I finish off my peanut- butter sandwich and force myself to make small talk with Rob for the rest of lunch period, just to annoy her. This is harder than it might seem. He's not much of what you'd call a conversationalist; I think he's out of practice. His thoughts more or less explode from his mouth without warning.
"I'm going to make a dagger," he blurts out.
It takes me a second to realize he's talking about our English project. We're starting to work on our Julius Caesar presentations.
"Watch out for 'zero tolerance,' " I tell him. "I know a kid who got suspended for a water pistol in sixth grade." It was my neighbor Joey Halper, early in his career as a goon.
Rob shrugs. "I'll say it's Reynolds Wrap before I whip it out."
"Creeper. What are you whipping out?" Darlene sneers.
Rob turns red, and that pretty much ends our chat. Thankfully, the bell rings just then, and we join the stampede for the door. I can't help but look over my shoulder at those girls. I don't see Vanesa, but maybe one of them is Yaqui. Maybe she's watching me right now, staring at my swishy ass, hating me. I hold my books tight and press for-ward in the crowd, keeping my hips as still as I can.
How I got into this lío at Daniel Jones High is because the lobby staircase in our old apartment building finally gave way, and Ma said, "¡ Hasta aquí!" Otherwise, I'd be at Charles P. Jeantet on the better side of Northern Boulevard, and nobody would be after me at all.
But every week, something would happen in the build-ing to rattle Ma. No hot water from the boiler on Mondays. Mr. and Mrs. Halper fighting so bad, Lila sometimes called the cops. Dog turd from the old boxer in 1D that's ninety- one in people years and can't make it outside in time any-more. It was all getting on Ma's nerves not exactly her strong point and that day when the stairs went pfft, she'd worked overtime, too.
I was in Lila's living room, watching our soap opera, when we heard the crash. It sounded like a whoosh followed by a truckload of china breaking. The front door even shook a little. Then came Ma's screams.
"¡Dios mío! ¿Qué es esto? Help!"
Lila grabbed the old plunger handle she keeps in case of burglars, and we headed out the door. Sure enough, there was Ma standing a cloud of genie smoke, knee- deep in rubble where the five lobby steps had crumbled right under her feet. Covered in all that marble dust, she looked like a Greek statue of herself, only furious, the way you'd picture Medusa. Her hands were shaking; the veins in her neck were ropes. Even after we dug her out and got her upstairs, I could tell she wanted blood.
"¡Sin vergüenza! We can't live like animals! We're decent," she shouted into the heating pipe. It ran down the stack of apartments, all the way to the super's place near the laundry room. She smacked a frying pan again and again against the metal to make sure he heard her over the hum of the dryers. Hearing Ma wasn't going to be a problem, of course. The whole building was probably listening in on her escándalo through the pipes; maybe even the whole block could hear. That tells you how mad she was, because if there's one thing Ma hates, it's looking low. The worse thing you can be is a chusma. She thinks we get a bad rep as Latinos, which she's always trying to undo by being extra quiet and polite all the time.
"Calm yourself, Clara." Lila adjusted the flame under the teakettle and opened up the cupboard to look for honey. "You want a heart attack?"
"I don't want to calm down!" Ma's face was nearly purple.
"What if someone calls the cops on us?" I asked, trying to help. What's more chusma than that, right? It got Ma's attention.
Excerpted from Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina. Copyright © 2013 by Meg Medina. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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