The leaves had only just begun turning red when my father slapped me behind the head in the parking lot outside my high school. He didn’t even wait until PS028 was out of sight before he made his anger with me clear. I was 16 at that point and had already gotten used to life slapping me behind the head.

I’d expected him to be angry that I got suspended. I had expected him to do his traditional “fatherly discipline” and tear me a new one when we got home. I was used to that.

Getting suspended had been a long time coming. I’d been running them all thin, I could feel it.

Usually it was getting into fights. I’d gotten into plenty of fights.

The kids of the school always thought they could get away with shit just because I’m short. They thought I was a pussy.

I’d known it would make him upset and I’d been bracing myself for it. I’d never expected to be hit where others could possibly see him doing it.

My father was a tall, lightly-toasted, Hispanic man with painfully boney hands. I was short, pale, and didn’t speak a lick of Spanish — so naturally, I was on the receiving end of his spanglish anger.

There was no one out in the yard this morning. Maybe that’s why he did it. Because he knew it would be safe to?

“Nicholas, aquí.”


The walk to the stoplight was silent. My cheek was stinging. We waited on the curb for the walk sign. He was brewing like Bustelo Coffee. The air was beginning to cool for the season.

“Explain it to me again.” He spoke softly. Almost calmly. “Why the fuck were you alone with that… that….”

He took a deep breath, attempting to not lose his temper. His eyes swiveled to the end of the block. There was a woman walking her dog. She was minding her business.

“Why were you alone with that maricón, Nicholas?”

I knew what he thought we were doing. The thing he’d always suspected of me doing whenever I was out of his line of sight.

It took me years to figure out that I apparently “look gay.”

“He tried to talk to me, I punched him in the face.”

“You were supposed to be studying. Y te encuentran alone with him. What am I supposed to think?”

Silence. The light turns white. He doesn’t wait for me before he crosses the street. I follow out of instinct. He’s expecting an answer. I gather my words from a carefully-crafted bucket of words I use keep the bomb ticking for at least a second more.

Maybe for long enough for me to get out from under it.

“Nothing was going on, dad. I was at the library, he tried to talk to me, I punched him. End of story.”

We walked down to the bus station and stood to wait for the M3. He wouldn’t look at me at all.

It took the bus ten minutes to arrive — that was ten minutes of absolute silence. When the bus showed up, my father entered the back door. The bus driver opened his mouth to say something and then shut it when dad glared at him.

When was the last time we paid a bus fare?


I sat my ass down in the first spot my butt landed. He’d hit me if I cried, so I tried to focus my brain on nice things.

Now that he was hitting me in public, I wasn’t sure when to expect the next one.

Would he do it again? Were all bets off now for some reason? Did he no longer care if anyone saw?

The M3 bus lurched forward. There were two other people on the bus – a small older woman who was enthralled in her crossword, and a guy who looked about as old as my dad, who was avoiding us completely with his eyes.

I don’t blame him.

He looked like he had enough to worry about on his own.

“I tolerated the thing with the long red hair. I tolerated the art. But now you’re just treating me like I’m a fucking burro. Mirame, coño.”

I looked up. His eyes were burning daggers and needles. Tears prickled at my eyes. I ground my teeth.

“You are home by 6, Nicholas.”

I nodded, not even daring to argue.

He lowered his voice to the metal floor. I caught the whisper of his words.

“And if I catch you alone with a guy again, te voy a matar. Do you understand? My son isn’t going to be un maricón.”

I screw my eyes shut desperately. Wishing it all away.

Wishing that fucking woman would just come back and let him hit her so he’d stop torturing me.

For some peace—as cliché as that sounds.

My inner toddler whimpered for the mommy that would make it all okay.

I knew she wasn’t coming back. I’d learned over the years; I understood why she left. And I understood why I couldn’t leave. Where would I even go?


I could find a foster home until I turned 18. But what then?

Two years ago I used to fantasize about finding her. That she still wanted me and would be happy to see me whenever I showed up at her doorstep.

I imagined a kind stepfather and maybe even a younger sister. But that life seemed to not be for me – this is the one I was stuck with.


“What did I say about crying, Nicholas?”

There was a sound coming from the front of the bus. I heard dad speak. Then, I felt his hand on my back.

All a show for them.


I looked up. I saw it in his eyes that he would kill me—that he meant every word.

Through his dark brown eyes I saw the violent, angry man that I knew my grandfather had been—and I knew Machismo and anger ruled my father’s life in the same way. Dad never spoke about it, but his sister always talked about it. My dad was found with another boy once when he was around my age—he wasn’t again.

“Now tell me what happened. And don’t lie this time.” He re-took his seat across from me.

I couldn’t stop myself. I was shaking and the tears were still spilling out of me. I felt like a pressurized pot.

Surely, he wouldn’t hurt me with three witnesses around?

What if they weren’t paying attention at the time? Would he risk it then?

“You were somewhere private.”

I nodded.

“You were with a… boy.”

I nodded again. My heart picked up.

I’m dead.

“Who’s the boy?”

“Laurel Ricardo.”

The instant I’d said his name, I felt dirty. Like I’d sung to the warden.

Dad squinted. He remembered Laurel. The long, thick head of Mexican hair. The delicate way he sat. He came over to our house once for a class project.

His fluent Spanish puts everyone around him to shame.

Dad knew he was gay just by giving him a glance. He hovered over us all night, like he was afraid I’d catch something.

The bus stopped. The elderly woman got off with her booklet. She spared me a final glance before leaving the bus. I could tell what she saw: some punk kid and his way-too-young, tired dad.

“Why were you alone with him?” Dad asks me.

The bus takes off again. I feel numb.

“We… We….”

We were kissing. Because he’s my boyfriend.

I’m sobbing out loud now, my entire body like a live wire.

The young man still in his seat is avoiding staring. The bus driver has put on headphones.

Is that legal?

“Nothing happened, dad! That’s why I broke his arm! Because he t-tried to-”

I swallow, my throat suddenly dry as my heart races in it.

“Tried to?” my dad asked, there was a different look in his eyes now. There was clockwork. He sat back in his seat and looked at me. He looked through me.

I wonder what he was seeing.


Kissing was something sloppy.

I’d only recently gotten acquainted with it last year with Katy Brennen. I hadn’t had much practice. Laurel was also learning. We often experimented together when we could find a private place during the day.

We met at our usual study box in the back of the library during our free period.

Today was the day he’d wanted to go further. We’d been dating for two months and he “wanted to do a little more than kiss.” He’d been sure about it. I’d been reluctant about it. Admittedly, he had been a little pushy and I hadn’t been sure of how to say no to him.

He was wearing strawberry lip gloss.

He’d grabbed me slightly more forcefully than I’d expected. My panic set in. Then I heard footsteps.

I tried pushing him off me.

I did it before I could register what I was doing.

All I could remember was feeling his body on mine and knowing what would happen if anyone found us like this together – if my father found out about this.

He didn’t get off me quick enough. And then my fist was swinging and making contact with his face. His shrieking hailed the librarian.


“He tried to?” Dad pressed.

“He wanted to do some stuff with me,” I whispered, hoping that the humming of the bus would make sure I wasn’t heard, “I didn’t want to.”

“What kind of stuff?”

I felt myself flush hot. I shook my head.

Definitely not the kind of shit I wanna talk about with my dad on a public bus.

“So you punched him in the face.”

“Yes.” I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. I imagined myself looking like a toddler. I sniffled and chewed at my cuticles, all while avoiding his demanding gaze.

My trembling seemed to be dying down. The bus stopped again. We waited in silence. There was a heat rising in my chest.

A woman and her small child step onto the bus. I can’t see much through my blurry eyes.

I sneak peeks at my father.

He doesn’t seem to know how he wants to feel about it. There is a small, fierce smile growing on the edge of his lips. I can tell he’s fully processing the situation.

We get off two stops later.


We met a year ago when he correctly identified a shade of green and asked me to pass it his way.

He turned to me in art, looked me in the face, and pointed at the shade I was holding. He called it ‘Pera,’ and that was the exact moment I fell for him.

His family had just moved from Colombia. His English was heavily-accented, but I’d be a damn idiot if I didn’t admit that I enjoyed listening to him talk.

Laurel didn’t babble. Every word was important to him.

He sat to draw trees and we ended up comparing the names for colors together. I invited him to spend lunch with me and my friends.

Joshua Quirley called him a faggot.

I threw a pencil case at his head.

I missed my shot. That’s how I ended up with detention for three days the first time.


He didn’t hit me when we got home. He simply retired to his bedroom.

As soon as I heard the door slam shut, I knew he wasn’t going to be coming out for the rest of the night.

He turned on the radio and The Clash blasted from behind the closed door.


“I was there in 1979,” he told me once, a smile playing on the edge of his lips as he lifted the CD up to my eyes, “when this dude lost his shit and smashed his bass.”

In the kitchen, mom was washing dishes. I’d just finished clearing the table. I looked at the album in my father’s hands.


“Call your Tío and ask him. He was the lunatic who dragged me there in the first place.”

“Fuck, you’re old. Gross.”

He looked at me and grinned, mocking.

“You’ll be my age one day too. And if you keep it in your pants, hopefully you won’t be a dad.”



Mom left years ago. Dad used to hit her until she couldn’t even get off the bed.

Then, one day, she packed her shit and left. She couldn’t take me with her wherever she was going, I guess.

The apartment used to be a much different place when she was around.

Nowadays it’s half coated in beer cans, old food containers, and dust bunnies. Dad wasn’t much of a cleaner and neither was I, honestly.

Two bedrooms, a small living room, a kitchen, and one bathroom. The walls were so thin that I was sure the neighbors could hear the fighting too. There’s always fighting happening somewhere in the building.

I live in the projects; there’s not much to say about it. The elevators get peed in often and it’s loud. The people are kind, just down on their luck a lot.

Frankly, it feels like New York just dumped everything that was deemed as undesirable into one place – and then they abandoned us.

I’m sure this isn’t the kind of life mom had in mind for me. She never wanted to live in the city.

I wonder if she moved to France like she always said she would.

Dad doesn’t say much about it, but I remind him too much of her. My height, my big nose, my bright, wide-eyed inspiration. My mother used to be an artist too.

Sometimes, when he’s drunk, he looks at me and thinks I’m her. That’s when the beatings are the worst.


I’ll be home for a week. Then they expect me to apologize to Laurel. My dad and I would have to pay the hospital bills, probably.

It was just a hit to the face, how bad could it have gotten?

Laurel would probably call my bluff. He’d probably spill the beans and tell them all about what we had been doing together.

He’d identify himself as my ex-boyfriend. Why shouldn’t he?

My life ends on Monday. He’s going to kill me when he finds out.

I found a stray box of cigarettes and put one up to my lips.


My bedroom was my own art studio—this basically meant I kept my easel and tubes of paint next to my desk and drawers.

Despite everything, Dad didn’t come out of his room. So I deemed it safe to invite Tyler over.

Tyler was the one cousin my dad let me hang out with because “he looks like a nerd” and “maybe the smarts will rub off on you.” He lived right across the street, so he was usually my wingman.

Thankfully, Tyler also had a mountain of prescription medication he didn’t mind sharing with me.

I took a pill and turned back to my art. The Adderall rested under my tongue. One would be enough to get me hyper fixated on my canvas for the night.

“I heard it from Matt who heard it from Jennifer and her bramble of bitches—” Tyler began, in his usual I-have-juicy-gossip voice. He took a seat on my bed. “—that you punched Laurel R’s in the face and gave him a black eye.”

I nodded, pretending to be fully invested in my painting.

Is punching him in the eye an official breakup? Are we broken up?

Were we ever actually together?

I dip my paintbrush into the black paint on my piece of cardboard and draw a black streak across one of the canvases my dad had gotten me for my birthday. My mother had sent me some acrylic paints over the mail with no return address.

I curl my stroke, remembering the curls in Laurel’s always-shampooed, fragrant hair.

I’d never officially asked him to be my boyfriend. How could I?

“Are they letting you come back to school?” Tyler asked.

I shrugged. “We don’t have to talk about it.”

“What do you mean? Everyone is talking about it! The police came and they brought an ambulance. His nose was bleeding – tell me you at least saw the ambulance.”

“I didn’t see the ambulance, Ty. Officer pig-face locked me up until my fucking dad came. Just drop it. I’m not in the mood, okay? If you’re going to keep bringing it up, you’re going to go home.”

He’s silent for a moment. I struggle with the acrylics.


Sigh. “Yea, Tyler?”

“Are you okay, man? Like… are you actually ok?”

“What kind of a question is that?”


Monday rolled around quicker than I had expected. By then, I had cleaned the entire apartment twice, washed all the clothes, drawn over a million pages, and smoked over thirty cigarettes down to the filters.

Dad woke up at seven to be at the morning meeting with Laurel’s parents. I’d been awake for hours, a nightmare shamelessly denying me rest.

Dad walked into the kitchen in a soft-collared shirt and a pair of slacks I didn’t even know he owned.

He didn’t look angry this morning. But I knew that could change in the next two seconds.

He wouldn’t hit me if the principal could see, right?

I was eating a slice of toast and having my second cup of morning dark roast, half-asleep, when he tapped me on the shoulder and headed for the door.


I gave Laurel a black eye. I got to see it while our parents were in the office.

We sat in silence, the receptionist completely ignoring us.

I was familiar with the bench at this office. I’d sat in it enough times to know every break in the wood and lacquer rub-off. I’d even been here long enough to know the receptionist’s name: Martha – she didn’t like me very much. She didn’t like my dad either.

Laurel was looking around with fascination. He clearly had rarely been in the office and everything was new to him. Then, he turned to me. I did my best to ignore him.

“I’m sorry,” Laurel stated after a moment, looking at me directly. “I shouldn’t have pushed you when you didn’t want to. I was wrong.”

I don’t know what to say. I’m frozen. I look down at his arm.

“You gave me a black eye.” He continues, ” Are we…?”

He pauses and looks at me with the question in his eyes. I speak before I can stop myself.

“Are you asking if we’re even?”

“Yes?” And something in my chest drops. “Even, I mean. Even Steven?”

I feel myself blush.

This could disappear before anybody else got involved. Once my father comes out of that office, this situation will disappear.


He reaches for me and I snap back.

“Don’t you dare fucking touch me!”

I don’t recognize the hysterics in my own voice. My eyes move to the principal’s office door. I remain frozen for a moment, fully expecting my dad to emerge. He doesn’t. I wait another five seconds just to be sure.

Then I turn to look at Laurel.

The look on Laurel’s face makes me regret my words. But once they start pouring out, I can’t stop them even if I wanted to.

I’m at the end of the bench. As far away as humanly possible from him. Off the edge of my vision I see Martha raise an eyebrow. I pause.

The phone rings.

“If you touch me again, I’m going to punch you in your other eye.”

Martha doesn’t hear me. Or, at least, she acts like she doesn’t.

Laurel’s face falls and his eyes glaze over.

If he touches me, I’ll break apart. So I can’t let him get that close.

He’s not the kind of guy to hold his tears back—he’s crying within seconds. And it takes everything in me to ignore it.

From the office, I can hear my father getting loud. He uses a word I never used when describing the situation.

I want this all to end.

My mouth says: “Don’t ever talk to me again. I hate you.”

And the words are violent scorpions.


The office door opens. Out comes my father, looking professionally angry in his out-of-character outfit.

He looks over at Laurel and a small feeling of disgust takes over his face. Then he looks at me.

“Ready to go home, bud?” he asks, putting on a show for everyone around him. Laurel’s parents look weary. I can feel Laurel’s eyes on my back.

I nod, standing from the bench.

I leave the room without looking at anybody else. I memorize all the details on my way out because I know the chances of my ever seeing it again are low.

At the bus station, he informs me that he’s transferring me to another school. I nod, the chills deep in my bones.

I won’t see Laurel again after this.

Even if I do see him again, I won’t ever be able to speak to him again. Not after what I said.


We get on the bus and sit across from each other in silence.

“I shouldn’t have punished you for defending yourself.” My dad crosses his arms over his chest. He looked a bit… sheepish? “How about I make it up to you? Anything you want tonight. Te lo doy.”

There’s nothing I want more than for things to go back to the way they were, but that’s not an option.

Strangely enough, I also want to go back to school. I want to be in my boring classes. I want to see Laurel out of the corner of my eye every day.

I want to taste all the flavors of lip gloss Laurel owns.

“And you can bring your nerd friend if you want. Come on. Que quieres? Anything you want.”

I nod, fully accepting the peace offering. I won’t get any kind of apology. The biggest relief is that I’m not in trouble anymore.

That was a close one.

For the first time in days I breathe easy. My aching muscles relax. I feel light.

“Dave N Busters?” I ask softly. He nods.

Somehow I feel more tied up than when I started. The relief doesn’t last long. There is one final thing on my mind. And as soon as I think about it, my brain says it for me.

“I told him that if he ever touched me again, I’d punch him in his other eye.”

My tone is soft, dead. I don’t think my father notices. He laughs. It’s big, and hearty, and almost exaggerated. He laughs like it pains him—I hadn’t seen him laugh in a long time.

“There you go!”


About the Author

Vicktor M. Bueno is an MFA or Writing candidate at the University of New Hampshire. They like weird fiction and interesting characters.This is their first time being published.


Photo by Dion Gillard from Flickr