Title: Lessons (or Four Times Weevil Took Advice, and One Time That He Gave It)
When they were little, Weevil chased Carmen around the barrio relentlessly. He loved to torture her with worms, slugs, dead fish, anything disgusting he could get his dirty, little hands on. She tattled on him daily, to her mother, to his, and after his mother disappeared, to his grandmother.
His abuela would cluck her tongue and say in reproving tones, "Eli, why can't you be nice to Carmen? She's such a sweet girl."
And Weevil really didn't know why he couldn't. Something in him insisted on harassing Carmen as much as possible.
Carmen's mother didn't seem too bothered by it. Weevil's grandmother would take over some empanadas or corn from her garden to apologize, and Mrs. Ruiz would just smile and say, "No apologies necessary, Leticia. Boys will be boys. I just wished they'd stay in the hair-pulling stage forever."
It all changed on the first day of high school.
Weevil hadn't seen Carmen all summer because she'd gotten a scholarship to some fancy arts camp usually frequented by the likes of Madison Sinclair and Angie Dahl and by the time she returned Weevil was spending the rest of the summer in juvy. Deputy Lamb had been forced to wear the crime dog costume in the Founders Day parade so Weevil had been forced to pelt him with two dozen eggs. Until Sheriff Mars clapped him on the shoulder and said in a tone he knew all too well, "Eli."
But that first day back, Weevil was on top of the world. Reaper Gus had named him his second in the gang and with that came a lot of status. Despite his somewhat diminutive stature, Weevil felt like the tallest guy on campus that day.
They were leaning against some lockers when Weevil noticed the tightest body he'd ever seen walking by. This girl was stacked. Must have been an older chick because he knew he would remember those curves. "Hey mama, where you going in such a hurry?"
The girl turned and Weevil discovered the view was even better from the front.
Somehow managing to drag his eyes up to her face, his jaw dropped when he saw who it was. "Carmen? Damn girl, what kind of camp did you go to this summer?"
Ignoring that, she grabbed his arm and, before he could protest, dragged him halfway down the hall. "What is with you? Mom said that you spent this summer in juvy and I just heard Felix say something about his brother Gus making you his second in the PCHers. Did you fall and hit your head or are you just stupid?"
"How is helping to run the PCHers stupid?"
"How about the fact that most of the members end up either dead or doing life sentences."
"That won't happen to me."
Carmen rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I think I remember my cousin Tito saying the exact same thing. He's serving ten to fifteen in Chino for grand theft auto now, remember?"
"No offence, but Tito ain't exactly a brain trust. What's it to you, anyway?" He smirked. "You worried about me, Carmen? Thinkin' maybe you wanna take a ride on my motorbike?"
"Oh, get over yourself, Eli. I'd rather die an old maid than date a PCHer." She served his smirk back at him. "Just like most of the girls you want."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Please. I've seen the way you look at Lilly Kane. Like she's a mountain you want to climb. And don't even get me started on Veronica Mars."
The Lilly thing he could see. Even though he knew he had about as much chance with Lilly as he did with J-Lo, he did like to look. Veronica Mars, though? What possible reason could Carmen have for thinking he wanted that quiet little waif? "Veronica?" he sputtered.
Carmen got a real annoyed look on her face. Like she couldn't believe how stupid he was. "Yes Veronica. Whenever you're around your boys you whistle and call her 'mami'. Then as soon as they're gone you're opening doors for her and batting your eyelashes."
"I do not – "
"Please, you'd carry her books if you thought you could get away with it."
Carmen had obviously lost her mind. "You've gone loco, chica."
She shrugged. "Whatever. Listen, just remember this, Mr. Tough Gang Leader, you're never gonna get what you want as long as you ride with those boys. You won't make your abuela proud, you won't get a girl like me, and you definitely won't get with the Sheriff's daughter. You keep doing what you're doing and all you've got is a one-way ticket to Chino."
He watched her walk away but decided not to give what she said too much weight. The girl had obviously lost her grip on reality. But all the same, he tucked it away in the back of his mind. Just in case.
II. Reaper Gus
Weevil stood just behind Reaper Gus on Dog Beach as they watched the three gang members from L.A., cousins of Hector, get on their bikes to head home.
"You gonna take them up on their offer?" Weevil asked.
Gus shook his head and sat down on a nearby bench indicating for Weevil to sit next to him. "We ain't gonna join up with any of the bigger gangs. Not as long as I'm in charge. And if you have any brains you won't when it's your turn to be in charge either."
"Why not?" Weevil asked curiously. "I mean, more security. We get into any trouble there's half a dozen gangs just in the neighbouring counties who'd help us out."
"Weevil, we join these guys and we're automatically at war with the Bloods, the Crips, the Angels, the Puerto Rican gangs and about half of the Asian gangs. That's trouble we don't need. Our hands are full with the Fitzpatricks. And they'd have us running drugs and weapons across the border, 'cause of where we are. Means even more of us end up doing twenty to life. We got ourselves a nice little groove carved out here in Neptune. Why mess with that?"
"Never thought of it that way," Weevil admitted.
Reaper Gus leaned back and gazed out at the Pacific. "Yeah, well, you better start. I ain't gonna be around here forever, Weevil. Hopefully for awhile, but sooner or later either the law will catch up with me, or Anita will get pregnant, or I'll need to leave town quick. That happens, you're in charge. And you need to start looking at the big picture. Being in charge means keeping the boys safe, keeping the neighbourhood safe. Nothing's more important than that."
"I don't know if I can do that."
"Look, I'd a never chosen you as my second if I didn't think you could. You got a good head on your shoulders and big, brass cojones. You'll be fine."
They sat staring out at the Pacific in silence until the sun set and the air cooled. Weevil would remember it for the rest of his life. It was the last time he ever saw Reaper Gus, dead or alive.
"Mr. Navarro, so pleased to see you again."
Weevil looked up to see that lawyer who had represented his grandmother stepping into the holding area. Mc-something. The only thing he had working in his favour was that Veronica liked him. Of course, Veronica also liked Weevil and he was looking at twenty-to-life for murder so her taste wasn't exactly discriminating.
"Cliff McCormack, the best attorney your complete lack of money can buy." He sat down at the table and opened his briefcase.
Rather than respond, Weevil slumped back in his seat and folded his arms across his chest.
McCormack noted his posture and sighed. "Listen kid, this'll be a hell of a lot easier if you just help me out."
"I'm not a kid. And I'm not a murderer either." It was harder to say that last part with conviction, but technically it was true.
"Great. I'll just tell that to Lamb and I'm sure he'll let you go." He rolled his eyes. "Let's look at the facts here, Eli, you were the last person seen with Eduardo Orozsco before his unfortunate flattening by thirty thousand tonnes of cement. Add to that you were seen rendering him unconscious, it doesn't exactly paint you in the best light. Now the good news is the only solid thing they have you on is chloroforming him which is only an assault charge. The bad news is, given who you are – "
"The former leader of a gang," Cliff said pointedly. "Anyway, given that, if it does go to trial as murder, you're not going to find a lot of sympathy among the jurors."
"Especially as you really seem to go out of your way to inspire compassion."
Weevil couldn't come up with anything to say so he just glared.
"So I take it you want to plead innocent?" Cliff asked.
"Will it do me any good? I mean, if they're just gonna convict me anyway, what's the point?"
"Like I said, they don't have a lot of evidence. But your general attitude, not to mention the fact that you've got a record, isn't going to help." McCormack leaned back in his chair and regarded Weevil seriously. "Look, there's one other option. I'm pretty sure due to their lack of evidence that I can plead the prosecution down to an assault charge. This means you'd get nine to twelve months in Chino, maybe less if you're a good boy, though that seems unlikely. And seeing as they have two witnesses to the assault, it's likely that you'll get convicted of that at the very least."
Weevil stared at McCormack, contemplating everything he said. Truth was, he didn't feel the least bit sorry about setting Thumper up to be killed. But he also knew that it was pure luck that he wasn't already in prison for any number of crimes. Still, while he was technically guilty of assaulting Thumper, he sure as hell didn't think he should be jailed for it.
"Piece of advice, Eli," McCormack broke into his thoughts. "Learn to pick your battles. And not just in this case. As you get older you'll realise that some fights are worth your effort and some are just more trouble than you need. The truth is, you committed the crime. You probably think you were justified and with the stories that I hear about your pal Thumper, maybe you were. But unless you get yourself a much better lawyer I don't see how you can be found innocent."
As much as Weevil hated to admit it, the lawyer had a point.
"Fine, if you can swing it, I'll plead guilty to assault. I mean, hey, I got two brothers in Chino, it'll be like a little family reunion."
Cliff shut his briefcase. "It's a good deal, Eli. You'll be out in under a year and, hopefully, after that you won't need my services again. It's all about picking your battles. I'll get back to you as soon as I know."
Once Weevil returned to his cell, he thought a lot about what McCormack had said. And made the decision right then and there to make sure the man never had an opportunity to give him advice again.
IV. Keith and Logan
"You nervous, Eli?"
Weevil adjusted his tie for the hundredth time and shook his head. "Naw, man, I'm fine."
"Just remember son, it's not all about making each other happy. It's about making yourself happy, too. I think that's where you went wrong before. You just wanted so badly to make her happy, you never realised you were miserable."
"It'll be different this time," Weevil promised. The legality issue aside, they were both different people now. More mellow. More sure of one another and themselves.
So why couldn't he breathe properly? And why did this tie feel so fucking tight?
Keith was grinning at him like he knew exactly what was going through his head.
There was no reason he should feel so nervous. It wasn't even his first wedding, though considering how that one turned out, maybe he should be worried.
But Veronica wasn't anything like Roseanna and Weevil at thirty-one was nothing like Weevil at twenty-five.
He wondered if V felt like she was gonna throw up right now, too.
Keith clapped him on the shoulder. "I'm gonna go look in on Veronica. I'll see you at the front of the church." He left and Weevil sat down and put his head between his knees.
The door banged open and a pair of shiny black shoes came into Weevil's field of view.
"Never fear, the best man is here. You wanna blow this joint and go to the strip club down the street?"
Weevil snorted and looked up to see Echolls smirking at him. "Figures you'd try and break us up even on our wedding day."
"Like you didn't want to whisk her away when I married her." Logan sat down across from him. "Dude, you okay?" He genuinely sounded concerned. "You're looking very pale. Like, you could pass for a white man right now."
Unable to come up with a witty retort, Weevil settled on flipping him off.
"Seriously, dude, you must have been dreaming about this for nearly two decades now. Why do you look like you're about to hurl?"
Weevil chuckled when he realised the answer. "I don't want to fuck this up."
"Easier said than done." Weevil took a deep breath. The nausea was fading.
"Weevs, you and I spent the better part of our late teens and early twenties fighting over this girl." He grinned. "I won most of the time. But, you're the one she's choosing to be with." Weevil was about to be touched until Echolls added, "For now, anyway."
Standing up to crowd Logan menacingly, Weevil said, "You know, Echolls, sometimes it's really hard to remember why I haven't just done away with you yet."
"Oh, I don't think your soon-to-be father-in-law would appreciate that." Logan fiddled with Weevil's collar and straightened his jacket. "Feeling better?" he asked seriously.
"Naw, but I figure if I don't go up there, you will and then I'd have to kill you." He took one last look in the mirror. "Besides, second dance includes the best man and maid of honour and I can't wait to see you and Wallace waltzing."
"Never going to happen."
"You have to. It's tradition."
A change in music from the other side of the door was their cue. Weevil smiled at Logan and held out his hand. "Thanks, man. Seriously."
Logan pulled him into a hug. "Just take care of her, dude." He patted him on the back. "Take care of yourself, too."
The two of them exited the side vestibule and went to stand at the front of the church as a bunch of flashbulbs went off. They both shook hands with the minister and then turned to face the back when the wedding march started up.
Wallace managed to stroll down the aisle and still look cool which Weevil hadn't thought would be possible. He shook hands with him when he reached the front and then everyone's attention was on the back of the aisle.
Keith looked like he was about to burst with happiness, but Weevil barely spared him a glance. There stood his golden girl, somehow more beautiful than he ever imagined. She floated down the aisle on her father's arm and when she reached the front, Weevil took her hand in his and knew.
Everything was going to be fine.
When he was born, Veronica managed to tear her eyes off of their brand new son and beamed up at Weevil. "I guess we should figure out what we we're going to call him."
The baby was snuggled up in her arms but had a fast hold on his papa's pinkie finger. "I was thinking Gabriel after my grandfather and Keith after that dude sleeping in the hall." He dropped a soft kiss on her forehead. "What do you think?"
"Gabriel Keith Navarro. Does sort of have a ring to it." She looked down at their dozing boy. "What do you think? Is that a good name?"
The baby's face scrunched up into a yawn.
Her twinkling eyes met Weevil's. "I think he's on board."
A few hours later, with Veronica finally getting some rest, Weevil sat in the nursery with his son in his arms. Gabriel awoke and his brown eyes fixed on his papa's.
"Hey there, mi'jo. Didja have a good sleep? Big day today what with being born and all. You tired your mama out, too. She's having a nap so she can shower you with attention in a couple of hours. Gives us time to get to know each other, anyway." Gabriel wrinkled his nose in agreement.
"Like your mama told you before, your name is Gabriel Keith, named after my grandfather and yours." He ruffled the mess of brown curls on his newborn's head. "Though, with this hair, I'm thinking you take after my side of the family."
"Actually, it wouldn't be the worst thing if you took after your Grandpa Keith. You should spend lots of time with him, learn everything he has to teach you. He's a very good man and a very wise man." Weevil took a second to kiss the fists Gabriel waved in the air. "Yes, he's tough, too. He was the Sheriff, you know, so it means you can't be no wetback gangbanger like your old man. And if you can't stay out of trouble, then be smart enough not to get caught. Your mama can teach you all about that."
He stroked Gabriel's cheek with an index finger then moved it into his son's grasping hand. "Your mama's really smart. I'm telling you now, don't try to lie to her, you'll always get caught. I don't think you'll ever need to lie to her, though. She's cool, your mama, and she'll always love you to bits, no matter what."
"Me too, mi'jo. I never knew I could love anything half as much as I love your mama, but kiddo, you're giving her a run for her money. I just hope I do a good job with this fatherhood gig. I didn't have a great role model – Grandpa Keith put my dad in jail when I was ten. But he deserved it." Gabriel kicked his legs and Weevil had to take a moment to kiss his feet.
"I try not to make too many promises because I never break my word, but I am going to promise you this: I'll never do anything that would take me away from you. I'm gonna be the best dad I can be."
Gabriel yawned and his eyes drooped. "I'm not saying that life will be perfect, mi corazon, because life never can be. You should know that now, going in. But whenever you're hurt, your mama and I will try and mend you, and I promise, we'll make sure you know you're loved every single day." He placed the sleeping baby back in the bassinette and kissed his forehead. "Whether you want us to or not."
He didn't know how long he stood watching his baby sleep, but eventually he felt Veronica's hand slip into his and her head rest on his shoulder. And then they stood together watching the baby sleep.
Life would never be better than this.