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Authors: Melissa de la Cruz

Something in Between

BOOK: Something in Between
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It feels like there's no ground beneath me, like everything I've ever done has been a lie. Like I'm breaking apart, shattering. Who am I? Where do I belong?

Jasmine de los Santos has always done what's expected of her. Pretty and popular, she's studied hard, made her Filipino immigrant parents proud and is ready to reap the rewards in the form of a full college scholarship.

And then everything shatters. A national scholar award invitation compels her parents to reveal the truth: their visas expired years ago. Her entire family is illegal. That means no scholarships, maybe no college at all and the very real threat of deportation.

For the first time, Jasmine rebels, trying all those teen things she never had time for in the past. Even as she's trying to make sense of her new world, it's turned upside down by Royce Blakely, the charming son of a high-ranking congressman. Jasmine no longer has any idea where—or if—she fits into the American Dream. All she knows is that she's not giving up. Because when the rules you lived by no longer apply, the only thing to do is make up your own.

Books by Melissa de la Cruz
available from Harlequin TEEN

Something in Between

For my husband,
for everything,
including my American citizenship.

Tiger Cub

Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.

—FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

1

The truth is, immigrants tend to be more American than people born here.

—CHUCK PALAHNIUK,
CHOKE

FIRST YOU HAVE
to hollow out. Suck your belly button back against your spine. Pull up toward your rib cage. Maintain eye contact. Remember to breathe. Feel your muscles tighten. Make yourself compact. Lift up. Fly. Attitude is everything. Believe you can do that stunt. Stay tight. Smile. Keep everything together as you're twisting through the air. Trust yourself. Trust your team. Let doubt creep in and you'll fall—plus, you'll let down the whole squad, and that's the worst thing you can do as cheer captain, other than bossing everyone around like an aggro queen bee.

There's no one more intense than a cheerleader—although according to every Hollywood movie ever made, we're a bunch of ditzy, boy-crazy backstabbers.
As if.

Don't they get it? Cheerleaders are part of a team, and a good team trusts each other. Because the only thing stopping you from cracking your head open on the gym floor is your teammates.

Cheer makes you tough.

Loyal.

Strong.

“Hit. Hit. Hit. Pull!” Coach Davis shouts, her voice echoing against the gym walls. We jump three times in a row, extending our arms and legs into perfect toe touches, then tuck, flipping backward onto the mats.

Everyone sticks the tuck except for Kayla. She's been struggling with her tumbling even though she used to be one of the best tumblers on the team. Her mind has been somewhere else for a while, worried about her parents, who aren't getting along too well. I make a mental note to ask her how she's doing after practice, maybe offer to help her brush up on some moves before she gets put on probation or kicked off the squad. She's my best friend, but we haven't hung out much since I've been studying for midterms and trying to get my college applications done.

“Keep your feet together, Santos,” Coach barks at me. “They're wobbling on your landing.”

I nod even though I'm annoyed that she singled me out and didn't say anything to Kayla. I know Coach is bringing me down a notch on purpose. She doesn't want me to end up with an oversize ego. That's why I got voted captain in the first place—I know you have to sacrifice yourself for the team, for the stunt, or else everything falls apart like a crumbling pyramid.

Sometimes the other girls tease me.
You
'
re so perfect, Jasmine. You do everything right. You were junior class president. Cheer captain. Honor Roll. Volunteering. Don
'
t you ever get tired?

Never
, I say with a smile. Except the truth is I'm
always
tired, but I can never admit it, not to my friends, especially not to my family.

“Let's run through the routine until the end of practice,” Coach orders. She walks over to the sound system to start the music.

Most of the girls start taking their positions, but Emily crosses her arms. “I'm
exhausted
. I don't know if I can do this anymore.” Her cheeks are flaming red on her Irish complexion.

“Don't be a drama queen,” Deandra says, whipping her dark braids like the queen of the Nile. She looks like Halle Berry, but prettier with gorgeous naturally thick eyelashes. “You're only tired because you stayed up texting Brandon all night.”

“He likes my texts.” Emily grins. She raises one eyebrow like she's holding on to a juicy secret. “Creative emojis.”

I tell them to hush. It's my senior year and last chance to win at Nationals. If we want to win this time, the whole team has to be serious about practice. We don't have any time not to be on point.

“Positions!” I yell out.

Coach nods and I count down to begin the routine.

“Five, six, seven, eight!”

Music blasts from the speakers.

Our routine begins with high-intensity tumbling. We sprint across the mats, propelling our bodies through the air, hitting our handsprings, layouts, and tucks right on the beat. The girls are getting even more pumped as they move into formation for the flyer stunts. I step up onto my bases, let them propel me up into a barrel roll, and fall back into their cradle. The stunts are getting more and more complex and one of our flyers loses her balance during a dismount on a pyramid, smacking against her back spotter and sending her to the ground. The bases help the spotter back up.

Coach stops the mix. She's frowning.

“We got this! Come on, ladies!” I shout. “Again from the beginning!”

We practice our routine over and over until all of the flyers are hitting their stunts. Our muscles ache and our arms are slick with sweat, but the better we get, the more pumped we are, so by the end of practice everyone is cheering louder, staying tighter, and flying higher.

That's more like it.

We're about to go through our last run when Mrs. Garcia pushes through the swing doors and power walks toward us. Her scuffed pleather heels thump against the wood floors. Weird. What's the college counselor doing at cheer practice? Everyone else must have noticed her too, because they're all chatting and whispering instead of getting into their positions.

Coach catches her eye and turns to us. “Ladies! Listen up. I want you to pair up and practice your back walkovers, back tucks, then cool down with stretches and splits, holding each side for thirty seconds each. Spot for each other. Start slow. Keep them controlled.”

As she joins Mrs. Garcia, I pair up with Kayla and help her slowly ease into a backbend. She tries to kick up with her foot, but can't catch the momentum, so I help guide her through the move.

Kayla Paredes is curvy, with a tiny waist, curly dark hair and a quick smile. Boys have been worshipping at her feet since we were twelve, but she tires of them easily. She's fifth-generation Mexican American, which means she learned Spanish in class just like I did.

“Movie night on Friday?” she asks. “My house?”

I'm about to say no, I have to study, but it's been ages and we need to catch up. “Perfect,” I tell her. “I'll have to clear it with my mom, but it should be okay. Let's make chocolate-chip cookies.”

“With extra chocolate chips.” Kayla grins. After a couple minutes, Coach calls out for me. “Santos! Mrs. Garcia needs a word with you.”

Me? Is something wrong? Uncertainty creeps into my stomach. It's October and I've been trying to narrow down my list of colleges. Did I miss an early application deadline? I've been going to Mrs. Garcia's office every couple of weeks since junior year to make sure I'm on track. Could she have forgotten to tell me something important?

I help Kayla up before walking over, trying not to look too worried. Coach winks at me as she passes by on her way back to the group, and I'm relieved. This can only mean something good.

“I have something special for you,” Mrs. Garcia says as she hands me an envelope. She folds her arms, a slight smile turning up the corners of her mouth.

My heart begins to beat when I see a fancy logo printed in official navy blue ink on the top right corner:
United States National Scholarship Program, Department of Education.
Somehow, I know I'm holding my future in my hands. The one I've worked so hard for. The one my parents have dreamed of ever since we moved here from the Philippines when I was only nine years old. Danny was a toddler and Isko was still a newborn. I remember holding Danny's hand on the plane while my mom cradled Isko on her lap as the plane rushed down the runway, lifting off toward America.

I wrote about it in my application essay, how one of my earliest memories is of looking out the window in our first house in California, at the bright lights and the stark silhouettes of palm trees, and how different it was from the view of the green and wet mountains in our house in Antipolo, where it was always muggy and raining, and we often kept the mosquito screens closed. I've come to think of America as an open window—open to new possibilities, to the new life promised to those who journey from far away to reach its shores.

The National Scholarship Award is one of the most prestigious in the nation, bestowed upon only the top high school students, the best of the best, who are chosen not only on their grades and scores but on their personal essays and teacher recommendations. It's a bit like applying to college, I guess, but it's even harder than getting into the Ivy League. I worked so hard on my application and I wanted it so badly. Now that it's here, I'm shaking.

Mrs. Garcia puts her hand on my shoulder, startling me back to the present. “I'm so proud of you,” she says like I'm her own daughter.

I tear the envelope open, nearly ripping the letter apart.

As I unfold the letter, my eyes drift to the signature at the bottom. It's actually
signed
—not printed—by the president of the United States. I return to the top and begin reading the body of the letter:

Dear Ms. de los Santos,

I am pleased to offer you a National Scholarship Award in recognition of your outstanding academic achievement. The award includes a financial grant covering four years of tuition to the college of your choice. Only three hundred students out of thousands of highly qualified applicants are chosen each year, making the award one of the most competitive in the nation.

You are among a select group of astonishing young people, people who by the ages of sixteen and seventeen have not only succeeded academically but have conducted innovative medical research, played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, competed in the Olympics, launched companies, volunteered for international social service organizations, and more. National Scholars go on to attend our nation's top universities and use their gifts to improve both our country and the world.

It is my distinct pleasure to invite you to attend the National Scholarship Recognition Program to celebrate your achievement and meet with government officials, educators, musicians, scientists, business leaders, and past scholars. You will also have the opportunity to visit historic museums and monuments, as well as attend recitals, receptions and official ceremonies as guests of the Department of Education. Please complete and return the form included with this letter. Additional details about the trip to Washington, D.C., will be sent within the following weeks. Congratulations! I'm looking forward to seeing what you'll do to make a brighter future for our country.

Yours,

The President of the United States

I can't even breathe. This is the happiest day of my life. Everything I've given up—the hours of sleep, the driver's license (because my parents wouldn't allow me to learn), all the parties I never attended, all the fun I never had, all the boys I never kissed...

Nothing compares to this scholarship.

Mrs. Garcia shuffles against the gym floor, leaving small smudges on the wood. “This is a huge deal, Jasmine. There hasn't been a National Scholar from our town as long as I've been here. It's the highest honor a student can be awarded.”

A full ride to any college of my choice
. My parents won't have to worry about not being able to afford tuition. It almost takes my breath away. I can see it so clearly. My future.

College. Graduate school. I don't know yet what I want to do, but I do know that winning at the meritocracy is my American dream. A successful career and a handsome husband. A family. I'm old-fashioned that way, maybe because I'm Filipino, but ever since I was a kid I've wanted a family of my own and a marriage like the one my parents share. Corny, I know, but hey, I'm an American girl, and I want it all.

I worked hard for this, gave up
everything
. Some of my friends tease that I'm seventeen going on thirty-five. It doesn't matter now. What's certain is that I'm not going to be stuck with my parents' limited options. My mom graduated top of her class in the Philippines, but in America she cleans up vomit in a hospital, and my dad, the smartest man I know, drives a bus for a living. But they always believed if their children became American like I am now, the sky's the limit.

And here it is. The sky is on fire.

This is it. My year.
My shot
(thanks,
Hamilton
).

The exhilaration is almost as good—if not better—as sticking a killer landing at Nationals.

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