Thanks to FireChildSlytherin5, superlc529, ohmygiddyaunt, Alysia Of The Pen, TomatoSoupful, Cara Beatrice Green, LunarAquaEnby, KnightOwl247, Angelwings2002, alex, Chance-Will, starlight447 and guests for reviewing last chapter!
We're at double-digit chapters now! Yay! While I know where this story is going, I'm not sure how many chapters there will be. Also as you might have known by now, I'm going to have to stop my goal of 'updating at least once every weekend.' To the concerned guest about me not having time for this story, don't worry! I actually have plenty of time for this fic and am NOT planning on abandoning it anytime soon! I just only write when inspiration comes to me, and sometimes my inspiration is random and comes at different times. But I promise you never have to worry about me leaving this fic behind!
And thank you all so much for 100+ reviews! I can't believe it! As a little celebration, this is the longest chapter yet not counting this author's note! And here's a fun fact I just realized, but better late than never: The song that this story is named after was used in the Christopher Robin official trailer!
To alex: Héctor can't have a peaceful afterlife unless I say so ;)
Breathing steadily, Héctor peeks an eye open. The sun is just beginning to rise, and he turns his attention to the small lump still resting at the end of the bed.
Dante's back leg twitches along with one of his front hands, and Héctor can only assume that he's dreaming about something. Whatever it is, he hopes that it's a pleasant dream. The dog-boy's brown eyes peek open slightly as if he can feel that someone is watching him, meeting Héctor's. The former skeleton smiles softly at the alebrije-turned-human; he's still so relieved that Dante is okay, even if he was transformed back into a human just as he had been. It was a good thing that he and Miguel had gone for a walk yesterday, or else they may not have found each other.
Héctor shudders slightly at the idea of never finding Dante, and the possibility that he would have been stuck in his human form without them even knowing and never to be reunited. Thankfully, his fall when Dante knocked him down hasn't affected his body so he would have to stay in bed again. His muscles aren't too sore from the ordeal, a sign that his human body is getting stronger each day he's here in the Land of the Living...he's not entirely sure that's a good thing. He's not supposed to get stronger—he's supposed to be dead.
But he's still here. He'll have to gather enough courage to finally ask Miguel just how much time has passed since finding him in the cemetery, and maybe even what year it is. He has a faint idea, but he needs to hear it or else he won't believe the reality that he's so far in the future from when he had been murdered.
Dante yawns, his eyes opening wider until it seems that he's more awake than Héctor is, fully noticing that his human is staring at him. He moves to stretch his front arms out, yawning a second time until his muscles are satisfied and he sits on his hind legs. Assuming that Dante will stay in place, Héctor allows his eyes to slide shut once more. But just before they're closed all the way, movement jerks him awake again.
The young boy jumps down onto the floor and walks on all fours—Héctor will never understand how he does it so steadily as a human without hurting himself—towards the back door that leads outside. Héctor blinks wearily as Dante paws at it, whining. Rubbing his eyes to get rid of his tiredness, Héctor only stares from the bed as Dante sits expectantly at the door until he begins to paw at it again with his human hands.
"You...you want to go out?" Héctor asks in a murmur, unable to rid himself of his weariness just yet. It was still so early...maybe if he closes his eyes again, the dog-boy would just come back onto the bed and they would get to sleep in awhile longer.
But Dante only paws the door again, this time with more urgency. Héctor's eyes widen at the sudden realization that maybe...maybe Dante just has to go to the bathroom. Suddenly more awake than before, he forces himself to sit up, pondering how it would be possible for a dog turned into a human to relieve himself. Dante might have been human before, but what if he doesn't remember how to go to the bathroom at all?
It hadn't taken that long for Héctor to get used to going to the bathroom again at least, but he empathizes with Dante anyway.
It's still early enough that hardly anyone would be outside. It would just be a quick little trip to wherever Dante decided to 'go' and then they would come right back, no harm done. The longer they waited, the higher the chance that someone would catch Dante in the act (or risk the former dog actually going inside...) and so Héctor does his best to bring himself out of bed.
His bed, now...but only for a year, he has to remind himself. It's not his bed permanently. Putting on his beloved shoes he still holds close to his heart, Héctor slowly leads Dante outside to the courtyard. The dog-boy sniffs the ground in a few places, and Héctor waits patiently until it seems that Dante has found a spot right next to the courtyard's back gate that leads further outside into the streets of Santa Cecilia.
He won't watch when Dante sits and stares up at him expectantly, immediately turning away. He waits until he feels something tugging at his pants, glancing down to see Dante attempting to pull him closer to the gate.
Héctor shakes his head once he understands what Dante wants to do; his street dog instincts must be really strong at the moment, urging him to wander just as he had done as a normal Xolo dog.
"We can't," he tells Dante regretfully. If he was still a dog, it would be different. Héctor would be happy to take him for a walk, and maybe even let him wander off on his own like he always used to do after he was done following Miguel...even if Héctor would be hesitant to let him leave since they had just been reunited the day before.
But he's a small human child now that acts just like a dog, and that would surely cause questions to come up if they came across anyone on the walk.
There was also the issue of whoever had found the dog-boy possibly coming to search for him. What if they ran into each other? Héctor doesn't have the slightest idea of what he could say as an explanation.
Oh, the child you found is actually a spirit guide from the Land of the Dead who was once human? Héctor doubts they would be understanding and just let them leave without a more realistic explanation.
A creaking sound distracts Héctor from his thoughts, pulling him back to reality. Glancing down, he's shocked to see that Dante has somehow managed to open the gate.
The dog-boy sits on the other side, tongue hanging out and smiling as if he's proud of what he accomplished.
"Come back here," Héctor says in a loud whisper, afraid that raising his voice any higher will wake the other Riveras. But Dante refuses to move anywhere but back into the courtyard, getting up on all fours again and wagging his invisible tail as if he's ready to play.
The moment Héctor takes a step forward, the dog-boy shoots off in the other direction away from him at a surprisingly alarming speed, especially for one racing on all fours.
"Dante!" Héctor has no choice but to shout, and even less of a choice when he's ignored. Groaning in frustration, he picks up the pace as fast as his new human legs can carry him in the dog-boy's direction—his first time actually running in his human body, he realizes.
It seems like an eternity before Dante suddenly stops in his tracks, a white cloud enveloping his little body.
Wait...not a cloud, but...glancing up, Héctor realizes that he's been led right into the cemetery. Fog begins to envelop the two of them, circling gently. A chill sweeps down Héctor's spine, causing him to shudder. He hasn't been back here since Miguel's blessing had failed, and he's not sure if he wants to be back. He would rather just wait a year until he can actually see the bridge that's supposed to be just ahead of them, not when he's unable to see anything or anyone.
But maybe Dante doesn't understand that since he's a human now as well, it also means that he can't see the other side, either.
Dante whines, pawing desperately at the physical wall that blocks them from entering the Land of the Dead. Thanks to his many failed attempts at crossing the bridge, Héctor is sure that the invisible barrier is still there alongside the living world's wall, blocking the dead from entering the Land of the Living.
His thumping heart hurts for the poor alebrije, doing his best to explain even if he isn't sure Dante can understand all of his words.
"We're human now. We can't see the Land of the Dead...or anyone in it," he says sadly, his gaze downcast. It just hurts too much, stabbing at his sensitive chest. Dante sits, staring up at him with wide and curious eyes. But then he whines again until he's suddenly at attention, growling at empty space behind Héctor. He glances back but sees nothing, though Dante is still growling.
"What is it?" He asks, albeit cautiously.
All of a sudden, he's taken back to that fateful morning. He'd been so close to crossing the bridge again, but...
Ernesto had appeared in his Frida outfit—another idea stolen from him. What else could that man take from him now apart from his afterlife?
Nothing. He has to tell himself that Ernesto is gone and isn't coming back, having faded permanently on that morning after the holiday.
But it seems that Dante is sure someone is in the cemetery with them, though there isn't anyone that Héctor can see. It's only himself, Dante and the never-ending fog that won't stop wrapping around the graves.
"You're a loco dog...boy, you know that?" Héctor says, patting Dante gently on the head. He growls lightly in response, shaking his head to get rid of Héctor's hand.
"What's gotten into you? There's nothing here," Héctor insists. "We should go back before anyone notices we're gone."
He and Miguel had been lucky so far in that department. From sneaking here to the cemetery the first time and then climbing to the attic with him once and then by himself another time, they were lucky no one had noticed. Though now that Miguel's parents know who he really is, it probably wouldn't be too much of an issue if they discovered he was missing for an hour or two. Still, he doesn't want to take any chances that they might think he had abandoned them like Imelda so long ago.
Now that he's here in the Land of the Living, he makes a pact with himself that he will always be with his living family throughout the year he's 'stuck' with them, and that means he has to go back now.
It's still too early for anyone else to really be in the cemetery or around Santa Cecilia, so Héctor allows Dante to walk on all fours for the time being as they make their way back to the Rivera home and into bed. The dog-boy growls the whole way at something only he can see, but Héctor can only shake his head in confusion and wonder at what whatever he was growling at could possibly be.
When they arrive back home and he slips tiredly into bed once more, Héctor doesn't even remember closing his eyes and going back to sleep after he wakes up again, and dusk is settling in.
Waking up and finding it mostly dark already was confusing, but the sound of children's laughter is music to Héctor's ears. He smiles as he watches Benny and Manny play in the center of the courtyard, eagerly chasing the new child that runs on all fours once they get over their confusion as to why he's running on all fours and not two legs. It seems that Dante has calmed down from their trip to and from the cemetery, no longer growling at some unseen force.
The former dog runs to him at one point, his behind wagging like he still has a tail. His mouth is open with his tongue hanging out, and he smiles widely up at Héctor as if he's asking the musician to come and play with them.
But Héctor only shakes his head in exasperation. "How are you so used to life already? I'm still not..."
As evidenced by the fact that simply running had left him worn out enough to sleep most of the day away.
Dante 'yips' quietly in his young and innocent human voice. Benny comes up to wave a stick over his head, and Dante's eyes dart wildly this way and that to stay glued to the stick. Benny hands the stick to his twin brother, and Manny takes initiative to throw it a few feet away. Dante barks eagerly, bending down in a play position before he bounds after it and takes the stick into his mouth, bringing it back to the brothers for them to throw again.
Though disgusted at picking up a stick from the ground with his mouth, Héctor can't help but smile at the dog-boy's silly antics. He feels a presence beside him, looking down to see his great-great grandson.
"I figured you could use a good sleep," Miguel says quietly as he watches the twins and Dante playing, as well. "When you didn't react or wake up to anything, I thought something must have happened to make you so worn out. So we let you sleep in."
"Dante wanted to go to the cemetery," Héctor admits uneasily, knowing the boy won't like it one bit.
Miguel glances up at him, eyes wide. "What?! What if someone saw him? Or you?" There was still the possibility and risk that someone could recognize him from the photo. He and Dante have to stay here at home for their own good!
"I couldn't really stop him," Héctor says to defend himself. "He's faster than me, even when he runs like a dog." He never thought he'd say such a silly thing in his afterlife nor life.
Miguel sighs in frustration, realizing why Héctor had worn himself out so much. "Be more careful next time," he scolds. "You could be recognized from your photo, and someone might be looking for Dante." Especially if whoever had found him had taken such good care of him...
Héctor nods in understanding. All because I'm...we're not supposed to be here. We're supposed to be dead. Or I am, at least.
It might be wrong to think since Dante is only a young child, but Héctor has to admit it feels nice not being the only one brought back to life, to not be the only one in a place where they aren't supposed to be. It was nice to have someone who knows what it feels like...almost. Maybe one day during his year in the living world, he'll learn to enjoy life. But not as quick as Dante...though maybe he should while he has a chance. He had been given a second chance, after all.
Héctor closes his eyes, taking a deep breath. He has to ask the burning question now before it drives him loco, no matter what difference it would make how close the year was to being over. It had to be awhile now, and he hopes a lot of time has passed already.
He says silent, allowing his Papá to finish.
"How long has it been?"
"Since what?" Miguel asks, though he has a feeling of what it might be.
"Since you found me in the cemetery?" Héctor asks, confirming his suspicion that it was about how long it had been since he was found. Miguel isn't sure how Héctor will react; if it will make him upset or at least a little relieved, but he answers anyway.
"Almost a month."
Héctor's eyes widen at the revelation, his heart beating just a tiny bit faster. It made sense...all those days in bed had felt like forever.
"How many months are in a year?" Somewhere in the back of his mind he knows the answer, but he wants to hear it with his newly returned ears just to be sure.
Only twelve months—thinking of it like that made it seem a little shorter than thinking of it as an entire year.
The next question is a little harder for some reason, and he's almost afraid of what the answer will be.
"What year is it?"
Miguel pauses as if he's unsure of answering for fear of making Héctor upset, but continues on.
Of course, Héctor knows it's been at least ninety years since he'd died. But actually hearing how long it's really been from Miguel doesn't help him get used to the idea that he's been dead for so long, and is still supposed to be dead right now.
He looks down to see Miguel holding a small, oddly-shaped object.
"What is that?" He questions curiously. For some reason, it reminds him of a smaller version of the blinky-thingy security used to let skeletons cross the bridge.
It takes Miguel a moment to realize that he's talking about the device he's holding, and he grins. Of course Papa Héctor doesn't know what it is—especially not after so many years have passed since he died and he has no clue about how much technology has changed.
"It's a cell phone," he states with a shrug. No big deal.
"A...cell phone?" Héctor asks slowly.
"It's how most people communicate nowadays, but sometimes they still send letters like you used to," Miguel explains, holding the phone out so Héctor can take a closer look.
He can only stare in both fascination and confusion at the small blinky-thingy, wondering in amazement how a phone so small could even work.
"There are phones in the Land of the Dead, right?" Miguel asks. He can recall phones being used in the Department of Family Reunions, especially the Re-Entry clerk up front when he'd asked if they had anything to declare, and had revealed Miguel only to have his jaw drop off in shock. They had been old phones, but phones nonetheless. What would his great-great grandfather think of a modern computer? He has so much to show him!
"I-I guess so." Héctor never really put much thought into how skeletons communicated back and forth in the Land of the Dead, since he himself never exactly had a need to communicate with anyone—not even his own family.
"Well, this is just a smaller phone that also has internet and other stuff. I don't have my own yet, but Prima Rosa let me borrow hers. I thought maybe I could take another photo with just you in it. You know, because...I lost the other one."
How was that tiny thing even able to take photos in the first place? What was internet? Héctor wants to inspect it and learn more, but Miguel takes first priority when his words reach his ears.
"It wasn't your fault," he tells him firmly. How could Miguel even think such a thing? There was nothing he could have done, not when sunrise had been so close to approaching. They had both been on the line, and Miguel needed to get home.
"But it was," Miguel says, unable to stop the guilt from seeping through him. If only he had just hung onto the photo tighter, he would have been able to save Héctor faster. "I let go of it when Pepita rescued me from falling."
"Then it was Pepita's fault. But let's keep that between us," Héctor says, giving his grandson a wink. He wouldn't want Pepita finding out what he'd just said. She would surely throw him off a building like Ernesto had done to Miguel when he was returned to his skeleton form and could simply pull himself back together.
Miguel nods lightly in agreement, though he still can't help but feel guilty on the inside. He'd been so close to saving Héctor from the Final Death, only to have the photo be ripped away from his hands in the sharp wind as Pepita carried him back up. Then again, maybe it had been a good thing that he'd dropped the photo. He might have never rushed to play Mamá Coco her song, and she never would have fully regained her memory if he had just put Héctor's photo back on the ofrenda. But she'd had the missing piece of Héctor that was able to be re-attached to the original family photo, so it had all worked out in the end and Héctor was still saved from the Final Death. Miguel forces himself to shake his guilt away, at least for the time being. Now he could make up for losing Héctor's single photo!
Héctor gives a thumbs up, standing in front of the well where Miguel had sung while playing his guitar on Día de los Muertos; it would be a nice sentiment.
"Smile," Miguel says with a bright smile of his own so Héctor can mimic him.
For a moment, Héctor is taken back to when he'd taken the family photo just before leaving on tour with Ernesto. He forces himself not to think about it, lest he frowns and ruins his new photo.
"I'll put it on the ofrenda with the copies of your letters in the attic later," Miguel says, satisfied with how it had turned out.
Héctor wonders just how he'll get the photo off of the phone in the first place, but he decides to let Miguel be the one to handle that without asking any questions.
"Mijo, dinner is ready!" Luisa calls from the house.
"Can Papa Héctor join us?" Miguel calls back. It was strange, yet somehow...satisfying at the same time using his real name.
Héctor's smile doesn't leave when Luisa gives her answer, but also feels a twinge of anxiety at the thought of eating with the whole family for the first time.
"I don't see why not. He is family."
His new sense of smell is assaulted by the dinner that lays on the table when he's brought into the kitchen by Miguel and Luisa, but he's not exactly overwhelmed; it all smells delicious, and he would be lying to himself if he said he wasn't looking forward to having some. Since he'd missed out on breakfast because of sleeping in, his stomach growls and he has to place a hand gently over it in an attempt to stop the odd sensation that he's still not entirely used to.
He makes a mental note of everyone who's sitting to distract himself from his hunger, his head spiraling almost out of control. His first time actually eating with his living family at the table...he can't do this. It's going to be so awkward now that they know he's not from the living world and is really related to them.
There's Franco, Elena's husband. Gloria, their daughter and their son Berto. Carmen, Berto's wife. Abel, one of Miguel's cousins as well as Rosa who he had gotten to talk to at least a little bit already and who had been the first to know his true identity.
Then there was Benny and Manny sitting at a children's table along with baby Socorro in a high chair that Luisa sits next to.
He takes a seat hesitantly next to Miguel. Dante follows eagerly, perfectly comfortable with sitting under the table to wait for any food that might fall or maybe even a handout.
Tamales are passed around by Elena and Héctor decides to take at least two; he doesn't want his stomach to get too overwhelmed.
"You are a twig just like your great-great grandson. Have some more," Elena insists, picking up another tamale to place on his plate. But Héctor shakes his head politely.
"I asked if you would like more tamales," Elena says a bit more sternly. Héctor's eyes widen just a little bit at her tone, suddenly understanding that he better listen and take more, no matter if his stomach wouldn't be able to handle it.
"That's what I thought you said!" Elena says brightly. "You and Miguelito are so much alike," she coos affectionately, making Héctor even more afraid than if she had been about to threaten him with a shoe.
Héctor takes a bite of a tamale anyway, savoring the delicious taste that his new tongue is now capable of, letting it slide down his throat and into his stomach; he's not sure if he'll ever get used to the odd sensation of actually eating for real. A few more bites and his sensitive stomach already can't take anymore, but being in the same boat with countless tamales of his own, Miguel can easily see his grandfather's problem and nods subtly in Dante's direction under the table. Héctor grins, grabbing another tamale to give the eager dog-boy waiting underneath.
"Aren't we going to talk about it?" Rosa whispers cautiously from her seat on the other side of Miguel, intentionally keeping her voice down so the others won't hear.
"What?" Miguel asks, a bit confused.
"The elephant in the room," Rosa says in response, nodding slightly towards a certain relative.
Oh. She wants to know if they were going to talk about Héctor—or more specifically, the fact that he'd come back to life.
Miguel shrugs towards Rosa, turning his attention back to Héctor and giving his grandfather a chance to decide whether he wants to talk about where exactly he had come from. He isn't sure if his parents or Elena have told the others yet, but at least a part of his question is answered unexpectedly when his cousin Abel speaks up.
"So what's it like in the Land of the Dead?" Miguel's cousin asks, and not exactly in a whisper so everyone can hear and listen in.
Miguel nearly coughs on a glass of water he'd been about to finish, but manages to swallow it down the right way to avoid doing so, shooting a glare at Rosa. She only shrugs back, smiling sheepishly.
She'd told?! But she promised she would keep it a secret! She must have threatened Abel not to tell Miguel that she'd told him.
"Is it true that everyone is a skeleton?" Primo Abel asks eagerly. Héctor hadn't expected his afterlife to become a topic so soon, but he probably should have expected it now that they know who he really is.
"Si. But there are also alebrijes like Dante..." Just as Miguel had told him that he'd explained to Luisa and Enrique when Dante bombarded into the kitchen.
"So he's actually a dog?" Franco asks, just as confused as everyone else. Well, it explained why the child acts so strangely and is sitting underneath their table.
"We think he was originally a human first who got stuck here after sunrise like I did," Héctor says, and Franco nods in somewhat understanding, though the whole situation is very confusing to him—just as it should be to any of the Riveras who haven't gotten sent to the Land of the Dead itself like Miguel last year.
"He's really colorful and shiny! He has wings, too," Héctor adds with a small smile at the thought of Dante's alebrije form. The dog-boy himself barks, and the family chuckles at how odd his human voice sounds trying to be like a real dog.
"Can he fly?" Gloria asks curiously, much to Miguel's surprise. She was one of the ones who had said his dream of being a musician was a stupid musical fantasy. Now she was asking if dogs could fly? He guesses that he can't blame her for wanting to know more.
"He doesn't have it down perfectly yet, but si," Héctor answers with a chuckle of his own.
Now that he's a human, the poor thing will have to get used to his wings all over again when he's turned back into a colorful alebrije.
Elena decides to change the subject as she sets the plate of tamales down, taking a seat herself in between Berto and Enrique.
"...How is Mamá?" She asks, her voice quivering just the slightest bit yet filled with hope.
Héctor gives a warm smile. It's nice not to be threatened by her for once, sharing a mutual interest in her mother: his beloved Coco, his daughter that he so desperately needs to get back to.
"She's fine," Héctor says honestly. It's true; while it took time for some to come to terms with the fact that they'd passed, it hadn't seemed to affect Coco the same way. She had accepted her passing right away, despite having to get used to her new skeleton body. "She would sing with me every night like we used to before I..."
Left. Before he'd left her and Imelda to go off on that idiotic tour, only to be murdered and have his songs stolen by his best friend.
But Elena only smiles in return.
"It's alright, Papa Héctor. We understand you meant to come back now but couldn't, that whatever happened was beyond your control. I'm the one who should be saying lo siento for nearly hitting you with my shoe."
Silence around the table, shock filtering through each of the Riveras that Elena was even saying such a thing—especially 'Papa Héctor' in front of them, much less 'sorry' for almost hitting him with her shoe.
When the awkwardness fades, Enrique brings up a suggestion that Héctor had hoped he would hear eventually for his sanity's sake.
"How would you feel about getting a job in the workshop? We can teach you everything you need to know about the process of making shoes."
"I'd love to help out," Héctor agrees. Imelda had been too reluctant to let him try in the Land of the Dead, and for a number of good reasons. His first time trying had been a disaster, and neither of them had been too keen on having him try again. But if it would help time pass in the Land of the Living...
"Maybe even Miguel and I can be a team."
"Haha," Miguel says plainly, shoving his grandfather lightly in the arm. Héctor knows how he feels about making shoes. But if it's something he wants to do, Miguel doesn't see a problem with it if it would help time pass quicker for him.
"We have come to an agreement that if Miguel wants to make shoes with us, it would be wonderful. But now that music is back in this family, he is free to choose what he wants," Luisa says gently from her spot at the children's table with Benny, Manny and Socorro.
It all seems too good to be true. First Elena had aplogized, and now Miguel's parents are willing to let him choose between shoes and music?
How could Miguel getting cursed turn out to be such a good thing to happen to this family?
Berto stands up, coming to fill his empty glass with a bottle of...Héctor nearly balks when he realizes what it is, but somehow manages to stay sitting.
"No, gracias..." Downing the tequila in Chicharrón's shack after he'd passed was one thing; he hadn't known about what Ernesto had done to him, yet. The truth hadn't been revealed. But willingly drinking tequila now when he knows what really happened was another matter entirely.
Miguel can also see where this is going, slumping a bit in his seat and shaking his head in warning towards his tío. Unfortunately, Berto hasn't heard why Héctor may not be too enthusiastic about tequila.
"I think your great-grandson wants to make a toast," Berto says anyway, nodding in his brother's direction as Enrique prepares to make a statement, standing up; he's probably going to say something about officially welcoming him back into the family even though he and Luisa had already done so, including Elena. Either that or he was going to say something about how he had come back to life. Whatever it is, Héctor just wants to get it over with.
If you must go, then I'm sending you off with a toast.
He just can't do it...
"Come, now...it's alright to have a little fun after coming back from the dead," Elena tries to convince him. Gloria and Carmen both nod, raising their own glasses as if to tempt him...
Franco grins in approval. "She's right, you know!"
He's anything but tempted, nor convinced. Besides, if he had even a drop of tequila now since he had recently come back to life and was still getting used to his living body in some ways like eating, who knew how he would react?
To our friendship.
Please don't make me do it...
Héctor knows now he doesn't have any choice but to reveal what had happened to him. Why he can't—won't—drink the tequila.
I would move Heaven and Earth for you, mi amigo. Salud!
"It's how I...died."
Was murdered, Miguel thinks for him.
Silence around the table, but for a completely different reason other than being shocked by Elena's forgiveness and apology. Everyone stares, except for Abel. He's still trying to finish his plate, but gets harshly interrupted when Rosa prods him with her elbow in the side.
Enrique inwardly smacks himself for even offering the idea of a toast, taking the bottle from his brother and sitting back down to put it to the side in shame. He can faintly remember both Miguel and Héctor saying he had been poisoned, but he doesn't recall either of them saying how. Being poisoned through tequila and a toast of all things unfortunately made a lot of sense, especially if Miguel's former idol had murdered him for his songs like his son had explained. De la Cruz really was a murderer...
Miguel reaches an arm down, another tamale in hand. Before he knows it, the weight in his hand disappears in an instant.
Abuelita finally notices at last, giving Miguel's hand a gentle slap. Much to his relief, the family goes back to finishing their dinner, not up for any further conversation.
Héctor gives his grandson a small smile and a nod as thanks for breaking the awkwardness, going back to finish his last tamale lest he wants Elena to give him even more than he's able to finish.
He'd already been out with Dante in the morning, but he still feels the need to get up and clear his head; it would be nice and relaxing not having to chase a dog-turned-human around town. He just needs a break, especially after dinner. The food had been so good, but his stomach hurts and he makes sure to go to the bathroom before leaving on his walk.
The pain in the center of his stomach brings back a certain memory he'd rather forget. He figures it's either phantom pains as Miguel had suggested, or he really is getting food poisoning this time like he had originally thought all those years.
How could I be so stupid? He scolds himself as he creeps slowly out the back gate that Dante had escaped from earlier being careful not to let it make any creaking noises.
I should have just had the tequila.
Even if it would have gone against everything he now knows about Ernesto and what he had done to him, or how he would have reacted after drinking because his body is still sensitive. But no matter how hard he would have tried, his fear most likely would have won out.
He doesn't realize how far or long he's been walking until it's completely dark, bumping into something—or someone once he looks up quickly to see who else would be walking now, though it's not too late yet.
For some reason, she seems surprised that it's him who she had just run into, like she wasn't expecting him to still be near the Rivera home. He can't exactly blame her; it's not like she knows he's actually a part of their family.
"Hola, Señor García. I'm glad to see you're feeling well enough to walk."
Héctor blinks in temporary confusion at the name. He'd told Luisa and Enrique his real name...he's not Gael García anymore. But then it comes back to him that Enrique had probably told Dr. Mendez his made-up name, and she probably still thinks it's his real name; it's probably for the best, anyway. No one outside his family should know his true identity; it wasn't like he was going to go outside too much during his time as a living person. He just needed some fresh air, no matter how unnatural air actually felt...
"Si. I'm feeling much better now and just needed to clear my head a bit," Héctor says uncertainly.
"I know the feeling, though it's not why I've decided to go for a walk tonight," Dr. Mendez says almost regretfully. "I'm actually looking for someone."
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Héctor asks hesitantly, a pit of disbelief beginning to set in. Looking for someone? No, it can't be...
"I apologize for any inconvenience, but it's a bit urgent. You see, I found a young child recently wandering close to the cemetery."
Héctor has to stop himself from at least coughing in surprise, widening his eyes or doing anything else that would make it seem like he was overreacting to the woman's ongoing question.
A young child...?
She's not asking about Dante, he attempts to calm himself. It can't be him she found.
Lots of children probably wandered close to the cemetery, especially during or just after Día de Muertos.
"He has a gray streak in his hair and is wearing a blue shirt with a yellow ball on it," Dr. Mendez continues. "He's also quite an...interesting case. I haven't been able to find his family and no one has come forward, so I decided he could stay with me for the time being."
Stay with her? Couldn't that get her into a lot of trouble if she didn't report him to the right authorities, especially since she's a doctor? Then again, he and Miguel hadn't sent in any reports, either. They could all get into a lot of trouble if it was found that they'd kept a 'lost' child in their care, so he keeps his mouth shut; he doesn't exactly blame her that she hadn't done so, obviously being baffled by the way Dante acts. Who knew what would happen to the poor dog-boy if authorities were alerted?
"What do you mean by 'interesting case?'" Héctor asks, though he has a feeling of what that could mean.
Dr. Mendez proves his theory to be correct when she answers, her expression amused yet fascinated at the same time. "His behavior is different from most children. He acts a lot...like a dog. He would be hard to miss if spotted running around on all fours."
Then again, how many children have a gray streak in their hair, not to mention a shirt with a yellow ball on it? Plus that they acted just like a dog?
"Sorry, I haven't seen anyone like him," he says the best he can without giving himself away. "I can keep an eye out for him," he adds in an attempt to make his response seem less like he might know something.
Thankfully, it works.
"Gracias," Dr. Mendez says with a small smile. "I wish I had taken a photo of him while I had the chance, but he would never sit still even for a moment. I also have my job."
Héctor allows a mild chuckle. "I can imagine," he says wistfully. Coco herself had never been able to sit still when she had been Dante's age. "My daughter..." He stops himself, immediately realizing his mistake.
Dr. Mendez blinks, obviously confused since Héctor had told her he had no family except for his parents who had passed on.
"She passed away before my parents," he backtracks uneasily, hoping she'll let it slide. This had been a part of his made-up story that he was going to tell Miguel's parents after Rosa had told him they might ask about them, anyway. "It was a part of the reason they never talked to me anymore...why I'm sort of a loner." At least some of the story was true.
"I'm so sorry," Dr. Mendez apologizes sincerely. Something about her expression changes, becoming more...sorrowful than Héctor had expected her to react after mentioning his daughter, but then it disappears just as quick. "I'd still like you to come in and get the X-rays I suggested just to be safe...even if it does seem like you feel better, you never know if a sickness will return full-force due to an underlying issue."
Héctor isn't quite sure what an X-ray is since he had never needed one when he was alive before, but he assumes it has something to do with his bones. Wasn't it like taking a photo as Miguel had just done on Rosa's cell phone..? He has to admit it would be interesting to see what his insides look like now that he has skin again; it would also be a kind of comfort to know that his bones are still here...just hidden so he can't see them.
And what were the odds of running into Dr. Mendez again apart from another appointment? Unless she would keep looking for Dante, he doubts he'll see her again. But then again, an appointment would also mean actually going to the doctor's...it wouldn't be from the comfort of the Rivera home, and he's not sure if he would be able to handle such a thing even if Miguel went with him.
"I'll be sure to get that appointment," Héctor 'agrees' somewhat painfully through his teeth.
Of course he won't; he can't. Not unless he wants the doctors to find out he came back to life. Who knew what would happen then? It's just not worth the risk.
Dr. Mendez smiles again, unaware of his lie. "I'll see you soon then, Señor García. You should also be receiving your blood test results, soon."
He'd forgotten about that. Héctor lets out a breath of air that he hadn't realized he'd been holding throughout most of their conversation. He isn't sure just how he'll be able to get through the rest of the year if not for his living family.
But besides that, what if he ran into Dr. Mendez again, even if he never would go to get an X-ray? How were they keep going to hide Dante from her if she kept looking? The former dog would just have to stay hidden inside the house, no matter how much he wouldn't like it. He would probably try to resist and wander off anyway, but Héctor was going to keep a close eye on him from now on.
He sighs, running a hand through his hair—he's still not used to the fact that it's actually attached to his head now. When Dr. Mendez is out of sight, he figures it's a good time to start heading back home. Maybe he can find a way to make it up to Enrique and Berto that he hadn't had any of the tequila they'd offered.
How was he going to keep doing this?
A year. It's only for a year, he tells himself over and over.
But a year is just so long...individual months are shorter.
One month down, eleven more to go.