Today's Reading

LA QUINCE

The car looks suspicious. I can't put my finger on why, but I can't stop staring at it either.

We've just arrived at my cousin Carmen's fifteenth birthday party—-her quinceañera. The street is already lined with vehicles. It's nearly dusk, and we're late. We always are. That's my dad, always behind and fine with it.

We park our truck in front of the small driveway, blocking it. My dad gets out, tucks the keys behind the rusty gas tank cover, and opens my mother's door. He takes her hand and helps her out, then strolls toward the house as though we're ten minutes early.

I follow.

"I have a surprise for you tomorrow, Pato," my dad says.

I'm not looking at him. I peer at that car parked on the street, a few houses away.

The rear bumper. That's it.

It's an older car, the kind that normally has a chrome bumper. But this one has been painted a dull, matte black, like the rest of the car.

Weird.

"It's not really a surprise," my mom says.

"Wait, what surprise?" I ask.

"Pato is going to be disappointed if you call it a surprise," she says to my dad. "Surprises are good. This isn't. It's not bad, mi amor. But it's not a present."

I'm listening to my mother but still staring at the car. A pair of eyes meets mine in its side-view mirror.

Someone is in the car. Why is he just sitting there?

"Okay, Pato. It's not a surprise—-it's news. It's a change. A good change," my dad tells me.

"What kind of change?"

I look from the car to my dad. I like routine. I have a way of doing things, and I like to stick to it.

"Tell you what. We'll talk about it tomorrow, okay?"

As we near the house, I can see the car from a different angle. The hubcaps are painted black too. Bumper to bumper, the entire car is black. And on the back door, I see a small dent.

No, not a dent. Is that a bullet hole?

I squint. It's hard to tell. But I can see the silhouette of the driver. He blows a thin stream of smoke out the window.

I glance at my parents to see if they notice, but they're too wrapped up in each other and all this talk about change.

Then a head pops up in the back seat and drops back down from view.

Did I imagine that?

I stare. There's no movement.

"Hey, Pato. Are you okay?" my mom asks as we arrive at the door.

"Yeah, it's just—-" The door opens before we knock.

"Look who finally decided to show up!" My aunt opens her arms wide to hug my mom, while my uncle greets my father with a drink. Beyond them stands Arbo, my cousin and best friend.

As we step inside, I turn back toward the car. The driver's head rotates. It's too dark and too far away to see any kind of
expression. But somehow it feels threatening.

The front door closes behind us.

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