I had always been good in a crisis. Siempre he aceptado el caos. I mean, I’m used to it by now-becoming el tranquilo ojo del huracán was essential en mi familia-pero esa día, Díos mio, was really pushing it. I had been taking turns at Lisa’s bedside with Mami, because the overdose and associated chingada of the previous twenty-four hours had calmed down enough for Miguel and Apá to go back to work at something like the normal time that morning. When mi hermano came to get me for my next shift, though, I couldn’t do it. The idea of spending another hour scared shitless and mumbling “ay cabrona, ¿cómo podría hacer esto?” to my unconscious sister when she still had those pinche tubes up her naríz was just too much, so I told Miguel I needed a break, and got the fuck out of there. I fled, just like the night of mi cumpleaños when things got too crazy.
It had been bastante fácil to float over to mi troquita and just drive wherever, away from the hospital parking lot and back home up El Camino Real, my head crammed with nine months of ugliness, and I knew that the only way to drain it was to tell somebody. So I called Roy-the one person who I thought I could count on for secrecy, if he could handle demasiadas revelaciones without cracking up-and dragged him up to the place where it all happened. Mi refugio, where the quiet and calm had always been so soothing, but had since become as oppressive as the July heat that was waiting for us both up there.
And then I told him everything. Todo de esa noche: him freaking out and then blacking out. Watching my gabacho cousins spy on him and Derek, and then follow them both up PCH and out of sight. Ditching my own party to do the same not long after, when I couldn’t endure R.J.’s silent guilt trips any longer. Following mis primos, con un corazón abrasimiento de veganza, hoping to punish them. Punish them for introducing Lisa to pills and powder, for dragging her though too many nightmares of addiction, abortion, rehab, and relapse.
Punish them, también, on behalf of everyone they and their family, Realeza de la Naranja, had ever screwed with impunity. Making it hurt where it mattered-their precious reputation and their meaningless possessions. Taking back some pride for our side of the family-the brown side, the ignored side. Willing myself into sobriety at the top of the hill in the dark, where the skeletal mansions sprang up from the earth like weeds. Walking quietly over the trail by moonlight, more delirious with retaliation at every step. Whipping myself into una cabrona más chingón.
So, ¿siempre he aceptado el caos, verdád? Pues, I kept repeating that in my head, but it wasn’t so true anymore-especially not after I’d been awake for about treinta horas straight, and I started crying in spite of myself. I tried to apologize when Roy noticed, tried to explain how insane the whole day had been up to that point-the overdose, the hospital-but it didn’t help, so I talked it all out, telling Roy about how I’d seen him sleepwalk his way into accidental manslaughter.
Por supuesto he was quiet for a long time after that. He just sat there, shellshocked, and stared and stared out to sea without saying a word, and it was all I could do to stay calm and keep one eye on him in case he exploded como un cuete. I was ready for that-for the most pinche cochinadas to spill out of his mouth-but then the poor baboso just started convulsing, his face pasty with fear, and began to vomita right then and there on the dirt. It was so sudden that all I could think of was ‘ay, and I kissed that?’ The feeling evaporated once I realized what I’d done to him. Roy’s eyes were glazing over and he looked totally defeated.
“I don’t….I don’t feel so…” He almost fell over beneath another wave of shock, so I reached out to steady him, carefully avoiding the puke. “Come on, let’s-Roy, we…should go.” I stood, and hoisted him up slowly. “Can you walk?” He eyed the hill without moving a muscle. “It’s a long way back up that trail.”
“You can do it. I’ll help you. Vámanos.” He took a few faltering steps and then stopped. “But what…what about-”
“Talk to me on the way, Roy. Come on.” He still didn’t move. “You didn’t finish. What happened to…to Derek? Where’s…”
“Where’s what?” I didn’t want to tell him. It was a mistake.
“Roy, come on.”
“No, where is…where the fuck is he, Liv?” He was still quite pale, but I could feel new fury radiating from him. “What did they do to him? Why didn’t you stop them?”
“Venga conmigo,” I sighed, “and I’ll show you the last place I saw him.” One thing at a time. Roy’s face set, but he began to stagger resolutely up the path without me. “Hey, slowly!” I called after him. “You’ll run out of breath!”
He kept going anyway, and so to take his mind off the hike I told him some more, and this time it was different, this time I had to purge everything, porque he had to understand the whole sorry saga to really appreciate the situation. I ended up talking him through the entire family history: Mami’s mayonesa siblings and relatives with their insanely obscene wealth, their subtle banishment of her from their rarified inner sanctum when she married my father-the bato loco who came back from Vietnam to march with Chavez and Huerta before disillusionment decreed that he become a vendido. To drop out of la raza and sire some pochitos y pochitas on the pretty güera nurse, and raise una familia that blended in just enough en la vida de Naranja.
We had to stop a few times-as I knew we would, so Roy could rest-but he didn’t let up. He was equal parts curious and terrified, una combinación muy formidable. He kept asking me the whole hike back, until I finally slipped up and said “I think…I think they-buried him.”
Roy stopped short. “Buried him? With what?”
“I don’t know. They were running one of the mixers-a pequito one. Justin and Chris knew how because they sometimes work for their father’s company, on-site even.
“So what happened, Liv? Jesus, don’t you fucking know? Didn’t you see where they did it?”
“Yes. And…and no.” Like I said, one thing at a time.
“Yes and no?!? What the fuck do you mean, ‘yes and no?'”
“I mean what I said. I mean, ‘yes, I saw them get shit ready, but no, I didn’t see where they finally buried him because…because…”
“Because of the fire.”
“What?” Roy’s eyes went wild. “You mean…you mean the big-the massive firestorm that was on TV and everything?” He took a quick, deep breath, still very pale, his eyes wide and white like beacons. “I just don’t remember it at all,” he said finally.
“You were in the ca-” I began, but he interrupted me again with the last thing I expected to hear: extraño mumbling about nightmares-supernatural, weird shit-and I couldn’t follow at first, but I finally caught up when he explained that he’d thought I’d been trying to tell him he’d started the fire that night. All this time later, he thought he had done it, too, but had simply blacked out on the details because of exhaustion and alcohol.
“You were there, you saw me- what did I do? You said so once, you said I ‘knew how to start a fire,’ and I knew it, I knew it, I did it! Jesus fucking Christ, I did it, Liv, I’m a fucking arsonist!”
So he knew, and yet didn’t know. I put two fingers to his lips and froze him like a statue.
“Yes, that one.”
“Wha…what ab-bout it, then?” The wildness I thought was anger now looked more like fright.
“I-I…didn’t mean to do it. Well…not at first, anyway.”
“Didn-huh? You did that?!?” His fright fled as soon as it had come, making way for incredulous horror. The emotional leaps were so sudden and genuine that they were almost endearing.
“I told you, Roy-I like to start fires.” He didn’t respond to my flat smirk, so I kept going. “It was because, like-I just…I just couldn’t believe what I’d seen. My own cousins-my own family-had been fucking up my entire lif-I mean, my entire night. Moving the party for no reason. Spiking any cup they saw with roofies. Crippling both you and Derek when you needed to stay sober. Tailing him, stomping him, letting him fucking die and then hustling you away to keep up appearances. Making him the scapegoat for Justin and Lisa’s problem. Covering lies with more lies. Covering Derek with cement and hoping no one would ever find him-”
“-and, and I just…couldn’t watch. I was so shocked that all I could do was run again. I needed a smoke and-”
“‘Smoke?’ You smoke?”
“I did sometimes back then, but not anymore. I didn’t even get a chance esa noche-I was too nervous-because mis manos were shaking and the lighter burned me and I dropped it into the dry grass and, and…”
“And the wind blew it away into the canyon. Blew it away from this stupid valuable real estate. Y el cañón era en fuego-so I ran, but they saw me.”
“How do you know?”
“I just know.” I stopped behind one of the unfinished mansions, where a shallow, but large hole yawned silently. Roy walked up to the edge and peered in, but the thing had been filled in a little over the past few months., and there wasn’t much to see.
“So?” He had his shit together by now, and all energy drained by the hike seemed to rush back. “What’s the deal, Liv?”
“The cops thought that Kyle and Justin buried him here.”
“What, this hole? Wh-why?”
“Because I told them to look here.” His mouth fell open, but I didn’t feel like stopping. “I told mi hermano Miguel, and la policía ordered an excavation under the house pad, under the cement, but…”
I motioned to the empty hole. “Nothing was there. Then la familia stepped in, everyone lawyered up, and the case went cold. And so they got away with it.”
I wasn’t finished, but then the boy did the strangest thing. He pursed his lips and said “I think I know where he is.”
“What?” I’d been mostly keeping an eye on the ground since before the last rise, cuidado not to trip, so mis ojos snapped right to Roy when he said that. He didn’t notice, though-he was gazing off toward the wall-so when I looked back in front of us, the first thing I saw was a police car pulling up to the curb beyond the trail-head.
“¡Puta madre!” My head melted into useless slime, and Roy whirled around at the noise. “What? Liv, what’s-oh.” He froze.
“We’re fucked,” I said, feeling my knees buckle, but then the door opened and a single cop stepped out: mi hermano Miguel.
“¡Ay, Miguelito!” I cried, relieved, but he cut me off.
“I thought I’d find you here, and…hey, ¿quién es?” He pointed at Roy, who was still absorbing multiple new realities behind me. “This is Roy,” I replied. “I thought you would remember him.”
“Roy…Roy Reed?” said Miguel, surprised. “Well, uh…he’ll have to come too. There’s not much time, Olivia.” My brother’s face was grim as he beckoned us forward. “Elisa went into a coma.”
My heart shattered. “¿Cuando?”
“About an hour after you left,” he said. “Come on, I’ll drive us back.”
The rest of that day is a blur: sitting up front with Miguel while Roy was in the back seat, separated from us by the cab’s partition, staring out the window in frightened paralysis, looking como he was behind bars; a little ring of tres calaveras dangling from the rearview mirror; trying not to hyperventilate con tristeza as we pulled into the hospital, rushed through the doors, landed in the relieved abrazos de mis padres; fearing the worst, and hearing it, for real, almost as soon as we got there-missing her by minutes, finalmente, over, muerte. Ay, mi hermana, how I cried for you that day-exploding in anger all over the waiting room, the hallway, your bedside, and anywhere else until they took you away.
But the thing that I remember most-which is so strange, since I barely noticed it at the time-was the sight of Roy sitting by himself at the end of a grubby sofa in the waiting room; alone, scared, and with his eyes locked on the approaching form of mi hermano Miguel. I knew exactly what they would be talking about, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, Elisa, because I wasn’t there to say goodbye. I wasn’t there to save you from yourself when you needed me. No, I wasn’t there, porque no me gusta el caos.
Soy una mentirosa. Soy una pocha mentirosa, y lo siento mucho.