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the last words of bruno madrigal

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Bruno is 40 years old when he loses his family— but Bruno is only 5 years old when his family loses him.

Pepa touches her doorknob and inside, the air warms and a rainbow glimmers. Julieta touches hers and the scent of warm fresh bread floats by, thrumming with the love of a home cooked meal.

Bruno touches his, and screams.

It hurts. His vision is awash with green, and he can’t see Mamá or his sisters or his door anymore, he just sees— he sees—

Bruno sees . He sees himself opening the door, this door, to an hourglass shape covered by running sand. Inside, a spiraling tower of unforgiving stairs, a hand of stone with words carved into it— su futuro espera, your future awaits. He sees a creaking, abandoned door, green pieces of glass shining under piles of sand, a wooden bridge alight with flame. He sees his sisters older , old, older than his Mamá now, married with strange men and children whose faces he cannot see. He sees himself older, backed into a corner by his Mamá— now old, hair grayed— on a night that he does not understand the significance of but still feels something wrench in his gut to see.

In the vision, Mamá moves her mouth with silent words, but outside his cyclone he hears her still—

Brunito! ” She is yelling, and she’s holding him, and he sees nothing else but his door in front of him now, unopened. “ Mijito, what happened? Are you hurt?”

“No,” he wheezes, clutching to her. “Mamá, I saw… I saw…

“What, my baby?” Mamá holds him frantically, smoothing his hair, running her thumb over his cheeks. “You saw what?”

“I gotta open the door,” He says instead, climbing out of her grasp and fumbling with the knob. “The— there’s sand, there’s stairs, there’s—”

The door opens, and finally the magic floods through to craft the room in a rush of yellow light, stretching up and up and up.

It is exactly as he saw it. As he enters, the sand unbidden stops falling, giving a clear view to the sprawling tower of stone.

Mamá gapes at it, her hand laying on his head, and turns to him slowly. “Bruno, you… saw?”

He looks at her with wide eyes, spots of green still dancing in his vision, and says nothing else at all.

Bruno climbs the stairs alone. Mamá starts to come, but it is a long trip, and his sisters are still back there.

His sisters . He trips on the steps at the thought, and stops walking altogether. Does he tell them about what he saw of them? Should he?

Maybe not. He still shakes at the sight of himself , older, unrecognizable. 

He reaches the top and crosses the rickety wooden bridge. Inside is clean, polished stone, odd furniture pushed to all the corners to leave a wide open space in the middle. In place of a bed there’s a hammock, and he wants to swing on it, but when he steps forward and into the cave’s clearing, he flinches.

Another vision comes. Again, Bruno sees himself, old and tired. He looks so tired . The sight is short but when it ends, it leaves something new, a glass green tablet on the ground.

Bruno picks it up. It is his family, including his family not yet born, and to the side, separated by a heavy split, is… Bruno. Still tired. Now alone.

Barely realizing the gravity of what’s fallen on him, there isn’t yet crushing weight but something worse: the shadow of it. The slow abyssal fall, slipping and grasping to climb out but finding only sand between his fingers. Touching under his eyes and finding them smooth but knowing in five, ten, fifteen years they’ll become more sunken. More haunted. 

The moment he realizes that is the same moment that he’s sealed himself to it. The first straw in the pile falls on his back, and it carries no pressure, but a promise.

Bruno will buckle, and Bruno will bend, but before he really even understands he’s making the choice, Bruno swears he will not break.

Understandably, he is an odd child. He makes friends with rats and teases his sisters, telling them they’ll grow up to marry frogs and live in swamps until they cry for Mamá and she scolds him terribly. Mamá is scolding him more often than not. 

At first, he goes to her for help. If he saw something particularly awful when a vision came to him unprompted, or if he wanted advice, or if he wanted comfort.

But nothing she said helped. With every admission of something terrible happening, her touch grows more uncertain. He learns not to tell her much of anything anymore, besides what she asks of him, and she certainly asks enough to keep him busy.

The visions come with constant headaches and exhaustion, whether he calls on them or they come to him. From tidbits of folklore, mysticism, and a bit of whatever feels right, he settles into a ritual through trial and error. He knows which one is right when he sits in the sand, lights the flames, and feels a touch more peace while he calls upon the vision. Slowly, the headaches subside. It isn’t a catchall, and sights still come to him on their own, but handling them becomes easier and easier until they’re nothing more than an inconvenience most of the time.

He learns how to navigate his gift just fine by himself, but what he does not quite understand is the tightrope-walk of his position in the encanto . It’s a precarious place where he is, and he’s never been graceful. The crowds shift from “oh, it’s bad luck Bruno” one moment, to crying out for his visions the next. And when he does deliver a no-good prophecy, they’re back to scorning him again.

What he really learns is that he will never win. And still, like a kicked dog crawling its way back to the front door, he tries. He smiles and ducks his head and is silent unless spoken to because when he does speak, he stumbles and mutters or lets slip something that hasn’t happened yet. Most of his vocabulary becomes variations of I’m sorry.

He only wants to please, really. He’s always chomping at the bit, chasing the warm rush in his chest when Mamá is happy with a vision’s outcome, when she calls him her estrellito, and feeling the dark, gaping hole in his chest when he doesn’t have it.

Pepa calls him a nervous wreck. Mamá looks at him with a strange expression— it is always so strange, now— and wonders aloud when he became so sensitive, when he stopped being such an outgoing young boy. And Julieta— well, Julieta.

Julieta will take one look at him biting his nails and drag him by the ear into the kitchen.

They are fourteen-almost-fifteen ( fourteen and a half, Pepa has insisted since she was thirteen), and Bruno feels years older. To him, Julieta looks older, the way she bustles around the kitchen and casita rises under her hands to fetch ingredients, pots, and pans. 

He has seen her older. Her face right now looks the same. Warm, and welcoming, a sunlit home that Bruno burns under. Julieta holds her own weight, Bruno knows, but does Julieta understand his? Can she? They are only moments apart in age, but she’s still the oldest sister, and he’s still baby Brunito. Baby Brunito has seen his sisters old, married to faceless men, holding faceless children. He knows their life trajectory better than them, and he doesn’t know how to feel about that. Doesn’t know what to do with the knowledge.

“Stop making that face and eat these tamales,” she demands. Bruno eats one single tamale, just to make her happy. There is nothing physical that they can heal, but it feels like magic thrums under his skin still. “What are you so worried about?”

Bruno picks at the discarded corn husk and grins with too many teeth to be comforting. “Nothing! Nothing, really. Just, it’s— there’s a— a— a big day. Coming up. You know.”

Their birthday. More importantly, Pepa and Julieta’s fiesta de quince. 

It’s already hard to have a birthday party with triplets. A fiesta de quince for both of the girls would be virtually impossible. Instead of trying to have two in one celebration, they’ve split them into separate days; a bit unorthodox, but it keeps Julieta and Pepa from butting heads and the plaza from being overrun, so it’s how they make it work.

Despite Pepa being technically younger, her fiesta is first, and Julieta’s the day after. Julieta herself was the one who insisted Pepa could go first, and Bruno has a suspicion that it’s because Julieta is more nervous than she lets on. 

But she’d never admit it, of course, because Julieta hasn’t talked about that sort of thing in a very long time.

Still, Bruno thinks he might be more nervous than her and Pepa combined. If he could, if it wouldn’t eat him alive with guilt and regret, he wouldn’t even go. A cloud of misfortune rests above Bruno, thundering and raining and catching everyone around him in its whirlwind, and he will never forgive himself if he lets it catch his sisters, too. He wards off his own bad luck like it’s tangible, like maybe if he tries, he can wave that cloud away. There’s a cross necklace stuck under his ruana , salt spilling out of his pockets, his fingers ache from how tightly he’s been crossing them, and knocking on wood is less of an active choice and more of a subconscious, compulsive urge. 

He does it as he races down the hall to his own room, a precious few hours before Pepa’s fiesta , rapping his knuckles so hard against the railing they start leaving angry red sores. Past his door, he scales his stone staircase with an effortless speed that no one else has quite mastered yet. (Then again, no one wants to spend enough time in his room to master it.)

He feels distinctly childish when, in his vision cave, the power of precognition at his fingertips, he only wants to know if Pepa’s day will have clear skies.

It is all quite out of order. In the sandstorm, she dances with the 14 boys, no doubt enlisted from friends of friends. It shifts as she gets a pair of dangly gold earrings in the shape of the sun— with a shudder, he recognizes them from a time not yet come. She hugs Julieta and Abuela and— and not him, but what matters is she looks happy , and it puts Bruno at ease. He feels a bubble of relief burst in his chest, and lingers to see her for a moment longer before letting his raised hands fall. He should be getting ready anyway.

But as the sand subsides with his dismissal, it weakly shifts again before it falls, a blurry depiction of Pepa’s small hand in someone else’s. Bruno lets the wind pick up to a roar, and only then he sees it clearly— one of the village boys at the fiesta , holding Pepa’s hand and her waist. 

They are both smiling. Bruno mimes vomiting to himself. What does he care about a lame new boyfriend? But when he tries to turn to leave, the shift of the scene catches him . The abrupt gale almost knocks him off of his feet, and he steadies himself with a cough, now looking wide-eyed towards the storm.

He doesn’t understand. The vision is becoming tumultuous enough that he can catch only bare glimpses, flashes of Pepa and the boy smiling, laughing, dancing— but it shows nothing else, nothing that warrants the ferocity of the storm, and Bruno is left confused in the center until a gust is strong enough to make him tumble and have to catch himself on his hands, scraping them raw against sand and stone.

When he rises, the storm is gone, and only the vision glass is left. Bruno takes it, and with a shaking grasp, holds it up to his eyes.

On the tablet, she is at most two years older and is no longer happy. She stands alone, fists clenched, face twisted furiously, a thunderstorm raging behind her. 

The boy is nowhere to be found. Bruno clenches the glass so hard in his grip he almost breaks it. If she is supposed to meet him at her fiesta , and if he makes her unhappy, if he does— does anything to her, anything that makes her storms rage like this—

Bruno wants nothing more than to throw the glass at the wall and watch it shatter with a satisfying crack. Instead, he handles it more gently than he’s handled any tablet before, holding it under his arm to be put into one of his bags. 

He has to bring it to Pepa. He descends the stairs at a stumbling pace, hopping two at a time, grip trembling with a sort of protectiveness he’s never felt before. He can’t let Pepa get hurt. Not if he can try to stop it.

Bruno does not foretell possibilities. Bruno foretells , end of sentence. Not once has anyone ever changed a future that he’s read.

But Bruno has never once intervened.

The gifts are theirs, the Madrigals. They control it. Why should this be any different?

In the plaza where the celebration is held, Mamá has gone all out. It’s decorated to the nines, tables laden with food, and Bruno is sure everyone in town is here. He hopes casita doesn’t feel left out.

Pepa is blindingly beautiful. Her typical braid is swapped for loose, free flowing hair, bouncing in full locks at the small of her back, bangs held in place with a sparkling tiara. Her dress is a bright yellow that falls in ruffled layers around her knees, and Mamá has already given her the earrings.

In the absence of a father, her first dance is Bruno’s responsibility. In the whirlwind of the excited crowd, her brilliant smile sticks out brighter than anyone else.

He doesn’t want to watch it fall. “Pepa…” 

The sun shines brightly on them more than anyone else. Pepa is laughing so loud. “Yeah? 

He can’t do this to her. Not this instant. It can wait a little while, can’t it? Slowly, he lets himself smile, too. “Don’t step on my feet.”

She laughs again, throwing her head back. “No promises!” 

Despite her mischievous response, she is light and graceful. He holds her waist, her palm, and spins with her like they’re extensions of each other. He isn’t an impulsive person by any means, but he’s suddenly struck with the urge to lift her high into the air, and it’s worth following for the resulting delighted yell alone.

She twirls away, to the first of 14 more dances, and Bruno stumbles to the sidelines. He watches her, clutching his bag that holds the tablet, and wonders when he won’t feel guilty at the thought of showing her. If he won’t feel guilty.

“Ay, Brujo Bruno!” one of the boys next to him jeers, elbowing him with a familiarity that sets Bruno on edge. “Do I have to ask your permission to marry your sister?”

“I think— I think you should just ask her permission, probably, I don’t think I really—” Bruno starts, but falls short when he glances the boy’s way and recognizes him.

Not from the town, or from school, or as someone who used to be a friend. He sees him and only sees him in green, his hand holding Pepa’s, and Pepa left in tatters in his wake.

Bruno stares and doesn’t blink. The boy elbows him again and laughs slowly, an awkward sound. Bruno made it awkward. “Another vision, Brujo ?”

“Stop— stop calling me that,” Bruno snaps, and then flinches as if someone had snapped at him, “Sorry. I don’t— please don’t marry my sister. Actually it’d be cool if you didn’t look at her. At all.”

“Uh, what? I was—”

Luis! ” Pepa crows from the center of the plaza, finishing her dance with a twirl. “Are you going to get over here or what?”

“Oh, I’m getting over there!” He calls back, Bruno forgotten. Pepa is blushing and grinning wildly, and Bruno feels a sickness roll in his stomach.

He grabs Luis by the wrist, but with a jerk and a nasty look, he’s gone with Pepa.

Bruno is sweating. He shouldn’t be sweating, because he’s ruining his suit. He keeps wiping his palms off on his pants and he thinks that’s making it worse. He shakes on the sidelines, about a foot away from everyone else who wants an equally wide berth from him as he does from them, and waits for it to end. 

When Luis’s dance is over, he finds his way back to Bruno, laughing breathlessly about Pepa. His sister. 

Bruno feels a wave of annoyance, and keeps it grounded behind his teeth, trying to stop it from slipping out. 

But when Pepa finishes her last dance, and Luis steps forward as if to go to her, Bruno lets it go. “It’s never gonna work out.”

“It’s—” Luis pauses and turns to Bruno. “What?”

Bruno looks straight ahead, past Luis, past Pepa. “You and Pepa.”

“Oh, bullshit . ” Luis dismisses it easily. “What do you know about it?”

“What do I know—?” A damn lot, is what Bruno knows. “I know that.

“Right, Brujo .” Luis ruffles Bruno’s hair patronizingly. Bruno ducks and steps back, clutching his bag in front of him like it’s a barrier between them. “Let me know when my goldfish dies.”

“I’m not— ” Bruno twitches, closing his eyes tightly against a flash of green. “—it’s going to die in- in three weeks, by the way, if you don’t—”

Luis laughs and slaps his shoulder. “That’s more like it! Thanks for the heads up, buddy. Maybe stick to tarot?”

He isn’t listening to him. Bruno abruptly wrenches his shoulder back, hard enough to throw Luis off, and hisses. “This isn’t tarot , I’m telling you to leave her alone —”


Bruno recoils. Pepa stares at him, eyes wide, brows knitted. The townspeople try to pretend like they’re not looking, but Bruno can see them in his peripheral vision, talking loudly about the dance, the food, the weather, but their eyes are drawn to the scene. 

“I didn’t… know you two were… friends?” 

Bruno grimaces. “We aren’t.”

“Pepa, I…” Luis’s demeanor shifts like a light switch, looking between Bruno and Pepa. “I’m sorry, maybe I— I misread you?”

“You—“ She blinks, frown deepening. “You what?”

“I thought that we could… that maybe… you liked me.” He winces when he says it, rubbing the back of his neck. “I don’t know. I was being stupid.”

“That I— No! No , you’re not being stupid!” She blushes a deep red, but quickly takes Luis’s hands in hers, frantic to correct him. “Why would you ever think that?”

“Well, I just…” Luis rolls his shoulder vaguely in Bruno’s direction. “Your brother would know you better, right?”

Pepa drops his hands. “My brother?

The sky darkens. No rain falls, no lightning flashes, but the clouds roll in grays and blacks overhead. Pepa turns to him, agitation written on her face. “What did you say to him, Bruno?”

“I didn’t— I just—” Bruno tries, but it’s weak, too weak. With a heavy enough sigh, Luis drowns him out.

“It’s okay, Pepa,” Luis says, “It was just one of those visions—”

“A vision? ” That only annoys Pepa further. A quiet thunder cracks, distant, too distant to matter yet. Yet . “Bruno, a vision? And you had to talk about it now?

Bruno’s chest tightens, quailing at the threat of her anger rising. “Pepa—”

“Pepa, really ,” Luis lays his hand on Pepa’s shoulder. Bruno balls up the fabric of his pants in his fists to stop himself from moving forward to throw it off. “It’s better than not knowing, right?”

Pepa takes a deep, deep inhale. “Knowing what?

“That… this… ” He motions between himself and Pepa, looking to the side. “…Wouldn’t have worked.”

Pepa breaks. A strong wind blows in, carrying a sheet of rain with it, blowing tables apart, sending plates flying, and scattering paper decorations. Pepa tries to stop it as soon as it comes, stroking her braid and looking around with wide eyes— but even if she could end it, the damage is done. With one sentence, the plaza is halfway to ruin, filled with exclaims and shouts as the drizzle falls harder. She looks at it all, her face slack, fists trembling at her side.

Then, she screams.

“Look what you made me do! ” She howls, and the wind howls with her. “Wouldn’t work? Wouldn’t work? I’m not a child , Bruno, how are you going to tell me what’s good for me? And— and not even tell me! You told him?!

Bruno can’t breathe. “Pepa, I tried—

“Tried what? To make Luis hate me? To ruin my entire day? My day!” Pepa pulls on fistfuls of her hair. “I don’t know what you’re doing, or why you’re acting like this, but you— you— you ruined it!”

She throws an emphatic hand out, and with it, a resounding crrrrack — not thunder, but plates on one of the tables breaking all at once under the sudden influx of pressure. “A-And now I can’t stop this and we’re in the middle of a stupid rainstorm and— and — and what’s next , my wedding?

“Pepa, please, you’re not listening to me, Pepa!” No one is. No one ever is. “It’s— I saw —”

“I don’t care! I hate your stupid sights and your stupid prophecies and your stupid everything! ” She throws her tiara at the ground and snaps it under her foot. Furiously, she rubs her face, trying to clear the rain or maybe angry tears. “For once, just once , I wanted to be something else besides Bruno’s sister!

The silence is deafening. 

It settles not only on Pepa, when in the quiet she hears her own voice and covers her mouth, but on Julieta, on Mamá (oh God, Bruno can’t even bear to look at her, to see what face she must be making), on the rest of the plaza. Even as the wind peters out, it’s with softness, like it too is afraid to make a sound.

Bruno swallows, and feels thorns. 

He can’t speak. He can’t say anything. He takes one step back, then another, and when Pepa reaches out, he runs.

Mamá is the first one who comes looking for him, huffing and puffing up his stairs, peeking into his cave.

“Bruno…” She says softly, coming to sit next to him on one of his chairs. He doesn’t look at her. He can’t. He keeps his head buried in his arms. “Bruno, what was that?”

“I saw something,” Bruno confesses wetly. “About, about Pepa, and I— I just wanted to tell her, Mamá. I didn’t mean to make her feel bad. I didn’t . I wouldn’t— you know I’d never do that on purpose.”

Her inhale is long, considering. When she speaks again, she measures her words carefully. “Bruno, I think… You should be a little more careful with your gift. Such an important blessing shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

“I don’t… Huh?” Bruno raises his head slightly, enough to peer at Mamá over his arm. Her expression looks wrong on her face. “What do you mean?”

“What I mean,” she continues delicately, “Is that— sometimes, when you have your visions, things go— things go wrong .”

What? What? Bruno— Bruno only sees. He doesn’t make the bad things happen. 

Does he?

“So maybe… call on your visions sparingly. Okay?”

Bruno shakes. He doesn’t understand. He never wanted the visions, the headaches, the knowing . He did it at her behest, at his family’s, the encanto’s . All he asked for in return was acknowledgement. That he was helpful. That he was useful. Isn’t that what she wanted? When did the thank you, mijo get replaced with an uncomfortable side-eye and a shush?

He doesn’t know. He just knows it happened. His mother never calls him mijo anymore, or Brunito, anything she used to say with affection, with warmth. Somewhere along the way, he stops calling her Mamá. The word feels like ash, undeserving on his tongue.

His mother leaves him be. Pepa tries to come, then Julieta, and he turns them both away. The event lies unspoken between them, festering in silence until it’s like it never happened at all. 

His place in his own family has been cracking for years and finally, the stones fall out from underneath him. He is no longer his mother’s golden child. That light cast on him has been dimming for a long, long time. 

That was all he wanted, before. But he didn’t imagine the fall would feel like this.

Bruno does not attend Julieta’s fiesta de quince. Without him realizing it, the walls creak and groan as his door begins to pull back in the house, over and over again, until it carves in a monument to his solitude.

Despite everything, Pepa stays infatuated with Luis. Her free time is spent twirling her hair, hanging off his arm. Bruno allows himself one expression of pent-up desperation, and punches the wall in his room so hard that his knuckles fracture.

Julieta heals it with an arepa and looks at him with sad eyes. She does not ask him what happened because she knows he wouldn’t tell her. He wishes she would ask him because he wants to tell her.

At seventeen, Pepa finds out Luis has been seeing another girl under her nose for the better part of a year, and she is so inconsolable they have to carry umbrellas inside for a month. 

Bruno would never say I tried to tell you so. Bruno would never even think it. Bruno holds his sister while she cries, and wishes fervently that either his door had never opened, or he had never been born at all.

Bruno knows what it all comes down to, now. The looks, the winces, the countless times he’s heard we need to talk… It’s simple: nobody knows what to do with him. 

And it’s not their fault, because why would they? There is no one in the entire world who can help Bruno, and he is tired of them trying. His sisters call for him and he doesn’t answer anymore. He’s left with only the wounded and childish thought: it isn’t fair. Why is he one that suffers under a blessing, while his sisters make arepas and rainbows? Why is he the one that their mother never looks at the same? If he let it, the bitterness could choke him, constricting his throat like vines.

But he loves his family. 

Bruno could never blame them. Bruno is the problem. Thorn whips instead take root down in his pit of a stomach, coiling on top of each other, barbed ends tearing him apart inside-out. He will die before he lets them grow outward.

But other vines grow. They sprout from his mother’s afraid-alone-commanding-iron grip, from the growing pressure on his sisters, winding around him until they threaten to cleave Bruno in two. They twist and burrow and become his own just like they become Pepa’s just like they become Julieta’s and when his first niece is born, when she stands at a door that glows again, they grow under her own small hands.

Bruno does not look into Isabela’s future until she begs and pleads, years later, because he’s afraid that he’ll recognize the kind of vines she grows. Not the kind with grapes and roses that she’s fond of, but the kind she can’t control, passed down from Alma to Julieta to Isabela. The kind that’ll crawl into her lungs until they look like his. 

(In the end, he was right, because when is he not? In the end, worlds and walls apart, they both start to suffocate.)

None of the childrens’ births are surprises to Bruno, but he finds himself awestruck every time. He couldn’t possibly love them more— he just wishes he loved them better . In a way they understand.

At first, his sisters insist that if he is not going to spend time with the rest of the family, that he at least does not ignore his nieces. They deserve to know their tío .

Bruno tries. They are maybe five or just turned six— with little Luisa too young to do much of anything, they have his full undivided attention. Dolores is already a hopeless romantic, set on true love with a knight in shining armor, and she wants her love future , she insists, bouncing on his knee, give her the future!

When he gives in, the sight startles him so badly that he ends the vision early. The glass tablet drops on the ground with the image of her in tears branded on it crystal—clear. She takes one look before she runs crying to her mami.

He’s no longer asked to spend time with the children, after that, and the children stop asking after tío Bruno. Luisa grows and treats him like an acquaintance, holding a polite yet tangible distance. Camilo is born, and he grows, and he looks at Bruno like a stranger.

He loves them still, but the gap between them has grown too wide to mend.

It hurts. It hurts so much it tries to swallow him, most days, but even if he was brave enough to try, he can’t cross that chasm.

And then— and then, Mirabel.

Mirabel is a funny girl. She looks like a puff of cotton, bare feet hitting the floor when she runs, squealing in delight when the floorboards rise and fall with her leaps and bounds. Casita plays favorites, Bruno thinks.

These days, Bruno does much more thinking than speaking. When he does speak past one word, mumbled answers, he learns not to say anything confidently, to end it with a maybe, I guess, I don’t know , to prove it isn’t a vision. He walks through the house like he’s lost, eyes down and unkempt hair falling like a curtain, tiptoeing around everybody else with a wide berth like a foreigner in his own house. Like he doesn’t belong. 

He doesn’t think he does. Nobody reaches for him anymore. But somehow, Mirabel does.

“Títo!” She likes to call, and always with a wide smile. The first time he hears it, he looks around for F élix, confused. Realizing she was talking to him almost made him jump out of his own skin.

She’s just too curious to leave him be. She squirrels her way across the canyon he’s cleaved, and won’t let go of him for anything. Metaphorically and physically. Bruno learns quickly how to walk with a toddler holding his leg.

Mirabel is the equivalent of sticking a pink bandage over a bone-deep wound. She drags him around by the wrist, makes him watch her embroider with authoritative narration ( this is how you do a bite stitch, are you looking? You can look, don’t be scared, it doesn’t actually bite ), asks him for bedtime stories and tucking-in and midnight snacks.

She’s his little shadow. Bruno doesn’t know what he did to deserve this. He just hopes he doesn’t ruin this, too.

Títo,” she gestures for him to bend down to her level with a conspiratory motion. “Títo, do you think my gift is going to be cooler than Camilo’s?”

“Well, um, well,” Bruno stammers. “I think— I think that your— both of your gifts will be— will be great, awesome, the best. For sure.”

It isn’t the answer she asked for, but she still beams up at him like it’s what she wanted to hear.

For Luisa and Camilo’s gift ceremony, he lingered away from the crowd. Their pushing and yelling already put him on edge, and their glances cast his way just served as another reason to excuse himself and watch from a distance. 

(In the early days, before she adjusted, Dolores would join him when there were festivals held in casita . Hiding outside, they’d whisper back and forth, and if a particularly loud firework got past her defenses and her palms flew to cover her ears, he’d cover her own hands with his larger ones.

She’s too old for that now. She instead joins her parents and her cousins and her little brother— already received his gift, and far too mischievous with it— standing right in the thick of it all, and doesn’t flinch once. He is so proud of her he feels it in his chest.)

At Mirabel’s ceremony, he considers maybe— maybe inserting himself in a little closer, edging a bit across that distance. But when she stands and walks towards the stairs, smile bright and each step vibrating with glee, she doesn’t look around for him, and he doesn’t try to step forward and catch her eye.

At the top of the stairs, in front of her door, she looks smaller than she ever has before. The light of the door reflects in her eyes, in his mother’s, in Julieta’s.

And in a second, it is gone.

When the door fades, the coldness bites him to the bone. Bruno can’t tell if it’s Pepa or just the chill that comes over him when there is a beat of silence, a moment of nothing at all, where even the ground holds its breath tight on an inhale.

Mirabel doesn’t break. She only steps back like he’s burned and looks at abuela, eyes glossed over with confusion, with tentative sadness that isn’t quite there yet— like abuela can fix it, and make it make sense.

But she can’t. 

She can’t fix it and it terrifies her, is what Bruno reads in her face, in the way the candle’s flame flutters small and close to the wick.

The dam bursts. Tears roll down Mirabel’s face in fat droplets but she stays so silent. She’s frozen in place, her hands still held to her chest, staring unblinking at her abuela. 

Bruno moves before a thought comes to him at all. He shoulders through the silent crowd, and up the stairs, and where Julieta has already flung herself around her littlest daughter, Bruno holds tight around the both of them.

The crowd’s unsubtle whispers burst into an uproar, his mother’s breaking voice carrying over the din. He ushers Julieta to her feet, a hand bracing her shoulder and the other supporting one of her arms that holds Mirabel while she shakes soundlessly. Bruno brackets them both, turning their backs to the crowd— “ All you damn people know how to do is stare, huh? ” Pepa hollers, storm brewing, “ You want something to look at, I’ll show you something! ”— and behind Pepa’s whirlwind rage, they flee.

“I don’t understand, Brunito,” Julieta chokes in a hiccup, falling onto the edge of Mirabel’s bed. She hasn’t called him that in years. It makes his heart weak. “What happened? What happened?

Bruno doesn’t know. He can’t. He can only let Julieta wail into his shoulder while she cries out loud for Mirabel, because her baby won’t . Mirabel’s eyes are wide and red and her mouth is ajar, trembling, saltwater dripping off her lips, and she still won’t say anything at all. Mirabel, Mirabel, Julieta begs, and her own voice is the only answer.

Bruno holds the back of Julieta’s head with one hand and tangles the other in Mirabel’s hair, still tied with her favorite white ribbon, and prays that the pain she inherits won’t be his own. 

When his mother comes to fetch him, Agustín is with her to replace Bruno, every curve on his face etched with worry.

He claps Bruno’s shoulder when they pass each other, and looks like he might want to say something, but Bruno tears his eyes away with a physical turn of his head and Agustín takes his hand away like he’s been burned.

He is left alone with his mother. It feels like he is fifteen again, wilting under the long shadow of what he’s done, and what he needs to do.

“Bruno,” his mother pleads. Bruno hears her unspoken fear, and wonders when everyone became so scared . “Bruno, I need you to see . The magic, the miracle, the family— it rests on this future.”

Bruno hates prophecies. Bruno hates the color green. Bruno hates sand, and hourglasses, and straws on his back. But his mother says Bruno, please, and he’s already lost. He has never really had a backbone.

He tries every trick he has. Salt over his shoulder. Sugar. Fingers crossed. Knock-knock-knock-knock-knock. A prayer, lips to his cross. 

Then, he climbs. Su futuro espera.

Ten years from now, Bruno will see Mirabel how he sees her now, and he will tell her: “ And then, and then and then , I saw you.” 

There won’t be enough and then ’s in the world to explain what seeing her means. How it changed everything that came before it, everything that would come after, how it brought everything around him to a screeching halt. When he saw her.

Bruno doesn’t think about it. It’s instant. The tablet is thrown, shattered, buried in sand, and he turns on his heel.

He knows with certainty that he would do the same in a heartbeat for Camilo, Luisa, Dolores, Isabela. But maybe it’s because it’s little Mirabel ( títo Bruno, will you play with me? Títo, will you carry me? I love you, títo —) that when he crosses the bridge and lights up his box of matches, burning the wooden planks behind him, ensuring no one will find that damn vision

Maybe that’s why it feels like it burns him, too.

Outside, his mother waits, because of course she does.

She is not happy to see him empty-handed. Less happy when he mumbles a meek response. She is utterly furious when she presses him and he raises his voice to a yell that surprises him , snapping out that he won’t be coming back with a prophecy— in fact, he won’t be coming back at all. 

Bruno has never once raised his voice at his mother. Bruno doesn’t think he’s ever raised his voice at all .

It isn’t as satisfying as he thought it would be. It just hurts, it rips his throat, hoarse pain hurled with the need to be heard . He loves his mother. He wishes he felt like she loved him again. He wishes he felt like anyone loved him at all.

Their fight is loud. It’s angry. It’s frantic. It’s cutting , what they say to each other. The look on her face and the sweat dripping down his. They gain an audience, listening indiscreetly, and though the children have been sent away, he’s sure Dolores is giving them every word.

If nothing else, he hopes she misses the sound of his mother slamming her hand on the wall, and her final sharp shout. “If you leave this family, you are dead to me!

And when has he ever been alive?

“I wish I was dead to you!” He is raw all over, words bleeding while he rips them out, torn from the worst parts of himself. “I just wish I was dead!

As soon as he bites down on the words and they hang thick in the silent air, lightning strikes with a thunderous rumble and with it, wood cracks in two, a dark split right on the wall of the kitchen. In the gasps, the shouts of Pepa! , his mother’s face cut of silent stone— Bruno, a coward, runs. 

When he looks back, it is only through the gaps in the wall, and the crack in the creaky board in the kitchen that was never quite right again after thunder struck it.