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Amor Maldito

Romantic Tragedies from Tejano Folklore


Simone Beaudelaire

Copyright © 2013 by Simone Beaudelaire. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the author’s permission.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any

resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.




This book is dedicated to my friends in the Rio Grande Valley.


Table of Contents

Introduction

The Calavera

Don’t Cry

Fly by Night


Introduction

Let me start off by telling you I’m not Mexican, or Mexican-American. I’m an American of Irish/Finnish/Heinz 57 Variety origin. When I was 14 years old, my family moved to Edinburg, Texas, and I’ve lived there off and on ever since. It was quite a culture shock, but I adjusted in the end, developing an affection for the culture and traditions of the area.

For those who are not familiar with it, the Rio Grande Valley is the region that stretches along the Mexican border in the southernmost part of Texas. It extends from Rio Grande City in the west to South Padre Island in the east.

Like all border regions, the Valley has a unique culture. In this case, it is part Mexican, part American, part something all its own. It seems unlikely that someone who has never been there could understand the colorful lifestyle of that region. Even with all the years I lived there, I still have a lot to learn.

One of the most interesting things about the Valley is its legends. I grew up with stories about The Phantom Hitchhiker and so on, but Valley ghost stories were like nothing I had heard before. On the bus, on the way to choir tours and field trips, and sitting in backyards on a hot summer evening, my friends told me these stories. They are largely oral traditions, which means they are subject to change. While I added a romantic plotline to each story, I took no liberties with the legends themselves. They are recorded as they were presented to me, so any differences you might see from a story you have heard are due to the living nature of spoken legends.

For this collection, I have used three traditional beliefs from Valley culture (among others). In “The Calavera” a young couple celebrates Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. In “Don’t Cry,” La Llorona, The Wailing Woman, seeks a boy and girl to replace the ones she murdered. In “Fly by Night,” a couple on a camping trip are terrorized by a Lechuza, a witch disguised as an owl, who is seeking revenge against the man who slighted her.

I hope you enjoy this little visit to the Rio Grande Valley. Thank you for your time, and good reading.


The Calavera

In class yesterday, she drew my name on her notebook and put a little heart around it. That was all the invitation Ethan Miller required. After weeks eyeing Yesenia Morales, that little clue was all he needed.

He slid into his seat in the recital hall of the University of Texas-Pan American’s music department. In part in hopes that she’d be joining him shortly, so he could put his plan into action, but also for the more pragmatic reason that class was due to start in five minutes. He stared at the black velvet curtains to the left of the stage, and let his mind wander back to student orientation three months ago.

The day I saw the most beautiful thing in all of Texas…

“Damn, it’s hot,” he muttered to himself, swiping at the sweat dripping from underneath his baseball cap. “Iraq was hotter, but not nearly this humid. It’s like a sauna.” Grumbling under his breath, Ethan clicked the button to lock up his Silverado, and then frowned. How can the entire parking lot be full? I must have circled the campus for an hour trying to find a spot. Doesn’t the school care that they’re charging people for parking spots that don’t exist. I hope Walmart doesn’t mind.

He glanced at his watch. “Crap. Orientation starts in five minutes. I’m going to miss the campus tour if I don’t hurry. Great way to put my G.I. Bill to use – by being late before class even starts. Hoofing it out of the parking lot, across the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant, and down a length of scorching sidewalk, he dodged an endless line of turning vehicles as he jaywalked across a crowded intersection. Horns blared, and one idiot in a messy pickup leaned his cowboy hat out the window. “Get out of the street, asshole.”

Annoyed, Ethan responded with a one-finger salute as he stepped out of the street. The pickup zoomed away.

“Now where do I go?” Dragging his backpack off his shoulder, he rummaged in the front pouch and dragged out a folded map. “Academic Services Building,” he murmured, running his finger down the list of buildings until he located the one he wanted, right in the center of campus. “Okay, straight ahead.” He sprinted down a sidewalk to a covered walkway that led him toward the heart of campus. There, much to his relief, a crowd of students had gathered in front of a set of sliding glass doors.’

“It’s time to go,” a soft entrancing voice cut through the crowd, and his frustration had melted like a snow cone in the sun. “I’m not waiting for anyone else.”

The crowd parted to allow the young woman through, and the sight of her instantly enthralled Ethan. The young woman was not just pretty, she was gorgeous. She had shimmering black hair, pulled into two girlish braids. They hung over each shoulder, tied at the ends with little flowers. She stood at a tiny and slender not quite five feet. A skimpy sundress that countered the blistering South Texas heat revealed a hint of enticing curves.

She pursed her lips, whose enticing pink gloss Ethan longed to taste, and spoke. “Hello, everyone. Welcome to The University of Texas- Pan American. My name is Yesenia, and I’ll be showing you around today. This is the academic services building, as you might know. You can pay your bills, sign up for financial aid, and meet with advisors here. If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you the rest of campus.”

He looked into her big brown eyes as she passed him and was lost. Those eyes made him want to do something stupid, like write poetry.

Ethan frowned at the empty stage as the memory soured. Before he could say a word to this entrancing creature, another person approached; a scary, thuggish-looking boy. He slung a propriety arm around Yesenia’s slender shoulders, in defiance of the heat.

I wonder why she’s letting him clutch her, Ethan mused as she led the group of incoming freshmen down the pebble-laden concrete walkways of the campus. He certainly isn’t helping her point out the communications, behavioral sciences, and math buildings. In fact, he’s getting in the way.

Must be one of those possessive types.

Disappointment deflated his temporary excitement, leaving him with the uncomfortable sensation that the heat had melted something inside him. Annoyed, Ethan focused on the campus and noticed in passing that a groundskeeper was attempting to water a little triangle of yellowed grass with an oscillating sprinkler. The reach of the sprinkler was too wide for the spot, and the fellow had only succeeded in watering the sidewalk. The foliage remained dry.

His attention diverted, Ethan nearly ran into Yesenia’s boyfriend. This close, he could see that the belligerent young man sported a teardrop tattooed in the corner of his eye. Three dots decorated his hand between the thumb and forefinger.

The unpleasant individual gave Ethan a threatening look and took a deliberate step forward.

Ethan blinked in surprise at the other man’s aggression. He stood his ground, calmly regarding the thug without aggression. I can handle myself in a fight, but this is not my fight to have. The girl’s not at risk, nor is she mine to defend. Still, I’m not going to let this pendejo intimidate me.

“My first day on campus was somewhat less than inspiring,” he admitted internally.

That was then. Now, the last Friday of October, Yesenia’s unpleasant boyfriend was gone, long gone. He hasn’t been seen on the university campus since mid-September, almost six weeks ago. Thank goodness. Yesenia is classy. She doesn’t need a thug like that hanging around her. He grinned. Which gives me the chance to make my move. It’s been nice getting to know her over the last few weeks. Especially as she’s come to sit beside me from day one.

Yesenia scampered into the room. He grinned. Everything about her, from her voice to her walk, charmed him. She saw him, and her eyes lit up.

She waved, and he returned the gesture, indicating a next to him. A wide smile broke over her face. She quickly joined him. Across the tiny distance between the desks, he could smell her floral perfume. A few minutes remained before the wake-up call –a piece intended to set the mood for class –but they didn’t rush to speak Instead, each regarded the other with a shy grin.

“Hi,” was his brilliant opening line.

She wrinkled her nose. “Hola.”

“Hey, take it easy on the gringo,” he protested, though he’d taken enough Spanish to get by if needed.

Yesenia giggled. “What’s up?”

“Nada,” he replied, and she giggled again. Then, steeling himself, he asked, “You got any plans for the weekend?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“What is it?” he asked, trying to sound casually curious, not like an interrogation.

“I’m helping out with the Dìa de los Muertos festivities at the museum tomorrow,” she told him.

Oh good, it’s not a date. But he had no idea what she was talking about, and her rapid pronunciation rendered the Spanish words a meaningless jumble in his inexperienced mind. “The what?”

“How long have you lived in the Valley, Ethan?” she asked, exasperated.

“Only a few months,” he replied.

“Okay, here.” Giving him a pitying look, she tore a page out of her notebook and scribbled on it. “Call me tonight. I’ll explain everything.”

He took the paper and tucked it in his wallet just as Dr. Peterson entered the room. The professor’s silver-streaked black hair was disheveled as usual, his khaki pants a tiny bit too short, his thick, black-framed glasses sliding down his substantial nose. The professor clunked across the stage in heavy shoes and turned on the sound system, starting class with a piece of classical music.

Today it was the Danse Macabre by Camille Saint Saenz. Very fitting for the season.

As strange chords rang through the recital hall’s speakers, Ethan noticed Yesenia’s hand sitting lightly on the top of her desk. He glanced at her face and found her totally focused on the stage. He covered her hand with his.

She turned and regarded him. He returned her gaze, but this time, no smile creased his lips.

I want you, Yesenia Morales, he thought, allowing the attraction to shape his expression. I want you and I’m not afraid to let you see it.

She flipped her hand over and laced her fingers through his.

******

Later that evening, Ethan sat on the broken-down secondhand couch in his apartment, counting the rings on his cell phone. Isn’t she home? Every time he thought about what he was doing, his stomach clenched. I like this girl way too much for my own good.

To distract himself from his nerves, he studied the living room. Whoever chose the decor in this building sure was in love with tan. There were tan tiles on the floor, and the walls and ceiling were painted to match. It’s like living inside a cardboard box.

His furniture; a fake leather sofa in a slightly darker shade of brown, and a matching armchair, did nothing to improve the space. It was a terrible place to study because its appearance induced such brain-numbing boredom.

“Bueno?” An unfamiliar woman answered the phone.

“Hello, may I please speak to Yesenia?” he said politely, hoping she would understand.

“Un momento, por favor.” The voice trembled with age. There was a clunk as the receiver was set down, and he could hear, distant and muffled, that same elderly person yelling, “Yesenia!”

“Sí.”

There was a string of words he didn’t understand, and then the familiar, girlish inflection spoke into his ear. “Hello?”

Odd, her voice sounds harsh, suspicious. “Yesenia? It’s Ethan,” he said hesitantly, hoping she wasn’t upset over something he hadn’t known he’d done.

“Oh, Ethan, hi. How are you?” She sounded much happier now.

He sagged with relief. She’s glad to talk to me. Good. Whew. When he spoke, it was with more enthusiasm than the conversation warranted. “Great. You?”

“I’m fine,” she replied, sounding natural, though not as relaxed as he’d expected. “Just finished reading for my Intro to Lit class.”

“Good job!” Ethan wiped his hand over his face. Stop gushing, you dink. He forced himself to act normal. “Okay, so tell me about what you’re doing this weekend... what did you call it?”

“Dìa de los Muertos,” she replied in that same unintelligible drawl. He remained silent, so she explained further. “The Day of the Dead. This is a really important tradition here and in Mexico.”

“Is it like Halloween?” he asked.

He heard a soft chuckle. “Not really. Halloween is supposed to be creepy and morbid. Dìa de los Muertos is positive. It’s a celebration of those who have passed on. It’s beautiful.”

You’re beautiful. Your voice is beautiful. “Tell me more.”

She continued. “In honor of loved ones, families erect altars with photos of the deceased, and surround them with flowers and objects that were meaningful to the person. Like my cousin Rene. He died in a car accident when he was seventeen. He loved basketball, so we’re making his altar this year with a picture of him in his basketball uniform, marigold flowers and candles, his favorite foods and a lot of Dr. Pepper. That was his favorite drink. We’ll also place painted sugar skulls decorated with sequins and feathers.”

“So, it’s a celebration of his life?” he guessed, trying to make sense of this information.

“Exactly.” He could almost see her smile. “You’re pretty smart for a white boy from Dallas.”

He chuckled at her teasing. “See, didn’t I tell you I was? What are you going to do with this altar?”

“We’re setting it up in the Museum of South Texas History, along with a bunch of other families, in the part that used to be a jail. During the event, I’m going to be in the main building of the museum, up on the landing, helping with the face painting.”

Aw, how cute. Painting rainbows and butterflies on the kids. Can’t you just see those little hands at work...?

“Ethan.” Her tone had become sharp. He had lost focus on what she was saying.

“Hmmm?” he asked, embarrassed to have been daydreaming about Yesenia while he was talking to her.

“I said, do you want to go?”

“Yuh – yes, of course,” he stammered, “If I can see you.”

She giggled, harshness banished. “I’m going to be a bit busy.”

“That’s okay,” he assured her. “I want to learn about this.

“Great. However, I’m going to have my face painted, so let me tell you what I’m going to be wearing.”

His eyebrows drew together. “What kind of face paint prevents me from recognizing you?”

“A calavera.”

Another word he’d never heard before. “A what?”

“It’s a skull face, but beautiful, with flowers and hearts and things. I don’t know exactly what they’re going to paint on me, so I can’t describe it to you, but I’ll be wearing a blue sundress with yellow flowers, so you’ll know it’s me.”

Beautiful skull? This place sure isn’t anything like home. “Okay, Yesenia. And afterwards, can I take you out?”

That happy tone returned to her voice. “Yes, that would be fine. The event is done at six.”

“Perfect,” he enthused, and then forced himself to return to practicality. “We can get something to eat and... I don’t know... hang out for a while?”

Yesenia giggled. “Yes. That sounds good. I’d like to hang out with you, Ethan.” Her voice softened as she formed his name.

This is going to be an excellent date.

******

The Museum of South Texas History rather resembled a small replica of the Alamo, with gleaming white exterior walls and a red tile roof. It was decorated across the front with shiny blue tiles that reflected the sun, which still burned strong even though it was the first of November. It was supposed to cool into the upper 70s in the evening, which would be a welcome relief. Even growing up in Dallas had not prepared Ethan for the sticky, humid sultriness of the Rio Grande Valley. They say the heat will break sometime in November. I hope that’s true.

He pushed through the heavy double doors and entered a cavernous two-story foyer with reddish-orange tile. A chandelier made of a wooden hoop from which metal shapes stuck out at random angle hung from the ceiling.

At the far end, a double staircase, which had blue and white tiles in a zigzag design, led up to a landing, and above that, a balcony.

The face painting was taking place on the balcony. He pushed through a milling crowd, past a bellowing band of Mariachi musicians and worked his way slowly up the stairs. On the landing, a heavy woman in a long red skirt and blousy white top sat on a little stool, turning a six-year-old with a black ponytail into a grinning skull.

As Yesenia had promised, the spectacle was more beautiful than morbid. The child-skull had a flower painted around each eye. The nasal cavity was an inverted heart, and more hearts and flowers adorned the cheeks. It was lovely and strange. Ethan didn’t quite know how to feel about it.

He couldn’t see Yesenia. Maybe she’s taking a break. At any rate, we aren’t supposed to meet for a while.

Thwarted, he headed back down the stairs and across a gated courtyard to the other structure, the old Hidalgo County Jail, where a rapist had once been hanged. The musty-smelling building with its water-stained ceiling had been transformed into a garden of candles and flowers. The mélange of colors dazzled his eyes to the point of slight discomfort.

Alters for everyone from grandmothers to infants crowded every surface. At first, the displays overwhelmed him, but as he began to focus on each one, they became fascinating. Each object bore significance, telling the story of a life, a tradition, which he couldn’t relate to at all, but suddenly wanted to. These people have a culture so foreign to me, and yet I’ve lived among them my whole life.

Before he knew it, the beams of sunlight in the room began slanting at an angle, indicating dusk was falling. He glanced at his cell phone. 5:50. Great! I’m supposed to pick Yesenia up in a few minutes. He hurried back through the dispersing crowd up to the second floor of the main building where, sure enough, his favorite girl, tiny and clad in the promised sundress, reached out a hand and clasped him.

Her face paint completely obscured her features, but it was eerily lovely. Golden flowers ringed her eyes, and more flowers – scarlet roses – adorned her forehead and cheeks, connected by thin green vines. Pale blue teardrops chased down the corner of each eye.

Her hand was icy; no surprise, given the frigid setting of the air conditioning.

He leaned down to her ear, wanting to be heard over the din. “Are you hungry?”

She shook her head.

“Hey, would you like to go back to the University?” he suggested. “It’s quiet on Saturday.”

She nodded.

Her silence baffled him. “Is part of this Day of the Dead thing that you can’t talk?”

She nodded again.

“That’s cool.” Actually, it’s a bit of a drag, but I’ll never say so.

He led her down to his truck and drove the short distance to the university campus, parking by the science building. He hadn’t been kidding when he said that the campus was quiet on Saturday. It was dead; empty, and silent. He jumped down from the Silverado and circled the front of the vehicle to open the door for Yesenia. She shimmied into his arms and let him lower her to the ground. He laced his fingers through hers. “Shall we walk?”

She nodded.

A series of cylindrical brick structures connected by glass catwalks comprised the science building. Each tower was painted in colors intended to resemble the planets of the solar system. Ethan noticed was a dark, shady spot, an open stairwell, and he led Yesenia into it. She still clutched his hand, her fingers laced through his, and she pressed her lips to his knuckles. Paint smeared on his skin.

Now what? If Yesenia isn’t able to talk, what are we going to do?

She took the question out of his hands, urging him to sit on the steps and perching beside him. Leaning over, she pressed her mouth to his.

The paint felt strange as it rubbed onto his skin, but underneath, her lips were soft, full and delicate. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer. If she wants to make out, I’m not about to argue.

She cupped his face in her hands, kissing and kissing him. They opened together, letting their tongues glide against each other. It felt to Ethan like an hour that they held each other in the stuffy stairwell, lips clinging as they tasted and licked each other.

Ethan decided to take a chance. He gently touched Yesenia’s firm, full breast. She didn’t push him away. Instead, she leaned into his touch, her nipple rising inside the fabric. She wasn’t wearing a bra, and it was nothing to slide the shoulder strap down, so he could grasp the globe directly, teasing and plucking the sensitive peak.

She lowered the other strap herself, lowered the whole front of her dress, pulled it down and down until it slithered along the staircase and landed in a heap at the bottom. She was nude underneath, slim in the waist but round in the hips, with soft little thighs, slightly parted. She leaned on one elbow and reached out to Ethan. He peeled off his tee shirt and shorts eagerly, kneeling on the step and lifting her breasts, pressing them together and lowering his mouth to her nipples. He moved from one to the other, tasting and enjoying the delicious little peaks. Her face paint had transferred to his mouth, and he smudged it back on her skin, leaving strange marks; black, gray, and red.

I must have touched one of the roses on her cheek. He glanced at her face. The rubbing had changed the dainty skull teeth to a gaping maw, and sure enough, one of the roses smeared downward unevenly, as though it were bleeding.

He didn’t want to look at that, so he lowered his mouth to hers again, kissing her some more. She guided his hand lower, so he could stroke the neatly trimmed black hair between her thighs and then press deeper, fondling her dewy folds. He touched his lips her neck, pressing one paint-laden kiss after another around the slender column of her throat.

She reached for him, touching his erection. He shifted so he could cover her body. She opened her thighs to cradle him. I can’t believe how fast this is happening. Sex on the first date? Who would have thought it? And yet, it feels so right. So very perfect.

Yesenia grasped his sex again, leading him to her. He gently entered her wet, swollen sex. She accepted his penetration without resistance, but with the perfect amount of clinging friction. “Oh, God,” he breathed. “That’s great, honey.”

She smiled, but the smeared paint changed her grin to a grimace. He his hid his face in her hair as he arched his hips back and slid into her again. She shuddered in his arms. A feeling of deep affection washed over him. I think I might just fall in love with this girl.

He nibbled her neck and glided gently inside her until he felt her begin to clench and spasm around him. She came silently, not even a gasp, but oh, he could feel every ripple.

A few more thrusts and he was there too, flying past the stars, climaxing with an intensity he’d never felt before.

As ecstasy faded, he looked down at his lovely girl. I certainly made a mess of her makeup. Dark smudges marred her neck, the roses on her face were indistinguishable red marks, and the overall effect was more corpse than skull. He shuddered.

“Okay, Yesenia,” he told her, sliding out of her body, “that was really great. I... I definitely want to see you again. I...” He wanted to ask her to be his girlfriend, but the eerie appearance of her love-smeared face paint cut off his words.

“Let me take you home. You need to wash up. And then... I’ll call you tonight, okay?’

She nodded, rising. Descending the stairs, she gathered up her dress, pulling it over her head.

Night had fallen while they made love, and strange shadows slipped through the little windows in the stairwell. He hurried after her, sliding his arm around her waist and walking her back to his pickup.

He had gotten her address before, on the phone, and he drove her to a single-story brick house in a rather marginal neighborhood.

“I’ll call you,” he told her fervently. She leaned over and kissed his mouth with frantic passion. He returned the embrace eagerly, but when he looked at her, he shuddered.

“Go wash up, okay?” he urged. “That makeup is creeping me out.”

She gave him a look, her dark eyes huge, the pupils indistinguishable. Then she nodded and left the truck, walking slowly towards the door.

Ethan returned to his beige box and showered. The paint on his face felt itchy and unpleasant, and he was glad to be rid of it.

As soon as he was clean, he wrapped a towel around his hips, pulled out his cell phone and called Yesenia.

No one answered.

He called again. Nothing.

For the rest of Saturday evening and all day Sunday, he tried to call his girl, but no one ever picked up the phone.

******

On Monday after class, Ethan returned to the museum. The celebration of Dìa de los Muertos was over, of course, but the altars would be there another week. He found Yesenia’s cousin Rene, his photo showing the husky youth in his basketball jersey, surrounded by bottles of Dr. Pepper and yellow marigolds. He died so young.

But what on earth had happened to Yesenia? She wasn’t in class and she won’t answer the phone. The house, when he had stopped by, was deserted. No one had come to the door.

Ethan noticed a new altar to the left of Rene’s, one he hadn’t seen before. It’s a little sparse, like it’s still under construction, but why would anyone start a new one after the celebration?

He drew nearer to look, when a hand clamped down on his arm; an elderly Mexican woman with white hair pulled into a bun stared up at him with red, bloodshot eyes. She wore a faded blue housecoat.

“Are you Ethan?” Her accent was so heavy he had to concentrate to understand her, and he noticed she was missing several teeth

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.

“I’m Yesenia’s abuela, her grandmother.”

“Pleased to meet you.” He took her hand gently. “Where is she? I’ve been trying to get in contact with her.”

“Yes. I’m sorry.” She rasped, her tone despairing.

“Sorry about what?” he asked. Her demeanor had passed troubling to alarming.

Tears clouded the old woman’s eyes and spilled over, filling the wrinkles in her cheeks.

“Ma’am, what’s wrong,” he asked, his worry growing by the minute.

“Yesenia... she’s... she’s gone.” She burst into deep wracking sobs.

“Gone?” He demanded, not understanding, though his stomach clenched with anxiety. “Where did she go?”

“Abuela, come on.” A young man called, approaching from another room. He embraced his grandmother and led her to a bench to sit. Then he returned to Ethan.

“I’m Claudio, Yesenia’s brother.” He stated, his tone flat.

This time Ethan didn’t waste time with niceties. “What the hell is going on?” he demanded.

“That... hijo de puta she used to go out with...” Claudio choked on his words and stopped.

“What?” Ethan pressed, not interested in the young man’s histrionics.

Claudio’s teeth ground together. “She’s dead, Ethan.” He managed, barely, to force out.

“What? No.” Ethan shook his head vigorously, rejecting the words. She can’t be dead. She was so alive, so beautiful. He must be mistaken… or I misunderstood.

“Yes,” Claudio insisted. “That bastard heard she was seeing someone else, and he killed her.”

Ethan swallowed against a wave of rising nausea. “When?”

“Friday night.”

“No, she was with me Saturday night.” Naked in my arms. I can account for every inch of her body. I know we were together.

But Claudio didn’t give him a chance to speak. He rushed right on as though desperate to force the words out. “I went outside to make a phone call and found her in the yard.” The halting, shattered dialogue left Ethan no doubt of Claudio’s sincerity. “That asshole had beaten her face in, choked her. She was bruised all over, with fingermarks on her throat.” He gagged, swallowed, and continued. “She still had a pulse then. The ambulance took her to the hospital. They said... they said she was brain dead. We turned off life support on Saturday afternoon.” Now the young man’s voice grew increasingly unsteady as he forced the words out rapidly through his locked jaw.

“God.” Ethan could hardly take in Claudio’s gush of words. “What the hell are you doing here at the museum?”

“Abuela wanted to make her an altar.” He indicated the half-constructed collage of objects.

Ethan approached. A photo of Yesenia, looking lovely, her hair in braids, rested in a silver frame, surrounded by golden flowers. A hodgepodge of mismatched candles illuminated her beautiful face. On the table he saw a notebook with a heart on it, a name lovingly sketched inside in elegant cursive. She had taped his photo below the heart. I wonder where she got the picture. I never gave her one.

“See, Ethan, she really liked you a lot. She talked about you constantly. I’m so sorry. I know she would have liked to have a chance to tell you goodbye.” Claudio was crying.

Ethan turned and left before Claudio could see the tears on his own cheeks.

He didn’t know how to tell them she had.

Don’t Cry


“Are you sure you want to do this?” Danielle’s mother asked for the thousandth time. “You don’t have to. You could… stay here. Commute. You could at least stay for the summer.”

“I want to, Mom,” Danielle replied, disentangling herself from her mother’s grasp. “You know how bad parking is on the UTPA campus. If I tried to commute 45 minutes each day to go to class, I’d waste a fortune in gas not only getting to campus but circling the parking lot hour after hour. Either that, or I’d have to leave by about five in the morning to be sure I could make it to my early classes on time, and I wouldn’t be coming home until so late, what with my job at the Walmart. By staying with Monica’s family during the week, I’ll be walking distance from both work and school. Her parents have been so generous to let me stay for only a small amount of rent. Please, don’t make this into a struggle. I’m eighteen, I’m starting college, and I’m ready to try something new.”

“June, please,” Dad urged, tugging his weeping wife away from their daughter, “let Danielle live. Let her move into adulthood. You know she’ll be safe with Monica’s family.”

“I’m just not ready for the nest to be empty,” Mom wailed, scrubbing both hands through her curly, graying hair.

Ready or not, Mom, Danielle thought rudely, but she didn’t voice her frustration. “It’s going to be okay,” she urged. “Now, I have to go. Monica’s parents want to see me settle in before it gets too late.”

Mom buried her face in Dad’s short-sleeved plaid shirt.

Go on, Dad mouthed to her over Mom’s shoulder. Get going. He winked, the skin crinkling around his shiny blue eyes.

Relieved, Danielle sprinted for the door, grabbing her two suitcases and gently shutting the door behind her. She tossed the bags into the trunk of her Jeep, vaulted into the driver’s seat, and backed out of the driveway, heading toward the westbound Interstate Highway 2, which would take her from her family home in Harlingen to her future in Edinburg, nearly an hour away.

She merged onto the freeway and cast a quick glance behind her in the rearview mirror, watching childhood retreat. She caught a glimpse of herself – curly black hair and dark brown eyes that allowed her to blend into the Hispanic majority population without drawing attention to herself – before focusing her eyes on the road ahead, the road to her future.

“What a fun adventure,” she said. “Moving away, starting college and living with my best friend only a short walk from campus. Working a little, studying, hanging out with Monica and probably Alvin, since he lives nearby. And… Orly.” Danielle shivered with excitement. “Orlando Gonzalez Garcia, Monica’s older brother, fresh from the Air Force and starting college with the three of us.”

She could easily visualize her long-time crush, looking lean and sexy, his dark eyes fixed on her with his characteristic intensity. “Oh, yes. I’m definitely ready to start a new adventure,” she said aloud. Turning on the radio to her favorite Country station, she sang along with the lyrics as she sped away into the sunset.

***

Three hours later, Danielle had settled into the unused maid’s quarters in the spacious ranch-style house. Her bags unpacked, and the Garcia parents gone for an evening at their favorite club, Danielle made her way through the dark interior of the house. Blackout curtains blocked out the intense south Texas sun. The creepy images Mrs. Garcia – an art teacher at a local high school – had painted in her spare time clouded the atmosphere. From every wall, black-on-black canvases seemed to stare at the inhabitants. Studying the paintings, Danielle could barely perceive the outlines of women.

Ugh. They’re pretty, I guess… in a scary way. From the formal living room, the parrots squawked and fussed in their cages, breaking her eye contact with the painting and turned toward the kitchen. A cockroach the size of a man’s thumb scuttled across the floor tile and disappeared under a closed door.

Gross. Palmetto bugs. I know they come in from outside, but… yuck. I guess I’ll be using my employee discount to buy some roach baits… and spray. She shuddered, thinking of how the insects could fly when agitated.

Suddenly, Danielle felt unsettled in the unfamiliar home. This will take some getting used to. I wonder where Monica has gone. She knocked on her friend’s bedroom door but received no reply.

“They’re outside,” a low-pitched, masculine voice informed her.

She jumped. “Oh, hi, Orly,” she gasped.

“Sorry.” He grinned, straight teeth flashing in the dark hallway. “While you were getting situated, Alvin came over…” he crimped his lips into a disapproving frown. “We all decided to go outside. It’s a tiny bit less hot now. Care to join us?”

“Sure, of course,” Danielle stammered.

He smiled again, cutting off her faltering speech altogether. Embarrassed, Danielle hurried through the house and out into the backyard, where Monica and Alvin sat on patio lounges, enjoying the relative cool of a Texas evening.

Sinking into an unoccupied chair under a banana tree, Danielle studied the yard. Typical of older homes in the Valley, it was a good size, alive with lush greenery. Bird of paradise plants, hibiscus, and bougainvillea bloomed wildly in every corner. A small swimming pool had been sunk deep into the ground. Its water shifted, splashing softly in a warm, gentle breeze. It was late now, almost 9:00, and the blazing heat of day was giving way to the muggy stillness of night. On the cusp between, it felt almost comfortable, provided one didn’t wear too much.

“Hi, Danielle. All set?” Monica asked.

“I think so,” she replied. “Thanks again for talking your parents into this.”

Monica smiled.

“Hola, cola,” Alvin joked, a broad smile spreading across his chubby face. His eyes twinkled with juvenile humor.

“Ha ha. Very funny.” Danielle rolled her eyes. I swear he’s twelve. Hello, ass indeed.

“Where’s my brother?” Monica asked, ignoring her boyfriend’s silliness. “Did you see him inside?”

Danielle nodded. “I don’t know what his plans were, but yes, I saw him.”

Monica winked.

A swooshing sound heralded the opening of the sliding glass door, and Orly emerged, a six-pack of icy beers in one hand, a bag of chips in the other. Though full darkness had fallen, the patio lights revealed what the darkened interior had not. Orly wore only a pair of long denim shorts. His toned abs, chest and shoulders gleamed with perspiration. Danielle’s mouth went dry and instantly sealed itself shut. Damn, he’s fine.

Orly flopped on the chair and offered the drinks and snacks to his companions. Everyone took a beer, grateful for the coolness.

“Happy birthday, Danielle,” he told her.

Oh, wow. How did he know? she wondered, cheeks flaming. Orly really was way too cute. She opened her beer and sipped.

“Orly, Mom’s gonna freak when she finds out you’ve given us drinks.”

Orly rolled his brown eyes, so the whites flashed in the darkness. “Are you gonna rat me out, hermana?”

“No.”

“Danielle?”

“Of course not.” Her cheeks heated a little more at his attention.

“Alvin?”

Alvin shook his head hard, so his chubby cheeks flopped.

“See? One beer isn’t going to kill anyone, and even if you’re not exactly of age, you’re all eighteen now.” He winked at Danielle. “That’s old enough to have one at home, I think.”

Danielle grinned. Orly’s such a rebel.

They drank and ate chips as they listened to the cicadas buzzing and began to chat idly.

“So, now that you’re eighteen,” Alvin said to Danielle, “do you have any big goals?”

“Good grades in college,” she replied succinctly.

“You don’t need to make that a goal,” Monica snorted. “You’ll do it regardless. Why don’t you plan to lose your virginity this year?”

The heat in Danielle’s face increased to a painful, aching burn. Why does Monica have to say these things in front of her brother? Irritated, she shot back, “Like you have anything to say about it, Miss Virgin Garcia.”

“I’m not a virgin,” Monica scoffed.

Danielle and Alvin burst out laughing.

“Monica,” Danielle told her friend, “tongue-kissing a boy doesn’t count, not even if he gropes your boob.”

This time Monica fell silent. As did Alvin. Orly glared at his sister.

“What?” she snapped at her brother. He didn’t reply. She turned her attention back to Danielle. “At any rate, you should definitely think about a boyfriend, Danielle. I know you worked so hard in high school to get a scholarship, but you have it now. You can have a personal life too. I know...”

“Oh, don’t!” Danielle started, but Monica’s tongue had been loosened by her beer and she blurted out her best friend’s secret.

“Orly, you could be Danielle’s boyfriend. She likes you a lot.”

Orly choked on his drink.

Stung by his response, Danielle stood, shook her black curls out of her face, and headed towards the house. I’ve had enough of this little birthday party. Leave it to the princess of gab to ruin everything. She bit down hard on her lip to keep herself from sniffling.

A hand shot out and grabbed her arm, stopping her progress. “Don’t leave,” Orly urged gently, “I was only surprised.” He pulled her onto his lap. “I would like to be your boyfriend. Would you like that, Danielle?”

She couldn’t answer, since surprise had locked her throat shut, but apparently, the look in her eyes told him what he needed to know, because he took her chin in his hand and pressed his lips to hers for a brief, beer-flavored kiss.

Monica cheered. Orly settled Danielle back against him, wrapping his arm around her waist. She rested her head on his shoulder.

“So,” Alvin said, changing the subject, “did y’all hear about the kids who saw La Llorona last night?”

Alvin always knows the best gossip… and ghost stories, even if it usually seems like he invents them. Once he says it, it’s set in stone fact.

“People don’t see La Llorona and live,” Monica retorted irritably. “Their drowned bodies are found in the canal the next day.”

“What’s La Llorona?” Danielle asked from her perch on Orly’s lap. She felt extremely comfortable there.

The three Mexican-Americans stared at her.

“Is Harlingen such a cultural wasteland then?” Orly asked.

“I don’t know. Don’t forget I only moved here four years ago. We had different legends up north.”

“Let’s not waste another minute. You won’t be safe living here unless you know to watch out for La Llorona.” Alvin warned, his voice serious.

“Alvin,” Monica urged, “you tell her.”

Alvin gulped the rest of his beer, set the can beside the chair, and settled in. His face, harshly illumined by the floodlights, no longer looked round and jolly. The play of light and shadow on his fleshy features turned him sinister.

“La Llorona, or the wailing woman,” he began, “was a lovely girl named Maria, who was a single mother of two children; a boy and a girl. She fell in love with a man who hated children and didn’t want her because of hers. In order to be with this man, she drowned her children. But he still wouldn’t have her, so she drowned herself too. When she arrived at the gates of Heaven, St. Peter refused to admit her until she could tell him where her little ones were. She’s doomed for eternity to wander the edges of waterways searching for her babies, wailing and crying with remorse for what she has done. And if she finds a child alone near the water, she takes him to the bottom, in hopes that the angels will relent and let her into heaven.”

Silence fell as Alvin finished his story. A hot, stale wind swirled through the foliage in the yard, making it murmur and crackle.

“That’s a sad story,” Danielle said somberly.

“It is,” Monica agreed.

“Even worse,” Alvin added, “it’s said she calls them by name. No one La Llorona calls by name is ever seen alive again.”

“You know,” Orly interjected, “it’s all a lot of bullshit. If they’re never seen alive, how can you know if she called their name? Come on, sweet girl; let’s go for a walk before the mosquitoes come out.”

Monica smirked. “Don’t hurry back,” she called after them as Orly led Danielle out the back gate into the orange grove behind the house.

Danielle glanced back. Monica had moved to Alvin’s chair, cuddled against his soft, teddy-bear body, and was kissing him. Orly tugged her into the dusty grove and out of sight.

“What does she see in him?” he growled.

“He’s nice,” Danielle replied. “Don’t you want your sister to be with someone nice?”

“I guess.”

“Stop acting like such an overprotective big brother,” she teased.

He stopped, twirling her around to face him and pressed a kiss to her mouth. “Would you rather I act like a boyfriend instead?”

Danielle blushed. She was sure it was visible even in the dark grove.

“I’m surprised you agreed,” she said softly. “Especially with no warning.”

Orly smirked. “I had warning. My sister pointed you out to me two weeks ago, right when our parents announced you were moving in, and she said I should think about you as a girlfriend. She was right.”

He kissed her again, more tenderly this time.

“You acted so surprised,” Danielle said when they came up for air.

“I didn’t expect her to do that right then.”

“Oh.” She tugged him back down. This time he asked for more, pressing the seam of her lips with his tongue. She opened, and he slid inside.

He French kissed her for a long time. Wow! I used to think this was gross. Guess Orly knows what he’s doing. The sweet, hot touches of his tongue aroused her. She wriggled closer to him.

He released her mouth, hugging her tight, and she whispered, “I’m so glad you’re my boyfriend.”

“I am too, Danielle. Oh, and you know what? That goal my sister suggested to you? I can help you with that too.”

She looked up at him, her breath catching in her throat. “N-n-now?” She stammered.

Even in the darkness, she could see his searching expression.

“No, not now. We’ll take a little time, but let’s say before school starts, okay?”

“Okay.” That was six weeks from now. Plenty of time. Then, suddenly shy, she ran away from him, sprinting towards the house. She half-hoped he would chase her.

“Danielle,” the call came softly on the wind just as she was crossing over the culvert that funneled the water from the drainage canal under the dirt track trucks used to access the grove.

She stopped. Maybe Orly doesn’t want to chase me. She wasn’t sure how to play this game, and she didn’t want to do it wrong. She wanted to be Orly’s girlfriend, his lover, but she felt uncertain.

“Danielle!”

“I’m here,” she called back.

The wind picked up, smelling of hot dust and half-melted tar. In the winter, the whole area would be fragrant with orange blossoms, but in July, there was nothing but heat. Bits of dirt pelted Danielle, embedding themselves in her skin as the wind swirled and tangled her black curls. She felt a touch on the back of her neck, a pressure, as though of wind but somehow not. The force of it knocked her off her feet.

A startled sound emerged from her mouth as the ground rushed up to meet her...

And then she was encircled in warm strong arms that pulled her upright, embracing her. She shivered.

“What’s up with you, little girl?” Orly asked her.

“I was waiting for you.”

“I was going to catch you and kiss you.”

“Yes, I know. I wanted that. But then you called me, and I stopped.”

“I didn’t call you, Danielle.”

“I heard you. I…”

He laid his finger on her lips cutting her off. “It’s okay. I’m here now.” He pulled his finger away and kissed her. “Anyway, come on. Let’s go back inside. It’s too damned windy out here.”

She didn’t protest, merely allowed herself to be led back to the house.

In the yard, Monica and Alvin were still kissing, entwined on a lawn chair that groaned under their combined weight.

Orly led Danielle past the embracing couple with hardly a glower. He walked her to her room for a long kiss goodnight.

***

Summer passed quickly. Danielle started her job at the grocery store as a cashier. Orly worked in the Air Force recruitment office. Their flexible schedules meant they got to spend plenty of time together, and they talked, laughed, and made out with reckless abandon.

On the last day of July, Danielle knocked on Orly’s bedroom door, first thing in the morning.

He opened, eyes sleepy, dressed only in a pair of basketball shorts. As usual, the sight of Orly’s dark-eyed gorgeousness sealed her mouth shut. Now, after a month of dating, she covered her speechlessness by hooking her hand around the back of his neck and pulling him forward. He complied easily, and they shared a tender kiss. He opened his mouth to give her a quick taste of his tongue, but she pulled back.

Quickly, before you lose your nerve. “Orly?”

“Yes, Dani?” he asked, using the nickname he’d made up for her.

“Um, I wanted to tell you… I’m ready whenever you are.”

He raised one dark eyebrow. “Ready?” then his intense eyes widened. “Really? Ready, ready?”

She nodded, studying his expression closely. Will he look eager? Lusty? Maybe change his mind?

His expression firmed from surprise to solemn seriousness. “I’m ready, Danielle. Ready to be as close to you as two people can be. Tonight. Let’s do it tonight.”

She bit her lip. A frisson of fear shivered through her, but the clenching wetness between her thighs told her that her nerves wouldn’t last long. Oh, yes. I do want Orly to be my first… and I want it to be tonight. “Perfect,” she told him earnestly. “I have to work today, but…”

“And so do I, but I’ll figure it out. Don’t worry about anything. It will be nice, I promise.”

“I trust you,” she said.

He kissed her.

***

As darkness fell, Orly met Danielle near the sliding glass door. Her heart pounded as he took her hand and led her out through the back gate into the grove. There, he had placed a blanket on the ground, to protect them from dirt and sticks. A little battery-operated lantern provided dim illumination to the scene.

She looked at the makeshift bed, and then at Orly’s eyes, and stepped into his arms for the first of many long kisses. He kissed her while he unbuttoned her blouse, and while she opened his shirt. He kissed her while he removed her bra, and when he pulled her against him, letting her nipples caress his chest. She pulled him down onto the blanket, and he pressed her onto her back, leaning up on one elbow to look at her pretty little breasts. They weren’t terribly large, but they had a nice shape, and he began to touch them slowly, stroking the little globes, teasing the nipples, leaning over to suck them gently.

“Are you feeling good yet, little girl?” he asked her.

“Hmmmm,” she sighed, and it was a pleased sound. He pressed his lips to her belly. With careful fingers, he opened her shorts and she wriggled out of them. His own followed, and their underwear, and they were naked together.

She looked at him; his lovely caramel-colored skin, brown hair and dark, passionate eyes. He’s so handsome, and he’s mine, my boyfriend. She felt blessed.

“Relax, pretty girl,” he urged. “You know what I need to do.” His hand came to rest on her mound, teasing the dark hair she’d trimmed that morning.

She took a deep breath and parted her thighs, throwing one arm over her eyes. I know he needs to touch me, there, but I can’t watch.

Orly stroked over the surface of her lips twice, then gently parted them and began to fondle the slick, sensitive folds. He dipped his finger into her, testing her wetness. He probed at her hymen, gauging its dimensions. Oh, that feels strange, she thought, and her internal muscles clenched. Then he trailed up to her clitoris, and a different sensation shot through her. Pure, fiery ecstasy. “Oh!” she cried out. “Oh, Orly!”

“Quietly,” he urged as he rubbed the tender bud with his skilled, clever fingers. “It’s such a sweet sound. Keep it just for us.” He kissed her lips.

Biting her lip to keep her cries inside, she arched her hips into his touch. “It’s so good,” she whispered.

He smiled, dark eyes tender. One thick, calloused finger invaded her again, but this time, it felt like part of the love play. She liked it. “More, Orly, please,” she begged.

“More?” His grin widened. A second finger slipped into her. “You’ll be ready before you know it.”

Danielle’s eyes slid closed. She squirmed and whimpered, reaching… reaching. “Oooooh.” The sound escaped her in a thin coo as pleasure bowed her body.

Orly continued to stimulate her with his fingers as the peak lingered. Distantly, she heard the crinkle of foil, felt his body shift.

He knelt between her parted thighs. “Are you ready, Danielle?” he asked her as he moved his hand away from her vulva. The orgasm retreated to a diffused and happy relaxation.

“Yes, Orly,” she replied, surprisingly calm.

He began to press inside her slowly, giving her every opportunity to stop him. She didn’t. She winced as he pushed past her hymen, and he kissed her lips to distract her from the sting. Then, Orly surged deep inside Danielle, and she was no longer a virgin.

He gave her a moment to adjust to the pressure before pulling back and thrusting into her again. He was gentle with his girl, that first time, showing her how good it could feel to have a man inside her. She bit her lip and moaned as Orly made love to her.

She didn’t come again but stroked his back when he reached his own peak, sighing at the sweetness of their intimacy.

“Danielle,” Orly said, his voice rough with emotion.

“What is it?”

“I love you.”

She smiled.

He gave her one last sweet kiss. She clung to him. “I… I love you, Orly. Thank you.”

He slipped gently from between her thighs and rose, stepping away from her into the grove, rolling off the condom as he went.

Danielle slipped one arm behind her head and closed her eyes. I’m still stinging a little between my legs, but it’s a good kind of sting. I like it. Or rather, I like what it means. Sexually active, finally, and with Orly. Perfect. She touched herself briefly, trailing her fingers through the wetness and lifting them in the light of the lantern to look at the little smear of blood. She smiled again.

The lantern flickered. She glanced at it. It flickered again, and then the battery died, plunging the blanket into utter blackness.

“Orly?” she called. “Orly, where are you?”

“Danielle?” His voice seemed to be moving away from her. She could hear him crushing dried orange leaves beneath his feet.

“Orly, come back. I’m over here.”

“Danielle?” He was moving further away from her now, his voice calling faintly.

He must have become disoriented without the light of the lantern to guide him. “Over here,” she called.

She pulled on her shorts and shirt and followed, abandoning the blanket. We can retrieve it in the morning.

The water in the canal sloshed as the wind blew over the deep ditch. If I keep the canal on my right side and the orange trees on the left, I won’t get lost. I just have to find the culvert and cross, and I’ll be directly at the gate. There will be light there.

“Orly!” she cried, willing him to stop moving and listen, to wait for her. Beside her, the water in the canal sloshed. The sound was comforting. It kept her on track.

“Danielle!” The voice seemed to come from all around her. And this time it didn’t sound like Orly’s low, masculine rumble. It had risen in pitch to almost a shriek, a terrible, inhuman screech, and then the voice broke in sobbing wails that pierced the night.

The wind picked up, blowing hard against Danielle’s slender frame, driving her to the right, away from the trees.

“Stop it!” she screamed, trying to fight her way back toward the center of the path.

“Danielle,” the voice shrieked, and then resumed sobbing. In front of Danielle, a form, darker than the surrounded darkness, seemed to gather out of the dust particles in the wind. Two glowing green lights shone directly in front of the terrified girl’s face.

“One boy. One girl.” The moan changed to a giggle.

“But I’m not a child,” Danielle said, her voice little more than a squeak.

“Time has passed. You’ll do.”

The woman dissolved to a dust devil, a powerful one that pushed Danielle away from the trees again. She fought the force, but it was no use. Her foot slipped over the edge and she went down into the canal. She hit a solid shape, a body, floating face-down. Heavy pressure pushed on her back, forcing her under the water.

She found Orly’s cold, limp hand and laced her fingers through his.

Fly by Night

Lysette Medina Johnson carefully folded a couple of sleeveless tank tops, placing them in her backpack. She added a pair of soft shorts, a tee shirt and socks. Despite the September heat, the forest was no place for sandals.

She shivered with excitement. After making her new boyfriend behave for three endless months, she finally felt confident to take things to the next level, and in celebration of their first intimacy together, they were going to go camping at Bentsen Park. That probably means pajamas are not necessary. Lysette smirked.

Alejandro ‘Alex’ Gutierrez was one sexy man. Tall, slim-hipped, and with startling green eyes that seemed to glow in his dark-skinned face, he made female hearts flutter around him. I’m not sure how I was the one lucky enough to get him, but he seems well and truly hooked. Just two nights ago, he’d taken her to a fancy restaurant and solemnly told her he loved her.

And now we’re going to spend the weekend in the bird sanctuary, alone together. I’m so ready.

She tucked some hand sanitizer into her suitcase and added a hairbrush and a bar of soap. We’re going to rough it... a little. No showers, of course, but that’s no big deal – I’ll shower right before we leave. The idea of no makeup was a bit daunting, though.

There was a knock on her bedroom door.

“Who is it?” Lysette called.

“Tía.”

Lysette rolled her eyes. Just what I need. The superstitious spinster and her old-fashioned ideas. Lovely. Maybe if she’d finished high school, she would have had a clue how life works. Maybe she wouldn’t be working at Walmart at fifty-two. Maybe we would be able to talk about something comfortably.

Rosa knocked again.

“Come in,” the girl sighed.

The door opened, and the plump Mexican woman waddled in, her dyed-black hair flopping limply in the humidity. She scanned the room, her disgust towards Lysette’s taste in music registering clearly on her face as she took in the Metallica and Aerosmith posters that adorned the caramel-colored walls. The bedspread, a simple brown satin with a blue stripe along the bottom edge, also didn’t excite Lysette’s aunt, who had a taste for bright colors.

“What’s up, Auntie?” Lysette asked, making Rosa wince visibly. She hates it when I speak English to her, but that’s too bad. I hate speaking Spanish. I took French to avoid it.

“You should not be going on this trip,” Rosa told her sternly, conceding to English with a sour look and a sigh. “Good girls wait.”

Lysette snorted. “This is the 21st century. We’ve waited long enough.”


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