The Victoria in My Head
Chapter One “YOUR BEST AMERICAN GIRL”
I can predict my life with scary accuracy. I know my morning will start with a piece of toast for breakfast, slathered in peanut butter and topped with sliced banana. After breakfast I’ll get on the downtown A train and put on a perfectly timed playlist for my twenty-three minute commute to school. I’ll meet my best friend, Annie Lin, at my locker, and we’ll go to first period with Mr. Davis and stare at his mustard-yellow pit stains for forty-five minutes. I’ll have cross-country practice after school, where Coach B will make us run six miles along the murky Hudson River. At home, Mom will make spaghetti for dinner, and my bratty little brother, Matty, will complain that the tomato sauce is too chunky.
I’m not psychic. My life is just that boring. Every day moves like a treadmill, a straight line without fluctuation.
I shouldn’t complain. I know it could be much worse. But when I really think about it, I realize that every day of my life is exactly the same, and it’ll continue to be the same as it was yesterday, and the day before that, until the end of high school.
Until, suddenly, it isn’t.
Across a sea of plaid uniforms on the opposite side of the sophomore hall, I see him, and the treadmill that is my life comes to a grinding halt.
“Hello?” Annie snaps her fingers at me. Her black hair is swept off her forehead by a satin headband that perfectly matches her pleated skirt. “What’s with the face?”
“What face?” I reply. I have no awareness of what my face is doing. You know how in movies, when a girl sees a halfway-decent-looking guy and all of time stops and this wah wah indie song plays and it’s so dumb because she doesn’t even know the guy and that never happens in real life?
“You’re blushing,” Annie says with a frown, following my gaze.
It happens to me when I see this boy. Cue the soft, strumming guitar, the thumping drums, an airy falsetto in the background.
He’s stapling a flyer onto the bulletin board, and when he lifts his arms to push into the stapler, I catch a glimpse of what I imagine to be soft cotton boxer-briefs peeking out from his pants. With his slouchy posture and tangled hair, he looks nothing like the preppy breed usually found at this school. He’s . . . messier. Different. And yes, indisputably gorgeous, but that’s not the point.
Annie thrusts her watch into my field of vision, effectively blocking my view of the pretty boy. “Helloooo. We’re going to be late.”
This is Annie’s mantra. She’s punctual to a fault, while I’m in no rush to snag a front row seat for Mr. Davis’s underarm sweat.
“I’ll meet you there,” I say, blinking myself awake. “I forgot something in my locker.”
“What did you forget?”
“My, um . . . snargenblag,” I mumble.
The warning bell shrieks overhead, which sends Annie into a panic. “Come on, Vi!”
“Go ahead. I’ll meet you there,” I assure her, and she gives me a final disapproving scowl before hurrying to math.
All at once the hallway drains as students swarm to their first period classes, but the boy doesn’t rush. As he steps back to admire his handiwork, I inch toward him. I’m not entirely sure what my master plan is, but I have to know what’s on this flyer. I have to know more about him.
He turns his head and looks right at me as soon as I reach him, like I tripped a sensor.
Holy sweet Jesus, his eyes. Those were unexpected. His eyes are the stuff of those Harlequin romances Mom reads, the kind of eyes that are always compared to something cheesy, like a midwinter sky. Annie and I used to sneak the books into my room and pore over passages about tight breeches and ripping bodices.
The thing about this boy’s eyes, though? They are the color of a midwinter sky, which I didn’t think was possible in reality.
“Do you sing?” His voice echoes through the empty hallway.
I stare at him, my brain officially a useless lump. “Huh?”
Ugh. Get a freaking grip, Victoria. I’m not one to turn into a puddle of idiocy when I see a cute guy. I’m better than that. Usually.
He nods toward the flyer he’s posted. It’s simple—black Sharpie against stark white computer paper. In large block print it says:
LEAD VOCALIST WANTED.
MUST HAVE A DECENT VOICE AND GENERALLY NOT SUCK AS A HUMAN BEING. BAND WILL PERFORM AT THE BATTLE OF THE BOROUGHS IN THE SPRING. MUSIC TASTE SHOULD BE ECLECTIC.
PLEASE E-MAIL LEVI.SCHUSTER@EA.ORG FOR AUDITION INFORMATION.
“Oh,” I manage, brilliantly. I can’t process the fact that a school like Evanston has other people like him, people who do things besides study and play lacrosse and run for student council. “Um . . . no.”
“Maybe you should try.” He twirls his stapler around and snaps it shut with one hand like some pistol-packing cowboy. It’s weirdly hot.
The final bell rings. He and I are officially late for class, but neither one of us moves.
I should fess up at this point. I should let him know that I am way too boring to be a lead singer. I should let him know that I can barely
speak, let alone sing, in front of people. I should also let him know that there is no way, under any circumstances, my overprotective Cuban parents would let me join a band.
“Okay,” I blurt out instead of these important things he should know. Then, without another word, I bolt.
* * *
Mom studies me as we sit around the dinner table that night. “You okay? You look pale.”
“I’m fine.” I twirl some overcooked spaghetti noodles around my fork and silently refuse to go into any more detail. It’s helpful to remember my Miranda rights when it comes to dinner with my family. Anything I say can and will be used against me.
“Are you sick?” Matty asks me, his eyes lighting up with interest. “Are you gonna puke?”
“Eat your food,” Dad tells him.
Matty pokes at his pile of noodles. “I think I’m sick too.”
We all ignore him. Matty will do anything to get out of eating dinner, unless it’s one of the three meals that he tolerates: mac and cheese, pizza, or peanut butter sandwiches (no crust, hold the jelly). Sameness doesn’t seem to affect him yet. Actually, he thrives on it.
“Maybe I’ll make you a doctor’s appointment,” Mom says to me.
“I’m fine, Mom. Really.”
“You don’t look fine.”
“I just have a lot on my mind.”
“Are you depressed?” Mom asks, her voice rising. She eyes me with intensity. Ever since I bought a vintage Nirvana T-shirt last week, Mom has been on teen suicide watch. It’s ridiculous.
“Of course she’s not depressed,” Dad says, speaking right through me. “What does she have to be depressed about?”
“Can I have a sandwich?” Matty asks. He pushes his plate away in disgust.
“You can eat spaghetti like the rest of us,” Mom informs him.
“But I don’t like spaghetti.”
Dad points his fork at me. “Did you eat any dairy today?”
“Dairy?” I echo. I’m not fully here at the dinner table. I’ve been replaying the scene with the blue-eyed boy all day, wishing I had said something smarter, or funnier, or anything at all. I should have at least asked him his name.
“Yes. Dairy,” Dad says. “Maybe at breakfast?”
Since he found out he was lactose intolerant, Dad believes dairy to be the root of all evil. In his opinion, it’s the underlying cause of every malady known to man. He can’t even look at a cow without a vein popping out of his neck.
“I had toast for breakfast,” I reply absentmindedly.
He scratches the stubble on his chin. “What about lunch? You’re always eating pizza for lunch.”
“I’m making an appointment with Dr. Ferber,” Mom decides.
“Fine,” I concede, hoping it will shut them both up.
Of course it doesn’t. Nothing does.
“I know you all insist on eating dairy,” Dad continues, “but it’s been linked to heart disease, diabetes—”
“Mrs. Soldera told us that milk is good for your bones,” Matty pipes up.
“Mrs. Soldera is an idiot.”
“Jorge . . . ,” Mom cautions, pouring herself a glass of wine.
“Whatever.” Matty’s ten-year-old body heaves a weary sigh. “Can I have dessert now?”
We go through this every night. Practically word for word.
Mom closes her eyes and massages her forehead. “Matty, you didn’t even touch your dinner. Jorge?”
“Eat your dinner, Matty,” Dad says automatically. He’s already wolfed down his entire plate of spaghetti, sopping up every drop of sauce with a bread roll.
“At least ten more bites,” Mom adds.
“But the sauce is too chunky!” Matty slams his fist against the table, and my parents go bug-eyed.
“Ten cuidado,” Dad warns. “Listen to your mother or you’ll go to bed hungry.”
They continue to argue back and forth, Matty trying to haggle his way out of dinner and Mom and Dad crushing each attempt. In about ten minutes one of them will cave and fix him a sandwich. This is the Cruz family dinner experience, every night at seven.
I stare down at my fork and contemplate sticking it through my eye.