Authors: Jennifer Garcia
My Mr. Manny
Renaissance Romance Publishing
© Jennifer Garcia 2013
The right of Jennifer Garcia to be identified as the author of this work has
been asserted by her under the
Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the
Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced, copied, scanned, stored in
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without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Renaissance Romance Publishing
PO Box 22 Clarendon, TX 79226
Cover design by: Sydney Kalnay
This is dedicated to all of my family. You all mean the world to me.
To my husband, my rock, my manny, I love you so much and can't express enough how much I appreciate all you do for me.
My two handsome boys, you keep me going. Thanks for loving me and being my biggest supporters.
Table of Contents
Hide and Seek
My heart raced, and my breaths came in short pants while I stood against Mrs. Lawson’s house. I did not want to be found, so I pressed my small hands flat against my chest to hold back the fear and excitement.
While I calmed myself against the gray, vinyl siding, I paid attention to my surroundings. The scent of lilac and jasmine was overpowering in the heavy, hot air. There was no breeze from the nearby ocean, thus no relief from the heat wave.
Over the sounds of my neighbor’s blaring television, I heard my cousin, Lori, scream at the top of her lungs. She’d been caught. The laughter that followed was too close for comfort. Alex was “it,” and I’d have to stand my ground until he moved further away.
When I didn’t hear anything else, I looked around the corner of the house to see if anyone was near me. My heart beat in my chest, and the fear of Alex sneaking up on me had me on edge. The coast was clear. I bolted, ducking under apple trees and jumping over jasmine bushes through the back yards of all my neighbors.
The houses in the neighborhood were tall, and the yards were massive, lending us little coverage. I hopped over a low chain-link gate that separated one yard from the next. Very few of the properties had fences, and those that did had only low barriers that were small enough for us to jump.
It was dusk and almost time for us to go in for the night. The streetlights weren’t on yet, so I assumed we had a few more minutes. When I reached the last house to my goal, I peeked my head out from the side of Mrs. Andriotti’s house to scan the street. I had to get across to the other side and touch the light post in front of my house without getting caught. A few kids were there already, but Alex was nowhere to be seen. I hoped he was searching for me somewhere else and not hiding near the post. First looking left then right, I booked it as fast as I could. Everyone started screaming, but I touched the post just before someone grabbed me. Even though I knew who it was, I jumped.
“I’m safe!” I screamed.
“You’re so lucky. I almost had you,” Alex complained with a pout.
Gasping, I tried to catch my breath, but my laughter made it difficult. “Ha ha! I made it. I guess you’re gonna have to try harder to get me next time,” I teased.
“Mia, it’s time to come in,” my mother yelled.
The smile on my face faded in an instant, and I waved to everyone before I turned around and went inside.
Kick the Can
I shook my head with a smile. Nights like those had been so carefree and fun. I had been about eight years old then, and when I thought of those times on our street, I remembered the feeling of owning it. Trident Avenue was a small street right off the beach in Winthrop, Massachusetts. Our house, yellow like a beautiful buttercup flower, was set almost in the middle of the street. The green, expansive yard was outlined with a three-foot chain-link fence. We had an apple tree, a grape vine, and a volleyball court in our yard. We could have fit an Olympic size swimming pool and still had room left over, but my mother, Christine, would never have gone for that. The smell of lilacs and fresh grapes had wafted through the air all summer long.
Next door lived a sweet boy with Down syndrome, Guy. The other kids teased him, but I always stood near the fence to speak with him while he paced up and down. I seldom understood what he said, but that didn’t matter — he was alone, and that was something I understood well.
My mother didn’t worry about me being kidnapped. My cousins and I could run the street, and the neighbors didn’t complain if we passed through their yards. The long, thick, black asphalt was our playground. We were safe on our street. Times were simpler.
Life changed so much that I forgot those fond memories of things that were once important to me. Days playing hide and seek with the kids on my street were a product of the time I came from.
I stayed on Trident Avenue until the end of my sophomore year. All six of my cousins lived next to me growing up. I didn’t have any siblings of my own, so they became my pseudo-siblings. I was picked on a lot because I was different: different because I was an only child, because I didn’t have my father there, and because I didn’t look like them. On top of that, I yearned for friendships but put up walls at the same time. It was like a “love me/stay away from me” type of thing. My cousins were from a family of six siblings, and if I had a falling out with one of them, they all ended up mad at me. I just never fit in. Instead I guarded myself and never got too close.
My dad left when I was three because the marriage between him and my mother didn’t work out. He and I had been very close before he left. Stories of the time before he left my mother always consisted of him taking me all sorts of places. We would hang out, just the two of us. After he left, I heard that he was traveling, living for short times in Columbia and Mexico but finally settling in California. I was the kid who was never home during school vacation because I was visiting my dad in San Francisco or Los Angeles — wherever he lived at the time. My cousins, as well as the other kids, were able to bond with each other during vacations. I never had that chance, because I was always gone.
Alex Greco was one of our neighbors who always hung out with my cousin Vitto. They were a year older than me. Vitto was a genius and spoke of attending MIT. His sister, Loretta — Lori for short — had dreamed of moving to New York or California to attend a fashion design school. My other four cousins were much younger and were in grammar school or junior high. Everyone had plans and was moving on, but I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
My dad had been pestering me for years to live with him in California, but it wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year that I decided to go. Dad wanted a better life for me, one he thought I wouldn’t get in small town Boston. Going to Culver City High School in California was an experience in and of itself; the mix of people was amazing. Not needing to look like my cousins so I could fit in, I wasn’t the odd man out anymore. Being an only child with divorced parents made me different in our small town in Boston. However, in Los Angeles, I fit in and gained confidence in who I was. It was my chance to find myself and become a stronger, more outgoing person. Or so I tried.
Even though I loved living in Southern California, I still missed my Boston home and wished I could have had my extended family, my mother, and pseudo-siblings with me to experience this new life. I went back home to visit my mom as much as I could and always squeezed in a visit with my aunts, uncles, and cousins while I was there. The longer I remained in California, however, the more what my dad had told me when I moved made sense: even if I went back, my old life would no longer be mine. The longer I stayed away, the less I belonged in Boston. In the end, I gave in to my new life and let the old one go.
I also missed the seasons. In Boston, autumn was the most beautiful time of year. The leaves would turn all the colors in the crayon box. As kids, my cousins and I would collect bags full of them and use them in school for arts and crafts. The air during that time was crisp, but not cold. The humidity of the summer was gone, and we could breathe again before the biting cold arrived.
Being a California resident for two years afforded me the ability to attend the University of Southern California. With the small scholarship I was awarded and the resident pricing, it allowed me to attend the expensive school. My dad helped with some of the tuition, and I took out a loan for the rest. While attending USC, my roommate, Susan, wrangled me into going to all of the football games. During my first game, I was quick to find out football was very important at USC. Our closest rival, University of California Los Angeles, played against us.
That very first game, the Trojans entered the field in their cardinal red and gold, and as I scanned our side of the bleachers, all I saw was Trojan color. People were everywhere, packed in next to each other, yelling and screaming. The air smelled like hotdogs, popcorn, and beer. Spectators walked up and down the bleachers with trays of food and drinks in their hands, getting settled before the game started.
Susan had dressed me up in a Trojan’s jersey and had painted my face—so embarrassing! I didn’t like big displays, but Susan was more rowdy and much more outgoing than me.
On the other side of the field, the bleachers were filled to the sky with true blue and gold, the colors of the UCLA Bruins.
At halftime, Susan had dragged me to the bathroom. The bleachers cleared quickly, and everyone walked around in different directions on the walkways. People pushed and shoved from all sides, smashing us like sardines. I hated crowds, which gave random people the chance to grope you without consequence. I had always been very particular about my personal space. With all of the unsolicited touches to my body, I was losing my patience. It was imperative for me to get out of that crowd and fast; otherwise, I might have lashed out and thrown down with someone for pushing me. The crowd was so thick that I felt the blond hair from the girl in front of me tickling my face. I felt so relieved when we made it to the bathroom. Then, we had to stand in line. It just seemed like a lot of work. The crowds, lines, and the fact I still wanted to get something to drink, which meant another line.