Olly steps closer, wanting to hear my answer. I wrap my arms around my stomach.

“I’m great,” I say, far too brightly.

“Tell her about the pills,” Olly says.

“What pills?” Carla demands, looking only at me.

“We got pills. Experimental ones.”

“I know your mama didn’t give you anything experimental.”

“I got them on my own. Mom doesn’t know.”

She nods, validated. “From where?”

I tell her the same thing I told Olly, but she doesn’t believe me. Not for a second. She covers her mouth with her hand and her eyes are cartoon big.

I put my heart into my eyes and plead with her silently. Please, Carla. Please understand. Please don’t expose me. You said life is a gift.

She looks away and rubs small circles into a spot above her bosom.

“You must be hungry. I’ll make you some breakfast.”

She directs us to sit on a bright yellow overstuffed couch before disappearing into the kitchen.

“This is exactly the way I pictured her house,” I say to Olly as soon as she’s gone. I don’t want him asking any questions about the pills.

Neither of us sits. I move a step or two away from him. The walls are painted in primary colors. Knickknacks and photos cover almost every surface.

“She seems OK with the pills,” Olly says finally. He moves closer, but I tense up. I’m afraid he’ll be able to feel the lies on my skin.

I wander around the living room, looking at photos of generations of women who all look like Carla. An enormous one of her holding Rosa when she was a baby hangs over a love seat. Something about the photo reminds me of my mom. It’s the way she’s looking at Rosa with not only love, but a kind of fierceness, too, like she would do anything to protect her. I’ll never be able to repay her for all she’s done for me.

Carla makes us a breakfast of chilaquiles—corn tortillas with salsa and cheese and crema Mexicana, which is something like crème fraîche. It is delicious and new, but I only have a single bite. I’m too nervous for food.

“So, Carla. In your professional opinion, do you really think the pills are working?” Olly asks. His voice is overflowing with optimism.

“Maybe,” she says, but shakes her head as she says it. “I don’t want to give you false hope.”

“Tell me,” I say. I need to ask her why I’m not sick yet, but I can’t. I’m trapped by my lies.

“It could be the pills are delaying your sickness. Even without any pills, it could be you just haven’t met any of your triggers yet.”

“Or it could be that the pills are working,” Olly says. He’s moved beyond hope. As far as he’s concerned these pills are a miracle.

Carla pats Olly’s hand from across the table. “You’re a good egg,” she tells him.

She avoids looking at me and takes our empty plates and goes to the kitchen.

I follow behind her, shame making me slow. “Thank you.”

She dries her hands on a towel. “I understand you. I understand why you’re out here.”

“I might die, Carla.”

She wets a dishcloth and wipes down an already clean spot on the counter. “I left Mexico in the middle of the night with nothing. I didn’t think I was going to survive. A lot of people don’t make it, but I left anyway. I left my father and my mother and my sister and my brother.”

She rinses the cloth, continues. “They tried to stop me. They said it wasn’t worth my life, but I said that it was my life, and it was up to me to decide what it was worth. I said I was going to go and either I was going to die or I was going to get a better life.”

Now she rinses the cloth again and wrings it tight. “I tell you, when I left my house that night I never felt more free. Even now, in all the time that I’ve been here, I never felt as free as that night.”

“And you don’t regret it?”

“Of course I regret it. A lot of bad things happened on that trip. And when my mother and father died, I couldn’t go back to the funerals. Rosa doesn’t know anything about where she’s from.” She sighs. “You’re not living if you’re not regretting.”

What am I going to regret? My mind cycles through visions: my mom alone in my white room wondering where everyone she’s ever loved went. My mom alone in a green field staring down at my grave and my dad’s grave and my brother’s grave. My mom dying all alone in that house.

Carla touches my arm and I force all the images ruthlessly from my head. I cannot bear to think about these things. If I do, I won’t be able to live.

“Maybe I won’t get sick,” I whisper.

“That’s right,” she says, and hope spreads through me like a virus.


First Time Flyer FAQ

Q: What is the best way to relieve earaches caused by changes in cabin pressure?

A: Chewing gum. Also, kissing.

Q: Which is the best seat: window, center, or aisle?

A: Window, definitely. The world is quite a sight from 32,000 feet above it. Note that a window means your traveling companion may then be stuck next to a spectacularly loquacious bore. Kissing (your companion, not the bore) is also effective in this situation.

Q: How many times per hour is cabin air refreshed?

A: Twenty.

Q: How many people can an airline blanket comfortably cover?

A: Two. Be sure to raise the seat arm between you and snuggle as close as possible for maximum coverage.


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