by Mayra Lazara Dole
What if you don’t follow the rules and it radically alters the course of your life?
What if you get kicked out of the house and lose all your friends and everyone you love?
Will you turn the corner into a world filled with unusual friends and create a new kind of family or self-destruct?
Originally published by Harper Teen 2008.
Revised edition 2021.
Down to the Bone: Starred Review!
School Library Journal
Brent Hartinger, Geography Club
Colorful and energetic - the bold new trend!
Alex Sanchez, Rainbow Boys
Sun-filled wonderland of friends, choices, broken hearts, honesty, family and love.
Today, the morning rose like a loaf of sweet banana bread. I left the house ready to start living life juicy bite by juicy bite.
It was the last day of school and we were free before lunch. And if that wasn’t the best news ever, it was also my two-year anniversary with Marlena, the love of my life. Her summer vacation started yesterday. She was expecting me at her place to celebrate (if you know what I mean). I couldn’t wait to get out of the mind-numbing last class to visit her.
I was certain that soon Marlena would be in my arms. After a few hours of fun, we’d transform into all the colors of the spectrum until that kaleidoscopic nanosecond where we’d turn luminous, phosphorescent and fly…
But instead, I got myself into a hellish nightmare.
The instant my teacher opened her mouth and hissed like a cobra, I should have run for my life. If only I’d seen what was coming, I would still have a place to live.
I’ve just arrived at the beach by bus to clear my head and figure out where I’m headed.
I look around me.
There’s a light aqua sky. The sand is filled with people who seem joyous, as if their lives haven’t just been ruined.
A girl with a cap and surfing shorts slams congas with her palms: Dún-prak, checke prak!
Girls in bikinis with hair flying all over the place clap and shuffle their feet to the beat.
I stand on the pier, looking down, watching my puppy, Neruda, chase sand crabs. She runs after them and barks. She gets close, and they disappear into their burrows.
I wish my life were so easy.
Just last night, my mom, Marlena and I visited my grandmother in Ft. Lauderdale. She’d finally healed from an appendix operation but still needed help with chores. I didn’t allow my grandma to move a muscle. After the three of us whizzed around the apartment vacuuming, mopping and making a racket washing and drying dishes, Abuela said, “Your mother and I will finish the kitchen. Go on. You girls go have some fun.”
And boy, did we have a blast!
Marlena and I shut ourselves in the basement filled with packaged foods and canned goods (in case of the impending nuclear explosion, of course!) to “watch TV.”
I dipped Marlena in honey and tasted her, bit by bit.
Before you knew it, we were heading back home to pick up my little brother at a friend’s house. Everything was so perfect.
I grab Pedri’s picture from my shoulder bag. His shiny smooth face and sweet harmonica smile gives me hope. “Shyly,” he wrote on the back in his broken English, “you are a big, littol, eskinny, fat, tall, short cooko monthster. I love U berry much! Pedri.”
I walk down to the sand to get Neruda. I throw my towel under two coconut palms leaning against each other like secret lovers. The sun sparkles through fan-shaped greenery. Water laps gently along the shore.
I breathe in the salty smell that reminds me of my mom’s meals. She fried fish every Friday night. I’ll probably never eat her home cooking again. I’ll miss helping her slice, chop and mash as we prepared dinner together while listening to music. Mami’s always been generous with food. Recently, for Marlena’s mom’s birthday, she made a mouth-watering lemon pork dinner. Neighbors were invited for a feast that ended with guava shells and cream cheese, Tania’s favorite desert.
It kills me to think I’ve destroyed my mom’s life, and if I’m not careful, I’ll probably wreck Marlena’s as well.
Marlena and I met a couple of years ago when she moved a block away. She wasn’t allowed to go out much. That’s why we became homework buddies. I got her hooked on magical realism, anime PC games, karaoke and snorkeling. She turned me on to dystopian novels, poetry and chess.
A year later, without warning, our friendship came to a screeching swerve.
We were at the movies eating buttered popcorn from the same bucket. Our fingers met and lingered for an awkward moment. She spent the night. After I shut off the light and plunked down on my side of the bed, there was a minute of hesitation as we kissed each other’s cheeks and said good night.
I had no clue what would transpire between us the following day. I remember it as if it just happened this morning:
Galloping rain and blasting thunder shakes my house. Pedri is spread on the orange living room sofa, watching cartoons. My mom and her boyfriend Jaime sit in the mango-smelling dining room, talking and drinking after-dinner cafecitos.
Marlena and I are sprawled on my bed after dancing our heads off, listening to mixed music of Jaipongan, Middle Eastern and Nu Soul.
She tells me, “My parents won’t allow me to date until I turn sixteen.”
“Woah.” I shake my head. “That’s two years away. I wish they weren’t so strict and let you come to parties with me.”
She smoothes my hair away from my face and plants a kiss on my forehead. “It’s okay. At least they let me come here and spend the night.” Her black eyes sparkle. “I don’t need to go out weekends. Dancing with you is what kissing a girl must be like: the best feeling in the world.”
My heart bangs in my chest. Kissing a girl?
With a flick of the finger, she changes the music to a slow romantic bolero and just lies there searching my eyes.
I bolt from the bed and change the music. Heart-thumping beats vibrate the walls.
I hoist my hip-hugger button-down jeans and mess up my long, straight, sun-streaked hair so it’s crazy-wild. “Come on!”
Marlena jolts out of bed and lands in front of me. She tries to mimic my wild freestyle footwork and bouncy rhythm, but her feet get all tangled up. I rotate my hips before stepping into a twirling cha-cha-cha. “Sleek or what?”
The music ends and for a second there’s sharp silence. We stand face-to-face. A whooshing wind dives in through the bedroom windows, making her long, mahogany curls wave around in the breeze. Her violet eyes seem liquid under the dim light. A beautiful sweetness pours over me.
The walls around me fade. I feel like I’m swimming inside her. Something different is happening within me. She leans into me. Her velvety lips touch mine, and I get goose bumps all over. I feel as if silvery threads of rain are covering my entire body. I’m turning into the sea, becoming one with her, melting.
We kiss for a long, long time…
The memory is snapped out of me when the girl stops banging the congas. The sounds are vacuumed away and it seems as if the world has stopped breathing.
I stare at the rolling waves for comfort, but can’t stop my mind from buzzing with thoughts.
I woke up way too early this morning from the anticipation and excitement I was feeling about getting together with Marlena. With one eye open, I reached for my phone on my night table and texted her:
happy 2 yrs! i ♥ u ♥ u ♥ u. can’t wait to kiss u kiss u kiss u & u know what else…
I lowered the shades and fell back asleep. Soon thereafter, a thudding electrical storm that soaked the city woke me up just in time to catch the bus for school.
My room turned hazy and dark as I stumbled around searching for clothes to wear. I was dying to take a taxi to Marlena’s and get tangled up under the covers with her, but I didn’t allow myself that luxury.
Instead, I left for school.
By the time noon approached, I could barely contain myself from running out of class.
Ms. Alegre—better known as Fart Face—was up on the board writing the name of textbooks we’d need next year. What kind of a senseless thing was that?
I was finishing reading all the sweet, luscious texts Marlena sent me last night after my mom dropped her home—my iPhone was hidden inside my math book. Memories fly to me as if in a 3D film:
…tomorrow is our happy 2 yrs! remember our 1st time?
A looming presence stands before me. “Shai. Didn’t you hear my question?”
I look up. Gray-haired, wrinkly Fart Face tears the phone out of my hands.
She faces the students. “Class. Would you like to hear what’s in Shai’s highly important texts?”
She can’t read my personal texts to the entire class. She can’t!
Everyone, except my best friend Soli, blasts, “Yeah!”
“Please give it back,” I plead. I try to grab my phone with force out of her hands, but she instantly pulls it away.
Fart Face puts on a disgustingly fake smile and walks slowly to her desk. “So these texts are that good, huh?” She speaks to the class. “I’m sure you’d love to hear everything, but I’m afraid I’ll need to use the word ‘bleep’ in place of X-rated words.”
She sits poised on the chair, lowers her reading glasses, and begins:
ur the greatest kisser ever, Scrunchy.
love BLEEP BLEEPING.
tomorrow, when u come over after school, we can BLEEP BLEEP.
i ♥ when u BLEEP, BLEEP.
The guys whistle and shout, “Way to go, Scrunchy!”
“Scrunch-Munch is a beast!” Roberto cheers.
I lower my head and wring my trembling hands. Fart Face walks toward me in almost silent steps. She stops a few feet away from my desk. “Wait until your mother finds out. She’ll just love it.”
She turns to the class.
“Should I continue reading, or are these texts too dull and dreary?”
“Read on!” Everyone, except Soli, goes nuts. She sits wagging her head.
“No! Please, stop,” I beg with my heart in my mouth.
“Quiet!” Fart Face stomps her foot and shuts me up. “Maybe next time you’ll learn to pay attention in class.”
I want to run out of here, but my feet are glued to the floor.
She clears her raspy voice and continues. ur BLEEP, BLEEP and more BLEEPS…
Soli widens her eyes as if telling me, “Grab the phone and run!” But I still can’t move.
i ♥ 2 feel BLEEP.
i go crazy about the way BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP—
Ryki interrupts and teases, “Who’s your secret lovey-dove, huh, Scrunchy?”
My body feels as if a Mack truck is parked on it. I stare out the windows. Lightning bolts threaten the dark sky. The scent of humiliation surrounds me. I gulp hard to try and release the tension, but it doesn’t help.
I think about a white horse picking me up and galloping me full speed out of here. I know my mom will kill me. I’m trapped by Fart Face’s rasping voice, hurting my ears, stabbing me slowly. She’s really enjoying this.
I cover my ears with my hands.
ur my life. i’ll ♥ you till eternity. so glad we’re girls my beautiful Shai Sofía…
The room becomes hushed.
Caro and her girlfriend Maribel smile. “Hey, I didn’t know you were lesbo too! Let’s go to Papaya’s this Friday for the all girl, alcohol-free, dance night!”
Karina, better known as Butchie, shouts with a fist in the air, “Yeah!”
I feel darts shooting at me from my friend CC’s eyes. “You’re a tortillera? You should have told me instead of lying so much about phony guys you liked and a boyfriend in Spain.”
Marlena made me promise not to tell a soul about us. I took it too far by fibbing so much. I owe CC, and all my friends, an apology when the time is right. I hope they accept it.
Bookworm Margarita speaks up. “Give Shai a break. She wasn’t ready to tell you. Don’t be so dense.”
Half the class supports me. “Who cares?” Telia says. “Let’s get together tomorrow night at Pizza Girls and have a big party for Shai and her girlfriend.”
“Woooh hoooooo!” a bunch of people cheer. “Party! Party!”
I try to crack a smile, but the sides of my mouth won’t cooperate. My mom will soon find out what I’ve really been up to every day after school.
Olivia, my friend since fourth grade, scrunches up her face. “Count me out.” She sticks her index finger in her mouth, as if she were about to puke.
Soli comes over and puts an arm around my shoulder. She says to the class, “This is for the jerks: So what if she didn’t tell you bunch of morons about her private life?” She gives attitude just by being her curvy self, with those cantaloupe boobs and perky butt.
Gustavo lets out a gutsy laugh. “I have no problem with lezzies. Let’s have a threesome!”
“A girl sandwich!” Some of the guys get all riled up, laughing uproariously, clapping and stomping their feet. “Let’s do it! Threesome! Threesome!”
“Shush!” Fart Face reprimands. She juts her long pointy chin at Soli. “Go back to your seat, Soledad.”
Soli squeezes me harder to her.
Fart Face untangles Soli’s arm from around me and raises her voice, “Shai, follow me.”