He watches me leave, and in my rearview mirror I see him grow smaller and smaller. We have never been so far from that mountaintop in Maui.
• • •
THE DRIVE HOME IS A blur. I alternate between being mad at myself for all of this, terrified about my future income, furious at Dane, sad and disappointed over Ethan, and absolutely heartbroken for Ami. It’s not enough to hope that Dane will turn over a new leaf now that he’s married—he is a bad guy, and my sister has no idea.
I try not to be dramatic and overthink what Ethan said. I try to give him the benefit of the doubt and imagine how I’d feel if someone accused Ami of doing this. I don’t even have to think about it: I’d do anything for my sister. And that’s when it hits me. I remember Dane’s smiling face at the airport, and my shock today that he would hit on me with his own brother just a few feet away. Dane’s confidence in both cases isn’t about me or my ability to keep his secret. It was about Ethan and his inability to believe his brother would intentionally do anything bad. Ethan is his ride-or-die.
I consider going to Ami’s to wait for her, but if Ami was planning to meet us all at the restaurant, she won’t be there anyway. They’d come home together later, too. I certainly don’t want to be there when Dane gets back.
I didn’t think it was possible, but my mood plummets even more when I pull into my parking lot. Not only is my mom’s car there (and parked in my covered space), but so are Diego’s and my cousin Natalia’s, which means Tía María is probably here, too. Of course.
With my car parked on the other side of the complex, I trudge through the slush and up the stairs to my apartment. I can already hear Tía María’s braying laugh—she is my mother’s sister and the one closest to her in age, but the two of them could not be more different: Mom is polished and fussy; Tía Maria is casual and laughs constantly. And whereas Mom has only me and Ami (apparently having twins was plenty for her), Tía Maria has seven kids, each neatly spaced eighteen months apart. It wasn’t until I was in the fifth grade that I realized not everyone has nineteen first cousins.
Although our nuclear family is relatively small compared to the rest of the Torres and Gonzales crew, a stranger would never know that only four of us lived in our house when I was growing up because at least two other people were always there. Birthdays were enormous affairs, Sunday dinners routinely had thirty people at the table, and there was never any place to sulk alone. Apparently not much has changed.
“I’m pretty sure she’s a lesbian,” Tía María is saying as I close the door behind me. She looks up at the sound and points to Natalia. “Tell her, Olive.”
I unwind my scarf from around my neck and stomp the snow from my boots. After the slushy walk through the parking lot, my patience is already thin. “Who are we talking about?”
Tía Maria is standing at the kitchen counter, chopping tomatoes. “Ximena.”
Ximena, the youngest daughter of Mom and Tía Maria’s oldest brother, Tío Omar. “She’s not a lesbian,” I say. “She’s dating that guy, what’s his name?”
I look at Natalia, who tells them, “Boston.”
I snap, pointing. “That’s right. God, what a terrible name.”
“It’s what you name your dog,” Natalia agrees, “not your kid.”
I shrug off my coat and toss it over the back of the couch. Mom immediately steps away from the dough she’s rolling and crosses the room to pointedly hang it up. Stopping in front of me, she pushes my damp hair off my forehead.
“You look terrible, mija.” She turns my face from side to side. “Eat something.” Kissing my cheek, she heads back into the kitchen.
I follow, smiling gratefully when Natalia sets a cup of tea down in front of me. For as much as I complain about my family always being in my business . . . having them here is admittedly pretty great. But this also means I can’t avoid telling Mom that I was fired.
“A haircut doesn’t mean someone’s gay, Mom,” Natalia says.
Tía María looks up at her incredulously. “Have you seen it? It’s all short on the sides and blue on top. She did it right after”—she drops her voice to a whisper—“the wedding.”
Both Mom and Tía Maria make the sign of the cross.
“Why would you even care if she’s gay?” Natalia motions to where Diego is watching TV on my couch. “Diego is gay, and you don’t care about that.”
At the sound of his name he turns to face us.
“Diego came out of the womb gay,” Tía Maria says, and then turns to him. “I swear you had copies of Vogue under your mattress, instead of dirty magazines.”
“Nobody gets porn from magazines anymore, Mom,” Natalia says.
Tía Maria ignores her. “I don’t care if she’s gay. I just think we should all know so we can find her a nice girl.”
“She’s not gay!” Diego says.
“Then why did I find a dildo in her sock drawer?” Tía Maria asks the room.
Diego groans and pulls a pillow over his face. “Here we go.”
Natalia turns to face her mother. “She’s thirty-three. What were you doing in her sock drawer?”
Tía María shrugs as if this information is irrelevant to the story. “Organizing. It was purple and huge with a little”—she moves her finger in front of her to indicate what she means—“wiggly thing on one side.”
Natalia presses her hand to her mouth to stifle a laugh, and I take a sip of my tea. It tastes like sadness and hot water.
My mom stops chopping and sets down her knife. “Why does that mean she’s a lesbian?”
Tía Maria blinks at her. “Because lesbians use those strap-on things.”
“Mom, stop,” Natalia says. “Lots of people have vibrators. I have a whole box full of them.” She waves in my direction. “You should see Olive’s collection.”
My mom picks up a glass of wine and takes a large gulp. “It seems smart to be a lesbian right now. Men are awful.”
She is not wrong.
I lean a casual hip against the counter. “So. Why are you guys cooking at my apartment?” I ask. “And when are you going home?”
Natalia turns off the stove and moves her pot to an empty burner. “Your dad needed some stuff at the house.” That’s it, that’s her entire answer, and in this family, it’s plenty: Dad rarely goes to the house—he lives alone in a condo near Lake Harriet—but when he does visit, my mom evacuates the premises immediately. The rare times she feels spunky enough to stick around, she’ll commit some pretty petty sabotage. Once, she pulled out his collection of vinyl records and used them as trivets and coasters. Another time, when he stopped by before a weeklong business trip, she put a whole fresh trout under one of the seats in his car and he didn’t find it until he got home. It was in August.
“I wish I’d been born a lesbian,” Mom says.
“Then you wouldn’t have me,” I counter.
She pats my cheek. “That’s okay.”
I meet Natalia’s eyes over the top of my mug and fight the laugh that is bubbling up inside me. I worry that if it escapes, it could turn into hysterical cackles that would immediately transition into choking sobs.
“What’s with you?” Tía Maria asks, and it takes me a moment to realize she’s talking to me.
“She’s probably tired from her new boyfriend,” Natalia sings and does a little sexy dance back over to the stove. “I’m surprised he wasn’t with you. We only came in because his car wasn’t out front. God knows what we’ll see.”
They all spin out of control about me and Ethan for a few minutes—
Finally! Se te va pasó al tren!
So perfect, so funny because they hated each other!
Twins dating brothers: is that even legal?—
before I’m able to get them back into orbit. Diego walks into the kitchen and burns himself sneaking something from the frying pan.
“I’m not sure we’re still a thing,” I warn them. “Maybe we are. We had a fight. I don’t even know.”
Everyone gasps and a small, dissociated piece of me wants to laugh. It’s not like Ethan and I have been together for years. My family just gets so immediately invested. But then again, so did I.
I can’t think about things with us being over. It pushes a spike of pain through me.
And wow did I kill the mood. I debate for about three seconds whether I’m going to bother telling them that I also lost my job, but I know I am. If Dane tells Ami, and then Ami talks to one of my cousins and Mom finds out that I got fired and didn’t tell her, she will call all of her siblings and before I know it, I will have forty text messages from my aunts and uncles all demanding that I call my mother immediately. Facing it now is going to be terrible, but it’s still infinitely easier than the alternative.
“Also,” I say, wincing, “I lost my job.”
Silence swallows us all. Slowly, very slowly, Mom puts down her glass of wine, and Tía Maria picks it up. “You lost your job?” Cautious relief takes over her face when she says, “You mean the Butake job.”
“No, Mami, the one I started today.”
Everyone gasps, and Diego comes up, wrapping his arms around me. “No,” he whispers. “Seriously?”
I nod. “Seriously.”
Tía Maria takes my hand and then glances at Mom and Natalia, eyes wide. Her expression screams, It is taking everything in me to not call everyone in the family right now.
But Mom’s focus on me remains intense; it’s the protective mama-bear expression that tells me she’s ready to battle. “Who fired my daughter on her first day of work?”
“The founder of the company, actually.” And before she can unleash a tirade about the grave injustice of all this, I explain what happened. She sits down on a barstool and shakes her head.