Chapter One CHAPTER ONE
Burrito Fridays are an institution. The cornerstone of my relationship with Paul and how we started dating. One fateful day in freshman bio he passed me a note that said, “Wanna go to Chipotle y/y?” and the rest was history.
I framed the ripped piece of paper and it rests on my dresser next to pictures of us at junior prom last year and senior prom this year. Yes, it’s a little cheesy that I kept the note and bedazzled JASMINE ?S PAUL on the frame, but that’s okay. Cheese is honest.
I pull my long hair into a ponytail just as my sister knocks on my door.
“Almost ready?” she asks.
Carissa’s giving me a ride to Tijuana Outpost. I’m sure Paul would’ve picked me up if I’d asked, but I like driving with Cari. I missed her this past year when she was away at college.
“Almost done,” I say.
“You look pretty, Jaz.” She smiles.
Do I? Not compared to her, but I take a last look in the mirror. I look okay—Korean and kind of plain. I wish I were comfortable wearing the tiny rompers and miniskirts that catch Paul’s eye, but even this spaghetti-strapped shirt makes me uneasy. I keep moving it around hoping it’ll cover more boob, and so far… no. No, it does not.
I fuss with it more, then give up. It’s fine. Really. No one will be looking at me, anyhow.
“All set,” I say.
Cari stands straight to her ridiculous five-nine height. She’s the combo of our Filipino and white parents and a full eight inches taller than me. Everyone asks if she’s a model. Note: no one happens to ask me that question.
“Davey’s coming along for the ride,” she says as we pad down the cool, tiled hall.
“Ugh, he’s just trying to mooch a free burrito,” I say.
“He definitely is. Stay strong, little sis,” Cari says with a wink.
As we walk into the living room, Davey jumps up from lounging on the couch.
“Man, I’m so hungry,” he says, patting his T-shirt-clad stomach. I swear it’s like he ESPed his way into our burrito conversation. “Basketball really took it out of me today,” he continues. “I wish… shoot, if only I could get a part-time job like you guys. Mom and Dad are being extra stingy with the allowance, and I’m starving.”
He reminds me of Mrs. Hernandez’s twenty-two-pound cat, Cuddles, who circles, mews, and begs for food like he’ll waste away if there’s not kibble in his dish, stat.
“You don’t get an allowance because you don’t help around the house,” Cari says, folding her arms.
“Because he doesn’t need an allowance,” I say. “Aren’t you at least a part-time bookie at this point?” I reach up and run my hand over his brown curls.
He skews his face trying to look hard. It fails. He has the same deep dimples as when he came into our family as a toddler. Of the three Yap kids, zero of us look alike, two are adopted, two are Asian biracial, and we’re 100 percent family.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Davey says. “Just because a man can spot some hidden financial opportunities does not make him a bookie.”
“Man? What man? Where?” I arch my eyebrow.
“I don’t see one.” Cari puts her hand on her forehead, scanning.
Davey pushes my palm off his head, which isn’t hard as he’s fourteen but already six inches taller than me. He frowns. “Damn, you guys.”
“Aw, we’re sorry, baby,” Cari says.
She does not, incidentally, sound sorry.
“I’m crushed,” he says. “I gotta think this kind of offense to my manhood is worth say… half a burrito from each of you.” He rubs his palms together and waits.
“You’re pathetic,” Cari says at the same time I say, “Fine.”
He smiles, all white teeth against dark brown skin. He knew I’d give in. But he’s my little bro and I can’t help it.
We make our way over to the shoe tray and slip on our flip-flops.
“We should probably bring dinner home anyhow,” Cari says. “Mom’s at the hospital until eight, and she’ll be hungry.”
Our mother is a labor and delivery nurse at Orlando Medical Center and works long shifts, plus overtime. Years ago I started making dinner on the four nights a week she’s gone, since Dad and Cari are amazing except… not at cooking. And Dad’s out of town today for a library conference, anyhow. I hadn’t realized Mom was staying at work through dinnertime. If it weren’t Burrito Friday, I’d whip something up, but I can’t let Paul down.
“I’ll treat to takeout from Tijuana’s,” I say.
“Nah, I got it, Jaz. I just got paid from the ad sponsors,” Cari says.
My sister is the host of a wildly popular The Bachelor podcast. It’s the number-one teen fancast, podblast, or whatever. Our whole family talks about it. Except me. Podcasts aren’t my thing, and neither are fake romance reality shows, but it makes her happy and earns her money so I’m all for it. She’ll need to save up anyhow, being prelaw.
“And, no offense, but we’ll probably get Agave,” she adds, opening the front door.
None taken. I know it’s better.
“Sweet! Yes! Agave!” Davey says with an arm pump. “Burrito and queso and chips and guac for Daveeey.”
“You’re not getting queso and guac,” Cari says.
We step into the soupy humidity of Florida in May, and she locks our wooden door behind her.
“Cari!” Davey clutches his chest. “How could I possibly choose between the smoothness of avocado and the beauty of cheesy goodness?”
“You’re cheesy, all right,” Cari mutters.
“I like both too,” I say as we head to the carport. “I wish Paul weren’t lactose intolerant and we could split queso fundido.”
Cari and Davey exchange looks as she unlocks the Corolla. As I stare from one to the other, I get a distinct uncomfortable feeling. Like I farted in an elevator or something and they don’t know what to say.
“What?” I look around.
“Nothing,” they respond at the same time.
Yeah, that’s not weird. “No. What?”
“It’s just that Paul…,” Cari says. Then she opens the driver’s-side door and slides behind the wheel.
“It’s just that Paul what?” I open the passenger door but pause before getting in.
“Well… it’s just that he sucks,” Davey says, diving into the backseat.
I sigh and lower myself into the red car. It’s not the first time we’ve had the Paul Kinda Sucks discussion, but it’s been a while. My family doesn’t see him the way I do, and we’ve accepted the impasse. Mostly.
“He has a food allergy, Davey,” I say. “That’s not the same as being difficult.”
My seat belt clicks like it agrees with me. It’s weird to sit in the passenger side of what’s been my car since Cari left for college. Freshmen at Miami can’t have cars on campus, so I lucked into getting the Corolla for a year. But Cari will take it with her in August. I’ve tried not to think about my impending car-lessness.
I’ve kept the Rolla immaculate for her/us. No beach sand. No food or drink inside. I make an exception for Paul, but I don’t mention that.
“It’s not the queso, Jaz,” Cari says. She bites her lip. “It’s… well, he…”
“He’s an asshole,” Davey says.
Cari purses her lips but doesn’t contradict him.
“Language, or I’m telling Mom,” I say, pointing at my brother’s face.
We’re all teenagers and cursing is pretty minor, but Mom still sees Davey as the toddler they adopted from the Dominican Republic and she’d give him the business about his mouth.
Davey raises his hands. “Sorry, but he is, and you deserve better. A lot better.”
“Aw, look at my baby brother trying to act all grown and protective.” I turn in my seat and lay a kiss on his cheek. He promptly wipes it off, because we’ve reached that stage.
“Knock it off, loser,” Davey says, pushing me back into my seat.
“You knock it off,” I say. “You know Paul is solid. He’s the one who taught you how to play basketball. And he bought you those sneakers, which you need to get off our car this instant.” I push his foot from the center console and wipe it with my hand. “And don’t you have plans to turn my room into your gaming den when I move out? You should be thrilled that we’re close to finding an apartment for August.”
I have to add a little more cheer than I feel at the exaggeration. We’ve been looking for a place near our future colleges… or I’ve been. All Paul’s done is shoot down my top choices as being “too far” or “too expensive.” The second is funny as his family practically trips and falls into piles of money.
Cari glances in the rearview mirror and exchanges another set of looks with Davey.
“That’s great, Jaz,” she says. “Really. Are… are you ready for the graduation party?”
“Um, just about,” I lie.
For the record, I’m not a good liar. Between studying for finals, going to prom, and planning out my future, I haven’t given it more than a passing thought. And the party isn’t for another eight days, anyhow. That’s a lifetime away.
“Well, Aunt Minnie, Cousin Teagan, Cousin Crystal, and Aunt Tammy all want to know if you picked out a dress yet,” Cari says. “And what color, so they don’t wear the same.”
As Cari pulls down our street, Davey leans forward and turns on the radio. He puts on rock and moves the sound to the rear speakers to block us out like the little punk he is.
I shoot him a look and Cari gives me one right back. Oh, yeah. The dress. The one I don’t have. I was supposed to get a dress but helped Paul pick out a new shirt instead.
“Um… it’s a shade of… not yet,” I say.
Cari raises a threaded eyebrow. She’s only nineteen, but sometimes, like when she disapproves, it feels like she’s thirty. “You’d better get on that before Aunt Tammy takes you shopping.”
Aunt Tammy is one of our fifteen assorted aunts and uncles (not to mention the unrelateds we call “Auntie”). She means well, but her taste is like a beauty pageant on safari—all sequins and animal prints and feathers. She’s been designing her own purses lately and… they’re a lot.
“The family is excited,” Cari says. “Uncle Vin has special flowers ordered, and you know Aunt Jay is going to cater. Or… Aunt Jay is going to cook and Mom is going to question every decision she makes.”
My heart still squeezes at the mention of Aunt Jay cooking, but I let it go because Cari continues.
“Also, Cousin Wesley is bringing his newest girlfriend,” she says.
I move my eyes to their corners trying to recall the girl’s name. “Julie?” I guess.
Cari shakes her head as we drive down Aloma Avenue. “No, that was last month. This one is Amanda.”
I raise my eyebrows and purse my lips. We have twenty-six first cousins, which is enough to keep track of without one of them being the Serial Dater of Central Florida Med School. Add the five people of my nuclear family to my cousins, my aunts and uncles, and my grandparents on the Yap and Ventura sides, and we’re fifty people strong.
Basically, if I sneeze in Orlando, forty-nine people say bless you.
“I know you’ve had exams, but you should get more into the party,” Cari says. “You have all summer to look at apartments and whatever with Paul, but your graduation is special. I can take you dress shopping this weekend, if you want.”
My sister has all the taste I lack as evidenced by her looking like she stepped out of Asian Vogue. Plus, she won’t pressure me like Mom. Mom’s great, but she has opinions.
“That’d be awesome,” I say.
She smiles. “Let’s do it tomorrow. I have to prep on Sunday for the big watch party on Monday.”
“Ah, yes, Bachelor in Purgatory is starting,” I say.
“That’s what I said.”
She side-eyes me, though she cracks a smile. When traffic clears, Cari takes a left into the strip mall parking lot. There are much better burritos in town (for example, Agave), but Paul likes the routine of Tijuana’s. So do I.
“You sure you don’t want to just have dinner with us?” Cari asks as she pulls into a spot near the entrance.
I wrinkle my brow at her and tilt my head. What a strange question. “It’s Burrito Friday,” I say. It’s self-explanatory. We’ve done it for nearly four years.
“Didn’t he cancel on you two weeks ago?” Davey asks.
“Oh, now you can hear us?” I aim a pointed look at the backseat.
Cari lowers the music. “We, um…”
“There was uh…,” Davey says.
We linger in the car as they utter more “ums” and “uhs.” I know they’re trying to tell me something, but I wish they’d hurry up. It’s after six o’clock, and I don’t want to keep Paul waiting.
I tap my foot and linger another minute. Sixty slow seconds grate on my skin, and I keep sighing and glancing at the storefront. He’s going to be upset, and things have been off between us. I don’t want to make it worse by being late.
Finally, I push open the car door. Whatever it is, we can talk when I get home.
“Guys, I have to go,” I say.
Davey and Cari exchange yet another glance.
“Have fun,” Davey says.
“See you later, Jaz,” Cari adds.
I want to know what’s so hard to say, but I get out of the car and hustle into Tijuana Outpost.