Read the First Two Chapters From Lilliam Rivera’s Never Look Back (2022)

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Never Look Back, a retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice from acclaimed author Lilliam Rivera. Rivera blends a touch of magical realism into a timely story about cultural identity, overcoming trauma, and the power of first love—available September 1st from Bloomsbury.

Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria—and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy…

Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.

Chapter 1
Pheus

If it’s a Saturday, then two things are true. First, trains heading uptown will forever be late, no matter what. Deadass. It’s as if the MTA decides anyone going past 125th Street must not be worth the trouble. So what if you thought the train you got on downtown was an express 5? It doesn’t matter. Right now, it’s a local. No, wait, scratch that. Right now the train you’ve been chilling on for the past half hour has decided to not even enter the Boogie Down. Who cares if you have things to do? Trains heading uptown are bound to be cut off. It’s like living back in the Middle Ages when people thought the world was flat. The Bronx is like that for most people who don’t live there: the end of the world, the last frontier, the . . . Whatever. If it’s a Saturday, you are destined to do the MTA shuffle, where you figure out how best to make it to your destination.

“You’ve got to wait for the four or transfer to the bus,” says the conductor. I wonder how many times he’s had to explain this. He gives me the shrug. I give him the shrug back. What else is there to do? It’s Saturday morning, and I’m bound to be late no matter how early I am.

Moms hounded me last night right in the middle of my writing session. I had the dopest hook for this new song. It sounds a little like Romeo Santos’s “Imitadora,” but way more sensual. I already have the first verse down. It’s got the perfect combination the girls like—a little vulnerability, a little roughness. Throw in some Spanish, and it’s de lo mio. This summer is going to be me working on this new song until it feels right. Shine them words until they glisten like gold.

“Pero dónde tengo que ir?” An old lady sitting across from me talks to herself. I feel bad. Who knows how long she’s been planning this excursion?

“Tienes que ir afuera e tomar el bus, o puedes esperar aquí por el cuatro,” I say. She does a slight double take; it’s subtle, but I notice it. Some people see my skin color and think, he must be Black. I am. I’m also Dominican. I’m the best of both worlds. Just ask Melaina and all them girls uptown I’m about to smash this summer.

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The old lady thanks me for helping her figure out how to get to her stop. I start my own journey and head aboveground with the rest of the sad passengers. Sometimes I wish I drove a car, blasting AC and my own music. A summer with wheels. Why can’t I be about that life? I strap my guitar to my back and head out.

The second truth is no matter the time, the sun will greet you with a “diablo, hoy te mato con calor.”

It’s not even officially summer, and this viejo standing next to me on this packed bus is dripping sweat. El viejo decides to provide his own musical accompaniment. He turns up the volume on the song playing on his phone. I recognize the tune right away. It’s a song my pops likes to play when he’s feeling melancholy. “Donde Estará” by Antony Santos.

Pops taught me to sing that song when I was six. It didn’t matter where we were. In front of the apartment building I grew up. The park. At the beach. After a few Presidentes he would inevitably hoist me up on his shoulders and I would sing. This was when my parents were together, before she kicked him out and he headed back uptown to be with his people. I feel sad, too, whenever I hear the song. A reminder of the fam when we were a fam and not this disjointed thing.

“Yo, Pheus!”

As soon as my right foot hits the pavement on my pops’s block, I hear from one of my boys. It’s Jaysen. He holds a large cooler.

“Getting ready?” I ask after giving him the dap.

I met Jaysen seven years ago when we were about ten. It was my first summer with Pops after the separation, and he was depressed. He didn’t want to do anything, just stare at the wall and listen to boleros 24-7. I couldn’t take it, so I headed to the handball courts, bored out of my mind. Jaysen was the only boy my age out there. I acted aloof until Jaysen asked if I wanted to play. We spent the whole summer beating all them suckers. His father works for the Department of Parks and Rec like my father did before he got on disability.

“You coming, right?” Jaysen asks. He rubs the back of his neck, trying to squash the heat. His latest tattoo on his arm is the Puerto Rican independence flag. It’s coming in nicely.

“Definitely. First trip to Orchard,” I say. “Not missing it for the world. I’m probably going to be—”

“Late. Bro, you always late,” Jaysen says. “Isn’t that Penelope?”

I turn to follow his gaze.

“Yo, Penelope!” I’ve known Penelope for as long as I’ve known Jaysen. She lives in the same building as my pops. Penelope is smart and funny. She’s definitely wifey material.

Penelope pulls luggage from the trunk of her parents’ car. I can’t really make out who she’s with. I guess it’s family.

“We seeing you today?” Jaysen asks. “Am I right? You’re not missing it? Huh, Penelope?”

Jaysen’s been bugging everyone via text, making sure we show up. He is relentless. Sometimes I have to tell him to chill the hell out. It never really works, though. He’s a hype man when no one really needs one.

“Can’t you see I’m busy?” Penelope screams back. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Maybe.”

Penelope turns to the car and holds the door open. A girl about our age steps out. She has a thick curtain of long coily hair that practically engulfs her. I’ve never seen her before. Penelope hugs the girl and they walk into the building.

“Who was that?” I ask.

Jaysen shakes his head. “I don’t know. Penelope’s cousin?” he says. “Let’s hope she’s fine.”

“For real.”

“What are you talking about? You got Melaina and every girl on this block who desperately waits for you to write a song about her.”

I laugh. It’s true. I got Melaina. She’s mean and beautiful.

“Ta pasao,” I say, laughing. “I’ll see you later. Gotta hit the crib.”

“Bet. See you later and bring some brews. Don’t be cheap.”

I head back across the street to the apartment my father lives in. I take two steps at a time and pass Penelope’s apartment. She lives on the second floor with her parents. Her mom works as a secretary in a fabric company in the city. Her father is a UPS guy. It must be nice to have family around. Most of my mom’s side of the family lives in North Carolina. We visit them on Thanksgiving. My father’s side gets me during Christmas.

I dig in my pockets for my set of keys. The apartment smells of fresh coffee and weed. Pops never smokes in front of me. It’s one of the many stipulations Mom made for my visits. During the school year, I get to see him most Sundays and holidays. Summers are his.

“Pops, I’m here!” I drop my bag and set my guitar case against a wall. I place my keys on the bowl right next to the ceramic elephant Pops got me on one of his trips to Santo Domingo when I was a little kid. I pat the elephant’s head.

The living room sofa bed is going to be my new best friend for the next eight weeks. At least it’s an upgrade from the inflatable one.

“Son.” Pops steps out of his bedroom. He wears jeans and the cibaeño T-shirt I gave him on his last birthday. His chancletas hit the hardwood floors. Pops gives me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “How was the ride?”

“You know. Same ol’.”

Pops got that Sergio Vargas vibe when Sergio was at the height of his musical reign in the nineties. Pops can basically chill with anyone, but I know for a fact he still carries a picture of him and Mom tucked in his wallet. Is he still pining for Mom to take him back? Mom’s been dating this bank teller for the past two years. Pops doesn’t ask about him. He would never disrespect Mom like that. I want to tell him I think the guy is hella dry, like white bread even though he’s Black, but I won’t do that to Mom either.

I dig through my bag and pull out the Dominican flag I found at a 99-cent store the other day. I hand it to Pops.

“Nice. Thanks, son. I know exactly where I can hang it,” he says. “What’s your summer plan? Have you given much thought to what we discussed?”

Pops wants me to try out for a free after-school program at a music conservatory where students are teamed up with professional musicians. I love music. I do. I can feel it bubbling inside me—a new verse, a melody—and I want to jot it down. Capture the tune and share it with everyone. But music isn’t everything. I’m not foolish. I’m practical like Mom. If I continue with my grades, I can step into a real moneymaking job. I’m thinking more like an entertainment lawyer. Music will not get me where I need to go.

“I’m thinking about it,” I say and hope Pops changes the subject.

“The application is due in August. The after-school program is perfect for you.” He can tell I’m trying to shake him off.

“I promise to give it a look before the end of the week.” I mean this although I doubt I’ll apply.

“Found this for you.” Pops hands me a used book, We Took the Streets. Pops always has nonfiction books about history to give me. I’ll devour this one in no time.

“Thanks. I’ll read it tonight,” I say and give him a quick hug. “We’re heading to Orchard. You want to come?”

“I got work to do.” With disability, it’s not really worth it for Pops to get a real job, so he picks up odd gigs that pay off the books. Money has always been tight for him. Luckily I have my allowance so I don’t have to ask him for a dime.

“You’re young. You don’t want this old man messing up your day,” he says. “Be safe. Don’t be stupid.”

I head to the bathroom to get ready.

The six-pack I grabbed from the bodega keeps my legs nice and frosty. I keep replaying the new lyrics to my song in my head. I can feel it. This is going to be the summer jam. Can’t wait for my friends to hear it.

“El Nuevo Nene de la Bachata has arrived!” Jaysen proclaims as I walk over to the group. Everyone from the block is here, including Melaina and her girls. She glances over but doesn’t acknowledge my presence. Not yet. Melaina is cold at first. This is her thing. She’ll warm up later.

“Here you go.” I hand the six-pack over, and Jaysen tries his best to conceal the drinks. Although the day is just beginning, we still want to feel a buzz. The first suntan. The first taste of freedom. Melaina’s glistening skin. Summer is going to be mine.

I pull out my guitar and tune it. Pops gifted me the strings when I turned ten. There’s a multitude of music playing around us. Eventually the differing sounds—the rap, the reggaeton—will be pushed aside. When I start to sing, nothing around me matters. It’s just my voice and the emotion I’m trying to convey. How I’m trying to capture beauty, the waves that come and go, the feeling of longing or lust.

“Stop fooling around with them chords,” Angel, one of the guys from the block, says.

“Yeah!” Another one joins in. “It’s time Pheus earns his keep.”

“For real. It’s been a minute since we heard him sing,” Melaina says. “What if he doesn’t have what it takes anymore? What if he sounds like Bad Bunny trying to sing a bolero?”

Melaina gives me a sexy, mischievous grin. She wears a bathing suit with a plunging neckline. Her hair is slicked back in a tight ponytail. Her lips lined bloodred. Mean and beautiful.

Those around continue to flame me. I take my sweet time. Melaina pulls away from her girls. Everyone on the block couldn’t believe when she decided I was going to be the one. I knew she was mine by the way she looked at me.

“Sing to me,” she whispers in my ear. Then Melaina saunters right back to her crew.

I won’t sing the new song. It’s still too fresh. The lyrics need some cooking. I decide on a favorite. I lean over to Jaysen and he hushes everyone.

My fingers strum an A minor chord. A minor is a sad chord, a chord meant to pull on them hearts.

I sing the first verse to Romeo Santos’s “Propuesta Indecente.” The group oohs and aahs. Families turn down their radios. The girls are sexing me. The guys are looking at me too. It’s the start of the summer. This song is going to be the first of many. Music is sex and games. I’m playing hard because come September, I’m getting serious about the future.

“Otra,” Melaina says.

I sing another and another until the beach closes down.

Chapter 2
Eury

“Eury, honey, aren’t you hot?”

Titi Sylvia talks more to my hair than to me. The first thing she noted after giving me a long hug and kiss at the airport was how long my hair is. Titi Sylvia asked my mother—her sister—whether I ever cut it and how is it I haven’t fainted from the heat. My natural hair is a curtain I can hide under. Mami has tried many times to chop it off or at least have it straightened. I won’t allow her.

“I like the way my hair covers me,” I say. “I feel protected underneath it. Almost, anyway.”

I notice the worried look Titi gives Mami. To avoid any more questions, I place my earbuds in and listen to “Sign o’ the Times” by Prince. The song has been on repeat ever since we boarded the plane departing Tampa earlier this morning.

There are no clouds in the sky. The weather channel stated the temperature will be high in the seventies with no chance of showers. Still, I search for signs of him. He’s going to show up. It’s only a matter of time. He’ll surely follow me here. If only my hair could completely hide me from this fate. When? When will he show up? I try to steady my rapid breathing. I can’t afford to lose it in this car. I close my eyes and count backward from ten slowly. Instead of this calming me down, my mind races to how I ended up in the back of Titi Sylvia’s car en route to the Bronx with my mother avoiding telling Titi the truth: that I’m not well and that I’m only getting worse.

“Eury needs to speak to someone. It isn’t like when we were growing up, Danaís. Lots of people see therapists now,” Titi Sylvia says. “These episodes she’s having are not nervios.”

“Eury is fine. What happened in Tampa was just a little bump. She’s been under a lot of stress to fit in at the new school,” Mami says. “I’ve been working long hours and that’s affecting her too. We can handle this. She just needs to spend time with family. That’s all.”

Titi Sylvia sucks her teeth.

“Don’t be so hardheaded, Danaís. So many people who survived Hurricane Maria are suffering from post-traumatic stress. Being surrounded by family is great, but it’s not a solution,” Titi Sylvia says. Her tone gets angrier. “The incident in Tampa is not the first. Stop taking it so lightly.”

“We’ve been through this already,” Mami raises her voice to match Titi’s. “Please, just let it go. The doctors found nothing wrong with her. Eury just needs to relax.”

I turn the volume up on my phone to drown out their voices. The volume is at its highest level, pounding Prince into my eardrums.

It was Titi Sylvia’s idea to have me stay here for the summer. Titi trusts doctors and hospitals and, above all else, the importance of medicine. Therapy and medication. She loves to proudly state how she had an epidural when she gave birth to Penelope and “it was the best decision of her life.” She’s always been very vocal about trying new things. Titi Sylvia is so different from Mami. Mami says she’s too americana, too willing to accept what any man in a white lab coat tells her.

“My daughter doesn’t need drugs,” Mami told the doctors who treated me after my “incident” in Tampa. “Nervios, that’s what you are suffering from. When I was your age, I went through the same thing. No drugs.”

Mom took me to church instead. She said the repetitiveness of the mass will help calm me, and it does. Reciting prayers and lighting candles help a little bit.

How can I explain to my family that what happened to me wasn’t just a breakdown? It is tied to something way more complicated. Evil. Titi Sylvia won’t understand. No one can help me, not when I’m the only one who can actually see my tormentor.

He appeared when I was five years old, almost six. It would be years later when I could finally see him for what he is. But at first, he was a friend.

“Papi, don’t leave!” I wail, flinging myself on to the floor of my parents’ bedroom. “No! Don’t go.”

Papi picks me up and dumps me on Mami’s lap. I wriggle and kick free from her embrace. I run to him, but he’s already out the door, heading toward his car. He places the last of his luggage in the trunk. I try to climb in, but the car doors are locked.

“No, Papi. Take me with you.”

Mami screams for me to come back inside. The neighbors look at the scene I’m causing with pity. Why is Papi doing this?

Papi doesn’t look back once. He starts the car and leaves. I’m left screaming on the porch. I run back inside my room and grab the doll Papi gave me, the new one that smells like strawberries. I was so happy when he gave me the toy. It meant the arguments between Mami and Papi would soon end.

I run to our backyard and throw the doll against our tree, hoping it will break. When it doesn’t, I search for a rock or a stick. Anything to damage the doll, to hurt it as much as Papi hurt me.

“I hate you,” I say. “I hate you so much.”

Raindrops slowly fall on my face, blending in with the tears. There is a slight rumble. I can hear thunder in the near distance. A storm is coming, like the many storms that blanket the island at the start of hurricane season. I don’t stop throwing the doll against the tree. I will break it until there is nothing left of my father’s gift.

“Here.”

A beautiful boy with tight brown curls appears from behind the tree. A trigueñito with angelic features. I’ve never seen him before. In his hand, the boy holds a thick branch.

“Use this,” he says and hands me the branch. “Go ahead.”

I swat at the doll, over and over again. With each hit, the doll’s face deforms. The rain drenches me completely, but I don’t stop. I hit the toy until it becomes broken pieces.

“I hate him,” I say, and I suddenly feel so tired. I go down on my knees. The rain now forms mud around me.

“I’ll hate him too,” the boy says. “We both will.”

The boy kneels besides me. We stare at the crumbled fragments while the wind slowly picks up. The shower now a downpour.

“It will be hard for him to see while he’s driving in this storm,” the boy says. “If he’s not careful, something could happen to him.”

I turn to the boy.

“You think so?” I’m suddenly filled with fear, picturing Papi in a ditch somewhere, unable to get out of the car. I hate him but not enough to wish him into an accident.

Do I?

“I don’t want something bad to happen to him,” I say. “I just want him to come back.”

“He won’t come back because of what you did,” the boy says. And I start to cry because I can’t remember what I did wrong, but I’m sure I did something to push Papi away. The boy consoles me by placing his hand on my shoulder.

“That’s okay. I’m here and I’ll never leave.”

The boy says this with such tenderness.

“Eury, come inside!” Mami yells from the porch. She’s been crying, just like me. “Please!”

“Your mother needs you,” the boy says. “If you want, I can come back tomorrow. Do you want that?”

His voice is so soothing. His eyes are not cold like Papi when he left.

“Okay,” I say.

“I’m Ato, I’ll see you tomorrow, Eury.”

Inside, Mami wraps a towel around me. “Eury, who were you talking to?” she asks.

“A boy.”

“What boy?” she says. “I didn’t see a boy. Stay inside. The storm is getting worse.”

The loud honk of a car behind us snaps me back to reality. Mami and Titi Sylvia no longer argue. Their silence is proof the conversation will most likely continue later. My sweet cousin Penelope waves frantically when Titi parks the car. I continue to search in the shadows for signs of Ato. He won’t come right away. He’ll choose a time when I feel safe, like in Tampa. This time I will make sure to be ready. I will stay alert.

“Finally!” Penelope says. “I’ve been waiting forever.”

“Get the luggage first,” Titi Sylvia says.

“Ma!”

Penelope opens the door and instantly wraps her arms around me. My eyes brim with tears. Penelope is my closest friend even though we live so far apart. She’s the only person who sort of knows what’s going on.

“I missed you so much,” I whisper into her shoulder. Her hugs fill me with hope.

“I know, prima. We’re going to have so much fun!” she says. “We’ll talk as soon as we can get away from them.”

A voice calls her name from across the street. Penelope still holds me while responding to them.

“Can’t you see I’m busy?” she yells back. “You’ll meet them fools soon enough. They give me a headache. They’re good people, tho. Let’s go inside. It’s too hot.”

Even though she’s holding me, I don’t feel frail or weak. I can lean on her, and Penelope is ready to support the weight. Lighten my load, even if it is only temporary.

“Ay, un cafecito,” Titi Sylvia says. Her husband, Charlie, left a sticky note with a heart drawing on the pot of coffee he made before leaving to work. “You girls hungry? Breakfast. You must be.”

“Later,” Penelope says.

She drags my luggage over to her bedroom and quietly shuts the door. Everything in Penelope’s room is color-coordinated in a black and white palette, right down to the pillowcases. Her mother likes everything to be a particular style. The only splash of color comes from Penelope’s vibrant clothes and the framed glamour shots of her taken when she insisted on modeling classes.

“Sit!” she says. “This is going to be your home.”

Penelope opens her window. I shake my head. Without saying a word, she draws the thin curtains.

“Sorry, prima,” she says. “I forgot. How are you?”

“Mami is tired of dealing with my drama,” I say.

“No, she’s not. She’s worried. We all are,” Penelope says. “We want you to feel better.”

Even though we’re the same age, Penelope always acts a bit motherly toward me. Perhaps it’s because she thinks I’m a jíbara, a girl from the island who doesn’t know any better. She opens an empty drawer.

“This is for you. And I made room in the closet. You can borrow anything you want because I intend to do the same.”

Penelope was named after the Spanish actress and she hates this tidbit of information. She wishes her name was more Latinx, less white or European. We spent one summer coming up with alternative names only to find the Greek mythology behind hers. I thought the story of Penelope being the wife of Odysseus was cool. She didn’t.

Penelope darts about the room, wanting to show me everything. Her new clothes. Her makeup purchases. The latest boy she’s in love with. Penelope is always falling in love.

“I’ve got our summer planned out. Tomorrow, the beach. The next day, the beach. Maybe there’s a party. We can always hang out by the park.” Her laugh is contagious. I wish I could be so carefree.

“Prima,” I interrupt her. “I need to find a church.”

She puts down the handful of lipsticks and tries her best to keep her concerned face light.

“A church?” she asks. “You know this family is a bunch of heathens. We never go to church.”

Back in Tampa, Mami drove me to church every morning so I could light a candle. I want to keep my practice here.

“Yes, a church. Can you help me find one?”

“No problem. Let’s look it up. What kind of church? Maybe stick with the Catholics. What do you think?”

“Yes, the Catholics.”

“Perfect! The Church of St. Anselm. You can walk there. Easy. I’ve been to plenty of quinceañera masses there, and it’s not a bad looking church either,” she says. “Do you want to go today?”

“Yes,” I say and give Penelope a hug. “Thank you.”

No matter what I ask of her, Penelope never makes me feel weird.

“Cousin, are you going to tell me what’s going on?” she says. “You can tell me anything.”

I shake my head. I can trust Penelope, but I’m not sure if I can explain to her what is happening to me. Not yet anyway. When I made the mistake of telling Mami once about Ato, she responded by telling me to pray harder. I have, but I don’t think it’s working.

“Not yet,” I say. “I swear I’m okay. So, the beach tomorrow?”

“I can’t wait for you to meet the knuckleheads I hang with. They will love you. This summer is going to be one jangeo after another.”

There’s a knock at the door. Titi Sylvia serves breakfast. When I enter the dining room, I can tell Mami’s been crying. Tomorrow she’s set to fly back to Tampa. Mami said she has to go to work, and this may be true, but I also think she needs a break from me.

“We’re going to take a walk to St. Anselm later,” Penelope says in between forkfuls of scrambled eggs.

“Church? Pa’ que?” Titi Sylvia says. “I haven’t been to church since what’s her name, the one who had the sweet sixteen mass and two months later was pregnant?”

“Ma! Her name is Gloria. Eury wants to go, so we are going.”

Titi Sylvia gives Mami the look. I bow my head down so my hair covers my face.

“We’ll all go,” Mami says. “It will be nice before I leave to Florida.”

Mami reaches under the table and squeezes my knee. I look up and smile.

Penelope was right. The church is only a few quick blocks away. It is a beautiful two-story building with a towering domed ceiling, historic paintings, and geometric mosaics. Parts of the building are under repair and in a bit of disarray, but I can still see the beauty in the hundred-year old church.

Because it is an early afternoon on a weekday, the church is practically empty, with only a handful of practitioners. The service is held in Spanish and English. Mami introduces herself and me to the priest.

“It is great to meet you, Eury. I look forward to welcoming you to the neighborhood,” Father Vincent says.

His handshake is not firm enough. He won’t be able to help me.

After the mass concludes, I walk up and place a few dollars in the offering. I’m sad the candles are electric and not real ones. I hate when churches go the easy modern way instead of sticking to tradition. I don’t have a choice. I press the button to the electric candle and kneel down in front of the statue of Mary. Like Penelope, I never grew up in a religious household. But when you’re the only person seeing Ato, you search for any type of spiritual solution that might help.

I say the prayers over and over again until Mami places her hand on my shoulder, alerting me its time to go.

On our way back to Titi Sylvia’s, Mami slows down to walk beside me. Penelope, reading the moment, walks ahead to her mother.

“Sylvia can be a bit much with her opinions, but she means well,” Mami says. “Promise me you will enjoy yourself. Do fun things.”

“I promise, Mami.”

She grabs my hand and squeezes it.

“This will be good for you. I just know it will.”

There’s so much hope in her face. I wish more than anything to strip Mami of all her worries. This past year hasn’t been easy for her. Leaving our home of Puerto Rico took such a toll. She really wanted Tampa to work, and it did for a while. Then came the incident at school and the barrage of doctor appointments to make sure I didn’t have anything wrong with me physically. There was also the one therapist the school officials insisted I go see. Mami was furious, but she eventually agreed. So much time and money spent on doctors with no insurance to help.

“What did you think of the priest? It’s a nice church,” she says. “And it’s so close. You don’t have to walk so far. You still have the rosario I gave you, don’t you?”

“Yes, I still have them,” I say, pulling out the small circular rosary beads from my tote bag. “Things are coming together.”

I continue to scan the streets and alleyways. It’s only a matter of time before he shows his face. I hold tight to the rosary.

“We are going to get through this,” Mami says. She begins to tear up, which in turn makes me emotional, although I don’t want her to see me like this. I don’t want to continue in this pain and I don’t want to be such a burden to Mom or anyone. I place my head on her shoulder.

“I promise I will have fun,” I repeat. “Please don’t worry.”

“But don’t have too much fun, or you won’t come back to me,” she jokes.

Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Excerpted from Never Look Back, copyright © 2020 by Lilliam Rivera.

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