Pedro stared at himself in the bathroom mirror, in the hotel suite, floors above the ballroom where he was about to get married. He thought of the bodies rushing around below him, florists and caterers, hurrying to get it all just right. He thought about the people in all the floors stacked between him and his wedding, the building a giant concrete entremets, each layer containing multitudes. He wondered what they were doing at this exact moment. Were they laughing? Crying? Making love? Then, he flattened the lapels of his well-tailored suit, applied some cologne, and thought about his father.

              As he made his way down the corridor he was struck by a sense of déjà vu. Not the exact moment, but the feeling. The stomach like a hive of bees, the cold damp of his hands, the fear that comes from something so personal being so public.

He was admittedly a bit distracted when he reached his mother’s room. Otherwise he would have waited for a response when he knocked—a gentle tap—rather than just pushing the not-quite-latched door open and walking right in. Had he not been so lost in thought, he might have called out, or heard something that gave him pause, but instead he happened unannounced upon his mother and his bride-to-be.

There they were, the two women he loved most in the world, wrapped in lace and tulle, and smelling like all the flowers in a garden. They quickly broke apart, eyes wide and bodies stiff with surprise. Dust motes danced in the empty space between them, the only things moving in a room where just a moment ago, silhouetted by soft light filtering through the curtains, they had been delicately leaning into each other, kissing.


Pedro’s father loved music, clothes, and making his mother laugh. Whenever Pedro thought about him, Sam Cooke’s You Send Me, Chanel Bleu, and his mother’s smile all came to him at once. Even as a memory, the man was a sensory experience.

Pedro always knew his mother and father’s relationship was different. While his friends’ parents seemed to have all this space between them—as they passed in the same room, or between the words spoken at the dinner table—his had proximity.

Even as a little boy, he recognized being outside of it. His parents loved him—and he felt their love—but he was one step removed from their closeness. If asked to describe his childhood before, it would be a loop of perching on the kitchen counter, his mother making tamales, and his father dancing around her. Twirling her. Dipping her. A smile and a laugh that spread all the way to her eyes.

And then one night, when he was eight years old, one dinner party changed everything.

The only time his parents seemed tense was when they were inviting outsiders in. Pedro didn’t understand why they put themselves through it, and even asked once, but his father just gave him a wink and said, “How will all the ladies know how handsome you are if we don’t have them over?” And Pedro laughed like it was a game because he wanted his father to believe it.

As his parents got ready, they grew quiet. His mother would put on clothing she never wore—long skirt and sleeves, high collar—and wipe the red from her mouth and the shadow from her eyes. Pedro sat on the bathroom counter, watching her dull herself, not understanding.

While his father got dressed in one of his many well-tailored suits, Pedro’s mother dressed him. He knew she hated getting ready for these things, but he loved it, because he got to dress just like his father. He still remembered going with his father to the tailor. Standing still and getting poked with pins. Feeling the weight of fabric on his shoulders as the tailor and his father discussed the break of the pants and the hit of the cuff. The air smelling faintly of chalk. The whole thing, a ceremony.

Once he was dressed, and hair parted and glossy with pomade, his mother would usher him back into their bedroom. His father would turn around, smiling and nodding, “Ok, amigo! I see, I see!” And he’d do the high five that ended with a snap and then he’d turn to Pedro’s mother and say, “Wait, something is missing, no?”

 She would stand back and look at him like she was solving a puzzle, then snap her fingers. She would go to his father’s vanity and hold out the midnight blue bottle. “A gentleman must smell nice too, no?” And then she would spray it into the air, and Pedro would walk into the cloud, feeling the soft kiss of vapor on his skin.

On this particular night, right as this moment passed, the first guest arrived. The doorbell was like a foreman entering the room. In an instant Pedro’s father transformed from lithe and fluid to rigid and solid. His mother went from relaxed and confident, to erect and uncertain. Pedro looked from his mother’s face, to his father’s, their eyes saying, “We are brave.”

The early moments of that dinner party felt like all the others. Husbands and wives arrived together, men all in suits, women dressed just like his mother. The men peeled off to join his father around the bar cart, the women headed to the kitchen. Pedro suspended in the middle, caught between his obligation to be a man, and his desire to be where all the warmth was. And then he appeared, a nightmare in Pedro’s living room.


Mr. Brennan was a serious man with a square jaw and severe haircut. Pedro had only seen him once before when he came to speak to their class. He talked a lot about the country, and how it had been dangerous and full of sin. He said a lot of those words that stung like lemon juice. Things that Pedro didn’t understand, but that made him feel alone and sad.

When he got home from school that day he cried until his mother’s blouse was wet with tears. When his body had finished heaving, his mother took his face in her hands and said, “Mi cielo, everyone feels sad and alone. Some people feel it inside, like you and me. Some people run from it.

“Running from it can look all kinds of ways. Sometimes it looks like eating too much. Sometimes it looks like spending too much. Sometimes it looks like hurting yourself.

“People like Mr. Brennan are the saddest kind. They’re the ones who are so lonely and afraid they have to take things from other people to feel brave. We should always find love in our hearts for people like Mr. Brennan because they need it the most, and we have bravery to spare.”


The men filtered in to the dining room, and positioned themselves at alternating seats, Pedro’s father at the head. He was the first to take a seat, then the other men followed in unison. Only then did the women emerge from the kitchen and take their seats to the left of their respective husbands.

The table was filled with platters of roasted meat, buttery potatoes, fresh-baked bread, all favorites of their guests. Although this food was much more decadent than their usual fare, Pedro found himself daydreaming about the smoky flavors, and savory sweet richness they usually ate. He knew that this, the way they were eating now, was better than the way they ate every day. He knew it had something to do with the people here being better than they were, but it was all very confusing.

How do you reconcile something worse, being better, just because someone tells you so? From food to skin tone to countries, it seemed like everyone was always deciding what was good and what was bad.

 While Pedro had been daydreaming, his father had led the table in prayer. The room filled with the sounds of silver scraping porcelain, and, “Please pass the potatoes,” and the soft thud of platters returning to the tabletop. Pedro looked up to find Mr. Brennan sitting quiet as the sound reverberated around him.

Quiet like a forest before the report of a rifle.

Quiet like the stillness between heartbeats.


Pedro kept returning to his mother’s words, and as the evening wound to a close, he went to search out Mr. Brennan. He wasn’t sure why, or what he would do when he found him, but he thought maybe he could share some kindness, some courage.

Pedro wanted to help him.

Mr. Brennan wasn’t in the living room with the few remaining guests. He wasn’t in the kitchen, or in the bathroom. Pedro figured, he must be collecting his and his wife’s coats. As Pedro got closer to the coat room, he caught a whiff of his father’s cologne, but maybe he was just smelling himself. Just outside the door he heard a whisper, his father’s.

Then another voice, a man’s, soft and tender like the purr of a cat.

 Pedro didn’t know this was a moment that meant more than any other, so he walked right in to the coat room. First he saw his father’s back, his navy suit and oil black hair. Then he was staring straight into the eyes that belonged to the second voice. A voice Pedro had only known to say cruel things.

A voice that lived inside a man who was too lonely to be brave.

A lonely man wrapped tenderly around his father.

Pedro watched those eyes transform from shock to terror to fury. He broke away from Pedro’s father, who spun around to discover his son, standing still, not knowing what he’d done. As Mr. Brennan rushed from the room, Pedro’s father tried to stop him.

“Robert it’s ok, he won’t say anything.”

But Mr. Brennan couldn’t risk it, and the cornered-animal terror stopped Pedro’s father from saying another word. It was Mr. Brennan who would say many more words, to many more people. Telling them all about Pedro’s father just to shield himself.

Their lives got hard after that.

Pedro’s friends stopped sitting with him at school. Kids he didn’t even know would stare at him in the hallway and whisper as he walked by. Then one day in gym Pedro scored a goal and the goalie slammed his mitts to the ground and said something about Pedro’s father. Even though Pedro knew he should show kindness and bravery to those who felt lonely and afraid, he momentarily forgot and broke the goalie’s nose.

Pedro wasn’t allowed back in school after that.

Meanwhile, his father became more and more of a shell. He never danced in the kitchen, or played music. His once tailored suits hung off his frame like he was a coat hanger. He never joked or laughed or gave Pedro the high five that ended with a snap. Pedro’s mother tried to lift them all up, but there was no breaking through the fog. Until one evening his father came home from work and everything was different.

That night when he came in, his face was broken open with a smile. He squeezed Pedro tightly like he had been away on a long trip and had just returned. He put on some Sam Cooke and joined Pedro’s mother in the kitchen. Pedro sat on the counter while they laughed and joked and danced the way they used to. They ate together, his father finishing two plates, and just outside the window it began to snow.

His father had to run out—he would be back before the weather got too bad—so Pedro sat on the back of the couch and watched out the front window as he pulled away. Pedro couldn’t ever remember being so full of hope and love and all the good things in the world.


“Si, mi cielo?” 

“Can we bake a cake?”

Flour and sugar falling all around them.


And waiting.

And waiting.

Falling asleep at the table.

Being carried to bed in his mother’s arms.

Still asleep the next morning when the policemen came to the door.

It was hard to spot his car under the layer of white, but they had found it. He had run a hose from the exhaust through the window. It would have been painless. Just slipped into a deep sleep with the snow falling all around him, like sugar.

It would be years before Pedro understood what happened.

He would remember the wake.

All the same men from the dinner party.

All in his house once again.

He would remember how hollow Mr. Brennan looked.

And then he wouldn’t remember anything else for a long time.

If asked to describe his childhood after, there was nothing. Just a blank space where happiness once was.

His mother tried so hard to get him back. First, she thought routine would help, and the school agreed to take him since circumstances had changed. Even if he didn’t remember the first day, his mother did. How she had to peel him out of bed. How she ignored the dampness of his pillowcase. How he didn’t eat any breakfast and she was so scared as she dropped him off. How as his tiny hand gripped the door handle, she grabbed his shoulder and his little face, once so open but now so closed, turned towards her.

“Remember. Bravery to spare.”

She stared into his eyes, seeing something spark.

She mouthed, “Ready?”

He gave the smallest little nod, and eyes filling with tears, got out of the car.

Pedro did go back to school, and he did well and made friends, but the years that followed were filled with anger at all the wrong things, grief just bubbling over onto everything. His mother, trying to protect him, feared bringing him too close. Suddenly months had passed, years, without a tenderness between them. He had graduated high school, was practically a man. On the eve of his departure for college she stood at his bedroom door, marveling at this creature before her, this clone of her husband. She couldn’t believe how distant they had become. She suddenly knew, standing at that threshold, that if he left without knowing the truth, she’d lose him forever.


They met when they were kids. He was sitting on his own at recess, making a dandelion crown while the kids around him screamed and ran and got grass stains on their trousers. She asked him to move so she could do cartwheels. Instead she got a halo of flowers and the best human she’d ever known. They were teenagers when they told each other they were gay. It was still ok then, but barely. They were allowed to be true to themselves for a time, but then everything changed. Knowing they could no longer be with anyone else, they decided to be together.

They spent years together dancing and laughing, and brought Pedro into the world. And even though life wasn’t as full as it could have been, it was beautiful. Then Pedro’s father and Mr. Brennan fell in love, and Mr. Brennan got scared.

“Pedro, your father loved us so much, and could have withstood it all, if it hadn’t come from someone he loved.”


Pedro left for college feeling clear for the first time in a long time. Fall break he came home to visit and noticed a change had come over his mother as well. She was starting to bloom again. And slowly over the course of that year, from the tail end of summer through fall and winter and back into spring, she re-emerged as herself. When he came home the following summer to see her, she greeted him in her black cowboy boots and vintage denim, a starched white button-down showing her browned sternum tanned like leather under all her favorite turquoise. Her hair had gone silver, but her perfectly red lips welcomed him inside and introduced him to the woman she loved.


“Jesus Cristo, mama! Cierre la puerta! Anyone could have seen you!”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, mi cielo! You’re right.”

“It’s time to head down.”

Pedro watched his mother lovingly tuck a lock of hair behind the bride’s ear, extended his arm, and escorted her down to their wedding.


Once he met Jane, and saw the reason for his mother’s blooming, the arrangement was a no-brainer. He would never have participated in marriage anyway. Not in this world. Not their way. It was his idea, Jane being not too far from his own age. He began courting her publicly, moving back home after graduation to care for his poor widowed mother. And Jane, what a saint, what a woman, to be willing to live with her mother-in-law after the wedding.

His mother was hesitant at fist. “Pedro, mi cielo, what about your love? What about your life?” He reminded her of the time when she told him the whole truth. How, when asked how she and his father could have endured she shrugged and said, “Sometimes you have to be strict with yourself to be generous with others.”


The guests had long been seated.

His mother left him at the end of the aisle.

The room vibrated with love and hope and all the best things in the world.

              The music started.

The bride appeared to the transcendent voice of Sam Cooke.

Pedro and his mother locked eyes, and as hers filled with tears, he mouthed, “Ready?”

August 01, 2020 03:58

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Laiba Noor
15:35 Aug 26, 2020

It was very emotional.. I'm still feeling sad for his father.. I can't explain this feeling in words... It was really a good story.. I'm new here and I also submitted only 3 stories..will you read mine too? And btw I like your name so much.. In fact I love this name so that I use this name in most of my stories for lead character 😍


Lisa Hines
20:09 Aug 26, 2020

Thank you so much. All I ever want to do is move my readers, and I feel so happy that it seems like my story moved you. I will definitely go and read your stories!


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Nikki Mccoy
03:34 Aug 06, 2020

I got nice and wrapped up in your story, Lisa. At first I forgot we were at the wedding, winding through so much history in a short story. Great work showing the family dynamics. I was ready to read more.


Lisa Hines
06:43 Aug 06, 2020

Thank you, Nikki! I’m happy to hear that.


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Mustang Patty
18:53 Aug 04, 2020

Hi, Lisa, Such an earnest story about Pedro on his wedding day. You gave a lot of description so that I could 'see' the venue. A few suggestions for editing your short story before posting for the contest here or anywhere else: READ the piece OUT LOUD. You will be amazed at the errors you will find as you read. You will be able to identify missing and overused words. It is also possible to catch grammatical mistakes – such as missing or extra commas if you read with emphasis on punctuation. Next, at a minimum, use some form of sp...


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