THE CLOSEST I’VE COME is heart-wrenching, funny, and hopeful. It’s a story about a boy named Marcos who wants to find love, who thinks that finding that special someone in school will make up for the rough time he’s having at home. This book is powerful because we can all relate to the loneliness that Marcos feels, even when he’s surrounded by friends.
But this isn’t a story about hopelessness, and as Marcos makes new friends and begins to open up, THE CLOSEST I’VE COME focuses on every possibility that’s awaiting him.
If you need to be reminded of your potential, or just want to read something that will hit close to hope, we promise this will be that book. You can scroll down and start reading now!
At school I’m a boss. In baggy jeans and a tee, with swaggy slowness and an icy stare, I roam the halls with my boys.
Other kids shoulder backpacks, talk in twos or threes. Some thumb at cell phones, rocking new clothes they got over Christmas break: sneakers with that store gleam, no fuzz on their sweaters and hoodies.
Guys call out to their friends, giving quick chin raises, while the girls shriek and run smiling to each other’s arms, squeezing like twin sisters reunited after war.
What I notice most are the couples. Ain’t many holding hands and ain’t none kissing so far but you can spot them, their side-by-side walk with that matching rhythm or how they stand super close to talk.
When’s my turn? Never had me a girlfriend and seems like I never will, which has at least something to do with being broke.
Today I’m looking less ratty than normal with my new solid black tee, a Christmas present. With four tees I used to repeat the same one on Monday and Friday. Now, for my final sophomore semester, I got five in rotation.
Coming up on us is a suited man, fiftyish and lean, the smoke-colored hair from the sides plastered over the bald spot.
“Hello there.” He comes to a stop and smiles, hands in his pockets. His breezy way tells me he might be the one actually running things here. Probably the new principal.
“Hi,” I say, with two friends joining in.
The man nods. “You guys look dangerous.”
I thank him and we keep moving.
In homeroom I dig into my pocket for some pebbles and start plinking them against a side window. Whenever old and half-deaf Mrs. Howard notices, she asks for the “disruptive activity” to stop.
Uppercut in front of me is checking out the kid who screwed up bad last year and wore an Iron Man tee, freshman mistake, and has been “Virginboy” ever since. “Hey, Virginboy,” he says now, and laughs when the kid looks over.
Uppercut lives in my hood and I guess we sorta friends. He’s down for me, like when I got jumped behind the Sweetbay, and joined my boys in our search for the guys who did it. But I don’t trust him, don’t actually like him. This is a guy who slams into others in the halls on purpose.
With nothing but roll call during homeroom he’s got time to make fun of people.
Skinny Tim, who sits in front of Uppercut, is “Whineybitch.” Whenever Uppercut punches him during the Pledge of Allegiance, the kid lets out a low groan.
Areli with the horse pencil case, who’s nice to everybody, is “Churchgirl.”
Super-smart Melissa is “Fatfuck.”
Amy, a punk girl who sticks out more than anybody—blue streaks in her brown hair, eye-catching clothes—is safe way on the other side of the classroom.
I gotta admit she looks cool with that hair, the tagged-up green Chucks, the jangly bracelets and slashed jeans she sometimes wears. Other rocker-type girls here seem to be all image, like last week they was still into Barbies and cartoons.
Uppercut, pimpled and with a broken front tooth, sporting ATR kicks and that Puerto Rican flag shirt, is an easy target. And dissing him is a great idea if you love catching a beatdown in public.
Lucky me Uppercut’s my sorta friend.
SLAP! Right on my forehead.
“Stop spacing, Marcos,” Uppercut says.
I rub the spot and remind myself that slaps ain’t no reason to get pissed, even if they do hurt like hell. Girls can nice each other to death all day, give out compliments and hugs, snap group selfies everywhere they go, but boys gotta take swings and call each other bitches.
Don’t ask me. I don’t make the rules.
The prehistoric loudspeaker over the whiteboard crackles and hums. Then comes the electric screech, warning that somebody in the front office is about to talk.
“Attention, Hanna High students.” It’s the man from the hall. He introduces himself as Principal Perry, and though we want to hear more about last semester’s scandal—the sexts the last principal sent to at least three girls—he just welcomes us back like it’s normal to switch principals mid-school year.
The secretary handles the yawnfest announcements, the date and time of open house, PTA meetings, and spelling bees. When the principal’s on we all ears.
After telling us how happy he is to be here, he says, “Anyone in violation of the dress code be warned . . .”
We know the dress code. No short skirts or shorts (for the girls) and no sagging pants or shirts with drug references (for the boys).
A few guys sport marijuana leaf tees. If caught, you gotta wear the shirt inside out, ’cause in this school a leaf’s distracting but clothes worn the wrong way ain’t.
“Let me be clear,” Principal Perry says. “Clothing or jewelry with suggestive or questionable language or drawings may not be worn. Examples include, but are not limited to: gang-related symbols; racial, ethnic, or sexual slogans or innuendoes; images or language about drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. Also, anyone wearing sagging pants will be immediately punished from now on.”
Me and Uppercut eye each other.
An emo kid pounds a fist on his desk. “Fucking shit!”
Principal Perry clears his throat like he heard. “Dresses, skirts, and shorts must extend beyond the students’ fingertips when their arms are held to the sides.”
I check out Amy on the other side of the room, at what I can see of her short black skirt. Everybody’s looking at her.
Though her stick legs ain’t nothing to whistle at, she’s cuter than some of the other girls around here.
I ain’t never had sex, which has me crazy horny and thinking about it nonstop. Mall mannequins can excite me and surprise boners pop up during class, making me wonder what the hell’s going on down there.
But I swear sex ain’t the most important thing. It’d be dope just kicking it with a girl. Ain’t females the greatest ever? Tell your problems to a girlfriend and she don’t make fun of you. A girlfriend means you ain’t alone.
“Have a wonderful day, Hanna High students,” Perry says, his voice getting swallowed up by the ear-shattering screech. They tell us our loud headphones will damage our hearing and then make us sit through this noise.
The last principal also signed off the same way, called us “Hanna High students” like we a sports team or fan club, not a bunch of kids herded together ’cause we live close by. What else we got in common besides the same teachers, lunch food, and homework? What do I share with perfect-life Kyle Benson sitting up front?
I used to get on the school computer to sorta stalk him. Checked out his pages, his posts and pics, read the comments—blond Kyle who goes out with Tina. He’s such a pretty boy you wanna punch him in the face, and she’s such a hottie you wanna punch yourself in the face.
A search brought up lots of pics, even an old baseball one, small Kyle uniformed at home plate, ready to swing, bat pointing to the sun. Newer pics were taken in restaurants, a paintball field, outside the AMC theater.
That kid don’t kick it like me and my boys. He’s got activities. One thousand, eight hundred and eighty-five pics of proof on his Instagram, last I checked, while my no-credit phone don’t even got a camera.
Ask me if his posts make me jealous and I gotta admit that yeah, just a little. Even the stuff he complained about was dope. Once he posted, stuck @ fam reunion.
Done with attendance, Mrs. Howard now calls Amy’s name again. “Come here, please.”
Amy shifts in her seat, hands tugging and wiggling the skirt down. When she stands up you can see her skirt’s gone longer, the top hugging the bottom of her butt, and her Misfits tee covering up the trick. We watch her skinny legs move toward the teacher’s desk.
Mrs. Howard sets her reading glasses halfway down her nose. “Extend your arms and no shrugging.”
As Amy stands there, fingers reaching down to touch her skirt, she turns her head to smile at us.
That confidence in front of twenty-plus pairs of eyes could be real. Though we sophomores here, Amy rolls with some juniors and seniors, which tops the cool meter. Rockers, artsy kids, and other weirdos, a tiny but rowdy group that share a table in the cafeteria and cigarettes behind the gym.
I ain’t never seen her smile before now. It’s a nice smile.
Mrs. Howard removes her glasses. “Very well.”
As we all try not to laugh, Amy’s grin goes wider on the way to her seat. We all sharing a moment for the first time. If our teacher’s ears were better she’d hear the snorts and giggles escaping us.
Amy’s trick was even better than most of the stuff I get away with.
When Uppercut’s head turns to me, I know it’s coming. I just hope Amy don’t hear it.
He says, “That bitch is skinnier than a crack whore.”
Two girls giggle.
Amy backs up a few steps to stand in front of the classroom again, hands on hips. A straight mouth has replaced the grin. “You got something to say?”
All heads turn to us in back. Mrs. Howard slides her eyes from Amy to Uppercut and back, not getting it.
Just one word comes outta Uppercut—“What?”
“Don’t even. Unlike you, I spoke up, you chickenshit.”
Damn! Amy’s as fearless as the girls who live in my hood, Maesta.
Uppercut glances around all slow like he’s about to lean forward to look at someone’s test answers. “Sit down and shut the hell up.”
Still in front of the class she says, “You talk and talk, dude, but you never say anything.”
Sitting behind him, there ain’t no way to see his face. Is he pissed? Embarrassed? I’m expecting some sorta comeback, but punk girl’s on a roll.
“Forever talking about who’s fat or skinny or dorky, but what’s so great about you?”
Nothing, I answer in my head, feeling a combo of excited and scared. I want Amy to stand up there forever, to never stop talking. Someone please give her a megaphone! Her own TV show! I also sorta hope she sits down and shuts up so Uppercut don’t start dissing her. Or worse.
I could tell Uppercut to chill but he’s thick from lifting weights, could snap me like a toothpick. Once he knocked out his own cousin for trying to stop a fight. One punch was all it took.
“Young lady, you need to sit down!” Mrs. Howard’s pointing in case Amy forgot which seat. “Sit down this moment!”
Amy’s eyes stay locked on Uppercut. “You’re a shitbag, making fun of others to make yourself feel better.”
He says, “Shut up, bitch.”
A few girly gasps fly through the air but the guys’ faces just hang there.
Dammit! Amy’s walking over here! Such a dumb move. I could get up, keep her away from Uppercut, or tell him to leave her alone. I know I should, but the truth is, I ain’t tough. Even with guys my age and size who start shit. I’d rather walk away. It’s why I only been in seven fights my whole life.
Amy comes down our row and right up to Uppercut who gets on his feet. He’s half a head taller. They practically breathing on each other.
“Wanna make me?” A gangster stare like she’s ready for all-out war.
My heart speeds up even more.
“Both of you take your seats this moment!” Mrs. Howard shuffles to the red button as fast as she can.
Something about Amy, those big brown eyes, intense with confidence, puts a warm glow inside me. I hop up real quick and sorta face Uppercut at an angle, my shoulder grazing his.
“Chill,” I tell him. A “bro” or “man” at the end would soften that, but then she might think me and him is tight.
Still staring at her, Uppercut tells me, “Mind. Your. Business.”
“You’re scared,” Amy says. “You’re not gonna do anything.”
She’s got me figured out. Can she hear my heart banging in my chest? But wait—she wasn’t talking to me. She’s still looking at Uppercut.
He pushes me away and I surprise myself by getting back in the same position. I inch even closer.
“Yes?” It’s the secretary’s voice over the speaker.
“Please hurry!” Mrs. Howard shouts. “Two students are about to get physical with each other!”
Which is a gift dropped into my hands. “For real?” I ask, looking at each of them. “You two about to get physical with each other?”
Laughs all around. Even Uppercut turns his head to show me his busted smile. Nothing from Amy though. She keeps staring down Uppercut for what feels like forever.
“Chickenshit,” she finally says, and takes her time walking back to her seat.
For the last few minutes of homeroom I look across the room to Amy again and again. Can’t stop checking her out. She’s sitting there like the coolest thing ever didn’t just happen. I gotta meet this Amy, learn everything about her.
But her interested in a Maesta kid? Even strangers seem to know us. At Florida Palms Mall last weekend me and my boys checked out three cute girls and dared each other to go up to them. After a few rounds of rock, paper, scissors I walked over all nervous. Even before I opened my mouth the hottest one said, “I don’t think so,” and the other two laughed more than you’d expect.
Can I fake my way into bravery again? Can I talk to Amy if I pass her alone in the halls? It’s gotta be alone. In front of her friends would make me too jittery to talk and in front of my own friends . . . they wouldn’t understand.
First-talk scenarios run through my head, good ones like her super thrilled to meet me, her eyes lighting up like some Disney princess. But most of them bad, like her giving me a grossed-out face before hurrying away or laughing like the mall girls.
Then I’m picturing our first date, pizza at DeLucia’s in the mall, an outside table, and afterward some hand-
holding in a dark movie theater. We a regular perfect-life Kyle and Tina.
Sure, no sweat. I’ll just rob a bank first.
How about doing free stuff? We could meet in Brewster Park, go for walks, or just kick it at her place ’cause I’m imagining her parents are cool.
Super cheesy, I know. I’m supposed to be all about hitting it, sex without the love or friendship, but that cheeseball stuff pops into my head all the time. I can’t help it.
The thing is, a girlfriend can fix you in a snap. I’ve seen it. Even short-fuse Kevin who’d swing on anybody over a basketball foul has been chill since Shanice. Guys now call him soft, pussy-whipped for always being with his girl, but all we ever do is talk about girls anyway. Why talk about them when you could be with one?
I know loneliness is supposed to be some guy on a desert island, or maybe an old lady knitting and hoping the phone will ring, but loneliness can also be a kid like me, surrounded by tons of people, friends who say “Wassup?” when I see them in the halls or walk through Maesta, friends who kick it with me all the time but only go on about who won the game last night or how some girl’s got a sweet ass.
With a girlfriend I wouldn’t feel so alone. Maybe Amy, so cool and tough, could be that girl.
During my last period I look out the window and see Amy. The school halls are separated by strips of grass, and it’s hard to see through some of these hazy old windows, but I spot the back of her head, the blue in her hair, whenever the boy next to her sits up straight or leans back.
“Marcos? May I have your attention, please?”
Ms. J keeps on lecturing about the Constitution, the clock above her head showing two minutes left before my prank starts.
You can feel the charge up in here, the excitement ready to rip through. No offense to Ms. J, who I sorta like. She gets excited about her lessons, talks history like the events happened yesterday.
While other teachers bore themselves as much as us, Ms. J is so into history that she keeps a blog about it. Though I ain’t never checked it out, I gotta admit it’s cool she has one. On it she supposedly posts reminders of homework, links to videos and websites that can give us more perspective on what we learn in class, so we don’t accept just one version of history—that’s what she’s always saying.
Most of all I like her ’cause last semester she let me do extra credit so I could pass the class. If there’s one teacher who should not be pranked, it’s Ms. J, but after all those boring classes sometimes I need fun in last period.
These pranks started the first week of school when I came up with a great disruption and gave everybody the instructions. At exactly 2:20 everybody got up, did three jumping jacks, and sat back down.
I remember the screeching of chairs made Ms. J turn from the whiteboard, the last letter going squiggly before she turned to face us. It was the first time I’d seen her frown.
A few weeks later, in the middle of a test, we got up and did a spin while shouting a Michael Jackson HEE-hee!
Once we barked.
The week before Christmas we stood, right hands over our hearts, to recite the last line of the Pledge of Allegiance: With liberty and justice for all.
I see a girl going into Amy’s classroom, probably some office dork with a green slip, which means a family emergency or else you got busted. I know about them slips.
The girl walks over and hands it to Amy. A white slip. I got no idea what they mean.
I check the clock again. Just in time! The thin red hand’s ticking off the last few seconds.
“We have the oldest constitution of any major government,” Ms. J’s saying, “and it’s also—”
We get up, hop onto our chairs, and applaud like our teacher just won The Voice. She looks around, maybe trying to spot the kid responsible for this. Her eyes stay on me a little too long.
Her change from shocked to annoyed is always super quick, like when somebody gets pantsed. She’s gotta be pushing forty but looks super young right now, waiting with arms crossed, squeezing the blue marker in her right hand. It’s the noisiest this class has ever been.
We keep clapping, going on . . . damn! Fifteen seconds! I forgot to tell everybody for how long. Now what? Chloe in the front row whips around first and then everybody’s looking at me, the leader. I stop clapping and sit down. They do the same.
Ms. J’s also sitting, elbows on her desk, face in her hands.
“Please read Unit 16,” she says, so low you can barely hear her. “I need a minute.”
The door opens. Mr. Perec from across the hall, shirt pocket holding pens, pokes his torso through the barely opened door. “Everything okay?”
“Yes,” Ms. J says.
Not buying that, he comes all the way in to ask us, “What’s going on?”
I’d also like the answer to that. Ms. J’s hair is a curtain hiding her face. Could she be crying? No way. If the barking prank and Michael Jackson prank didn’t break her, this can’t have neither. Not in a million years.
“Everything’s fine, Mr. Perec,” she says, her head still down.
He leaves. The classroom falls quiet except for Ms. J’s uneven breathing.
Today’s prank kicked ass, but this right now? Not so funny. In fact, it sucks. Ain’t gonna feel bad about it though. Don’t know why they got teachers in this school who can’t take a joke.
Goody-goody Chloe says, “Sorry about the prank, Ms. J. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Pronouncing fine like it’s one word cracked in two. She gets up and hurries outta the classroom, a hand reaching up to touch her hair, sorta blocking her face.
But you can see the tears anyway.
As soon as the door closes Chloe says, “I’m not doing that ever again.”
Me neither but why’re the girls looking at me? Sure, they was clapping ’cause I told them to, but it’s something we all did together.
A few boys smile and shrug, but I don’t believe them forced laughs. They feeling bad.
Just like me, I gotta admit.
The office dork walks into our classroom with a handful of envelopes. That’s what Amy musta received instead of a slip. “Hey, where’s the teacher?”
She looks at all the desks again, as if Ms. J might be sitting with us.
“We killed her,” says Tamara, a girl who might have my detention record beat.
The dork keeps her eyes on the envelope and pronounces slowly. “Mar-cos Rive-ass?”
“Ya gotta be kidding,” I say, meaning the pronunciation and the envelope.
She walks over and drops it on my desk.
Something for me and for Amy. Could this be a sign?
I tear into it right away. Joe asks me what’s inside and a few other kids press around, hovering over my envelope like it’s some treasure chest we found together.
I wait for everybody to back off before unfolding the paper inside.
Congratulations! You’ve been selected to take part in a new, exciting program. Next Friday, for your sixth-period class, please present this letter to your teacher who will excuse you. Then go promptly to room 212.
Principal Jonathon L. Perry
His signature underneath. And I thought I had bad penmanship. I peek in the envelope for information on what makes the program exciting, besides Amy being part of it. Nothing in there, but what other sign do I need? Me and Amy got something in common, even if it’s only this. Us together ain’t crazy. It might be fate.
I try to keep my cool, but inside I’m doing cartwheels.
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