Excerpt for Desperate Times Call: Stories by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Desperate Times Call: Stories

Hector Duarte, Jr.


“Hector Duarte Jr. tackles weighty, risky subjects (death and family, love and depravity, lust and madness), and beneath the beautiful, smooth surface of his prose, beneath his wit, beneath his sharp, ironic observations, lies something dark and unwieldy. Yet the stories themselves never feel weighted down, cut with playful energy and brisk honesty, so that it’s hard not to project yourself onto each tale and savor the tragicomedy that gives this book (and life) texture, even as what at first seems familiar and banal becomes strange and uncanny.” —MJ Fievre, author of A Sky the Color of Chaos

“Hector Duarte’s Desperate Times Call pulls you in close and doesn’t let you go—offering up intimate, violent tales that shed light on desperate, hard-luck people as they grasp and claw at their last glimmers of hope. Duarte’s a name to watch —a rising star of Florida crime fiction.” —Alex Segura, writer of the acclaimed Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery series

Desperate Times Call, the dazzling debut short-story collection from Hector Duarte Jr., offers fractured snapshots that highlight the desperate need for human connection, and the powerless people who attempt to seize their moments, only to often fail spectacular. But it’s the effort and desire to be more that inflicts the deepest impression. These are the stories of the lost, the alienated, the dreamer.” —Joe Clifford, author of Junkie Love and the Jay Porter Thriller Series

“Hector Duarte Jr. constructs an entire world using a minimal amount of words. He writes using all five senses, so we not only see, but hear, touch, taste, and smell his characters navigating the ups and downs of their lives. The tragedy, passion, human connection—the city of Miami—entwine themselves around the reader, pulling you into Duarte’s narrative. That, truly, is an art form.” —José Ignacio “Chascas” Valenzuela, author of Hashtag and El Filo de tu Piel

Copyright © 2018 by Hector Duarte, Jr.

All rights reserved. No part of the book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

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Desperate Times Call

Of Course She Would

I-Meh Said Two


A Father First

Accounts Payable


Look What the Earth Got

A Good Moment

Diablo Corrido

One: Rumblings

Two: Big Bird

Three: Collaboration

Four: Boca del Lobo

Fish Hook


About the Author

Preview from The Hollow Vessel by Albert Tucher

Preview from Boise Longpig Hunting Club by Nick Kolakowski

Preview from Breaking Glass by Alec Cizak

This one’s for Mami, Papi, and Samantha Salmon.

You’ve been there through thick and thin,

right or wrong, and everywhere in between.

I am forever grateful.

Of Course She Would

NATASHA’S FATHER LAY WITH A PUDDLE of vomit next to his lifeless body. Brown and yellow bile pooled around his stubbled chin.

His left arm was stretched full length, pointing an accusatory index finger in her direction. Natasha gently pulled her father away from the vomit, offering at least a bit of dignity before the cops saw him.

It was her last year of high school. She was eighteen and in less than a month, high school would be behind her. Time to cut out on her own. Destiny was accelerating those plans. She always pictured herself leaving Miami anyway. In that picture, he father also stayed behind.

After calling the police, she unhooked his gold necklace and placed it around her neck. The dolphin and money bag charms were cold from the air conditioner’s direct blast. Dad always ran hot.

She kissed the money bag charm and traced the one-hundred etched into it with her thumb. As a kid, she teased him it looked like a boxing glove. He would smile back and insist one day it would work its magic. It never did.

Officer Rathburn pulled a phone from his shirt pocket and handed it to Natasha. “Make it quick.”

Natasha flashed a fake smile of appreciation. “Hope she answers.”

Rathburn sighed dismissively.

Tia Milagro turned her life around six years ago and stopped offering yearly invites for Natasha and her father to spend summers in Blooming, a suburb close to Orlando.

Natasha was twelve the last time she called and her aunt said, “When my junkie brother cleans his life up, then he can come and spend some time up here. Till then, he isn’t welcome.”

Now, Natasha was calling to invite herself because there was no other place left to go.

“Muerto?” Milagro said.

“Si, tia.”

“And there’s nowhere else for you to stay?”

“Believe me, I wouldn’t call if there was.”

Milagro sighed. “Leave it to Alberto to do something like this.”

“Tia, please.”

“When are you coming?”

“I have to take care of getting Dad’s body to the station and everything. Give me a couple days and I’ll take the bus up there.”

“Fine. Bring money so you can go to the grocery store when you get here. Can’t expect me to feed you too.” Milagros hung up.

Rathburn urgently took his phone back. “You sure he hadn’t shown any signs of ill health or anything that might cause concern leading up to this?”

“His whole life was cause for concern.”

Rathburn thumbed notes into his phone. “Had he set up funeral arrangements?”

She shook her head.

“Don’t know or never did?”

“Look around.” Natasha pointed to the cracked floor tiles, paint-chipped walls, and specks of puke.

“We need to go to the station.” Rathburn looked around and leaned in. “Why don’t you look around nooks and crannies? See if maybe he left behind an envelope or brown paper bag somewhere. I’ll hang outside and give you a few minutes.”

Natasha leaned in closer and placed a gentle hand on his chubby shoulder. “Thanks so much.”

Rathburn took a step back. “Take your time. I’ll be outside.”

A thick odor of dirty socks and jasmine incense hit her when she stepped into her father’s room. She organized the three pairs of shoes he rotated since forever into a short row. Inside his crumbling armoire, a small stack of white tank tops were stained yellow under the armpits. Hidden beneath the undershirts was a glass pipe far past its prime, the chamber soot-black.

Natasha always argued with her father to make the bed first thing in the morning. That way it was done and there was one less thing to worry about. Even on his last day, he hadn’t listened. So, she made it for him, pulling the linen tight across the bottom-right corner. She heard a crinkling sound and lifted the mattress. There was a plastic freezer bag stuffed with balled-up rolls of money. Her unintentional inheritance was two twenties and a ten; a junkie’s life savings. She grabbed the bag, turned off the lights, and closed the door. Before heading back outside, she put the money in the top drawer of her desk.

Rathburn flicked his cigarette hard into the street when he saw her approaching. “Took a while. Find anything?” His moustache jumped with the hard syllables.

“Nothing. Is cremation expensive?”

“You sure your father never mentioned a funeral? An envelope hidden somewhere in case he wasn’t around some day?”

Natasha shook her head.

Rathburn looked at her over the frame of his glasses. “Come with me,” he whispered.

She followed him to an unmarked detective’s car. When he leaned in to the center console, she saw some of the top of the detective’s ass-crack.

Natasha turned and looked up to the sky.

“This is my card,” Rathburn said.

Natasha took it and smiled.

The detective leaned in closer. “Look. I can rig this, cremate him for free. It’ll just take me a few days. Can you wait that long?”

“I don’t have many options.”

Rathburn showed up three days later when the sunset had turned the sky purple. When she opened the door, he handed her a clear plastic clipboard holding carbon-copy forms several pages thick.

He helped her along, pointing out where to sign and what parts to skip.

After she was done completing the forms, he swapped the clipboard for a cardboard box wrapped inside a clear plastic bag: her father.

“When you headed to your aunt’s?” he asked.

“Tonight. I can’t stay in here much longer. It’s weird without dad. I think he’s going to come out of his room any minute,” she said.

“The bus station at night? I’ll give you a lift.”

She needed to save as much money as possible. Natasha didn’t dwell on the fact she might never see the house again. She went to her room, grabbed her bags and cash, and followed Rathburn out to the car, her father tucked between her left arm and ribs.

“Buckle your seatbelt,” he said, before slamming the car door shut.

By the time he turned out of her development toward down town, it was night time.

His brakes screeched when he pulled up about a block from the bus station’s front entrance. Only a few people gathered around the bus with Orlando spelled out in digital yellow letters. She might be able to sleep across an empty row.

“Need money?” Rathburn asked.

“Yeah. He didn’t leave anything.”

“You already said that the other day.” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a hundred-dollar bill. “That should get you started.”

With the extra money, she could get a cab in Orlando to her aunt’s house. Natasha tucked the bill into her pocket. “Thanks, Detective Rathburn. I owe you big.” She hugged him tight.

He held her longer than was comfortable. It took a hard pull to get him off her.

She tried opening the door but Rathburn engaged the power locks. A zip pierced the car’s silence as Rathburn leaned into Natasha.

Natasha pulled back. “Did you have a drink?”

“Just some post-work whiskey. Want some?”

As he reached for the flask inside his shirt pocket, she smashed the box of ashes into the side of his head. Her father’s remains clouded the car.

“What did you do, you crazy bitch?” Rathburn said.

As the detective wiped ash off his face, Natasha leaned back and kicked him in the stomach. She grabbed the back of his head and spiked his nose into the steering wheel. Blood spurted on the floor mat.

Rathburn slouched motionless.

Natasha released the locks and checked his pockets.

There were another one-hundred-and-fifty dollars inside his wallet, along with his entire identity: police ID, some credit cards, driver’s license, health insurance card, and a BurritoVille customer reward ticket one purchase away from a free order of nachos grande.

Natasha took the phone from his shirt pocket, grabbed all her stuff, and sped to the bus station entrance.

In the station restroom, she cleaned the ash off her hair and neck. In one of the stalls, she smashed Rathburn’s phone to pieces and threw them in the toilet. She pulled the flusher latch and left before the plumbing clogged.

“Thirty-five dollars,” the lady behind the window squawked into the mouthpiece.

Natasha handed her a fifty-dollar bill, welcoming the change with a smile. She took a window seat at the back of the bus, facing the side of the street where Rathburn was parked. It resembled any old car parked in front of a bus terminal. No one cared—or could yet know—what had happened inside.

Natasha rested her head on the glass window and let the motor’s vibration lull her to sleep.

Back to TOC

I-meh Said Two

SHE SAID TWO O’CLOCK. Seven minutes to spare.

Tomas and Aimee couldn’t agree on a spot, so he suggested the Monterey Boardwalk. The backup plan: in case she doesn’t show, he can stroll down to Cannery Row.

At five till, the Pacific breeze picks up, sending the ties of his hoodie swinging in the air like riptide warning flags. He sees her across the street leaning against a red VW Beetle, the one she’s mentioned a couple times during chat sessions.

She looks nothing like her selfie.

He pulls the hoodie over his purple hair so she won’t recognize him.

She thought it so cute when he sent her the picture of his purple locks. He threw in the bit about a memorial to Prince because it might score him points.

Aimee’s busy watching a couple eating frozen yogurt at a stand across the street and doesn’t see him.

He tightens his shoelaces to get a subtle, but better, view of her before committing. The weekend crowd makes for a few bumps along the way. Some people offer apologies while others mutter insults under their breath.

She trails off toward the Skee-ball machines where a small kid with an ear-to-ear grin gets one in the fifty-hole.

There’s a better view of her now that she’s turned around, curvy with nice hips. He’s a sucker for that guitar shape. When she turns to the side, he sees the girth of her breasts and commits.

Flipping the hoodie off his head, he shoves his hands in his pockets, crosses the street, and waves to her with a smile.

The right side of her face that was first hidden from view is red and inflamed. What the hell?

She hones in on the top of his head and waves back. It’s a cute grin. Not enough to snake attention away from the scar tissue that creases like tin foil when she smiles.

“Tomas?” she says.


“I instantly recognized your hair.” She extends her hand. “It’s pronounced I-meh.”

“All right.”

“Let’s go get a beer inside?” she asks.

He nods, then trails behind her, walking in a way that makes it seem they’re not together.

I-meh leads with all the confidence in the world, throwing out “excuse mes” and “pardons” when she bumps someone.

Even though she’s turned around, he can tell she’s smiling by the inflection of her voice.

At the beer counter, she offers to buy and he politely declines, wishing no confusion about their dynamics.

I-meh sits and takes a long sip of beer.

The cup covers most of the scarring as her throat moves up and down with each pull. It takes a lot not to stare at the anomaly.

She looks him right in the eyes and smiles with a beer-foam moustache across her upper lip. Her eyes close into small slits and she smiles liker a stoner, as if it’s the best beer in existence.

“I know.” She points to the lame side of her face. “You’re wondering why I have this when my pictures don’t.”

Her honesty surprises Tomas. He shrugs his shoulders. “Figured you just sent old photos.”

“Not that old. Last one I sent you I took almost two months ago.”


“That’s why we had such a long gap between talks,” she says.

The Internet-dating bunnies he meets are as expendable as old twist ties. He takes a swig of beer and points to the right side of her face. “You mean that happened to you last month?”

She nods. “Took a face full of acid.”

“The fuck outta here.”

She met another guy on the same dating service. “Remember about two months back when we kinda lost touch?”

He nods. He too had met someone during that time and it had been promising until the third date, when she confessed to having a six-year-old. That was the last time they spoke.

I-meh and her man met at a taco shop. He was nice from the start. According to her, the whole nervously polite thing was real cute real fast. By the end of dinner, the vibe was good so he asked if they could extend it.

“We decided to go to the beach,” she says. “Then I notice he’s leaning in closer and closer and I’m okay with it because he’s a really nice guy, so I mention how nice he is. He asks if I’ve talked to anyone else while talking to him and I say, yeah, a few. He gets all quiet then. I figure he’s upset and start to feel a little bad but then think, what the fuck? That’s what a dating service is for. Then he says he’s going to his car to get a blanket because he’s cold.”

“Didn’t you think that was weird?” Tomas says.

“Nah. It gets chilly at night out there and the car was in view. He comes back with the blanket thrown over his hand that’s holding a jar with sulfuric acid in it. He throws that shit in my face and takes off. I was able to turn some but it still caught me. I dropped to the sand screaming until a couple walking along the beach helped me out.” She points to the area over her cheek that looks like burnt cheese. “By the time I got any kind of medical help, he’d left me with this permanent reminder.”

“Jesus. Why are you here now?”

“Why not?”

“Some motherfucker throws acid in my face, I wouldn’t be so quick to come right out and meet a stranger I met on the same site.”

When she smiles, the scar reminds him of fish gills struggling open and closed.

I-meh stares him right in the eyes. “Would you throw acid in my face?”

The back of his neck goes cold.

“You don’t look like someone who would throw acid in my face.” She leans in and smiles again. The scar tissue seems to fade as I-meh stares him down like she’s trying to look into his mind. “Are you?”

“Fuck no. That’s some crazy shit.”

“I know. See, I have this ability to read people before even meeting them. It’s like I’m-”

“Psychic,” Tomas says.

“Maybe you’re psychic,” she says.

“But if you were really able to read people wouldn’t you have been able to avoid?” He slides his finger across the right side of his face.

“Well, this,” she mimics his finger technique, “is what makes me psychic. I acquired the skill after I got burned. Literally.”

He loves the way Aimee keeps a straight face, points to her scar, rocks in her chair, and covers her mouth when she laughs. As if the entire meeting were leading to this moment, she wears her acid burn like a badge of honor. Haters be damned.

“I need another beer,” she says, holding up her empty cup.

“Why don’t we take a walk? Have a drink some place quieter.”

“You drive?” she asks. The scar shines in the waning light of sunset.

“Let’s walk. We’ll find something soon enough,” he says.

Chilly wind starts to whip through the boardwalk. Tomas takes off his hoodie and wraps it around Aimee without asking. Her face morphs into a kaleidoscope of wrinkles. Every time she smiles, a new image stretches across her face. “I’m definitely not that type,” he says.

Aimee points to her kaleidoscope again. “I know. I told you, I’m psychic.” She smiles and points to the top of his head. “Now, let’s talk about that.”

Tomas laughs and gently tickles the small of her back, leading her past the rollercoaster. The linked cars spike to the ground. The sounds of the passengers’ half fright-half elation bring a smile to both their faces.

Back to TOC


I travel through a tube and end up in your infection.” ~ Nirvana (Drain You)

GUSTAVO ORELLANA JUST WANTED to get laid before graduating high school. He didn't care about receiving honors or accolades as long as when he clutched that diploma he was no longer a virgin. His predilection for sarcastic comments and calling teachers out on their errors isolated him from most of his peers. No one wanted to fuck him because most of the Blooming High senior class thought he was a dick. So, with two months left at the school, he resolved to be a bit nicer and less judgmental. Not because he felt a karmic need, but because for once he wanted to feel sexual pleasure without relying on his right hand.

On a Friday morning in Vega's Critical Thinking class, Terry Hodgekiss dropped to the floor, desperately gulping for air. Everyone, including Vega, froze and watched as she turned deathly purple. Terry kicked her legs sending chairs sliding across the floor as she reached out for anyone to save her. Everyone just stopped and watched like it was a street performance that would end any minute.

Gus ran to the buzzer and told Ashley, the office secretary, to call an ambulance right away because a student was dying. That kicked reality into everyone's head. As if someone had snapped a switch, girls cried as boys ran to different corners of the room. Gus kneeled and cradled Terry's shaking head while she gasped, trying to swallow all the oxygen in the room. When Vega finally snapped back to reality and told him to step back, Gus didn’t move.

With the way the veins in her neck tightened, Gus was sure she wouldn’t make it. Terry placed her hand on Gus’ and squeezed. He held on to her until the paramedics arrived and gently promised Terry she’d be fine.

Gus would never shake the memory of her hand squeezing his. He'd never embraced a dying person.

The next morning, Vega stood in front of the class with a big smile on his face. “Guys, I’m happy to announce we’ve been informed Terry is going to be just fine. She’ll be in the hospital a few more days and she’ll come back when she is good again.” He dramatically blew air out of his mouth before projecting the Wikipedia page on pulmonary hypertension. “Read this and learn it.”

Gus raised his hand. “How do you know for sure this is what she has?”

Waldis Peña sucked his teeth. “Here comes myth buster.”

“I will neither confirm nor deny,” Vega said.

Gus raised his hand again.

“Orellana?” Vega said.

“Should you be telling us this? Isn't it better she tells us herself? If she wants to.”

Bianca del Valle turned to Gus. “God you always have to ruin everything.”

“What if she doesn't get that chance, Orellana?” Vega snapped.

Right on cue, a couple of girls in Bianca's clique gasped like it was a monster of the week movie.

Do me a favor, Orellana. Go take a walk,” Vega said.


“Because I don't want to see you right now. We're trying to have a serious conversation about the delicate state of one of your peers and you're busting my...” Vega took another deep breath. “If you're just here to play gotcha, this ain't the time.”

“Where do I go?”

“Hang out in the bathroom. I don't have the mental energy for you right now.”

“Yeah, become friends with the turds,” Waldis said.

“Want to join him, Peña?” Vega said.

“No, sir.”

Gus leaned against the bathroom sink reading a graphic novel until five minutes before the bell. When he returned, students and teacher pretended not to notice he’d been gone so long.

Over the next few days, Vega’s announcement got all the students talking. Everyone went home and searched until they were experts themselves on pulmonary hypertension. Speculation ran the spectrum from: “Most people who have it are just fine,” to: “She’s going to need a lung transplant soon or she won’t live through college.”

Then at the end of the week, Vega stood behind his podium with an ear to ear smile. “I am happy to announce Terry Hodgekiss will be in school Monday morning. Doctors are surprised by her speedy recovery which could not have been possible without the support and abundance of prayers on behalf of the entire student body and teachers. Let's be thankful for this miracle.”

“That sounds suspiciously like a prayer,” Gus said.

Vega shook his head and slapped the textbook hard over his podium. Its delicate, thin, metallic frame clanged loudly. “God damn it, Orellana, can't you for once show some heart and stop being so God damn insensitive?”

“Yeah,” Bianca del Valle said, rolling her eyes. “You always have to make everything into some conspiracy theory. You're such a weirdo. My god.”

“Prayers? Miracle? I was just-”

“All right, you're out of here,” Vega said. “To the office now.”

Gus said, “Should I tell them the reason I was sent down was because you have been updating us on Terry’s condition all week? When I’m pretty sure it’s all supposed to be confidential?”

Vega shook his head and closed his eyes, tightening his grip on the sides of the podium. “Just take another walk till the bell rings. You seem to be good at that.”

It was fine by Gus. He didn't want to be in a room full of clueless dolts who hadn't done anything to save the girl's life when they’d been given the chance. They all snubbed him, but if it wasn't for Gus, Terry Hodgekiss might be six feet under.

“Separation of church and state,” Gus said as he left the room.

“Separation of foot from your mouth,” Vega snapped back.

Monday morning, Gus saw Terry on the quad before the first bell. It was like a press junket where everyone hounded her about how she felt and whether there was anything they could do. They all wanted to be seen doing a random act of kindness for the sick girl. He noticed her lips were the same color purple as when she dropped to the floor.

In class, she picked the empty desk next to his at the back of the room. Gus had sat there ever since two days after Terry's attack, when everyone made it obvious he was persona non grata.

“Do you mind?” she asked, pointing to the empty chair.

“Feel free,” he whispered.

Bianca rolled her eyes at Terry's decision.

“Mind your business, Del Valle,” Gus said.

“Look who's talking,” Bianca said.

“All right, all right, ladies and gentlemen,” Vega said. “Let's welcome back Terry Hodgekiss, whom we are all so glad is doing much better.”

Terry cracked a fake smile to please the masses. Gus imagined the bitter-sweetness of that kind of attention.

A small black box was clipped to the left side of her belt. While Vega went on and on about thesis statements and supporting evidence, Gus stole glances at it.

When she caught him looking, Terry bumped his elbow and whispered, “Take a picture and Tweet that shit already.”

“I'm—” he began.

“It helps keep my lungs working, if you must know.” Terry turned to the front. Her lips were the color of mashed grapes.

Bianca del Valle turned to them with her index finger over her mouth.

“The fuck are you looking at, Queenie?” Terry whispered.

Gus snickered.

“Geez, you two are perfect for each other,” Bianca said.

“What's going on back there?” Vega asked.

“Nothing, sir. I'm trying to pay attention and Bianca keeps looking back at me. It's super distracting,” Terry said.

“Bianca, please,” Vega said.

“But, I—”

“That's enough.”

Terry discreetly placed her fist on Gus’ desk so he could bump it. The deep purple across her lips was the color of wine.

She seemed set on scorching the earth. By her second week back, people cursed her miraculous recovery.

Things came to a boil when Bianca bent over to pick up a notebook and her shirt lifted to reveal a small sliver of love handle. “You have so many stretch marks,” Terry said.


“You used to be fat, right?”

Bianca del Valle stormed out of the room wailing like a banshee as Yaine Arteta and another queen bee followed after her like faithful lap dogs.

“Jesus,” Gus whispered.


“Turn the bitchiness down to a five, will you?”

“God damn it,” Vega snapped, slamming the book down on the podium again. “Would you two just shut the hell up with your God damn stupid ass nonsense? For once, could you please not spew vile contempt in my class? Please? Can you just give me that for once?”

The class went dead quiet. Even the hardened class clowns had nothing to say.

Terry said, “Seeing as you found it your duty to let everybody know about my condition, I'd say you're the one who needs to quiet down with your nonsense, no?”

Vega slammed his fist into the middle of the podium. “Both of you straight to the office. Right now.”

“Jesus what is your problem?” Gus asked Terry on the way to the office.

“Oh, come on. The only reason they're talking to me is because I'm the sick girl. You really think they'd be so concerned about me under normal circumstances? You know they're just jumping on the bandwagon. Fault In Our Stars is a huge hit and suddenly everyone wants to befriend someone who’s dying. So after their new friend dies they go on with their lives sharing the moving story of the corporeal angel they once knew.” Terry placed her hand over her crotch and squeezed. “They can suck my dick.”

Principal Alvarez forced a smile. “You know, Terry, there have been a lot of complaints about your attitude. Of course, I know you're going through a lot.”

“You don't know the first thing about what I'm going through.”

Gus reached for her arm but Terry pulled away.

“In fact, nobody does. But everyone saw it fit to speculate about my condition without asking me about it first.”

“I don't follow,” Miss Alvarez said.

“I have it on good authority, Miss Alvarez, that Mister Vega stood in front of his class the day after I almost died inside it and told everyone I have pulmonary hypertension.”

“Don't you?” Alvarez said.

“Jesus. Are you people really this dense?” she said. “What if I didn't want anyone to know that? What if I didn't want to come back and have everyone wondering about the color of my skin or whether I was going to pass out and die any second?”

“Why are you here?” Alvarez asked Gus.

“Vega sent me down.”

“He whispered something and Vega chewed us both out. He punched his podium and everything,” Terry said.

“Is that right?” Alvarez asked Gus.

“One hundred percent,” Gus said.

Alvarez reached across the desk for her walkie-talkie and buzzed the security guard. “John, do me a favor and sit in on Mister Vega's class, ask him to come down here.”

Vega came in pale-faced.

Alvarez shook her head when he mentioned how Terry had made Bianca run out of the room. When he was done with his side of the story, Alvarez asked him about revealing Terry’s condition.

“Well, yeah. I just wanted the kids to know what was going on with their friend.”

Then she asked about his cursing in class.

“I mean, they made a girl cry and celebrated it seconds later.”

“Did you slam your fist into the podium?” Alvarez asked.

“Like I said, I was upset they caused someone so much anguish.”

“Terry, Gustavo, you two go on back to class. I promise if the two of you make so much as a peep the rest of the day, it'll be a three-day suspension. Got it?”

A week later, Vega was gone. That's when students really started turning on Terry and, by extension, Gus. Lumped together by default, the pair were Blooming High’s answer to Kurt and Courtney.

Yaine Arteta came up to Gus before lunch. “I don’t give a shit what's wrong with her. Cabernet’s a straight-up cunt and Karma’s a motherfucker. If she dies, it's the universe doing its work.”

Terry slowly made her way to the table, but Gus stood and walked toward her. “Hey, I got a better place to eat. Follow me.”

“No, let's eat here.”

“It's such a nice day out. Trust me.”

“I want to eat in here, damn it.”

“Fine. Do whatever you want.”

He went to the girls’ softball dug out way at the other side of the school. Out there, no one would bother him and he wouldn't be tempted to drive a spork into someone's eye. He thought about how badly he wanted to fuck. Was it worth putting up with Terry’s abrasiveness? His strongest chances of getting laid were with the girl nobody wanted to touch but, shit, did she have an attitude on her.

An ambulance's wail interrupted his salacious thoughts. It headed into the parking lot and parked as close to the cafetorium as it could. Security guards and paramedics converged in front of the ambulance.

Gus waited until after the ambulance had hauled Terry away to head back. He couldn’t see her like that again.

Bianca, Yaine, and the rest of her clique were in tears. He was able to piece together what happened from several sources. After Gus left, Terry and Yaine got into a heated argument and Terry suddenly dropped. The tube connected to the box had slid out from her chest. No one could say for certain if it happened randomly or if one of the girls pulled it. Everyone who had earlier alluded to “Cabernet's” death was in tears, wondering if they had brought about the Karmic intervention.

Terry called Gus that night. “I'm not dead yet.”

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(Pages 1-28 show above.)