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Authors: Veronica Chambers

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Playing for Keeps

BOOK: Playing for Keeps
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Copyright © 2011 Jane Startz Productions and Nuyorican Productions

SXSW® and South by Southwest® are registered trademarks of SXSW Inc.

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 978-1-4231-4613-1


For Magda and Sophia,
mis sobrinas queridas


For all my
—Adin, Ellen, Helen,
Robin, Kate, Zoë, Marika, Wendy, Marie, Judy,
Jen, Cheryl, and Mazal. Thanks for enriching my life.
And for Peter and Jesse—you've both got game.


Alicia Cruz did not start her
planning business to be popular. As the wealthy and beautiful daughter of one of Miami's most prominent power couples, she'd never lacked for friends. But ever since Alicia, along with her best friends—Carmen Ramirez-Ruben, Jamie Sosa, and Gaz Colón (who was now Alicia's boyfriend as well)—had formed Amigas Incorporated and in the process planned more than twenty of the hottest Sweet Fifteen parties in the greater Miami area, her profile at Coral Gables High School had never been higher.

Every afternoon, when the four friends sat at their table in the school cafeteria—second from the right, near the sliding doors, with floor-to-ceiling views of the school's lush, tropical campus—they were flooded with visits from C. G. High students hoping to get a little free

On this particular Thursday, Alicia, Carmen, and Jamie had just sat down to eat a lunch supplied by Maribelle Puentes, the Cruz family cook and Alicia's de facto grandmother. Maribelle had recently started dating Tomás, a Peruvian Japanese chef from the trendy restaurant Nobu Miami, and as a testament to their relationship had added sushi-making to her repertoire of already impressive culinary skills.

Alicia handed both of her friends a small tin
box, professionally packed in an insulated bag.

“Maribelle wanted you guys to try some, too,” Alicia explained, opening her lunchbox to reveal twelve perfect, restaurant-quality Japanese sushi rolls. “I'm in heaven,” she sighed. “Yellowtail scallion rolls.”

“Spicy shrimp tempura hand rolls, my favorite,” Jamie said, tucking in to her sushi.

Carmen, who'd already popped a bite of tuna tataki into her mouth, pointed to her face and offered a thumbs-up. “
,” she sighed contentedly when she finished chewing, “I truly don't think our lives could get any better than this—sunny weather, yummy food, and hot boyfriends. How cool is that?”

She wasn't lying. Her hot boyfriend was Domingo Quintero, a senior at Hialeah High and a waiter at Bongos, the group's favorite restaurant, which was famous for its frequent celebrity sightings and delicious virgin
. Not only was he super good-looking, he also happened to be supernice.

Earlier that year, Jamie had started dating Dash Mortimer, a golf star who was also heir to a considerable fortune. Dash was not your typical Latin guy, which had caused some issues when he first showed interest in hotheaded Jamie. His late mom had been a Venezuelan beauty queen, and his father traced his family's lineage back to the
. Amigas Inc. had been hired to plan a
for Binky, Dash's socialite sister, which was how he had met Jamie. They both fell hard. A fierce salsa dancer, Dash moved with the confidence of a gifted athlete, and had been the only guy to break down the tough-girl exterior Jamie had rocked since she'd moved to Miami from the Bronx.

“Speaking of boyfriends, I wish Gaz was here,” Alicia said with a sigh.

Alicia and Gaz—an aspiring musician, a founding member of Amigas Inc., and formerly one of Alicia's best friends—had been officially dating now for about a year. “You know how obsessed he is with sushi,” she added, “not to mention Maribelle's cooking. My bet is that he's still in the music room, working on some new songs.”

Unfortunately, talk about boyfriends was going to have to be put on hold, because it appeared someone needed their help. The someone was a classmate of theirs, a boy named Nesto.

“Sorry to interrupt,” he said, coming to stand at the head of their table. “I just have a quick question. This girl I really like, Tia, asked me to be her
chambelán de honor
at her

“That sounds great,” Jamie said, causing both Alicia and Carmen to smile. Since Jamie had started dating Dash, she had become more comfortable showing her softer side—a welcome change for her two best friends, who in the past had often found themselves apologizing to their clients for their friend's extreme bluntness and occasionally acid tongue.

“Congrats,” Carmen mumbled, since he'd caught her in midchew.

“Thanks. I can't wait,” he said. “It's not an Amigas Inc. joint, but it should be a good party all the same.”

“So, how can we help?” Alicia asked, getting right to the point.

“I really like this girl,” Nesto said. “But I've got about fifty dollars to get her a
present. All my boys say you've got to drop at least a C-note for something nice.”

“Not true,” Jamie said.

“Not at all,” Alicia agreed, finishing up her last piece of sushi.

“Well, I went to the Gap…” Nesto said.

“Not the Gap!” cried Carmen.

“Why not?” asked Nesto, looking perplexed.

“Never the Gap for a
!” Jamie piped up. “That's where you go to buy your back-to-school clothes, not the special something for the girl of your dreams. You know what
be perfect?”

Nesto shrugged. “I don't. That's why I came to you guys.”

“A charm bracelet,” Alicia said.

“Silver,” Carmen added.

Jamie took out a card and said, “Go to Key and Ree. Ask for Josefina. She'll help you pick out something nice.”

“And there's a ten percent discount for Amigas Inc. clients,” Alicia added. “Tell her we sent you.”

Nesto was all smiles as he glanced down at the card and then back at them. “You guys are the best.”

“Glad we could help,” Alicia said.

But there was no rest for the weary. As soon as Nesto walked away, a girl named Liya ran up to their table.

“Hey, I know I'm not one of your clients, but I could really use some advice,” she said.

Alicia looked at her watch. “We've got a few more minutes. What's up?”

“I'm having a Nancy Drew
,” Liya said.

The girls exchanged curious and amused glances.

“Yeah, I'm really excited. We're doing a whole murder-mystery game thing. And I need to figure out some favors for one hundred people. And needless to say, I'm on a budget, or I would have totally hired you guys.”

“Hmm, a Nancy Drew–themed favor,” Alicia said. “That's a tough one.”

She took out her phone and started searching for some options. Thirty seconds later, she had an answer.

“This Web site has a free Nancy Drew bookmark you can download,” Alicia said.

“Then go and get them printed and laminated,” Jamie added.

“Don't forget to put a picture of you in your
dress on the back,” Carmen suggested.

“If you have the loot, you could punch a hole in the top and tie a ribbon and add a little chain with your initials,” Jamie said.

Once the
started giving
advice, even pro bono, it was hard for them to stop.

“Perfect!” Liya said, her eyes lighting up. “I'll order them tonight. I would never have thought of this. You rock!”

“We aim to please,” Alicia said.

“You know, the potential for our business really is limitless,” Jamie said when they were once again blissfully alone. “We could make some sort of discount-coupon book for all the great deals we get around town.”

“I'm already getting a commercial discount at the fabric store,” Carmen said.

Jamie held up her thumb and index finger and said, “We're
this close
to having a

As the friends laughed, the bell rang. Grabbing her books, Alicia said, “And I'm
close to failing organic chemistry. I love being the queen of
, but it's a full-time job.”

, don't mention the word
,” Carmen said. “I wanted to go to the library to research traditional Mexican costumes for dress ideas. But I've got to use my study hall to write a draft of my American history paper. See you

Carmen gave her girls a quick hug and took off down the south hallway. Like many historic buildings in South Florida, C. G. High was a one-story art deco building with big windows, white walls, and large open spaces. The halls were lined with brightly lit display cases. Some were filled with trophies won by the school's varsity football team, the Cavaliers. Others featured writing and artwork from the senior literary magazine,
, or solicitations for donations for school supplies for C.G.'s sister school in the Dominican Republic.

“I'm going to life drawing,” Jamie said to Alicia. “I'll walk you to the science class.”

As the girls made their way down the hall they were greeted by other students.

“Nice party last weekend,” a girl with red hair called out.

“Thanks,” Alicia and Jamie said in unison.

“Yo, Gaz said he'd burn me a CD of those tracks he played at Katerina's
,” a boy in a C.G. letter jacket called out. “Tell him it's for Gary.”

“I will,” Alicia said.

Jamie grinned. “It's kind of cool, isn't it?”


“It's like we're famous,” Jamie said.

A group of girls who had attended Carmen's multiculti Lati-Jew-na
honoring her mixed Jewish and Latino heritage walked by and held up the spray-painted bags that Jamie had made for their best friend's celebration. “
shalom,” the girls called out, using the Spanish and Hebrew words for
that Jamie had tagged in block-print graffiti on the front and back of each guest's stylish party favor. Jamie laughed. “You see what I mean?”

Alicia had to agree. In their corner of the world, there was no doubt they really were almost famous. Life, it would seem, couldn't get much sweeter.

BOOK: Playing for Keeps
3.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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