By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“He did the right thing,” says Frances. “Nobody here can take another death. And there would be another death. We all know it.”
As the days pass, Frances copes by taking care of others. She fusses over Bola, who mostly pushes her away, and over Beatrice, who begins camping out with her two kids at the Aguilar house. Frances’ own grief shows itself primarily as fatigue. On Monday, August 9, Luis goes to court again, and for the first time, Frances doesn’t show up. “I meant to,” she says. “But I’m just so, so exhausted.”
On Wednesday night, August 11, Frances and Beatrice talk long and hard about their future. Art’s death has driven Beatrice to decide on a radical course of action. She and her boys are moving to Indianapolis, where she has some relatives. “I just want to start over fresh,” she says.
“Maybe that’s what Luis and me and the kids should do,” Frances muses. “Move that far away. Where we can start over for real.”
By midnight, Frances is sleeping the sleep of the dead. Estephanie has abandoned her own bedroom and is flopped down beside her mother. Gennisis is not in her crib, but is also curled up next to Frances, along with Elijah. Elijah and Mando, the foster child, originally fell asleep on the living-room couch. But sometime during the night, 2-year-old Elijah wandered into the master bedroom, making it a foursome now loosely intertwined on the bed.
This is exactly how the intruder finds them when he creeps into the Aguilar house at 2 a.m., August 12, and gingerly leans down to kiss his wife, who is so groggy she thinks she is dreaming. Estephanie is the first to come fully awake. “Mom!” she says. “Luis is here! Luis is here!”
Luis has done the impossible. He has bailed himself out — risk and debt be damned. “I bailed out last night after dinner,” he says. “But I guess they didn’t finish the paperwork till like 1 in the morning.” Looking ghostly due to jailhouse pallor, Luis kisses Frances again, then reaches for his baby daughter.
Luis has seen Gennisis several times through the jail’s protective glass barrier. But he has never touched the baby. When he picks her up now, at first he simply stares at the tiny, plump, curly-haired girl. “I’m your daddy,” he says, then begins to cry.
Eventually, Luis gathers himself enough to find the rest of the kids. Bola, Frankie and Julian have not heard the commotion and are still asleep in a back bedroom. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” trills Frankie, hopping and twirling when he sees Luis. Julian and Frankie collect their own hugs, their expressions a dappled mixture of caution and exhilaration. Even Estephanie dumps her habitual teenage ennui for obvious delight. Only Bola is reserved, a smile flickering at his mouth, then leaving again.
Finally, when everyone has been properly greeted, Luis notices the other 2-year-old sitting alone on the living-room couch, his gaze wide-eyed and unsure. “Is that him?” Luis asks, tipping his head in Mando’s direction. Frances nods, yes. Luis walks back to the living room to squat beside the little boy. “Hey, Mando,” says Luis. “I’m Dad.”
Mando smiles shyly. “Hi, Dad,” he says.
In the morning, Thursday, Frances calls in sick to work, then drives Luis 40 miles east to Ontario Mills, the biggest shopping mall within plausible driving distance. “When you’re in jail, you get really institutionalized because you’re not used to being around regular people, and it makes you really paranoid.” Hence the shopping mall. “It was Luis’ anti-institutional therapy.”
Early Friday morning, Luis goes to his old job site and talks to his boss, who promptly offers him work. “I really want to start work right now,” Luis says, “but my trial might start in a week . . .” The job foreman agrees that Luis should wait. In the meantime, Luis figures he could find a night job, and goes to fill out an application at UPS for the 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift.
When not searching for work, Luis engages in a cheerful orgy of homeowner/father activity. He fixes a leaky bathroom sink. He replaces a broken toilet. He completely cleans the front yard. On Saturday, he drives all the kids to the beach. And whenever he gets in the shower, he calls to the three littlest boys, Frankie, Elijah and foster kid Mando, who race to pile in with him. Most of all, Luis loves holding the baby, whom he tends to tuck under one arm, marsupial-like, as he walks around the house or yard. “He spoils her!” wails Frances. “She used to be okay in her high chair by herself. But now she hears Luis’ voice and she cries until he picks her up.” Frances tells the story as if it’s complaint. But it’s really not. Since Luis’ return, Frances’ body language has relaxed markedly, and whatever quarrels she had with her husband have, at least for the moment, blown away like sand.
A few days after Luis’ arrival, Mando’s mother is released from jail and shows up at the Homeboy office to ask if she can see her son. She stays less than an hour and seems to have no intention of reclaiming the boy. “I need to, you know, get adjusted and everything,” she says vaguely to Luis. “She wants to party,” Luis tells Frances later. “I can see it on her.”
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