Home > Cemetery Boys(6)

Cemetery Boys(6)
Author: Aiden Thomas

Yadriel stepped to follow his dad, but Enrique held out his arm to stop him.

“Not you. You stay here,” he instructed.

Yadriel’s stomach plummeted. “But I can help!” he insisted.

“No, Yadriel.” A loud ringing had Enrique digging his cell phone out of his pocket. He swiped his thumb across the screen and lifted it to his ear. “Benny, did you find him?” he asked, expression tense.

Everyone in the group stilled. Yadriel could hear rushed Spanish on the other side.

But his father’s shoulders slumped. “No, we haven’t, either.” He sighed, rubbing his forehead. “We’re trying to gather more people to help search—”

Yadriel leaped at the opportunity. “I can help!” he repeated.

His dad turned away from him and continued to speak into the phone. “No, we haven’t—”

Yadriel scowled, frustration boiling over. “Dad!” he insisted, stepping in front of him. “Let me help, I—”

“No, Yadriel,” Enrique hissed, frowning as he tried to hear the voice on the other line.

Normally, Yadriel wasn’t prone to arguing with his dad, but this was important. He looked around to the brujos in the room, for someone to listen to him, but they were already filing out. Except for Tío Catriz, who gave Yadriel a puzzled look.

When his dad made for the front door, fierce determination made Yadriel step in his way.

“If you’d just listen to me—” Yadriel wrestled his backpack off his shoulder and yanked open the zipper.


He plunged his hand inside, fingers grasping the hilt of his portaje. “Look—”


Enrique’s shout made Yadriel jump.

His dad was an even-tempered man. It genuinely took a lot to get him rattled or for him to lose his temper. It was part of what made him a good leader. Seeing his dad’s face so red, hearing the sharpness of his voice, was jarring. Even Diego, standing just behind Enrique, was startled.

The room fell silent. Yadriel felt every pair of eyes on him.

He snapped his mouth shut. The cut on his tongue stung, sharp and metallic.

Enrique jabbed a finger toward the living room. “You stay here with the rest of the women!”

Yadriel flinched. Hot shame flooded his cheeks. He released the dagger, letting it fall to the bottom of his backpack. He glared up at his dad in an attempt to look fierce and defiant, even though his eyes burned and his hands quaked.

“The rest of the women,” he repeated, spitting the words out as if they were poisonous.

Enrique blinked, anger flickering to confusion, as though Yadriel were suddenly coming into focus before him. He removed his cell phone from his ear. His shoulders sank; his expression went slack. “Yadriel,” he sighed, reaching out for him.

But Yadriel wasn’t going to stick around to listen.

Maritza tried to stop him. “Yads—”

He couldn’t take the look of pity on her face. He veered out of her reach. “Don’t.”

Yadriel turned and shoved past the onlookers, escaping through the door that led to the garage. It banged against the wall before slamming shut behind him as he stomped down the small set of stairs. The lights sputtered on, revealing organized chaos. His dad’s car was parked off to one side.

Seething, Yadriel paced back and forth over the oil-stained concrete, his breath ragged as his ribs strained against his binder. Anger and embarrassment warred inside him.

He wanted to scream or break something.

Or both.

His dad’s face—the look of regret when he realized what he’d said to Yadriel—flashed in his mind. Yadriel was always forgiving people for being callous. For misgendering him and calling him by his deadname. He was always giving them the benefit of the doubt, or writing it off as people not understanding or being stuck in their ways when they hurt him.

Well, Yadriel was tired of it. He was tired of forgiving. He was tired of fighting to just exist and be himself. He was tired of being the odd one out.

But belonging meant denying who he was. Living as something he wasn’t had nearly torn him apart from the inside out. But he also loved his family, and his community. It was bad enough being an outsider; what would happen if they just couldn’t—or wouldn’t—accept him for who he was?

Frustration broke in Yadriel’s chest. He kicked the tire of the car with his combat boot, which did nothing but make pain explode in his foot.

Yadriel cussed loudly and hobbled over to an old stool. Wincing, he sat down heavily.

Stupid move.

He scowled at the black sedan, and his angry reflection stared back at him from the windshield. All the running had made his hair fall out of place. Short on the sides with a swath of hair on top, Yadriel put a lot of time into styling it. His hair was one of the few things about his appearance he could control. While he couldn’t get button-up shirts to fit right—either they were too tight across his chest and hips, or comically huge—he could at least get his hair faded and use what little allowance he got on Suavecito pomade. It was the only stuff that could wrangle his thick mass of wavy black hair. He couldn’t thin out his round cheeks, but he could grow his eyebrows in thick and dark. The combat boots were as much practical as they were aesthetic. They gave him an extra inch of height that, while minuscule, helped him feel less self-conscious about how short he was compared to the average sixteen-year-old boy. It was small changes, like mirroring how Diego and his friends dressed or wore their hair, that made him feel more at home in his own skin.

There was a rustling from the corner, followed by a curious, trilling mewl. A small cat ambled out from behind a stack of cardboard boxes. Although, she looked more like a cartoonist’s rendition of a cat, with a large notch in one ear and her left eye always squinting. Her spine was bony and a little askew. The tip of her tail was practically bald, and she held her back leg awkwardly.

A heavy sigh released some of the anger in Yadriel’s chest. “C’mere, Purrcaso,” he cooed, holding his hand out.

With another happy trill, she hobbled over to Yadriel, the bell on her blue collar tinkling as she went. She rubbed up against his leg, leaving tufts of gray fur on his black jeans.

Yadriel managed a small grin, running his fingers down her crooked back before scratching under her chin, just where she liked it. He was rewarded with loud purrs.

Purrcaso had joined the family when Yadriel was thirteen years old. It was around then his mother had tried teaching him how to heal. Brujas usually learned their trade long before their portaje ceremony, the women in the family walking them through the steps.

Yadriel’s mom had been trying to dip his toes into the healing waters, but, even at thirteen, he knew it wouldn’t work. Yadriel knew he wasn’t a bruja. He’d already come out to Maritza, but he still hadn’t worked up the courage to tell his mom. The closer it got to his quinces, the more panicked he became.

Everyone figured he was just a late bloomer, or maybe he was just nervous about coming of age. That’s why, when he and his mom found a small gray cat on the side of the road walking back from school one day, she decided to use it as a teaching moment.

They could sense the cat was injured, even without seeing the way she limped. Maybe she’d been hit by a car, or lost a fight with a dog or one of the terrifying raccoons that ran the streets at night. Yadriel felt a small pang in the corner of his mind, could feel the pain radiating from her leg. When he was younger, Yadriel hated the brujx ability to sense others’ pain. He’d always been terribly empathetic, and being able to sense so much suffering in the world affected him.

Yadriel’s mom had set him down on the curb and gathered the cat into her billowy skirt. She unwrapped her portaje from her wrist—a jade rosary ending in a vessel that, at first glance, looked like Our Lady of Guadalupe, but if you looked closely, you’d see the figure was actually a skeleton. His mom unscrewed the top, let the chicken blood drip onto her finger, and then brushed it across the statuette of Lady Death. She spoke the words, and golden light illuminated the rosary.

It was such a small injury to fix, and on such a tiny creature, Yadriel should have been able to heal it easily with his mom’s help. With her warm smile and gentle encouragement, he held the rosary to the cat’s leg. His hand quaked, scared that something would go wrong, or worse, that it would work, showing that he was supposed to be a bruja. His mom placed her hand over his and gave it a small squeeze.

Yadriel spoke the final words, but it backfired.

He could still picture the drops of scarlet on his mother’s white skirt. The terrible yowl. The sudden, sharp pain of the poor cat piercing into his head. The stunned look on his mother’s face. It couldn’t have lasted more than a couple of seconds before she’d taken the cat and quickly healed it herself.

In a blink, the terrible sound had stopped. The pain vanished. The small cat’s eyes closed, a ball of fur in his mom’s lap.

Yadriel had been inconsolable, convinced for a long moment that he had killed the poor creature. His mom pulled him to her side and spoke gently into his ear.

Shh, it’s all right. She’s okay; she’s just sleeping, you see?

But all Yadriel could see was his failure; all he could feel was the crushing weight of knowing he couldn’t do it. But, more than that, he knew this wasn’t him. He wasn’t a bruja.

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