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Authors: Francisco X. Stork

Irises (7 page)

BOOK: Irises
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“What is it?” she asked coldly. She had found that with certain types of boys, cold was the only way to be.

“Gomez told me to come here and ask for you.”


Mr
. Gomez asked you that?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“What?”

“Why did Mr. Gomez ask you to see me?” She said this
with such force that he actually turned his face away from her.

“I don't know,” he said. “I was doing time in detention and Gomez asked me to come see you.”

“I still don't understand,” she said.

He reached into the back pocket of his pants and took out a piece of paper. When he handed it to her, she noticed a small tattoo of a four-pointed star on the skin between his thumb and index finger. She knew a tattoo like that was the mark of a gang member. A shiver of fear ran through her body. But there was a timid look on his face, as if he were afraid of what she would say. She unfolded the paper and saw a drawing of a circle with strange animal and human figures inside it. It reminded her of the Aztec calendar.

“You did that?” she asked. He didn't seem like the type who could do a drawing as precise as that.

“I was bored,” he said.

She examined the drawing more carefully, and she began to understand why Mr. Gomez told him to come see her. Every so often, Mr. Gomez was asked to take on a troublesome student, the theory being that even art was more productive than detention, where students just sat and did nothing. Mr. Gomez encouraged this arrangement because the usefulness of the art studio was an argument he could use when the school board threatened to terminate the art program for budget reasons, as they did every year.

It took Mary only a few moments to recognize the flare of imagination, the natural inspiration she once had. The precision of the lines reflected a subtle and ordered sense of beauty. The drawing had captured an invisible source of light. She wanted to tell the boy that his drawing was good, because it was, but instead she walked over to a cabinet and pulled out a pad of paper and a charcoal pencil. Then she went to a desk and placed the paper and the pencil on top. “Here,” she said.

“Here what?” She could tell he wasn't used to getting directions.

She went over to the windowsill and grabbed a white plastic horse the students called Hi-Yo. She put Hi-Yo on a stool in front of his desk. “Draw this,” she told him.

He sat on the desk, crossed his arms, and stared at the horse. Maybe she should tell him to draw whatever he wanted. After all, he was not going to come back to the art studio unless he was sent there again. But she wasn't in the mood for confrontations. Everything still seemed so unreal, so petty after Papa's death. She felt a wave of sadness come over her as she turned back to her painting.

“I heard about you,” she heard him say as she walked away.

She didn't turn around. When she got to her easel, she began to study her irises again. It seemed to her that the colors she had used were lifeless, like the colors of a corpse.

“I heard you were the hot girl who thinks she's too good for everyone.”

She kept looking at the painting. She didn't say anythin
g. May
be she should have, but what was there to say? She tried to mix the acrylic paint on the palette, but she couldn't
concentrate
. Why pretend that she wanted to paint when she didn't? Why didn't she just admit that she had stopped
liking
to paint since Mama's accident? It was a show she had been putting on. A show for whose benefit? What was the point of creating colorful forms when Papa didn't want them, when Mama would never see them? Papa was right to throw away all her paintings when Mama became ill. What did painting irises have to do with the sadness of the world?

 

A
unt Julia insisted that Simon come for supper. Kate couldn't quite figure out why she was so excited about his visit, and then it dawned on her that Aunt Julia had found out from Mary that Simon's family owned two restaurants. Kate herself worked in one of those restaurants after school. She could almost hear the little wheels in Aunt Julia's head go
click, click, click
whenever Simon's name was mentioned.

Aunt Julia made her famous pot roast and mashed potatoes in honor of Simon's visit. After the roast was in the oven, she showered, washed her hair, put on her best dress, and overly perfumed herself. It was almost as if Simon was coming to see
her
. When she heard the knock on the door, she smoothed down her dress and sat as straight as a rod on the sofa. She stayed seated when Kate introduced them and floated her hand out to Simon like a queen. Kate couldn't help but notice a look of surprise on her face. Perhaps she was expecting someone more striking. Simon wasn't tall, but he was solidly built, and he had a rugged-looking face with lively eyes that focused on you and made you feel important. You had to look at him a couple of times before you realized that he was good-looking in his own unassuming way.

“So, Simon,” Aunt Julia said when everyone was seated i
n the
living room, “Kate tells me your family owns two restaurants.”

Ah, good old Aunt Julia
, Kate thought.
Nothing like getting straight to the point
.

“Yes, ma'am,” Simon answered shyly, as if afraid to boast. “We had one for a long time and then last year we started a second one over by the airport.”

“That's wonderful.” Aunt Julia beamed, casting a meaningful glance at Kate.

“I should check on dinner,” Kate said.

“The pot roast is all set,” said Aunt Julia.

“I'm going to make the salad.”

“I'll make it,” Mary said as she stepped into the living room. “Hi, Simon.” She waved.

“Hey, Mary!” Simon waved back. Kate shot Mary a look, but Mary either didn't catch the hidden meaning or decided to ignore it.

Simon was usually nervous whenever he came over, which Kate had always attributed to the dignified presence of her father. Now he was sitting on the sofa next to Aunt Julia and was still visibly jittery.

“Maybe I should check on Mother,” Kate suggested.

“She's all right. You should stay here with your young man.” Aunt Julia smiled at Simon.

“Simon's been here many times before. He feels at home,” Kate said.

“I'm okay,” said Simon, trying to defuse the tension. “I've been here many times before.” He gave Kate a quick smile, as if apologizing for repeating what she had said. She decided she should stay in the room. There was no telling what Aunt Julia might say next.

“How long have you been engaged?” Aunt Julia asked.

“Aunt Julia!” Kate exclaimed. “We're not engaged!”

“Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were,” Aunt Julia said coyly. Kate could see her stratagem. She was planting seeds in Simon's mind, letting him know that she would approve of an engagement, as if it were up to her to approve.

Simon was blushing proudly. He seemed glad that their relationship had been mistaken for an engagement.

“If you're not engaged, then what are you?” Aunt Julia was looking at Simon, waiting for him to answer.

“Aunt Julia, you're embarrassing Simon,” Kate said.

“No, no. I'm not embarrassed. It's just that, I don't know, I guess maybe we can say that we're pre-engaged,” he said.

“Oh,” Aunt Julia said. It was clear that
pre-engaged
did not mean anything to her.

Kate glared at Simon.

“So when are you
—” Aunt Julia started to ask, but Kate cut her off.

“Let's go have supper.” She stood up and waited for the others to follow. Aunt Julia ignored her.

“What do you plan to do after graduation?”

“Aunt Julia, don't interrogate Simon so much,” Kate tried to joke. She sat back down again.

“I'm not interrogating him. I'm curious, that's all. Since h
e's
pre-engaged
to you, I should know. I'm the only relative you've got.”

“That's all right,” Simon said to Kate. He turned back to Aunt Julia. “I plan to manage one of my father's restaurants, the one by the airport. I'll work with him for a few months so he can show me the ropes, and then he'll turn the whole restaurant over to me. He and my mother have been running a restaurant for twenty-five years. They want to retire. My brother, Raul, will manage the other restaurant as soon as he graduates from high school. He's one year younger than me.”

Aunt Julia made a face that conveyed she was impressed. “Managing a restaurant at such a young age!”

“I've been working in the restaurants ever since I can remember. I know the business. And I'll have a few months with my dad before I take over completely.”

Aunt Julia was going to ask another question when M
ary came
in. “I think the pot roast is getting overdone. It looks dry.”

Fortunately, Aunt Julia did not carry out any further interrogations during supper. Kate noticed that Mary's presence mellowed Aunt Julia. It was as if Mary saw a softer side to her, and she responded to that.

After they were finished with supper, Aunt Julia insisted that Kate and Simon go out to the backyard and enjoy the cool evening air while she rested and Mary did the dishes. She had gone back to her usual tired self.

Kate and Simon sat next to each other in silence. The night was gleaming with stars, and Kate focused her gaze on them. Whenever she glanced at Simon, she felt as if he was mustering enough courage to speak. She wanted to ask him about the “pre-engagement” comment. It was presumptuous of him to say that to Aunt Julia before discussing it with Kate. On the other hand, she did not want to talk about their relationship. She liked Simon and felt closer to him than she had ever felt to any other boy, but they had never discussed what would happen after high school, and she had never told him about the application to Stanford. She knew that Simon assumed she would stay in El Paso and their relationship would continue. Now here he was, searching for words to ask her what she didn't want to hear.

“Is everything okay?” he finally said.

“Okay? Like how?”

“Between us.”

“Sure.”

She could hear him inhale deeply. “Maybe it's time to make things more formal.”

“Things?” She turned to look at him.

“Between you and me.”

“More than pre-engaged?” There was a faint note of sarcasm in her voice, but Simon didn't pick it up.

“I know we've only been going out for a year and a half, but we've known each other since we were kids, since my family started going to your father's church. I'm one hundred percent sure about you. I've felt that way for ages. And
.
.
.”

“Go on.” Might as well have it all out. Simon put his left hand in his pocket, and for a second she thought he was going to take out a ring. Kate's mind raced, trying to think what she would say if he did.

“Well, this is a good time to make a decision about us.”

She was relieved when he took his hand out of his pocket again and it was empty. She wondered why Simon would not just out-and-out propose to her, why he preferred to talk about decisions, formal or otherwise. He must be testing and prodding to see whether his proposal would be accepted. There was a part of her that wanted to make it easier for him by telling him to go ahead and just ask, and another part that wanted to make it as hard as possible so that she wouldn't have to give any answers.

She said softly, “Are you sure this is a good time to be talking about this?” It was the gentlest way to put him off, at least for a while.

But Simon seemed determined to carry through with what he had to say. He took a deep breath and then said, “I want to be there for you. You need someone now more than ever.”

BOOK: Irises
7.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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