I met Manny when I was eleven.
He moved to Pueblo with his family from Miami. Like my family, his family is from Havana, Cuba, so our parents naturally got along. We didn't really call each other best friends for a year because we both had had a best friend before we ever met, but they both left us behind. They probably don't even remember us.
He was with me when I first made the basketball team back in junior high and when I lead our high school's basketball team to the championships two years in a row. He was in the front seat of his dad's Ford Explorer with his now ex-girlfriend Natalie, when Angela and I shared our first kiss.
Manny has a job at his dad's supermarket, "The Green Cart", as a cashier, while I take care of the floor. I think that the green aprons that the employees have to wear are very unflattering, but at least the pay is good. After working here for three years and spending very little, I'm finally a few weeks away from having enough to buy a car.
The sun is not as bright as it was when Manny and I were at the beach, but it shines just as brilliantly through the large glass windows at the front of the store. The store isn't anywhere near as large as in the bigger cities around Pueblo, but it has the basic essentials from different foods to beauty products. There are two cash registers and today there are two small lines of three and four people at each register. Manny passes his fingers through his blond hair at he smiles down at Kylie Montena, one of the cuter girls in our class.
"That's sweet," Kylie is saying, fishing out a five dollar bill out of her wallet. "I didn't know that you knew about my new puppy!"
"Of course," Manny winks and I smile, watching from the cereal and baking aisle. "I keep up with everything."
"Then you know about the barbecue tonight at the beach?" Kylie grabs her bags and the smile on her face shows me that she is waiting for him to concede.
"Of course," Manny says without skipping a beat. We didn't know there was one, but I guess now we have plans for the night. "I'll be seeing you there?"
Kylie smirks, recovering from her initial shock. "Of course," she repeats before walking out of the store. I'll have to call Angela and let her know to be there.
I'm turning back to put up the boxes of cereal that came with the new shipment in the morning when I hear a familiar voice call my name.
"Hey Dylan," Robert says behind me. A green grocery basket hangs loosely from his left forearm and his bright white t-shirt contrasts sharply with his black shorts. "How are your parents?"
You know how some people say how it's so simple to ruin your mood with one phrase? Robert Fuentes greeting me at work like he always did whenever I was unlucky enough to run into him is that phrase for me. His smiling green eyes, like hers, never show me any misunderstanding because he has never forgotten who I am. He still says my name the same way he did seven years ago before his family fell apart.
"They're good Mr. Fuentes," I respond, trying to not meet his eyes.
"I'm glad to hear it," he says, a happy lilt to his voice. Something is different today because he usually has a sad undertone to his greetings. "I'm glad that I found you here."
I turn around to look at him and instantly see the shock of blond hair and tanned skin that she inherited.
I notice the box of Rice Krispies in his hand and look him in the eye. "Why is that?"
My heart beats faster before he even speaks the words that I know his mouth his forming to say. "I thought you should know," Robert smiles the biggest smile that I've seen on his face in a long time, "Alycia's back in Pueblo and she's staying with me."
I knew the moment that I saw him pick up the box of her favorite cereal.