I’m delighted to be able to offer you all the first chapter of Beyond the Gardens free, courtesy of the author Sandra Lopez. Sandra was voted as one of the Top Ten Latino Authors to watch in 2011 and since then has gone from strength to strength. To find out more about Sandra and her books you can visit her website www.sandra-lopez.com you can also buy Beyond The Gardens from Amazon.
At the age of 18, Esperanza Ignacio begins her college years at an upscale Los Angeles art school, where she studies to fulfill her long-term dream in Animation. But she soon learns the truth to the old folktale: “you can take the girl out of the barrio, but you can’t take the barrio out of the girl.” Even though she’s getting financial aid, Esperanza works a part-time job during her break from classes just to make ends meet. Her roommate, Anna, is what she calls a “chicana from Beverly Hills” because of the rich daddy and the new car she got for her quinceañera.
Things get a little confusing for Esperanza when an old friend comes looking for her, hoping to start a meaningful relationship. But is Carlos the right guy for her? She never even considered him to be anything more than a friend since high school. Then comes Jake, a gorgeous mechanic, who shares her passion for books and loves her for who she is. What’s a girl to do?
As the evening sun was settling over the small hills, I steadily hiked along the concrete path that led into the center of the campus quad. I hung to the strap of my book bag with a light wind sweeping through the air, then walked past the student store and the food court. The garlic aroma of chicken chimichangas was overwhelming and floated around seamlessly. My god, did it smell good. I almost wished I had five bucks to waste.
Instead, I ignored the aching grumble in my stomach and moved on.
The dorms were located on the outskirts of the school next to a highway that was often busy at this time of day. When I reached Da Vinci Hall, I passed along a few students bundled in a corner with large pads sketching the scattered trees on the forefront of the breaking dawn. I had missed the elevator going up just as the doors were closing. Damn. Exasperated, I punched in the button for the next one. But the wait was so long I decided to just forget it and took the stairs instead.
Crossing down the hallway, I fumbled inside the withered pocket of my jacket for the keys. I unlocked the door and then stepped into a tiny cubicle, where I hit my knee passing by the end table. At that point, I couldn’t decide whether the furniture was moving closer or the room was just shrinking. I limped across the room and dropped my bag on a nearby chair. Then I took off my cap and tossed it aside. Oh, what a day, I thought while my fingers stroked through the thick strands of my dark hair. I couldn’t believe I stayed up half the night to study for a quiz the teacher decided not to have after all. What a shame. I was really looking forward to it, too.
After spotting my bed just a few feet away, I fell on top of it landing on a soft pillow that cradled my head. Humble sighs trickled through as the evening sun cast a mild afterglow through the shiny window, shadowing the room with a tinted orange. I yawned while the soothing warmth poured across my tanned face. Then I closed my eyes as a tranquil slumber soon began to take its course. Suddenly, the door quickly slammed open, and I instantly bolted upright.
“Hey, good news you lucky people, I’m here!”
“Jesus Christ!” I yelled, responding to the triumphant arrival of my roommate, Anna.
She looked at me with cavalier naïveté. “Oh, were you sleeping?”
“No, I wasn’t,” I answered. “I was just trying to, that’s all.”
“Well, as long as you weren’t sleeping.” Casually humming, she sauntered back into the hall and returned with everal large shopping bags. Most of them looked like they weighed more than she did.
“Been to the mall, lately?” I asked.
“Just for the last half hour.”
“And that’s all you got?”
“Well, I couldn’t really get much because I had to come back for a class.”
“Oh, of course.”
I watched as Anna closed the door behind her so she could peek at the mirror nailed in the back. She twirled around a few times, checking out all the angles of herself. Then she fluffed her short, reddish-brown hair, which was decorated with bright, silver streaks. Under closer inspection, she turned from side to side and caressed the light, delicate skin on her face. She checked out everything from the straight arches in her eye brows to the rich, glossy color of her lips. Oh, brother, I thought as I reclined back into position.
There was just no doubt about it. Anna Zapata was the “Chicana from Beverly Hills.” She, technically, came from Orange County, but she was possessed by someone in Beverly Hills. Note: Anytime you see the word “hills” in a city name, you just know it’s a fancy, ritzy area packed with people, who just have too much money. For example, Anaheim Hills, Woodland Hills, Chino Hills, Beverly Hills. Need I say more?
“Do you think I need to add another streak?” Anna asked suddenly.
“Yeah, right here near my bangs.”
“Well, I don’t know,” I answered. “I think you wouldn’t look any different.”
“Would you get up and look,” she insisted.
“Why, I can remember what you look like.”
“Will you just look.”
“Okay, fine,” I said with a roll of my eyes. With a discouraging grunt, I hoisted myself up and
leaned on the tips of my elbows. I cocked my head in her direction, straining to give her a glance. My face crinkled in confusion as I attempted to drum up an opinion.
“Well?” she persisted.
“Honestly……you’d look the same.”
“Oh, no I wouldn’t.”
“Yes, you would.”
“No, I wouldn’t.”
“Yes, you would.”
“Oh, what do you know?”
I collapsed back on the bed with a loud murmur under my breath.
“Can’t you see that one streak will add balance to my bone structure?”
“No, I clearly don’t see that,” I said.
“Obviously.” She looked back at the mirror. “Maybe I should just start all over with a brand new color. What do you think about that?”
“Why don’t you just go back with the color God gave you?” I asked.
“Well, that kinda presents a problem,” she said. “See, I sorta forgot my original hair color.”
“Are you serious?”
“Nope, I’ve been dyeing my hair for years, and it just sorta slipped my mind.”
“Well, why don’t you ask your mom then?”
“Are you kidding?” she responded. “Who do you think taught me how to dye my hair? My mother couldn’t find her own roots if she was digging for gold.”
“Okay, point well taken,” I mentioned. At least now I knew where her obsession with hair started from.
“Ya know, I think I will add that extra streak,” she said.
“Whatever you say.”
“And while I’m at the salon, I’ll get a manicure, pedicure, and a facial,” she added. “I’ll just beautify all this even more.”
“Are you sure you’re Mexican?” I asked once again.
“For the last time, I am Mexican,” she replied in defiance.
“Yo sé hablar español y todo. I just don’t listen to Spanish music or eat spicy foods. Why, don’t I sound Mexican?”
“I resent that,” she said. “I would stay and fight you on that, but I gotta go get my facial, manicure, and pedicure.”
“So, back to the mall you go?”
“That’s right,” she said. “Oh, and while I’m there, I might as well get that cashmere blouse I was thinking about buying but didn’t. See ya.”
With giddy excitement, Anna glided out of the room. Finally! Now where was I? Oh, yeah, I was trying to relax.
I lied there and closed my eyes, gradually reacquainting myself with the peaceful and quiet sounds around me. At some point, I actually wondered whether or not I went deaf. But I didn’t. There was absolutely no noise. Wow, this was nothing like home back in the barrio, I thought. Back home I had the raucous sounds of police helicopters flying overhead to lull me to sleep. But not here. Sounds of the barrio didn’t exist. I haven’t heard screeching tires against the harsh gravel of the streets, or the sounds of drunken cholos clashing with shattered beer bottles. Up until now I figured I’d be stuck with those noises for the rest of my life. It was amazing. I mean, I’ve heard about lawns being greener on the other side of the fence; but it’s another thing to actually sink your feet into that beautiful grass and wiggle your toes in it. Could I really have done it? I wondered. Could I have gotten myself away from the other side and made it all the way here—at the Atkins Art Institute, the place I’ve been working so hard to get to ever since I saw Bugs Bunny as a kid? Could this be a dream? Yes, it was a dream—it was a dream come true! After conquering the world of high school as a kid and cherishing the last few moments of summer with the people who meant the most to me, I can now say that I had finally made it. I did it! I was here, standing in the middle of a whole new adventure, ready to begin the grand odyssey of college life, ready to discover the answer to the question that’s been nagging me for years: What’s beyond The Gardens?
Ever since I was born in the small town of Hawaiian Gardens—a California barrio that a lot of the locals referred to as The Gardens— my life always had barbed wire around it, and I just couldn’t get through. I was caged like a raggedy, flea-infested dog, always snuggled in a dirty corner while surrounded by the foul stench of that filthy pound. I would look at the world through steel bars, wondering what it would be like to be on the other side. Was there some other life beyond those gates? Was there something better over that fence? I never knew; I’ve always just wondered. And I kept on wondering even when we moved to East L.A., where I was only transferred from a smaller cage to a bigger one—my curiosities still the same though. I knew I was going to die if I stayed right where I was. I knew it was never going to get any better unless I got out. Well, now, I was a dog that had gone free. I finally escaped my cell. I have passed the gates of limitations, running every step of the way, ready to discover what I have been missing all my life. I was now going to see this new world through fascinated eyes and finally mark my territory wherever I go. What changes await me? What will I find? Who will I meet? How will the next chapters of my life going to end this time? Or were they going to end at all? Maybe my ending will turn out to be a brand new beginning. I couldn’t wait to find out!