Pablo smiled as guests wished him a happy birthday. The whole town was here, except the one person he wanted to see.
“Señor Pablo.” The voice, deeper and more melodic than it had been in youth, made him turn.
“Luis. It’s just Pablo. It’s always been just Pablo to you.” His heart thumped under his crucifix tattoo. They’d been fourteen, rebellious and learning about love.
“Are you happy, Pablo?” Luis asked, a can of beer in his gnarled hand. Farming had not been kind to him, but in his smile Pablo still saw the beautiful boy he loved.
“Why shouldn’t I be happy? I have all this.” Pablo gestured with his own beer, taking in the chattering party, the extensive family, the decorated home.
The two men stood in silence, their lack of words speaking volumes. Odd looks were cast—a poor farmer socialising with Señor Pablo.
“And you?” Pablo grunted. “Your family is well?”
“Thank you, they are. Maria’s first babe died but she birthed the second well. I’m a grandfather now.” Luis smiled, discoloured teeth testament to cigarettes and poor dentistry. Guilt ratcheted through Pablo again. His family afforded the best physicians, a luxury in this town.
“I’m happy for you.”
“Are you?” Luis raised his crinkled eyes. “We’re old men now, Pablo, we can be honest.”
His words chipped the glass of Pablo’s heart. A gulp of beer burned rather than soothed the torrent of bitterness in his throat. “Honest, Luis? We could never be honest.” He was going to scream, or cry, or punch someone. Make a scene. Embarrass his family. His wife gazed over from her position as matriarch, presiding over the other dames of the town. She knew. She had always known, though they never spoke of it. He would shame his family. They didn’t deserve that. He didn’t deserve them.
He focussed on Luis. Concern etched itself into the lines of his friend’s face.
“Come on, come sit down, have a cigarette.”
Guided outside, he leant against the whitewashed wall. The closed door muted the party. He breathed in the cigarette Luis held to his lips. Memories flooded in with the nicotine. Stolen kisses behind his father’s factory. The burn of the tattoo that was meant to mark their love forever.
“We should have run away, Luis.” His voice croaked. “We should have gone when you said. I was wrong. I was a coward.” Blinded by tears, he didn’t see the arms that encircled him. He laid his head on Luis’ shoulder and wept.
“Shh, mi querido. I forgave you for that a long time ago. Now you need to forgive yourself.”
Bitterness warred with guilt and self-loathing in his heart. Soft, dry lips pressed his forehead. He blinked at Luis.
“I still love you, mi querido. And I have enough love for us both.”
The glass melted. The resentment faded. Instead of his heart shattering like he’d expected at a lifetime of missed opportunity, it grew warm and began to heal.”