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~Chapter 6B- The Survival Suit~

In the evening Lena departs for Joldair, the southwest region of Rhivera. There are rumors that Eduardo Santoro himself may be hiding out there, and she wants to investigate it herself.

At the end of the day, I take a transport back home with Yolanda. The house is empty when we arrive. Melissa isn’t home. Again. I’m starting to worry about that girl, evne though I know she’s smart enough to stay out of trouble.

“Maybe she’s at Maria’s?” Yolanda points out, trying to ease my nerves.

After getting into our casual wear, we walk the few meters from our house to the Neruda household and announce ourselves when we knock at the door. I don’t want them to have to hide Eugenio Jr. when it’s just us.

Maria and Juaquin are preparing dinner as we come in. Junior and Melissa are sitting together at the table, “There’s my daughter!” I pronounce loudly, gathering Melissa’s attention.

“Hi dad.” Melissa greets me unenthusiastically. Melissa attends to Junior closely.

“Hi Mister and Missus Rios!” Junior excitedly greets us.

“Where’ve you been Melissa?” I ask.

“I’ve been busy.” She answers. What could she be busy with?

Maria hollers from the kitchen, “Yolanda, Raul, go ahead and take a seat at the table. We’ll have food ready in a minute.” We have dinners here often. The Neruda’s were family by all but blood. Before Junior was born, we would sometimes meet up at my home. But with the need to keep Junior indoors to stay safe and so he wouldn’t be excluded, most dinners and gatherings happen here now.

Junior nervously looks at me from across the table, quickly darting his eyes away whenever I look back at him. He smiles meekly at me. I can’t help but be annoyed by his soft demeanor. It’s hard to believe Eugenio would beget a son like him. He’s nothing like Juaquin or Eugenio. Eugenio would’ve never been so content with having others take care of him.

Food was served and I greatly enjoy the meal. Maria and Juaquin’s cooking is fantastic. Maria must’ve gotten the cuts of meat from the farm.

“How’s work been going Juaquin?” Yolanda asks.

Juaquin’s eyes dart to me, “It’s been fine.” He says calmly. We haven’t told them about what happened in Sotra’s Jungles. If Maria found out, she’d be ballistic. She’d probably demand that Juaquin leave the military immediately; an argument I’d rather not have.

A knock comes at the door amidst our dinner. Junior sighs and wordlessly backs his wheelchair away from the table and heads to his room, closing the door behind him. Standard procedure at the Neruda household.

Juaquin opens up the front door. At the doorway is a thin young man with messy black hair standing eye to eye with Juaquin. It’s the Montoya boy. Why the hell is he here? I audibly groan, only for Yolanda to scold me with her eyes.

“Hey Arturo! We weren’t expecting you!” Juaquin greets. Melissa stands and heads towards the door when she hears his name.

“We’re having dinner. Come back later.” I tell him, not hiding the fact I’m annoyed by his presence.

“Raul!” Yolanda chides me. She knows I hate the boy. His mother was a woman who only got by on her looks, and his stepfather is a man whose wealth ensures the boy would remain privileged and lazy. The greatest sin is laziness.

Arturo expressionlessly stares back at me, “I only want to talk to Juaquin.”

“Make it quick.” I demand. Yolanda tugs at my arm.

Arturo rolls his eyes at me before turning to Juaquin, “I want you to leave the military.”

“Arturo, we’ve talked about that. You know I won’t.” Juaquin responds. I nod in approval.

“It’s not safe. I heard that a lot of soldiers were killed in Sotra.” Arturo says.

I stand from the table, “How did you hear about that?”

“The news.” Arturo answers. “They said Miro’s army did it.”

I see Maria’s concern escalating, “If that’s true, maybe it is time for Juaquin to leave the military.”

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” I tell her.

Melissa speaks up, “I don’t know dad. I’ve heard Miro’s been giving the military a lot of trouble lately.”

Maria grows increasingly flustered. Arturo stands at the doorway with his arms folded. He knew this would upset Maria. “Juaquin, I think Arturo might be right. You should leave the military.” Maria says.

“You can’t tell him what to do Maria. Juaquin’s a man now.” I reply.

“I can’t let anything happen to him too!” Maria shouts back at me.

“Mom.” Juaquin calmly interrupts us, “It’s okay. After what happened in Sotra, Raul put me in a safer position. Right Raul?” Juaquin looks at me.

I’m stunned for a moment. It isn’t quite the truth, but it isn’t a lie either. With the Survival suit he will be much safer.

“Yes-Yes, of course. You know I wouldn’t put him in any real danger Maria.” I assure her, following Juaquin’s lead.

Maria starts to simmer down, “Oh? What do you have him doing now?” She asks.

I blurt out the first thing that came to mind, “Deskwork.” Juaquin raises his eyebrow at me. If I tell her the truth it’ll still upset her. I can’t tell her about the Survival Suit either. Confidential stuff. “Just to help organize things.”

Arturo unfolds his arms, “I feel like sitting down all day would drive someone like you insane. Are you really okay with that kind of work?” Arturo asks, genuinely surprised.

Juaquin carries on my lie, “Yeah, it’s not very fun. But I still want to help out the military. Is that good enough for you Arturo?” He’s a better liar than I took him for. I don’t know whether to be impressed or concerned.

Arturo hesitantly nods, “As long as you’re not in danger.” Arturo seems satisfied enough, “Well, I did what I came here to do. I think I should head home. Raul has been glaring at me pretty terribly since you opened the door.” Arturo looks at me and rolls his eyes again. The boy knows how to enrage me.

Juaquin sighs, “Glad you came over. We need to see each other soon man. It’s been too long.”

“Yeah, it has been a while.” Arturo steps away, “We’ll do something later.”

Melissa goes to Arturo and gives him a kiss on the cheek before he goes on his way. I loudly groan at the sight of it. Arturo heads home, and Junior comes out of his room once he knows the coast is clear.

“You two are better off not associating with that boy.” I can’t help but say. Unsurprisingly, Maria and Yolanda give me a scolding about how I treated him while the kids finish their dinners in silence.

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