When I'd arrived at Habana Vieja Avery was all ready gone.
Mom said that she had eaten lunch there with a sad expression and her words tugged at me. Earlier that morning I had opened the front door and had been abruptly stopped by Claire and, with her blue eyes electric, she had forced her way into the house and had recounted what she told me had happened last summer.
But the memory was too frigid, too out of place; so I hid it into the corner of my mind.
I hadn't called Avery since yesterday afternoon, I feared hearing her use a tone of voice that would tell me instantly that she had moved on. My stomach protested at the thought of losing her to my lie. I had only intended to protect her. Claire and I...
Well, we just were never and will never be stable.
Mom put some flan in front of me and I dug into it half-heartedly. I could feel the heat that the sun had imprinted on the hard wooden tables through the window, and my movements of discomfort creaked softly as the blue chair that I sat in fought against my weight.
Flan was my mom's specialty. My absolute favorite dessert and whenever I watched her make it my tongue automatically craved the texture and the sweet taste of caramel. My spoon sunk in softly and slightly stumbled over the road of nuts under the jello-like textured body. Mom didn't stay to watch me eat it, customers were coming in and I didn't think that I could have a proper conversation.
I brought the spoon up to my mouth and briefly stopped. Eating this felt like a lie. Being in this restaurant felt like a lie. Without saying a word to my mom or stopping to make sure that the table was fine for the customers, I walked out. The star that Earth circled wrinkled the blue sky and I had to squint as soon as I felt its warmth.
Then I did something that I hadn't done in a long time: I jogged.
I had stopped jogging last summer after Claire had told me what she had done; what she could never take back. Her blond hair had mimicked a halo in the hot summer sun as she had confessed to me all of her misdeeds and I had sat there like a fool. I'd stopped jogging because I thought that it would make her think that I was running away from our past.
Once, I thought that if my brother were still here, if he had grown up like I did, then maybe he could have helped me make sense of the situation. I remembered sitting in the heat of our small living room in our small house and him staring at me as I cried. It is one of the oldest memories I have of my brother, though it only comes in dreams. I didn't remember why I'm crying, but I knew that he was right there waiting for me to screw tears out of my beady eyes. When I had cried he had handed me a toy. So simple, yet so effective because I would stop crying immediately.
Perhaps that toy could have been the advice I needed from my dead older brother.
I jogged down the beach, ignoring all the citizens who called to me and all the women outsiders who kept staring at me. I jogged past the waves of the ocean that had enticed me fourteen years ago and reclaimed my brother's soul. I ran quickly over the borders that held me between one reality and the next and I steeled myself, ready for any words that could have been thrown at me.
I loved her.
The way her blond hair had touched me sometimes in the morning; her blue eyes, a painting in my mind. I could still feel the small curve of her back as we slowly learned each other's secrets that our bodies hid. Her scent now was like poison to me; my Achilles heel and my jogging was a way of facing the battle with my own Troy. A battle within myself to save my own Helena.
I ran past shrubbery that burdened its way down the path to the beach closest to my house. With the swaying of the trees and the burning of the sea-salt air I collapsed on the first step leading up to my front door. I let my weak body raggedly take a breath in and out. In and out.
Aqua barked from inside the house and I placed my face to my hands, letting the Florida sun burn my neck slowly. Letting it burn my secrets and letting it hide my shadows.
Aqua barked again.
I could imagine my large golden retriever sitting impatiently by our dark brown door from the inside. He could probably sense me or smell me.
After what felt like a sufficient time I stood up, my back to my small house and I heard Aqua again, this time a whine followed his howl. I turned and my mint green small one storey house faced me. It was small because of its height, but it was a long house that proudly emphasized how hard my parents worked. Mom had placed different kinds of flowers, like roses, daisies, and sunflowers along the front and I could see several of her garden tools beside the house, under the kitchen window.
I finally opened the door, letting in light into the darkly conditioned entrance and Aqua leaped out.
Slowly, we both jogged. I don't know exactly why he jogged with me with such certainty, but I knew that he'd want to be there for me. Be the brother that Manuel's life hadn't destined him to be.
I jogged and thought of Claire and her broken promises. But I mostly thought of Avery and how desperately close I had gotten and how much I needed her.