressing everything and not precisely making light of it but making less of it than others would. She made Lucita feel okay; she made her feel like she didn’t have to pretend to be someone else.
“He is a piece of shit.”
“I know, right! Come on, let’s go catch the bus.”
“I can’t. I take the city bus now to my mom’s work.”
“Why?” Silvia’s eyes scrunched up tightly.
“No phone, she’s just worried about me. I’ll see you later tonight.” Lucita tried to turn away, but Silvia grabbed her arm back and jerked her back. Lucita looked at her hand, then at her, warning her. Silvia understood, pulling her hand away but not relenting.
“What happened, Luci?”
“Shit. Shit that I don’t want to talk about. Please, leave it alone. I gotta go.” She walked away, and this time, Silvia let her.
Out on the sidewalk, she looked at the tree where she used to wait for her mother. She stopped for a moment. Everything had changed since that first day.
Making her way down the block to the bus stop, she thought about the heat and sun and how wearing black had been such an awful decision. She couldn’t wait to get onto the frigid bus, read, and listen to her music. She just wanted to block out the world. But something stopped her. Standing at the bus stop was Francis, dressed in shorts and a white t-shirt. He looked over at her and waved.
“Hey Luci, what are you doing here?”
“I take the bus now to Las Olas. My mom works there.” Lucita was shocked that he remembered her name when she had barely remembered his. In fact, she could barely place him in her life. Where had she met him anyway?
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
“No, sorry, not really.”
“Don’t feel bad. I’m Francis, a friend of Becca’s. We met a handful of times, but she talked about you a lot this summer, and they all did. You went AWOL, I heard.”
“Things happened. I lost my phone.”
“That sucks. Well, anyway, take a seat. The bus will be here shortly anyway.”
“You take it often?”
He nodded, watching her take her seat. It was unnerving for her to have him watch her like he was. “Yup. Don’t worry. I’ll help you get where you’re going.”
“Don’t really need help, but thanks.” She smiled at him, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. He smiled back.
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