Joyride Page 66

“Carly.” Julio’s voice sounds so full of heartache now. “What have you done to make El Libertador break his promise to us?” He takes a moment to sniffle. I’ve never heard my brother cry before. “When Mama and Papi got to Austin, immigration was at the bus station checking everyone who came through. They were taken into custody, Carlotta. Mama said she had to beg the officer to call me.”

“Ohmigod.” This earns me a worried look from Miss May. I’m envisioning a raid. Guns being pointed at my parents, and my brother and sister. The unimaginable terror they must have felt. Maybe it wasn’t like that. Maybe they just boarded the buses and asked for documentation. “Are … were they hurt?”

I assume they weren’t, because Julio ignores my question altogether. “Some kind of protection he offered us, eh? But he took our money. All that money. And now what? We’re just supposed to start from scratch?”

Cold steals through me. I’ve never seen Julio panic over anything.

He sniffles again. “So I want to know, Carlotta Jasmine Vega, what you have done.”

The hospital, is all I can think. “I didn’t do anything.” I offer Miss May a fragile smile and motion to excuse myself from the room. She nods.

“Calm down,” I say casually in Spanish, walking down the hallway to my bedroom. I shut the door behind me and sit on the bed, bringing my voice down to a whisper. “He saw me at the hospital, and Arden was there. But I wasn’t there with him. I’m serious, Julio. I stayed away from Arden. I did what I was supposed to do.” Except for the part where I ended up in his arms. But I’m not about to tell Julio that. Guilt settles on me like weighted dust.

“All I know is that Mama and Papi are on their way back to Mexico, Carlotta. How can I trust you? How do I know you tell the truth anymore?”

“That’s not fair. I came to you about the sheriff.” I lower my voice further, as if the word “sheriff” were cursed with the promise of unspeakable death. Nervously, I glance at the door. Would I be able to hear Miss May approach? “I told you what he said to me. I tried to tell you this might happen, that this is the kind of man he is. You didn’t want to listen to me.” Oh, but Julio is having none of it.

“You fix this, you hear me? You fix this!”

I close my eyes against the raw torment in his voice. Out of everyone, Julio had the most to lose. And it’s technically my fault, all of it. “I … I don’t know how to fix it.” The feeling of helplessness feeds the hysteria fermenting deep within me.

“Not good enough, Carlotta.”

“Julio, please.” But I don’t know what I’m asking for. Forgiveness? Support? A comforting word? I deserve none of those things.

“What about your boyfriend?” Julio’s voice gains about two octaves. I knew he felt more betrayed than he let on about Arden. Not only that I was dating someone without his knowledge; that would be bad enough in its own right. But it’s who I was dating that’s the real clincher for him. And why shouldn’t it be?

“What about this Arden?” he says, his voice more subdued. “He can talk to his father.” There is the sound of small hope in his words, and it sickens me.

I shake my head, but the action is lost over the phone. “He’s not close with his dad, Julio. They don’t like each other.” Understatement of a handful of millennium.

“You better talk sweet to him then,” he snaps.

Of all the things I would predict about my future, my older brother encouraging me to talk sweet to a boy wasn’t one of them. Julio is truly desperate. “I’m not supposed to talk to him at all, remember?”

“What does that matter now? El Libertador has already gone back on his word.”

Oh. Well. That’s a good point. All deals with the sheriff are officially off. I hate myself for feeling a tinge of relief. I can see Arden now—at the cost of my family. “Arden isn’t the answer.”

“What about this Shackleford man? The one you were staying with? Can he help us?”

The seed of an idea sprouts inside my head, germinating as I talk it out. “Cletus? Hmmm. Maybe he can…” Probably not in the way Julio wants, though. I doubt even wise, all-knowing Cletus could rescue our parents from the jaws of deportation, even with his connections. Saving my family is a lost cause and I know it. But retribution isn’t. “Let me call you back, okay? You work tonight?”

“Of course I do.”

“Call in sick.” Then I hang up and dial Arden.

Thirty

Arden perseveres down Cletus’s driveway, so awash with anger that if the moonlight was bright enough, his knuckles would show tighty whitey on the steering wheel. He’s thankful though that the moonlight is held at bay by low-hovering clouds; this meeting needs all the secrecy it can get.

Instead of pulling under the carport, he drives straight beside the house, around to the back. Putting the truck into park, he notices two bicycles leaning against the house by the back screen door. His anger fades slightly to nervousness.

Julio is here.

Julio, Carly’s older brother, but more importantly—and admittedly more scary—is that Julio is as close to a father figure for Carly as Arden is going to meet any time soon. He’s never met a girl’s father before, but he always thought he would handle it well if the time ever came. He would be charming and suave and somehow appear completely innocent under the scrutiny of a fatherly radar.

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