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The Red Umbrella: Chapter 37


It had been a week since Mamá had called, and the Baxters and I had not stopped making plans. First, Mrs. Baxter persuaded her friend Gladys to let Mamá and us stay in the guest cottage behind her house. Mrs. Baxter explained that Gladys’s daughter had used it as an art studio before moving to New York, but that now it sat empty. Plus, while visiting Gladys, she’d get to see us, too.

Then the parishioners at St. Mary’s pitched in, donating items to furnish the cottage. We got everything from a frying pan to a small sofa. Mr. Baxter picked everything up, and before you knew it, we had the place looking pretty nice.

Mrs. Baxter even got her brother to hire Mamá to help count inventory on the weekends. It wasn’t the life we used to have, but that life didn’t exist in Cuba, either.

“I wish Papá could come, too,” Frankie said, smoothing back his greased hair.

“I know, but it’s really not up to him.” I gazed at the large airport clock. Mamá’s flight was due to arrive in about five minutes.

Five minutes. Three hundred seconds. Why did the clock’s second hand have to move so slowly?

“She’s going to be amazed at how much you’ve both grown. I simply can’t wait to meet her. Lucía, do you think I look all right? I want to make a good impression.” Mrs. Baxter adjusted her skirt.

“You look fine, Helen,” Mr. Baxter answered for me. “The girl has other things on her mind.”

I smiled. “She’ll love you, but not because of anything you could wear.”

She squeezed my arm. “I’m going to miss you so much, Lucía. I’ll be visiting Gladys now more than ever.”

“Poor Gladys,” Mr. Baxter muttered as he adjusted his tie.

Frankie laughed and I jabbed him in the ribs.

“Look.” Mrs. Baxter pointed to a sign over the airline counter. Flight 24 from Chicago had just arrived. Mamá was here!

I smoothed the wrinkles in my dress. We were all wearing our very best clothes, but I was worried about what Mamá would think when she saw us. Frankie had grown about three inches, but he still looked more or less the same. I, on the other hand, was different.

Not only had my appearance changed with my new haircut, makeup, and growing curves, but I felt different inside. Somewhere between that plane ride out of Cuba and the drive to Lincoln to pick up Mamá, I had grown up.

Mamá’s little girl wasn’t here, but would she like the new me? Maybe I shouldn’t have worn any makeup. But this was the new me. Yet if she saw me and didn’t approve, then what?

I fidgeted with the buttons on my sweater.

What would she think of the Baxters, Jennifer … even Eddie?

The excited butterflies in my stomach turned on me. They were rising up to my throat. I felt like I was going to be sick.

What if Mamá thought I’d abandoned everything she’d taught me? What if I disappointed her?

Frankie pulled my arm. “Do you think Mamá will be upset that I love Mrs. Baxter?”

Before I could answer, Mrs. Baxter took Frankie’s hand and inched forward. “Here we go,” she said.

A stewardess opened two big doors, and a few people started to walk past us.

“Flight twenty-four?” Mr. Baxter asked a passenger who stopped to buy a newspaper.

The man nodded.

Frankie clung to Mrs. Baxter’s waist as I tried to force my eyes to see farther through the crowd.

“Frankie! Lucía!” a voice called out.

It was Mamá.

She was weaving between and around people, trying to get to us. Frankie darted toward her. She looked the same as the last time I’d seen her. I even recognized the dress she was wearing. In a moment she had dropped her purse and lifted Frankie off the ground, smothering him with kisses.

Tears ran past my cheeks and down my neck. I felt as if I were moving in slow motion, every step bringing me only slightly closer to Mamá.

What would she say? What would she think of me?

Then I was in her arms. Mamá was crying and laughing at the same time. She kissed away my tears and looked at me. Really looked at me.

I waited.

She shook her head. “Ay, Lucía, you look so grownup! ¡Qué bella estás! You’ve become such a beautiful young lady!”

“Mamá,” I cried, burying my head in her neck. “Ay, Mamá!”

“I am so proud of you,” she whispered in my ear.

Several people had gathered around us, watching the emotional reunion.

Then from down the hallway, a flash of color caught my eye.

Bright red.

“Oh!” I gasped.

It was Papá, looking older and more frail. He was walking with Mamá’s red umbrella as his cane.

“Lucy! Frankie!” he shouted, hobbling his way to us.

“Thank you, Lord!” Mrs. Baxter exclaimed.

We let go of Mamá to devour Papá with hugs and kisses.

“¿Cómo? How were you able to?” My brain was almost unable to accept that he was here.

“I told you I’d find a way.” He smiled.

I breathed in the familiar smells of his cologne and cigars. “But they wouldn’t give you a visa.”

He dropped the umbrella and stroked my hair. “Details aren’t important. I have friends in the underground who helped me. Plus, some of those Cuban officers have a price.”

There was no need to know any more. I didn’t care.

As we all hugged, I caught a glimpse of Mr. and Mrs. Baxter wiping away their own tears. They were happy for us. Even Mr. Baxter was smiling.

I bent down to pick up that beautiful red umbrella. Mamá was right. Red stood for strength. The strength of our family. We would start over in a new place and be just as strong as before.

I smiled as Papá shook Mr. Baxter’s hand and Mamá gave Mrs. Baxter a hug.

The Álvarez family was together again. All of us. Here, in our new country.

I took a deep breath and slowly let it out.

It was good to be home.


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