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Fifteen and still a virgin, Carlos Amoroso wanted more than anything to get a girlfriend -- and hopefully get laid.
Yet he broke into a sweat and lost his breath anytime he went near a girl. Like now: He was carrying his tray across Lone Star High's crowded cafeteria, peering out from beneath the frayed hood of his sweatshirt. Ahead of him, a group of golden-skinned beauties garnished their hot dogs at the condiments counter, chatting and giggling.
In the center of the pack stood Roxana Rodriguez. With each laugh, her clingy top inched up her bare slim midriff above hip-hugging jeans. Long, shading lashes fanned her jade-green eyes. Thick eyebrows arched like the wings of an angel. Above her ruby lips rose the graceful nose of an Aztec princess. And long, blonde-streaked hair curtained across her shoulders toward her mesmerizing boobs. She was the girl Carlos yearned for.
For her part, however, Roxy didn't seem to even notice Carlos -- and since starting high school the previous year he'd yet to summon the nerve to utter a single word to her. But in his secret dreams, the JV cheerleader swarmed all over him.
"I totally want you," she panted, making such crazy love to him that his heart nearly burst.
The day after such reveries he usually slinked past her, his head down, a little hung over with embarrassment. But in last night's dream, the vision of her tearing his pants away had seemed so real it had startled him awake. And he'd resolved that today he'd give her his screen name.
During morning classes, he'd turned the folded note over in his damp fingers, rehearsing what he'd do: He'd stride straight up to her, jut his chin out, and say, "'S'up? Here's my screen name. IM me."
Simple. Clear. Confident. Except...First, he glanced over at his lunch table to make sure his friends weren't watching. Then he took a deep breath and jostled his tray through the cafeteria crowd toward the sophomore girls.
"He's not getting into my pants," a girl in a leopard-print top said, "but I might get into his."
"I know." Roxy extended her hot dog across the condiment counter, one chrome-studded-jean hip thrust out. "Guys can get so needy when you start dating them."
Carlos wasn't sure what Roxy meant. He knew she wasn't dating anyone. He'd asked around. Everyone confirmed Roxy was single. He put his trembling tray down.
But Roxy failed to notice him as she stroked the ketchup pump, protesting with a sly smile to her friends: "I can't get it to squirt."
Alongside her, a girl with cherry-red lipstick burst into giggles. "If anybody can, you can."
"Yeah," Leopard Girl agreed. "Try talking dirty to it."
Carlos recognized his chance to be Roxy's hero, though he didn't want to become the butt of the girls' joke.
Too late. Roxy's eyes latched onto him, as if he really was her hero. "You're a guy. Show us how you do it!"
The other girls darted conspiring glances at one another, grinning and giggling.
"Um...sure...um..." Carlos wrapped his fingers around the pump nozzle. "You just -- "
"Mmm, muscles!" Roxy squeezed her fingers around Carlos's biceps, shooting bright, unexpected heat arrows up his arm. The blood raced in his arteries. Sweat burst from his pores. His body quivered. And a spurt of ketchup shot out sideways from the unclogged pump, striking the front of his jeans. Splat!
"Oh, my God!" The girls exploded into peals of laughter.
"You must do that a lot," remarked Leopard Girl.
"I'm surprised he hasn't gone blind," squealed Lipstick Chick.
"Nice technique." Roxy smiled as she ketchuped her hot dog. Then the group strode away, laughing and whispering.
Carlos's heart crumpled like the folded note still inside his sweatshirt pocket. Not only had he failed to give Roxy his screen name, he'd made a complete fool of himself. How would he ever get her to like him?
But at least she'd talked to him. And with that encouraging thought, he lowered his tray to cover the splotch on his crotch and headed toward his friends' table.
Copyright © 2006 by Alex Sanchez
As Carlos approached his buddies' table, Playboy's eyes flashed at the red ketchup stain. "Dude, what happened? You get your period?"
Beside him, Pulga snorted so hard that Coke exploded out his nose. "You forget your tampons?"
"For that you'd better get a super-size Kotex," Toro chimed in.
"Shut up." Carlos plopped his tray down, secretly reveling in the attention.
The group had been his friends since boyhood, beginning with flea-size Pulga. He'd latched onto Carlos in kindergarten, newly arrived from Veracruz, not speaking a word of English. Carlos translated in whispers to him, and in turn, Pulga rewarded him with what seemed like the world's funniest booger jokes.
In second grade, Toro joined their class. Eager to make friends, he showed Carlos and Pulga how to pitch softballs, shoot baskets, and kick field goals. His athletic prowess, strong, thick build, and calf-brown eyes quickly prompted his nickname, Spanish for "bull."
Later that year, Playboy transferred to their school, sporting a self-possessed confidence that drew the boys like a magnet. His slick black hair, handsome looks, and wide-set eyes gave him an air of utter scorn. On a dare from Pulga one day, he brought his stepdad's Playboy to show-and-tell, and his nickname was born.
"You going to walk around like that?" Playboy now tossed Carlos a wad of napkins to dab the ketchup stain.
"You'd better put some water on it." Pulga handed Carlos a cup of ice water.
"Uh-oh," Toro remarked as Carlos dripped water onto the crotch spot. "Now you look like you peed yourself."
"So how'd you get Roxy to talk to your sorry ass?" Playboy asked, obviously impressed.
"Yeah." Toro leaned forward. "Why was she squeezing your muscle?"
Pulga snickered. "I'd give her a different muscle to squeeze."
Carlos's buds knew all about his crush on Roxy. He never stopped gushing about her. And though he now gave them a modest shrug, inside he glowed with pride.
"She wants you, man," Toro said, punching Carlos's shoulder.
"Yeah." Pulga chuckled as Carlos wiped his crotch, making a wet red smear that totally looked like he'd gotten a period. "She wants you to use a tampon."
"What you need is backup," Playboy advised, laying an arm around Carlos's shoulders. "I'll help you with her."
Playboy boasted the most experience with girls, having been the first of them to lose his virginity -- with a senior girl he'd met on a teen website. He'd gloated to the group how she'd been so hot for him she'd yanked out a condom and ordered him to put it on. Since that first time, Playboy had become practically a pro at web hookups -- though Carlos was never clear as to exactly what constituted a hookup. Sometimes Playboy described it as just making out; other times he claimed going total. Whichever the case, it was more than Carlos was getting.
"Thanks, but no thanks." Carlos slid out from beneath Playboy's arm. He trusted Playboy with almost everything -- except Roxy.
"Why don't you hook up with someone easier?" Pulga suggested. He'd become devirginized six months earlier with Carlotta Romero, the tallest girl in sophomore class (nearly a foot taller than Pulga). Since then, he got an afternoon matinee once a week when her mom volunteered with the homeless. Yet Pulga insisted Carlotta wasn't his girlfriend. "She's just a friend" -- he grinned wryly -- "with benefits."
"What you need," Toro now told Carlos, "is to get laid."
Toro claimed to have lost his virgin status last summer with a girl from another school named Leticia, though he was sketchy about details. That left only Carlos as a definite virgin. In fact, he'd never even mouth-kissed a girl.
"Duh!" Carlos slouched down in his cafeteria chair. "I know I need to get laid."
"Find a babe from another school," Playboy suggested. "If you screw someone from here, the whole school will know. Don't shit where you eat. That's my motto." He gave a loud, punctuating burp.
Carlos gazed from beneath his olive-green hood across the lunchroom at Roxy. Couldn't his friends understand he wanted more than a hookup? He wanted a girlfriend: someone he could talk to and do stuff with, who would listen and not make fun of him; someone he could count on. In his dreams, that girl was Roxy. Plus, she was incredibly hot.
"I'll go talk to her for you," Toro volunteered.
At least Carlos trusted Toro more than Playboy. But Toro had the jock muscles Carlos lacked. What if Roxy liked him better? Besides..."That's, like, so elementary school."
"Well," Pulga scolded, "high school isn't the place for anything serious. Wait till you're thirty and no one hot wants you anymore."
No one hot wants me now, Carlos thought.
When the bell rang, Playboy suggested, "Wrap your sweatshirt around your waist or everyone's going to laugh at you."
"I've got some shorts in my locker you can change into," Toro offered.
"Uh-oh," Pulga warned Carlos, "he's trying to get you out of your pants."
"Shut up." Toro swung at him, but Pulga ducked away.
As the boys carried their trays to the return line, they found themselves alongside Salvador "Sal" Encarnación, a senior who everybody said was gay -- though that didn't mean it was true. He was a tall, thin guy, about the same build as Carlos, with spiky brown hair and shiny little hoop earrings in both ears.
"Watch your backsides," Playboy cautioned his group.
"Screw you!" Sal shot back.
"Yeah, you'd like that," Pulga snickered.
Carlos had never understood why guys harped so much on the gay thing. But even though he felt sorry for Sal, he didn't stop his friends. He knew that if he spoke up, his buds would give him endless crap too, like "Woo-hoo, Carlos has a boyfriend!"
Instead, he turned away, watching Roxy strut out of the lunchroom and feeling a little less like a hero than he had before.
Copyright © 2006 by Alex Sanchez
That afternoon, Carlos followed his English class to the school library to choose a book to report on. He selected The Virgin Suicides -- a story he thought he'd relate to.
While waiting to return to class, he noticed a table full of girls whispering and laughing softly about starting some club. Among them was Pulga's benefit-friend, Carlotta, who waved to him. Beside her, a girl wearing an orange hoodie also smiled at him. And sitting with the girls was Sal, the alleged gay guy.
As Carlos began to read his book, he occasionally noticed how relaxed and comfortable Sal seemed with the girls, displaying none of that guy show-off-ness that Carlos's buds got into around chicks. How come? Was Sal really gay? How could he be, with all those girls practically swarming over him? Maybe that was the real reason guys called him queer: They were jealous.
On the bus ride home after school, Playboy returned his attention to Carlos's lunchtime ketchup incident: "How's your flow?"
Pulga and Toro laughed like a couple of delighted hyenas.
"Shut up," Carlos told them. "You bunch of pendejos."
"Pendejo" was the boys' favorite put-down for each other. Literally, it meant a pubic hair, though in Mexican slang it was like saying "moron" or "dumb ass."
Playboy gloated about a girl from another school he was hooking up with that afternoon.
As though not to be outdone, Pulga announced, "I've got my matinee with Carlotta."
And Toro followed suit, as if not to be left out: "I wish Leticia lived closer -- or that I had a car. She e-mailed me saying she's crazy-horny for me."
Carlos sat up in his seat. "Would you guys shut it?"
"What's your problem?" Playboy asked.
Pulga smirked. "He's just stressed 'cause he ain't getting any."
Toro gave Carlos a sympathetic nod. "I know how you feel, man."
As soon as Carlos got to his apartment, he unrolled the ketchup-stained jeans from his backpack, brought them to his nose, took a deep breath, and thought, For the rest of my life, whenever I smell ketchup I'll think of Roxy.
Then he gazed into the mirror -- not exactly his favorite pastime. He pulled his sweatshirt hood down and ticked through his mental checklist of things he didn't like about himself:
BODY PARTS THAT ARE FREAKISHLY BIG
PARTS THAT ARE PATHETICALLY SMALL
He thought his eyebrows looked like fat caterpillars, while his face was a pimple party. His brown hair hung like an unruly mop, and his teeth seemed more dingy than white. And yet...
He pulled off his sweatshirt, rolled up his shirtsleeve, and flexed his arm. A small lump -- barely tennis-ball size -- swelled in his biceps. Could it truly have impressed Roxy?
Yeah, right. No wonder the girls had laughed.
He tugged his soft, well-worn hoodie back on and went to the kitchen for a Coke, chips, and cheese curls. Then he phoned his pa, a construction foreman, at his cell number.
"Hey, mi'jo!" his pa answered.
In the background, Carlos could hear the banging hammers, beeping equipment, and shouting voices at the construction site.
"How were the girls today?" his pa asked. Ever since Carlos had begun grade school, his pa had always asked about the girls, like he expected Carlos to be some big Casanova.
"The girls were good," Carlos replied proudly, eager to tell him how Roxy had spoken to him and squeezed his arm. Maybe his pa could give him some advice.
"Today I talked to -- "
His pa interrupted. "I bet they're good! God, I wish I were your age again. Those were the best years of my life."
"Uh-huh." Carlos tried to continue. "Today I talked to this girl named -- "
"Hold on a sec." His pa cut him off again. Carlos listened as a man yelled something and his pa shouted back. Then he returned to Carlos: "Look, mi'jo, I'm a little busy now. See you Saturday. Te quiero." He hung up as Carlos whispered, "Love you too."
A familiar ache stirred in his chest. He wished he could talk more with his pa, but ever since the divorce three years ago he only got to see him once a week. Even then he had to share him with the beautiful young secretary his pa had left his ma for, and their toddler son.
Carlos tossed the receiver onto its cradle. What good would it do, anyway, to get advice about girls from a man who'd thrown away his marriage?
Carlos waded across the bedroom carpet, past discarded candy bar wrappers, strewn clothes, and video game cartridges to his computer. After pulling out his homework assignments, he put on his headphones, cranked a Tejano mix full blast, and returned his thoughts to Roxy.
Copyright © 2006 by Alex Sanchez
Carlos eked out his homework in between thinking about Roxy and IM-ing friends, till his ma arrived home.
"You're lucky to have a mom so pretty," people always commented. Carlos agreed that she was beautiful, with her cinnamon-colored eyes and slim figure -- although she seemed so short since he'd spurted past her in the last year.
"'S'up?" he now greeted her, prying his headphones off.
From the bedroom doorway, she scanned the chaos of his room and gave a smile of resignation. "Mi amor, how can you work in this mess?"
Carlos shrugged. At least once a week his ma hassled him to clean his room, but she never actually made him do it. Since the divorce, she'd pretty much stopped making him do anything.
She pulled the pins from her hair so it cascaded over her shoulders. "How was school today?"
Although Roxy remained foremost on Carlos's mind, he felt uneasy telling his ma about her. In contrast to his friends and his pa, who shared guy horniness about females, it felt too weird to think of his own ma feeling anything like that.
"Um, school was fine, except I need your help with math."
Fortunately, his ma worked as the accountant for an auto parts chain. "Let's go over it after dinner. Remember, Raúl is coming over."
Raúl was her boyfriend -- actually her third since the divorce -- a tall, brawny car mechanic, nothing like Carlos's short, skinny pa. Twice a week he came over for dinner, bringing dessert, after which he watched TV with Carlos's ma and stayed the night.
Tonight he brought over flan, a favorite of both Carlos and his ma. After dinner, his ma helped Carlos with his geometry, sitting close beside him at the dining table.
Carlos recalled how when he was a boy his ma would drape her arm around him, stroking her fingertips through his hair as she cradled his head into the warm soft cushion of her chest. But since starting high school it made him feel weird to sit so close to her, and he now scooted his chair away.
After they finished with his math, Carlos returned to IM-ing his friends, playing computer games, and thinking about Roxy. Around nine thirty, his ma knocked on the door to say good night. "Don't stay up too late, okay?"
She kissed him on the back of the neck and Raúl waved. "Sleep well."
Carlos waved back. He liked Raúl, except for one thing: Even though his ma closed her bedroom door, Carlos could still hear the faint squeak of bedsprings as she and Raúl went at it. It was a little gross. No, it was truly gross. Carlos didn't want to think about his ma getting it on, especially with someone she wasn't even married to. But how could he tell her that? Besides, he knew how hurt she'd been by the divorce. He wanted her to be happy. So, he put his headphones on and cranked up the volume.
Around ten thirty, he went to finish up the flan and watch TV. First he turned on an episode of Cops where they busted some toothless eighty-six-year-old who'd hooked up with a thirteen-year-old girl. Then he switched to a reality show in which eight college guys and girls shared a house, fighting all day but secretly boning each other at night. Was there any program that wouldn't remind Carlos he was the only person on the planet not getting laid?
Last he clicked on Queer Eye, a show where five gay dudes gave some grungy straight guy a makeover -- plucking his nose hairs, redecorating his apartment, and teaching him to bake a quiche -- so he could confidently propose marriage to his girlfriend and she'd tell him "yes." Which, of course, she did. On TV, the guy always gets the girl.
As Carlos watched, he recalled Sal, the supposedly gay guy at school. It was then that the idea first popped into his brain: If Sal truly were queer...Could he possibly help Carlos?...Not to propose to Roxy, of course -- at least not yet -- but to get her to maybe like him?
Immediately, he chucked the thought. This was real life, not some dumb TV show. Roxy wasn't his girlfriend. And Sal wasn't some makeover star.
Around eleven o'clock, Carlos gave a huge yawn, shut the TV off, and ambled toward his bedroom. After pulling off his sweatshirt, he peered in the mirror again. Squinting, he blurred his vision as though underwater and tried to imagine himself as handsome and confident.
No luck. Maybe after a super-size makeover. Dismayed by the reflection staring back at him, he draped his sweatshirt over the mirror. Then he kicked aside a plastic soda bottle, stripped to his briefs, and climbed beneath the tangle of bedcovers. But he couldn't stop thinking about that crazy idea.
Copyright © 2006 by Alex Sanchez