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Thanks to my agent and buddy, Leslie Daniels, for suggesting I write for a young audience and making this book happen in a big way once I did. Thanks to über-editor Cindy Eagan for her sensitivity and intellect, for championing this book from the start, and for fighting so hard to bring Paski-de-Taos to her very happy home at Little, Brown — all while recovering from one of the worst ice-slips in recorded history. Hello? Who cracks her skull and still manages to be the finest editor in teen lit? And to Miss Phoebe Spanier, an assistant editor I envision taking over the world someday because she is brilliant, meticulous and kind. To everyone at Little, Brown who read this book and helped shove it into shape — dudes, if any of you wears a ring, I shall gladly kneel to kiss it. (No tongue, I promise.) Finally, thanks to the sixteen-year-old me, for keeping such detailed diaries, from which the current me was able to borrow. Don't think I coulda done this if my inner teenager had not been a writer, too, connecting with me now through time and space with thoughts (and loves) I'd long since forgotten I'd had. . . .
You know it's bad news when your dad comes back to Taos from a two-week business trip to Los Angeles wearing designer sunglasses and a velour Juicy men's tracksuit.
Oh, and by the way? He's got a goatee, too, and wears the giant sunglasses on his head like a girlie headband. Well, it's not exactly a goatee. It's like he tried to sculpt his facial hair, like he's trying to look like a twenty-year-old pop star. I'm not sure what he's got going on his feet. I think they're supposed to be trendy athletic shoes, but they're, like, way too shiny and, if I'm not mistaken, a little on the high side. High-heeled sneakers and a goatee, with sunglasses — at night? Uhm, hello?
Basically, my dad looks like an idiot.
I'm not the only one who thinks this, just so you know. We're standing in the hot blast of air in the entry of the Apple Tree restaurant, and even the overdressed Texan tourists stare at my dad like he's some kind of freak. Keep in mind that the Texans are wearing poofy little ski-bunny clothes with cowboy boots, as skiers from Texas often do. They think this is what people in Taos, one of the best mountain ski towns in the world, wear. (We don't.) Anyway, the tourists look sorry — but not as sorry as my dear old dad, apparently. This tells you more or less exactly how sorry Dad looks. It's like he's on meth or something.
"Two for dinner?" asks the big-eyed hostess. She looks up for a second, smiles blankly as if she's never seen us, and then does a serious whiplash-causing double take. "Mr. Archuleta? Is that you?" She looks at me like we're in the middle of an emergency together and she doesn't know what to do, like she's in a panic. I shrug to let her know it isn't my fault.
"Hey," says my dad, smiling at the hostess, narrowing his eyes as he tries to remember who this person is. He doesn't know the girl's name, I can tell. He smiles the same way every time one of his old art students recognizes him. Dad, a cartoonist, teaches art at the middle school when his money runs low. "How are you? Still drawing?"
The hostess looks Dad up and down, and I swear to God it looks like she's trying not to laugh. She, like me, is used to seeing him in jeans and a stained T-shirt. She, like me, doesn't know what to make of this new Rudolfo Archuleta. There's a good spot in heaven for me, for having a dad like this. I'll tell you that much.
Anyway, the hostess tells Dad she's not drawing anymore, which, I should say, I might have guessed from the fact that she's working here. Then she tells Dad he looks "different." Yeah. That's one way of putting it.
Dad and I get to our table, sit down, and look over the menus. I decide on the chiles rellenos, because they are basically the only halfway normal thing on the menu here. Dad rubs his goatee thing and tells me he's going to have the fish tacos.
Now I know I'm in trouble.
The other couple of times we've been here, Dad has ordered the tempeh. Tempeh is this vegan cake thingy that looks like bad skin and tastes like moldy cardboard. It was the kind of thing that went really well with my dad the way he used to be, like, last week. Last week my dad was a struggling artist who hung out with other local artists and complained about how conservative National Public Radio was getting. He was the kind of guy you might call "granola" as an adjective. Crunchy. Taos is a funky little artist-heavy town in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. The houses and buildings are almost all single-story brown mud squares, adobe. It's really pretty here, actually. The town sits in a valley with mountains rising all around. In the summer it's very green, with wild strawberries growing everywhere, and you almost want to skip over the hills yodeling or something. In the winter — like now — the city is usually covered in a layer of snow that looks like frosting on the old adobe buildings. The air smells clean, laced with smoke from people's fireplaces. We burn pine logs up here, and they smell really good.
Me and my dad live in a lopsided two-bedroom adobe off the plaza that's about four hundred years old, and every inch of every wall inside of it is covered with his drawings of superheroes. Oh, I forgot to mention Dad's not just a cartoonist — he's got a couple of graphic novels and a comic book series. So the house is decorated in sketches of Squeegee Man; Squeegee Man's archenemy Prince Flatulence; the always buxom sadist Darkleena, queen of the underworld; and the pure and willowy She-Nha, who, if you ask me, is a little too influenced by the wrong kind of Japanese animation. But nobody asks me. Anyway, my point is, until recently, my dad seemed to realize he was a hopeless geek. Then he got a call from a Hollywood movie studio that wanted to option Squeegee Man for a movie, with Dad as one of the animators. He went out last week to meet them, and now here he is, a changed being. You see what I'm getting at here?
Fish tacos? I didn't know you could put fish in a taco. I didn't know anyone would want to. I don't know who this man is.
"Dad?" I say. "Are you okay?"
Dad grins at me, and I swear his teeth look whiter than they used to.
"Did you do something to your teeth?" I ask.
Dad closes his mouth and puts a hand over it. I swear it looks like he's blushing. He pushes back his upper lip and touches a couple of teeth with the tips of his fingers. Eew? I know he doesn't smoke ganja like lots of other artist parents, but I swear he looks baked.
"Are you on drugs?" I ask him. He gives me that "ha-ha, very funny" sarcastic look and ignores the question. He thinks I'm too grown-up sometimes. I wish he were more grown-up sometimes, so I guess we're even.
"I had them laser-whitened while I was in California," he explains. He bares his teeth like a cornered coyote. I think he's trying to smile. Then he talks through his teeth like his jaw is wired shut. "What do you think?"
I shrug, because it wouldn't be polite to tell my dad what I think right now. What I think is: I recently got highlights in my shoulder-length brown hair, and that was a big deal for me. I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's fine to better your appearance, but I thought my dad's teeth were fine before, for a dad.
Thankfully, the waitress comes. We order, and then I start to whistle and look around the restaurant for something, anything, to distract me from the disturbing sight of my father falling into what I think is a midlife cartoonist's crisis. His latest girlfriend just dumped him, and I think this all has something to do with that. I think it was a blessing, her dumping him, because she was completely postal. She thought we were, like, best friends or something, and always came crying to me after they'd had a fight, like I was her therapist or something. One time she started to talk about how my dad gave the best massages, and I was, like, "Hello? Shut up? You're making me sick?"
"Pasquala," says my dad, with full-on heavy-duty Spanish accent. He does that when he thinks there are lots of "gringos" around. It's totally lame.
"Paski, please," I say. I hate my name. Pasquala. What kind of sixteen-year-old has a name like that? I've only ever seen that name in abandoned graveyards in northern New Mexico. Oh, and it gets worse, just so you know. My full name? Are you ready for this? Here goes: Pasquala Rumalda Quintana de Archuleta. Bunk, right? My mom and dad, at the time they named me, were on this whole Mexican power trip, and they thought it was okay to name me like that. Mom's not in the picture anymore. Actually, since I was ten, she hasn't been in the picture.
My dad's cartoons from back then are nothing but a bunch of bald-looking guys in long shorts with long socks, and chola women in skinny stilettos. Me? I don't care one way or the other about Mexican power. I don't know why my dad is all "I'm Mexican" when he doesn't even know how to speak Spanish, but you can't argue with him about it. To me, people are people, and some get better names than others. You know which side of that I fall on, anyway.
"I have to talk to you about something serious," says Dad, totally ignoring my request for a name correction. Usually, Dad's a pretty good listener, one of those touchy-feely parents. He's raising me alone because my mom, sort of an art groupie who wanted to be a singer, had her midlife crisis and took off with a biker dude. She's a mess, my mom. I don't think about it too much because I don't see the point. Some people get moms that care. Some don't. I happen to be one of the ones who got a mom that didn't care. I mean, she did care, but not about me. She cared about boyfriends and pot and drinking. And that's about it. Dad, as you might have guessed, has bad luck in the lady department. I think he should stop picking the kind of lady with shoulder tattoos and tube tops, but does he listen? Nope. Not my fault.
I sip my iced water and wait for Dad to talk. The last time I felt scared like this was when he told me Mom had left the state without letting us know. There's never something good coming when Dad tells you there's something "serious" to talk about. There is no less serious dad in the world than a cartoonist.
"You know I went to L.A. to meet with the movie studio," says Dad. I nod. "Well, it went really well." He smiles, happier than I've seen him in a very long time. I hold my breath. "I mean, really good, Paski."
I nod and look around the restaurant some more.
"Hey. Look at me. Over here." He's pointing to his eyes with two fingers, like I don't know how to find them. Dad's a nut about eye contact. I look at him and wince. He belongs on that show Jackass.
"They want Squeegee for a movie," Dad says. "They aren't the only ones. The studios all wanted it. We had a bidding war, Paski. And they're talking sequels."
I have no idea what he's talking about. Dad leans forward across the table with a crazy smile. "It's my big break, Chinita," he says in a low voice, as if the Texan tourists are listening and might, what, report it to the government or something. Chinita is one of the many dreaded nicknames Dad uses for me, because he thought I looked "Chinese" as a baby. "They want me to head up the animation team."
"So?" I ask. He's gloating, and I hate it. I don't know what the big deal is. And honestly? I'm sick of him wanting me to congratulate him all the time on everything he does. Isn't that what Grandma is for? It's his job to congratulate me. Sometimes the whole parent/kid thing gets blurred in our house.
"So, we're moving to L.A.," he says.
I choke on my water. "We're what?"
"Moving to Los Angeles," he says, like I might not have understood what "L.A." meant.
"Because I have to live there to do the show. As soon as possible."
I feel a pit open in the center of my belly. Moving? I can't move. I'm having my seventeenth birthday in less than a month, and I was planning to spend it with my best friends at a concert in Santa Fe. I'm the editor of my school newspaper and the co-captain of the school mountain bike team. Granted, there are only three of us on the team, but still. It's January, the start of the new semester. They need me. Then there's Emily and Janet, my two best friends. I love them like sisters. How could I live without them? And then, after months of wondering whether he actually liked me or not, I just got asked to go to a party by Ethan Schaefer — only the hottest-looking guy in the eleventh grade at Taos High School. You can't leave town with Ethan Schaefer falling in love with you! That would be way crazy.
"I can't go with you," I say, knowing as I say it that I probably don't have a choice. Actually, I know I don't have a choice. I've had this weird feeling for the past couple of days that something big was going to happen to me, but I didn't know exactly what it was. I've been dreaming about a huge yellow pyramid, and the dreams have felt scary. I've known something bad was coming.
"You have to go with me. I'm your dad." Oh, really? And all this time I thought he was my pet. My father, the master of stating the obvious.
"I'll stay with Grandma."
My father looks hurt. "But it's California, Pasquala." He says "California" as if everyone in the world wants to live there. He sits up and smiles. "Beaches? Sunshine? Surfer dudes?"
I shake my head. Taos is fine with me. I love the mountains and the sky here. In my free time, weather allowing, I ride my bike in the mountains. And not just any old ride. I ride forty miles at a pop. I'm what you'd call a serious cyclist. I go up the sides of things nobody should go up the side of on a bike, and somehow I stay on. I jump things. I spin the bike in the air. I call it bike-dancing. You blast your iPod and go. I like the solitude here. Dad looks like he might cry, which would be pathetic. He might stain the velour. Wait a second. Did he really just say "surfer dudes"? I can't deal.
"Your grandma's pretty busy with her business," he reminds me. "And you know how she is now. She can't really take care of you."
I look around the restaurant some more. He's right. I was bluffing anyway. I wouldn't want to live with my crazy grandmother and all her spirit friends.
Spirit friends? Yeah. My grandma is sort of a local celebrity astrologer, tarot-card queen, witch doctor, communicator with the dead. People come from all over the world for her readings and cleansing and God knows what else. She's even been on Oprah for helping the local police solve a murder one time. That's the "business" Dad's talking about. I think Dad uses words too generously sometimes. As a newspaper editor, I am very specific about the words I use. My grandma and "business" don't match. At all.
My grandma. Basically, she's a sweet new-age guru lady who thinks every little thing you do is super significant. I love her to death, but if you think my dad's open and funky, you have to meet his mother. It's a little much for me sometimes. She's also got about six boyfriends, all of them these crazy artists or diehard hippie guys who smell like something died in their pants. And, worst of all, she thinks I'm a psychic like her, just because I've had a couple of dreams that came true. She's always, like, "You have the gift, you are the chosen one." Blah blah blah. This is why I never tell her my dreams anymore. Oh, and she wears only purple. You see what I'm saying, anyway. She's adorable, but I'm pretty sure she's a little Looney Tunes. I'd go insane living with her, now that I think about it.
"I know," says Dad. "It's going to be hard to leave your friends. I don't want to leave my friends, either. But we have to go, Pasqua — Paski."
"We don't have to," I say. "You could just stay here."
"No," he says, adjusting the sunglasses on his head. "We have to. I already signed the deal, and I got us an apartment. It's really nice. And I already registered you at Aliso Niguel High School."
"You won't believe how cool this school is."
"We have to start on the movie right away. Do you have any idea how long it takes to make these animated movies? Even with computers?"
I shake my head.
"That Finding Nemo took more than four years."
I stare at the top of the table. I'll be twenty years old — almost twenty-one — in four years. Twenty? That's halfway through college. I want to be a lawyer, though, so that's halfway toward law school. Wait a minute, back up. Did he just say he registered me at a high school already?
"We'll come back to visit for holidays. I promise."
The waitress brings our food, but I've lost my appetite. Dad, though? Mr. California parts his pearly whites and chomps down on those nasty-looking fish tacos like they're the best thing he ever tasted.
It's a snowy Saturday afternoon, gray and dreary, and Dad is home with Don Juan, our one-eyed orange tomcat, and a couple of Dad's artist friends, packing the last of our things into the U-Haul. The cat lost his eye when one of our idiot neighbors shot him with a BB gun. My dad, though, he lost his mind when he went to Los Angeles.
I should let you know that he is going to pack the stereo at the very end, because he's got it blasting while he works. He's listening to Gwen Stefani's Love. Angel. Music. Baby. Can I just say he's scaring me more and more every day? Seriously. There is nothing on earth scarier than seeing your dad sing along to "Harajuku Girls," doing his arms like serpents.
Oh, and Dad's not just singing along, okay? Singing along, dancing around, and wearing a big Phat Farm hockey shirt and too-long jeans that drag over his awkwardly trendy shoes. I mean, he's going bald, okay? Bald. Get a clue. Go gracefully into that good night, I say. I swear on everything I consider holy and dear that when I get to be thirty-eight years old I will not act like that.
Anyway, he's letting me use the car to go around saying goodbye to everybody I love. He says we're going to have to buy a new car after we get settled in L.A., because he's embarrassed to show up in this one to Hollywood parties. That's what he said. Does he not realize animators probably never get invited to Hollywood parties? Poor Dad. There's nothing wrong with this car. It's a dark blue 2000 Toyota Corolla with a CD player. It runs really well. But lately, Dad's all into saying, "a Beemer, I have to have a Beemer." Even his artist friends are confused.
First stop? Taos Bakery, to say goodbye to Ethan Schaefer. I know, I should go to see Emily and Janet first; they're waiting for me at Emily's house. Then I have to go to Grandma's after that. I'm on a tight schedule here, because Dad wants to get the car hitched to the U-Haul and leave before dark. In case you were wondering, my dad's a vampire. He only works at night, and he thinks I can sleep in the truck while he drives. I'm, like, ho-tel, okay? But whatever.
I can't stop thinking about Ethan, about how I'm never going to see him again. Or, if I do see him again, how he's probably going to be in love with someone else by then. It's not like I even know him that well to be all stupid about leaving him behind. It's just that he's the first guy I've known who makes me feel pretty. I like that feeling. I never thought I was all that pretty until Ethan started telling me how beautiful I was. I'm nothing exceptional, just a normal-looking New Mexican Hispanic girl, five-five, longish dark brown hair with very recent reddish highlights that don't look that great because Emily and Janet did them for me. I've got kind of pale olive skin, and I guess my eyes are big and very dark.
I'm not flashy, either. I stick to jeans, T-shirts, and sweaters mostly. There's no Urban Outfitters in Taos — or anywhere in this state — but I order things from them online twice a year, fall and summer, and that's pretty much my wardrobe. I like shirts with funny slogans on them, and I keep a diary where I write down slogans I think would look good on a T-shirt. I came up with a new one last night: IT'S MY DAD'S FAULT.
I don't do a lot of makeup, just some lip gloss and mascara. I see all these movie stars and singers, like Lindsay Lohan or whatever, and they're so beautiful and glamorous with their fake lashes and starving bodies. I'm nothing like that. I mean, I'm not fat. I'm strong. I like to eat the right things, and I ride my bike a lot. You can see a lot of definition in my calves and thighs, and one time when I was walking around in shorts last summer, this construction worker whistled at some other girls but when he saw me slapped his buddy on the arm and said, "I'd hate to piss her off. She's got some strong legs." I don't know what that meant, really, but I'm the kind of girl who takes it as a good sign that disgusting construction workers are afraid of me.
Because I don't have a mom around, I never had much of a chance to learn about too many girlie things. Emily and Janet have taught me everything I know about makeup and pulse points. But Ethan's all "Your cheekbones are so structured" or "Your body is amazing" and "You have the darkest brown eyes I've ever seen." He tells me all the guys at school talk about how pretty I am, but that's news to me. None of them ever talked to me before, until now. Ethan, meanwhile, looks just like Jesse McCartney. No, I'm not kidding. Exactly like him. So you see why I don't want to leave town. Just yesterday? On the phone? He's all "You should be a model, Paski." Yeah, right! Models are tall, and they wear, like, a size zero. I wear a size eight, and I'm not very tall. Personally, I'd rather be a professional cyclist than a model anyway, someone like Dede Barry. I'd rather spend my life training in the fresh air of the mountains than walking on a runway for a bunch of German men with cat's-eye glasses. Ethan's kind of corny, now that I think about it.
Anyway, I have never had so much in common with a guy before. We've been talking on the phone every night, and even though we haven't kissed or anything it's pretty clear he likes me. We like all the same bands, same food, same everything. It's cruel to pull me out of my life here with this happening, right?
I park in front of the bakery and go in. Ethan works here on the weekends for a little extra money, making cookies. I think it's cute. I mean, how many hot guys can bake, when you think about it? Let me count, uh, let's see: none. I talked to him on the phone about a half hour ago, and he said he'd go on break when I got there.
Ethan's at the counter, helping a fat lady with her order. She's getting boxes and boxes of pastries. Is that really a good idea when you weigh four thousand pounds? I don't know. People do what they're going to do. You can't stop them. Ethan looks up and sees me. He smiles and looks shy. I love that about him. Ever since he asked me out, he looks bashful around me. I used to think he wasn't interested at all, but he told me it's just that he was intimidated by me. That's crazy, right? A guy intimidated by me? Ethan tells me I'm beautiful. I'm going to miss that, too.
The fat lady pays for her poison and waddles out the door. Her thighs rub together in a way I think might start a fire.
"Don't you feel bad?" I ask, gesturing with my chin at the fat lady.
"Bad?" asks Ethan, taking the plastic gloves off his hands. "Why?"
"You might have just sold that lady a heart attack."
Ethan laughs. I love his laugh. It's like his voice has just barely changed, and it has a certain bell-ness to it. "You have a point," he says. "But if a lady wants to eat cake, I say let them eat cake."
"That's very feminist of you," I say.
"I am my mother's son," he says. Ethan's mom is a state representative, big on women's rights and water conservation. I like her almost as much as I like him. Before Dad decided we had to move, I wanted to get involved with water issues here in the state. We're running out of the stuff. Now I don't have an issue. Do they have issues in L.A.? Ethan starts to untie his apron. "Let me just punch out for break. I'll be right back."
I wait and look at all the yummy things in the pastry cases. None of them look as good as Ethan Schaefer.
He comes out from behind the counter in jeans and a striped button-down shirt. I notice he's put gel in his hair and wonder if it was to impress me. He's about six feet tall, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist. He's on the basketball team at school, and the coach thinks he'll get an athletic scholarship somewhere. He pushes a chunk of long blond bangs from his eyes.
"It's kind of bad weather," he says. "Wanna just sit in my car and talk?"
"Sure," I say.
We trot through the snow to Ethan's car. Yes, I said Ethan's car. He has his own, a 1994 Saturn bought with the money from his job. He rocks. We duck inside and close the doors. Ethan turns on the engine to get the heater going, and pushes a CD into the new stereo. It's our favorite artist, Gorillaz. We have the same tastes, me and Ethan.
He turns toward me, puts an arm up over the top of his seat, tilts his head to one side, and looks sort of sad. "So, you're leaving today, huh?"
I nod and try not to cry. I will not cry. I will not.
"That blows," says Ethan.
"Yeah, pretty much," I agree.
And then he does it. He leans in and kisses me. I've only kissed one other boy before, and it was pretty grotesque, like he was a vacuum hose with wet rubber lips. But Ethan has soft lips and sweet breath. I could kiss him forever.
"Wow," I breathe when we finish.
"You can't go," he says. "That settles it."
"I have to," I tell him. "My dad's packing the truck right now."
Ethan looks at his watch. "I've got ten minutes before I have to go back in there."
We spend the next ten minutes kissing, and then we promise to stay in touch through e-mail and phone calls. We get out of the car and hurry across the parking lot. He kisses me one more time in the snow, which feels colder than any snow ever. "I have to go now."
"Okay," I say, shivering. "See you later."
"No," he says with a big smile. "I'll see you soon."
I smile sadly.
"No," he repeats. "I mean it. I'll come visit you as soon as I save the money. I promise."
"Hell yeah!" He runs back toward me, kisses me again, and says, "Don't worry about anything, okay? Things happen for a reason. I won't forget you."
I cry a little bit on the way to Emily's house and realize I'm ridiculous. Ethan's just a guy, right? There are lots of guys in the world. There are probably even guys in California. But I feel like Ethan understands me. He makes me laugh. I think he could have been that guy you always talk about your whole life as your first true love or whatever, like, the guy I lost my virginity to or something. But it's not going to happen, thanks to my psycho cartoonist dad. How stupid is that?
Emily lives in a pretty pink adobe house near the plaza with her mom and dad. She's one of the few people I know whose parents are still married. They're completely normal, too, her parents. They're, like, businesspeople or something. Almost everyone else around here is an artist or a tourist. Emily's parents do all the stuff I've never done my entire life, like go to church and have dinner together every night. My friendship with Emily started because I was jealous of her sparkly purple lunchbox back in second grade. I'm still jealous of her, the way her clothes are always clean, but now I like her, too. Our other best friend, Janet, is the prettiest girl at school, so I guess you could say we're the popular kids. I don't know. At Taos High School, I'd say we're pretty accepting of pretty much everyone. It's not like it's supposed to be on TV shows about kids.
- On Sale
- Oct 4, 2006
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers