--IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN SOMETIME
The Exchange Student
Her name means miracle in Spanish. I mean, B.F.D., right?
On the way to the airport my dad sings an old Tommy James and The Shondells song, hitting the falsetto so perfect I feel as if I’m going to vomit. “Children behave. That’s what they say when we’re together. And watch how you play-aye.”
I used to love that song, love hearing him sing it with his cover band, but that was before mother died. Since then he and I have been through some real muddy shit you wouldn’t even believe. In fact, it’s enough to make you wonder what type of screening these agencies use.
Of course she’s exotic. It’ll need a stitch where I’ve stabbed my palm with a fingernail. Bitch, bitch, bitch. My thighs twitch and a fissure spasms squirting pee down my nylons.
“I forgot something in the car!” I yell so loud that a grandmother stops getting a hug and stops crying to be able to watch me sprint past Gate 13, back the way I came.
She won’t sit in passenger and it becomes a big deal and she comes out looking like the gracious one when she gets into the back.
“Stop screwing with the rearview,” Dad says. I want to jab my thumb into a lung and hear his rib cage gasp.
This Mireya is from Spain and she’s fucking gorgeous in a dark-skinned, dark-haired moody sort of way. It sucks royally. Right away I hate her more than anyone I know, which is saying a lot, let me tell you.
Mireya should pluck her eyebrows. I suggest that. I say, “Your eyebrows look like a fucking arboretum.”
We’re at home by this point. My father’s left us in the living room while he makes dinner a few yards away, humming like a corny jackass.
Mireya smiles at me, her eyes narrowing and glittering a purple that would make Elizabeth Taylor jealous.
“Are you wearing tinted contacts?” I ask. “Don’t lie. I bet you are.”
“I can’t believe you’re letting her sleep IN THERE!” I half-scream, because it’s late and Dad’s told me to keep my voice down at least forty-seven times already.
“It’s not a mausoleum.”
He thinks I don’t know that word, but I do. I know a lot of words. “Fuck you!”
“Hey, that’s not cool!” He grabs my wrist and I make a move as if I’m going to kick him in the nuts and when he flinches he releases his grip and that’s the end of that, only it’s not, because I spend the rest of the evening with my face pressed to the wall, same as I used to do when mother was sick, listening for the sound of breathing, hoping for snores, anything but wheezing.
“You should go swimming,” he tells me the next afternoon. “
“Yeah, well you should go kiss—“
“Watch it young lady. I’m still you’re father.”
“Ain’t that a shame?”
But I take his advice because it’s too perfect to do anything else, the weather a preposterous eighty-five degrees. Besides, she’s in the backyard by the pool, sunbathing.
“You can’t fucking lay around naked. America is not a third world country,” I say, heavily leaning into the first consonant of the last word of that sentence.
When she leans up to shield her eyes, Mireya’s breasts roll across her chest like clumps of pizza dough before any of the real work has started. Her skin glistens topaz. The worst thing though is her nipples, the size of them, twice my own, hers as large as cocktail parachutes.
I take the lounge chair next to her. “Stop fucking grinning. What are you always so fucking happy about?”
She lets me simmer some. The she flutters her hand. “You like to, how you say, swear?”
“You never plucked your eyebrows.”
My cousin, Travis, is easy to hate. I could give you five million essential reasons, but just take my word for it, okay? When he shows up with his Emo Goya friend in trunks I feel like screaming.
“You’re the new girl,” Travis says, his voice as polite and tucked in as a limo driver. He even sticks out his hand!
“You’ve gotta be kidding me?”
“Hey, crab face. See you got a new zit on your forehead. This one might just grow up to become a mango someday.”
“Go stroke yourself.”
Bottleneck—I don’t know his real name. We only call him Bottleneck because he has one that’s absurdly long—reaches out his hand and Mireya takes it although even she appears a bit squeamish.
“Nice to meet you, too,” Travis says, his eyes not even bothering to look elsewhere.
“Mucho gusto!” Bottleneck says.
Mireya goes all epileptic then, rattling off more Spanish than I’ve heard my entire life, Taco Time commercials included.
“Sorry,” Bottleneck says, palms up. “I’m just taking Spanish now. First year. All I know is ‘Mucho gusto’ and some numbers.”
“If I’d a known, I’d a worn a Speedo,” Travis says regarding Mireya’s discarded biking top and her shining, buttered-up bosoms.
I’m not the best at eye-rolling. Usually it makes me dizzy and because of that I can’t understand why more women don’t just go with adoption. “You’re disgusting,” I say, feeling disgusted myself for not being able to extrapolate anything more cutting. The truth is Travis intimidates me and he’s aware of it.
“You know what,” I say, “if this is how you’re going to behave, I’m leaving.”
The plastic strips stick to the back of my thigh, the entire chair clinging when I stand and step. Before it has the chance to peel free, the chaise swings stiffly, crane-like, and cracks Mireya on the nose. I’ve never seen sprouting blood before. It hits me in both eyes.
“Listen, El, if you can’t learn to lighten up and live with Mireya, this is going to be a long summer for everyone involved.”
“I already told you, it was an accident.”
“That’s not what I mean and you know it.”
“At your age you should have lots of friends.”
“I’ve got enough.”
I hate that expression of his when he’s trying to swallow but comes off looking panicked instead, like he’s pooed when he meant to fart. “I’m not going to lay a guilt trip on you. That’s not what I’m intending at all, so hear this how I mean it: I brought Mireya here for you.”
Some people have a gag reflex, but I have a slap reflex, and right then it takes extraordinary, superhuman, Jesus of Nazareth type willpower not to knock my dad to east Texas.
“You aren’t going to say anything, not going to respond?”
“Why bother?” I say, swinging my head idiotically, “you’re the one calling the shots, making all these grand plans.”
“It’s not healthy,” he says leaning forward, his hand on my knee.
“Don’t give me that shit, you’re not a damn doctor, I don’t care what they say.”
“A PhD is just a piece of paper. Paper burns!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
But I am running up the stairs by the time I hear the question.
Two hours later there’s a knock at the door and I tell him to come in, only it’s HER.
She saunters in and sits on the edge of the bed and has the audacity to put her palm on my back, so I consider strangling her right then and there because her hand started to move and her fingers drew swirl patterns on either side of my spinal column the same way Mother did.
“It’s okay,” she says, her voice hushed yet purposeful.
My face is buried in the mattress. I can barely breathe. Without adjusting, I ask, “What?” because I need to hear it again.
“It’s okay,” she says.
And I believe her.