Authors: Simone Elkeles
ONE : Brittany
Everyone knows I'm perfect. My life is perfect. My clothes are
perfect. Even my family is perfect. And although it's a complete lie,
I've worked my butt off to keep up the appearance that I have it all.
The truth, if it were to come out, would destroy my entire picture-
Standing in front of my bathroom mirror while music blares from
my speakers, I wipe away the third crooked line I've drawn beneath my
eye. My hands are shaking, damn it. Starting senior year of high school
and seeing my boyfriend after a summer apart shouldn't be so nerve-
racking, but I've gotten off to a disastrous start.
First, my curling iron sent up smoke signals and died. Then the
button on my favorite shirt popped off. Now, my eyeliner decides it has
a mind of its own. If I had any choice in the matter, I'd stay in my
comfy bed and eat warm chocolate chip cookies all day.
"Brit, come down," I faintly hear my mom yelling from the foyer.
My first instinct is to ignore her, but that never gets me anything
but arguments, headaches, and more yelling.
"I'll be there in a sec," I call down, hoping I can get this eyeliner to
go on straight and be done with it.
Finally getting it right, I toss the eyeliner tube on the counter,
double and triple check myself in the mirror, turn off my stereo, and
hurry down the hallway.
My mom is standing at the bottom of our grand staircase, scanning
my outfit. I straighten. I know, I know. I'm eighteen and shouldn't
care what my mom thinks. But you haven't lived in the Ellis house. My
mom has anxiety. Not the kind easily controlled with little blue pills.
And when my mom is stressed, everyone living with her suffers. I think
that's why my dad goes to work before she gets up in the morning, so
he doesn't have to deal with, well, her.
"Hate the pants, love the belt," Mom says, pointing her index finger
at each item. "And that noise you call music was giving me a headache.
Thank goodness it's off."
"Good morning to you, too, Mother," I say before walking down the
stairs and giving her a peck on the cheek.
The smell of my mom's strong perfume stings my nostrils the
closer I get. She already looks like a million bucks in her Ralph Lauren
Blue Label tennis dress. No one can point a finger and criticize her
outfit, that's for sure.
"I bought your favorite muffin for the first day of school," Mom
says, pulling out a bag from behind her back.
"No, thanks," I say, looking around for my sister. "Where's
"In the kitchen."
"Is her new caretaker here yet?"
"Her name is Baghda, and no. She's coming in an hour."
"Did you tell her wool irritates Shelley's skin? And that she pulls
hair?" She's always let it be known in her nonverbal cues she gets
irritated by the feeling of wool on her skin. Pulling hair is her new
thing, and it has caused a few disasters. Disasters in my house are
about as pretty as a car wreck, so avoiding them is crucial.
"Yes. And yes. I gave your sister an earful this morning, Brittany.
If she keeps acting up, we'll find ourselves out of another caretaker."
I walk into the kitchen, not wanting to hear my mother go on and on
about her theories of why Shelley lashes out. Shelley is sitting at the
table in her wheelchair, busily eating her specially blended food
because, even at the age of twenty, my sister doesn't have the ability
to chew and swallow like people without her physical limitations. As
usual, the food has found its way onto her chin, lips, and cheeks.
"Hey, Shell-bell," I say, leaning over her and wiping her face with a
napkin. "It's the first day of school. Wish me luck."
Shelley holds jerky arms out and gives me a lopsided smile. I love
"You want to give me a hug?" I ask her, knowing she does. The
doctors always tell us the more interaction Shelley gets, the better
off she'll be.
Shelley nods. I fold myself in her arms, careful to keep her hands
away from my hair. When I straighten, my mom gasps. It sounds to me
like a referee's whistle, halting my life. "Brit, you can't go to school
She shakes her head and sighs in frustration. "Look at your shirt."
Glancing down, I see a large wet spot on the front of my white
Calvin Klein shirt. Oops. Shelley's drool. One look at my sister's drawn
face tells me what she can't easily put into words. Shelley is sorry.
Shelley didn't mean to mess up my outfit.
"It's no biggie," I tell her, although in the back of my mind I know
it screws up my ‘perfect’ look.
Frowning, my mom wets a paper towel at the sink and dabs at the
spot. It makes me feel like a two-year-old.
"Go upstairs and change."
"Mom, it was just peaches," I say, treading carefully so this
doesn't turn into a full-blown yelling match. The last thing I want to do
is make my sister feel bad.
"Peaches stain. You don't want people thinking you don't care about
"Fine." I wish this was one of my mom's good days, the days she
doesn't bug me about stuff.
I give my sister a kiss on the top of her head, making sure she
doesn't think her drool bothers me in the least.
"I'll see ya after school," I say, attempting to keep the morning
cheerful. "To finish our checker tournament."
I run back up the stairs, taking two steps at a time. When I get to
my bedroom, I check my watch. Oh, no. It's ten after seven. My best
friend, Sierra, is gonna freak out if I'm late picking her up. Grabbing a
light blue scarf out of my closet, I pray it'll work. Maybe nobody will
notice the drool spot if I tie it just right.
When I come back down the stairs, my mother is standing in the
foyer, scanning my appearance again. "Love the scarf."
As I pass her, she shoves the muffin into my hand. "Eat it on the
I take the muffin. Walking to my car, I absently bite into it.
Unfortunately it isn't blueberry, my favorite. It's banana nut, and the
bananas are overdone. It reminds me of myself--seemingly perfect on
the outside, but the inside is all mush.
TWO : Alex
"Get up, Alex."
I scowl at my little brother and bury my head under my pillow.
Since I share a room with my eleven- and fifteen-year-old brothers,
there's no escape except the little privacy a lone pillow can give.
"Leave me alone, Luis," I say roughly through the pillow. "No estes
"I'm not fuckin' with you. Mama told me to wake you so you won't
be late for school."
Senior year. I should be proud I'll be the first family member in
the Fuentes household to graduate high school. But after graduation,
real life will start. College is just a dream. Senior year for me is like a
retirement party for a sixty-five-year-old. You know you can do more,
but everyone expects you to quit.
"I'm all dressed in my new clothes," Luis's proud but muffled voice
comes through the pillow. "The nenas won't be able to resist this
"Good for you," I mumble.
"Mama said I should pour this pitcher of water on you if you don't
Was privacy too much to ask for? I take my pillow and chuck it
across the room. It's a direct hit. The water splashes all over him.
"Culero!" he screams at me. "These are the only new clothes I got."
A fit of laughter is coming through the bedroom door. Carlos, my
other brother, is laughing like a frickin' hyena. That is, until Luis jumps
him. I watch the fight spiral out of control as my younger brothers
punch and kick each other.
They're good fighters, I think proudly as I watch them duke it out.
But as the oldest male in the house, it's my
duty to break it up. I grab the collar of Garlos's shirt but trip on
Luis's leg and land on the floor with them.
Before I can regain my balance, icy cold water is poured on my
back. Turning quickly, I catch mi'ama dousing us all, a bucket poised in
her fist above us while she's wearing her work uniform. She works as a
checker for the local grocery store a couple blocks from our house. It
doesn't pay a whole heck of a lot, but we don't need much.
"Get up," she orders, her fiery attitude out in full force.
"Shit, Ma," Carlos says, standing.
Mi'ama takes what's left in her bucket, sticks her fingers in the
icy water, and flicks the liquid in Carlos's face.
Luis laughs and before he knows it, he gets flicked with water as
well. Will they ever learn?
"Any more attitude, Luis?" she asks.
"No, ma'am," Luis says, standing as straight as a soldier.
"You have any more filthy words to come out of that boca of yours,
Carlos?" She dips her hand in the water as a warning.
"No, ma'am," echoes soldier number two.
"And what about you, Alejandro?" Her eyes narrow into slits as she
focuses on me.
"What? I was tryin' to break it up," I say innocently, giving her my
She flicks water in my face. "That's for not breaking it up sooner.
Now get dressed, all of you, and come eat breakfast before school."
So much for my you-can't-resist-me smile. "You know you love us,"
I call after her as she leaves our room.
After a quick shower, I walk back to my bedroom with a towel
wrapped around my waist. I catch sight of Luis with one of my
bandannas on his head and my gut tightens. I yank it off him. "Don't
ever touch this, Luis."
"Why not?" he asks, his deep brown eyes all innocent.
To Luis, it's a bandanna. To me, it's a symbol of what is and will
never be. How the hell am I supposed to explain it to an eleven-year-old
kid? He knows what I am. It's no secret the bandanna has the Latino
Blood colors on it. Payback and revenge got me in and now there's no
way out. But I'll die before I let one of my brothers get sucked in.
I ball the bandanna in my fist. "Luis, don't touch my shit. Especially
my Blood stuff."
"I like red and black."
That's the last thing I need to hear. "If I ever catch you wearin' it
again, you'll be sportin' black and blue," I tell him. "Got it, little
He shrugs. "Yeah. I got it."
As he leaves the room with a spring in his step, I wonder if he
really does get it. I stop myself from thinking too hard about it as I
grab a black T-shirt from my dresser and pull on worn, faded jeans.
When I tie my bandanna around my head, I hear mi'ama's voice
bellowing from the kitchen.
"Alejandro, come eat before the food gets cold. De prisa, hurry
"I'm comin'," I call back. I'll never understand why food is such an
important part of her life.
My brothers are already busy chowing down on their breakfast
when I enter the kitchen. I open the refrigerator and scan its
"Ma, I'll just grab--"
"You'll grab nothing, Alejandro. Sit. We're a family and we're going
to eat like one."
I sigh, close the refrigerator door, and sit beside Carlos.
Sometimes being a member of a close family has its disadvantages.
Mi'ama places a heaping plate of huevos and tortillas in front of me.
"Why can't you call me Alex?" I ask, my head down while I stare at