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I couldn’t really wrap my brain around that scene with my dad at the hospital. Not the things he said, not whatever had happened to him.

He was delirious, of course. I knew that. He was having a stroke or something like it – that’s what his doctor, kind old Dr. Reyes had told me. He had been on morphine, and he was delirious.

When my mom was so sick with cancer, they had her on morphine, too. And man, the seasick mumblings that came out of her were another level. I knew that’s what had happened to dad, too.

The important thing was that he was ok.

Even though I thought it would only be a day or two…even though I wanted to get back to work and my routine, I knew I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Of course I couldn’t.

But I also couldn’t be alone. I called Rafael right then and there and asked him to come down, which he did early the next morning.

He pulled into the driveway, and had I been a betting woman, I would’ve cashed in big upon his first glance at the house. His eyes went wide as saucers.

“It’s huge!”

“Gotta love small town Midwest,” I said, grabbing a bag of groceries he brought, while he pulled in two suitcases – one for each of us.

He lingered in the entryway at the foot of the stairs, in awe. “How many bedrooms?!”

“Four,” I called to him from the dining nook, unpacking the bag – a big bottle of water and some boxed sandwiches and fruit.

Rafa wandered into the livingroom while I made my way to the kitchen. “FOUR! You were an only child!” He browsed the pictures on the livingroom wall and then fixed on one. He called to me in the kitchen. “Is this your prom?”

But I ignored him. I was lost in the kitchen. Nothing was where I thought it would be. Where was the sugar? Why was there only a tiny bottle of olive oil? “I don’t know where anything is,” I mumbled to myself.

“I’ll help you with that later, amor,” he said, still gazing at the photos. “Tell me about these.”

“I have to go to grocery shopping, like, immediately,” I said, looking into the fridge.

Rafa appeared in the kitchen then and gently lead me back to the livingroom. He pointed to a photo on the wall. “Tell me about this one.”

I studied it a moment. Georgia and I with way too much makeup and too-skimpy dresses. “Yep, prom. Junior prom. My mom had died, like, two months before.” I thought about that night, the fun Georgia and I had. “I didn’t even have a date!”

“Oh no!” Rafael laughed. He squeezed me to comfort me. “Not my beautiful Nora!”

I scoffed. “I was definitely not beautiful Nora. I mean, look at that makeup! Georgia talked me into going and my dad was so happy. Took us dress shopping and everything.”

I smiled at the memory, then remembered my dad, how I couldn’t bear to lose him. I got teary but gulped it back. Rafael hugged me and breathed deep.

Huff. I couldn’t do this all day, though. “I’ve gotta make a grocery list.”

Rafael shook his head and gently pulled me down to sit on the sofa. “Not right now, you don’t. Come here. Vem cá.” I did, and we breathed together, eyes closed. Peaceful. Relaxed. It was exactly what I needed. Rafa rested a hand on my belly.

After a few moments, my eyes shot open. I forgot to tell him the best part! “Guess what else?”

I paused. Rafa was positively giddy with anticipation.

“This house has…a basement.”

A beat and then Rafa feigned crying melodramatic tears of joy. Really, this is why I was gonna marry the guy.

“My dream come true!” he cried. “A real American house with a real American basement!”

I shook my head and laughed. I still didn’t quite get it though. “You’ve been in the U.S., what, a dozen years? And you’ve still never seen a house with a basement?” I asked.

“I’ve seen one,” he began. “But I’ve never stayed in one. Four bedrooms, two floors, and a basement?!” He fell back on the couch like he was fainting. “This is American Dream material!”

I chuckled at the drama and gingerly crawled onto him to kiss him. I tapped his nose. “This is American dream material.”

We kissed again but were startled when we heard the door swing open.

It was just Georgia. She laughed at the sight of us, not a shred of embarrassment.

“Yikes. I gotta start knocking,” she giggled.

I quickly stood up, mildly embarrassed for some reason. Rafa stood up too and stepped forward to shake Georgia’s hand.

“You are the famous Georgia! It’s so nice to meet you. I’m Rafael, Nora’s -”

“You’re Nora’s very handsome fella,” she said, cautiously taking him in.

Rafa smiled broadly. “I knew I would like you.”

Georgia chuckled and examined him as she moved toward me. “I don’t wanna intrude or anything…”

“Come on,” I said. “You’re not -”

“I’ve got an anatomy class to get to, but I wanted to invite you to the football game tonight.”

Ugh. Emerald high school football – Friday night church. It would be…just…so much. I knew I should have come off as super excited, but I just couldn’t.

Rafael on the other hand, was jacked. His eyes lit up and he started fanning himself theatrically.

“An American high school football game!” he cried. “Really, I can’t stand much more of these classic American things. It’s too good.”

Georgia looked at him both amused and confused. I rolled my eyes. “I believe that’s his way of saying we’ll be there,” I said.

“Good,” Georgia said, heading for the door. “Kick off at 7.”

“But George,” I said, stopping her exit. “Why didn’t you just text me?”

This time, it was Georgia who rolled her eyes. She motioned to Rafael. “Because I needed an excuse to meet your man. Duh.” She shook her head and left.

I tried to get excited for the night, for the pomp and circumstance of the Emerald Eagles, but the fact that literally everyone who was anyone in town would be there…and would know me or my dad…it weighed on me.

It was going to be a long night.


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