I hear voices behind me, but I don’t have room for any more bodies in my space, so I ignore them. When I look back to Maria, she flings her eyes past me. She’s mad, too, that much is easy to see. But then the tension melts, her eyes drop impossibly wide, and her mouth silently opens.
Her obvious shock is like a PTSD trigger, and it blindsides me so that for a moment, I can’t move either. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that look on her, and somehow I expect that if I turn around, I’ll see her brother risen from the dead.
Josh moves closer to her, so that he’s almost touching her, and he glares past me. The voices behind me die, and so does the movement. Abruptly, I’m right in the middle of a silent firefight that I don’t comprehend.
I step to the side as I turn around, so that I’m at her other shoulder. Abuela’s directives be damned, I will always be her right hand. I fight the urge to draw arms within these walls as my vision lands on the offending party.
For a moment that lasts longer than I would ever admit, he looks like just another guy – an uppity thirty-something in a snob’s clothes, not packing any heat on his hip or shoulder. But the moment passes, and those angular cheeks and broad jaw are too familiar. He’s barely been gone long enough for me to forget that I took his seat only because he left.
He’s a bit thinner, a lot browner, and all kinds of dressed up. I can’t say I was torn up when he left us, but he did leave us. He turned his back on what was supposed to be his crew. Never mind that I was willing to do the same thing, on one tiny difference of condition. I wouldn’t leave without her, but he did. It made sense, but that didn’t make it OK.
Then the details begin to click into place like a well-oiled machine. The man beside him is Jorge, our most recent heroin hero, on the scene with a deal to end all deals. The guy worthy of a family dinner in his honor.
Jorge is skinny, greasy, and appalling in a general sense. He wears his long hair in a slick, low ponytail, and sports a long, equally greasy goatee. At the moment, he’s standing half a step behind Isaiah, openly assessing the threat that hangs vaguely between the other four people in the hallway.
Isaiah, here, in one of the most guarded and secret locations under Abuela’s extensive network. With Jorge, who just made a really impressive connection and got a pat on the back. What the fuck has Izzy been into this past year?
Isaiah isn’t armed, so there’s no threat, but Josh and I are formed up on Maria as though a SWAT team is about to storm the windows and doors. Whatever internal hang-ups we have be damned, nobody from the outside will ever get a glimpse of that. We stand together.
Except this isn’t even my division anymore.
Izzy’s eyes scan over the three of us, slow and methodical as one might expect, and brave. He looks each of us directly in the eyes. He doesn’t shove his hands in his pockets. He doesn’t walk away. There’s no cigarette in his hand. He just stands his ground. He’s different in his stature, more comfortable, less cautious.
He was always the best among us at reading people, but he was only barely better than me, and that’s just because he had a little empathy where I had no time for that shit. It only takes me a moment to see what Maria did to him.
She destroyed what little he had left, from whatever life he had before. He’s more like me than ever, and all it takes to tell me that is the reckless gleam in his eyes. Maybe for the first time, I can relate to him, and no one has said a word. I think he wants someone to say something. I think he wants to snap.
What righteous hell is this?
Rising Tide available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and KindleUnlimited April 15, 2021.