// Sophia Reza
Rachel sat on the cold, stone steps leading up to the rec center. She had watched as the last girl in class got picked up in her mom’s SUV. The sun began setting over the town, orange light bleeding over the city in the distance, and Rachel’s shadow grew longer and longer.
It looked like Mom wasn’t coming.
Rachel threw on her backpack, then slung her dress bag over her arm and grabbed her dance shoes. She started the walk home, calculating how long it would take her to walk there from the rec center—at least twenty or thirty minutes. It would definitely be dark by the time she got home. Great.
They’d gone a little overtime today. Her head was pounding from the music and their rhythmic stomping. Her feet felt too small in her sneakers after being cramped in her dance shoes for so long. Her wrists were sore from swinging her skirt around, a blatant sign that she hadn’t been practicing like her instructor had told them to. She didn’t like practicing at home. It was something about wearing that dress in her living room that just didn’t feel right. Rachel didn’t like clomping around on the hardwood, either. It was too loud, especially when it was just her practicing in the quiet house and not their small team of dancers. Whenever she tried, she just ended up worrying that someone could hear her.
Rachel thought about what Mom was doing instead of picking her up. She was probably asleep on the couch. Rachel hoped that when she got home, Mom would feel so bad about having forgotten to pick her up, that she would give Rachel’s phone back, so it wouldn’t happen again. Her phone got taken away last week when she was caught vaping with Colleen Kingston in the bathroom at school. She got chewed out by too many adults that day and Colleen had gotten off scot-free. Rachel shrugged her backpack with a scowl on her face. Stupid Colleen. Fuck her.
Rachel shuffled along the sidewalk. The shops in town were just starting to close and the bars were starting to open. Rowdy masses of people were walking into town against Rachel’s current, but she had made a pact with herself in eighth grade last year that she wouldn’t move to avoid anyone on the street—they would have to move for her—and she savored the feeling of confidently splitting a group of jolly millennials in half.
The businesses started to dwindle and Rachel was just about to hit the first house on the block, when someone called out to her, “Hey, linda, ven a verme.”
Rachel stopped and heaved a sigh. There he was again. Sally Shaffer, the most annoying boy at her school, had a personal mission to make every day a living hell for Rachel. He shamelessly flirted with every girl, no matter if she was another freshman or a senior, but he paid special attention to Rachel because one time, in Algebra 1, she let him borrow her pencil, and when he said, “Gracias,” she said, “De nada,” because her parents had raised her right. Of course he attached himself to her. She should have never opened her damn mouth. And now, somehow, he always seemed to find where she was.
Sally lounged on the curb in front of the record store that closed down last month. Kids from school took it upon themselves to vandalize it in any way possible, and it became kind of a cool hangout, until the cops came and everyone bolted, but the graffiti wasn’t even that good and it smelled like piss and beer.
“What do you want, asshole?” Rachel spat.
Sally patted the concrete next to him, then circled the spot with his finger. “Come sit with me, baby.”
“Aw, why not?”
“Because I hate you.”
“I’ll let you hit my vape.”
Rachel glared at him. She wanted to kick his buck teeth into his mouth. She walked over and let her dress bag and dance shoes hit the curb, then plopped down next to him and held her hand out, angrily. He showed her his rabbit teeth and whipped a vape out of his jean pocket.
They sat there, blowing smoke, Rachel seething and Sally smirking. The sky was getting darker.
“So, what’s in the bag? You stripping?”
“You’re so funny. Shut the fuck up.”
“I bet you look hot in your jalisco.”
Rachel, in fact, didn’t think she looked ‘hot’ in her jalisco. She thought she looked like a dorky little girl with those annoying, bright pink ruffles choking at her neck. Neon yellow was definitely not her color, but none of the girls got any choice in their dress. The dance company didn’t have a lot of money. It was kinda hard to get any when you only taught one specific cultural dance in a predominantly white area. So, the dresses were cheaper. Whenever they twirled, they crinkled.
She glared at Sally. “You know what a jalisco is?”
“My sister did folklórico. Same company, too.”
“Yeah, well, not a lot of options.”
“Damn, you need to chill. I was just saying.”
Rachel took a long, spiteful hit of Sally’s vape, then threw it into his lap. The air filled with sweet, candy smoke and she watched it dissipate around their heads.
Mom would probably wonder where Rachel was, if she was awake. Rachel tried not to resent her mom for being so tired all the time, but it was getting harder.
Sally was weirdly quiet, until he asked, “Did you do the English homework?”
“Cool.” He took off his baseball cap and rubbed the back of his neck, where thick, straight hair was closely shorn into a fade.
Rachel watched him out of the corner of her eye. He was acting so weird. Usually, if they were in school, he’d have a hand in her ponytail or an arm around her shoulder, or would try to provoke her by stealing her glasses. He would’ve laughed at her for having the homework done on a Friday. Now, he just seemed awkward. He didn’t look at her, he looked at the road in front of them, his eyes darting after passing cars.
“What’s up with you?”
Sally startled. He flopped his hat back onto his head. “Nothing,” he took a hit of his vape and blew into Rachel’s face. “I’m high.”
“Okay,” Rachel rolled her eyes. Liar.
It really was getting dark. Rachel needed to get going. Dad would probably be getting home from the shop soon and she was supposed to make dinner.
“You don’t talk much, huh. Do you like folklórico?”
Sally was stupid. She didn’t talk to him because she didn’t like him, and she knew that if you fed a wild animal, it’d just keep coming back for more. And so what if she didn’t talk much? Why did he care, anyway? He was so fucking nosy. Rachel ignored him. She’d take two more hits of Sally’s vape, and then she’d get up and run home.
“C’mon, Rach, how are you liking folklórico? Do they make you scream like a mariachi?” Sally then opened his mouth, took in a heaving breath, and yelled a high-pitched, “Aah-hi-hi-hi!” with his whole chest. The sound bounced around town.
“Jesus, Sally,” Rachel groaned and stood up. She shifted her backpack and quickly gathered her dress bag and shoes.
“Hey, hey, chill, Rach. I was just messing around. You’re so fuckin’ uptight.”
Rachel wrinkled her nose. She spun on the heel of her sneaker and started walking home.
To her dismay, she heard Sally’s heavy, swaggered steps trailing behind her.
“Let me walk you home. It’s pretty dark out.”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
“No, for real, I’ll walk you home.”
Rachel groaned. There was no getting rid of him. And even worse, now he’d know where she lived. She’d probably have to shut her curtains more often.
They walked the cracked sidewalk all the way into Rachel’s neighborhood. It was quiet for the most part, until they were only a few blocks away from her house, when Sally opened his mouth again.
“You never answered me. Do you like folklórico?”
Rachel sighed heavily. “Yes.”
“Cool,” Sally leaned over his right shoulder to spit in the grass. “What song are you dancing to?”
“You don’t know it.”
“Oh yeah? How do you know?”
“Yeah, but it’s Mexican-Mexican.”
Sally rolled his eyes. “What’s the song?”
They finally came up to Rachel’s house. Weirdly, the lights weren’t on. Mom probably was asleep. She sped up the creaky, wooden steps leading to the small porch, and set her bag and shoes down on the doormat below the front door.
“I don’t know that one,” Sally admitted as he climbed the steps after her, two at a time.
“I told you.” Rachel flipped her backpack around and unzipped the front pocket for her house key. She glared up at Sally as he came to her side, her hand shoved deep in her backpack. “Uh, can you leave now?”
“Because,” fuck, where was that key? “I’m home now. You’ve walked me home. You can leave.”
“But I gotta wait to make sure you get inside,” Sally smirked.
Rachel groaned and threw her backpack down on the doormat. She crouched and unzipped the next pocket, rummaging through loose papers and thick folders for her key. Of course she forgot to fucking bring it. She stood up, fast, and pounded on the front door. She waited. She knocked again. She waited. Rachel slammed the meat of her fist against the door several times, and waited again. Nothing, no footsteps, no voices. Perfect. Fucking perfect.
Rachel spun around, knocking her shoulder into Sally, who stumbled, and sat on the top step. She wouldn’t cry. She would not cry. There was no way in hell that she was going to let Sally fucking Shaffer see her cry. She would literally rather die. Rachel felt her face get hot and her throat started to close up. She took off her glasses and covered her face with her hands, slouching over so Sally wouldn’t see.
She heard him shuffle up behind her. “Uh, Rachel? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she choked out.
“Go home, Sally.”
“Why are you so upset?”
“I said go home!” She whipped her head around to yell at him, her face speckled red. A couple of dark strands fell out of her ponytail and stuck to her wet cheeks. She stared hard at him, trying to make him crumble into dust.
“Jesus, are you on your period or something?”
She hated him.
Rachel turned back around, shaking her head. Of course. Of course this is how her night would go. She was locked outside her house, stuck with the worst person she knew, no phone, no jacket, no parents. She felt tears start to form again.
The streetlights flicked on. Everything was orange.
Sally sat down next to her. She saw him take off his cap and rub the back of his neck out of the corner of her eye.
“Hey, so, can I ask you something?”
Rachel was going to explode. “What?” she croaked.
“Why do you go by ‘Rachel?’ That’s not your name, right?”
She rubbed her eye. Her headache was worse and Sally’s stupid questions weren’t helping.
“No. It’s Ajaniame. Rachel’s my middle name.” “Huh. So, why do you go by ‘Rachel?’”
“Why do you go by ‘Sally?’ Salvador’s not that weird.”
He shrugged. “It’s just easier.”
Rachel huffed. “Well. There you go. It’s easier.”
She knew that he wouldn’t have survived high school with a name like ‘Sally’ if it wasn’t for his dumb machismo. The guys practically worshiped Sally, and he just loved making them laugh by harassing all the girls. But Rachel was sure that if he were more like her, he wouldn’t stand a chance. It was probably the same as going by ‘Salvador.’
“Does it bother you?” he asked.
“That you gotta go by your middle name?”
Rachel’s mouth pursed in thought. When she was little, she liked her name. She liked learning how to spell it out in crayon. She liked how it looked next to gold stars on her school papers. She liked how her dad would say it, because he always said it with the right accent on the vowels. When she got older though, something felt wrong. It didn’t feel like her name. It felt like a siren. This girl is different! Look at her! Try and say her name! Try and guess what she is! It felt like a lie. Dad said that ‘Ajaniame’ came from the Guarijío people. Mom said that she wanted to name her ‘Rachel.’ Did it bother her?
“I guess a little bit,” she said.
The air was quiet and cold. Autumn was finally rolling in. Rachel rubbed her arms and put her glasses back on.
“You good now?”
“Cool.” Sally flapped his hat against his hand. “You, uh, wanna talk about it?”
Rachel couldn’t believe she was actually considering it. She wanted to talk about it with someone, but she didn’t trust Sally for anything. After tonight, he was probably going to tell all of his stupid, asshole friends that he spent the night with her, that she got locked out of her house and cried like a baby, and she was going to have to suffer all of school on Monday getting laughed at. If she opened up to him, she was sure that he’d treat it like a joke.
Rachel sighed. Fuck it. “It’s just my mom was supposed to come pick me up from practice, but she didn’t come. I couldn’t call her because I got my phone taken away. I had to walk home, and I forgot my key.” Rachel rubbed under her glasses. “I do my homework. I get straight A’s. I go to practice. I come home when I’m supposed to. I don’t go to parties, I don’t drink, I started vaping last week with Colleen Kingston and yet I’m the one who got in trouble. I do one, one, bad thing and now I’m a bad kid. All that trust I built up with my parents is gone and my mom still can’t remember to pick me up from dance practice. I don’t even really like folklórico anymore. All we ever get to do are the recitals at Christmas and Easter and we don’t even get to choose our dresses.”
Sally whistled. “Damn.” He scratched his head. “You really don’t like folklórico?”
Rachel threw her hands up. “Dude, why do you keep asking me about it? I dunno, I mean, I like dancing, it’s just—it’s just too much sometimes. I guess. There’s too much pressure.” She took a deep breath and quietly added, “The only reason I still do it is for my dad. He was just so happy when I got interested in dancing. It’s a part of his culture, y’know?”
“Yeah, I get it.” Sally scratched his neck. “My, uh, my mom’s been trying to teach me more Spanish.”
“Yeah. Hey, listen, you can use my phone to call your mom? See where she is?”
“Yeah, okay. Thank you.”
He handed her his cracked phone and she typed in her mom’s number. It rang for a while, until, finally, she heard her mom’s voice on the other end.
“Hello, Dr. Medina.” “Mom? Where are you?”
“Rachel? I got called in tonight, I had to go. I sent you a text?”
Rachel scowled. “You took my phone, remember?”
“Oh no. I forgot. Sorry. Did you get home okay?”
“Yeah, but I don’t have my key. Dad isn’t home, either.”
“Crap. Okay, well, just wait there, I’ll call him. He should be getting home soon.”
“Love you, bye.”
She gave Sally his phone back and hung her head between her knees. She knew Sally could hear everything, being so close to her on the steps, so she didn’t bother opening her mouth to tell him what Mom said. He just sat there, his phone and cap in hand, his eyes on her. She could always feel his eyes on her. Rachel really hated him. She felt like she hated everything. When she told Mom about the annoying boy at school who wouldn’t stop bothering her, she had said that he probably just had a crush on Rachel. That made her want to vomit. She didn’t think Sally had the emotional capabilities.
Sally slowly stood up. “I, uh, think I should get going.” Finally. Jesus. He stomped down a couple steps, then turned toward Rachel. “See you Monday.”
“Bye,” Rachel said without looking up. She breathed a sigh of relief when she heard his sneakers start to scuff the sidewalk as he walked away, but her whole body tensed as they started to return. She looked up at Sally. “What?”
“Uh,” he looked sweaty, despite the cold. “Do you want to dance with me?”
She recoiled. “Is this some sick fucking excuse to touch me?”
“No, no,” he shook his head, “I, uh, I wanted to ask if you would teach me some moves? Like folklórico? I…” he looked to the side, “I’m too embarrassed to try at home. I don’t want my dad to see me.”
Rachel frowned. She’d never seen Sally like that. She’d never heard him talk like that, either. She was stumped.
“Are you serious?”
It was hard to believe him. “Why?”
He shrugged. “Y’know. For the culture.”
Rachel was quiet for a moment. “Sure, I guess.” She stood up and slowly went down to him, like how a rabbit would approach a coyote. “Do you wanna play music on your phone?”
“Yeah, uh, here,” he handed her his phone again. She started to play La Madrugada and set the phone down on the bottom step.
“So, how much do you know?”
“Okay, well,” she shifted her weight back and forth, “as a general rule when you’re dancing jalisco, you gotta keep your knees loose and bent. It’s all in the feet.” She started stamping along to the rhythm of the song, counting in her head, her hands on her hips. “These are just some basic steps.” She switched the pattern of her stamps, adding a heel in between two steps, like the galloping of a horse. “It’s kind of all about the tempo of the song and, like, matching your steps to the music.” Then she went into one of her favorite step patterns, stomping, kicking her heel out on the ground in front of her other leg, before smacking it into a ball change and twisting out again. She stomped into a stop, turned around and paused the music, then turned back again. “Do you want to try?”
Sally’s eyes bulged out of his head. He looked up at Rachel and nodded, then put his hands on his hips. Rachel smirked, “No, girls do hands on hips, for holding the skirts. Boys put their hands behind their back, like this,” she turned and showed him how to grasp his wrist behind his back.
They went slowly—Sally was a simple boy, after all—without any music and with Rachel counting aloud. What Sally lacked in knowledge, surprisingly, he made up for with enthusiasm. He seemed kinda happy. He actually listened when Rachel showed him what to fix. Eventually, once Sally sort of got the steps down, Rachel consented to dancing together. Sally’s excitement made her a little excited, too. She even ran back up the steps to unzip her dress bag and pull her skirt out. With the hem of her long skirt bunched in her hands, at her hips, they started stomping in each other’s rhythm, Sally following Rachel’s lead as she turned into him and twirled her crinkly skirt. Sally practically begged her to let him try it with the music. He could barely keep up with the quick tempo of the song, but they just laughed and kept going, breathless and red-cheeked as they spun around and made up their own moves under the orange streetlight.