Chapter 29: Preacher Man on the Rooftop Garden

If not for Graham Glass, I would be fast asleep in my cozy air-bed at home. If not for Graham, I never would have made the impulsive decision to drive up to the Outer Limits.

“Don’t blame Graham,” says Anjelica. “It’s your fault we’re stuck in this pit.”

Let me back up.

It’s like I told you. Anj and I have been living the Good Life, thanks to my miracle ability to wail on the guitar. So there we were, soaking in the plasma-jet tub at the club, chatting with some good friends of ours, when one off them brought up the topic of spirituality.

“I’m not saying you have to convert, like me,” my buddy was saying. “But you’ve gotta go listen to this devvo preacher at the rooftop garden. His name’s Graham Glass, and he changed my life.”

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I frowned. Nothing against religious types, but it’s just not my thing, you know? “What kind of stuff does he blast out?” I asked.

“Oh all kinds of things. But he’s got some interesting stories about his work with the Unregistereds.

“The Unregistereds?” Anj’s eyebrows flew up so high, they just about disappeared into her hairline. She’s got a thing for the Unreges. She watches this shallow TV show filled with all kinds of seedy, backwards folks who live in the Outer Limits. Mostly, they turn out to be thugs, thieves, and druggies, but sometimes, there are scandalous love affairs between a no-good Unreg and an upright, legal citizen. No doubt she was hoping to catch some of this drama in live-action.

So, long story short, Anj and I headed up to the rooftop garden at two o’clock and join the small flock that was gathered around this guy standing at a pulpit. He looked about my age, and was clean-cut and normal-looking in every way but one. Unlike the relaxed, no-anx expressions that define the faces of most peeps I know, this preacher guy had a fire blazing in his eyes as he spoke to us.

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“Are the Unregistereds animals, that we keep them locked in a cage outside of our boundaries?” He was saying. “Are we animals, that we deny them the privileges afforded every human being? Nutritious food? Decent shelter? Education for their children? They are human!” The fire in his eyes blazed brighter as he said this. “They may lack the genetic engineering that we have; the genetic mods that keep our skin from burning, and keep us healthy and strong. But they are every bit as human as we are.”

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I had never heard anyone speak with such conviction and compassion before. Especially about the Unregs, who most people regarded as unmodified Hill Trash. But Anj and I hung onto every word. Then, the next day, when she and I were in the car, about to head to the club, she grabbed my arm. “Can we go see them?”

“See who?” I asked. But I already knew. Anjelica wouldn’t rest until we had driven up into the hills, beyond the boundaries, to catch a close-up glimpse of some real, live Unregistereds. So what could I do? I drove. And what happened?

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The car broke down.

Right in the heart one of their backwards, ramshackle communities in the Outer Limits, my car ran out of juice. If I’d been at home, I could have easily gotten it charged up. But here, in No Man’s Land, there were no service stations that I could see. No extra fuel packs. No auto robots to give us a boost.

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Die-sel!” Anjelica’s voice takes on that shrill, whiny tone she gets whenever she’s frustrated, bored, or doesn’t get her way. “What are we supposed to do?”

I stare at the car, feeling useless. I check my phone, which, in these hills, is also useless. No service at all. “I could try walking down toward civilization. Maybe I’ll pick up a signal to call for help,” I suggest.

“But it’s getting dark!” says Anjelica, panic flooding her face. “You want to leave me here in this place in the dark?”

I’m tempted to remind her that coming up here was her brilliant idea. Instead, I march toward one of the ancient wooden houses nearby.

“Diesel! Where are you going?” says Anjelica, hurrying after me.

“To ask for help,” I say, and knock on the front door.

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Chapter 12: Why Do Fools Fall in Love?

“Hi there.” Donna’s smile is really pretty. “Come on in.”

I feel like Tony is beating on his drums inside my chest. I’m in Donna Wagner’s house! I’m going to tutor Donna Wagner in math!

Her big brother, Dean, smirks as I sit down at their kitchen table and pull out my book. “I didn’t know greasers did algebra,” he says.

I give him a hard stare. “I figure we greasers can do whatever we want. Same as you.” I hope he’ll go away and let Donna and me be alone, but he lingers in the kitchen, eating while we work. Once in a while, he interrupts to ask a question.

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“Hey, you’re pretty good at this stuff,” he says when at last we close our math books. I raise an eyebrow, trying to catch the sarcasm, but he actually sounds sincere.

I should be pretty good at it, says that weird, nagging voice at the back of my mind. I aced three semesters of calculus courses back in college.

Calcu-what? I shake my head, trying to clear my mind of crazy talk.

I’m about to head home, but Dean invites me to stay and watch TV, which I do, because it means more time to be near Donna. And besides, Dragnet is on, and that’s a swell show.

Would be even better on a color screen, and with surround sound, says the crazy voice. I keep swatting at it, like it’s a fly, but it keeps coming back again and again. My name is Al Becerra, not Raymond Garrett!

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I’m so distracted by Donna’s presence and the crazy voice, that I forget to invite Donna and Dean to Roxanne’s the next night, to hear my band play. It turns out to be a great show, too. Lots of people stop by to listen and dance along. Some people even drop coins in my guitar case. I keep hoping that the door will swing open, and Donna will appear, but she doesn’t. Which is maybe a good thing, because I forgot all about Helen.

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Now first off, Helen is not my girlfriend, no matter what she says. Yeah, she’s always hanging around me and the guys. Yeah, she sends me flower-scented love notes at school, which I do not answer back. And yeah, sometimes we go to the movies and hold hands, and even neck a little. But never once did I ask her to be my girl. Never once did I ask her to wear my jacket.

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But still, better not to make her jealous. The girl’s a wildcat. There’s no telling what she might do.

All the disappointment I feel for Donna missing the show fades away the next night. I waltz into Roxanne’s, and there she is, blowing flavored bubbles at the bubble counter. Her face lights up when she sees me. “Want to join me?” she asks.

I perch on the stool beside her, feeling kinda stupid as I blow giant orange and cherry-flavored bubbles into the air. But Donna seems to be enjoying herself.

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When she grows tired, of bubble-blowing, I treat her to a Coke, then put my last nickel in the jukebox.

“Oh, I love this song!” Donna claps her hands together as Why Do Fools Fall in Love begins to play.

I swallow. “So uh…do you want to dance?”

“Okay, sure,” she says. Then before I know it, we’re dancing. Not very well, but Donna doesn’t seem to care. We just shimmy and sway and hop, singing along with the jukebox, having a grand ol’ time.

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Too soon, the music fades away. “Sorry,” I say. “I’m out of money.”

“That’s okay.” We just stand there for a moment, staring at each other. Her eyes are a warm golden brown, like maple syrup. Kiss her, dummy! The crazy voice nags.

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I almost do, too. But then, a different, shriller voice cuts into my thoughts. “What is she doing with you?”

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Oh no. Helen is here. She glowers at Donna, her hands balled into tight fists. “Get away from my boyfriend!” she shrieks.

“I’m not—” I start to say. But Helen draws back her hand and strikes Donna across the face. Donna gasps and clutches her cheek, which turns bright red.

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“Helen, no!” I cry, but Helen ignores me. She attacks Donna, who fights back. Other kids come running to watch the whirlwind of nails, hair, and pummeling fists, until at last, a man pries the two girls apart.

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“You young ladies should be ashamed of yourselves,” he scolds. “I have a good mind to call both of your mothers. And you.” He whirls around to frown at me. “You’d best beat it, kid.”

It wasn’t my fault, I want to say, but the guy is pointing toward the door, and I can tell he means business. I shove out into the cold, not daring to look back at Donna. She must hate me right now. I make it about a block away from Roxanne’s when I hear her voice calling out behind me. Only, she’s not calling my name.

“Al!” she says. “Al, wait!”

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Al? I turn around, curious to see who this Al kid is. Then I stop. I can’t believe my eyes.

 

Chapter 18 – Parties and Police

Michael and Sofia were now grownups, navigating the ups and downs of adult life. Though they still lived at home, they were often busy with college classes and part-time work. The twins, Catalina and Dawn, were now two of the sweetest, brightest little girls Adriano and Lily could hope to raise. They hardly ever fought, got good grades in school, and usually did as they were told. So one weekend, in order to award the little girls for their good behavior and schoolwork, Lily and Adriano decided to take them to Disneyworld for a vacation.

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Catalina (left) and Dawn (right)

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Catalina loves to play EA Sports video games on the computer

“It isn’t fair!” complained Felicity. “We want to go, too!”Bas I2 13 C and D

“You’ve already been to Disneyworld,” Adriano said patiently. “Besides, you need to stay here and care for your horse.”

“It will just be you and Violeta,” said Lily. “Please be good, girls. Don’t burn down the house!”

“We won’t,” the two teens promised.

And so Adriano, Lily, and the two youngest girls were off to Florida for the weekend.

“Yahoooooo!!!!” cried Violeta after they left. She began to play her guitar very noisily. “We’re going to have a paaaarrrtyyyyy!”

Violeta plans a party when their parents are out.

Violeta plans a party when their parents are out.

“Violeta, you’re going to get us in trouble!” said Felicity. But she did not stop her sister from calling everyone in school to invite them to their house that night.

By eight o’clock, the most popular kids in school were dancing in the Bastida-Ray’s family room, gorging themselves on pizza, and making out. Bas I3 party 1Bas I3 party 2 Bas I3 party 5 Bas I3 party 3 To Felicity’s pleasure, Richard Reed, the cutest boy in her grade, not only attended the party, but danced with her the whole night.

“Will you be my girlfriend?” Richard finally asked her a few hours later.

“Of course!” said Felicity. She was so excited, that she turned up the music even louder. “This is the BEST PARTY EVER!” she squealed over the volume.

Just then, the doorbell rang. Everyone froze. Then Felicity went to answer it.

It was the police. One of the neighbors, who knew that the girls were home without parents that weekend, had called the police to check on them when they heard the loud music.

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“Party’s over, kids,” said the officer. The party scattered.

“See you at school, Felicity!” Richard called as he raced out the front door.

“If my parents don’t kill me first,” said Felicity.

Of course, her parents did not kill them. But when Adriano and Lily found out about the party, they grounded Felicity and Violeta for the next two months.