Rina immediately felt clearer and more peaceful when she picked up one of the large silver hoop earrings with a tourmaline quartz bead threaded through it. Why had she bothered packing any others, especially when she was going to a viewing? She looked out the window of her hotel room. Normally her trusty onyx ring would have been enough to help her handle any funky energy she ran into. But as her eyes fell on the apartment complex she grew up in, Rina remembered a little backup was never a bad idea, especially when too much came at her at once.
“I’ve always loved those,” said a familiar voice. “The person who gave it you had great taste.”
Rina gave a choked laugh and turned to see the translucent form of her old mentor. She sucked her teeth but smiled a moment later. “Vieja, I thought you said you were ready to see the other side and wouldn’t linger long.”
Magdalena scoffed. “I have a few things to finish up first. Besides I want to see who shows up at my funeral.” She grinned with all her teeth.
“Half of Phillipson, that’s who.”
“A third at best. Though the ones who don’t want to be seen at a bruja’s funeral will probably creep into the graveyard and leave flowers they got for half off at the supermarket when they think no one is looking.” Magdalena punctuated her words with a full-throated cackle.
Rina shook her head and snickered. It felt so good to laugh with her again. But the memories of the old apartment complex kept her from achieving Magdalena’s rowdiness. “So, I guess I’ll see you at the viewing.”
“If I feel like it,” Magdalena said, sticking out her tongue. “But don’t worry, I’ll see you again before you leave town.”
The temperature of the room rose once Magdalena left, but Rina felt colder. She put on the hoops and left the hotel room.
Rina had barely taken two steps into Ruiz’s Funeral Home before a voice boomed out, “Blanca Nieve, you made it!”
Spider Álvarez came up and wrapped her in a big bear hug that pulled her off her feet for a few seconds.
“Spider,” she said, hugging the burly man back. “It’s been forever. How’ve you been?”
“Been good. I’ve been promoted to manager at one of Emilio’s dealerships. Clean up good, don’t I?” Spider turned around. It was a little disorienting to see his familiar smile on a clean-shaven face. But she remembered the tats under the tailored suit, including the one near his heart—a teen with the same smile, and the words ‘Miguel R.I.P’ underneath.
She met Spider’s eyes and knew he must have noticed where her eyes fell.
He took a deep breath. “Rina, I know I’ve thanked you before, you and Magdalena, for letting me know Miguel was at peace and in a better place,” he said. “I never stopped missing him, but you coming to me made it a little easier to bear, you know. I always told myself if there was a time I could give something like that to you, I would. Now I know it’s been a while since you’ve been back. And, uh, I didn’t come by myself. Emilio’s here. He really wants to talk to you.”
Rina’s eyebrows rose. Of all her siblings, Emilio was the one she got along best with, though that wasn’t saying much. It was more the thought of Emilio going anywhere with an employee, especially this employee, to this particular viewing that surprised her. “Emilio, here? In this building?”
“Yeah, c’mon Rina. He’s over there,” Spider said, jerking his head to one side. He took her hand and in a moment Rina was standing in front of her eldest brother.
“I’ll leave you two to talk,” Spider said, laying a hand on her shoulder.
“Gracias, Pedro,” Emilio said.
“Yeah. Thanks,” Rina said. It took Rina a moment to remember that was Spider’s actual name.
“I’ll see you in the office on Monday.” Emilio turned his back to him. “Rina, I was just about to leave. Can you walk with me to my car?”
Rina nodded and followed him out. They stopped when they got to a gleaming Escalade. In the sunlight Rina could see Emilio’s hair was thinner than she remembered, but his eyes still looked like Papi’s did when he felt uncomfortable or out of place.
“Will you be in town long, hermanita?” he asked.
“Just until the burial. You know how it is owning a business. Thanks again for the loan.”
“Please, I’m happy to help family.” Emilio leaned back against his car. “You seem happier running a coffee shop than you did in an office. And much happier single than married to that cheating sinverguenza.”
Rina let out a deep breath. “Thanks for having my back. That’s more than some people did,” she said with a rueful smile.
“I was old enough to understand. Speaking of which, maybe it’s time to mend things with Angi.”
Rina sucked her teeth. She should have seen this coming. “Carajo, Emilio.”
Emilio grimaced, as if he had tasted the acid in Rina’s swear word. “Hermanita, language. And lower your voice.”
Rina rolled her eyes. “Don’t bring Angi up then.” The little sister she had shared a bedroom with in that apartment building was the last person she wanted to discuss. “I’ve told you more than once I’m not the one who needs to make the first move. Mami’s death was hard on all of us with Papi being gone less than a year, but there’s only so much I’m willing to forgive. My marriage, my whole life was falling apart, and she wanted to start drama over one bad college grade. That was bull and you know it.”
“That was a long time ago. She’s married with a child now. Rina, look.” He took out his phone and showed her a picture of Angi’s family. “Anna should know her aunt.”
Rina looked at the picture. Her little sister smiled up at her, alongside an earnest-faced man. In front of them was a small girl who had clearly inherited her mother’s eyes, her father’s Andean cheekbones and complexion, though she was at a loss to identify where her explosion of curls came from. Rina raised a hand to touch her own wavy hair. She had gotten a lot of grief from everyone in her family when she stopped straightening it.
She caught Emilio darting a look back at the funeral home. “Is everything OK with them, Emilio?”
Emilio coughed. “Angi and Fernando are fine. It’s just—Anna reminds me a little of you when you were young.” He cleared his throat again, avoiding looking at her eyes.
Ah, the Gutierrez gift for understatement. Rina couldn’t resist pushing. “In what way?”
Emilio reddened. “Magdalena Fuentes helped when you were having a hard time.”
“According to Angi she’s why I got ‘spooky’.” Rina sucked her teeth again. If it wasn’t for Magdalena she might have lost her mind dealing with her first ghost, Spider’s joyriding little brother.
“You were always spooky. Even before you started visiting Magdalena’s shop,” Emilio whispered. “I could see it in you even when you were little. Just like I see it in Anna.”
“You’ve never said a word about that before,” she said, crossing her arms.
“What point was there in talking about it? Yes, I knew. And I wasn’t surprised when you helped Pedro with his brother. I almost fired him back then, but Padre Gerald told me to be patient and know that all things work for the good, even the strange things you do. I would have lost my best mechanic if I hadn’t listened.”
“Thank you for your tolerance,” Rina said, tightening her grip on her arms.
“Rina,” Emilio said, throwing up his hands. “I’m sorry, OK. That came out poorly. But I know you understand what I’m getting at. We’re family either way. And we shouldn’t be fighting each other over this. Especially not when someone of your own blood needs somebody like you in her life. Please, think about it.”
Rina sighed. She promised Emilio she’d consider it. He texted her the picture of Angi and her family before he drove off in his Escalade.
Rina felt the cold as soon as she entered the hotel room, but Magdalena didn’t come into view until after she took her earrings off. She could still see the old apartment complex through Magdalena’s misty form.
Rina looked up at Magdalena. “I know you were at the viewing. How much did you hear?”
“After I noticed that Mirta still hasn’t given up flirting with Diego, I saw you leave the building with your brother. I heard everything after that.”
“I’ve got to give Emilio some credit. This was the most he’s ever talked about the things I do. He’d never have brought it up unless he thought it was important,” Rina said.
“He’s scared because he has a bit of the gift himself.”
“For real? You’re joking.”
“Not at all. I’ve always been able to pick up when someone has it. He doesn’t have your level of talent. But with enough practice, he could.”
“Emilio messing around with brujería.” Rina snorted. “Though him trying to get me to see my niece might be the closest he’s ever come to bruja business. Do you think Anna really might be like me?” Rina pulled up the picture on her phone.
Magdalena stared hard at it. “This was tricky for me to do with a photograph when I had a body.” She passed her hand over the screen. “There’s something.” Her brow furrowed. “I don’t think she’s quite like you. But something’s there.”
“Poor kid. Angi makes Emilio look as comfortable as Marie Laveau with all this,” Rina said, waving her free hand. She put her phone down on the nightstand.
“Then it’s a good thing that girl has family that will understand her. Call your sister.”
Rina rolled away to face the wall. “You’re going soon, aren’t you?”
“You know I have to. Of course I’ll talk to you now and again when I can, but this isn’t my place anymore. There are new beginnings waiting for both of us.”
“How am I going to help a kid I don’t even know without you?”
“She’s your niece.”
Rina sat up, not bothering to wipe the tears that were building. “You’ve been my family more than any of them have.” A lump rose in her throat. “I’m going to miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too. But Angi’s alive. Anna’s alive. And I’m dead. Call.”
Rina looked over at her phone. It was right beside the earrings on the nightstand. She remembered the day Magdalena gave her those hoops. They laughed loudly and long together, talking bruja business as well as discussing the latest neighborhood gossip. Mirta was chasing after Diego even back then. Some things never changed.
Rina picked up her phone again. She zoomed in on Anna’s face. She had pierced ears. Rina knew someone who could make little tourmaline quartz studs, or a beaded bracelet if that was more Anna’s thing. If she had a need for them.
After a minute, she tapped the button to pull up her contacts, found Angi’s number, and called.
Rommy Cortez Driks is an unrepentant nerd living in Bucks County, PA with her husband, kids, and stubborn corgi. Her self-published short story collection, The Trouble with Wanting and Other Not Quite Faery Tales, can be found both on Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s website. You can also find more short stories, as well as poetry on her blog, http://kestrilsrhythmsandgroove.blogspot.com/