An explosive bang goes off in the distance, followed by all too enthusiastic cheers and hollers, as Mickey pulls on his cigarette. “Might not make it to the new year if they keep that up,” he says, blowing smoke from his nose and watching it blend with the smoke from the grill.
“Ah, you'd think,” Antonio replies, smiling a little as he flips burgers over, “but those explosivos are harmless to the niños. Can't hurt them.”
“Yeah but I might,” Mickey mumbles, flicking ash into the sand.
Antonio chuckles over the sizzling grill, replacing the fried burgers with frozen ones. “Help with the boxes?”
Mickey complies and makes quick of disposing of his cigarette. He follows Antonio to the backroom, hoisting one of the fruit filled crates to his chest, and bringing back out to the front island. “The fuck's with all the grapes?”
“For the new year.”
Mickey plucks at one of the dozens of grapes filling up a crate, popping it in his mouth. “Makin' wine on your to do list for next year or something?”
“Claro que no, ese,” Antonio laughs, as they pass each other on the back on forth route from the backroom to the counter. “For las doces uvas de la suerte.”
“Huh?” Mickey lets out, the use of spanish doing nothing to help his confusion. He puts down the last crate, the warmth from the resting sun still riding the air into the night. Mickey doesn't think he's ever spent a new year with sweat coating his arms and neck.
“Oye,” Antonio breathes, but it's not clear if it's from the heavy lifting or Mickey's bewildered face. “Abuela, explain to gringuito here about the uvas a las doce.”
Mickey turns in time to see Abuela, long hair clipped back off her face, sandaled feet treading on the wooden blanks, arms filled with strings of bulbed lights and home made fireworks. Mickey makes his way over to relieve from her bearings and put them on the counter. She huffs, and Mickey knows she's a little conflicted about his help, because it threatens her pride of self ability, but he can also see the appreciative glimmer in her gaze. Her eyes shine with youth, yet they reflect something more, deeper into her past. There's something about her entire being, that Mickey can't help but respect. He had been, and still is, apprehensive about just calling her Abuela, but she'd dismissed his rambling about a “real name”, and Antonio had filled in that around here, that's what everyone knows her as.
“Las doces uvas de la suerte, chico, is Mexican tradition,” she starts, plucking a grape for herself and then handing one to Mickey. “Each strike of the clock, at midnight, you must eat a grape. Brings good luck para el nuevo año.”
“Bet fruit sellers made good money off telling you that shit,” Mickey snorts, taking a swig of the beer Antonio had slided over to him. The taste is different, but he's warming up to it.
Abuela and Antonia share a look, before laughing. “Los gringuos,” Antonio says, matter of factly. “So cynical. Can not appreciate anything that does not come from fast food o de la mano de un niño en Bangladesh.”
“Look I just can't see how that'd do fuck all except give you a full stomach,” Mickey adds, feeling targeted.
“It is tradition. Some believe, some don't. No importa.”
“It actually works then? For you?”
Abuela half shrugs, a soft smile crawling on his lips. “Life has never been easy. And I have done this tradition my whole life,” she admits. “I have had good things happen, and bad things happen to me.” She sighs, untangling the branches of grapes and dividing them by sets of twelve. “I believe also that today, I don't regret anything. I look back, and see my life, and I am proud. I believe the good luck has been my ability to endure todo lo malo, and to sit here today, healthy, hermosa,” she winks, “and proud.”
Mickey feels something lurch in his chest. He suddenly feels exposed, vulnerable, even though it was a personal confession from someone else. He rubs at his nose, and looks up to see Abuela staring at him, eyes shining, as she puts her hand on his shoulder. “Por eso no me preocupa que no sigas esta tradición. Ya tienes la fuerza.”
“Still don't get fuckin' spanish,” Mickey says, his tone lacking its usual kick.
“That is your goal for new year,” Antonio adds from behind the bar, arranging the grapes Abuela had sorted into indivdual glasses. “Learn spanish.” Antonio desentangles the lights and looks up at the wooden bar structure. “Help me with the lights.”
Mickey gets up, “Sí, señor.”
The sun draws its last few painted strokes on the sky, sapphire burning the horizon like a flame in a darkened room. Music plays from the boombox resting on the counter, twinkling lights twirled around the wooden shack and its beams, right beside Mickey's ear as he holds the fort at the grill, going through the motions of flipping and replacing burgers over and over, before passing them over to Antonio, who magically transforms a plain piece of meat into a specific traditional Mexican snack. It's all very loud, and gleeful, and Mickey feels a little awkward on his feet, with the commotion building as the night goes on. It's different to everything he's ever known. It's chaotic, but it's not a chaos you want to run and hide from. People are flashing smiles and kids are running and women and showing their red or white coloured panties, to which Antonio had just waved his hand and said “another tradition” in response to Mickey's raised eyebrows.
It's two hours before this side of the world enters a new year, and half the village has turned up on the beach. Things are hectic in the small space behind the bar, sweat beading on Mickey's forehead. He sees a young woman enter, and sneakily creep up on Antonio, who jolts and curses in Spanish, but his face immediately softens when he lays eyes on her. She's beautiful, the kind of beautiful Mickey thinks would have him hooked if he wasn't wired the way he is. He watches them share some hushed whispers and giggles, while Antonio continues preparing the food.
Both men lock eyes and Antonio's widen in realisation. “Mickey, this is Daniela, my wife.”
Mickey does his best to greet her with as much enthusiasm, and he watches them share a kiss before she takes the place at the bar. He wants to say it urks him because the space is already too small without pda, but it's not really that. It's a jealousy in his heart. A longing to have that same normalcy, togetherness, that he would only want with one person. Who is miles away. Mickey sniffs and watches the fresh batch of burgers soak up the oil on the grill.
It's one hour before twelve when Abuela comes behind, sporting a post nap glow, and tells Mickey he's cleared for the night.
“Nah, I'm good, I'm handling this. You go have fun.”
Abuela swiftly takes his spatula, startling him. “Escuchame,” she warns, but without bite. “You have worked all day. And there is no need to be here. Go have fun.” Mickey wants to contest but knows better. “But come back before midnight unless you want to miss all the people with hamster cheeks.”
The sky is a black blanket when he walks out into open air, inhaling the freshness and the saltiness of it. He fishes in his pocket for a cigarette, lighting up and walking out into the main area in front of the bar, where people are dancing and chatting and sipping on drinks. It's a scene Mickey doesn't find the will in him to blend into. So he swivels and shuffles through the occasional narrow spaces between bodies, emerging out the other side, like a fish freed from a net. The dip of the sand gives him an immediate view of the sea, his feet melting into the soft ground as he makes his way towards it.
The party slowly drifts into a background noise, replaced with the waves crashing and crawling up the sand, Mickey's now bare feet sinking into the thick wetness. He stops just out of reach of the water, watching the tide be pulled and pushed in front of him. His cigarette is half burnt out, pulling on it, its auburn tip burning like an ember. The quietness is comforting, the faint commotion drowning in the silence, the waves rising to the shore. He looks out, to where the earth meets the sky, a fine line between the ocean and the infinite.
The stars are at the brightest Mickey's ever seen them. They glisten and glimmer, dotted onto the darkness like white drops of paint. The moon looks bigger, too, its crescent shape hanging above the water, letting its reflection beam back at it, like looking in the mirror. The air is warm around him, light and lucent. He wonders how he'd lived for so long without breathing this air.
His cigarette is on its way out. It's peaceful. He wants to feel complete, he wants to feel his heart finally beat in rythm to his life. He looks out, and thinks of how far he is, from everything and all he's ever known. Far from his shitty house haunted by tainted memories, dirty streets and alleys, faces he'll never remember. A dad he can't call a dad, a sister he knows is taking care of herself. Darkness. Trapped. Freedom. He wants to laugh at it all, so he does.
He knows there's something missing. An emptiness to be filled, but that's taken the form of one unique person. He should be here, with him. He should be in this freedom, too.
Mickey's heart lunges towards his ribcage. His throat tightens. He listens to the crunching of sand behind him. He knows.
“Didn't tell me you'd be on the beach.”
Mickey can't help the smile that spreads itself on his face, as he stares out at the sea. He's here.
“You're late,” he manages to say, turning to face him. His breath stutters when he does.
Ian approaches, bare feet tredding the sand, hair curled from the humidity. “Tell that to the hundreds of other bars I spent the day checking.” His face is lit by the moon.
“I put the address on the damn postcard.”
A soft laugh escapes Ian's lips. “Yeah. Carl kinda went and tipped coffee on one side of it.”
Mickey doesn't even anticipate the laugh that bubbles out of him. It's loud, and it's happy, and his whole body is thrumming and he feels warmer than the sun has ever given him. They meet halfway, the water pooling at their ankles. It's december temperature, but Mickey doesn't care. He can't think of anything but the man in front of him, eyes twinkling as they stare at each other.
“You here for good?” Mickey chokes out, almost doesn't want to ask. He wants to stay here, in this moment. He wants the never ending infinite to swallow them, now, here, for eternity.
Ian blinks, raising a hand delicately to skim over Mickey's cheek. His fingers trace his jawline, Mickey's eyes never leaving his. Time seems to strech out, seconds drifting by before Ian finally speaks.
“Yeah,” he murmurs, so low that only Mickey would ever hear it. “Yeah,” he says, more firmly, and it's in less than a second that their bodies know what's happening before them, leaning towards one another, colliding where their mouths connect. A noise bubbles in Mickey's throat, and he can feel Ian's sigh of release pouring out of him, where their lips mold and fit. Where the missing puzzle piece slots into place, like it had never been gone.
It seems like miles away that the collective countdown is cheered, and that explosives and fireworks are shot off above, popping and bursting in missiles of colour. That people from this side of the world, welcome a New Year. That they hope for better, that they hope to find their place, in this universe.
Mickey doesn't know how long he's been standing there, arms wrapped around Ian's neck, but hope lingers in every brush of their tongues, a hope that doesn't seem naive, a hope that could actually, this time, turn out to be a promise.
Antonio's got his arm wrapped around Daniela, facing the sea, when he smiles, eyes trained on the two figures, blending into one, by the shore. “Guess gringuito chose the American tradition.”
Abuela is picking a pip out of her tooth when she joins them, gaze focusing on the two bodies, burning in the night. “El no necesita la suerte,” she says, voice steady. “La vida le debe.”