Nicholas Belardes is a dual-ethnic Chicano writer. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the YA-themed edition of The Latinx Archive: Speculative Fiction for Dreamers (Ohio State University Press), Southwestern American Literature (Texas State University), Carve Magazine, Pithead Chapel, Barrelhouse, and others.
He illustrated map drawings for the New York Times best-selling novel West of Here, and is the author of the first twitterature in novel form, Small Places, which has been studied as part of digimodernism in literature by scholars who seek to discover the fusion of art with digital technologies, in specific, electronic fiction as a new literary current.
Sometimes a ghostwriter of contemporary fiction and YA, he currently lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his wife Jane. The 12 Rules of Survival is his first MG novel. You can find him at nicholasbelardes.com or on Twitter @nickbelardes
Artist: Timothy Banks timothybanks.com or on Twitter @teabanks
Tenth Rule of Survival: Make Friends
It’s thirty minutes before class and I’m feeling something really good about the rescue for the first time since the earthquake.
Dad is alive. Starving and thin, but alive.
I’m in Mom’s car and we’re getting ready to leave for school. I get out my phone and keep staring at Dad’s image on the news. I get this swirling happy, scared, joyous, terrified feeling in my stomach. Overall, it’s good—I am dealing with it. I feel pride too. Like I want to tell everyone that my dad is the toughest survivor on the planet.
The LA Times says the cave-in was pretty bad, though Gabby’s cutterface didn’t even get a scratch. Other parts of her got crushed. Luckily, they say survivors created a new Safe Haven just before the earthquake because of setting up a maintenance station by the cutterhead. Further down the tunnel, things were pretty bad but workers survived there too. Luckily, everyone is alive, though they have had to ration food and water.
I admit I’m getting used to Mom. When you think someone hates you and then find that they don’t, then things can get better. This doesn’t mean everything is okay, or that I understand everything about her. Like why she was never in my life, or why she had my sisters when I was already here. Didn’t she love me? Or why she was traveling to pyramids. I don’t even know who my sisters’ dad is or if that even matters. I have to accept that Maria and Sharon are just a part of Mom’s life, and so is Grandma Benita, Mom’s brothers, Auntie Tanzina, everyone. And now they’re part of mine. And though Grandma Benita’s food is really good, and everyone is being nice, I can’t help but tell myself I’d rather eat frozen dinners for the rest of my life if it means getting Dad back.
“You sure you want to be dropped off this early?” Mom asks. I guess I didn’t realize we were already pulling up to the school.
“My friends will be here,” I say. That’s not a lie. “We’re going to play some basketball before class starts.” This is a lie, but I have to tell it.
“Not many kids are here.” Mom grunts in protest but I get out of the car anyway.
“They’ll be here in a minute,” I say, adding, “I . . . um . . . will see you later?”
“Don’t forget I’m picking you up at eleven so you can talk to your dad at noon for a private conversation.”
“Okay.” I awkwardly close the door then start heading toward the entrance to the blacktop courts. It’s suddenly kind of weird that I don’t tell her I love her because I always tell Dad I love him when he drops me off for school, but then, do I really know how I feel?
It’s true that things are getting better—but what am I supposed to say? I hate not telling her something but I’m also not about to turn around and run back to the car.
Then the guilt really hits me: Dad doesn’t even have a clue what’s going on up here. Would he be mad about where I’m living? I think he would. At first, anyway—there’s no way he would understand. He probably thinks I should be staying with Rudy Perez, or one of his other friends, or even Clayton and Denise’s family. But with Mom? Oh man, he’s going to freak out when he finds out, not to mention what he might say about Snapers and Bella becoming best friends.
I change course from the blacktop, never having intended to go there, and head toward a patch of grass by the boys’ lavatory on the other side of the play yard. I hide behind a trashcan, take out my phone and send a text to Clayton:
Me: You here?
Clayton: Mission Mole is underway. In position hiding behind the bathrooms.
Me: In position too.
As I send the text, across the field comes none other than Mason, confidently lumbering along, smiling to himself and heading straight for the bathrooms. It’s just like clockwork. Lucky for us we got a tip from Denise, who got a tip from Chelsea Ocampo, who overheard Mallory Whitehead say she found out exactly when Mason was going to vandalize the boys’ bathrooms again. Girls are better sleuths than boys. No lie.
Mason isn’t even paying attention. He’s so full of himself the way he’s walking I’m pretty sure that if Mr. Boles was watching, Mason would still scrawl mole faces on the bathroom wall and set every toilet and sink on fire.
Mason enters the boys’ bathroom.
I send Clayton another text and start racing from my hiding place:
Me: He’s in the bathroom . . .
Clayton sneaks around the side of the boys’ lavatory holding his smart phone, ready to take a photo. He disappears into the bathroom long before I get there. I slow down outside the entrance and wait. Denise, Chelsea and Mallory are all there, exiting the girls’ room. We pretend to have a conversation.
We smell smoke. We see some too. Then we hear a crash and a scream so the four of us duck out of sight.
Half a second later Mason races past, wet as a frog. He runs away from the play yard toward the hall where our class is.
Finally Clayton comes out laughing because we rigged a bucket to dump water on Mason and it obviously worked. Then Clayton shows me photos of Mason scrawling, MR. BOLES IS A MOLE! WHEN HE ROLLS HE HITS A POLE, CAUSE HE CAN’T SEE, THROUGH TINY EYES SO BEADY! Next to the words he’s drawn another mole. He also has a photo of Mason lighting paper towels on fire and throwing them in the sinks with other trash.
“I was so quiet he didn’t even see me,” Clayton says. “Then I pulled the rope to the water bucket when he was at the third sink. He screamed and took off running.”
The five of us crack up and high-five each other. “Did you put out the fires?” I ask.
“Of course. I’m not going to let Mason burn the school down,” he says. “There’s a mess in there though.” He then sighs. “Better get this over with,” he says.
“Yeah.” He tucks his phone in his pocket.
“Good luck,” I tell him. “You sure you want to do this on your own?”
“I’m the one with the photos,” he says, thanks the girls for their help and heads toward Boles’ office.
We still have half an hour to kill before class starts so I start going over my news apps. I sit on a bench near the basketball courts in case Clayton has time to shoot a few before class. As I scroll through the news I notice Chelsea sitting next to me. She’s quiet while Denise and Mallory talk nearby about what a doofus Mason is. Denise dribbles a basketball between her legs and lobs a few shots. She’s the best natural shooter in the school and can hit baskets while chatting up Mallory with ease.
“Thanks again for your help,” I say to Chelsea.
“It’s okay,” she smiles. “Mason can be a bully. It wasn’t fair that he got you guys in trouble.”
“For a minute I thought you were friends,” I say, remembering the day she and Mason saw me crawl out of the mud-soaked bushes.
“We are. I mean, were,” she says. “I don’t know anymore. He’s not a horrible person. He just makes stupid decisions sometimes.” She gets up. “Hey, I’ll see you around, okay?”
“Okay,” I say, somewhat nervous that she even talked to me.
Before she completely leaves she says, “And, you know, I’m sorry about your dad. We all are. We’re all hoping he gets out soon.”
By the time class starts Mason is still freaking out because of the water dumped on his head. “It was a tidal wave,” he tells Chris Bend. “I barely survived.”
“Real funny,” Mason says. “You try surfing in the boys’ room.”
Chris stops laughing. “Oh.”
Clayton is still nowhere to be seen. I wonder if Mr. Boles has locked him in with the ducks and destroyed his phone evidence. I thought for sure he’d be back by now.
Mason continues complaining. “Water shouldn’t fall out of the sky. Do you think I hit my head too hard on the desk that day of the earthquake? I should tell my dad. He’ll sue the school.”
A few minutes later the door opens. It’s Ms. Firstman. “Mason Maeng?”
He turns around, striking a surfer pose, then laughs.
“Come with me to the principal’s office.”
Just like that his smile disappears as if stolen by an invisible force. “What? Why?” he says. “What did I do?”
“I didn’t say you did anything,” she says suspiciously. “Did you do something?”
“I was hit by a tidal wave in the bathroom.”
Her eyes narrow. “When were in the lavatory?”
Mason realizes it doesn’t look so good for him. He slips from his desk and exits the class, still complaining.
The rest of my half day at school goes down as one of my greatest achievements ever, even better than the time Mason stabbed me in the hand and had to write a letter of apology.
I can’t wait to tell Dad.