Authors: Lisa T. Bergren,Lisa Tawn Bergren
Published by Bergren Creative Group, Inc.
Colorado Springs, CO, USA
All rights reserved. Except for brief excerpts for review purposes, no part of this book may be reproduced or used in any form without written permission from the publisher.
This story is a work of fiction. All characters and events are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is coincidental.
© 2016 Lisa T. Bergren
Cover design: Bergren Creative Group, Inc.
Cover images: Jennifer Ilene Photography
Printed in the United States of America
Dedicated to readers everywhere,
with hearts that hunger for a different time…
“It’s all yours. The apartment. The restaurant. She left it all to you.”
I stared at him. I knew I was doing little more than blinking, but so many words came to my head at once…and yet none seemed to add up to complete sentences.
“I’m only seventeen,” I finally spit out. Which pretty much summed up all my scattered thoughts. There was no way I could do this alone. How was I supposed to figure out my next steps without my
Señor Rodriguez blinked back at me, his bushy gray eyebrows like caterpillars above his eyes. “You’ll be eighteen in a couple of months, Zara. Graduated. By the time the state catches up, you’ll be officially independent.” He said it as though this was the best news possible.
He reached out and patted my hand, this lawyer who had been to mass with us every Sunday of my life. His knuckles were thick with age, as my abuela’s had been. “Your cousin, Mirabel. You can live with her a few months?”
“They have no room,” I said, my eyes shifting to the window, with my guitar perched beside the frame. I thought of Mirabel’s tiny two-bedroom apartment and three children under the age of five. Her husband, who drank tequila from the time he came through the door after work until he passed out on the couch. “She said she’d look in on me here,” I said, forcing a confident nod. “I’ll be fine.”
“Well, better here,” he said, putting some of his papers in an old briefcase, “than in a foster home or orphanage. I see no sense in that for two months. Your abuela…” He made the sign of the cross from his forehead to his ample belly and then from shoulder to shoulder and shook his head once. “She wouldn’t have wanted that for you.”
I frowned. She wouldn’t. Neither would I.
“But what about the restaurant?” I asked.
He shrugged, raising ham-like shoulders to his ears. “Run it. Your abuela taught you everything she knew,
? You’re young. Strong.” He lifted a hand and made a sweeping motion. “Or sell it. I know of some people—”
“Sell it,” I said firmly. “I’ll sell it,” I said, more softly this time. I looked to the window again. “It’s too much, you know? Too much hers. To be in that kitchen, without her there…” I shook my head. “I think I’d cry every day.” Even the thought of it brought tears to my eyes. I’d be rolling out masa for tortillas but missing her beside me—poking me when I left it too thick, swatting me on the butt when I got it too thin. Making me smile through it all.
“The sale could help a little with college, though after we pay all your abuela’s bills, I wouldn’t count on much.” He patted my hand again. “There’s no need to rush. Shut the doors for a while. Wait to make a decision until you’re certain. There’s no hurry. But now, dear girl, I must go.” He rose wearily. “It’s very late.”
“Sí, sí,” I said, rising with him, guiltily glancing at the clock. It was past three in the morning. My grandmother’s friends and family had stayed until after two, drinking up her tequila, eating everything I put out. Few made an effort to help clean up. The restaurant downstairs was a disaster.
I followed him to the door. “
, Señor Rodriguez. I appreciate your guidance.”
He turned and gave me a weary smile. “When you decide on the restaurant, I’ll help you through. And if you need me, you call. For anything.”
He paused, looking out to the empty, dimly lit street. We heard nothing but the sound of crickets and distant waves on the beach. He looked back to me. “You’ll be okay, Zara?”
“I’ll be okay,” I said, with more confidence than I felt. “I’ll just pretend she’s here.”
He nodded, as if that was all he needed to hear, and walked down the steps with a lurching gait. His knees must hurt. It was so much like the way Abuela had moved…I hurriedly turned away and shut the door, leaning my head against it, my hand still on the cold knob. The tears flowed then. I’d last watched my grandmother climb those stairs three days ago. After a long night in the restaurant below. It had taken us forever to climb the fifteen steps, and I wanted to scream in frustration. And now—now, all I wanted was to watch her do it again. To feel her pat my cheeks. See her look on me with love. Hear her soft
Buenas noches, Grillita
. “Little cricket.” She’d always called me that, for as long as I could remember. And as much as we hated finding the noisy nasties in our apartment, she always made my nickname sound like something admired and cherished. Like no one else had ever made me feel.
I straightened and moved woodenly toward her rocker, her knitting half-finished in the basket beside it. Forever unfinished now, because I never was any good at that kind of thing. But I picked it up and pulled out the long needles, setting them on my lap, yarn still looped around one, and lifted the finished portion up to my cheek, closing my eyes. “Oh, Abuela, Abuela,” I said, more tears running down my face. “How could you leave me?”
I cried for hours, until the tiniest glimmer of pink began to light the eastern horizon, and knew I needed to get out of the apartment. To walk. Run. Then and only then might I sleep. The memories in here, her presence, felt smothering, as if they were closing in on me, wanted and yet unwanted. I needed some space to breathe before I could find my way into and through them.
Rising, I pulled off my sweater, which smelled of yesterday’s work in the kitchen—smoke and lard and onion and cumin—and reached for my abuela’s thick shawl, beautifully knitted from soft black and red yarn, and wrapped it around me like a hug. I still wore the black cami and long maxiskirt from yesterday’s funeral and figured I’d be warm enough on the beach. If I kept moving, anyway. Even if I got chilled, it’d be good in a way. It’d remind me I was alive, through and through—that a part of me hadn’t died with my grandmother.
I hurried down the street in the near-dark, glancing into shadowed doorways, keeping an eye out for troublemakers, thinking I ought to have brought my pocket knife. But most everybody was asleep at this hour. At the bottom of the street, I turned right and walked along much finer homes that lined the beach and those across the street, forced to content themselves with peekaboo views over their neighbors’ rooftops. The houses here were big and stood inches away from their million-dollar neighbors, in an effort to make the most of the space. But up ahead, a wide public beach loomed, the white of cresting waves visible even in the relative dark.
As I got closer, I thought about visiting here with my grandmother. Collecting shells and sea glass—a mound that began to dominate our entire coffee table over the years. And yet she never complained. She’d encouraged it.
ed over each find like it might bring us money, in time. Loved me, and loved my passions. Whatever they were. Playing the guitar. Singing. Clouds. Weather.
If it hadn’t been for her… My dad was in prison for life, a murderer. My mom had been young when she got pregnant with me. Dumped me with her mother and ran away, then never saw either of us again. I don’t think Abuela ever got over that. That, more than anything, made me tear up. To the very end, I think Abuela waited for the phone to ring. For a knock at the door. For a sweet reunion. Somehow, she thought that if Mom came home, everything would fall back into place. The family would draw together. We would all find a measure of peace.
But it wasn’t to be.
I wiped angry tears from my eyes, rubbing them as if I was mad at myself for grieving Mom’s absence again—even if it was for my grandmother, who believed until the end it was all going to work out.
I knew what Abuela craved. She wanted something like we saw every night in the restaurant. Families, thick with children of all ages, doting grandparents, playfully bickering parents, aunts and uncles and cousins. It seemed the birthright of a hundred families we knew. But not ours.
I kicked off my flats and picked them up with two fingers, loving the feel of cool, damp sand squishing between my toes. I could see the horizon now with the rising sun behind me, even with the dense morning marine layer that shrouded the sea in billowing, misty clouds. They rolled inward, past me, over me, bathing my skin in moisture, like Neptune’s own cold breath.
My feet moved as they always did, toward the rocks at the far end of the bay. There I’d find the tide pools my grandmother had loved. Perhaps some sea urchins or anemones. Bright orange or deep purple starfish. Those had been her favorites, which had become mine. How dedicated she’d been, I thought. Raising a baby, a toddler, a girl, a teen. Keeping the restaurant going, to bring us income, when she should have been sitting back, relaxing.
But she’d done it all. For me.
Where would I have been without her?
“Thanks, Father,” I whispered skyward, taking a deep breath past the lump in my throat and crossing myself, as Señor Rodriguez had done. “For giving me Abuela. Even if I wanted her longer. Take care of her for me, okay?”
I thought about the last conversation I’d had with her, three nights past, when we’d finally made it upstairs. I helped her to her rocker, took off her shoes as she asked, and rubbed her swollen feet, something I’d always hated. But she loved it so much, was so appreciative, I’d never had the guts to admit my reluctance. She sat back and closed her eyes, her face a mixture of pain and glory as I rubbed the knots from her arches, from her heel.
“What is it you want most, Grillita?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” I returned, tired and wanting only to slip into my bed.
“From life. If I could give you anything, what would you want?”
“Besides a scholarship to UCLA or Texas A&M?”
Or even an acceptance letter…
“After a couple of years at the community college, they will accept you. You’ll see.”
Abuela had more faith in the system than I did, given my 3.5 GPA. But I was sick of worrying about it. “How ’bout an introduction to a handsome prince?”
“You don’t have to wish for that,” she said, her brown eyes twinkling as she peeked at me. “A girl as pretty as you—”