Ernesto limped through the doorway of his apartment, bone tired and stinking to high hell. He shuffled over to the battered AC unit he’d bolted to the window frame and flipped it on. He remembered the day he’d pulled it out of a job site dumpster and nearly done himself in dragging it all the way back to Compton. It took every bit of mechanical skill he had to resurrect it at all, but he was accustomed to making do with less than he might have wished for.
Snagging a beer, he sank into the lumpy embrace of his recliner and closed his eyes from abject weariness. Two hours spent milling about with the others in the sprawling Home Depot parking lot hadn’t been the best start to his day. The ensuing eight hours of hauling broken cinder blocks and the other detritus off the future site of some building or another had been nothing more than thankless, low-dollar suffering. It was mindless, monkey work best suited to those with a strong back and a weak mind and it galled him to no end to be forced into such. Well, forced wasn’t exactly true.
He could have been back in his family’s modest home even now. He could be working in his dad’s bicycle shop and eating his mom’s home cooking every night but that wasn’t who he wanted to be. So, if life wasn’t all it ought to be, at least it was a life of his choosing…on his terms.
It sure as hell wouldn’t always be like this. He was less than two quarters away from completing the HVAC course at the community college. It might not seem like all that, but damn this was L.A. Somebody always got an air conditioner breaking down. Groaning at the thought of school, he dragged himself through a quick shower that left him feeling almost human again.
Heading down the stairs, he smiled as he realized he had time to stop for a bite before class. Rico’s Diner was a lackluster eatery at best, but Ernesto didn’t go there for the cuisine. He went there for Consuela. She was, arguably, the brightest star in his skies. They’d enjoyed a casual relationship neither had committed to as fully as they might have. While he dreamed of having his own business, Consuela’s quest was, if possible, even more audacious.
She never discussed her background and he saw no need to be intrusive. What he did know was she was definitely not a Los Angelina by birth. There was just something about her that made that plain. Her fondest desire was to ascend from the local cable commercials to full-blown stardom. Ernesto, secretly, felt it was a long shot at best but who was he to piss on anybody’s dream?
He knew something was wrong when he entered Rico’s to find the tables vacant and nobody at the register. From the back he heard the reedy voice, “Just grab a seat. I’ll be out to help you in a minute.” Confused, Ernesto did just that.
Rico came out, wiping his hands on a rag and grinned when he saw his customer. “Hey vato! Bit short handed, si? Good thing you come in today. That chica you like so all fire up and quit. Said she goin’ back wherever she come from. ‘Bout time she wised up. She takin’ a bus somewhere be leavin’ within the hour if you wanna wave bye bye to her.”
Ernesto was floored. Though he’d never declared intentions to Consuela, he’d always hoped for something more. Maybe he didn’t have all that much to offer her, but he’d learned sometimes it didn’t take all that much to be happy. He had a roof over his head, food in his belly and the crying need for something…someone…to hold close to him and dream along beside. Maybe, just maybe, that might be enough to persuade her to stay.
Checking the clock on the wall, he winced realizing he could either make it to class or to the bus terminal. As he ran out the door and down the street, it was not toward the college but towards his future that he ran.