Authors: Sara Alva
Silent Copyright © 2013 Sara Alva
All rights reserved.
Cover art by Dani Alexander
No part of this book may be used, reproduced, or circulated in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are the author’s creation or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
For the people who inspired me and kept me writing through a difficult year.
Thank you to Tim, Dani, Jenn, Marleen, Daniel, Shayla, Luc, Jay, and Madison, without whom I’d still be staring at a Word document.
And thank you again to Dani for creating the perfect cover.
Chapter 1: New Shoes
I eyed my opponents warily, hoping they wouldn’t be
tight today. If I could get in at just the right angle, and with just the right amount of force…
With one swift movement, I shoved my right foot into the dirty Converse sneaker. That was the best way to do it, but it didn’t really make any more room for my big toe. A lump of nail pressed up against the fabric, where it was starting to tear the canvas away from the rubber sole.
Damn. Just when were my feet supposed to stop growing, anyway?
I’d outgrown my shoes enough times by fifteen to know I’d have that awkward, painful limp by the end of the day. For a second I considered trashing the sneakers and putting on flip-flops, but the teachers would probably throw a fit if they saw. No sense inviting trouble. It usually had an easy enough time finding me as it was.
Looked like I was just going to have to suffer through it. I sighed, beginning the torture of my left foot as well.
“Alex!” My mother’s voice easily carried through the thin walls. “If that bitch PSA counselor calls here one more time about you cutting class, you won’t be able to sit for a damn week!”
From the kitchen came the sounds of clinking beer bottles, which meant her boyfriend, Hector, was getting an early start on his day.
Or maybe not so early. Fuck, I’d be late if I didn’t hurry.
I grabbed my backpack off the floor, ignoring the little cockroach that scurried away from its now-exposed hiding place. It quickly found somewhere to slip off to between the wall and floorboards, probably joining hordes of its kind. Gross as it was, it was my own fault—I’d left some tamarindo candy in my bag after Giselle’s
The train blasting past the house gave me yet another reminder of my tardiness. It rattled the walls and kicked up dust through my open window, adding to the fine layer of soot that blanketed the lone piece of furniture in my room—an old white dresser I’d rescued off the curb a few years back. Of course, it wasn’t exactly white anymore.
Taking off as fast as my too-tight shoes would allow, I scrambled down the short hallway and got all the way to the front door before Hector grabbed me and slammed me against the wall.
“Where the hell is my shit?” His stubbled face pressed close to mine, blowing foul beer-and-morning-breath up my nostrils.
I pushed back and easily freed myself from his grip. He wasn’t going to be able to jerk me around like this much longer.
“Get the fuck off, man. I have school.” Some of the paint chipped off the wall behind me and fell onto cracked linoleum as I stepped away.
“I know you took it,
hijo de puta
. You fucking touch my shit again, I don’t care if you are your mami’s son. You living in my fucking house. I can kick you out like I did your
“Fuck off, Hector.”
He raised his arm and struck my chest, making me bang my head into the wall. More paint—or maybe a bit of drywall from an already cracked surface—fell to the ground. Hector’s rage-filled eyes darted over to observe the damage, and before he had a chance to regroup, I ducked, whirled, and burst out the front door.
I ran for a couple of blocks. I didn’t really need to, because Hector was far too lazy to actually come after me, and probably too out of shape to catch me if he did. I was sure he’d just storm back to the fridge and pull out another beer, then crawl into bed next to my mother and—
I cut off the image before it went any further, distracting myself by pounding the pavement as fast as I could. People tended not to run through the streets in my neighborhood unless they were in trouble…and when you were in trouble, you weren’t going to be running at no jogging pace. If fitting in meant dashing down the road like I had the cops on my tail, I was okay with that.
That is, I was okay with it until my toes started to feel like they were going to bruise black and blue from the pressure. I eventually limped to a stop, sensing a bit of cool air against my foot where it was not meant to be. One look down confirmed my fears—my sock was clearly poking through the front of my right shoe.
Fuck. Like I didn’t already look ghetto enough.
I started hobbling at an awkward pace, trying to find the balance between the usual
I do as I please
saunter and the
I really should get to school
speed-walk. It was hard to look cool with my feet busting out of my shoes, but I still fought to maintain the image, giving my usual head-nod to the bums outside the local liquor store.
A stray mutt—with a lot of pit bull in its mix—bounded across the street in front of the little
where we bought groceries. Mr. Jimenez instantly appeared in the doorway with his broom, shaking it in front of his solid potbelly. When that failed to scare the pup, he resorted to shoving it away. He made the same shooing motion toward me as well, probably because I’d been known to lift a bag of hot Cheetos or two on occasion.
I gave him a sarcastic wave and decided to cut through the projects, keeping my head down, as always, when I passed anyone particularly shady-looking. Most of the prostitutes had hidden themselves away by this hour, but one strung-out druggie was still wandering down the littered sidewalk. She muttered loudly to herself about needing a goddamn pillow, scratching pointlessly at the lice that had already set up long-term residence on her scalp.
I used to look for Mimi around there, but deep down I knew she’d never be that close to home.
I barely made it into school by the second bell, when the principal’s booming voice came over the loudspeaker to threaten us into heading to class.
, where you been?” José appeared among the crowd of scattering students. He slapped my hand in greeting.
A short kid, and swarthy—like me, of course—José and his round cheeks hadn’t quite grown out of that baby-fat stage, though I could tell from the new slicked-back hair routine he was desperately trying to look older.
“You keep this up, man, you gonna fail again, then you’ll be the oldest kid in high school.”
“Shut the fuck up.” I shoved him into some nearby lockers, as was my right. Yes, I was old for a freshman, and yes, I’d been held back—in the fifth grade. But fuck if that wasn’t a lousy year. I’d had other shit to worry about besides how many fucking words I could read per minute.
José pretended to be pissed, but one of the advantages to being older was being bigger, and I knew he wouldn’t mess with me.
“Shit, man, what the fuck. I was just kidding. Besides, you gonna get tons of freshman pussy being all old and shit. The girls love that shit.”
I mechanically bumped fists with José in agreement.
“Ey, what about that girl in pre-algebra…Blanca…she
, and you can just tell she gonna be real easy. She’s like dying to lose it. You should get with her this weekend.”
My shoulders tensed but I rolled it off, shrugging. “Nah, man. I don’t got no money to buy condoms right now…and ain’t no way I’m gonna knock up some freshman.”
“Yeah.” José nodded, all serious-like. “No way.”
I briefly wondered how many other guys had had this same conversation in the hallway, only to have their women become one more statistic.
I had high hopes I’d avoid that cliché.
I slipped into homeroom during the one-minute grace period, pulling out a book so I could pretend to be busy if Mrs. Elridge set her evil eye on me.
She looked pretty groggy this morning as she sipped her morning coffee. Hopefully she wouldn’t be too strict on the “silent reading” bullshit. On the other hand, too little sleep made her cranky, which she damn well liked to take out on us.
“Edgar Alcazar,” she droned from behind her computer, calling roll.
Edgar, the runt in the first row, raised his pipsqueak hand. “Here!”
Bitch. No matter how many times I told her to call me Alex, she insisted on using my full name, adding an extra throaty rasp on the
like she wasn’t the whitest lady I’d ever seen.
“Ey, ey, Alex.”
Diego was trying to get my attention from a few desks away. He was too cool to pass a note or reach out to tap my shoulder—not that I would have minded the contact—so he just jerked his head at me until I looked over.
He wasn’t my closest friend, and I did have weak moments when I wanted to change that. With his soft olive skin and Anglo features he could almost pass for a White, but I knew he’d much rather belong to the
instead…which was one of the reasons he was best kept at arm’s length.
I leaned over to hear him once Ms. Elridge had taken my attendance.
“My sister said she saw your sister up at 68
the other day.”
“Yeah?” I perked up.
“Yeah, they say she got a new boyfriend.”
“A real boyfriend?” I stupidly asked, and damn it if I didn’t let a little hope slip into my voice.
Diego gave me a look like
no seas tonto
. “Yeah, I’m sure he’s Prince fucking Charming.”
“Silent reading!” Ms. Elridge ordered, and I slumped back into my chair. She passed down the aisle, eyes peeping out from over her tiny glasses. For a moment her gaze went to the floor, and I tried to hide the gaping hole in my shoe by covering it with my other foot.
Ms. Elridge pursed her lips and moved on.
The bell sounded a little while later, and I hopped up with the rest of the crowd, slinging my bag over my shoulder as I strode toward the door. I never rushed to class—only losers did that—but I was probably a little slower than usual thanks to my damn shoes.
“Alejandro?” Ms. Elridge’s voice stopped me in my tracks.
Damn. Maybe there was something to be said for rushing.
“I couldn’t help noticing your shoes,” she began, fidgeting with a pen in her hand. “Are you planning on getting new ones anytime soon?”
I squinted in shame. “Nah, teacher. My mom, she don’t…doesn’t have no job, and I spent all my money on a new D.S. game before I realized my shoes had got so tight.”
“On a D.S. game,” she repeated, one eyebrow tilting up. “That might not have been the smartest choice, whether your shoes were tight or not. Where do you get your money from, by the way? Gift money? Allowance? Or do you work?”
“Uh, gift money,” I stuttered.
And that would’ve been true, if Hector had gifted me his weed to resell.
“Well next time, consider saving it for something more valuable. Maybe you could start a college fund.”
I gave her a blank stare, which was what she deserved. They could ram college-readiness down my throat all they wanted—didn’t mean I was going anywhere.
“Right, teacher. Can I go to class?”
“All right, Alejandro.” She sighed, and I knew she could tell she hadn’t made much of an impression. “See you tomorrow.”
Hector’s pick-up wasn’t in front of the house when I got home. I thanked God for small miracles and bounded inside, putting on my brightest face.
“Hey, Mom.” I plopped down on the lumpy couch by her side and kissed her cheek.
She was all done up—false lashes, a ton of makeup, and fake blond hair hanging stiffly to her shoulders. I knew she felt like she had to work to keep Hector’s interest, since he was only thirty-two, but I sometimes missed the soft halo of dark curls she’d had when I was younger.
“Hi, baby,” she responded, her eyes barely shifting from the TV. She absentmindedly ran her freshly-manicured nails through a hole in the upholstery, plucking out some of the stuffing.