The smell of albóndigas fills the house when my brother, Nick, and I come home.
“Time for our weekly appointment,” says Nick, walking in the direction of the kitchen.
I nod. My mouth starts to water as I follow him toward the sound of sizzling food.
Around the corner, I see Mom performing her magic over a large pot on the stove. Her eyes are closed as she carefully tastes some tomato sauce with a wooden spoon. She’s still wearing her work clothes except she has an apron on and slippers instead of high heels. Mom works every day in an office, which means she can’t make dinner weeknights except for Fridays, better known as our “weekly appointment.” It’s also the night we play board games past our regular bedtime.
“¡Mis bebés!” Mom exclaims when she sees us. She spreads her arms wide to give us big hugs and kisses.
“Can I help, Mom?” I ask, wiping lipstick off my cheek.
“Of course, Stella! Do you want to boil the e-spaghetti while I go change mi ropa?” She tugs at her clothes and takes off her apron.
I say, “¡Sííííííííííííí!” but inside I giggle.
While Mom speaks both English and Spanish perfectly, strangers say she has an accent. To me, it’s just the way she speaks. Although every once in a while I can hear that she says a word a little funny, like “e-spaghetti.”
When Mom returns to the kitchen, she’s wearing an oversized shirt and jeans instead of her business suit. She leans over the pot of simmering albóndigas, wiggles her nose, and takes a deep sniff. Mom says that you can always smell when the food is ready. She looks at me as she gives me the thumbs-up.
“Stella, grab the platos, por favor,” says Mom.
I put the plates on the table while Nick helps Mom carry the food. She scoops some e-spaghetti and albóndigas onto my plate. While she passes it to me, she makes sure to pull off the bay leaf. Mom says the bay leaf gives the albóndigas their extra sabor, but we shouldn’t eat it. Nick serves himself. Mom still likes to treat me like the baby even though I’m in third grade.
As soon as we start eating together, Mom asks, “So how was your week at school, niños?”
Nick starts talking right away as he twirls his e-spaghetti on his fork. “Pretty good. I think I’m going to join the basketball team this year. Jason and Adam are joining, too.” Nick is in eighth grade, and the middle school kids get to play sports.
Mom smiles. “You’re going to get so strong!”
Nick blushes. “Yeah. Plus it’s going to make it even easier to beat Stella at arm wrestling.”
“I’ll just practice more,” I say, and stick out my tongue at him.
Mom doesn’t get mad. She rarely does. She only gets mad when there is hair pulling or name calling, which doesn’t happen too often. She also won’t take sides, as much as I want her to sometimes. Instead, she just laughs it off. “What about you, Stella? How was your week?”
“Amazing. Today Ms. Bell said we are going to start sustained reading in class. That means we just get to read quietly. I think I’m going to read about fishes because of Pancho,” I say.
Mom says, “That sounds fun. I bet Pancho is going to appreciate it.”
Pancho is my betta fish. That is a type of fish that likes to be alone. They can be as colorful as the rainbow, but Pancho is mostly blue, which is my favorite color. I like that Pancho likes to be alone and is okay being quiet.
Mom winks at me. “Anything else?”
“Oh, Ms. Bell also said we are going to have a new student next week. I hope it’s a girl so she can play with Jenny and me. It’s hard to play tag when it’s only two people,” I say while I slurp up a noodle.
“Well, I’m certain whoever it is, they will be nice. Just be sure to make them feel comfortable and be my sweet Stella,” she says.
I nod my head. “Promise.”
Mom has no idea how excited I am about the new student. School has been a little lonely without my best friend, Jenny, in my class. I’ve been trying hard to make more friends, but it’s not so easy. The first day of class especially didn’t go so well this year. I could barely talk because my stomach was in knots all day. Then when I did talk, I messed up. I had to read aloud a paragraph I wrote about my summer break, and I said some of the words wrong. That made some of the kids in my class, like Jessica Anderson, laugh.
I hope the new kid is a girl who’s a lot like me. Maybe she loves to draw or has a fish, too, or can run fast like me. I’m sure she might be a little lonely or scared on her first day like I was. I’m sure she’ll appreciate my help. I’ll show her the tricks around the school, like which lunch lady gives extra French fries or which bathrooms aren’t as nice.
I look over at Nick.
“Did you learn anything cool today?” It’s one of my favorite things to ask him at dinner. Everything you get to learn in eighth grade just seems really interesting.
He thinks for a second. “Well, we studied tornadoes and all types of weather in science. The videos were pretty cool.”
“Tornadoes?! They’re scary! Wait … can they happen in Chicago, Nick?”
He starts to snicker. Whenever he snickers, I know he is up to no good.
“Yes,” he says. “Tomatoes can happen in Chicago.”
I cross my arms. “Ugh, Nick! You know I said ‘tornadoes,’ not ‘tomatoes.’”
“I heard ‘tomatoes,’ and you shouldn’t be afraid of them.” Then he gently elbows me. “Now Brussels sprouts, those are scary.”
“Guess I’m making Brussels sprouts next Friday,” says Mom, winking at me.
Nick groans, “Eww. Okay. No more vegetable talk.”
Nick is pretty stellar most of the time, but he can still be an annoying older brother sometimes. Nick knows it especially bothers me that he laughs when I mess up my words. I can’t help it. Sometimes I mix up the way words or letters sound, and when I do I turn roja like a tomato. That’s because the letters sound a little different in English and Spanish. I’m taking a class to help me, but I don’t like that I have to take it, and I definitely don’t like people making fun of me.
Copyright © 2018 by Angela Dominguez