His life looks like a cooler version of a Ralph Lauren ad. I squint at a photo of his mother. She looks like a less bombastic Sofia Vergara.
Is your mom Latina? I text him right then, out of the blue. Because I’m curious and jealous at the same time. Because just a few days ago, I thought I was just like him. Mixed race. Hyphenated American. But American.
royceb: My grandfather is Mexican. Mom is Mexican-Italian. Why do you ask? My dad is Norwegian-German by the way. English-Irish too I think. Who knows? Aren’t we all just American?
Not me, not anymore, I can’t help but think. Annoyed, I don’t text him back. What’s the point? He’s just some cute rich guy I’ll never see again. Let’s be serious. Guys like that don’t date girls like me. They only hook up with girls like me, and I’m not about to be anyone’s booty call. Not even for someone as cute as him...
Besides, his dad is a congressman who thinks all undocumented immigrants should be deported. Frightening. Another reason to steer clear.
Kayla comes out of the bathroom and sees me holding my phone. “Who’s that?” she asks, looking over my shoulder.
“Remember I told you about that cute guy I met at the hospital the other day?”
She perks up. “Yeah. Hey, you should invite him to the party!”
I’d thought of that earlier, when he asked what I was doing this weekend, but decided against it. “No.”
“He lives on the other side of the city all the way in Bel-Air. By the time he gets here, the party will be over.” In truth, I was embarrassed about inviting a rich Westside kid over to the Valley. I look at all the photos on his FB page again. It confirms everything I assumed, from the way he dressed to the confident way he’d gotten my number. He’s a total player, and I’ve never even had a boyfriend. Besides, what if he thought the party was lame? That I was lame?
“God, Jas, you make it sound like Bel-Air is a different planet,” says Kayla with a sniff.
Kayla drives us past Lo’s place. Cars are bunched in the driveway and along the curb; kids are milling on the streets. I told my parents I’d be staying the night at Kayla’s house. After the blowup at the dinner table on Wednesday, they let me sleep over without asking any questions. I’m glad I’m going to this party and doubly glad my parents have no idea where I am. I’m going to have fun—the kind of fun that I’m never allowed to have.
I deserve to let my hair down. Maybe even meet a boy. (But I’ve already met a boy, I think.) No matter. I’ll have fun anyway. Dance a little. Get outside of myself.
“Look at all the cars,” Kayla says. “We’re going to have a good time. You’re going to have a good time, right?”
“Sure,” I say. “That’s why I’m here.”
“There’s a bag behind my seat. Can you get it for me?”
I reach back for the bag. As I pick it up, I hear bottles clink. I turn to her, trying not to sound accusatory. “I didn’t know you were planning to drink.”
“It’s only a couple of beer bottles. Barely anything. Don’t worry. If I drink a little at the beginning, I’ll have a chance to sober up before we go home.”
I haven’t even thought about drinking. My parents would kill me if I took even one sip. Filipinos believe “nice girls” don’t even think of drinking.
Our house has been quieter than normal since the news. Most of the noise comes from either Danny and Isko shouting at each other about dumb little brother things like who will grow up to be the tallest or smartest. No one has told my brothers anything.
Even though they’ve figured out I’m fighting with Mom and Dad—which happens like never, so they know it’s about something serious—I don’t have the heart to tell them what it’s about. I can’t. It seems wrong to worry my brothers when they’re still so young. I don’t want them to have to live in fear like I am now. I think of those scruffy guys we sometimes see ambling outside the Home Depot, and how we felt bad for them, because they would take any job, do anyone’s dirty work—they were illegal and had no choice. Is that who we are now? Is that where I’m going to end up?
Instead of sulking, Mom has gone into full-on detail cleaning mode—like washing the miniblinds and wiping down the doors, which she does to keep herself calm and focused when she’s too emotional. When her life feels like it’s spiraling out of her grasp, she has to find something to control. That would usually mean telling her kids what to do, but she feels guilty, so now she’s spending her energy on cleaning and cooking. We always eat well when she’s bothered by something. If the problem is really big, she cooks bibingka, my favorite rice cake. The buttery, sugary coconut scent means one of two things. It’s either Christmas morning, or Mom’s stressed out. Let’s just say it’s not Christmas and there’s a ton of bibingka in the house right now.
School’s not much better. Everyone’s talking about colleges, even the slackers who didn’t really care about school until a week or two ago. Now everybody’s obsessed with their lists—ranking first, second, third, seventeenth choice. I’d always dreamed of going to Stanford, and had planned to apply to a few schools back east as well, although I’m worried that’s too far from my family. I was supposed to apply to Cal Berkeley and UCLA too, with UC Santa Barbara as my safety. I’d taken the Regent’s Scholarship for granted just a few days ago, but what’s the point of applying to the UC system if I don’t have any papers? If I’m not a citizen or a green-card holder, I’m not eligible for federal or state grants or loans, which makes the UC schools just as expensive as private colleges and totally out of reach.
Maybe it doesn’t matter anymore, because if I’m not legal, I don’t even know how long I can stay in this country. Maybe I should just go home right now and cry myself to sleep. Why am I even here at this dumb party?
I’m about to say forget it, let’s go back, when Kayla finds a parking spot. “Here,” Kayla says. “You can hold my keys.”
Walking across the street are two boys from school, Carl Thompson and Alan Chen. “Science geeks?” Kayla whispers. “Shouldn’t they be studying at home so they can get into Harvard or wherever they’re going?”
“What’s wrong with that,” I say, bristling and feeling jealous of those guys, who still have their future ahead of them.
Kayla laughs. “We’re cheerleaders, Jas. We’re supposed to have social lives.” We’re at the house now and she eyes a group of boys hanging out in the front yard. She whispers again. “Isn’t that Sam Curry?” She points to our quarterback from last year who graduated.
“You should know. Didn’t you date him?” I tease.
“Oh yeah, right.” She tosses her hair over her shoulder and laughs.
“Anyway, aren’t you here for Dylan?” I remind her.
She giggles. “Just keeping my options open. That dark-haired boy over there with Sam is cute.”
I glance across the yard, but I’m not really paying attention.
“Whatever,” I say.
He’s not even half as cute as Royce. Ugh. I should really stop thinking about him. That’s not going anywhere.
I want to go inside and sit down with a glass of Vitaminwater and listen to gossip, but it’s so crowded that I realize I won’t be able to hear anyone talking. “I thought this was supposed to be a kick back?”
“It is,” Kayla laughs, turning the door handle. “Let’s go find Lo.”
“Okay.” It occurs to me that when we left for this party, I wanted to try to chill and blow off steam. But now I’m just trying to avoid my feelings. I’m a cheerleader. I like peanut butter and pizza. Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus. I grew up on Gossip Girl and Sex and the City reruns. I believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Freedom of speech. Every Olympics, my family gathers around the TV and we join the chant: “USA! USA! USA!” I love my country. I love America. Being American is as much a part of me as breathing.
Except it turns out I’m not American where it counts.
Kayla and I enter the living room. A drum kit, amps, and mic stand have been set up in a corner of the living room. The band’s name, Bob Marley Lives, is on the kick drum and on a spray-painted banner made from a sheet that hangs on the wall.
Lo sees us right away. “I’m so glad you came, Jas.” She turns to Kayla. “Hey,” she says. “Drinks are in the kitchen and the garage. Help yourself.”
“Thanks,” Kayla says. She’s already not paying attention, I can tell, and is looking for Dylan. She wanders toward the kitchen.
Lo has already turned around. The bass player is asking her whether or not she has some kind of cable or other. Lo smiles at me as she runs past to go find it. She’s so beautiful. Carefree. Focused on music, life and friends. The bassist stands there and sort of smirks and raises his eyebrow like he’s sort of just stuck standing there until Lo returns. I smile back.
There are people here that I recognize from school. Veronica Lucas, who was veep when I was class president last year, waves hello. She’s now senior class president. Darla Anne Tucker, who’s in the California Scholarship Federation with me—the club for kids who have high GPAs—stands next to her. Mark Arias, Billy Ogasu, and Len Anderson, whom I know from Math Club, are all wearing checkered flannel shirts and have round pins on their collars with the band’s logo. Normally, I would join one of those groups, but right now all I want to do is melt into a chair, which I do and sit down by myself.
Julian, Lo’s boyfriend, is sitting on a couch, tuning a guitar. He has it connected to his iPhone. He runs the pick along each string, making minor adjustments until he’s happy. Then he gets up and sets it on a stand and checks the microphone. “Hey! Hey! Check! Mic! One...two... Check. Check. One two!”
People start streaming into the living room and I see Kayla with Dylan. They already look like a couple, giggling and whispering in each other’s ear. She drops a half-filled drink in my hand, winks at me, then turns back to him without getting my approval, which I don’t know if I would have given or not. He’s older than her and I hate to see her sidetracked, because I’ve seen her lose focus before, when her grades dropped last year. I worry she’s burying her feelings about her parents’ separation in yet another new guy.
Kayla can be pretty vulnerable when it comes to looking for affection. She teases me that I’m the only girl on the squad who’s never made out with a guy, let alone hooked up with one. Guys have been interested, but I’ve never been that into anyone before. Which makes me think of Royce again, which is annoying.
It’s not like my parents let me date either. My mom was a chaperone for her own sister when my auntie Riza was already twenty-three years old. It’s a wonder anyone gets married in the Philippines. They force you to have a chaperone on dates even when you’re an adult, then they ask you why you aren’t married yet.