Being a teenager is hard.
But what's even more challenging is trying to push through high school and get into a good college, all while dealing with family drama and learning how to cope when something tragic happens to someone close to you. Then, your whole world turns upside down when someone from your past shows up, making you question your life choices.
We enter the spiraling world of Donald "Donny" Gonzalez in this spin-off novel of We, pEOPLE, "Depend on Me."
Here is a sneak peek at what awaits in the upcoming contemporary young adult novel!
Week 2, Monday.
Today, I woke up—tired. I thought about going back to sleep, maybe ditching, say I’m sick or something, but my folks wouldn’t buy it. So the universe wins. Guess I have to endure another day of school. I tell myself that it won’t be all too bad. I mean, it’s only school.
Before I know it, I’ll be outta here. Can’t say I’m sad at the thought...because I’m not. Thank friggin’ God, I’ll be outta here, away from this shithole. But at the same time, I know things ain’t gonna get any easier the more I sit here, complaining. The only reason I’m writing this all out anyway is that Counselor Malik thought it’d be a good idea than holding stuff in, which I don’t. I’m as open and honest as they come, you know? I’ll think of something else to say later, maybe. I gotta go.-- D.G.
I let out a sharp breath as the warm air blasting through the vents of my car hits my face. I rest my head back against the headrest, and my lashes fluttered shut. I can hardly find the energy to unbuckle my seat and bolt inside the building since I know what to expect. It’s been this way for weeks now. I go in, people stare, teachers ask how I’m doing—it’s routine at this point.
This morning I practically gripped onto my bed, not wanting to get up since I knew what would happen once I arrived at school. When it buzzed on my dresser, I shut off my alarm, but it was only six-something in the morning. It usually takes me about twenty to thirty minutes to get dressed and head off to school. Traffic is never an issue in the morning when I leave, so I wouldn’t be late regardless.
But this morning, I wanted to miss out. Even though my parents bolted into my room, screaming for me to get out the bed this morning, I didn’t want to listen.
I can still hear my mom’s voice as I sit in the car with the warm air blasting on my face. “Donald! You have to get to school! If you don’t, Lord knows you may not walk at graduation!”
I should’ve felt sick at the thought of not being able to walk at graduation, but I didn’t. Instead, I just remained in bed, sheets pulled over my body while feigning sleep to hide the fact that I was purposely trying to shut my folks out.
Yet, here I am.
In my car, parked in the parking lot outside the ten-story building, my eyes now glued to the time on my wristwatch that I was bold enough to wear. I remember the day my dad had given me the watch. It was last year for my seventeenth birthday. I know dad focused on my gift while mom focused on Morris-Lina’s gift. Dad didn’t have to say that the watch was from him alone. I could just tell.
I mean, it doesn’t matter. I still liked it. I just never really wore it. I remember the first time I wore it, abuelo had died. We had to attend his funeral on a rainy Thursday afternoon, and Morris-Lina was a mess. A crying mess. Mom had packed a box of tissues in her bag for when Morris-Lina had to cry. I was sitting next to dad the entire time as he held a stoic gaze during the whole service. I looked down at one point to glance at the silver watch, and I grazed the dial with my thumb.
Dad had nudged me, telling me to pay attention to the service rather than checking the time. But I wasn’t checking the time. I was just suppressing the thought of abuelo being gone for good. I had to look somewhere else. But dad wouldn’t have believed me at the time. Even if I tried to tell him, he probably wouldn’t have listened to me since he spoke so coldly, and his scowl made me feel uneasy. His cold gaze always set me on edge, ever since I was little.
I wouldn’t cry from it, but I’d feel less human. Less of a son, at least. He never gave Morris-Lina that scowl. If anything, he’d always give her the kind of gaze that made her feel safe and at home. The corners of dad’s lips would always curl up whenever he’d look at her, and he’d press a kiss to her head, making her feel like his child while reassuring her of his love.
Then there was me.
It’s a pretty funny thing, though, now that I think about it.
Mom will often do the same thing to me that dad does to Morris-Lina, but not as much. Maybe once in a while, but not every time she sees me. Perhaps because she felt sorry for me since dad would invest so much into Morris-Lina, but I didn’t blame him.
I didn’t mind.
I’d rather him be honest and show me how he really feels rather than just feign his liking for me.
I nearly jump up when I hear a sudden tap against the glass window of my car. I look over, blinking to adjust my vision as the bright, gray sunlight gleams through the window. I squint and start to recognize the tall figure standing outside of my car. His dark brown hair is tousled, forest green eyes, fair skin, a puffy gray jacket over his maroon uniform shirt neatly tucked into his fitted brown slacks, which were secured around his waist by his brown belt.
Just Christopher. I softly breathe.
I roll down the window with the knob on the side of the front door, and I can feel Christopher’s warm breath as he leans in to meet my eye level.
“We got fifteen minutes ‘til homeroom, mate,” he says through his thick Irish accent. “You in a daze or what?” His accent was always thick—some people could hardly understand him. But it’s not as strong compared to when we first met during freshman year. Back then, it’d take me a few seconds to know what he was saying.
I look down at the watch latched around my wrist, checking the time. 7:45 AM.
I sigh, throwing my head back against the headrest.
I thought about rolling into school around the time homeroom officially started, which was eight in the morning, but Christopher was standing outside of my car. He keeps knocking on my car door, wanting me to get out so I can head inside with him. Not because he didn’t want to go in alone—probably because he doesn’t want me to go in alone.
I guess the thought of taking on another day of hearing people remind me that the school now only has one Gonzalez kid to deal with doesn’t settle with him as much as it does with me. I mean, I’m not settled with it. But I’m numb to it at this point, I guess.
I remember the day I returned to school after everything that happened. Mom told Principal Vickins that I’d be out of school for a few days because of the funeral arrangements. Principal Vickins was understanding about everything, which didn’t surprise me at all since Principal Vickins knew us very well and knew the severity of the situation.
Of course, it was severe—my sister died.
You can’t penalize someone because someone died, right?
Even if you could, Principal Vickins wouldn’t. She wasn’t that type of lady. But of course, I had to come back to school. My time had run out, and I had to catch up on things, or I wouldn’t be able to walk for graduation. I’d graduate, nonetheless, but being able to walk down the aisle and receive my diploma in hand was necessary—at least to my parents.
Christopher taps against my car door once more, and finally, I lunge forward and press my palm into the front of the steering wheel, sounding off the horn. Christopher flinches, practically turning away and tucking his head down with his arms covering his ears to shield the unbearable sound.
I remove my hands from the wheel, and everything is silent. I paid no attention to the few random students walking by, eyeing us as I remained in the car while Christopher stood up straight. He glares at me, folding his arms over his chest.
“Was that necessary?” he hisses, nostrils flaring.
I snort. “Was you knocking on my car necessary?” I roll up the window, not giving him a chance to speak up, even though his mouth was already open to say something.
I reach for my bookbag and slip my arm through one of the straps before turning off the car engine. As I get out of the car, Christopher shuffles his way over to me, barely giving me space. I can feel the warmth from his body as he stands close to me, and I let out a sharp breath as I shut the car door.
Christopher shoves his hands in the pockets of his jacket as we start walking up to the school's front doors. “Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes, eh?”
I snort. “Quit being funny.” I bump my arm into him, nudging him a little, and he rocks to the side, chuckling. I sigh. “But seriously, you didn’t have to wait for me, Chris. I got this.”
He knows that, I think.
“I know that,” I hear him mutter. I notice his eyes trail downward as his sturdy boots crunch against the chunks of snow on the sidewalk. “I just don’t think you should have to deal with this alone, you know?”
A strange tug pulls at my throat, and I practically bury my face into the collar of my black jacket. The bushy faux fur along the collar tickles against my cheeks as I pull the collar in closer to my face. I think about possibly changing the subject since I know Christopher has a habit of bringing this up.
He’s no better than Counselor Malik.
Constantly having to find some way to bring up Morris-Lina—what happened to her. I know it’s something people often talk about. It’s normal. Death, I mean.
Not so normal when you find your sister lying in bed with leftover pills in the palm of her hand, even though she had already swallowed more than the doctor prescribed.
In my head, I can still see her eyes shut, her lips slightly parted as if she was still breathing somewhat. She was so still when I lowered the blanket from over her face. Mom had told me to get her up since it was almost time for dinner. Morris-Lina always struggled with sleeping, so I figured it wouldn’t have been so hard to get her up. But when I knocked on the door, she was still tuckered out. I went to lift the blanket off her face, and that’s when I noticed the pills in her hand. I must’ve rocked her about three times before going downstairs to tell mom that Morris-Lina wasn’t waking up. I told mom about the pills. Dad soon came home. Mom was standing in the living room, holding her head while letting out hysterical cries. Dad was holding her as a few police officers walked in to speak with them.
I remember the room growing smaller—the house shrinking. My stomach was churning. I counted backward from twenty while gripping onto my wrist. I could feel the flesh sinking into my nails as I was getting to ten.....everything spinning.....and spinning...
The ice swipes under the heel of my boot, and I nearly lose my balance. My hand clutches tightly to Christopher’s shoulder as his arm loops around me to hold me up.
“Shit!” I pant, my heart thumping loudly in my ear.
Christopher practically shoves me forward while keeping his hand on my back to make sure I can stand upright.
“You good?” Christopher asks, throwing his arm around my shoulder.
I clear my throat. “Yeah,” I chuckle. “Just thinking about stuff.”
“Mmm.” Christopher sniffs. “Well, as I said, I know how people get with you, so just know that—”
“—you’re here for me. Yeah, I know.” I roll my eyes, unhooking his arm from around me. He stops in his tracks as I step in front of him and turn on my heels so I can stare him in the eyes. The way Christopher arches his eyebrow made it seem as if no matter what I had to say, it’d just go in one ear and out the other.
I snort, shaking my head. “Do you have to look so disgusted?”
“Do you have to sound like such an ass?” But the way he said, “ass” sounded more like “arse.”
I sigh. “You, Pete, Car, Ben, and Meagan. You’re all such softies.”
He lightly jabs me in the hip. “Be grateful you have the people you have, eh?” He stuffs his hands back into his jacket pockets. “Such a donkey.”
I snap my head back up and glare at him. Christopher cocks his head to the side, arching his eyebrow.
The more I gaze into his eyes, the more I feel my stomach twisting in knots. As much as I want to flip him off for thinking that I’m acting like a douche, I don’t. Not because I’m scared of him—Lord knows how often I’ve flipped Christopher off since we’ve met.
Probably more times than I can count on my fingers and toes combined. I just hate the thought of me finally nodding and telling him he’s right and has a good point.
I’m not saying that he doesn’t. He does, but if I told him that he was right, I wouldn’t hear the end of it. I already know that once I enter the school building, I’ll listen to all sorts of things.
I see the way the other students lock their eyes on me as I walk down the halls, getting to my classes. I can hear their comments, even though they try to whisper and mutter, so I don’t hear anything, but somehow, I can still make out what they are saying.
One less Gonzalez we have to deal with, they say.
Such a shame, they’ll say.
Sucks to be him.
Wonder if he knew she’d go out like this.
You hear about Donald Gonzalez? His sister? That wacko?
Never anything new. Honestly, some of the things said I’ve heard since freshman year before everything that happened had happened. Morris-Lina would listen to it for herself too. Always. They’d never cut her a break.
Christopher just wanted to take some of that off of me, I guess. Constantly reminding me that he’s going to be by my side through it all, even though I already know he means every word he says. He’s such a golden boy. He doesn’t even realize how much I know him by now. How much I do trust him. How much I know that he’s a real one.
I feel my lips become dry, and I press them tightly together while burying my face into the collar of my jacket again. Christopher reaches into his pocket to retrieve his phone. His eyebrow arches when he glances at the screen.
I hear him mumble Peter’s name before pressing down on the keys of his phone. I check my watch. 7:50 AM.
Usually, Peter is waiting for us right by the front door, but he’s all of a sudden a no-show. Peter is the kind of guy who rolls out of bed fifteen minutes after his alarm goes off but can get to places five minutes before he has to be there. So for him to not be at school by now was a little strange since he’s usually waiting for Christopher and me by the front door. He’ll always sit outside on the top step of the front entrance, either eating a breakfast wrap his aunt made him before she’d head off to work or playing some game on his phone.
Christopher huffs as he dials Peter’s phone number and presses the button to call him. He put the phone on speaker, so I could hear the call.
I tell Christopher that Peter is probably on his way, but Christopher shrugs.
“It’s almost eight,” Christopher sighs. “He should’ve texted if he wasn’t going to show.”
“Please,” I huff. “Peter ain’t missing school. His aunt will kill him before that happens.”
Christopher just shrugs, letting out a low whistle.
It was true. Peter’s aunt was strict when it came to him staying in school. The only thing that would keep him from school is if he had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. Stuffy nose? She’d give him some tissues. Fever? Gave him some cold medicine and sent him to school with a thermos of chicken noodle soup.
It’s not like Peter could fight his aunt anyway. She was technically his legal guardian after his mother was deemed “unfit” to raise him, but Peter still spent time with his mom. As long as his aunt allowed him to.
Like the other day, Peter was able to spend time with his mom after school. Christopher also went over since he promised to help them pull weeds from Peter’s mom’s garden, but that’s all. They probably stayed a little longer after, catching up on things since it’s been so long since Christopher’s been over Peter’s mom’s place. I haven’t been over her place either since Peter’s aunt gained custody of him.
It’s been five, maybe six years now.
Anyway, after four rings on the phone, Peter answers but it’s not his voice. Instead, Christopher and I hear rustling as if the phone is being tossed around. Then there is panting. I inch closer to Christopher as he holds the phone, pulling it up to his ear, trying to make out what is going on.
“Pete?” Christopher questions, practically raising his voice. “Peter?!”
The rustling on Peter’s end of the phone call seems to get louder until we finally hear Peter screech out, “GUYS!”
Christopher flinches, the phone nearly slipping from his grasp before he clutches it into his chest. I feel myself jump from the thought of Christopher’s phone hitting the ground, and I let out a relieved sigh when he catches it.
Christopher holds the phone out for us both to hear Peter on the other end. “Where are you, Pete? We gotta—!”
Peter grunts and sounds as though he is nearly out of breath. “I’m by...way!”
Either the connection sucks, or something is up.
We then hear a grunt followed by shouting. But the shouting isn’t from Peter. Christopher’s grip tightens on the phone, and he snaps. “Where are you, Peter?!”
Panting, Peter gasps, “By...market...spring...GAH!”
His voice is washed over by rustling and a loud thud. The call drops.
Christopher’s eyebrows furrow, and then I realize what Peter was trying to say.
“He’s by Salad Market on Spring Garden!”
Christopher nods, and without a second thought, we dart up the street. We didn’t care about the ice, snow, or how much time we had until the bell sounded, signaling the start of homeroom. Christopher and I already knew that we were screwed initially, but it wasn’t like we had a choice.
I mean, yes, we did—but we’d be horrible if we chose wrong.
Cars come to a sharp halt and honk at us as we run across the street against the light. Christopher calls out to the drivers, telling them he is sorry, but I tug on his arm, pulling him forward.
“You wanna give them the motive to run us over anyway?!”
Christopher huffs, “At least I won’t be known as a douche!”
I snort, and we run up the block, soon reaching the corner to Salad Market. Immediately, I hear a loud mixture of voices saying all types of things, and a yelp pipes up amid the voices.
Excited to read more? Depend on Me: A "We, pEOPLE" Novel releases February 24, 2022 and is currently available for preorder on Amazon!
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