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“You’re not going to kill anyone, Lillian."

“No. No, that’s not what I mean."

When she exhaled she shuddered. I hadn’t realized how close she was to crying. She managed to contain it, just barely.

"I need to tell you," she said, with difficulty. “I need to tell you that part of me was glad you were hurting all those years. By the time I realized who my father had killed, how it related to your father’s murder—by that time you had left me, Tres. And in a way, it made me feel better, knowing that I was hurting you by not telling. I know that’s horrible—it scares me, that I could feel that way."

That was my cue to tell her it was okay. Foolishly, I found myself staring at Lillian’s legs instead, studying the way the black leather straps of her pumps cut just slightly into her calves.

Lillian sighed again; this one was a little less shaky. "I wasn’t just inviting you back here to use you, Tres. As hard as it may be to believe, I really do love you. But there’s that other side of me, the side that scares me, I that reminds me of my father. I keep asking myself if I was dragging you into this to deliberately hurt you some more."

My heart was trying to compress itself into something the size of a marble. The blood didn’t seem to be flowing right into my fingers. Here it was a hundred degrees, and my fingers felt cold.

“I’m telling you this because I’m trying to work through it," Lillian said. “I still love you. I’m trying to discard the other things and concentrate on that, but I need to know from you if it’s still worth me trying."

Contrasted with her black dress, her green eyes with their multicolored flecks looked especially brilliant. They were watering just a little, but there was a desperate fierceness to them. I saw what she needed me to say.

“Maia Lee was right. I just wasn’t listening."

Lillian’s expression rearranged itself when I said Maia’s name—the emotional equivalent of a strategic withdrawal. “She was right about what?"

"About you, and why you needed me back."

Lillian looked even more uncertain. “Does that mean—"

I shook my head. “No. I’m not going back to her. San Antonio is home."

"Then what?"

I rubbed my hands, trying to get some feeling into them. "I think there’s something else you’re afraid of. Something even more scary than turning out like your father."

Her face was already closing up, preparing for the blow. "What would that be?"

“Turning out like your mother—an old woman with a shoe box full of photos of a former lover who you can’t get rid of. I think you’re terrified of becoming that person."

Lillian stood up, hugging her arms. She wouldn’t look at me.

"The hell with you, if that’s what you think."

She said it with as much coldness as she could muster, but her expression was the same as it had been when Dan Sheff had lied to her in the hospital room—concealed relief.

"You couldn’t let go of me because of the secret you were carrying around," I said. "Now for the first time, that secret is gone. You’ve got to either try reconstructing our relationship so you don’t have to deal with a ghost, or end it for good and hope you can move on to something totally new. Either way, you’re terrified that it won’t work, that I’ll keep poisoning your life."

She spoke with surprising softness. "Two weeks ago you were sure we’d still be perfect together. You were willing to come back and try after all these years."


"You’re telling me now you’re going to shut out the possibility? You’re so sure it wouldn’t work?"

"Yes," I lied. "I’m sure."

She stared at me, looking for chinks in the armor. I didn’t let her find any. Slowly, the tightness in her shoulder muscles relaxed.

“All of that," she said softly, "just for you to leave me again."

She waited for a response. It was hard, it was very hard, but I let her have the final word.

Then she turned and walked out of the gazebo, down to her mother’s empty black Cadillac. It was much too big, much too formal a car for her, I thought. But as she drove off, she looked as if she were learning to be at home behind the wheel.

I took my suit coat off, then walked down to the corner of Austin Highway and Eisenhower, letting the sun turn me into a walking water fountain while I waited for the bus. There was a vendor on the corner selling fresh fruit next to black velvet paintings of Aztec Warriors and Bleeding Jesuses. I guess I looked like I needed something. He smiled crookedly and handed me a free slice of watermelon. I thanked him for not giving me one of the paintings instead.

"Hey, vato," someone said behind me.

I turned and saw Ralph leaning out the window of his maroon Lincoln and grinning like a fiend.

"You lose your wheels, man?"

I shrugged. “More like I lost Jess’s. They’re denying me visiting rights to the VW."

Ralph laughed and showed me a bottle of Herradura Anejo and a six-pack of Big Red.

“You still need friends like these?" he asked.

"Only more than anything," I told him, and I got in the car.


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