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Every Night Is Ladies' NightStories
By Michael Jaime-Becerra
If I make seven free throws in a row, Violet Cervantes will like me. I've made ten straight before, but now the rim is hard to see because it's late and the courts at Kranz have no lights. It feels like I've been out here for a couple of hours, but still I don't wanna go home because my mom and Gina were fighting over Gina's boyfriend when I left. Knowing my mom, she won't get over this guy Max having his ears pierced. I shoot the ball and miss. It bounces left to another court, the rim on this one all crooked and bent from someone hanging on it. Okay, if I make six in a row, Violet will like me.
I shoot and make it. Then two. Three. Four in a row. I'm about to make number five, but I stop because I hear yells and the smash of a bottle from the other end of the grass field by the basketball courts. It's probably cholos. Even though my mom makes me go to church with her twice a week because she says I make her feel safe, I'm so skinny that there's no way I could stop a bunch of drunk cholos from killing me if they wanted to. I turn around and shoot at the rim way on the other side, thinking of Violet, hoping the shot goes in. When the ball misses, I run after it and wonder where to go next.
Gina's dragged the phone into her room to talk to Max, laughing loud and making lots of noise because our parents aren't home. The cord's stretched straight from the phone jack by the couch, down the hall, under the door to her room. It looks like a tightrope, and I step on it, arms out for extra balance. One step and the cord pops out from the wall. Something bangs on the other side of Gina's door. I close my eyes, keep my arms stretched, and imagine that I'm falling, that a net will be there to catch me before I hit the ground. I open my eyes and Gina's staring at me, puppy dog slippers on her feet, green towel around her head like a genie. She calls me a fuckin' weirdo, then slams the door to her room.
I'm weird? I'm not the one with black nail polish on my toes. The one whose friends all think they're punk rock Draculas. I mean Gina's boyfriend, Max, all he wears is black. His pants are all tight and he always wears a leather jacket like it's glued to his back. Last month, when we went to see Beverly Hills Cop, I saw him and his friends pushing his green Tercel at the mall. It was almost summer, and the bus I was on had air-conditioning. Just looking at him pushing that car out in the heat and wearing that stupid jacket made me sweat. Max is weird, but at least he's not Junior, Gina's last boyfriend.
Junior always scratched and picked at his face. He was super-skinny too. One time I saw him with his shirt off and his stomach was all caved in like it was trying to eat itself. Him and my sister were together for like six months. For Gina that was like six years. When he would come and pick up my sister it was always a big deal. Gina said it was because Junior lived over in Pico Rivera and he had to take three buses to see her. I remember him biting his lip as he waited by the door for my sister. Junior always had this shitty, pissed-off look on his face, like he just came from a fight he had started and lost.
The last time anybody talked about Junior was also the last time I saw my mom drive the car. Math homework was kicking my ass that night. My mom answered the phone and listened for a few seconds before saying Junior's name and making the sign of the cross. She took the pencil from my hand, suds dripping onto my book as she leaned over to write in the margins. The dishes stayed in the sink, and my mom had me recopy her sloppy directions as she looked for the car keys and her purse. My mom's always been afraid to drive, but there she was, going fast and crazy, running a red light and honking at the screeching cars like it was their fault they were in our way.
We flew through Whittier Narrows and got to the bowling alley in about ten minutes. The big signs advertising 36 lanes and the slo-poke lounge colored everything red. My mom drove around the packed parking lot, and I went inside to look. The place was chilly from too much air-conditioning. I went up to the front desk, and before I could talk, the guy behind the counter put down the pair of shoes he was spraying and told me to get in line. Instead, I checked the pay phones and thought a couple times about going into the ladies' room. I wandered down to one end of the building, bumping into people while I looked for Gina's face. A bowler hollered in a lane nearby and kicked at the air like a ninja as the people around him laughed. I said Gina's name over and over as I tried to remember what she had on when she left the house.
After a while I went back outside and walked around the building. I could hear my mom before I even saw the two of them. The car was in front of an orange Dumpster, driver door open, engine still running. One of the headlights shone on Gina ...
Excerpted from Every Night Is Ladies' Night by Michael Jaime-Becerra Excerpted by permission.
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