On a rainy, blustery morning a couple days later, I’d just arrived at the station when Lupe told me one of the detainees wanted to see me.
“Who is it?” I asked.
“Guess,” said Lupe, popping her gum.
I wasn’t exactly in a hurry to get out into the field, so I idled a while, wondering what to say to Tony. Still, it wasn’t like I was thirteen or that kiss meant anything. I was a grown woman, twenty-five, college-educated and single, basically a spinster-in-training. I could definitely spare him five minutes.
It turned out Tony had a request.
“Since we are cousins,” he said earnestly, “I must be released into your custody.”
I laughed to myself. “That’s not how it works.”
“It is the law,” said Tony. He flashed me that smile. “I’ve come prepared, you see.”
He had a good point, along with a passport and identity card presumably issued by the Mexican government, both bearing his photograph, attesting to his minor status. Sixteen, my ass, I thought, gazing at him, then his photo, then back at him.
All the same, I couldn’t take him, owing to a clear conflict of interest. Plus, what did I know about sheltering a gorgeous man-child?
“Maybe you couldn’t,” Tony hypothesized, “but your mamá could.” He let me chew on that for a long moment. “I am cousins with her, too.”
I ran it past Mamá that night. She was reluctant at first, but I gave her a sob story about overcrowding and the plight of minors in custody, all of which, incidentally, was true, and soon she softened. So the next day, I had Lupe start the paperwork.
“You sure about this?” she wondered, stapling and collating.
“Why? What’s the problem?”
Lupe stopped mid-staple and looked up at me. “You’re kidding, right?”
She waited. I waited. Muzak poured from the ceiling speakers, something called “One Hand, One Heart.”
I winced. “How do you listen to this crap all day?”
“You get used to it,” she said, popping her gum. “Look, María, I’m only your best friend in the world, so don’t bother telling me what’s going on if you don’t want to.”
“Nothing,” I said. “Just a routine release to next of kin.”
Lupe gazed at me, her face a mask of suspicion. The institutional fluorescents hummed and flickered.
“What’s your deal, girl?” I said.
She shook her head, smacking her stapler. “If you don’t know,” she said, “I can’t tell you.”