For a week in school, Emily focused on studying for her final exams. Her grades dipped slightly during the weeks since her father’s eviction from the country. But she resolved to maintain her A-average for her father. She texted him updates on a regular basis, taking pictures of her test results and graded papers. The exercise of keeping him informed motivated her to perform at her best.
She also decided to more confidently speak out about her family’s challenges to her classmates. She event tracked down the wrestler who voiced support for her father several weeks back to thank him for his understanding.
She spent considerable time in the library reading about politics.
“I think I’d like to run for Class President next year in high school,” she told Jennifer Singer.
Ms. Singer paused before responding.
“That’s a great idea,” the head librarian said, looking past her, out the window.
“I think so.”
“But, Emily,” Jennifer’s voice tightened. “If you want to grow and mature, you should use better judgement.”
“What do you mean?”
“You put me in an extremely awkward position at that restaurant.”
“Oh, right,” Emily lowered her head. “I’m sorry about that.”
“I’m an educator, part of the school system,” she continued. “And, I trusted you to communicate to your mother. Your credibility is your most important asset. I was disappointed in the way you handled that situation.”
Emily’s eyes flinched and watered. Her brow crinkled and her face felt tight and hot.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “This whole situation is so stressful. My mom is yelling at everyone. My big sister is like a total zombie with anxiety. Ashley’s out with college boys at frat houses. My whole world’s falling apart. And I don’t know what to do about it.”
“Of course,” Jennifer sat next to Emily and placed her hand on her shoulder. “You’re only 14 and you’ve been through so much. I’m sorry to upset you.”
“No, you’re right,” Emily said through her tears. “I shouldn’t have lied to you. That was terrible of me. You’re the best person in this whole school and I’d die if you stopped trusting me. Can you forgive me.”
“Yes, of course,” said Ms. Singer as tears started to well in her eyes as well. “I know you’re just young and confused and doing the best you can. I just wanted to let you know how I felt.”
“I’ll never do that again,” Emily said, wiping her eyes. “I promise. I appreciate all your help.”
“Ok,” said Jennifer, with a warmer smile, although not totally without an undercurrent of conflict. “It’s over and in the past now.”
“Thank you,” Emily smiled back.
“Anyway,” Jennifer relaxed slightly. “You’d make an amazing politician.”
Emily closed her social studies text book and looked into Ms. Singer’s eyes.
“You seem a little sad,” she said. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” Jennifer smiled, fidgeting with her necklace. “I’m just hopeful that your situation can get resolved soon.”
“Is everything ok with Mr. Bitsky?”
“I’m upset with him too,” she sighed. “He’s got some credibility issues to rebuild with me as well.”
Chuck and Pedro spent the entire day working on the roof. The sunlight reflected across the shiny new tiles. As they laid the last piece, they stood with their arms in the air and yelled into the great open space before them. Pedro hugged Chuck, nearly knocking him off the roof. Their joyous voices echoed across the swampy expanse.
Mirabella returned late in the day, long after the sunset with a bag filled with bright red, juicy skirt steaks for the grill. In addition to the expensive steaks, Mirabella took out a tall bottle of wine, a container of chile rellenos and a large platter of fruit with pineapple, mango, papaya and passion fruit.
“¿Es una ocasión especial?” Pedro asked.
Mirabella shrugged and handed Chuck the steaks to grill.
While chuck arranged the charcoal bricks and poured gasoline over them, Pedro approached him holding his phone to display another message from Stephanie.
“Will call hotel tomorrow night,” the text read. “Can you be there by 8 EST? Need to speak with you again.”
Pedro scrolled to a second message.
“Checked on-line,” she continued. “Hotels are cheap. Wiring another 2K to hold you over for a while. All we can spare for now. Hope you’re holding up ok. Keeping my head up.”
The text string ended with a smiley face.
Stephanie logged out of her Western Union account and took a deep breath. She reviewed her online banking account and her mortgage balance before logging back into Facebook and sending Chuck one last message.
“I’m sorry, but that’s all I can spare,” she wrote. “I don’t know how long it will take to bring you back home. I just hope that’s enough money to keep you fed, dry and safe.”
She stared at the screen. The past 20 years of marriage bounced across her memory. Rupert’s unnerving confession emerged in her mind. The two coexisted like some strange mixture of foods that don’t belong together. She sighed again and wrote one last message to her husband.
“I miss you.”
“Come on mom,” Emily called to her from the upstairs bathroom as the hairdryer filled the house with ugly white noise. “The limo’ll be here in five minutes.”
The doorbell rang. Stephanie looked from her laptop, but froze. She waited. The doorbell rang again. Emily came down the stairs, glanced back at her mother, stuck in her chair and then crossed the foyer to answer the door.
“Hello Mr. Beckman,” she said, cheerfully. “Mom, Mr. Beckman’s here.”
Stephanie stood at the kitchen table. She closed the laptop, clasped her hands in front of her and fidgeted with her wedding ring. Rupert stood in the doorway without moving forward. Emily gave her mother a curious look. She tried to close the door. Rupert had to move out of the way, further into the foyer to leave her room for the door to swing.
“Well, uh, good morning Mrs. Domo,” said Rupert, clearing his throat and taking another step forward.
Stephanie stood still for a second or two, pretending to look at her computer screen before seeming to shake her head and walk more assuredly across the kitchen.
“Thank you again for making the arrangements for today,” she said. “Would you like to come in and sit. We have coffee and juice.”
“No, thank you,” he said. “I’m just checking my phone to make sure everyone’s set for today.”
Ashley finished brushing her hair, while Britney brushed her teeth. Emily looked out the window and gasped at the sleek black stretch limo that dwarfed Rupert’s Mercedes.
“It’s here,” she shrieked. “Come mom. Let’s go. Ash, Brit, hurry up.”
“Is the whole family coming?” Rupert asked Stephanie as she grabbed her purse and coat. “We argued all night about it. I’m sure we woke the neighbors. Even I can’t win when it’s three against one. They’re all young women now. We came to consensus that we’ll face this together as a united family.”
“Plus,” Britney said. “We already heard all the details from Mr. Rojas.”
Rupert held the door open and all three Domo women filed out.
Stephanie couldn’t help noticing the window treatments from several neighboring homes opening a crack with beady, nosey eyes peering at them. She and her three daughters dipped their heads and entered the back of the giant vehicle. Rupert, lagging behind, entering last.
The girls took seats facing the house. Stephanie and Rupert sat next to each other, but a foot or two apart with their backs to the house. At the far end, sat the Senator, Bonita Sanchez.
“Let’s go,” she said to the faceless driver behind the privacy screen.
Senator Sanchez greeted the family offering them bottled water, mints and little chocolates, which each of the teenagers accepted. After dispensing a few pleasantries and her best wishes to them during their time without their husband and father, she folded her hands into her lap and her demeanor changed.
“Alright,” she said, a wave of seriousness washing over her face. “We all know what happened at the end of last month. I’d like to help you as much as I can. But I need to understand your intentions first. There are some serious charges against Mr. Domo. And, you have some difficult choices to make if you want to see him again any time soon.”
“Nobody in the family, other than Mr. Domo was aware of the fake documentation,” Rupert said. “We recognize that it was the wrong choice and that he should have leveraged the appropriate channels. We don’t deny his interactions with Chico Dominguez. But we contend that the government did not follow the requirements of law in his expulsion, nor did they employ a fair and compassionate approach to their obligation to inquire about any threats or imminent danger that could result from a deportation. We believe the government is libel for the life-threatening situation they’ve put him through and for the potentially permanent damage to his arm, which he relies on to support his American family.”
“Understood,” Boni said. “Now, here’s what I’ve ascertained from the friendly government sources I’ve pinged. Number one, the government has been unable to produce a recording or time-stamped notes of the proceeding at the ICE facility. And, Mr. Beckman has filed an FOI request to force their hand.”
“FOI?” asked Britney.
“Freedom of Information,” Emily replied. “It’s a law that forces the government to provide documentation to prove they followed the rules.”
“Very good,” Boni said. “Number two, we believe ICE sent Mr. Domo on the van to Mexico without providing a proper 24-hour’s notice.”
“They removed him from his house at approximately 6:15pm,” Rupert said. “We arrived at the detention center by the early afternoon the next day and he was already gone.”
“Ok,” Boni said. “Number three, we believe the infraction that instigated the ICE action was a parking ticket incurred by Ashley about six months ago?”
“Yes,” Stephanie said, as Ashley looked down at the floor.
“And number four,” Boni continued. “Because we don’t have notes or a recording to prove a fair and reasonable inquiry about Mr. Domo’s presumed personal danger when left exposed in Mexico, we believe the government is at fault for an injury that he has sustained since arriving in Reynosa.”
“That’s right,” Rupert added. “Upon arrival, he was promptly attacked by a local gang and suffered a broken arm.”
“And he doesn’t speak Spanish?”
“And he has no money and no easy way of communicating with us.”
“Jesus,” Boni muttered. “How far are you willing to go to get him back here?”
Rupert leaned in to answer, but Stephanie, with her hand on his elbow, motioned him back and spoke before he could get his thought out.
“Whatever it takes,” she said.
“Are you sure?”
Stephanie hesitated. She looked at her three daughters and answered emphatically.
“Whatever it takes.”
The limo came to a stop. Emily looked out the window, noticing they had arrived in front of Senator Sanchez’s office building.
“Thank you, Mr. Beckman,” Senator Sanchez said. “Mrs. Domo. Girls.”
“Are you leaving?” Emily asked.
“I can’t take part in the rest of this conversation,” she said. “But, if you run into trouble and need me to support your plea for asylum, I’ll be right by your side pressuring the government for leniency. Good luck.”
The politician edged out of the car.
“Is that it?” Stephanie asked. “Is the meeting over?”
“Not exactly,” she replied, closing the door behind her and ambling across the cement walk to the front door of her building.
Rupert, Stephanie and the three girls looked at each other, perplexed.
The car pulled away. Senator Sanchez disappeared through the doors to her office building.
“Where are we going now?” Rupert asked the driver as the automatic privacy divider slowly moved down to reveal a familiar pair of dark eyes in the rearview mirror.
“Just around back to the parking garage,” said Delando Rojas, angling his shoulders to peer over the divider. “Nice to see you girls again.”