Book: The Mixtape to My Life
Author: Jake Martinez
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction/LGBTQ
Release date: March 27th 2020
Find It: Amazon
Justin Ortega might as well be starring in his very own coming-of-age 80s movie. If only he could find his dream boy to pull up in front of his house in a red convertible and sweep him off his feet, already! At seventeen years young, he isn’t quite Mexican enough for his South Texas town; isn’t manly enough for his father; can sometimes be too much of a smart mouth for his mother; and as for the other kids at school—let’s just say he’d be cast as the quiet nerd with a heart of gold…and an ear for music.
The one solace Justin has is his love of 80s hair metal bands, which he listens to on his beloved Sony Walkman. The songs, lyrics, and melody keep him just sane enough to escape the pressures of school and help navigate the hurdles life brings. Especially with the doozy this year is shaping up to be. Not only does he have to try out for a captain position which is rightfully his, but his best friend has found a new girlfriend, leaving Justin to fend for himself in a school where he’s mostly known as simply Coconut.
Enter Dominic Mendoza. Sweet, funny, and a blast from his past, the hunky football player has moved in next door. Justin could never forget how Dominic protected him in the eighth grade, nor the way Dominic made him feel, then…and now.
Except, this isn’t a movie. Confusion, friendship, and love won’t guarantee a happy ending unless Justin can learn to accept himself for who he truly is. Hair bands and all.
“Justin, you could at least try to smile.”
The words make me want to leave my lips, but I know that they will probably be my last. My mom is not particularly fond of my type of humor, though I could swear that I get it from her. I force my face to make a smile and hope that it will be enough.
“There, was that so hard?” Mom smiles while messing with my hair. She is the only person I allow to do that.
Yes, yes it was that hard. Smiling isn’t something that feels natural to me. Not that it doesn’t happen; it just feels weird when it does.
Especially since I am being dropped off at band camp. No, not the fun, hormone-filled kind in the woods. I truly believe they modeled Hell after this one. Two weeks of being yelled at by the Garza High School band directors, bullied by the other drummers, and then there was that reliable South Texas August heat. It’s a required thing. Most schools in the Rio Grande Valley (maybe other places, but I wouldn’t know) use these two weeks to get a jump on the season in order to get their half-time shows off the ground for the upcoming marching competition. The goal is to make it all the way to State, which is why we march in the grueling sun all these days. Now that I think of it, pure hell might not be strong enough to describe it when the temps reach higher than one-hundred degrees.
We aren’t the only ones either; the football players also have their own camp that they need to go to as well. Texas takes their football very seriously.
It isn’t that camp is physically demanding or anything like that. Even my chubby self can handle the marching and carrying of the equipment. If anything, it’s the people.
I used to love playing percussion when I started in the sixth grade. Seventh and eighth grade were even better. Band was my escape from the pain of having to be in football. I looked forward to it every day.
It wasn’t until I started my first day as a freshman that it all went downhill fast. I cringe every time I think about it.
“You know you could quit if you want to, mijo.” Mom was always telling me that. She would have preferred I do something else, namely football or baseball. Though she loves to think that she and my dad are opposites, they are more alike than either allow themselves to believe.
“Yeah, I know. But I’m doing this for college.” That is partially right. My extracurriculars need beefing up and staying in band will help. It also doesn’t hurt that the fall portion of band counts as a P.E. credit, and this year will be the last one. I am willing to suffer through another year in order to avoid the horror that is the boy’s locker room ever again.
There’s a fag in the bathroom!
“You are such a viejito sometimes. You need to learn how to have fun.”
Viejito. It means old man. She called me that a lot. Ever since I could remember, my mom always referred to me as an old man. To me it felt natural, but to her I needed to look and sound more like a kid. That’s the weird thing about Spanish. We have a lot of words that sound like insults, but can sometimes be endearing.
I don’t say a word, and Mom decides to skip the rest of the “these are the best years of your life” speech.
“Are you going to walk home, or should I pick you up?” Even though she can be tough as nails, my mother, Mary Ortega, has the most loving eyes I have ever seen on anyone. Well, almost anyone. There was one other.
Those fabulous green eyes. The ones that made me melt in the eighth grade every time I saw them. The ones I also wished I had. Ha! I was green with envy for them.
My mom’s eyes made you feel safe and could speak volumes when words fail to convey their proper meaning. I always appreciated that.
“I’ll probably just get a ride with Benny.”
“Hmm.” That’s all she replies with. Her eyes sure shift quickly at the mere mention of Benny’s name. I never understood why she doesn’t like Benny. He had been the only real friend I’ve ever had since I met him two years ago. Yeah, he’s loud and says things that shouldn’t be said, but I can count on him when the chips are down. He is also the only one who knows my secret.
Much to my surprise, Dominic is waiting outside for me.
“Wow, front door service. That’s unexpected,” I joke.
“I said I would pick you up.”
“I thought you were kidding.”
“Now you know I wasn’t.”
“You certainly weren’t.”
Dominic laughs. “Are you nervous?”
“No, why?” I am lying. Of course I am nervous. He is here, right in front of me, talking to me. Waiting for me to talk back.
“Just. It’s been a weird few days.”
“Yeah, it has.” We both just stand there. My mind searches for a way to break the silence.
“You know, I never did greet you properly,” I say while reaching out for a handshake.
He takes my arm and holds out my hand. His touch makes me tingle. I feel like giggling, but I hold it together. He then takes his hand and slaps it against mine. Our fingers grip each other, sending another tingle throughout my body. My first real hand slap with someone other than Benny. I wish it would last longer, but only because it’s with Dominic.
“How about we get to it?” Dominic asks.
He leads me into the garage, then presses the button to close the door midway. “I have to do this. Every time I work out, I see people walk around repeatedly, looking in. It gets kind of weird.”
I can see why people would want to look. Dominic is gorgeous. But it is kind of creepy to think of people in their late 30s and 40s or even older circling to watch a seventeen-year-old work out. I wonder if anyone from our school that lived around here did that too.
Dominic has a bench press with various sizes of weights and a punching bag. It looks like a simple set up, but what amazing results he seems to get from it. He sits down on it and signals me to sit with him.
“You ever lift before?”
“Not really. I did a little when I played football in the eighth grade, but not since.”
“Yeah, I remember that. Why did you quit?” His voice sounds excited, as if we now have some common ground.
“I wasn’t that good, so I hardly got to play, remember. I was there to keep the bench warm.” Football was an experiment that my father forced me to try. One of those things that he swore I would love once I gave it a chance. After my first game, he never went back. It was just my mom with my brother next to her. He never bugged me to do it again.
“Oh, I see. Do you play any other sports?”
“I like tennis.” That is true. I do enjoy it, if only because I’m not too horrible at it.
“Nice. What else do you do for fun?”
I want to tell him everything. I try to tell him about my poems, about how I love to read, and to sit alone outside and look at the sky. But I don’t want him to think that I am a dork, so I try to think of something cool to say.
“You know, just hang out and stuff.”
“Is that all?”
“Pretty much.” I feel stupid and oh so awkward. I don’t blame him one bit if he asks me to leave.
He looks at me with one eyebrow arched. “Why don’t I believe you?” Damn, he looks so freaking hot doing that. He must have known what I am thinking because he keeps it up. Does he suspect? That has to be why I’m here.
“I don’t know what you mean?” I may have been weak, but that didn’t mean I want to give in so quickly. I need to figure out where this is going before we moved further along.
He moves a little closer to me. “You know what I mean.” I don’t. There was something I was hoping would happen, but I wasn’t sure if that was what he is aiming for.
“I’m just surprised you didn’t bring it with you.”
Now I’m sure I have no idea what he was talking about. “Okay, I’m lost right now.”
“Your notebook. I always see you with it, writing things down. It’s obvious that it’s important to you. So, what do you do with it?”
I had to admit I am a little disappointed. And a little relieved. Was it possible to feel both of those at once? Either way, I’m not sure if I want to share that. Something in his eyes though, the way he is looking at me, makes me so comfortable. I figure why not.
“Just my thoughts, mostly.”
“Like a journal?”
“No, not exactly. Just random stuff. Some poems even.”
His smile grows wide. “I can see that in you. Someone as smart as you would be creative. Good with words.”
“What makes you think I’m smart?” I am curious. Not that I feel particularly smart, but Dominic wasn’t in any of my classes when we were in the eighth grade, so why would he say that?
“Some guys on the team said that you were good at writing and stuff, and that you could probably help me get a better grade in English. And aren’t you in all those smarty classes?”
My mind is swimming. Why in the world would guys on the team talk about me? Hardly any of them spoke to me. The only person I can think of was Kurt Rodriguez, the center of the varsity team. He’s a really sweet guy, the kind that can be called a teddy bear. I’m not surprised to hear that he said nice things. He’s like that.
“Yeah, for everything but math. It was never my best subject.”
“None of them are for me. I barely get by.”
He looks so sad when he says that. I have always seen him with a smile on his face, his lips accented by those adorable dimples. That’s the way I want to see him. Not this way.
“I wish I could be smart like you,” Dominic continues. “That way I could get a scholarship and go to any school I wanted.”
“What about football? You’re pretty good from what I remember.
“That you notice me playing. No one ever notices the offensive linemen.”
Damn, caught again. If Dominic hasn’t figured out that I was infatuated with him, he would certainly know now. “I like to watch people. All kinds.”
“And write about them in your notebook?”
“Sometimes.” I don’t know why I confess that. That’s the mark of a stalker. Or at least he might think that.
“Do you write about me?”
“Do you write about me? In your notebook?” He inches closer to me. “It’s okay if you do. I don’t mind. I think it’s kind of nice.”
“Not yet.” I’m lying yet again. I have written about him, or at least I started. Listening to my power ballads, sitting at my desk, trying to figure out what exactly was going on with me. Why I felt the way that I felt, and what would happen if he thought that way, too?
“So I have a chance then.” He turns away quickly when he said that. As if he made a mistake. “Sorry, that was so weird.”
I want to put my hand on his shoulder. But I don’t know if he would like that. The last thing I want was for him to throw me out, or worse, beat me up. We are both pudgy, but he is pudgy muscle, and I am just pudge. Plus, I’ve seen him in action and I know it would hurt. Like a lot.
“No, it wasn’t. I know what you meant.”
He looks back at me and smiles, cute dimples and all. “We should get started before it gets too late. I’m sure you need to be home at a good time.”
“Yeah. My mom is overprotective.”
“Yeah, it does.”
He walks over to a metal cabinet and opens one of the drawers. He pulls out some tapes. “What kind of music are you into?” He asks while walking over to the tape deck on the table next to the cabinet. I look down at the floor.
“You don’t remember?” I ask. I was a little hurt that he forgot our conversation from earlier.
“Hold on one second.” He fumbles with the tapes that are in his hands and slides one in. He presses the button, and after a few seconds, I hear the familiar riff of Cinderella’s Gypsy Road coming out through the speakers.
“I love this song. I love this band,” I say, closing my eyes to soak it all in.
“I did remember. I like them too, and not a lot of people seem into them on the team. They usually want to hear All-4-One, Selena, or Mariah Carey.”
“People work out to Mariah Carey and Selena?” The thought of those supposed macho guys jamming out to Mariah Carey makes me laugh.
“Don’t laugh. It’s more common than you think.”
After Dominic finishes, he must have pictured what I just did, ’cause he busts out with the cutest of giggles. It was nice to laugh with someone and share some of the things that I like. I mean, my brother likes the same music and we both love video games, but we don’t hang out as much ever since Kenny started coming around. There’s Benny too, but Benny is more into modern rock, not “pussy rock” as he calls it. I hate when he does that — almost as much as I hate when he burps in my face. Huh, I have a friend named Benny and my brother has a friend named Kenny. Maybe we are too much alike.
“You okay?” Dominic asks.
“Yeah,” I say, coming back to the room. “Just spaced out for a second.”
Dominic gives me a look, then smiles.
“Do you do that a lot?”
“Sometimes. I start thinking too hard about stuff. It makes my parents go crazy.”
“You can’t do that while you spot me. You promise you’ll stay focused.”
I’m pretty sure the sight of Dominic working out is enough to keep my attention on him.
“Yeah, I promise.”
“Okay, then get under the bar, and let’s see what you can do.”
The author will be giving away two $10 Amazon Giftcards!
About the Author
Jake Martinez is a former South Texas resident who has found a new home in Chicago. He has been writing all his life but has only recently sought to be published. His debut novel, The Mixtape to My Life, reflects on life as a gay teen growing up in South Texas.
Jake holds an MFA in Creative Writing and also loves to write plays and screenplays. Aside from writing, you can find him hanging out at home with his husband, their toddler son, and an eclectic group of fur babies.
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