Afternoons like this hit Angelica the hardest. She came home from school to an empty house, her Tía Laura and little brother Ramón still gone. The failing light outside cast the walls in a lonely blue pallor. She opened the living room blinds, letting in the remnants of light, then turned on the TV. Most days, Tía Laura would be back with Ramón, and Angelica would make him a peanut butter sandwich like she used to when they lived with their Mami. Today was his tee ball practice, though, so that meant if she didn’t stay out skating after school with her friends, she’d come back to a house haunted by stale memories. Angelica collapsed into the overstuffed sofa in the living room. Streaks of pink laced through her dyed black hair, tied in a ponytail. Her sharp eyebrows always seemed to be glaring, partly from the eyeliner she used and partly from the demeanor she’d adopted. One of Laura’s recurring complaints was her monochromatic color scheme, always wearing black. With the darkness creeping into the living room, Angelica clicked on the lamp. They tried to keep the use of lights and electricity to a minimum. Car doors clapped shut outside in the street. Laura entered with Ramón, in his yellow Astros jersey and clutching a McDonald’s bag. Laura held her phone to her ear with her shoulder, purse in one hand and keys unlocking the door in the other. Ramón ran in to give Angelica a hug. Laura shut the door with her foot, phone still pressed to her ear, and mouthed, “money?” Angelica pointed to the kitchen counter where forty dollars sat; her contribution to the power bill that month. Laura snatched the money off the counter, still speaking in rapid Spanish into the phone as she walked into her bedroom.
Angelica had night terrors before her brother was born. She lived with her Mami, Elaine, on Reddick Street in Melbourne. She went to sleep at night to the sound of her father yelling, Mami crying and the thumping bass from cars going by in the night. Sometimes the shouts were further away, outside the house. Sirens occasionally followed those shouts. A Formosa palm sat outside her window, with two fronds that reached out like arms. When the sun set, it would cast a crawling shadow across her bed, like a man reaching through the window toward her. A streetlight held it in place throughout the night and she’d hide beneath her covers, afraid to leave until morning. She liked it when the train came with its constant, lulling rumble, masking the other noises like distant thunder. She’d forget the frightening sounds outside long enough to drift into sleep. Yet some nights, her nightmares waited for her, and she’d jolt awake trembling and sweating, just to be met by the hulking black shape of the palm outside her curtains.
When she was eight, during her parents’ divorce, Angelica walked outside and ripped the fronds off the palm. She came back inside with cuts on her hands from the sharp edges. Seeing her hands, her mom swatted her a few times after washing them and applying Neosporin. That night Angelica slept soundly, with no scary shadows creeping across her bed.
On Tuesday Carla, Angelica’s shift manager, called her into the head housekeeper’s office when she arrived Friday night at Brevard Community College. The gray light from the overcast afternoon sky streamed in through the half opened blinds behind the desk where Bill, the head housekeeper sat. His forehead was ribbed like a washboard, silver hair swept across his scalp like cirrus clouds. Carla stood to the left of the desk. Angelica wondered if she’d been seen selling weed on the premises.
“Angelica, you’ve done great work here,” said Bill, “but the college has cut the housekeeping budget and to make ends meet, we’re afraid we have to let you go for now.” Angelica looked at Carla, who averted her eyes.
“I don’t understand,” Angelica said, “did I do something wrong?”
“Absolutely not,” he said, “you’ve done great here and I will provide you the best of references at your next job. It’s just that given the budget cuts this fiscal year, we had a decision to make. We could end our hiring program with the Children’s Home Society – the same program I’m sure you recall is what placed you with us, or we could let some of our current employees go.”
“But I need this,” Angelica said, “I have bills to pay, I’m not just doing this for beer money.” The manager closed his eyes and nodded his head,
“I understand that, Angie, but these were the options and the college has decided to give other girls the same opportunity we gave you. You will do just fine wherever you end up.” Angelica shook her head, her skull and crossbones earrings dangling against her cheek.
“I’m sorry, Angie,” Carla said. Drops of rain tapped against the window and palm fronds flitted in the top right corner like slender green fingers. Angelica was given the option to finish out the week, which she took. As she exited the manager’s office, Carla followed and pulled her to the side.
“This had nothing to do with you. You’ve come a long way since the group home. You and I both know you’ll be fine.” Carla met her eyes, outlined in mascara and blue eye shadow.
Angelica sighed and said, “Mad respect to you Carla, but your confidence ain’t gonna get my bills paid.”
“Your tía will understand. Times are tough,” said Carla.
Angelica rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.
Carla touched her shoulder, “She’ll have to understand, Angie. She’s gotta know how bad the economy is.”
“The economy? I’m getting laid off so someone else can come take my job. That ain’t saving anyone money.” Angelica said.
“Actually,” Carla ran glanced downward, “no one is filling your position.”
“So all that stuff about ‘giving other girls an opportunity’…?” Carla looked to Angelica’s eyes and shook her head.
Angelica finished her shift. The mundane periods wiping down desks and vacuuming offices made her mind wander, how and if she would explain this to Tía Laura. When she’d agreed to allow her and Ramón to live with her, it’d been on the conditions that she help pay the utilities and groceries, and that Angelica would one day talk to her mother again. She clocked out from the college where she’d spent the past eight months working nights, then walked out into the muggy night.
Angelica and Ramón sat on the overstuffed blue couch after school the next day. Ramón ate a peanut butter sandwich that Angelica made for him and SpongeBob flickered from the TV. A wooden coffee table sat before them with a half full ashtray and a few tabloids and magazines. Angelica threaded the chain of her stainless steel heartagram necklace around her forefinger. She hadn’t told Laura she’d lost her job yet. Maybe she could hold off – she could talk to Tucker, her ex with whom she’d remained friends, and get more weed to distribute until she found another part-time job. That meant being out more, so she’d lose sleep and probably wouldn’t keep up with her homework. If she couldn’t make up the lost income in time, the insurance on her Intrepid would be the first to go. Or she could tell Laura, who’d yell at her for about ten minutes then afterward they could work on a solution. She hoped that solution wouldn’t involve her moving back into Hacienda Girls Home. During her stepdad’s molestation trial when she was fifteen, she moved in at the Girls Home to escape Mami’s accusations against her, claiming Angelica made up the story of her stepfather raping her to get him out of the house. Angelica shuddered at the memory of that confrontation – she denounced any affection she ever had for her mother, standing at the front door holding Ramón’s hand, the phone in the other. She called Laura and told her they were moving in. Laura told her,
“You can stay for a week or two until things smooth over, but I can’t have you two living here. I can’t afford two more mouths to feed.” Angelica threw the phone at her mother, and walked out of the house. She walked to the end of Reddick Street, then lit a cigarette and sat on the curb. She was dating Tucker at the time and his neighborhood bordered Hacienda Girls Home – she knew a few of her friends that went there because they wanted out of their parents’ house. It beat sleeping under an overpass. That week, she and Mami walked into Hacienda Girls Home to begin the residency paperwork. She stayed up all night thinking about Ramón, hoping he would be safe until she could figure out how to get him away.
Angelica wanted to light up a cigarette, but she wouldn’t smoke around her brother. Not that it mattered – Mami used to all the time. Ramón sat a few inches from her and stared at the TV.
“Are you ready for the game Saturday?” she asked. He nodded his head, eyes remained fixed on the TV screen. A car rushed by outside on Montgomery Avenue and Angelica shifted a little closer.
“Are you excited?” she asked. Ramón nodded again, taking a bite of his sandwich and maintaining his gaze on the TV.
“I might be able to come to this one,” she said. Ramón gave Angelica a brief smile, then looked away.
“What’s going on, Ramón?” she asked. Angelica moved even closer. She placed a hand on his shoulder and stared, her eyebrows furrowed.
“I wanna see Mami again.”
Angelica sighed and looked away. She bit her lip, which was veiled in purple lip gloss. A nauseous sensation coiled below her sternum.
“Why can’t she be around us anymore?”
She closed her eyes then looked back at Ramón, “I wish I knew,” she said. She wished she could just tell the seven-year-old that their mother valued a man in her life more than her own children. How she kept jumping from boyfriend to boyfriend, almost all of them abusive. She wished she could explain what their stepfather did to her when she was fifteen. She put her arm around Ramón and pulled him in. He rested his head on her shoulder. They watched TV in the amber light of the living room until Tía Laura came out to tell them it was bedtime.
“I wanna stay up with Angie,” Ramón said.
“You have school in the morning, so does Angie,” said Laura. “Come on now.” Hanging his head, he slid off the couch and wandered to the bathroom to take a bath and brush his teeth. Angelica crossed her arms and looked back at the TV.
“Did you go to school today?” Laura asked. She stood with one hand on her hip.
“Yes, Tía,” Angelica fixed her gaze on the TV.
“You better have, you know how close you are to getting kicked out.”
“They would’ve called you if I didn’t, wouldn’t they?” Angelica narrowed her eyes, thick with mascara. Laura shifted on her feet. She walked closer to the couch and touched the armrest lightly.
“I need to tell you something, Angie,” said Laura, “Easter is the Sunday after this one,”
“Yeah?” Angelica turned her head toward her tía, “and?”
“I want to have dinner here, like we used to. I’m going to invite the whole family. The whole family,” Laura walked around the arm of the couch, standing between the coffee table and the sofa.
Angelica raised her eyebrows, “You don’t mean –”
“Ramón wants to see his mother. It’s been six months, Angie. You remember what our agreement was,”
“Yeah, you said when I was ready.” Angelica stood up, bumping the coffee table.
“My exact words were ‘when some time has passed.’ Time has passed. She’s still your mother and you can’t spend your life hating her. It’s not fair to Ramón to keep him away either.”
“Is this why Ramón was asking about Mom? You tell him this first?”
“He asks about her a lot. I’m tired of dancing around explanations.” Laura picked up a lighter from the coffee table and lit a cigarette. Angelica glared and pursed her lips.
“You have a choice, mi vida,” said Laura, “You can come to dinner or you can not come. One way or another, she will be there,” Laura exhaled smoke and turned to leave the living room. Angelica scowled at her aunt, then exhaled and fell into the couch. She glowered into the TV, the noise like static against her whirlpool of thoughts.
“Tía?” Angelica said. Laura stopped and looked back at her,
“Nevermind, forget it. It’s nothing,” Angelica shook her head.
“Buenas noches, Angie, don’t stay up too late,” Laura said, turning again to leave.
“Goodnight.” Angelica clicked off the lamp beside the couch. The flickering blue light from the TV danced across her face. When it seemed Laura and Ramón were asleep, she slipped out the front door and into the night.
When Angelica was nine, a stratum of gray clouds marauded the skies from the approach of Hurricane Erin. The streets were still; no cars rushing by, no one hollering into a neighbor’s window. A crumpled Doritos bag sat near the sidewalk, undisturbed by the still air, the dirt on either side covered in small patches of grass like the back of a mangy dog. A solitary police car rolled down the street from US 1, its lights on, but no siren. She stepped back from the window as it coasted by the house.
The storm came in the night. The entire house shook from winds that wailed like her Mami crying. Water crawled down the off-white walls from cracks in the ceiling. Thunder immediately followed blasts of lightning, and baby Ramón cried from their bedroom. Angelica knocked on her Mami’s door, but she didn’t answer. The man she was in the room with was not Ramón’s father. He disappeared as soon as Mami told him she was pregnant. Mami had been with this new guy for a month. They would inhale smoke in the living room that looked like puffy clouds, then disappear into the bedroom. They had done this before the storm hit. Angelica knocked on the door again, but no reply. The infant’s cries rose above the storm and she passed through the living room, around a coffee table covered in dirty dishes and charred aluminum squares, then into her room where her brother lay in his crib. She pulled him out of the crib, took him into the closet and held him while the house shook. The last thing she remembered was a film of water creeping in under the closet door.
Angelica stood in the shadows of two pepper tree bushes outside the weather station on Croton road. The Doppler radar at the station towered above the slash pines, encased in a massive white golf ball. Toward the south, a jet rose above the woods from the nearby Melbourne International Airport. She used to hide her cigarettes in a Ziploc bag here when she lived at the Hacienda Girls Home across the street past the Bridle Path neighborhood. She would sneak out in the night to smoke and talk to Tucker. The neighborhood was too quiet for her to sleep in those days. A car rolled up on Croton road, parked outside the gate and flickered its lights. She stubbed out her cigarette and climbed in the backseat with Tucker and his cousin Jamie.
“What happened, Angelica?” Jamie asked. Tucker drove with one hand on the gear shift.
“Where to fucking start?” She lit a cigarette and hung the cherry out the cracked window. “Lost the job today, my aunt wants my fucking mom to come to some party we’re having.”
“Shit, what are you going to do?”
“Jamie,” Tucker said, “feel the room, Cuz.”
“You mean, the car?”
“Yeah, in other words, feel the mood. She probably doesn’t want to get into it.”
“It’s cool, Tucker,” Angelica said, “I just needed to get outta my house.”
“So what are you gonna do? Isn’t she making you pay rent or something?” Jamie’s hair was pulled away from her face in a tight ponytail. She wore a black tank top and a ball chain necklace.
“Ain’t exactly had time to figure that out.” Streetlights from Sarno road strobed across Angelica’s face. Metalcore issued from the rear speakers, barely audible. A spiked wristband gripped Tucker’s wrist.
“You’ll figure something out. It isn’t the end of the world,” Tucker said. He turned onto US 1 from Sarno. A chain link gate enclosed a crumbling quadrangle of cement and a dilapidated building. A weathered yellow sign read Ray’s Marina, the paint peeling from five years of neglect. The three of them arrived at Tasty Freez where US 1 curved toward the Indian River. Tasty Freez had been in place since 1956. Teens and young adults still meandered in the fluorescent light from behind the counter, waiting to order soft serve, hot dogs, or chocolate coated ice cream cones. Tucker always said, “Melbourne isn’t dead as long as this place is in business.” Jamie’s rebuttal was always “when” this place went out of business, the town would be dead. They sat at one of the many red picnic tables beneath the tin roof adjacent to the building. Splotches of black dirt fused to the blue concrete floor by decades of rain water. Foam insulation coated pipes in an open janitor closet like orange tumors. Tucker and Jamie stared at each other for about three seconds, as if talking but their lips didn’t move.
Then Jamie got up, “I’m gonna smoke real quick.”
“You can smoke here, ain’t no one gonna say anything to you,” Angelica said.
“Don’t wanna be rude to anyone around us,” she said and walked behind the building. A pickup truck peeled out in the parking lot, belching black dust against the streetlights.
“Tell you what, Angelica,” said Tucker, “I’m cashing out of the weed selling game, so I’ll give you my product. Give me back 50% of what I normally charge so I can pay Mark off. That should get you through till you find another gig.”
“What the fuck, Tucker? That means after that money’s spent I’m out of that job too!”
“I can put you in touch with Mark. He deals for West Side in our neighborhood and I can vouch for you, but honestly, there’s more heat on now. And with us so far into high school, it’s time for me to get out. I don’t need the money that bad.”
“I swear the universe picked this week to just shit on me,” Angelica said.
“I’m sorry, Angelica. Mark and I got stopped by a cop last week at Andretti’s, right after he and I’d made a transaction in the laser tag arena, asking us what we were doing, where we were going. Then he just sort of stared at us and drove on. That night, I saw a cop across Fatzler. Not on Mark’s street, but I knew he was observing.”
“That could be anything, there’s cops all over this bitch, ain’t no reason to cash out, just be more careful,” Angelica said. Melting ice cream dribbled across her hand and wrist.
“The writing’s on the wall, girl. I’ll give you what I’ve got, but I say sell that shit fast. And watch your surroundings.” Angelica sighed and looked toward US 1 despondently. Lights glimmered from Indialantic miles away across the river.
“It’s not the end of the world, Angelica,” Tucker said.
She met his ice blue eyes. “No disrespect, but how the fuck would you know? Last I checked, you’re living comfortable with your parents paying all the bills. You weren’t doing this cuz you needed to.” Tucker held the remnants of his cone away from him, letting the vanilla drip onto the concrete.
“I know because you’re you. You’ll do what it takes to survive and you’ll rise above. You got your brother out of that house, didn’t you?”
Angelica peeled at a strip of paint on the picnic table. Voices murmured from a group standing in the fluorescent light of the Tasty Freez sign.
“Your mind’s made up, huh?” she said, shaking her head, “I know what that means.” She watched the intermittent cars pass by on US 1. Tucker took a bite out of the candy shell on his cone. Jamie returned to the table and they changed the subject.
Tucker and Jamie laughed about stories from shows and parties. Tucker told the same story about a mysterious scar from a Warped Tour mosh pit Angelica had heard at least three times. She tried to participate but her mind kept wandering.
They piled back into Tucker’s Camaro and drove out to Ballard Park where they smoked a bowl beneath a darkened pavilion. Boats rocked gently in the black waters of the Indian River lagoon. Angelica recalled her and Ramón’s birthday parties here when they lived with Mami. Every party had no less than fifty cousins, tíos, y tías and it seemed Mami had a new boyfriend at each one. The last time she had a birthday here, Tucker had come with her. They watched her older cousins play basketball and walked along the lagoon’s rocky banks.
Tucker pulled a basketball out of his trunk and tossed it to Jamie. She and Angelica engaged in a heated one on one. They played full court and Tucker kept up with the two girls for a little while, then faded to the sidelines as Jamie blocked, Angelica swiveled around her, and they wrestled for layups and fades. Angelica elbow checked Jamie hard in the ribs. The girls locked eyes and Jamie smiled at her. She knew she needed this.
After skipping the last half of school to apply for jobs at the mall, Angelica drove aimlessly through Melbourne. Laura was with Ramón at tee ball practice and she didn’t want to go back to the empty house. She turned onto Babcock from Apollo and drove by Melbourne High, a sea of glistening cars in its parking lot. She thought about going in and seeing if Amanda Shilling, her old guidance counselor was in. She’d probably like to hear that Angelica was doing okay and that she and Ramón had gotten out of the house on Reddick Street. She drove past instead and turned up her music.
She kept her phone pressed between her thighs in case it vibrated with the call from a prospective employer. She couldn’t go into that school because she was not okay. She still hadn’t told Laura she’d lost her job. She definitely wasn’t going to tell her that the income from weed sales would be gone soon. If Laura caught her selling weed, she’d surely be back at Hacienda. Maybe she’d keep Ramón, though. Laura had grown more attached to him since they began living there. She didn’t want to think of Ramón having any more turmoil in his life. He still didn’t understand why it was dangerous for him and her to live with Mami. Angelica kept driving straight down Babcock, following a route embedded in her muscle memory. She turned down University Blvd, past nondescript gray projects, windows shielded by iron bars, an Indian cuisine restaurant, and a Dollar General. She idled outside the disheveled pink house where her mom still lived. The vacant lot next door, which the nearby church used for overflow parking on Sunday mornings was still there. A Sunfire with a faded black paint job sat in the driveway. Angelica gripped the steering wheel. She didn’t know what would happen if her mom walked outside.
Angelica was fifteen when the night tremors returned. A shadow crept across her bed, but the Formosa palm had long since died. This one came from her door, not her window. She pretended to be asleep, and the weight of another body pushed her bed down. The springs creaked, his hand slid over her mouth and he whispered in her ear, “This is just a dream, Angie, your favorite dream.” His other hand pressed her wrists into the bed. A police car rushed by outside, red and blue shadows whirling through the room. It kept going, past her window and disappearing into the dark. Angelica clenched her eyes against the sweaty heat of his body, the creaking of bedsprings, the heavy breathing drowning out the sounds of the night. She was too scared to make a sound, no matter how much what he did hurt.
She drove away from her old house without getting out of the car. Even being near the potential presence of her mother ignited rage in her chest. Memories from the days of her stepdad’s trial tore at her brain.
Hurtful things her mother said:
“You made this up to drive us apart,” when the police first arrived.
“He swore he wouldn’t do it again. He loves me,” when his bond was set for $15,000. “Why don’t you want me to be happy? What kind of daughter hates her own mother?”
Tía wasn’t there for that – she wasn’t there every night that Angelica had put her headphones on Ramón so he didn’t have to hear men in the other room screaming at their mother. She wasn’t there when Angelica prayed that it didn’t escalate into a sharp smack again. Tía wasn’t too scared to leave the house because of strange men and gunshots outside, or the guys who’d cat-call her as she walked from the bus stop. Tía didn’t have to sit at breakfast with the man who pressed her down into her own bed and violated her in the night. Yet she wanted to just invite her mother to dinner on Easter, the woman who had put her and Ramón under the same roof as these cabrónes, as if she and her mother had only had an argument over her curfew or something. Tía couldn’t possibly imagine what a betrayal that was. Angelica pressed her foot into the gas pedal. She couldn’t stay in this neighborhood a second longer. She rolled up her window before two guys strutting down the street could holler at her. One might have been her old friend Zack, but she didn’t slow down to make sure. The afternoon sky was the color of sand. Her car rumbled across the railroad tracks and she drove north on US 1 until the broken buildings, dingy auto body shops, and liquor stores became Melbourne Yacht Club and Strawberry Mansion.
Angelica sat in her car two houses down from Laura’s house on Westminster. Tía Laura’s car was already in the driveway. If Angelica walked in now, Laura would ask her why she wasn’t at work. She probably already knew she skipped the last half of school today. Angelica wanted to walk inside only a little more than she wanted to walk into her mami’s house on Reddick street that afternoon. She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel and compulsively checked her phone for texts. Some old Social Distortion played from the speakers. She thought about texting Tucker or Jamie, going skating with them or something until her shift would normally have ended. She was going to have to see him later to get his weed, though, and the idea of human contact made her nauseous. She could drive somewhere and smoke a bowl by herself, but she lacked the energy to drive her car much further. All she wanted to do was go inside and lay down. She coasted up closer to her house and walked up the front steps, bracing herself for Laura’s sermon.
One Easter, when Angelica was thirteen, she wore a violet dress with flower imprints to Tía Laura’s house. She was in the backyard, back when her Uncle Jimmy was still alive. He laughed and played dominoes at a table with some other relatives she didn’t recognize while the little kids looked for Easter eggs. Angelica walked with Ramón through the yard, pointing to the eggs as she spotted them. Ramón was at least three eggs ahead of the other kids before some older cousin scolded her for helping. He took six eggs out of Ramón’s basket and handed two apiece to his three kids, then told Angelica that her brother needed to learn to be fair. Ramón looked up at Angelica as if he’d done something wrong.
Mami was dating a white guy at the time. She didn’t know his name, he was some military guy, but he seemed nice. He hung quietly behind Mami, holding a beer and nodding his head a lot. Angelica approached both of them and pointed to the cousin that took the eggs out of Ramón’s basket to give to his kids.
“That’s kinda fucked up,” her boyfriend said.
Mami looked at the man, wearing a white shirt with a criss-cross pattern, then back to Angelica, “Tell Ramón I’ll give him ten when we get home.” Angelica walked inside, past relatives who stopped to kiss her cheeks and tell her how beautiful she was, past Tía Laura talking to another arcane relative, and approached the candy dish on Tía’s coffee table. She extracted a handful of bite-sized Three Musketeers. Laura stopped her as she passed through the kitchen,
“Where are you going with those?”
“That guy outside just took eggs out of my little brother’s basket because I was helping him find them, then gave them to his kids. I was gonna give these to Ramón instead.” Laura looked out the window and asked who. Angelica pointed at the man, sitting at the dominoes table with a beer.
“You put those back, I’ll go talk to him.” Tía Laura breezed right through the kitchen and outside. The cousin she was talking to smiled down at Angelica and topped off her glass of wine. Tía approached the man at the table and placed both hands on her hips. After the party, when Mami’s boyfriend drove them all home, Ramón had six more Easter eggs than he would have had before. Mami kicked her sandals off when they arrived in the house, turned on the TV, and never mentioned the ten eggs she promised Ramón. No matter, Angelica thought.
Angelica had been at the group home for four months. One afternoon as she was leaving her quarters for her shift at BCC, Amanda Shilling from Mel High stopped her in the parking lot and handed her a cell phone. Laura was on the other line.
“I’ve spoken with your mami already. You and Ramón can come live with me for some time. She will have to come check you out, then you can come here. There will be conditions though. I’ll talk to you about it when you get here.” Shocked, Angelica thanked her and handed the phone back to Amanda.
“I went out on a limb here, Angelica.”
“What did you tell her?” she asked. Amanda looked over her shoulders.
“You’d listed her as an emergency contact, so I used that to call and tell her in more words or less that if she didn’t take you and your brother, given what your stepdad did, DCF would.”
“I don’t know what to say, Ms. Shilling. Thank you, thank you so much.”
“Try not to talk about it with anyone too much – what I said technically isn’t true. I could lose my job for this.”
“Yes. I won’t say anything.” Angelica stepped forward and hugged Amanda.
“Make it count, Angelica. Woman to woman.” Amanda walked away. That night, Angelica met up with Tucker at the weather station to tell him.
Angelica made it to Ramón’s game Saturday morning. His team, the Astros, played against the Tigers. Ramón had a powerful swing for a seven year old, sending more than one ball into outfield. The second string kids on his team didn’t keep up, though and the Tigers beat them twelve to eight. Ramón emerged from the dugout hanging his head, smears of red dirt across his black shorts. Angelica and Laura descended the bleachers and told him he did a great job. They took him to the nearby McDonald’s Playplace on Hibiscus to cheer him up. Laura and Angelica sat at a high round table while Ramón disappeared into the two story knot of multicolored tunnels.
“Glad you could make it,” Laura said. The cacophony of children’s voices echoed off the high walls.
“For real?” Angelica said. Her head still felt groggy from the party last night. The afternoon sun streaming through the wall of windows didn’t help.
“Yes Angie. It means a lot to Ramón to see his sister in the bleachers cheering him on. You know he thinks the world of you.” Laura took a sip of her sweet tea.
“Glad somebody does,” said Angelica.
“What’s that mean?” Laura asked. Ramón tumbled out of a tube slide and waved at them before running back to the playground.
“If I tell you, you gonna flip out on me again?”
“Cuéntame, Angelica. What’s going on?” Angelica sighed and looked at her aunt.
“You ride my ass every day about school and the bills. I know I have to help you with them and I’m trying, but you act like I’m just slacking all the time. Then on top of that, you’re inviting my mom to dinner, forcing me to see her again. You don’t know what it was like having to grow up always scared because she couldn’t find a man that wasn’t a psycho. You don’t know what it was like to, you know…” Angelica rubbed her forehead.
Laura rested her right arm on the table and leaned forward.
Angelica continued, “I know it’s been a minute, but it ain’t like you just get over something like that.” Laura glanced down at the table. Her fingernails were painted bright pink, but chipped in places.
“You have to face her one day. Family is all you have in the end. Elaine didn’t mean to put you in danger, and that man is in prison for what he did to you. There’s not much more she can do.”
“She blames me for him being in prison. Why you think I wanted out of there so bad?”
“I know you’re angry, Angie, but you two staying away from her has affected the whole family. I want to see us all back together.”
“Tía, if family is so important to you, why didn’t you take us in at first? Why did I have to go to the Girls Home just to get out of the house with a fucking rapist?” Laura jolted as if bitten by an insect. Angelica stared at her, waiting for a response.
She shook her head, “You two are my sister’s children. What was I supposed to do? Tell my sister that I was taking her kids and she couldn’t see them? I had enough trouble making ends meet on my own too.”
“The man molested me. And who knows what could’ve happened to Ramón.”
“I’m sorry. She just kept finding these guys, and everyone could see how bad they were except her. I just got so sick of telling her what to do and her not listening.”
“Why don’t you just say it, Tía? You didn’t believe me.” Angelica’s eyeliner intensified her stare, and Laura broke eye contact with her. She stifled a tear threatening to freefall.
“I was wrong. We all were.” Angelica nodded her head and pursed her lips. Tía Laura glanced down at her feet. Kids milled around the playground like ants. Angelica started to thumb through her flip phone, but closed it and set it on the table.
“I’m sorry, Angie.” Laura glanced down at her heels, her legs crossed. Angelica watched the playground. She tried to imagine what reconciling with her mother would look like, tried to imagine a conversation that wouldn’t explode into violent accusations. But it had been six months. Angelica knew she couldn’t keep Ramón away from her forever. If Tía Laura could admit she was wrong after all this time, maybe Mami could too.
“I’ll come to the party, Tía,” Angelica said, “if you think it’ll do any good. I’ll come and I’ll try to talk to her. But I don’t think I can do it unless you’re sitting there with us.” Tía smiled and touched Angelica’s hand.
“I can do that,” said Laura.
The Cinema World parking lot was a black sea of asphalt illuminated by intense white area lights. A coolness resided in the 3 a.m. air, a half degree below the sweat inducing humidity of a Florida October. Angelica waited in her car listening to the Used and staring at the emptiness of the lot. It seemed infinite, disappearing into a wooded lot in either direction except New Haven Avenue and the monolith of the theater. Headlights slowed and turned off the deserted street and coasted into the parking lot. Tucker’s Camaro pulled into the spot next to Angelica’s Intrepid. He exited the vehicle with a briefcase. She stepped out of her car.
“A fucking briefcase? You look like a lawyer or something,” she said.
“Twenty bucks from Wal-Mart and no one questions it. Wanna pop the trunk?” Tucker handed her the briefcase.
“I ain’t carrying this around, everyone who knows me knows I don’t roll with a fucking briefcase.” She placed it in her trunk. The clap of the lid reverberated throughout the lot and she turned to face Tucker. He looked like he wanted to reach for her hand, but he always looked that way.
“Just give me 15% of whatever you make this time so I can cash Mark out. The rest is yours. Just do it quick, girl.”
“Thanks Tucker, this will get me through at least next month.” She felt a swelling in her chest, an archaic remnant of the affection she once had for him. Still had for him.
“Do you want to hang out? Just for a little while?” she asked him.
“Sure.” They hopped onto the back of her intrepid and laid against the rear window, staring into the perfect black blanket of night. Tucker lit two cigarettes and handed her one.
“Have you told your aunt yet?” A cloud of smoke faded into the darkness.
“No,” Angelica exhaled, “the job thing’s for me to worry about. Her and I talked today and I’m going to face my mom next Sunday. The three of us are gonna talk.” She looked at Tucker.
“That’s good. What are you gonna talk about?”
“Honestly, I don’t know.” A motorcycle rumbled by on New Haven. “All I know is that for me to do this, they have to think I’m whole. That I’m handling my business.” They stared into the darkness, watching the smoke trail away. A cool wind touched their faces.
“What happens after this for you, Angelica?” Tucker never abbreviated her name.
“What do you mean?”
“So you come to some kind of solace with your mom, find a job, and life goes back to normal. Then what?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “I guess I’m just so close to my past, I haven’t thought about the future. Why?”
“I’ve been thinking about what comes next for me. If I’m honest, that’s really why I quit selling. The future’s gonna come hard and fast.”
“I got laid off from the college cuz of budget cuts. I’m definitely not going to college myself, my grades ain’t good enough. It’s kinda hard for me to even look at the future cuz there ain’t much hope in it.” Angelica leaned over and squeezed the embers out of her cigarette.
“There’s always hope, Angelica,” Tucker said.
“That’s easy for you to say,” she said, “society’s built to help people like you.” Tucker exhaled. They laid in silence for a few minutes. A helicopter crawled across the sky. Cars rushed by on New Haven every few minutes between the ornamental palms and oak trees.
“I miss this,” Tucker said. His hand inched toward hers. They faced each other and smiled.
The Friday night of Easter weekend, Angelica was parked outside a vacant section of a Palm Bay strip mall. One of her customers tonight worked at the McDonald’s there and asked her to meet at the opposite end of the parking lot. She had gone to the Good Friday service with Laura and Ramón earlier. The entire service that night, scenarios and potential conversations with her mother intruded into her imagination. After she returned from church, she changed back into her denim shorts and a black muscle shirt, grabbed a few seven gram baggies, then drove out to Palm Bay. She cranked her music and lit a cigarette, the coming encounter with her mother on Sunday looming in her mind like an approaching hurricane. She would certainly bring another guy to the party, and she wondered if she’d see makeup covering bruises and cuts. Anxiety rolled in her gut like a trapped python.
Headlights at the McDonald’s occasionally crawled through her rearview mirror. She checked her phone for messages, the guy should have been here by now. She tried to think of some positive memory of her mother that could be the key to forgiving her. Maybe the times she took her and Ramón to the skating rink or the pool in summer time. Maybe the parties at Tía Laura’s or going shopping with their abuela when she was alive. It couldn’t have been all bad. After Ramón was born, Mami was single for almost a year and Angelica remembered being happy. She remembered being able to sleep at night. She and Mami cared for the new baby together, and Mami didn’t have time to parade abusive men through the house on Reddick Street.
A blue Nissan Sentra parked next to her and a gangly kid with messy hair got out of the vehicle. Angelica rolled her window down and withdrew two baggies from her center console. The kid greeted her with a nervous smile. Not one second after the exchange, a searchlight lit them up. Angelica had been so caught up in her thoughts she hadn’t noticed the police cruiser in the parking lot, watching her car and the entire transaction. Red and blue lights strobed across the darkened building. The kid took off running. One of the two hulking silhouettes pursued. Angelica trembled in her car. The approaching figure’s shadow crawled up her body and face as it got closer.
“Step out of the vehicle, please,” the officer said. Angelica contemplated starting the car and heaving it into reverse.
“Ma’am, please step out of the vehicle.” The officer’s hands fell to his sides, near his taser. She stepped out of the car, shaking, tears welling up in her eyes. How could she have been so stupid? She’d never made this mistake. The officer took her license and looked down toward her. He was an older white man with dark hair. His badge said, “Mindler.”
“Miss Robles, my partner and I were watching you for some time. There was not much ambiguity in what we just saw. I have probable cause to search your vehicle, or you can save both of us a little time –”
“Please,” she said, “it wasn’t what it looked like, he owed me some money, that’s all.”
“Lying isn’t going to help your case, Miss Robles.”
“Officer, please, just let me go. Please.” Angelica’s knees throbbed and she felt nauseous.
“Place both hands on the hood of your vehicle please,” said Mindler. He patted down her pockets, then moved to her vehicle where he found six more baggies of marijuana. Tears streaked mascara down her cheeks.
“You know what this is, Miss Robles,” said Mindler. The radio buzzed from his car, “This is intent to distribute.”
“Officer please, I just lost my job, and I have to help my family pay bills. I swear this is a one-time thing. I promise,” she pleaded with Mindler as he slid the handcuffs on.
“I’m sorry, Miss Robles, but you are under arrest.” Her body shook with sobbing. The spinning red and blue lights cut across her face. The backseat of the police car loomed before her and she started dry heaving.
“Please, I have to see my mom tomorrow. It’s Easter for God’s sake. I haven’t seen her in a year,” she clenched her fists in the handcuffs. The officer opened the door and guided her head in. The door slammed shut. Laura would get the call in the middle of the night and she would have to tell Ramón why she wasn’t there in the morning. Mami would learn her daughter was in custody. The reunion, the moment she might have made peace with everything, the fleeting sanctuary she’d created for herself and Ramón was snatched away before her eyes. The police car lights strobed across the asphalt outside, illuminating her car which would be impounded. She pressed her head against the window and wept.
Angelica spent the weekend in jail pacing and doing sit ups. Every night there were fights and she was stuck in a cell with a woman covered in sores who spent most of the time mumbling to herself in a corner. When Angelica was booked at 2 a.m. Saturday morning, Tía Laura had exploded upon her through the phone. Angelica bit her lip to keep from crying. When Laura calmed down, she told Angelica she could try to post bond for her on Monday. Maybe. Angelica hung up the phone and was escorted to her holding cell. Clanging bars and shouting pervaded through the nights, and she didn’t sleep for three days.
When Angelica entered the courtroom for her hearing Monday afternoon, she saw Tía Laura and her mami sitting in the second to front row of chairs. Dark circles under her eyes replaced her makeup. She was surprised at how she expected to see mami there, just like she expected Tía to be there sitting as she was, with her hair tied back and scowling through blue eyeshadow, reeking of disappointment. Yet Mami looked upon her with something else. Some sad sense of kindness. Her skin looked healthy, her makeup light and demure – not heavily caked over bruises. The two women shared a look from across the courtroom that lingered for several seconds. Angelica offered a small smile. She didn’t picture reuniting with her mother here, but it made some strange kind of sense. It became easier for her to imagine a conversation involving the possibility of forgiveness. Angelica turned to approach the judge.