Lydia and Scott are the only freshmen taking AP Spanish. The first day, she raised an eyebrow at the kid who thought the Odyssey actually happened, but all he has to say is “My dad,” and she stops and moves over her purse to make space. Outside of Spanish, they don’t talk, but everyday from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., they share one desk and pass notes grading Sra. Lorenzo’s handwriting on the board. Scott gives her points for not using cursive anymore. Lydia says it doesn’t count if it’s in yellow marker.
They get their first pop quiz back, and hers is covered in red for missing accents and Scott’s has a sticker. Lydia has never handled failure well, so when Scott says she’ll do better next time, she bites back, “How did you learn accent rules? You’re failing three classes.” Scott runs his head through his hair, sheepish. “Before my dad left,” and Scott swallows before repeating, “Before my dad left, we would read El Diario’s sport section every Sunday. It just takes some practice.” Lydia never got any practice. To help ease her transition into kindergarden, her father banned Spanish in the house. She’ll learn archaic Latin for college applications, but AP Spanish is her repentance, her repentance for not being able to tell her grandmother she’s sorry because she doesn’t remember how.
That night, she buys a subscription to El Diario online, and makes herself read it cover-to-cover. She looks up the words she doesn’t recognize, and at night, she dreams of her grandmother’s voice whispering forgiveness in her mother’s tongue.
When the next quiz comes back with a sticker, she lets Scott high-five her. She regrets it when he approaches her at the lunch table. Lydia Martín doesn’t make friends, she makes allies, and she shakes her head at him before he gets too close. “Heartless,” is what Jackson calls her when they’re in bed together, and she pushes him past too much and wrings out all the pleasure for herself.
Scott still sits next to her in class, and she won’t let herself feel relieved. But instead of the usual shot at Sra. Lorenzo, his note this time says, You don’t have to pretend with me.
Lydia crumples the note in her hand and waits until Sra. Lorenzo turns her back to hiss, “Stop with the love notes McCall. It’s never going to work between us.” Scott keeps giving her a gentle smile like he’s got her all figured out. She huffs, “What you see is what you get.” Scott waits until the end of class to slip her his reply, My mom is your grandmother’s nurse.
She waits until he’s alone on the sidewalk, waiting for his ride, to attack. Scott doesn’t even look surprised. He talks as if they’re continuing a conversation, “To make extra money, my Mom moonlights at the old people’s home in the city. She says you’re her most consistent visitor.”
Every Sunday, Lydia drives two hours to sit next to a woman who sometimes remember her name, so she can talk about the life her grandmother said America was all about. Lydia will talk about her popular jock boyfriend and her grades, and she doesn’t let herself feel homesick for Mami and Papi, who think she’s the next President. If a white family with perfect teeth and red hair wants to sponsor your education, you will move to Bumsfuck, Nowhere to get it. Her family told her it was her choice, but Lydia knew there was only one to make.
Scott claps her on the back and she shoves at his chest. “Dude, your secret’s safe with me. No one needs to know you have a soul. Gotta go, I see Stiles pulling up.”
“We’re still not friends, McCall!” She calls after him, but they both know her cover’s blown.
The next day is her 15th birthday. She gets stopped every minute by wellwishers, so she’s not surprised when Scott shows up at her locker. “Here,” is all he says, pushing it into her face, and Lydia looks at him as if he’s too dumb to live.
“Why are you giving me a drama prop you stole.”
“Technically, Stiles stole it, but it’s your scepter. Every quinceñera needs her scepter.”
This weekend, her host family will throw her a huge party in their mansion, and it will be the party of the year. Quinceñeras are stupid. She will not miss the stupid frilly ball gown her mother would’ve made her wear, or the dumb Court she would’ve had or all the dancing her tíos would’ve made her do.
She realizes she’s grinning too late. “Whatever loser,” she says with a toss of her hair, “you’re still not invited to my party.” Scott shrugs and laughs like she made a joke. Lydia will tell everyone that her favorite gift is the Tiffany bracelet Jackson got her, but in reality, it’s a drama prop from an asthma kid that has her host mom saying, I see someone had a good time. She titters like she’s supposed to.
Lydia waits until she’s alone before she pulls out the scepter under her bed and lets her face relax.