Sarah felt herself go numb. This couldn’t be happening. She gripped the phone, her knuckles going white, the knot in her throat almost unbearable.
“Sarah, are you still there?”
In an almost inaudible whimper Sarah answered, “Ah huh.”
“I know this is hard, honey„ but it’s not the end of the world. We talked about this already, and you knew it was a possibility. I tried, Sarah, I really did, but there’s no way around it. We’ve gone over all the other possibilities, but anything else is too much of a risk. It’s for the best.”
“But, senior year …” Sarah felt the anger building, and the tears burning in her eyes. She was ready to blow up, lash out. Then she heard her mom again. Her voice choked up as well.
“I know, honey. I’m so sorry. I really screwed things up this time.”
She heard her mom take a long, trembling deep breath and it broke her heart. She wanted to be with her, to hug her, and comfort her.
“Its okay, mom, I’ll be fine.”
Her mom cleared her throat and lowered her voice. Sounding very determined, she spoke again.
“I am going to make this up to you. I promise, okay?”
“I’ve already called Aunt Norma. She and Uncle William will be here this weekend. They wanna help us pack so you and I will have time to spend together. Then I’ll have to be in court on Monday.”
Sarah gasped. “Monday?”
“Yeah, babe, Monday”
Sarah covered half her face with her free hand and shook her head. But not wanting to make her mom feel any worse she choked back a sob.
“Alright, mom.” she whispered
“I’m gonna be here a while, honey, so don’t wait up for me. We’ll talk more about this tomorrow.”
She hung up and looked at her best friend Sydney who’d been sitting on the bed next to her the whole time and who stared at her now anxiously.
“She’s pleading guilty and gonna do at least three years. I have to go live with my Aunt Norma in California.” There was no more holding it together, though Sydney kept a strong face Sarah fell into his arms sobbing.
ONE MONTH LATER
La Jolla High School California
Even as she stood in the middle of a bustling hallway with noisy students rushing by her Sarah felt utterly alone. One month wasn’t nearly enough to prepare her for a new school, new friends, and new life. God, how she missed Sydney. This wasn’t at all how she’d imagined her first day as a senior in high school would feel like. She had so many plans at her old school and now she stood here completely lost not knowing anyone.
She clenched her backpack in her hand and walked in no particular direction. She wanted to get out of the middle of traffic of bodies. She searched for her cousin Valerie. She did say the main entrance hall just outside the counselor’s office didn’t she? They’d been dropped off together by her aunt but Sarah had to go to counselor’s office. Since she’d enrolled so late her schedule hadn’t come in the mail like Valerie’s. No sooner had they walked in the school had Valerie started socializing but promised she’d be right there when she got back from the office.
She'd finally found the office and the bell rang just as she walked out. Sarah tried not to panic. She glanced at her schedule but had no idea where her first class was. She backed up slowly until her back was against a wall. Had Valerie really abandoned her? No she wouldn’t. She took in some of the faces around her and wondered if she should just ask someone for directions to her first class.
High pitched squealing got her attention and she turned to the front entrance some girl had her arms wrapped around one of the guys that had just walked in. Sarah rolled her eyes. She’d always hated those types of girls. The guy was obviously a jock because he wore his letterman’s jacket and so did his two friends.
Deciding she was on her own, she walked back toward the office and frowned when she realized a map of the school had been just outside the office all this time. There were a few kids standing in front of it examining their schedules and then looking up at the map. Apparently she wasn’t the only newbie at this school. Not much of a consolation. Sarah looked around for Valerie more than a little annoyed at her.
Male laughter erupted just behind her and she turned to find the same jocks she’d seen walk in earlier with a few more guys horsing around. The tall one that was greeted at the door by the squealing girl was smiling when their eyes met. The smile on his face seemed to dissolve slowly. And she stood there frozen, her lips slightly opened. For a moment she thought he might say something and then she heard Valerie.
“Yo cuz! Where’ve you been?”
Sarah snapped out of her daze and watched as Valerie who’d already taken Sarah’s schedule smile wickedly. “We have two classes together!”
“We do?” Sarah’s cheeks still felt warm but she quickly walked along side of Valerie suddenly not annoyed with her anymore. Instead she was incredibly grateful for Valerie’s timing.
Valerie talked about the classes and just until they were far enough and around the corner of the building, “Oh my God, Sarah do you know who that was that was staring at you?”
Surprised and not sure why, Sarah pretended to not understand. “What? Who?”
Valerie gasped. “That was Angel Moreno! Don’t you remember I’ve told you about him and his brothers?”
“No.” Sarah lied. Of course she remembered part of the reason she could hardly breathe when she recognized him.
The bell rang again.
“Oh shit.” Valerie looked at her watch. “We’re gonna be late on our first day.”
She grabbed Sarah’s arm and they were off on a foot race to their first class.
TWO WEEKS LATER
Angel made his way quickly around the science building. His stomach tensed up as the bell rang. He was late to practice again and he knew his coach wouldn’t be happy. It was the second time this week, but he had to stay after class to get the extra credit assignment. He was failing Spanish II, again. Spanish! His parents owned a Mexican restaurant for crying out loud! Only reason he had taken it again, was because he needed the two years of foreign language, to even have a prayer getting into a four year college. And now it may cost him time on the field.
Apparently, he was only good at the curse words and the teacher called his Spanish, Spanglish. It was a catch 22 though, if he didn’t stay late to get the extra credit assignments he wouldn’t be able to make up some of the lousy scores he’d been getting on the quizzes and if he didn’t make them up he wouldn’t have the grades to play on the team.
Still he thought as he ran down the corridor of outdoor lockers. It wasn’t his fault the teacher was so slow about passing out the assignments. If he didn’t pick up his grade he’d have no choice but to stay after school for tutoring. Just the thought had him groaning.
He made it to the weight room just as they were starting warm ups. The coach barely looked at him and pointed to the bleachers outside in the hot sun.
“Twenty.” he said. “Make 'em fast.”
Angel knew what that meant he’d have to run up and down the bleachers. As he began to sprint toward the bleachers, he heard Melissa call out to him from the track area where the cheerleaders were warming up.
“Bleachers again, Angel?”
He smiled and nodded barely looking her way. Some of the other girls laughed and joined in. His dimples made their appearance as usual, although his smile was anything but genuine. The catcalls had never done anything for him, except make him uncomfortable, especially from this group of girls.
“Ooh, Angel! "Show us your stuff!”
Another one added.
“Shake that thing!”
At seventeen years old, Angel was already an impressive six feet two inches. He was very much following in his two older brother’s footsteps. Although it was nice to have instant notoriety as soon as he started high school, there were times he resented having to live up to his brothers legacies. He had the looks, the built, the popularity but unfortunately not the grades.
He frowned at the thought of his two older brothers being on full sports scholarships in college, and here he was struggling to stay eligible to play a high school football. It was almost too much to live up to, but he wasn’t going to give up. As his father and lately his oldest brother Sal, always said, failure was not an option.
Lost in his thoughts and still annoyed with himself, Angel ran slowly and pensively up the bleachers for the fourth of fifth time, he’d lost count. Sweat trickled down his face and he struggled to keep his breathing steady. He usually could get a rhythm going, but not today.
Startled, he almost lost his balance when someone ran right past him a little too close. He caught himself and was about to give him an earful when heard her apologize and realized he was a she.
“I’m sorry, did I bump you?” Her concern seemed genuine.
“Yeah, but I’m good.” Angel was bent over with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath.
“You sure you’re ok?” she asked again.
He looked up at her for the first time, still breathing hard. The first thing he noticed was her eyes. They were an amazing light green. A startling contrast to her dark features. She had a very fresh face compared to most of the girls he knew that were usually all done up even if they were in gym class. She stared at him as she too, stood there breathing hard.
Her hair was up in a ponytail, except for a few strands dampened by perspiration that stuck to the sides of her face and forehead. There was something familiar about her he just couldn’t place it.
“I’m fine,” He couldn’t help staring he hated the feeling of knowing he'd seen her before but not being able to place it.
“Good.” She started untangling the earphone wire; she’d apparently taken out of her ear when she stopped to check on him. She didn’t smile back or ask anything else She seemed eager to be on her way. He watched as she adjusted it in her ear and got ready to go back to her running.
With his heart pounding and palms sweating, to his own surprise he stammered. “So you like to run?”
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
She turned and looked at him without responding. Maybe she hadn’t heard him, he hoped.
“I’m Angel, what’s your name?”
All he could manage was a smile as the name sunk in.
“Well, have a good one,” she said, and ran off.
He watched as she ran up and across the bleachers. From a distance she looked very small and young. If he hadn’t seen her up close he wouldn’t guessed she was a freshman that might explain why he didn’t recognize her. But something about those eyes seemed a bit older than a freshman. What the hell did he know?
He started his run again. And his thoughts went immediately back to his grades. Was he really gonna need to be tutored? He shook his head in disgust and picked up his pace.
Sarah ran, concentrating hard. She had a feeling he was still watching her, and she’d die if she fell or tripped. The butterflies in her stomach were out of control. How could she almost knock him over? As usual she’d been so lost in thought. Of all people it had to be him. Maybe she should’ve said more to him but she'd been at a loss for words, thoughts, just like the first day of school when he’d caught her gawking at him like an idiot. Ever since then she’d avoided coming face to face again with him. Any time she even thought she saw him, she’d run in the opposite direction.
She wanted to faint when she realized who she’d bumped. Damn him and his smile. She was sure her legs would give out on her if she hadn’t left that second. As sure as she was, that he probably didn’t even remember her, she hadn’t wanted to chance making a fool of herself, again.
Sarah knew all about the great Moreno brothers. Valerie had lived here her whole life, and had gone through grade school and middle school with them. She told Sarah all about them every chance she got, since Valerie herself had a huge crush on Angel’s older brother Alex.
Sarah thought back to the first time she’d seen Angel, two summers ago. She and her mother had come out to visit her mothers’ sister, and Valeries’ step mom, Aunt Norma. Valerie had taken her along to a beach party with her.
It had been an all day party, but Valerie being self conscious about her body, decided they’d show up late, after all the swimming was done. They arrived when everyone was just hanging around the bonfires, and listening to music. She hadn’t been able to believe everything Valerie had told her about Angel, and his brothers. She made them out to be movie-star, drop-dead gorgeous. Valerie had poked her when he and his friends arrived. “There he is, that’s Alex’s little brother.”
Sarah looked up and saw him in all his glory. He was anything but little, even back then. He and his friends seemed to move in slow motion toward a group of girls. The girls waited their anxious smiles enormous. He wore a tank top that showed off his muscles and denim shorts. Sarah had never seen a more finer-looking smile: his dimples were incredible. She watched as one of the girls practically jumped in his arms, hugging him, and then looked around casually to make sure everyone was watching.
“Is that his girlfriend?” she’d whispered, still in awe of him.
Valerie had immediately huffed. “She wishes. That’s Melissa, the one I told you about, who’s forever throwing herself at him and tries to convince anyone that will listen, that the two are an item. When everyone knows he’s never had a girlfriend, probably never will. Why should he? When he can have all the girls he wants, whenever he wants?”
Sarah remembered watching him and fantasizing that day. It was all she could do. The girls he hung with seemed so and cool comfortable around him, and his friends. Laughing, sometimes a little too exaggerated, but still at least they could hold a conversation. Unlike Sarah, she’d had barely been able to breathe the first day of school when he looked at her. And now she’d almost knocked him down. If he did remember her as the gaping fool from the first day, he’d now have yet another idiotic memory of her. She was hopeless.
It didn't matter anyway. Making new friends was not in her agenda. She didn’t plan on sticking around long enough, so why bother?
She picked up the pace and tried to remove him from her mind. She remembered Sydney’s birthday. It was this weekend, and she had to make sure she’d finally e-mail the gift. She’d made a slideshow with pictures of the good times along with all of the songs that held special meaning to just the two of them. She knew Sydney would appreciate it much more than any store-bought gift.
If it hadn’t been for Sydney, she didn’t know how she would’ve gotten through the past year, and she wanted to show her appreciation for their friendship. It was one that went back almost ten years, and Sydney meant the world to her. They’d been through so much over the years, last year especially .
When Sarah was forced to move out to California with her Aunt, she and Sydney had made a pact to always keep in touch. So far they had through e-mails, and since Sydney’s parents had offered to get her a cell phone they had unlimited minutes, which meant they could talk everyday. Sarah knew she’d never again find such loyal and trusting friends and was determined to keep Sydney and his family in her life forever.
Aunt Norma didn’t know it yet, but Sarah had plans. She would be eighteen in December, and once she was, no one, not even her mom, would be able to stop her from going back to Arizona, and finishing out her senior year there, with Sydney. She would save enough money to be able to pay Sydney’s parents to let her stay with them. She already had several baby sitting gigs lined up. Between that, and school, there was no room for a social life.
She could hardly wait. Just the thought made her smile. Next semester she’d be running for her home track team at Flagstaff High, where she belonged, and her life would go back to the way it should be.
She glanced up from her feet as she made her way down the bleachers and saw Jesse Strickland waiting for her at the bottom, arms crossed smiling from ear to ear. Oh, God what now? She fought the urge to roll her eyes, as she reached the bottom and stood in front of her, deliberately blocking her way. He reached over to pull an earphone out of her ear, but she stopped his hand from getting any closer and did it herself.
“You know what today is?” he smirked.
He stared at her in disbelief. “Valerie didn’t tell you?”
Sarah shook her head, not the least bit interested. She was getting hotter, and. already sweating, she knew she’d be drenched soon, if she didn't start running again.
“Is this gonna take all day?” she asked. “I’m in the middle of my run here.”
“It’s my birthday” he opened up his arms. “I’m here to collect.”
Sarah’s eye’s narrowed, as she stepped back. “Collect what?”
He stepped forward smiling wickedly. “Well, being that we’re here in school. I’ll take a hug for now.” He leaned in, and began putting his arms around her small waist.
Sarah scowled, pushing him away. “I don’t owe you a damn thing!”
Obviously amused, he lifted an eyebrow and proceeded to move forward and force a hug. “Oh, come on, Sarah, we’ve done so much more before, what’s a hug now?”
“That was a long time ago, and a mistake, so get over it!” She struggled to undo his hands that had clasped behind her waist. She felt his weight on her, heavy at first, pushing her against the fence. And then just like that, the weight was gone. It took her a moment to realize what had just happened. Then she realized someone had pulled him off her, and slammed him against the side of the bleachers.
Her legs went limp. She held on to the fence for support with one hand, the other lay flat on her chest feeling the hard thud of her heart against her chest. It was Angel.