This week I am doing something different (and scary). I’m sharing the beginning of what I wrote during NaNoWriMo. This isn’t edited, it’s a very rough draft but it’s been sitting on my computer since November and I want to motivate myself to dust it off and work on it. The story is set in Puerto Rico. I hope to slowly share more excerpts during the coming months.
The hardest part was always summoning the energy to get out of bed. Hitting the snooze was tempting but that would only delay the inevitable. In one brusque movement she stripped the sheets from her body and immediately felt the chilly morning air invade her cocoon of warmth.
Getting dressed in the morning was blessedly easy. Having a uniform suited her just fine. Her school uniform was a suit of armor to her. It was the only time she fit in and felt sure of herself. It was so difficult to figure out what to wear outside of school. Her fat rolls and flabby arms were difficult to hide and even when she found something she liked visually she had a difficult time wearing it. If only she lived in a cold climate where long sleeves and big sweaters were necessary. If only she didn’t live on a tropical island on the Caribbean.
Her hair was a mess this morning. The coarse curls were tangled into something that could not be wrestled into anything she was comfortable wearing to school. She would have to shower. Her hair could not be brushed dry lest she wanted a huge puff of frizz on top of her head. She hated showering in the morning. Doing so meant that she would not be able to read while leisurely eating her breakfast.
“Fernanda, are you going to want some of the eggs I’m making?” her mother asked.
“I’m having oatmeal. Thank you.” she replied.
Sighing she made her way into the bathroom where she made quick work of getting herself ready for the day. Thirty minutes later she was sitting at the table stirring a little sugar into her oatmeal.
“You shouldn’t be eating all that sugar,” her dad said shaking his head. “You are fat enough as it is. Cut out all that sugar and you’ll be healthy in no time.”
“So you’d rather I ingest chemicals instead? Splenda isn’t health food, Dad.” Fernanda retorted icily.
“Ay, mija don’t listen to him. He’s just trying to get a rise out of you.” her mother whispered in her ear.
Fernanda didn’t say anything. She left the table in silence, grabbed her keys and her bag, and left for school.
She was hungry and her anger at her father made her hungrier. This made her angry all over again because she didn’t want him to have this power over her. Tears of hurt ran down her cheeks and in a fit of rage she decided to stop for some hot chocolate and doughnuts on her way to school. Her oatmeal, she knew, would have been a healthier choice. But her dad had pissed her off and hurt her feelings and so she had left without eating her breakfast.
On this particular morning she was more grateful than ever to have her own car. Driving herself to school had been liberating and with only a few weeks of high school left it was the perfect time to be independent. She pulled into the school parking lot with plenty of time to spare. She threw her trash into the nearest trash can before finding a quiet spot to sit and read.
“You always have your nose in a book,” a deep male voice observed.
“Carlos, you know this is what I do every morning. Why do you feel the need to point it out?”
He shrugged and smiled.
“What are you reading?” he asked.
“Biology notes. We have a test next week.”
“Next week and you’re sitting here going over your notes on a Friday. You’ve got all weekend for that.”
“I don’t want to be holed up studying all weekend. Are you coming out with us tonight?” she asked him.
“I have to help my uncle with some stuff after school but I’ll join you guys later.”
Fernanda nodded and gave him a small smile before returning her eyes to her notes. Carlos unfolded his tall frame from his spot next to her and went off in search of who knows what. He was never still.
The school day went by without incident and by the time the last bell rang both students and teachers were eager to get their weekend started. Nobody seemed to linger on campus on a Friday. Fernanda always lingered. She would organize her locker, file her notes, and help her home room teacher organize the classroom. Years ago it had become a way for her to hide from the rest of the students. Whenever the students assembled en masse it was common for somebody to hurl an insult at her. They called fat, they called her ugly. They teased her about being a bookworm.
Why is it, she wondered, that fat and ugly are considered to go together but thin and ugly aren’t? There were some plain girls in her class but they were thin so they belonged. Even the plain girls who weren’t totally skinny got respect because they had fair skin and light eyes. It didn’t pay to be dark skinned and fat. Would it ever?
She pressed harder as she erased the chalkboard, willing her frustration and sadness be absorbed by it. She was lucky to have friends. Not all her peers were assholes but the ones that were really got to her. Today was a bad day, her father made sure of that. On any other day she would not be so down on herself but she allowed herself these pity parties because sometimes we just need to feel down. Sometimes, we need to rage a little before picking ourselves up and telling everybody to piss off.
On her way home she decided she would not address her father. She picked up a sandwich from Subway and ate it in the car so that she would be done with it by the time she got home. She carefully balled up her trash and snuck it into the trashcan in the kitchen. She didn’t want to hear it about eating out. At least she had skipped the soda and gotten water. She could feel good about that.
Her mom was folding laundry in the family room and her dad was, thankfully, not home yet. She kissed her mom hello and helped her with the laundry. The two of them worked quietly together.
“How was school?” her mom finally asked once they were finished.
“It was ok. Nothing interesting happened.”
“Are you planning on going out tonight?”
“We’re just going out for a drive around town. No plans to go anywhere in particular.”
Her mother nodded and asked her to be home by 2 a.m. At the latest. Fernanda nodded and smiled. Her mother always gave her the same spiel knowing full well that Fernanda was never out past midnight.
“Mari I’m on my way now what do you mean you’re not ready? Well, I’m about to get into my car so you better be quick about it. We aren’t even going anywhere!”
Fernanda tossed her phone into her bag and got into her car. Ten minutes later she was parked in front of Mari’s house waiting for her friend to make an appearance. Surprisingly she didn’t have to wait long.
“Happy? I didn’t even primp!” Mari yelled.
Fernanda laughed. “You always primp. You smell good, is that a new splash?” she asked.
“Yea, my uncle’s wife brought it this week. I asked her to bring me stuff from Bath and Body. I can’t remember the name of it.”
Mari clicked on her seatbelt and they were off.
Carlos and Alex were waiting for them on the corner of their street. The pair jumped in the back seat and immediately demanded they change the music.
“My car, my music” Fernanda announced firmly.
Carlos raised his hands in defeat before sitting back and closing his eyes. His foot tapping to the beat.
“Let’s go see that old ass tree,” Alex suggested as they drove around aimlessly.
“La Ceiba?” Fernanda asked, already mapping out the route in her head.”
“Yea, the park is probably closed by now but I think there’s a hole in the fence somewhere, “ Alex answered.
“It’s probably not safe to go. Maybe we should go during visiting hours,” Mari said nervously.
“It’s just a park, Mari. It’s going to be ok. You are always so nervous. Chill out,” Carlos said to her.
“We’ll just go take a peek. If it looks sketchy we leave,” Fernanda said so as to reassure her.
“Fine,” Mari agreed.
They arrived at the park and found it well lit and open. Something none of them expected. It was empty save for a few people who looked to be on their way out. They nodded to them as they passed each other. The enormous tree was dying. Its once majestic branches were brittle and just recently one had rotted to the point it had to be cut down.
“It’s so sad to see it like this,” Fernanda said.
“They say it’s only a matter of time. It’s over 500 years old. Imagine, all the history this tree has lived through. If only it could talk, tell us something important,” Alex said softly.
“They’re probably going to study it. It will have something to tell I’m sure,” Mari offered.
The group stared at the tree in silence. It was almost like they were at a wake.
“Did you see that?” Carlos asked nervously. His voice breaking up the peaceful contemplation of the others.
“See what?” Alex asked.
“I thought I saw a small bulge come out from the tree. It’s very slight but it’s there,” Carlos said.
Nobody else saw anything and after a bit of discussion they decided that whatever Carlos saw wasn’t there.