“Where I live is my brother’s,” she said.
“You mentioned that.”
“He not come there much now that he has wife, but he has the key. He watches me.”
“Does he know what you do?”
She twisted the corner of her jacket. “The farmacia — it is his.”
That’s not what I meant, but I let it go for the moment. “Is he the man who works there, in the back?”
“So does he know the other things you do?”
She shook her head. “He know nothing about you.”
“But the others. How do you keep it a secret?”
She stared at her hands, working the zipper up and down at the bottom of her jacket. “Gavin, I not say truth to you.”
There it was. Now she would tell me the boy wasn’t mine. I could already feel the relief relaxing my chest. “So what is the truth?”
Rosa inhaled deeply. She sat up and looked right at me. “I am not what you think. I do not do sex for money. I am not a bad woman.”
I couldn’t quite grasp what she was saying. “But you have sex with me. For money.”
She held my gaze, steady and certain. “You are the only one.”
“But I saw you, that first time, on the corner.”
She slumped down again. “I try it. I try every night for a week, but no one come for me. No one want to pay for me.”
Well, that explained how innocent and uncomfortable she was that first night. “Why wouldn’t anyone want to pay for you? You are beautiful and kind.”
“I am not.”
In any other circumstance I might have done more, hold her or kiss her or convince her she was wrong, but not now, not with Corabelle back. I just sat there numbly, waiting for her to explain why I had been her only customer.
“My family is not happy for me. I cause big problem. My brother was the only one to help me.” She had gone back to tugging at her zipper.
“If you had a job and help, why were you on that corner?”
“I needed money he did not know about.”
“My cousin, another cousin. He — he wants me. He — has me. I do not want him.”
My anger flared. “Why didn’t your brother help?”
“My family does not believe me. I cannot keep him away.”
“Did he hurt you?”
“Yes. Many times.”
“And you told your family?”
She looked down the street, her dark eyes so lost. I wanted to cream somebody, smash them into the ground.
“It is not easy. He is very smart. He talks very pretty.”
“Is he the father of the baby?”
Her head snapped around. “No!”
“How do you know?”
Her face blossomed red. “I bleed before you came. I not bleed after. He did not come then.”
I gripped the edge of the pickup, trying to stay in control. “Does he still come?”
“No, not after the baby.”
“Did he think it was his?”
“No, he could not say that. Then they would know.”
“What happened to the baby?”
“My brother would not let me work when I was fat. I had no job. My mother took Manuelito and gave him to my cousin Letty.”
“You just let her take him?”
“Letty is a nice person. They have a good house.”
“Did you tell them who was the father?”
“And they just let it go?”
“They not ask questions.”
“But you see him?”
“Does he know you are his mother?”
“He calls us all mama.”
“Is he happy?”
Okay, so this could be fine. “So why not just let him grow up there?”
“Letty’s husband is gone. We don’t know where. He maybe has another woman.”
“Doesn’t Letty have family she can go to?”
“Yes, but not with my boy.”
I pressed the heel of my hand into my forehead. “They don’t consider the boy their family?”
Rosa gripped my arm. “No, no. That is not what I mean. They will take him. But she is from Guadalajara. I will never see my Manuelito again!” Her eyes brimmed over with tears. “I must have him!”
“But if he thinks Letty is his mother—”
“I am his mother!” Her voice broke and she began sobbing, a wrenching unyielding flow of tears. I pulled her into me, not knowing what to do. Not the slightest clue. I looked over the crumbling hill, the metal-roofed buildings that didn’t seem fit for anyone to live in. No matter how bad off I was, I could probably do better for the boy than this.
I had to try.
I couldn’t take one more minute.
The walls of the room were getting tighter. My father was getting smugger. My mother was increasingly silent, knitting on some purple monstrosity that was undoubtedly moving from scarf to blanket to wall covering. She could keep a freaking army warm with that thing, her needles clicking and her concentration focused so she didn’t have to listen and keep intervening.
Dad stood by the window, looking out on the city. “You know, maybe I’ll hire a locksmith and pay to get your place rekeyed. It’s worth it.”