“Fucking bitch.” He dropped her onto the grass. “You bit me.”

“I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I don’t want to go back there tonight.”

She wilted, a heap on the grass, her dress pulled up high, revealing her panties. She was too tired to care.

“Esme,” Hector muttered, “Take her to bed.”

She could stay. Hector said it. She could stay…

Esme helped her up, wiped the grass from her dress and smoothed it over her ass and legs. Bianca said she was sorry. She felt like a child.

“I know, mija. You had too much to drink. We understand.”

“I lost the baby, Esme. I lost her. She bled down my legs. You saw her. My little cactus flower. You saw her.”

“Shhh, Bee. Cállate. I know you’re upset, but Hector doesn’t know about that. You’ll break his heart. Please stop, mija. Please.”

“For Christ sake’s Esme, what’s she talking about? Get her inside,” Hector called.

“Ay mujeres,” Frank clucked. “What can you do with them? That one’s sure got spirit though, don’t she?”

As Esme took Bianca inside, Gabe sank into a patio chair and grabbed another beer.

Before the glass door shut on her, Bianca heard Hector ask, “Son, what the hell have you done?”

***

Bianca hated waiting as much as she hated the Valley. Gabe still hadn’t shown up. He’d promised to come over to the empty house-for-sale where she was crashing alone with her family ghosts. He would bring giant Jalisciense burritos from across the tracks on the Eastside and they could watch movies in bed. First though, he needed to stop at a happy-hour meeting with his co-workers, to get on his boss’s good side (since his boss was Katrina’s brother).

Bianca tried Gabe’s cellphone. It had been hours since he got out of work and surely he’d done his diligence at the bar, but he didn’t answer and she didn’t leave a message. She would wait exactly seven minutes longer before calling Lily.

Moonlight jutted through her parent’s old curtains. Mom hadn’t taken them down when she’d moved out. (She’d said, “I can’t stand it here, mija. If you want to waste away with that no-good boy, fine. But you’ll have to do it alone.”) Dressed-up in her rhinestone jeans and paisley halter top, Bianca sprawled on the full-sized mattress she’d bought at the Goodwill when she’d moved back. She flipped her journal to the gothic story she was working on. She’d never had any formal writing training, but she could tell it wasn’t any good. Still, writing it helped her feel less like a college-dropout. Bianca set down her pen and reached toward the flame of the Cristo candle she’d bought at the grocery store and set on a teacup saucer she’d taken from Lily’s house then placed on the floor beside the mattress. In a plastic holder, it was white with a picture of Christ holding a lamb around his neck, flowers around the frame. She picked it up from the carpet and poured the wax into her palm, creating a candle wax replica of her handprint, like Lana’s handprints. Gabe’s girl. Not mine. In Gabe’s hallway, Esme had hung a small round clay molding tied at the top with a pink polka-dot bow; in it, two tiny hands, and the words, “Baby’s First Handprints.” Not their baby’s, not the-baby-who-never-existed.

Like the protagonist in her story, all the lights in her house were on because she too was terrified. Of family ghosts. Of familiar spirits. Of blood. She missed her dad. But she willed herself not to think of him right then. Not while she was alone. Instead, she focused on balancing the candle as she lay on her back, stabilizing it on her navel. It flicked as she breathed in and out. If she were a curandera, a healing woman, she would pass an egg over her chest and stomach. She would crack it into a glass, and the yolk would reveal the cause of her trouble. Her susto. Gabe’s Nana taught her this. She didn’t know if she believed it any more than she believed in the Cristo candle, but she liked the idea. Anyway, she’d rather be a healing woman than a sick one. Rather a blazing woman than the kind who waited around. She was done waiting. Done putting up with Gabe’s bullshit. His seven minutes were up.

The red-hot flush spidering her cheeks and the fluttering in her stomach squelched her usual fear. She was ¡La Bee! looking for a fight.

Her cell buzzed. Lily—a mind reader.

“You feel like going boyfriend hunting?” Bianca asked.

“I already have a boyfriend. Did you kick Gabe to the curb?”

“Tonight might be the night.”

“He’s with Katrina?”

“I think so.”

“What an asshole. Do you have a plan?”

“Bar crashing.”

“I’ll be ready in ten minutes. Should I bring my brother’s baseball bat?” Bianca didn’t doubt Lily was serious. She answered she didn’t feel like getting arrested that night. “Fine,” Lily said. “But if that bitch tries anything, I can’t make any guarantees.” Bianca laughed then hung up, slid on her high-heeled sandal wedges (because she didn’t own a pair of cowboy boots, which she regretted since they’d befit such an occasion), and checked her reflection (crimson cheeks and tousled curly hair—Gabe could eat his heart out) before rushing to her white five-speed Cavalier and reversing fast down the driveway.

Halfway down the block, she swerved into Lily’s driveway and honked twice. Her yellow-haired best-friend-forever appeared at the door wearing her usual band-logo T-shirt (Bianca never knew the bands), jeans, and a pair of pea-green Vans. Lily stuck out her tongue.

“¡Vámonos, muchacha!” Bianca called. “Get your brave ass in the car. I’m on a mission.”

“What’s with you tonight, crazy lady?”

“I’m on fire!”

Lily pulled a cigarette out of her purse and rolled her window up long enough to light it. “Yes. I gathered as much,” she answered, puffing easily. “I meant why. All last week you were a moping, crybaby mess. Why the sudden change?” Lily offered Bianca a drag, and she pulled the sweet stinking thing to her lips. Gabe hated when she smoked, refused to kiss her when she had sour-singed smoker’s breath. But tonight, who the hell cared?

“I’m tired of being second-class, Lil. That’s what. So I don’t have Gabe’s kid. That doesn’t mean I’m not worth something. She was a fluke, no? A condom break.”

“Who? Lana?”

“No, not her. I meant Katrina. I do love her little girl. That’s the problem. It’s all twisted. It’s all so goddamn twisted.”

“Turn that frown around, chica. Or turn it into a sneer. Come on, show me some teeth. How about some rabid dog eyes?” Lily snarled like a deranged animal.

Bianca laughed so hard she choked on the smoke.

Outside town, they sped through the countryside, past fields of broccoli and onions and the overwhelming pungency of the beef plant, the smell of death. Bianca plugged her nose. She hated driving to Westmorland. Since Katrina, she associated it with gut-dropping loss. Forget the Honey Festival. It was a tiny town more stifling than Brawley. And populated by boyfriend-stealers.

In the parking lot of the first bar she tried, they spotted Gabe’s pine green truck and pulled in.

“Are you sure you want to go in?” Lily asked.

“Hell yeah,” Bianca said, but she wasn’t sure. The veins in her neck were itchy like a too-tight necklace. The blood in her ears pounded.

It was a dive bar called Hops & Rods, with corrugated aluminum siding walls plastered with neon beer signs, electric guitars, and posters for local bands. Like the inside of a warehouse it had iron rafters, along with a small stage and a long orange bar designed from two hot rod Chevy Bel Airs. No wonder Gabe liked this place. In high school, Bianca had pretended to care about the classic car magazines he’d shown her, teaching her to distinguish a Shelby from a Camaro. She’d cared as much about his car obsession as he’d cared about her poetry. Did Katrina like hot rods and muscle cars? Or only having sex in them with other girls’ boyfriends?

Bianca searched through the crowd and spotted them: Katrina, at a high shop-style table in the middle of the bar with Gabe. Undeniable evidence. Gabe ran his hands through his spiky hair the way he did when he was irritated. Katrina shook her head. Katrina, with her bobbed mousy brown hair, pug nose, and thick stumped eyebrows, as if she shaved them in the middle instead of plucking or having them waxed so the space was too big between her small brown eyes. Like a Muppet character. Short, petite, and plain. Her face had a pinched look, like she was squinting in the sun. She wore a pair of khaki shorts and a navy blue tank top, and though she was thinner than Bianca, she was nowhere near pretty. What had she been majoring in at Cal State Dominguez Hills before she’d dropped out, and what had Gabe seen in her?

“What do you want to do?” Lily asked.

“Order a drink,” Bianca said, shaking, her voice gone flat as old seltzer. Gabe’s aunt had told her she drank a beer after work to take the edge off. Of course, that was before the three or four beers that came later, so it was a big joke in his family that only one beer was necessary to take the edge off. But Bianca needed that—the edge off.

Her stomach churned but she chugged her beer anyway. They didn’t see her.

A random rock and roll song played on the jukebox. The place was packed. Her chest felt explosive, her palms slick. Beer roiled inside her stomach, curdling her throat. She felt like crossing herself and praying to Sandra Cisneros, whom she’d heard read earlier that year while still at the university. Come on, La Bee! Hold your head up high! Sandra might have told Bianca in her high-pitched voice, her hoop skirt flowing around her red-studded cowboy boots, turquoise looped around her neck.

Silently, Bianca mouthed Sandra’s words as she crossed the bar, a prayer: “I’m sharp-tongued, / sharp-thinking, / fast-speaking, / loose-tongued, / let-loose, / woman-on-the-loose /loose woman. / Beware, honey…” She’d admit it: “I’m Bitch. Beast. Macha. / Wachale! / Ping! Ping! Ping! / I break things.”

She looked back at Lily, planted at the bar, gesturing her onward and motioning in a way that meant Rabid dog eyes! Go! Bianca nodded, then inhaled, wallpapering her face with a broad, plastic smile, a pink flamingo across her mouth like I’m fine. You can’t hurt me. All those mornings I made you breakfast, blaring your favorite CD while I cooked—Hotel California and scrambled eggs, the warm smell of flour tortillas rising through the air—not real.

Instead, the mask on the outside said, “Hey guys. Why wasn’t I invited to this party?”

Gabe jerked his head up, his shoulders rigid. “Shit, Bee.” His voice was halting and shaky. “You scared me.” Bianca almost laughed at how pathetic it was, watching him stand and reach for her. He tried pulling her into a hug, but she swatted his arms away.

Katrina knotted her hands in front of her on the table, staring at her fingers and refusing to look up. Coward.

Gabe asked what Bianca was doing there. She asked him the same.

“Why, what time is it?” He grabbed his cellphone from his pocket. “Shit. I’m sorry. We got caught up talking about the baby.”

“Mmm.” She scrunched her face and pressed her lips together, mocking belief.

“Hey, can we go talk about this somewhere else?” he asked, reaching out for her again.

“No. We can’t.” She scooted from his arms and sat in his empty chair across from Katrina.

“What are you doing?” Gabe stammered. “Come on. Don’t get her involved in this. I screwed up. I should’ve called you.” He looked boyish in his work uniform, a short-sleeved button-down and brown shorts. His company logo’d baseball cap lay on the table. He was a pubescent boy caught in the closet. Almost laughable. But she could tell he wasn’t drunk.

She took a swig of his beer, slammed the bottle down on the table. “Don’t get her involved? You’re kidding, right?” A caustic laugh spurt out from within Bianca. Ping! “Katrina? We need to talk outside. Woman to woman.” She hoped she sounded more confident than she felt. She felt like a sham. Like a hole at the bottom of the ocean.

Katrina flashed her an icy glare, then rolled her eyes and said “Sure.”mac

As Bianca stood, she offered Gabe a cloying twisted smile. “Lily’s at the bar. Would you be a doll and go keep her company?” Bianca was ridiculous, but she couldn’t care.

He grabbed her arm, pulled her tightly to him. His beer breath sour in her face, hot against her neck. “What are you doing, Bee? Seriously. This isn’t funny. Please don’t screw anything up for me and the baby. I’ve been working this out with Katrina. Please, don’t fuck with her.”

“I’m the one you shouldn’t fuck with.” She unclenched herself from his grasp, pulled away and stared into his face. His deep brown eyes muddied with worry, his eyebrows furrowed. He was telling the truth. “I want to talk to her,” she said over her shoulder as she walked away.

Lily signed a knife-slice across her neck, then winked. What would she say to Gabe? Nothing pleasant.

Out in the muggy desert air, past a thatched-roofed palapa bar replete with surfboards and fishing nets strung from the wooden fence, Bianca followed Katrina onto the hard-packed dirt of the parking lot. Nearby, canal water whirred as it rushed over the embankment.

Bianca spoke first. “What’s going on with you two? I have a right to know. Are you sleeping with him?”

Katrina hesitated.

“What did I ever do to you, Katrina? I’ve helped take care of your little girl for months, and…”

Katrina cut her off. “Yeah, and I don’t appreciate her coming home talking about you, either. You think that feels good? To have your own daughter come home and talk about how much she likes her father’s whore.”

“The fuck? Whore? Are you kidding me? You’re unbelievable. I’ve loved that man since I was a little girl, you manipulative cunt.” There, she’d said it. She was trapped in a trashy daytime talk show but she couldn’t help herself. “He was my first everything. Before I even knew what everything was.” She was red-faced and short of breath.

“You knew enough, didn’t you?” Katrina said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Katrina pursed her lips and crossed her arms.

“Please?” Bianca urged. “Imagine you were me. How would you feel? Tell me. Please.”

“Please nothing,” Katrina snapped, rolling her eyes and thrusting her chest out. “You have no idea what I’ve been through with him. Having his baby. Raising her alone. Everything I’ve gone through because of him.”

Bianca’s gut pitted, her teeth clenched. A rush of heat surged up her neck and face. “No, I don’t know. My baby died before it was ever a baby. I never took vitamins or ate saltines by the boxful. Gabe never rubbed my belly.” Her head spun. Her baby floated, pendent above their heads or bramble swishing through a ditch. “No, you heartless bitch. I don’t know what you went through.” She was screaming. She wanted to kick Katrina. To yank her by her dull, brown hair. “But you know what I went through? I went through losing all that for nothing. For goddamn nothing! Because you swooped in and screwed everything up anyway. And I hate you for that. We were supposed to get out of here. My baby was supposed to have meant something.”

“You’re a murderer, that’s what you are.” Katrina spit the words at Bianca, and she keeled over, her legs giving out beneath her. Something cracked inside her. She felt it cracking. Wire casings like wings of dead moths. She couldn’t talk. The air had been knocked out of her like the time she was Superwoman on the swings and Dad had pushed her into the air but she’d flown too high and crashed hard on her chest and the words wouldn’t come and there was Dad, holding her. She couldn’t breathe.

She dropped to one knee and clutched her stomach. “Why would you say that?” Sobs rocked her body. She didn’t have a heart. It wasn’t beating. “Why the fuck would you say that?”

“Gabe told me what you did.”

“What we did. What we did. Together.”

Katrina looked down at her, eyes narrowed, forehead creased. “He wouldn’t let me do that to Lana. Said he couldn’t take losing another baby.”

Bianca choked a sob, heaving. “Ay, God. Please stop it. Katrina, please fucking stop talking.” She wanted to call for her dad, the bar crashing down on her.

Gabe came outside and saw Bianca on the ground. “What the hell? What’d you do to her, Katrina? Goddammit!” He pushed Katrina out of the way and knelt down beside Bianca. “What happened, Bee? Did she hit you?”

Bianca shook her head. She couldn’t look at him. She’d scraped her uterus for him. She’d given everything for him when she was still a girl and not old enough to take care of herself let alone anyone else. She’d come back to him empty. And Katrina, doing what she couldn’t. Standing on her own. Raising a kid on her own. A single mama. Small and strange-looking, but proud. And powerful. She had a baby, didn’t she? And that made her so goddamn powerful. She called the shots. She pulled the strings. Tears puddled onto Bianca’s halter-top, streaking her cheeks black with mascara. She wiped her snot away with her hand. She must’ve looked pathetic, crying in front of a woman who despised her.

She took a deep breath. “You told her about what happened at the Clinicas?”

“Oh fuck,” he said. “Stupid Katrina.” He stood back up and faced his baby’s mom. “I told you not to bring that shit up. I knew I couldn’t trust your big mouth. What the fuck did you say to her?”

“The truth, you asshole. That she is what she is. A baby killer.”

He raised his hand to slap her, then pulled back, clenching his fist. “Get the hell out of here, Katrina. You goddamn bitch. I don’t care if you threaten me again with Lana. Go ahead and try taking me to court. I’ll get a lawyer and take her away from you. But don’t you ever call my girlfriend that again. Do you understand? She was a fucking kid when I knocked her up. A fucking kid! And I told you that when you were threatening abortion, you two-faced bitch. When you were threatening to kill yourself. God, I can’t stand you, fucking mean-spirited woman.”

Bianca sucked in air. Her head throbbed. She didn’t know what to think.

“Whatever, Gabe. You’re the two-faced one here,” Katrina said.

“No, don’t play like that. You tell her the truth, Katrina. I’m not joking. You’ve hurt her enough tonight. Tell her why I was here with you.”

Katrina heaved a sigh. She stared at the ground. “Fine. Whatever. I don’t care anymore.” Her voice sounded hollow, like the tin of empty beer cans. “He was defending you tonight, Bianca. Telling me I need to stop fighting him when it comes to you taking care of the baby. That you’re his girlfriend and I need to accept that.” Her voice was neither kind nor spiteful. It was matter-of-fact, resigned. “And I’m not sleeping with him.” She tucked her hair behind her ear. Then she said, “Gabe, you can pick up the baby tomorrow if you want.”

Gabe nodded. “Fine. Now leave us alone.” He scooped Bianca from the ground, holding her to his chest. She was stiff and lifeless in his arms as he carried her to his truck, setting her on the hood. “You know I’m so sorry,” he whispered, burying his head in her chest. “Not about tonight. About everything.” His face against her cold skin felt warm and damp. “Don’t listen to her. She’s crazy. Jealous. You know that.”

Bianca wanted to believe him. Sandra Cisneros come give me strength. But she was too tired to fight.

***

She peeked through the slits in Gabe’s fingers as he covered her eyes and whispered, “Almost there.” A few nights later he was taking her out to dinner to make up for the burritos he still owed her. Gabe parallel parked and she looked around, speculating where he was taking her to eat. He’d said he wanted it to be a surprise, but she didn’t know any restaurants in this neighborhood were still open. So many things had closed since she was a girl.

The summer before her freshman year in high school, Lily and she had spent every night together, staying up until morning, prank calling boys, playing truth or dare, stirring up batches of rice crispy treats or muddy buddies, watching movies. They’d traipse off to the donut shop on Main Street at the westernmost side of town three blocks south of their houses, traveling one of two ways:

1. Shaking their hips down the busy Rio Vista if they wanted to check people out and pause on their trek to talk to whomever drove by or happened to be out on their front lawn, or late at night when they needed the protection of the streetlights and the neighborhood watch signs and the porch lights. Rio Vista kept them safe.

2. Sprinting through the potholed back alley if they wanted to get there fast, like if they needed a sugar rush from chocolate old fashioned doughnuts and sweet tea with crushed ice ASAP, or if they felt like getting spooked by the unlit empty lot that stretched to the end of the town limit where old shopping-cart pushing bums camped out and lit bonfires in barrels and, probably, there were ghosts hanging out as well. But that was still the summer before she’d heard of La Llorona roaming the New River, which flowed in the ridge below the cliff and, folks said, carried waste from across the Mexicali border, killing all the fish and smelling worse than the beef plant during the hottest part of summer.

Oh, they’d played Bloody Mary in bathroom mirrors, sprinkling water on the glass and chanting Bloody Mary Bloody Mary Bloody Mary—they’d played Light as a Feather Stiff as a Board. But never La Llorona. If Bianca had known about La Llorona then, poor sad woman who prowled that frothy stinking river where old men and boys fished but never ate what they caught, perhaps mistaking all the other dead and glowing things there for her babies, she would’ve been scared for sure and never would’ve gone through the alley by herself day or night. She never would’ve met Gabe washing his pea-soup green pickup truck in the driveway of his corner-house where the alley met that empty lot. He never would’ve seen her racing by, her chanclas slapping at the gravel, her dark pony-tail flapping at her back, her thick thighs and round hips already pouring from her cuffed jean shorts, her breasts already filling her paisley tank-top. He never would’ve called to her, asking where she was going so fast (she should have kept running.) Then she never would’ve left her yellow-haired best-friend behind and scrambled into Gabe’s raised pickup to jump the dirt hills behind his house like a dune-covered stunt-track, not scared that anyone could fly off the cliff and into the river. Not thinking that trucks or loving or the country could be dangerous. Before that summer, she never knew what lay behind the palm trees and branches and rolling mounds of dirt and scraps of junk and trash and, probably, homeless people’s huts.

But she did run through the alley. She did meet Gabe. And he’d taught her all the things Mom never had. Caldo de rez and sticky red rice, filling her belly like embryonic fluid. After Gabe, the world was all nanas and cerveza and brujas and chile con carne and Chupacabras. After Gabe, she’d turned into a La Llorona herself.

“Where are we going?” Impatient at being blind, she let Gabe lead her out of the car. He loved surprises. He’d thrown her a surprise party for her fifteenth birthday because Mom couldn’t afford a Quinceañera. He’d promised Rosanna there wouldn’t be any alcohol, so when she showed up in the backyard, everyone had hidden the beer and tequila, and Bianca had pushed her away, telling her they were hanging out with friends, that it wasn’t a party for grownups. She still felt bad they’d lied to her. Bianca would’ve loved a Quinceañera. She would’ve loved that father-daughter dance.

“Hang on, Bee. You’ll see in a second.” He was smiling. She could hear it in his voice though her eyes were covered. She also heard keys jangling, and he opened a glass door. A ding-ding sounded as they walked through. What she didn’t hear was any other sound, no voices, no plates and dishes clanging, no music or television playing in the background.

She pulled away from his hands. The restaurant was abandoned, empty. It seemed clean enough, booths and chairs stacked neatly at the edge of the room, no roaches scuttling across the floor, no dirty dishes stacked in piles at the bar. There were still water glasses at the bar, clear and sparkling crystal, waiting. But this wasn’t a restaurant anymore.

A For-Sale sign hung in the window.

“What are we doing here? Aren’t we going out to eat?”

He pulled her toward him. “We’re gonna buy this place,” he said, hugging her tightly. “We’re gonna fix it up. And start our restaurant.”

She jerked her head back, searching his face. Was he joking? It wasn’t like him to play tricks. His dark eyes danced and the corners of his mouth were upturned in a sly smile. He was being honest. She could tell the difference. “But how?”

“I talked to my dad. It wasn’t easy, but he said he’s willing to help us get started. We’ll have to pay him back, but for now, it’s something.”

“Oh wow…” She breathed out slowly. She’d thought Hector hated her after the barbeque, after she’d freaked out on them. Since he knew her secret, she was sure he would never look at her the same. She never would’ve expected he’d be willing to help them. She felt a pang of longing for her own dad. “It’s ours?”

“Well, not yet. It belonged to my dad’s compadre and comadre a while back, but the wife got sick and they had to shut down. He let me borrow the keys so we could check it out.”

She almost couldn’t believe this was Gabe saying these things. Gabe. The guy who wouldn’t move in with her. The guy who wouldn’t marry her. Who had to check everything with his baby’s mom so he didn’t make a wrong move and risk having his daughter taken away from him. Was this that guy? Or… was he, sorry for what’d happened at the bar in Westmorland, keeping true to his promise to change? To go back to the Gabe Bianca had known before Katrina and Lana? Before he’d turned into some alternate version of himself—that angrier, more critical version she’d grown to despise. She pressed her face into his chest, laughing. This was real. She and Gabe would start a life together. All the darkness of the past year was melting away.

Mom had bought her a wedding dress a few years back, the first time she and Gabe had gotten back together. He’d come to the house and told Mom, in person, he was sorry for how he’d messed up—for how he’d treated Bianca. He understood if Rosanna never forgave him, but he would make it up to her. He’d be responsible, take care of his daughter, take care of Bianca, treat her right. Mom had believed him (Bianca had believed him). Mom went onto eBay where she shopped, all the years she was too large to fit in clothes at the department stores (the same place she’d found Bianca the most elaborate ball gowns for high school dances inexpensive because they’d been gently used and looked brand new) and she found Bianca a size fourteen white, jeweled bodice, French-trained wedding dress. “Don’t tell Gabe we bought it yet,” she’d told her in an excited, conspiratorial voice. “But try it on. It’s gorgeous. Fits you perfectly. You’re a princess.” Bianca had twirled and twirled in it, the way she had when she was on stage. Growing up, Mom acted as if getting married were the most hopeful thing a girl could do, never mind what happened afterward. They all did, in the Valley. Esme had shown Bianca the ring she planned for Gabe to give her, when they were out of high school. Esme hadn’t finished high school. She’d gotten pregnant and dropped out. But she wanted them to get engaged, go to college, then come back and get married. She’d mapped it all out and shared that map with Bianca. Then Bianca had eaten that map. Then that map had grown sour in her stomach, its estuaries and mountains and ridges tattooing her skin.

Now, standing in the middle of the restaurant, their restaurant, he lifted her chin up and kissed her softly on the mouth. “I know I’ve screwed up, Bee. But we’ll fix it. Like this place.”

She nodded, beginning to imagine what they could turn it into. “We can paint the walls red and yellow and orange like shades of desert sunset. We can play mariachi music and have dances on Saturday nights. Cumbias. Fiestas. Jarabe Tapatío. Oh, and I’ll ask Nana to help us with the menu… fried fish tacos con pico de gallo, authentic Puerto Vallarta style made special for Fridays during Lent… menudo on the weekends. Like Nana says, the best hangover remedy after the hair of the dog.” There’d be color and cultura. Chips and salsa. And it would be theirs.

“I was thinking of a sports bar,” Gabe said, snapping her out of her reverie.

She frowned.

“Yeah, like a Laker’s theme or something. We could have big-screen TVs everywhere, showing ESPN and MTV. It’d be a restaurant too, but mostly, you know, beer and snacks, like quesadillas and hot wings.”

“But I hate sports. You know that. I hate going to sports bars. Why would I want to own one?” She watched the light fading from his eyes, as he knitted his eyebrows and sighed.

“What are you doing, Bee? Why are you ruining this? I’m trying to do something good for us here, and you’re picking a fight.”

“I was thinking of a more traditional place. More romantic.”

“But come on, Bee. Let’s be realistic. You think that would make good business sense? Think about it. Most of the bars stayed open even when the restaurants closed. We’ve got to think about demand and profits, or we’ll sink ourselves into a hole.”

“You’re sure proud of that one year as a Business major, aren’t you?” As his face crumpled, she regretted saying that. “We can have a bar, I guess. But I wanted mariachis and dancing, not TV.”

“It’s all about cost, Bee. All that costs money.”

“Dancing is free.”

“Fine. You dance.” His voice had gone cold.

She drew away from him and walked toward the bar. She imagined women in Folklorico skirts twirling like butterflies around the tables, tapping their black high-heels to the rhythm, their colorful ribbon-woven braids gleaming in tandem with their spinning. She imagined standing at the front of the room singing a ranchera while couples danced around her, cowboy boots and wide-brimmed hats touching. Ay ay ay ay, canta no llores. Her bisabuela used to sing to her in the bedroom she’d shared with Matty: Cielito Lindo, los corazones. “I don’t want a bunch of drunken borrachos watching football or soccer or whatever in my restaurant.”

“Katrina understands,” he mumbled.

Bianca’s insides turned to ice. “What did you say?”

“Nothing. Forget it.”

“Like hell I’ll forget it. Did you tell her about this place? Before you told me?” Doubt and suspicion surged through her anew. Maybe Katrina had been telling the truth. Maybe Gabe was a two-faced liar.

“Look, it’s nothing. Shit, Bee. She’s my friend.”

“Your friend? Your … friend?” She spit the words as if they were bitter chiles. “So for all your big talk, nothing’s changed.”

“Calm down. Jesus Christ. I just mentioned I was thinking of buying a restaurant.”

“Okay, Gabe. You buy a restaurant. You do whatever you want with it. You share it with whomever you choose. You always do what you want anyway.”

Gabe stomped toward her across the room, and for a second, she was afraid he would hit her. His face was dark and frustrated. His fists were clenched. But she didn’t recoil as he grabbed a clear glass sparkling from the counter and hurled it across the room. She stood still and silent as it crashed against the wall, shattering against the white plaster.

“Why do you make everything so damn hard?” he asked, his voice a hollow drum. Bianca didn’t know. She didn’t know why she made everything so hard. She stared at him, but he wouldn’t look into her eyes. He sighed deeply, his shoulders and chest heaving as he exhaled. “I’ll be in the car. Lock the door.” He dropped the keys on the bar where the glass had been and walked out, the door sounding a hopeful ding-ding after him.

Bianca reached for another glass from the bar and held it up to her left eye, gazing toward the base of the wall where the matching glass had shattered. As if through a crystal kaleidoscope, she searched the broken pieces for color. She saw none.

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