When I was young, I lived next to a girl named Bianca. She was four years older than me, so we didn’t really hang out, but we were friendly. She gave me my first cigarette which made me hack up half a lung. She laughed and handed me a beer. I took a tiny sip, then handed it back, which made her laugh even more. I was such a prude in those days.
My older brother Joey was madly in love with Bianca. Even though they were the same age, she considered him too young. She liked much older men. Like old enough to be someone’s father. But that didn’t stop her from flirting with Joey. Every Sunday in summer, Bianca would be in her driveway wearing a string bikini, washing her silver Honda Civic. Joey and his friends would be in our driveway, pretending to shoot hoops. I would watch from my bedroom window, admiring Bianca’s bikinis. My favorite was a tangerine colored one that perfectly complimented her caramel skin. I would look in the mirror and try to imagine the bikini on me. Then I’d complain to my diary about my A-cup breasts and narrow hips.
I caught my stepdad watching Bianca from the kitchen window a few times. I pretended not to notice and he pretended he was just rinsing dishes. Fortunately, my mom never caught him. She’d had trouble losing weight after having my little brother, and my stepdad kept dropping not so subtle hints about diet and exercise.
Unlike Bianca who got her period at 11, I didn’t get mine until I was 15. Unfortunately, I was at school and unprepared. My mom and little brother had gone out of town to see my sick aunt. Joey had gone off to college the year before. My stepdad was at work, not that I wanted to call him, and I wasn’t driving yet, so I had no choice but to walk home with my sweater wrapped around my waist to cover the red bloom on my backside. When I got home, I saw that my stepdad’s car was in the driveway. I really didn’t want to discuss my feminine issues with him, so when I walked into the house and didn’t see or hear him, I breathed a sigh of relief and ran to my bedroom to take care of the situation. When I was done cleaning myself up, I started to head downstairs, then stopped when I heard a woman’s voice.
“Of course it’s yours.”
“Are you absolutely sure?” I heard my stepdad say.
“I haven’t been with anyone else.” I recognized the voice. It was Bianca’s.
“I have a family to look out for.”
There was silence. I held my breath.
“Look, I care about you,” my stepfather said. “But I love my wife. I love my kids. I can’t do this to them. I’m sorry.”
“I’m not going to keep it. Just help me pay for it.” Bianca was crying now.
I snuck back to my room and sat in my closet. I thought about my mom, how she tried so hard to please my stepfather. I thought about my real father, how loving and faithful he had been. I thought about my little brother, the way he looked up to his father. I thought about Bianca, how young and vulnerable she really was. Then I thought about the baby and I cried. I decided not say anything. I didn’t want to cause that kind of pain.
Two weeks later, I saw Bianca in her backyard, smoking a cigarette. She was wearing a loose white t-shirt and sweats, her eyes red and puffy. When she saw me, she smiled and offered me a cigarette. I wanted to scream at her. But I just said no thanks and walked into my house. My mom was in the kitchen. I could tell by the smell she was making beef tacos, my stepfather’s favorite.
Up in my room, I looked out the window. Bianca was still sitting at her patio table with her knees tucked under her chin, the smoke from her cigarette swirling around her wild, curly hair. She looked like a child.
My stepfather came to my door just then, a smile on his face.
“Dinner’s ready” he said.
Lisa Lerma Weber lives in San Diego, CA. Her words and photography have appeared online and in print. She is a poetry contributor for Versification. Follow her on Twitter @LisaLermaWeber