"Caliente!" I exhale to my mother as I swallow the bite of burning ham and cheese pizza. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Jeremy swiftly walking to our booth. I uncrumple my napkin, wipe my face, and sit up straight. Jeremy is a teenager. He is cute. Dark, shiny hair swept across his eyes and his smile shines with metallic bands. Oh man, I can't wait until I'm a teenager! I'm going to have hot pink braces and a boyfriend just like Jeremy. No, I'm blushing. Don't blush! Don't blush, breathe. He's getting closer.
"Do you ladies need anything else?" I melt at the sound of his voice. He turns and smiles at me, and I giggle and turn away, hiding my face in the cracked red leather of the booth seat. I peek up above the table, and I see Mami's glare. Mami hates it when I act like a "child" in public. I can't help it that my future love just looked at me!
"No, thank you Jeremy, the pizza is great as always," Mami exclaims. She turns to me, " Flora stop it, you are now ten years old. You only have a few more years to grow up, so you might as well start now." Jeremy smirks and turns away, returning to the counter with the same efficiency with which he came to me.
I turn to look outside the giant glass window while I eat my scorching pizza. It is raining. Hard. Thunderstorms are so much more exciting than boring rain. The downpour lightens up a little bit, and I can see across the street to the concrete cinderblock wall of another building. There is a massive AJK written in big bold red spray paint letters. Alice. Josephine. Kippling. I stop chewing. My heart accelerates and my palms sweat. Yes, Mami is right. I am alive at ten years old, I need to start acting like it. I need to act like it because I can. I am alive.
"Flora, we need to talk now. Look at me, babi," She looks at me cautiously and with deep intent. I dread what she is going to say. As she starts, the lump in my throat comes up hard and my eyes sting. "It is time you see your father. Your brothers and sisters will be there for Christmas. He called me and said you are expected to go."
A tear runs down my hot face. I look my mother dead in the eyes, "Papi does not love me. And why do you keep saying they are my brothers and sisters? David, Alex, and Lexi are not my siblings. Stop making me go to him! Please Mami. Please." The tears ran down my face now. Mami reached out and grabbed my hand from across the table.
"Flora, I will do what I can. As long as your father is helping me put food in your mouth and clothes on your body, you must see him. You may not like him, but he is thinking of you everyday, I promise. I would not make you do something that would hurt you. Do not disrespect the people that love you."
I look down so Mami can't see me roll my eyes. My father is not a good man. I will not see him.
The door is shut and the light reflects off the indigo walls. Scraps of paper lay across the floor and tubes of glitter glue surround our project. Shakira's latest CD streams through the glowing blue speakers and drowns out only some of the sounds. Three knocks on the door. Pause. Two knocks. Pause. One knock. It was Fran's secret knock. I ran to the door and cracked it open slowly only so I could see half is face, "Are you hungry? I think they are in the garage," he whispers.
I look back at Ines across the room, the art project surrounding her on the cream carpet, "Fran wants to know if we are hungry." She looks up at me with her beautifully shaped almond eyes and pushes the sleek dark hair from her face,"Tell him to be careful. Nico is going to need to cover his moves. If he is successful, he needs to return with the dulce de leche and the alfajores and cheesy polenta Mami made last night. That should be good."
I turned to Fran, "Got it?"
"Just be careful," I said as I shut the door.
My pillow is cold and wet from my tears as I wake up from my after school nap. Mami's warm hand strokes my back... I must have had another bad dream. The smell of fresh empanadas floods my senses, and I am brought back to today. Mami helps me wipe my face and leaves so I can collect myself before dinner. I hear the rain. How is it still raining? I eventually push my feet down onto the floor and patter into the main room of the apartment. A large caesar salad sits in the center of the dark green table cloth and a small basket of empanadas sits in the center. Mami cooks my favorites when she knows I'm sad. Empanadas con Carnes with jalapenos and cilantro sounded so good, but my mouth was still burnt from the pizza last night. After dinner, Mami tells me to take out the trash. I wrap up the big black bag and she opens the door for me. I take a right and head down the dim hallway to the chute. I like taking the trash out because I can pretend I am living on my own. But it is really spooky. The lights buzz as they flicker on and off, and cockroaches scurry across the dusty tile floor. I run on my toes with the heavy bag over my shoulder. I glance at each number to my right as I pass by 8 10 12 14 16. Ow! My big to on my right foot folds over itself and I fall to my knees, the bag flying up and over me and sliding across the floor. I roll over and look at my right foot. My toes is bleeding, badly. I stand up slowly, rubbing my knees and turn to see the big black bag of trash... floating down the hallway. The metal chute flap opens, and I hear it clank down the intestines of the grimy building. I sink back down onto the tile, my small body quivering. What was that? How did that happen? Is that God? Am I dying? You already took Alice!
Something warm grabs my arm and lifts me up from my knees. I don't even feel my injuries as I turn and sprint to 6.