Stories by Emily Hoover
  1  Surge
Angelo Loves Tammy
4  El Brutál
5  Real Fun
  6  Tectonics of Time
  7  Some Kind of Saint
  8  Snitch
  9  Demolition
10  Reflections at Aqua Key West

  About the Author  |  |  Summer 2021 Fiction Issue

Angelo Loves Tammy

I can always tell when Danny’s been in Mama’s room while she’s at work: her high heeled shoes are stacked close together, her drawers are shut tight, too tight, and her bedside trash can is full of little pieces of toilet paper with bright, red kisses on them. I can tell these things because Mama’s messy. She’s always messy, even when Uncle Rick comes over and drinks Zimas with her on the porch and stays the night in her bed. She also never blots her lips because it’s too expensive. She says the ladies on the Maybelline commercials blot their lips because they’re made of money. But I never tell anyone—not Mama, not Uncle Rick, and especially not Phillip—what Danny does in Mama’s bedroom alone.

I’m in Mama’s room now because Phillip and Danny are fighting, as usual. Phillip’s forcing Danny to make him some eggs and toast even though it’s gonna be dinnertime soon, and Mama bought fish sticks and RC Cola plus a big old bag of corn chips from the dollar store. Phillip’s supposed to make dinner because he’s the oldest, but he hates fish sticks. He also hates eggs if the yellow part is broken. He hates everything, but I think he hates Danny the most.

I’m lying on Mama’s bed, watching the clock on her nightstand, and playing with the cigarette butts in the ashtray. I like to tear the orange paper off so I can see the part that looks like hay when I split it into pieces. Right now, the red numbers on the clock say it’s 3:30 p.m. I have to meet Angelo at 4:00. I don’t think I can wait that long in Mama’s bed and my fingers are all gray and stinky from the ashes, so I get up.

I walk around on the carpet for a little while, wearing Mama’s high-heeled flip-flops—the ones with the jewels on them. Being tall feels good, kind of like the way I feel when Angelo holds my hand after school on the bus. Danny sees us. I know he does because he smiles and his teeth show, but he doesn’t say anything. I’m glad Phillip’s in middle school finally and rides a different bus, because he’d definitely tell Mama about me sitting with Angelo. Mama says I can’t hang out with Angelo because Puerto Ricans steal everything. But he’s never stolen anything from me, ever, and Phillip steals all the time, especially from the Circle K. I don’t get it one bit, but I keep my mouth shut because Phillip pinches me and gives me noogies that hurt, even when I don’t tell on him.

Before I leave Mama’s room, I take Danny’s secret squares of toilet paper out of the trashcan and crush them into a big ball with my hands. Then, I run across the hallway and into the bathroom. I watch the pieces fall apart as they swirl down the toilet, and then I wash the lipstick off my hands.

When I come into the living room, VH1 is on—Uncle Rick told Mama to get cable when he started hanging around—and Will Smith’s song “Getting Jiggy Wit It” is playing. Phillip’s eating corn chips out of the bag, rubbing the salt from his fingers onto the couch, and singing nanananananana. “Where’s the fuckin’ eggs?” he says to Danny. “I don’t have all day, you know.”

“Coming,” Danny says, real quiet.

I try to grab a chip from the bag, but Phillip slaps my hand and pushes me out of the way. I sit on the floor, close to the TV, because Mama’s not here to tell me to move or to tell Phillip to stop.

The next thing I know, Phillip is yelling at Danny because he broke the yellow part of the egg. Phillip throws the plate on the floor and it smashes into a zillion pieces. He tells Danny to clean it up, which stinks because the yellow part is hard to scrub out.

“Get up,” Phillip says when Danny kneels, “and make me another egg. I want the yolk whole. I told you that. Boy, you sure are dumb.

“Hang on,” Danny says. He’s trying to clean up the broken dish because he doesn’t have any shoes on and is afraid his feet will get all cut up.

Phillip tells Danny to make another and then another because he keeps breaking the yolks. He slaps him hard in the face every time the egg isn’t right and tells him to start again. When Phillip slaps Danny’s cheeks, it sounds hard, like when I run barefoot down the road.

I stay in the living room and rub away my tears because if I don’t, Phillip will call me a sissy. My hand still stings from Phillip’s slap, and I give it a rub, too. I watch the videos for Destiny’s Child’s “No, No, No” and Monica and Brandy’s “The Boy is Mine” because reading the words is my favorite part of Pop-Up Video and Mrs. Williamson, my second-grade teacher, says I’m the best reader in class. Then I watch commercials for Cinnamon Toast Crunch and some other stuff.

 I look away from the TV real quick, and I see Phillip’s made Danny throw away more than half the eggs in the thingy. I know Mama will be mad because she always cooks eggs and scrapple on Sundays before she goes to work, and wasting food is for ingrates, she says. Plus, Danny’s face is real red from all the slapping. Phillip will get the switch for sure.

Fifteen minutes have passed by the time I walk back into Mama’s room; the clock says so. I’m going to put a little lipstick on and some blush because my face is splotchy from crying and I don’t want Angelo to see me like this. I put some purple on my eyes because I like the way it shines. Plus, it makes me look older than seven and a half. I still have nine minutes left when I pucker my lips one last time and step back from the mirror that hangs from the back of Mama’s door.

I always have to sneak out Mama’s window in order to meet Angelo by the oak tree at the end of our street. He carved our names in the trunk last week so I’ll never forget which tree. It says Angelo loves Tammy 4eva. Angelo’s in fourth grade, just two grades above me. His skin is dark, like black people’s skin, but he speaks with a Spanish accent because he’s Boricua,which means from the island.He smells like coconut sunscreen. His eyes are the greenest, even prettier than Mama’s after she cries. I like it when he holds my hand because his fingers don’t have warts like Danny’s.

I jump when I hear the door slam and stop thinking of Angelo for a second. From Mama’s bedroom window, I watch Phillip go down the road on his skateboard.

“You okay?” I ask, when I see Danny on his knees in the living room, scrubbing the carpet with Windex.

He sniffles and then looks up. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

“Think he’ll be gone long?”

“I hope so. He said he was meeting Willy at the Circle K. Didn’t even eat his eggs.” The paper towel in his hand is stained blue and yellow and his face is still red at the cheeks, like he smeared Mama’s blush all over.

“Why are you using Windex?”

“Because we’re out of everything else.” He scrubs again.

“It’ll never get clean that way.”

He looks up. “I have to try.”

“I’m meeting Angelo, but I’ll be back soon.” I watch him nod at me. “Don’t tell.”

“I won’t.” He rips another paper towel off the roll. “I promise.”

“My brother Federico says Daniel’s a maricón.” Angelo throws a rock into the lake. Every time he rolls his “R” sounds, it makes my stomach drop a little, so I ask him to say it again.

“What, maricón?”

I wonder what a maricón is, but I don’t ask. “No,” I say instead. “Federico.”


A crane is near the pond, sucking earthworms out of the wet ground with its long beak.

“Teach me to roll my ‘R’s’ like that,” I say.

“Okay.” He makes a sound that’s kind of like a purr and a growl. “It’s all in the tongue. See?”

I watch his tongue move between the top and bottom rows of his perfect teeth, and then I try. Mine sounds like a hiss, even though I put my tongue on the roof of my mouth.

 Angelo laughs. “No.Like this.” He makes the sound again and then I try. My breath is still all hiss instead of buzzing and stuff.

“I can’t,” I say after a lot of tries.

Boricuas can do it at birth. For white people, it just takes longer. But don’t worry. I can help you practice if you want.” He grins.


“Rico says you have to exercise your tongue. You know, when we look at the magazines and stuff.”

I frown. “What magazines?”

He smiles wider. “I’ll show you sometime. Have you ever kissed a boy before?”

“No.” I look down at the green grass. “Have you?”

“Of course not. I’m no maricón. I like girls.”

So that’s what a maricón is. I think of Danny and hope Marsha from next door comes to check on him soon like she promised Mama.

He touches the birthmark on my chin with his pointer finger. “I can kiss you. Only if you want.”

“Mama says I’ll get cooties.”

“Do you really believe everything your mom says?”

My cheeks are warm. “Do you really believe everything Federico says?”

“I believe him when he says kissing is fun. He’s in high school and has lots of girlfriends. Plus, I want to kiss you.”

“Okay.” I scoot a little closer.

“Close your eyes. And don’t move.”

I do and I promise not to move. My eyelashes flutter and I’m fighting to keep them closed. His breath is hot. I can feel it on the little blond hairs covering my face. I’m smiling, I can’t help it, and my face is turning red. Then his lips touch mine. I flinch, jump back. “That’s it?”

He laughs. “Sorta. But it gets better if you touch lips longer, if you do it more than once, you know.”

“Okay.” I’m not sure if I want to touch lips longer, but I close my eyes anyway. My heart beats real fast. We touch our lips together for a while, and they feel stuck. Then, I feel Angelo open his mouth. I’m afraid he’s going to eat my face, so my eyes pop open. “What are you doing?”

“I was kissing. What are you doing?”

“I just—”

“You’ve got to try French kissing. Know what that is?”

“No,” I say, embarrassed.

“It’s fun. Rico told me how. It’ll help you roll your R’s.”

I close my eyes and do what he says. We stick our lips together and kiss a few times. Quick—like when I kiss Mama on the cheek before she goes to work. But this time, when Angelo moves his face so our noses aren’t touching, I let him. I open my mouth too and his tongue touches mine. I flinch again, but he pulls me closer, grabs me by the shoulders to keep me next to him. It hurts a little, but not as much as when Phillip grabs me on the couch. Angelo puts his tongue on top of mine and moves it around a little. I do the same and touch the bottom of his tongue with mine. It feels weird, all slimy. But I get the tingles anyway.

I know it’s time to go because the sun is setting. The lake that Mama says is really a retention pond doesn’t have much sunlight reflecting off it anymore. All the old people that live in the fancy gated trailer park have gone inside, taken their boxes of wine with them. I’m ready for some fish sticks, if Danny’s made them.

As we cross Combee Road, Angelo grabs my hand. It’s darker but not too dark when we make it to Marion Drive. Angelo’s been holding my hand the whole time, which is longer than he ever has. We stop in front of his house. It isn’t much bigger than mine, but I wonder if he has two bathrooms since he has a dad and a mom and they both have jobs.

Our hands drop to our sides. “Do you want me to walk you to your door?”

 Even though he’s a whole two years older and being a gentleman and all, I shake my head. “The porch light’s on.”


“Yeah.” I slap a mosquito sucking on my leg.

“Well, I have to go now. It’s my sister Bianca’s quinceañera tomorrow and my mom is stressin’. See you at the bus stop?”

“See you.”

I spin around and head across the street, folding my arms across my chest, a little cold from the breeze. The crickets are chirping in the palmettos, making a whole lot of racket for the neighborhood. I’m thinking of Angelo, of sitting next to him on the bus on Monday, when I hear a screen door slam. I squint my eyes and see Danny’s running down the driveway. He’s barefooted, crying, wearing my mom’s cheetah-print dress thingy with no pants on.

“Tammy! Tammy, help! He’s coming!” Danny’s nose is bloody, and his whole body is covered in apple-sized bruises that are turning from red to black and blue in what’s left of the sunshine.

“Danny, what happened?” I say, but he falls to my feet, crying hard. I don’t know what to do, so I pat him on the head.

Phillip opens the door carrying a baseball bat and lets it close behind him. He’s looking straight at us, but he doesn’t move.

My stomach does a flip-flop. “Go away, Phillip.”

“Go away, Phillip,” Phillip says in his best Tammy voice.

“I’m serious.” I step in front of Danny, who’s still on his knees, and stick out my chest all tough. “Stay back, I mean it.” My knees are shaking, so I put my hands on my hips.

 “Oh yeah? What are you and that sissy boy going to do about it if I don’t?” I know I’ll be next if I stick around. I hate him. I hate him so much it burns in my heart.

I don’t say anything back; I grab Danny’s wrist and pull him up. We run across the street—not to Marsha’s house next door—through the drainage ditch in Angelo’s yard, and up the concrete sidewalk to Angelo’s house. I bang on the door with both fists. “Help!” Danny yells, and his voice squeaks. He doesn’t even know Angelo’s family, not really, but he yells anyway.

Angelo’s mama opens the door and the two of us run inside. I’ve never been in Angelo’s house before. I see Angelo and Federico staring at us from the kitchen. “Tammy, what the—” Angelo says.

“What is happening, Angelo?” Angelo’s mama asks. She brings Danny to the couch. The house smells like chicken, onions, and spices. There’s sand art all over the place and lots of pictures of Jesus.

Angelo’s mama sits with Danny, tries to get him to talk, but he keeps whimpering. Tears stream down his face, mixing with the blood and boogers and what looks like puke on his chin. I can’t help feeling embarrassed for how gross Danny looks.

Federico comes into the living room, stands against the wall, keeps his head down.

Dios mío, dios mío,”Angelo’s mama says, stroking Danny’s brown hair and shaking her head from side to side. “Angelo, get me a towel and gauze and some peroxide! Federico, don’t just stand there—call the police!”

“No!” Danny says. “Please no, please no, please no. He’ll kill me.” He cries into Angelo’s mama’s t-shirt and she baby-rocks him.

“Who?” she asks again and again. “Who did this to you?”

Danny is all quiet except for sniffles.

“Phillip,” I say finally. Danny turns and looks at me like I said the wrong answer in math class. “Our brother Phillip.”

Angelo comes back with the peroxide and a bucket of water. He also brings clothes from his room. “I think these…might fit you,” he says. “After you take a shower, you know.”

“Thanks,” Danny says, all quiet.

Angelo’s mama dunks the washcloth and cleans his face. “Get the first aid kit, mijo.”

The A/C kicks on and I feel a little better. My shirt is wet from all the sweating. I realize I’m still standing. I quickly sit on the couch and grab my brother’s hand, the one with the warts. I look at a photo of Angelo’s family on the wall and stare at Angelo, his brothers and sisters, his mama and dad. “I’m sorry, Danny,” I say, and I mean it, but it comes out as a whisper. I never should have left him alone.

Danny shuts his eyes and a few tears fall. He squeezes my hand back.

When Angelo’s mama starts speaking very fast in Spanish to Angelo, Federico, and Angelo’s three sisters, who have finally come out of their room, I listen for the word maricón. But it never comes.


  © Emily Hoover, 2021

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