Home > Cemetery Boys(15)

Cemetery Boys(15)
Author: Aiden Thomas

In a flash of movement, Julian raced up the final steps.

Yadriel sucked in a sharp breath.

Lita turned her head a split second after Julian ducked around the corner.

Leaving Maritza crouched awkwardly on the stairs.

“Maritza?” Lita asked, squinting up at her through the dark.

She jumped to her feet and smiled. “¡Hola, Lita!” she said with a cheerful wave.

Yadriel exhaled.

Lita gave Maritza a stern look. “Ah, ah! Es muy tarde,” Lita said, disapprovingly wagging her finger between her and Yadriel. “You have school in the morning. Time to go home!”

Maritza’s bottom lip jutted out, and she glanced up the stairs, but Yadriel shot her a pointed look. They’d nearly gotten caught already. He wasn’t about to push their luck.

“But—” she started to whine.

Lita cut her off. “Come,” she said, motioning for Maritza to come down. “We’ll call tu papá and have him pick you up.”

Maritza stomped back down the stairs.

“I’ll see you in the morning,” Yadriel reassured her as she headed for the front door.

“You better text me,” Maritza threatened.

Yadriel wanted to tell her if she didn’t want to miss out so badly, she should’ve taken Julian home herself, but it was a bit late for that.

Lita looked at the contraband in his arm and smiled. “Ah! Finally eating!” She chuckled. “Bueno, bueno.” Lita arched her back in a stretch. “You eat and go right to bed. You need rest,” she told him.

Yadriel forced a small laugh. Being sleep-deprived at school tomorrow was the least of his worries. “Sí, Lita.”

“I need you to look in the rafters for la garra del jaguar mañana,” she went on with a huff.

“Yes, Lita.”

“Don’t know where they went—”

When Yadriel turned to go up the stairs, she called after him.

“Ah, ah!” Lita tapped her cheek. “Un besito, por favor.”

Yadriel bit back a groan and planted a quick kiss on her soft, warm cheek.

Maritza smirked from the front door, and he could’ve sworn he heard a muffled chuckle from upstairs.

“Buenas noches, mi amor.” Lita smiled. “¡Pa’ fuera!” she said to Maritza, ushering her out.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Yadriel tore up the stairs. At the top, he looked down the hall toward his room, but there was no sign of Julian. He frowned. “Julian?” he whispered, moving down the hall.


Yadriel spun around.

Julian stood at the opposite end of the hallway. He pointed at a slatted door. “This is a closet,” he said, giving Yadriel a critical look.

“I said left, not right.” Yadriel jerked his head, and Julian followed him into his bedroom.

Once they were both inside, he closed the door, wishing it had a lock.

Julian stood in the middle of his room, looking around. It occurred to Yadriel how messy it was, with clothes tossed here and there, drawers half-closed, and the bed a tangled mass of blue sheets.

He felt embarrassed and awkward, not knowing what to do with himself or the spirit in his room.

Julian didn’t seem bothered, or even to notice. All of his attention was locked on the food Yadriel was holding. “Can I eat?” he asked, dark eyes glancing up.

“Uh, yeah.” Quickly, Yadriel pushed a heap of clean clothes off the old office chair. “Here.” He cleared a spot on the desk, moving textbooks, an incense burner, and his bus pass out of the way so he could set down the pan. “Have at it,” he said, dusting the bits of sugar off his sleeves before plucking an ice cube and popping it into his mouth. The cold provided instant relief as he pressed his tongue against it.

Julian didn’t need to be told twice. He threw himself into the chair and rubbed his palms together, a smile lighting up his face. But his hands hovered over the buns. “Wait, how am I supposed to eat this if I can’t touch stuff?”

“It’s pan de muerto,” Yadriel told him around the ice cube, but all Julian replied with was a frown. “It means—”

“I know what it means,” Julian interrupted with a roll of his eyes. “I can speak Spanish; I just choose not to.”

That was a weird thing to say.

Yadriel wanted to ask what he meant by that, but the irritable look Julian shot him said not to. “We make this food for spirits,” Yadriel explained, biting back his curiosity. “I mean, we can eat it, too, obviously, but we use it for ofrendas to welcome spirits back for Día de Muertos.” He shrugged. “It’s spirit food.”

Julian didn’t need to be told twice.

He snatched up a bun and took a huge bite. Yadriel found himself grinning as Julian threw his head back, letting out a triumphant laugh.

“Oh, man.” Julian hummed appreciatively, shoving two more bites into his mouth. His knees bounced under the desk, and he swallowed with effort before stuffing more into his mouth. “So good,” Julian mumbled, eyes rolling in ecstasy. In a matter of moments, he had chomped down three pieces of pan.

Yadriel’s mom always used to say Lita’s pan de muerto was so good it’d wake a dead man just so he could get a taste. Apparently she was right. Maybe he should’ve grabbed more.

Cold water slid down Yadriel’s throat as the ice cube he sucked on melted. He did his best to appear aloof, but that turned into him rocking on the balls of his feet and watching Julian. Yadriel shook his head at himself. Staring at Julian while he ate was weird. He couldn’t remember how to act normal.

Sitting down seemed like a nonchalant thing to do, so Yadriel plopped himself onto the edge of his bed.

A chirruped mewl made him jump, his heart lurching into his throat. Julian spun in the chair. The mass of blankets rustled, and Purrcaso crawled out, shaking herself off.

“Jesus, you scared the hell out of me,” Yadriel said, gingerly picking up the small cat and placing her in his lap. He teased his fingers down her pointy spine and she purred in appreciation, her forgiveness immediate. Her tiny presence let the tension in his shoulders ebb.

“Holy shit,” Julian laughed, the deep kind that came from his belly. “That’s one messed-up looking cat!”

“Shut up!” Yadriel snapped, pulling Purrcaso close. “Don’t make fun of her.” Her enthused purrs reverberated against his chest.

Julian held up his palms in defense. “Hey, hey, hey, didn’t mean any disrespect! But, c’mon—” The chuckles started again, and he did a very bad job of holding them back. “She is pretty funny looking.”

Yadriel glared, but Purrcaso was unfazed. She wiggled out of Yadriel’s grasp and clumsily leaped to the floor. With a trilling meow, she hobbled over to Julian.

He sucked the sugar off his fingers. “What’s up, little one?” he asked before looking up at Yadriel. “She can see me?”

“Cats are like little spirit guardians,” he said with a shrug. “They hang out in the cemetery all the time. My mom said they were good luck. Cats can see spirits and sense them nearby, just like us.”

Julian reached down, and when his fingers brushed against her fur, a wide smile split his face. “I can pet her!” He scratched her behind the ears, and Purrcaso’s eyes slid shut, leaning into the touch.

Yadriel was surprised at how quickly she took to him. Usually, Purrcaso was uninterested in anyone other than him and his mom, but here she was, drool gathering at the corner of her mouth as Julian scratched her furry chin.

“Never had any pets growing up, but I always liked cats,” Julian told him.

A thought occurred to Yadriel. “What about your family?”

Julian’s shoulders tensed. He didn’t look up. “What about ’em?”

“Don’t you want me to talk to them, too?” Yadriel asked. As uncomfortable as that sounded, it was weird that Julian was so worried about his friends but hadn’t mentioned his family at all. “You’re not worried about your parents?”

“Don’t got parents,” Julian said, his words curt. Gruff. Purrcaso batted at the unraveled end of Julian’s shoelace.

Yadriel blinked. “Oh…” Growing up in a multigenerational household and being part of a huge Latinx community, the concept of not having any family was both foreign and distressing. “But you mentioned your brother. Isn’t he going to be worried?”

Julian let out a sharp, bark-like laugh. “Trust me, me being dead is a good thing for him. Probably a weight off his shoulders. Best thing that could’ve happened.” He spat the words out like they were bitter.

Yadriel frowned. That sounded … awful. His own family was far from perfect, but would he be better off without them? Or vice versa?

“When can I start moving stuff?” Julian asked, finally looking up. The discussion about family was clearly over.

Purrcaso limped over to one of Yadriel’s hoodies on the floor and curled up, settling in for another nap.

“Moving stuff?”

“Yeah, you know—” Julian stood and paced the room. He couldn’t sit still, and he couldn’t stop himself from trying to touch things. He thumbed a stack of books on the desk and rapped his fingers against the closet door. “Like slamming doors, stacking chairs, stuff like that,” he explained, coming to a stop before the altar on Yadriel’s dresser.

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