Hector watched the last of the three bodies be pushed into the hole. He could feel every drop of blood on his skin. The drops burned his skin as if the lit end of a cigarette butt were attached to each one. He could hear every scream echoing, every shot bouncing off the canyon. His arms hung loose at his sides, disgust, confusion, and exhaustion filling every muscle. Why were they here? What had pushed him to this point?
He looked up at the sky. It was a clear, hot night. The stars stared down at him in disapproval. The moon shone brightly to illuminate his ugly deed. He felt the weight of the gun slung across his back. He watched as the other men started pushing dirt onto the bodies. He knew he should help. He played just as much a part as they did. He just couldn’t get himself to move.
Suddenly there was a confused voice behind them. A man questioning in a different language. The men burying the bodies stopped to pick up their weapons as the questioning tone turned to anger and the voice got louder. Everyone was shouting for the man attached to the angered voice to calm down, to move along. Hector’s head hung. Why had this man not kept his distance? Hector started to turn and the shouts for calm turned to shouts for stopping.
The shot ran crisp and clear through the night air. The shots that followed were defeaning. Hector’s ears rang and his head was spinning. He inhaled and pain shot through his chest and into his back. He looked down to find a small hole in his shirt. He dropped to his knees and reached a finger up to touch the hole. He pulled his finger away to find it red. There was a tug on his arm. The others were yelling something, but he couldn’t hear them.
He was being pulled up and his arm was slung across his friend’s shoulder. The pain shot through his chest again as he tried to pull in much needed air. The world was spinning around him. That’s when it happened. When the world he’d come to know was spinning out of control, her innocent, unsure face came into view.
The reflection of the waves on the lake were dancing on her face. The wind was blowing her long blonde hair behind her. Her eyes were doubtful as he reassured her he would come back to visit.
“Do you trust me?” He had asked. A half smile turned a corner of her mouth as she shrugged. “Come on. When have I ever let you down?” The smile faded.
“Every time you left me behind. And now you’re doing it again.” She crossed her arms again. It was more of a defense than a sign of anger he remembered thinking. She did it when she was nervous, when she was mad, when she was on the verge of tears. He was still confused by this “again” word.
“When did I leave you behind?” She stared at him in disbelief.
“Every time you moved up to a different school!” An involuntary scoff escaped before he could stop it.
“I passed a grade and you’re mad at me for that? What did you want me to do? Fail?” She looked away and bit her lip, another nervous habit.
“I guess not.” She mumbled. In that instant he was struck by how much her body, her face had matured. She was 15 and he was 18. He was leaving and she was staying. But at that moment, while she looked at the lake beside her, he realized she was going to be the most beautiful woman in this town. He did feel guilty for leaving her here, but he also felt he was losing out as well. He wasn’t sure why he did it, but he reached up and turned her face to his. He held her chin with his right hand and pushed a loose strand of hair away from her forehead. Tears were welling in her eyes and before he could blink she had her arms wrapped around him, her face buried against his chest.
“You better come back to visit!” She said against his shirt. He wrapped his arms tight around her and rested his cheek on the top of her head. “I’ll never forgive you if you don’t.”
“I’ll come back.” He said as tears of his own threatened to choke him. He kissed the top of her head and pushed her to arms’ length. “I’ll come back.” She nodded and he finally saw the trust come back to her eyes.
He hadn’t seen her since that day five years ago and now that he had a bullet in his chest he was afraid he’d never see her again. Did she hate him now that he had broken that promise? Did she even think of him at all? Was he just a distant memory to her? The desert swayed before him and stars danced in his eyes before disappearing into black.