A Music-Fueled Make-Out Turns Rivals Into Lovers

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The first time Rafie met—and made out with—Rey, he thought it would be the only time. Now, eight months after the Mariachi competition where Rafie led his school’s group to a victory over Rey’s, Rafie has transferred schools…and Rey is the group’s lead vocalist. And he’s still really cute. Should they compete or kiss? Por que no los dos?

A second-chance meet-cute becomes a rivals-to-lovers romance in this charming YA love letter to music, Mexican culture, and the magic of surprise.

Canto Contigo by Jonna Garza Villa will be available April 9th wherever books are sold.

I WANT TO GRAB THIS GUITAR by the neck and smash it on the floor. I want to throw it at the wall. To hear it crack and break. To scream and cry in this hospital hallway that’s way too quiet. And the only reason I don’t is because this piece of wood with little bits of metal and string is the only thing keeping me together. As long as I keep a hold on it, I’ll stay anchored, and I won’t break down. Probably. I can squeeze and focus on the pain in my fingers from how hard I’m gripping it. A small but good-enough distraction from how hurt my heart is right now.

“Mi’jo,” Amá whispers, squatting down in front of me. Her hand touches my cheek and all I want to do is lean into her palm. She stays completely still except for when her thumb moves to wipe a tear off my face and then to pick me up by my chin so she can see my sad red eyes. Her other hand holds a bottle of Mexican Coke and a taco wrapped in foil, waiting for me to take them.

My cousin Ángel falls into the chair next to me with three tacos of his own.

“Here. Toma,” Amá says.

“I don’t want anything,” I mutter back.

“It’s going to be a few hours until we get to San Antonio. You should eat.”

“I’m not hungry.”

She breathes in and lets out her annoyed huff, patting my leg a couple times before using it to help pick herself up. “You need to. I need to see you eat something. If not, there’s no way I’m letting you go to Extravaganza. ¿Quieres a ir, sí?”

“Sí.” The word comes out a lot less enthusiastically than usual, but I still mean it just as much. No, even more now. “I still wanna go. I have to.”

I can hear her bothered moan and look up to see her scrunched face, like she’s trying her best to hold in everything she wants to say so badly she might explode. “I— No, you don’t have to. Rafael, no one would blame you if you said you can’t. No one in your shoes would be able to right now. No one is expecting you to. They can get Mig—”

I’m going,” I snap, my voice filling the hallway. And I know it’s taking a lot for her to be this forgiving to me for yelling. On any other day, she’d tell me off in front of every single person in this hospital. But today isn’t just any other day.

This morning—the half an hour I got in a cold room with the sounds of Univision quietly coming from a TV and all the beeps of machines—was the last time I’ll ever see my abuelo alive. In the last few minutes I had with him, I told him I’d still go. I told him I’d bring him back a third first-place trophy. Another Best Vocalist award. I would come back and tell him all about how great we—I was on that stage. Just the thought of going back on any of those promises feels like I’m squeezing my own heart and lungs and guts. “I have to. For him.”

Amá stays standing in front of me, her eyes scrunched all seriously, silently arguing for me to listen to her for once. And mine are on her, saying there’s no one who could convince me to change my mind. Not even her.

She’ll try, though. I know she wants to. I know all the things she’s thinking. All the things she’s told me in the last twenty-four hours. That I’m not in a place to be focusing on performing and singing. That I should take some days to let myself be sad. That our whole heartbroken family—except for the three of us and Apá—is going to be here, and Alma would understand if I need to spend the weekend here too.

Ángel’s hand goes to the back of my neck, rubbing and squeezing, like he could feel me about to start crying again. I can’t. I don’t want Amá to see me do it. I don’t want my getting emotional leading to her being all, Why are you still going? Let’s just stay home.

I’ve got to push through it. If I have to force myself to stand up on that stage tomorrow in my Mariachi Alma de la Frontera charro, sing like all that’s in my heart is happiness and gratitude, and act like everything is okay, I’ll do it if it means another win at Extravaganza. I’ll do it because I’m an Álvarez and this is what we do. It’s in our blood. And I know she doesn’t doubt I can or that I will, but she’s always going to do her Amá thing and worry about my emotional state. Tell me over and over again that it’s okay if I sit this one out. How “the world won’t end.”

She’s right. It won’t. It already has.

So I don’t have any other choice besides to go and sing and pretend Abuelo’s in the front row of the Tobin Center auditorium, just like he was the two years before, and outshine everyone else there. For him. Because after he wasn’t able to play guitar anymore, after he wasn’t able to sing anymore, I could for him. I can for him still.

I can hold on to all the memories of when he was still able to hug me and pat my back and tell me how proud he is of me. Of him teaching me how to hold a guitarrón and carry a tune. And of every time I’ve strummed a guitar and sung something by Pedro Infante or Rocío Dúrcal, when he’d give me that look that told me how great I am. How I could see in his smile and in his eyes that, when today eventually came, I’d keep our family’s legacy going. I’d take it further. I could even make something of myself doing this.

What I can’t do is stop, especially not now. Not ever.

I told him I wouldn’t. I cried with my head resting on the back of his hand and promised him I would never stop. And I hoped so badly that he could hear me. That he heard me tell him I’m great because of him. Because of every minute he spent teaching me everything he knew, just like he taught my apá and tíos. And I hoped with everything I had that he heard me tell him I’m going to keep being the best, for him. Keep being perfect. Because he doesn’t deserve anything less. And because everyone who sees me perform should know that it’s all him.

So, I take the Coke and then the breakfast taco, unwrap the foil, and force myself to take a bite, chew, and swallow. Amá sighs as her hand grabs on to my shoulder. Ángel’s hand goes from my neck and reaches around my back, coming in for a side hug. I take a deep breath, forcing all the want to cry back down along with the flour tortilla and chorizo and potato.

I can do this. I can do this.

Para ti. Siempre.

From Canto Contigo by Jonny Garza Villa. Copyright © 2024 by the author, and reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

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