Marsha Ranieri



Junior always biked home from school, but some days he would pass his exit and pedal until his face turned bright red. He’d wait until the numbers on the street signs got so high that they turned into names of places and people he didn’t know, and then find a patch of grass and lie there until the sky turned dark and the city turned quiet.

He skipped 168th street and Riverside so fast that the passing joggers were only blurs. Electricity ran through his body into his legs where his muscles suddenly became tight and spasmed.


He pulled over to a patch of grass to massage his calf. He knew that when he got back Dad would be there waiting, just like he always was.

“What is this faggot shit?” Dad was sitting on the couch in the living room, with sheets of computer paper on the coffee table. He lifted the sheets of hand-drawn comics, the edges of his mouth curling in anger.

“A girl in my class gave them to me,” Junior replied softly, eyes averted.  

He knew that he wouldn’t believe him, but he was more worried about Dad ripping the drawings into shreds. He didn’t and instead let go of his rage, his father’s face softening into disappointment.

“Junior, you think that I’m going to believe a girl gave these to you? You come home, sit in your room and draw fantasies.”

Junior knew he was right. At school he dressed himself in the locker room stall because he was embarrassed of the soft fatty mounds on his chest. The other boys never said anything, just like Dad never said anything, until now.

Junior started coming home late and nobody asked any questions. Each time he would bike farther, get more lost. Sweat dripped down his face and a V-shaped stain emerged on his back. He did this until his chubby, youthful cheeks became hollow and revealed the contours of his face. His olive skin tanned golden, and he thinned out into his prepubescent build. Now, girls would now look up at him when he passed in the hallways, and he felt a surge of pride at the unwarranted smiles. But there was still the thing he hated about himself, his thick long, black, curling eyelashes which were often the first thing people noticed about him.

“How’s your hija doing?” Tío would joke to Dad. His cousin Yoel smirked, but said nothing. Yoel was everything Junior wanted to be-- he made getting girls seem like it was common sense.

They were in his room playing Xbox, and Junior was taking mental notes as he navigated the streets of Grand Theft Auto.

“You just have to act like you don’t give a shit about them, girls love that. When girls look at you they think, oh, he’s my friend. You just have to show them you aren’t.”

In sixth grade, Junior met Leslie. She was a quiet girl, but she let him hold her hand on the walk home from school. Before he left her in front of her apartment she kissed him on the cheek. He was ready to make the next move.

“How do you kiss a girl?”

“What? Why?”

“I want to kiss Leslie and I don’t want her to know that I haven’t kissed a girl before.”

“Oh,” Yoel paused to find the right answer.

“You never kissed a girl, man?”

“I’ve gotten close.”

Yoel’s brows furrowed, and suddenly he looked small and less impressive. Even though he was lighter skinned and the tallest boy in his class, he was just as clueless as Junior was.

“We can try it here,” he said.

“How do we do that?”

“Just pretend that I’m a girl” he replied, as though the answer were obvious.

Junior paused.

It seemed odd, but Yoel knew about this sort of thing. And it wasn’t only girls, everyone loved Yoel. He got better grades, he was the best batter on his team, and the adults knew that he was destined for greatness. Even Junior’s father would invite him to watch the major leagues with him, knowing he would be able to appreciate it in a way Junior never could.

“Just don’t bat your eyelashes at me while you’re doing it.”

“Close your eyes. I don’t want to look at you, either,” Junior winced, trying to figure out the trajectory at which he should tilt his head.

It wasn’t exactly a kiss, but the brushing of two inexperienced sets of lips. Junior tried opening his mouth slightly, which awkwardly met Yoel’s closed lips. He thought Yoel would make it easier but it was clear he didn’t know how kissing worked either. They both pulled away quickly, and they said nothing about it, as though it had never happened.

The next time Tío brought Yoel over, Junior knew they shared a secret that would probably not make sense to the adults, but they both had a silent understanding that it was necessary.

“Okay, don’t fuck up this time.”

They sat in the living room across the hallway from Junior’s room and turned on a novela. Novelas were nothing but kissing and crying, and the flawlessly light-skinned, dark haired actors made it look like second-nature.

Junior leaned in again, both of them reading the correct angle of the kiss this time, and then both of their small bodies were suddenly shaken by the harsh sound of the door unlocking and swinging open.

“What the FUCK are you doing” his father screamed. His face was a deep crimson that Junior had never seen on his brown skin. His father’s bloodshot eyes went wide and his mouth dropped in shock, his worst fears for his only son had manifested. He wasn’t sure what his father had told Tío, but Junior stopped coming over after that. When Junior came home his Dad stayed silent, his face lit blue by the television. They both preferred it that way.



10 years later.

Junior worked the Monkey Room at night to finance the Ivy League education he couldn’t afford.

Each night a new body would lie next to him in his one-bedroom apartment in uptown Manhattan. Most of the women in New York City were lonely and impatient, and Junior possessed a composure that made people assume he was friendly. He never had to do much to go home with someone, as most of the women scribbled phone numbers on receipts after they’d closed their tabs. He would half-listen to drunken conversations in between friends that he would suddenly become involved. 

“What do you think about that pretty boy?” a young blonde asks and Junior would smile while fixing her drink.

He learned how to send mass text messages that were vague enough to be applicable to various situations. For example, I’m thinking of you right now. Often followed by Good morning hermosa, all of which were filled with long, inexplicable, gaps of silence. Leslie was the only girl who saw through him. When they would fight she would use his full name-- Antonio, nostrils flaring. The word sounded ugly in her mouth, bringing to mind his mother calling for his father, the real Antonio. He couldn’t remember the sound of her voice, now when looking back he just heard Leslie. She always knew what to say that would hurt him the most. Then she left, too. 

He had an economics midterm the next morning and all of the drunken, careless fools at the bar were particularly irritating. One man was sitting alone at the edge of the bar, waiting for a chance to buy a girl a drink. For about two hours he had been staring at a brunette who was on the dance floor, until she finally staggered over to the bar, out of breath.

“Hey, hey, hey-- don’t worry about it. Bartender, give the lady anything she wants tonight.”

The loser seemed out of place with the young college crowd. He was fat like most middle-aged fathers are, balding with a lonely smile. She glanced at him cautiously.

“Don’t worry, it’s on me,” Junior said, placing forward a Tequila sunrise on the bar, and she smiled graciously.

She probably had to deal with losers like him all the time, he figured. She was beautiful in the way that beautiful people should be, dancing as though no one were watching and laughing in a way that was pure and unrestrained.

“What’s your name?” she asked, curious.


She raised her eyebrows, “No, your real name” she asked and he smiled.

“I usually stay away from men like you,” she smiled back.

“Maybe you should give me a chance. We’re just getting to know each other.”

“I have family like you,” she said, her almond-brown eyes narrowing in suspicion.

Junior scribbled his phone number on a napkin.

The next morning, after he had unquestionably failed his midterm, he sat in the kitchen trying to calculate the grade he would need to pass the class. A message from an unsaved number appeared on his phone, and he lost his train of thought. It was a nude picture, a bold move he neither expected nor was prepared for. The only downside of receiving a nude photo is not knowing how to respond adequately, given that sending a picture of a penis seems like a disappointing consolation to the beauty of the female anatomy.

“So when can I come over?” he asked.

That night, he watched her dance again, and knew that it was a show just for him. He was smart enough and she was smart enough to know that. He wouldn’t give her the satisfaction, but snuck glances in between patrons. He envied every loser who got to dance bachata with her. He thought about the picture and tried to imagine what her body looked like through the outlines of her dress. When he finally saw her, it was exactly what he had pictured. She was a woman who knew exactly what she wanted, and it was everything he expected.

“You still think you’re different?” she asked him tracing a finger along his bare chest.


“What you told me at the bar, you still think you’re different?”

“Oh. I can’t convince you about me, but I know that you’re different. Actually, you’re the first girl I’ve been with whose eyelashes are longer than mine.”

She laughed in her musical way.

“You don’t even know my last name.”

“So why don’t you tell me?”


He froze, and shifted up to prop himself up on his elbow.

“Plácido… Do you know Antonio Plácido?”

“How do you know him?” She frowned. “That’s my tio but we don’t really talk to him like that. He had a lot of wives, not sure how he even kept track.”

His face turned a red that mirrored the shame in his father’s face when he was ten years old. He got up and put on his jeans.

“Why are you leaving?”

“I’ll call you.”

He grabbed his bike and descended down the stairs of the apartment complex. Passed 168th street and Riverside. She made him feel a fleeting hope, and when she was lying next to him, she was the only thing that made sense. It hurt. His thoughts were a swampy murmur. His movements felt slow as though the energy were drained from his body. He not only felt shame, the weight of the unspoken knowledge he carried about himself his entire life. He pedaled faster, trying to get the feeling back into his fingers from the cold autumn night. He pedaled faster, trying to feel the high of motionlessness, the high of freedom. At the red light, he didn’t stop, and the brakes locked when he saw the older man crossing the street. When he swerved around the man his body hurled forward, the bike skidding to a hard stop. He landed on his right side and he curled into a fetal position, the bike collapsing behind him.

“Kid, are you alright?” Junior turned over to his back, laughing. “Kid?’ The man asked, his eyes widening in disbelief. He laughed until he couldn’t feel any pain.

“Forget you then,” the man resolved, walking away.

Junior laughed so hard that hot tears trailed down his face. He laughed at the inevitable. No matter how hard he tried, he was now, and always would be, the one who lost.



© The Acentos Review 2018