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.
Be A Graciela And Be Happy
When I was younger, I was that annoying one in the family that nobody wanted to be around. I was FedEx from Cheaper by the Dozen, but we were only half a dozen. My two older sisters hated me because when it was just the three of us, I was spoiled rotten. I trashed their dolls, drawing on them with a Sharpie, and wanted and got everything my sister’s laid their hands on. I wasn’t in school. They were. This meant I got our mother all to myself. We had dates at McDonald’s and visits to the zoo. But when I was only a precious four years of age, the twins came.
Born at 32 weeks in 1980, the twins came in with one foot in life and one in death. They made it, but they stole all our mother’s time and energy, and our lives were turned upside down. Pardon the cliché, but I literally would stand on my head. That or I could often be found sitting in a corner with globs of my own hair in my hands. I attribute this behavior to poor stress management. Sadly, my hair now falls out on its own when I’m stressed. Anyway, it gets better.
The twins weren’t even a year old when my mother learned she was accidentally expecting again.
So now we were six. How on earth do you compete? Your two older sisters are five and six years older than you, and they’re best friends. The younger set not only almost died and scared everyone have to death, but they are TWINS, so they get some pretty cool attention. And no one can ever argue that the baby of the family doesn’t have this automatic favoritism card.
And it only got worse. My awkward phase hit. Imagine big pink glasses, long stringy hair that I unsuccessfully attempted to feather each day, scrawny little legs and arms, and buck teeth. Oh! Don’t forget the freckles and the little line across the bridge of my nose from pushing up my glasses with my index finger.
I still shudder at my middle school photos. It seemed that everyone in our family was attractive except for me. I was impulsive, hyper-active… my big sisters only wanted to doll up my little sister. She was prettier than me, had better hair, and she came in a package. It was fun to dress up twins. Then the third guy got added in and they sort of became a triplet package. Imagine my horror upon learning that while I was at school, our mother took the three of them in cute little matching, red, velvet Christmas outfits and had the three of them photographed together. Smh!
Then I developed a sort of twitching problem. That became pretty embarrassing in public. I was also forced to be the third wheel on my big sisters’ dates, promising to keep my silence about their necking if they bought me a pickle… a promise they fell for and I broke numerous times. Get a clue, right?
Have I painted a lovely enough picture? Did I mention how outlandishly hyper I was? I did? Well let me add to that. Not only did I do a cartwheel using the lap of my sister’s new boyfriend, but one day my mother had some women coming over to sell her some clothes and jewelry. She said, “Please do NOT do your gymnastics in the house, okay?” Well, I was certain she left out the words, “DO NOT,” because after all, who wouldn’t want their daughter to show off her amazing couch flipping skills? So not only did I kick one lady in the face with my cartwheel, but the quarter in my hand flew into the other lady’s cup of tea. Lord knows how she didn’t realize that, but I did try to tell my mother. The lady found the quarter. I won’t say how.
Don’t ask me how all the above mentioned antics ended up in a polished package of a fine violinist, college cheerleader, happily married woman with five kids including a set of my own twins.
Well, now that you’ve got my back story, I want to introduce you to my latest and most favorite character that I’ve written about. Her name is Graciela. She isn’t me, but she’s pretty darn close. In fact, I wish she were real so I could be her BFFL. She’s got the brilliant older sister and a mother who holds a tight reign. Graciela is kind and loving, but she’s always the insecure underdog.
But her life is about to change.
I wrote, “Margarita Goes to the Dance,” as a Middle-Grade book, and I am in love with that genre. I’m still in it for the long haul with romance, but I had to follow my heart on this one. It’s not published, but I’m including a looksee of the opening chapter because I absolutely want to share it.
In short, I just want girls to know that even though they may sometimes feel like ugly ducklings, doing all the wrong things, they’re really swans. (Thank you, Hans Christian Andersen). Each of us has a beautiful individuality, and we all have something amazing to give to the people around us, to this world. In my book, everyone was so focused on Margarita, that they forgot to see the beauty in Graciela, but that never stopped her from being confident in herself. And in the end, she learns what her gift is, and she’s even more beautiful for it.
What’s your gift?
Margarita Goes to the Dance
Just before dinnertime, my sister slams her book shut and shouts, “Done!” with a satisfaction that makes me bite down even harder on the yellow pencil I’ve been chewing on while I add and subtract decimals. She shuffles papers and zips her backpack down below me in the bottom bunk.
“I’m done, too,” I say very matter-of-factly, but it’s a lie.
“Graciela, you’re such a liar,” she pops her head up to my territory on the top bunk, and I slap my hands over my papers to cover them. I give her a scowl. Sometimes, I wish I were a bed-wetter.
Drip, drip, drip.
I’m only five math problems into twenty, and I still have reading homework. I sigh and watch quietly as Margarita now brushes her long dark hair with our abuelita’s small silver brush. She’s changed into her favorite lavender shirt, some jeans, and the new sandals that I bought her.
I decide to surrender to math and flick my poor pencil from my fingers, and it rolls across my notebook like it wants to escape from my mouth. It’s rough and splintered. Maybe tonight when I brush my teeth, I’ll spit out pencil splinters when I rinse. I dig around in my backpack and make sure I have a fresh pencil for tomorrow. My new victim.
My sister is making eye contact with herself in the long mirror of our bedroom like she’s so in love with herself. Any minute now, I think she’s going to close her eyes and press her face against the mirror and give herself smooches like we see in the movies. But she doesn’t.
I spread out over my math, folding my arms and resting my head. I watch my sister as she slowly brushes from top to bottom, through that thick hair that she claims is dark and rich like our dad’s coffee. She used to brush my hair like that when we were little. We’d sit on our abuelita’s porch and she’d take that silver brush and drag it from top to bottom, yanking on my tangles. I’d let her do anything she wanted, braids, buns, colitas. She was the only one I’d ever let brush my hair. Not my mother, not my grandmother, just Ita.
I don’t call her Ita anymore.
My daydreams of the good old days in Mexico, on my grandmother’s porch, with my very best friend, are interrupted when my ex-best friend, I mean my sister, begins her speaking exercises.
“Beat,” she says slowly, as if she still needs to practice covering up her accent. “Sssspring,” she says, forcing each sound out. I roll my eyes.
When we first came to this country four years ago, she was 11 and I was 9. Our bilingual education teacher told my parents in Spanish, that my sister and I needed to speak English to each other at home. We didn’t even know that much, only what we had started to pick up at school like, “Hi,” and “Good morning,” “Yes,” “No,” “I need to go to the restroom.”
My mother nodded appreciatively at our teacher, but her burning eyes told another tale. When we got home, she put Margarita and I up against the wall in our living room and in her loud, angry, Spanish voice, told us we could never speak English in our home. She said if we did, we would lose the ability to speak in our mother tongue, so we promised her to never, ever speak even one word of English at home, ever. That was fine with me, because we didn’t know how to speak English anyway, but my sister cried about it in our beds that night.
A few days later, Margarita began a plan she said would save us.
Every morning before school, when our parents walked out of the house and down our three porch steps for work, Margarita put that plan into action. She’d order me to wait on our old brown sofa. I’d obey and play with the little burn spots from the last owner’s cigarettes, and she’d go into the kitchen to prepare our breakfast. Then we’d sit on the sofa together with plates of eggs and warm tortillas on our laps and repeat, repeat, and repeat the letter of the day, sounds, and words. If I didn’t do it, she’d hit me in the head. If I said anything that didn’t sound like what Grover said, she’d hit me again.
The characters of Sesame Street, little blue Grover, Maria, who looked exactly like my Tia Patricia, Big Bird, they were our new American family, and spending my mornings with them was the best part of my day. They didn’t laugh at me when I tried to speak English. They didn’t see my brown skin and tell me how ugly I was.
I loved my Sesame Street family very much.
My sister and I still don’t speak English at home, well not in front of our parents anyway, but we know it perfectly now.
“Beat” now sounds like it should instead of “Bit.” “You” doesn’t sound like “Chooo.” That’s a big deal for my sister.
She’s on the last word of her list, “sock,” which used to sound like “eh sock,” when our mother calls us to dinner.
“Muchachitas, vengan a cenar!” She yells from the kitchen.
“Why are you combing your hair for dinner?” I crinkle my nose with annoyance.
Margarita’s reflection glares back at me. “At least I comb my hair,” she snaps.
“I comb my hair, too.” I roll my eyes at her, but while she’s putting our grandmother’s hairbrush away in the drawer, I run a hand quickly over the top of my head to double check for stray hairs. Of course there are lots. Oh well.
Margarita wears her long hair down on her shoulders or up in pretty ponytails and buns that she makes so perfectly. I, on the other hand, keep my hair pulled back with rubber bands, dental floss, string, or anything else that will hold it back when it annoys me.
She presses down her shirt, flicks her hair, and stomps out of our room. I hop off the bed, open her drawer, and I take our abuelita’s little silver brush and shove it into the coolness under my sister’s pillow. “Perdoname, Abuelita,” I whisper up to Heaven, hoping my grandmother is not too mad at me. But my sister deserves it.
A smile spreads across my face as I imagine my sister stomping and yelling while she looks for that hairbrush because she brushes her “eh sthuped” hair every night before bed.