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Quinceanera.

In junior high every girl I knew spent years planning her quinceanera. For most every girl, her quinceanera, not her wedding, would he the most memorable night of her life. The celebration of her fifteenth birthday meant a night of dancing with the cutest boys she knew and gifts from everyone. It meant a night of freedom to get trashed, to maybe lose her virginity, and to come home early the next morning. I once dated a girl, Viviana Rodriguez, who made me wait until her quinceanera to even kiss her on the cheek. We were both hot for each other, but she was Catholic and insistent: nothing until the quinceanera.

When the big day came I spent it with a hard-on heavier than a tire iron. Through the church service, the dinner, and the dance, I couldn't contain myself. Sometime before midnight she rubbed up close to me and whispered that I should get my truck running and she'd meet me after a while.

We barely made it out of the parking lot before she had my pants undone and her hands and mouth around me. I drove south and found the first farm road. We spent the night in an orange field in November, stuck on each other like a couple of street dogs in heat. In the morning I dropped her off in the electric blue sunrise. I watched her walk down the alley toward the back gate of her house with one hand over her shoulder holding up a busted dress strap, her alcohol breath evaporating in little gusts over her head. Weddings, as a contrast, were taken care of at a Justice of the Peace's office with a baby crying and the young groom in Ben Davis coveralls and oil-stained Red Wings.

Every guy I knew couldn't wait for a girl's quinceanera, either. In Hebbronville, girls at thirteen spent their time sitting in groups pasting pictures of dresses into a composition book that had playlists and a changing roster of sweethearts and best friends who'd be part of their fifteenth birthday, too. But the boys huddled around thinking about which girl would be the easiest lay on the night of her quinceanera. Would it be Lizzie Garza, who just got dumped by her college-bound boyfriend? She'd be vulnerable and eager to show her ex what he was missing. It could be Rosa Longoria. She played the field like a dude. It could be anyone's night with her. Or maybe it was the redhead Lacy Brown. She was as tight as they come, but maybe Lacy was waiting for her quinceanera to go wild on some guy.

The places we lost our virginity were common enough. In a town as small as Hebbronville they were always off limits to anyone whose business wasn't getting laid on the night of a quinceanera. There were the farm roads out of town; these were the go-to spots because they were easily accessible and gave a glimpse of the stars. Plus, cops never cruised farm roads at night--unless they were hooking up with a girl or picking up a couple pounds of dope. There was The Point, an old bridge made of caliche brick going east out of town toward the gulf. A creek used to run under it, but I'd always known it as dry. Sometimes driving toward The Point you'd see a warm orange glow coming out from under it, and you'd know someone was getting lucky. Wilder couples climbed the old fire escape to the top of the Viggo, an abandoned hotel on Main that was rumored to be the site of a shootout between Pancho Villa and some cowboys. The hotel was overrun with all kinds of rabid animals, but the roof was still a good place to get it on with your girl and kill a case of beer.

Eighth grade through freshman year had every single one of my buddies thinking about how to hook up with a girl on her quinceanera. Everyone had their favorites. Bobby always had a white girl in mind. Even girls with white parents still got a quinceanera in Hebbronville. Bobby was set on seeing a blonde girl's pussy by the time he got out of high school. His dream girl was Leslie McCook. She was an alright girl with a small chest and thick volleyball thighs. Everyone said she came from the same McCooks who had oil money hidden away in a small town named after them somewhere close to the Mexican border. I think when Bobby thought of her he smelled money more than pussy. He'd talk about laying Leslie down on the bench seat of his dad's '87 Chevy with the 454 rumbling in park. He'd keep the dome light on, he said, so he could witness her blonde thatch dripping and pungent when he pulled down her panties under the filth of the moth-light.

I always thought of Mary. But I could never get too nasty about it when Bobby was around because they were cousins. When her quinceanera finally did come, I made sure I was there. Mary's mom made Bobby be one of the escorts. Bobby and Mary were real close, especially the last couple years since her dad was doing time in Huntsville for a few kilos of pot he was busted with in his eighteen-wheeler. Now Bobby's dad helped Mary's mom with the bills. He'd tell Bobby to go over once a month to wash their car and sometimes change the oil.

Mary dropped off the invitation at Bobby's a few weeks before her big party. We were kicking back in his '86 Firebird in the dirt driveway beside his double-wide. Bobby was fourteen, but he'd been cruising in that car since he was twelve. Bobby Sr. rebuilt the engine for a pipe-fitter who was making big money at a rig near the gull in Corpus Christi, but then he got locked up for moving wetbacks. My dad said us young guys feel like we can never have enough money. Its Bobby's car now, but he'll have to bust his ass at the tire shop with his dad to make money for the paint job and hope Louie doesn't want his car back when he gets out of Huntsville.

We just finished taking a few hits from a pipe Bobby made out of a brass faucet valve when Mary got out of her mom's Tahoe and started walking toward the car. I let it go that I really wanted to bang Mary. As soon as I said it, I braced for a slug to the shoulder. Bobby didn't do shit though. The two of us stared at her brown legs. They were dark and smooth like lacquered mesquite.

"Junior, what are you doing?" Mary said.

"Chilling."

"Here's the invitation for the quinceanera. You better get fitted. My morn already told me you were pretty much the only one who hasn't gone to rent the tux."

I sat in the car waiting for her to peek inside. An afternoon breeze carried the smell of her perfume in the car. When she bent down, I looked up. Her tits were soft and golden like diamond tuck. Mary wasn't wearing a bra, and her tank top was white.

"Hey what's up Mary? I don't get an invite or what? I said.

"Hey!" she said. "Go get fitted Junior. And yes, you can bring your friends, too."

The way she said friends made me think she meant me specifically. I knew Mary was seeing Mike Hernandez, and he would be her escort, but that didn't matter. I knew a lot of dudes who ended up scoring with girls on their quinceanera even if they weren't their escorts. Besides, Mike was a dick. He went around acting big shit in his letterman jacket. He played varsity receiver, but all the old men at the barbershop called him Mantecoso because his greasy hands never caught a touchdown pass.

She reminded Bobby one more time about getting fitted, then walked back to her mom's car. Bobby fooled around with the CD player, and I snuck a long look at Mary's ass before she left with her mom.

Mary's quinceanera was at the VFW. It was a cheap place to rent with murals on every wall. There were jets, aircraft carriers, and brown-skinned soldiers in far-off lands painted on the cinderblock walls. Squeak, a Vietnam vet who never talked, painted it himself years ago, nights after he was done doing paint jobs at Freddy's Body Shop off Main Street. A long oak bar table and jukebox were the only other things in the hall. The jukebox had all the Texas musicians the old timers liked. There was Ramon Avala, Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Flaco Jimenez, Lightnin' Hopkins, Buddy Holly, ZZ Top, and a few others. The VFW was the place where all the old vets came to talk about the old days and bitch about how nothing was as good as it used to be.

Me and Juan were Bobby's two invites, but we didn't have to rent the cheap tux like Bobby. Aunt Silvia starched the white long sleeve I only used for funerals and weddings, and I put on some black Levis. Bobby stuck around for pictures and dinner with the rest of the people in Mary's party, then came over to hang with me and Juan who were bumming Buglers off the old timers. We followed Bobby outside. It was springtime in Hebbronville, and the early evening sun was spreading wild flares of heat over the caliche.

"Don't look so paranoid. II you all keep moving your heads around like we're doing something wrong someone's going to bust us," Bobby said.

He fumbled for his keys and opened the door. Bobby got in and took a baggy from the ashtray.

"Here it is boys, scama, Bobby said. He held it up in front of the steering wheel.

"That it? Dude, that's not enough for all of us," Juan said.

"Hey. One line of this is gonna make you shit,' he said.

"It's going to what?" I said.

"To shit, dude. It's when you know it's real, like uncut. It'll make you shit," Juan said.

Bobby twisted off the tie around the baggy and dumped most of it onto the armrest. He took a business card from his wallet that came from inside the VFW. It was white with purple letters that said, "Martinez Plumbing." A phone number and "Go Longhorns!" was printed at the bottom.

He cut up three lines. They weren't big and a couple little rocks bunched up in the middle of each one. Bobby rolled up a dollar and handed it to me.

"Go ahead, ladies first, Danny," he said.

"Hey fuck you, dude. I don't wanna OD out here next to your crappy car. You scored the shit, you go first."

For two weeks now Bobby was going on about how he had something special lined up for all of us. His enthusiasm was so great that me and Juan wondered what the hell he had planned. The last time he was talking like that, he drove us to Old Hebbronville on the south edge of town. The place was really just an old rail yard from some time back in the 1900s. High schoolers went there to smoke out and hook up.

We cut through some high buffalo grass toward a faded red rail car with the roof rusted out. Inside, there were about seven plants of prime bud with little orange hairs glittering in the sunlight that peeked through the holes up top. On the floor someone had two jars of bud curing. Bobby jacked one and we all got high for the first time using a Dr. Pepper can.

Now, here he was with a smirk of pride across his face. He'd shown us one more rite of passage into juvenile delinquency. He looked for a while at Juan who stared into the car toward the armrest like a coke fiend.

"Man get the fuck out of the way," Juan said.

Bobby got out of the car and passed the dollar to Juan.

"Dude, you all are fucking stupid. Can't OD from a crappy little line."

Juan bent over and sniffed loud. He let out a big squeal and rubbed his nose hard.

"Shit," he said. "I don't think it all went in. Stings."

I grabbed the dollar from Juan and sat in the car. I chose the line on the other side of the armrest. I wanted to save the middle one for Bobby because it was bigger. I wasn't scared of getting too high, but if something happened I didn't want it going down at Mary's quinceanera.

I snorted the line. When I was done, my insides went numb from my nose all the way down to my throat. It smelt like gasoline.

Bobby took the dollar, and I got out of the car. It was brighter outside. The sun broke from the clouds, and its thick bars of faded light spread wide over the parking lot. Beads of sweat ran down my back, and my starched shirt was itchy.

"Hey Bobby, we done? Juan said.

"Hold on, we need to smoke a cigarette, Bobby said. He gave us one from a wrinkled pack of Camels.

The cigarette cut through the anxiety that was starting to crawl around my skin. I thought about all the old men in the VFW, how they all walked out into the hall before it was crowded. Their eyes fixed on Mary's hips in her silver dress. A few times I heard the men at the bar mumble about how it was a shame Man 's dad wasn't there to see his little girl become a woman. They didn't mean that. If anything it gave them free reign to imagine more explicitly what they could do with Mary if they had the chance.

Someday, I thought, I would be an old man, too.

"How much that cost you, Bobby?" Juan said.

"Twenty bucks. You feel anything? You should, it's fucking scama."

"Dude, I don't know but this cigarette's making me want to take a shit,' I said.

"Told you," Bobby said. "Hey. you all get in the car just in case someone comes. That wav they won t see us."

Me and Juan walked around the other side of the car. Bobby turned the ignition so he could roll down the windows. His passenger door only opened from the inside, so I wiped my nose with my sleeve and reached in. Juan crawled in back and sat long ways to stretch his legs.

I sunk into the seat. My heart was beating fast, but I didn't say anything. I had one hand in my pocket picking at the groove in my foldout knife. I took a drag and thought about Mary in her silver dress, hen she stood with Bobby Sr. in front of everyone, Mary would smile and look down at the tiled floor anytime he said something about how hard she worked as a clerk at Gonzalez Pharmacy. Her black hair was drawn back tight and covered in white beads the color of pearls. Mary looked beautiful like the statues of virgins in the Catholic cemetery.

Bobby turned the ignition again to roll up the windows. I took the last drag and flicked it out. I wasn't feeling too bad anymore, but my nose leaked like a loose drain plug.

"Wait, let's finish the rest of this. Danny give me your knife," Bobby said.

I passed the knife to Bobby. I watched him pull the Made out and stick it in the bottom of the baggy. He brought the pyramid of powder to his nose and sniffed up. He handed me the baggy and knife with one hand and covered his nose like he was trying to keep it from bleeding.

"Damn dude, you all right?" I said.

"Yeah, you just got to take it fast so none of it falls out," Bobby said.

I snorted it quick like Bobby and passed it to Juan. The bump shot right through my nose, and I was high again. I could chug a few cold beers and start talking to Mary. The clouds were gone, so we walked back to the hall with our heads down.

Nobody said anything.

As soon as we got inside, my back and head felt cool. An open vent blew cold air from the ceiling by the hack door. La Galla was working security. He was an old man who used to be a cop. Rumor had it he liked dressing up in his wife's clothes. One day another cop walked into his house and saw La Galla prancing around the living room in a tight dress and heels. That's the story Dad would tell me and Bobby whenever he took us to get burgers at the Longhorn and saw La Galla drinking coffee with the waiter, Fat Mike. Dad called him a queer, too.

Usually that's when Bobby would say, "For a small town, we got a lot of those queers, Mr. Mendoza."

Anytime Bobby said that, Dad would look up at both of us real serious and say, "Damn right, get out while you still can."

Sheriff Alaniz fired La Galla a few years ago around the time he was busted dressing up like his wife. The Sheriff told him it was because he was a drunk, but word got out it was because he didn't want La Galla "fagging up" the Sheriff's department. Besides, most of the cops cruising up and down the streets at night are buzzed anyway.

La Galla walked up to Bobby and asked him what the hell we were doing outside for so long. He put the weight of his body on one side of his hips and rested his elbow on a Mag flashlight that swung off his belt.

"You're just going to pretend you're not part of the quinceanera and hang out with these goofballs or what, Bobby?"

La Galla stared at him. Then he looked at me and Juan, disappointed.

"Get the heck back over to your table up front, son. Oyes and give me those cigarettes," he said. La Galla held his hand out to Bobby.

Bobby took the pack out of his purple cumberbund. He cut through the center of the dance floor and made his way toward the front hall where Mary and all her friends were sitting. La Galla left out the back exit to smoke while me and Juan stood there looking out toward Bobby. Strobe lights bounced red, blue, green, and yellow shapes off Bobby's and everyone else's clothes. The solid thump of the Tejano music beat in my chest. The smell of Old Spice and sweat was thick where men were walking in and out of the bar.

I went to the side of the dance floor by the long buffet table. I wasn't hungry, but I figured I should try to do something instead of standing by the back door all night. I needed a reason to talk to Mary. Juan walked off somewhere, maybe to go find La Galla to bum a smoke off him. All the old people, relatives of Bobby's and Mary's that I met one time or another, were laughing at round tables near the buffet. The old men wore their best black or white cowboy hats. They poured shots of Crown Royal and mixed Buchanan's and Topo Chico for each other.

I nodded my head and shook a couple of their calloused hands until I got to the food. When I lifted one of the huge warmer lids I saw it was carne guisada, not my favorite. I grabbed a spoonful of meat and gravy and put it onto my plate.

I scanned through the strobe lights trying to find a seat with some people I knew from school. Bobby walked over and said I should go sit with the rest of the guys in front.

"It's just Mary's boyfriend and his buddies. They scored a fifth of Cuervo,' he said.

At the front of the room, there were tables where Mary and the others in her quinceanera were supposed to sit. BY this time though, the girls and guys weren't together. We walked by Mary and the girls who were sitting at a table gossiping and eating cake. I smiled at Mary, and she smiled back. Then, she burst into laughter with the other girls. The guys were on the other end of the long row of tables. Mike, Mary's boyfriend, called Bobby over.

"This fucker drinks more than any of you all. He is a crazy, little bitch," he said.

Bobby was fourteen. Older men didn't think of his age. His cheeks were sunken brown and a bump the size of his knuckle stood out on the long, thick blade of his nose. He broke his nose in a chingada with his dad when he was twelve. One afternoon a cop dropped Bobby off at his house. Bobby Sr. didn't mind his son being dropped off by the cops--it was a matter of time, he supposed-but for the kid to be caught stealing was embarrassing. Bobby Sr. yanked the boy by the arm and dragged him into the living room where he started knocking him all over the house.

When we were a couple of years older and drank more, Bobby would run through the scenes of that day: a living room window was busted out, fists punched through the Masonite walls, again and again the heavy thud of his empty body hit the floor. It was Bobby's mother who managed to make her husband come to his senses by breaking a glass lamp over his head. When he woke, he cried himself over a bottle of whiskey and was so guilt ridden he decided to involve himself with Bobby's decisions as little as possible. Besides talking about cars the two really had nothing else to say to each other.

After the assbeating, Bobby never got caught stealing again. Whatever he did, he made sure his tracks were covered.

Mike's purple tie hung undone around his neck. His wrinkled shirt was unbuttoned, too. A new tattoo of a girl's face was on his chest and every time he scratched it he reminded me of an ape. Mike shoved the bottle of Cuervo to Bobby's chest. Bobby unscrewed the lid and took a swig. It was short and he winced, but everybody was too buzzed to notice. They were all laughing at each other. Mike and his friends didn't notice when Bobby passed me the bottle, either. When I took a swig the tequila burned all the way down my throat and my chest warmed like I was outside in the heat again. But once the drink went down, I looked at Mike and took another.

I chugged until the tequila slushed around at the bottom of my stomach, and I felt like I was going to throw it all back up. Once that happened, I moved the bottle from my lips and stood still until everything settled.

"But hey, he's Mary's cousin, so you know," Mike said. "She's crazy as shit, too."

"Yeah right, someone said.

"Hey, tell him about earlier, Mike," one of the guys in a purple cumberbund said.

"Just earlier before the main dance--did you see she had to dance with her uncle cause her dad s in the fucking pen. We were messing around a little bit, and all I could get was a finger in the tight bitch."

He stuck his middle finger under the noses of the guys next to him.

"But I told her. I said because she was real wet, guys. I said Mary, don't worry, tonight I'm gonna loosen you up, bitch!" Everyone started laughing again. I looked at Bobby, and he said fuck it and took another swig of tequila. He handed the rest of the bottle to me.

"See, see, this little fucker knows! His family's all messed up," Mike said pointing to Bobby with the same finger. "Come on, hey guys let's go outside and smoke. Let's talk about later tonight."

The guys got up and walked toward the back door of the VFW. Bobby had a big grin on his face watching them make their way to the parking lot.

"Man, did you hear all that shit he was saving about Mary? And you?" I said.

"Yeah, but come on. he's just messing around." Bobby said. "He's fucking cool, right dude."

Bobby smiled, his eyes were glassy. He started walking toward the back to catch up with the rest of the guys. But I just stood there. I was buzzing hard and light-headed from the strobe lights and smoke. It wasn't cool on this side of the room away from the floor fans and big vents near the bar. I took the last swig of tequila. It was a long one that went down smoother this time. I left the empty bottle on the floor behind a purple curtain. I flicked at my pocketknife again wishing for more tequila and Man. Her and her friends disappeared from the table. I walked around the side of the tables and stared out onto the floor to see if she was dancing, but if was just a few old couples holding each oilier close and moving to the beat of "Tragos Amargos,' a slow waltz about all I lie sadness women bring into a man's world. I went around the buffet that was beginning to smell like charred meat because the water evaporated from the warmers. Kids ran to every empty table looking for unfinished cups of liquor and change. I went past where the oldest men sat. They mumbled drunk to each other with their arms slung heavy around their tired wives. Toward the exit, I got a blast of cold air before I pushed the door open. The whole time my right hand was gripping the knife in my pocket, but when I got outside I pulled it out and kept my arms and shoulders loose.

Most of the stars had drowned in the pearl black sky. The night was cool and earthy now with the scent of damp soil. I smelled a rush of citrus from the orange trees, soft and limber, swaying in the April wind. I imagined spotting Mary somewhere outside waiting for me to find her. We'd walk to the darkest corner of the parking lot, and I would lean her against some old Chevy. I'd brush away a couple strands of her hair and kiss her on the lips. All of our desire for each other would finally be realized under those few tender stars. We'd breathe in I he seminal odor of the earth and our own young bodies. I'd let my hand wander in darkness over her warm hips.

But I was looking for Mike.

"Mike, hey Mike! Listen to me for a second!"

I clenched my fist around the knife and swung hard and loose at the side of his face. A pain shot from my list up to my shoulder. Mike had that faraway look in his eyes for a second as his face went numb.

I imagined waiting for him to get back up as a circle of the drunken party closed in around us. Mary would be there, too, reaching her hand out to me.

Nobody was outside.

The old Mexican corridos thumped muted bass guitar from inside the VFW. I walked faster trying to look anywhere I thought I heard a sound. But I couldn't see anything except the cars in the parking lot. Far off, near the road, I heard a door slam and then Mike laughing. He ran toward a truck whose engine just turned. Its mufflers broke the silence in the parking lot. Mike hopped into the back of the truck with a bunch of other guys and girls. Maybe Bobby was with them. Another truck's headlights flicked on and followed them. I saw the face and heard more hollering as the trucks rumbled out of the caliche parking lot and onto the main road into town.

I stood there and watched until the truck's red brake lights blurred into the orange and white lights of the rest of the cars cruising the main street late Saturday night.
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Author:Mendoza, Daniel M.
Publication:Boulevard
Article Type:Short story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2017
Words:5329
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Next Article:Blue (Southern Exiles).
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