Chapter Song(s):

Girlfriend—Avril Lavigne (Cassandra to Stanton)

Hey You—Pink Floyd (Serena & Stanton: Memorial)

Rev. 22:20—Puscifer (Jimena: Murder Intentions)

How To Save A Life—The Fray (Jimena: Church)

Author's Note:

Hey, look, I've returned. Wow. That's all I have to write. :) I advise you to read through ALL of Jimena's part, despite the lack of dialogue, because I find the church scene beautiful—the image painted in my head, I mean.


6. SOCIALIZE

The evermore quiet of the group stabbed into Serena. She wanted to tell them, an announcement of solemn news, but when she opened her mouth, it was as though black tar stuck to the inside of her throat, locking words into her mouth. Catty, always one to sense the change in the winds, shifted uncomfortably in her seat. All the other project groups chatted boisterously with one another, glad for the freedom presented to them during the class period.

Finally fed up, Tianna, never one for patience, slammed her pen on the table and eyed Serena sharply. In turn, Serena felt no fear of the dark-haired beauty. Such a hostile gaze wasn't the worst thing she's ever encountered. Momentarily, her mind wandered to past images of… stumbling into Mr. Malmaris's class during lunch… and the intimate scene… Oh, God…

"I know what's wrong with Jimena."

Vanessa leaned forward, intrigued; Catty chewed on her pencil, nervous beyond reason; even Tianna couldn't help but feel her previous impatience dwindling low. Serena gingerly set down her pencil, tucked the loose curls behind her ear, and began, her voice feathery soft from the numbing ache spreading in her chest: "When I called Jimena last night—"

"You have her number?" Tianna intervened, blanching. "She didn't let any of us have it."

Serena cocked an eyebrow, seemingly annoyed by the interruption. "She trusts me, I guess. But, when I called her"—Vanessa and Catty glared haughtily at the beautiful girl who lowered her head, a promise to remain silent—"she said something… well, it's about… Veto… I think he died." She felt the chilling cold pass through her; the same painful sensation that had stabbed her the day she realized her mother had upped and left.

"What?" Catty inquired. Her mouth dropped open. Her complexion whitened, cheeks drained of color.

Vanessa could only gaze, wide-eyed, at her desk, somewhat trembling from the knowledge. Without meaning to, Tianna grasped the blonde's hand, equally shocked by the information processing slowly in her mind. Minutes of silence stretched on. The meaningless chatter seemed to cease, and the only image left in the room was the four girls leaned toward one another, breathing unevenly.

"I-I can't even…" Vanessa, licking her lips, asked coarsely, "What, exactly, did she say, Serena?"

Serena rubbed her arms, still frozen from the overwhelming anguish. "I asked her what was wrong, and she said Veto was gone. So of course I asked, "Where?" and all she replied to me was, "With Mary." Jimena's Catholic, and I'm sure Mary is the Virgin Mary, you know." She threaded her fingers through her head, massaging her scalp, and the memory replayed in her dulled mind.

"Oh, my, God," Vanessa breathed.

"Poor Jimena…"

Tianna's grip on Vanessa's hand tightened, and all gazed up to see, with shocked eyes, the redness rimming the beauty's dark orbs; the small cracks slicing into the whiteness of her eyes as burning tears threatened to fall. The once tough woman, a stone-cold fox with a hard-lined frown and never faltering confidence had been reduced to near tears.

Catty gripped her best friend's shoulder in support. Vanessa squeezed her newfound friend's hand. Serena gazed at each of them, unblinking, unable to stand the beautiful image unwinding before her. And tiredly, her eyes flickered to the empty desk beside her, and she could imagine the solemn woman easing down right there, and joining in on their moment of grief and sorrow.

"Class is almost over," Vanessa informed in a meager voice.

"I wish the day was over," Tianna murmured as she rubbed her eyelids.

Catty sighed dramatically. "Me, too…"

-

Cassandra flounced down the steps, her red-painted lips curling upward into a savage smile of delight as she spotted Stanton just paces away, speaking quietly with someone just behind the wall. She quickened her step, but the person hidden behind the wall shifted, and several reddish curls bounced into view. Cassandra, halting, gritted her teeth and jumped into the nearest hallway before either could detect her presence.

'That conniving little bitch, how dare she steal my man?!' Cassandra screamed scathingly in her mind, heart beating to an irregular tantrum of heated fury and malicious intentions toward the gothic witch formulated in her tactful brain. 'I've been in love with him since the beginning of freshman year, and she thinks she can just come strutting into school and steal every single hot guy?! What… NERVE!'

She strained to hear, tucking maroon tresses behind her ear as she captured several words.

"—and I'm sure it will go away soon," Stanton finished, deep voice rather melancholy. "If you want, maybe we can go to some fancy restaurant? The Olive Garden or maybe just somewhere like Johnny Rocket's?"

Serena, barely audible, responded, "I'd rather just be alone at home."

"That's not going to help very much."

"But I don't want to—"

"We can set up a descanso for him—"

"How do you know he was murdered?" Serena's tone implied accusation, but also seemed defensive in a way. "Those are used usually for violent murders or something, aren't they? How do you—?"

Stanton interrupted in a hoarse whisper, "Serena… He was a gang member of Ninth Street… always on the streets, protecting his 'territory', with Jimena… What do you think happened? He slipped in a puddle and broke his neck, maybe?" His sarcastic words silence her momentarily, and the heartfelt moment brought upon a burning hatred within Cassandra's heart.

When her grandmother, whom she had been extremely close to, died, Stanton merely brushed past her without a thought, despite knowing it… and despite the fact that she had been sobbing and pounding her fist against a wall screaming, "Why, God, why?! Fuck you, too, I can't wait to die and kick your God damn ass, you douche!"

Serena seemed to sigh. "Yeah, you're right… Maybe we can do that, then—set up a memorial. Jimena will be happy when I show her." A smile formed her voice, and Cassandra gaped with disbelief as the sound of their light footsteps vanished down the hallway. For several prolonged seconds, she stood there, engulfed by bewilderment, before words slipped from her mouth.

"That… whore," she seethed, back pressed against the smooth wall as she slid to the ground, a mess. Her insides were hot, the urge to vomit boiling at the back of her throat. Flaming red bubbled on her cheeks, and she puckered her lips into an angry pout. And as she sat there, rubbing her fingers together, the need to plan and plot eased into her brain: first Vanessa, now Serena.

Two people—two women who were in the way of her path of glory and love—needed to be taken down: Vanessa, for her sheer beauty and leadership (it was Cassandra's time to strut through La Brea High as Queen Bee!); Serena, because she was now the obstacle in winning Stanton's heart and the position as his girlfriend.

"I am going to be Queen," she whispered, easing to her feet. A breeze whipped down the hall, and her maroon tendrils flapped in the savage wind as she posed, fists clenched at her sides and chin help high. Her voice rose to a dramatic height. "I swear on my grandmother's cold grave that I will win Stanton's love, and I will be the new Queen Bee of La Brea High, my kingdom, my land, my universe! Ha, ha, ha, haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa—!"

"God, damn it, Cassandra, shut the hell up!"

She squealed and jumped. Yvonne and Kelly fell down in front of her, having been hiding in the Janitor's closet. The smell of Windex and spoiled milk clung to their skin. Cassandra crossed her arms and arched an eyebrow. "And what, pray tell, are you doing?!"

"We were getting dirt on Serena and Stanton's situation," Kelly informed, smoothing her hand down her pink ruffled skirt, "like you told us, too, remember? Except, apparently, you were, too…" She smirked. "That speech was kind of lame, by the way—"

"Oh, fuck you!"

Yvonne stepped forward, blue orbs penetrating. "So… they're together, aren't they?"

"I'm still not sure," Cassandra breathed, stroking her chin thoughtfully, "but something's definitely happening between them."

"It's so cliché!" Kelly groaned.

Yvonne cocked her eyebrow. "What is?"

"Well, you know"—she threw her arms in the air—"cool, hot Mr. Popular Guy falls for super freaky, but unique, instrumental loner girl with a deep, dark secret that threatens her happiness in life… But that's not the only thing! Maybe it's Mr. Popular Guy"—Yvonne shook her head, exasperated—"plots to ruin the loner girl's life, but once discovering her inner beauty, he inadvertently falls in love with her, thus winning a happily ever after for the both them as they drive off into the sunset in his super-awesome sport's car during the last dance of the year, the Spring Fling."

Kelly, breathing unevenly, worked to gain the proper amount of oxygen, and Yvonne added a meager:

"Yeah, that could it be it. But which one?"

"I'd go with the second one," Cassandra answered, sinister intentions piecing together. "But no, he will NOT fall in love with Serena. What super-dark secrets could she have—oh, yeah, NONE! So, he'll humiliate her and crush her, and then he'll come to me. So, I'm going to help him with that—I have a few plans with her, but… Vanessa, too."

"Crush her reputation with nasty rumors?"

Cassandra smirked at Yvonne. "Exactly. She'll lose us, her army, and then we have to get rid of her boyfriend; we could create a scene with her and Hector—you know, that Mexican dude obsessed with her—and then Michael will break up with her. Then, we'll get rid of her position as Captain of the cheerleading squad… It's pure brilliance!"

"Uh… sure."

"And this is only high school," Kelly dreaded under her breath.

-

Vanessa's trembled and quaked in the plastic chair. Several eyes zeroed on her, sympathetic and accusing. Her mother, clad in her bright pink jumpsuit, was perched, cross-legged, in front of the principal and the vice principal. Both stared penetratingly at her: the principal, Mr. Xorta—a man of late age, hawk-eyes, high-cheekbones, and a mean grimace—and vice principal, his wife, Mrs. Triton (she kept her last name, a professional name back in her days as a model); and that modeling showed, for such an age (she was around early forties), she possessed a thin frame, youthful flesh, a heart-shaped face, full lips, and platinum blonde curls that glittered with copper highlights.

"You know why you've been called here, right?"

Vanessa bit her lip and shook her head, whimpering, "No… I don't."

"Don't play dumb," Mr. Xorta sneered, and his black eyes flashed dangerously. "You know what we found."

"I… don't."

"You thought we wouldn't know."

"Know what?!"

"You thought you can get past us because we're old, huh, HUH?!"

"WHAT DID I DO?!"

"DON'T RAISE YOUR VOICE TO ME!"

Mrs. Triton blew a strand of hair away from her eyes, seemingly exhausted by her husband; adding a simple, "Charles, maybe you should just inform her of the mess instead of playing good cop, bad cop, because I'm not in the mood to play that role. At least in front of people…" Both mother and daughter exchanged baffled glances, stunned by the couple's small confrontation, the thick tension that suddenly pulsed in the air.

He clenched his teeth, but nodded. "Ms. Cleveland," he said in a casual tone, more level, less severe, "an anonymous student earlier today commented on certain substances hidden within your locker"—Vanessa's mouth opened to form a stunned O—"and when your locker had been opened, it revealed two bottles of Jack Daniel's Whiskey"—his wife shifted in her seat, evidently lustful for the alcohol—"and a tiny baggy of weed."

"WHAT?!" Vanessa and her mother gasped, bewildered, disbelieving.

"I'd give her that shit for free if she wanted, so she doesn't need to hide it—she doesn't want it! I've already asked her!" Mrs. Cleveland snorted, and folded her arms furiously across her chest, mumbling, "Stupid little skanks, pullin' a prank on my daughter, oh, hell no…"

Vanessa leaned forward, cold sweat protruding from her forehead. "It's not mine, I swear. You can take a drug test right now if you want. But—"

"The bottles weren't opened and the bag seemed completely full," Mrs. Triton stated smoothly, head cocked and expression blank, "so we can't do anything severe except for suspend you for a week, and we've also decided that you can no longer hold your position on the cheerleading squad"—both mother and daughter nearly fainted—"and you are recommended to enter special rehab programs for your drug and alcohol problems—"

"Which don't exist." Vanessa huffed. "I've never smoked weed, I'm not a stoner, and I've never gotten drunk, jeez!"

"But… she's captain!" Mrs. Cleveland nearly shrieked, eyes half-mad.

Mr. Xorta merely replied, "Not anymore…"

Vanessa could only pass out.

-

Serena, tugging the coat closer, stuffed the scarf into the buttoned jacket and continued onward. The warm, breezy day had tumbled into defeat, to which the grey clouds rolled in from the north and the sun vanished behind layers of black phantoms. Stanton trudged silently beside her, he having been the one to discover the location of Veto's murder through various connections.

A witness, an aging old woman across the street from the crime scene, explained that, "The young boy had just walking down the street, his hands in his pockets, when this rusty old, black car came barreling down the road. I looked out the window because of the tires screeching, and then I saw the flashing inside the car from the gunshots, and the boy just fell—blood everywhere. Poor, young man… I called the police and gave a description. They found the car but it was abandoned… Oh, poor boy…"

Serena kneeled beside the sidewalk of the scene, skin pressing into prickly weeds. The area was vacant, with small houses, plain streets, and rusted vehicles. This was obviously a poor district. And the yellow tape representing the small patch of cement as a crime scene had been torn, and the white outline of the victim no longer resided on the ground. Her throat swelled as the imagined Veto, spread across the cement, the crimson blood seeping through his clothes and through the soil of the earth, forever chaining a part of him to this earth.

"Here…" Stanton, having been holding the cross—meshed together through pieces of wood—, mounted it into the dirt and grass, twisting slightly, before grasping the flowers from her—a collage of colors—and tying them to the cross. They stepped back, admiring and mourning the memorial: a small white cross, flowers wound together through a silk white ribbon, and the words R.I.P. VETO RODRIGUEZ printed clearly on the wood.

Serena smiled up at Stanton. "Thanks…"

"See, I can be a kind citizen," he joked playfully, lips curving into a crooked smile.

And as they walked back to her house, silent, she asked, "Why are you doing all of this?"

"I'm being a friend," he responded bluntly with a roll of his shoulders. "There's nothing wrong with that."

"What else do you want?"

Stanton, after giving her a puzzled stare, sighed and admitted, "I'll just go ahead and ask you then… Will you go the party with me—Vanessa's, I mean?" The desperation in his voice chimed high. It wasn't any sort of longing for her (no, none at all…), but the shadow of fear clouding his mind. Mr. Malmaris had entrusted the task in him, only him, and it had to be done: to woe Serena, to gain her trust and her heart, and then to…

He didn't know what Mr. Malmaris planned after all of that, but a part of him hoped that it wasn't… murder… or kidnapping. No, such an indifferent and levelheaded man wouldn't retort to murderous manners simply to hide a secret like… No, he wouldn't. And Stanton, despite his indifference toward Serena's existence, didn't want her to die: what a waste on her dazzling, bewitching emerald eyes, or her bouncy, silky curls that never once developed frizz, even through wind…

Again, Stanton continued, breaking from the trance, "Please, will you go with me? I do enjoy your company…"

She smiled, her eyes brightening, and as he began to smile, she said smoothly,

"No thank you, but I'm going with Zahi…"

His heart plummeted, his confidence plunging into the darkness of his rejected heart. She continued walking, humming peacefully to herself, while he just stood there, wondering how someone could reject him so apathetically, despite the lengths he had gone to in order to obtain her trust and gain some heartfelt moment—the one that just occurred at the memorial and in the school hallway where he had found her ready to sob. An array of girls flashed before his eyes, neither of which ever did such a thing…

Except for her.

Serena Killingsworth, the poetry-writing Goth that Zahi managed to snag.

His ego was wounded.

It hurt.

A lot.

-

Jimena drove savagely down the street, her car smashing through the rain. The clock on the dashboard flashed 11:06. Clouds tumbled through the sky, shrouding the brightness of the moon and leaving nothing but darkness. Not a single star could be seen blazing in the sky. Rain, heavy and blood-chilling, pounded against the metal. Thunder and lightening chaotically split the sky in two.

Her fingers curled around the steering wheel. Bumps bubbled on the surface of her coppery flesh. She couldn't help but blink rapidly over and over, and shake her head, trying to disperse the spinning heaviness thudding against her skull from the alcohol. A bitter tinge stung her tongue, and heat slithered through her frosted blood. The rain seemed blurry.

'Just do it,' she commanded, unable to stand the pressure building in her chest; the hesitation. 'He loved you, Jimena, and he would want you avenge his murder—fucking shoot those bastards dead. No, let them suffer first: the kneecaps… then the stomach… a slow pain, before I blow their brains out.'

She wore tight-fitting jeans, stained by grass and dirt—she had stumbled to the car, collapsing onto the soil and tearlessly sobbing momentarily—, and a loose T-shirt borrowed from Veto several weeks back. The gold chain heart he had given her years back felt cold and lifeless against her chest. But what iced her skin the most was the metal pressed against her hips: Veto's favorite handgun, passed down by his father, the high-powered Colt King Cobra revolver, along with her own weapon of choice, the Jericho 941 semi-automatic pistol.

Jimena crossed the boundary—Wilshire Boulevard—and entered enemy land. Tags, sprayed onto various stores and buildings, represented the territory belonging to the rival gang, past the eastside of Alvarado. She briefly passed a broken down church, bordered; a scorched tree towered upward, black and proving the disrespect the Pico-Union District felt for any forms of religion.

She parked near an abandoned house, and as she stepped out of the car, the stench of weed and beer consumed the air. And the scorched tree from blocks down, along with the church—several walls were tar black and damaged by fire—produced a vicious smell of ash and smoke; the deliberate fire must have taken place just yesterday, perhaps.

'Where are you son's of bitches?' she demanded in her mind, ambling down the street with balled fists and a ferocious strut that would terrify any passerby. Her lips were a hard line, strewn into a cold scowl, and she imagined the blackness of her eyes; the thumping of her boots, the way strands of glossy black hair fell from her carelessly pinned bun. 'I'm going to kill every single one of you…'

It was a fact. The moment she spotted one small group of 18 Street, she was going to open fire. Man or women, blood was going to be spilled, and souls were going to be sent to the burning flames of Hell… whether it be Jimena or the enemy.

Minutes later, and her falcon eyes targeted her victims. They huddled under a single working street light, clad in black pants and loose white shirts, three men. Each were smoking cigarettes and laughing boisterously. A female, wearing a slinky black skirt and clingy button-up shirt—albeit, several buttons left open to reveal a lacy red bra—, leaned against the tallest man's chest.

'And the Lord said, let there be light…' She raised Veto's favorite gun, pointed, and aimed.

"Mommy!"

Jimena snapped back, stupefied, as a girl darted out of the house the four stood in front of. This girl, with pigtails and a pink dress, skipped over and jumped into the female's arms, snuggling close. The woman, grinning, ambled back into the house, the others following quietly… smiling… one man even patted the other on the back, presumably the father—proud, congratulating, caring…

Her thoughts were disorganized, a collision of rampaging emotions and revelations. She could just fire—one of the men, perhaps? An eye for an eye, right? But… he could be the girl's uncle… her future father-figure… The fear of the future for this one child stabbed at Jimena's heart, and with a hiss of anguished rage, she stuffed the gun into the back of her jeans, into the waistband, and stormed back to her car…

'You could have avenged him… He would be happy… wouldn't he?'

Jimena only drove several houses down when her eyes caught the church, and she halted… and her feet dragged her out of the car and toward the burnt and broken church, guided by phantom hands—soothing, comforting hands. She entered and could only see a grayish mist. A massive hole in the roof allowed moonlight to pour into the enormous stretch of room, illuminating it.

A statue of Mother Mary towered in the center at the far end, smiling, her hands on her heart, her sweeping robe draping to the floor. Stained-glass windows depicted melancholy and blissful scenes of Baby Jesus and his mother. Jimena's boots crunched over fragments of glass and stone, and she could only gaze at the pictures and the statue. The moonlight allowed her flesh to glow.

"Oh, Veto," she gasped, falling to her knees before Mother Mary, hands clasped together, clutching the golden chain to her chest as she prayed, murmuring under her breath, her melodic voice echoing across the room. That stream of moonlight brightened the statue, and she could feel Mary's spirit with her, a form of guidance and wisdom and beauty. A fragrance of blossomed roses, sweet fruit, and untainted air clouded the smoke.

Her bottom lip quivered. A bottomless heaviness made her eyes swollen. Her chest caved in. This odd sensation was, at first, unfamiliar, and then she realized, just as the wave of helpless vulnerability fell upon her, that indeed the infamous Jimena Castillo was…

She was crying.

The single tear, breaking through her tough barrier, slid down her cheek. Her nose seemed clogged. A sour tinge of warm pressure peppered her tongue, and the urge to be happy engulfed her soul. She could imagine Veto, clothed in a finely pressed suit, lying in some polished coffin, brought to the stand by family and brothers and friends… The flowers, his favorite—white jasmines—would be fully bloomed and placed all around him. His chain, equivalent to hers, would be draped around his neck, glimmering in the sunlight of the brand new day. He would smell of his cologne, the perfume scent that she delighted herself in everything time he had handed her his jacket on a chilly day.

But she was crying…

Jimena Castillo—reduced to lowly tears.

She sobbed, the wretched noise ripping from her throat. Her chain snapped as she tore it from her neck and slammed it to the floor. She leaned all the way forward, forehead pressed against the cold tile. Warm, rusty-tasting blood bubbled in the side of her mouth as she accidentally bit down too hard on her tongue, and the pain did little to distract the numbness in her chest.

Her tears were endless, continuing to pour down her cheeks and drop onto her shirt. She bit her bottom lip, shook her head, and even screamed briefly, releasing the turmoil raging in her body and mind.

"Veto…"

She screamed once more, before collapsing, sprawled across the tile, Mary gazing down at her with loving eyes, permanently etched. Jimena stared in awe, mouth slightly open, eyes adjusting to the slant of moonlight that glowed on the statue's face.

"I love you… Veto."

-

Stanton ruffled his tousled blonde tresses, still befuddled, and pondering on how Serena rejected him. Even in the sanctuary of his bedroom, with the comforting photos of his late father, and the smell of his mother's dinner wavering in from the kitchen, easing the anxiety in his heart never happened. He paced and sighed and huffed, a child confused and heated by a tantrum.

"I don't get it," he mumbled aloud.

"Girl problems?"

He whipped around, skin crawling, at the image of his mother situated near the door, blonde hairs styled in a neat bun. Her blue orbs were pools of wisdom, flaked by streaks of youthful grey. "How'd you know?" he inquired, somewhat shocked, and as she eased down at the end of his bed, he already knew she was fishing for a lecture. And, sighing, he complied—sitting down beside her on the red satin sheets.

"Is this where you're going to say that when a girl says no, she really means yes, because I'm 110 percent sure that she was serious."

His mother shook her head. "Stanton, what happened?"

"Is asked this girl to a party and she said no, even though I did so much heartwarming things for her—building a memorial for her friend's dead boyfriend, and even comforting her! And I'm… I'm Stanton!"

"Oh, Mr. Cool Guy," she scoffed with a roll of her eyes.

He gaped, stunned.

"You realize that some girls—usually the smart ones, I mean—aren't always seduced by a charming smile and handsome looks. She may just enjoy being your friend, or she may just not feel anything for you… Stanton, you are capable of being a douche-bag sometimes…"

Yes, his mother wasn't the average mother you stumbled upon.

"But… I wasn't being one!"

"But she still sees how you truly are—right behind the mask you put up of the smooth, sensitive guy."

"Mom…"

"Stanton…"

He groaned, hating her form of a "lecture".