Autumn in the Potato Falls district comes more chilly than in most parts of the country. There were already patches of white lining the slopes beside the straight wide roads that seemed to disappear into a horizon of mauve ashes. Some of those shortcuts into the woods would be shut down in a few weeks. By then all the fires northwest of here would have been put out.
In order to test our research and collaboration skills, Meztli and I had been given the most unimaginative assignment in Journalism ever. She herself turned out to be highly developed in the aforementioned skill set, while lacking in the latter. I guess you could say we were like Lois Lane and Clark Kent, except I couldn’t fly, didn’t wear glasses and there was no chemistry between us. I picked her up one Saturday to head toward the campus library at the university, which she said had public newspaper records dating much further back than the ones at our small barrio library.
As I took the back roads to avoid traffic, she kept asking me to slow down to take pictures of the landscapes.
“What do you do with all those anyway? Instagram?”
“No. I just.” Then she trailed off into her own quiet world again. She was playing Coldplay off her phone speaker and singing all the chorus parts when we passed a waterfall, I’d say about two stories high, right off the side of the road.
“Hey! Slow down! I didn’t get a picture of it!”
“This is already gonna take us all day.”
“Why didn’t you warn me it was coming up?”
I hate it when girls raise their voice for no reason. “…I didn’t know I was supposed to warn you.”
“Well go back.”
“We’ll pass it on our way back.”
“Ok. But you better promise,” she whined.
“Or else what?”
“I’ll tell Cindy you’re in love with her.”
I felt myself blush. “What makes you think I am?”
The end of the song “Yellow” was coming up. She ignored my question and rolled down her window. The brisk icy breeze swept in and blew some strands of her hair against my right arm.
“It’s true,” she sang to the crop fields. “Look how they shine for you…”
‘Ok. Whatever,’ I thought to myself. But if Meztli, whom I’d only known for about a month, had noticed my crush on Cindy, I could just as well assume everyone else had noticed it as well.
The song ended. “Are you asking her to homecoming?” she asked.
Meztli laughed at my reply. She had this contagious, heartfelt, warm laugh but rarely seemed relaxed enough to share it with anyone.
After proving we were relatively local high school students and being given access to the archives, Meztli took over speed reading and sorting, assigning me the menial task of photocopier. A couple hours went by like this when she asked me to go get her a latte.
“I don’t think you’re allowed to drink in here.”
“Just sneak it in your backpack. Here,” she pulled out a money purse with a scene from the anime Death Note printed on it. “Buy yourself something too.”
I ignored her generous gesture altogether, emptied my backpack and headed toward the elevator. As I waited there, I complained, “We’re gonna get kicked out. Watch, we’ll be banned and your college application’s gonna be rejected. With giant red letters. REJECT.”
She laughed again, but this laugh had more of an evil undertone. “What makes you think I’m applying to come here?”
I was still in line at the cafe when she texted me: “Hurry up. I have to show you something.”
“I’m still in line.” SEND.
“Make it a double,” she replied. “Urgent matter requires your immediate attention.”
“4 people ahead of me.” SEND
My phone vibrated again: “Ask them for the chocolate swirl thing. And HURRY.”
Our assignment was to collect statistical data on complaints about air quality. Even if she had found a lawsuit filed against the government in the 50’s, it could hardly merit the excitement she was ensuing.
I ordered her the latte, unaware that it was twice as expensive as the ones back home. I even asked them to put one of those chocolate graham straws. When they told me the total I had to cancel my own drink. There is this saying, that there is more happiness in giving than in receiving… I can’t say I always get that.
When I came out of the elevator, she walked up to me and held up an unfolded newspaper in front of my face. The date was July 27th, 1996. The headline read, “Lara Murder Remains Unsolved.”
I grasped the paper out of her hand as she pulled off my back pack. I tumbled over to the nearest seat. The article- I can still see the print now clearly as if it were right here before my eyes- stated:
“Potato Falls sheriff Mark Credenza issued a statement yesterday in which he gave a timeline of the events that probably led up to the death and apparent murder of local Hispanic woman, Angelica Lara. The body of Ms. Lara was recently found in the county dump by a scavenger entrepreneur who has asked to remain unnamed. Her family reported her missing on June 16th after she did not return home from her high school graduation celebration events. Friends say they saw her enter a vehicle at about 9 PM that evening- the vehicle belonging to her ex-boyfriend, who is currently being questioned regarding the case. Ms. Lara is believed to have been sober and not under the influence of any other substance, but an autopsy has yet to prove otherwise. The body has visible marks of distress, though authorities anticipate the results of the autopsy will be mostly uninformative because of the time that has elapsed. Ms. Lara’s disappearance led some classmates to misinform investigators that she had ran away from home, while close friends have affirmed that would have been entirely out of character for her. She is survived by an older sister and son of six months.”
“You didn’t order a drink?” Meztli’s voice had some sort of out-of-body intercom type effect to it.
“You didn’t get yourself anything at the cafe?”
“I drank it on the way over here. …Meztli, where’d you find this paper?”
“With all the other ones. Hard to miss. You know, cause of your last name and it’s the Sunday paper and all that.”
“You think this is about my mom?”
“Was your mom’s name Angelica?”
“So what’s the population there, like, 1000?”
“So what are the odds of there, like, being two Angelica Lara’s murdered the same year in Potato Falls?”
I clenched my teeth and hater her. I hated Meztli with all my might that instant, but for reasons far beyond me. I didn’t want to punch her or anything, I just wanted to concentrate my hate and fear of my past and ignorance on someone, and right then and there, she was someone.
She must’ve noticed something in my face because she put her hand on my shoulder, leaned in and whispered, “You deserved the truth.”
Our eyes met behind my held-back tears, and the hug that followed numbed my hate, at least for a moment.
“Whoops.” She had spilled some of her latte on the paper. “We should probably take it with us anyway.”
“NO,” I protested, but she stuffed it in my backpack along with all the photocopies, and headed toward the elevator.
“Come on,” she looked over her shoulder, “Let’s go ask Tío Jorge about this.”