A keening cry tried to work its way up from my belly. I had been so strong for so long. Just a couple weeks with Gavin and I worried about everything. Why was I so weak?
But I knew. For the first time in so long, I had something to lose.
I knew when the hyperventilating started that I shouldn’t do it. It was past. I didn’t need it anymore.
But the darkness seemed so perfect, so easy. I held my breath. I wouldn’t take it all the way. Just flirt with it. Just a moment. I relaxed into the black, waiting for my chest to heave, to force me to breathe.
But it didn’t, instead it burned, and I couldn’t catch my breath at all, and then it was too late.
The ocean stayed to our right the whole ride down to Ensenada. The waves were high, peaking in white froth as they curled against the beach not fifty yards away.
Bright painted lines flew beneath us on the straight, clean highway. The old road, crumbling and black, flowed alongside. Outside Rosarito, the resorts were beautiful and pristine, the English billboards making apparent who they expected to travel there. Normally I would have smiled at a sign boasting “Last Corona for 25 miles,” but I was too intent on our destination to appreciate the journey.
My mind whirred about this boy. What did his birth certificate say? He was a Mexican national. I couldn’t take him across the border if I wasn’t listed. Did Rosa even know my last name? I wasn’t sure.
Rosa wasn’t legal to cross either. I doubted she had a passport. The news always talked about illegal immigrants and dangerous border crossings. But it was so easy for me to get through. Could Rosa? Why would they stop her if I brought her? Surely it was okay for her to visit me. Mario’s family sometimes came over, laughing loud cousins from Mexico City. Yes, it would be fine.
Her head fitted against my back the same way Corabelle’s had when we rode out into the mountains. I didn’t have much cause to bring women places on the Harley. They were the only two.
I wasn’t sure I believed Rosa’s insistence that she wasn’t a prostitute. Her explanations were designed to elicit sympathy, but they were also convenient. Trust didn’t come easy to me, someone who had proven utterly untrustworthy.
I focused on the road, the stripes down the center and the smell of the ocean that reminded me of home. I would get back to Corabelle. I would make this right. We would work it all out, somehow. But I would not keep this from her. I meant it when I said there would be no secrets between us.
I needed to call her. Something. When we stopped, I would do that first thing. Who cared about the rates, or anything? Just do it. Hopefully she’d been busy studying all day. With her parents around, she probably didn’t expect me anyway, just to have her father pull another stunt like last night.
The sign hadn’t lied. The next 25 miles were desolate, just the ocean, random palm trees, and a never-ending stretch of road. But eventually civilization returned, houses and cantinas. Rosa lifted her head and pointed to an exit. We passed a university, beautiful and trim, like anything you would see stateside. I realized I didn’t know Mexico at all. I had judged a whole country by the poor border slums.
She directed me off the main road and into a neighborhood. The houses would have been perfectly suited in parts of California, with neat, even streets lined with cars, stucco walls, and Spanish-tiled roofs. If Manuelito were here, why would Rosa want to take him away?
She pointed to a white adobe house with brown shutters, built into the side of a hill. An enormous clay sun adorned the exterior wall. I parked the bike between an aging but still respectable Taurus and a red Chevy pickup.
When the Harley went silent, I asked her, “Are they expecting you?”
“Will she guess who I am?”
“No. She will think you are a boyfriend.”
Rosa stood from the bike and rubbed her thighs. It was a long ride for someone unaccustomed to it. For a second I remembered that I had pretty intimate knowledge of this woman, and yet I knew nothing important, not even her last name.
“I need to call someone,” I told her, intent on Corabelle. I hadn’t even looked at my phone since I left San Diego. A quick scan of the pile of messages made me realize she was upset. She needed her keys. Her clothes. Her parents were making her crazy. I thought of how easily she’d chosen the sea a few days ago and my panic began to rise.
Rosa tugged on my jacket but I shrugged her off. “I have to make a call. Have to.”
I intended to turn away, but behind her, a small boy stood on the porch of the house, dark haired and solemn in jeans and a button-down plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He held a truck in his hand and watched us with big, quiet eyes.
I had never seen anything so beautiful in my whole life.
I approached the stairs, wondering if the boy would be afraid of me, or if he too would see something that would let him know that he belonged to me.
“That’s a cool truck,” I said, sitting on a stair so that we were about the same height.
He clutched the green plastic toy to his chest and said nothing, just continued to look at me beneath long curling lashes that actually made me think of Corabelle. We both had dark hair. It seemed possible, in that fleeting moment, that this could be Finn.
Rosa stayed down on the street. I swallowed a huge lump in my throat. Even in the fading light of early evening, I could see the whorl of the cowlick that had clued me in on the photograph. I fingered my ear, staring at his.