I could hear the wind howl outside, warning us to stay inside. I stood by the window with a cup of hot coffee clenched in my hands and watched the six leaves of the lone tree beside our home barely hold on to its branches. I was sure that not only one but all of the leaves would be forced to let go, but the wind died, and the leaves settled down to rest against the skinny branch of the still-growing tree. I hummed in surprise.
“Are you sure you want to go to Julian’s dinner?” Lluvia said from behind me. “After last time, Julian and Diana would understand if we didn’t show up.”
“I already said yes,” I said, unable to keep the strain away from my tone.
Lluvia didn’t say anything. I continued to look at those leaves, wondering if the next gust of wind would be powerful enough to tear them off and away from each other when a warm hand lay over mine.
“I wouldn’t have asked if you weren’t about to crush your mug, Maya,” Lluvia said. I looked down and realized my knuckles were white. She grabbed my mug and walked away. I heard her settle it on the coffee table, and I sighed as I turned to face her.
“You know,” I said as I went to sit beside her, “they would understand if you didn’t go. I know you were just as surprised and hurt as me. Alex said some pretty mean things.”
Lluvia bit her lip before saying, “He’s your brother.”
“You’re a part of a family. You’re allowed to be hurt, mi amor.”
“Well, I’m not leaving your side tonight. If he wants to pull some crap on Thanksgiving, that’s on him, but he’ll have to get through me first,” Lluvia said as she straightened her back and shoulders.
I laughed. Lluvia always made me laugh. I’d been with this hazel-eyed, dark-haired woman for two years, and still, the love that grew deeper within me every day astonished me. Love truly had no limits. Even when we were broken and tired and fighting, the love lingered underneath. I couldn’t help but lean forward to capture her lips in a long, slow kiss.
When I pulled apart, I said, “Besides, Julian and Diana have our backs, too. They always were my favorite siblings.”
“Maya!” Lluvia said, laughing. “If Alex weren’t acting like an ass, I’d tell him you said that.”
“Well, we’ll see how he acts tonight—and speaking of tonight, let’s head out? We’re already late, and at this rate, they’re all going to hate me.” I stood, snorting as if my self-deprecating joke were funny. Lluvia grabbed my hand before I could walk further.
“Alex doesn’t hate you,” she said, eyebrows furrowed.
“Didn’t feel that way.”
“He just misses everyone together, that’s all.”
I scoffed, though not at Lluvia. “He said I—no, we—were selfish for coming out to my parents. What does he expect? That I hide you for another two years, or who I really am my entire life? My parents were the ones who chose to kick us out of the house and told me to never come back. That wasn’t on me.”
“Hey,” Lluvia said. She stood and put her hands on my cheeks. “I know that.” Tears gathered in my eyes when she did so.
“I would love nothing more than to have my mom and dad eating with us tonight. He’s not the only one who misses the entire family together.” My voice cracked on the last word, and Lluvia hugged me, but I didn’t let myself cry. Not again.
“Esta bien,” she said. It’s okay. After a few moments, I pulled back and wiped at the few tears that had escaped my eyes.
I took some deep breaths before saying, “Alright, let’s go.”
I pulled up to the curb outside of Julian’s apartment, behind Alex’s car. The memory of what happened last week, when we’d all gotten together for breakfast, played in my mind.
Alex had been in a bad mood all morning, and he kept snapping at all of us. It wasn’t until we’d finished eating that he revealed why. Mamá and Papá had called him, crying, and told him they missed everyone. Alex said they were hurt that they still hadn’t received an invitation for a Thanksgiving dinner. He was furious, and he’d turned to Lluvia and me and blamed us for everything. How could you do this to them?
Thinking about it made my heart hurt. I hadn’t talked to Alex since he’d left in anger, slamming the door behind him. I took off my seatbelt and heard Lluvia do the same as I opened the door. The sky was dark, the clouds were grey, and it smelled of rain and mud. Lluvia wrapped her arm in between mine, and we walked to the door. I knocked.
“Por fin!” Julian said, rolling his eyes when he opened the door. At last. He hugged and kissed our cheeks. “We’re starving. Why so late?”
“Why do you think?” I said, raising an eyebrow as I took off my coat.
“Debating showing up?” he said, a sad smile on his face. I nodded. “Well, he seems in a good mood today, if that helps.”
“It doesn’t,” I said as Julian led us to the dining room where everyone was already seated. They cheered and clapped, and I flipped them off, and then looked at Alex. Lluvia hadn’t let go of my arm.
Alex immediately stood up and cleared his throat. The room got quiet and serious. “I owe everyone an apology,” he said, looking down at the table now. “I should have never snapped and yelled at you the way I did. Maya, Lullvia—” he looked at both of us—“There’s no excuse for saying what I said. To say you shouldn’t have come out was selfish and cruel, and I’m really sorry. I hope you can forgive me.”
“You were out of line, Alex,” I said.
His eyes looked sad, and that’s when I knew he really meant his apology. “I know.”
Lluvia squeezed my arm, and I looked at her. She smiled before turning to face Alex. “But we forgive you. It’s Thanksgiving, right? This is when we should be the most grateful, and I am—to all of you. For accepting me in your family and loving me like my own siblings.”
“Who said we love you?” Diana said, winking. “Enough of this ooey-gooey stuff, can we just eat?”
“Yes!” Julian said. “Have a seat, guys. He gestured to two empty seats, side by side. August and I sat, and I looked at her with a raised eyebrow. She shrugged as she reached for the ham. It wasn’t just Alex’s sudden apology that was strange, it was that look in his eye—like he had a trick up his sleeve—but I let it go for the sake of a good dinner.
And it was a good dinner. We all spoke over each other, laughing, and we were focused on nothing but the present moment until a knock at the front door burst our bubble.
I looked at Julian. “Did you invite anyone else?”
He furrowed his eyebrows and shook his head before getting up and walking out of sight to the living room.
“You good?” Lluvia asked as she laid her hand on mine, which was resting on the table.
I smiled and nodded as I turned my palm to intertwine our fingers.
“No, not tonight,” Julian’s voice floated in from the living room.
We all stopped eating and turned toward the direction of it. “We’re not here to start a fight, mijo. We came to make things right.” My heart stopped at the voice I hadn’t heard in months. Mamá’s. She sounded like she was crying, desperate.
I looked at my siblings, and they were all stiff and had wide eyes. The only one who didn’t seem surprised was Alex.
“What did you do?” I asked as I glared.
“They just wanted to explain,” he said.
Lluvia spoke. “Is that—“
“Yes,” I whispered before Lluvia could finish her question. She tightened her hold on my hand as I heard people shuffle into the room.
I turned and saw Julian standing with a defeated and apologetic look on his face. Then, I looked at Papá, who had that same serious, unreadable expression he always wore. He was thinner than the last time I spoke to them four months ago. Mamá looked the same, only her eyes were sadder than I remembered, and they were staring directly at my hand, which was interlocked with Lluvia’s.
As if realizing this, Lluvia squeezed again.
“Qué hacen aquí?” Diana asked. What are you doing here? Five years my senior, Diana was always the first to jump to my protection, whether it was from school bullies to my parents.
“We came to make things right," Papá said, looking straight at me. “With both of you.” He met Lluvia’s eyes, and I felt her stiffen beside me. “With all of you.” He looked at everyone else.
There was a moment of silence, and I looked at Alex. “Did you arrange this?”
He nodded slowly, and I turned back to look at my mom. She had tears running down her cheeks.
“Mi Reina,” she said as she stepped closer to me. My queen. “Perdóname.” Forgive me. “I made a promise when you were born that I would love you unconditionally, and I broke that promise.” Tears quickly streamed down my cheeks. I looked down and wiped them away. “But I never stopped loving you, nothing could ever make your Papá and I stop loving you.”
“We said horrible things,” Papá said. I looked at him. “Horrible things we can never take back, and we’re not asking you to forgive us right now. We’re just asking for a chance to make things right again. We’re sorry, and I’m even sorrier it took us months to get to this place, but we hope that it’s enough that we’re here today.”
I stood abruptly. “I need fresh air,” I muttered as I made my way past them. I heard my parents call my name, but I walked into the living room and outside. The air was sharp and cold and strong, and it was raining now. It came harder, and I scoot closer toward the door, under the roof. I shivered as I hugged myself—I’d left my coat inside—and could see my breath form fog in front of my face.
I replayed my parents' words, my Mamá’s tears, my father’s soft voice. Someone opened the door behind me, and I heard people discussing loudly until it was shut again. A coat was wrapped around my shoulders, and then two arms snuck around my waist. A chin fell onto my shoulder. “Do you want to leave?” Lluvia asked.
“I just had to think,” I said, leaning back against Lluvia’s chest. “One minute, I think they find me disgusting, and the next, they’re standing in front of me and apologizing and telling me they never stopped loving me.”
“Can you forgive them?”
“Yes,” I said. It was the truth—one I couldn’t tell them yet. Unconditional love didn’t just run one way. “But I need to know they really don’t care, and that’s going to take time and actions. Not just words.” I paused for a moment. “They also need to do one more thing.”
I moved out of Lluvia’s arms, taking her hand quickly, and walked inside the house. The dining room went silent when I stepped inside with Lluvia.
“I'm not the only one you need to apologize to,” I told my parents. My words were strong, and they made me feel like I held some power.
“We know,” Mamá said, and she stepped forward to stand in front of Lluvia. Lluvia looked at me, and I nodded. “What we did to you was disrespectful. We should’ve never, ever treated you the way we did and said those things.”
“You make Maya happy, that much is clear,” Papá said. “What you look like shouldn’t matter. We're deeply sorry, and we hope that one day, we can build a relationship too. We mean that.”
“I, uh, I hope that can happen one day too.” I squeezed her hand and smiled. There was a moment of awkward silence until Julian said, “What now?”
“We eat,” I said. “All of us.”
Mamá smiled again. This time the tears in her eyes were of joy. I could tell they both wanted to hug me, but they held back. I appreciated that.
After adding two more chairs and a couple of plates, we were all eating again. I looked at Alex, and he hesitantly met my eyes. When I nodded at him and relief flooded those brown eyes. I turned back to my parents.
“So,” Mamá said, looking at Lluvia. “How’s your apartment looking?”
At that moment, I knew we’d be alright, no matter how long it took for our relationship to get back on track.
Lluvia and I laughed as we stepped out of the car, into the sudden rain and toward the door. The night had turned out alright after all. Lluvia kissed me before we went inside, and I looked at the tree in the front yard. The six leaves were still holding on, despite the rain and the wind and the attacks. They were strong enough, after all.