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With the Fire on High / (by Elizabeth Acevedo, 2019) -

With the Fire on High /     (by Elizabeth Acevedo, 2019) -

With the Fire on High / (by Elizabeth Acevedo, 2019) -

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With the Fire on High / (by Elizabeth Acevedo, 2019) -
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2019
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Elizabeth Acevedo
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Elizabeth Acevedo
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upper-intermediate
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07:27:24
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

With the Fire on High / :

.doc (Word) elizabeth_acevedo_-_with_the_fire_on_high.doc [4.2 Mb] (c: 4) .
.pdf elizabeth_acevedo_-_with_the_fire_on_high.pdf [2.09 Mb] (c: 3) .
audiobook (MP3) .


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Dedication For the women in my family, who have gathered me when I needed gathering and given me a launchpad when I needed to dream. Part One The Sour EMONIS When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon Verbena Tembleque RECIPE Serves: Your heart when you are missing someone you love. Ingredients: Two cans of coconut milk Handful of white sugar Four shakes of cornstarch Pinch of salt Bunch of lemon verbena leaves Bunch of vanilla beans Cinnamon, enough to garnish Directions: 1. In a saucepan, heat coconut milk until it comes to a boil. Muddle a bunch of lemon verbena leaves and vanilla beans and add to the heated coconut milk. Let steep. 2. After fifteen minutes, mix the infused coconut milk, salt, sugar, and cornstarch. Stir the mixture until the cornstarch is completely dissolved. Let the combined ingredients come to a boil and keep stirring until the mixture begins getting pudding thick. 3. Pour into a big cereal bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for five hours. 4. After removing the mixture from the cereal bowl mold, sprinkle with cinnamon. *Best eaten cold while daydreaming about palm trees and listening to an H?ctor Lavoe classic. Day One Babygirl doesnt even cry when I suck my teeth and undo her braid for the fourth time. If anything, Im the one on the verge of tears, since at this rate were both going to be late. Babygirl, Im sorry. I know it hurts. Mommy just doesnt want you looking a hot mess. She seems unfazed by my apology, probably because thing (1) Im not braiding tight enough to actually hurt her (which is why her hair is all loosey-lopsided!), and thing (2) Babygirl is watching Moana. And she loves Moana. So long as I let her watch Moana shell let me play with her hair till kingdom come. Thank goodness Angelica lets me use her Netflix account. I lean a little closer to the edge of the sofa so I can snatch up the baby hairs at the front of her head. This is the hardest part, and I have to start the braid tight and small to get it right. Emoni, vete. Its time for you to head out. Ill fix her hair. I dont even look over at Buela standing by the staircase that leads to the two bedrooms upstairs. I got it, Buela. Im almost done. Youre going to be late for school. I know, but . . . I trail off and it turns out I dont have to say it, because in her way Buela always understands. She walks over and picks up the comb from where I set it on the couch. You wish you could be the one taking her. I nod and bite my bottom lip. I worked so hard to get Babygirl into a good daycare, and despite a long wait list I kept calling and stopping by Mam? Claras, the woman who runs the childcare, until she snuck us into an opening. Now that Babygirl is actually going Im freaking out. In her entire two years on earth, Babygirl has never not been with family. I braid to the very tip of her hair. The design is simple, some straight backs with a pink hair tie at the end that matches Babygirls outfit: little white collared shirt and pink pullover. She looks adorable. I wasnt able to buy her more than three new outfits for daycare, but Im glad I splurged on this one. I pull Babygirls chair around so we are face-to-face, but I catch her trying to sneak a peek at Moana from the corner of her eye. Even though my chest is tight, I giggle. Babygirl might still be young, but shes also learning to be real slick. Babygirl, Mommy needs to go to school. You make sure youre nice to the other kids and that you pay attention to Mam? Clara so you learn a lot, okay? Babygirl nods as if I just gave her the most serious Jada Pinkett Smith success speech. I hug her to my stomach, making sure not to nuzzle her too tight and fuzz up the braids I spent an hour doing. With a final kiss on her forehead, I take a deep breath and grab my book bag off the sofa, making sure to wipe down the plastic cover so Buela doesnt get annoyed with me. Buela, dont forget her snacks. Mam? Clara said we need to supply them every day. Oh, and her juice! You know she gets fussy. As I walk past Buela, I lean in real hush-hush. And I also packed a little bottle of water. I know she doesnt like it as much, but I dont want her only drinking sugary stuff, you know? Buela looks like shes trying to swallow a smile as she puts a soft hand on my back and guides me toward the front door. Look at you trying to give me lessons on parenting. Nena, please! Like I didnt raise you! And your father. Buela gives my back a squeeze, smooths the hair bunned up high on my head. Shes going to be fine, Emoni. You make sure that you have a good first day of school. Be nice to the other kids. Learn a lot. I lean against her for a quick second and inhale her signature vanilla scent. Bendici?n, Buela. Que Dios te bendiga, nena. She swats me on the booty and opens the front door. The sounds of West Allegheny Avenue rush in to greet me: cars honking, buses screeching to a stop, rapid Spanglish yelled from the corners as people greet one another, and mothers calling out last-minute instructions to their kids from open windows. The door closes behind me and for a second my breath catches in sync with the lock. Every simple love in my life is behind this one wooden door. I press my ear against it and hear a clap of hands, then Buela says in a high, cheery voice, Okay, Baby Emma! Today youre going to be a big girl! I pull the straps of my backpack tighter. Give myself that same pep talk as I race down the stairs: Okay, Emoni. Today? Time to be a big girl. Emma I wanted to give Babygirl a nice name. The kind of name that doesnt tell you too much before you meet her, the way mine does. Because nobody ever met a white girl named Emoni, and as soon as they see my name on a r?sum? or college application they think they know exactly what kind of girl they getting. They know way more about me than they need to know, and shitI mean, shootinformation aint free, so my daughters name isnt going to tell anybody any information they didnt earn. Thats why I fought Tyrone tooth and nail to name her Emma. You just want her name to have the same letters as yours. Tyrone is a whiner. No. I want her name to sound less like either of ours, I said, and I dont remember if I kissed Babygirls infant cheek or not. But I know in that moment I felt this huge emotion; I wanted to do whatever I could to give my daughter the best opportunity in the world. And although our names do have similar letters, mine is full of silverware-sharp sounds: E-Mah-Nee. Hers is soft, rolls off the tongue like a half-dreamed murmur. Anyhow, Tyrone was late on the day I filled out the birth certificate, so Emma it was. I know a name alone cant guarantee new opportunities, but at the very least itll give her a chance to get in the room, to let other people realize shes someone they want to learn more about. Sister Friends Angelica waits on the corner for me the way she has since elementary school. Her long dark hair has streaks the same bright red as her lipstick. She shuffles from foot to foot in the tightest leggings I have ever seen on a body. I stop halfway to her and pretend to do a double take. Girl, you about to give these boys a show! And its only the first day, I say as she swoops her arm through mine and we walk in the direction of the bus stop. Girl, you know I aint concerned with those boys. The ladies, on the other hand? I was social-media creeping and the summer did wonders for a lot of these jawns! I laugh and shake my head. Does Laura know what shes gotten herself into? Angelica smiles and for a second she looks like the angel shes named after. Aww, my boo knows I only look and dont touch. I just want her to know I can leave if I want to. I got options! Angelica officially came out last year and once shed dusted the closet lint off her Air Maxes, she never looked back. A couple of months after coming out at home and at school, she met Laura at a graphic design workshop held for teens at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Her girl Laura is built like the Vikings she says shes descended from: tall, thick-shouldered, and with an artists gentle hands that I knew would take care of my best friends heart. Man, whatever. I see all your posts about Laura. If you and that girl take another cutesy kissy picture, Im going to delete my account. Actually, Im going to hack in and delete yours! Dont hate, Emoni. Is Tyrone still being a dick? I swat her on the arm. This is why I dont let you around Babygirl; you have such a potty mouth. And you dont? She gives me one of her pursed-lips looks. Yes, but I picked it up from you. And Ive been working on it. I accidentally slipped in front of Babygirl a few weeks ago and almost died when I heard her saying sh-sh-sh as if practicing the word. Ive cut out my cursing since. How is my niece? I havent seen her since.when? Saturday? We laugh. Despite her potty mouth, Angelica is great with Babygirl and always comes in clutch when either Buela or I cant watch her. Now that Babygirls two, Buela insists that I have to take on more responsibility in raising her. Which I dont mind, since Babygirl is the coolest kid on the block. Its just hard juggling work, her, and now the new school year, without Buela taking on the big role she took the first two years of her life. And although I dont say it, I dont have to; Tyrone is still being a dickan assa prick. Who uses the word prick? Hello! Emoni, are you listening? Angelica snaps her fingers in my face. Sorry.I spaced out for a second. Whatd you say? Angelica sighs dramatically. Anytime Angelica sighs, its dramatically. You never listen to me anymore. I unhook my arm from hers. Get out of here with that mess. All I do is listen to you. I was asking about the dinner you left for me and Babygirl when I babysat. Whatd you call it? Pollo guisadostewed chicken. Was it good? Angelicas been eating at my house since we were little girls, but since I always tweak what I cook, its never the same thing twice. I thought I might have messed up when I added in the collards at the end. They werent in the original recipe. It was so good. I was wondering if you could make it for Laura and me. Six-month anniversary coming up in a month! I was thinking we could do a romantic dinner at my house since my moms is going to be out of town. Dinner at home is never romantic, Gelly, I say. The bus pulls up and we climb on with the rest of the people who, like us, are going to school and work near Yorktown and Fairmount and even farther south into Center City. Dinner at home will be romantic if its catered by you! We find a place to stand and hold on to the straps above us as the bus begins the jerky ten-minute ride. Now Im a caterer? Youre lucky I love you. No. Im lucky you love to cook, and you never turn down an opportunity to practice on your friends. Chef Emoni Santiago, next Chopped champion! I laugh and pull my phone out to take notes for Gellys dinner. Magic If you ask her to tell it, Buela starts with the same story. I was a little older than Babygirl is now and always following Buela into the kitchen. I would sit at the kitchen table eating bootleg Cheerios or rice or something I could pick up with my fingers and shove into my mouth while she played El Gran Combo or Celia Cruz or La Lupe loud on her old-school radio, shimmying her hips while stirring a pot. She cant remember what made that day differentif my pops, Julio, had been late in arriving on one of his yearly visits from San Juan, or if itd been a time shed gotten reprimanded at work for taking too long on someones measurementsbut this particular day she didnt turn the radio on and she wasnt her usual self at the stove. At one point, she must have forgotten I was there because she threw the kitchen rag down on the floor and left. She just walked straight out of the kitchen, crossed the living room, opened the front door, and was gone. We cant agree on what it was shed started cooking. She says it was a stew and nothing that would burn quick, but although my own memory is childhood-fuzzy, I remember it being a pot of morothe rice and beans definitely something that would soak up water. Buela says she just stepped out onto the stoop to clear her head, and when she came back ten minutes later I had pulled the step stool to the stove, had a bunch of spices on the counter, and had my small arm halfway into the pot, stirring. It goes without saying: She. Had A. Fit. Thought I had been about to burn myself, dinner, or worse, the house. (Buela would argue thats not the right order of things, and I know she would have definitely been upset if I hurt myself, but if I burned the house? Girl, theres no coming back from that.) All that to say, nothing charred. In fact, when Buela tasted it (whatever it was) she says it was the best thing shed ever eaten. How it made her whole day better, sweeter. Says a memory of Puerto Rico she hadnt thought about in years reached out like an island hammock and cradled her close. When she tells the story, its always a different simile, but still sweet like that. All I know is she cried into her plate that night. And so at the age of four, I learned someone could cry from a happy memory. Ever since then Buela is convinced I have magical hands when it comes to cooking. And I dont know if I really have something special, or if her telling me I got something special has brainwashed me into believing it, but I do know Im happier in the kitchen than anywhere else in the world. Its the one place I let go and only need to focus on the basics: taste, smell, texture, fusion, beauty. And something special does happen when Im cooking. Its like I can imagine a dish in my head and I just know that if I tweak this or mess with that, if I give it my special brand of saz?n, Ill have made a dish that never existed before. Angelica thinks its because we live in the hood, so we never have exactly the right ingredientswe gotta innovate, baby. My aunt Sarah says its in our blood, an innate need to tell a story through food. Buela says its definitely a blessing, magic. That my food doesnt just taste good, it is goodstraight up bottled goodness that warms you and makes you feel better about your life. I think I just know that this herb with that veggie with that meat plus a dash of eso ah? will work. And that if everything else goes wrong, a little squeeze of lime and a bottle of hot sauce aint never hurt nobody. The Authors All right, girlie, see you at lunch? Angelica says as we stop outside my advisory. Advisory is Schomburgs fancy name for homeroom. Yeah, save me a seat by the windows if you get there first. Oh, and grab me Some applesauce if they look like theyre running out. I know, Emoni. Angelica smirks and walks away. And she does know me. I love the school applesauceextra cinnamony. Ms. Fuentes has been my advisor since my first day at Schomburg Charter, and her classroom has never changed. Lady still has the same motivational sign above her door: Youre the Author of Your Own Life Story. That sign has stared at us twenty advisory students from the time when we walked in as little-bitty freshmen. And even though it doesnt make me roll my eyes anymore, I still think its corny. Nonetheless, Advisory is my favorite class period of the day, even though its also the shortest; its where Ms. Fuentes takes attendance, makes announcements, and gives us college prep and character-building exercises. But most important, its the only class that has had the same students in it since freshman year. So we can talk here the way we cant in any other class. Ms. Fuentes looks up from the classroom window shades to see me staring at her inspirational sign. Ms. Santiago, how was your summer? she says as she adjusts the shades so they let in more light. She does that, the Mr. This and Ms. That. Has since we walked into her classroom at fourteen. I sit at my desk in the second row, closest to the door. It was clutch when I was pregnant and had to rush to the bathroom every five minutes, and I havent switched seats since. I shrug. Good. Got a job. Yours? Ms. Fuentes stops mid-shade-fussing to side-eye me. Youre always so loquacious. Its refreshing to have a student who believes in something other than monosyllables. But shes smiling. Shes never said it, but I know Im one of her favorites. Other students begin trickling into the room. I smile back at her. Aw, Ms. Fuentes, I see you worked on your sarcasm this summer. Its gotten so much better. She stops messing with the windows and walks closer to my desk. She says softly, Hows Emma? Whered you get a job? Shes real good, Ms. Fuentes. And the job is at the Burger Joint. Which, although its spelled all official, I still pronounce jawn. They think just because the Temple area has changed some that they gotta be fancy, but a burger jawn is a burger jawn regardless of how you spell it. You know the spot near the university? I work there after school two days during the week and four hours every weekend. Her pretty, manicured nails tap on my desk and I imagine shes tracing her finger along a mental map of North Philly. Yes, I think Ive passed it before. Are you going to be able to juggle everything while also working there? I drop my eyes to my desk. I should be okay. Its not that many hours. I seeI know senior year is already stressful; try not to take on too much. And I dont know what to say. Its not that many hours; in fact, I wish it were more. The cash I get from those little checks helps with groceries, Babygirls expenses, and whatever Buelas disability money doesnt cover. My silence doesnt faze Ms. Fuentes at all. I have a surprise for you when the bell ringsa class I think you would love. She squeezes my shoulder before giving her attention to Amir Robinson from the Strawberry Mansion area. Welcome back, Mr. Robinson! Jesus, but you grew over the summer! Ms. Fuentes walks away, calling out, Ms. Connor, I dusted off your favorite seat in the back row just for you. . . . That Girl Yup. I was that girl your moms warns you about being friends with. And warns you about becoming. Not even done with freshman year of high school and already a belly that extended past my toes. Its a good thing Babygirl was born in August since I probably would have failed out if I had to go to school the last month of my pregnancy. And the thing with being pregnant as a teen is that your body isnt the only thing that changes. It wasnt just that I always had to pee, or that my back always hurt. It wasnt only that my feet ached and I cooked the funkiest meals (they were still so good theyd make you twerk something, but definitely off the wall: macaroni jalape?o burgers and Caribbean jerk lamb tacos). The biggest changes werent the ones that happened to my body at all. It was that Buela had to scrounge up more sewing jobs to supplement the money she gets from disability, that the viejos playing dominoes on the corner shook their heads when I walked past, that dudes on the train smirked at my swollen boobs but wouldnt give up their seats; that I had to take a million make-up tests for the days I was at doctor appointments or too morning-sick to make it to school. When they first learned I was pregnant, Principal Holderness and the guidance counselor called a special meeting in the main office. Buela had to come into school and they called in Ms. Fuentes, too. Principal Holderness and the counselor offered to transfer me to an alternative high school program specifically for pregnant teens. But Ms. Fuentes didnt play that. She said switching me midyear into a new school would be a hard adjustment, and that since the program had a decelerated curriculum it would affect my graduating on time. I know she called Buela beforehand to discuss it, and they must have come up with a plan, because Buela was quick to chime in, saying my staying at Schomburg Charter would be pivotal for my retention and matriculation. The sentence sounded as if shed rehearsed it, circling her mouth over those words in the mirror to make sure she got it right, and I know it was Ms. Fuentes who had explained to Buela what that meeting would be about. I didnt even know what those words meant at the time, but I know now Ms. Fuentes was fighting to help keep me a regular kid for as long as possible. Ive always been small: physically petite, which made people think I had a small personality, too. And then, all of a sudden, I was a walking PSA: a bloated teen warning, taking up too much space and calling too much attention. Immersed Ive got two announcements, Ms. Fuentes says. Ms. Fuentes, Amir calls out without raising his hand. You better not say you leaving. No, no. Nothing like that, Mr. Robinson, she says, and we all slump a bit in relief. The first announcement is that there are going to be changes to the schedule. In August some new faculty members were hired, and needless to say, it has affected class schedules. There are new elective courses being offered for seniors, and Im going to pass around the new course listing. The second announcement is about a new student. We all groan. In almost every class Ive ever had, students come and go throughout the entire year and nobody cares. But Advisory is different. Nobody wants to talk around no strangers that arent going to last long. I know, I know. Ive fought the administration tooth and nail to keep Advisory small and with the same students, but there just isnt room anywhere else. Ive met the student and I think hell be a great fit. Hes registering today, but when he comes in tomorrow make sure youre all on your best behavior. I just wanted to give you a heads-up. Now, lets talk about electives. Ms. Fuentes smiles and slides a handout onto each of our desks. Look carefully at this list, think about what class is the best fit, and get back to me tomorrow. We all pick up our bags at the ringing bell. I wave to Ms. Fuentes on my way out, looking at the long list of electives. The old favorites are still there: Photography, Creative Writing, Woodshop, Dance. And there, tucked at the bottom of the list: Culinary Arts: Spain Immersion. The class title balloons and rises above the rest, growing in my vision until I cant make out the other words. In all my time at Schomburg Charter there has never been a culinary arts electiveeven though the school has both a classroom kitchen and an unused caf? from years past. I imagine this class is going to fill right up. And for a second, excitement bubbles inside me like a simmering pot. I can finally take an official cooking class, and one with a specific regional focus. And then I remember, its senior year. The responsible thing to do would be to stay with my current schedule and keep my study hall. Not add another class or more work. I turn down the simmer of excitement until it dies. Two periods later, I meet Angelica at the cafeteria entrance and she eyes the line as if shes trying to find someone who will let us cut. Did you see the graphic design elective? You should take it with me! I shake my head. Girl knows Im not doing no damndanggraphic design. Angelica, we both know I cant even stick-figure draw. She stops craning her neck and we get on the back of the line, where I rummage through my bag. Your stick figures are beautiful. Dont hate on yourself. But no class can compete with the culinary arts class, right? That class was made for you. When she sees me pulling out my phone, she presses her hand to lower mine. Girl, what are you doing? The summer must have canceled your brain. You know your phone will get taken if a security guard sees you pull it out. They live for that shit. Buela has a doctors appointment at four thirty and I may not have time to check in later. I just wanted to send a quick text to see how Babygirls drop-off went. Angelica changes sides with me to cover my body from any security guards or teachers who might be watching. The cafeteria ladies see me, but the only thing they care about is lunch portions and keeping the line moving. I check to make sure no one from the daycare called, send a text to Buela, and drop my phone back into my bag. Thanks for covering me. Im going to need to you do the same thing when I send this thirst trap pic to Laura. I shake my head with a smile. We pay for our lunch and make our way back to the table by the windows. One thing about Angelica: shes a pit bull once she sinks her teeth into an idea. And shes right back on discussing electives as soon as we grab a seat. Emoni, I see you doing that thing. I groan and take a bite of my sandwich. I want to save my yummy applesauce for last. What thing? I say around a mouthful of turkey. If they put a little chutney on the bread, or a nice garlic spread and toasted it, this sandwich would be bomb. My fingers itch to take out my phone to write down a recipe idea. That martyr thing you do when you want something but convince yourself you cant have it because of Babygirl, or Buela. I swallow. Is she right? Is that what Im doing? Sometimes your girl reads you better than anyone else. I just wish I had it figured out like you, Gelly. The girlfriend, the art school dreams, the grades. She points her spork at me. Youre stronger than anyone I know, Emoni Santiago. Its senior year, the last time we get to just be teenagers. If you cant try something new now, when can you? I dont know. Maybe. Id like to learn how to cook food from Spain. Behind her glasses, Angelicas eyes get wide. Girl, you know its not just learning to cook food from Spain, its learning to cook food in Spain. My advisor told me theres a weeklong trip in the spring. Schomburg has offered immersion classes before. A pre-Columbian history class that took students to an archeological site in Mexico, a fashion design class that took students on a tour of old textile mills in New England. Theres never been a class I wanted to take, or a trip I thought I could afford. And you have no business taking this class when you could have a study hall, and you cant afford this trip either, Emoni. But I dont say anything out loud to Angelica. I just take another bite of my sandwich, close my eyes, and savor, because I cant think of a single way to make my life more how I imagine it, but I can imagine a hundred ways to make this sandwich better. And sometimes focusing on what you can control is the only way to lessen the pang in your chest when you think about the things you cant. Kitchen Sink Conversations Babygirl! You already look like youve grown! I pick her up and twirl her around the living room. Buela swats at my butt with a dustrag. Ay, Emoni, set her down. She just had some crackers. At that threat of throw-up, I settle Babygirl on my hip, even though shes getting heavier and Im not getting any bigger. Did you learn a lot, Babygirl? She nods and snuggles into my neck, still cradling her juice cup. I run my finger down her chubby cheek. My favorite silent game to play is to try and find my family in her features. Her big brown eyes and long lashes have to come from me; Buela has the same eyes. Her lips are the same shape as her fathers. Aunt Sarah has shared some baby pictures of my mother and her as children, and I like to think I can see that lineage in her button nose, the seashell of her ears. And then theres the pieces of Babygirl that belong to her alone. She pulls back from my neck suddenly and lowers her juice cup. Chugga, chugga, choo-choo train! she says. I look at Buela with a raised eyebrow. They read a book in daycare about trains. Mam? Clara says that Emma was very interested. I nod at Babygirl as she garbles out a summary of the choo-choo trains book. At least, I assume thats what shes telling me. Dont you have a doctors appointment? I ask Buela when Babygirl is finished. I thought I would find you running out the door. Whats it for again? Buela dusts off the family photos on the mantel. My appointment got pushed back fifteen minutes, so I have a bit of time. I notice she didnt answer the whole question, but unlike Angelica, I know when someone wants a subject dropped. It was probably the gynecologist or something. And while Buela and I talk about everything, Id really rather not know about her vagina. Well, thats great. Babygirl, Buela or I will read to you tonight before bed. I think we have a choo-choo book around here somewhere. I set Babygirl down. No, not Buela. Tonight is bingo at the rec center. Its all you, Mommy. I walk over and hook an arm across her shoulders. Gonna go flirt with the cute bingo men? She shrugs my arm off and pokes me in the rib. You always thinking about boys, she says, and I cant tell if shes serious or not, even though we both know thats not true. I ignore the tightness that immediately takes up space in my body. Although Buela never said anything to make me feel ashamed, I always wonder if she thinks Im fast. If she secretly resents me for Babygirl. Buela must notice my stillness, because her face softens. What are you going to make for dinner? The thought of cooking helps me let go of the mixed-up feelings inside. I swear, you only keep me around for my cooking. Buela nods. The only reason, of course. Glad you finally realized. But then Buela reaches out and grabs my hand. Look how much youve grown, she says. Did you learn a lot today? Thats Buela. Always cutting up the way only a Puerto Rican transplant to the hood can. You know how it is senior year; theyre just trying to get us all through the door. Most exciting thing that happened is we get to pick new electives. I turn on the TV to PBS and sit Babygirl on the couch with some toys and picture books. Take my shoes off and walk into the kitchen. The fridge is stockedBuela must have gone grocery shopping this morning after dropping Babygirl off. We have iceberg lettuce (yuck) and bell peppers (yum), ground beef, onions. An idea begins taking root. I pull out the ingredients I need and rinse off my cutting board. Buela comes into the kitchen and places her good hand against the counter so shes in the perfect position to watch me cook and also to peek into the living room and check on Babygirl. And so what class did you decide to take? she asks me. I glance at her, unsure of her tone. She looks good in an Eagles-green sweater, cream dress pants, and her chanclas. Her pressed hair falls softly to cradle her brown chin. Her dark eyes, Babygirls same eyes, my same eyes, are thoughtful. I rinse off my favorite knife. Um, Im not sure. I had applied for study hall so I could get more homework done. With the new job and everything, free time on the weekend is going to be hard to come by. I chop the tops off the bell peppers and set them aside, move to slicing the onion. Well, thats very practical. Hows Ms. Fuentes? Shes good. I should just let the subject drop since its clear Buela means to, but then the words are out my mouth. One of the classes that caught my eye was a culinary arts class. Buela reaches over and takes the knife from my hand. You tell Ms. Fuentes I say hello. Work on the meat. Ill chop this for you. Dice it, please. Like this big, I say, and hold my fingers about three centimeters apart. And so, you want to take this culinary arts class? she says, slicing the onion down the middle until she has two halves. I move away but watch her from the corner of my eye. She stops mid-slice and holds the knife up. Muchacha, I can chop an onion. Me vas a mirar the whole time I do it? I hold my hands up in surrender. Did I mention that my sous chef is temperamental? Dice, Buela. Not chop. All the same size, please. And no, I dont know about the class. It sounds interesting, and I hear it includes a trip to Spain. I slide her a look. I try not to stare directly since I wouldnt put it past her to threaten me with the knife again for clocking her work. But I also dont know what shes going to say. She cuts the onion carefully and quickly: my grandmother is a woman who is not afraid of tears or sharp things. You wanted to go to culinary school once, didnt you? A little late for that now, though. I pause. Not sure what she means by a little late and not sure I want to find out. Yeah, I guess. That was a long time ago. These days, I dont need anyone to stifle my creativity. Oregano, garlic powder, cayenne. The words ring in my head and, although I hadnt been planning on it, I grab some fresh ginger that Buela uses for tea. I pull some soy sauce packets out of a drawer we throw fast-food items in. Put those onions in the pan with the olive oil, Buela. Sofrito? she asks. But Im not making the usual base. Something a little different this time. She tosses the onion into the oil, peels and crushes the garlic in el pil?n, and then spoons that into the skillet, too. Bueno, I think you should take anything you want to take. As long as it doesnt distract you from school and your job. But an international trip, they usually have the students pay for those, right, nena? Is the trip required for you to take the class? She walks to the sink and washes her hands. I shrug, even though she has her back to me. The oil pops out of the pan onto my palm. I realize Ive had it on the heat for too long. I bring the spot where the hot oil landed up to my mouth and suck on the small ache. Buela gives me a little smile, then glances at her watch. Okay. Well discuss this again later. Im off to Dr. Burkes. I dont know how I had too much time before and now Im almost late! Where did the minutes go? Ill be back before bingo. Me guardas dinner. Chefdom Since my earliest memory, I imagined I would be a chef one day. When other kids were watching Saturday morning cartoons or music videos on YouTube, I was watching Iron Chef, The Great British Baking Show, and old Anthony Bourdain shows and taking notes. Like, actual notes in the Notes app on my phone. I have long lists of ideas for recipes that I can modify or make my own. This self-appointed class is the only one Ive ever studied well for. I started playing around with the staples of the house: rice, beans, plantains, and chicken. But Buela let me expand to the different things I saw on TV. Souffl?s, shepherds pie, gizzards. When other kids were saving up their lunch money to buy the latest Jordans, I was saving up mine so I could buy the best ingredients. Fish wed never heard of that I had to get from a special market down by Penns Landing. Sausages that I watched Italian abuelitas in South Philly make by hand. I even saved up a whole months worth of allowance when I was in seventh grade so I could make Buela a special birthday dinner of filet mignon. For my twelfth birthday she bought me a knife seta legit, twelve-count knife set!that no kid should probably have, but I watched YouTube videos and learned how to use those blades like a pro. So, when we were applying to high schools in eighth grade, my middle school counselor asked me what I liked to do, and I told her I wanted to be a chef. I expected her to mention the magnet school with the most prestigious culinary arts program in the city. Id already done some googling in the library and knew it was the best school around, with restaurant-management classes and gastronomicsall kinds of fancy courses. And the counselor did mention the school. As someplace I would have been able to apply to if my grades had been better. She told me she didnt think Id be able to test in. She enrolled me in the lottery for Schomburg Charter instead, even though their culinary arts program wasnt well known, or even active at the time. She said the school lottery was my best hope to get into a competitive academic program. Buela prayed about that lottery for weeks. Hundreds of students from all over the city had their names thrown in, and there were fewer than fifty spots open for the incoming class. Out of all the kids who applied from my middle school and neighborhood, only three of us were accepted: Pretty Leslie Peterson from Lehigh Avenue, Angelica, and me. See, Im not a bad student; Im just not a great student. I feel like I need to do a thing, and let my hands take over in order for me to understand a subject. When Im in a class that has a lab or is more hands-on, Im good. But when its about memorization or recalling facts, I struggle. Even with extended time I dont always do well on tests. Im lucky the teachers at Schomburg work with me to do additional projects that demonstrate I understand, but school isnt my thing at all. And so, the closest Ive gotten to chefdom is making gourmet tacos for Buela and flipping burgers at the Burger Joint. And the one class Ive most wanted to take hasnt been offered. Until now. The New Guy Class, this is Malachi Johnson. He recently transferred here from Newark. Amir in the back cracks his knuckles and I see some of the other dudes slouch in their seats. None of the guys likes someone messing up the vibe, especially not a dude from another city. The girls, though? We straighten up real quick. Well, not me. Im not interested in a Malachi, Mala-cant, or a Mala-nothing. But he is a tall, dark-skinned dude, at least six foot four, and I already know hes a ball player and probably a player player from the way he walksall swag and probably not one intelligent thought in his head. I look at my schedule. Ive been going back and forth with the elective decision and Ms. Fuentes needs any changes by the end of class. Ms. Fuentes clears her throat, and I look up from my list. She gestures to Malachi like shes that Vanna White lady from Wheel of Fortune. Would you like to say a couple of words, Mr. Johnson? Malachi looks at her funny when she calls him Mister, but he returns her smile. Angelica would say it transforms his face, that smile. He looks younger than seventeen, sweet, and like straight-up trouble. Some girlor person (Angelicas always reminding me not to be so damn hetero)is going to find themselves caught up with Malachi. I can already tell. He bounces one hand into the other and then shrugs. Hey.thanks for having me. Ive heard advisories are super-tight, so appreciate it. Oh, damn. I got it all wrong. Hearing him speak, Im sure hes actually a nerd. Cynthia in the back giggles. Advisory just got a lot more interesting. Ms. Fuentes beams at Malachi. Great! You can grab a seat anywhere. You all go back to working on your essay prompt. Ill be coming around to conference with you about your schedules. I finish filling out the elective sheet, then turn to the outline of my college essay that Ms. Fuentes assigned yesterday. I have a couple of ideas I might write bout: having Babygirl and deciding to keep her. Or maybe what its like to be raised by your grandmother because your parents arent around. Maybe, what it feels like to get so focused in the kitchen that everything around me fades away. Ms. Fuentes says the topic should be compelling, but how am I supposed to know what compels a college admissions person? Ms. Santiago, Im so glad youve decided on the culinary arts class. Its perfect for you. Ms. Fuentes moves like a ninja. I didnt even hear her approach my desk, although I probably should have smelled her coming; her perfume has notes of lemon verbena. I love lemon verbena. Ingredients start arranging themselves on the kitchen counter in my mind and I can already taste an Emoni twist on Buelas tembleque recipe. Ms. Santiago, you heard theres an international trip opportunity as a component, yes? The teacher, Chef Ayden, has been planning all summer. I snap out of coconut-pudding thoughts. I heard. I dont want Ms. Fuentes to know that Buela and I are worried about the fee. She moves closer to me. Youve talked so much in Advisory about how you love to cook. I think taking this class and traveling abroad will be an amazing opportunity. I look around the room. Most of the other kids have their heads down but I know theyre ear-hustling. Except for the new kid. He doesnt even have the decency to pretend hes not all in my business. Hes found an empty seat by the sunlit window and is tapping a pencil on his desk, looking straight at me. When I catch his eye, he smiles shyly but keeps on staring. I look away from him with a sharp cut of my eyes. Right, I hope the class will be great, Ms. Fuentes. Which one of these essay topics do you think I should write about? She holds my eyes for a long moment, then she shakes her head and pulls her glasses off to peer down at my outline. I think you should write about the one that scares you most. Taking risks and making choices in spite of fearits what makes our life story compelling. Theres that word again. She walks away but I have a feeling her advice wasnt about the essay prompt at all. On Loss What I remember: Tyrone is a pretty boy. Long lashes, slim, hair cut in a fade that was always Philly-sharp. We met at the beginning of my freshman year at a back-to-school turn-up in someones basement. Although Tyrone went to school on the other side of the city, up by Mount Airy, where he lives, some of his middle school friends had ended up at Schomburg and it was a mix of kids at the party. Knowing what I know now, Im surprised I was even invited, since there were barely any ninth graders there, but I think it was because some boy from Tyrones school had been trying to get at Angelica. Tyrone was a year older and had a way with words. Pretty boys arent usually my thing, especially one who expects you to worship the concrete he stomps on. I ignored him the whole party. This must have been a surprise to him because the next party, at the beginning of October, he was tripping over himself trying to get my attention. Pretty Boy Tyrone of the pretty words took me downtown for our first date. We saw a romantic comedy that I thought was funny, but Tyrone kept huffing and puffing about how it was corny. We walked the streets of Love Park surrounded by trees and other couples. I remember I lied to Buela that night, told her I was hanging out at Gellys house. To this day I couldnt tell someone why Tyrone. Maybe because I didnt expect him to pick me. Maybe because most boys looked past my stick-board skinny body, more interested in the bubble-butt girls. Maybe because when I made him a cupcake he said it was too pretty to eat and waited a week, when the cupcake had gone stale, before taking a bite and still said it was the best thing hed ever tasted; said it reminded him of a favorite birthday memory. Said he wanted to make me his girl. It just seemed like what people were doing, and why not Tyrone? He was fine, older, and mostly nice to me. At least, I convinced myself he was nice. And most important, he wanted me. He could have sex with any girl, but I was the one he was after. Even thinking about it now I get a little twisted up inside. So much of my decision to have sex had more to do with being chosen than it did with any actual sexual attraction. The day I lost my virginity, I had a half day at school and Tyrone skipped the rest of his classes to meet up with me. I was so nervous about a busybody neighbor seeing me bring a boy home that we went all the way to his house in Mount Airy while his parents were at work. My first impression of sex? It was a lot more technical than I expected. He kept struggling with the condom and I laughed because I was nervous and he was fumbling so much. Apparently laughing is not the move at such a crucial moment, because his face got real tight around the mouth, and the fumbling got worse. And he was supposed to be the experienced one! When he finally shoved into me, it stung. For a second I wasnt sure if I wanted to push him away or pull him closer, and then he was panting and sweating on my chest and apologizing. And I kept telling him it was okay, thinking he was apologizing for hurting me until I realized he was apologizing because it was over. I never even took off my bra. It didnt even last the entire Weeknd song playing in the background. A bubble of disappointment swelled in my chest and I didnt know if I was holding back laughter, tears, or a feeling I didnt know then how to name. All I could keep thinking was that he definitely didnt have any sweet words or niceness in the moment that I needed it most. I cleaned my own self up, put on my pants, and left. He didnt even say goodbye. When I got home that afternoon, I peeled a ripe plantain. Its skin, dark as night, letting me know how sweet it would be. I sliced the plantain up into a dozen ovals, tossed them into a pan on the highest heat, and cooked them until they almost burned; the sugar turned bitter. I plated them with no accompaniment and I ate and ate until there was nothing left on my plate but a smear of oil. It made me sick to my stomach. To this day, whenever Ive served someone maduros they end up crying, teardrops falling onto their plates for reasons they cant explain; and I cant eat them myself without weeping, without a phantom ghost pain twingeing between my legs. Ever since Tyrone, I dont really talk to boys like that anymore. Boys at this age will say whatever they need to say to get what they want, and Ive learned to trust pretty words even less than a pretty face. Farewells The first two days of school are over and done with, and before I know it, its Saturday morning. Which means its visitation time. For almost the first two years of Babygirls life, Tyrones parents wanted him and Babygirl to get a blood test. But Tyrone knew I hadnt been with anyone but him and he never fought me on whether or not she was his daughter. Not that that mattered as long as he lived in his parents house. He could come here and see her, and he has several times a month since the day she was born, but its only been recently that hes been allowed to bring her into their house. It seems his parents were convinced by recent pictures that her features are starting to look more like theirs. Hes taken custody every other weekend since the middle of summer and Im still getting used to it. And shes still getting used to leaving. Its not fun for anyone. Tyrone may be a lot of things, but at least hes present. And although he was never on time for a date with me, on the weekends he has to pick up Babygirl, he shows up like clockwork. Which is why Im not surprised when he arrives at eleven a.m. on the dot on Saturday. Hey, Emma, he says, and crouches down with open arms. Daddy! Babygirl sprints over and wraps her arms around him. He lifts her up and throws her into the air. Youve gotten bigger in the last two weeks! You ready to see Grandma? He holds her close when he speaks to her and she nods her freshly braided head. Tyrones mom doesnt like seeing Babygirl in anything less than picture-perfect condition. Fuzzy puffs or casual clothing wont do. Its always a tight, clean hairstyle and Sunday-best-type clothes. She blinks up at her father like hes a burst of sunshine sliding through a window. Im not jealous of that look, not at all. Tyrone turns to me and grabs the outstretched baby bag. Ill have her back right at seven tomorrow night. Anything I should know? I shake my head and lean in to give Babygirl a kiss on her cheek. Tyrones cologne drifts around me and I have to stop myself from inhaling too deeply. Damn, he smells good as fuhell.heck. I take a step back and stop secretly sniffing him. Her snacks are packed in her bag. So is her favorite picture book. Anything else just text me. Ill be at work this afternoon, but I can answer during my break. And Buela will be here all day. So you can call the house phone, too. Im babbling. I hope he didnt notice. Tyrone nods and bounces Babygirl against his chest. Youre babbling. You know we have her favorite snacks at my house, right, Emoni? You dont have to keep packing her juice boxes. And I know how to reach both of you. He bounces Babygirl some more and she squeals into his neck. I swallow back the lump in my throat. Buela stands in the kitchen doorway, circling her wedding band around and around her ring finger. Hey, Mrs. Santiago. How you doing? Tyrone asks on his way to the door. Im fine, Tyrone. Thank you for asking. Buela drops her good hand and walks with us to the front door. Make sure to bring Baby Emma back in one piece, she says, and reaches out for Emma. Tyrone hands her over without a fuss and Buela gives her a long hug before putting her back in Tyrones arms. And you make sure to be a good girl for your father, okay? S?, Buela. Babygirl nods seriously. But I know whats coming. We all smile. We open the door. Tyrone aims to walk through it, and just as hes about to pull the door shut behind him, Babygirl realizes whats happening. Shes leaving. And Buela and I are not coming with her. Her tiny face scrunches up and she begins screeching at the top of her lungs. Im sure the row houses on either side of ours can hear her through the thick brick walls. Everything inside me wants to reach out, snatch her from his arms, and shut the door in his face, let her know I wont ever let anyone take her from me, but I force myself to be still. This has happened the other four times he came to pick her up. Tyrone looks at me and his full lips press into a thin line. He whispers to her quietly. I know from firsthand experience how Tyrone can sweet-talk a girl out of her fears, but his own daughter seems completely immune to his charm. Babygirl continues trying to wrestle herself away from him, but he just keeps backing out of the door and whispering calming words. He scoops her bag more firmly onto his shoulder and strides down the steps. I watch as he buckles her into the car seat in his mothers expensive Lexus. When the car door shuts, I cant hear her crying anymore. Beside me Buela lets out a small sigh. We both watch through the open doorway until the car has pulled off and is out of sight. Shes going to be fine, you know? I say to Buela. She nods and pulls me to her. Shes going to be fine, she says back to me. I inhale the scent of her vanilla perfume and begin the countdown until seven p.m. on Sunday. Only thirty-two hours to go. I straighten up and blink away the tears in my eyes. I shut the door. How about I make some tembleque? I was thinking of infusing the coconut with lemon verbena.and maybe vanilla. I have a couple of hours before my shift. We walk with our arms around each others waists into the kitchen. Lovers

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  • 5    .  .. (2015, 224) +mp3 5 2015,
  • Baby's Best Start + English for infants  (by Helen Doron, 2008) -     0-2 Baby's Best Start + English
  • The Express Picture Dictionary for Young Learners  (by Elizabeth Gray, 2001. - 118 . + ) The Express Picture
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