They keys rattled in the door. Carlos looked up as Cecil came in, whistling the tune from that day’s weather broadcast; he kicked off his shoes, and came over to give Carlos a kiss. “How was your day?”
“Fine. Nothing exploded, which made things less interesting, but my body will be glad for the rest,” Carlos said as Cecil sat down. “Oh, I wanted to know, were you planning anything for us to do for Hallowee—”
He was cut off abruptly as Cecil shoved his hand over his mouth; one of his fingers was poking at the corner of his eye, and the base of his hand was cutting off Carlos’ oxygen supply through the nose. “Ssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” Cecil hissed. “We don’t talk about that.”
“Cecil, I can’t breathe,” Carlos mumbled around his hand.
“Oh, right, sorry,” Cecil apologized, taking away his hand. “I forgot you need to do that all the time.”
“It’s all right,” Carlos said. He rubbed his nose. “So why don’t we talk about… that?” He caught Cecil’s hand as he moved to cover his mouth again.
“It’s not safe.”
“I… see,” Carlos said, raising an eyebrow. “Well, my mother wants me to come home for Dia de Muertos this year. If there weren’t any plans, I was wondering if you wanted to go with me.”
Cecil blinked. “Home with you? And meet your mother?”
Carlos rubbed his neck. “And my brothers and sister. And probably my nieces and nephews…”
“Wait, you’re bringing me to meet your entire family?”
“Well… yes? I mean, if that’s okay. We take care of mis abuelos gravesites, and mí papí. It’s a big event, and… well, it’d be nice if you could be a part of it,” Carlos explained.
Cecil was quiet for a moment, and then leaned his head against Carlos’ shoulder. “It’s a very personal event, Carlos, are you sure you want me there? I mean, I don’t want to be a stranger intruding on your family’s event.”
Carlos took Cecil’s hand again. “You won’t be intruding. You’re my partner. You’re part of the family now; I’ve told them about you, they can’t wait to meet you.”
Cecil swallowed hard. “Really?”
Carlos kissed the top of his head. “Really. Just… try to keep the tattoos under control, ok?”
Cecil chuckled. “Okay.”
The most eventful part of the trip was filing the extended leave of absence papers with the City Council, and narrowly dodging an escaped librarian roaming the halls outside of the law library and records vault. The drive east, and then south, through the desert and into Mexico was pleasant—bickering over whether to listen to Carlos’ early punk rock CD collection or Cecil’s new-age indie tapes, pointing out the shapes that time and weather had worn into the rocks, or trading off driving turns to sleep.
Two days after they’d left Night Vale, Carlos drove up the long driveway to his mother’s old adobe home, and felt a pang of nostalgia for the brightly colored walls and decorations of the house’s exterior. His mother ruled the family from their compound; his sister and her family lived there, he remembered, as did his youngest brother and his family. As he parked, and he and Cecil got out, Carlos ran a hand down the warm brick, patched in some places and needing repair in others. A wind chime cheerfully sounded a welcome. Carlos glanced over at Cecil, who was looking around in interest. “Bienvenido. Mi casa es tu casa,” he said, smiling.
“It’s wonderful,” Cecil said, meaning it.
They got their bags out of the trunk, and walked around the side of the house. Carlos led him through a doorway and into a courtyard. Shrieks like baby birds met their ears immediately, and Carlos found himself assaulted by five small children, crying, “Tío Carlos!” over and over again. Carlos laughed and hunkered down, giving them all hugs. “En inglés, para que su tío Cecil pueda entender!” He told them.
The children hesitated for a moment, as if suddenly realizing there was a strange man present, and became much more composed. “Cecil, these are some of my nieces and nephews. Alma, Regina, Manuel, Jesús, and Graciela,” Carlos patted each on the head as he went. “Mijos, this is your uncle Cecil.”
Cecil had a strange look on his face. Carlos worried briefly that he was being overloaded with newness, until he remembered that they hadn’t exactly discussed the fact that his family had decided to refer to Cecil as “uncle”, to make his young nieces and nephews understand better. Cecil crouched down to their eye level. “Hello. It’s very nice to meet you.”
The tallest girl, Alma, gasped. “Él habla hermosamente…”
“En Inglés, Alma,” Carlos reminded her.
“You talk pretty,” Alma said, blushing through her accent.
“You have a very nice voice too, Miss Alma,” Cecil said, holding out his hand.
Shyly, she took it, and they shook. She looked down at his wrist, and her eyes widened. She looked up at Cecil’s face; his eyes glinted with mischief. “Mágico,” she whispered.
Carlos looked, and rolled his eyes, resisting the urge to sigh. Cecil was showing off; his tattoos were dancing lazily around his wrist. Manuel rushed forward. “I want to see the magic!” He demanded, and he was echoed by the others as they caught the idea that Uncle Cecil was much more than meets the eye. Cecil looked up at Carlos, and winked. Carlos shook his head ruefully, and left him to charm the children as he went to find his mother.
“Mama,” Carlos enveloped her tiny frame in a bear hug. “It’s so good to see you again.”
“Well, if someone wasn’t always so very busy being a very important scientist, he might get to see his family now and again,” she scolded, only half-serious. Carlos took it with a grain of salt. He’d missed a lot in the past few years, having stayed away from home since after his father’s funeral. “I’m sorry, Mama.”
“It’s in the past. You’re here now, and that’s what’s important. Now, where’s this young man of yours?” Mama asked, looking around.
“Outside, bewitching the kids. I don’t know if they’ll let him go home,” Carlos admitted, smirking at the thought that Cecil was “his young man”.
“Carlos!” His sister-in-law breezed into the kitchen, giving him a hug and a peck on the cheek. “I thought I heard someone in here with Mama.”
“Hello, Corazón,” Carlos said. “Where’s Maria?”
“Right here,” his older sister said, coming in and forgoing the hug-and-kiss approach for a punch on the shoulder, and a noogie. Carlos yelped as her knuckles dug into his scalp. “Maria, knock it off!”
“How’s my baby brother?” Maria asked, grinning as she released him. “I see the American desert isn’t treating you any differently.”
Carlos chuckled, straightening his hair. “Well, it is, but you wouldn’t believe me if I told you just how differently. Where’s everyone else?”
“Michael and Mateo are out in town,” Mama said. “Ramon and his family are coming over later, and David won’t be here until tomorrow. He’s catching the red-eye out of Phoenix.”
“He should have called me, Cecil and I had room in the car…” Carlos muttered, rubbing his neck.
“Speaking of Cecil…” Maria elbowed him in the ribs. Carlos winced—older sisters who matched you in height and physical strength were rough—“Where is he, anyway?”
“With the kids.”
Corazón raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“He’s harmless, Cora,” Carlos said, then, remembering the librarians, amended, “I mean, mostly harmless. He’s got… martial arts training. And he adores kids; he volunteers with the local schools all the time. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
They went into the courtyard, where Cecil was giving piggyback rides around the square, all the while being pestered with questions about anything and everything under the sun. Cecil patiently answered all of them as thoughtfully and thoroughly as he could, as if he were quizzed by five-through-eleven-year-olds while jogging around a fountain every day. Corazón folded her arms across her chest as she watched the man with the pure black braid cart her children around. “Pensé que dijiste que era más viejo que tú.”
“Algunas personas tienen mejor genética,” Carlos grumbled, sensitive about his graying hair.
Maria smiled, and walked over. “Cecil?” She asked, her voice lilting in English. “It’s so nice to finally meet you. I’m Maria, Carlos’ sister.”
Cecil grinned, and gave her a one-armed hug, holding Jesús up with the other. “Hello, Maria. Your daughters are delightfully intelligent.”
Maria’s smile widened. “I’m glad to hear it, since they’ve left their homework go undone today,” her tone switched to the universal ‘stern mother’, and the girls yelped to attention. “Mama, it’s a holiday!” Alma cried.
“And Tío Cecil said he had more magic!” Graciela whined.
“And he can still show you after your homework is done. You’ll enjoy your holiday more with it finished. Dense prisa!”
Regina scuffed her feet after them as they went inside. Cecil let Jesús slide down his back and run over to his mother. “You must be one of Carlos’ sisters-in-law?” He asked.
“Corazón. Mateo is my husband, Carlos’ hermanito. Please, call me Cora,” she said, picking up Jesús.
Cecil turned, and went to the short, old woman with her gray hair tightly braided, and formally bowed. “And you must be Carlos’ mother. I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance,” he said, smiling.
She smiled up at him. “So, you are the boy keeping my Carlos from coming home more often. He is very handsome,” she turned her attention to her son. “I can see why you like him.”
Carlos spluttered; Cecil blushed. “Mama! Me cae bien por muchos motivos!”
Mama clucked her tongue. “And he spent a week lecturing us on that ridiculous computer video message system that we were to use English around you, Cecil.”
“Your accent is almost unnoticeable, ma’am.”
“Of course it is. I went to a fine school, and university; as have all of my children, and as my grandchildren will,” Mama said proudly. “Though it was better, when I had more regular practice.”
Maria moved in to Cecil’s rescue. “Mama, perhaps we’d better show them to their room. They’ve come a long way, and maybe they’d like to rest?”
“Of course, of course,” Mama said, waving her hand dismissively. “Rest, and we should have dinner prepared soon. After, we will discuss what we have planned for the holiday tomorrow.”
Maria led them to Carlos’ childhood room, which had been mostly converted into a guest room with a larger bed. As she closed the door behind them, Cecil set his bag down and Carlos flopped onto the bed with a sigh. “So, you’ve gone through the ordeal of Mama…”
“She’s tough. I like that,” Cecil said, sitting next to him with more grace. “She’d get along well with Josie.”
Carlos laughed. Cecil continued, “And your nieces and nephews are smitten with me. Cora didn’t seem to approve, though.”
Carlos shrugged. “Cora’s like that. She takes a while to warm up to some people. And she’s protective of the boys. They live here because the neighborhood she and Mateo originally lived in was… rough. Mama said she’d rather put up with more mouths to feed than losing more family.”
“I see,” Cecil said, yawning midway. “Well, all that talk of naps convinced me. You can go talk to your family, I’ll be in here.”
Carlos chuckled, and pulled him up to the head of the bed with him. “Not a chance, after spending two days sleeping on shifts in a car, in the desert.”
Cecil only smiled, and let Carlos drape himself around him, spooning their bodies together. They drifted off, blissfully unaware of the fact that ninety minutes from that moment seven giggling children would come barging in on the errand of gathering the family for dinner.
I’m not sure how many chapters this will be. Aiming for two, might be three. Also, the separate portion where Carlos is with his family is meant to be entirely spoken in Spanish; however, as I’m already poorly relying on Google Translate and my limited memory of high school Spanish, I decided to separate it for the illusion, and give myself a break.
The next morning, Carlos awoke to find Cecil missing from the bed. This was unusual: mostly because Cecil’s internal clock was set to working evening shifts, but also because Ramon had broken out the tequila at one point after dinner last night and Cecil was a notorious lightweight. He had insisted on trying to keep up with Carlos’ brothers. After literally carrying a half-conscious Cecil back to their room several hours earlier, he’d fully expected to wake up and be subjected to Cecil whining through a hangover. Concerned, Carlos got up, threw on a shirt, and went down the hall to the bathroom to make sure Cecil wasn’t worshipping the porcelain god, or passed out next to it. He wasn’t there. Carlos relieved himself while he had the chance—he still remembered the Battles of the Bathroom from growing up with four siblings and one bathroom—and then went out in search of Cecil.
The scent of pancakes filled his nose. He made his way towards the kitchen, and finds that not only has Cecil managed to get his teenaged niece and nephew awake and out of bed and actually helping with chores before eleven in the morning, he is also instructing tiny, six-year old Regina in the ways of making the Perfect Papyrus Pancakes™ (© 1986, Cecil Palmer). Not quite crepes, but not quite the large and fluffy pancakes you might find at IHOP, they were Cecil’s specialty—and the only thing he could cook without setting off the fire alarm.
Carlos glanced at Sierra and Jorge, who more or less glowered at him over their assisting: making scrambled eggs and bacon. They’d be more accommodating with food and time to clear out the cobwebs, he knew. Instead of acknowledging them further, he went over and kissed Cecil. “Good morning. I’m surprised you’re so… conscious.”
“Ewwwww. Tío Carlos, don’t you know boys have cooties?” Regina demanded.
Cecil and Carlos looked at each other. Carlos tried not to laugh. “We’re both boys, mija. I think that cancels the cooties out,” Carlos said.
Regina frowned in a way that suggested her entire world had just been turned upside down at this new possibility. Carlos chuckled. Cecil shook his head as he flipped another pancake onto the waiting plate. “It’s not nice to joke about these sorts of things, you know. Cooties are a very serious issue. The community at large should be more alert about such things.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Carlos said, kissing his temple. “Now, how are you not half-dead? Ramon drank you under the table.”
Cecil waved his hand dismissively. “Long-term exposure to Radon Canyon.”
Carlos frowned. “That makes absolutely no sense.”
“Sure it does. Radiation therapy patients report not being able to get drunk all the time*.”
“Cecil, maybe to you this makes sense, but I need to be caught up here. You were very clearly drunk last night. And I have seen you hung over. On multiple occasions.”
“Oh. Hmm. Perhaps since I’m not currently experiencing the nuclear bombardment like normal… Regular radioactivity does tend to become the norm, so the removal of it might start to affect me differently.”
Carlos rubbed his face with one hand, resigning himself to yet another Weird Fact About Cecil like anyone else might resign themselves to never paying for a gallon of gasoline for under $3.00 ever again; yet at the same time, he made a mental note to see how he might be able to test this in the future. Thankfully, none of the kids cared enough to demand an explanation; the older ones might have some idea that where he and Cecil lived wasn’t exactly Normal by any standards than its own, but Carlos hesitated to even try to explain to Regina about Night Vale.
When his mother came into the kitchen half an hour later, exclaiming how it hadn’t been necessary for anyone to cook for her in her own kitchen, Carlos knew Cecil had won her over. He also saw the slightly hazy, begrudging smile on his older brother’s face when he came in: not only was Cecil walking around and alert after the night before, but he’d somehow convinced his children to do the same. Carlos heaved a private sigh of relief. David would be easy. The only person who wasn’t totally on board with Cecil yet was Cora, but he knew she’d come around. Like the magician he was, Cecil had charmed his family into accepting him.
Most of the cooking for the festivities had been done ahead of time, and Mateo and Michael had bought the supplies for the altars the day before. After breakfast had been cleaned up and some of the last-minute meal preparations were set to bake, the family went out into the courtyard to build the house’s altar. “The theme this year is TV shows that were cancelled,” Mateo said as they surveyed the supplies.
Carlos’ eyes lit up. “You didn’t tell me, capullo! Hang on a minute,” he called as he hurried out the gate.
Cecil blinked in confusion. “Isn’t this supposed to be some kind of… solemn event?”
Michael slung an arm around Cecil’s shoulders. “You Americans, so serious about death! Dia de Muertos celebrates life above all else! Altars have themes. One year we did movie stars.”
“Don’t forget the year Papa insisted on a tribute to all of the great deaths in his favorite telanovelas,” Maria said, smiling at the memory.
Carlos came back, holding up a small figurine of a spaceship. “We aren’t calling this one finished without Serenity. She’s torn up plenty, but she’ll fly true.”
“Dios mio, you keep that thing in your car?” Ramon asked.
“It’s his good-luck charm,” Cecil explained wearily.
“Cecil! I can’t believe this. Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”
“Oh no, he’s gone into full-on quote mode…” Cecil moaned as he buried his face in his hands.
“See, this is another sign of your tragic space dementia, all paranoid and crotchety.”
“If I’m paranoid or crotchety, it has nothing to do with space dementia! That’s a made-up disease! And you know how difficult that is for me to admit!”
“I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you.”
“Oh God, someone make him stop, it doesn’t even make sense now,” Cecil whined, slumping over for dramatic effect while the children giggled.
“Ain’t nothing wrong with—ACK,” Carlos yelped as his brothers piled on him. “Not Serenity, don’t hurt Serenity, this thing’s a collector’s item!!”
Mama shook her head. “Boys, enough.”
“You are such a nerd, Carlito,” Ramon mussed his brother’s hair.
Carlos slugged him in the arm. Ramon laughed it off, and went to start setting up the table. The younger children were set to making paper flower garlands, while the older ones helped to sweep the courtyard clean and pull weeds out of the garden. Cecil mostly did as he was told, fixing the tablecloth or rearranging the candles. He understood this part, getting an altar prepared perfectly for ceremony, but it seemed to make a joke of the situation to make it about… cancelled television shows. “I still don’t quite understand…” He confessed to Mateo quietly.
“To celebrate life, you must celebrate all aspects of life,” Mateo explained, hammering a pole into the ground. “To mourn the loss of life, you must do the same for all aspects.”
“I understand that part, but even…” Cecil tried to think of a way to explain Night Vale. “Where I’m from, death is so much a part of everyday life that it’s almost mundane. But we still don’t discuss it, not like this. We mourn in the… approved manners. But this is…”
Mateo looked up at him, wiping his forehead. “What tribe are you from?”
Cecil blinked. Hesitantly, he answered, “My mother’s father was Navajo. He married a Japanese woman he met during the war. I’m mixed.”
“How do the Navajo mourn their dead?”
He frowned, his mind shuffling through years of information to try and find out if he even knew that answer. “Acheii never really discussed it… like it was forbidden. I’m not registered with the nation though, so I don’t really have an answer.”
“Alright, so we’ll go on the assumption that death is a taboo subject in your family history. For us, it’s completely the opposite. We embrace it as part of life—not that I’m saying you don’t, where you’re from, but we do so in a way that ensures the people who leave us know that they’ll be remembered for years to come,” Mateo explained, and took a swig of water. “So, there are three deaths, you know? One is when your body stops working. The next death is when your body is gone, into the ground or cremated or however you want to go. Shot into outer space or something, I don’t know.”
Cecil laughed nervously, unsure if Mateo had some kind of access to his living will. Mateo continued, “And the final death is when no one is left to tell your stories. So in a way, we preserve life longer this way, by remembering.”
Cecil nodded. Carlos came over with a box of finished flower garlands. “It seems strange, querido, but this is one of my favorite holidays. Families gathering together to eat good food and tell wonderful stories about people they love. Dancing and music. There’s crying and sadness too, but that’s also what makes it good. It’s all of humanity, the bare bones of love and human connection and emotion, celebrated at once.”
Cecil accepted the end of the garland. His thoughts were a jumbled mess as he helped string the garlands around the poles Mateo had set up; it would be hours before he could sort his mind out, so he let it go to work out subconsciously as the finished. The altar was festooned with candles and flowers, Serenity sat opposite a photo of the cast of Freaks & Geeks, and many other memorabilia Cecil didn’t recognize. Carlos promised to fill him in on great Mexican television another time. Mama called them all in for a brief lunch before they packed up most of the food to take to the cemetery with them. “Now what are we doing?” Cecil whispered to Carlos.
“We’re going to clean the graves, and then we’re going to have a picnic,” Carlos answered, as if it were an everyday thing.
Cecil smiled to himself. So this must be what it’s like to be Carlos everyday back home.
* a friend of the family has told me that alcohol is basically useless thanks to all his chemo treatments. Perhaps chronic leukemia and long-term exposure to chemo has to do with this, I haven’t really gone into a detailed discussion about it. Anyway, some grounding in reality to the giant handwave that is Regular Physics and Biology in Night Vale.
Also, many pardons if I’m not getting the holiday traditions correct. In my research, I’ve gotten a lot of conflicting reports on what happens when, so I kind of get the idea that everyone kind of does their own thing within the context of a general idea of how to celebrate it. Like most holidays, I suppose. As for the household altar in Carlos’ family, I read something about non-traditional altars, and I loved the idea. And ran away with it. And duh, Carlos is a Browncoat.
“What about your families?” Cecil asked Carlos’—though, from the ways he had been referring to Cecil lately they might also be his—in-laws.
Evita, Ramon’s wife, grunted as she yanked a weed out. “We rotate when we spend which holidays with what family.”
“And since Carlito was going to be home for the first time in three years, we managed,” Cora added.
“You’re five years younger than I am, Cora,” Carlos muttered.
“Ah, but Carlón isn’t as much fun to say.”
Cecil smiled as Carlos stuck his tongue out, and promptly fell backwards as the weed he was trying to pull out of the ground suddenly gave up the will to remain rooted. “This is why I’m glad we live in an apartment,” Cecil announced to the sky. “No weeding. No yard work.”
“Don’t you live in the desert, Tíos Carlos and Cecil?” Graciela asked. “There aren’t many plants there. Except cactuses. We learned about that in science class.”
“There’s some plants you don’t want in your yard,” Carlos said.
“Also the Whispering Forest,” Cecil added.
“The what?” His younger nieces chorused.
Cecil rolled over, not caring about the dirt sticking to his hand-embroidered peasant top. “The Whispering Forest, of course. It’s a very dangerous place, you should never go there.”
“Why not?” Regina asked.
“Because,” Cecil’s voice dropped to his radio announcer tones, “The Whispering Forest keeps what it takes. At first glance, it seems like a simple forest, though a forest that has no place growing in the harsh desert climate. But as you walk closer to the forest… you begin to hear strange things. Voices, and when no one else is around, you could almost swear the very trees themselves were talking to you… The forest lures you in with sweet nothings. ‘Oh, hey there Regina, that’s a lovely bow you’re wearing. And say, is that haircut new? You look wonderful today. Oh, Alma, your singing voice is so beautiful; I could listen to it all day long!’ And if you do not resist… well. Many brave persons have tried and failed…”
“What happened to them?”
“They are one… with the forest.”
“Él es muy excéntrico, ¿no?” Michael whispered.
“La verdad es más extraña que la ficción, Michael...” Carlos responded as the children demanded more scary stories. Cecil chuckled, and started telling them about the dog park; after all, no one could stop him from talking or thinking about it here, right?
It turned out better this way, Cecil entertaining the young ones while everyone else finished decorating the plots. Cecil was dreadful with anything concerning tools, and was content to watch the set-up while enthralling yet another captive audience with stories—the ones he wouldn’t have to over-explain too much to the adults later, anyway. He was finishing the heroic tale of how Carlos had triumphed over the city under Desert Flowers and solved the mystery of the lights above the Arby’s when Mama announced it was time to set out the food. Cora was giving him a look that said either she was impressed with his imagination or she thought he was a lunatic (both options were also available in a packaged set). He let it go for now. Jesús tugged on Cecil’s hand to get up. “Come on, the fun part is going to start!”
“What’s the fun part?”
David was tuning a guitar; there were a few other small instruments scattered nearby: castanets, a small drum, a wood block. They could hear someone warming up a trumpet on the other side of the cemetery. “Look, the sun is setting.”
The sun cast everything afire in oranges, red, and yellows. The girls watched eagerly as it slipped slowly behind the horizon. “Tío David, desempeñar los esqueletos!”
“Ah, eres demasiado crecido para los esqueletos,” David teased.
David began to play. Cecil listened as the children sang along, dancing in a circle. Carlos explained, “They count the time, and on each hour the skeletons, los esqueletos, come out of their graves and do something different.”
“And this is a traditional song?”
“Nah, it’s for kids,” Carlos grinned. “Lots of the songs don’t have words, you just dance.”
“Oh good,” Cecil said, and offered his hand as David began playing something else. “I’m good at that part.”
Carlos took it. He recognized the beat, as Jorge started tapping out the base beat on the drum, and tried to show Cecil how to do a more traditional dance step; they mostly ended up stepping on each other’s feet and laughing with everyone else—“Stop stomping on my feet!” “You told me I was supposed to stomp there!” “We should have practiced before we left…”—before Cecil just sighed in exasperation and whisked Carlos into a tango. It was impossible to time their moves with the song, but it got Mateo and Cora dancing as well; and when David switched it up, Alma and Graciela abandoned their small instruments and begged for turns. Their music mingled with the sounds coming from other parties; Cecil was warmed by the festive atmosphere as the air grew chillier. He even managed to get Sierra to dance with him after a while; she outclassed him by far at the Jarabe Tapatio, and he was very vocal at how jealous he was of the way her skirts moved, but he managed to perform the man’s role passably enough. Carlos switched off with David to play for a while; Cecil hadn’t known Carlos was a guitarist. At one point, Carlos caught Cecil watching him and winked. Cecil’s stomach flipped over. Nice to know that there were a few surprises left between them, and very attractive ones at that.
Manuel was fast asleep, a half-eaten pan de muerto still in his hands, with his head on his grandmother’s lap by the time Carlos complained he was getting blisters on his fingers. “You should play more,” David said. “Then you’d be one big calloused mess like me.” He twiddled his fingers with a grin.
“If I had time to play more…”
“You should try,” Cecil piped up, his cheeks pink. “To make some, I mean. I didn’t even know you could play.”
“Aw, he’s like a little groupie. Look at those cheeks!” Maria gently pinched Cecil’s reddening cheek, as he chuckled uncomfortably. “I wouldn’t say groupie…”
“Guys who play guitars are hot, it’s okay Cecil,” she said.
The girls were drowsily having some snacks; Jesús was about five minutes from joining his brother in sleep. Cecil looked up at the sky, determining that it wasn’t quite ten o’clock yet. “What now?”
“Story time, abuela?” Jesús asked, punctuating it with a yawn.
“Yes, I think so,” Mama agreed.
Carlos handed Cecil some pan de muerto as he sat next to him. “Remember when Papa took us on that fishing trip?” He asked.
From the looks on everyone’s faces, there had only been one fishing trip. Maria groaned, David grinned, and Ramon laughed outright. Mateo hid his face in his hands. “When he was trying to land his catch, and I got in the way and knocked the sanitary jug on Maria’s lap…” He mumbled through his hands.
“And you hardly ate the fish you brought home,” Mama said.
“I still can’t eat fish,” Maria complained. “I’m scarred for life.”
“How about when David told him he was dropping out of university to focus on music?” Ramon asked.
David sat up straight, and his voice grew very stern, “‘You are a Sanchez, mijo, and a Sanchez finishes what he sets out to do.’ And I did that, Papa. I just needed to fumble a bit at first.” He patted the headstone.
“You left out the three hour fight,” Mateo said.
“Yeah, well, we came to an agreement eventually.”
Cecil listened again as they reminisced about their father, watching Carlos’ face light up at happy memories, or droop at sad ones. The younger children nodded off, one by one, as the stories got more personal, more emotional. Cecil reached up and wiped Carlos’ tears away himself after he recounted how his father had reacted when he came out during his senior year of undergrad; not with anger, as he’d expected from the devoutly Christian man, but with love and acceptance. “Every time someone draws away from me, I remember Papa telling me ‘You are my own son, and to tell you that you are not worthy of my love or anyone else’s because your love manifests in ways different than my own is not the way a father should treat his own. You are worthy, and anyone who says otherwise is a fool, blinded by hate’.”
Cecil took Carlos’ hand in his, resting his head on Carlos’ shoulder. Cora looked at them, and then asked, “Cecil, what about your parents?”
He smiled sadly; it was a sensitive topic. “I never knew my father, never asked Mother who he was. Mother died when I was in college. She was… light, and color, and fun, but she had these moments where she’d… withdraw.” He didn’t know how else to explain how his mother would have prophetic fits. Describing her as a ‘prophetic epileptic’ always seemed so extreme. “She was very ill by the end of her life, so more than anything it was a comfort to know she’s not suffering any longer. She was wonderful, though…”
Mateo said, “You mentioned your grandparents earlier.”
Cecil had a happier smile there. “Acheii was a wind-talker during the war; he transmitted all sorts of codes so the Japanese couldn’t intercept where the Americans would strike next. He fought in the majority of the war, all across the Pacific Theater. And eventually, when he was stationed in Japan during the Occupation, he met my grandmother. He and Obaa-chan couldn’t understand a word each other said for months, but she worked at a tea house he frequented, and eventually he picked up enough Japanese to let her know he thought she was ‘a swell gal’.”
“Oh, now I know where you got your way with words,” Carlos teased.
Cecil groaned. “Oh please, no, don’t bring that up…”
“Cecil has a habit of using very outdated words…” Carlos began with a grin, and Cecil yelped, covering Carlos’ mouth with his hands, his face reddening again. “Don’t you dare!”
“Why?” Carlos moved Cecil’s hands, still grinning. “It’s so… groovy.”
“I hate you so much,” Cecil whined, flopping onto his back.
The candles were flickering, growing dimmer as talk moved to other family members. Cecil stared at the sky, the stars more cluttered here than at home; more star than void, really. Carlos lay back with him. “Sorry,” he murmured.
“I don’t actually hate you,” Cecil clarified softly.
Cecil let him slide his arm under his neck, and he drew in close. “More stars than void…” he said softly.
“I was thinking the same thing. Amazing. The same sky, supposedly, and so different…”
Carlos pointed out different constellations. Cecil watched him draw out shapes that made no sense, attempting to bring order to the chaotic heavens, his eyelids drawing heavier.
He woke with a start as the sun was climbing past the dawn. He sat up, and saw other groups around the cemetery packing up. Evita and Ramon were carefully packing up; Mama was instructing them to leave most of the decorations. She saw that Cecil was awake, and came over to sit next to him. “My bones are too old to spend a night out of doors so late in the year.”
“I’m sorry, we should have gone back…”
“No, no, it is tradition. All I mean is that it will be a few days before my body forgives me for this.”
She patted his knee. “You’re a good boy. My Carlos has had some… less than desirable partners in the past, but none of them have proven themselves worthy to spend the holiday with us. I was… cautious at first, when he suggested it, but I’m glad you came.”
Cecil felt the weight of that sentiment. “Oh. I mean… well, thank you very much.”
She patted his knee again, and got up with the barest hint of a groan. “Let’s get everyone home.”
As she walked away, Carlos sat up. “What was that about?”
Cecil looked down, his cheeks pink. “I don’t think your mother’s ever going to let us break up. Not that I ever want to, but in the event that possibility should arrive I believe she has ultimate veto power.”
Carlos laughed. “Well, it’s a good thing I don’t want to either.”
He kissed him on the side of the head, ignoring the dirt and twigs caught in Cecil’s hair. “Welcome to the family, querido.”
Awww yay, Cecil has a family again. Thank you so much for reading!!