Chapter Two:

La Tortuga

With the large windows letting in sunlight, the orange and teal walls brightened the dining area. The music playing lightly over the speakers, combined with the colorful papel picado that decorated the ceilings, and friendly staff, La Tortuga had a cheery atmosphere to it. It was hard to feel gloomy in a place such as this. Diego wished it were enough to attract more customers, though.

La Tortuga was located to the southeast of the city on the border of what was known as "Little Mexico" and the "posh" side. It was a perfect location when his aunt and uncle bought the place back in the late 80s, but now it didn't seem to matter much anymore.

Since the recession took hold months earlier, they were seeing fewer customers. Even their usual patrons didn't come in as often. Diego worried how this would impact the restaurant in the long run. If things didn't get better soon, they'd lose everything by the end of the year. The thought of losing something his aunt cherished hurt his soul. Even if she was no longer with them, he couldn't image how hurt she'd feel they lost the restaurant.

Just across the street, an Italian restaurant called Big Tony's closed its doors forever. Less competition his brother had said, but Diego felt sorry for the owners. It wasn't just Big Tony's, though. Other small, family-owned establishments were closing their doors alongside bigger chain stores. Big Tony's lasted fifty years and to see its windows boarded up was depressing. Besides, he liked their food. His brother didn't fully realizing the weight of the situation. Or, maybe Emiliano realized it but chose to stick his head in the sand.

Despite his worries, however, he was glad the place was quiet. So far only a young couple were in the dining area. Because Emiliano and Jessica had taken the baby to the clinic, Diego was left alone up front. Today, he was the waiter and the cashier.

He moved from one empty table to the other, wiping them down, and checking on the few customers they had. When he finished, he was back behind the counter again, listlessly staring out the front door. He watched people and cars pass them by. Some people glanced inside the establishment as they walked by, wondering if they should eat there or not.

How long did a doctor visit take? He worried something went wrong and thought of calling his brother but two more customers arrived.

He'd have to do it later.

In the back, Spanish music played while the cooks joked around while waiting for the next order to come through. Both Karina and Francis were noisy during work. Emiliano tried to keep his employees in line, but they didn't seem to respect him much. It was mainly Francis who gave him a hard time, but that was to be expected as Francis was their cousin.

Karina wasn't blood, but Diego cared for her as though she was. He met her three years ago when she came in applying for a job. Six months later, a man behind the restaurant tried robbing her, and she made him regret it. When he heard the commotion, Diego rushed outside to help her only to find the small woman pinning down a man twice her size. On that day, he made sure to never cross her.

She was short, light-skinned with copper color eyes, and short hair dyed purple. On her arm was a snake tattoo that started from the shoulder blade and ended at her wrist.

They had a third cook, Ruben, who wasn't scheduled to work that day, much to his delight. He'd hated Ruben from day one. The man was rude and arrogant, going out of his way to argue with everyone he worked with. He wasn't sure why Emiliano hired him.

"I'll cut your dick off!" Karina yelled.

"And I'll pop your fake titties," Francis shot back.

Diego lifted his head off the counter. The elderly woman who recently came in, gasped in horror. He shot her an apologetic look before rushing into the kitchen. Karina was chopping bell peppers while Francis prepared the meat for the old woman's dish.

He reached up on the shelf where the radio sat and lowered the music. Both cooks looked up.

"If you two are going to be vulgar, at least do it quietly or in Spanish! Need I remind you we have customers? They don't need to hear you talking like that. It's bad for business," Diego chided.

The two ducked their heads.

"Sorry, Diego," Karina said.

"We won't let it happen again," Francis added.


Turning back up the music, he went back to the cash register where he remained until Emiliano arrived.

His brother walked in with that same stupid grin on his face that he always had. Diego checked the time, annoyance rising within him. How can Emiliano arrive late and act like he was innocent?

"It's about time you got here."

Emiliano shrugged. "Sorry about that. Even after the doctor's visit, Gabriel wasn't doing so good."

"Couldn't Jessica handle it herself?"

"I can't just leave my son when he's sick! What kind of father would I be?"

"You can when we have a place to run. It was your idea to take over for our Tío and it was your idea we do this together."

Emiliano scoffed. "I wouldn't expect you to understand."

Diego crossed his arms and said, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"You aren't a father. You don't get it, but I'd hope you'd at least have a little sympathy for us."

Guilt washed over at his brother's words. "I do have sympathy. You guys mean a lot to me. I just wish you had called me to let me know what's going on."

"Ah, don't worry about it. Next time, I'll let you know, okay?"

Emiliano looked around the almost empty building. In the corner of the room, were two women chatting silently as they ate their chips and salsa.

"Slow day?" he asked.

"We've had twelve customers all together." In a lower voice, he added. "Emiliano, what are we going to do?"

Emiliano laughed nervously. "Times are hard now, but we'll manage. You need to learn to relax."

Diego wasn't so sure about that.

Seeing his brother's skepticism, Emiliano said, "Have some faith in me. Your big brother will find a way, you know that."

He still wasn't convinced, but masked his true feelings. "Yeah, I guess you will."


Emiliano was in the back counting the money, while Diego finished vacuuming. Placing the vacuum in the closet, he decided to grab a few beers and join his brother in the back.

He peeked through the crack of the door before pushing it open. Emiliano finished counting what little money they'd made. He motioned for Diego to sit and placed the money in a safe under the desk.

Diego slid the beer over to Emiliano who gladly accepted it.

"So, I've been thinking..." his brother began.

Diego slowly sipped on his beer and said, "I don't like where this is going..."

"Jessica wants to stay home with Gabriel more often."


"So that means, she'll be working here less."

"If that's what she wants, but she's needed here."

"That's why I'm hiring someone new."

He swallowed another sip before replying: "And who do you have in mind? More importantly, can we afford them?"

"I don't have anyone in mind at the moment but I did place an ad in the paper a few days ago."

His brows raised. "I thought this business was family only?"

Why did he have to be the last to know anything? Emiliano may have been the manager, but it didn't stop Diego from feeling left out of the decision making.

Emiliano scoffed. "Hardly any of us are left. We've got to be the only Mexican family in town with few relatives."

With their parents long dead, their aunt's passing, and most of their family having disowned them long before either were born, all they truly had were each other. Emiliano wasn't wrong. Their Uncle Blas was practically useless since his wife's passing, turning inward and becoming a shell of his former self. All he did now was stare at the TV from sun up til sun down. It was maddening, but there wasn't much they could do about it. He gave the restaurant over to Emiliano to manage, no longer caring what happened to it. Diego tried getting his uncle out more, but it was useless.

"Karina isn't family," his brother continued.

"Karina is different."

"This isn't an easy choice. Jessica knows that working here is important, but she also doesn't like leaving him. Did you know Gabriel has bonded more with the babysitter than Jessica? It broke her heart."

Leaning back in his chair, Diego thought it over. It was wrong to keep a mother from their child but he didn't see why they didn't bring the baby along. He could stay in the back while everyone checked on him once in a while. It wouldn't be any different from the way he and Emiliano grew up, but his brother wouldn't want that.

He downed his beer, then stood. "Do what you have to. Just make sure they really need this job."

"Don't be paranoid, brother. I wouldn't do anything that would ruin our family's livelihood.

Diego left it at that. Being younger, he often placed his trust in Emiliano even though there were times when he would rather have gone with his gut instinct.

Diego left half an hour later still brooding over the matter. He kept telling himself not to worry about it, but his mind wouldn't leave it be. Whoever Emiliano hired, he hoped the business wouldn't suffer for it.