Excerpted from: Fifteen Candles: 15 Tales of Taffeta, Hairspray, Drunk Uncles, and other Quinceañera Stories, edited by Adriana Lopez.
“You did what?” I asked. Suddenly, a coughing fit seized me and warm Coke blew out from my nostrils.
“I said,”—she dropped her voice, peering slowly over her shoulder—“I went to the wrong party. Did you know that Ambrosio Zepeda is also having a quinceañera today?”
“You talking about the owner of Salsa Caliente Taquería on Mission?”
Paca nodded, shaking the coiled bangs that framed her round face. Ambrosio Zepeda had opened his business two years ago across the street from Delfina Mora’s. He was always competing with Delfina, the owner of Taquería Fina. It was so annoying to see his fat face on flyers all over the neighborhood. The man acted as if he invented the taco. Fina’s restaurant opened in 1979. It was a Mission institution.
My family were loyal customers ever since I could say, “Beans and cheese please.” Taquería Fina was where we all gathered for graduations, birthdays, and funerals. I would never think of entering Salsa Caliente. It would be total blasphemy, even though I heard Ambrosio makes a mean taco de pescado. Paca tapped her pointy leopard-print heel on the floor nervously.
Read Related: Love Rehearsals: A Quinceañera Tale
“Uh-huh, and when I walked in he waved at me like we were old friends.”
“Noooo!” Xoch leaned across the table and gasped.
“What did you do then?” I asked.
“I served myself a plate of tostadas and I looked for you guys. You wouldn’t believe all the camarón and carnitas he had.” She gestured with her hands high above her head. “Oh, my goodness, the food was so delicious I thought I was going to die. They had this mole…”
“Okay, mujer, so the food was good. I get that, but tell me what you did.”
“Well, like I was saying, I was sitting there eating my food when I noticed that I didn’t recognize anyone at the party. Then they announced la quinceañera and a pencil-thin girl with blond cornrows came out. I almost choked on the piece of tortilla in my mouth. It wasn’t Cruzita Mora!”
“And…,” Paca whispered forcefully, “I got up to use the bathroom, where I took a look at the invitation. This place is so huge,” she gestured toward all of Fort Mason.
“I don’t believe it,” I said, looking at Paca and then at my sister. “Two quinces on the exact same day at Fort Mason by two rival taquerías.”
“I’m sure Ambrosio did it on purpose,” my sister added, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
Paca turned back to me with a desperate look in her eyes. “But what am I going to do about the gift I left at Ambrosio’s party?”
Just then a loud commotion coming from the entrance made all eyes turn. A girl with a high-pitched voice was cursing loudly about the balloons. It was Cruzita’s grand entrance. She was in a white hoop gown decorated with bows, pearls, sequins, and a sparkling tulle overlay. With the haughty confidence of an only child, she stormed across the room in tears. Her tías trailed after her like a hive, fussing over her makeup and tousled tendrils, while she whacked at her gangly boyfriend with her silver scepter to get out of her way.
Paca shook my arm. “Muchacha, you have to help me get it back.”
“Just forget it, all right?”
“Why not? There are so many people here. Cruzita won’t notice that you didn’t bring a gift.”
“Ambrosio will notice,” Paca said under her breath. Her eyes glazed over for a moment.
“You see, I made Cruzita something special. Remember how she loved the blanket I made for Felicita’s bridal shower? Well…I…I embroidered her a pillow.”
“That’s sweet,” I smiled, patting her hand lightly and trying not to roll my eyes. I didn’t understand the whole pillow thing. It represented something sacred about womanhood, I guess. Paca would know. She came from a very traditional Mexican family.
“You don’t understand,” Paca stopped to make sure I was listening. “I embroidered a picture of Cruzita on top of a pillow with the words, ‘#1 Quince Girl in the Mission.’ ”
“No, you didn’t!” I pressed my lips together tightly, trying not to laugh.
Paca nodded slowly. “I thought…I don’t know. Maybe it’s lame…but whatever.” She sighed as she shrunk back into her chair with a hopeless expression. “But now, I’m sure it’ll cause all kinds of trouble between them.”
The idea of Paca’s gift at Ambrosio’s party made my skin crawl. Damnit, I thought, biting down hard on my lower lip. Why couldn’t Paca just get something from the Target registry?
“Maybe,” I hesitated, studying Paca’s reaction, “we could just slip in…”
“And get the gift!”
I put my palms face out, trying to calm her. “I’m not making any promises. I just said let’s have a look, all right?”
I got up to leave quietly. There was no reason to call attention to this matter. But as my chair scraped the tile floor, it made a loud farting sound. The family at the next table turned, shocked. I smiled, feeling my cheeks grow hot.
“Don’t worry.” Paca stood up and ran her French-tipped nails through her big hair. “No one will notice.”