Leon tapped on his phone. “I just sent it over to your phone, and now to send the other one over to Mamá’s.”
“Wait!!” That came out more desperate than Angelo intended. “I-I wanted to be the first to text her…”
Leon, Roxie, and Emil gave various ‘aww’s.
He placed the yellow disk in Angelo’s hands. “Here you go. You can keep it for now since you don’t have yours.”
“If it’s okay with you,” Angelo’s gears turned, “can I keep it while I get better? I-I’ll even t-text for you!”
Leon chuckled. “Sure! I really only use it to text you guys at home. Keep it as long as you want! You remember my unlock code, right?”
Unless he changed it recently, Angelo had his set to the same one. He tested his own code on Leon’s phone, and sure enough, it unlocked.
“Great! I’m gonna get to work in the burner room and then get ready for bed. I dunno if you’ll still be up by the time I get back, so goodnight, Ángie!” Leon gave his brother a hug.
“Goodnight, Big Brother.”
Though this web of lies would eventually strangle him, Angelo just had to keep it going for as long as he could for moments like this. After a too-short hug, Leon said his goodnights to Emil and Roxie. Just seeing him leave for the night made his heart sink. How could he ever say goodbye again?
He unconsciously went through the messages between Leon and his mother. It surprised him that she hadn’t told him about his disappearance yet. Did she know?
Angelo found a conversation from the night he left. She asked if Leon had been able to get in contact with him or their grandfather. That must’ve been before they both texted him. He remembered telling her the old man took a nap. Hopefully he woke up.
A buzz nearly startled the phone out of his hand. She sent a new message.
‘Has Ángelito texted you lately?’
Seeing his nickname broke a heartstring or two. He never thought he’d hear from her again this soon. She must’ve been worrying herself to death, and he wanted nothing more than to apologize over and over again for the pain he’d caused. But words couldn’t make up for this.
“Hey, are you alright?” Emil broke his conversation with Roxie, noticing the grief playing out on Angelo’s face.
“Oh, I-I-I’m just–I feel a little homesick.”
Pity filled his smile. “Yeah, that happens up here. We were just talkin’ about weird stuff we did as kids. Wanna join us?”
“No th-thanks. I’m t-t-talking to–I’m texting my mom.”
“Oh, okay.” That got the lieutenant off his back.
Angelo’s heartbreak became horror upon seeing ‘Read at 7:34 PM’ by his mother’s message. She knew her text had been seen, and they both knew Leon well enough to know he’d text back right away. He needed to do something. He couldn’t let his house fall apart.
‘I haven’t heard from him since a few days ago.’ Angelo told what would’ve been the truth if everything went as planned. Saying they texted each other afterward would just involve Leon more than necessary. He almost made the mistake of adding ‘Why?’ before remembering the last two months had been spent trying to worry Leon as little as possible. She probably wouldn’t go into details unless prompted. His brother wasn’t that observant anyway.
Shaken up from the text, Angelo used his bag as instructed, pushing the paper towel in after finishing and sealing it closed.
“Do you need me to dispose of that?” Roxie floated over from the blue countertop.
“No!” The wide-eyed boy clutched his bag protectively. “It’s fine, I-I can do it myself!” He struggled trying to figure out how to unbuckle his seatbelt.
“Hold on there!” Emil warned. “Are you sure you feel up to it? The last time didn’t go so well.”
“Th-there was a last time?”
“You got sick again before you could make it to the trash can.” explained Roxie. “With the combined teamwork of myself, my assistant, and your brother, we were able to contain the forces inside you!”
“Oh…” Just sitting up made Angelo feel a little woozy. “I guess you can t-take this, then.” He reluctantly handed over his bag to Roxie, who threw it away. There’s no way she still thought he was cute after this. His one good trait, squandered. “Th-Thanks both of you for going out of your way to t-take care of me. I’m s-sorry you have to. I really wish I didn’t have to bother you.”
“Don’t worry! It’s our job! Plus, you’re helping me learn, so we’re even.” Emil gave a thumbs up and a wink.
“Are you this polite to every doctor?”
Roxie’s question made Angelo think of all of the doctors he forgot to apologize to. “No. I sh-should be! But isn’t it weird taking care of your coworkers? Especially when dealing with stuff like,” he pointed toward the garbage can, not daring to make eye contact with anyone “th-that?”
“Oh!” An adorable laugh interrupted her washing her hands with a blob of water. “Those bodily fluids are contained. I’ve cleaned many a bedpan! This is nothing.”
“You wh-what??” Emil shared Angelo’s horror.
“You will too if you continue in this profession. It’s not all cute outfits and chatting with patients, geh-heh~” She stuck her tongue out.
The blond visibly reconsidered his career choices.
“Become a nurse’s aid, and you’ll experience the full spectrum of human bodily functions.” She spoke with a sense of respect. “It’s hard to gross me out.”
She likely said that so Angelo wouldn’t worry, but he’d do it anyway. He couldn’t help but do so with everything else on his plate. How long until someone figures him out? How far would he have to go, pretending to be his brother on the phone? What if his mother calls? It gave him a headache to think about.
“I-I think I’m going back to bed.” He plugged his headphones into Leon’s phone, hoping the music could drown out his thoughts.
“Let us know when you’re going down for the night.” Emil pointed past him at the door. “I can probably get you a bedsheet or something out of your room.”
“You don’t have to.”
“You sure? It’s no trouble.”
“I feel like I can s-s–rest just about anywhere right now.” Staying up for 72 hours straight had at least one perk.
“Ahhh, gotcha! I’ll let you sleep on it.” Emil held back laughter at his own joke, so Angelo did it for his sake.
Roxie placed another bag in his hand, her warm hands overlapping his. “Sleep tight Muffinhead. Have sweet, muffiny dreams.”
It had been so long since he got to experience the joy of someone else’s hands touching his clammy little paws. He froze on the spot. When he finally came to, he realized he needed to say something soon. “...You too!”
Angelo quickly turned away and threw his head on the cot. He wished he took up Emil’s offer. At least then, he could hide his face.