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The World Es Mi Familia

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There are a few hours left in Día de los Muertos when Héctor makes his way to the ofrenda. Imelda and Coco and the rest are lingering near the living Riveras that are still awake; they'll join him soon enough to gather offerings and pass back over the bridge, but for a moment he wants to savor just being here, to look over the pictures of his family and do what precious little reminiscing he can.

He'd like a copy of his photo with Imelda and Coco to take back with him; he wonders if he can somehow communicate that want to Miguel.

Speaking of which, Miguel is here. Héctor had thought he'd gone to bed hours ago, exhausted by a night of playing and singing and dancing and talking - but the boy is awake and seated cross-legged before the ofrenda, not even looking drowsy as he gazes up at the photos. Héctor ruffles his hair in passing, but for the moment his focus is also on the photos – so it takes him a few moments to notice the drawings perched on the ofrenda.

“What's all this?” he murmurs aloud, leaning in to better scrutinize one of the drawings. There's something familiar in the face there; Héctor grasps for the memory even as he hears Miguel shifting behind him, the boy's light voice piping up uncertainly.

“You know the people we saw near Chicharrón's place, who weren't on anybody's ofrenda? I was... trying to think about how they used to look. And... maybe that would help me track down who they were, and find people who know their stories, and get them to tell me.” Miguel talks faster and faster as he goes on, words tumbling together and voice pleading. “That would work, wouldn't it? That would be enough, the drawings letting them be part of our family?”

“Sí mijo. That would be enough.” That was it – the drawing that had caught his attention was surely Yolanda, one of the first to befriend him after his death, a woman he'd watched grow lonely and forgotten over the decades and surely deserving a place here. Héctor smiles, gaze roving over the other drawings, trying to pick out familiar features in Miguel's careful renderings. “It's a very clever--”

Wait.

He whirls around, looking sharply at his great-great-grandson; sure enough, Miguel's eyes are focused not on the ofrenda but on him, single dimple displayed in a grin that's bashful and mischievous and terribly, gratifyingly familiar. Héctor reels, struggling to make sense of this.

Until he notices the shot glass nestled in Miguel's hands.

“You... stole my tequila,” he mutters, disbelieving. Then, indignant: “You can't have that! How old are you?!”

“Well... I had to take something.”

Miguel gets to his feet, grin widening, and Héctor runs his hand over his face to hide his own smile.

“You did, huh,” he says against his palm; when he dares a peek at Miguel, the boy takes a step closer to press the shot glass into Héctor's other hand. Héctor downs the drink in a single long gulp and then crosses his arms, glass dangling loosely in his fingers as he musters what little sternness he's capable of. “So what exactly is the plan here?”

“I kind of realized I don't exactly know where to start with these guys.” Miguel rocks on his heels, gesturing toward the drawings and then tipping his chin down to peer up at Héctor with what the elder Rivera assumes to be very well-practiced puppy dog eyes. “Soooo, I thought maybe you could introduce me! And then,” he adds hurriedly before Héctor can interject, “and then maybe we could play together? Just a little?”

The plea is back in Miguel's voice, the boy's eyes large and shining. Héctor realizes he had no intention of saying no even before he understood what Miguel wanted, and he smiles openly as he claps the boy on the shoulder.

“You know, chamaco... I thought I'd have to wait a lot longer to do that, but I'm not exactly going to complain. Let's go.”

*

The next year, Yolanda is with the Riveras when they cross the bridge – Miguel had tracked down her granddaughter's granddaughter, learned a few threads of family story and – so to speak – fleshed out her portrait, and Héctor's old friend accompanies them to Santa Cecilia along with three other formerly-neglected souls.

Héctor can't wait to find out how Miguel found these people (mostly likely Internet, some of the younger souls told him, but he wants to hear it from the source), so when he sees the boy headed for the ofrenda he follows.

Several of the other Riveras realize what's about to happen and follow him; Yolanda does too, and there's a bit of a crowd by the time Miguel reaches out and plucks an antique lace fan from Victoria's offerings.

“Hey, chamaco!” Héctor says as soon as Miguel has the pilfered treasure in hand. “You did it! How did you do it? Not that I had doubts, but we all love a good story!”

“Internet,” Miguel says without turning, twirling the fan idly in his fingers. “I'll show you before we go and talk to everyone... oh, and I also learned the right words to the song.”

Héctor blinks.

“The.... song?” Surely he didn't mean what Héctor thought he--

“Yes – you remember, that you sang for Chicharrón?” There's laughter in Miguel's voice, a child's scandalized giggle; it's cute, but it won't be cute if Imelda or Victoria or anyone else concludes that Héctor deliberately taught the boy that. “About Juanita?”

“Er. I... remember, chamaco.” Héctor knows he sounds desperately uncomfortable, and he knows that it's attracting Imelda's suspicion, and he's faintly wondering how he's going to shut that kid up before he makes it worse.

“Chicharrón said those weren't the words and I didn't think much of it then but when I was looking for--”

Miguel turns and freezes: apparently he didn't actually intend to discuss this in front of several elderly relatives, Imelda herself among them.

“Ah. Anyway, I know the words,” he finishes meekly.

Héctor is very, very aware of his wife's gaze shifting to him as she addresses Miguel.

“What song is that, again?” Her voice is mild, matronly; Héctor clears his throat as Coco giggles quietly behind him, and he spares a bit of attention for wondering if she knows the song and if so, who on earth or beyond would have taught her.

He decides he's going to blame Julio until he has evidence otherwise.

Back in the present, Miguel is floundering.

“Ah. W-well, Mamá Imelda, it's a... it's a sort of... ode?”

Ode. That's a good word. Héctor can feel the smile creeping back across his face as Imelda gives Miguel a silent, brows-raised look and the boy looks to him for help.

“Well, there will be time for singing later!” He seizes Miguel's wrist and hauls him toward the door; Miguel follows without protest, pushing Victoria's fan into her hands with a chirped apology as he passes her. Imelda starts to speak and Héctor raises his voice to drown her out (he'll pay for that later, but in the moment it's worth it). “I promised Señor García I would introduce him to Miguel, so we'd better be going while we have plenty of time!”

“But Héctor,” Yolanda calls, “I wanted to thank Miguel personally--!”

“Later, Tía!”

He breaks into a run as he hits the street, half-dragging Miguel with him. By the time they reach the end of the bridge they're both laughing, Miguel hiccuping with it, and Héctor pulls him off into an alcove to catch his breath.

“Learned the song, did you?” he asks, struggling to keep the laughter out of his voice. It's a lost cause when Miguel hiccups again, and the boy giggles along with Héctor as he nods. “Ay... Miguel, what possessed you to go looking for that anyway?”

“I didn't!” Miguel is briefly indignant; another hiccup mars it, and he's giggling again as he continues, punctuated by more hiccups. “You see Papá Héctor... I was looking for Tía Yolanda... and she used to be a performer.”

Héctor blinks, sitting back on his heels.

“You mean to say...?”

Miguel nods.

“It was just an archive... no name... but there was a photo... and Tía Yolanda?” He leans forward, voice dropping, childish delight and embarrassment at an illicit discovery painted across his face. “Papá Héctor… back in her day she was famous for performing that!”

Héctor snorts and then topples back, flopping into a seated position as he howls with disbelieving laughter. He can't picture Yolanda as anything but the gentle, slightly dotty soul he's known for decades, and by Miguel's expression he can't either; the whole idea is delightfully incongruous.

“It's like learning that about my own grandmother!” he manages after a moment, striving for proper shock only to dissolve in laughter again at Miguel's hiccuping mirth.

“I know, Papá Héctor!”

Héctor gets to his feet, trying once again for seriousness.

“Now – don't you go asking her about that, mijo.”

(Héctor himself fully intends to ask.)

“I won't, Papá Héctor.”

“Good.” Héctor gets to his feet, peeking out; the coast is clear, and while Miguel is still hiccuping he seems to have caught his breath. “Now let's go find Señor García... and maybe find away to scare those hiccups out of you.”

Miguel hums under his breath, looking back toward the bridge.

“I'll just think of Mamá Imelda coming for us after all that.”

It's a fair point. Héctor chuckles nervously as he sweeps Miguel up onto his back; he won't be small enough to do that much longer, but that's a problem for another year.

*

The next year there are two children at the ofrenda – Miguel of course, and a girl his age or perhaps a bit older, studying the deceased Riveras with a fine attempt at unconcerned coolness.

“Rosa,” Miguel says, “this is Papá Héctor, Mamá Imelda, Tía Rosita, Tío Felipe and Tío Óscar... and you've met everyone else before. And... you all know Rosa.”

Héctor does know Rosa. Tall and slim and imperious, she's a miniature Imelda with only the lingering roundness of childhood in her cheeks to spoil the image; she's also focusing on Héctor with the very same stern, appraising stare he's seen from his wife a hundred times over.

The children are descendants of both Imelda and Héctor, of course, but Rosa is Imelda's in the same way Miguel is Héctor's. Easy enough to see how she might have... convinced Miguel to bring her along.

“Rosa saw me come back last year,” Miguel is saying, “and she wasn't about to let up until I told her what was really going on.”

Beside him, Rosa nods fervently.

“I knew I didn't dream it, and I knew he'd been up to something ever since Mamá Coco told us about you.” She waves a hand at Héctor. “I can help – two searchers are better than one and also, I'm better at drawing than he is. I made that one.” Rosa points at a portrait of Señor García as she speaks; Héctor has to admit that it is very good.

“She is definitely better at drawing,” Miguel allows. He mulls it over a moment and then brightens. “But I am better at music. Aren't I, Papá Héctor?”

“I play the violin,” Rosa says, huffy. “Violin is harder than guitar.”

“Perspective,” Miguel says, waving a hand. “Anyway, I am self-taught, you had to be taught.” He pauses, nudging her shoulder with a devious grin. “Also – you sing like Pepita.”

“The cat? I do not...!” She nudges him back, hard enough to send him off balance. He recovers and shoves back, and Héctor moves to intervene before he realizes they're both laughing.

Coco gets there before him anyway, taking each child by the hand as she beams at them.

“Guitar, violin, singing, drawing – you are both so talented!” she says, pulling them along with her as she heads outside. “You'll have to show us. Come on, come on....”

They head for the bridge, Miguel updating the family on his progress for the year and the family members who've never met Rosa questioning her amiably too. By now this is becoming routine: there's an agreement in place that whoever Miguel (and now, apparently, Rosa) decides to steal from will have the honor of giving their blessing at the end of the night, Miguel will take requests for items they'd like to have (including Héctor's new, treasured copy of the family portrait), and the border guard, while not precisely amused, by this point just wearily waves Miguel through.

A second, unfamiliar living child gives the guard pause though, and Rosa has to stop to talk to him. As head of the family Imelda joins her, and Héctor can't suppress a chuckle at the two of them staring the unfortunate fellow down in identical arms-crossed stances.

Later, he discovers that Rosa does not in fact sing like Pepita – it's considerably worse, and it's all Héctor can do to keep smiling through her performance. All the same he loves every note, and loves it more when she turns to violin, and he's completely in earnest when he clasps her hands to congratulate her skill.

“I can't wait to hear you play next year, mija.” He drops his voice to a stage whisper. “And look out for your cousin, yeah? Sometimes I think he might be a little bit crazy – can't imagine where he got that.”

Imelda scoffs, Miguel giggles, and Rosa grins up at him and nods; hand in hand the children go home, and Héctor is already planning for the next visit.

*

When Miguel is sixteen years old, he and Rosa suffer their first failure. Leticia Luisa Aguado's brother had ignored their attempts to contact him, finally blocking them so they were forced to desist or risk being banned from the sites they needed to gather their stories, and when they cross over for their yearly visit Leticia is gone.

Miguel is nearly as tall as Héctor now, but when he breaks down crying in his great-great-grandfather's arms he seems as tiny and vulnerable as he did that long-ago night in the cenote. Rosa, silent, is leaning heavily on Imelda; true to Héctor's expectations she's latched onto Imelda as strongly as Miguel latched onto him, and now seems to rely on his wife's strong grip to stay upright.

“He just wouldn't listen,” Miguel manages after a few moments. “Why?”

Héctor hesitates, because really – what can he say? This had nearly been his own fate, but Leticia didn't fall victim to foul play and a misunderstanding carried too far; this seems horribly deliberate, and there's nothing he can say to make it right again.

“People... have their reasons, mijo. It doesn't make it right, but... a heart can't always be changed.” Miguel gulps and sniffles and doesn't respond, and Héctor leans back just enough to lift his chin in one bony hand. “But, listen to me – Leticia, she knew how hard you both tried. We know. And you've made a difference for so many, including me, and you will for many more.”

“I... I know, Papá Héctor, but....”

He scrubs childishly at his eyes, unable to finish, and Héctor reaches up to run a hand back through the boy's hair.

“I know, mijo. I know.”

“But... where did she go?” Rosa asks. Her voice is wounded and bewildered, slightly distant, and Imelda tightens her grip as if to anchor her. “She has to be... somewhere. Doesn't she?”

“We don't know. No one does, at least no one able to tell us.” Imelda's voice is as soft as Héctor has ever heard it. She meets his gaze briefly and then looks away, troubled; they've never talked about Héctor's near-fading, but that talk might be due if only to assure her he's never blamed her for the incident. “On Día de los Muertos we can cross between worlds, and the two of you have learned to do the same. A very cheeky loophole abuse, I might add.” There – under that mild teasing the children both smile, if only a little, and Imelda smiles back at them before continuing. “But this... is a crossing none have ever completed from the other side. There are still some things we can't know, I'm afraid.”

There's a long moment of silence before Rosa shivers and moves just a bit away from Imelda.

“I know why Leticia's brother wouldn't talk about her.” The statement comes low and solemn and with a trembling plea in it; there's something they're supposed to understand here but Héctor can't quite grasp what, and a glance at Imelda tells him she's no wiser. Miguel shifts restlessly but says nothing, and after a moment of silence Rosa sighs and speaks again.

“Well. Papá Héctor is right – there are more we can save. So let's not waste any more time.”

She walks briskly up the street, head high, and after a moment they all scramble to follow her.

*

When he is eighteen years old, Miguel 'El Chamaco' Rivera has his first official live show.

It's a small affair held just a few miles from Santa Cecilia, and it follows the release of two albums (with covers illustrated by Rosa, who also offers violin accompaniment – though she gave up singing years ago). It's also held on Día de los Muertos, and as enthusiastic as his living audience is they can't begin to compare to the souls crowded together at the foot of the stage.

Afterward, as Miguel heads for his car to return home and go to the ofrenda, he's stopped by an elderly lady clutching a Polaroid.

“Excuse me? El Chamaco?”

Miguel turns to her with a smile, closing the distance between them with a few steps.

“Miguel is fine, tía... only one person really calls me 'chamaco' to my face.” He offers her his arm. “Here, let's find a place to sit down. What can I do for you?”

“Gracias, Miguel.” She takes the offered arm and allows Miguel to lead her to a bench, settling onto it with a sigh. “I'm sorry to impose. But... you see, a friend of mine back home, she told me you had been speaking to her in emails. About her great-uncle – Juan Rodriguez? Are... are you the same Miguel Rivera?”

“Yes.” Miguel nods slowly, sitting beside her. “That's me. She has some very good stories – about him, and other people too. I'm glad she's willing to tell me, so other people can hear.” He reaches out to touch a marigold bloom in a planter beside them, running a gentle finger over the petals. “And remember.”

“It means a lot to her,” the old woman says softly. “I was wondering, Miguel... what made you start asking?”

“Well....” Miguel leans back, weight resting on his palms. “I just... I started collecting those stories when I was a little boy, because I saw... that is. One year, on Día de los Muertos, how important it is... it really hit me, you know? So now, I try to keep anyone I can find stories for from being forgotten. Everyone deserves to be remembered, and so... there's room on my family's ofrenda for anyone who needs it. After all....”

He reaches back to where his guitar – Héctor's guitar – is slung across his back and strums the strings once.

“After all – the world es mi familia.”

The old woman beams, nodding.

“That song – your great-great-grandfather wrote it, didn't he?”

“Yes!” Miguel reaches into his jacket to retrieve a photograph; nearby Héctor, still unseen, grasps his own copy of the family portrait and smiles. “Here, look – I brought this tonight, for good luck. And here he is!”

“Ah.” The old woman takes the photo gently, studying it a long moment before looking up at Miguel. “Why, you look just like him!”

“You think so?” Miguel flushes with pleasure, running a hand back through his hair. “You know, I think he might be happy to hear that! He's here somewhere, you know....”

“Yes. I don't doubt that.” She reaches out to pat his shoulder as she hands the photo back. “He must be absolutely delighted.”

“I hope so.” Miguel smiles and leans in to look at the photograph the old woman brought. “So – who is it you want to tell me about?”

After hearing the old woman's story and accepting congratulations from living family and friends, Miguel eagerly crosses over to the rest of the family – a bit later than usual, but still with plenty of time to spare – and runs straight to Héctor, who lifts him in a bear hug and spins him around (no easy feat these days, but Héctor manages well enough).

“You saw? It was good?”

“You kidding? It was incredible!” He lightly punches Miguel's arm. “Hope you're ready for a repeat performance. Everyone is waiting – they didn't expect you to get held up by a new friend.”

“Me neither, but it'll be worth it.” Miguel smiles, slipping a hand into his pocket where the old woman's address and phone number are carefully tucked away. “She knew about you too – says we look alike.”

Héctor nods, chuckling as he produces his copy of the family photo, holding it up next to Miguel.

“Sí – muy guapo.”

“So you say.” Miguel laughs, shoving at Héctor's shoulder. He can't really hide his pleasure though, and Héctor laughs along with him as he shoves back. “I was going to say I don't need to take that!”

“You know the truth!” He realizes he's looking up at Miguel and blinks. “Ay... so tall, though.” He lays a hand atop his great-great-grandson's head and slowly draws it back over his own: there's a gap of at least three inches. “Who allowed this?”

Miguel blinks back at him, mirroring his expression.

“Oh – I'm sorry, Papá Héctor.” He bends his knees, crouching until the top of his head is just even with Héctor's chin. “Would you feel better if I walked like this?”

Héctor gives this the long moment of consideration it deserves. Then he takes off his hat to swat at Miguel with it.

“Quit it! Stand up!” He will not, he tells himself, give in to the boy's laughter. It's hard to keep a straight face as he seizes the back of Miguel's shirt to haul him upright; he manages somehow, though, and crosses his arms as he stares pensively at his his great-great-grandson. It's a bit disorienting to have to look up at the kid – but, somehow, gratifying. “You at least waited to get your first drink with me?”

“Of course, Papá Héctor.” Miguel grins, single dimple deepening. “And to think, I don't even have to steal it from you!”

Héctor does laugh now, slinging an arm over Miguel's shoulders to draw him toward the bridge.

“This time you don't; I make no promises for next year. Well, come on then, hurry up – the night is middle-aged, chamaco!”

*

When Miguel is twenty-six years old, he arrives hand-in-hand with a woman the Riveras have already seen photos of for the past three years – even taller than he is, bright-eyed, and looking at them all with undisguised, unfazed curiosity.

“Everyone, look!” Elena – newly arrived this year – crows, coming forward to take the young woman's free hand between her own. “It's Josefina!” She beams at Miguel even as she tugs Josefina toward the rest of the family. “So you finally asked her?”

“He did!” Josefina says before Miguel can answer. “Right before he told me about all of you.” She gently pulls free of Elena to go to each Rivera in turn. “I probably know more about all of you than you know about me – once he started talking it didn't stop, you know?”

“Oh, I don't know about all that,” Héctor says. “Our chamaco, he talks a lot about you too. Runs his mouth all the time. Never stops, you know?”

“We've no idea where he got that,” Imelda says, linking arms with her husband. “But we'd like to hear it from you as well – and you'll be wanting to meet Mariana, won't you?”

Josefina is a historian, and Mariana González is how she met Miguel – a soldadera he and Rosa had been increasingly desperate to find some trace of in the living world, and whose last living relative Josefina had finally managed to connect them to.

“Oh, yes!” Josefina nods eagerly. “And the others too... I've heard a lot about that too. Not just from Miguel – Rosa's pretty talkative too, you know?”

Speaking of Rosa, she seems a bit aloof this year – standing at the fringes of the group, hands twisting together. Miguel is being tugged along by Josefina, but he gives his cousin a worried look before glancing at Héctor; Héctor nods in return and drops back to walk beside Rosa, nudging her lightly with a shoulder.

“Hey – what's the matter, mija?”

“Nothing, Papá Héctor.” She looks away from him, distant; before Héctor can press further she seizes his hand and smiles, strained but sincere. “Let's go find Mariana. And then I need you to listen to a new song for me, and I need to ask Señor Manchez a few questions – I think I found his great-nephew – and then....”

She's talking faster and faster, the same nervous way he still hears from Miguel on occasion. He's at a loss until Imelda comes to the rescue, gently taking Rosa in hand and drawing away to talk quietly; before long Rosa is bright again, teasing her relatives and eagerly chatting with the souls whose stories they're still seeking, and Héctor puts the incident out of his mind for the time being.

*

The next year it's Rosa who arrives hand-in-hand with a young woman – broad-shouldered, curly-haired, and smiling uncertainly as Rosa takes a long, deep breath.

In contrast to Miguel's casual ease in introducing Josefina, Rosa is all tension – shoulders drawn in, chin lowered, and gripping her companion's hand with white-knuckled intensity. She chews at her lip, pleading but not speaking; it's Coco who breaks the silence, voice gentle and cajoling.

“Who is this, mija?”

“This....” Rosa takes a deep breath and lifts her chin. “This is Patria Flores.” A pause, and she finishes in a rush: “I'm going to marry her.”

In a flash Héctor remembers Leticia – remembers Rosa's behavior after Leticia faded, remembers Rosa withdrawing as they fussed and fawned over Miguel and Josefina the year before, remembers a half-dozen other clues – and he could kick himself for not understanding what Rosa needed from him back then. Still, Héctor of all people knows better than to dwell on lost time, so instead he steps forward to take Patria's hands in his.

“Hello, Patria!” He leans in, stage-whispering. “I have got to say – my great-great-grandchildren have wonderful taste.”

He winks, and Patria stares at him a beat before she bursts out laughing. The tension, thank God, flows out of Rosa at that, and her grip on Patria softens as she starts laughing too.

“Papá Héctor – you have a wife, this one is mine!” She shoves at his shoulder and he makes a grand show of stumbling back to Imelda, wrapping an arm around her waist even as she elbows his ribs.

“True, true, and aren't we both fortunate?” He grins, heading for the door and waving for them to follow. “Well, come on – we want to hear everything!”

“You didn't say they were so charming, Rosa,” Patria says, still giggling. Rosa rolls her eyes, grinning.

“They're charming for guests. Wait until you're officially a Rivera, then you'll see how obnoxious they really are.”

That night, standing with Patria at the center of a knot of chattering Riveras, Rosa is more relaxed and genuine than Héctor has seen her in years. It's striking, how much tension had built up unnoticed over the past few years – but it's gone now, and for that they're all grateful.

*

When Miguel is thirty, he comes with photos of a ten-month-old baby.

They'd all expected it – Josefina hadn't come along with him the year before, uncertain of how the crossing might affect her – but it's a novelty and a delight all the same, and the photos have made three rounds through the family before they've even finished crossing the bridge.

“Little Héctor,” Miguel says. Héctor beams, back straightening; Imelda snorts, but she can't quite hide her smile.

“You're going to swell his head,” she says, and Miguel grins at her.

“Oh? Which one?”

Imelda snorts again, but she's laughing too. Miguel passes photos around for them to keep; they'll be safely tucked away later, but for the moment each Rivera is occupied with comparing and admiring them.

“It'll be a few years before he can visit,” Miguel says. “I mean – first of all he has to be able to understand that the offerings belong to someone else, or I don't think it'll work. But don't worry – he'll hear all about all of you before that.”

*

Years pass, bringing more souls saved from fading and more children shown off in photographs and then, eventually, brought for visits.

'El Chamaco' becomes a household name; Miguel rarely plays live shows, preferring to release albums and accept the occasional invitation to perform at a festival – but he always, always holds a show on Día de Muertos, performing at the top of a marigold path with few relatives visible and many more relatives invisible at his side.

Little Héctor is followed by two sisters, Verónica and Alejandra; privately, Miguel recounts to Héctor how he had to explain to his wife that 'Juanita' was a fine name but one he couldn't possibly take seriously, and the two of them don't stop chortling together until Miguel is sent home.

Rosa and Patria adopt twin girls, Leticia and Lupe; they're three years old, the elder twin's name a coincidence, but there's still a Día de los Muertos spent remembering and talking about a faded Leticia from long ago (and long discussions about why it should be that only people who knew them in life could start the passing of stories, an old discussion none of them are ever satisfied with).

The children grow into skills and talents and passions both within family tradition and alongside it. Little Héctor is, to put it kindly, unmusical, a fact that causes him a good deal of anguish until the elder Héctor takes him aside to teach him how to weave the words he is skilled with into the music Alejandra pens; Verónica's shoe designs are known for beauty and comfort, bringing further acclaim to the family brand; Leticia too is magnificent with words, and after a point the Riveras living and dead look forward to a new book every year; Lupe is as skilled a historian as Josefina and as skilled with people as any of the family.

Josefina and Patria don't make the trip every year, and neither do some of the children. But of course Miguel and Rosa do, and Little Héctor – who grows even taller than his parents but will always be Little Héctor – does, and Lupe does, and eventually Little Héctor's niece Silvia and Lupe's son Angel do.

The Riveras are known for shoes, and have become known for music, and now become known as gatherers of stories – seeking and listening and preserving – and there are other failures, yes, but far more successes, and their family by blood and by story expands year by year.

*

When Miguel is eighty-eight years old, his visit to the Land of the Dead comes early.

Héctor asks to be the first to greet him; it's a request readily granted, and when Miguel appears his great-great-grandfather is waiting with a proud, beaming smile.

“Ay – so tall,” Héctor says as he has every year for seven decades, laying a hand atop Miguel's head and then drawing it back over his own to measure the gap. “Who allowed this?”

“I'm sorry, Papá Héctor. Would you feel better if I walked like this?”

Miguel drops into his awkward crouch as he always does; Héctor starts swatting him with his hat as he always does.

“Quit it! Stand up!”

They're laughing as they embrace; after a long moment Héctor steps back, holding Miguel at arms-length.

“You look good,” he says, smiling at how much Miguel's markings resemble his own, at the lack of weariness in his great-great-grandson's face, at his clear and lively eyes. “Muy guapo.”

“So you say.” Miguel grins at him before looking over Héctor's shoulder. “The rest?”

“All waiting – so come on.” Héctor drapes an arm across Miguel's shoulders; Miguel does the same in kind and they walk comfortably together. “I'll get you a drink, and we'll get you settled in.”

A pause, and then he tightens his grip, pulling Miguel closer still.

“Welcome home, chamaco.”