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DON’T BE STUPID, FOO’. DON’T BE A PENDEJO.”
Dio looked at his homie Spooky’s grip on his jacket.
Most of his boys called Dio “Playboy” because all the ladies
loved him, but those who had known him since he was a
kid called him by his real name, Dio.
He took another hit off his joint. He’d given up smoking
over a year ago, had to, but on this day he was more nervous
than he had ever been in his life.
Thunder rumbled and rain poured, making it impossible
to see. Thunder scared Dio, always had. Dio fought to
keep from shaking. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t swallow.
He tried to hide his fear. His mind was set. He had to do it.
Dio yanked his arm away from Spooky and pushed the
“Just keep the car runnin’, ése.”
Spooky was a big guy, tattoos up and down his arm and a
glass eye. He normally would have just kept Dio from leaving
at all, but he knew nothing could stop him. Nothing at all.
Dio jumped out of the car. It was a ’57 Chevy, complete
with chrome wheels, slick red, with a chili-pepper-hot Mexican
jaina painted across the hood. Dio had painted that
picture himself. It was dope.
He slammed the door shut and looked up at the cathedral
in front of him. Lightning illuminated its majestic towers,
windows with an eerie stained glass. He’d spent many a
night imagining this would be where he’d marry her. They’d
have a huge wedding with members of their families fl ying
in from all over the world just to watch this event, this marriage
he thought was so destined to be. He’d put his everything
into this dream, his one and only dream, and now as
he yanked the heavy oak doors open, his heart pounded like
He dried his soaked clothes with his hand and scratched
his shoes on the mat so as not to squeak across the old wood
fl oor. The church was jam-packed, mostly with Mexicans and
Puerto Ricans, but some blacks.
Probably his familia, Dio thought. How could she even think
about marrying some pinche negro?
The grand organ music permeated the building while a
choir of children sang, their voices echoing throughout the
church. It smelled musty in the air, a mix of wood stain and
must as if they had never really cleaned the place, just painted
He tried not to look too suspicious, slipping past everyone.
Funny, he was dressed probably better than he’d ever
been. Black suit, his wavy black hair slicked back, starched
white shirt, polished black shoes.
Dio had grown into a very nice-looking young man.
Maybe he could have even been a model, had he played his
cards right. Maybe if he hadn’t grown up in the slums of
Northeast Vegas, he could have been one of those Latin
heartthrobs who were in those magazines. Instead, most of
the time he looked like the thug most people assumed he
was just by looking at him.
But on this day, this very weird day, he was even wearing
a tie. Jennifer would have been so proud of him if she could
see him. Funny, he’d probably be the last thing she’d see.
He checked his jacket pocket to make sure it was still
there. Yep, it felt like a brick pressed against his chest. But he
was so numb, or more like so focused, that he was oblivious
to it. All he knew was that he had to fi nd Jennifer, and he
would use any means necessary.
Wham! Dio bumped hard into a glass table. His thigh
throbbed in pain as bullets dropped from his pocket and
bounced off the wood fl oor. The sound echoed all over the
lobby. People looked around for the source of the sound, but
Dio managed to scoop them up before anyone could see.
He got up and noticed the beautiful ice sculpture on the
table—melting, dripping like an ice-cream cone in August.
Melting just like his heart.
He saw Father Martínez, his priest, the one he’d grown
up with. It was as if the whole world had turned against
him. They’d sided with Jennifer, when this was supposed to
be their wedding. It was as if she’d slapped him across the
face, as if nothing they’d been through together even mattered.
The whole thing was surreal.
She loved him. She’d said that over and over to him since
they were little kids. She’d taken care of him and believed in
him and dreamed with him and held him when nobody else
“Estoy aquí para ti. No matter what—siempre,” they’d
promised each other. And a promise was a promise.
“Don’t be stupid, foo’. Don’t be a pendejo.” Spooky’s
scolding remarks kept playing in his head. He warned Dio to
just let it go. It wasn’t worth it. Normally Spooky would have
been all for it, but this time around he said, “Olvídalo . . . let
it go.” It was as if he sensed something was going to go
wrong and, no matter how high Spooky had been, his gut
was always right.
Dio only hoped this time around he was wrong. He had
worked so hard. He could really get a fresh new start now, “a
new lease on life,” as his probation offi cer used to say, but
now he was risking it all to confront Jennifer.
Was Spooky right? Should he just let it go, face it that
she didn’t want to be with him no matter how hard and bad
it felt? Should he just forget the whole thing? Maybe he’d
meet some other ruca. Time heals all wounds, they say, and
maybe if he’d just—but no. Dio shoved those thoughts out
of his mind.
He’d spent the last year changing his life around for
her, so they could be together, so he would be the man she
said she’d always wanted, so he could be the daddy his
daughter needed. They were meant to be together and he
was going to make Jennifer understand that, if it was the
last thing he did.
He could see Jennifer’s family in the front, dressed in
their Sunday best. Her mom always made a spectacle of herself
with her gigantic summer hat in purple. She never did
like Dio and he knew she had probably orchestrated this
whole thing, probably arranged the whole wedding herself.
He wondered if perhaps Jennifer was doing this just to
make her mom happy, but then he saw her . . . the music
changed, the children’s choir sounded so beautiful, he had to
admit, so irritatingly perfect. All heads turned and everyone
gasped as the bride, Jennifer, made her way down the aisle.
Her father took her arm, biting his lip, trying not to cry.
He looks nervous, Dio thought.
Jennifer looked incredible. How could she afford a dress
like that? The guy must be rich or something. That’s probably
what it was. That’s probably why she was marrying him. It had to
be the money. The one thing Dio could never give her.
Her gown had a lace top, cut just low enough to show her
sensual bustline, but high enough to showcase the fi rst-class
act that she was. Her face was shielded by her veil. He hadn’t
seen her in so long. It seemed like the whole congregation
held its breath with him.
Her mom made a dramatic spectacle of herself. Her
wails were the only thing that could be heard above the organ
playing as the children’s choir reached a crescendo, then
trailed off. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Even Dio had
to fi ght the tears.
Thunder rumbled. Her father escorted her over to her
groom. He was a nice-looking man, a light-skinned black
man. Maybe he was mulatto or something. He wore a striped,
stuffed tie, not a traditional bow tie, and the tux must have
been Armani or something. He had one of those smiles with
teeth so white it blinded you. His gaze never left Jennifer,
even as the priest rambled on and on with the vows.
“I, Antonio Estrella—”
What kind of nombre was that? Estrella? Jennifer Estrella.
It just didn’t match her. No le queda.
“. . . hereby take you as my wife, to have and to hold . . .”
There was a lump in the back of Dio’s throat. He wanted
to burst out, “No!” It hurt so much.
“I, Jennifer Lalita Sánchez . . .”
He couldn’t believe his ears; she was promising him her
life. Thunder rumbled and the lights went out. There was a
small gasp in the audience, but Jennifer just smiled, the
candles illuminating her. She was too lost in the groom’s
“. . . to have and to hold, through sickness and health . . .”
He couldn’t help it anymore. Tears came streaming from
Dio’s eyes. This was too much for him. He was about to explode.
His blood boiled.
He looked around at all the stained-glass Bible stories,
the creepy statue of Jesus on the cross. He swore Jesus was
glaring right at him as if he were saying, “No lo hagas . . .
don’t do it.” He looked the other way, but the statue of the
Virgin Mary scolded him as well.
Dio couldn’t help but think how proud his own mother
had been with how he’d changed his life around, the tears of
joy she’d shed. He’d never seen her like that before. He
shuddered to think how his mother would feel after all this
went down, how ashamed she’d be. Maybe it would drive
her to drinking again. Drinking again, after how far she’d
“With the power invested in me by the state of Nevada,
I hereby declare you . . . man and wife.”
Dio couldn’t breathe. The only thing that kept him from
passing out was seeing Jennifer’s face as her new husband
lifted the veil. She was more beautiful than ever. She had
olive-colored skin and was the type of girl who never did
need any makeup. In fact, she hated wearing it. But this time
she was wearing just enough. Her dark brown hair was
curled; glitter sparkled in it. She looked like an angel, no, a
goddess, better than the pictures Dio drew of her, better
than he’d remembered her looking in his dreams.
He’d never seen Jennifer so happy. Not even when she
was with him. She had always seemed so distracted, but now
she really did look like she was in love.
How could that be possible?
He loved her more than he’d ever loved anyone. Didn’t
she see that? How could she do this to him? The ice sculpture
melted like it was on fi re.
His heart raced as he reached for the .45 caliber in his
pocket, which Dio called his cohete. He could hear the rain
pounding against the stained-glass windows and the roof.
His sweaty hands pulled for it, his heart in his throat. He
crossed himself, closed his eyes, and prayed he was about to
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