The morning sun brightened the pink walls of Grandma Banks’ guest bedroom. Thoughts of the previous evening’s meeting with Senator Sanchez kept Emily awake for much of the night. She squirmed in the twin bed. The thin mattress and scratchy sheets barely covered her cold exposed feet and the faded quilt definitely failed to warm her torso. Next to an old dollhouse that she played with as a child, Ashley slept in an identical twin bed on the opposite side of the room.
As Emily maneuvered out of her tiny bed, Ashley stretched her arms, accidentally bumping her fist against the wall and letting out a high-pitched yawn. Britney, having slept on the queen bed with her grandmother, entered the room rubbing her neck and complaining about the rock-hard mattress.
“My back,” she moaned.
“Don’t worry about it Britty,” Ashley said. “We’re getting massages today.”
Emily noticed a few new texts and clicked the icon to read them. As promised, Ms. Singer had arranged for her boyfriend, Ed, and the ALIAS agent to meet with her mother. She wanted Emily to pass on the time and location of the meeting.
Ashley’s phone made a loud croaking sound like a frog. The unusual noise caught both girls’ attention.
“Scott programmed a special ring tone just for his messages,” Ashley explained. “I know, it’s so dumb. I’m gonna get rid of it soon.”
“Are you going to the frat party tonight?” Britney asked. “How’re you going to pull that off?”
“Can you and Em go out to a movie tonight and tell Gramma I was there with you?”
“There’s nothing I want to see,” said Britney. “Just some stupid super hero flick and a couple boring movies about old people.”
“Can you just help me out?” Ashley asked. “We’ll all go to dinner, but Scott can just come pick me up at the restaurant. Then you and Em can go on to the movies.”
“I can’t believe you’re going to a frat party,”
“Whatever,” Ashley scoffed. “I just need you to cover for me. There’s a romantic comedy that looks good. I’ll pay for your movie tickets.”
Britney sighed. Ashley gave a pleading look.
“What do you think Em?” she asked. “Dinner and a movie tonight?”
Emily, having ignored most of the conversation looked up from her phone and offered a different suggestion.
“You guys want to come with me to help Daddy get home?”
Chuck, Pedro and Mirabella spent the afternoon in the center square in downtown Reynosa sitting on a blanket between the pharmacy and the cantina selling Pedro’s carved animals. Mirabella guarded their stash and worked their location while Pedro ventured into the streets to accost passersby to hawk their goods on a one-to-one basis.
Chuck took a different tact, carrying a small box of merchandise from shop to shop, seeking buyers that might act as resellers. All their approaches paid dividends and the three of competed to earn the most sales.
By the evening, when they sold out of their product, Mirabella took the money, handed Chuck half and pointed at the nice restaurant across the street.
“I eat,” she said. “You eat. He eats. She eats. They eat. We eat.”
“Comemos,” Chuck replied.
The three of them sat at an outdoor table along the street. In the distance, the canal rippled by. Cars and the occasional truck zipped along Route 40 across the square. A Mexican flag snapped in the warm breeze and the stars twinkled overhead like dancing fireflies in the dark sky.
Chuck ordered a spicy braised spare rib in pazole sauce. Pedro had tomales in mole sauce. And Mirabella chose the Chilaquiles in a red sauce. A three-part mariachi band approached them and spoke rapid-fire Spanish to Chuck, who looked blankly back at them. Despite Chuck’s lack of comprehension, Pedro and Mirabella laughed.
“He wants to know if you would like them to play a love song for your beautiful wife to celebrate the Mother’s Day,” Pedro said, as Mirabella blushed.
Chuck nodded enthusiastically. The band indulged them with a beautiful trope sung in lyrical Spanish. After the band concluded their piece, Chuck tipped them ten pesos. The bandleader took out a bag of roses and asked Pedro to translate again.
“He wants you to buy your lovely wife a rose or two,” he said. “I tell him it’s not your wife and he say ‘good for you’.”
Pedro and Chuck laughed as Mirabella took her turn not understanding the dialog.
“Vas a comprar dos rosas?” the bandleader asked.
Before Pedro could translate, Chuck pulled out another stash of pesos and answered for himself.
“Diez,” said. “Y dos. Cuonto es diez y dos?”
“Doce,” Pedro clarified to the bandleader.
After their dinner, they walked through the park, past the broken bench and sat along the canal to the Laguna La Escondita, a body of water just to the east of the town center. Mirabella clutched her bouquet of roses as they swayed in the breeze. Her hair waved with the wind. She had to tuck it behind her ears to keep it under control.
North of the lake and around the corner from the park, they could hear the dull pounding of the busy night club scene. The lights from the buildings in the Boy’s Town section of the city dulled the stars and filled the air with loud voices and inebriated laughter.
With the beauty of the stars overhead and the warmth of the night air, they decided to walk the five-mile jaunt back to their home instead of taking the stuffy bus. The singsong melody of crickets and bullfrogs soon overtook the festive sounds of the hopping Reynosa nightlife as the darkness of the outskirts engulfed the trio on their casual walk through the Mexican evening.
The next morning, as Chuck awoke to the distinctive smell of deep-fried corn pancakes, pulled pork and lush aromatic tropical fruits, he noticed the dozen roses freshly cut and placed in an ornate vase in the middle of the kitchen table.
“Buenos dias, mi esposo,” Mirabella joked as she served him his breakfast.
The Overlook Spa along the banks of Canyon Lake offered serene views of the placid Guadalupe River and the stunning cliffs around the perimeter of the six-mile-wide body of water. The spa, with its enormous plate glass windows atop the cliff looked out over the bright blue lake and dark green trees.
The girls and their grandmother started with manicures and pedicures before sitting along the porch overlooking the lake for avocado chicken sandwiches with southwestern coleslaw and sweet potato fries. After a boat tour of the lake, the four women retired to the upstairs suites where they each enjoyed one-hour soft massages.
Each of the Domo girls slumped on the waiting room couch in their poufy terry cloth robes, almost dazed into sleepy relaxation. Their grandmother gave them 20 minutes to bask in the physical delight of the service before herding them to the locker room to change into their clothes and make their way down to the garage to take the car back to her house.
As they changed, Emily nervously confirmed their plans for the evening.
“We’re all going to the restaurant at 7:30 where we’re supposed to meet Mr. Ylbitzsky and the agent from ALIAS,” she explained. “From there, Scott will pick up Ashley. Britney and I’ll continue with the meeting. Then, we’ll go to the 10:00 movie, which gets out at like 12:30. Scott drops off Ashley at the movie theater and then we all go back to Grandma’s together.”
Ashley and Britney nodded in approval.
“It’s simple,” said Emily. “What could go wrong?”
Stephanie sat on the bright blue milk crate in the dank garage staring at the oil stains on the concrete. She opened the garage door and watched a light rain fall across the black paved driveway. The darkened headlights of her Honda Pilot gazed unemotionally at her as she felt the cool mist splash across her face. Little rivers of water dripped down the windshield of her car, collecting speed and size as they connected from drop to drop, and fell downward with the force of gravity.
She took a long drag of a cigarette, only the second one she had smoked in the past ten years, and blew the wispy exhale out into the open space beyond the garage doors. After the one drag, she tossed it to the ground and snuffed it into the cement.
Her Facebook interaction with Chuck established a set day and time for her to call him at the hotel. As an incoming transmission, the hotel would not incur any cost and Mr. Castenda allowed Chuck another ten minutes to converse.
She raised her cell phone to her ear and dialed the international number for the Casa del Sol.
Mr. Casteneda spoke briefly with her before giving it to Chuck. Pedro waited in the wicker chair by the fire pit with Octavio, who rested between shifts in the kitchen.
“Hey Steph,” Chuck said. “I hope you’re doing ok with everything you have to deal with.”
“It’s fine,” she said. “I hope you’re ok. How’s your arm?”
“Couple more weeks until it heals fully,” he said. “I’ve been using it a lot and it’s feeling ok. The doctor said to come back in four weeks, but I’m going to stop by and get it checked out next week. How’re the girls?”
“They’re ok,” Stephanie said. “But they need you. Britney’s depressed and doesn’t want to go to college. Ashley’s Ashley, and I’m afraid she’s gonna go too far one of these days and get herself in trouble with this damn social life of hers. Emily’s doing ok, but she’s obsessed with all the legal filings and maneuvers. She’s reading federal immigration statutes every night until she falls asleep with her computer on her lap.”
“I’m so sorry,” Chuck started to say.
“I know,” Stephanie interrupted him. “I got all your posts and e-mail messages. I’m not thinking about any of that anymore. I just want to figure out a way to get you home for the girls.”
“And for you,” Chuck added.
“It’s still very raw for me, Chuck,” Stephanie said. “I need you to agree to two very difficult decisions.”
“Anything,” Chuck said.
“They’re not easy for me to request of you.”
“Whatever they are, we can deal with them,” said Chuck.
“I need you to consent to a search of the GPS records on your phone so we can turn in Chico to the federal agents and help clear the way for our motion to contest your deportation,”
Chuck didn’t answer as a lifetime of paralyzing fear ran through his mind and body.
“Chuck?” Stephanie said.
“Ok,” he answered. “Let me think about that one.”
“No Chuck,” Stephanie snapped. “There’s no thinking about that. The answer is ‘yes’. It has to be. There’s no other option. You need to demonstrate your remorse by helping the government catch this black-market identity dealer. It’s non-negotiable.”
“What’s the second decision?” Chuck asked, continuing to deflect the first.
“If the filing fails, and we expect that it will,” Stephanie said, stopping to collect her nerve and find the phrasing in her head that she had rehearsed all morning. “We may need to terminate our marriage in order to…”
“What are you talking about?” Chuck interrupted. “End our marriage? You mean get divorced?”
“If we get divorced,” Stephanie said. “Then we can’t necessarily get remarried in the Catholic church.”
“You want a divorce?” Chuck raised his voice, catching his audience at the hotel by surprise. “What the hell?”
“It would be temporary,” Stephanie explained. “And it wouldn’t be a divorce. It would be an annulment.”
“An annulment?” Chuck snapped. “We’re married 20 years. We have three kids together. How do we just pretend that never happened?”
“If you listen to me, I’ll tell you,” Stephanie snapped as well. “We get our marriage annulled, thereby making us both unmarried people capable of getting remarried to whomever we choose.”
“Jesus,” Chuck continued to interrupt. “You want to get married to someone else? Already?”
“No, jackass. Listen to me for once, ok?” Stephanie raised her voice beyond Chucks’ aggravation. “Because you always had fake IDs, the government has no record of Charles Domo. They don’t have a Social Security Number, a finger print or a DNA sample.”
“They took a finger print and DNA sample when they brought me in to San Antonio,” Chuck said. “Seriously, Steph, you wanted to divorce me? That was your plan?”
“It was going to be an annulment,” she responded. “So, we could get remarried in the church. If we could eliminate Chuck Domo, your fake frickin name anyway, and bring you back as my new husband Carlos Dominguez, it was our only chance to get you back here sooner.”
“And, we’d tell the girls that our original marriage didn’t count; didn’t matter; just didn’t happen?”
“I don’t know Chuck,” Stephanie snapped. “I’m doing the God-dammed best I can. God knows you’re useless over there. I can barely even reach you. I’m dealing with our finances and our girls and then cleaning up after your mess. It’s too fucking hard. Fuck you, Chuck, if you don’t like it.”
At that, Stephanie hung up the phone without saying goodbye. Chuck stood paralyzed in the lobby of the hotel, standing just behind the desk. Miguel and Octavio shuffled about attempting to look busy. Chuck hung up the receiver and staggered slowly out the door without a word of thanks or “adios.”
In her Pleasanton garage, Stephanie buried her head in her hands. The rain intensified and rattled angrily against the hood of her unflinching car. Wiping a tear with the sleeve of her blouse, she exhaled deeply and texted Rupert.
“Did you know they took DNA and fingerprints at ICE in San Antonio?”
“Just found out from the Senator,” he texted back almost immediately. “Doesn’t matter. She accessed his TxTag records from the toll roads and we have him in a straight shot south on Route 35 toward Laredo. She has him on video in a little town called El Cenizo. That gave her investigator enough information to track him down. We know where Chico is.”