With many thanks to our judge Nisha Sharma, we present our winner to you, “Tequila” by YARN alum Laura Gonzalez!
In all my seventeen years, I have always been second. Rosa, my twin, was twenty-two minutes older, and she has held those twenty-two minutes over me for our entire life. My parents always let her. It’s why I was told to play with obnoxious 5-year-old Gigi when we were kids. It’s why Gigi became my kind-of best friend and not Rosa’s.
Sometimes, Gigi could be a good friend. Other times, I seriously questioned it.
“Hey Teq,” Gigi started. “You heard it here first. You will never have legs like Rosa’s if you eat that second slice of pizza.”
“She’s not a model, Gigi,” I muttered. Gigi is one of the people who thinks my sister is more special than she is.
Gigi pursed her lips in response.
“She’s just my sister. My twin. My womb-mate. She’s like me; she’s not special.” I struggled to keep my tone light. Having Rosa meant having someone I’m compared to for a lifetime.
“How much older is she again?”
I shifted my eyes, looking at the guy at the next table inhaling his pizza.
“Twenty-two minutes,” I mumbled.
There’s a video. Rosa came out wailing, every baby muscle in her tiny, red face clenched. There’s twenty-two minutes of shaky, grainy footage of everyone crooning over Rosa. As she passes from the doctor to the nurse, to my mom, and back to the nurse, they fawn over her long eyelashes, her giant honey-brown eyes, and her permanent deep-set tan. They coo at Rosa as she howls. Twenty-one minutes later, you can hear my mom shout in agony, “it’s coming!” They referred to me as “it,” because they didn’t know what I was. Every time they did an ultrasound, Rosa’s fat head was in the way. The camera shakes, rushing across the hospital room, and goes back to my mom, whose face is twisted into pain. She gives a hard push; her body sags in relief. It’s silent. The camera shifts as my dad peers over at the doctor’s hands.
“Oh my God,” he says.
You can hear the panic in my mom’s voice when she says: “What?”
When my dad moves, you can see his face in the corner of the frame. He looks over at my mom, his eyes wide.
“She came out white!”
Aside from our skin, we’re almost identical. At least, we were growing up. We had the same tiny frames with long arms and heart-shaped faces. We got the same chestnut brown hair from my dad and the same giant eyes. When we aged though, we began to wear our features differently.
Rosa’s long arms began to match her long legs, making her a great fit for ballet. She kept her tiny frame long and lean, and her perfection made sense. After all, my parents had named her after my mom’s favorite flower: a rose. Rosa. Rose in English. And she was a rose. She bloomed into a beautiful flower, delicate and graceful. When she danced, she leapt across the floor, a petal floating in the wind.
Meanwhile, I was named after my dad’s favorite alcohol: Tequila.
Rosa was the clear favorite from the beginning. I know this because tequila wasn’t even the alcohol of choice to celebrate our birth. Instead, on the way home from the hospital, my Tío Alfred stopped and picked up several bottles of rosé. Apparently, no one even really likes tequila.
Rosa is the ballerina. She is beauty. She is grace. And if my parents would have dished out the cash for pageants, she would have been Miss United States. Rosa is the flower everyone wants. I’m just Tequila, the drink people drink, but no one actually wants.
“Look, I never said I wanted legs like Rosa’s,” I said to Gigi. I meant for it to come out confident, but instead, the words escaped my lips as more of a mumble. Not even I believed them.
I looked down at my plate. I’d just swallowed the last of the crust of my first slice. I stared at the second slice sitting on the flimsy styrofoam plate. Orange grease had pooled around the thick white crust and atop the only half-melted cheese. As mediocre as it was, it was the only meal I looked forward to. I’d been lucky enough to catch Loren, president of the vegan club, leaving the cafeteria with her bagged lunch and convinced her to grab her tray for me. She didn’t look happy to hand over a slab of dairy and meat, but she did anyway, making me promise to tutor her in calculus when I had the chance. Now, Gigi was making me feel guilty for the accomplishment.
Gigi twisted open the top of her thermos, which probably held her potato soup. I watched the steam snake up into the muggy cafeteria. There were always so many people in here; it was always humid. It didn’t matter what day it was or what the weather was like outside, I could walk into the cafeteria with perfect hair and walk out with a head of frizz. The least I could do is have a decent meal while I sat in humidity.
She raised her thick black eyebrows at me. She’d just gotten them done and they were perfectly shaped, not a hair out of place. “Look,” she said, lifting a spoonful of her chunky soup to her red-stained lips, “I’m just saying about the pizza because you told me to stop letting you eat anything that wouldn’t get you legs like Rosa’s.” She shrugged her bony shoulders, blowing air at the hot soup.
I frowned, leaning over my tray of pizza to get my face closer to hers. We usually sat alone together at lunch since everyone else we knew and half-liked had lunch a different period. We were stuck in the lame lunch period. There was no need to lean in, but the idea that the walls had ears stuck with me.
“I was drunk when I said that,” I hissed. She rolled her eyes, both at the fact that I was whispering and that I was using my drunkenness as an excuse.
“Drunken words are sober thoughts, my friend,” she sang.
I stared at the pizza slice a little longer. It was growing cold by the second. I lifted it up and took a pointed bite. Gigi watched, her painted lips set into a flat line. I had been drunk when I said it. Gigi had snagged us an official invite to one of the Foster Twins’ legendary parties. Afterward, I may have accidentally gotten emotional for a moment and said things about wanting to be my sister Rosa. It was the first I said anything about that out loud, and Gigi, though only remembering bits and pieces, would not let it go.
“Can we just not bring that up anymore? It’s old,” I said chewing. At this point, the pizza didn’t even taste all that great. The bread was too doughy and the sauce was too salty. Instead of putting it back on my plate, I scarfed the rest of it down. At least if I had a stomachache, I wouldn’t think about Rosa.
“Where is your sister anyway?” Gigi asked. She scraped her spoon at the bottom of her thermos, scooping up all the leftover soup and spooning it into her mouth.
I looked down at the orange pool of grease taunting me on the foam plate and shrugged. I did know. It was audition season, and my parents had flown with Rosa to New York for the week. I was in charge of feeding the dogs and finding a ride to the honors banquet since my mom accidentally took both sets of keys to the cars.
“Alright, well, when you’re done being a drag, let me know.” She shoved her thermos in her backpack and walked off.
I said nothing. I was still thinking about what to write for my salutatorian speech. No one knew I was salutatorian yet except for me and my counselor, who was the one to bear the dreadful news that I had missed the top spot by .002 points. It was no surprise. I was born for second place.
I got second place in the 3rd grade regional spelling bee. Second place at every middle school track meet. I had final answer at the championship round of the Genius Bowl and only got half credit on my answer, so I got us second place—sorry, team. All throughout high school, I’ve driven myself crazy for my grades, but I was born in second place. I would likely die in second place. In my casket, they’ll probably bury me with all my second place ribbons and trophies just to mock me.
First place just isn’t in the stars for me.
Before my family left, I’d tried asking them for help with my speech, but no one had helped.
“Do we know any Mexican authors? I need some quotes,” I asked.
My dad looked up from his book. My mom looked up from the ballet shoes she was sewing together. Rosa, sprawled out across the couch, didn’t move. Mom and Dad glanced at each other.
“I mean, I’m sure we do,” my mom said nodding at my dad. She was peering up at me from behind the purple framed glasses perched on the tip of her nose. She was only forty and had fought getting glasses. She didn’t want to look “old,” and in fact, the one thing she always swore she’d never do is let them sit at the end of her nose the way she was doing then.
I nudged Rosa’s freshly pedicured toes off the arm of the couch and sat down with my laptop, ignoring the scowl she cast at me.
“Okay can you tell me some?” I asked, poising my fingers above the keys.
They looked at each other again.
“I mean, ¿no puedes preguntar a Google?” my mom asked, finally speaking. Behind her, the TV beeped, bleeping out curse words from whatever Rosa was watching.
I rolled my eyes at Mom. She wasn’t tech savvy. She could barely work her phone, and she only used the basic functions of her work computer, yet any solution she provided always involved asking Google first, even if it was for a medical diagnosis, which, as a physician, she is actually qualified to make.
“You grew up in Mexico,” I deadpanned, and she rolled her eyes, going back to sewing Rosa’s pointe shoes even though Rosa could do it herself.
“I mostly read books written by Americans.” She stuck the needle in through the ribbon, concentrating on pulling the thread through, indicating to me that she had no answers. “America was cool.”
I heaved a sigh. “Dad?”
“What’s this for again?” he asked. He shut his book, which I’m sure he was eager to do. He was studying for the GRE, having decided that he wanted to go back and finish his master’s degree, but he needed his GRE scores for readmission. He hated the math portion, and that was exactly the section he’d been studying at the kitchen table for days.
“It’s my speech for graduation.”
“You’re speaking at graduation?” Rosa perked up.
“Yes,” I said quickly and shifted my attention back to my dad.
“Why are you speaking at graduation?” Rosa drew her head back, her neat brows knitting together.
“Does it matter?” I snapped back.
“Why are you being so rude Teq?”
“I’m not rude; I just don’t want to tell you.”
“Well then tell us,” Dad answered, putting his pencil down. Rosa smirked at me.
I stood up and turned on my heel to retreat back to my room. “Forget it then.”
“You always get so upset,” Rosa muttered.
“Tequila, wait!” my mom shouted. I winced, the same way I did every time I heard my name. “Wait, I know a good book to look at.”
I stopped and turned around, waiting.
“How about ‘Tequila Mockingbird?'” She could hardly choke out the last of the title, instead bursting into the cackle that was supposed to be her laugh.
“What about from a song?” Rosa jumped in. “‘Tequiling Me Softly With His—'”
I walked out, leaving my family laughing.
After school, I met Gigi outside her last class, knowing I’d be hitching a ride with whomever she hitched a ride from. Her mom didn’t trust her to drive, so she typically got a ride from Rosa and me or found a guy to open up his passenger seat.
“So what are we doing tonight?” Gigi asked. She dug the toe of her sneaker into the grass, gripping her backpack straps. She peered out at the sea of students that streamed out of the building. When I didn’t answer, she turned to face me.
I looked away, tucking a piece of my flat brown locks behind my ear. When I pulled my hand down, I saw the chipped black polish on my stubby fingernails. I didn’t want Gigi to come over. That’s what it was like like with a sort-of best friend. I only sort-of wanted her around. And as a half friend, I only told her about half my life. I wanted the honors banquet to be mine.
“I’m actually busy tonight,” I murmured. She let her jaw drop, her long earrings clinking against themselves.
“Are you actually doing something without me?”
I chewed my lip, fighting the urge to roll my eyes. “I’m going to the honors banquet.”
“You’re graduating with honors?”
“Geezus, Gigi,” I muttered.
“How’d you swing that?”
I ignored her, instead pointing out Gigi’s lab partner whom she likes to flirt with sometimes. I didn’t know his name, but I knew that Gigi thought he was cute. Our school was big enough that there were still people she knew that I didn’t and vise versa. It was exactly how we’d been in this high school for four years and I wasn’t sure who Alex the Valedictorian was.
“Good choice,” she said, leaving the honors banquet conversation in the dust. She shimmied her bare shoulders, adjusting the straps on her shirt and started walking. “Hey! James!”
Mrs. Lima drives a giant Ford truck that’s lifted. It was the last vehicle I expected see idling at the curb. I hoisted myself up, careful not to flash the neighborhood. When I settled in on the leather seat, Mrs. Lima smiled widely.
“You look great,” she said. I glanced at her fluorescent orange wrap dress.
“So do you,” I answered. We were quiet as she stepped on the gas, pulling off the curb. The muffler roared when she tapped the gas. I jumped every time. She was so small in comparison to her giant truck. I wasn’t sure if she could see over the dash. I hardly could.
“So how’s the speech coming?” she asked, peering over at me.
I couldn’t decide whether to lie or not, so I told a half-lie.
“I’ve worked on it,” I said slowly. I did work on it, but all I actually had was a lot of paper for the recycling club.
She gave me a nod, clearly not satisfied with my answer. I turned to look out the window and squeezed my eyes shut. The sixty seconds we’d been riding together felt more like sixty days. She coughed. I squirmed. Words bubbled in my throat.
“So what’s your favorite popcorn?” I blurted. Her office was themed popcorn, and there was always an empty bag of popcorn in her trashcan. I was beginning to think that’s all she consumed. I figured if I could get her to talk about popcorn brands long enough, then hopefully, I’d save myself from the awkwardness.
I could hear the relief in the sigh she heaved.
“Orville Redenbacher actually!” There was a brightness in her voice. The bubble of tension had popped. “They’re really true to their brand, you know? Get most of their kernels popped and the butter is real. You can definitely tell. I used to think Pop Secret was good, but you know…”
I watched Mrs. Lima rattle on, nodding in appropriate places and fake laughing in others. It was a skill I picked up being Rosa’s sister. People always felt compelled to talk to me about how great she was. As if I cared.
I clambered out of the truck the second we pulled into the lot. We walked into the banquet hall, and I sat down at the top-two table, leaving Mrs. Lima to mingle. There were a few other students already there, milling around with their parents. Everyone’s parents were there except mine. I checked my phone. There were no texts from my mom. Or Rosa. Or my dad. Rosa’s Instagram showed a recent picture of the three of them grinning from the top of the Empire State Building and a picture of her doing some split move in the middle of Times Square. They were evidently having a great family vacation without me.
I shot off a text as we took our seats at the table near the podium. GLAD YOU’RE HAVING FUN. DON’T WORRY ABOUT ME. DOING WELL. I waited a second to see if I got a text back. Rosa’s phone was glued to her hands, so any time she didn’t text back, it was purposely. My phone was silent for a long minute before I slipped it into the pocket of my dress. It was one of Rosa’s dresses. Her closet was free for all when she was gone. It didn’t fit me the way it fit her, but still, I felt decent in it, and by the time I decided to change, Mrs. Lima had been parked outside.
I leaned over to my left, looking at the name on the place card next to mine just as the rest of the table arrived including Alex Sosa, the boy who had apparently beaten me by .002 points. I avoided his gaze, mumbling a hi his way and focusing on the old men Mrs. Lima was introducing me to. They gave me their congratulations. All their names sounded the same, so I couldn’t tell you what they did or who they were. Johns and Smiths and Joneses, and for all of five minutes as the catering service began serving food, they asked me and Alex questions like where we were going to college—we cast a glance at each other when we both said UT Austin—and what we were majoring in—biology and media broadcasting for him, engineering for me. They looked interested for a second but ultimately moved on to have their own adult conversation.
I snuck a glance at Alex. The birthmark in the center of his neck looked vaguely familiar as if I’d caught a glance of it as I filed out of one class and he filed in. Most times, I was too concerned about the grades on my quizzes to care about the people who weren’t in my classes, but I was definitely disappointed that never in my four years did I get a chance to have this guy as my lab partner.
I couldn’t stop staring at the sharp slope of his nose. The tip of it was slightly squared off, as if someone had pressed it and it never regained its shape. He turned to look at me, and I felt my face flame. The blush crept up my chest and burned my ears. It was exactly the thing that made me wish I had come out looking more like my family. With my mom’s olive skin and my dad’s brown tone, they’d somehow given birth to me, with skin so translucent you could see every vein snake across my thighs. Thinking about it, I pulled my dress down. Rosa had gotten all the melanin, just like she’d gotten the beauty and talent. People thought I was adopted. When we went to Mexico to visit family, they called me gringa. To my abuelo, I was La Gringa, Tequila. And to no surprise, Rosa was La Rosa Hermosa. The beautiful Rose.
“My initials spell ‘ass.'”
I jumped, feeling hot breath in my ear. I turned to Alex. His face was so close, I was glad I decided to pluck the stray brow hairs before I left and that I had popped a mint.
“My initials spell ‘ass,'” he repeated. “Alexander Samuel Sosa. A.S.S. Ass.”
I glanced up at Mr. Ling, Alex’s counselor. He didn’t seem to hear.
“Sorry, I just always thought it was a good icebreaker.”
I smiled, despite the fact that I was right next to the boy I’d lost the valedictorian spot to by .002 points. That was .002 points I would likely never get over, but his eyes were distracting.
“My name is Tequila, so I don’t think ‘ass’ is that bad.”
“Middle name?” he asked. When he blinked his thick lashes, I blinked back. He had the kind of lashes any girl would be jealous of. Wasted on a boy.
“Annaliese,” I said, pronouncing it slowly.
“So you’re Tequila Annaliese Tamez,” he said thoughtfully. He glanced over my shoulder at Mrs. Lima. “Together we can be ‘ass tat.'”
I don’t normally giggle, but I did because I’m a seventeen-year-old girl.
“Or ‘tat ass,'” I said.
He grinned, his thick framed glasses rising slightly on his face.
“How’d you know my last name?” I asked.
“You’re Rosa’s sister.”
I couldn’t help but grimace. I speared the grilled chicken on my plate, pretending it was Rosa.
Rosa could be Rosa without me. But somehow, I could never escape Rosa.
“She has a boyfriend.”
He shifted his eyes. His lips parted as he chose his words. I pursed my own lips, stuffing a forkful of chicken and green beans into my mouth. Rosa and Gigi both said I needed to stop eating so angrily in front of boys, but they didn’t know that most times, I used food to force down my words.
“Alright…” he said and trailed off, giving his head a slight shake before cutting into his own chicken.
I wasn’t done chewing before I spoke again. “I’m just saying, you know, in case that’s where you were headed next.”
“You asked me how I knew your last name,” he said. “I had your sister for speech. She gave a speech about you once.”
My face flamed again. I didn’t know what to say. Rosa doesn’t have a boyfriend, but I still used the line any time any boy asked me about her. One of the many boys I’d deflected may have been her soulmate, but with all the hours she spent at the studio and stretching in front of the TV, she had no time for boys anyway.
“I know that,” was all I said before I fully invested myself in the plate in front of me.
Alex ate faster than me. I stabbed my last green bean, watching as the green juice splattered. He was sitting, waiting for me to finish.
“I think we should hang out after this.”
I already swallowed my green bean, but I still choked. “What?”
“I think we should hang out,” he said again. “After this.”
He shrugged, but he also gave me no reason to say no.
An hour later, I asked to bail on the ride home from Mrs. Lima.
She frowned at the idea, glancing between the two of us. After a long second of thought, she smiled. “You know I’m glad to see you two putting this silly game of grades behind you. You should have seen the tension last year between—”
Alex cleared his throat politely. Mrs. Lima glanced at her left wrist, looking at a watch that wasn’t there.
“Anyway. Straight home, you got that?” she said. We nodded together. She shot her eyes at Alex. “I trust you, Mr. Sosa.”
He smiled a crooked, trusting grin, and we waited as she walked to her truck. When she drove away, I followed Alex to his car, Rosa’s wedges clacking against the pavement. My skin grew slick in the spring heat. I hoped my sweat wasn’t visible.
He walked slightly ahead of me, slowing down every few steps as if he kept forgetting I was there. He walked with a bounce in his step, and for some reason, that gave me butterflies.
He led me to a sleek black BMW, and I tried to hide my surprise but ultimately failed. Rosa and I shared my mom’s barely-used Honda. Well, it was mostly Rosa’s to get to and from ballet. It wasn’t special, but it was a car.
“Valedictorian present,” he said sheepishly, catching my face. He pulled open the passenger side door, letting me slide in first before jogging over to the driver’s side.
“This is probably the one thing my mom told me not to do,” I said as he started the car. The engine hummed to life. “Get in the car with a boy I don’t know. Late at night. All alone. That’s already three strikes. I’d be dead if she really cared.”
“If she cared?”
I shook my head, feeling the loose curls I put in my long, limp hair shake against my face. Thankfully, he ignored it, and changed the subject, asking, instead, what my favorite ice cream was. He maneuvered his car into the nearest Sonic, which was right down the road from the banquet hall. He pulled into the drive-through, gave our order, and after getting our ice creams, pulled out of the parking lot.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“My favorite study spot.”
He cast his eyes over at me, raising an eyebrow.”You’ll see.”
“Don’t be creepy,” I answered, shoving a spoonful of ice cream into my mouth. When he smiled, I smiled.
His favorite study spot was somehow the old park on the south side of Round Pike. Two new updated play areas had been under construction forever, and they would likely be under construction for eternity. It was always deserted, sans a few dedicated runners, and it was next to the new airport.
“This place is your favorite study spot?” I asked. “There’s no WiFi.”
“WiFi is distracting. Plus, I get short bursts of study breaks,” he explained. He took his first bite of his ice cream. I felt bad that I was nearly halfway done with mine. I twisted my body so that he couldn’t see the contents of my cup. “We’ll wait for it.”
He led us over to one of the park benches. It was one of the newer ones installed. It wasn’t wooden, and it was larger than the old ones used to be. There were no graffiti tags on it. We sat silently for a while. It was dark out aside from the two park lamps, but the moon was full, hanging in the sky majestically, casting us a light glow.
“You know, your sister gave a really good speech about you,” he said. “The PowerPoint was good too. I’ve wanted to meet you since. I didn’t actually know you were my competition.”
“God, there was a PowerPoint?” I asked, mouth full of ice cream. I groaned. I ignored the part where he said he’d been waiting to meet me. All I could think about were the embarrassing photos that Rosa probably put in the PowerPoint. That was a very Rosa thing to do. She already unintentionally made me look bad, like the sucky twin, so sometimes, she made it a point to do it purposely too. “I don’t even want to know what the speech was about.”
“All good things, I promise,” he answered quickly. “It was mostly about how she thought you were the better twin. We were doing persuasive speaking that term. I was persuaded.” The corners of his pink lips pulled up.
I frowned. That was not a Rosa thing to do.
“I know this might be weird, Tequila—”
“Call me Teq,” I interrupted.
“I like Tequila.”
My heart fluttered.
“I like you,” he said. “Is that weird?”
His words took me by surprise, and I choked on my ice cream. I gulped and gasped for breath as it melted, finally sliding down my throat. It was weird, but it was only weird because I wasn’t the twin people liked. I wasn’t the rose, I was the tequila. Yet, here I was, sitting in the middle of a park with a boy who was professing his crush to me. And Rosa was a million miles away.
I opened my mouth to speak.
“Wait, here it comes,” he said.
On cue, in the distance, a motor gunned to life. The sound got louder, and we watched as a giant plane lifted into the sky, its engine roaring as it passed overhead, closer than I’d ever seen a plane fly. It was loud in my ears. The trees rustled; the wind howled. Alex peered up, his face in awe.
We were quiet as the plane flew further into the sky. After a moment, he turned to me and said, “Those are the bursts.”
We were sitting close on the bench. I wasn’t even aware of when he’d moved closer. When he tilted his head down to face mine, his mouth was inches from me. Before I knew what was happening, he leaned in, putting his sticky lips on mine. He tasted like peanut butter.
He pulled away quickly, staring at me, searching my face.
“Did you just kiss me?” I asked. My voice had raised in pitch. It didn’t even sound like mine.
“I d-d—I did,” he stammered.
“You didn’t even ask!”
“I’m sorry,” he said, stumbling over his words. Even in the dark, I could see his tanned cheeks grow red.
“I mean, I guess you didn’t have to,” I admitted, feeling my own face grow warm. “I think I wanted you to do that.”
He nodded. I nodded back, pursing my lips together, trying to remember what his lips felt like. I was seventeen and got my first kiss from the boy who beat me by .002 points. I wanted to call Gigi to tell her I wasn’t boring. To tell her of my night of firsts. Of actual firsts.
“I’m not Rosa,” I said finally. I looked up at the moon, not wanting to look at his face. He nudged me softly. I tore my gaze from the moon to look back at him.
“I kissed you because I know you’re not Rosa,” he said. “I kissed you because you’re Tequila.”
My name sounded stupid in his sentence, but it also somehow felt right.
“If you were Rosa, we couldn’t be Ass Tat.” He laughed.
“Oh, so we’re a we? I barely know you,” I said playfully, but I didn’t know how to flirt, and it came off bitchy.
He shrugged. “We can be.”
My heart gave a little. I felt it tug and begin to melt at the same time. It felt a little like dying. “So,” I said, “should we do that again?”
He nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”
Two weeks later, at graduation, I was sitting down next to Alex on stage. We were squeezed between the class President and Mrs. Lima. I was gripping my speech in my hand, my palms sweaty.
“You got this,” Alex whispered into my ear. He gave my shoulder a quick bump. My skin burned beneath my robe where he touched it. We’d only been talking, or dating, or whatever anyone calls it now, for two weeks, but every time he was remotely nice to me—always—I remembered the sweet taste of peanut butter when he mashed his lips against mine the first time, and that made my heart skip enough beats to potentially kill me. This time, I wasn’t sure if my sweating hands were because of Alex, or the fact that I was about to give a completely impromptu speech in front of hundreds of people.
I teetered over to the podium, staring at the microphone and the sea of people. I cleared my throat.
“I was born for second place,” I started. My voice echoed in the loud room. I saw a million faces staring back at me. In one corner, a baby cried, and in another, someone’s phone went off. Rosa sat dead center, in the middle of the Ts, an empty seat next to her where I was supposed to sit. On the left side of the graduates, I saw my parents sitting together, my mom huddled in close to my dad, a smile on her face. I took a shaky breath and continued. “I was actually born in second place. To my sister, Rosa.” The crowd tittered. “And today, I had every intention of giving a speech about how second place has had its pros. Maybe I was going to throw something in about how its made me grow as a person.
“But second place sucks,” I said. The crowd laughed nervously. Rosa laughed. I glanced to my right, where Alex was sitting. He grinned at me. Mrs. Lima frowned, shifting uncomfortably in her robes. I turned back to the crowd. “It actually sucks really bad. In fact, I lost valedictorian by .002 points. And how does that not suck?” Mrs. Lima cleared her throat. Loud. I ignored her. ” I tried so hard for these grades. I did. Rosa, obviously didn’t try for hers”—cue eye roll from Rosa— “also, I didn’t even know I was in a race with Alex until the race was over. And I lost, you know, by .002 points.
“But then I started to think I really wasn’t in a race with Alex, and I didn’t actually lose. I know I’m supposed to relate this back to my high school experience and growing up —I’m getting there. All my life, I thought I was in this lifelong competition with my sister, Rosa. But we’re not in the same competition.” I shrugged. My medals clanked together. “Not even close. I guess in the end the only competition I had was myself. And, you know, Alex.” I flashed him a smile as he chuckled. “We’re going to leave high school and do whatever it is we’re going to do. Just know that life is really not a competition. Against anyone. You’re winning in whatever you do. So, in the famous words of Ice Cube, just ‘do ya thang,’ because that’s really all that matters.”
I paused as half the crowd erupted into a short burst of applause. Whether it was for my speech or for Ice Cube, I wasn’t sure.
“So with that,” I continued. “I’d like to thank all the teachers who let me grade grub on Friday afternoons and who accepted my extra credit work even though I didn’t need it. My parents, for giving me Rosa, and of course I’d like to thank Rosa, for giving me a reason to find something I could beat you at.” Rosa rolled her eyes with a smile as the crowd laughed. “My best friend, Gigi, who never let me forget that Rosa was better than me.”
“Oh my God, Tequila!” Gigi shouted from the crowd, which got another round of laughter. I smiled at her.
“But most of all, I’d like to thank Alex, for beating me by .002 points,” I said, looking back over at him. “Without you, I would have just given a boring valedictorian speech about the value of hard work.” He laughed out loud, and I grinned, wanting to run over and hug his stupid body and kiss his stupid mouth again.
“Congratulations,” I said. “We all just won.”
YARN alum Laura Gonzalez lived most of her life in Edinburg, TX and has been a self-proclaimed writer since she was writing about mermaids at age 6. Today, she holds both her bachelor’s and master’s degree from UTRGV. She usually writes when she’s supposed to be doing something else and is working on novels that she eventually hopes to publish. When she’s not writing, she’s probably reading or at the movies. She also thinks she’s kind of funny and can be found on Twitter at @iammlauraa