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 door open. “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 flying
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 a subwoofer.
He dried his soaked clothes with his hand and scratched his shoes on the mat so as not to squeak across the old wood floor. 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 over it.
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 find 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 floor. 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 had cared.
“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 officer 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 probablywhat 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 first-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 fight 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 eyes.
“. . . to have and to hold, through sickness and health . . .” she continued.
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 come around.
“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 fire.
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 do the right thing.
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