Thursday, February 19, 2015


PRISM


By

D. A . Romo



A young woman confronts a drug dealer about her best friend's disappearance, provoking him to test her loyalty and faith.


I


When the knock came on her bedroom door, Ana felt a flush of anxiety rise up in her stomach. She was a petite young woman of eighteen, delicate with dark hair, dreaming eyes, and tiny pouted lips. The Virgin Mary of Guadalupe dangled from a golden chain around her neck.

Ana rose from her bed to open the door and let out a sigh of exasperation. “Marc,” she said, turning away. Although she was glad to see him, he was not the person she was hoping for.

Marc was a calm young man, tall and strong shouldered. His hair was closely cropped; a thinly trimmed beard darkened his face. He stepped inside Ana’s room and leaned against a dresser. “Did she call?”

Ana shook her head and sat on the edge of the bed.

“I’m sure she will soon,” Marc assured. He studied Ana as she gazed down at the floor. She looked so fragile.

He began pacing slowly, his eyes scanning the small room. A white haze of light shone bleakly through the curtained window. Ana’s bed was draped in a navy blue quilt so perfectly it reminded him of the way his mother used to make his bed for him.

“Did you talk with Jasmine’s parents?” he asked.

“Yes, but they’re not worried. Jasmine’s run away before.”

Marc grunted.

Ana looked up at him. “There’s something else...She mentioned Zaid.”

Marc stopped pacing, but Ana noticed he was careful not to make eye contact with her.

“She used to talk about him,” Ana pressed on. “I didn’t mention anything to her parents, but she said that Zaid would help her if she needed it.”

“I wouldn’t worry about him,” Marc dismissed.

“Do you know...Where can I find him?”

Marc glared at her. “Why?”

“I want to talk to him.”

Marc groaned and turned his back to her.

Ana stood. “Please, I know you know him! I just want to see if he knows where Jasmine is.”

“Do you know how stupid you sound?”

“Marc.” Ana was slightly hurt.

“I’m sorry, but Jasmine’s gonna turn up. She just needs time.”

“She’s sick!” Ana shouted. She heard her voice ring out and shook her head. “She’s in trouble and I let her down. If I don’t do something now...I can’t lose her too.” She touched his arm gently. “Please, understand.”

Marc covered his face and let out a deep breath. “I’ll talk to him.”

“No—”

“—I’ll talk to him.”

“No, I won’t let you do that for me.”

“I’m not giving you a choice.”

Ana frowned. “Fine.” She moved for the door and grabbed her coat off the rack. “But I’m coming with you.”

⬥⬥⬥

Marc pulled his car onto a desolate industrial road straight south of their neighborhood. Decaying warehouses and railroads congested most of the barren land. The crisp autumn air had produced a thick fog, obscuring Ana’s view from the car window. Across the street, on Marc’s side, music was pulsing from inside a two-story house. The top floor windows were blackened and the front entrance was barred by a steel gate. People were entering the basement through a door in the alley. Most of them were kids Ana’s age, some she thought she recognized from school.

“Wait here,” Marc said. “I’m gonna go inside and see if I can find him.”

Ana unbuckled her seatbelt. “Let me at least—”

“—Just, wait here.”

Ana nodded. Marc stepped out of the car and hurried across the street. Two heavyset men in their late twenties were standing outside smoking cigarettes. Marc nodded at them and disappeared inside the basement. Ana leaned back in her seat and waited as nightfall rapidly consumed the blue-gray sky.

⬥⬥⬥

Ana gazed out the window and buried her freezing hands into the pockets of her white frock coat.
“Oh, come on, Marc,” she grumbled. Over half an hour had passed since he had entered the house and there was still no sign of him. She stared long and hard at the promising warmth glowing from the windows of the basement. Everything else around her had grown dark and the two men who had been standing in the alley had gone inside.

Ana stepped out of the car. She pulled her hood over her head to combat the shrill breeze and crossed the street.

The music was deafening. A heavy bass hit Ana in the chest as she opened the door to the stairwell. Bright fluorescents hovered above her, showering her in heavenly white light. She descended the stairs cautiously, drowning deeper in the music and the darkness below her.

The basement was a completely new world to her. People were lounging in all corners of the room, smoking, drinking, dancing, passing out on filthy couches. As Ana scanned through the dark she saw a few of them popping tiny crystals into their mouths.

“Excuse me, do you know Jasmine?” Ana asked a girl beside her. The girl shook her head. Ana turned to another girl dancing next to her and tugged on her elbow. “Do you know Jasmine?” The girl looked her up and down and smirked. She turned back to her dance partner and said something that made him laugh.

Ana stepped back, brushing off their ridicule, and returned to the stairwell to grab a clearer view over the crowd. Her eyes led her to a steel door in the furthest corner of the room. It opened for a brief second, pouring bright light into the dim basement. A lone, silhouetted figure stepped out of the boiler room beyond it and then the door shut once more.

Ana hopped off the stairwell and cut her way through the dancing bodies. She peered into every one of their faces as she passed, hoping to catch Jasmine among them.

Inside the boiler room, five men sat smoking at a square wooden table. Muddy brown grease coated the walls of the room, glimmering green under the fluorescents. The table was cluttered with filthy ashtrays and open bottles of liquor. At the center lay a jumbled pile of plastic bags stuffed with small, broken crystals. Occasionally, the exposed pipeline overhead would drip with slime.

A sixth man named Rico stood beside the steel door. He had dark brown skin, faded hair, and a sleeve tattoo of a skull with dollar signs in its eyes on his left arm. Rico turned to the door as it opened and saw Ana poke her head inside the room. Ana locked eyes with him and hugged the door like a cub clinging to its mother.

“What the hell do you want?” Rico demanded.

Ana stepped further inside. “I’m looking for Marc.”

“There’s no Marc here,” Rico said, shoving her out the door.

“Wait – Zaid! I need to talk to Zaid!”

“Rico.”

Rico stopped and turned to the voice that echoed behind him. Ana looked over Rico’s shoulder and spotted the man at the head of the table. To Ana, he looked to be about twenty-five. His hair was dark, sideburns linked to a five-o-clock shadow. Deep azure eyes burned from inside his olive toned face. In his hands, his calloused fingers toyed with a crystal shard.

Zaid gestured at Rico to let Ana inside.

“Come in,” Zaid said to her.

Ana trekked slowly towards the chair across from Zaid and stood beside it.

“Sit down,” he said.

Ana took her seat stiffly, clutching her cold, red hands in her lap. All of the men’s eyes were upon her, but she only focused on the ones directly ahead.

“What’s your name?” Zaid asked, his voice mellow.

“Ana.”

“Does this look like a place you should be, Ana?”

She shook her head. “I...” She took a deep breath and straightened herself, willing her body to stop shaking. “I wanted to find my friends.”

Zaid saw her rub her hands together. He motioned Rico over to him and spoke quietly into his ear. Rico stepped past Zaid and disappeared behind the other men in the room.

Zaid placed the crystal shard down on the table. “You just missed him. Marc. He left a little while ago.”

Ana focused on the shimmering crystals on the table. When the light struck them, a jagged rainbow sparkled inside them like a prism. Even through the heavy smoke, a strong sweet odor projected from them. These were the drugs Jasmine had, Ana thought. The things Zaid was responsible for.

Zaid noticed her curiosity and rose from his chair. Ana sulked as he made his way around the table to sit on the edge beside her. He was so close the sweet smell was overpowering on him.

“I’m sorry about Jasmine,” he said.

“Have you seen her?”

“No.”

“She said you would help her. I was hoping she might have come by.”

Zaid’s eyes were studying her neckline and Ana felt the Virgin Mary resting atop her breasts. She covered herself with her hand and pulled her coat tighter.

“That’s a beautiful necklace,” Zaid said. “My mother had the same one.”

“My mother gave this to me. She said God would always be with me as long as I wear it.”

Zaid smiled at her and Ana felt the blood rush to her face. He had an oddly handsome smile.

Rico returned to Zaid’s side and handed him a pair of small baby blue gloves.

“Your hands are cold,” Zaid said.

Ana was hesitant. She thought it was strange that he would have women’s gloves, but before she could think more of it Zaid grabbed her hand. He rubbed her fingers gently as he pulled the gloves over them.

“The people we love are never lost as long as God is in their hearts,” Zaid whispered.

Ana gazed at him, astounded.

“My mother once said that,” Zaid continued. “If there’s ever anything I can do for you, don’t be afraid to ask.”

Ana drew her hands back and clutched her necklace. “Thank you.”

Zaid turned to Rico. “Rico, show her outside.”

Ana stood, tucking the necklace back inside her blouse. She gave Zaid one last glance before following Rico out of the boiler room.

⬥⬥⬥

A cold gust of wind stung Ana’s face as she and Rico stepped out into the night.

“Ana!”

Ana turned at the sound of Marc’s voice. He sprang across the street towards her.

“What the hell were you doing?” he shouted, glaring viciously at Rico.

“Looking for you,” Ana responded.

Marc grabbed her by the arm and yanked her roughly away from Rico like a child. “I told you to wait outside.”

Ana stumbled as she struggled to keep up with him. The streetlight hit Marc’s face, revealing a bruise under his eye and blood on his lip.

“What happened?” Ana gasped, reaching for his face.

Marc pulled back. “You have to get home, now,” he barked, leading her back to the car.

Marc did not speak a word to her the entire ride home. Ana tried studying him to see what he was thinking, but he refrained from looking at her. She stared out her window at the passing city where the damp roads shimmered in vibrant streetlight. Through the side view mirror, she spotted a sleek black car driving closely behind them. It followed them at every turn.

Before the beginning of the year, Ana and Marc had rarely spoken to one another since elementary school. They had grown up together on the southside of Chicago in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. Marc did not have many friends because kids would bully him for being black, but Ana had always been kind to him. He became much more reserved in high school and although he never spoke of it, Ana knew the few friends he did make were drug dealers. They fell out of touch their freshman year, but even from afar she knew he was very unhappy.

Ana recalled the day last winter when they first reconnected. She had been in school after hours taking a make-up exam when it began to snow heavily. She was waiting inside to see if the snow would let up when Marc ran into her after serving detention. He saw her standing by the doors and offered her a ride home.

Ana used the opportunity to reach out to Marc and he confessed to her how unhappy he was. She explained to him that God had a plan for everyone and even though Marc might not believe in him, he would not discover his true purpose in life on the path he was on then. She had faith he would one day find it.

Marc was less distant after that day and eventually cut ties with his friends. Since then, Ana knew freeing her friends from corruption was the path God had paved for her to take.

Marc walked Ana back to her building in his continued silence. As soon as they reached her apartment up on the second floor, Ana turned to him and examined his face outside her door. His bruises were much more visible under the stairwell light.

“Marc. Please, tell me what happened.”

“Zaid,” Marc said, gesturing to his face. “I went and cleaned myself up after I talked to him. And, uh...” He pulled a clouded plastic bag out of his pocket. “They got me again.”

The bag was full of the crystal drugs Ana had seen in Zaid’s basement. “Why?” she asked.

“When I stopped dealing, they told me never to go back there. This was the only way I could get them to tell me anything.”

“Why would you agree to that?”

Marc avoided her eyes as he nervously put the bag away. “They, uh, they said they don’t know anything about Jasmine, but now I can ask around myself.”

Ana’s stomach churned with guilt. Finding Jasmine was her responsibility, but Marc was the one sacrificing his freedom. She decided then to talk to Zaid again. He had been kind to her. If she reasoned with him, maybe he would let Marc out of the deal.

Marc noted the look of concern on her face. “Don’t worry. I’ll find Jasmine. But listen to me. Don’t go out. I know they followed us. They’re gonna be watching me and if I do something they don’t like they’re gonna come after the people I care about. I need you to stay here.” He placed his hands on her shoulders. “Do you understand?”

Ana nodded. “Yes.” Marc took his hands off her and she glanced down at the floor. “Why did you get involved with them in the first place?”

“Growing up here, it was either become one of them or get my ass kicked for the rest of my life.”
“So why did you quit when you did?”

“Because living here is hell. I’m getting out the first chance I get. You taught me that.”

Ana smiled. She leaned in to kiss his cheek when the door beside her opened suddenly. Abuela, Ana’s grandmother, stepped into the hall. Her hair was jet black, cut in a bob closely framing her face. At fifty-eight, she was still an energetic woman working the night shift at a packaging plant. She crossed her arms and addressed Ana in Spanish.

“Ana? What are you doing? Do you know how late it is?”

“I know, Abuela. I’ll be inside in a minute.”

“Now.” She turned to Marc. “Buenas noches.”

Marc reeled his head back as he recalled the bruises on his face. “Hi, Mrs. Perez.” He knew Abuela spoke English, but she never once addressed him in it.

Abuela raised an eyebrow at Ana and pulled her coat over her navy blue factory uniform. “I have to go to work now.”

Ana looked alarmed, but Marc cut in quickly. “I’ll walk you outside. Goodnight, Ana.”

Ana kissed Abuela goodbye and stepped aside to let her pass. She remained at the top of the stairs until they left, then hurried inside her apartment without turning on the lights. She walked over to the living room window where a golden sliver of light cut through the drawn curtains and peered out to the front of the building.

The black car that had followed them was parked outside her apartment. Rico was sitting in the driver’s seat, watching Marc and Abuela as they got into their cars.

Ana pulled the curtain shut and drew a deep breath. She clutched the Virgin Mary tightly to her racing heart and closed her eyes.

II


Zaid was expecting her the following afternoon. His attention was drawn to Ana the moment Rico escorted her inside the boiler room. Her hair was newly straightened. Wide, hopeful eyes darkened subtly with eyeliner. The color of her lips bloomed bright pink and Zaid imagined how sweet they must taste. She was also wearing the baby blue gloves he had given her yesterday.

Zaid looked at the other men in the room. They thought he considered them his friends, but they were wrong. They were sheep. They worshipped him like a king and only told him what they thought he wanted to hear. He knew right away Ana was unlike them. She only spoke in honesty and for that Zaid respected her.

Zaid asked the men to leave and they promptly put out their cigarettes. Ana noticed that Zaid was the only one who did not smoke.

Now that it was vacant, she could clearly see parts of the boiler room she had not noticed before. There was a splintered wooden door directly behind Zaid. It was tucked away in the back of the room, almost hidden out of sight by his massive frame. Zaid rose from his chair, directing her attention to him. “I knew you’d come back today,” he said.

Ana was taken by surprise, but before she could respond Zaid spoke again.

“I got word about Jasmine.”

“You did?” she exclaimed wondrously. “Is she here?”

“No. She’s staying with a friend of mine. I asked them to stop by.”

“Oh,” Ana sighed. “Do you know when?”

“Shouldn’t be long.”

“Did you speak with her?”

“No.”

“I should go to her. Do you know where she is?”

The wooden door opened suddenly and a man dressed in all black stepped out. He paused when he saw Ana and shut the door behind him.

“Come back later,” Zaid said to him.

The man nodded and walked past Ana. Ana glanced at the wooden door.

“She’ll be here soon,” Zaid said. “Wait for her.”

He gestured to an open doorway that connected to a separate room. Ana looked around hesitantly before following him.

The room was only as wide as the six-foot steel table it harbored. Glass beakers, Bunsen burners, tan liquids, and empty bags of sugar were scattered across the table. Jars filled with white crystalline substances lined shelves along the walls. The smell of burnt sugar seared the room.

“Sit down,” Zaid said, pointing to a chair in the corner.

Ana did as he said, but was careful not to touch anything. Zaid placed a glass of water on the table in front of her. She stared at it pointedly. “No, thank you.”

“Relax. No one’s gonna hurt you.”

After another moment of consideration, Ana drank from the glass politely.

“You came to talk to me about Marc,” Zaid stated.

“...Yes,” she admitted.

“Does he know you’re here?”

“No. He’d never let me come if he knew.”

Zaid sat in a chair between her and the doorway. “I was curious to see who you were yesterday. You must mean a lot to him to make him come back here.”

“He was only trying to help me find Jasmine. Please, don’t force him to stay here.”

“Has Marc ever told you about the things he used to do for us?”

Ana shook her head.

“He’s not as good as he wants you to believe.”

“We all make bad decisions,” Ana defended. “It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be forgiven for them.”
“If you really knew him, you wouldn’t say that. Do you know the real reason Marc came back here? Because we understand him down here. How can you help your friends when you don’t even know what they’ve been through?”

Ana thought about that for a second and felt her face grow warm in embarrassment. She was certain Zaid thought she was foolish, but at the same time he had no idea what she had been through herself. She drank from the glass again to keep herself cool.

Zaid leaned over the table from his chair and ignited the blue flame on a Bunsen burner. “Tell me about Jasmine,” he said. He grabbed a pair of tongs and reached inside a beaker.

Seeing him work calmly and meticulously brought Ana ease. She felt hot in the cramped space and decided to stuff her gloves in her pocket. Observing the different substances, she realized he was making the drugs himself, somehow implementing the sugar. “The last time I saw her, she and I had an argument at my house,” Ana said. “No one’s heard from her since.”

“What did you argue about?”

“Her addiction...She hid it from me for a long time. I tried to pray with her when I realized what was happening, but she didn’t want me to. She said God couldn’t save her from herself, but I told her that God could still save her soul if she accepted him. When she was ready, I’d be there.”

“Why would you work so hard to help someone who doesn’t want it?”

“Because she’s the only family I have. No one else really understands what it’s like not to have a family.”

Zaid stared at her silently and, in that moment, Ana felt almost as if he did understand. He placed the tongs down and turned his attention fully towards her. “Where is your family?”

Ana averted her eyes. “My parents passed away. In a car accident...Jasmine took care of me after it happened. There were days when I couldn’t get out of bed and she stayed by my side. I owe her everything...” She looked back at Zaid and swallowed the emotions that were rising. “I thought I would never get through it, but then I turned to God and he helped me realize that even though bad things happen to you, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Good things happen to those who have faith in him.”

“Why do you still believe in him after all that?”

“Because now I know my purpose is to help others also find the light again.”

“I don’t understand, why punish you to get what he wants?”

“He didn’t punish me. This is the path he chose for me.”

Zaid shook his head and leaned closer. “I don’t believe you really think that’s true.”

Ana felt her face grow hot again and looked away to prevent him from seeing her agitation.

“What about Jasmine?” Zaid asked. “Was it his plan for her to turn out this way?”

“That wasn’t God’s fault,” Ana expressed firmly. “She made a choice, but it was because of the drugs you gave her she got out of control.”

“Jasmine was already lost before she came to me. Do you know how she pays for what she wants?”
Ana winced at the thought. She had suspected Jasmine let him use her body, but wanted to believe it was never true.

“You’re right,” Zaid said. “She made a choice.”

Suddenly, Ana felt nauseous. Her stomach churned and she clutched her stomach to stop the pain.
“Is something wrong?” Zaid asked cooly.

Ana was flustered. She raised the glass to her lips again when her vision blurred. She blinked her eyes and felt a pit open in her stomach. Zaid had drugged the water.

“You don’t look so well,” he said. “Maybe you oughta lie down.”

Ana staggered to her feet, but Zaid was blocking her path. “Please. I have to go.”

Zaid stood and she saw for the first time how tall he actually was. Almost twice her size. She cowered back against the wall.

“You should know, some people can’t be saved,” Zaid said.

Ana put her hands on her head, feeling light-headed. “Please, God...”

Zaid stepped closer. “Why do you still call out to him? Why do you spend your life serving him when he gives you nothing in return?”

Ana shuddered and let out a small whimper. “Please...”

“If he really cared about you, he wouldn’t have killed your parents.” Zaid brought his face down to hers and whispered, “If he really existed, he wouldn’t let this to happen to you.”

Ana shook her head deliriously. “He didn’t kill her. I did!”

Zaid scowled in confusion. “What?”

Ana shut her eyes, trying to will her memories back into submission, but they had already surfaced. “I was in the car with my mom, only she didn’t...My dad said it was my fault. I didn’t believe in God so he said God was punishing me for being wicked. So he left me.” Ana wept silently. “Please, I just want to go home.”

Zaid looked her up and down with his ghostly eyes flickering in the firelight. He grabbed Ana’s hands off her head and spoke softly into her ear. “Stop.”

Ana faced him, her eyes moist and gleaming. Something about his demeanor had changed. His eyes were sympathetic.

Zaid grabbed a crystal from the table and offered it to her. “This will make it stop.”

The colors of the prism shone in Ana’s tearing eyes. She shook her head.

Zaid extended his hand. “Trust me.”

Ana studied the enchanting figure in his palm. She wanted her pain to end desperately. She took the drug from him and swallowed it.

Once her guilt melted away, Ana felt complete. A deep part of her knew it was wrong, but the instant her doubts and insecurities vanished was the closest she ever felt to perfect happiness. In her eyes, God was happiness.

III


Zaid opened the door to Ana’s bedroom, holding her in one arm as they stumbled inside. He swept up the incapacitated girl and placed her onto the bed gently.

Ana looked around groggily. She was unsure how many hours had passed since she took the drug, but it had been very dark outside and Abuela had already left for work.

Ana sat up and looked at him disbelievingly. “You brought me home...Why?”

Zaid looked at her purposely, but his inhibition prevented him from speaking out.

Ana, who had been afraid of him back in the basement, felt her fear fade away. His eyes no longer held any malice. Regardless, she chose her next words carefully. “Will you let Marc stop dealing? Please?”

Zaid considered her request for a moment, then nodded slowly.

Ana took his hand and whispered sweetly, “Thank you.”

He frowned, confused by the sound of her words. Ana could tell no one had ever shown him that kind of gratitude before.

Her attention was drawn to the callous texture on his skin. She turned his hand over and examined the scars on his palm. They were deep mauve and shaped in a pentagram. “These are burn marks,” she said, tracing her finger over the wicked scars.

Zaid pulled his hand back.

Ana looked up at him. “How did you get them?”

Zaid stared at her silently for a moment. “My dad.”

“He did this?”

Zaid stepped back, squaring his shoulders.

Ana let her eyes fall to her lap. “It wasn’t your fault...God can’t protect us from other people, but he can protect us from ourselves. I believe there’s hope inside of everyone. And I believe it’s inside you.”

“I admire you.”

Ana glanced up.

“You have a lot of faith,” Zaid said, sitting on the edge of the bed. “You remind me of someone. My mother.”

Ana frowned. He was very close to her now. His fingertips lightly brushed against hers.
“She abandoned me,” Zaid said.

Ana froze. A distant look came over Zaid’s eyes. She gazed at them, but he turned away before she could see the hate boiling inside of them. His foot was tapping on the floor. He looked at his hands, and then, with a low rumble in his throat, he spoke. “He put them on a stove...” Zaid swallowed hard. His eyes became wet.

“It’s okay,” Ana said. She clasped his hand. “It’s okay.”

Zaid looked up. His eyes were wide and demonic. He leaned in to kiss her.

Ana squirmed away. “No. Stop!” She tried to draw back, but there was nowhere to go. Zaid grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her onto her back. She looked helplessly into his eyes and saw true hell.

Zaid pinned her to the bed, ripping the clothes from her body. His rabid breaths heaved down her neck and no matter which way she turned, he only made it hurt worse. She cried out to heaven, but salvation never came.

⬥⬥⬥

Ana sat on the edge of the bed with her back to Zaid as he dressed. Her face was like stone.
“Where’s Jasmine?” she asked. Her brittle voice was piercing in the silence.

Zaid pulled his shirt over his head, keeping his back to her. He focused on the wall as he spoke. “Don’t ever go back to my house.”

Ana turned around. “What?”

Zaid threw on his coat and moved for the door. Ana leapt off the bed and grabbed his arm. She made him face her.

Zaid stopped, but did not bother to look at her.

Ana’s hands were trembling. Her mouth was strained so tight the white of her teeth shone like marble tablets. She pounded her fists on his chest. “You know where she is.”

Zaid stared at the door.

She hit him again. “Where is she?”

“Never go back there,” he said and stepped past her.

Ana dug her nails into the back of his neck. Zaid spun around wildly. He grabbed her by the shoulders and slammed her against the wall. Ana slumped beside the door, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Zaid gazed down at her with eyes like fire. Huffing heatedly, he walked out the door, leaving the broken woman weeping on the floor.

Ana snatched the Virgin Mary around her neck and pulled it off. She stared at the golden chain with seething eyes and threw it to the ground.

⬥⬥⬥

It was shortly after nine when Marc drove up to Ana’s apartment. Abuela had informed him earlier that Ana was not home so he decided to return a little later. The front door to her building was unlocked and when he found her apartment door ajar, he threw it open and ran straight to Ana’s bedroom.

He stopped cold when he came across Ana on the floor. She was sitting with her back against the wall, knees tucked up to her chest.

“Ana!” He dropped to his knees beside her. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she said bitterly.

“I’ve been looking for you everywhere. What happened?”

“Zaid.”

“Zaid? He was here?”

“I went to see him again.”

“Why?”

Ana went silent. There was a tear on her blouse. Marc stood and looked around the room. He saw the mess on the bed and swallowed hard. “Did he...did he hurt you?”

Ana hardly heard a word he said. Her hands clenched tighter on her knees.

Marc knelt once more. “Ana, talk to me. Ana...” He grabbed her shoulder and Ana looked up with blazing eyes.

“Don’t touch me, Marc!”

Marc shrunk back like a frightened child.

Ana’s eyes were red and dry of tears. She rested her chin on her knee. “Just leave me alone.”

Marc rose to his feet slowly and left. Ana hugged herself to calm her nerves, but found that her rage was only growing stronger with each passing second. She had followed God’s path, but the only thing she had proven to herself was that God did not exist.

One of the baby blue gloves Zaid had given her was laying at her feet. It had fallen out of the pocket of her coat. Ana picked it up and realized something that had never crossed her mind before. It reminded her of one that belonged to Jasmine.

⬥⬥⬥

Zaid sat alone in the boiler room staring at the pile of drugs on the table. The blaring music from the party outside filled the silence around him. He grabbed a piece of the prism and played with it in his scarred palm.

The steel door burst open and Zaid looked up as Ana stormed inside.

“Where’s Jasmine?” she screamed, flashing the blue glove in his face. “What did you do with her?” She swept her arms across the table, smashing the pile of drugs to the ground.

Zaid’s chair slid back with a resounding screech. He grabbed Ana by the arm and dragged her towards the wooden door in the back of the room.

The door flew open, slamming hard against the wall. Inside was a small rectangular space, faintly lit by a naked light bulb hanging overhead. Jasmine was lying on a bed. Her face was flat against the mattress, hand dangling limply over the side. Her light chocolate skin had dulled to a sandy brown and her fingernails were blackened with filth.

A smile of disbelief quivered on Ana’s lips. She fell to her knees and took Jasmine’s hand. It was ice cold. Ana squeezed it and felt her friend’s fingers tighten around hers.

Jasmine opened her eyes and let out a hoarse breath. “Ana?”

The sound of her voice brought Ana to tears. “Yes, I’m here.”

“I’m sorry...”

Ana shushed her and ran her fingers through her hair. Her pain worsened when she realized the life in Jasmine’s eyes was fading.

“Does God still want me?” Jasmine asked.

“Yes. Yes, he does.”

Jasmine sobbed. “Ana. Please pray for me.”

Ana felt a large breath escape her body. She reached for her necklace, but her fingers only touched the bare skin on her chest. Her Virgin Mary was no longer there and Ana realized then she never needed it at all.

Zaid watched from the doorway as Ana clasped Jasmine’s weakening hands and bowed her head. He stepped back and Ana’s prayers died out as he shut the door behind him.

IV


Abuela woke to each passing day with a renewed sense of hope. Though the air grew colder as winter grew nearer, the mornings were always bright. She dedicated most of her time to cleaning the apartment and changing the sheets on Ana’s bed. She knew in her heart Ana would one day return, but every evening she watched the sun fall in the sky and no new knock came at her door, she could not deny that her hope burned a little dimmer.

Abuela sat on the foot of Ana’s bed, her eyes raw and baggy. She gazed at the floor, waiting patiently for the next day to begin.

Marc entered the room and stood by the door with his hands in his pockets. He had stopped by to check on Abuela everyday over the past two weeks. She rarely spoke to him, but often times Marc felt she was grateful for his company.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I promise I’ll find her.”

Marc looked at the dresser beside him where a large photo of Ana smiled brightly at him.

“God will bring Ana back to us,” Abuela said.

Marc smiled. He stood there studying Ana’s photo for a moment before leaving Abuela alone in quiet apartment.

Abuela rose to her feet and walked up to the dresser. She lit a candle beside the photo and hung Ana’s necklace on the frame. The glove that Ana left behind was sitting by the photo, flickering underneath the orange flame.

⬥⬥⬥

The boiler room resonated with laughter as Marc walked through the steel door. Zaid was sitting at the table with his smoking companions, each of them holding carefree expressions on their faces. They paid Marc little attention as he approached.

Marc reached into his pocket and tossed a bundle of cash in front of Zaid. He grabbed a new plastic bag off the table and stuffed it into his coat.

“I’m sorry about your friend.”

Marc stopped. Zaid was looking directly at him. He scooped Marc’s money up from the table and leaned back in his chair.

“What was her name?” Zaid asked.

“Ana.”

Zaid nodded. “Right. I hope you find her.”

Marc held his stare and glanced at the wooden door behind Zaid. When he finally turned away, Marc found the sign of hope he had been searching for. A baby blue glove, exactly like the one on Ana’s dresser, was trampled in the corner of the room.

Marc knelt down to pick it up. The glove was covered in filth now, but it was still the same color underneath.