Ramona is a little skeptical when Signore Pignoli suggests a week-long “boot camp” workshop with a lady all the way across the state who has been retired from the dancing scene for longer than Ramona has even been alive, but when she meets Señora Riera for the first time she knows he was right. The woman enters a room like life is a stage to be dominated. No, like life is a stage in a theater she already owns. She has capital-p Presence, and Ramona wants it. Sleeping on the couch and sharing meals with Señora Riera’s family for the week feels less like a logistical necessity and more like a bonus, since it gives her more opportunity to soak it all in. And besides, she really likes them. Señora Riera’s grandkids are around her age, and everyone is really nice to her, and the accents are different but the rhythms when they talk are familiar, echoes of all of her favorite vacations, visiting her papa’s familia.
As the week wears on, she spends more and more time with Elena, particularly. It’s natural enough. Elena is a little older than her and kind of sophisticated, but Ramona is definitely better at putting together a cute outfit, and she figures they’re about even in coolness. They don’t have a ton in common, but they’re into some of the same TV shows and books. They both like heroines with smarts and swords, with or without magic powers, and have a soft spot for animal sidekicks. But Elena doesn’t have the same appreciation for damaged bad boy heroes that Ramona does. At first she thinks it’s maybe a feminism thing - Feminism is apparently about more than girl power? Elena is going to lend her some books for when she goes home - but then she thinks back over various things Elena and her family members have said over the past several days and puts it all together. Oh, she thinks.
And then she thinks, Huh. I wonder if it would be okay to ask her about that?
“So, you’re gay, right?” Ramona asks, when they’re alone in the living room one afternoon. She sure hopes it is okay.
Elena’s back straightens like she’s about to start waltzing, but she doesn’t sound defensive or pissed or anything when she says, “Yeah, I am. I think I prefer the term ‘queer,’ though.”
Ramona almost asks why - Because, why? Isn’t that a bad word? - but she doesn’t want to get sidetracked. “Is it okay if I ask you some things? I mean, I don’t want to make you feel weird.”
Elena nods, a little cautiously. “I reserve the right not to answer if I’m uncomfortable, though.”
“Yeah, no, totally,” Ramona babbles. “I just-- Have you always known?”
Elena shrugs, and her natural posture starts to ease back in. “I guess so, in a way. I sort of ignored it for a long time. It’s not like it mattered when I was little, you know? And I guess I could have kept ignoring it, but I didn’t want to pretend to be someone I’m not. To myself, or to anyone else.”
“How did you, um.” This seems more personal, somehow, than asking about whether Elena would rather kiss girls than boys, and Ramona hesitates for a second. But Elena is so chill that she pushes on. “How did you decide when to tell people?”
“This isn’t like an idle question for you, is it?” Elena asks back. “Are you-- Is there some part of your identity you’re struggling with right now, Ramona?”
“Yeah, you could say that. I’m not gay. But it’s, well, no it’s not like that, because, it’s not. But it’s… A thing.” Ramona makes a completely meaningless gesture with her hands that all of her dance teachers would tsk at. Move with intent or not at all, Ramona!
But Elena gets it. “It’s okay, you don’t have to explain. But are you, you know, okay? Are you safe? Do you need help?”
“No, no, I’m okay. I promise.” Ramona isn’t sure what Elena is imagining, but she doesn’t want her to worry. “It’s not new to me, just, some people in my life don’t know, and I’ve been thinking maybe I should tell them. And I don’t know how.”
“No, not them. They know.” It had been her mom who explained it to her, after all. “It’s a friend. My best friend. She’s so important to me, and we tell each other everything. Except, well, this one thing.”
“Okay,” Elena says. “Good. I’m glad your parents already know. That can be… Hard. Not that telling friends is easy, necessarily, but if she’s your best friend, she must be pretty special, right?”
Just thinking about Lola makes Ramona smile. “She really is. We like a lot of the same stuff, of course. That’s how we got to be friends. But even the things we don’t both care about, we do care, because the other one cares. You know?”
Elena is nodding along. “Yeah, I do. I have a friend like that. And I was worried what she’d think, but also I trusted that she wouldn’t see me differently, not really. If I didn’t trust her that much, she wouldn’t have been my BFF to begin with.”
“Huh. Yeah. That makes sense.”
And it’s so simple, but it totally does. Ramona wouldn’t want to tell Lola, if she didn’t already trust her with this secret, slightly terrifying part of herself. It’s because she trusts her that it feels wrong for her not to know. And it’s still scary, but Ramona can sort of start to picture it now, how it could go:
They’ll sit on her bed, and she’ll hold Lola’s hand, and say, “Hey, I have to tell you something. You know how my mom has that whole thing about the she-wolves? That’s not actually a metaphor.”
And Lola will look at her like she’s expecting a punchline, and then there won’t be a punchline, and she’ll say, “Wait, what?”
And then Ramona will say, “I’m a werewolf. All the Gibbler women are. This is real. This is me. I wanted you to know.”
Or something like that. And Lola will be confused, and probably freaked out, too, like Ramona was when Mom told her, but she won’t run away or scream or post a mean video on YouTube or something, because she’s Lola. And she’s Ramona’s best friend. And Ramona loves her.
Yeah. I can do this, Ramona thinks. Not just can, but will, first thing when she gets back home.
But in the now, she takes Elena’s hand, and says, “Hey, thanks. I’m really glad I met you.”
And Elena says, “Me, too. And if you ever want to talk to me more about, you know, whatever it is, or anything else, I hope you will. I want us to be friends.”
“I think we already are, aren’t we?” Ramona says, and they smile at each other, because it’s true.
And maybe someday Ramona will tell Elena, too.