There was nothing Lisa Green hated more than being a kid.
When she wasn't floating around this vast, barren trailer park in this vast, barren town in this vast, barren desert, she was wedged into her tiny, secret ditch far from her bed. When she wasn't hiding there, she was in her room, getting chewed out by her father's latest "aunt" for not being quiet enough. When she wasn't sitting through that, she was at school, getting chewed out for not learning hard enough. When she wasn't in class, listening to their bullshit, she was at recess, pretending not to hear what the other kids were saying about her when they followed her around. And when she wasn't getting tormented by them, she was home with her father. It got so all she wanted was to be left alone.
But even with the way things were in her seven-year-old life, she never believed for one minute that it could get worse; but there it was, in her hand: an F. Since she was in for a long, long weekend now, she figured she'd take her time getting home, and that's how she ended up in the catholic school playground. She went there all the time on the weekends because they had the cool, older-kid swings--the rubber ones you could jump off of, not the shitty baby harnesses they had at the public school.
As she sat there, swinging back and forth, imagining what it would be like to bring home an A, a pair of hands shoved her off the swing, into a puddle. She rescued the soggy report card and sat up in time to watch a chubby kid her age waddle over to his scrawny friend, who just stood there, wearing a wicked smirk.
Something in her snapped. Sure she'd been pushed to the ground more times than she had fingers, but this time she was getting even--just not yet. The coming revenge armored her up that night as her father punished her coming home late and soaked, and again when he came back for seconds because of the F. She had no intention of going after the kid who'd done the deed. It was obvious that shoving her wasn't his idea. Besides, she didn't know who he was. But his friend? Him she knew.
He was alpha dog to a pack of little shits that prowled her trailer park, breaking things and running away from grownups. His dad was her father's supervisor at the bottle factory, so he had a name: Fuentes. If he had a first name, she didn't give a fuck, especially now.
A few days later, she woke up early, and skipped breakfast so she could find him alone at his bus stop. She never said a word. She just snuck up behind him, kicked him in the balls, and made him eat two handfuls of dirt. That night, she slept like the dead, even with inevitable retaliation circling the sky around her.
A couple of Saturdays later, it finally swooped down to her secret ditch. Her face hot and her stomach very, very cold, she watched Fuentes, his chunky friend in tow, stroll up and look her in the eye. There was no fear on his face; just that predatory smirk. "Hi," he said, "I'm--"
"I know who you are, you fart!" she told him, balling up her little fists.
At that, the chunky one charged, but Fuentes held him back, saying, "I got this, Ange."
"But she called you a fart!"
"I said I got this!" To her, he said, "Sorry. He's still pretty mad about how you cracked my huevos."
In her toughest voice, she asked, "You want me to do it again?"
"Yeah," he replied.
She dropped her arms. "Huh?"
Ange frowned. "Huh?"
Fuentes's cheeks lifted with that dangerous smirk. "Not to me, you dummy. Simon Largo."
"Who the fart is Simon Largo?"
"He's in my class at the catholic school."
"And you want me to kick him in the balls?"
"You don't have to kick him in the huevos," he explained. "You can give him a black eye or a wedgie or make him eat dirt like you did to me; all I care about is that he knows he got beat up by a girl."
"Why?" she asked.
"He's a bully."
"So are you."
"I got better." Again, there was that cocky smirk. "Simon Largo and his friends need to know they can't get away with that kind of stuff anymore. You're the meanest, toughest person I ever met."
Fuentes ignored him. "I need you to make an example out of him."
"Why?" she asked again.
"Name your price."
She thought of the most ridiculous one she could imagine so they would just go away. "Five Merde Bars."
"You're crazy!" shouted Ange.
"Let me handle this!" Fuentes barked. He turned to her. "Deal."
"How do I know you'll pay up?"
"If I don't," he replied, "you make scrambled eggs in my pants."
She couldn't stop herself from smiling. "Deal." They shook hands, and he passed her a slip of paper with Simon Largo's address on it. The following Monday, she snuck into the Largos' backyard, punched Simon in the face three times, and threw his action figures into the street. That Wednesday, Fuentes found her in her secret ditch. He was carrying a paper bag and that stupid smirk of his.
She snatched the bag away and looked inside, ready for one more disappointment in a long life full of them. Instead, she found six assorted Merde Bars, and not the mini ones either. "I only asked for five."
"I know," he replied, "but I threw an extra one in because everyone knows what happened to him, and no one knows it was me."
"Thought that was what you wanted."
"It was, but I didn't expect you to do it so good." Again he smirked that cute smirk.
She blushed. "So, ah, if you want me to, like, I don't know, beat someone else up, um ..."
"And if you ever, you know, want to throw rocks at stuff with me and Ange, like, whenever, you totally can." He added, "I'm Max."
Okay, so she was crushing on him then, just a little, but she didn't want to be too easy. "I don't give a fart, Fuentes," she replied.
"Suit yourself, Green." Right before he ran back to the vast, barren trailer park, leaving her alone, wedged in her tiny, secret ditch, he gave her one more dazzling smirk and told her, "I'll be in touch."