Now we’re onto assignment5. For this one, we had to choose one of our previously written scenes and expand them into a story. You can see the development of my grasp on my character from this first scene, to
which I rearranged and expanded on to get to her full length short story below. I do also want to add that I wrote this in the span of about six hours (from midnight to sunrise) and while I have edited it some, I still think there’s some development I could make to make it stronger. Any thoughts and commentary are appreciated (so long as they’re not too harsh).
“You what?” It was a shout in my head. What actually comes out of my mouth is barely above a whisper though. Shifting my shoulders a little to adjust my bookbag, I clear my throat and try again, with more success this time around. “You what?”
“I submitted a few of your assignments to The Cock’s Crow,” she says it without giggling. Probably because she’s approaching forty, unlike the high schoolers she teaches. Our “award-winning” literary magazine’s a point of pride for the school, so they’d never change the name. It’s something to do with a recurring literary quote, and we being in the dawn of our literary careers. “And everyone on the committee loved it. Here’s a list of the pieces I chose.”
“They did?” I stare at the sheet she holds out to me. In her messy handwriting—ironic for an English teacher—it has five titles on it: three poems, two short stories. Then she’d called me up after class, I’d thought she wanted to discuss the latest assignment. The prompt had been about rebirth. I’d had no clue what to write at first. And then this story had sprung to life about a phoenix who finds true rebirth in giving up her ability to rise from the ashes. She passes on the power to another, so that she can rise into something new. The constant cycling into the same creature, usually a symbol of hope for we mortals made my phoenix feel trapped. (I got some influence from this assembly we had on toxic relationships.) I didn’t know if it’d been too out there. But she’d loved it. It barely factored into our talk. What she really wanted to tell me was that she’d submitted some of our assignments to TCC. And that they’d loved mine. Phoenix was even on the list of pieces she’d chosen. I start folding the sheet into squares, making sure each corner is perfectly aligned. “But y-you didn’t ask my permission first.” Its not a squeak but still not quite as forceful as my sister, Ximena, might manage. She was born to challenge authority. Me on the other hand… Not so much.
“You want me to pull them from the publication then?” She doesn’t look sorry, but her cement gray eyes are serious as they hold mine hostage. She’d do it if I said yes. Yet she didn’t ask my permission in the first place. She was taking Nena’s approach to life: ask forgiveness, not permission.
Do I want her to? I mean, I’m upset she didn’t ask first. But they liked it. Really liked it. I could add myself to my list of authors published under twenty… did it count if it was just a high school paper? Whatever. It was my list. And I had to start somewhere, right?
“I don’t think so.” I keep folding. “No. Don’t. Um, don’t pull them.”
“Great.” She says, rolling back her chair and standing up. She turns around, her blond cornrows with random strands of dark blue braided through swing behind her as she begins erasing the keywords from today’s class off the board. (Why’s it called a blackboard if it’s green?) As I watch her, I think about the beauty of being published. When you’re gone, you can’t be wiped away so easy. “And I expect you’ll attend the open mic to celebrate the release in a month?”
“Um, sure.” That’d be cool, hearing everyone else’s pieces. Hearing from new voices instead of the fan favorites who always get chosen for shows.
“And that you’ll read something.”
The door bangs open. I jump, and turn.
“Hey Ms. H.” A girl with bouncy black curls says as she rushes in. Her voice breaks the spell, and all of a sudden the hallway sounds start rushing in, along with the students from the next class.
“You want me to read? M-my work?”
“Of course.” She waves to the student with the hand not holding the eraser. “We can all interpret your words as we like, but I’d love to hear how you intended it. You rarely read in class, and you have a lovely voice. Now, you don’t want to be late to your next class, do you?”
I intended them for you, I want to say. For you to read in your head. But I don’t.
I look at the giant clock over the door (I feel like I’m the only one in my generation who can still read analog). We don’t have bells to “prepare” us for college. Her class is two minutes early. And we have a five minute grace period. As long as I’m in my seat within the first five minutes, I was good. Definitely enough time to freak the freak out.
She calls my name. I jump.
“You’re parent’s’ll be proud. As you should be. Look a little happier. I’m sorry I didn’t ask first, but from talking to you, I knew you’d never take the initiative. Your skill with the quill is undeniable. I want you to realize that too.” My lips drag up into a smile as I look down at my Hamilton T-shirt. “Now, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I walk out of the room. Dazed. Clutching the square of paper that refused to fold anymore.
My work in the paper. Reading at the open mic. It was a one-two punch. Or something like that. I tried getting into boxing with papi when I was little. It never really worked out, but I still found myself using the terms every now and then. Whether it was accurate or not, well, I wasn’t too sure.
“So what happened?”
“Ow.” I mumble into the wall I slam into, instead of turning down the next hall as my best friend, Jalissa Jackson, pops up behind me. “What the fudge, Liss?”
“There are times when a good ‘fuck’ is the only thing that works.” She says, her dark brown eyes laughing at me.
“Liss!” I can feel myself blushing for the both of us as I adjust my glasses, and rub my aching nose.
“Oh relax.” She says, flashing scarily straight teeth at me. “You’ll understand someday, young Padwan.” Her love of Star Wars was something she made me swear to take to my grave. She could make references when we weren’t around anyone she knew. But if her brother found out she’d never hear the end of it after calling him a nerd so many times. “Anyways, what’d Hopkins want? You took forever in there. I thought she was just gonna slap an A on your story and call it a day.”
“Didn’t give Phoenix an A?” Lissa’s clear, toffee colored face begins to contort into The Look.
“No, she loved it.” I say quickly, as I grab her arm and start steering her through the crowd to our next class. “She actually wanted to tell me that she submitted it, Phoenix, along with some of my other assignments to, the, to TCC.” I can barely get the words out as it hits me again.
“Oh girl that’s great! I’ve been telling you to submit something for years.”
“But she didn’t ask me first.”
“Would you’ve done it.”
“Well, no. But-“
A locker slams particularly hard somewhere behind us.
“But nothing. I know you’re freaking out. But I can also see how excited you are.”
“I mean, I am but-“
“Nope. No buts.”
“She wants me to read at the open mic!” I say it quietly, but emphatically as we slip into class.
“Which you definitely will, right?” She whispers back.
And before I can protest, we’re being launched into a lecture about the difference between ponds, rivers, streams, and other bodies of water. Despite how it sounds, and Lissa’s faces as she scribbles notes next to me, it’s actually pretty interesting. And a lot less work than chem or physics would’ve been for our take-it-easy, mainly elective filled senior year.
With the final period being a free one, I rush home after Environmental Science. Or, try to.
“Wait,” Lissa calls as I hurriedly put my jacket and book bag on. “You don’t wanna talk about TCC anymore?”
“No.” I tell her. “You’ll take Ms. H’s side—“
“There’s no sides,” she says, putting her hand out to stop me just outside the classroom. “We all just want you to put your amazing work out there.”
“Maybe not, but I need to practice.”
“Practice what?” A delicious voice asks from behind us. If the richness of chocolate syrup could be vocalized, that’d be his voice.
I instantly break out in goosebumps. God, I’m happy I have a jacket on. Though, I guess I could blame it on the AC too. I know I start blushing. And I’m also great full that I’m not as light as Lissa, or her twin, Jason, the source of that divine tenor voice. Blushes are a lot less obvious on me. He touches my shoulder, and my heart goes haywire.
“Yes?” I whisper. I’m the quietest of the trio, so when my crush (soul deep love) started for Jay a few months ago, he never noticed anything different. But Lissa, with her hawk-like skills of observations knew immediately. And began shipping us hard. But I didn’t want to say anything and make it awkward between the three of us when he told me he just saw me as another sister. The triplet bound to them in spirit (we were born on the same day, each ten minutes apart. It was kinda cool in a weird universally creepy kinda way.)
“What are you practicing for?”
“Oh, um. My, our teacher, Ms. Hopkins, for um, The Art of Creative Writing. She, put, submitted some of my work to The Crow.”
“That’s great!” He exclaims, and wraps me in a hug. Right there in the middle of the hall. I want to keep my ear pressed to his chest. And continue inhaling whatever expensive cologne his mom buys him, but he’s pulling away before I can fully appreciate any of it. “But what do you have to practice? Everything’s already written, right?” We start walking again, dodging students in their rush to get to the last class.
“She wants me to read at the open mic.”
I step over the book bag of someone sitting on the floor. She pulls it in with a halfhearted “sorry”.
“What day is that?”
I can’t believe I didn’t ask. Actually, yes I can. My brain wasn’t really working right at the time.
“May 15.” Lissa says, face pressed to her phone. “It’s connected to the poetry club. Apparently they hold these things monthly, but this is the big one.”
It takes everything I have not to start shaking. Seriously. Everybody thinks this is so amazing. And it is. That my work’s being published. Ms. H had talked me into entering a few senior specific writing contests. But the Crow. The award winning Crow seemed bigger than those. But actually reading it. In front of hundreds of students. Messing up in front of hundreds of students. Finding out that I actually suck, in. Front. Of. Hundreds. Of. Students. Plus my parents, Lissa and Jay…
My eyes twitch. Which always happens just before
“Are you crying?” The twins ask, somehow glancing at me at the exact same time. Both with concern, but Lissa’s more frustrated. She’s definitely going to be the tough love kind of parent if she goes back on her no kids vow.
“No.” My voice is actually pretty strong. But not my vision as my glasses start to fog, and I have each Jackson grabbing an arm as I start to trip over, who know’s what. The Universe sticking its foot out just to add to my already wonderful day.
“Don’t cry.” Liss says, pulling me to the side. I pull my, useless for the time being glasses off. “You’re mom would tell you that Diazes don’t cry.”
“Yeah, well.” I sniff. I hate myself for it, but I can’t stop the tears.
“Why don’t you just tell her no?” Jay asks. And it sounds so reasonable. But I can’t. Which I tell him. “Why not?”
“Because she’d have to put her Nena panties on and not only initiate an awkward conversation, but put her foot down. Remember when she refused to remind mommy that she didn’t like olives? So she choked them down until you noticed, and we split the rest between us? Then had to tell mommy later.”
“Oh yeah. You didn’t want to hurt her feelings.” Jay says, rubbing my shoulders. “Same with the teacher. But what about your feelings?”
“Well, this is where it gets complicated.” Liss says, pulling back. “She’s so torn up over it all ’cause she wants to do it.”
“I don’t.” I rub my eyes.
“You’d be more angry, and trying to come up with legit excuses for not doing it if that was true.” Liss takes my glasses from me, gently wipes them on her shirt (my mom would kill us both if she saw I wasn’t using the cleaning cloth) then hands them back. “Don’t get me wrong, you’d be upset. Maybe tear up a bit. But not like this.”
Is she right? Of course not. I’d know if I wanted to read. I say that, and Liss just laughs.
“Girl, you have so many hang ups about public perception. Probably a manifestation of your relationship with your mother, she-“
“Liss.” Jay says, it’s not quite a snap, but it’s not calm either. “What’d we say about psychoanalyzing us?”
“You guys are prime targets.” She whines. She’ll do great as a therapist some day. She looks around, and we all notice how empty the hall is. I almost start crying again as I think about how stupid I must’ve looked. Or pathetic. Who starts crying in a school hallway? I’m surprised no one hung around to stare.
“Do you want to perform?” Jay asks.
“I don’t think so.” I wipe my nose with my sleeve.
“We’ll wait outside the bathroom while you wash your face.” Jay says as we pass by the nearest girls room.
I head in and let the water run for a bit before splashing some on my face. I stare at myself in the mirror: dark eyes, short lashes, clear skin, shoulder length flat twists. Its not the face of someone confident. How does Nena do it? We look exactly alike, same delicate bone structure. But… something about me just screams timid. I shake my head and head back out.
“So we’ll head over to our house so you can practice in front of our parents?” Liss says when I come out.
“Liss, I don’t-“
“Even if you really don’t want to perform, she says, walking through the staircase door that Jason’s holding open for us. He’s so chivalrous. “You’re not going to tell her no. So you’ll need the practice, right?”
“I guess.” My stomach flip-flops just thinking about it.
“Don’t push her if she doesn’t-“
“We all need a good push sometimes. And as her best friend-“
“One of her best friends-“
“You’re right,” She says sweetly. As the star of our track team, she’s not even a little out of breath at the bottom. Like I am. Just a little though. “As the head best friend in charge of all of the lesser besties-” Jay just sighs. “It’s a part of my duty to know when to push and when to coddle.”
That one causes me to laugh. “You wouldn’t know how to coddle if it bit you in the butt.”
Jay laughs too as we leave the staircase. She rolls her eyes and pulls her phone from her pocket, muttering about how she can’t with us.
By the time we get to their house, I’m not as panicked. But I know there’s a major difference between reading for my friends’ parents, who are honestly like my adoptive parents, and hundreds of strangers. But I do it. And when I get home, I’m forced to do it again, for the fifth time that day for mami.
“These poems are nice.” She says in Spanish. “But sad. You depressed?”
“Like she’d tell you.” Nena mutters, looking up from her phone.
“What’s that mean?”
“Don’t start.” Papi says from the kitchen. “You are like three hens with no room in your pen.”
“I want to know what she means.” Mami demands. “You’re not too old to get slapped.”
Nena laughs. And mami’s face, a color very similar to the Jacksons’ beige walls, starts to flush a little with anger.
“I think it’s time for bed.” Papi says, coming in with his hands still dripping from the dishes. Since he’d been laid off a few weeks ago, he’d really gotten into being a house dad. Very un-macho, as mami reminded him. But it wasn’t like he wasn’t looking and applying, he always responded.
“It’s nine thirty.” Nena says. “I’m heading out.”
“I don’t have a boyfriend, mami.’ she sighs switching back to English. She spent more time talking to them in Spanish than I did. Mami was always complaining about how American I’d gotten over the years, with my pronunciations, and taste in rock and country, so I stopped arguing and just embraced it. I spoke Spanish whenever we went back to Cali to visit family, but otherwise, I usually just responded in English.
They started arguing about her, um, loose behavior and I took papi’s advice and headed to our shared room. As I walked down the hall, I heard a little cry and peeked into my parents bedroom to check on Santiago, my baby brother. He had just turned two and still slept in a crib.
He’s still fast asleep. I hope he isn’t having any bad dreams.
I lean over and pet his soft curls. He was the spitting image of our mother with his tiny nose, loose curl, and light complexion. Nena and I took after Papi a lot more. We all had the same face shape and cafe sin leech eyes, but our hair was a thousand times coarser. And we couldn’t really find foundation shades for our skin until Fenti came out. Unlike our mother.
As I watch him sleep, I wonder what kind of personality he’l have when he grows up. He fussed whenever he wanted anything. But he barely knew five words, so how else would he express himself?
Nena’s outspoken, confident with her beauty, and brilliant, if only she’d put more energy into school instead of reminding us at the end of each semester, when mami demanded to know her grades, that “C’s get degrees.”
I guess I’m pretty. I look a lot like Nena, who’s gorgeous. But I don’t know anything about fashion (no matter how hard she and Lissa try to change that). And my glasses… I look a thousand times better without them. But my eyes don’t like contacts. I think I take all of Nena’s drive for school, and she has everything else.
So where would Santi fall? He’s definitely going to be a mama’s boy. Will that affect things?
“How are you?” Papi asks quietly. I don’t jump. I thought I’d heard footsteps.
“I mean, you writing.” He tests out his English. “Mami is right, it did seem little sad.”
“Are you fine with reading?” He’s back to Spanish.
“I don’t know.”
I sit on the floor next to the crib and tell him about the conversation with Lissa today. “And, I kinda think she’s right.” It’s a whisper. “I liked it when her parents complimented the word flow. And mami… she actually liked it. It… feels nice. And if everyone at school thinks it’s nice too.”
“But?” He says, sitting on the bed. There’s no more roofer him in the little space beside the crib.
“If they hate it-“
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes I do.”
“We sent you to Sunrise because it is a certified school of excellence,” he says. “Which means, the kids there are smart. And only someone stupid wouldn’t like your words.”
I laugh, get up, and hug him. “You’re my dad, you have to say that.”
“No I don’t.” He hugs me back. Something else unMacho, but her heart is never in that one when she says it. WE both know he’d support us no matter what. So he adds, “Fine, if you don’t believe me. Believe mami. And Nena kept her head out of her phone for a whole five minutes.”
I laugh again.
“What is funny?” Mami asks from the door.
“Nena actually listened to her poetry,” Papi answers. “She even put the phone on the table. I was so surprised when I saw from the sink, I almost dropped a plate.”
“Not the good-“
“Never the antique, Nati.” He smiles at her with so much love… I sometimes don’t understand that dynamic.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. My mom is lovable in a prickly porcupine sort of way. She’s always made more money, so has probably felt more stressed. And I appreciate her completely. But… she’s still an a-hole about 80% of the time. Picking at Papi, arguing with Nana, pointing out my flaws.
“You still nervous for this show?” She asks me, her eyes are actually soft where they lock onto mine. I nod. “You write well. Why?”
“It’s one thing to have people say that. It’s another one to read it and see if they still mean it.”
“Speak up.” She sits on the bed next to us. “You come from a loud family, yet you are this shy little mouse. Nena wouldn’t be nervous.”
“I’m not Nena.” It’s the first time I ever say something when she tells me how much unlike someone I am.
:Hmm.” She says. “Put that attitude on stage, not with me. You are definitely not too old for a slap.”
“Okay,” Papi says. “It’s still bedtime.”
I think about what she said all the way to my room )one door over) and over the next month. Okay, maybe not the entire month. But the more I practice in the mirror (Mine and Lissa’s) the better I feel. At some point, I realize I’ve got it memorized. I recite it for some of Jay’s friends (trust me, I wasn’t as breezy as I make it sound), but I do it. And then the day is here.
And I start to freak out.
My glasses’ll fog right when I start reading.
I’ll lose my voice right before my time.
Someone’ll laugh and I’ll start sobbing like Santiago when no one’ll pick him up.
Jason hugs me. And that just makes it worse.
Mami refuses to stay home, and I can’t breathe properly.
Nena brings her new boyfriend and I can’t believe she’ll have his first introduction to me be me passing out in front of half my high school. Or all of them? It looks like everyone is here. Who even cares about a stupid high school magazine?
I’m ten people in. I thought that was a good number. But what if every performance is one minute long. That only gives me ten minutes to prepare. I wonder if Lissa would flirt the paper out of the MC’s hand and erase my name. But what if it’s not in pencil. Does anyone have whiteout anymore?
“Hey!” I bite my tongue hard as Jalissa claps her hands in front of my face. “Calm. Down.”
“Panicking. I’m not panicking.” My throat is so dry I can barely get the words out.
“I said nothing about panic, only calm.”
“I got her some water.” Jason appears next to me. When did he get up? He was sitting three seats in.
“Drink it.” Liss demands. I was already planning on it, and get down half the bottle in one long gulp.
“I think she meant sip.” His hand on my shoulder causes the butterflies to divide their attention. “But can you at least breathe?”
I try. He forces me to look at him, into his deep, beautiful eyes. We breath.
“Okay.” A voice booms through the auditorium, quieting everyone. He starts talking about the prestigiousness of Sunrise Academy’s Cock’s Crow. literary magazine. I hear a few giggles. “We’ll be starting off with one of many seniors on this list. Delilah Morre. She’ll be singing, not an original song, but you can find her original poetry scattered throughout the Crow’s illustrious pages. Come on up Delilah.”
“You gonna be okay now?” Jay asks, his face deliciously, nerve-wrackingly close to mine. I nod.
He moves past Jalissa, grinning very unsubtly right as the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard begins soaring through the auditorium. By the time’s she’s finished with rendition of Alicia Keys’ Fallin’ almost more soulful than the original, you can hear a pin drop in the auditorium. There’s a moment of silence. Then. They. Go. Wild.
And I think I’ve gone way past panic. How do I even compare to that?
The next person’s going up. Reading a short story about a kid on the street getting their life together. And then the poem about loss. Who are these people? Writing about deep crap when I just channel emo punk bands from the early 2000s and write fantasy. Even the fifth girl’s “fairytale” feels like some deep social commentary. She can’t be a freshman.
“Margaret Hall will be next, performing a skit, the script for the play can be found on Page 12-“
“They’ve got nothing on Phoenix.” Liss whispers. And I realize that I’d said it out loud.
But she’s so wrong. This modern mini Odyssey is so much better.
“Annabeth Percy?” The MC dude says for the third time. “Alright, guess she’s not here anymore. Well next up we have-“
My heart stops. For a whole second. Just stops. Then the applause rushes into my ears, and my heart starts beating like a salsa beat on steroids. Or LSD or something.
“Go up there!” Lissa hisses. I could be like Annabeth and not do anything.
But then Jason and Lissa are pulling me up. And I hear my mother… cheering my name. WTH?
I’m on the stage.
I’m staring out at the crowd. Before I left, Nena had told me to imagine the audience in their underwear. But as I stare out at the ocean of faces (crap, I mean sea. I can’t even get my metaphors right. Or was that a simile? Analogy maybe?) Oh God, I’m going to through up.
“You got this!” Someone shouts.
Why are they cheering me on? They don’t know me. Clearly, I don’t.
I stare at the dude in front of me. Probably someone’s parent. Definitely don’t want to imagine him in his underwear. And the girl with red pigtails next to him…. I’m seventeen. That’s probably illegal to be even thinking things like that.
Jalissa screams my name, and I snap out of it. So does my notebook, right out of my hand. I bend down to grab it, and my glasses start sliding off.
Somehow, I coordinate myself enough to hold one and pick up the other.
The audience, my audience is silent.
I look down at my notebook. Open my mouth:
“I-i-in shadow-” Someone snickers. Maybe it’s a sniffle. I don’t care. I hear whatever the sound is, and I can feel that I’m-about-to-cry lump forming in my throat. My eyes tickle. Or prickle. And I sniffle. And the sound’s amplified through the mic. That I’m still stupidly standing in front of. I turn to my left, ready to bolt. Ready to give Lissaa a run for her money. When I hear their combined voices, my beautiful amazing best friend, and her equally wonderfully gorgeous brother, chanting my name. It only takes two times for the entire auditorium to pick it up. And then my eyes are prickling for another reason. I turn back to the mic. While I don’t have my Troy Bolton here to make me stare directly at him, I still felt like I was about to have my Gabriella moment.
“In shadow beauty hides,” my voice shakes. Did I always sound this manly? I clear my throat. They quiet immediately.
“In shadow beauty hides/To the night he tells his truth/Beneath the unassuming moon, she feels only then can she cut loose…“