“Santi, you can’t really be leaving,” I begged him plaintively. “People die sneaking into America. Don’t you get that? You could die.”
He just looked at me with the weight of the world in his eyes and sighed sadly, “Javi, I can’t stay. I just can’t breathe here.”
I tried to ignore the pain gripping my chest as my best friend in the world told me about the coyote he had paid to get him across the border and the cousin he was going to stay with in San Antonio and how he would send me postcards. I tried not to be hurt that even though he knew I couldn’t go with him, he never asked. And I was still trying to pretend there was no hole in my chest as he walked into the night and out of my life.
Five Years Later
As the truck bounced over yet another rut in the rode I automatically tightened my arm around Marí’s shoulder and gripped the postcard in my hand like the lifeline it was. It was the last one I had received from Javi, almost two years ago, on my twenty first birthday. I prayed to God the address was still right.
“No, nononono,” Marí cried against my side as she struggled in her sleep. “Shhh, hermanita. I’ve got you.” I whispered as I gently rubbed her arm, trying to settle her. We had been traveling for days trying to escape Alejandro and his gang.
Just after she turned 16, they had taken Marisol and raped her as a part of one their initiations. That would have been bad enough, but since then they tormented her whenever they saw her. In six months I watched my sister go from a bright joyful young girl to a pale shadow of herself.
The hole Javi had left still hurt anytime I poked at it but I had nowhere else to turn. Alejandro was the regional leader of one of the biggest gangs in Mexico. As long as we were in Mexico, there was no where we could go that was beyond his reach. Even though I hadn’t seen him in five years, Javi was the only person I could think of that I could trust.
There was another jolt and the truck jerked to a stop. One of the coyotes jumped out of the front and began herding everyone towards the river. I grabbed Marí’s hand and kept her close as we began to wade through the water, keeping ourselves crouched as low as possible.
Just ahead of us someone stumbled and stood up to catch their balance. In an instant, time seemed to race ahead and stop completely at the same moment. There was a loud bang somewhere in front of us and then a piercing scream as the man who had stood was shot in the chest. In the few seconds it took to process this, the rest of the group seemed to go mad running to the other side of the river and the waiting vans. I pulled Marí along as quickly as I could straining to reach one of the vans before they sped off, leaving most of the group behind.
The van we ended up in had already been moving by the time I dragged Marí in the side door. I just sat there holding her and shaking as we drove off into the pitch dark night of the desert. All the while I was praying that whoever had been shooting would lose us in the starless black back drop of night.
As we walked into the parking lot of the apartment complex, I knew Marí wouldn’t be able to make it much further. She hadn’t spoken a word in days and had barely eaten anything in just as long. She appeared to be dead in her own body.
I glanced down at the post card, checking the address for the thousandth time, even though I knew it by heart. I had made the decision to leave so quickly that I hadn’t even been able to write and tell him we were coming. I looked up just in time to see Javi get out of a car pulled haphazardly in front of his apartment building. Before he turned to go inside, he hugged the man who was driving the car and brushed a quick kiss across his lips. “Go get him back, honey.” I heard him say to the driver as a rushing sound seemed to take over my senses.
So many feelings stormed through me when I finally saw him notice me: hurt, anger, disbelief, dawning comprehension, jealousy, and who knows what else. His eyes went wide with surprise and a hint of uncertainty even as he rushed over to help me with Marí. I pushed aside all other thoughts for the immediacy of helping my sister.
We took her inside and I stood in stony silence as he put clean sheets on the bed for her. She collapsed into it was asleep before her head hit the pillow, a peaceful look on her face for the first time in months. It was as if just knowing we had made it to Javi’s made her feel safe again. If only I could feel the same way.
When we reached the living room of his dingy little apartment, I whirled on him and it took every ounce of self control not to yell at him. Instead I said in a tightly even voice with a glare to match it, “That is why you left.” It wasn’t a question.
Javi had the look of a cornered animal about him. I could see his mind spinning behind his eyes as he tried to come up with something, some explanation for why he had left that didn’t involve him kissing men.
My self control broke in the face of his silence and I thank the Lord the Marí was exhausted enough to sleep through most of what came next. “You left because you’re gay.” I yelled, with all my hurt and the emptiness of the past five years breaking through to the surface.
“You threw away 18 years of friendship because you were a coward and couldn’t tell me the truth! I can’t believe this. I’ve spent five years trying to figure out what was so wrong with me, with home, that you would leave and never come back. I can’t….I just…” I sputtered out as my anger overtook my ability to speak.
He looked even more miserable now. His head was bowed, black hair in curly tangles hanging over his broken brown eyes. It was quiet enough in the wake of my yelling that I was able to just make out his tortured whisper, “I didn’t leave because I was gay. Santi, I left because I couldn’t make myself not be in love you.”
“Pero te necesitaba, Javi.” I whispered back, emotion making my voice raw. Tears were streaming down my face now. “I needed you when Mami and Papi died. I needed you while I was raising Marí by myself. I needed you when Alejandro’s men took Marí and I needed you when I got her back. Te necesitaba.” I couldn’t stop repeating it as I sobbed out all the hurt and anger that had lived inside me for the past five years. I sank to the floor, unable to hold myself up anymore.
Before I even hit the ground, he was there with his arms around me, holding me while I cried and whispering his apologies into my hair. Eventually he pulled me up onto the couch and held me until I fell into an exhausted and dreamless sleep.
When I woke up, Javi’s sleeping form was wrapped completely around me as we lay on the couch together. For the first time in five years I felt like I was at home. Javi’s confession the night before ran around in my head as I thought about that fact that his arms seemed to be my home. I had always just suppressed any romantic feelings I had for anyone because it was easier that way.
But if this is what it could be like to be with Javi, it might just be worth it. My whole heart jumped at the thought. Behind me, I felt him tense as he woke up and realized the position we had tangled ourselves into as we slept. “Santi…” he began but before he could get any further, I turned in his arms and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips.
His whole body froze and his breath hitched in his throat for just a second as his brain caught up with the events of the moment. Finally, he let out a hungry groan and whispered my name again as he threaded his fingers through my hair and brought me in for a real kiss.
Happiness melted into my very being as Javi took my mouth. My heart sped up and a tingly warmth spread through all my limbs and it seemed as if I would float away if he let go of me.
We were so lost in each other we didn’t hear when Marí came in from the back room. We only heard her when she snorted and said, “Finally. I’ve been waiting for you two to figure it out since I was eight years old.” A ghost of smile played over her lips and it was more emotion than I had seen from her in longer than I cared to think about.
At that smile, with Javi in my arms, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing in joy. Soon Javi and Marí joined me and the laughter flowed over us and through us, healing us.