Raised by her single mom (who's always dating the wrong kind of man) in a struggling California neighborhood, Angel Rodriguez is a headstrong, independent young woman who channels her hopes and dreams for the future into her painting. But when her entry for a community mural doesn't rate, she's heartbroken. Even with winning artist Nathan Ramos -- a senior track star and Angel's secret crush -- taking a sudden interest in Angel and her art, she's angry and hurt. She's determined to find her own place in the art world, her own way.
That's when Miguel Badalin -- from the notorious graffiti crew Reyes Del Norte -- opens her eyes to an underground world of graf tags and turf wars. She's blown away by this bad boy's fantastic work and finds herself drawn to his dangerous charm. Soon she's running with Miguel's crew, pushing her skills to the limit and beginning to emerge as the artist she always dreamed she could be. But Nathan and Miguel are bitter enemies with a shared past, and choosing between them and their wildly different approaches to life and art means that Angel must decide what matters most before the artist inside of her can truly break free.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Kelly Parra
MTVCopyright © 2007 Kelly Parra
All right reserved.
Chapter One: Graffiti Background
The Design Painted Behind a Piece to Make It Look Awesome
-- Angel's Piecebook Notes
(A little about my background.)
"Three bucks for a typical doctor's note. Want me to get creative, the price is five."
"Five's a rip-off."
I lifted my shoulder, taking a quick scan of the hallway for lurking school officials. But I wasn't really into the sale. "Your choice. I'm not the one who's afraid of Daddy finding out I ditched."
Selena Macgregor, a North Homestead High junior prep, hugged her purple binder to her chest, pinning me with a look that had "bitch" written all over it.
Her pastel pink lip curled. "At least I have a daddy."
My mouth curved. The chica would have to do better than bash the man I had never met to get under my skin. "You say that as if it's a good thing."
Leaning against my locker, I slipped my hand into the pocket of my faded army cargo pants and felt for the thirteen bucks I'd already made that morning. I had the rep of looking at someone's handwriting and forging the style. But dealing with chicks who acted like they were better than everyone else sometimes made that talent my worst enemy.
A guy from my English lit class cruised by. "What's up, Angel?"
"Hey, Ramón." Inodded, checking out the other kids filing into the hallway coming from lunch.
That slow tightening in my stomach began.
"Beth, how much longer till fifth?" Didn't want to be late for the only class I gave a damn about. Especially today.
No answer from Beth.
Six lockers to my left, my best friend's thick, curvy body was pressed close to a sophomore's lanky one. A guy she'd gone out with a couple of times. When I said "gone out," I wasn't talking dates, but the tongue-down-the-throat hook-up.
Beth's blonde curls brushed her shoulders as she talked flirtatiously with -- damn, forgot his name -- the sophomore kid.
"Tough to get Bethany Malone's attention when she's in slut mode."
My expression went hard. I met Selena's gaze. "Take a walk."
Her eyes widened. "What about my dismissal note?"
"Gee, shop's suddenly closed."
"Bitch," she hissed, turning away.
I pivoted, shaking off the tension wedged between my shoulders. Spun the combo to my locker and lifted the metal tab. Shoving a stack of blank excuse slips to the back of the small metal space, I pulled out my black pack. Two Sharpie pens and a charcoal pencil rolled forward. I caught them before they slid off the edge, then slammed the door shut.
Leaning down to hook my fingers through the handle of my portfolio case, my heavy, wavy ponytail fell over my shoulder. I flipped it back. My unmanageable hair irritated me to no end. More than once, I wished I could grab the nearest pair of scissors and hack it all off. But anybody who had to deal with a mass of thick hair knew that if you chopped it, it looked like one big hair puff surrounding your head. Learned that hard truth in third grade.
"Come on, Beth. We have to roll."
"'Bye," Beth said to the sophomore and strolled over to me. Her full cheeks were pink, her blue eyes laughing. "Brian's kinda cute."
Needless to say, Beth really liked guys.
"Yeah," I said. "Great."
Usually I'd joke about Beth making out with a lower classman since we had junior status, but today my thoughts zeroed in a different direction.
Beth pulled out a wrapped hard candy the color of a strawberry from her pocket, twisted off the plastic wrap, and stuck it her mouth. "Selena Macgregor pay for a note?"
"Nah, I passed. She got on my nerves."
Beth winced. "She's so stuck-up."
"Tell me about it. I'll catch you in economics."
"Yep. Good luck with the presentation."
I tightened my grip on the plastic handle. "Thanks." Truth was, I needed all the luck I could manage.
Jogging past posters taped on pale Pepto-Bismo-colored walls advertising cheesy North Homestead High events, I slipped into the art room just as the bell rang. I smelled the familiar nose-wrinkling disinfectant. At the end of each class, the students had to clean up their current project mess with the pale blue spray bottles under the sink. Sometimes people went overboard. I glanced at the other kids in the class, either sitting or moving around the room. My competition. The long art tables and the storage cabinets were usually a comforting sight, acknowledging that I was in a place of creative freedom. But now the place only reminded me that today I'd discover if my dream could ever become a reality.
Mierda, my mouth was actually dry.
I set my case on the art table, blew a wayward tendril of hair out of my face, and hooked my pack on the back of a wooden chair. When I sat down, the old screws in the chair squeaked. I glanced at Mr. Chun. He was setting up a wooden easel in front of the class. I slid a finger across the soft surface of my bottom lip. Smooth, until I hit the corner and found a rough spot. Adding my thumb, I tugged at the dead skin. Yeah, a nervous habit.
"I'll show you mine, if you show me yours."
I jerked my fingers away, taking a tiny lip peeling with me. Rubbing it off against my thigh, I shifted my attention to the art table aligning mine. Nathan Ramos -- NHH's senior track star, and an amazing artist -- sat across from me. His hazel eyes glanced at my portfolio case.
"Not a chance, Jack." During two years of art classes and the wonders of alphabetized seating, we'd learned to joke around with each another and become friends.
Never more than that.
I definitely wasn't one of those glam girls I'd seen him with around school, who sported halter tops, gobs of makeup, and a matching purse. He was a popular jock, after all, and like a magnet sucked all the preppy snobs to him on a regular basis. Not to mention, my beige skin and dark hair had no similarity to his light-skinned, blonde -- on again, off again -- girlfriend, Misty Peterson. Maybe it was the kick-back, frayed jeans I usually sported, or the tees with cartoon characters. Whatever reason, I somehow managed to attract guy "pals" like magnets.
Nathan being my hands-down best catch.
My lips twitched. "Wouldn't want to put your presentation to shame, anyway."
A slow smile curved his mouth. "Yeah, that would pretty much suck."
We both knew what I said was a load of bullshit.
I wasn't lying when I referred to Nathan as an amazing artist. His work was "exquisite," as Mr. Chun liked to put it. Nathan studied an arranged bowl of fruit, transferred it on to canvas with such awesome use of line, shading, and depth, it felt as if you could reach out and pluck a pear from the painting.
Me? I freaking wish.
The only thing I could bring to life on paper or canvas was a carrot for Bugs Bunny. But the day I'd admit my insecurities to anyone would be the day Brangelina stopped making headlines.
Nathan leaned casually back in his seat, turning an art gum eraser between his thumb and finger and letting it hit the table once, twice. A white cotton T-shirt stretched across his toned shoulders and chest. Overgrown brown hair with mahogany highlights fell in a finger-combed disarray. A Lance Armstrong yellow band wrapped around his tan wrist.
His carefree style was...seriously hot.
"Come on, Angel, I'm up for some comp. Let me have a quick look."
I ignored the butterflies in my stomach. "You'll have to wait with the rest of class and be awed all at once."
He let out that nice laugh.
Great laugh. Great confidence.
The guy was one big Great at everything he did. Probably why I tried not to crush on him too much. We were as opposite as night was to day, and I wasn't just talking about our art. From what I knew, Nathan was second-generation Mexican-American. I was third-generation, and, not to mention, half-white. Nathan was a cool guy, but even though he wore casual clothes, there was something about his personality, his cool style that clued you in he came from money and was likely going places.
I didn't. I wasn't. Enough said.
Nathan also stood a good chance of landing top honors with his presentation. Advanced art was comprised of twenty upperclassmen who'd already taken two consecutive years of art electives. We weren't all great artists, but deep inside we strived to be. That was the way it was for me, anyway. And we were all competing to get the lead position on the mural committee to paint the new Viking mascot scene in the school's courtyard by drawing a mock mural design -- also a required project grade for our class.
A position I wanted so badly I could practically taste it.
Something I'd never be caught dead admitting out loud. I wasn't known for being a NHH advocate. But there was a lot more to this deal than some school mural project. The three high schools in town were going through the same selection process to decide who would design their courtyard mural and compete in an overall community endeavor to paint the town's cultural history on public park walls and selected historical sites. There was even some kind of scholarship award attached, but that wasn't why I wanted to be a part of this so much.
"Showtime," Nathan murmured, nodding to the head of the class.
"Okay," Mr. Chun called out, interrupting the murmurs of random voices. "Let's get the presentations started." He scanned a sheet on his desk, and then called out, "Miguel Badalin?"
No one said a word.
Miguel Badalin, all around Latino badass, wasn't in attendance. Yet.
Like that was a big surprise.
He had a rep for being tardy and ditching class when he felt like it. Never bothered to cross my path for a forged note, either. I didn't know how he skated through school. But in the past, we'd ended up in the same after-school detention more times than I could count.
Miguel couldn't be competition, anyway, because of his attendance record. There was criteria that had to be met to head the mural committee. Stuff like good attendance and a 3.0 grade average. I was barely meeting the terms myself.
Yeah, Badalin was like Fear Factor: "Evidently attending class isn't a factor for you."
The door swung open and in walked Miguel.
He wore baggy jeans that fit low on his narrow hips, a silver wallet chain slapping his thigh as he walked. A loose, long-sleeve thermal top with "Independiente" printed across his chest. Black hair buzzed close to the sides of his head, yet spiky on top. And he carried a portfolio case, too. One of his partners-in-crime followed behind. Didn't remember his name, but Miguel always had someone with him at all times.
"Ah, Mr. Badalin, just in time for your presentation."
"Eh, glad to hear it. Here's my excuse slip."
So this time he was covered.
Sure my head had been in an art cloud this past month working my butt off on my presentation, but maybe the guy had been coming to class on time these past few weeks. Not that I cared one way or the other.
Mr. Chun raised his stubby, faint brows and took the note. "Thank you. We are ready when you are. When your friend joins his own class."
A few students let out a laugh as Miguel's friend took off.
I glanced at Nathan, but he wasn't looking at me. He was aiming a long stare in Miguel's direction. A stare Miguel returned. Not the first time I'd seen the same intense look pass between them, but I'd never gotten the nerve to ask why. Not my business.
Didn't stop the niggling curiosity, though.
The friction between the two couldn't be that Nathan thought Miguel was any artistic competition for him. Miguel and I leaned toward the same use of bright color and strong lines, a total 180 from Nathan's skill. Miguel's style was almost abstract, which added clout to the rumors that Miguel practiced graffiti art. That he was a "tagger," and roamed the dark streets of Homestead with his "Brown Pride" posse and a backpack full of spray paint.
But I'd seen so many reps ruined by false rumors, I made it a policy not to believe everything I heard unless seen by my own dark eyes.
Miguel cruised to the front of the class to the easel display turned away from everyone, set his display board up, and then swiveled it around. He leaned his weight on his right foot and tilted his head to the side as he waited -- a total couldn't-give-a-F attitude.
The class was as quiet as a tomb.
This was the one word that first came to me. Miguel presented a Viking scene so exceptional, everyone had to be amazed. The intense colors and jagged points were his trademark, but the Viking, the ship, and the North Homestead Vikings title -- same aspects each student had to produce in their design -- were clean and detailed. The design had flare. Dark smooth lines outlined each aspect. Bold, contrasting colors grabbed your attention. It was modern. Hip. I could totally see this as a mural design.
Mierda, more talent to beat.
"Miguel, this is by far your best work!" Mr. Chun walked over and patted Miguel on his shoulder. The guy didn't seem to mind as he slid a glance first to Nathan, and then to me.
Not one of those hey-buddy grins I usually got, either, but an almost flirtatious one.
The smile was so unexpected I curved my lips back at him, then flicked my gaze down at the table, focusing on the old scratches embedded in the wood.
Nathan cleared his throat.
I shifted in my seat and looked at him.
He studied me, eyes narrowed in concentration, mouth in a straight line.
"What?" I asked, brushing a strand of hair out of my vision.
He lifted a shoulder and looked away.
What the hell did I do?
The clock ticked closer to the bell with three more presentations left -- Nathan's, Lydia Wesley's, and mine in between them.
I rubbed my thumb against the plastic handle of my art case.
Nathan set up his board, while Miguel pulled up a chair and...sat at my table. I remained still, acting like I didn't care, even though I could totally see what he was doing in my peripheral vision. Mr. Chun was a pretty laid-back teacher, let us work where we wanted, go on errands during class, as long as we did our work and didn't abuse his trust. But, hell yeah, I was surprised to have Miguel Badalin come sit by me since we hadn't exactly participated in a conversation that involved more than a "what's up?" before.
"Eh, how's it goin'?"
I looked to my right. He glanced at me, then looked toward the head of the class. I had to admit he had a really nice smile. Even with the one crooked incisor tooth. "All right."
"You look a little nervous."
Terrific, was it stamped on my forehead? I lifted a shoulder.
"What for?" His good-looking face scrunched up a moment, then smoothed out as he slouched comfortably in his chair, legs spread, arms crossed. "Just a class project. No big deal."
Right. "If it's not a big deal, what about yours? Your presentation was good. Like you put more effort in than usual." I waited for him to get offended, or get up and sit somewhere else. You just never knew how an artist would take a comment like that. Artwork was sacred to the artist. We hated to know when our work was crap and loved when people praised it. I'd given a twisted compliment.
But he just said, "Yeah, looks like it wasn't enough," and his eyes were on Nathan.
Nathan had turned his easel, revealing his board to the class, and then stuffed his hands in the front pockets of his faded blue jeans. Like his other creations, this one was awesome.
Real, perfect, just like the guy himself.
The Viking stood masculine and rough, as if he could step right off the ship and into our classroom. The shading was delicate, giving light where there was only board, and darkness that had depth. I could tell he used acrylics and watercolor, maybe even oil pastels -- blending media was something I experimented with -- to give a soft blend to the clouds and the sun that peered down on the swaying ocean. The school name didn't look out of place even though it floated in the sky in curvy block letters.
I stared with awe and even envy. To create such realism and beauty was a dream of mine. I looked down at my portfolio case.
Yeah, I was glad for Nathan, to have the class "ooh" and "aah," and for Mr. Chun to beam and actually clap in recognition of such kick-ass detail, but I felt my stomach slowly tighten into a serious knot. For the first time I wasn't too thrilled to have Nathan's last name close to mine.
Because now my presentation had to follow the best in the class.
I forced my gaze in Mr. Chun's direction.
He lifted those stubby brows. "You're up."
Copyright © 2007 by Kelly L. Callihan
Excerpted from Graffiti Girl by Kelly Parra Copyright © 2007 by Kelly Parra. Excerpted by permission.
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