Her errands took a significant chunk of the day, and she finally was able to make it over to Christian’s house in the early afternoon. She heard muffled yelling as she approached the door and realized it was Christian reprimanding one of his brothers. Just as she pivoted her heel to leave (she’d come back, she just wanted to buy him some more time,) the door flew open and his brother Jon stormed past her. Jon was 13 and was quickly turning from a quiet kid into a troubled teenager. Annie had only known him for a really short time, but she could see the anger and confusion that bubbled just under the still cherub-cheeked surface. She was sure Christian saw it, too, and her heart caught in her throat when she thought of how difficult these upcoming years were going to be for him. She knew it had been tough for him thus far, and now he was going to have to figure out how to father a troubled teen that was barely five years younger than him. God, a huge part of her resented leaving him when she saw things like this. She knew what it was like to not have much support, and in two short weeks they had begun to build a small support structure between themselves. It was a shoddy bridge, built carefully with sticks and twigs by two people who had no previous experience with bridges, but it was the best support structure she’d ever had and she was walking away from it. Who knew, maybe it would stay standing and she could come back to it one day.
Annie looked up to the door and caught the broken expression on Christian’s face. He didn’t even try to hide it from her, and she was grateful for it. It reinforced her initial feelings of support, of being able to be real with each other. She wrapped her arms tightly around his waste and looked up at him. “I’m so sorry, Christian. What happened?”
“He just can’t be hanging around with those kids, Annie! He’s been hanging out with all those little wannabe cholos! He doesn’t even know what he’s getting himself into! I mean, fuck. I know he’s getting older and I know I haven’t been able to be anything like a real dad to him, but can’t he see what he’s doing? We know people that die in this neighborhood every other month! It’s no joke, and now he’s trying to run with them? What kind of example is this setting for Nando? Isn’t our family enough?”
“I don’t even know what to say, Christian. You have been the best role model for him – this doesn’t have anything to do with you not stepping up enough. He’s just a teenager trying to figure out his way-“
“Fuck his way! This is NOT the right way, Annie!”
“I didn’t say it was! Calm down. Yelling isn’t solving anything today. I don’t know any answers, Christian, but pushing him away isn’t going to fix things, either! Put yourself in his shoes. He’s a different person than you, and you need to figure out the best way to talk to him.”
“Damn you for being so calm and logical,” he looked down at her and pulled her back into a hug. “This has been the shittiest day I’ve had in a long time. Pardon my language. Why are you leeeaavinngggg, Annie? Stay here with me and keep me sane…”
“Not a chance. But, it’s only 3:00 and I’m not leaving until 9:05 tomorrow morning. Let’s make the best of what we’ve got left, buddy! I decided to officially kick off the rest of my life right now and splurge some of my “fly-away” money on our last day together, which means I kept some cash out for us and it’s burning a hole in my pocket! What have you always wanted to do that you haven’t had the money to do here in San Diego? Should we take your brothers with?”
“Hmmm. No way. I’m keeping you to myself for the next 18 hours, even if it means ignoring my brothers. They’ll live, and I’ll have the rest of my life to make up for it with them. Damn you, Annie! I’m going to guilt trip you all night, you know… What do YOU want to do before you fly away? You really kept money out for us? You don’t mind paying for me? Does accepting make me less of a man, because I’m really excited right now…”
“Hah! You might be less of a man, but that’s ok. Belmont Park. I want to ride the roller coaster. And I want to hang out at the pier, and go get a nice dinner somewhere. Then we can go dancing! Let’s find somewhere we can Salsa dance! And then I want to sit on the beach until the sun comes up. Do you have anything to add?”
“NO Salsa dancing. I am not taking you to a club and dancing with you. Save that for you night in Vegas. Let’s go rent surf boards and go surfing! Can we take a taxi? It’s a pain in the ass to take public transit to the beach. How much money are we talking?”
“We are not cutting corners, Mr. Santos. Enough for a taxi. I will attempt to go surfing if you attempt to Salsa with me. Deal? Go pack what you need, let’s kick this off the right way!” She smiled and shoved him inside. She couldn’t do much, but she determined that as long as she could help it, Christian’s day would end much better than it started. She liked seeing him happy, and it was going to tear her to pieces to say goodbye to this boy. For one last night, she was going to make it count.