I had it all planned out—at least, I thought I did—and the plan I’d come up with really wasn’t that complicated. Father Larry would hide Tony until things calmed down, then he would marry us. There would be the usual bureaucratic rigmarole, but in short order we’d make Tony an American citizen. Simple as that.
But that’s not the way things went. As it turned out, Tony had other plans. If you asked Lupe, she insisted he had from the very beginning, every move had been premeditated, including getting me pregnant, which didn’t make any sense to me. But what did I care what Lupe thought? She was the one who sold us out to my big brother. Maybe she was my best friend, but she had a big mouth. I never should’ve told her anything. And I wouldn’t have if I’d known she had the hots for José because once she knew I was knocked up, all bets were off. She just couldn’t keep her trap shut.
Anyway, at first it looked like things might work out. Tony went to Father Larry’s like I asked him to. I even called him there and talked to him on the phone.
“Te adoro, Tony,” I said.
“Yo lo sé,” he said. “Me, too.”
I told him I’d come by St. Mary’s every day to see him. He was grateful the first day, bored the second, and gone the third. Where to, no one knew. Tony said nothing to Father Larry, not thanks or goodbye or tell María, the love of my life and mother of my unborn child, I’ll be at the Casa del Taco near Mamá’s house or the Motel 6 off the Interstate, she should meet me there day after tomorrow. Because I would’ve gone. Despite Lupe and José and Mamá. Despite my job and security and all my better judgment, I would’ve followed him anywhere. Me, María. The tough Border Patrol agent with the badge and gun. All he had to do was ask.
Instead, he disappeared. For good. Although I waited around for a couple of weeks, expecting the phone to ring any minute, deep-down I knew he wasn’t coming back. And, unfortunately, I was right.
“What’re you gonna do now?” asked Lupe.
I wasn’t sure why I’d agreed to have lunch with her, after what she’d done.
“Why? So you can report whatever I say to Chief Gonzalez?”
“Come on, María. I said I’m sorry, and I meant it. But I had to tell José. He puts this spell on me, and I can’t say no.” She stifled a laugh. “And I mean to anything.”
“Ugh,” I said. “That’s sick, girl. He’s still my brother.”
I gazed across the dead grass between our picnic table and the river. The Rio Grande was just a narrow strip of muddy water, more like a drainage ditch than an international border. “I don’t know, Lupe,” I said. “What can I do?”
She gave me a sheepish look. “I know what you’re gonna say, but there’s always Junior.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
Lupe held my gaze and didn’t even crack a smile.
“Wait, seriously? That redneck shit-kicker? You think he’d make a good husband?”
“Maybe he’s a jackass, but your baby needs a father. I don’t see too many other dudes beating your door down.”
I knew Lupe was right, but for a while, maybe a month or so, I didn’t want to admit it. I figured I was tough, I could go it alone and raise the baby myself. Lots of women did it. Plus, I’d have Mamá to help out, if she ever forgave me. But I knew it would never work. Not in this town. Not with this job. As Lupe pointed out, my baby needed a father, and Junior was ready and willing.
We had an April wedding, before I started to show.
I thought that was the end of it. We all did. I still loved Tony, regardless of how he’d hurt me, and I knew I always would. As predicted, Junior was a total jackass, but at least I could count on him. One day I might even learn to love him—though that was a long shot. Even if I didn’t, he was already a great father to Antonio, our baby boy. He loved that child as much as any father could.
On Sundays, we’d all gather at Mamá’s after Mass. By this time, Antonio was almost two. Lupe and José were engaged and planning their wedding. Lupe and I would help prepare a big meal of fajitas or enchiladas, and we’d all watch the Cowboys play football on TV. Mamá loved those games because they brought everyone together. The whole thing had become a family tradition.
One afternoon, chiles rellenos sitting heavy in our bellies, we were watching the Cowboys stomp the Eagles. It was 42-6 by halftime. Not much of game, but everyone was happy, including little Antonio. In the middle of the third quarter, after the Eagles missed a field goal, they cut to commercial. I wasn’t really paying attention, chasing after Antonio, who was about to knock over Mamá’s new Oaxacan pot, but I heard Lupe gasp. Then Mamá started humming along to snatches of familiar tunes. Once I’d grabbed Antonio, I glanced at the screen.
And that’s when I saw him again. Tony. He was dancing and singing right there on the screen, even more handsome than I remembered. It took my breath away. I thought I saw Carlos, too, but it was possible I was in shock and imagining things. Tony was starring in a remake of West Side Story, but because of the montage and quick cuts, I couldn’t tell which character he was playing. Then, just like that, the commercial was over, and the Cowboys had the ball on their own twenty yard line. Everyone was staring at me when they should’ve been following the game, their gazes hot on my flushing skin. But I didn’t let it faze me. Instead, I pulled my baby boy onto my lap and kissed him on the forehead. Then I hugged him close and, in a whisper loud enough for everyone to hear, I said:
“Te adoro, Antonio.”
J. T. Townley has published in Harvard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Prairie Schooner, The Threepenny Review, and other magazines and journals. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net award. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and an MPhil in English from Oxford University, and he teaches at the University of Virginia. To learn more, visit jttownley.com.