I am still loving on these sisters!
Have you ever finished writing a book, but you still wanted it to go on? I’m just not ready to let Margarita and Graciela go! So as I begin their next adventure: HIGH SCHOOL, I just wanted to share the very beginning of their story. Thank you for reading! I hope everyone has a fabulous Friday!
Margarita Goes To The Dance
~ Summer ~
My big sister, Margarita, leaves our bedroom followed by that big bun stuck on her head, the one that took twenty forever minutes to perfect. Trust me. I timed it on her clock radio.
She’s off to start her Saturday chores, and I’m finally alone.
Sitting criss-cross applesauce on my top bunk, I unzip my little gold wallet with sequins and pinch my finger and thumb like tweezers over the tiny note, plucking it out carefully. I unfold it and smooth it out on my knee for the millionth time since it was slipped to me after Mass last Sunday. Its edges are already showing little tears and the penciled words are now smudged into a soft gray across the small strip of paper.
“Dear Graciela: please meet me fifteen minutes before mass is over at the West Parish Hall in the courtyard next Sunday. –Mark
I let out a long love sigh and smile, closing my eyes, imagining Mark’s lovely face with his glasses and roundish nose and brown eyes and eyebrows and teeth and a mouth. He’s perfect. And he wants to meet me! I bite down on my thumbnail and my heart feels like a hammer banging hard to get out of my chest.
“Graciela!” I jump at my mother’s call. “Donde estas?” She’s looking for me. I quickly fold my note and stuff it back into my wallet and shove it all under my pillow just as the bedroom door bursts open.
It’s Margarita and her bun. “What are you doing?” She snaps, her eyes tightening with suspicion when I stare back in frozen panic.
Words. I need words and fast or else she’s going to climb up here and snoop around until her big sister radar finds that love note. After that she’ll parade it around to my parents and I’ll never ever get to meet with Mark!
“My stomach was hurting, but I’m fine now.” I make my way convincingly to my ladder.
“We’ve been waiting for you so we can start scrubbing the grout.” She rolls her eyes, does an about-face and walks away. “Hay viene,” she alerts our mother that I’m coming.
We spend the day scrubbing grout in every room as my mother’s Cumbia music dances through the house from the little black radio on the kitchen counter. We don’t have carpet because of my sister’s allergies, so I think she should be the official grout cleaner here.
We also wash five loads of laundry and hang it outside on the clothesline. My mother waves to our neighbor, Senor Guzman, inviting him to dinner this week. I roll my eyes and Margarita snickers. Of all the people in this world, why did God choose to give us Senor Guzman as our neighbor? He’s a smelly old man with dirty teeth and feet who brings those dirty teeth and feet to our dinner table almost every night.
I fasten my father’s jeans to the line and use the back of my hand to wipe the sweat from my forehead, pretending to listen to my mother’s stories about her adventures back in Mexico with my tia Patricia. But my mind is really on Mark. What in the world will I wear tomorrow? How in the world will I tame my chaotic hair? I dart my jealous eyes on Margarita’s beautiful bun that sits like a happy cinnamon roll on her head.
I sink into my warm bath and scrub my fingers and toes with my soap rag. I’ve got to get the dirt out because I plan on wearing sandals and more importantly, I plan on holding hands. I grind my teeth as the dirt on my feet tries to stay put, and I vow to stop walking around barefoot everywhere.
A long strand of my hair falls into my face as I work and reminds me that I also plan on hugging, so with that thought, I massage my hair with a few drops of Margarita’s strawberry conditioner. I nod in approval as my fingers run right through my unusually smooth strands. This stuff really works, and it smells great. I put her bottle back onto the window, careful to return it in the same direction it was facing the first time and touching the shampoo bottle the exact same way it was when I pulled it down. Margarita is tricky like that. She sets traps for me all the time.
Next I stand in front of the bathroom sink with a glob of Margarita’s lotion in my palm. I glide the white goop over my scratchy elbows, down my arms, over the fingers that Mark will touch tomorrow, and I even put some on my feet and in between my toes which turns out to be a very bad decision as I slip and slide in my flip flops down our hallway trying to make my way to bed.
When I finally get to my bedroom, Margarita is already sleeping. She’s uncovered, and her latest book, a classic she calls it, lays open on her chest. The sister in me wants to cover her and put her book away, but I leave her alone because if I accidentally wake her, she’ll for sure smell all her good girly stuff on me.
Laying in my bed I work very hard to fall asleep to the soft strawberry scent of my hair, staring at the darkness of our ceiling, but my brain is wide awake. In nine hours I will be meeting Mark. He will profess his love for me and I will, too. I will stroke his face and then we’ll come together and our lips will lock in my very first kiss. He’ll run his fingers through my soft hair and when he hugs me to him, he’ll breathe in deeply because it will smell so good.
I’ve never had a boy like me before, so I’ve never had to worry about getting ready for one. I prepare my outfit very carefully in my mind. I’ll wear my navy blue skirt suit that my mother made me for my tia’s wedding.
The strawberry in my hair is soothing, and I close my eyes, confident that my days of tree-climbing and skipping the lotion and passing on nail-filing are behind me. Being a real girl is not that hard at all. In fact, it’s a piece of cake.
I wake up at dawn when the sun is just starting to creep into our bedroom and the sky is still pink. My sister breathes slowly in her deep sleep in the bunk below, so I creep down quietly, trying not to wake her. I bite my lip in guilt when I see that she’s still uncovered and curled in a ball like she’s cold even though it’s summer. I quickly drape her blanket over her and watch until I’m sure she’s still asleep.
When she doesn’t budge, I carefully pull open her top drawer and take out the little silver brush that belonged to our grandmother and drag it through my smooth hair, watching Margarita in the reflection of the mirror. She’ll kill me if she sees what I’m doing. This brush is her everything. She loves it more than her books and more than homework. I don’t mean any harm sneaking around and using her things. Usually, I just use my fingers, and usually, my hair is a matted mess that I really don’t care much for, but this is necessary in preparing for the best day of my life.
I decide to leave my hair loose so Mark can smell it.
I dress myself in my suit and pretend I don’t hate how it feels with its straight elbows and starchy collar.
It isn’t long before our house is bustling with the morning. I slide into my chair at the breakfast table. The kitchen smells like coffee and a hot pan with remnants of bacon and eggs.
“Mira que belleza!” My mother turns from the stove, eyeing me in approval, saying I’m beautiful.
“Si! Que guapa!” my father agrees while he butters his toast.
Margarita eyes me suspiciously as she pours her juice, but I pretend not to notice, and I make myself eat my scrambled eggs with chorizo even though my stomach has joined the circus as a trapeze artist.
Sundays are our big breakfast days where my mother has the luxury and the energy to cook up a storm since she’s not working all hours of the day and into the early evening. It’s the only day we eat breakfast together like my father is a king and we girls the queens. I personally eat like a man more than a queen, but not today. I stuff some egg into my napkin and wipe my mouth pretending to finish up.
“Listas para la escuela?” Our father asks if we’re ready for the new school year which is coming in about a month. Of course Margarita bounces up and down in her chair. She’ll be starting high school. I just shrug my shoulders, sad that I’ll repeat seventh grade, but that gets me a full lecture from my father on the importance of loving school and appreciating my education. It also gets me smirks from my nerd sister.
That lecture continues as we pile into our father’s old Ford truck and drive to church.
When we arrive, I watch parishioners enter through the big wooden doors and my eyes search wildly through the crowd for Mark’s family. I don’t see them anywhere. We sit near the middle and on the left, and I scour the pews trying not to be obvious. Finally, behind us, I locate my gem. When our eyes meet, I almost wave, but remember that would be totally obvious. I even bite my lower lip to stop my smile, and he raises his eyebrows at me. My heart dances around doing The Macarena.
I watch nothing else but the clock the entire mass, wishing my mind could move those hands to the place they urgently need to be, 12:45!
I start daydreaming about my first kiss with Mark. Should I close my eyes like they do in the movies? But then how would I see his face? Should I put my arms around his neck or around his waist? I squirm in my seat uncomfortable with all the details I failed to prepare for.
I steal one more glance at Mark, but he’s gone! I look around inconspicuously, but he’s nowhere. When I look at the clock, it’s 12:40. Now I understand. He snuck out a few minutes early. Because how obvious would it be for the two lovers to get up and walk out of mass at the same time!
Margarita nudges me and I realize that everyone is doing the sign of the cross but me.
At 12:45 I tell my mother that I need to use the restroom, but she tells me to hold it.
It’s not possible to disobey her alpha voice, so I slump back into the pew defeated.
Then I get an idea. “Voy a vomitar!” I lie in church, telling her I’m going to vomit. Or is it a lie? I’m nervous! I hold onto the bench to steady myself, as my belly does flip flops. My legs are like gelatin as I fight for every step to the exit. I might as well be climbing stairs.
When I get out of mass, I take a few deep breaths to relax. It doesn’t work, but I hurry to find Mark.
I turn the corner and look past the glass where he’s out under a tree in the courtyard. Oh! The blanket of grass, the flowers in the small garden behind him, it’s a delicious place for the most romantic first kiss ever.
I grip the handle and let myself out into the courtyard, wiping my sweaty hands on my skirt and hoping he doesn’t notice.
“Graciela!” He stands and I go to him, expecting that as I get closer, he’ll open his arms for me, and I’ll fall into them with a passion that will put the movies to shame. He’ll either dip me for our kiss, or he’ll hold me close, unable to let go because we’ll be like magnets.
But when I do get to Mark and we’re inches apart, he pats my back. “How are you?”
“I’m good,” I lie, hoping he can’t hear the gallop of my heart. Our eyes meet and I wonder if this is where we slowly come into each other. I decide to go for it, coming in close to him, but then he sits down on the bench, and I am left standing there with the leftovers of a dreamy look on my face.
I bite my lip and he pats a place next to him, so I sit.
Maybe he wants to do this sitting down. Maybe he’s as weak in the knees as I am.
“Graciela. I really need your help with something.”
“Anything,” I promise him, hoping whatever it is, we can get past and get onto this kiss.
“It’s your sister. Does she have a boyfriend? Is she going to the fall dance do you know? I want to talk to her, but I’m scared. She’s not as easy to talk to as you are, so that’s why I need your help. Plus, you know her better than anyone.”
“Margarita doesn’t have a boyfriend,” I say. My mind is still clouded. Does he want to talk to her about me? How to win me over?
“She doesn’t?” He says with excitement. “So you’ll help me?”
“Help you what?” My trapeze artist tummy is on the most daring part of its act, and I’m about to throw up on my shoes.
“Help me get to your sister. I want to take her to the dance at our school.”
I am finally processing what Mark is telling me. He needs me to be the buffer between him and my sister.
“We’re not allowed to date,” I say dryly.
I stand up and begin to back away, tripping on a tree root and falling onto the ground.
“Are you okay?” He says, reaching out his hands to help me up.
So now he wants to touch me. “I’m fine!” I snap.
Suddenly the door connecting the courtyard to the building swings open.
“Graciela?” It’s my sister. “Are you okay?” I stare at her and she strides over to me. “What happened?” She glares at Mark.
“Nothing,” he says, raising his hands.
My sister hoists me up. My butt really hurts, but I push her off and begin to limp away. If I had a tail, it would be stuck between my legs. I squeeze back my tears and dare to take one last glance behind me, watching Mark talking to my sister, their words a big mumble jumble in my ringing ears.
My sister and I are silent on the drive home, and when we finally get there, I tear of my suit and kick off my shoes into the closet and climb into the top bunk and make myself sleep and forget, wishing I could plaster my hair with mud so it wouldn’t smell like strawberry.
Margarita pops her head over. “I don’t like him, okay? And I told him so.”
“I don’t care, Margarita. I don’t like him either.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
“I don’t feel good. Now leave me alone.” I press my face into my pillow.
“Your hair smells really nice,” she says, stroking my long loose strands. “And it looks really pretty down.”
“I don’t care. Leave me alone,” I say, hoping she won’t put two and two together and realize it’s her conditioner that I used. But even if she does notice, she doesn’t say anything.
I hear her leave the room and explain to my parents that I don’t feel too well. I can hear their forks and plates clinking and their laughter comes to find me in my bed, but I don’t care about anything right now. Not one single thing. I want to be asleep before my mother comes in to check on me, so I push all the sadness out of my head with a bulldozer, and before long, it’s Monday morning.
I’m a pretty tough cookie. My mother says I should have been born a son. Maybe that’s why I can’t get this girly act down very well like Margarita has. She was born to be exactly who she is. But either way, for once I appreciate my toughness. Within two days, I’ve completely forgotten Mark and my humiliation, even the jealousy I felt toward my sister. It’s not her fault that all the boys like her. I erase it all from my mind as easily as chalk softly disappears from the board. It was a piece of cake. I told myself to forget it, so I did.
I’m getting pretty good at forgetting bad things because I have to be. After all, I am growing up Graciela, and there’s nothing easy about that, especially when there’s a Margarita.