The door to Mr. Gobi’s classroom / the Romero Star newsroom opened, and Stacy and Ethan burst through. “I know we shouldn’t tease Joshua, but ‘who is the fluffiest dog at school?'” is a literal puff piece, Ethan laughed.
“Ethan – stop! Is he here?” asked Stacy. She looked around the empty room. She always fast-walked to journalism club directly from her last class, and Ethan now did so as well since he knew Stacy would be there. Mr. Gobi was locked in his office for his moment of solitude between classes. No one would be here for another few minutes. “You’re just mad because Princess lost.”
“Second place is still good! Besides, I don’t know what Josh was thinking when he estimated the absolute quantity of hair. Of course the only Tibetan mastiff on campus was going to win. Princess is much fluffier than Bo if you normalize for size.” He knelt down and took his collie’s head in his hands. “Aren’t you? You’re the fluffiest dog normalized for size, yes you are!”
“You know the Z squad would trash Princess.”
“What does it matter? They’re all pomeranians.”
Over the last few days, Stacy had felt happier than in all her life. Not only did she have a boyfriend, but it was Ethan Stowe, the most eligible bachelor in school. Stylish, handsome, and clever. Stacy was not immune to the envious glances other girls sent her way. She didn’t judge her worth by money, but as the scholarship girl at Romero High, it didn’t hurt to have the richest boy in school’s hand in hers.
Stacy arranged the Romero Star articles with a fraction of her brainpower, dutifully placing the “fluffiest dog” column alongside all the other news. She counted down the days until they could go check on their zombie camera. She was daydreaming about what photo she might write when she heard a voice.
“Quieres un churro?” asked Julia.
“No, gracias,” Stacy answered without thinking, “No me gustan los churros.”
She turned and saw a silver tray covered in a little white tablecloth and a selection of Mexican desserts. Churros, tres leches cake, and flan pudding. Above it, Julia smiled. “Quería intentar hornear, y esto es lo que se me ocurrió.”
“Julia!” Ethan shouted so loud Stacy spun around to look at him. He was red with anger. “Stop that! Don’t talk to Stacy in Spanish!”
Stacy looked back at Julia, who wore a mock-innocent look, then back to Ethan. “Huh?” she said.
“Stacy, don’t listen to her.”
Stacy squinted her eyes at him. “Ethan, Julia doesn’t know Spanish.”
Behind Stacy, Julia and Jack both agreed. “Oh no,” said Jack, “no, no.”
“Sí, No estés loco, Ethan,” Julia added, and when Stacy spun around to stare at her, she pressed her lips together. Growing up bilingual, she didn’t always notice when she switched between languages, and apparently this could apply to other people, too.
“Julia, ¿cuándo aprendiste español?”
“Escuché podcasts durante unos días. ¿Estoy buena?”
“Si, muy impresionante.”
Stacy looked back at Ethan, who was much more bent out of shape about all this than he had any reason to be. She grinned at Julia, “¿Vas a empezar a llamarte Julia Sánchez?”
She paused to understand. Then she gave a nervous laugh. “Oh, no. I’m done with changing my name. When the paperwork clears, I’ll be Julia Sable again.”
That was English. Julia hadn’t become fluent in Spanish in four days. She’d likely memorized a few lines to speak fluently and had probably guessed at the meaning of Stacy’s off-script question about her name. Maybe her good mood made her generous, but Stacy smiled at figuring out Julia’s little ruse. Impressive that she learned to call people crazy, too. Had she expected Ethan to overreact? Stacy reached for a cube of flan pudding arranged on a little white plate, but Julia stopped her, “me permitirá.” She took one of the cloth napkins hanging off the side of her tray and picked up the flan and placed it in such a way that it ended up on the napkin on the desk. “Quédatelo.”
“Con mucho gusto!”
Ethan seethed as Julia walked past him to offer her sweets to Mr. Gobi, who had just stepped from his office. He squinted at a churro through his square-rimmed glasses before taking a bite. “Thank you, Julia!”
“My pleasure, Mr. Gobi!”
Ethan stepped close to Stacy and lowered his voice. “Don’t eat that,” he advised as Stacy reached for the flan. She gave him a withering look. “Julia is trying to poison me? Is that you’re thinking?”
“Fine, eat whatever you want.”
“I will.” Stacy put the whole flan cube in her mouth at once. It spread across her tongue with rich caramel flavor, and she put her sticky hand under her desk for Blas to lick clean. “This is good, Ethan. You should see if you can get one.”
Ethan grit his teeth. “Don’t trust Julia, Stacy.”
Stacy rolled her eyes. “Julia is weird and annoying, but this is a little much. What’s your problem?”
Ethan took Stacy’s hand. “Julia isn’t safe. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Stacy nodded. “Ok, man.” If he wasn’t going to drop it and he wasn’t going to explain, she didn’t know what else to say. Finally, he left her alone and returned to his seat.
Stacy marveled at the white cloth napkin that Julia had given her. Ethan was the richest boy in school, but Julia was by far the richest person, and when she wanted to impress people it showed. Stacy didn’t think she had anything on her face, but she knew better than to take that for granted. She lifted the napkin to wipe her face and a piece of paper fell out. Stacy grabbed it as it fluttered towards the floor and read the note, written in calligraphy ink. Anyone who didn’t speak Spanish would think it was just some flowery platitude like “estar siempre con dios.” But it wasn’t.
Instead, the message was straight to the point. “No dejes él te muerda.”
A chill went down Stacy’s spine. She looked behind her and watched Julia smiling at Joshua Craig as he tried a bite of tres leches cake. When she caught Stacy’s eye, she let her smile drop for just a moment, and she looked gravely serious. The instant passed, and soon she was back with Josh, feeding a tiny cupcake to his chocolate Lab.
Stacy turned to look at Ethan, who shut out the world around him, absorbed in whatever he was doing hunched over his computer. She watched as he grimaced and stretched his back, and his secretive nature suddenly seemed less alluring and more threatening. Was she crazy to assign so much weight to a bizarre note from the most bizarre girl in school?
Sometimes when thinking, Stacy would translate a thought between English and Spanish in her head. “No dejes él te muerda,” she mumbled,
“Don’t let him bite you.”
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