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A BRIGHTER SHADE OF BROWN, PART 2

No Place Like Home
Chapter Two in the Continuing Saga of A Group of Latino Buddies.
—By Erick Serrato

Model: CarlosWhen we last caught up with our five heroes, (click here for the previous installment) we learned that there were some interesting tidbits going on. We found out that Frank, the successful career man, was involved in a mysterious relationship he was keeping hidden from his buddies—a secret that chismosa Javier planned to get to the bottom of. Meanwhile, Mark, the Hollywood stylist, was struggling with his new diet and Rafa announced that he was finally moving out of his mom’s house. Finally, Carlos told Mauricio, his boyfriend of five years, that he didn’t know if he wanted to be in a relationship any longer. And so continues the story...

Carlos landed at Frank’s 7th floor Park La Brea apartment with a suitcase and his cat, Rufina.

He had called from the car on the way over, and by the time he arrived the sofa bed had been laid out and the closet in the office had been cleared to make room for his things. The apartment was immaculate—a testament to Frank’s obsession with order and to the hard work of Hilda Lopez, Frank’s once-a-week cleaning lady.

“Like old times, Carla,” Frank joked, reflecting on their days as college roommates. Back then, Carlos and Frank shared a tiny Westwood apartment stacked with textbooks and pizza boxes—a sharp contrast to the posh bachelor pad Frank had been living in since he finished graduate school.

Carlos had spent a lot of time at Frank’s place before, but that night the apartment—it’s empty kitchen, the sleek leather couch, the abstract paintings on the walls, the lines Hilda had grated in the carpet with her vacuum—felt cold and uncomfortable.

Carlos missed the home he had created with Mauricio. He missed his oversized couch, the herb garden he started last spring, and even the string of white Christmas lights Mauricio had hung like a ribbon across the kitchen.

But that was two weeks ago. Tonight, Carlos had enchiladas on the stove and Los Panchos on the stereo. Rufina the Cat sat on the edge of the couch, her nose catching the scent of tomatillo sauce. Carlos’ cell phone blinked on the coffee table with messages from Rafa and Mark who pleaded with him to come out. But Carlos’ plans were set.

Since Frank was off on another business trip, Carlos and Rufina were preparing to enjoy a night with the “Sex and the City” DVD, sappy Mexican ballads, and a plate of green enchiladas.

Meanwhile, Frank and Miguel were racing toward the airport. Miguel gripped the wheel with both hands as his ’92 Nissan darted in and around traffic. Frank struggled to keep his Starbuck’s latte from spilling on to his Donna Karen pants. The car was bare except for a rosary swinging from the rearview mirror, a Virgen statue taped to the dashboard, and a Thomas Guide spitting out loose pages across the back seat.

“Thank you for the ride. I appreciate it,” Frank said in perfect Spanish. Frank and Miguel rarely spoke English to each other.

“No, you’re doing me the favor, remember?” Miguel replied. Frank’s periodic business trips into Mexico City gave Miguel a reliable way to send money to his familia. Miguel didn’t have legal residency in the US, so he could not make the trip himself. His arms hadn’t wrapped around his mother or nephews in nine years and it left his brazos feeling limp and lonely.

“Right,” Frank said as he sipped his coffee. “I wanted to talk to you about something,” he then added. “About something that could get complicated. With Javier. Maybe everyone else, too.”

Frank thought about how to phrase what he had to say. He had been thinking about it for weeks and now the words were mangled in his throat. Finally, Frank just let the words slip from his lips: “I’m dating Julio Navarette. That’s why I’ve been sneaking around for the past few weeks.

Miguel suddenly honked his horn. Frank couldn’t tell whether the honk was directed at the car they’d been stuck behind or if it was a response to what he had just said.

“You’re playing, right?” Miguel asked as he guided the car off the freeway ramp to the airport.

“No.” Frank said directly. “I saw him at a conference in Arizona a few months ago and…well...it is what it is.”

Frank took a pause. “Miguel, he’s different than what you think. He’s different from what I thought. I hated him, too, remember?”

Julio Navarette was a four-letter word after what he did to their friend Javier. Two years back, Javier was hopelessly, foolishly, desperately, and blindly enamorado con Julio. Julio cheated, and Javier forgave. Julio was rude, and Javier made excuses. And on one night, Julio left Javier and his best friend Mark stranded in Pomona after running into an old boyfriend. That was the last straw.

“I just don’t get it,” Miguel said, as he pulled up to the terminal. “Of all the guys, why Julio?”

Miguel thought back to Javier’s depression after the break up and to the way Javier’s mouth trembled like an earthquake as he cried. He had never seen someone so broken. Still, it was obvious that Frank really felt something for that sin verguenza and that Frank’s mind was made up. Miguel really had no choice but to support him.

“I’ll tell him,” he said giving in to Frank. “But you realize no one is going to be okay with this. Anyway, everyone will know by the time you get back.”

Frank took a deep breath.

Miguel stopped the car and put $185 in Frank’s pocket. “Remember, give it to her when my dad is not around. And don’t spend all your time in la Zona Rosa.”

Frank grabbed his suitcase from the trunk which Miguel had popped open and disappeared into the crowd. Miguel sat in the car for a while watching planes fly overhead. He wished he could fold into Frank’s suitcase like a ventriloquist’s dummy and sneak his way back to Mexico. “I’ll be home soon,” he whispered to himself.

Across town, Mark, Javier, and Rafa were finishing dinner at House of Pies in Los Feliz. Before Mark began his diet, House of Pies was his favorite restaurant. Now, having to pass up pumpkin pie was almost too much to handle.

“Why’s this place gotta have so much f**king pie everywhere?” Mark grumbled, “And where are we going tonight? Tempo? Bravo? The Abbey?” Mark dug his fork into his chef salad to find a piece of ham.

“Well, with Miguel and Frank at the airport and Carlos not answering our calls, it looks like it’s just us.” Javier concluded.

“Well, we could always call Mauricio,” Rafa said.

Mark and Javier looked at each other. “What, what did I say?” the said in unison.

“Uh, newsflash, hermano. Carlos walked out on him two weeks ago, remember?” Javier pointed out. “Mauricio is that last person I’d expect to see.”

“No por nada. But it’s not like Mauricio liked to go out anyway. Mauricio only cared about two things—computers and Carlos. Now that Carlos is gone, he’s probably f**king that computer.” Mark added.

“I think I might be seeing Mauricio every now and then, maybe, I mean...” Rafa said, letting the words tumble out the side of his mouth and almost hoping no one would hear them.

“Wait a minute,” Javier placed his hands on Rafa’s shoulder. “What are you saying?”

“I called over at Mauricio’s like two weeks ago looking for Carlos, right?” Rafa explained. “Anyway, Mauricio said he wasn’t there then asked me about the intake manifold on his Camry. Actually, he didn’t know that’s what it was, but basically, I told him to bring it into the shop and I would have one of my guys take a look at it. That was on Monday.”

“Que cabrones is a manifold?” Mark asked.

Rafa ignored the question and continued, “He came into the shop and I asked him how he was doing and he said he was trying to figure out if he should move out now that he had the place to himself y todo, and then…well, you know how I’m looking for an apartment and he has that extra bedroom, tu sabes.”

“Whoa, girl, slow down. Are you saying you’re moving into Carlos’ house to live with his ex?” Javier gasped, turning his head to stare at Rafa through the corner of his eye.

It was enough of a shock that Carlos and Mauricio, the one couple they expected to last forever, had crumbled for reasons no one quite understood. But now the thought of Rafa moving in to fill the space that Carlos had just abandoned was too much.

“I thought Mauricio was our friend,” Rafa explained, “And besides, he doesn’t even want to live there anymore. Carlos won’t care, right? Right?”

Mark and Javier flashed fake sonrisas and finished their dinner without saying a word.

Two hours later and a few miles west, Carlos turned off the stereo, hit stop button on the DVD remote, and stared out at the view from the hillside window. The room was silent and dark, except for Rufina’s purring, the alarm clock that read “11:35,” and the twinkle of streetlights stretching toward the hills. Carlos squinted to focus in the direction of the house he missed so much, somewhere on the other side of the Hollywood sign. He stared so hard he could almost see through the hills, and into the house he and Mauricio once shared. As he pictured the house in his mind, he spent a several minutes counting the twenty-seven tiny lights hanging over the kitchen sink, and then drifted off to sleep.

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT ISSUE...
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