After that, we spent most nights together. Tony came to me after Mamá went to bed, and he left long before the dawn, but still, you get the picture. It all happened so fast, my head was swimming. Maybe we came from completely different worlds, and maybe I still knew next to nothing about him, since we really didn’t talk all that much, but I knew we were going to make it work, despite his possible minor status or immigration classification.
We were in love.
The days danced past in a blur. New Year’s came and went, the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day. Tony and I didn’t do anything special, since every day was Valentine’s when we were together. Meaning nighttime, between midnight and four a.m., since that was the only time we could be ourselves, open and honest and naked as jaybirds. By the light of day, we had to mask our true feelings, pretending to be what everyone thought we were (hard Border Patrol agent, charming young cousin), putting on Academy Award-winning performances.
It all came naturally to Tony.
Before long, who should start coming around but Carlos Hernandez, Tony’s friend. Apparently, he, too, had been released into the custody of a matronly cousin who lived over in Edinburg. From what I gathered, in her care Carlos wanted for nothing. She even let him use her car, a giant 70’s era Pontiac convertible, garage-kept and barely driven. So Carlos would pull up to the curb, and he and Tony would go cruising around town in that land yacht. They took me with them once on a Saturday afternoon, and it was fun to ride in a flashy old drop-top. But whenever Carlos and Tony were together, they laughed at everything and spoke this slurry Mexican slang I couldn’t keep up with. Tony seemed like a completely different person. Plus, all that snapping, though no one’s fingers were moving.
Lupe had been a naysayer from the beginning, and she wasn’t shy now about voicing her displeasure at my new domestic arrangement. We were sipping happy hour margaritas at El Sapo, laughing and giving ourselves brain freeze, when out of nowhere, Lupe turned serious on me.
“I know what’s been going on, María.”
“What are you on about, girl?” I said.
“Don’t be coy.” She glared at me. Tejano accordions trilled through speakers hidden in the potted ficus. “Where do you think this thing’s going?”
“What are we talking about again?”
She shook her head and took a sip through her straw. “I told you it was a bad idea, didn’t I? And now you’re sleeping with him? You? The girl who always swore she’d wait until she was married!”
I fiddled with my straw. “Where’d you hear that?”
She snickered. “Dudes talk, María. Pinches cabrónes. There’s nothing you can do. Maybe they’re wired that way, don’t ask me.”
I said nothing, listening to the oompa bass line bounce. Lupe polished off the last of her margarita, then waved the waitress down and ordered us both another.
“I haven’t been seeing Antonio behind your back,” she said, “so don’t even go there.”
“You wouldn’t do that.”
“Claro que no.”
“We’re hermanas, Lupe. And if I ever found out that—”
“I know, I know. Save it,” she said. “I’d never do that. And even if I wanted to—I don’t and I never would, okay?—but let’s just say I was bitter and jealous and couldn’t take it anymore, I could still never lure a dude away from you. You’re just too beautiful, María.”
I felt my cheeks flush. Maybe it was the tequila.
“Just look at you,” said Lupe. “You’re all aglow.”
“I do feel pretty,” I said. “Pretty and witty and bright.”
“Now don’t get carried away.”
“Good point,” I said, swirling, and almost spilling, my margarita. “Technically, I’m still single, right?”
Lupe shook her head. “Yeah, but look at our options.” She sucked on her straw for a minute, then grinned at me. “Plus, dudes know you won’t put out. At least, they used to.”
I tried to ignore her. The waitress brought us fresh drinks. I licked the salt and took a sip.
“It was Carlos,” said Lupe.
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” Lupe said. “He was persistent, so I let him take me out to lunch. Just a one-time deal.”
“He’s the one who told me, María. About you and Tony.” She grinned. “And in la casa de tu mamá, girl!”
All at once, those warbling, four-part harmonies sounded like a train wreck. The stench of grease and comino and jalepeños turned my stomach. I sipped my water, then sucked on an ice cube, hoping it would chase that queasy feeling away.
Lupe watched me suffer. A smile flickered over her lips. “Could be morning sickness, ¿no?”
I inhaled sharply. “It’s evening, mana.”
“Don’t judge me, Lupe. When it’s your turn, you’ll see. Love comes on so strong, and there’s no right or wrong. Your love is your love.”
She chewed over something for a while, her face all scrunched up like she had a headache coming on. “Just do me a favor, María. Be careful, okay?”