Authors: Lynne Ewing
Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Literature & Fiction, #Social & Family Issues, #Peer Pressure, #Violence, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Sword & Sorcery
“I love you, Ana,” I said. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had or ever will have.”
“You’re my best friend, too,” she said, and kissed my forehead, then used her thumb to rub away the lipstick stain.
We were fifth to go on. Flashing red and blue lights swept over the crowd and stage. The room smelled of sweat, smoke, beer, and longing. Three, maybe four hundred people were there. Guys mostly, in bagged-out jeans and Pendletons and baseball caps worn backward, but some girls stood in the audience checking out the competition and trying to keep their boyfriends in line. When we walked onstage, guys clapped, whistled, and yelled, “O.C. O.C.” It felt like everyone knew us. We worked hard to build a big reputation. We practiced until our muscles felt like rubber and our feet throbbed, and then we practiced some more. Anything felt possible if the music was right.
The pounding bass beat started, shaking the corrugated metal walls, making my heart beat louder, faster. Ana and I danced.
We began like boats on the waves, up and down, Ana
with her hands on my hips, our bodies working as one, swaying with the rhythm of the tides until we became the waves themselves moving across a distant ocean. Finally we were the music, floating free. This was better than any drug. We danced and the audience followed us in a trance, forgetting their problems and soaring into the night.
We kept moving, undulating, sweat dripping from our bodies. Our feet intertwined, a slow trickle of steps that rushed into a cascade of spinning footwork, without a stumble. Ana and Kata skipping over sea foam.
Honeysuckle blossoms dropped from our hair. Guys jumped onto the stage and scooped up the wilted flowers, then jumped from the stage and held the sweet flowers to their noses.
Some girls slapped their boyfriends for looking at us with such hot-blooded desire. Others took their boyfriends to the dark shadows in the back, kissing, blouses unbuttoned, jeans unzipped, hands seeking love but never finding it.
We knew the music had stopped when the guys started clapping and our souls fell back to earth. Ana smiled at me, and I smiled back. Dancing was our deliverance.
“Kata, you’re the best,” she yelled above the applause. “Your dancing has duende.”
“Magic?” I yelled back. “I just follow you.”
“No,” she said. “You got it. The talent.”
We floated off the stage, the clapping a roar of surf
behind us, and couldn’t feel the blisters bleeding in our shoes.
After us the contest became scandalous. Crews started stripping, not naked, but taking off shirts and dancing in fuchsia silk bras or slinking from their tight black skirts and dancing in Day-Glo pink panties. They had to do more to beat us—show more skin as a way to win.
Ana and I won anyway.
The security guards helped us sneak out the back. Too many guys wanted to meet us, so we couldn’t wait for a bus at the stop. We walked home, eating bananas and drinking water, Ana swinging our trophy, the Santa Ana winds whipping our honeysuckle-smelling hair into our eyes. I pulled my coat tight around me.
At the corner of Arden and Fifty-third we stopped under the amber glow of the street lamp. Overhead, palm fronds scraped softly against each other, back and forth, lulling us with their constant rhythm into feeling safe and alone. On Fifty-third Street it was dangerous to ever feel safe. Our neighborhood was a war zone, divided by hatred stronger than barbed-wire fences. Kids I hadn’t played with in elementary school were now my friends, and kids I had traded lunches with were now my enemies because we lived in different neighborhoods. We fought over crumbling cement and potholed streets that didn’t even belong to us.
“You want to go to the field?” I asked. The field was a
vacant lot down by the L.A. River where we kicked it with our homies and drank forties and tequila.
She shook her head but didn’t move to go home. At first I thought the wind was making her eyes water, but then I knew something was wrong.
“What’s up?” I said. “You’ve been weird since the bus.”
She shook her head and stood there shivering. I took off my coat and gave it to her.
“I’m pregnant,” she whispered.
I felt a pinch of anger.
“You let Pocho own you?” I said. I couldn’t believe she had kept something that big a secret from me. Then I saw Ana’s sad face and knew from her expression that I had let her down gacho by getting angry and not listening.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “What do you want me to do?”
She didn’t say anything. Her face, half in light, half in shadow, looked like a mask. She was frightening me the way she stared at me.
“Didn’t you want to get pregnant?” I asked. In our neighborhood girls were happy when they got pregnant. Some even tried to get pregnant, putting holes in condoms or lying about taking the pill, so they could face out, quit the gang life, and collect their welfare. They sexed boys they didn’t even like because they were dreaming so hard about babies. I thought about Pocho, how happy he was going to be.
“I wanted to get pregnant so I could get out of the life,” she said, but her eyes drifted like she was talking to someone behind me. “It scares me, the things we do. Don’t you think about it? The fighting? The partying? What are we going to do when we’re viejas? Hang out at the river and show off our skinny-bone butts to the boys?”
I laughed. I couldn’t imagine two old ladies doing what we did.
“But now I’m scared about this,” Ana said.
“Don’t think about the future,” I said. “We’re party girls, ésa.”
“Yeah, don’t think about the future, because we don’t get one,” she said.
Ana was only fourteen. Her mother and sisters were planning a big quinceañera for her. Her family didn’t have much, but they celebrated everything. They loved Ana, and their love blinded them to seeing the life she lived. None of them saw the fear that gripped her heart every morning when she stepped out the front door. Every day she walked to school, eyes darting, scoping the neighborhood, wondering if this was the day she’d get blasted. Our school sits in the middle of enemy territory. No way around it. You want to go to school? You have to go through it. I had to go to school so Mom could get her welfare. Ana had to go to school because she loved the reading and the learning, even the math. I wasn’t smart like Ana. Teachers said she’d go to
college. The same teachers told me I’d end up in prison if I didn’t die first.
“I can’t stop thinking about it,” Ana said. “The risks we took jacking all those cars.”
“That was fun,” I said. “You liked it.”
“We could have hurt someone,” she said.
“But we didn’t,” I said.
“What about when we were chased down by the cops?”
“We got away,” I said. “And now it’s a funny story to tell our homies.”
“But it still makes my heart race. Sometimes I lie in bed and think of what we did, and then I pray to Mother Mary to look into her heart and pray for me.”
“You were never scared of anything,” I said. “Not even hell.”
“Don’t tell me you believed my act.” Ana laughed bitterly. “Cuidado, or you’ll start to believe your own.”
I searched her face, trying to see her fear.
“I was always scared,” she said. “And now I’m scared of this. How am I going to tell my mom?”
Ana brushed the hair from her face. Her eyes met mine, and for a moment I saw another person inside Ana’s body, someone trapped and wanting to break free. She turned from me and faced the wind, but I had already seen tears edge to the corners of her eyes.
“Your mom loves you,” I said, wishing I had been born to
Ana’s mother. “Just tell her. What’s the problem? Lots of girls at our school are pregnant or have kids.”
“My sisters got married first,” Ana said. “And what about Amelia?”
Amelia was her younger sister, behind us two years in school. Ana was always fussing over her and telling her what to do so she wouldn’t get in trouble.
“I don’t want Amelia to fall into the life,” she said.
“Don’t worry. Amelia can take care of herself. Your mom’s going to understand, and Pocho’s going to be really happy,” I said.
“It’s not Pocho’s,” she said, and passed her hands over her face as if she were pushing away a sad memory. “Pocho and I haven’t. I don’t love him.”
The wind was playing tricks with me, stealing words from Ana’s mouth. She couldn’t have said Pocho wasn’t the father, but already my mind was going through all the guys in the gang that she might have been with. I couldn’t think of any. Pocho wouldn’t let any of the guys hang around her. He was too jealous.
“What’s Pocho going to do when he finds out?” she said.
“He’ll understand,” I said, but that wasn’t what I was thinking. Pocho thought he was the baddest cholo in L.A. County. He was paranoid and jumpy. Even if someone bumped into him accidentally, he acted aggressive and out of control. Some girls thought that made him more of a
man, but I knew Pocho’s real story. He hated me for knowing the soft places inside him. There was always a tension between Pocho and me, as if someday we were going to have to fight it out. Maybe it was going to be over this. Ana’s baby.
“We could run away,” I said. I’d been begging Ana to run away for a long time. “You and me, we could raise the baby. I could get a job, lie about my age, pick up money dancing in bars or steal it from some gabachos.”
She shook her head. “There’s no escape.”
Then in the distance tires squealed. A motor revved, and a Chevrolet Monte Carlo blasted out of the darkness and turned the corner, its headlights blinding me.
“You recognize it?” I asked.
The car slowed, then stopped in front of us.
“Who is it?” Ana asked. “Can you see?”
I didn’t recognize anyone. The guys all had the look, but they didn’t have the dead eyes of guys on a mission. Lots of times after the go-go battles, guys tried to find us, flirt with us, and ask us out.
“Just a bunch of busters,” I said.
“Nobodies,” Ana said, but the sound of her voice made me think she was mocking me.
The back window rolled down, and a sawed-off shotgun pointed at us from the backseat. The shadowy face over the gun yelled an enemy gang name in a low, growling voice.
I jumped behind a Dodge parked near the street corner and rested my face in the wet grass, waiting for them to blast us.
“You down, Ana?” I said, the grass flicking my tongue and lips as I spoke, the taste of dirt filling my mouth.
When Ana didn’t answer, I looked up. She stood at the corner, waiting for bullets. At first I thought she was showing how brave she was. That’s how she got her street name, Chancey: always taking chances. I thought she’d duck at the last second.
Instead she faced the car defiantly, throwing our gang sign, my black coat flapping behind her like giant wings.
“Ana!” I screamed.
The guy holding the gun hesitated as if he didn’t know if he should shoot a girl or not, or maybe he was seeing Ana’s face, her soft, beautiful angel eyes, and he was falling in love with those eyes that were right now daring him to kill her.
“Ana, get down!”
“I chose the music,” Ana said. “Now I’m going to dance.”
I sprang from behind the Dodge as angry white fire split the night. Ana and I rolled to the ground with gunfire spraying over us, hitting trees, chipping the cement curb, and shattering car windows.
The Monte Carlo screeched away, turning the corner too tight. The hubcaps scraped against the curb, showering red sparks onto the sidewalk.
I clung to Ana, the smell of honeysuckle filling my lungs, my ears still ringing from the gunshots.
“Chancey, you’re as crazy as it gets. Wait till I tell everyone what you did.”
Ana didn’t answer.
Then I felt something warm and frightening soak into my blouse and trickle across my chest and neck, finally mixing with my tears.
A siren rose above the wind’s wailing, and footsteps gathered on the sidewalk, crunching dead leaves and gravel, stopping a respectful distance from where I lay with Ana on top of me. In the dark sky overhead a helicopter’s blades thumped. Then a white spotlight shone down on us. A sheriff’s car pulled to the curb, and red and blue flashing lights slid over us for the second time that night.
Finally paramedics lifted Ana off me, placed her on a stretcher, and carried her to the back of an ambulance, her blood dripping on the grass, the street, the ambulance floor.
I stood. Ana’s blood covered my blouse. Tiny rivulets streamed down my arms and legs. People thought I had been shot, too.
An old woman with deep wrinkles in her leather face crossed herself and said, “Milagro.”
Then another woman, her black shawl flapping wildly around her face, said something about the devil winds bringing me back to life, and they all stepped
away from me as if the wind had possessed my body.
A paramedic sat me on the ground and wrapped a blanket around my shoulders.
“I’m not hit,” I said. “It’s Ana. Get her to the hospital.”
He smiled at me sadly. “Just let me check you,” he said.
“It’s Ana’s blood,” I said. “Not mine. Please, take her to the hospital. Don’t waste time on me.”
He took my blood pressure anyway and checked my arms and legs and chest. Then he snapped his red case closed and stood and stared at the long black tire marks on the street as if he were trying to decide where to go.
“It could have been you, you know?” he said. His voice sounded sad. I didn’t know who he was talking to at first. “Maybe you should think about how this would have hurt your parents—if you had been the dead girl.”
That was when I knew Ana got out for good. Rest in peace.
He looked back at me as if he couldn’t go until I gave him an answer.
I drew in a deep breath to steady my voice.
“The only one who cared just died,” I said softly.
“Sorry,” he said. Then he turned and walked toward the fire department truck as a deputy sheriff walked over to me, her uniform tight over her hips and belly, her heavy shoes scraping against the sidewalk.
The deputy gave me her card. She wanted to know my
name and address and the name of the gang I belonged to. I stared at her. I didn’t have a name without Ana to call it. It had taken the two of us to make one for so long that I wasn’t sure I existed without Ana. My hands started shaking.