MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Angel Gomez hissed under her breath.
Claro. Of course. If she was going to get a paper cut, it would be from the page illustrating the male reproductive system. The twenty-three-year-old sucked at the thin line of blood on the web of her hand, squinting hard at the flayed cojones in her anatomy textbook.
As a nursing student, Angel knew the male anatomy—from the bulb to the external urinary meatus—but her ability to reel off the Latin names of penis parts seemed to scare the living, breathing version away.
Not that I want a man, she reminded herself, her inner voice stern. Focus, girl.
Dark spirals of hair popped free from her ponytail as she bent closer to her textbook. Concentration was elusive. She closed the window next to her with a shriek of metal on metal, shutting out the gray February breeze and the number 4 train running on the elevated tracks down Jerome Avenue. She tilted her head, listened.
What is that?
Breathing. It was gaspy, heavy breathing, coming from the depths of the worn corduroy couch behind her.
Angel twisted in her chair. “Jose,” she said, too loudly, knocking pages of lecture notes off her makeshift desk on the radiator.
“Mama, I’m fine,” the seven-year-old boy muttered. He turned up the live radio stream coming from the decrepit laptop and avoided her eyes.
“Go get your inhaler. Now.”
“Just a minute. The Duke is about to pitch.”
Faintly, she could hear Suzyn Waldman, longtime announcer for the Bronx Bolts, adding color to a local charity game. “He’s winding up and … another beauty, right over the plate … Ohh no, the batter’s hit a hard foul right into the dugout.” The announcer clucked, but then, “What’s this? The Duke seems to want off the mound.”
“No!” Jose yelled at the computer, as if it could hear his complaint.
“His ankle may still be giving him problems.”
“Jose! What’d I tell you?”
Jose’s face shone with perspiration as he stomped past her, wheezing down the hall to his room. That beautiful pouty face, she thought. His bronze complexion, a shade darker than hers, was the perfect blend of her and his father. Jose’s dad was long gone, however—the high school quarterback had disappeared when he found out his fifteen-year-old girlfriend was pregnant, but not before slapping her around, yelling, “That ain’t my kid.” Angel had shoved him into the hallway, slammed the door in his face. She didn’t want him. She didn’t need him.
Two years after Jose was born, her mother died. Angel was seventeen. She almost buckled from the pressure of the responsibility to care for another, tiny human. She had no safety net. His dark eyes, staring up at her with such adoration … She’d shoved steel into her spine, stood up straight, and vowed her boy would be safe, happy, and healthy on her watch.
And she was doing it.
In a few more weeks, she’d be done with nursing school and would take her final boards. She survived by putting her head down and pushing through, focused on getting them out of this decrepit apartment building filled with dust and screeching train brakes. She kept the rest of the world’s bullshit at arm’s length.
“Usted va a la escuela, muestran al mundo que las niñas puertorriqueñas no deben ser,” Mama said. You go to college, show the world Puerto Rican girls are not to be messed with.
There was a small inheritance when she died. Angel used the money and grants and side jobs to pay for the student nursing program at Bronx Community College. But with a child, it wasn’t easy. Her lab partners would compare notes on grinding sessions and Beyoncé’s salty AF concerts while she wrote reminders to pick up diapers and Goldfish crackers. Thank God for Gabriela—her Dominican neighbor had bullied her way into their lives a few years ago, insisting on helping with Jose. “Auntie” Gabriela treated them like family.
Angel stooped and gathered her homework from the apartment floor. She’d been working on it since returning home from morning practicum rounds. The medical training taught her to recognize Jose’s triggers and how to deal with the onset of an asthma attack, but, really, she needed a good-paying job. A nursing job.
“Mi chiquito?” she called out. She and Jose had exchanged less than ten words that day, which had included Can you keep it down? I’ve got to study. As she scrabbled for air beneath an avalanche of schoolwork and practicums and part-time jobs, he got the short end of the stick.
She looked at the clock and the guilt bubbled up in her stomach. How can it be time to go to work already? She hated her nights at the Peacock. Her teeth clenched at the thought of the handsy men in their tailored suits and the entitled women with their eyes focused on the air above her forehead while they ordered their lavender-infused martinis. It took all her willpower not to throw the shade right back in their faces, with force. But the tips at the high-end club were too good. Those bitches and their flowery drinks pay my rent.
There was a knock at the door. Gabriela had come to get Jose and bring him with her downstairs, so he could hang out with her and the other stylists in Gabriela’s beauty salon while Angel catered to the rich.
“Come in!” she shouted, and made her way back to Jose’s room, picking up socks and a baseball mitt along the way. She pushed open his door, “Baby, how many times do I need to tell you to—”
Her heart lurched.
Copyright © 2019 by Evelyn Lozada