Authors: Paul Swearingen
Tags: #relationships, #el dia de los muertos, #corvette, #day of the dead, #mexican american, #car chase, #hispanic, #mustang
High School Diversity – The
is a work of fiction, and all
characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblances to real
events, locations, or people, living or dead, are
High School Diversity – The Clash
“You been messin’ with my boyfriend.”
Carla slowly raised her eyes from her food
tray, looked around, and counted: One, two … four girls stood
behind their leader, Miranda, who as usual had spread too much
makeup across her face. The others stood behind Miranda and
glowered at Carla; she recognized two of them, but the others
didn’t register in her memory. All obviously were Miranda clones,
as their lipstick looked as if it had been applied with butter
Carla stood and slowly wiped her lips on her
napkin, trying to stretch her five-feet-plus-most-of-an-inch as
tall as she could. “Excuse me? What boyfriend would that be?”
Miranda took a step closer and stood
directly in front of Carla and looked down. Their noses were
perhaps five inches apart.
“That would be the boyfriend whose car you
got into last Friday night.”
Carla pretended to think for a second as she
tracked an adult who seemed to be headed in their direction. “Oh.
That was your boyfriend. Well, excu-u-use me. When someone offers
me a ride home in the cold, I accept first and ask questions later.
Maybe I didn’t feel like freezing my ass off that night.”
“Maybe you’d feel more like having it kicked
tonight? Or right here and now?”
“All right, that’s enough, Miss Ruiz. All of
you - move it OUT!” Coach Greene suddenly was in the middle of the
group, and the four followers slowly moved away from Miranda, who
stood her ground, staring down at Carla.
“Oh, hi, Coach. Didn’t see you there.” Carla
shot a fake smile at Coach Greene. She could probably have handled
Miranda herself, but four more females were a bit much.
“This isn’t over,” Miranda hissed at her
before she turned abruptly and stalked away across the cafeteria,
weaving her way through tables and a maze of students headed
towards the conveyor belt to drop off their trays.
Coach Greene watched her retreat for a
moment before he turned to Carla. “You all right?”
She looked down at her tray and realized
that she was still clenching her napkin and had wadded it to the
size of a peanut.
“Oh, sure. We were just working out a little
“Takes four of them to back her up, does
Carla held up her fists, which weren’t much
larger than his thumbs. “You bet. See these? Fists of steel. ”
He laughed and shook his head. “I’ll try to
remember that the next time I need to look for a bodyguard. Well,
I’ll keep an eye out for Miranda and her posse, okay?”
Carla looked up at the coach, all
six-foot-three of him. “It’s all right, Coach. It’s no big deal.
She’s just instantly jealous if anyone gets within smelling
distance of any guy that she thinks is her boyfriend.”
He shook his head again. “I’d be a little
careful for the next few days if I were you, young lady. Okay? Now,
I need to get back on duty.” He waved and moved quickly towards a
table from which a milk carton had been thrown.
Carla looked down at her tray again. There
wasn’t much left on it, and she wasn’t really hungry any more. She
dropped the napkin onto the tray, picked it up, and walked to the
conveyer belt and put it on the moving belt.
In spite of pretending to be a tough little
girl, she suddenly realized that her knees felt like Jell-O and
that she needed a time-out. She pushed open the restroom door next
to the outside cafeteria door. The stalls were empty, and the one
girl standing next to a basin and staring at her had her hand in an
“Sweetie, you look like you just saw dead
people,” the girl said, and she slowly pulled a pack of generic
cigarettes from the purse. “Need a smoke?”
That was the best idea she had heard in a
long time. “Sure. Thanks. Second time my life’s been saved in the
last five minutes.”
The other girl gave her a searching look but
didn’t say anything as she flicked a BIC and lit her own cigarette
first and then Carla’s. “Better smoke it quick,” she said. “Or just
smoke half and flush it.”
Carla took a drag and then blew smoke
towards the vent in the ceiling. “I know.”
She moved into a stall, closed the door and
gagged slightly. It had been six months or so since the last one of
these cancer sticks, and she didn’t really like the experience then
or now. Smoking was one of those bad habits her father seemed not
to care about, and she was determined not to pick up any of those
habits … smoking, drinking, sometimes coming home so late. She
usually saw Pop only at breakfast over a big bowl of oatmeal, next
to his mug of coffee a slowly burning cigarette that quickly filled
the air in the small kitchen and diminished her appetite.
It was just the two of them at home, and
when she was in school, she was also still pretty much alone. From
her experience, survivors were usually loners, too, and she wanted
to be a survivor while others gave up. She didn’t need anyone to
watch her back. Well, until now. Maybe it was time to find some
The other girl’s voice echoed off the
concrete walls. “Better finish it up quick, sweetie. They check
restrooms after lunchtime pretty carefully.” A toilet flushed, and
the outside door banged.
Carla took one more long drag, dropped the
butt into the bowl, and flushed and waved the smoke away from her.
She reached into her purse and fished around for the small can of
body spray she always carried. It would have to do, and she’d
better get moving before she had to deal with another tardy. She
paused for a moment and glanced into the mirror, testing it with a
fake happy face. Then she pulled open the restroom door and almost
bumped into Coach Greene.
“Oh. Hi, Coach.” That was pretty lame, she
thought, but it was a little too late for her to duck back into the
bathroom until he went on into the main building.
The coach turned, flared his nostrils, and
glared at her. “Interesting perfume you seemed to have picked up in
the restroom, Miss Cross.”
She offered him her most innocent smile.
“Thanks, coach. You smell pretty good
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right. At least I
don’t use Eau de Tobaccy. What are you trying to do, chase off
mosquitoes? I suppose you keep repellent handy in your purse?”
She opened her mouth and discovered that she
didn’t have any fight left in her. “No, I borrowed a drag from
someone else. I really, really, really needed it.”
“And I suppose you just now quit, too?”
“Something like that. I don’t think I’m
going to need that again very soon. I hope. If you know what I
mean.” She stared at him hopefully.
“I tell you what, Carla. You’re going to be
late to class if I keep nagging you. And you’re old enough to know
what’s right and what’s wrong, but I still don’t think you can say
‘no’ when you need to. Let’s just say that it never happened and
move on. But if you need someone to talk to when bad stuff does
happen … why don’t you head for the counselor’s office instead of
the bathroom, okay?”
“Maybe. Thanks, Coach.” She smiled a little
more securely at him. He held the main building door open for her
and shook his head.
“I hope your seat in your next hour class is
at the back of the room in good ventilation, Miss Cross.”
She pulled her coat around her, and he
turned and strode down the corridor without a backwards glance. He
had a point – her seat in the Algebra II classroom was right next
to the teacher’s desk, and with only about twenty in the class, it
wouldn’t take anyone very long to figure out that she was the one
with the invisible nicotine-and-tar aroma around her.
Oh, well, she was already living dangerously
today. And maybe her teacher would have a cold and not be able to
smell anything. She looked around for Miranda or any of the rest of
the group, but the coast was clear, and she managed to make it to
her classroom just as the bell rang.
She was in luck, as a substitute was at the
teacher’s podium. He gave her a sharp look but said nothing when
she flashed him her most dazzling smile. No one else spoke to her
the entire period.
After school she stood in front of her
locker, trying to decide what to ditch and what to take home. She
had about decided on taking nothing with her when she felt a
presence behind her and whirled around.
“Easy, girl. It’s just me.”
She took a deep breath. “Frank. Don’t ever
sneak up behind me like that again. Damn!”
He gave her a searching look. “Sorry. Next
time I’ll just whack a pipe along the locker doors and … Oh, never
mind. I just wanted to ask you if you would be able to help us with
our Hispanic Club fundraiser next week?”
“Hispanic Club. You know. Being part
Hispanic and all, like me, I thought you might …”
“Damn! Don’t call me that! I’m half white,
too, you know!”
“Whatever. Can you make a dozen burritos and
bring them in next …?”
“Oh, hell, no! What are you trying to do,
stereotype me now as a beaner? Go get someone else to do your
cooking and baking for you, why don’t you?”
Frank took a step backward and almost
collided with a girl who stopped and looked at the both of them.
“Hey, Sandra, Carla here says she can’t bring burritos to our
fundraiser next week because she’s too white.”
Sandra cocked her head and regarded Carla.
“Thanks a lot,
. I don’t think we need your help
“What did you just call me?” Again Carla
doubled up her fists, and she took a step toward Sandra, who
stepped back, her eyes wide. But a large figure slipped between
them, and Carla felt both wrists enclosed by huge hands. She looked
up, and the dark face of Justin Jefferson stared down at her.
“Whassup, shorty?” Justin added a wink to
Carla felt like going limp all over, but she
merely relaxed her fists and shook her head.
Justin slowly released her, and she leaned
against a locker door. He looked at Frank and Sandra
“Are you coming, Frank?” Sandra hitched her
purse over her shoulder and plucked at Frank’s sleeve.
“All right.” He turned and marched away with
Sandra a half step behind. She turned her head and threw Carla a
look that could have damaged concrete.
“Damn! Who do they think they are?” she
muttered. She took another look inside her locker and slammed the
“And what kind of army do you think YOU are?
I saw you try to take on those four girls in the cafeteria. You
having a bad day or what?”
“Five. And you could say that.” Her eyes
felt moist, but she refused to allow a tear to fall from them this
“All right, sista. Talk to me. You help me
with my tire-changing, I help you with your social situations, but
I gotta know what’s going on with you. Fair enough?”
“I’m fine, Justin.”
He was right, and she finally relaxed and
giggled. “Pants on fire.” She wiped her eyes on her sleeve and
leaned against her locker door. “I guess you don’t know what it’s
like to be picked on, because you’re short and half something and
half something else, do you?”
“Not quite like that, but I grew up on the
east side in Topeka. After dark in the projects, you’re on your
own, and you have about a fifty-fifty chance of seeing the sun rise
next day, and if you aren’t one-hundred percent sure of yourself,
it drops to about zero percent. Doesn’t matter if you’re black,
like me, or white or Mexican or whatever.”
“You didn’t have your posse to watch your
“Yeah, well … sometimes I did, sometimes it
was just me and myself.”
Carla nodded. “I know how that goes. I don’t
even have a brother, or a sister, to watch mine.”