Excerpt

Prologue

 

            “Long, long ago, before time began—can you imagine so far back, querida?  The world was plunged in darkness.  There was no dawn.  No dusk.  It was always night.  So the gods journeyed from all points of the compass to gather in Mexico at the Sacred Circle to create a sun.  One among them would have to sacrifice herself to the fire and become the new sun that would endure for all time.

            The gods called out the challenge, “Who will light the world?”

            The gods were silent.  Then one god, Tecuciztecatl, stepped forward.  He was a proud and vain god.  He thought by sacrificing himself he would win immortal fame and glory. While the gods created a great bonfire, Tecuciztecatl painted his body in brilliant colors, put on flame colored feathers, and adorned himself with gold and turquoise. When the blaze was roaring the gods called out.    “Jump now into the flames!”  

            Tecuciztecatl stood before the inferno, felt its great heat, and lost his courage.        Then the gods called out again, “Who will light the world?”  Again, the gods were silent.  Only Little Nana, the smallest and humblest of gods, stepped forward. She was ugly and covered with sores. “Little Nana,” they said to her.  “If you sacrifice yourself, your wretched body will be transformed to the glorious sun and you will bring light and warmth to the people of the world till the end of time.”  Little Nana did not want to die, but she thought of the light she would bring and went to stand at the precipice of the inferno.  The gods commanded her.   "Jump now into the flames!”

            Little Nana closed her eyes and bravely jumped into the heart of the fire. The red flames shot high into the heavens and Little Nana rode a fiery path to the sky and was transformed into the resplendent new sun.  

            Then the gods saw that the world had no color.  They called out to the gods, “Who will bring life to the world?” 

            Xochiquetzal, the goddess of all things beautiful called out, “I will do it!” The gods loved Xochiquetzal and cried, “But you will die!”

            “No, I will not die,” the goddess replied.  “I will fly into the sun and when I fall back to the earth I will transform into new life.  I will be the mother of all to come.” 

            It was as she said.  Xochiquetzal gave herself the plumed wings of a butterfly and flew high into the heavens to be filled with light.  When she fell back to the earth she was transformed into flowers and butterflies of every color. 

            Since then, every year when days grow short and a cold wind blows, the butterflies fly from all points north to the Sacred Circle in memory of the goddesses who stood at the precipice and bravely jumped, sacrificing themselves to bring light and life to the world. 

            So, querida, do you understand that in every life there is death and rebirth?  Life cannot be renewed without sacrifice.  Now I ask you, my daughter, mi preciosa. My young goddess. 

Will you bring light to the world?”

 

 

 

Chapter One

Each fall, millions of delicate, orange and black butterflies fly more than 2000 miles from the United States and Canada to overwinter in the mountains of central Mexico.  The annual migration of the monarch is a phenomenal story-a miracle of instinct and survival.

           

                 Esperanza Avila had told the story so many times over the years it was accepted as the truth—even by herself.  She’d meant only to blanket her granddaughter’s frightening loss, not to mislead her.  She saw the story she’d created as a safe, happy cocoon for her to grow up in. 

            But in the end, she’d created a lie.  Now she was caught in her own web of deception. The only way out was to tell Luz the truth, no matter how painful that truth might be.

            Esperanza counted the strokes as she brushed her long white hair in front of the bureau mirror.  Morning light fell in a broken pattern across her room.  Her gaze fell upon an old, sepia toned photograph of herself and her second husband, Hector Avila.  She paused her brushing as she gazed at his brilliant smile and his hair that waved like the ocean he loved and eyes as impossibly blue. 

            Hector Avila had been the love of her life, taken too soon from her. When she was a younger woman her raven hair flowed down her back to swirl around her hips.  Hector had loved her hair, whispered to her how it was like a waterfall at night that captured the reflection of the stars.  He used to wind her hair in his hands, wrap himself up in it when they made love.  Even after all these years, closing her eyes, she could remember the feel of his skin and her hair like silk pressed against her body. 

Opening her eyes again, she saw that her long hair was no longer the lustrous silk that Hector had relished.  So many seasons had passed since those halcyon days, so many joys, and so much sadness.  Her hair was a blizzard of snow falling around her shoulders.  She pressed the brush to her heart as it tightened. Where did the time go?

            Suddenly the room felt like it was tilting.  Esperanza closed her eyes and grasped the bureau for balance.  She was tired, she told herself.  She didn’t sleep well the night before.  Ever since she’d received that phone call from her daughter Maria, old memories and worries had plagued her.  They spilled over to her dreams, haunting her, and lingered after the pale light of dawn awakened her. 

Her troubled gaze traveled across the other photographs on her bureau, resting on a small silver frame that held the treasured photograph of her daughter, Mariposa, aglow with happiness.  In her arms she carried her baby.  Luz couldn’t have been six months old but already her pale eyes shone as bright as the sun.  Tears filled Esperanza’s eyes as her heart pumped with love for this child that had been a gift to her life in her later years after Mariposa had vanished.

“Hector,” she said aloud.  “I need your wisdom, now more than ever.  I could bear this hardship alone.  But Luz… She is twenty-one, no longer a child.  I can’t endure to see her hurt. I’ve told Luz so many stories about her mother. But now this! What words can I say to make her understand this truth?”  She shook her head with grief.  “How will she not hate me?”

Tears filled her eyes as she finished gathering her long locks in fingers that were gnarled from age and hard work.  While she methodically wound it like a skein of wool, her mind reviewed her plan on how she would tell Luz the truth about her mother. She needed uninterrupted time and a safe place to tell her granddaughter the story from beginning to end.

Her hands trembled as she finished pinning the thick braid of hair securely at the base of her head. Taking a steadying breath, she opened her drawer and pulled out the amber plastic medicine bottle she kept hidden behind socks and underwear.  She didn’t tell Luz about the pills that kept her heart from skipping its beat, so as not to worry her.  Luz already had to worry about too many things for a girl her age.   There was a fine line between being responsible and burdened.

            That thought strengthened Esperanza’s resolve.  She pried open the bottle and shook out the last pink tablet into her palm.  She sighed.  She needed to get the expensive prescription refilled.  How would she pay for it after today?  She placed the pill onto her tongue and washed it down with a glass of water.  Tomorrow she’d worry about that.  Today, her course was clear.

            With great care Esperanza applied smudges of rouge to her cheeks and dabbed on some lipstick.  The ruby color added fullness to her thinning lips. She cast a final, assessing glance in the mirror.  There were moments when she looked at her reflection that she caught a peek at the girl she once was trapped deep inside of her, barely visible behind the wrinkles and sunken cheeks. That young girl shone bright in her eyes this morning, excited at the task ahead.

            Sitting on the edge of her bed she put on her tennis shoes then slipped down to her knees. Usually she’d pull out her rosary for her morning prayers but today she bent and poked her hand under her mattress all the way to her shoulder and began groping.  The weight of the mattress was heavy and Esperanza panted with the effort.  At last, her fingers clutched the small leather pouch and pulled it out.

            She sat cross legged on the hardwood floor, catching her breath, and then gingerly opened the worn, hand-sewn purse that had traveled with her from her small village in Mexico all the way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin so many years before.  Her fingertip traced the image of a butterfly etched into the golden leather.  Without hesitating further, she opened it and pulled out a thick wad of bills.  She counted the dollars in her lap, smoothing each bill.  Her ruby lips spread into a satisfied grin.

            She had enough.

            Esperanza put on her black trench coat and slipped a triangle of red silk scarf over her head, a gift from Luz.  Before leaving, she made sure the coffee machine was turned off, the iron was unplugged, then made a fervent sign of the cross in front of the framed portrait of La Virgen de Guadalupe in the front hall.  With a puff, she extinguished the candle and pulled the door closed behind her.

            A north wind hit her face and she tugged the collar of her coat higher around her neck against its bite.  Fall came early in Wisconsin and spring took its time. She made her way down the stairs to the cracked cement sidewalk.

            “You off?” 

            Esperanza turned toward the throaty voice of her neighbor, Yolanda Rodriguez.  She was dressed for the weather in a thick black sweater and gloves as she raked leaves from her tiny front yard.  Yolanda stood with her head cocked and her dark eyes gleaming, like a crow at the fence line.

 “Yes,” Esperanza called back with conviction as she walked closer to the chain link fence that divided their front yards 

At the sound of her voice, two small black and white mixed breed dogs rushed to the fence, barking wildly.  Yolanda hushed them then paused to lean on the rake.  “This is a good thing you’re doing,” she said, nodding her head for emphasis.  “Luz is not a little girl any more.  She should know.” 

            “She will know soon.”

            “You should have told Luz the truth long ago.  I told you so!”

            Esperanza held her tongue but her felt her heart squeeze in anxiety.  

            “You still planning on driving to San Antonio?”  Her voice was filled with doubt.

            “Yes.”

            Yolanda shook her head doubtfully.  “I still think you should fly.  It’s faster. Not so much trouble. Not so dangerous.”

            “It’s better this way.  And I did it before, don’t forget.  I have it all planned.  It will take only three days to drive to San Antonio. It’s perfect, don’t you see?  That will give Luz and me enough time to talk, where it is quiet and safe.”

            Yolanda snorted.  “And Luz won’t be able to bolt like Mariposa.” 

            Esperanza frowned and looked off into a biting wind.  She thought how sharp words could sting when they held the truth.   “Perhaps.  I must go now.”

            “Do you want me to come with you?”

            “No, no, that’s kind of you.  I want to do this on my own.”

Mrs. Rodriguez caught a note in her voice and reached out to gently pat Esperanza’s shoulder in commiseration. “It’s a good plan.  I will say a prayer to the Virgencita it will succeed.  Buena suerte!” she said with a farewell wave, then returned to her raking and muttering curses under her breath at the gust of wind that brought a fresh torrent of leaves to her yard.

            Esperanza hurried to the street corner to catch the bus she saw cruising up the block.   She found a seat and looked out the window at the familiar scenery of bungalow houses, brown brick buildings and fast food restaurants. There were so many people, she thought.  In cars, on foot, in the windows—all strangers and all with their hands rammed into pockets and their faces set in hard frowns.   Her mind flitted back to the small village in the mountains where she’d grown up.  Everything was green and she knew everyone’s name.  Esperanza shivered and tightened her coat. Even after all these years she couldn’t get used to these cold northern winters. No coat was warm enough.  She longed for the warmer climate and the simple tranquility of her home.

Stepping off the bus she felt the chill of the winds off Lake Michigan clear to her bones.  It took her a minute to get her bearings. She consulted the small piece of paper on which she’d written the directions then began to walk.  After a few blocks, she sighed with relief at seeing the enormous sign: Nice Used Cars.  

            It wasn’t much of a car lot.  It was an old filling station surrounded by a long line of wire tethered between buildings, affixed with colored plastic flags flapping in the breeze. Beneath was a small collection of random cars, some with new coats of paint that didn’t do a good job of covering rust. The salesman didn’t see her walk onto the lot at first.  She knew the moment he spotted her, though, because he instinctively fixed his tie.

            “Are you in the right place, dear?”  

            “I’m where I need to be,” she replied. “Are you going to show me some cars or do I have to look myself?”

            The salesman was a short, beady eyed man in an ill fitting suit but he smiled and led her to a mid-sized sedan. After looking at the sticker, Esperanza shook her head.  “Oh no, I can’t afford this car. Please, something more….” She didn’t want to say cheap.  What was the better word in English?  “Affordable.”

            “I can do that,” he replied cheerfully, though his smile was more forced.

            He led her to the far side of the lot where the prices dropped significantly. She peered into the windows of a Ford Taurus.

            “That’s a nice car there. You’ve got good taste.”

            “I don’t know anything about cars.”

            “May I ask why you’re looking for a car now?”

            She looked at the man as though he were addled.  “I need one!” she said then turned to move down the line of cars.

            “Are you really here to buy, ma’am? Or just kicking tires.”

            Esperanza didn’t know what he meant by that, so she didn’t reply.  She walked down the first line of sad looking cars, feeling her heart drop in her shoes. Each looked worse than the next.  When she turned to the second row she saw the car she’d come for.

            The battered orange Volkswagen was very much like the one that her first husband, Luis, had found abandoned on the side of the road. He’d spent hours repairing it then he’d taught her how to drive along dusty roads as she ground the gears.  The memories flooded back.

            “You like that one?” the persistent man asked as he approached again.  “I dunno.  Maybe you shouldn’t be looking at a manual transmission.”

            “No,” she said, feeling as though fate had just smiled on her.  “This is the one.”

                                    #                                  #                                  #

            Luz Avila looked out the wall of grimy, industrial windows of the foundry to see thick gray clouds gathering in the sky.  She reached up to tug at the elastic of her ponytail then shook her head to free her long mane of black hair. Then, slipping into her brown corduroy jacket, she took her place in a long line of employees waiting with vacant stares to enter their number into the employee time clock.  One by one they moved forward, but she felt they were all really just stuck in one place.

            “You wanna go out tonight?” the young woman behind her asked.  Dana was only a year older than Luz but already married and divorced.  Her short, spiky hair was an unnatural shade of red and she liked to experiment with varying shades of green and blue eye shadow. “We thought we’d hook up at O’Malley’s.”

            Luz shook her head.  Dana wouldn’t understand that she was saving every dollar she could to finish college.  Or that her conservative, Mexican grandmother didn’t approve of freewheeling single girls who went out to bars alone. 

“Sully and I have plans. But thanks.”

            Dana shrugged. “See you at the grind tomorrow, then.”

            “Yeah,” she replied dully.  The foundry paid a good wage but she felt trapped inside its walls, unable to see a brighter future for herself.  The best part of her day was clocking out.

Luz stepped out into a September wind tinged with acrid industrial scents. She wrinkled her nose and walked quickly toward the parking lot where she knew her boyfriend would be waiting for her. 

Sully’s face burst into a grin under his baseball cap when he spotted her.  Sullivan Gibson was a traditional Midwestern boy of German-Irish farming descent evident in his six foot three inch height, his broad shoulders, his penchant for basketball and beer, and his polite manners toward a lady.  His long arm pushed the truck door open for her as she approached and she climbed into the warm compartment just as an icy northern rain began.

“God, I hate this rain,” she said.

“At least it’s not snow.” 

The air in the truck was close and reeked of stale cigarette smoke, a habit she couldn’t get Sully to break.  She leaned across the seat to meet his lips.  Sully’s brooding blue eyes sparked to life when they kissed, like his truck when he fired the ignition.

Beneath Sully’s rough exterior beat the steady, generous heart of a gentle man. He worked at an auto repair shop in Milwaukee.  It was a small garage but it had a sterling reputation and a waiting list for appointments.  Sully felt lucky to have been offered a job, but Luz knew that the same diligence, reliability, and honesty that he showed with her were hallmarks of his personality and that the garage was the lucky one.  Sully already had his own roster of clients.  He made a good living with the promise of raises, promotions, and if his dreams were realized, his own shop someday.  He was a man ready to settle down with a wife and raise a family. They’d been dating for three years and Sully was her rock.   She felt safe when he slipped a possessive arm around her shoulders and drew her close as they pulled out from the parking lot.

            Every day after work Sully drove Luz to her home on Milwaukee’s south side. He pulled to a stop in front of her unassuming, A-frame bungalow, one of many identical houses bordering the narrow street.  It was a modest neighborhood, mostly Hispanic. A neighborhood where the residents couldn’t afford improvements to the houses and the city didn’t bother to improve the streets. But on front porches there were pots of brightly colored geraniums, well tended shrubs, bicycles chained to a railing, and soccer balls lying in the yard.  This was a close-knit neighborhood of families. 

Sully let the engine idle and bent to deliver a slow, probing kiss that took Luz’s breath away.  She pulled back, blinking in a daze as she gazed at him. 

“What was that for?”

            His lips curved shyly, cutting deep dimples into his cheeks.  “I was going to ask you.  You’re awful quiet today.”

            Luz’s grin slipped and she looked out the windshield.  “It’s Abuela,” she said, referring to her grandmother.  In her mind’s eye she saw Abuela early that morning.  She wasn’t in the kitchen humming over the stove as she usually was.  Luz had searched and found Abuela shivering outdoors in the damp chill, her nightgown billowing at her ankles and her long white hair streaming tangled down her back.  She’d stood motionless, like a stone statue in the garden.

            “What’s the matter with her?”

“I’m worried about her,” she said and immediately his gaze sharpened with concern.  “She wasn’t herself this morning.  She seemed so distracted and her face was chalky and tired, like she didn’t sleep a wink.  I know she’s upset about something but she won’t talk about it.”

Sully’s dark brows immediately gathered over a frown.  “Maybe I should drive her to the doctor.”

Luz’s heart softened.  Sully loved Abuela and in turn, Abuela doted on her granddaughter’s tall and tender hearted boyfriend. The two shared a bond that endeared Sully to Luz.  Abuela was always asking Sully to drive her to the grocery store or the mall or to pick something up because they didn’t have a car.  Sully was gallant and never refused her.  In exchange Abuela invited him to dinner regularly, knowing he lived alone, and always had a bag of leftovers or cake for him to take home.

“I don’t think it’s her health,” Luz replied. “Something happened yesterday.”

“What?” he asked and shifted the gear to Park.

The big engine rumbled loudly, rocking them gently and Luz could at last confess the worries she’d carried all day.  “When I came home from work yesterday she was on the phone.  But she got off real quick when I came in, like she didn’t want me to overhear.  When I asked her who it was she said it was my Tia Maria, but she wouldn’t look at me, and it was kind of guilty, you know the kind I mean?  She just went out to her workroom and began sweeping. I tried to find out what happened but Abuela brushed me off saying we’d talk about it later.”

“Sounds like it was just a fight.”

“Maybe.  Abuela and my aunt are always fighting about something.  But this was different.  It’s big, whatever it is.  I’ve never seen Abuela so...”  She stumbled for a word, trying to put a name to the sullen expression in Abuela’s eyes.

 “Upset?”

“Worse.  Shaken.”  She saw Abuela’s face again, so pale and drawn.  She unbuckled her seatbelt.  “I better go in and check on her.”

Luz moved to leave but Sully tugged at her elbow, holding her back.

“Uh, Luz,” he began.  He cleared his throat.  “There’s something I should tell you.”

Luz heard the seriousness in his tone and she grew alert.  She settled back against the cushion.  “Okay.”

“You know how your grandmother asks me to run a few errands for her?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, for a while now she’s been asking me to go to the pharmacy to pick up her medicine.”

“Her medicine? What medicine?” Luz asked, alarmed.  She hadn’t known Abuela was taking any prescriptions and was seized with a sudden fear. Her grandmother was her world.  After her mother died when Luz was only five, Abuela had raised her singlehandedly, giving Luz the only home she knew.  “She never told me she was taking medicine.  Sully, if anything ever happened to her, I don’t know what I’d do.  I can’t even think about it without getting teary eyed.”

“See?  That’s why she didn’t want you to know.  She asked me not to tell you, but you’re worried about her and well, I thought you should know.”  He looked at her anxiously. “I hate to break a promise.”

Luz took a shaky breath and exhaled.  “No, Sully, you did the right thing to tell me.  Especially if…  I won’t tell her I know.”  She looked out anxiously at the house.  “I better go in and check on her.”

“Do you still want me to pick you up tonight?  Maybe you should stay home.”

            She shook her head.  “I’m probably making too big a thing out of all this.  I’ll be ready.”  Luz leaned in for a quick kiss then climbed from the truck.  She heard the sudden roar of the engine as Sully pulled away.  A light rain chased her up the stairs to her front door. 

Her grandmother’s brown brick bungalow appeared dreary and dull from the outside, but once inside, the little house pulsed with life. Abuela’s vibrant spirit breathed in every brightly painted room.  Metal and ceramic icons from Mexico hung on the walls and in a place of honor in the living room was a large, framed painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe. 

            Luz set her purse down on the small tile topped hall table.  She heard sounds of children’s laughter, and lifting her nose, caught the unmistakable scent of maize. An involuntary smile eased across her face.

“I’m home!” she called out.

            “Aqui!”

            She followed the voice to the kitchen where the rich smells of dark roasted coffee, maize, and cumin embraced her. A wooden bowl overflowed with limes, oranges, and the avocados Abuela adored.  She told Luz tales of enormous aguacate trees growing on her family farm in Mexico, ripe with avocados she could pick by the bushel.  Fragrant steam rose from a pot on the stove, rattling the lid.  Abuela was surrounded by two girls and a boy around seven years of age. Looking up, Esperanza caught Luz’s eye then with a quick smile she clapped her hands.           

            “Time to go, mi nino y ninas! Your mothers will be calling you for dinner,” she sang, herding the children toward the door. “No, no, the butterflies are gone. They flew off to Mexico.  Lo siento.  I’m sorry.  But don’t worry.  They’ll be back in the spring, eh?  Si, si, yo promiso.”

            Luz leaned against the door frame, relieved to see her abuela back to her normal self.  She crossed her arms and watched the hectic scene unfold. Abuela was called La Mariposa Dama, The Butterfly Lady, in the neighborhood because she raised butterflies.  Monarchs in particular.  For as long as she could remember there had always been children hovering near Abuela, especially during the summer when the monarchs were bursting from chrysalises or being released to the garden.   

At last the door closed and Abuela turned to face Luz, clasping her hands tightly.  Her dark eyes sparkled with mysterious excitement. 

            “I have something to show you!  A surprise!”

            Luz dropped her arms and straightened, alert.  “A surprise?  For me?”

            “For us!  Come!” Abuela laughed with the enthusiasm of a child.  She reached out to pull her black shawl from the back of a chair. 

            Luz couldn’t help the ear to ear grin that spread across her face.  She’d thought it was such a rainy, gloomy day but now Abuela was laughing and talking about surprises.  She laughed to herself as she followed Abuela outdoors.  

            The rain had slowed to a faint drizzle, more a mist that fell soft on the face.  She tucked her arm under Abuela’s as they made their way down the six cement steps to the front sidewalk.  Abuela detoured across the short expanse of city grass to stop before an old Volkswagen bug at the curb.  Dropping Luz’s arm, she dug into her pocket.  Her face beamed in triumph as she pulled out a key.

            “Surprise!”

            Luz’s mouth slipped open in a gasp.  A car?” 

            “Come, take a look!” Abuela exclaimed, placing the key in her hand and nudging her toward the curb.  “What do you think?”

            Words failed Luz as she took in the small burnt orange car at the curb. 

            Abuela clasped her hands together near her breast.  “You were surprised, right?”

            “Ah, yeah,” Luz sputtered.

            “I knew you would be.  I could not wait to see your face.” 

Luz walked across the soggy soil closer to the car.  Under the yellow glow of the streetlight, she could see that the old VW Bug had lived a hard life.  Multiple small dents and spots of rust were like a pox across the faded orange metal.  Peeking in the window, everything looked more spindly and less plush than newer cars. She shook her head, wondering to herself what surprised her more: that Abuela had actually bought a car, or that Abuela had somehow managed to unearth the ugliest, sorriest car on the planet.  And yet, something about it was utterly vintage and she had to admit, she liked it.

            “You bought a car!”she said and knew a moment of giddiness.

Abuela cocked her head at Luz’s hesitation.  “You wanted a car, right?”

             “Oh, yes,” she agreed with a shaky smile. She’d had a savings account for several years just to buy a car but it never seemed to get past a thousand dollars.   “I wanted a car.  But…”  Luz bit her lip and hesitated. 

She didn’t want to appear ungrateful, yet niggling worries about money dampened the fire of her enthusiasm like the cold rain.  Luz was frugal and knew to the penny how much—or how little-- was in their family checking account and how much they currently owed on their credit card.  As the only one employed, the responsibility for paying those bills lay on her shoulders.  How could Abuela just go out and buy a car? she wondered, feeling her shoulders stiffen.

“So, what do you think?”

            “Abuela, where did you get the money for a car?”

            Abuela waved her hand in a scoff.  “It not so much.”

            Luz looked at the ancient VW with dents in the fenders and patches of touched up rust and hoped her sweet grandmother wasn’t fleeced.  “How much did you pay?”

            Abuela sniffed and lifted her chin.  “It isn’t polite to ask how much a gift cost.  This does not concern you.”

            “I’m sorry. But, Abuela, it does…”  Luz took a deep breath.  “Did you charge it on the credit card?”  She had to ask.  The credit card company had just raised its rates and she was already wondering how long it would take for her to pay it back.

            “No.  I had money.”

            Luz’s brows rose.  “You did?  From where?”

            Abuela’s gaze diverted.  “I have a secret place…”

            Luz imagined a sock filled with dollar bills, coins hidden in a coffee can.  She suppressed a chuckle at her grandmother’s old fashioned ways.  “How much do you have?”

Abuela put out her hands toward the car with pride.  “Enough for this!”

Luz struggled to find words that were respectful and not hurt her grandmother’s

feelings.  But she had to be practical and think of their future.  “Abuela, you know we’re cutting things close to the bone.  We could’ve used the money to pay off our debt. Those interest rates are killing us.  And besides, Sully always says buying a car is like buying a puppy.  The purchase price is the cheap part.”

            Abuela tugged at the ends of her black crocheted shawl.  “I thought maybe Sully could look at it.”

            There it was.  Poor Sully, Luz thought.  “That car is a beater.  It might take more time than he has to offer.”  Not to mention money that he’d never bill them for.  “How many miles does it have?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “You don’t know?  And you bought it?”

            “It is a good car.  I can tell.”

            God help me, Luz thought. 

            Abuela’s back straightened and her smile slipped.  Once more Luz saw the cloak of anxious worry slip over her grandmother’s usually serene expression.  Abuela clasped her small hands before her, like a woman in prayer, and when she spoke her voice was grave.

“Luz, we need this car.”

Luz felt the morning’s anxiety stir again.  “Why?”

“We must go on a trip.”

            “A trip? Where?”

            “To San Antonio.”

            “Does this have to do with that phone call?”

            Abuela’s eyes widened with surprise that the phone call was mentioned, then her eyes shifted and after a pause, she delivered a quick, tentative nod.

            Luz thought as much.  “Is there an emergency?  Is Tia Maria sick?”

            “No.  Not that.”

            “Then why the hurry?”

            “You must trust me, querida.  We just have to go to San Antonio.”

            “Oh, Abuela…”  Her grandmother had always planned to take Luz to visit her daughter and family in San Antonio. Unfortunately, money was always short and trips were as unrealized as Luz’s dreams.  “I’d love to go.  But right now, we just don’t have enough money.”  It was the truth, but as soon as she said the words she saw Abuela’s face fall.  “But if we’re careful and save our money, we can go next year.” 

            Abuela clutched Luz’s hand. Her dark eyes flamed and her voice broke with emotion.  “No, not next year.  This year! Right away!”

            Luz rushed to wrap her arms around her grandmother. Abuela was barely five feet tall, slim in the shoulders and barrel waisted. Luz was only four inches taller but she had to lean over her.  Closing her eyes, she smelled the scents of corn and vanilla and all things safe and secure in her hair.

“Okay, Abuelita,” she said reassuringly.  “I’ll find a way, I promise. Don’t worry.  I’ll get a second job. But let’s go inside now.  It’s starting to rain again and you’re shivering.  Your hands are like ice.” 

With one arm wrapped around Abuela’s shoulders she shepherded her back to the house. Luz didn’t know how she was going to keep her promise, but she’d figure that out later.  Now she had to bring Abuela back inside where it was warm. 

 “I’m cold,” Abuela said.  “I must go home.”