Kia and Gio

Kia’s a week shy of her seventeenth birthday, which is about how old her cousin Gio was six years ago when he just up and went away. Kia’s a little bit in love with Giovanni (and who wasn’t, really?) but she hasn’t thought about him this much since the day he disappeared. It’s not until a run-of-the-mill work shift at Baba Eddie’s botánica goes awry that she begins to understand why he’s on her mind . . .

This short story was acquired and edited for Tor.com by editor Liz Gorinsky.

 

I don’t know why I can’t stop thinking of Giovanni today. I opened the botánica early, even though it’s Saturday, because I couldn’t go back to sleep, and lying in bed with the sunshine creeping over me just wasn’t cutting it. Now that I’m here, it’s like there’s a tiny Gio hiding behind all the little potion vials and sacred pots on the shelves around me.

Yes, I have homework to do. And Baba Eddie doesn’t have any readings till noon, which means he’ll waddle in at 11:58, sipping his coffee. But here I am. The sunlight finds its way through the saint statues in the window display, lands on me, and warms my skin. I feel old even though I’m not. Giovanni.

I should probably give up and admit he’s dead. Everyone else has. A boy like that, that bright a fire, they figure it’s too much to ask to have him around for more than a decade or two. Instead I make up stories about where he ended up: Giovanni in Amsterdam, whoring around gleefully with poets and painters, smoking hash and making fun of American tourists. Giovanni in India, writing plays while riding elephants. Giovanni in Tunisia, fermenting a lusty new remix of the Arab Spring.

When I was ten and he was—what? Sixteen?—I was still plotting how to get him to marry me. I’d done all the math, checked and rechecked it: he would be twenty-three when I made seventeen, the legal age to marry in New York. That seemed doable: seventeen and twenty-three. Shit, Uncle Freddie got married when he was fifteen and Aunt Bea was twenty-eight and they’re still going strong. Then again, Uncle Freddie’s been known to swallow his own teeth on purpose. Anyway, I scratched the equations out on my little Powerpuff Girls notepad and arrived triumphantly at the conclusion that it was doable, mathematically at least. The other concerns—that he obviously had no interest whatsoever in girls and that we’re first cousins—those all seemed like secondary problems. Sex was gross anyway, right? Who wanted all that?

I’m gonna be seventeen next week, and Giovanni is . . . nowhere.

 

A woman comes in, ignoring the Closed sign on the door. I can’t tell if she’s white or Puerto Rican or . . . white and Puerto Rican? She’s got loud purple lipstick on and she’s almost perfectly round. Maybe she’s been here before—Gina? Louisa? Then she opens her mouth. She’s definitely Puerto Rican. “Hola, mi niña. Lissen, you have those collares for Babalu I asked about before? It was maybe two weeks ago, yes?”

Oh yeah, she was here before, but it wasn’t no two weeks ago. Two months, maybe. “We already sold ‘em out, Iya.” I use the respectful term for an elder santera, even though I don’t know if she’s initiated or not. Whatever, one way or the other, she’s older than me.

“Ay, mi madre, but I put in the order and everything.” A sing-songy whine enters her voice. I want nothing to do with it so I end the conversation quick and she finds her way to the door. And then: Giovanni. Giovanni dressed in a hundred shades of violet, fro unruly. We’re on our way home from school. He’s rolling his eyes because he got cast as the swan again in the ballet school’s version of Swan Lake. “Gayest role ever,” he said, sipping a cup of milk and sugar with a splash of coffee in it. “So stupid. Why can’t we do a ballet based on Ishigu?”

I jumped up and down and did little pirouettes around him. “Ishigu! Ishigu!” That’s the manga we both loved. Well, I loved it because he loved it, and everything he loved was a holy relic to me. Plus, Ishigu was half-boydemon, half-android, and surrounded by the hottest anime chicks in the Robot City. Gio could be Ishigu and I could be Maiya, who carried a staff with a talking ram head on top that she used to disembowel all the tentacle-bots that came at them from the Red Death Chambers.

 

“I’m coming in late,” Baba Eddie says when I pick up the landline. I hear him pull on his cigarette. “Something came up.”

“I’m so sure.” For no reason at all, I’m annoyed.

“Hold things down for me, okay? Why are you there so early anyway?”

“I dunno.” I shrug as if he could see it over the phone, but really: it’s Baba Eddie, he probably can.

“What’s wrong, Kia?” That touch of charismatic condescension he always gets away with because he knows I love him like a father. Uncle. Fatherly uncle. Whatever. I let it slide. Again.

“Nothing.”

“Good.” He ignores my blatant lie. “See you at one . . . ish.”

“You have a noon reading with Eliades.”

“Oh fuck, he’s always coming with some bullshit. Keep him entertained till I get there.”

“I’m not entertaining.”

“Just tell him I’ll be a little late.”

“But . . .”

The line goes dead.

 

Ishigu was a third degree master of Shumanjo Levitating Robot fighting style, but P.S. 143 in Sunnyside didn’t have that as an afterschool option, so Giovanni took Kenpo instead. Gio also was a lead alto in glee club, treasurer of the debate team, assistant-editor at the school newspaper, and president/founding member of the Amiri Baraka Drama Club. Each met on a different day of the week, which I always took to be a special scheduling miracle devised solely to please my overachieving extra-curricular cousin, but it was really just a coincidence.

“Why you still wearing your tutu?” Gio narrowed his eyes at me.

“Because I’m a ballerina,” I informed him.

“Ballet is so girly.”

I matched his sneer with one of my own. “You do ballet, and you’re a boy.”

“I’m not just a boy.” Gio’s hands extended to either side, palms out, like Ishigu’s do when he’s getting ready to levitate. “I’m the baddest boy in town, bitches.”

I was laughing, but then I stopped. “Don’t call me a bitch.” Both my fists found my hips and I frowned, creasing my brow to show I wasn’t kidding.

“I didn’t mean you.” The apology was sincere. “I meant it universally. All the bitches in the universe! Anyway, it’s not a bad word if you say it right.”

“It’s not?” We’re walking again, all through the quiet suburbs of eastern Queens. When Gio’s with me I can ignore the creeping sensation that I don’t belong, I don’t belong, no matter where I am I don’t belong.

“Shh . . . we on a mission.”

“Where we going?” I’d never been to this neighborhood before. Maybe driven past once or twice with dad, but it was all white folks and the feeling of don’t belong don’t belong hung heavy in the air, like all the molecules wanted me to leave too. But I knew I was safe. Gio’d been studying Kenpo since he was my age; he was a brown belt and not to be trifled with.

“It’s a secret mission.”

“But where we going?”

“If I tell you it won’t be a . . .” I made the face that I knew gets him, the one that I used to make right before I cried. He caved. “Fine. But don’t tell anyone.” He lowered his voice to such a shrill whisper on the word anyone that a little spittle escaped and he had to wipe his mouth. “We’re going to see if Jeremy’s okay.”

I rolled my eyes. For three weeks, all I’d heard about was Jeremy. Would Jeremy like this red leather jacket? Does he read Ishigu too? What kind of cigarettes would Jeremy smoke? If Jeremy was a crayon, what color would he be? (Yes, No, Virginia Slims, and Plain Ol’ White, respectively, but who was listening?) The angle of Jeremy’s chin: divine architecture; the perfection of his frown when he was thinking about a math problem; the timbre of his voice: angelic. Jeremy the Brave, bringing in articles about oil drilling in Antarctica for Social Studies. Jeremy the Agile, bounding effortlessly across the gym in tights for his solo in Swan Lake. Jeremy the Cryptic, explaining in depth his theory of how all six Star Wars movies were really one eight-million hour rewrite of the Book Of Job. Or whatever. If the boy had the slightest hint of self-awareness and looked out from the curtains of his thin blond hair once in a while, I’d actually feel like he was a threat to my impending marriage. But as it was, he displayed zero interest in anything more than a platonic friendship with Gio. Which baffled and relieved me at he same time.

So now we were off to see Jeremy the Clueless for some dumb “mission.” Great.

 

Eliades shows up right on time, of course. I’m sipping some bodega tea, no milk, no sugar, staring off into nothing like some asshole in a nursing home when the guy busts in with a loud jingle-jangle from the door chimes. He’s always well dressed, but today his green striped tie lies half-undone around his neck like a noose, and the top of his shirt is open, revealing pallid, moist flesh and a hint of chest hair. It’s February but he’s sweating, like he ran all the way here from his Manhattan office.

“Hey Eliades.” I’m grateful for the company; all these memories crowding my head can’t be healthy.

Eliades wipes a hand over his thinning hairline. “It’s back.” No Hi Kia, no How’s school? Just, It’s back. Okay. I hate small talk, anyway. I don’t even wanna know who’s back.

“Baba Eddie’s running a little late.”

“But . . .”

“You can have a seat and wait for him.”

Eliades may be self-absorbed, but he knows me well enough to know not to argue when I use my have-a-seat voice. He makes his way through the aisles, pouting softly, and settles in one of the big easy chairs we got half-price from the vintage spot on Myrtle.

 

“You wouldn’t make much of a spy,” Giovanni informed me as we sat in some bushes on a little hill behind Jeremy’s house. It’s just like all the other ones on this block: three stories, faded off-white shingles, all the decaying decadence of a middle-aged dad in a rumpled suit. “Too much chatter.”

It hurt, but with some effort I kept the whine out of my voice. “Well, how am I sposta spy when I don’t even know what we’re doing here?”

Gio sighed and adjusted his position a little. “Because Jeremy said some strange men had been showing up around his house.”

“How do you know he didn’t mean you?”

“Kia!”

“Keep your voice down, you’re gonna give us away.”

“What I’m gonna do is take you right home and then come back all by myself.”

The idea was so offensive to me I actually squealed a little when I said, “No!” This time, when I made the pre-cry face, it wasn’t a ruse.

Gio knew it too and he softened. “Then shut the fuck up, Kia.”

“Fine. But don’t swear at me.”

After a few moments, Giovanni sighed. “He said they were white men and that they would whisper through his window late at night, all kinds of things about how he was destined for greatness and he was the chosen one. All kindsa shit. They wanted him to come with them, but would never say where, and when he’d ask they’d just vanish into the night.”

I didn’t know what to say. My eyes were open so wide they felt like they were gonna pop out. “And you gonna stop them?”

“I just want to make sure he’s alright, is all.”

It was getting dark; the bush we were in was already swamped in shadows and the sky turned turquoise through the trees above us. Gio fumbled in his pockets and then produced a black cigarette. I gasped. He rolled his eyes, fumbled again, took out a lighter. The sugary scent of cloves filled the air; it was sweet and perfect, Giovanni’s magic pixie powder.

“How you gonna be all mad that I’m loud,” I hissed, “and then light a great big beacon of flame and send all that smoke out? You know he gonna see it.”

“He’s not even home yet—look the lights are out. Anyway, you can’t really stake out a house and not smoke. It’s like, the rules.”

“I guess. If by ‘stake out’ you mean ‘stalk.’”

“Shhh!”

I was about to remind him he’d just said no one was home when a light went on. Jeremy appeared, pulling curtains out of the way and then lifting the window. He stuck his head out, smelled the summer breeze (the cloves too probably) and then disappeared back into his room. I elbowed Gio, for no real reason but to indicate that I’d told him so. He nudged me back, but kept smoking.

“You’re an asshole,” I whispered. It felt good to swear, mature.

“Shh!”

Music swirled out of Jeremy’s room. It was trancelike: a gush of strings and then a heavy beat. Jeremy sailed past his window, arms over his head, a perfectly executed grande jeté. He emerged, pirouetting, in the next window just as a pleading, luscious voice came in over the beat.

I tugged on Gio’s sleeve. “What’s this music?”

“It’s Björk.”

“What’s a Björk?”

“Shh!” That was the moment I understood he would never marry me. The boy was entranced. I could see Jeremy dancing in Gio’s eyes, the glare from the bedroom lighting up his face, his mouth hanging slightly open. I might not’ve had the words for it at the time, but inside I knew: it was love. Not that bullshit TV love; not the corny love-song love either. True love. The kind that people get themselves killed for. The kind that makes you do really, really stupid things.

“Gio?”

“Girl, if I have to tell you to shush one more . . .”

“What are we really doing here?”

The music churned on. Gio kept his gaze fixed on the window.

 

Something is clogging up the air in the botánica. My eyes are watering, and I can’t tell if it’s because I’m getting all emo from thinking about Giovanni or if some thickness has settled over the room. No, it’s definitely not me. I peek through the aisles, but Eliades is hidden behind a bookshelf. I can’t inhale fully; my breath stops at the top of my chest and makes me cough. I’m just thinking how strange it is that there’s no actual smoke when the smoke alarm goes off. My heart is in my ears, pounding away, before I can even leap into action. All these saints, all this spiritual power—and yes, let’s be honest, some of it is junk, but there’s plenty of sacred relics too—I can’t be the one that let it all go up in flames. I leap out from behind the counter, scanning the air around me for signs of smoke.

But there’s nothing there. No smoke. No flames. I still have to fight to tug oxygen down my trachea though, and my vision is getting foggy. “Eliades!” I yell, but the bleating alarm blots it out. I stand up on a chair and a fiddle with the plastic thing till it shuts up. Then I look around.

It’s back. Eliades’ words echo through my head over and over again. It’s back. I didn’t even bother asking what—it’s not my business and what could I do about it anyway? It’s back. He elongated the It in that way people do when they’re talking about something they don’t want to speak out loud, like just saying it was a punch in the gut. It’s back.

“Eliades?”

The room is so quiet now. I don’t even hear the traffic outside or the shoppers around the corner on Graham or the bachata that usually streams out of the music store across the street. “Eliades?” I sound like such a little girl—pathetic. I’m standing on this chair, looking like an arch idiot, gazing over a perfectly still room. Awesomely, I left my cell back on the desk. I could call Baba Eddie, but I don’t want to move from right here. Somehow I’m positive that if I move, it’s all over. So I don’t. I wait.

 

I gasped when I realized we weren’t alone in the woods. The men standing around us—they didn’t walk there; we would’ve heard them. They just appeared out of the darkness. There were six of them. They had white, almost greenish skin, broad shoulders, bugged-out eyes, and smirking, deeply lined faces. They hunched over slightly, all of them the same way, but their arms were long, too long. I almost screamed when I noticed them, but I kept it in. They just stood there, staring at Jeremy’s entrancing performance much like Gio was. Ever so slowly, I wrapped my little hand around Gio’s wrist. He was about to shush me but I squeezed, squeezed so hard he shut up. When he finally saw the men, he let out just the tiniest of gasps. I thought it was too loud, but they didn’t look over, just kept those pushed-out eyes squinting straight ahead at Jeremy’s house. The air filled with whispers, a dissonant hissing and occasional mumbled words: come, one, master, breaker, only one, come.

Then they started walking, all at the same time. They moved through the trees into the backyard. It was a slow, deliberate walk, each step careful and precise, long arms dangling by their sides. I couldn’t stop staring at them, but something else was tweaking my attention in the corner of my eye. Something was moving. I looked towards it, but it was so dark, the trees were just shadows against the night. Still, there was movement. The trees—the trees were moving. They were alive somehow, shifting, writhing in the darkness.

No. I stepped closer to look at the nearest one to me. No, it was alive with insects. Shiny-backed cockroaches swarmed over the thing, the big kind. But they weren’t the normal dark orange color; they were pale, almost pink.

I opened my mouth to scream and a hand wrapped around it. I was about to start fighting for my life when I smelled that shea butter/BO mix that I knew so well. Giovanni. He lifted me up and turned me around. “Don’t say a fucking word,” he hissed. “Don’t even fucking cry.”

I nodded, tears streaming down my face. Giovanni would make everything all right. He always did. Giovanni would get me out of here.

“Listen to me, Kia. Go home.” My stomach plummeted. “Go now.”

“N . . .” I started to say, but he shushed me with a look.

“Don’t look back. Just go. I’ll be home soon.”

I shook my head.

“Kia.” No debate, no whining. This was not a game. And I had no choices. “Go.” He put me down and turned towards where the six men made their slow journey towards Jeremy’s house.

The trees all around me crawled with pale roaches. I took a step backwards, but Gio didn’t even look to see if I’d gone. He launched down the hill, quiet as a ninja. I saw the light glint over his muscley arm, saw a splotch against it, another roach, just before he swiped it off. I cringed. My whole body wanted to vanish, burst out of the trees and get as far away as I could. But my heart wouldn’t let me turn away from my cousin. I stood perfectly still, caught between the two impossible choices, and anyway: useless.

Gio came up behind the first man at a sliding crouch. He anchored one leg in the dirt and flew up into the air, flashing the other leg out in a stunning roundhouse kick. His foot found its mark; the man collapsed with an eerie silence. I think Gio was as stunned as I was: for a solid three seconds he just stood there gaping at the man sprawled on the ground. The others didn’t seem to notice, or, if they did, they didn’t care; the slow march toward the house continued.

I took a few steps down the hill. I couldn’t watch, couldn’t stop watching. Gio stepped over the one he’d taken out, but a hand came up from the ground and wrapped around his leg, dropping him to one knee. The man rose up fast, faster than he should’ve been able to after taking a hit like that. Two of the other men stopped and turned slowly towards the fray. Gio stabilized himself in a sturdy horse-riding stance, so he was ready when the blow came. It was clumsy and slow, like the man couldn’t quite get his limbs to do what he wanted them to, but I could tell from the way Gio leaned to the side that there was an unnatural force to it. Gio sidestepped and let the weight of the guy’s hit do the work, just like he’d been taught. As the man stumbled forward, Gio brought his elbow down on the back of his head.

The two other men moved in from either side. Gio’s hoarse yell cut through the quiet suburban night: “Jeremy! Run!” Even the attackers seemed startled. Jeremy appeared at the window and everyone looked up at him. Gio took advantage of the confusion, kicking in the kneecaps of one man and then spin-smashing the other, another roundhouse. The first was done—I saw him crumple, again with that impossible silence, but the second guy recovered quick and barreled into Gio.

The back door of the house swung open and Jeremy gaped out. “What’s going on? Giovanni?” It was like an electric shock went through the three men not busy with Gio. They lurched forward, crowding around Jeremy, blocking the door from closing.

“Get inside!” Gio yelled from the ground. The man closest to him smashed him hard across the face and he fell limp as the rest of them disappeared into the house.

I ran. I ran straight into the center of all that hell. Felt something tickling my arm and swiped at it over and over without bothering to even look at what it was. The man who’d hit Gio was crouching in the dirt with his back to me, and me, I thought of death. No strategy, no caution: just death. Because all my little body could do was surge forward, even as my mind screamed at it to turn back, and the man was only a few steps from me now.

Gio’s leg came out of nowhere, swept like a lightening bolt along the ground, and took the guy’s legs right out from under him. The guy fell so fast you could actually hear the swoosh of wind. Before I could even yell, the man was on the ground and Gio was over him, and then Gio’s foot was smashing down, again and again on the man’s face. I heard the squishing destruction of flesh, then a much sharper cracking sound, and then it was just a dull thud, over and over again under Gio’s sobbing breaths.

And then something started moving. I saw Gio tense, but it wasn’t the man, it was something else. The broken skin of his face writhed to life and the thousand pale cockroaches that had been his skin scattered away. More poured out of his sleeves, from under his collar, swarmed off his hands to reveal shreds of flesh clinging to raggedy bones. Gio and I both stepped back, but the roaches weren’t interested in us; they scattered outward in a confused swarm and then flushed as one towards the house. Towards Jeremy.

“No!” Gio yelled. I couldn’t even catch my breath before he’d turned and stormed past the roach swarm into the back door.

“Gio!” I yelled. We were still alive. Why couldn’t he understand what a miracle that was? A few minutes ago I thought everything was over, and now we were alive: both of us! I hated my cousin almost as much as I loved him right then. The night was so quiet. I heard the gentle evening song of the cicada, a few night birds chirping in the trees above me. Someone was watching TV in a house nearby, a reality show, from the sound of it. Had no one heard us screaming? For a terrible moment, I wondered if any of it had even happened. Then I walked shakily towards the house, barely breathing, barely conscious.

Inside, there was a dim little alcove with winter jackets hung up, and a cubby area full of weathered board games. Something glinted from the short stairwell leading into the kitchen. Not roaches; it was perfectly still: blood. I moved faster, stepping around the wet spots and up into the kitchen; all dark, no one there. From somewhere in the house, Gio was yelling: “Jeremy? Jeremy?” I released a dark little sandbag of weight from my heart. Gio was safe for the moment. If he was looking for Jeremy, he wasn’t fighting the crazy cockroach men. If he was looking for Jeremy, he was alive. The thought of ending this with Gio still intact made me want to sit down at the kitchen table and sob, but I kept going, through a windy hallway, past the living room—moderately fancy and very lived-in—and up the stairs.

“I told you to . . .” Gio mumbled when he saw me. “. . . I thought I told you to . . .” His eyes were so wide, the way horses look in movies when they get shot; like, you didn’t know they could get so wide, that such noble, magnificent creatures could actually be afraid. “He’s gone.” Gio fell against the wall and slid down into a crouch, sobbing. “They got him.”

“Gio.” My little ten-year old voice sounded calm, authoritative, for the first time in my life. And there I was, still in my tutu. I felt ridiculous. “We gotta go, Gio. We gotta go now.”

He looked up. I’d broken through to him. He nodded, took the trembling hand I’d reached out to him, and stood.

 

The smoke alarm screams to life again. This time my ears are so close to it that the shock almost knocks me off the chair I’m standing on. Also, the lights have gone out. It’s mid-day, so I’d barely noticed, but yes, a certain glower has fallen over the room now. I turn and wrench the damn smoke alarm right off the wall with a grunt, drop it on the ground. I have to get out of here. I have to go, I have to go now. I step down and nothing comes to kill me, so that’s good. The air is so thick, I feel like I’m wading through it. I’m halfway to the door when I hear Eliades groan. I was so anxious to get out I’d blocked him from my mind completely.

Eliades is responsible for this mess. He brought his crap in here, whatever it is. I bristle. And Baba Eddie gets half the credit for not being on time, dammit. Either way, it’s not my problem. And who am I to get involved? I take another step towards the door, put my hand on the handle, close my eyes.

Inside myself, I know I’m not gonna leave Eliades. I can’t. Giovanni is with me, somehow. I know it as clear as I know my name. He’s been with me all day, like he was there, whispering the story in my ear all along. I turn. Take a step through the murk towards the back of the store. Make my way down the middle aisle, past the different colored candles and the mason jars full of herbs and tinctures. Eliades is sprawled out in the half-price easy chair, his arms to either side, his mouth hanging open, a little drool trickling out. His breaths come in shallow gasps, his eyes squeezed shut.

Just above him, the air is . . . it’s off. It shudders like those updrafts of heat on a summer day. If I squint, I can just make out a shape—no, two shapes: great heaving forms reaching down towards Eliades, crushing him.

Giovanni is with me. He is my bravery, my strength. I step directly in front of Eliades and look up into the nauseating shimmer of spirit above him.

Baba Eddie says people make too big a deal out of ghosts; they get freaked out and don’t know how to handle them, because we so full up with freaky stories about poltergeists and whatnot. He says most ghosts just want something, and usually all you have to do is ask what they want and then give it to them; it’s that simple.

I put my hands to either side, not unlike Ishigu right before he takes off, and say “Spirit!” It sounds so cheesy; but still, something shifts in the room. “Spirit,” I say again. “What do you want?”

When nothing happens, I feel even sillier, but that’s better than the sheer terror. I am, after all, still alive. I exhale, drop my arms. I’m thinking maybe some absurd coincidence happened; Eliades stroked out just as the smoke alarm malfunctioned and the power went out and I had an anxiety attack, yes that’s it—and then a searing pain erupts in the center of my head. I close my eyes and all the bright color splotches resolve into a pair of diamonds, and then they open, they’re eyes. See me. It’s like a hundred people whispering the same thing at the same time. I hold my breath. See me.

“Spirits just want attention,” Baba Eddie told me once as he watched a jubilant customer walk out the door. “Like, more than half the time. And they’ll do what they gotta to get it. Ignore them, they’ll up the ante.”

See me. It’s not talking to me, this thing. It’s talking through me. And I can’t really blame it: I volunteered myself. I put my hand on Eliades’ contorted face. He’s clammy, trembling. “Open your eyes,” I say. “Look at it.”

Eliades shudders, shakes his head.

“Do it.”

Slowly, one at a time, his eyes open. I step back, step away from it all. The heaviness leaks steadily out of the room. I can breathe again. Eliades’ face unclenches and tears pool at the edges of his eyes. His chest heaves up and down, silent sobs. The presence is still in the air just above him but it’s dissipating. “I’m sorry,” Eliades whispers. “Isadora. Lo siento.” He’s staring up at it, watching it go. “I’m so so sorry.”

 

The night of the roaches wasn’t the last time I saw Giovanni, but it might as well have been. In the weeks after Jeremy disappeared, Gio withdrew deeper and deeper into himself until one day he was just gone. His parents had kicked him out years earlier, but my dad loved him like their only son. They wallpapered the neighborhood with flyers, pestered the police about it everyday, put search teams together to scour all the back corners and abandoned fields. Nothing. The boy was just gone. It barely got a blurb in the papers of course—a little missing notice in the local crime section of the same issue that had a moving tribute to Jeremy on the front page.

I’ve made up so many stories. But the practical part of me knew he was just a hurt kid that had been through some fucked up shit he couldn’t make any sense of, couldn’t even tell anyone about. But then again, so was I. And then he was gone and I was truly alone.

Baba Eddie comes in just as Eliades is leaving.

“You don’t want your reading anymore?”

“No, Baba, I’m all set.” Eliades wipes his eyes. “I feel . . . I feel light. I feel like I can go on now. Your student is quite impressive.” He whistles as he walks out into the street. The door shuts with a jangle of bells.

Baba Eddie looks at me. “The fuck did you do to him, Kia?”

“I don’t wanna talk about it.” I keep my eyes on the computer screen. “Just show up on time next time, please.” I should tell Baba Eddie all about it, everything. I want to. But I also don’t. Because right now, I’m busy saying goodbye. Giovanni has been with me all day, just like Isadora, whoever she was, hung in that cloud over Eliades. Which means Gio’s gone. Really gone. Dead and gone, gone. Which means I have to stop pretending, stop making up stories, and finally, finally for real this time, let go.

So I do.

 

“Kia and Gio” copyright © 2014 by Daniel José Older

Art copyright © 2014 by Goni Montes

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