We are ecstatic to share at long last the winner of the 2022 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers: “Homeboy” by Nancy Garcia! Guest judge Chelsea Bieker writes, “From the first line, I was enraptured by the voice of Cielo. High energy, pitch-perfect dialogue, and quick intelligent humor weave through this aching, pining, and surprising story about unrequited love. “HOMEBOY” utilizes a voice I’d follow a lot longer than just these pages, and showed supreme control over the direct address form, that, when done this well, creates the perfect stage for exploring years and years with expert compression. It punched to the very end. I loved it.” Fall in love yourself below.
In those moments when my self was unraveling, I saw the top of a mountain where we gazed upon the El Paso star one balmy summer night. I heard the uproarious laughter of us chilling at high school musicals even though we were way too old, because we were drawn to sudden stardom, especially in dorky theater kids. I felt our give and take, and how I was always more give, you more take.
You were low-key dating a sorority girl when we first met at the Fatburger checkout line, but didn’t tell me for like, a fucking year. My buddy Alex comforted me when I found out, telling me it was because she could dunk a basketball better than she could hose down a triple patty.
It was spring midterms, rush week really, and we were hanging out studying. We were alone and laughing and drawing butts instead of parabolas on our engineering homework.
“I broke up with her, Cielo,” you mumbled through a mouthful of Popeyes, even though you knew I knew. Your pencil stopped scribbling, and I walked away, slamming the door so hard that your pencil rolled to the ground.
“It’s because she’s whiter than you,” Alex told me a few months later, patting me awkwardly on the shoulder, as we sat on lawn chairs watching your new guerita girlfriend slam a volleyball into a net. “¿Pero sabes que? No cancer, no sunburn for you Cielito.” He nodded encouragingly.
Guerita was the type of Kappa who never wore shirts, just walked around in a bra, showcasing her flat athletic chest. She never made a big deal about it. She was also the type of girl who knew how to make tortillas from scratch, and her corn in a cup sold for a dollar a Dixie. Her manicure had squared tips which meant she was a verifiable badass. Rafael, I don’t know why I’m telling you any of this. I can honestly hear you laughing because you know it’s true.
Anyway, after the sun went down and your girl had beat everyone and their mom at sand volleyball, you invited me inside. Here’s the vibe: The apartment was stripped down, the walls were bare, there was nowhere to sit, reggaetón music blasting. Our boys had just started rolling up with their big ass speakers bumping in their F450s, and we knew it was game time. Both of our partners called out our names, their voices muffled against the saltwater pool.
Honestly, the thought of dancing with my boyfriend made me want to kill myself.
“Five seconds, Cielo, five seconds,” you pleaded, among the boxes and packing tape.
I set the timer on my phone. “The countdown starts, now.”
So our first kiss was leaning against an Oreck vacuum cleaner in a dark hallway which still shows up in my dreams. Can I be honest? My universe kind of split open. I have a feeling we both stopped because we were thinking about the pencil and also because we could hear Guerita’s shrill Ricki Lake voice saying, “Where’s Rafael? Where is he? What the hell?” through the open air of the window. I left through the back door and soon enough, you moved to Houston to live with your mom. Here’s the kicker: I was so goddamn homesick for my mom, my barrio, my routine of going to the gas station twice a day to buy tacos, of making googly eyes at the twenty-two-year-old meatpacker at Wal-Mart, who was my high school prom date. But guess what? I didn’t go home. I thought the whole state of Texas couldn’t contain the both of us. So, a year after you moved with your mom, I packed up my car and moved to Pittsburgh, never to be seen or heard from again.