• • •
Mariah has been Vanessa’s BFF since the beginning of the school year. But today, for some reason, Mariah is acting weird. Avoiding her. Vanessa texts five times between classes and gets nothing back. After school she sees Mariah driving off with some guy she’s never seen before. An older guy.
Vanessa feels really hurt that her friend would not even tell her what’s up. She actually ends up crying as she walks the last block home. When her little brother Isaiah tries to get her to play Pokémon Go, she just shuts the door in his face.
Watching her from his window, Antonio can tell that something is really wrong with his down-the-street neighbor. Usually she comes home laughing and screaming with her friend Mariah. Antonio is dying to ask what’s wrong, but he knows it’s not plausible. Vanessa hardly knows he’s alive. To her, he’s just a skinny 7th-grader who belongs to Robotics Club … a boring geek.
Still, Antonio can’t stop thinking about Vanessa. There are prettier girls, but Vanessa is different. Smart. Maybe he should come up with an excuse to go knock on the door – just to make sure nothing terrible has happened.
• • •
• • •
Vanessa is indeed in a very bad mood. The truth is, she doesn’t have many friends, even though she tries to be nice and friendly to everyone. Until Mariah came along, she always felt like an alien—which is how she feels about now.
When her mom gets home and starts yelling at her to start her homework, Vanessa sticks her head under the pillow and kicks her feet, furious. Why won’t Mariah pick up?
Without her best friend, all the annoying things in life feel like they’re raining down on her head. Her mom yelling all the time, her dad getting drunk and acting stupid, being the last girl in the whole 8th grade to find a boyfriend, her grades—OMG, her grades.
Vanessa gets an idea suddenly that seems like the perfect thing to do. Drying her eyes, she walks quickly into the garage and digs deep behind the stacks of Coke and paper plates. Aha—beer! Even if it is warm.
• • •
• • •
Vanessa grabs a can and rushes back to her room. No one is going to notice if one is missing. She opens the can and chugs it down, because it tastes gross, like warm spit. It’s hard to believe anyone drinks this stuff for the taste. She lies down on her bed and waits. Sure enough, she’s feeling woozy and relaxed before long, and turns on the latest Future mixtape, cranking it up loud. On an impulse, she texts Mariah.
-- I am so turnt right now! Beer nom nom.
A minute later, the three “reply” dots appear, but nothing else for what seems like forever.
-- YOLO, v. personally i found a better way. Gotta go.
Vanessa drops the phone, discouraged. Mariah is with some new guy, and here she is in her room alone. Lame!
Rather than think more about this sad situation and everything else about her stupid life, she mentally wanders down the stairs to the bottle of tequila on the refrigerator. Another option! No one will notice if she takes a little sip.
• • •
• • •
Suddenly determined, she tiptoes into the kitchen, gets on a chair and grabs the bottle. Again she drinks quickly (gags) before heading straight back to her room.
“Mission accomplished,” she thinks. “That was brilliant!”
Feeling a warm glow from doing something forbidden, Vanessa gets an idea.
Screw Mariah, she thinks. I’m going to message Jaden. The burning in her throat gives her courage, and it seems like a grand idea—the best ever. Vanessa has had a crush on Jaden for weeks, but felt too shy to do more than smile and say hi. Once he even cocked an eyebrow in response.
Now she feels like superwoman—totally fearless. Who cares what he thinks anyway? She scrolls through the Jadens on Facebook Messenger, laughing as she thinks up clever remarks.
To her surprise, he answers back right away. He’s at home alone, he says, bored. And thinking of her!!
Vanessa’s head starts spinning. It all seems unreal. Her usual uncertainty has vanished, and she just wants to rush toward the bright exciting life where Jaden is getting more and more turned up, begging for photos of her—sexy photos—and wondering if she can sneak out for some “Netflix and chill.”
• • •
• • •
The next day, it all seems like a strange dream. All she knows is that she wakes up into a nightmare with no end. First there’s the brain-splitting headache, then her parents furious at her—grounded forever after her mom caught her sexting and too far gone to care.
At school, she’s the one avoiding everyone today, but her luck turns even worse after lunch. She sees Jaden with his friends in the hall, and one of them nods at her and they all break up laughing.
By sixth period, she gets what it’s about—and it’s not her imagination that people are laughing. She knows this because Mariah finally texts her, sending a photo that has been making the rounds. It’s Vanessa, naked and making duck face, which she only vaguely remembers sending to Jaden.
Vanessa barely makes it through the school day. How can one bad mistake turn into a disaster that can wreck your whole life?
• • •
Vanessa’s breathless excitement is interrupted by loud knocking at her door, which she realizes has been going on for a while. She turns down the music and straightens out her clothes, dropping the phone as her mom bursts in.
“Is there some reason you have to play the music so loud that I have to come kick on your door to get your attention?” she says.
“Sorry Mama.” Vanessa is worried that something will give her away, and rushes to start her homework.
By the next day, she has nearly forgotten the whole episode with Jaden, which seems like a strange dream—until she sees him in the hall and ventures a shy smile. He looks right through her and hurries past.
Hurt and horrified, Vanessa is overcome with relief that she didn’t send him any of the photos he asked for. But it was only because her mom came in at just the right moment. It was a super close call, but she doesn’t think she’s going to be messing with alcohol again for a long time.
• • •
But then she remembers Mariah’s comment about “finding a better way.” Mariah always finds a better way, Vanessa thinks, because Mariah is pretty and smart.
Vanessa knows that getting drunk is stupid. How is that going to fix anything? It’s never helped her dad any. She remembers what Mrs. Delgado said about the effects of alcohol on brain development, how it can mess you up permanently. That’s all she needs—to end up like her mom, flunked out and pregnant, living three streets from where she grew up.
No, Vanessa has very big plans for her life. She intends to get out of this place and be somebody—like Ashley Baca’s sister, who’s making movies in L.A. She knows this probably means doing what Mrs. Delgado says, finding “more constructive ways” to face your problems rather than take the easy way out.
“Constructive like what?” she thinks.
“Like get into nature,” she remembers people calling out in class. “Like make art or call a friend.”
But it feels like she has a shoulder devil, too, because there’s a voice in her head still singing, “Wanna get juiced boots…!” And this sounds way more live.
• • •
• • •
But then she gets another image in her mind of beautiful celebrities who have ended up dead from drinking and drugs—like Amy Winehouse’s corpse being rolled out in a stretcher.
OK, drinking is not the correct answer. She knows she really needs to start studying for her math test the next day, which is what she planned to do before Mariah dissed her.
Vanessa makes a face at her shoulder devil and picks up her phone, scrolling through her favorite sites. The next thing she knows, her mom is shaking her awake.
“What’s the matter with you? You’ve been asleep for hours!”
Alarmed, Vanessa stumbles out of bed and starts hunting for her school bag. It’s already dark out.
“I gotta start my homework,” she mumbles, relieved when her mom leaves the room.
“That was a close call,” she thinks. How stupid to have guzzled that beer! Her mom didn’t suspect anything, but now it’s too late to study for the math test. She’s already screwed up!
“It’s not worth messing up your life over someone else,” she says out loud. Just because Mariah disrespects her does not mean she should disrespect herself and flunk her classes. Vanessa feels proud of herself for figuring this out. A little more grown up.
• • •
Vanessa giggles and gives a big wink to her invisible devil.
“So what?” she thinks. “Everyone drinks. My dad drinks. A lot of kids at school drink.” The thought makes her feel grown up, and she walks back out to the garage, pops open a tall beer, and chugs it on the spot, foam oozing out the sides and onto her clothes.
“Woo-hoo!” she thinks, slipping back into her bedroom and turning up the music. Her body is starting to feel the beat in every cell. Vanessa closes her eyes and lets the rhythm take over, melting into the sound.
Suddenly she gets smacked in the head and panics, terrified. But no one’s there. She just walked into the open closet door. She stumbles over to the mirror to find an ugly bump starting to form on her forehead, which is throbbing. She lies down on the bed and closes her eyes.
“Ohhhhh,” Vanessa moans. Just then, she gets hit by a wave of nausea from drinking warm beer on an empty stomach. She runs to the bathroom and throws up. When she collapses back on the floor, her mom is standing at the door, glaring at her.
“Vanessa? What’s going on? Why are you sick?”
Vanessa bursts into tears, feeling like she’s messed up her life. She wants so badly to fix it that she tells her mom about drinking the beer.
“Dios mío!” her mother says, throwing up her hands. “And to think I left you alone here with your brother!”
Vanessa hangs her head. She wishes she were 5 years old again and could grab hold of her mom and hug her, but she knows that she brought this on herself by not being 5 years old anymore.
“I’m sorry, Mama,” she says. The worst thing about messing up your life, she thinks, is that you mess up the people who love you, too.
• • •
Vanessa grabs a can and heads back to her room, but halfway there she slows down and starts wondering if this is really a good idea. She knows a lot of girls at school drink, but in her mind they are BASIC and not really what she admires.
The truth is that she prefers being around the geeks, because they seem funny and smart. It’s just that Mariah is pretty and popular, and Vanessa thinks she should try to be more like her.
She hears laughter and stops, stunned to see Mariah herself walking toward the house with two guys.
“Hey Sis!” she calls out. “Sorry about today.”
The guy she’s with is dressed like a slob. And Mariah herself looks different. She’s wearing a lot of makeup and it’s like her volume is turned up. Breathlessly she explains that she’s had her phone off all day because she’s been cutting school with Damian, who’s 16.
“We’re going to the park,” she says, winking and nodding toward Damian’s friend Carlos, who’s vaping and staring down the street. “Come with us.” She pulls a beer bottle out of her purse and waves it, singing, “We got forties!”
• • •
• • •
Vanessa is nervous about leaving Isaiah before her mom gets home, but Carlos is kind of cute. She forgets what she had been thinking about, and runs inside to tell Isaiah she’s going down the street for a minute, and has her phone.
The four of them head for the park, taking turns drinking from the bottle, which tastes as bad as every other kind of alcohol she’s ever tasted. Everyone is laughing and they start shoving each other into the road, making one car honk and swerve. A man leans out the window and yells something about how they could get killed.
That frightens Vanessa, but everyone else just laughs, and Mariah rolls her eyes at him. Vanessa knows her parents would be horrified, but she doesn’t want to ruin things, especially since Carlos sometimes gives her a friendly little shove.
Mariah comes over and throws a drunken arm around her.
“What’s wrong, girlfriend? You look worried.”
• • •
• • •
Vanessa takes a deep breath. Mariah is annoying her, and this irritation gives her courage.
“I just don’t feel like getting hit by a car,” she says. “It’s not my idea of fun.”
Mariah drops her arm and makes a face, then teeters over to Damian and laces both arms around his waist, ignoring Vanessa.
Out of the corner of her eye, Vanessa sees Carlos give a little laugh, then cover his mouth. This also gives her courage. She makes a decision to act before anything else happens.
“Anyways … I gotta go,” she says suddenly, turning and walking away quickly. “Later!”
She has no idea what she’s doing, but keeps walking. Behind her Mariah is yelling, “What the…?” Vanessa doesn’t turn around.
After a block, she slows down, relieved. She realizes now how uncomfortable she was feeling with those guys, weaving into the road and drinking in plain sight. She’s glad she got out of there.
It was hard to walk away, and now Mariah might not speak to her again. But she’s also not going to be a sad story on the evening news.
“You’re a dork,” she tells herself with a smile. But it actually makes her feel the opposite.
• • •
“Oh, nothing,” Vanessa says, putting on a big grin and shoving her friend into the street. The effort makes her trip over her own foot, and she falls right onto Carlos. He falls back and suddenly the ground rushes up and hits her in the face.
When she sits up, her head is ringing, and when she tries to stand, a wave of nausea washes over her and she suddenly throws up. Worse—she can’t stop. She throws up three times, splashing vomit on her shoes. Everyone stands back and she can hear Mariah saying, “Omigod, omigod.”
Then it’s silent and Vanessa gets up and tries to wipe her face. She has vomit on her clothes, which smell bad, and her head hurts. She is dying of embarrassment and wants to be anywhere but here. She turns and hurries toward home with tears in her eyes, seeing Carlos walking way behind them. She’s pretty sure she won’t see him again.
When she gets in the house, Vanessa’s mom is waiting for her, and her eyes grow big when she sees the scrapes on her face and vomit-covered clothes. Vanessa knows her troubles have only just started.
And what did she get out of this alcohol adventure? A big fat nothing.
• • •
“Um, I dunno,” Vanessa says, hesitating. She wonders if Mariah is drunk already, since her eyes are wobbly and so are her legs. She keeps teetering and grabbing Vanessa’s shoulder.
“Are you turnt?” Vanessa whispers into her ear.
“Not nearly!” Mariah laughs. Damian and Carlos are standing in the street, looking like they’re waiting on someone. Vanessa decides she doesn’t like the way they look. Why aren’t they with girls their own age?
“Listen, Mariah,” she says. “I don’t want to get messed up.” She’s remembering her earlier thoughts about how drinking is stupid. Mariah is living proof!
“Get over it,” Mariah says, disgusted. “You’re boring.”
Vanessa feels a knot in her stomach, because she’s always been afraid of this—that Mariah will find her boring.
But she also knows that there’s nothing wrong with caring about your friend. It’s what real friends do.
“Mariah, I’m serious. Let’s walk home.”
• • •
• • •
“I just don’t want you to do something you’ll regret,” Vanessa blurts out, “because you’re messed up and not thinking. It’s because I care about you and don’t want to see you hurt.”
Vanessa’s heart is pounding. She doesn’t know where she got the courage to make this speech. But Mariah smiles at her suddenly.
“That’s why you’re fam,” she says, touching her arm.
Vanessa is stunned, but Mariah adds, “You’re smart. Seriously—I respect that. Most girls do whatever everyone else does, but you’re woke.”
When she gets over her surprise, Vanessa asks, “What about Damian?”
“They probably left already,” Mariah shrugs. “He’s just some G from South Valley High who’s always messaging me.”
“Hey,” she adds, brightening. “You wanna go to Starbucks? I need sugar!”
• • •
“Whatever,” Mariah says, grabbing her purse. “I’m gonna bounce.”
She staggers to her feet and walks out, leaving the front door open. Vanessa sees her join Damian and trip again, grabbing his shoulder. She’s worried about her friend, but there’s nothing more she can do to change her mind—it’s her life and her decision.
Vanessa feels relieved when they’re gone. Even though she’s a little jealous of Mariah, having an older boyfriend, she knows she’s not ready for that herself. Especially not a guy like Damian.
“It’s OK to be who you are,” she tells herself, feeling better. Maybe Isaiah wants to play Pokémon Go.
• • •
After going back and forth about it in his mind, Antonio decides to go for it. He walks casually down the street toward Vanessa’s house.
It always upsets him to see other people sad or angry, especially people he cares about. But it’s not cool to care too much, so he tries to hide it. He wishes he could be more tough and calculating, a “player.” The worst is when he sees something that makes him want to cry. That’s when he has to walk away very quickly, before anyone notices.
What if that were to happen now?
Antonio thinks about his options. He decides to psych himself out and get in the mindset of someone like Jamal, one of the ballers. He notices Vanessa’s mom get in her truck and drive off. That means no one’s home except her and her little brother. He tugs his pants halfway down his hips, then leans against the wall as he rings.
• • •
• • •
Vanessa opens the door slowly, and he can see she’s been crying.
“Hey. So I noticed you guys’ fence is broken,” he says. “I think I know who did it. They got ours the other week.”
“Oh, yeah,” she sniffs. “My dad hasn’t noticed yet, but I’m sure he’s going to be pissed. Uh… do you want to come in? My mom’s out.”
She smiles suddenly, and Antonio’s heart leaps. But he keeps his cool.
“Only if you got Hennessy,” he ventures, all gangsta. She giggles and opens the door.
“My parents don’t buy the good stuff,” she says knowingly. “But there’s a little tequila left, if I can interest you in that.”
• • •
• • •
“I’m down,” he says, still acting. He feels dumb, because he can’t stand the taste of liquor. But Antonio is used to hiding how he feels, so he grabs the bottle and takes a long drink, fighting the urge to cough. It burns all the way down.
“Wow,” Vanessa says.
“I’m used to it,” he lies. “I drink all the time with my brother.” He takes another drink, and feels the heat rising to his ears. He’s starting to feel dizzy, and Vanessa is looking at him strangely.
“Are you OK? You’re kind of swaying.”
“Fo’ sho,” he says. “I’m chill.” Reaching for his Vine vocabulary, Antonio starts improvising to impress her.
“Dang, Gina!” he says, nodding his chin at the tequila bottle.
Vanessa laughs and then covers her mouth. “You better go,” she says. “My mom’s going to be home pretty soon.”
• • •
• • •
Antonio notices that his vision is a little blurry, and the room is swaying a bit. He remembers now what they said at school about alcohol, how it impairs your vision, balance, and thinking. Could that be happening to him?
He grabs hold of the doorway and tries to focus on where he is and what’s going on, but the room keeps swaying.
“I better go,” he agrees.
When he’s out of sight of Vanessa’s house, he sits down on the ground and puts his head between his knees. He feels nauseous, dizzy, like he can’t get his brain to straighten out and think. He can’t go home like this. It’s probably not a good idea to try to go anywhere else, either.
Antonio lies down and watches the light fading from the sky. What a dumb, dumb, dumbass thing to do, he thinks. He doesn’t know when he’s going to sober up or what his parents are going to say when he walks in, but he does think this is probably the last time he is going to do something so dumb.
• • •
“Nah, I’m good,” he says. The alcohol is making him feel more brave than usual, less concerned about what happens or what people think.
“Lemme show you the fence,” he says. “I think I can fix it for you.”
Vanessa follows him out, looking nervous but saying nothing.
“See? They just bent it over,” he says, grabbing hold of the chain link. “I bet I could straighten it out.”
Antonio is not athletic and not good at fixing things, but he feels like he could do anything right now. He grabs hold of the fence and jumps up, locking his elbows and knees. To his shock, the whole top of the fence starts leaning and crashes down on the other side. The bottom of the fence has popped up too, and is horizontal.
“Omigod!” Vanessa says, her eyes widening. She’d like to bust out laughing if she weren’t so shocked. “Are you alright?”
Just then, Pepe, Vanessa’s dog, comes running at them, attracted by the noise and commotion. Thinking it’s a game, he runs straight at them and under the fence, jumping on Antonio and licking him wildly.
“Pepe no!” Vanessa says, struggling to catch him. The dog looks at her and takes off, galloping toward the street. “Pepe!!”
There’s a squeal of brakes and a terrible thud, and Pepe is lying motionless by the side of the road. People start running over, and Vanessa is hysterical, screaming and crying.
Antonio is barely able to take this all in. He tries to stand up, but Vanessa pushes him back hard.
“You killed my dog!” she shrieks, punching him.
Antonio sits back down, numb. He realizes with a terrible thud that all the good feelings he got from the tequila were an illusion.
This is the reality.
• • •
Antonio swaggers in and picks up the bottle of tequila, sniffs it.
“Phew!” he says, wrinkling his nose. It smells just as volatile as the time he tried tasting it. Like lighter fluid.
Vanessa laughs. “I know, right?” She looks happier now. “How about if we play Call of Duty?”
“Do you like Minecraft?” he asks, brightening.
“I do!” she says. “I just started playing, by myself. There’s so many parts to it, I’m just at the most basic level.”
“I can show you some modes that most people don’t understand,” he says.
They play for a while, and he’s impressed by how fast she learns. He can tell she’s going to be really good with some more practice.
When Vanessa’s mom comes home, Antonio gets up to leave.
• • •
• • •
“That was fun,” Vanessa says. “I’m glad we didn’t end up drinking tequila.”
“Me too,” he says, thinking he would never have seen how she plays Minecraft. Besides, what would he have done if they got drunk? Make a move on her? That might have gone the wrong way.
Antonio goes to Vanessa’s house after school the next day, and the day after that. Before long, they are friends—at least, gaming friends. She’s a year older than him and probably doesn’t think of him in that way.
At least not yet. Antonio is glad he didn’t screw things up with Vanessa. As they get to be better and better friends and partners on Minecraft, who knows what could happen?
• • •
“Next time we’ll do the Henny,” he says, winking .
Antonio had forgotten about his gangsta pose, but now that he’s leaving, he starts thinking about what guys are going to say if he tells them he was at Vanessa’s. His older brother will want to know why he didn’t get her “lubricated” and easy.
He mimes downing a shot glass, but Vanessa just looks at him.
“Thanks for the game,” she says with a quick smile, shutting the door. “It was fun.”
The next day when he rings at Vanessa’s, no one answers. Antonio could swear he saw her walking home, but she must have gone out. It’s strange, because the same thing happens the next day. And the next.
Finally he gets that she’s not into him, and this makes him sad/mad. He can’t understand it. They had a good time playing Minecraft. Why wouldn’t she want to hang out with him anymore?
• • •
No one answers for a long time, though he can hear talking and footsteps inside. Finally the door swings open, and there’s an older guy he’s never seen before, with Vanessa’s friend Mariah hanging on his arm.
“Ooh, it’s Antonio!” Mariah squeals. “Vanessa, it’s your little neighbor!” Mariah’s eyes are twirling and she is obviously drunk. “How’s the rocket science going?”
“Rocket science?” the guy with her says. “Come on in, Antonio. We’re just getting ready to launch.”
“Antonio?” Vanessa appears beside them with another older guy. “What’s up?” She doesn’t look upset, but kind of angry at being interrupted.
Antonio realizes with a panic that every idea he’d had has left his mind. He can’t remember why he came, but he’s dying to be gone.
“Um, uh, I was kinda worried about your fence. Same guys broke ours last week,” he stutters.
“Oh, whatever,” Vanessa says, rolling her eyes. “Don’t let it keep you up at night. We’re kind of busy right now, Antonio.” And she closes the door.
Antonio is burning with humiliation as he turns to go home.
• • •
• • •
Vanessa treats him like a kid, or worse! Tears spring to his eyes, which makes him even madder. He’s going to show them he doesn’t care. He’s going to get drunk himself!
Antonio storms into his house and starts opening kitchen cabinets, pulling out bottles. Bailey’s, Kahlua, vodka, rum, what is all this? Humming to himself, he pours a little of one into a glass and tastes it, then adds another. Together they’re pretty terrible, so he adds a bunch more Kahlua, then heads to his room.
• • •
• • •
Firing up his Mac, he starts messaging crazily on all his platforms. He’s feeling a lot better now. That stupid Vanessa and her friends, who cares about them!
At some point he must have gone into the living room, because the next thing he knows, he is face down on the couch, aware of someone sniffling and crying next to him. His head feels like it’s full of cotton and he sees the empty bottle of Kahlua on the table next to him. Could he have just left it there?
“Menos mal,” his grandmother is saying, wiping away a tear.
Antonio bolts up. “Abuela! Where’s Mom?”
“She had to work late, mijo. Big project she has to finish. She called me to come.” She stares at the bottle on the table as tears roll down her face.
Of all the people that Antonio does not like to see upset, his grandmother is #1 on the list. Sweet, kind abuela, who still thinks he is a Good Boy, her angelito. Something about her makes him want to protect her, so he is always on his best behavior with her.
Now she can see that it was all an act.
He looks around at the scene of carnage she must have walked into: books and papers pushed off the table, the TV blaring, his coat and shoes kicked off, framed photos knocked over. She gets up heavily and picks up a figurine of La Virgen that has fallen face down and cracked.
“I’m sorry,” Antonio mutters, but there is nothing more he can say. She cries quietly and says nothing. Antonio feels the tears spring to his eyes, and he doesn’t try to stop them from falling.
• • •
He fires up his Mac and checks in with the Robotics Club, getting instantly caught up in a thread about programming UAVs. After a few minutes, he looks at the glass on his desk and wonders if he was really going to drink this disgusting concoction.
“That was a stupid idea,” he says, getting up to dump the contents before anyone finds out. On his way back to his room, there is a knock at the door. It’s Vanessa.
“Yes?” he says coldly, the scene at her house coming back to him. Vanessa seems nervous, though, and can’t look him in the eye.
“I wanted to see if you were all right,” she says. “I’m sorry I was such a jerk before,” she adds, looking down.
“Who were those guys?” Antonio finally thinks to ask.
“Mariah’s boyfriend and his friend. They got all drunk and wouldn’t leave, and then my mom came home. I caught hell,” she says, looking guilty. “It was stupid.”
“Yeah,” Antonio manages. “I nearly caught hell myself.” He thinks about what might have happened if he’d ended up drunk when his mom got home.
“You only live once,” she says, and smiles. Antonio smiles back. The only good to come of this crazy afternoon, he thinks, is that they’ve crossed this finish line together.
• • •
He kicks stones the whole way, thinking. He’s used to being picked on, and learned to ignore it. “A wise man does not argue with fools,” his father is always quoting.
The worst part, he realizes, is finding out that Vanessa is such a flake. This little scene has made him kind of hate her, even though he knows he doesn’t truly hate her, just her friends.
Antonio goes into his room and pulls out his iPad. Still stinging from the scene at Vanessa’s, he thinks about what he could post about it. He doesn’t know a lot of kids at school, but he has more followers than you’d think, because he’s clever sometimes, and funny. He knows he could craft a great Snapchat story about drinking tequila all afternoon that would get everyone rolling—even Mariah!
• • •
• • •
He heads into the kitchen and grabs a bottle of tequila and a glass. He locks his bedroom door and starts rearranging furniture. Chairs overturned, pictures crooked, books … he could do a selfie of him chewing up his homework!
He pours a glass and starts composing, laughing to himself. The last scene is the empty bottle, and incoherent scribbles nearly covering the screen.
Ready to upload, Antonio discovers something else that’s already blowing up online. He’s sorry he looked, but he can’t stop himself—it’s nude snaps of Vanessa, looking mad drunk, uploaded in the last hour. After a few minutes, he gets sick of the comments about “that thot,” and actually powers off his iPad.
Antonio realizes that he’s not going to post his Tales of Tequila after all. It’s suddenly clear to him that drinking is not funny. When it hurts, it can harm just like any other weapon.
• • •
He starts composing the snaps in his mind, then realizes he doesn’t have much enthusiasm for it after all. It’s not that funny. He just wanted to make himself feel better.
When Antonio feels disappointed with the world, he usually takes refuge in Minecraft, and this is where he heads now—to a better world, he tells himself with a bitter laugh.
Often he plays alone, but today he dives into multiplayer mode. To his surprise, there is someone whose avatar he recognizes—it’s Arianna, the only girl in Robotics Club. Normally she’s super shy and quiet, but playing the game together, he sees a whole other side to her. She’s funny and assertive, and her creations are amazing. He’s enchanted by her aesthetic. He gets so involved chatting with her that he nearly dies.
By the time his mother calls him for dinner, Antonio is flying high—not only in the game. In fact, he feels sorry for the person he was a few hours ago, upset about Vanessa. What he’s feeling, he realizes, is the stuff of songs—a lot better than anything that comes out of a bottle.