"I still can't believe it," Josué mused as he set down the box he was carrying on the driveway. He wiped sweat off his brow, unsure if it was from being so out of shape or from the heat.
"Can't believe what?" Yajhaira asked from the front door.
"That we moved into such a nice neighborhood," he explained. "I mean, from the barrio of East L.A. to this fancy suburb."
"Babe, we moved to Bakersfield. When I told my friends where we were moving to they all said this was the barrio," Yajhaira lamented.
"Yeah, I heard that too. But come out and look at this place."
Josué kept gesturing for her to come outside until she finally relented, rolling her eyes. However, once she was outside and they looked at their new house together even she couldn't hold back her smile.
"It really is a nice place isn't it," she boasted.
They wrapped an arm around each other's waist as they both took a moment to reflect on their struggle to buy their first home. The Great Recession had left banks nervous in lending out mortgages to first time buyers. It was especially hard for them because the only thing on their credit history were student loans and an Amazon credit card to rent textbooks with. Once Yajhaira started working as a nurse they were able to stop living paycheck to paycheck, but it wasn't until Josué had gotten his job offer for the oil company that they were finally able to get approval for a loan.
After a near-decade of school, double-shifts, and no vacations, they could finally settle down
"Alright that's enough," Yajhaira stated, breaking their stupor. "We still have to finish unloading the truck and then start unpacking the necessities."
"This is the last box," Josué excused, kicking it lightly for emphasis.
"Great! Now you can help me unpack the necessities, like I just said."
"Yeah, okay," he groaned.
The next two and a half hours were spent tearing open all the boxes to find out what was inside. When they first moved in together during college all they had were a few boxes that fit in the back of their cars, so there was no need to label any of it. Apparently after so many years together they accumulated a lot more belongings. Whatever time they weren't sifting through boxes was spent arguing back and forth of what exactly was a 'necessity' (No, you're Xbox One can wait until later, Josué… Do you really need to organize your DIY stuff now, Yajhaira?). By the end of what turned out to be the greatest test of their marriage so far, they were both in agreement that they needed to unpack their dinner plates and put some food on them.
"Let's just order a pizza," Yajhaira suggested.
"We can't have take-out as our first meal in our new house!" Josué gasped.
"Then what are we going eat? We don't have any groceries."
"I saw a Rite-Aid when we first pulled in from that main street. I'll walk over and grab a frozen pizza."
"That's still take-out, babe," Yajhaira sighed.
"No, it's a grocery item. And even if it is take-out, we're still cooking it in our oven."
"Fine! But take the car, I'm starving."
"But I wanted to walk around and get to know the neighborhood..."
"Madre de Dios! If I knew you were going to be this mushy I would never have married you," Yajhaira groaned.
"Well it's too late for that. You're stuck with me," he smiled, pulling up her hand to flash their wedding ring.
"Uh-huh. We'll see if I'm still here by the time you get back."
Josué gave his wife a quick kiss, promising to be back soon as he shut the door behind him. He strolled down the street with confidence, eager to greet all the neighbors he would pass by on his journey. However, the street was eerily silent, with not even the sound of children playing outside despite three more weeks of summer vacation left.
After a few blocks Josué was starting to feel the full brunt of the strong Bakersfield sun beating down on him. He knew it was hot when he was unloading the moving truck, but he was also coming in and out of an air-conditioned house so it hadn't bothered him so much. As sweat was pouring from, well, everywhere, he realized why there was no one outside.
He turned on a street and groaned when he saw it ended in yet another cul-de-sac, which was not what he was expecting. He was pretty sure the major street he was looking for laid just on the other side of the wall, but his confidence in getting there began to wane as he was forced to backtrack. He patted his pockets for his phone and remembered he had set it to charge while he unloaded the truck; in his eagerness to explore the neighborhood he forgot to bring it with him.
A woman swept the driveway in front of her open garage, her hips swaying back and forth to the tune of a pop song emanating from the small Bluetooth speaker. Drawn to the only sign of life for miles, Josué approached her both in excitement to greet his first neighbor and with reluctance in being forced to ask for directions.
"Excuse me," Josué called out.
"Hi!" The woman greeted cheerily.
"Hi! I was wondering if you could help me out. I'm new to the neighborhood and I seemed to have gotten lost. Can you give me some directions?"
"Sure thing! Where you headed?" she inquired as she leaned onto the broom
"I'm trying to get to the Rite-Aid over on that main road...I forgot what it's called."
"The one on Jewetta?" the woman exclaimed, shooting upright.
"Yes! That's the one!" Josué confirmed.
"You sure you want to walk there? It's at least two miles away in this God forsaken heat."
"Is it? It felt a lot closer when...well, when I was driving," Josué finally admitted to himself.
"Everything does; that's the weird thing about this town. It's also not very pedestrian friendly, I might add. Where you coming from?"
"My wife and I moved over here from L.A."
"Oh, sorry. I meant where's your house? You said you just moved in," she clarified.
"Right! Uh, we're over at Pleasant Meadows."
"Street or court?"
"Street. There's a court with the same name?" Josué questioned.
"It's just where it ends on the north side," the woman replied. "If you want, I can give you a ride home Mister..."
"Call me Josué," he added, offering his hand.
"Norma," she said, shaking his hand. "Nice to meet you Jose."
"Um, it's pronounced hoe-sway. But it's nice to meet you too."
"I'm sorry, Josué!"
"Don't worry I get it all the time. Actually, I would like to take you up on your offer. We just finished unloading everything and don't have any groceries. I need to hurry and grab the car to buy some food."
"Sure, no problem! In fact, I'll even take you to Rite-Aid first that way you're not showing up empty handed," Norma insisted.
"Thank you so much!" Josué sighed in relief.
"Let me just tell my brother to look after the kids and then we'll be on our way."
Norma turned towards the open garage and took in a lungful of air.
"JAMES!" she bellowed.
"What?!" a man, presumably named James, answered as he stepped into the sunlight.
"I need you to look after the kids for a few minutes while I give my new neighbor here a ride home."
"Neighbor?" James scoffed, looking Josué up and down. "What, stealing jobs to build our houses isn't enough; now you want to live in them too?"
"James!" Norma scolded.
"What? It's true," he spat as his eyes continued to size up Josué.
"Just go inside and look after the kids," Norma dismissed.
"They're your damn kids."
"And it's my damn house; and since you're always over here using up all my water and electricity without paying a G-D dime, the least you can do is watch the kids for fifteen minutes."
"Look, if it's too much trouble..." Josué interjected as he took a small step back from the heated discussion.
"Nonsense, it's no trouble at all," Norma smiled at Josué, and then glared at her brother. "Right, James?"
"Whatever," he tsked and went into the house.
"I'm sorry about my brother," Norma entreated. "He hasn't been the same since he lost his job truck driving. Anyways, I'll be right back. I'm just going to grab my purse."
Norma disappeared into the house, and a moment later muffled shouts crawled out into the driveway. Josué slowly approached the open garage to eavesdrop on what the brother was probably saying about him. The doorknob shook to signal Norma's return, and he crouched down to the flowerbed, suddenly fascinated with an intricately designed spider-web woven in between the plants.
"Alright, let's go!" she smiled a little too widely as she hopped into the car, oblivious to his curious position.
The struggle to keep track of all the turns to get to the main road proved to be too much for Josué. Despite the confusing path, they made it to the store in less than 5 minutes. He rushed over to the frozen foods section to grab a couple of pizzas, and even added a pint of Neapolitan ice cream to make up for the delay. On the way back to the neighborhood Josué once again tried to keep track of the gnarled path. This time he managed to recognize the last two turns leading into his street.
"It's that house I take it," Norma nodded towards the moving truck parked in the driveway.
"How'd you know?" Josué mocked surprised, and they shared a small laugh as the car pulled up to the house. "Well thank you again for the ride."
"Anytime! Neighbors have to look out for each other."
"Would you like to come inside? I can introduce you to my wife and I'll get the added bonus of her not yelling at me because there is company."
"I'd love to," she chuckled.
Josué strategically placed the ice cream at eye level as he crossed the threshold into his home.
"Honey, I'm home! And I brought one of our new neighbors who was kind enough to give me a ride!" He called out with a wink towards Norma.
"Oh, hiiiiii!" Yajhaira lilted as she meet them at the foyer. "My name is Ya-Ya."
"Hi, I'm Norma," their neighbor introduced herself.
The two ladies shook hands, simultaneously exchanging and declining compliments on their appearance (Oh thank you, but I'm an absolute mess right now; no I'm a mess, you look really nice though). Yajhaira led their guest into the den and shot her husband a harsh look from the corner of her eye. The look immediately softened once she noticed the ice cream.
"This is a nice house," Norma complimented.
"Thank you!" Yajhaira beamed.
"You can't even tell there was a murder suicide here last year."
The couple shared a look before scanning the room for signs of any out of place renovations, as if the chalk outline of a body was something that could be so easily missed.
"I'm kidding!" Norma snorted in laughter. "I didn't know the previous residents personally, but I assure you they all left in one piece."
"That's a relief!" Yajhaira smiled. She loved practical jokes, and Josué hoped Norma was ready for whatever his wife came up with in retaliation.
"So are you from L.A. too?" Norma began the small talk.
Josué gestured to excuse himself and went into the kitchen to preheat the oven.
"Yep, born and raised," Yajhaira answered.
"I love L.A.! My husband and I take day trips to Santa Monica every chance we get. They just have the absolute best sea food on the West Coast. What part of L.A. are you from?"
"Nothing as glamorous as living on the coast; but I really do enjoy the boardwalk in Santa Monica as well. My husband and I are from East L.A."
"East L.A., huh. Well, I can see why you wanted to move."
"Why, because it's full of Mexicans like me?" Yajhaira miffed with a steely gaze.
There was a loud clank from the kitchen as Josué dropped the pizza pan in reaction to the accusation.
"No! No! I didn't mean to-" Norma stammered.
"I'm kidding!" Yajhaira laughed, relishing her revenge. "I know what you are talking about; it does have a certain crime ridden reputation."
"Yes, that's what I meant!" Norma blurted.
"To be fair, some of it is true, but it's not as bad as people think. Everyone looks out for each other."
"And some people," Josué piped in, "look out for each other so much that they form a new gang."
He gave his wife a small poke in the back to chastise her for the joke earlier.
"With that in mind we decided to move wherever Josué found work after he finished school," Yajhaira added.
"Well I'm glad you decided to join us up here in the Central Valley," Norma cheered, having recovered her composure. "Let me invite you to dinner at my house to give you two an official welcome! I'll invite some of the other neighbors that way you get a chance to meet them."
"That's really nice of you. We'd love to join you for dinner," Josué accepted.
This time Yajhaira was the one to give a small poke in the back. She hated attending fancy dinner parties because she always felt pressured to make a good impression; a fact Josué was well aware of. But that never stopped him from accepting invitations anyways.
"Let me get your phone number so-" Norma started just as her phone rang while in her hand. "Excuse me."
Norma stepped back to answer her phone, an annoyed look on her face.
"What is it, James? I'm at the new neighbors' house still. Don't be rude. I'll be home in a few minutes."
The young couple exchanged another look, wondering just what rude thing was said on the other side of the line. Josué gave Yajhaira a slight nod to signal that he would tell her later.
"Sorry about that. That was my brother; he gets a little impatient sometimes. I should probably head back home."
"Of course. Thank you for rescuing my husband from himself," Yajhaira mentioned.
"Don't mention it."
The two exchanged phone numbers and Josué walked their neighbor out to her car to make sure she was safe. It was a habit from East L.A. that he realized might not be entirely necessary in the quiet suburb. Although somehow the quiet made him feel more on edge than the sound of distant gunshots ever did.
"She seems nice," Yajhaira commented upon her husband's return. "Now what do you think her brother said?"
"From the racists comments he made to my face earlier, probably nothing good," Josué lamented.
"You met him already?"
"Yeah, he was with Norma when I walked up and asked for directions."
"I still can't believe you didn't just listen to me and use the car with the built-in GPS that we paid so much for..."
"Anyways," Josué side-stepped the criticism. "He said something about 'you people are stealing our jobs and houses' or some other racist bull shit like that."
"Didn't I tell you there was going to be gringos like him looking at us funny in this neighborhood?"
"And didn't I tell you that there would be nice gringos like Norma, who would accept us with open arms? Besides, she made it sound like her brother doesn't live with her so he's technically not our neighbor."
"Yeah, but I was still right."
"Yes, you were," Josué placated as he hugged her. "But I was more right."
Yajhaira punched Josué in the gut as they both laughed.
"I hope the pizza is ready. I am still starving because my 'always right' husband was wrong about how close the store was."
"I didn't say I was always right. I just said in this instance I happened to be more right. I am humble after all."
They continued to debate the validity of that statement as they went into the kitchen to share their first meal in their new home.
Yajhaira glanced at the clock on her car dashboard and let out an exasperated sigh. Normally she barely showed up to work on time, if not a few minutes late; but traffic was so much lighter compared to her hometown she ended up being twenty minutes early for her first day of work. The cold draft of the car's air-conditioner dominated Yajhaira's senses as she waited for the time to go by. The summers were hot in L.A. too, but somehow this felt different. The sun was more powerful, and she swore without the air-conditioner on full blast she could feel the sunlight burning her skin.
She checked the time and let out another groan at how slowly the time was passing and looked over at her new workplace. With the exception of a few patients lined up at the front door to the urgent care clinic, there was not a single sign of life for the whole business park. She felt goosebumps start to form on her skin, both from the air-conditioner and from nervousness. She worked at the same community clinic since the start of her nursing career, and the realization of a new job in a new town and having to make new friends was starting to sink in. To pump herself up, she messed around on Instagram, posting some excited selfies for her #firstdayatanewjob.
Time finally started to fly by as she hunted for the perfect angle, lighting, and filter for her myriad of selfies. The next thing she knew it was less than five minutes until the clinic opened. She sent a quick text to her husband who was also starting his new job today:
Ya-Ya: Good luck today, babe!
Jo-Jo: You too! I saw your pics on gram, I hope no patients try to steal my sexy wife
Ya-Ya: Patients? Eww! Now a doctor… ;D
Yajhaira put her phone away, the big smile on her face quickly faded as her anxiety came rushing back. She left the cold sanctuary of the car and waited alongside some of the patients, wondering how they managed to look so cool (literally, not metaphorically) in the 80 degree morning. She fanned herself with a copy of her nursing license , staring longingly at her car.
Thankfully, just a minute later a young blonde woman unlocked the doors. She provided instructions in English and broken Spanish to separate appointments and walk-ins into two lines. She held the door as the patients shuffled inside, and then noticed the Minnie Mouse scrubs Yajhaira was wearing and pointed at her.
"You're the new nurse, right?"
"Ya-Ya," Yajhaira blurted, introducing herself.
"Great! My name is Allison, I'm the receptionist here. And what is your name?"
"Yajhaira, but I go by Ya-Ya," she answered with a little more confidence.
"Oh, I'm so sorry! I thought you were just nervous and said 'yeah' twice or something," Allison explained.
"It's okay! I actually am kind of nervous," Yajhaira acknowledged. "It's nice to meet you."
"Likewise. You have a very pretty name by the way."
"Thank you, it was my great-grandmother's."
"Well go ahead and follow me. I'll introduce you to the nurse you will shadow today."
Allison led her inside the clinic through a small labyrinth of turns that finally ended at the break room. There, a handful of nurses chatted while they poured their much needed morning coffee.
"Ladies, this is Ya-Ya, our new nurse. Lucia, is it okay if she shadows you until she gets to know the place?"
"Of course! Welcome!" Lucia affirmed, and then switched over to Spanish. "Okay, so what is your real name?"
"My real name is Yajhaira, but I go by Ya-Ya to make it easier for white people," Yajhaira answered in kind.
"Gotcha," Lucia returned to English, adding a wink.
"Look at you two, best friends already" Allison proclaimed. "Alright, well, I'll leave you all to it while I start checking the patients in."
"How many?" the nurse with the largest coffee mug inquired.
"I counted seven, but we have four appointments so it might not be that bad, Barbara," Allison shot back over her shoulder as she left the break room.
The room let out a collective groan regarding the number of patients waiting for them.
"I'm Joan by the way; I'm the radiology technician," one of the other women chimed in, continuing the round of introductions.
"And I'm Manoush, I'm the CNA," the youngest of the four finished.
"Nice to meet all of you," Yajhaira concluded the proceedings.
"It seems like we have a full day ahead of us. We might as well get started," Barbara droned as she chugged the last half of her over-sized coffee mug.
The morning went by quickly as Yahjaira and Lucia met with all of the follow-up appointments and checked in the walk-ins in the small slivers of time in between. Lucia had Yajhaira take the lead after Yajhaira watched her triage the first few patients. Yajhaira asked a few basic questions and took vitals to determine which ones should be seen that day and which ones could be asked to make an appointment for later in the week if possible. Then she followed Lucia around the clinic as she explained where everything was located: supplies, equipment, and last and most certainly least, the doctors.
Despite spending the least amount of time with the patients, the doctors always claimed to be too busy and were never in their office. But the patients could not be officially diagnosed or discharged without the doctor seeing them, so Lucia showed Yajhaira where their hiding spots were.
Next thing Yajhaira knew it was lunch time, her head spinning with all the information she had taken in. She was amazed at how different it all felt even thought she was doing the same job she had before. Despite the rushed environment, Yajhaira felt pretty good about her new job so far.
The pair were dismissed for lunch, and Lucia offered to show her around the area for places to eat. They took Lucia's car, which even though she claimed was messy, was practically spotless inside and out. Yajhaira checked her phone for the first time since before her shift started and she noticed a text from her husband about an hour ago.
Uh-oh, she thought when she read the contents.
It seemed things were not going so smoothly for her husband...
"Hi, how can I help you?" a young woman greeted Josué as he entered the main office to Dega Energy.
"My name is Josué Quintero. I'm the new petroleum chemist."
"Oh yes, Colin did say you would be starting today. Hold on while I let him know you're here."
The young woman dialed an extension on speaker-phone and then lifted the handset once the line started to ring.
"Hey, it's Laurel. The new hire Jose is here. Okay bye," she prattled. "He'll be right out. You can have a seat if you'd like."
Josué thought about correcting her on his name, but decided to take a seat instead. He would have plenty of time to do that later; maybe even the rest of his career if this place worked out well enough. He realized that meant almost another forty years of work before he reached retirement age and tried not to let the thought ruin the excitement of his first day of work.
The lobby furniture consisted of a pair of plastic lawn chairs tucked away into the corner. He sat down on the one without a stack of old magazines on it. With nothing else to do, he perused through the stack. They consisted of either gun or golf magazines; one of them even featured both. Josué never had any interest in golf, so he picked up a five year-old gun magazine. There was a section where people mailed in stories about using their guns to defend against burglars, would-be rapists, and other shady characters. Given the description of each encounter, he suspected 'shady' meant any shade other than white.
"How ya doin', Josué. Am I pronouncin' that right?" Colin, his new boss, boomed as he entered the lobby.
"Yes, thank you! And I'm doing good! It's a pleasure to finally meet you in person," Josué stood, shaking hands.
"Likewise. That was a good issue by the way," Colin nodded towards the magazine Josué was just reading. "That's the one they announced the new Sig Sauer forty-five. You own any guns?"
"Just a nine mil Glock. Growing up in East L.A. you kind of had to for protection."
"I agree one hundred percent. Every man should have the means to protect his family. It's the most sacred duty for a man to do. How are you and your wife settlin' in?" Colin wrapped his arm around Josué's shoulder and led him into the deeper recesses of the building.
"We got the essentials unpacked, but we still have a ton of boxes to go through and we need to buy more furniture."
"A friend of mine owns a chain of furniture stores all over town. I'll drop him a line to give you a good deal whenever you go in."
"I appreciate that."
"No problem at all!" Colin enunciated with a pat on the back. "You're the one who went to all the trouble of movin'; I feel like it's the least I can do. Speakin' of, here's your new home away from home!"
The pair stopped in front of a small yet fully loaded lab. It had a brand-new lab table, complete with gas connections and built-in sink. There was a large North-facing window which spanned almost the entire wall, allowing plenty of natural light in. Josué leapt into an office chair that was also brand-new. He swiveled back and forth as he rolled behind his brand-new desk with a new computer sitting atop it.
"This looks great!" Josué beamed.
"You can thank your predecessor for all the new equipment," Colin grinned at his reaction. "He told me I better put out money for all new stuff if I ever wanted to keep whoever was comin' on. He only put up with my cheap ass because he and I went way back."
"I really do appreciate it, sir," Josué smiled.
"Please, call me Colin," he corrected. "Now before you play with all your new toys I want you to meet everyone else."
Josué hopped off his chair and followed his new boss down the hallway, stopping at each office to shake hands with the occupant.
"You already met Laurel there at the front desk...this is Nathan Myers the CFO...his son Aaron who does a lot of the bull-shit compliance from the EPA…my office which you are more than welcome to stop by and ask me anythin' you need...and last but not least Fred Martin, my lead foreman."
Josué blinked in surprise as he noticed "Fred" was a Latino just like him. He scanned the room for any kind of explanation for this person's name and saw a safety certificate framed on the wall with his full name: Alfredo Martinez.
"Hi," Fred murmured, drawing Josué's attention back to the task at hand.
"Fred has been with my company since damn near the beginning and became my foreman, what, eleven years ago?" Colin recalled.
"It'll be twelve years in August," Fred added in slightly accented English.
"Remind me to take you and your family out for dinner to celebrate."
"Yes, I will," Fred agreed with a nod. Without another word he turned his attention back to a stack of job applications for new rig workers.
The two men then walked back towards Josué's lab, and Colin's volume dropped noticeably as he continued on with his recollections.
"When Fred first came in for his interview, I almost thought about telling him the position was filled. I wasn't expectin' him to be Mexican because of the name he put down, plus I didn't want immigration up my ass like the EPA is now. But since he was already there, I figured I'd give him a chance. Best risk I ever took! He turned out to be one of the hardest working people I've ever met in my life. That's why when I saw your name on that resume, I thought 'what the hell, Fred ain't like one o' them so maybe this guy ain't either.' Once I got to talking to you, I knew you were different too."
They arrived at the lab once again, only somehow it seemed to have lost the same luster it had at first. In fact, it took everything in Josué to keep from smashing everything to bits.
"Somethin' wrong, son?" Colin prodded, tapping his shoulder.
"No, just thinking of how I'm going to organize everything," Josué charged into the lab to avoid the touch.
He immediately began opening the cupboards to pretend to inventory it's contents.
"I'll leave you to it then. Holler if you need anythin'."
Josué quickly shut the door behind his boss and swore under his breath.
What the fuck was that? Not like one of them? What, did Colin think all Latinos were lazy day laborers hanging out at Home Depot? Not to mention he thought all Latinos were non-citizens.
Josué paced the room trying to soothe himself, without success. He then pulled out his phone and sent out a text to his wife:
Jojo: Pinche gringos
"Babe, can you hand me my butterfly earrings? They're in my little jewelry box on the dresser," Yajhaira called out from the master bathroom. "Please? I don't want to be late for Norma's party and have those caras de vanilla think we're on CP time."
After failing to get a reply, she stepped out of the bathroom and saw her husband was staring absently at an infomercial on TV. She let out a low groan as she grabbed her earrings by herself, and then used the remote to turn off the TV.
"Sorry! Did you say something?" Josué squawked, coming back to reality.
"It's okay, I got it," she grunted as she put on her earrings.
Noticing the distracted look on his face was still present, she took a seat on the bed next to him and stared deep into his eyes. During one of their first dates she told him that everything about a person was written in the eyes, no matter how hard someone tried to hide the truth. She told him she had a gift for reading them, and could tell whatever someone was thinking or feeling so long as she could see their eyes. Ever since then Josué always ended up confessing whatever guilt or burden he bore.
"I still can't believe what Colin said to me," Josué finally relinquished.
"I know, babe," Yajhaira affirmed, embracing him.
In reality, she had forgotten all about what happened with his boss four days ago. She had told Josué the 'eye' story when they first met as a bluff to make sure he never, ever, lied to her. And for the last 5 years, it worked like a charm.
"It makes me wonder how many other jobs I got passed up for just because of my name sounds Latino," Josué continued.
"I know it sucks, but it's not like you didn't know stuff like that happened. I mean, you use the race card every time you're turned down for something. Even when you lose those stupid Powerball tickets you buy every week."
"I'm always joking though!"
Yajhaira gave him another look into his eyes.
"Okay mostly joking," he corrected. "But I never had confirmation, you know? It was always just a suspicion. I thought never knowing for sure if someone was being racist was bad enough, but somehow knowing it's true makes it ten times worse."
"It's probably because we could always find some kind of excuse," Yajhaira added. "If it took forever for us to get served at a restaurant, it was because they were 'busy.' Just like all the sales agents were 'busy' when we walked around half an hour at the dealership looking to buy a new car and no one offered to help us. It's easier to think the world is too busy for us than to remember the world doesn't want us."
"I love how smart you are," Josué smiled.
"I know," she batted her eyes.
"Thanks, babe. I really needed that."
"You're welcome. Now hurry up and finish getting dressed so we can make it to this white lady's party on time."
"Oh! Why hello there," Norma greeted the couple with an unsure look on her face.
"Are we late?" Yajhaira faltered as she checked her phone for the time.
"No! You're right on time. In fact, you're the first ones here. Most everyone else usually comes in about an hour late."
"You don't say," Josué punctuated with a small nudge to his wife's shoulder.
"Please, come in. I was just doing some last minute clean up," Norma ushered the guests inside.
The house definitely had more of a lived in feel to it compared to the young couple's home. There was a mixture of new modern furniture with older pieces – which any furniture was already way more than what the couple had – along with a handful of toys, tablets, and portable devices scattered around the living room. There were also considerably more people. Three boys filled the room as they played video games on a fairly impressive flat screen TV.
"You have a lovely home," Yajhaira complimented.
"Thank you, I know it's a bit of a mess right now. My husband was supposed to be here and help me clean up but he got called into work overtime at the jails."
The boys shouted at the screen as it broke the news that they had lost the match.
"Hit pause and say hello to our new neighbors," Norma commanded the trio.
"But you said we could play another half an hour before they got here!" the eldest replied without looking away from the screen.
"Well they're here now so turn it off and finish putting all your toys away!"
"Actually, is it okay if I join them?" Josué inquired. "At least for a little while. My own console is still all packed up since someone said it wasn't a priority."
Yajhaira rolled her eyes and mouthed "boys" to Norma, who let out a giggle.
"Fine, but only thirty more minutes, boys," Norma dictated.
"'kay!" all four of them shouted in unison, Josué's eyes already glued to the screen.
Time went by in what felt like a blink of an eye. Norma and Yajhaira bonded over their green thumbs, exchanging compost recipes and instructions for a DIY drip irrigation system. Josué bonded with the boys over his prowess in the first-person shooter genre as he was able to stand toe-to-toe with the eldest boy. The two younger ones cheered Josué on because they could never beat their elder brother without teaming up.
Next thing everyone knew, an hour went by and the doorbell rung once again, signaling the other guests arrival. Norma let out a low swear before she yelled at the boys to quickly clean up the living room. She took a moment to check herself over before opening the door.
"Hey!" Norma greeted the new arrivals.
They all hugged and filed in as Josué helped the boys take everything into the other room. Yajhaira was left behind to straighten up the couch pillows.
"I see you finally took my suggestion to get a cleaning la-" one woman started.
"This is Ya-Ya, the new neighbor I was talking about," Norma interrupted to save face. "She and her husband were kind enough to help me clean up a little."
"Nice to meet you all," Yajhaira breathed after she laid down the last pillow.
The boys all came out, with Josué leading the pack.
"Hello everyone! I'm Josué," he introduced himself.
They all took a moment to shake hands with the three new pairs of arrivals before making their way to the dining room. The children retreated back into their room to resume playing video games once they realized they were done. Norma, Victoria, Rachel and Jenna bustled in and out of the kitchen to bring out the potluck style meal while Adam, Nathan, and Dennis lugged in cases of beer and wine. Both Yajhaira and Josué offered to help, but Norma insisted they remain seated as the guests of honor.
The party got into full swing as they all laughed and enjoyed the good food of homemade mac 'n cheese, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, garlic bread, and, of course, alcohol. They quickly found common interests and shared how each couple met.
Another ring of the doorbell almost went by unnoticed, until it was followed by someone pounding on the door.
Norma scowled, clearly not expecting anyone nor liking the idea of who it could be. The rest of the party carried on, with more alcohol being freely served. But one by one the guests at the table became quiet as they each realized there was shouting coming from the front of the house.
"...realize I was such an embarrassment!" James shouted over his shoulder as he entered the now silent dining room."Don't worry folks, I'm just gonna grab a plate to eat and I'll be on my way."
The disheveled man looked back at his sister who trailed in right behind him, his eyes daring her to object and cause him to make a bigger scene.
"Sorry everyone. He was in the neighborhood and stopped by to say hello. He'll be leaving in a minute," Norma announced, glaring at him.
With no further resistance, he tossed his hair back with a quick jerk of his head, like he was the cock of the walk.
"Rachel...Nathan...Jenna..." he greeted each guest as he worked his way around the table to serve himself a large portion of each entreé. He did a slight double-take when he got to the head of the table where Josué and Yajhaira were seated. He set his plate down with a flourish and held out his hand.
"I don't think we've met," he smirked as he stared Josué down.
"We actually have met before; your sister gave me a ride home last weekend," Josué answered warily, passing on the offer to shake hands.
"That's right!" James feigned sudden recognition. "Sorry, but all you spics look the same to me."
Josué put on a mischievous smile as the room held it's breath.
"That's okay," he retorted. "All you assholes look alike to me too."
"That's it!" Norma bellowed. "James, you need to leave right now!"
Norma stepped in between her brother and Josué, breaking the intense stares they were burning into each other.
"Did you hear what he just called me?" James spewed.
"You're lucky that's all he did after what you called him!" Norma dismissed. "Now get out of my house or I'll call the cops, I swear to God!"
The three other men suddenly stood up from their seats, watching James for any sudden movement. The rest of the party had their cellphones out, ready to dial the police in case things got rough.
"I can't believe ya'll are gonna side with them!" James barked as he backed away. "You're just gonna let them jump over the border, put people like me out of a job, and just welcome them into your homes like they did nothing wrong? Fuck all ya'll then!"
The front door slammed shut, closing his argument.
"I'm so sorry!" Norma sobbed. "I had no idea that he was going to insult you like that! I just want you to know that I don't agree with anything my brother just said and-"
"It's not your fault," Yajhaira consoled. "You and everyone here have been more than welcoming. Right, babe?"
Yajhaira squeezed his arm, and Josué let out a long sigh.
"I'm okay," Josué emitted, fists clenched.
"Let's just continue the party," Yajhaira suggested.
"Okay," Norma sniffled. "I think now would be a good time for dessert."
Norma and the other women retreated into the kitchen, and Yajhaira rubbed her husband's arm while the rest of the men talked amongst themselves. Josué grabbed his wife's hand and looked her in the eye to show he really was okay. He snuck in a peck on his wife's cheek as dessert was brought out by the three guests; Norma understandably required a moment alone.
Everyone dug in, but the tone of the conversation had noticeably changed. It wasn't just somber due to the awkwardness of what happened, but there was something else the young Latinx couple couldn't quite place...at first. Soon enough a pattern started to emerge.
"I, for one, have always been supportive of immigration reform," Adam had started, and the others quickly agreed but were just as quick to run out of things to say about it.
"My daughter was invited to her classmate's king-say-near-a (quinceñera) last weekend, but unfortunately we had to visit family out of town so she couldn't go," Jenna noted out of nowhere.
"I let my gardener have the day off last weekend for a king-say-near-a! I wonder if they're related somehow," Dennis added.
"Well, my gardener and I are such good friends!" Adam boasted.
"I know! Our housekeeper is like a member of the family," Rachel affirmed.
"I'm glad to see construction has started to pick up more this year. Work must be really good for you now, right Jose?" Nathan genuinely wondered.
"I, uh, actually work at a lab for a petroleum company," Josué answered flatly.
"Good...and how long until you finish building it?"
"You know it's getting late; we should probably be going," Yajhaira swooped in. "We still have a lot of unpacking to do."
The couple quickly stood up to bid everyone good-bye, and asked them to give Norma their regards. Polite smiles were plastered on the young couple's faces until they were in the safety of their car.
"What the fuck was that?" Yajhaira wondered aloud.
"I know, right?" Josué agreed. "I've never seen that before!"
"I've never even heard of anything like that before."
The couple recounted the details of the experience until they pulled into their garage. Neither of them got out of the car, opting to stew in their thoughts as well as in the heat as Josué killed the engine, the air-conditioner along with it.
"They were all being racist, right?" Yajhaira solicited affirmation.
"I think so, yeah," Josué answered.
"You know, I just realized something. Those caras de vanilla didn't really ask us anything; we kept having to add our own anecdotes to their conversations."
"You're right. I didn't even realize that until Adam assumed I worked in construction without even asking me about what I do for a living. Isn't that, like, one of the first questions you ask someone?"
"It was Nathan who assumed that by the way..."
"Whatever! It was one of them white boys."
Another moment of silence, this time more out of anger than a need to be pensive. The light from the garage door opener turned off, leaving them in the dark.
"So what do we do now?" Josué asked.
"Move back to East L.A.?" Yajhaira suggested.
"I'm being serious!"
"I don't know! How am I supposed to know?"
"You're good at all this social stuff. You always tell me to follow your lead when it comes to social events."
"I didn't realize I was supposed to be in charge of teaching white people how to not be such racists assholes."
Both remained silent, wondering just what to do with this responsibility they were given; or even if the responsibility was theirs to be burdened with.
"Whatever," Yajhaira huffed. "I'm going to go inside, get naked, and watch Netflix. You coming?"
"Yeah," Josué shrugged his shoulders in defeat. He doubted they would find any answers tonight. If ever.