“Did you tell them what I am?” Niles Gule asked his partner, Mariella Cruz.
She drove the car much like she drove everything, with command and determination. “I said you’re my partner.” She never took her eyes from the road.
“No, I mean, have you told them I’m a vampire?”
That caused her to momentarily glance at him. Tall, blond and gorgeous he was the opposite of her and made her little Nissan look like a toy car with a GI Joe stuffed in it.
His hard stare forced her to sigh. “Listen, Gule. My family came from Mexico. Legally,” she added, lifting a finger. “We’ve been painted with the ‘crawled under the fence’ brush since day one. We’re not going to slap some label on you like people have done to us.”
“But I’m a vampire!” Niles’ blue eyes watched the row homes of Baltimore as they passed on that warm summer evening. “And an actual alien. Not exactly the same thing as being Mexican.”
“Tell that to Trump,” Cruz muttered. She turned into a working class neighborhood. Its streets were lined with bungalows that had seen better days. Niles’ night vision caught the graffiti sprayed everywhere and the trash littering the gutters. A couple of heavies manned the corner.
Niles knew which house was her mother’s long before they reached it. Lights blazed. Twelve cars clogged the street and a host of people partied on the tiny front lawn of a dilapidated white rancher. Strings of colored lights swung from tree to tree to give the space a festive appearance. Niles counted fifteen children cavorting while men stood in knots chatting and women tried to control the chaos. Tables laden with food sparkled beneath the lights. Niles recognized the music that blared from the car port. Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass.
“Mama loves Herb Alpert,” Cruz explained. “She’s going to be thrilled you like him too.”
“Saw him play Little Havana back in 1962,” Niles murmured.
Cruz blinked. “Oh. Yeah. I forgot. How old are you?”
“One hundred and fifty-seven.”
“Huh!” Cruz considered that then shrugged. She gestured to the house. “Welcome to Mamas!”
As Niles unfolded himself from the car, a happy crowd descended to swallow the new arrivals with hugs and handshakes. Bewildered, Niles stood while brightly smiling men shook his hand and women drowned him in a sea of Spanish. Kids stared up at him in awe because, he supposed, he was so tall and blond not because he was a vampire.
A matronly woman with black hair peppering to gray pounced. “Mari! Welcome home!” She swallowed Cruz in her embrace.
Cruz gestured to Niles. “Mama, this is my new partner, Niles Gule. Gule, Mama.”
Niles held out his hand awkwardly. He’d never in his life been invited to a human social function and had no idea how to act. This boisterous bunch of Mexican-Americans left him winded with their exuberance.
Mama smacked his hand aside and hugged him like a long lost son. “Welcome, mi niño,” she gushed. She studied him and nodded to Cruz. “He’ll do.”
“Mama!” Cruz warned.
Leaving her daughter to make the introductions, Mama returned to her party. Niles found himself surrounded by Cruz’s of every age. Tio Geno and Tia Maria. Cousins Benito and Cecelia. When he faced the phalanx of Cruz’s brothers, Niles stiffened, wondering what they would think of their baby sister’s Anglo partner. He needn’t have worried. Manolo, Jerman, Jerve and Xavier greeted him warmly and welcomed him into the fold.
Niles found himself engulfed in the Cruz family reunion as if they’d known him all their lives. He was astounded by their warmth and willingness to accept someone so alien and wondered what they’d think if they knew just how alien he was. No one seemed to care. First he was drafted into a game of basketball in the middle of the street, both sides fighting over possession of him since he loomed over everyone. Then the youngest children demanded pony rides on his back and he astonished himself by giving them.
As he was jouncing little Luz on his shoulders, he saw Mama and Cruz watching him.
Mama smiled and nodded. “He’ll do,” she commented as he trotted past.
Niles saw Cruz roll her eyes.
Dinner was declared by a triangle ringing. Niles sat next to his partner while a host of bowls was passed around. To keep up appearances, he spooned something from every bowl, although the thought of actually eating beans and rice or corn salad made his meat-loving stomach roil. He suffered the tortillas that wrapped soft beef tacos and forced himself to appreciate the spiced and cooked beef. Mostly he pushed the food around his plate to give the appearance of eating. He hadn’t fooled Mama Cruz.
She nudged her daughter. “He needs to eat more. Eats like a bird, that one. Has the body of a bird too.”
Cruz stuffed her mouth with a burrito.
The men of the family questioned him, and Niles sensed they were testing him. Was he good enough to partner their Mariella on the mean streets of Baltimore? Would he defend her as she deserved to be defended? Niles insisted he would which earned him nods of approval.
Mama grinned, her face awash in the multicolored glow of the party lights.
“He’ll do,” she said with a conspiratorial wink at her daughter.
Niles puckered his brow. “Why does she keep saying that?”
Mama patted his hand. “We’ve been waiting for our little Mari to find herself a real man for a husband.” She nodded sagely. “I’ve decided. You’ll do.”
“Mama!” Cruz wailed. Her face turned several shades of red as she planted it into the woolen serape that served as a table cloth.
Niles sat with wide eyes as he saw the entire Cruz family nodding. My god, they all thought the same thing, he realized. Unable to think of a reply, he sat staring at the lot of them, happy, buoyant Mexicans wanting the best for their Mariella. She, however, looked ready to crawl under the table.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t think Mama would come up with that.”
He blinked at her. Then, finally, Niles Gule did something he hadn’t done in fifty years.
© 2016 Melinda Newmin