She’s Fine

Mama yells through the thin door into our room. I am still asleep but I know what she says anyways. Levantense, she shouts. Three hard raps on the door, shaking it off its hinges. I am still asleep, but my hands roll the blanket back and my feet start walking before they hit the floor. Carlitos and Carina are talking, eyes still closed, burrowing deeper under the blankets. Turn on the light and they start whining as I put on pants over socks. Shirt over bra. Sweatshirt over shirt.

Cold water on the face. Check the teeth. Rinse.

Mama is in the kitchen and Papa is already out the door.

“Jesuuuuuuu, Veronica, is that how you’re going to school today? Your hair is a mess! You look like a bruja!” My mother barely lifts her head from the stove where she is frying a shitload of eggs.

I say nothing and set four paper bags on the counter. Three plastic cups of fruit are left. I skip Carlitos because he never eats them anyways. Juice boxes. Tamales from the fridge. Three paper bags into backpacks, and one on the counter for Hector.

Into the living room where Carlitos and Carina already stuff newspapers into those thin plastic bags. Hector will deliver them before he goes to class at the continuation school. If he decides to go today.

Carlitos is little enough that he will hold my hand without putting up a fight. Carina walks a few steps behind, just to prove she can.

Left one block. Right two blocks. Left six more blocks.

Carina takes his hand, like we practiced. They start walking inside and I lose them as soon as they pass the metal gate.

Two blocks back. Right four blocks. Café costs sixty-five cents here, but I save my money.

I avoid the bridge over the train tracks because a boy in my class got jumped there last week. They took his phone, his shoes. Being a girl, I might not be a target. Being a girl, I might be another kind of target. Three extra blocks to go around the bridge.

In the grassy courtyard at school, I hit the crowd of students and look for Leti. She is standing by the music room, looking at her phone. She doesn’t look up when I come near, just starts talking.

“Did you see what that pendeja Beatriz said on Facebook last night?” I lean in as she tilts the screen toward me. Curse, to show I disapprove of that pendeja Beatriz.

Leti is beautiful. So beautiful, I’m afraid to ask why we’re still friends. She has this crazy hair that she can make straight or white girl curly. A few weeks ago she got her cousin in beauty school to give her some blonde highlights and she looks like she doesn’t belong in high school anymore. After hours of studying YouTube videos, she knows how to put on paint and powder and change the angles of her face. She looks older. Not better.

I look at Leti as she moves her lips, flips her hair with a shake of her head. But my ears pick up conversations around us. Imagined conversations, but real all the same.

“Look at Leti, she’s so fine,” the boys say.

“Why does she hang out with that gay girl, what’s-her-name?” the girls say.

“Look at Leti, she’s so fine,” they all say.

First bell rings and I want to start walking. But Leti always waits.

Second bell rings and she looks at me with fake panic in her eyes.

“Vero! We’re gonna be late!” Throws her head back laughing, so I do the same. I laugh so people will look at us. I laugh so they will not see me. Still laughing, we walk to Science with Mr. Jimenez. On the way, Leti starts in about my clothes again.

“Girl, you know you’re pretty cute. If we just got you something to wear that don’t look like gym clothes, you’d be mad cute.” I slide my eyes toward her and try not to smile.

“Some nice tight jeans.” She pinches the baggy sweats I wear.

“We could even brush your hair!” She paws at my head, petting me like a dog.

Now I laugh for real.

Third period should have been English with Mrs. Elmwood. But there is a young white lady sitting in Mrs. Elmwood’s chair. She is not old Mrs. Elmwood, who has lines deep in her face and something that makes her shuffle when she walks. No, this white lady is young, not much older than Hector, I bet. But her eyes are blue like antifreeze or Gatorade.

She stands, clears her throat. We wait.

“As you can see, Mrs. Elmwood is not here today. I am your substitute. Your assignment is to finish chapter five and answer the questions. I wrote it on the board so there’s no confusion.”

“Excuse me, Miss?” Leti blinks her heavy eyelashes.


“Chapter five of what?”

The class erupts in laughter so loud, the young white lady takes two steps back. She holds up the heavy English textbook like a shield in front of her belly. For the first time, I see the cover has a painting of a white woman in a long dress sitting on a bench in a garden. It’s one of those paintings where the colors swirl together like the painter left it out in the rain by mistake. A mess of red hair surrounds her face, and it’s impossible to tell if she looks sad or disappointed.

The young white lady starts shouting like most teachers do. Books. Paper. Pencils.

Leti raises her hand.

“I like your eyes, Miss,” she murmurs, her voice suddenly like cotton balls.

“Um, thank you?” the woman sputters, Gatorade eyes sliding across her face in a quiet panic.

Leti stands up and starts walking to the door, and I can feel everybody’s dark eyes on her.

“Where are you going?” Gatorade asks, suddenly awake.

“Nurse. My head hurts from all this noise.” Leti winks at me but I know Gatorade sees.

With Leti gone, there is nobody to talk to. I try to read. But there is too much talking.

Beatriz leans back in her chair, phone propped on the desk, earbuds dangling. Her face is round, with a curtain of black hair down to her ass. Her nose is flat, and her eyes are brown like Leti’s and mine. She is beautiful, too. Gatorade walks over and tells her to get to work. Beatriz smiles, all teeth.

A boy sitting next to her leans over and whispers loudly to the teacher. Brown eyes on Beatriz.

“Miss, don’t talk to her.”

“Why not?”

“She’s burned.”

Beatriz’s smile is out like a candle.

“I’m sorry?”

“Burned. Quemado.”


“I’m sorry?”

She really doesn’t get it. Tell her. Don’t tell her. Beatriz looks at her brown hands crumpled on the desk.

The boy leans across his desk, sticking his café con leche finger into her cheek. He pretends to look serious but there is a smile dancing on his lips. He looks at Beatriz.

“Look at her skin, Miss. She’s so dark she musta got burned. Her mama musta left the oven on, and she musta crawled inside… you know?”

Gatorade licks her skinny lips and stares at Beatriz. He continues, brown eyes on her brown skin.

“We don’t talk to burned bitches here.”


Beatriz smiles up at the white lady. There are no teeth in her smile, only chin pushed out and lips pulled back. It is impossible to tell if she looks sad or disappointed.

Third bell rings. We rush the door. I lose Beatriz before my feet hit the hallway.

Later I find Leti standing by the cafeteria. She is talking to some boys, some of them from Mrs. Elmwood’s class. They are laughing, and she flips her hair with a shake of her head.

“Vero!” Like she hasn’t seen me in years. I feel the boys’ eyes on her as she skips over, hair waving.

Arms around my neck. She pats my wild hair like a dog. Puts her heavy eyelashes close to mine.

“What did I miss in Elmwood’s class?” she asks.

“Nothing,” I say.