Stephanie Laterza

Excerpt from The Lunasole Class, Chapter 7: Late Summer 1994, Fall 1994-Spring 1995

March arrives and it’s time for Angie’s sweet sixteen party at Russo’s on the Bay. A makeup artist-friend of Serafina’s lines Angie’s black eyes and brings out her rosy cheekbones, which makes her look even more beautiful in her metallic aqua dress, sort of like a mermaid. We laugh as we light the first of her birthday candles together on the swirly white, three-tiered cake. Angie tells the crowd that I’m the best friend she’s ever had and the closest thing to a sister, since her parents were happy with her being an only child. When it’s time for Angie to blow out all her candles, we all sing “Tanti Auguri a Te” in Italian to the tune of “Happy Birthday”. Then Angie has me join her in cutting her first piece of cake. We place our right hands over the ivory knife handle and smile as the photographer flashes a million photos.

            After the candle-lighting ceremony, Marc takes the microphone and announces that he and Serafina have a special birthday gift for their “young woman”. I giggle a little at the way his voice gets high and girly on the word “woman,” as if he’s trying not to cry. He takes a thick, yellow envelope out of his suit pocket and passes it to Angie. She looks at me and shrugs before tearing it open.

            “Driving lessons!” she screams into the mic, which Marc holds to her mouth.

            The whole crowd cheers as Angie throws her arms around her father, then Serafina. I smile, though a part of me feels ashamed about still having to take the bus. Suddenly, my parents not having a car feels like my responsibility. Maybe Angie can give me a ride in Serafina’s Jeep sometime. Maybe she’ll teach me to drive someday. Angie grabs my hands and pulls me to the dance floor, where we start jumping around to “You Oughta Know”by Alanis Morissette. Viv and Jean join us and we throw ourselves around the rotating spotlights on the dancefloor. As we dance like it’s our last day alive, that final scrap of pain I’ve been carrying around since losing Juli evaporates. I have never been happier.    

            When it’s time to say goodnight, I ask one of the waiters to call me a cab. Mami’s given me fifty dollars for the ride. I wish she would buy a car again already and teach me to drive. It would make coming out to Long Island a lot easier, but I know that won’t happen. She would say it’s either the car or my tuition. I shrug off the car idea and walk over to the coat check room where the girl behind the booth retrieves my black pea coat and hand-me-down Burberry scarf from Marla. As I head for the bathroom, a hand gently clasps my elbow. I jump, startled, but laugh when I see it’s Angie. She giggles and puts a finger to her lips as she draws me into a red curtained area between the coat check room and the bathroom. It’s dark and sweaty behind the curtain and smells a little like jasmine incense. Angie pulls me close and kisses me right on the mouth like Leo used to.

At first, I pull back, stunned. I stare at my beautiful best friend in her blue mermaid dress, a dumb half-smile on my face. There can be no turning back if I kiss her too. I’m afraid, but I want this. I slip my hand around Angie’s neck, draw her close and press my lips to hers. My body relaxes and I let go, the way I did when floating with Angie on the waves in Salinas last summer. I roll my tongue over Angie’s, drinking in her mouth with mine. It’s so quenching, kissing her. I’ve wanted to do this for a while now, maybe more than I’d admitted. In some ways, it’s like kissing a boy, but in other ways, it’s totally different. It’s warm and familiar and forbidden all at once. I know it is. But kissing the person you love, and who loves you back, is all good.

Angie gently pulls away before running the back of her right hand along my cheek.

“You have such a beautiful face.”

“You too,” I tell her.

“My beautiful girlfriend,” she whispers, smiling.

I frown. I don’t think I’m ready to go that far yet.

Girlfriend? I don’t know.”

            Angie frowns, confused.

            “But why not?” she asks before touching her lips with her French-manicured nails.

            “My mom would kill me.”

            “No she wouldn’t. My mom doesn’t care.”

            “You told her you like me?”

            “Oh yeah. She’s totally cool with it. She loves you, by the way.”

            I’m almost jealous of how free Angie is with her mother. I don’t tell her about Mami’s veiled threat to throw me out of the house like Beatriz’s parents did. I don’t want to end up on the street, which I am certain would happen.

            “I just can’t,” I tell Angie.

            Angie shakes her head.

            “I’m sorry, then, for kissing you.”

            “No, it’s okay! You can do whatever you want on your sweet sixteen!”

            Angie laughs her own nervous laugh.

            “Ha ha, chica,” she says. “It was just a joke. Right?”

            “Right! Good one!”

            Angie nods, then stops smiling. She looks more embarrassed than mad. Before I can say anything to make this better, the cab pulls up out front.

“I gotta go,” I say, tilting my head toward the glass door.

            “Right,” says Angie, crossing her arms. “Sorry again.”

            “Oh no, don’t be,” I say, waving down my hand. “It’s nothing.”

            “Nothing,” Angie repeats automatically. “Get home safe, okay?”

            “I will. Thanks. Happy Birthday again, by the way.”

            “Thanks,” says Angie before sprinting back toward the coat check room.

            I step into the cab and give the driver my address. During the forty-minute drive home, I replay our kiss. My stomach drops every time I think of how I rejected Angie afterward. I should have called Angie my girlfriend like she wanted. I bet Beatriz would have. I’m nothing but a chicken shit.          

For the next two weeks, Angie avoids me. She tells Jean and Viv that she has a lot of art projects to do through lunch period and can’t meet with us. They don’t seem to notice anything unusual about this. That’s because they don’t know. At least, I don’t think they do.

Then the craziest thing snaps us out of our awkward funk.  It’s the middle of April and it’s like déjà vu with Angie keeping her head down while holding onto her big arts folder when she walks into Furbone’s class. Only this time, she’s crying.

“What’s the matter, Ang?” I ask, putting my arm around her shoulders, an old reflex. Before she can answer, Furbone walks to the front of the class. As we recite the usual “Our Father” and piece from Dante’s Inferno in Italian, he looks agitated but determined to continue. Then he says the principal will be making an announcement over the PA system shortly, and we can decide after that whether we want to stay in class or leave. It must be something very serious. After the buzz of the familiar bomb shelter alarm, the scratchy sound of the microphone being tapped precedes the principal’s voice.

“It is with great sadness that I inform you of the death of your classmate, Patty Suore yesterday evening,” he says in his slightly Queens-accented voice. “We here at St. Paul’s imagine the tremendous grief her family and you all must be feeling. Our school counselors are on hand if any of you need them as you get through the shock of this very tragic and sudden event.  Please offer your prayers for the soul of Patty as well as her family and friends at this time.”

I look at Angie, who sobs, as do some of the other kids in our class. The rest of us are stunned silent.

“Patty was Lucy’s best friend,” says Angie. “She was in our painting and sculpture classes. Poor Lucy.” Then she leans closer and whispers, “Patty killed herself.”

It’s one of those times when the impossible becomes possible. I can’t even begin to process what she’s just said.

“I’m so sorry,” is all I keep saying. Lucy is the girl who broke the news about Kurt Cobain’s death to Angie last April. I feel really bad that she’s lost her best friend.

“Lucy says Patty blew her head off like Kurt Cobain did last year,” continues Angie. “It’s the one-year anniversary.”

I can’t believe the timing.

“But why would she do that?”

Angie leans very close to my ear.

“She was pregnant. The father is this senior guy and he dumped her when he found out about the baby. Patty’s family is really old-school Italian. Lucy says Patty just knew her father would kill her if he found out. She didn’t see any other way out.”

It’s unimaginable but also real. I know what it’s like to see no way to tell your parents some big truth about yourself. Poor Patty escaped from them, but in the worst way possible.

I put my arms around Angie and we cry right there in class. By now, most of the kids in the class are crying and shocked too. After a couple of minutes, Furbone says we’re all excused.

Angie and I walk down what feels like a hundred yellow staircases to the cafeteria without saying a word. Our low heels click along the polished floor before we push open the heavy white doors of the cafeteria, the stink of grease and orange peels a reminder that some things go on no matter what. Angie places her icy fingers on my wrist and says, “There’s Lucy.” I look over at the Nirvana crowd table and see a girl with long, purple-and-black braids hunched over and crying. She’s at the center of a hive of green army-jacket-clad kids sighing and sniffing and whose stretchy, button-down shirts and striped, multi-colored tights push the limits of the dress code. The girl looks up beneath her lowered, black-lined lids at Angie and holds out her arms like a baby reaching for its mother. The crowd parts as Angie runs to Lucy and throws her arms around her before collapsing and crying at her feet. I stand on the outside of the hive and wait for Angie to flag me over, which she does after an eternal five minutes. I tiptoe over in my heels the way I would in church, noticing the familiar scent of patchouli oil as I get to where Lucy’s sitting. Angie rises from the floor when I approach.

“Lucy, this is Sofi,” says Angie in a gentle, high-pitched tone, her hand on Lucy’s back. She sounds like Serafina. It’s amazing how much mothers speak through their daughters’ mouths.

Lucy says nothing. Instead, she turns her body all the way toward Angie and puts her head on her shoulder.

“Hold me, Boo,” she says before breaking into tears again.

I’m having a strange feeling, and maybe it’s the one Seth had around Leo and me when we were dating. I try talking to Lucy.

“I’m really sorry about Patty. Angie says you were very close.”

“Close?!!” growls Lucy, turning her head without lifting it off of Angie’s chest. “You know, since you just met me, I realize you’re ignorant to the fact that Patty was like my fuckin’ sister! I think that made us more than just a little close.” The crowd around her sighs in unison.

“Whoa, I didn’t say a little close,” I say, putting my hands up. “I totally didn’t mean that.”

“It’s okay, Sofi,” offers Angie, waving her hands up and down as though fanning down flames. “Lucy’s just really upset.” Then she turns to Lucy. “Sofi didn’t mean to bother you, sweetie.”

Then like a brat who realizes she’s played one parent over the other, Lucy glares at me beneath her lowered lids before bursting into sobs again. I need to get the hell away from this bizarre, frightening scene.

“I’m gonna go to the library, okay?” I tell Angie.

“Yeah, all right. I’ll call you after school, okay?”

“Sure,” I say, though we both know that probably won’t happen.

I push my way through the cafeteria doors, thinking about how meeting Lucy has sent a tremor through my relationship with Angie. I know it’s mostly my fault for rejecting her. But I still don’t understand why Angie wants to be near that Nirvana crowd’s quiet, heavy drama and obsession with death and darkness. I think about Patty and how she blew herself away. 

Stephanie Laterza is the author of poetry chapbook, The Psyche Trials (Finishing Line Press, 2019) and a SU-CASA 2018 award recipient from the Brooklyn Arts Council. Stephanie’s work has appeared in L’Éphémère ReviewA Gathering of the Tribes, Newtown Literary, Literary Mama, The Nottingham Review, Akashic Books, Obra/Artifact, Latina Outsiders, Raising Mothers, and the anthology, I Wanna Be Loved By You: Poems on Marilyn Monroe (Milk and Cake Press, 2022).