"Dolores. Dolores, wake up!"
Dolores opened her eyes to be met immediately by the sight of her mother Elena's face. The dismayed look on the woman's face could only mean one thing, and realizing that she had slept in, she flung herself out of bed before charging straight for her wardrobe.
"Mom, out! I have to change!"
Elena stepped back to allow her daughter some space, then let out a weary sigh.
"You and your 'privacy.' I've already prepared some toast. Hurry up before it gets cold..."
Elena stormed out of the room, and Dolores allowed herself a smile of relief because her mother was willing to compromise when it came to their differing values. It couldn't be easy when one had grown up in rural Mexico with five other siblings and, as such, didn't see any shame in undressing in front of others.
As for her father, Sergio, he saw himself as a Sicilian despite having grandparents who had originated from the province of Navarre in Spain. This was apparently reflected in their surname 'Navarra,' which was rather unusual as Italian family names went.
In other words, one could say that she had more Spanish blood in her than Italian. Therefore, it was both amusing and sad to think that such a part of her ancestry had been rendered irrelevant by Sergio's ignorance of his family's past and Elena's choice to assimilate into another culture.
Tragic as it was, she had to look on the bright side. If she hadn't grown up in this neighborhood, then she would never have experienced the fortune of knowing a boy like Tony, even if his obliviousness to her feelings was frustrating indeed.
She peered through her wardrobe while regretting not deciding what to wear the previous night. At an urgent time, such as now, she found that it was nearly impossible to conjure up a complete ensemble in her mind, so she simply grabbed things at random and hoped that the result wouldn't be too unsightly.
"It shouldn't matter anyway. You're ugly, and these clothes are passé, so what's there to worry about?"
She threw her selections on the bed and quickly pulled off her nightie to start dressing like a frump stuck ten years in the past. Afterward, she bolted from her room and promptly sat down at the dining table, where a plate of bacon and eggs on toast awaited.
"Eat up," Elena called out while placing dishes in the sink. "Your Dad's taken the car, so you'll have to run to school..."
Dolores almost choked on her food in a rush to finish her breakfast in time, only to give up when she glanced at the clock on the wall and realized that it was five minutes to eight.
"Mom, I'm sorry. I have to leave now..." She muttered before pushing her plate aside in discomfort. "Give my leftovers to Ringo..."
Elena looked up in response and gave her a frown of disapproval.
"Ringo this and Ringo that. Why do you care more about that animal than you do yourself? He can't even catch mice..."
Dolores ignored her mother's words and left the dining table to brush her teeth, then grabbed her bag and ran for the front door. She forced it open before making sure to announce her departure.
"Bye, Mom! See you and Ringo again after school!"
She heard Elena huff loudly in response and guessed that the woman was her usual fed up self. It was fortunate that nothing terrible had happened to Ringo so far, and she hoped that it would remain that way because he really was special to her.
She broke into a run once outside and made it about one block before she felt a stitch on the right side of her chest and stopped to recover. She clutched her belly, regretting the weight she'd gained since Christmas and thinking that she'd never get to school in time before the clicking of bicycle tires prompted her to turn around.
It was none other than Tony, who was riding to school this morning. He smiled and squeezed his brakes until he came to a stop beside her.
"Dolores, hop on behind me. It'll be a lot faster," He said with some urgency, as he shifted himself closer to the front of his bike seat.
"Are you sure? I'm heavier than you think."
"I think I can handle it. Come on, or I'll leave without you."
She mounted the small space behind him and gently grasped his upper arms, knowing that this was about as intimate as she could get with him.
"Are you ready?"
"Okay. Let's go..."
Tony started to pedal, and although he seemed to be exerting himself at first, Dolores felt relieved when he relaxed and began to speed up. After all, she didn't want to be a burden, and the fact that he was doing fine took away much of her guilt.
They approached the school gates ten minutes later, and Tony let her off to find somewhere to secure his bike. She thanked him as he rode away, then continued in the direction that her locker hall was located, all the while doing her best to ignore other students' stares and murmurs.
"Those two looked pretty comfy. Do you think they're together?"
"Sure hope not. He must be blind if he likes her..."
Hearing such a thing even from a complete stranger was difficult for Dolores to bear. She turned to stare at the two girls who had spoken and held back tears until they realized their mistake and retreated in shame.
She wiped her eyes once they were gone and forced herself to bravely continue walking.
Tony was sure it would only be a matter of time before he climbed up the popularity chain. After all, he had the looks, and he'd spent the latter half of last year making an effort to become more sociable.
He'd volunteered to monitor one of the stalls at the school auction, among other things, and if his memory was correct, he'd caught the attention of more girls than boys.
One of them had stood out in particular, and her name was Giorgia Amato. He would catch sight of her once in a while during Sunday church services, and she was quite pretty as far as girls his age went. Her parents owned a local dry cleaning business frequented almost entirely by suburban women like his mother, Maria.
He didn't know much else about Giorgia besides the fact that she was the youngest member of the church choir, and it seemed like the time had come for him to change that.
It would take more courage than he currently possessed to ask her out, but on the off chance that she said 'yes,' he'd prove that he was indeed worthy of a relationship and elevate his social standing as a result.
As if on cue, Giorgia soon entered the classroom trailing behind a group of girls that also included the popular Sandra, who had broken up with Richie a few months earlier.
Even though Sandra had proven herself to be good at heart more than once, he still couldn't help but feel intimidated. At the age of seventeen, she was already the epitome of a breezy surfer girl, and when she flashed a friendly smile, he found himself shrinking back in his chair despite the lack of real danger.
He relaxed once she and the other girls had passed by, and it was then that he realized Dolores was nowhere to be seen. He knew that she wasn't very confident or well-liked, so he hoped her morning wasn't being ruined by someone who couldn't keep their nasty thoughts to themselves.
Fortunately, his worries were put to rest when she came walking into the room with hesitation. He made eye contact with her, and almost immediately, she relaxed enough to quicken her pace until she had arrived at the desk beside him.
"Hey, Dolores..." He said just loudly enough for her to hear as she sat down. "What took you so long?"
She turned to look at him with narrow eyes while replying in a dull voice.
"I had a bathroom emergency."
Tony knew better than to question further when girls gave such answers. He had learned this one day at the age of ten when Sophia had used the bathroom, and he'd been horrified to see traces of blood in the toilet afterward.
Maria had subsequently been left with little choice but to explain a woman's time of the month while reassuring him that his sister certainly hadn't come down with some deathly illness.
He smiled at this memory, then pushed it aside to focus on the day ahead. According to the clock beside the blackboard, it was five minutes to nine, which meant that Mrs. Martins had to show up soon.
She was a teacher known for being punctual, so he wondered if some emergency had befallen her too. He glanced behind him at Sandra, and the other girls before the loud click of high heels prompted him to turn back around.
The woman standing in front of the class was attractive, even with her horn-rimmed glasses and dark hair swept up in a tight bun. Tony did his best to keep his eyes off her ample chest as she cleared her throat and began taking attendance.
He allowed himself to take a deep breath of relief once she had gone through everyone's names, only to feel his chest tighten again when Mrs. Martins got up to write on the board, and he saw how round her backside looked in that plaid skirt.
It was wrong to ogle a woman almost as old as his mother, but he couldn't help himself. She had a great figure for her age and a certain sophistication that one simply couldn't find in adolescent girls. Not to mention, he had a feeling that she was nowhere near as strait-laced as her current appearance seemed to suggest.
He imagined that she was probably the sort to remove her glasses, let her hair down and go absolutely wild upon returning home from work. He instinctively tightened his fist and wishing for some time alone, raised his hand to get her attention.
"Yes, Tony?" Mrs. Martins inquired sternly, shifting her focus toward him.
"I'd like permission to use the bathroom, Mrs. Martins."
Mrs. Martins adjusted her glasses.
"Of course you may, Tony. You're a trustworthy boy."
He quickly left his desk and hurried for the door out of fear that she might change her mind before he could get far.
Luckily, he managed to step out into the corridor without hearing a further word and sought to enjoy the solitude by sighing loudly and stretching his arms.
"Damn you and your dirty mind..." He thought to himself while heading for the boys' restroom, located at the other end of the building. "You're going to get in big trouble someday..."