Free Chapter Friday

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Prologue-Chapter 2
Chapter 3-4
Chapter 5-7
Chapter 8-10
Chapter 11-12
Chapter 13-14
Chapter 15-16
Chapter 17-18

Chapter 19
Diego

“What did Zalo mean about looking for my mother?” Liliana said when they were back in the truck.

Diego could feel Liliana’s eyes trained on the side of his face, could practically hear the gears spinning behind them. He shook his head.

“He…gets confused. He probably heard you wrong.”

“No,” Liliana said. “I told him she was killed, he…”

“There are some people out there who still just can’t accept what happened. They still hope that all of the disappeared are somehow still out there, still alive.”

“Did you see the way he…the way he looked at me? It was like…”

“Who knows what Zalo sees? He’s messed up. Don’t take it personally.”

“I’m not taking it personally. He saw me and it was like he knew me.”

Diego didn’t argue with her, he didn’t say anything at all. He had seen the way Zalo had looked at her. She was right. Something about it felt wrong. He bit his lip and dreaded the question he knew she would ask next.

But instead she said, “I look like her, you know.”

Liliana let the seatbelt fly behind her and leaned against the dashboard until she could see the moon.

“Do you think he saw her? Do you think that’s what he was talking about?”

“I don’t know,” Diego said honestly.

“Is he always there?”

“Most nights.”

“We have to go back.”

“You want to go back and talk to him?”

Liliana nodded. “But I want to talk to Trini and Adrian first.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea. Talking to Zalo, I mean.”

“Why not?”

“He’s just…I told you he’s messed up. His memory, it’s not reliable anymore. If you were to ask him about your mother, he might say that he saw her, but there’s no way to know for sure. Maybe you looked like someone he saw, but you’ll never know if it was her. You have to understand that with all he’s seen and been through, confusing the past and the present is a daily struggle for him. It wouldn’t be good for him to try to go back there and it wouldn’t be good for you either.” He sighed. “Just trust me.”

His words were stiff—the implication behind them unyielding and he watched as Liliana sunk into her seat, as if her limbs were already growing heavy as the impossibility of talking to Zalo began to weigh on her. But Diego knew he was right. Zalo was unreliable, his memory just too dark to navigate. But even if he was wrong, there’s a reason the government wants so many of the secrets of the war left buried and there’s a reason so many of the citizens comply. Not because they don’t think they deserve the truth, but because in the aftermath of a war that some officials still argue never even happened, learning to function without the truth is sometimes easier than realizing that the truth is actually more terrible than you could have ever imagined.

Diego caught Liliana glancing back in the rearview mirror at the road winding out from beneath the glow of the taillights, as if solidifying every curve and dilapidated road sign to her memory before they were swallowed into the night. She seemed to catch sight of Diego’s eyes watching her in the rearview mirror and she abandoned the back window and turned to face him.

“So the apartments on vines,” she said, redirecting their conversation. “Could you go tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow?” Diego laughed. “I have to work sometime.”

“Tomorrow afternoon, then?”

Liliana perched on her knees until she was at eye level with Diego.

“Tomorrow afternoon,” he repeated. “What about your Dad? Isn’t he starting to wonder where you are all the time?”

“He’s gone on business. He’s been busy taking over all of my uncle Raul’s accounts. He won’t get back for three more days. But even if he was here, I doubt he’d notice. Nita would have him all over the city, she’s so restless. It won’t be a problem, really. So we’ll go tomorrow.”

There was that “we” again. The way she said it made Diego’s pulse quicken, and he prayed that what was going on between them wasn’t all in his head and that it wouldn’t be over once they found whatever it was that Liliana was looking for. Headlights from an oncoming car streaked Liliana’s skin with light and when it disappeared her eyes were still flickering in the darkness. There was a flame in them and the moment he said yes the flame began to swell.

She was close to him now and her skin smelled like rosewood and lavender. He tried to keep his eyes on the road but all they wanted to do was roam the soft contours of her face. There was something about Liliana, besides the soft curves that made him ache, from the slope of her cheeks, to her lips, to the backs of her calves. There was so much mystery about her and it awoke every inch of his mind and body and he wanted nothing more than to know he was capable of making her feel the same.

“We can go tomorrow night, on one condition,” Diego said.

“What condition?” Liliana asked.

“Tell me what all of this is really about.”

He could understand having questions, even being consumed by them. But in that moment he felt that there was something about Liliana’s relentlessness that felt dangerous and needed to be confronted.

“I told you,” she said, “I just want to know the people who knew my mother. I want to know them so I can know her.”

Diego knew the old woman who used to live at the vineyard house. He never knew the man, her husband, he was gone before Diego could remember him. But the old woman, Liliana’s grandmother, was a frail, small thing and Diego would always see her outside, floating around the property without a sound. Inside the house, he had seen pictures of a young woman, dark hair trailing down to her waist. He asked his father one day who the pictures were of and he told him that her name was Isabella and that she was killed in the war.

Diego knew what it felt like to lose someone, even if his mother had chosen to abandon him rather than being robbed from him like Liliana’s mother had. He barely knew his mother and some days not knowing her made him feel like he didn’t know himself. His father had managed to fill some of the holes, although his moments of sobriety were few and far between and any talk about Diego’s mother would only send him reaching for the bottle that much sooner.

“Your dad hasn’t told you about her?” Diego asked, staring at the road, afraid of catching a familiar sadness in Liliana’s reaction.

“No.”

“No?”

“We never talk about her,” she said. “I’ve asked him but he just can’t.”

“What about the woman who lives with you, Ana?”

“She’s my father’s cousin. As far as I know she barely knew my mother. I’m not even sure how well she really knew my father before she started living with us. She was just the only female relative he had who wasn’t married and never planned to be. She just came to help him raise us.”

“So this is the only way,” Diego said.

“It is. I think it is, for me anyway. The longer I’ve been away the farther away from her I’ve felt. I always wanted my father to tell me about her, something about her, anything. But I never pushed him and I think it’s because deep down I knew I wasn’t ready. I had no idea what I would find once I started digging up the past and it scared me. I was so young when she died and what happened to her was so…” Her words trembled against her lips and then they trailed off. “When I think about it, I can never picture my mother as the victim. I can’t think of all of the awful things that could have happened to her. It’s too hard and I’m still afraid of knowing what really happened but I just have to know. I need to know her.”

“To know yourself.” The words slid from his lips before he could think.

Liliana curled her feet under her and leaned her back against the door.

“You know?” she said.

Diego nodded. “My mother left when I was young. I never really knew her either. I heard she tried to go to the states but I really have no idea where she is.”

“I’m sorry,” Liliana said.

As they pulled up to the house a light came on in Liliana’s room and her hand leapt for the door handle. But as the engine whirred to a stop, the steel entrails knocking and gasping, she suddenly didn’t want to move. Instead she sat there, as if searching Diego’s face in the dark for anything his mother might have left behind—a birthmark on the curve of his top lip or the long black lashes that settled against his cheeks. His lips parted and he drew in a breath but Ana’s shadow suddenly began to swell behind Liliana’s bedroom curtain and she jumped down from the truck and ran inside.

Chapter 20
Liliana

When I got to the bar Trini was there with Adrian. They both ignored me the entire night but I wasn’t really in the mood to talk to them either, even if Adrian had warned me about Ben. I sat down on a loveseat in the corner and watched the door. Couples and university students were making their way inside. I saw Adrian scanning the doorway and I wondered if he was looking for Ben too or someone else or maybe something else. His senses seemed to be on high alert and it only made me more anxious.

Ben finally walked in and I waved him over. One of his fingers traced the soft skin along my wrist. He turned his face to me, lips finding my cheek before he could stop himself, the dark worry in my eyes more powerful than our lack of seclusion. What is it, he said, unease thick and quavering in his voice. Adrian, he said the military is starting to target Jews, I said. Ben looked at the ground. I know, he said. You knew, I repeated, why haven’t you said anything. My eyes began to burn and he pulled me to his chest shielding me from the hundreds of eyes pointed in our direction. It’s ok, he said, it’s going to be ok.

***

Nita was sprawled out in the sand, her skin which she refused to put sunscreen on despite Ana’s warnings, soaking up every ray of sun.

“I’m sick of everybody calling me ‘that American girl’. I need more sun.”

“Or maybe you just need to practice your Spanish.” Liliana laughed. “How is school going by the way?”

“Nobody speaks English. I hate it,” Nita huffed.

“You’re not picking up the language any faster? Come on, I’ll help you practice.”

“It’s Saturday, Liliana. I need a break. Can we just pretend to be in California for a while before I lose it, really.” Nita sat up and tossed a clump of sand on Liliana’s stomach. “And stop laughing. That is the Pacific Ocean and you have to speak English, ok.”

“Ok, ok,” Liliana laughed, “but they do speak Spanish in California too.”

This time Nita crawled on her knees over to where Liliana was sitting. She slapped her hand over Liliana’s mouth and shook her head.

“I said shh.”

“Oh really?”

Liliana stood up, her feet sliding in the soft sand as she chased Nita down the beach and into the waves. When Nita laughed, not the way she did at school in front of boys, but the way she had since she was born, a raspy chuckle that started in her shoulders, another memory, half buried of the two of them at the vineyard with their mother, resurfaced. Nita was a baby and their mother was holding her with one arm and dipping her toes in the warm foam that lapped up the beach with the other. She had squealed every time the water licked across her skin and Liliana had watched her with such wonderment.

She had never been jealous when her sister was born; instead she’d felt an insatiable curiosity about her and still did. She had long black hair, and thick eyebrows like their father. She had his lips too and his mannerisms—the way he talked with his hands and the intense stare that made him so intimidating in the boardroom.

Being around Nita, watching her was like seeing what it would be like if their father ever smiled, if he ever laughed. Suddenly Nita stopped, that hard stare trailing back up to the house, as waves lapped against her chest.

“He likes you,” she said.

“What?” Liliana asked as she turned to look.

Diego was carrying a stack of rotting tree branches across the sand, a pile strewn over each shoulder. He had a bandana tied across his brow to keep the sweat from stinging his eyes and no shirt to protect his skin from the jagged branches and the sharp burrs that sometimes grew on them.

“Ana knows you’ve been sneaking out with him.”

“She does? Why hasn’t she said anything?”

“I don’t know. I think she kind of likes him. She’s had him working on the house non-stop.”

“Yeah, it’s starting to look so much better.”

Liliana saw the slightest of frowns flash across Nita’s face before she smiled wide and threw a handful of seaweed at her chest.

“So, what have you been doing with him every night…in the dark…where no one can see?”

Liliana couldn’t tell her the truth. She had a feeling it wouldn’t just upset Nita to know they were trying to find out what happened to their mother, but it would scare her. The more Diego taught Liliana about the war and what it was like, the more she worried that their mother’s death was going to turn out to be something even more horrible than they could have imagined.

So many people disappeared during the war that it was easier, over time, to ignore the individual deaths. But now that they were living in Argentina again, surrounded by the now abandoned battlefields of the war, which were also supermarkets and schools and town squares; now that Liliana was older and she was learning more and more what it really meant to have disappeared she was plagued with questions about her mother’s death that she knew Nita would never be able to handle the answers to. Was she in pain? Did she suffer? Was she alone? Was it senseless or calculated? Was she afraid? Did she fight back? Was she thinking of them?

So instead Liliana decided to indulge her sister, recounting to her romantic trysts in the city and walks along the beach, that had never happened but that she suddenly and unexpectedly wished had.

Chapter 21
Liliana

“Look’s like this is it.”

Liliana stared up at three balconies all lined with a row of endless numbered doors.

“How should we do this?” Diego asked.

“My lucky number’s twenty-one,” Liliana said, “what’s yours?”

Diego laughed, “Thirteen.”

Behind door number thirteen was an elderly woman with a wall full of Russian nesting dolls and a Great Dane that thought it was a cat. Behind door number twenty-one was a janitor’s closet. An hour later they had winded their way up two floors and were standing in front of a door marked with a plastic three and the shadow of a number five. Diego knocked. Nothing. He knocked again and soft footsteps made their way to the door.

Liliana was standing in front of the peephole and she imagined how fish-like her face must look to the person inside, but even warped she hoped it at least looked pleasant and unassuming enough to be let inside. The door opened and a tall thin man wedged his face through the small space.

“Can I help you?” he said.

Liliana stepped forward.

“Adrian,” she said, “Mr. Monroe?”

“Yes,” he said.

Can we come in? I just wanted to ask…”

The door fell closed, there was a click, and then they heard the clink of the chain as Adrian fastened it closed.

“What the,” Diego said banging on the door. “Hey, she just wants to ask you a question. Come…”

“Diego it’s ok.”

“Sorry, we’ve just been knocking on doors all afternoon and when we finally find this guy he slams the door in your face.”

“I’ve got it,” Liliana said, “Uh, Mr. Monroe, my name is Liliana. I think you knew my mother. Her name was Isabella.”

They heard a TV click on followed by the mechanical musical intro to a cartoon.

Diego faced out over the balcony, shoulders slumped. “You ready?” he said motioning to the truck.

Liliana reached for the railing, lingering there, when the door suddenly swung open and Adrian, backing away quietly, beckoned them inside. They followed him into the kitchen, the three of them awkwardly maneuvering around the table before finally sitting down. Liliana noticed the glow of the television set in the next room casting shadows of two small children along the far wall. They were rocking back and forth on their knees, hypnotized by the electric colored cartoons and techno music.

“Thirsty?” Adrian finally said.

“No, thank you. I’m fine.”

“Me too,” Diego said.

“I’m sorry to bother you, Mr. Monroe.”

“Adrian’s fine.”

“Adrian, I just moved back to Buenos Aires. My father moved my sister and me to the states during the war and we lived there for almost fourteen years. The truth is I don’t know anything about my mother. I barely remember her. But when we moved into her old house at the vineyard I found something of hers, a journal, and she mentions you in it and someone named Trini.”

A pallid vacancy fluttered behind Adrian’s eyes, draining into his skin. He walked to the next room and picked up the remote. Then he turned the volume up on the TV before walking back to the table. Diego cleared his throat.

“Adrian, do you know where we can find Trini?”

Adrian’s fingers curled against the edge of the table, his knuckles burning white.

“She’s dead,” he said, his jaw tight and trembling. “I killed her.”

Liliana felt Diego’s arm reach for her under the table as Adrian began to whisper.

“It’s my fault,” he said, “I asked her to come with me. It’s my fault she’s dead.”

His arms rested on the table, clenched fists trembling and Liliana reached out for them.

“Don’t,” Diego said.

But she slid her hand across the table until the tips of her fingers were resting on Adrian’s hands.

“I’m sorry, Adrian. We can leave. You don’t have to talk about it.”

Adrian shook his head.

“Your mother was Trini’s best friend and she hated me. But she was right to hate me. She knew I would put Trini in danger and I did. Trini should have listened to her.”

***

Trini and Adrian ran off with a section of the ERP and headed north, away from the city. Louis was right. They were spreading out, trying not to draw any attention to themselves as they waited for any word on their next plan of attack. They moved into a small two-bedroom apartment that they shared with six other members of the ERP.

For the first couple of weeks, chasing rats out of the apartment and arguing over who used all the hot water seemed like an adventure but when no word came from the other members of the ERP, people started to get restless. Trini tried to hide the fact that she was miserable by seducing Adrian every chance she could.

She abandoned her old self completely. The shy, naïve girl Adrian first met in Buenos Aires was gone. She would sneak up behind him and drag him under the stairs, a thin wall of hanging ivy being all that separated them from the people walking by. As she clawed at him, begging him to take her, he would think back on the feat it once had been just to get her to undress for bed. Her stepfather had trained her to be submissive and timid in the presence of a man but it was as if the moment they ran away together, she cut every string tying her to her past life.

Now that she was out in the world, out from underneath her stepfather’s fists and lies, she was hungry for all of the things she had always been too afraid to let herself want. And for those first few years all she wanted was Adrian. Adrian had been with other women before Trini. There was the time he had sex with his barber’s daughter in a storage closet next to a vat of shaving cream and the night he had sex with a friend’s cousin while their parents were at the opera. And then there was the time he had an affair with his teacher. They met almost every night for a month in the parking lot of her apartment complex until she got a job at a school in Mendoza.

But there was something about the way Trini clawed at him, the way she held on to him with such urgency. He could almost hear the panic trapped inside each breath and sometimes making love to her made him feel like a monster. Every time, he was afraid he was hurting her somehow and he was even more afraid that that’s what she wanted.

Over the next two years the apartment became a warehouse for making bombs and storing automatic weapons and ammunition. Adrian didn’t even know who half of their targets were. Some were doctors thought to be treating government officials, some were law enforcement, politicians, wives and children of military leaders. The list went on and on. But Adrian never talked about the people he had watched die with his own eyes, the people he had aided on their way out with his own hands and he never mentioned to Trini the children and their mothers that his bombs had killed—not when he fell asleep every night, that soft moon rising above her navel pressing against his back.

Trini was pregnant by the time they got word of their first assignment and she carried the child for just three months before she lost it. Adrian tried not to think about the morning he found her sitting on the bathroom floor, the blood on her legs already dry. But despite all of that she was determined to try again and voiced to Adrian how dangerous the apartment was becoming for a child and he’d agreed, especially with the ERP having so many valuable explosives and weapons around.

Over the next four years they moved from place to place, staying with other ERP members for short periods of time as they made their way back to Buenos Aires. Adrian was moving up in the ERP and taking on more responsibilities. When they reached Buenos Aires again, the war was at its height. The number of disappeared was steadily climbing and the military was becoming less discreet about who they took and when.

ERP members in Buenos Aires started planning a raid on a military weapons warehouse and Adrian was just one of 100 ERP members who surrounded it early one morning while the sky was still dark. Once all of the exits were covered Adrian led the first group in. The warehouse wasn’t swarming with armed soldiers like they thought it would be and they quickly took out the first few guards before spreading out to the other entrances of the warehouse.

Once all of the guards had been taken out, ERP members took over manning the entrances in pairs while the rest of the group started gathering the weapons. Suddenly the overhead lights started flashing, striping Adrian’s vision with sporadic white flames, and water began spraying down over everything. Someone had pulled the fire alarm. Adrian glanced up toward the second level of the warehouse to a dark shadow streaking across one of the hallways and he ran up the stairs, his rubber boots slipping on the wet cement. There was no way out on the second floor and he knew he had him. But out of the darkness a pair of arms threw themselves around Adrian’s throat and he fell to the floor, rolling onto his side. He lowered his jaw, sinking his teeth into the arm of his attacker and the arms sprang away. Adrian flipped himself over until he was straddling the soldier and then he reared back his arm, slamming his fists into the soldiers face, throat, and nose. He beat him into a bloody mess until his limbs stopped moving.

Eight months later, when the fires of war that had been blazing over Argentina for years finally seemed to be fading, the ashes just beginning to settle, Trini was coming home from the market. When she reached the apartment the door was wide open and she took a few steps back, calling for Adrian. But no one answered. Still carrying the grocery bags she leaned inside the doorway and looked inside. Shattered glass and splinters of wood covered the floor.

Everything was broken—the furniture, the children’s toys; broken dishes were piled against the far wall and someone had dragged their clothes out of the closets and ripped them to shreds. Trini fell to her knees in the doorway. The glint of a silver frame caught her attention. She crawled over to the broken pieces and began to scoop them up, wrapping them in the fabric of her skirt. Then she made her way to the kitchen, sliding her hands into the pile of shattered china, searching for the little ceramic bowl her daughter had painted for her.

She felt the rough face of the bowl, like sandpaper, and pulled the pieces out, folding her fingers around a jagged piece until the sharp sting of the edges painted her hands with blood. She tried to inhale through silent sobs, desperate to scream out, but before the pain could manifest into sound, the cold barrel of a gun was pressed against her temple and then she was swallowed up by darkness, another pile of broken pieces waiting for Adrian when he got home.

***

“The children were with a neighbor, a friend of ours who watched them when Trini did her errands.”

“And you,” Liliana whispered.

“Working. I had a real job. Things weren’t looking good for the ERP. We were losing too much ground. There just weren’t enough of us anymore. Trini found out she was pregnant again and she begged me to leave it all behind. I told her it wouldn’t be much longer, everyone would be getting out soon. But it was too late. And Trini, who had already suffered more than anyone should, was murdered, in our home, carrying our child.”

Adrian grew quiet and the sound of a cartoon cannon exploding escaped from the next room where the children were watching TV.

“I used to tell her that’s why I did it, that’s why I was fighting. It was all for her. I was going to build her a world where suffering didn’t exist. For me, that’s what the war was about.”

A red mess of hair peeked around the corner. The little girl ran to Adrian and crawled into his lap.

“Story time, Papá,” she said.

Adrian looked at his watch and nodded. “Alright, get your brother,” he said, a smile almost cutting through his dark expression. He looked at Liliana and Diego. “I’ll be right back,” he said. “One story’s all they need and they’ll be asleep in no time.”

The TV clicked off and high pitched chattering floated behind Adrian as he walked into another room. Their voices echoed and Liliana could hear their laughter bouncing off of the walls all the way in the kitchen.

“The stork,” a voice squealed.

“Ok, hand it over,” Adrian said. “Ok, the stork,” Adrian repeated, “Once upon a time, there was a stork and he flew around all day delivering babies to all of the other animals.”

“That’s not really where babies come from.”

“What?” chirped the little red haired girl.

“Babies don’t come from the stork,” Adrian’s little boy said proudly.

“Yes, they do.”

“No, they don’t.”

“Ok, can we finish reading, stop it you two.”

“Then where do they come from?”

“I’m not tellin’ you.”

“You don’t know where they come from, you’re lying.”

“Am not.”

“Are too, you liar.”

“Stop it right now,” Adrian’s voice bellowed.

“I’m not lying.”

“Prove it. Where do babies come from?”

“From your butt. Babies come out of your butt.”

“What did you say?” Adrian said.

“Simon told me babies come out of the girl’s butt.”

“That’s not true,” argued the little girl.

“That’s ridiculous,” Adrian said. “You’re not allowed to talk to Simon anymore, understand? Alright now, are you going to be quiet?”

There was silence and Liliana could just picture them doe-eyed and nodding. She glanced at Diego, something like a laugh glinting in his eyes.

“Ok, well the stork had trouble seeing…”

“He was rear-sighted,” said the girl.

“Near-sighted.”

“Rear-sighted.”

“It’s near-sighted,” Adrian said, “and one day he made a terrible mistake.”

“Oh can I tell it Papá?”

“No, I want to tell it, please?”

“I asked first.”

“Take turns or no one gets to tell it,” Adrian yelled.

“The stork was near sighted so he couldn’t see all that good and he accidentally delivered the baby sheep to the wolf family and the baby wolf to the sheep family.”

“Then he remembered and flew back to the wolf family.”

“But they wouldn’t let him take back the baby sheep. They had already fallen in love with the baby sheep even though he really wasn’t theirs.”

“And the sheep family didn’t want to give back the wolf because they already loved him too.”

“But the stork tried to tell them it was too dangerous. The wolf would grow up and figure out he’s not a sheep that he’s really a wolf and he’ll eat the other sheep. And one day the wolf family will get hungry and eat the baby sheep.”

“But they wouldn’t listen and they told the stork to leave them alone.”

“And then the aliens came and they gave the stork special powers so he could shoot laser beams out of his eyes and never have to sleep and he…”

“Ok, that’s enough,” Adrian laughed. “Now go to sleep.”

The light flicked off.

“Goodnight,” Adrian whispered before sliding the door closed behind him and heading back into the kitchen.

“Can I get you two something to drink?”

“No, I’m ok, thanks,” Liliana said.

Diego shook his head and Adrian poured himself a cup of coffee. He sat there, silent, tracing his finger around the rim of his glass. He stared down at the table and lowered his voice as he spoke.

“Liliana, I remember the day your mother was taken.”

Liliana just stared at him, the words trembling on the edge of her understanding and she slid to the edge of her chair.

“I was there, in the plaza. I saw them taking her away.”

“What?” Liliana finally managed to say.

The alarm in Liliana’s voice was so sincere that Adrian stopped himself before he could say another word. She looked down, at the table, at her hands, and then at Diego.

“They told me she was just an innocent bystander. That she was killed in a riot. It was an accident.”

“You don’t have to do this,” he told her, “you can make the choice right now to go back. I’ll take you home. We’ll go home.”

“Tell me,” she said.

But Adrian didn’t move, he wouldn’t look at her.

“Are you sure you want…”

“Tell me, Adrian, please.”

“You don’t remember?” he breathed.

“What do you mean?”

“That day, in the plaza, you were there. Across the street with your father and his brother. You were all together, walking the shops, when the tanks rolled in.”

Liliana felt something sharp twisting in her stomach and she couldn’t breathe. She knew what day he was talking about. She remembered bracing herself against her father’s shoulders, trying to pull herself higher so she could see over the crowd. But never once had she remembered her mother being with them. She tried to force her way back through her memory of that day but she was treading through darkness, the truth muddled beneath more than a decade of lies and anecdotes and the false remnants of someone else’s memory.

“Why did they take her?” Liliana asked.

Her voice was cracking and Diego put his hands on her knees to steady her. She thought about all of the lies that people had been feeding her since she was a child. Lies that had etched themselves so deep within her memory that they became inseparable—they became truth.

“I don’t know.”

“No one knows why they took a lot of people,” Diego said, reaching for her hand.

She looked at him as his fingers, warm and calloused, tried to lace themselves through hers. Then she squeezed them until her knuckles burned white.

“Did no one try to get her back? Did anyone find out where she was taken? How does anyone even know what really happened to her?”

The more questions that came spilling from Liliana’s lips, the more impossible it seemed that she would ever find any answers.

“I don’t feel well,” she said, the words catching in her throat. “I need to,”

“Let’s go. Let’s get you home,” Diego pleaded.

“No. Adrian, you have to tell me. Please. Tell me everything.”

Liliana’s mother was not just an innocent bystander who was killed in the chaos of the riot. When the place erupted in panic, she was deliberately sought out, pulled from the crowd and restrained by two soldiers in civilian clothing. They twisted her arms behind her back and led her into the trees—a green ford falcon, void of plates and camouflaged by the green sunlight reflecting off of the leaves waiting for her. She’d screamed until she grew hoarse but no one could hear her, her voice being swallowed up by the frantic crowd just on the other side of the tree line.

Adrian had watched them take her from the other side of the plaza, where he was pinned between a doorway and a family of four. He’d called out to her but he was too far away. Then to his right, across the fountain, he’d seen Manuel holding Liliana as he strained to see over the mass of people and Raul, who was next to him, taking Nita in his arms as he pulled Manuel in the direction of the road. Manuel had shaken him off, trying to push his way through the people moving in the opposite direction, his lips moving and frantic. Adrian could see him calling out for Isabella but he couldn’t hear him. A tank began heading in their direction, the giant tracks climbing over those that had fallen, leaving nothing but a thick trail of blood behind. Raul had gotten behind Manuel, pushing him out of the way of the tank, pushing until all four of them were safely on the other side of the road.

Liliana stepped outside for a moment, the wind tugging on her as she looked out over the balcony at the twinkling lights of the cityscape. Liliana had been without her mother for so long but all of a sudden everything felt achingly familiar again. Every wound had been ripped open, every lie cutting her new. Liliana clutched her waist, lowering herself down onto the ground as she pressed her face against the cold steel guardrail, letting her cheeks absorb the sting until it was all she could feel, until she couldn’t feel at all.

TTTDB-BLURB

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