He was arriving in less than a week. When I left Alex standing on the side of the road in Utuado, waving at my car as it pulled away from my Aunt Carmen and Uncle Miguel’s home, I truly thought I would never see him again. Sure we made plans to keep in touch via email, but there’s a huge difference between a few electronic submissions and a half-semester face-to-face visit. Especially when his accommodations were two doors down on the left, next to the hall bath alongside Vince’s room.
“So, does this mean you’re gonna start wearing makeup to breakfast?” Lilly asked as she helped me clear out the drawers in what would soon be Alex’s room.
“I barely wear makeup to school. I doubt I’ll start caking it on to eat Cheerios.” I tossed a bunch of my mom’s old sweaters into a plastic storage bin bound for the attic.
“But what if Alex is pouring the milk in your Cheerios?” Lilly raised an eyebrow.
“Well, I may have to brush my teeth…”
I grabbed my mom’s old cardigan and placed it neatly in a bin. Most of the extra closets in our house held my mom’s “overflow” wardrobe. She didn’t throw much away out of a belief that it would it eventually come back into style—it was a holdover from her childhood growing up in the projects. When you go from K Mart to Chanel in less than 30 years, it’s hard to part with those Chanels even when they’re dated.
“I still can’t believe he’s up and moving here to be with you,” Lilly stated plainly.
“This has nothing to do with me. He’s visiting colleges.”
“Yeah, if you believe that….”
“He’s staying in a room down the hall from yours. Is that standard procedure for every kid who wants to tour universities in the greater Philadelphia area? Because if so, you’re parents need to up their rates…”
“I wouldn’t talk, Miss Freeloader.”
“Hey, my parents send money!” she tossed a lavender-scented sachet at me.
“I’m just saying if you didn’t move here from Puerto Rico, maybe Alex wouldn’t be so inspired to do the same. It could be you he misses.” I narrowed my eyes.
“Nice try, but I don’t think so.”
Lilly carefully lifted one my mom’s formal handbags. Each elegant clutch, leather satchel or logo-patterned purse was to be individually placed in the fabric dust bag it came in, then nestled into a cardboard box and labeled, then stacked into a plastic bin. Sometimes I thought my mom cared more about those purses than she did her own life.
“So are you guys just gonna pick up where you left off? Have a big smooch fest at the airport?” Lilly blew kisses at me.
“I don’t know,” I mumbled. “I don’t want to act like I expect anything or like I think this trip has more to do with me than it does school…”
“But it does.”
“No, it doesn’t,” I said firmly as I locked the lid on the transparent bin.
“You realize your family is single-handedly boosting the Latino population at your school district at an alarming rate,” she joked.
“Not, exactly. Vince is away at school.”
“Ah, but holiday break is just around the corner. The numbers are swinging in our favor.”
She was right. My parents’ home was quickly becoming a halfway house for Puerto Rican teens looking to migrate from Utuado.
Alex was visiting as part of a mini-exchange program. Somehow his tiny mountaintop private school had arranged to send him to the states for two months to tour American universities. He would keep up with his classes in Utuado online, utilizing Spring Mills High School’s computer labs, libraries, and all other facilities. He’d also be passing me in the halls, eating with me in the cafeteria, and bumming rides from my friends.
I glanced around the yellow and green guestroom. My grandmother, my mom’s mom, used to stay here when she visited. It was decorated specifically for her with the thick plush carpet she preferred, the colors she favored, and an ivy-stenciled border that mimicked her bedroom in Camden. She stayed in the room a lot after my grandfather died. Aside from our maid, hardly anyone stepped foot in it since she passed away two years ago.
Now it would be Alex’s room. Only I couldn’t picture him in it. I couldn’t picture him here.