God, she was in love with him.
I turned back to Gavin, my heart smashing against my chest. He didn’t see it, or wouldn’t see it. How long had she felt this way? He said they had been together three years ago, but it must have gone on. She couldn’t have felt this way without seeing him since then.
Suddenly I doubted everything. His story. The truth. The child not being his. This was not a woman who was making something up for gain. She was following her heart. She had options. She was choosing this one.
The boy pushed on his mother until she looked down. He passed her the lollipop and dug through his pockets.
“¿Que necessitas, Manuelito?” she asked.
We all watched him as he clumsily shoved his hands into the fat pockets, finally extracting a small square package of gum. “¡Chicle!” he said, holding it up to Gavin.
The expression on Gavin’s face changed into something I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen. Surprise and amusement and disbelief and a very tender sort of pride.
“You remembered?” he asked.
The boy pressed the package into Gavin’s hand. “Yellow! You like!”
Gavin’s jaw clenched in a way I was used to seeing only when he was angry, and I realized he was holding in another sort of emotion now, raw and hard for him to manage. He was in love with this boy, it was so plain. And here this woman looked from the man to her son with such joy, like everything was clicking into perfect place.
I did not get up. I did not make a scene. I did not cry. And outwardly, I just held myself together, like I had years ago, watching another drama unfold, one that would not end happily, but in grief. And I prepared myself to lose everything all over again.
Even if Rosa had put the boy up to it, I knew this moment had changed me. I had this taste, this very small understanding, of what it was like to be a father.
No matter what happened with the test, I would have to help them. For all I knew, Rosa would be out on the streets after taking her son back. The image of the woman sitting on the curb with the child clutching her was still very much on my mind. Tijuana was not kind to its poor.
Rosa seemed to be in some sort of a trance, and I figured it was what Mario had said — she had some sort of attachment to me I would have to deal with. That didn’t matter. I had Corabelle and that was that. But I could help them. I had to do that much.
I turned to Corabelle, who looked even more frail and sick than she had coming down. “We have to get her back to the room,” I said.
Tina stepped up, missing nothing. “I’m going to take her up. You still have to do your swab.”
She shook Corabelle’s arm. “Let’s get you back up.” Corabelle just sort of obeyed, not really looking at anyone directly.
I didn’t want to leave her, but Tina squeezed by me, and I stepped out of her way. As Corabelle came through, I pulled her to me, her head against my chest. “I’ll be right there,” I said. “I promise.”
She nodded against my shirt, and I let her go. Something wasn’t right with her, but I’d be there in just a minute, away from all this drama. We’d fix whatever it was. This meeting couldn’t have been easy for her.
Rosa looked at me uncertainly. “Gavin? We come here tomorrow? For answer?”
“Yes, back here. I think we have to wait for afternoon.”
“So, three? Three o’clock?”
The door behind us whooshed open. “Gavin?” It was the lab woman, Kelly. “You need to come back for your swab.”
Rosa moved away. “See you tomorrow, Gavin.”
I turned back to the lab. I needed to get this swab done and be back upstairs. Corabelle was more important. Rosa had already proven she could handle herself.
I turned back to get my first, and surely my only, paternity test.
The elevator trundled up, but when the doors opened to my floor, I didn’t want to go. “Can we go to the art room instead? Don’t you have class?”
“Not right now. I arranged all this around my schedule.” Tina held the doors. “I really think you should rest a bit. That wasn’t an easy scene.”
I backed farther into the corner. “I’ll go to the cafeteria then. I don’t want to see my parents.” I hesitated. “Or Gavin right now.”
Tina pulled her hand in and let the doors close. “All right.” She pressed another button.
“I like what you said to Albert yesterday, about the light in the window.”
Tina tucked a loose bit of hair into her pigtail. “I was blowing smoke, mainly.”
“No, it was exactly right. No matter how hard things get, we have to find some tiny space for happiness. We have to light a lamp.”
Tina leaned against the rail, holding on to the bar. “Well, that’s the only way it worked for me. The one time I let it all get snuffed, I wound up in the hospital with Frankenstein arms.”
“That woman is in love with Gavin.”
“I saw that.”
“So clearly whatever’s been going on has been going on for a long time.”
The doors opened again, and Tina led us out into the hall. “Let me tell you what I saw. A woman in a very dire situation, desperately hoping that she can be saved. Maybe she loves him. Maybe it’s just that he’s the only thing in her life that gives her hope.”
This stopped me cold. “So Gavin is her light.”
I could tell Tina hadn’t intended that conclusion. Her tiny pale eyebrows shot up her forehead. “No, no. The boy is that. She just has to find a way to keep him. Gavin is her way.”