There has never been, and there will never be, a place for her: it’s something Valeria knows and has come to terms with. Partially, at least.
There was no place for her in first grade, when all of the other kids would rumble about her being adopted or mock all the effort she put into trying to persuade the boys that she could play football as well as they could, if not better – which usually concluded with her ending up in a lot of trouble with the teacher , for her arguing techniques had a tendency to get quite loud.
She seemed to have found her spot in the world in the safe haven provided by her foster parents’ soothing presence, but her own little paradise was destroyed the day the police knocked at the door of their small but cozy apartment, repatriating the gringos and ripping her own childhood into pieces as they handed her over to Ms Juárez, the very first social assistant in a list longer than her years on Earth up until this point. And how should one find one’s own purpose in life when they’re left to fend for themselves at the grand age of eight? At the orphanage (four of them, actually, in less than two years) there’s no one who cares or is determined enough to look past her brave, defying façade. All that they see is a scruffy little girl, angry at existence, who rejects any kind of help and seems to strive to question each and every authority she’s presented with. It does come in handy during the months she spends on the streets, when she escapes that big house full of sad children for the first time: there’s no denying it’s hard, but she is tough and can manage it. Tough, rebellious, and always so desperately alone.
That is, until Gabo comes along. She’s twelve by then: three years her senior, rumor has it among the guests of the correctional facility that he killed a man once. Not for a single second does she believe this story, she’s not really sure why; and when he gets in trouble for pulling a prank on a guard, she takes the blame (and the mild beating that comes with it) without a second thought. A friendship is forged instantly.
With Gabo, it’s different. On their multiple breakouts together, he teaches her what are probably all the wrong things – how to handle a gun, what sort of act to put on to fool officers, a wide range of tips for cheating in card games –, but he does it for her. He’s the first person in years that seems to genuinely enjoy her company, which for her is a tiny little miracle in itself. When mixed together, might two solitudes create something more? Vale can’t swear upon it, but one day, when she’s fifteen and the two of them are hiding in a basement – the cops are after Gabo for robbing a grocery store –, she leans quietly out to him and lets her lips brush against his. He kisses her back, softly, and if she could die after this moment of extreme joy she wouldn’t consider hers too cruel a fate.
She’s happy with Gabo, she truly is. They have vowed to always stick by each other and she has no doubt it will be so. Still, deep inside, she knows that something is missing: yes, while being a bit rough around the edges, Gabo isn’t mean and respects her desires more than anyone she’s ever known, but with him it’s always the two of them against the world. Either alone or together, they are always running to find a place they will never find.
Then, it happens. On a serene summer night, running away from yet another institute, she stumbles upon a clumsy, helpless blond boy who insists she go with him to the Hogar Mágico. She’s heard of the place: formerly known as “BB Foundation”, it’s renowned for the exploitment their young guests had to go through. A change of name is not a change of ways, she thinks to herself; she hasn’t got high expectations on the whole thing.
She’s wrong. Nico, the director of the home, could at best be faulted for an excess of zeal; and, annoying as he may be, she never sees him raise a finger against anyone. The place itself is nauseatingly saccharine, but all in all beds are comfortable, food is great and the kids are OK (even though the blond guy, Ramiro, won’t leave her alone). She can’t voice the thought, but she feels welcomed for the first time in years – and oh, she’s not afraid of anything but this scares her so bad.
It’s weird and slow, but she grows accostumed to it all – being waked in the morning by Felicitas’ chirping, pretending to listen to Nico’s rants, chatting with Cari, Mar and Jaz as if they’d known each other for years… Even Rama’s persistence seems now somehow bearable. She’s got to admit it, she doesn’t mind all the cute, toughtful gestures he comes up with; and it’s when, while they’re both lying on the grass after the first picnic she remembers having had since her foster parents’ arrest, she catches himself staring at him and smiling fondly at the sight of the dimples that form at both sides of his mouth when he’s laughing, it’s then that it strikes her: not only does she not mind Rama, she’s also starting to like the boy a little.
Breaking up with Gabo is hard. He’s been so important to her that marking an end to their bond can’t help but feel like a betrayal, but eventually she comes to realize that she owes him some honesty. “Go with the guy,” he tells her, curtly, sitting in the penitentiary’s visiting room. “In the end, he’ll leave you behind. There’s no place for people like us in their world.” He’s sad and hurt and she gets it, but he’s been right about so many things before that she can’t help but fear this prevision will turn out to be true as well.
He’s wrong, though. No matter how many times she screws things up, Rama is by her side through it all. She’s moody and harsh and sometimes unpredictable, but he never fails to be understanding. They do fight every now and then, but they always work it out, sometimes with a little help from their friends. Since now she, Valeria Gutiérrez, has real friends; and a boyfriend, and a family, and a home she can call her own. A safe place she can go to at any time, and that maybe, just maybe, could be truly hers.
here’s a place for her in Rama’s soft arms as she cries out all the pain she’s kept inside for years, there’s a place for her head on his chest when they doze in bed after spending the night together, a beaming smile appearing on his face any time a heartfelt “I love you” escapes her cautious lips. There’s a seat for her at the family lunch table, a thought for her in her friends’ minds, a hug for her whenever she feels like needing one, words of wisdom from Nico and Cielo.
Maybe, after all, there might be a place for her in this world.