Sam and Liz make a new friend: a boy named Carlos Marcano. Carlos is handsome and confident, and the first time he ever meets Liz, he tells her that he’s taking her “out to eat.” Liz is flattered, and invites Sam along, too.
Liz is attracted to Carlos because of his looks and confidence, but also, it would seem, because of his generosity and financial independence.
Carlos turns out to be a funny, charming boy. He tells elaborate stories about his adventures on the streets, and claims to have been in lots of fights. He also admits that his father died of AIDS, something that makes Liz feel close to him. Carlos claims that his mother is an addict who never really cared about him.
Liz senses that she and Carlos have a special connection because they both have family members who’ve suffered from AIDS and drug addiction.
Liz is infatuated with Carlos, and for the next few months she tries to pursue him by any means necessary. One night, Carlos tells Liz that she’s not like the other girls he’s met—he feels that he can trust her. They hug, but nothing else happens.
Liz likes Carlos a lot, and in return, Carlos seems to think that Liz is special, too. But it’s unclear how much of a connection they really have; Liz doesn’t seem to know all that much about Carlos.
Looking back, Liz often wonders how she managed to compartmentalize her life during her late teen years. She had to deal with a mother who was dying of AIDS, the truancy officer, and her infatuation with Carlos.
For Liz, simply getting through her teen years is a major achievement, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time: she has to juggle her friends, school, emotions, and more.
One night, Carlos visits Liz at her apartment, and sees Ma suffering from the symptoms of AIDS. Instead of being repulsed by Ma’s condition, or going blank, as Liz often does, Carlos takes Ma’s hand and explains that he’s going to “help Liz help you.” Carlos tells Ma that Liz cares about her, and adds that he wished he’d cared about his own mother as much as Liz cares about hers. Ma begins with weep. She says, “I love Liz, she’s my baby.” Later that night, Liz and Carlos kiss, and they admit that they love each other.
Liz portrays Carlos as a sensitive, compassionate individual who helps her express her sincere love for her mother. In no small part, Liz loves Carlos for this reason: unlike many of the other men she’s met, Carlos seems genuinely concerned for her well-being. He also seems to uniquely understand her situation and doesn’t judge her for it.
Soon after Liz starts dating Carlos, Sam starts dating a twenty-year-old named Oscar. Carlos talks about inheriting money after his mother dies, and he suggests that the four of them move away somewhere. Sam also begins spending more time at Liz’s apartment, even though Brick sometimes catches her sleeping over and kicks her out in the middle of the night. Other times, the friends spend the night at Bobby’s house.
As Liz gravitates toward Carlos, she also distances herself from Brick and Brick’s home. She feels that she can be independent and get by perfectly well without Brick’s support. The problem is, she’s just transferring her dependence onto other people instead.
One night, after Brick yells at Sam for sleeping over with Liz, Liz and Sam decide to leave their homes for good. Liz packs some clothes and the photograph of Ma as a teenager. She’s ready to leave Brick forever.
The fact that Liz packs her mother’s photograph suggests that she’s turning her back on Brick, but not her entire family. Even if Liz is leaving Ma as she is right now, she still wants to remember Ma as she was before, and to retain a connection to her.