A/N: Sorry for the delay but I hope you enjoy! Oh, the Page-breaks signal when the perspective changes from Imelda's to Héctor's and vise-versa. Be sure to leave a review please and thank you!
Several months passed before Imelda spoke to Héctor again. A couple of weeks after the incident at La Feria, Héctor appeared at her house and tried to apologize and explain what had happened but the second Imelda opened the door and saw it was him, she slammed it shut and ran up to her room. She could hear him calling her from her room which had a balcony above the front door.
"Imelda, I am so sorry, it was an accident, I swear. Please just let me explain!" Héctor shouted up towards the balcony, but Imelda lay face down on her bed with a pillow over her head to muffle out the sound.
She reflected on how foolish it had been for her to allow herself to acknowledge her feelings for Héctor. After he begged her to hear him out from the balcony, she locked away her feelings for him as she should have done from the very start.
She knew that he would follow her to the Mercado sometimes to catch her attention and pretend it was mere chance that they found themselves in the same place. He would do silly things like knock a cart over clumsily or make corny jokes in an effort to make her laugh and start a conversation. It almost reminded her of how he acted when he was trying to get her to notice him back when they were teens but this time his efforts were for naught. Imelda would not budge. Instead she replayed the moment she realized he was never coming back in her head over and over again until every time she saw his face, she would feel nothing but heartbreak and anger.
She kept this up for months and grew close to mastering herself but as Día De Los Muertos rolled around, she grew apprehensive. María would not be able to cross the bridge as there were no photos or relics of hers left on an altar, meaning Imelda could not cross the bridge with her mother. And although the idea of seeing and embracing her daughter and family again brought her so much joy, she knew she wouldn't be crossing the cempazutchil bridge alone which made Imelda apprehensive.
Héctor, too, would be on Coco's secret altar meaning that they were scheduled to visit the same place on the same night. The most magical night of the year, in fact.
At first, Imelda planned to use the night to hurt Héctor as he had hurt her. She wanted to completely ignore him or perhaps lead him on and then crush him. But as the months went by, her anger faded and she decided that she just wanted Héctor out of her life. She decided that if she remained polite but distant, Héctor would get the message. He would soon realize that Imelda did not want anything to do with him and would leave her alone.
Héctor, on the other hand, had been eagerly planning Día de Los Muertos. He knew it would be his only chance to get back on talking terms with Imelda at the very least. From there he could work his way back into being almost friends with her, as he considered them to be just before it had all gone wrong. Throwing exasperated arms in the air, Héctor remembered how she had even laughed with him a couple of times! How he longed to hear her laughter ring in his ears once more…
Héctor decided to show up looking as nice as he could for Dia de los Muertos. He repainted his face for the occasion, ironed his khaki pants and purple shirt, and polished his black shoes. He kept his hair the same, his signature look, and the one Imelda had fallen in love with, although he decided to swap in his straw hat for a real sombrero for the night.
Imelda, too, was prepared for the evening. She wanted to look her best to see her family again, even though they wouldn't be able to see her. She colored her lips again and repainted her face. She added black lace to her dress and replaced the heels on her boots so that they would make the satisfying click clack noise with every step. She brushed out her hair and tied it back again. She considered putting on blush as she'd seen other esqueletas do, but decided to stick with just her make-up.
At last, Imelda looked herself over in the mirror and smiled. She still wasn't entirely used to seeing herself as a skeleton, but at least now she didn't have wrinkles. The only things that gave away her age was her voice and the stripes of gray in her hair.
Not bad for a dead girl Imelda thought to herself, spinning in front of the mirror. Then a certain dead guy crossed her mind. For a moment, she considered whether he'd notice how pretty she looked. As quick as the thought fluttered into her mind, Imelda locked it away and grew serious.
The sun was setting so Imelda made her way to the lines to cross the bridge along with Pepita who had shown up the night before, eager to accompany Imelda home. As they walked over to the bridge to Santa Cecilia (Pepita wouldn't let Imelda ride her for some reason), Imelda noticed that there were hundreds of others walking the same path. Upon reaching the line to cross the border into the human world, Imelda realized that the number of people heading to Santa Cecilia was actually in the thousands.
She looked around to see everyone's faces were beautifully painted like the Calaveras she'd seen around town growing up. Families held hands eagerly, people laughed and sang, it seemed like such a warm holiday… and it only reminded Imelda that she was alone.
As if on cue, Imelda soon heard the gentle voice of Héctor call, "Imelda!"
She turned to see him waving a sombrero at him. The second she saw him, the feeling of him abandoning her hit her again and she did not have to force herself not to smile. She had to force herself not to frown, not to roll her eyes, not to get as far as she could away from him.
Héctor comically shoved his way through the crowd to get over to her and when he met up with her, he beamed.
"Since we're headed the same way, I was wondering if I might accompany you?" Héctor asked nervously, rocking back and forth on his heels.
Instead of looking at the ground, Imelda stared into his eyes stoically. "I don't suppose there's any stopping you?"
At this Héctor stopped and his grin faded a bit. "I wouldn't if it'd bother you, Imelda," Héctor added gently.
She hadn't been expecting him to give in that easily. But at the same time she saw there was no sense in making her walk apart from her if they were going to the same place. So she decided to leave it up to him and sighed, "I genuinely don't care either way."
Héctor didn't hesitate. His face lit up again, causing Imelda to wonder whether she made the right choice, and he grinned, "I'll go with you then."
He was respectfully silent as the waited in line. Imelda was both grateful for the silence but also found it to be painfully awkward. Thankfully the line was fast moving and they were soon near the front. Imelda caught a glance of what seemed to be people walking up to get their picture taken before being allowed to cross the bridge.
Confusion was clear on her face, so Héctor coughed to ask for permission to speak. When she didn't glare at him, he explained "They're getting their faces matched to pictures on ofrendas. No picture, no pass."
Just as he said it, Imelda watched as a chubby esqueleto smiled nervously for his face to be matched. There was a flash, then a brutal low beeping noise.
"Sorry," the attendant said, "Looks like you're not on any ofrendas this year."
The man, slowly put his hat back on and stepped back so that his partner, a chubbier woman could get her face matched. After the flash, the low beeping hissed again and the woman began to sob into the man's shoulder.
"Why didn't he put up our picture this year?!" She cried as he led her back into the land of the dead.
Suddenly, Imelda became very nervous, as they were only five people away from the front of the line. She turned to Héctor, looking at his shoulder and not his eyes, and whispered, "Are you absolutely certain Coco put up a picture of us?"
Héctor looked down at her, trying to capture her eyes with his. When he finally succeeded, he saw that her dark eyes were indeed full of worry. He smiled gently, "I'm certain, Imelda."
Upon hearing him say her name, Imelda turned back to the front of the line so she wouldn't have to look at him a moment longer. She was certain that'd be all it would take to ruin her progress.
Imelda was next, she walked up to the scanner and smiled as it flashed. She held her breath and there was a high pitched ding.
"Looks like you're on your family's ofrenda, Señora Imelda! And quite a few others, looks like your regular customers have you up. The Ramirez family, the Godinez, the Velasquez, the Lopez, the Hernandez and a few more all have you up!" The attendant, a female esqueleta with a very kind voice, informed Imelda.
"Thank you," Imelda nodded as she stepped away from the platform on which faces were scanned and onto what seemed to be a floor made entirely of cempazutchil petals.
The second she stepped across, she could hear the cheerful music coming from the cemetery. She could hear the village kids' screaming and laughing as they played tag. She could almost distinguish her neighbor's voices. She closed her eyes, letting herself focus on the sound.
"Looks like you're on your daughter's ofrenda Héctor! Enjoy your trip!"
Imelda's heart sunk as she remembered who she was with and she turned to see Héctor walk across. Suddenly, there was a shadow above them and Imelda looked up to see Pepita circling them, coming lower and lower until she landed right next to Imelda.
"You get to come too?!" Imelda laughed, throwing her arms around the giant alebrije.
It purred in response and Héctor took several cautious steps forward to pet Pepita away from where Imelda was.
The trio made it to the base of the bridge where Imelda staggered unsteadily and caught herself on Pepita.
"Th-this doesn't feel very stable…" Imelda murmured recalling her trip into the Land of the Dead for the first time.
Héctor offered her his arm and said, "It's a little daunting at first but you'll get used to it."
Imelda glanced at his arm, covered by his dark purple shirt that was now rolled down all the way. It did actually fit him well. His bone hands were faced up, and she saw that his fingers were long and thin. She remembered how well they felt intertwined with hers…
Catching herself, Imelda rolled her eyes and forced herself, unsteadily up the bridge. When they made it to the top, Imelda could see hundreds of bridges on either side of her leading people back to their families, back to their homes.
Cempazutchil petals danced in the air and the sound of mariachis was a warm sound in Imelda's ears. She hurried down the rest of the bridge and the music, the chatter, the laughter, the warmth got louder.
Imelda stopped at the base of the bridge, breathless as she faced what seemed to be the veil separating her world from the living world. Pepita zoomed leapt across and turned into a small black cat, Imelda's black cat that she grew up with.
"Pepita!" Imelda squealed, starting across.
But Héctor caught her hand. Her eyes narrowed at him but it was too late, they crossed the veil together and for a flash of three seconds, he was no longer an esqueleto. She was his charming young husband as she had last seen him, looking twenty-two at the oldest. His face was long and thin, his cheeks flushed, his skin tan. She glanced at their entertwined hands and saw that her hand also looked human. She realized he must have been looking at a far older Imelda and let go. The second she released his hand, they flashed back to the skeleton version of themselves.
Imelda grabbed onto a nearby tomb stone, doubled over, breathing heavily.
"Imelda!" Héctor called surprised, reaching out to help her.
The second his hands touched her shoulder and back, Imelda slapped him away. "What the hell was that?!" she hissed.
"I-I just," Héctor stammered.
Imelda could see a faint glow around him and if she stared for long enough, she could see that the glow was where his skin used to be. If she squinted, she could see him very faintly as the human version of himself.
As she raised her own glowing hand to examine it, Héctor mumbled, "It won't happen again, I'm sorry."
Her eyes flashed back up to him and she scowled then turned to follow Pepita who was taking off in the direction of her home.
As Imelda followed her cat, she glanced around the cemetery curious as to which gravestone was hers. Héctor's footsteps behind her made her wonder where his was. It wasn't the first time she'd contemplated this.
The cemetery west of la Plaza de Santa Cecelia, but the Rivera home was slightly north of the plaza, practically bordering it. Pepita led them towards the plaza while Imelda relished walking in her hometown once again. Her heels made the comforting click clack noise she'd grown up hearing. A living girl up ahead was walking alone. She glanced back anxiously several times and Imelda wondered if the girl could hear her footsteps too.
"I miss this place," Héctor said softly from behind her.
Imelda ignored him and kept walking to the Plaza. At the Plaza, Imelda's heart grew full as she remembered her entire life in Santa Cecelia. She looked up at the church steeple, and laughed with glee as it's familiar bells rang six o'clock.
Pepita was lost in the crowd now that she had shown them the way, so Imelda took the longer route, passing through the market stalls. A few were still open, including the little old lady who sold fresh steamed milk every night for all Imelda's life. She walked up to the woman and looked her over, smiling and longing for a sip of the freshest milk in town.
"I hope she still thinks of me," Imelda said, smiling fondly at the woman who she used to have nice chats with every now and again.
Imelda walked away while Héctor stopped, glancing at the old woman sadly. "You're impossible to forget," he murmured softly.
Imelda carried on, pretending not to hear, and began walking towards her house. The farther she got from the Plaza, the faster she walked. When she rounded the corner and her home came into view, Imelda started to run, tears streaming down her face.
Héctor followed her at a normal pace to give her space, stopping several feet behind her when she stopped in front of the house. They stood for several long minutes outside while Imelda stared in through the wide open door.
It looked warm inside, and she could see the bright dining room just past the dark shop. There was something especially bright in the dining room, something calling to her. She could hear Victoria and Julio upstairs, Coco cooking in the kitchen.
Curious, Imelda stepped slowly through the threshold of the door. Instantly, her surroundings grew brighter and her heart felt full. She was home.
Imelda made her way through the workshop into living room and smiled that nothing had changed. She could hear Coco to her right, in the kitchen, but something drew her left into the dining room. There was a dim, flickering light, in a corner of the otherwise dark dining room. Imelda stepped in to find the table nicely set, but in the corner of the dining room, lit by candle light was an ofrenda all for her.
Hand pressed to her mouth, Imelda admired the ofrenda. Tears slid down her cheeks as she realized how much work her family must have put into this. An arch of cempazutchiles was woven to crown her image. Pan de Muerto was arranged carefully in a semi-circle around the floor, her shoes in the middle of the circle. Her favorite deserts were also within the semicircle, including a cup of steaming milk. Gold coins were also scattered about, but the table with her favorite meal remained empty. That must be what Coco was cooking…
Héctor waited outside for several minutes, letting Imleda take in the house alone. It was a… difficult… experience returning home after death. Although he knew it would go more smoothly for Imelda than it did for him, he still recalled that there was something very intimate about returning as a spirit. Something he could have only grasped alone. Also, he didn't want to push his boundaries with Imelda.
After waiting a good five minutes, Héctor couldn't restrain himself any longer. The setting sun reminded him that he only had so little time to spend with his family. The retired musico went inside his old home and glanced up the stairs towards Coco's room. He knew her ofrenda was calling him, and he could feel it tugging on his heart like a magnet, but by now he was practiced enough to go straight to his daughter first. Dodging desks in the workshop, Héctor turned right in the living room to find Imelda embracing their daughter, tears streaming down her face.
"You're, ah, still here?" Héctor blurted before he could catch himself.
"Of course I am," Imelda sobbed. "I haven't seen my daughter in months! I'm dead, and she's alive and I won't be able to hug her or speak to her until she dies. And I hope that's not for a very long time, but I can't wait either..."
Stepping away from Coco, Imelda pressed her hand to her mouth to control her sobs. "It's torture to see her, to be with her, but to not have her even acknowledge me!"
Héctor frowned. "All is not lost, Imelda."
He took several slow steps to his daughter, his ghost heart pounding. She was stirring the Caldo de Rez slowly, tears streaming down her face. Héctor smiled at the sight of his beautiful, talented, amazing daughter's face and he reached out his bony hand to gently tap her nose.
Coco's nose instantly crinkled in response and then her eyes lit up and she spun around. "Papá?!"
Imelda's jaw dropped, and Héctor embraced his daughter, holding her close to his chest as she squeezed her eyes shut.
"Oh, I knew you guys were here! That was Mamá with me earlier, wasn't it?!" Coco smiled, wiping tears from her eyes.
"Yes it was, mi amor," Héctor replied.
Coco looked into the air in front of her as she spoke like a blind person. She didn't see her parents, but she could feel that they were there. To prove this, Héctor stepped aside. Coco remained staring forward at nothing.
"I've missed you Mamá, more than you can imagine," Coco said softly into the nothingness.
With Héctor out of the way, Imelda took several cautious steps to stand in front of her daughter. It was as if Coco were looking straight at her! Imelda reached out and stroked Coco's braid and Coco smiled.
"I love you too, Mamá," Coco whispered.
Coco turned back to her soup to give it a quick stir then she turned back to the empty kitchen behind her. She seemed to be blushing, and twisted her braid around her finger as she contemplated saying something. She opened her mouth twice to say it, but finally became confident on her third attempt.
"I, ah…" Coco started. "Since I know you can't yell at me for saying so, Mamá –and I wish that you still could yelll at me-" Coco added sadly. "I really hope you at least try to forgive Papá. He's a good man, I can feel it. I don't know how long he's been gone for Mamá, but I think it was a while. I've always been able to feel him… or maybe I just imagined… anyways, give him a chance, please."
Héctor struggled not to beam at his daughter. He gave Imelda a shy glance to see that her arms were now folded. She was looking at him, eyes narrowed, but she wasn't frowning. Her face was still.
"But Papá, you also need to give her some time… You didn't see how angry she was with you," Coco whispered. "But she loved you until the end!" Turning to her right, where she imagined her mother to be standing but where Héctor was really standing, she added, "and Mamá, I'm so sorry to tell him this, please forgive me!" If it were possible for Imelda's eyes to narrow any thinner, they did in that moment. Coco turned left to face Imelda's direction and said to her father, "Mamá…died… clutching my photo of you." Coco's voice broke when she said died, but she carried on, "I know she never stopped loving you. So don't give up hope, Papito." With a sad smile, Coco added, "I know she's going to make it hard for you but don't give up hope."
Héctor clenched his fists and tried not to cry. He tore his eyes from his daughter to look at his wife and saw that tears were flowing freely down her face. Imelda raised a bony hand to cover her face and Héctor ran over to her. Emboldened by Coco's words, Héctor slowly and gently put his arms around Imelda, pulling her into an embrace.
Imelda let him hold her, and buried her face into his chest. She did not hug him back, but she did not pull away. Héctor angled his head down so that his lips were casually pressed against her hair. He shut his eyes and began to cry with her.
"I'm sorry, Imelda," Héctor moaned through his tears. "For everything."
Moments of silence passed. Héctor didn't think she would speak and was content to just hold her in silence, but Imelda glanced up at him, tears in her eyes. "I know Héctor. I know you are and I wish it were that easy to forgive you-" she bit her lip, realizing what she said.
"No, no, no," Héctor pleaded, "Please continue Imelda. I want to understand what it is you feel for me."
Moved by his broken eyes and her daughter's supplication, Imelda stepped back. Héctor let her go, taking her hands instead to keep her close. She allowed this and his heart began to pound as he waited for her to speak.
"I want to hate you, Héctor," Imelda said softly, her eyes refusing to meet his. "But I've always loved you and I can't stop, no matter how hard I try! And trust me, I've tried… Look, for Coco's sake I've forced you out of my mind all these years and now… now she wants me to let you in… it's hard, Héctor!"
"Entiendo, mi amor," Héctor nodded. "Take all the time you need Imelda, but please, please at least give me a chance!" Héctor paused, hesitating and Imelda glanced up at him cautiously. "C-can I kiss you?"
Frouwning nervously, Imelda glanced over at Coco who had returned to stirring the pot.
After watching her daughter for several moments, she saw the young woman's shoulder's shake as she cried. Biting her lip, Imelda glanced up at the ceiling. Above the kitchen was Imelda's room. She was suddenly overwhelmed by the memory of how she had longed to be close to Héctor in her final moments and rolled her eyes internally, knowing she'd regret it. "Sí-" Héctor leaned down and she raised a finger to his lips, "But it doesn't mean I've forgiven you."
Héctor nodded and Imelda lowered her hand slowly. He closed his eyes and leaned down to kiss her. The second their lips met, both drew back quickly as if they'd been electrocuted. Instead of feeling bone-on-bone as Imelda had half expected to, she felt the softness of his lips pressing on hers as if she were still alive. He felt warm. Imelda raised her hand to her own lips and saw that she was still made of bone and so was Héctor.
Their eyes met and they both recovered from the shock fairly quickly and found themselves kissing again, longer this time and more passionately. Héctor reached down to lift Imelda by her hips as he always would when they were younger. In turn, Imelda let her hands snake up to his shoulders to grip him tightly for support. Eyes closed, she reached up and touched his hair as she kissed him. Her hand brushed on his forehead which felt soft, warm, like skin.
Héctor sat across from Imelda on a picnic blanket out in El Campo. He was strumming the guitar absentmindedly, eyes on her. She was watching his hands fly expertly across the guitar. She sat, legs folded, the only thing between them his guitar. She closed her eyes to listen to the music and Héctor was just content to watch her.
Out of nowhere, and surprising even himself, Héctor blurted, "C-can I kiss you?"
Imelda opened her eyes slowly and blinked at him. Had she heard him right? Judging by the blush that was now attacking his face, she could tell that she had. She smiled and sat up, putting all her weight on her legs and breathed, "Sí." She thought he'd never ask.
Héctor dropped the guitar without a second thought and leaned forward, holding her cheek with his hands as they kissed for the first time. Their lips melted together, their hearts pouring love into each other, and it felt as if it were always meant to be this way.
"Mamá?" a voice in the doorway called.
Héctor dropped Imelda and she jumped two feet away from him as if they were teenagers being caught kissing. Imelda couldn't bring herself to look at him, but she could feel his eyes on her. Elena stood in the doorway, startling her mother who had turned back to stir the soup.
"Yes Elena?" Coco smiled, looking up from her pot.
Elena fidgeted with a ring on her finger and she asked in a child-like manner, "When is Mamá Imelda going to be here?"
"I think they're already here," Coco replied, walking over to her daughter and putting an arm around her.
"Eh- I mean she's," Coco rushed, brushing some hair out of her daughter's face. Changing the subject quickly, Coco added, "Dinner's ready."
Elena rubbed her arm nervously, the same mannerism as Héctor's. "I'm going to go get Franco, then… he's waiting outside."
"I think that's a wonderful idea," Coco smiled.
Arms crossed, eyes narrowed, Imelda and Héctor both uttered at the same time, "Who's Franco?"
A/N: Please let me know how you feel about this chapter! I hope I wasn't rushing things! It's just, I know she's conflicted about this but I also know it's kind of hard to force yourself not to be with your true love 3