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SEARCHING ”“ a Serial Novelle CHAPTER 18: Truth, in all its profound beauty and terror.

By Patrick Cabello Hansel

Coffee, pancakes, the smiles and shouts of people who love you””who cares if you”'re celebrating the Feast Day of the Virgen de Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexico and all the Americas””sitting in a sticky booth at Denny”'s at 11:22 pm.

This is the crowd that greeted Angel & his dad, Augusto: the Luz, the light of his life, her grandmother Dolores, Mr. Bussey, his old teacher from Roosevelt, Mother Light the healer, and her helper Ana. They were seated under two signs that had yellowed with age. One read: Between 10pm and 5pm, minimum order $3.00, maximum stay 2 hours. The other: No Card Playing in This Restaurant. Angel was going to ask if card playing was allowed in other Denny”'s, but as he began to form the words, Mr. Bussey and Mother Light each pulled out a deck and began shuffling.

“What shall we play?” Mr. Bussey asked. “Bid Whist? Buck Euchre? Pinochle?”

“Clabber? Skat? Bourré?” Mother Light chimed in.

“¿Conquian? ¿Siete Loco? ¿Burro Castigado?” laughed Dolores.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Angel laughed. “It says “No Card Playing in This Restaurant! You”'re going to get us kicked out before we even eat!”

“No way”, Mother Light said. “Ana here is a law student at Willie Mitchell, and she says that sign is strictly non-enforceable ex post facto prime facia opera operato or something. Isn”'t that right Ana?”

“Si!” smiled Ana.

“Wait a minute, you”'re”¦you”'re a law student. I thought you were like”¦I don”'t know”¦sixteen or something,” Angel said.

“I am sixteen, and I am a law student”, Ana replied. “I graduated high school at 12, went through St. Olaf in three years, and now I”'m studying the law.”

There was a glow around Ana that Angel had never noticed before, and as he began to open his mouth to ask her another question, he caught the look from Luz. Or rather, the look caught him: the look that says “that”'s enough inquiry into another woman”'s affairs, dear”.

Of course Mother Light caught the tension, as did grandmother Dolores. Augusto knew something was up, but didn”'t exactly know what. Mr. Bussey was playing solitaire, and had started cheating.

Angel knew in his gut what was at stake, but he pressed on.

“But Ana”, he said, “I mean how did you do that””that”'s really cool. You must be really smart!”

By now, he didn”'t need to turn his head to meet Luz”' look. He could feel the heat on his neck. Still he pressed on.

“So you”'re going to become a lawyer”, he said, and smiled wider than he had in months. “So if I get into trouble, would you defend me? People here know that I tend to get into trouble and can use help!”

He looked slowly around the table, smiling like a clown, looking for affirmation. When he got to Luz, he turned his smile into the one that says, “Take this.” He turned quickly back to Ana and said:

“So maybe I”'ll get into trouble, so you can come visit me in jail!”

Simultaneously two things happened. Ana blushed, and Luz slammed both her hands down on the tabletop.

She took one look at Angel””so that he knew what the look was””pushed her chair back so hard it fell, and marched out the door, leaving her coat, her hat, her mittens.

You know that feeling when the air is sucked out of a room? When the angry, drunken father comes home on pay day, and the children scatter like mice? When the visiting team scores a touchdown in the last second of the playoff game, and all the emotion that has boiled up ready to erupt dies an untimely death? That was Denny”'s on that Guadalupe night. Even the man washing dishes in the back felt hit by it. He wiped his hands on his apron, made the sign of the cross over his head, shoulders, heart and lips, and raised his eyes to heaven, as if to ask Will your people ever learn?

A few weeks ago, even a few days ago, Angel would have laughed it off, and said something cute and stupid, like “What? I did something wrong?” He would have made Luz pay by not going after her, by making her wait days, by turning himself into the victim, to try and make her apologize. But not tonight.

He grabbed his coat and hers, and walked out, dropping one of her mittens. He found her in the back parking lot, crying softly.

“Luz”, he said. “Luz” he repeated, and then the search, the beating, the troubles at home, the questions he had about his ancestry and his destiny rose up in him a river, and he began to weep. For the first time in his life, he did not try to deny.

“Luz, I”'m sorry. I”'m sorry I was flirting with Ana. I shouldn”'t have done that”””he thought to say “in front of you”, but instead simply said–“I should never have done that”.

Luz did not raise her eyes, but began to move her feet a little, back and forth.

“I don”'t know why I did it. Maybe I was happy to see my Dad, and the good news about your uncle, and Guadalupe Day and”¦.”

Then he stopped himself, and truth””in all its profound beauty and terror””poured over him like a strong wind.

“I guess I wanted to hurt you.”

“Hurt me? Hurt me!” Luz shouted. “Why did you want to hurt me ? What have I ever done to you? I stood by you, I prayed for you when you were hurt. I loved you from the very beginning. Why do you want to hurt me?”

Angel stood, silent and motionless. The air that had been sucked out of the restaurant was returning to the world, chastened.

“I think”¦” he started. “I think I”'ve always hurt those who loved me the most”¦the ones I love. I don”'t know why. I think there”'s something wrong in me””something wrong in my heart.”

And at that, he began to sob inconsolably. He was alone with his hurt, and his hurt was healing him.

“I don”'t know what is happening to me, Luz. I thought whoever was out to get me was ”˜out there”'. Some unseen enemy that had it in for me. But now I think it”'s in me. I can”'t get away from it. It has me. I”'m scared, Luz. I don”'t know how to live.”

Luz lifted her eyes, and saw that Angel”'s were lowered deeper than she had ever seen them. She lifted his chin with her cold hand, and blew on his face.

“I don”'t know what”'s wrong with you,” she said. “But I”'m not afraid of it.”

She hugged Angel, and then said: “C”'mon, let”'s go back inside. I”'m freezing.”

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