The Universal Laws of Marco

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About The Book

Told through the lens of a guy in love with the cosmos (and maybe two girls), The Universal Laws of Marco explores the complicated histories that bring us together and tear us apart.

In the summer before eighth grade, Marco Suarez kissed his best friend Sally Blake. This was his first spark.

And since then, whenever he’s thought about that moment, he’s traveled through a wormhole—of sorts—to relive those brief seconds when time sped up (or, rather, his view of time distorted) and he kissed her.

And then, at the end of that year, she disappeared, leaving in that way that people sometimes leave—alive and well and somewhere out there but gone, nonetheless. She never even said why.

And now in their senior year, Sally unexpectedly returns and Marco is shaken. Still, he holds tightly to his carefully choreographed life. A life that is full of reasons why first sparks don’t matter:

Reason 1: He has a girlfriend. Her name is Erika Richards.
Reason 2: He’s leaving on a full scholarship to college.
Reason 3: He’s busy with his friends and making money to help support his family.

But as Marco navigates the final days of high school, he learns that leaving home is never easy and a first spark is hard to ignore.

The Universal Laws of Marco

FOR THE LAST SIX MONTHS, in fact. And right now she’s sitting on my stoop, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, hair up in a ponytail, makeup at a minimum. Basically, she’s just the way I like her, but if I say that, she’ll be like, Are you serious? Liking me when I’m a disaster is not a compliment. So I don’t say that. I keep it simple with a kiss.

She tugs me down so that I’m sitting beside her. Her finger slips across my skin, the skin moistened by my sweat. She turns to give me a tight hug, her hands resting on my shoulders. “You’re sexy today.” She touches the hem of my tank top. Normally I’m covered up, T-shirts or hoodies. But today is hot, summer-right-up-against-us hot, and it hasn’t rained in days. I tell her that. Then I put my finger to the bridge of her nose, a place where her makeup has run thin, and whisper, “Besitos del sol.”

She touches her face self-consciously and pulls away. “I just don’t know why you love them. They’re like little pieces of lint I can’t get off my face. You should love yours more instead.” She taps my nose and cheeks, touching the ten freckles that wave across my brown skin.

“Do you love mine?” I ask her.

“Yeah,” she says, and smiles.

“Then I’ll love yours.” I connect the dots with my fingers, trailing light kisses across her face until arriving at her mouth. “Corona Borealis . . . ,” I say into her lips.

“What?” She pulls back.

“The crown of Ariadne . . .”

“Marco.” She groans, shoving me away. She returns to the stoop.

“It’s a compliment.”

“It’s a what?”

“Comparing you to a constellation is a compliment.”

“What’s with you always finding constellations on my face?”

For the past four years of our friendship and even into this “new stage of our relationship” (as Erika calls it), she has insisted on sparring with me like this. I’m easy bait, she says. Like even now when I see that mischief in her eyes, I’m still quick to offer an explanation. “Really. She helped Theseus—”

“Very romantic and also not listening anymore.” She glances at her phone and then holds up the device as evidence. “I’m too busy waiting for your text to arrive. But it doesn’t.”

“Oh, man, I’m sorry. I got distracted.”

She raises an eyebrow, because for as long as Erika has known me, I haven’t gotten distracted, not when she texts, not when she talks. So today is kind of unusual.

But I can explain. I was thinking about wormholes, which I’ve been trying to get down on paper for my final physics assignment. Or maybe—and I realize this is it—I was traveling down a metaphorical wormhole, returning to that first kiss with Sally, and I forgot to reply at all.

Either way, I never make Erika wait on replies. She says that’s what makes me “different” and “mature” and a bunch of other superlatives. Which is bizarre. That being punctual through the rapid tapping of two fingers can earn me bonus points. But it does.

“So what was it?” she asks.


“That distracted you?”


She sighs. “You said you were distracted when I texted.”

“Wormholes?” I offer up.

Erika rolls her eyes, and in her predictable way of zoning out most things that have to do with cosmology, says, “Okay, then, fight over.”

“Wait, that was a fight?”

Because Erika and I don’t fight. That’s why Erika says we’re “perfect” and “meant to be.” I say we like to “avoid conflict.” But Erika says we don’t have to “avoid conflict” because “we’re not conflicted.”

Anyway, fight avoided, I pull her back to that space on my chest. That space that feels better when she’s there.

“You’re sweaty,” she says.

“I’m purified.”

“So I’m absorbing your outcast toxins?”

“Possibly . . .” I squeeze her in tighter, and she struggles to break free. Finally, I let her go. We’re both smiling. “So what’s going on?”

“Oh that. My mom.”

“Your mom what?”

“She’s . . . I don’t know. Her sister, you know the one who always has some boyfriend drama . . . ?” Erika lowers her voice so my mom won’t hear, not that my mom could hear over the “twin nightmares” (that’s what Erika calls them), who are yelling at each other inside the house.

“What is it this time?”

“It’s always the same—he said this, but then he does this, and then he didn’t come home, but then he said he was working late. I think I should trust him, but is that naive? It’s naive, right? And blah, blah, blah, nonsense.”

“Sounds fun.” I squeeze her hand.

“Yeah. I was around the corner at Gabby’s, trying to wait it out, but her mom kicked me out because family-only dinner and more blah-blah-blah nonsense. So, now I’m here . . . Are you glad to see me?”

“Yeah,” I say, but she hears the hesitance in my voice and replies, “No, you’re not.”

“I’m surprised, that’s all. I was in the middle of doing this . . .” I hold up my hands to mean, my thing. My I’m-not-working-or-running-ragged-from-homework-so-I’m-going-to-sweat-it-out routine. I get to do this thing maybe once or twice a week. “I still have to—”

“Hit your bag?” She laughs, her hand returning to the edge of my tank. “And you know I don’t care if you’re Mr. Six-Pack Abs. That’s not my thing.”

“It’s not that. You know it’s not that.”

A long time ago, I had been small. And small in middle school meant easy target. I was okay if Diego was nearby. Even back then he was Mr. Six-Pack Abs. But when he wasn’t around, which was most classes in the sixth and seventh grade, I felt my smallness like rocks in my pockets or a splinter beneath my skin. The burden followed me everywhere—up the school stairs, into honors classes, into restrooms, (especially restrooms, where someone could easily force your head under sink water), in the corners of the PE locker room (where I was pantsed on the reg).

I hated being small.

“Oh, so that’s why you’ve been eating left and right,” Pop had said back then, the one time he caught me staring plaintively at the scale. “Trying to bulk up like me?”

“Not left and right,” I had mumbled, stepping off the scale and staring at him—six one, two hundred and twenty pounds, rippled with muscles, and a smile that most of the ladies around the block couldn’t withstand. At least, that’s what Mom always said.

“Nothing wrong with being skinny,” Pop said, using his toe to slide the scale beneath the bathroom sink.


“You know, Bruce Lee was skinny.” That was Pop’s thing, referencing people and places that you’d never heard of before. But I knew about Bruce Lee. When I was five, Pop introduced me to his sick martial art moves through a bunch of old films. Bruce Lee could kick ass. I couldn’t kick a stick.

“Pop, that’s like comparing a steak to a potato.”

“And you’re what? The potato?” Pop turned me so that we faced the mirror. “You’ve got a good symmetrical face on your shoulders, just like him. The ladies dig a symmetrical face. And you know, you got my eyes.” He offered me his signature wink. “You should practice that move. It works. Got me your mom’s engagement ring at half off.”

My mom’s solitaire was so microscopic that half off must have meant free.

He winked his left eye, followed by the right. He was an ambidextrous winker. “Go on,” he urged. “Try it.”

I glared at him. “No.”

“That’s a mistake,” he said, and gave me the wink version of the wave—left, right, left, right. I became dizzy. “That wink is perfection, but it’s your call, my man. If you don’t want to harness the power of the Suarez wink, you can travel down your lonely road alone.” He stepped back and sized me up from a distance. Then he lifted my shirt and stared at my concave belly. I tried to squirm away, but he held on to my shoulder. “You know what? You could be a little more athletic, a little more like Bruce Lee, especially here.” Again, a tap, tap to the belly. “Why not?”

“Because Bruce Lee had training. Bruce Lee had skills,” I muttered.

“You could get those things.”


“What about that studio my buddy runs down in South Miami?” he said, letting me go.

“Pop, that costs money.”

“Yeah. True.” His foot tapped the tile floor as he gave that part of the plan some thought. Then he smiled.


“You just gotta get the money on your own.”

It was nearly the summer between seventh and eighth grade. And for weeks after that talk, I let the conversation slide. Pop was always coming up with these ideas on how to “be better” and “maximize your potential.” That’s because he was always reading books on self-improvement and jotting down possibilities for the future in one of the many journals he kept.

“Third act,” he used to say when I watched him scribbling away, palm smudged with still-drying ink.

By “third act” he meant when we were grown—me and the “twin terrors”—he’d follow up high school and parenthood by taking himself back to school. College. Pop was big on always having a next act.

But sometimes Pop tried to push me into my next act before I was ready, and that was just what happened when, a few weeks after finding me on that scale, he walked into my bedroom with a stack of papers. Each was the size of a postcard, the wording laid out like a bad advertisement.

Helper for Hire ($8/hour)

Lawn mowing


Light housekeeping

Tutoring for elementary kids

Call Marco at 305-555-0112

“Pop, what’s this?”

“Acceleration. You’ve got to pick up speed to push past the friction and into your future. Use the momentum you gather along the way to take a few breaths, but acceleration is the only way to start from point A and make it to point B. And trust me, you need to keep moving, because life is now.”

He was speaking in riddles, but that was another way Pop talked. He loved telling me about acceleration and momentum and friction, and I loved listening. But right then it didn’t exactly tell me what I was supposed to do—not in practical terms.

“Okay,” he said, sensing my confusion. “Take that around. And, hey, don’t just leave it in the mailbox. Okay? You gotta knock on the doors. Talk to the people inside. Sell yourself.”

A good plan, except I was pretty quiet back then. In many ways, I still am. Everyone knew that, especially Pop. “I can’t.”

“You can’t? Or you won’t?” He turned to glance at Mom, who had slipped into the doorway, wrapping her arm around his waist. She looked small next to him—barely five three, all hips and curves, a mouth almost always open in a smile.

“What are my guys talking about?” she asked.

“Pop wants me to accelerate.”

“That doesn’t sound like a bad thing,” she said, and Pop kissed the crown of her head, squeezing her in closer.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Accelerate,” he commanded.

But I didn’t. Not that summer—the summer of Spin the Bottle. Eventually, I’d make good on Pop’s command, just not then.

“Hey, you don’t have to stop doing your thing. I’ll be fine,” Erika says, sensing the “dark thoughts” hovering. That’s what she calls it, when my face “closes off” and my eyes “look somewhere far away, like you have a stormy cloud dropping dark thoughts into your head.”

Erika knows this sweat-it-out routine helps keep the dark thoughts away.

“Yeah?” I say, relieved that I don’t have to figure out a way to make us both happy. I try to be that way with Erika, give her what she wants. It seems only fair, since she’s been such a good friend to me for all these years.

“Girlfriend,” I could hear her whisper, but only in my mind. Ever since we switched things up before winter break, Erika likes to remind me of her new title. “It’s just different,” she’d explain.

“Like you’re a friend I can now kiss?” I’d tease her.

“No.” Her face would screw up. “That’s the least of it. It’s like a best friend you can kiss, and you never want to kiss anyone but me, and we become closer and closer until who knows?”

“We disappear, like you’re a black hole that sucks me in like a ray of light?” I sorta joked, because, to be honest, sometimes what she said about our growing closer reminded me of one object disappearing into the other the way light disappears into a black hole.

“You’re ridiculous with your universe stuff!” Erika said, laughing. “But you get it, right?”

“Sure,” I said because that seemed to make her happy.

Now she’s trying to make me happy. She slips her hand into mine and leans up, onto her tippy-toes, her mouth right there. Oh man, right there, at the curve of my earlobe.

I know what’s coming. It’s the maneuver that makes me sign over power of attorney.

This is a talent—whatever she is doing, it is definitely her talent.

Gently, oh so gently, she slips that earlobe between her teeth. The smallest of bites, the tiniest of licks, and then her secret weapon—a hint of breath. The breath is important. The breath is what sends goose bumps up and down my arms, over my chest, down, down, down until I can barely think.

A little more and then, suddenly, she steps away. It takes a second to get back to a place where I can think. When I do, though, I have to pull my shirt until it’s low. She glances down, laughing. “You like that, huh?” she whispers.

Like it? This is acceleration and displacement and in . . . um . . . certain . . . um . . . parts—a directional movement of—up, up, up, aka velocity.

“Let’s compromise. Take off for just a few hours,” she says. This is her new tactic: compromise me into compliance. She flattens her feet and stares up at me with her pale-blue eyes. Please, she mouths, her fingers rubbing the inside of my palm.

I give myself the speech: Don’t do this. You have responsibilities—your own things. This is a trap. Don’t do this. Don’t do this. Don’t do this. Don’t do this. Don’t do this. There’s a lot of don’t do this in speeches that concern Erika and her talents.

“How about we compromise by you staying here? Work on your homework while I finish up?”

“And then what? We’d do more homework together?”

I nod. Because as much as I try to make Erika happy, I also have to keep my parents happy. And nothing makes them happier than having a son with straight As.

And I’ve had straight As every quarter since ninth grade.

But that takes work and dedication.

She laughs. “I don’t think I have that much homework to do. Anyway, I told Manny we could study for the chem final together. And he’s right around the block—”

“Oh.” I make a face. “Manny.”

“Stop,” she says, smiling.

“What? You said you want me to be more jealous.” I push out my chest, like I’m Superman or something, about to take on Manny, her track buddy, who I’m pretty sure is a pacifist. At least, that’s what most of the stickers on his backpack imply. “If he makes a move on you, I’ll kick his—”

“Oh my God. No, no, no. You’re terrible at this.” She laughs again.

“It’s not something I want to be good at,” I say, half seriously.

She’s silent for a few seconds, watching me carefully. Then the easiness returns. “Well, I said sometimes it hurts my feelings that you’re not jealous. There’s a difference.” She bends over to pick up her purse, slinging the strap across her chest. “I have to go, scholarship boy. You just keep your focus on that GPA. Or else we’ll never get the shiz out of here.” She slips her hand under my shirt, pulling me closer by the waistband of my shorts. When she steps away, she tugs down my shirt for me. “There. No one will notice.”

I smile, embarrassed.

“So, call me later?”

“Sure,” I say. “Later’s a much better name than Erika.”
About The Author
Photograph by Suzette DeMatteo

Carmen Rodrigues lives and plays in the great urban wilds of Northern Virginia, where she is a writer by day and an educator by night. She earned her MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. The Universal Laws of Marco is her third young adult novel. Visit her at

Product Details
  • Publisher: Simon Pulse (March 2019)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781442485099
  • Grades: 7 and up
  • Ages: 12 - 99

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