It felt great to finally speak Spanish again. After nearly a year of nothing but English and the occasional Spanish mutterings, speaking Spanish felt wonderful, even if it was an argument.
“Jesse! You told her our father was a soldier?” Lorena asked me in Spanish, speaking quickly.
“What was I supposed to tell her, Lorena? She asks so many questions! I could not tell her the truth!” I responded, taking care to keep my voice low. I dragged her by the elbow down the hall to the study, shutting the rough wooden door quietly behind us.
“How could our father be a soldier? That could never explain this,” Lorena exclaimed, gesturing wildly around the lavish furnishings and decorations of our family adobe. Lorena was right, of course. Nobody in their right mind would ever believe for a second that the obviously expensive life led by my family could be supported by a deceased soldier’s money.
“I never planned for her to see all of this! Damn it, Lorena. What do we do?”
Lorena patted her curly hair gingerly, as if somehow an answer would dislodge itself and fall into her lap.
“I do not know, Jesse.You have to figure it out yourself,” she answered, looking at me as if I were ten again and had just destroyed one of our mother’s best dresses.
“I cannot tell her. She would never look at me the same…I would never be the same to her. You know that, Lorena. That is why none of you are married,” I told her harshly, gesturing at the door as I paced. “No man or woman wants anything to do with our family, and with good reason. Why would I want Ella to feel the same?”
Lorena remained silent, her eyes cast downwards at her lap. I began to feel bad about what I said regarding her marital status. It was a sore subject with my mother and sisters, and I should not have mentioned it so callously.
I sighed, sitting down next to her on the uncomfortable wooden bench. Her shoulders shook silently, and I laid a hand gently upon her shoulder.
“I have no idea what to do anymore, Jesse. He will never leave us alone. The entire city knows he is still alive, no matter what we tell him. No matter what the authorities say, they know.”
The enormity of my family’s problem hit me like a splash of water. I felt guilty for spending the last year running around California, while my family stayed in Los Angeles, suffering the wrath and consequences of my father’s actions.
“We found a body up in Big Sur,” I told Lorena, burying my face in my palms.
She looked at me, her face hardened. “What did he look like?” Lorena asked. What a strange question for her to ask. An odd look took over her face, and I could tell my question was important to her.
“Hard to say. Brown hair…I remember a gold ring on his hand. I was surprised it had not been taken. You know how Joaquin loves his jewelry.” I looked over at her, only to find Lorena doubling over, her sobs quickly becoming loud enough for the house to hear.
“What? What is it?” I was so confused, I sat there looking like a useless idiot. Lorena shot up and fled the room.
I looked around the empty room in confusion, then snapped out of it and followed her cries to the parlor, where my mother and sisters surrounded her, all looking as confused as I felt.
“What is it, Lorena?” Everyone kept asking her, but it was as if she was in her own world. She sat on a loveseat with her face in her hands, wailing. It was painful to watch.
“Jesse said that he found a body,” she finally said. It was nearly impossible to understand her tear-thickened voice.
My mother looked at me with knitted eyebrows. It was clear she understood as little as I did. She laid a hand that was probably far more comforting than mine on Lorena’s shoulder, which I noticed was bonier than I remembered.
“Why is that making you so upset, Lorena? It’s nothing out of the ordinary…” my mother told her soothingly, which only caused Lorena to cry harder.
I averted my eyes to the doorway leading to the bedrooms. Ella was peeking into the living room, looking unsure about if she should enter. I caught her eye and beckoned her closer.
She tentatively slipped into the room, eyes wide at the strange scene unfolding before her. I could not help but notice her bare shoulders in the nightgown loaned to her by my sister, and I knew that if my mother were not so occupied, she would have a fit about me seeing her in her nightclothes.
“I have things I need to tell you, Mother,” Lorena suddenly spoke. Her voice was much clearer than it was a few minutes ago.
I remained silent next to Ella, whose large eyes flitted between me and Lorena.
“Please, tell us,” my mother said, clutching Lorena’s hand as if her life depended on it.
“You must promise not to be angry with me.”
“Lorena, just tell us! This is mad,” I told her, becoming frustrated.
Lorena took a deep breath, and began her story.