Read the Excerpt: House of Bone and Rain by Gabino Iglesias



Two bullets to the face

The wake

A baquiné

Brotherhood of the gun

The church of anger

The last day of classes, our last day as high school students, marked a new era for us. We wanted it. We feared it. We had plans for it. Then Bimbo’s mom hit the sidewalk with two bullet holes in her face, and the blood drowned out all those plans.

Bimbo called to tell us the day after it happened. His real name was Andrés, but we mostly called him Bimbo because he was brown and chubby and looked like the mascot bear of a brand of cookies. It’s normal for people to report the death of a parent. Old age. Cancer. A heart attack. Whatever. Old people die and we expect it, accept it even. It’s normal. Murder is different. Murder is a monster that chews up whatever expectations you had regarding death and spits them in your face. Murder is an attack on someone’s life, yes, but also an attack on those left behind.

When Bimbo called to tell me about the death of his mother, María, I felt attacked. “They shot my mom, man.” Five words about the recent past that were heavy enough to crush our future. I said nothing because there was nothing to say. Death swallows words, or at least shows you how fucking useless they are.

María had been working the door at Lazer Club for a few years. All she did was check IDs and yell at the gorillas inside if anyone got belligerent. At least that’s what everyone thought. What most people didn’t know — and we knew only because we were Bimbo’s best friends — was that she also dealt on the side. But no judgment: mothers are sacred. Mine definitely is.

In the pregnant silence that followed Bimbo’s words, María’s coarse laugh came to me, a ghost made of sound. I wondered what would happen to the spaces that laugh was supposed to fill in the world, the ears it was meant to touch, the conversations it was supposed to decorate with its humor. I saw María climbing into the shitty Chevy Malibu she drove everywhere, Héctor Lavoe screaming nasally from those busted speakers, his voice leaking out the window like the perfect soundtrack to María’s perpetual smile.

When my pops died, when I was ten, I didn’t want to be home, because he haunted every corner of it. He’d hung every picture on our walls. The kitchen table smelled like his aftershave. He’d painted my room. He was everywhere, so I spent a lot of time at Bimbo’s place, and María had welcomed me then, fed me arroz con salchichas and asked me about my mom while scolding Bimbo that only assholes hit girls after he had pushed his sister.

I wanted to tell Bimbo about these memories, to let him know that I’d loved his mom, too, that he didn’t have to carry the pain alone, but I couldn’t say shit. Any question I asked would be stupid, and anything I said would fail to bring María back, but I had to say something, so I mumbled the same thoughtless sympathy I’d utter at anyone else. Bimbo made a noise that was a Yes, okay, choking on it.

Then Bimbo cleared his throat and said he’d be in touch. As we were hanging up, he paused. “She loved you, man.” I sat there on my unmade bed and thought about never seeing María again. Then I imagined my own mom dead on a sidewalk outside a club in Old San Juan. My insides filled with something so heavy it was hard to breathe. If someone killed my mom, I would burn the world to cinders.

Soon after Bimbo called us, we called each other. Xavier, Tavo, Paul, and me. Along with Bimbo, we were a crew. Brothers, really. You know, like the tight- knit group of kids in a Stephen King novel, except with three brown dudes and two Black ones running around and getting in trouble. We didn’t have much to say, but we needed to know the rest of us were still there, that we still had each other. Their voices were a familiar place where I could hide from whatever Bimbo was feeling and the awful way in which we all imagined ourselves in his shoes. Just hearing each other that day was enough to get us through. Men are weird when it comes to love, but sometimes a You good, man? on the phone is as good as I love you, brother.

After the phone calls, I walked out of my room and told my mom, who was sitting at the little kitchen table while watching over something she had on the stove. “Virgen Santísima,” she said, her hands covering her mouth. Then she crossed herself, kissed her fingers, and stood up to hug me. I hugged her back a bit too hard, feeling very lucky that she was still with me, and wishing I could crack my chest open, put her inside there, and keep her there forever so nothing could touch her the way it’d touched my father and María.

“Déjame saber si Bimbo necesita algo,” she said. She didn’t ask any questions, only told me to let her know if Bimbo needed anything. She knew that María led a life that flew too close to danger, but she had never said anything about it or about her, and had even gotten the cops off her back a few times with a few lies and a big smile. They were women raising kids by themselves, and that brought them together in a way only other women like them would understand.

My mom let me go and sat down.

“María…,” she started, then stopped. She took a deep breath. “María came to see me a few times after your father passed away. She asked me if I needed money. Then she said her brother…would take care of things if any man tried to take advantage of me. She was a good woman. Don’t let anything you hear now distract you from that, okay?”

I nodded, but I’d had no clue. María had been good to me, but knowing she had also reached out to my mom made me feel a different, bigger love and respect for her. It made me hurt for Bimbo even more.

Two days later, we sat in Bimbo’s living room and he told us what he knew: a couple of dudes with Scarface dreams had approached María at the club and asked her to sell for them. She’d refused. Whoever owned Lazer paid her to work the door, but as far as María was concerned, her brother, Pedro, was her one and only boss, and María was comfortable with that. The men who had talked to her apparently didn’t like that answer, so they drove by again the next day and rained down bullets on María and three other unlucky people standing near the door. The other three had survived. María left a hole in the world. Of course, as with everything else in life, what we knew could have been a pebble at the bottom of the mountain of everything we ignored, and there was a chance at least half that pebble was bullshit.

The wake was on a Thursday. We all went. Xavier picked me up. He was a good dude. Smart. He played tennis, a bit of soccer, and had full-ride offers from a few colleges. He was a bit taller than me and good-looking. He was dark, but he had what folks on the island call “good hair,” so he was seen as an indio instead of Black. He was a thinker, too, methodical. We relied on him to figure things out. While we watched action flicks and horror movies, he watched documentaries. He wanted to get a degree in electrical engineering, like his big sister. We knew he’d do it. Some folks have everything they need to win at life regardless of where they’re born. He lived with his parents in a neighborhood so bad it didn’t have a name, right behind the largest housing project in the United States. To the outside world, it was tierra de nadie; a lawless, violent place you stayed away from at all costs. For Xavier, it was home.

We ran into Tavo in the funeral home’s parking lot. Tavo was a surfer. Taller than the rest of us. Blond with green eyes, which made him stand out. He was a pure soul, like he was made of ocean and clear blue skies instead of the shit the rest of us are made of. He’d been waiting around for someone else to show up because he didn’t want to go in alone. The three of us strode in like dudes in a Tarantino movie, but as soon as we saw Bimbo, we all melted into a weepy mess.

Once we had collected ourselves, Bimbo said he had to talk to the other people and left us there, feeling hurt, sad, and awkward, so we went up to the casket because it seemed to be the right thing to do. We had to pay our respects.

María’s casket was closed. That was fine by me. Next to the casket, mounted on a wooden easel, there was a big black-and-white photo of her with Bimbo and Bimbo’s younger sister. They were in front of a Disney World castle. Bimbo’s father had never been in his life and neither had his sister’s father, so I guessed they’d asked some fellow tourist to take their photo. The big smiles on their faces seemed out of place, like diamonds in a catacomb.

María had been a loud, rotund woman who used to scream at us whenever we turned her house upside down looking for quarters so we could go to the corner bar to play the old Pac-Man and Street Fighter II arcade games. I wanted to remember her that way, so I tried to think about her laugh instead of wondering what her face might look like in that casket. My brain refused to cooperate and served up the ugliest, most painful image possible. Two bullet holes in her face, leaking blood onto the grimy sidewalk, and her eyes open but not seeing anything.

We moved a few feet away from the casket and watched silently as people came and went. They were all part of the ritual, just like we had been when we arrived. Paul showed up about an hour after we got there. He had some relationship drama going on, as always. If there was ever a line on his forehead, it meant he was in one of his dark moods and we knew not to press him.

Some people showed up to talk to Bimbo about helping him and his sister, who was also called María because that’s how we Latinos do it. They said the church near the high school would ask for donations for them. We almost laughed. Everyone knew giving money to the church was as good as burning it. Bimbo nodded, but I could tell he wasn’t paying attention.

Paul, Tavo, Xavier, and I moved to a corner in the back and kept quiet. Over our heads, the room’s AC unit made a racket as it struggled to keep the room cool while the Caribbean sun pummeled the building with its relentless rays.

I thought about Francisco Oller’s El Velorio, a painting everyone knows even if they went to the shittiest school in the country. El Velorio — “The Wake” — is arguably the most important painting in the history of Puerto Rican art. At some point, every kid in the country is thrown on a bus with no AC and taken to the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras to stare at the massive work of art.

The painting depicts a baquiné — a wake or celebration after the death of a child — which, like many other things in the Caribbean, has deep roots in Africa. Basically, the baquiné celebrates the fact that kids are innocent and thus become angels when they die. The painting had seared itself into my brain the moment I laid eyes on it. It featured folks laughing and partying, a few dogs and other animals frozen in memorable poses, a kid running around, some jíbaros drinking and playing music, and in the middle of the whole thing, an old man with a cane standing in front of a table where the dead infant lies. The old man is alone, and you can tell by the way he’s looking at the dead child that he can feel Death itself starting to creep into his bones, singing to him from beneath the ground, calling him home.

There was none of that here. This was just a wake, not a baquiné. The AC’s hum and the smell of disinfectant and the unnatural lighting engulfed the whole place and seemed to declare Death the winner. I hated it. I wanted to go back in time and reclaim the festive nature that had been part of my culture years ago. I wanted to cry for María but also to celebrate that we who had survived her were all still alive, ready to enjoy life for at least a while longer.

About half an hour later, the room had emptied, everyone going back to their little worlds, probably already in the process of forgettingMaría.

Tavo, Xavier, Paul, and I were still sitting together in a corner in the back, not saying much and keeping our voices low when we did because the one thing we knew — driven into our thick skulls by parents and grandparents alike — was that the dead deserved respect.

Bimbo closed the door to the small room as soon as the last two people left. Then he walked up to the casket without saying a word and opened it. The lid was split in two pieces, but it still looked heavy, and Bimbo struggled a bit with the top half. The casket was made of dark brown wood and the insides were white. A pretty thing to hold a dead woman. I wondered if Bimbo had picked it. I’d been too youngto take care of anything when my father died, and I couldn’t imagine having to pick a big box for my mom’s body.

Losing my father had broken me and built back a strange version of the kid I’d been. It ended up strengthening my bond with my mom — something I’d do anything to preserve — but I’d had to learn to live with a ghost. Bimbo didn’t have anyone in his family to lean on other than his uncle, who was always busy, and I wondered how much that contributed to the monstrous pain that was surely eating him up. With half the lid raised, Bimbo looked our way and asked us all to come closer.

María’s face looked like a dollar store version of the one she’d had in life. She was a dark woman, darker than Bimbo and his sister, but now looked a few shades lighter, like a vampire had sucked the life out of her. And you could tell the undertaker had used some kind of plaster to fill in the two bullet holes, one under her left eye and one just beneath her hairline on the right side of her face. The filled holes were different in texture from the rest of her skin and had sunk in a little. She looked like a cheap doll and I knew then that this version of her face was going to show up in my nightmares soon enough.

“Look at her,” said Bimbo. We were already looking at her. It was impossible not to — death and curiosity made good dancing partners. Bimbo was telling us to look at her, sure, but he was also begging us to be there, to bear witness.

“Fucking look at her!” Bimbo’s scream made us all jump. He

started sobbing. Xavier took a step toward Bimbo, probably to hold him, but Bimbo pushed him away with his left hand while pulling out a gun with his right one. If his scream had pushed us all back a step, the gun — a black, blocky thing — doubled whatever distance we’d previously put between Bimbo, the casket, and ourselves.

“What the fuck are you doing, man?” asked Tavo, his voice climbing an octave. Tavo had always been the voice of reason. He had come out to us about two years earlier, and because we had all grown up deep in bullshit macho culture, his being gay made him smarter in our eyes, like he had a bit of that sixth sense. We all knew any change in

his tone usually meant he was worried, sad, angry, or scared, and if Tavo was scared, things were bad.

“This doesn’t end here,” said Bimbo. “We’re gonna make this right.”

I thought about trying to calm Bimbo, to tell him that the cops would take care of it, but we all knew they never would, because one more dead woman — a small-time dealer at that — on a tiny island that sees hundreds of murders every year isn’t anyone’s priority, so I

kept quiet just like everyone else. We had to let him have this moment, had to let this righteous anger consume whatever Bimbo needed it to consume.

A good minute went by before Paul broke the silence. “What are you talking about, man? What do you mean, ‘We’re gonna make this right’?”

Bimbo looked down at the gun in his hand. “We’re gonna kill the motherfuckers who killed her.”

It was a fucking awful idea, but it made sense. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It was part of how we did things. It was part of how the whole fucking country did things. We all knew that, but we also knew that stealing or beating people up or destroying someone’s car — all of which we’d done more than once — were very different things than murder. We should’ve said no right then, but Bimbo was suddenly a preacher at the church of anger, calling us to partake in some sacred ritual of righteous violence.

“I’m with you,” said Paul. “They deserve to die.”

Fucking Paul. His anger was like a leech, always looking for something or someone to attach itself to. He was always the first to throw a punch, the first to hurl an insult, the first to ask someone if they wanted to take it outside. Maybe not having a father had made him that way, the constant fight to be as manly as he thought he needed to be to survive. However, I knew all about not having a father, and I wasn’t like him, so maybe it was just something that same missing father had left him with.

Bimbo nodded at Paul and then turned to the rest of us. Our awkward silence seemed to give him a resounding yes, and he placed his gun on top of his dead mother’s chest. When he looked at us again, his eyes were bloodshot, his dark face streaked with tears. He used both hands to wipe his cheeks before reaching into the casket again and placing his right hand on top of the gun. We were all watching him, wondering what weird ritual we were witnessing, being a part of. Bimbo kept his eyes glued to his mother but moved his head sideways. He wanted us to put our hands on top of his. When you spend enough time with someone, you can more or less read their mind. We all took a step or two forward, reached into María’s dark brown casket with the lacy white interior, and placed our hands on the gun resting on her chest. Then we stood there, huddled over María’s body, shoulder to shoulder like the brothers we were.

None of us knew exactly what Bimbo meant by making us put our hands on his gun, what words had died in his throat, but I know we all thought he was making a promise on our behalf. We didn’t care. We loved him.



Bad spirit in the storm

A father’s death

Parking-lot pigeons


La casa grande

They put María in the ground, and her murder went from being a hot topic to something folks mentioned as a warning or a sad story about the state of our country. Then people stopped thinking about it at all. I knew how this went. We’d all grown up surrounded by death.

When I was ten, we’d locked ourselves in the house, listening to the wind howling outside. My abuela always stayed with us during hurricanes. She was convinced bad spirits came with each storm, that the angry winds birthed demons and pulled dark things from the bottom of the ocean. “It’s out there,” she’d say, wringing her hands as we all sat at the kitchen table. “It’s always out there. I don’t know where it goes when hurricanes stop, but I know it’s always…somewhere.”

I sort of laughed at her. “You think that?”

“There’s nothing to think about, Gabe,” my dad said, giving me a swift kick under the table. I yelped and got up to look out the window.

Respect your elders was big in our house, but that didn’t mean I had to buy every ghost story. The water was coming up fast, covering our street and threatening to get into cars.

Our street sort of dipped a bit, and the drainage was shit, so heavy rains always brought flooding our way. It was normal. Then came a shriek unlike anything I’d ever heard, and I saw a dark figure standing outside right next to my dad’s car, seemingly impervious to the wind.

“Get away from that window and sit down with me,” my dad said. I looked back at him. His eyes were wide.

“Dad, there’s a guy out there. I think, maybe, he’s trying to steal your car.” My dad stood up, shaking off my mom, who pulled at his sleeve.

My grandmother started saying a rosary and I wished I could grab my last sentence out of the air and swallow it whole, but I also wanted to know what the world looked like during a hurricane, so I followed him to the door. My dad lifted his bloodshot eyes and grabbed me by the shirt. “I said, stay inside, Gabe.” The move made me shrink back and we all waited at the door, holding it open against the wind just an inch and looking at the chaos beyond.

I watched my dad lean hard into the wind, like something might rip him away from the world, but he made it to the car. The other man seemed to be gone, but instead of turning back, my dad pulled his keys out of his back pocket and got in the car. He managed to drive it up the street a bit to where it wasn’t flooding. He parked under a big tree my friends and I sometimes climbed when we were bored. The car’s brake lights flicked on and off as the wind howled.

The trees were doing a mad dance that made it hard to figure out which way the storm was blowing. I watched my dad struggle to open the door against the wind. Then there was a huge crack! and the tree my dad had parked under shook like an agonizing giant before it all came crashing down on top of the car in a loud metallic crunch.

I ran out of the house with no raincoat or shoes. The wind knocked me down as I reached the sidewalk.

My mom screamed behind me.

Only the back half of the car was visible.

Then my dad emerged from the foliage. Blood was running down his face and he was holding on to the car like he was weak or dizzy, but he was alive and walking and I’d never felt relief like that before.

But the tree must have brought down the power lines as it fell, because when my dad took a step, still holding on to the car, his body shook like it was possessed by a demon. A sound like bees rose off him. The transformer at the end of the street exploded, sending wild sparks into the air right above the fallen tree.

My mother had to drag me back to the house, where my abuela called 911 and then held me the entire eight hours between watching my father die and the moment my mom finally went out to meet the paramedics. All I remember of that time is my abuela’s strong, gnarled hands wrapped around me tight so that I wouldn’t try to go out to see my father.

The weeks that followed were hot and dark, same as after every hurricane. We didn’t have power or water for a few days. I couldn’t sleep. I had no idea how to act, what to say, how to turn back time.

There was so much death everywhere on the island that no one cared that much about my dad’s fate in particular. Also, I was left with a big secret only he and I shared; a thing that gave me nightmares and that had pushed me away from baseball, a sport I’d loved. Without my father around, the weight of that secret threatened to crush me. A month or so after his death, school started again. I got into fights. My grades dropped. I got suspended. I lost the year.

That was also when I started hanging out with Bimbo, Paul, Tavo, and Xavier. We each had holes in our lives that were shaped more or less like the rest of us. We fit together. We stuck together. We had each other’s backs. When I was with them, I was less alone. Maybe that’s why I always went along with anything they said.

High school was done now, and a strange kind of desperation had set in. The end of summer would also be the end of an era. Xavier, Tavo, Paul, and I took that desperation and tried to drown it in good times.

We had a party at Paul’s house, where everyone got a little too drunk and little too high and we talked about the things we’d gone through that had changed us, throwing in as much humor as we could. We went fishing twice, camped at our favorite beach in Guánica for a week. At night we smoked weed and looked up at the stars, talking about the possibility of life on other planets and making plans to move there if the apocalypse finally came.

Bimbo never made it to anything, never picked up his phone, and never called or texted any of us, and that had somehow planted a chunk of ice at the center of our souls anytime we hung out together.

We had always been a group, a crew, a family. We had been for years. Bimbo had moved from Puerto Rico to Florida and then back to the island the year before and had gotten caught selling weed at his previous school. Tavo moved from New York with his family to live on the island early that year and was just starting school. Paul’s mom was too busy to care about his fights and suspensions, and Xavier was absent so much that he flunked a bunch of classes. That meant we started the fourth grade all over again as older kids. Bimbo, Tavo, Paul, Xavier, and I didn’t have much in common to start off, but we were all lost and angry, so we gravitated toward each other and soon became inseparable. We became brothers.

After a few weeks, as July ran toward its end like a spooked horse, dragging the last vestiges of our childhood with it, we spent a few nights in Old San Juan, playing dominoes and listening to music that meant something to us — Joaquín Sabina, Fito Páez, Silvio Rodríguez — as the scorching Caribbean night outside did its best to warm up our insides. Not having Bimbo there felt weird.

Xavier and I drove by his house a few times. We knocked on his door and rang the doorbell, but no one came out, and Bimbo’s car, a shit-brown Dodge Neon, was never outside. We wondered if he was out in María’s Malibu and told ourselves and each other that he was just processing shit, that he only needed time to let his wounds heal, then he would return to us. When four weeks became five and then six and seven and no one had heard from him, we started fearing the worst, but said nothing. Perhaps one of the most painful things about growing up is realizing that rather than go away, the things you don’t talk about lurk in dark corners and grow.

August rolled around and Xavier drove to the other side of the island to start college in Mayagüez. I started thinking about life as a runaway train that accelerates every time you think you’d like it to slow down a little. I knew Xavier would end up dressing nicely, working at an office somewhere, and leaving his parents’ barrio behind like his sister had done. I just hoped he’d stick around and not move to Florida or New York like everyone with a good degree did.

Tavo had applied to a few community colleges, but they all said no, so he started sending out fake résumés to get a gig, but every place either ignored him or replied with a no quicker than any college ever had. Tavo was the only person I knew who loved the ocean more than

I did, so an office gig would’ve made his soul shrivel and die a slow, agonizing death. Instead, he woke up every morning, grabbed his board, and headed to the beach. He was a natural at every sport he tried, but surfing was the thing he loved most. He had his own crew for that because even though every island boy’s heart belonged to the ocean, none of us were into surfing.

Tavo never spoke of dates or boyfriends and we never saw him with anyone, but we all wished he’d find someone. I understood him because I had my own secrets. His father, a tall gringo named Richard who’d met Tavo’s mom in his native New York, sold insurance to

American businesses for a living and had a drinking problem. After coming out to us sophomore year, Tavo had shown up at school with a busted lip. We knew Tavo hadn’t come out to his parents, but his dad must have heard about it from someone. We said nothing because family is sacred and what happens at home is no one’s business unless you want it to be. But when it happened again a few weeks later, a black eye that time, we paid Richard a visit one Saturday morning when we knew Tavo would be at the beach. Richard never put a hand on Tavo again.

Paul had moved in with Cynthia, the girl he’d been dating for three years. They were always fighting and calling it quits, but inevitably ended up back together, sometimes mere hours after a big ugly fight. We sort of understood them. Paul was moody, so he gravitated toward someone similar to him. We doubted anyone too stable would be able to put up with him. Some folks like Paul took meds at school to keep them mellow, but Paul exploded whenever his mother or Cynthia brought up that possibility, usually after some nasty incident. In any case, Paul started college that August as well, but he went to a private school that never turned down anyone whose parents could afford tuition.

He called me every day, kept bringing up stories from high school, talking about those days as if they had happened decades ago, like it was a magical time to be cherished. Funny how sometimes you can’t wait to get the hell out of a place — only to miss it like crazy once you do. He was the angriest of us, the one with the shortest fuse, but also the most vulnerable. His mother worked for an American company doing something all over the Caribbean, so she was able to provide, but she was never home. Paul needed us in his own way.

I started college in my town, at the University of Puerto Rico at Carolina, a small public institution. I didn’t have the numbers to go into business administration, but UPRC had a program where they let you in as a “general” student so you could take easy classes and then use your first- year grades to apply to a degree program with them.

Natalia, my girlfriend, was a third-year student at the same place and she had used the program to get into nursing. She had taken so many classes that she was going to graduate in three years instead of four, and then hoped to get into a graduate program in the States. We often talked about moving there together. The last time we had that conversation, I’d made some stupid comment about some people being born to be peacocks while my friends and I were born to be parking-lot pigeons, and she nearly ripped me a new one. You can have a house in a good neighborhood and not have to worry about not having health insurance or being broke all the time. You don’t have to spend the rest of your life working construction. You don’t have to stay in a place where corruption and crime and…and even the weather seem to be…en contra de ti. You don’t have to stay where you’re born. People aren’t trees. We can move around.

Natalia was always talking about how patriarchy was a cancer, that it was the thing that had kept her mother and aunts from going to college. She had taught me about the roles women had been pushed into throughout history, and one of those was being everybody else’s refuge. I realized I had started thinking about Natalia as my sanctuary and knew it was wrong.

She was much more to me than a place where I felt safe. I felt protected. I knew, because I had grown up deeply immersed in bullshit macho culture, that if anybody said anything to her or touched one of her curls, I’d be throwing hands, that I had to be the one who offered support, the strong one, but it always felt like it was the other way around. So, I spent many nights at the little apartment she rented with a friend in the back of a gas station in Isla Verde, and nodded along as she explained things to me, made plans for the future, dreamt big.

And in the meantime, I worked construction and felt like I was growing up faster than I had wanted.

But the thing about Puerto Rico, especially if you’re poor, is that there’s a lot going on — death, drugs, gangs, violence — so you either grow up quickly or you don’t get to grow up at all. When you live in a place that’s just a hundred miles long by thirty- five miles wide, only security gates separate you from the good stuff. For Paul, that wasn’t really an issue, because despite not having a husband, his mother made good money. He lived in a world where people slept safely and kids got to pick what university they went to without worrying about paying for it. For me and Tavo, things were tight but okay. It was different for Xavier and Bimbo. But we were brothers despite our different backgrounds, and suddenly not seeing each other every day was taking a toll.

That’s why when I heard someone honking the horn outside my mom’s house, I got excited even though I knew it could be for someone else. It was only a couple weeks after classes had started for me, so I wondered if Xavier was back or if Paul had taken the day off for some reason and decided to visit. It couldn’t be Tavo, because he always asked you before dropping by. It was a formality he got from his gringo blood.

I stood up, walked to the little window in my room, which faced the front of the house, and peeked outside. I saw Bimbo sitting behind the wheel of his shit-brown Dodge Neon. He was nodding his head to a reggaetón song. The bass was shaking the little car’s doors. I’d never thought his round face would make me so happy. I ran out to meet him.

“Where the fuck have you been, man?” I asked as I made my way to the driver’s side of the car.

Bimbo opened the door and stepped out. We hugged. I felt like crying again for some reason. Then I felt like an idiot for wanting to cry.

“I was locked up,” he said. The words made no sense for a second. Then they clicked in my brain.

“You were what?”

“Encerra’o, cabrón. En la casa grande, papi. In jail. Let’s go get some food and I’ll tell you all about it. Are Xavier, Tavo, and Paul around? I’m working on getting a phone again…”

Bimbo had spent his early years between various cities in Florida and Barrio Obrero, which wasn’t much better than Xavier’s neighborhood except for the fact that it wasn’t considered a “residencial.” He spoke a weird mix of English and Spanish. In fact, Bimbo seemed to prefer the mix to either language by itself.

“Xavier is in Mayagüez until Friday, but Tavo and Paul are around. Let me text them. Where we going?” “El Paraíso Asia and you fucking know it.”

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