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Teaser Tuesday

P&X Teaser #1-7

I hold my breath and then I venture inside. A latex bubble floats in the center of the bowl. I lean against the wall, watching it twist. My survival rule about always doing the scary thing was not created with condom-clogged toilets in mind. Maybe it’s a metaphor. Maybe it’s a sign. I stare closer but then I start gagging the same way Josie was. And I realize that it isn’t the universe trying to test me or send me a message. It’s a condom in a fucking toilet and this is my life now.

Suddenly, I’m sliding down the wall. I land on the floor with a thud, my back pressed to the hard surface as I try to keep everything inside me from collapsing too. My lungs are the first to go, the smell of the stagnant toilet water making them clench. The dam in my tear ducts and the back of my throat goes next. The rush forces my lips apart and I cover my mouth, not letting myself make a sound. I barely sniff, shaking as I try to cry as silently as possible.

Because it hurts to feel it all over again—losing the restaurant, losing my father, losing the only purpose I had for anything.

And because this is where David said I’d end up. And then I challenged him to a duel. A duel I’m in very serious danger of losing if I can’t stop the storm inside me.

But maybe I don’t want to stop it.

Maybe this time I want to be swept up, torn apart.

Maybe that’s what I need.

Don’t listen. It’s lying.

I close my eyes, imagining the sounds of the restaurant, the smell of my food coming out on steaming plates, the tastes resting on people’s lips. On my own.

That’s the truth. That’s who I am.

Not this. This pathetic puddle.

You are fearless. You are strong.

You are fearless. You are strong.

I steal my breath back, chanting the words over and over in my head. Until it’s not such a fight to remember, to believe it’s true.

It is true. I am fearless. I am strong.

I am fearless. I am strong.

I rise to my feet, catching my reflection in the bathroom mirror as I scrape the tears from my cheeks. Then I stand over the toilet, staring down into the bowl. At a fucking condom.

I take a deep breath, reaching for the plunger.

Because this is my life. And. I. Can. Do. This.



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Teaser Tuesday

P&X Teaser #1-6

Beneath the light whistle of the wind, crickets chirping, I say, “You’re a good friend.”

She ignores the comment, sitting on the lid of an old paint can. “It’s your turn.”

I sit down next to her. “I’m ready.”

She narrows her eyes. “Okay, for all the marbles this one’s a two-parter. One truth and one dare.” She stares at the street, cheeks burning.

When she faces me again mine are too.

“Truth,” she breathes. “Do you want to kiss me?”

I don’t look away or even blink. “Yes.”

She doesn’t look away either. “Dare.” She swallows, leans in. “Do it.”

My hands move first, trusting that the only way to make them stop shaking is to press them to her skin. My thumbs graze her cheeks, fingers in her hair. It’s soft and she’s warm and for a long time I just look at her, closing the space centimeters at a time while I take in the lashes that are stuck together by mascara, the birthmark buried under her left eyebrow, the small dimple on her chin. I stare, sorting every piece into things that feel good and things that hurt like hell, into things I never want to forget and things I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure I never have to.

But before I have a chance to savor those first few breaths slipping between her lips, they’re pressed against mine, falling and climbing their way back up. I taste her lipstick, her tongue, and it makes me dizzy. Her hands are on my knees, pinning me there, and then they’re on my waist, on my shoulders, both of us gripping each other like we’re clinging to the edge of a cliff. Afraid of falling off. Or hoping that if we do, we’ll fall together.

Suddenly, Pen stops moving.

She stops breathing, my wild heartbeat the only sound.

I open my eyes and she’s not staring back. She’s staring at the street. At the car parked in front of Angel’s house, cigarette smoke slithering up from the open window, flesh and ink viper flexed against Jago’s forearm as he hangs it over the side of the door.

I’m on my feet and so is Pen. She shudders, angry, and unafraid. But I’m terrified. And not just of Jago seeing me here but of Jago seeing her. I don’t know how long he’s been watching us but I can tell by the way his mouth twitches that he knows who she is. To Ignacio Prado. To me.

The engine purrs as the car pulls forward. Just in time for Angel to step outside. For Jago to say hello to him too.

“Get inside, Pen.”

She straightens, shoulders heaving.


“No.” Her stare sharpens. She charges down the steps. “He’s not gonna fucking do this.”

Angel wrenches her back. “Are you out of your mind?”

My heart races.

“Stay away from us!” Pen shouts, trying to tear herself from Angel’s grasp. “Stay away from the restaurant. Fucking stay away!”

She seethes but the faster her breaths, the more transparent she becomes. Beneath the anger, beneath the shock, her eyes glisten with something like fear. And it’s all my fault.

Jago hangs his head back, a whistle cutting between his smile. He leans on the gas, letting the engine growl, and then he speeds off.

Pen glares until he rounds the corner and then she finally lets Chloe pull her inside. I stay put, afraid of facing Angel. I know Jago’s been following me and because I wasn’t being careful I led him right to Angel Prado’s house. To Pen. Her rage wasn’t directed at me but what she doesn’t know is that it should have been.

“I’m sorry, Angel. I didn’t mean for—”

“It’s not you,” Angel stops me. “It’s…” he shakes his head, “it’s not you.”


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Teaser Tuesday

P&X Teaser #1-4

“I’m fine.” She hides her face, stepping to the window.

I follow, her staring into the night, me staring at her. “You know…you don’t have to be.”

She glances at me, confused. “Just because you’re the only person at the restaurant who’s ever seen me cry doesn’t mean you know me.”

I look back over my shoulder, Lucas and Struggles causing some kind of ruckus in the hallway. “Maybe they don’t either.”

She presses the heels of her hands to her eyes again, quiet for a long time. Then she says, “He could have just fired me.” She shakes her head. “He didn’t have to erase me.”

It isn’t just the faint tremble in her voice—I’m not sure what it is exactly. Maybe the room, bigger now with just the two of us in it. Or maybe I’m just really seeing her for the first time, the parts of her she doesn’t wear to the restaurant. But I feel like whatever threads have been holding her together are ready to snap. She feels it too, which is why she’s trying so hard to not let me see, to not let anyone see.

She looks up, tears drying on command. “I shouldn’t be talking to you like this.”

The creak of the door pulls my gaze.

“Did you find those box cutters?” Chloe asks. “They’re all waiting downstairs.”

I grab the box cutters off the floor and then I find Pen’s reflection in the glass one more time.

I want to tell her that I understand. What it’s like to feel invisible; to feel like all you’re good for is forgetting. Even though I’ll always remember her like this. Bare. Beautiful. But I don’t say a word. She seeks my eyes within the glass and I’m silent. And then, even though leaving is the last thing I want to do, I turn and go.



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Teaser Tuesday

P&X Teaser #1-3

The mouthwash sloshes between my cheeks until my eyes burn. I spit it out, flecks of blood swirling near the bottom of the sink. I’ve been grinding my teeth in my sleep for weeks, tearing open old wounds that’ll probably never heal.

I cup a handful of freezing water and splash it on my face. It trickles down, tracing the raised skin behind my left ear. It puckers near my hairline, the scar barely visible when I look straight ahead. Sometimes I forget it’s there and sometimes it throbs. Sometimes it whispers to me.

But this morning it wasn’t just a whisper. It was a shout, Jago’s voice yanking me out of sleep. I felt his hands pressing me to the pavement. Gravel grinding into my cheeks. The taste of dirt and oil making me choke while his fists pounded. Pounded. Pounded into me.

I thrashed at the blankets, gulping down air. Then I opened my eyes to streetlights flickering outside my bedroom window, the baseball cards tacked near the ceiling fluttering in the air conditioning.

You’re out. You’re out. You’re safe.

It’s a lie every time but it’s the only thing that lets me catch my breath.


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Teaser Tuesday

P&X Teaser #1-2

The parking lot hasn’t changed; the science building looks the same as that first day of school five months ago. But as I sit in my car, watching girls I met during orientation skip up the steps, hugging their bags, excited to play nurse, I try to convince myself that something inside me has. That today I’ll actually be able to go inside. That today I will stop lying and be the person they want me to be.

Class starts in approximately seven minutes—the class I should have taken and passed last semester, moving me one step closer to a degree in nursing.

Six minutes.

I sit in the parking lot, watching the clock tick down. The car is in park but I can’t bring myself to turn off the engine.

Walk inside.

I turn off the car, reminding myself how much I’ve already wasted on tuition and books.

You can do this. You can.

I reach for my bag.

Get. Out. Of. The. Car. 

And then I can’t breathe.

My mother’s shoes.

All I can think about are my mother’s shoes.

How they’ve sat in the same spot by the door for almost twenty years. Scuffed and cracked, the shadow of her foot pressed to the leather even when the laces are loose. I imagine every hallway they’ve ever walked down, every door they’ve propped open, every mess they’ve ever stepped in, every second they’ve held her up when all she wanted was to collapse. Because one of her patients couldn’t remember her face or their daughter’s name or how to speak.

When she lost one I’d wake to the knock of the rolling pin and the smell of dough warming on the hot plate. Sometimes I’d try to take the pin from her but there was something about the force, about the rhythm that reminded her how to breathe. We’d work in silence and three-dozen tortillas later she’d wrap them in foil and drive them to the family. The family that only visited once a month. That would accept my mother’s food without acknowledging that she was more family to the deceased than they were.

And then the next day she would go back to work.

For almost twenty years. She went back.

And if I step out of this car, if I walk up those steps, if I sit at that desk and pretend…how long will I be sitting there before I realize I’m trapped?

I take a deep breath, the scent of a thousand shifts at the restaurant tucked into the fabric of the front seat. Mango and cilantro and epazote, tomatillos and roasted pepitas and tortillas. I can’t sleep without those smells tangled in my hair, without those flavors still on my tongue.

So I have to decide what’s scarier: living a life that doesn’t belong to me or losing the one I love. If the truth breaks my father’s heart, I know he’ll take it from me. But if it doesn’t, if he understands, if I can make him understand, I can be free.

I weigh each option, simmering in the anxiety they provoke, in the hope. Because I have to do what scares me. It’s the only way to ward off the helplessness. To stay in control. I always have to be in control.

Which means that today is not the day I go inside.

My stomach drops, my hand reaching to put the car in drive again.

Today is the day I tell them the truth.



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