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Authors: Veronica Chambers

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A Formal Affair

BOOK: A Formal Affair
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Copyright © 2011 Jane Startz Productions and Nuyorican Productions

All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.

ISBN 978-1-4231-5434-1

Designed by Tyler Nevins


For my awesome

. Abrazos,


To my sweetest friends and loved ones,

Peter, Jesse, Kate, and Zoë.

Thanks for bringing me so much joy.


October day in southern Miami. Cool and just breezy enough for the palm trees to sway, but still early enough in the season that the rains hadn't begun yet. Carmen Ramirez-Ruben walked down the hall of her school, Coral Gables High. At her left was her best friend in the entire world, Alicia Cruz, and at her right was her second bestie, Jamie Sosa.

One of the coolest things about living in Miami was the diversity of its people. This mix of peoples and cultures was truly reflected at C. G. High, where you really couldn't judge a book by its cover. There were Indian students who were of Arab descent and Pakistanis who were Hindu. Black students might be Latinos from the Dominican Republic and Panama, or African Americans, or Jamaicans or Saint Lucians. A blond, blue-eyed girl might be from Venezuela, and a dark-haired girl with olive skin might be from Kansas.

All this diversity didn't mean that there weren't cliques—the worst of which was the SoBees. They called themselves that because they planned all of the school's socials and benefits. Like the partners of Amigas Inc., the SoBees were a multicultural and multitalented crew. But unlike the
—who, though well liked by their fellow students, were not interested in being part of the superpopular C.G. power elite—the SoBees were zealously dedicated to maintaining their elevated social status.

One member, Maya Clark-Hayward, was a tall, thin African American girl with café au lait skin and thick curly hair that looked like something out of a shampoo commercial. Her mother owned a string of radio stations nationwide, and the inside of Maya's locker was covered with photos of her and the singers and stars whom she had met when they stopped by the locally owned station to do promotions.

Another SoBee, April Yunayama, was Japanese American, and third-generation Miami elite. A collector of designer clothes, she was petite in stature and rail thin. April also loved to discuss people's looks and would ask her two BFF SoBees over and over, on a daily basis, whether the outfit she was wearing made her look fat.

And the third SoBee, Dorinda Carrassquillo, was a Dominican, who was notorious for being the most sarcastic person at C. G. High—and the unofficial head of the group. Her father owned several luxury-car dealerships all over the city. Though she only had a learner's permit, Dorinda had received a car—a Kelly green Escalade—for her
. And because she was too young to drive without an adult with a driver's license accompanying her, the family's maid, Jacinta, was forced to ride along with the SoBees everywhere they wanted to go.

As the three
neared their classroom, the SoBees were putting up posters for the winter formal. “
Hola, chicas
,” Dorinda said, handing the
a snowflake-shaped Save the Date card. “This is going to be the best winter formal ever. You all will probably learn a thing or two for your little party-planning business.”

At the words
, Jamie lurched forward ever so slightly. Carmen put a calming hand on her shoulder and subtly shook her head. Now was not the time or place.

“Thanks,” Alicia said, taking the card. Smiling, she began walking toward the classroom again, her friends close behind.

The SoBees were safely out of earshot when Jamie went ahead and let her Bronx show. “Amigas Inc. is
. It's no ‘little party-planning business.' Girls like her work my last nerve!”

“Forget about it,” Alicia laughed. “They're just jealous. This is going to be our first school formal and I'm totally psyched. Even the SoBees can't ruin that for me.”

“I agree,” Carmen said. “And of course they're jealous. All they know how to do is spend their parents' money to make an event fabulous. They don't worry about budgets or making sure
people are happy.” She cast a disapproving eye as the SoBees teetered away in their five-inch gladiator heels. “We have a
company. Our
are off the hook, and we make all our own loot.”

The summer before, the three girls, joined by Alicia's then close friend—and now boyfriend—Gaspar (Gaz) Colón, had formed their own business, Amigas Incorporated. In what seemed like no time at all, they had become one of the most popular
(Sweet Fifteen) planners in the city—and beyond. Recently, Gaz had decided to quit the business to concentrate on his music, but he still provided playlists and performed at all of Amigas Incorporated's gigs. In an ironic twist, since leaving, Gaz's romance with Alicia had really bloomed; in large part it was because they no longer had to deal with the added tension of having to work together.

As Latinas, Alicia, Carmen, and Jamie knew firsthand just how important a
was, not only to the girl who was turning fifteen, but to her entire family. Traditionally, a
marked a Latina's transition from child to woman, and the ceremony, which started at the church and often culminated in a huge party that lasted until the early hours of the morning, could be as big an event as a wedding. Some parents started saving for a girl's
from the moment she was born. Amigas Inc. had planned
that ranged in budget from $1,000 to $25,000. It was pretty heady stuff for three girls who themselves had all just turned fifteen in the last year. But they had never backed down from a challenge. Ever! When they got together, there wasn't anything they couldn't do. Each girl brought with her to the business a rich cultural heritage and a unique talent.

While the three
had worked hard over the last year, that didn't mean they hadn't played hard, too. Every chance they got, they took off for the beach, hung out at Alicia's house, or checked out one of their favorite hotel pools.

And then there was the dating. That had to be fit in between school, the job, and friend time. But they made it work. Alicia and Gaz were going strong and were the longest lasting couple of the group.

Even the impossible-to-please Jamie was hooked up with someone. Amigas Inc.'s resident artist had grown up in the South Bronx, or the boogie-down, as she liked to call it. A dark-skinned Latina whose family came from the Dominican Republic, she had a blunt and sometimes brutal take on things, which she called “keeping it real.” Amazing though it seemed, Jamie was still dating Dash Mortimer, the salsa-dancing, Spanish-speaking, top-ranked teen golf star she had met when Amigas Inc. had been hired to plan a
for his sister, Bianca. Although Jamie was loath to admit it, it had pretty much been love at first sight for both of them, and they had been nearly inseparable ever since.

And then there were Carmen and Domingo. The gorgeous computer nerd–über hottie and Carmen were practically attached at the hip. Domingo had become a fixture at her house; the couple spent hours together, and when they couldn't see each other, Domingo would send Carmen little love texts to let her know he was thinking about her. It seemed picture perfect.

But at that moment, standing in the hall, when Carmen knew she should have been smiling and laughing and planning for the big dance, she wasn't. Her smile seemed frozen, forced.

Because she and Domingo were over. And she had no date for the dance. And even though she would never have dared admit it out loud, thinking about Domingo still hurt…a lot.

two months now, but Carmen still couldn't believe that she and Domingo were done. And the worst part was, she had been the one to initiate it.

Domingo had been a
—sort of like a knight, without the shining armor—at Carmen's
, a Lati-Jew-na affair that Amigas Inc. had planned to reflect all the different elements of her background. Domingo had also been the first boy that she'd kissed, the first boy that she'd ever taken home to meet her parents, and the first boy who had motivated her parents to call out, “Leave the door open,” whenever the couple went upstairs to her room.

Then Domingo had gotten into his dream school: Savannah College of Art and Design. In Georgia. A full 485 miles away. He planned to study interactive media and video-game design. Although he hadn't chosen it because of her, it was also a school with an excellent program in fashion, and Carmen was a gifted designer. She sewed all of her own clothes, and everything she wore looked as though it had come straight from some major couture house. If in two years, when Carmen was ready for college, they were still together, it might be nice if they were to go to the same school. That was what they told each other:
It might be nice.
No pressure. No heavy-duty plans. Just an open door that beckoned with possibility.

At the beginning of the summer, before Domingo left for college, they had sat side by side on Carmen's bed, cell phones in hand, open to their calendars. They had mapped out trips that would lessen the amount of time they'd be separated from one another. He would come back to Miami for a weekend at the end of September, so they'd never spend more than twenty-one days apart. Carmen's mother, under the impression that they'd be starting college visits early, had agreed to take Carmen to Savannah for a weekend in late October or early November. Domingo would be back for Thanksgiving, and after that it was a short sixteen-day sprint until he was home for Christmas break. It was going to be so simple, really. They'd concentrate on work when they were apart. They would focus only on each other when they were together. And thank God for Skype and free rollover cell-phone minutes. They would make it. They had to.…Things were so good between them.

Together, they could spend hours, working side by side, speaking in a kind of abbreviated sign language. Domingo would tap away at his computer. Carmen would jump from her sketchbook to her sewing machine. Every once in a while, they stopped to show each other something. One or the other would nod, offer a suggestion, walk over, and plant a kiss on their beloved's lips. But mostly, there was this beautiful silence. The hum of two people who needed few words to communicate what was in their hearts.

Which was why, a few weeks before Domingo was scheduled to head to Georgia, Carmen started to have a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach. She'd begun to feel that, as much as she loved Domingo, they were Alicia and Gaz in reverse. Alicia and Gaz had first spent years as best friends, with a frisson of tension underneath the surface, but never enough to spark anything real—until finally, they got it together and started dating. Carmen feared that she and Domingo were the exact opposite: all sparks at the start, but, with the increased distance between them, bound to fall into the just-friends category, until there was nothing but the memory of romance.

Because she'd sensed it, because she'd spent so many quiet hours with Domingo, she wasn't surprised when he rang the doorbell unexpectedly one hot August afternoon. It was as though she had willed him to come over. And the look on his face didn't surprise her, either. It mirrored her own—a desire to be together forever, mingled with the realization that they needed to break up.

“Go on a boat ride with me?” Domingo asked. He handed her a hastily wrapped bouquet of wildflowers that looked as though he might have picked them himself. They were her favorite kind.

“Of course,” she answered as she took the flowers into the kitchen and looked for just the right unfussy vase to put them in. Settling on a butter yellow ceramic pitcher, she put the flowers into water and grabbed her keys as she walked out the door.

In the boat, Domingo rowed, as he usually did. She liked to watch him, marveling at how his light brown arms moved with such graceful precision. On especially hot days, like this one, she could see his sunglasses begin to steam up. She wanted to be patient, to let him be the one to raise the topic of separating, of them each beginning school with a completely fresh start. But she couldn't help herself. In the Ramirez-Ruben household, you spoke early if you wanted to be heard.

“I don't want to break up, but I think we should break up,” she whispered, staring down at the bottom of the boat.

“But I don't want to date other people,” Domingo mumbled, looking away from her.

“Me, neither,” Carmen added. “But I don't think this is about other people. I want this to end when we're still happy with one another. Instead of waiting until you feel like it is a burden to come see me, or that it takes you away from the life you should be leading with all your heart and soul, almost five hundred miles away.”

Mi amor
, let's not say the words,” Domingo implored her. “Let's not use the words
break up
. Not now. Not yet.”

Carmen leaned across the little turquoise rowboat and put both of her hands on his. “Is
I will always love you

Domingo nodded and kissed her.

Carmen pulled away and looked at him now, not afraid anymore, not wanting to look anywhere else.

I'll miss you
okay?” she asked.

“I think it is,” Domingo replied. But this time when he kissed her, she could feel his tears wet her cheek, taste them salty against his skin.

Then he did something unexpected. He laughed. “We're too mature,” Domingo said, quickly wiping the tears from his face. “I mean, look at us. We're sitting here being all cool. Why aren't you screaming?”

“I know what you mean,” she agreed. “We should drag this out. Have a big nasty fight around Thanksgiving…”

“We could make up around December twelfth, after I take my last final,” Domingo continued, playfully.

Carmen laughed then, too. “But the thing to do would be to totally ruin Christmas. We'd have to break up again. And out of decency, we'd both have to spend the entire Christmas and New Year's in mourning. Which would suck.”

Domingo began to row the little boat back to the Ramirez-Ruben family dock. “If we break up now,” he wondered aloud, “would I be over you by Christmas?”

Carmen raised an eyebrow. “Possibly. But remember, we weren't going to use the words
break up

“So what do you suggest?” Domingo asked, as he tied the rowboat to the little dock and helped Carmen onto the shore.

Carmen smiled, held his hand, then kissed him with all the wild abandon of a
star. “We've got six days before you leave for college. Let's see how many different ways we can come up with to say, ‘I love you.'”

Domingo placed his hands over his heart, then pointed at Carmen and smiled.

“What's that?” Carmen asked curiously.

“It's sign language for
I love you
,” Domingo replied, slinging an arm around Carmen's shoulder as they walked back into the Ramirez-Ruben home. “There's a busboy at Bongos who's hearing-impaired. He's been teaching a bunch of us at the restaurant how to sign.”

“Let me see that again,” Carmen asked coyly, as they stood at her front door.

Domingo repeated the gesture.

Carmen shook her head. “I don't think that means
I love you

“Really?” Domingo asked, his eyes widening. “I didn't know you signed. What does it mean?”

“It means
please don't put so much starch in my shirt,
” Carmen said, before collapsing in giggles.

Domingo smiled. “Very funny,
. How will I ever find anyone who makes me laugh the way you do?”

As Carmen took her keys out of her pocket and opened the door to her home, she wanted to say, “You
find anyone who makes you laugh as much as I do.” She wanted to add, “
don't find anyone.” She looked at Domingo, and right away she could tell that he knew just what she was thinking. She leaned in to kiss him, and this time it was her own tears that wet her cheeks.

It might have been because neither of her best friends had been through the breakup of their first loves, or it might have just been too painful, but Carmen didn't want to talk about Domingo or the twinge she felt whenever he crossed her mind when she was out with the girls. By the time school started in September, she was managing to think about him only roughly fifteen times a day. While not great, it was a heck of a lot better than the fifty or more times per day she had thought about him when they first “broke up.” Now that it was the beginning of October and the
were already a month into their junior year of high school, she thought of him only four or five times a day. By Thanksgiving, she reasoned, he'd be a once-a-day memory. And by Christmas, she'd be over him. At least, that's what Carmen told herself. So she kept her still healing heart out of the conversations with her
mejores amigas.

But that didn't mean her best friends didn't worry. Or try to get her to talk. Before school started, Alicia and Jamie had fretted obsessively about Carmen—calling her every day to see if she were lonely or needed a cheer-up trip to the beach or mall. And while Carmen had appreciated the way they dragged her on cheesy, touristy glass-bottom boat rides and plied her with pints of
dulce de leche
ice cream, Carmen
talked about the breakup. She insisted over and over again that she really was fine. And so, as time passed, her friends began to believe that she was telling them the truth.…

BOOK: A Formal Affair
11.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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