Héctor peeks into the shop, brightening as he spots Óscar and Felipe seated at a workbench, and trots in with a wave as both brothers call out greetings.
“Hello, Héctor.” Óscar waves back as he sets his work aside; beside him Felipe does the same, nodding.
“We were wondering when you’d be by again.”
“Well,” Héctor replies, grinning, “you can stop wondering. Can I come in?”
“A bit past the point of asking now,” Óscar says, “but yes, of course you can.”
“Imelda isn’t here, though,” Felipe adds. Héctor nods, plopping carelessly onto the bench opposite them.
“I know - I ran into her at the market.” He sets the basket he’d been carrying on the table and taps it lightly for emphasis; it’s Imelda’s, filled with household odds and ends and a few paper-bagged goods. “I brought this back for her while she runs a few more errands - I’m actually here to see you two.”
“Oh?” Óscar has been sorting through the basket, retrieving a bag of clementines before settling back down. “Just for us?”
“Ah, come on Óscar,” Héctor replies, uncertainty creeping into his voice and posture folding even as he smiles; Óscar startles slightly at hearing his name, looking thoughtfully at Héctor as he continues. “I know it’s been… awhile, but… well….”
“But it’s a bit different now?” Felipe offers. He grabs one of the clementines and tosses it to Héctor, who catches it deftly.
“Yes, so I - thank you, Felipe - I don’t know, it’d be… nice to catch up, don’t you think?” He shrugs. “Maybe not just for you - for me too.”
The twins look at each other a moment, brows raised, and then turn back to Héctor with a sharp, curious stare.
“Hey - how are you still doing that?” Óscar asks. Héctor blinks at him, smile dropping into a faint baffled frown.
“You can still….” Óscar shrugs, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table. “We’re different, now. And it’s been such a long time....”
Héctor stares at him a long moment, leaning back in response to the lean forward and chuckling nervously.
“Ay, Óscar - what are you talking about?”
“What he means is,” Felipe cuts in, “how do you know I’m not Óscar?”
“Because… you’re not?” Héctor looks back and forth between them, bewildered. “You’re Felipe, he’s--you know, I thought you two liked that I could do that!”
“We do, we do!” Óscar holds up his hands, tone dropping apologetically. “There’s never been all that many people who even try. We’re curious, that’s all.”
“Especially since… well, it’s like he said.” Felipe shrugs; he and Óscar are both still watching Héctor curiously. “A long time, and we… don’t exactly look like we did when we last really talked.”
“Oh.” Héctor relaxes a bit, thinking it over. “You know, I never really… it’s just sort of… he’s him and you’re you, so - hey, no, I’ve got it! Your markings.” He raises his hands, grinning as he touches index fingers to his own cheekbones. “First glance, they look the same - but actually, they’re mirrored! Like those alebrijes.” He waves a hand, and Felipe and Óscar follow the gesture to a pair of ram-horned coatis dozing on a nearby shelf. “Those are yours, aren’t they?”
“They are,” Óscar agrees. “Terrible nuisances that they are.” There’s no mistaking the affection in his tone or Felipe’s grin, and Héctor laughs as he studies the alebrijes.
“Are they? I wonder how that could have happened?”
“One of life’s great mysteries,” Felipe says. “What about yours - the dog, right?”
“Eh… actually, no.” Héctor shrugs, tone and posture going closed. “That one… Dante is Miguel’s, I think. Went back to him as far as I can tell.” He hesitates a beat before continuing. “Mine was... well... my guide, he didn’t stick around all the time once I settled, they’re not always joined at the hip, you know, but he... disappeared altogether. A while before the holiday. I think it was… you know, a symptom. Maybe.”
“Oh,” Óscar says faintly; for all that he no longer has lungs, he sounds as if the wind’s been knocked out of him. “I… I see.”
There’s a long pause, all three of them fidgeting uncomfortably - Héctor tapping a vague rhythm on the bench, Óscar fussing with his glasses, Felipe winding his fingers together, and none of them quite looking at the other two.
“Héctor,” Felipe begins, an odd soft hesitance in his voice, “you know… we….”
He falters, looking to Óscar for help and finds none; the twins hold each other’s gazes a moment, each silently asking the other how to proceed.
“We’re glad you’re here, Héctor,” Óscar says at last. “Both, you know, still here in general….”
“...and here with us,” Felipe finishes. Héctor studies them both a moment and then nods.
“Yeah. Me too.” He smiles, shrugging. “I missed you, you know?”
They both nod, and silence falls again as Felipe and Óscar take a seat on either side of Héctor, shoulder to shoulder - none of them tense, precisely, but all of them restless and uncertain.
“So, ah,” Héctor says after a moment, gesturing toward the coatis again, “what do you call them?”
“Mine is Pablo,” Óscar says, relief clear in his tone and expression, “and Felipe’s is called Paolo.” The alebrijes sit up on their haunches at hearing their names, one after the other, and Héctor grins and nods as he commits the bright mirror-image markings to memory.
“We were going to call them Felipe and Óscar,” Felipe adds, “but Imelda didn’t think it was funny.”
“Made us change it, the spoilsport.”
“You know,” Héctor says slowly, once he’s given that a moment to sink in, “I’m sure you understand that I am trying very hard not to argue with Imelda right now - but I don’t mind telling you that she was absolutely in the wrong .”
“Ha!” Felipe claps Héctor’s shoulder, beaming. “We always did say you were smart!”
“Now,” Óscar says, “you just have to tell Imelda we were right.”
“What? Right after Felipe called me smart?” Héctor shook his head. “That’s a set-up. You’re trying to set me up.”
“And you’re trying to put us on,” Óscar retorts. “It can’t have been the markings tipping you off - if you’re even telling the truth about that! You can’t have gotten a good look before you knew who was who.”
“He never gave us a straight answer in the old days either. Do you remember when you used to tell us I’m taller than Óscar?” Felipe asks. He waits for Héctor’s affirmative grin, and he can’t help grinning back. “Did you know that every time - every time! - we spent half the day measuring to see if you were right?”
“Imelda caught us in the act at least twice,” Óscar adds.
“I think she thought we were a little bit stupid.”
“What, you two?” Héctor is still grinning, eyes bright as he looks between them. “Well, don’t leave me hanging - what did you learn?”
“That you , Héctor, are a liar.”
“He is not taller.”
“You’re very convincing, though.” Felipe laughs, shaking his head. “We’d always second guess ourselves….”
“...and try again….”
“And before we knew it the day was over.”
“Honestly,” Óscar says, “I almost think at some point you kept it up so we’d leave you and Imelda alone for awhile.”
Héctor gives him a wounded look, hand pressed to his sternum.
“Such slander! I would never !”
“You would!” Felipe and Óscar chorus. They’re both laughing, and so is Héctor when he replies.
“Oh, fine - maybe I would! But can you really blame me? You were terrible nuisances, you know.”
“It was for a good cause,” Óscar says, forcing his tone to something like primness, and Héctor laughs again.
“You mean your own amusement?”
“Partly,” Felipe admits. “But you thought it was sort of funny too, didn’t you?”
“Ehh.” Héctor raises one hand, waving it in a ‘so-so’ gesture. “A little, sure. Otherwise I would’ve let Imelda kill you.”
“Oh come on, Héctor, we were only two innocent youths,” Felipe says, all injured dignity - an expression he further exaggerates at Héctor’s ungracious snort.
“No. No, no, no, and also: no. Born terrors, the both of you.”
“You don’t mean that.” Óscar grins, shaking his head. “And even if you do, you’re no better.”
“I am not.” Héctor nods agreeably as he looks over at the coatis again; they’ve spotted a parrotlet alebrije with a long streaming tail preening on the ceiling fan, and are steadily creeping toward it. “Do you remember when we absolutely did not accidentally let Señora Alvarez’s pigeons loose?”
“I do not,” Óscar says, “because we would never do such a thing.”
“Ah.” Héctor nods. “My mistake. Well, then do you remember when....?”
It takes no time at all for the three of them to fall into truly comfortable camaraderie, each old memory swiftly followed by another as they talk over and tease and correct each other and occasionally just fall into bouts of laughter together, tossing clementines to the coatis to distract them from the parrotlet and other potential mischief.
“I should go,” Héctor says at last, levering himself up from the bench and stretching long limbs. “But… later?”
“Later,” Felipe agrees.
“Soon,” Óscar adds. “Héctor grins and nods as he heads to the door.
Halfway out he pauses, turning to look at the twins.
“By the way... Felipe actually is a little bit taller - just a little bit! - but Pablo is bigger than Paolo.”
Héctor slides out the door without another word, bells jingling as it closes behind him, and Felipe and Óscar share a long, silent look before turning to study their alebrijes.
“We’re not actually going to measure them, are we?” Felipe asks. Óscar shakes his head decisively as he turns back to his work.
“No, no. Of course not.”
They work in silence for a minute or so, diligently avoiding giving the coatis another glance, before Felipe sighs and gets to his feet.
“I’ll get the tape measure.”
“Pablo isn’t bigger,” Óscar announces triumphantly the next time they catch Héctor coming into the shop. Héctor, already halfway to Imelda’s office, freezes a moment and then slowly turns to face the twins as Felipe speaks up.
“He’s right - Paolo is bigger.”
“Ah.” Héctor blinks once and then nods, straight-faced. “You’re sure about that?”
“We know how to measure things, Héctor,” Felipe says, throwing all the dignity he has into the statement.
“After all,” Óscar says, “we’ve had all this time learning to be very precise. Can’t have Imelda thinking we’re wasting material.”
“Or Victoria for that matter.”
“¿A poco?” Héctor is still trying to fight off a smile, with little success. “Hm. That’s a pretty good point, I guess.” He tips his head to one side, grin widening. “Anything else to share?”
“Well… you actually are right about the markings,” Óscar admits.
“We never noticed,” Felipe adds. “Imelda had, though.”
“It was the height measuring all over again, honestly.” Óscar draws his mouth tight, pitching his voice high and narrowing his eyes. “ I know you two are horribly clever, how do you manage to be such idiots ?”
Héctor stares at him for a full five seconds and then explodes with laughter, hand over his mouth to stifle it as he peeks furtively toward Imelda’s office door; the twins exchange a glance, and Felipe grins and then mimics the scowl, standing tall with hands on his hips.
“ Wipe that ridiculous smile from your face, you clown ! This is all your doing !”
“Stop, stop!” Héctor wheezes out. “That’s too good and she’s going to find a way to kill all three of us!”
“Oh be sensible, Héctor .” Óscar folds his arms and tips his head forward just so. “ You know very well we-- ”
“W hat are you three doing?”
They all jump at Imelda’s voice, turning to see her peering out of the office with her head tipped forward the same way Óscar’s had been, and they’re all choking on laughter as they respond.
“Nothing, Imelda!” they recite in unison, Héctor’s singsong pitch blending with the twins as naturally as if they’d never been apart. Imelda blinks, giving the three of them a long, thoughtful look before grumbling under her breath and ducking back into the office. Héctor looks at the closed door a moment and then turns his attention back to Óscar and Felipe, voice dropping to an exaggerated whisper.
“Keep playing it cool - but I think we have her fooled.”
Felipe snorts at that; Óscar can’t help but laugh when his brother does, and once it spreads to Héctor the three end up leaning on each other for support as they struggle to keep it muffled enough to avoid Imelda’s renewed attention.
“We need to talk to him,” Óscar sighs. He sets the boot he’s been working on without progress for the past few hours aside as Felipe looks up, blinking uncertainly.
“Haven’t we been?”
Óscar grimaces, shaking his head.
“You know that’s not what I meant. It’s been… you know, the longer we sit on it….”
“The worse it’ll be,” Felipe finishes. He frowns, setting his own work aside. “Do you think he’ll be here today?”
“He’s been here every day since Imelda invited him in. No reason he’ll miss today.”
“Right. So we just need to wait.”
They both pick their work back up, but concentration evades them and in the end it’s a relief when the door jingles and Héctor enters, waving a greeting in passing and humming an unfamiliar tune as he makes straight for Imelda’s office; the twins exchange a look before Óscar calls to him.
“Just a minute, Héctor.”
“We’d like a word,” Felipe adds.
Héctor stops, turning back with a grin that only falters slightly when he sees their expressions.
“Eh… something wrong…?”
“Not… well, not exactly.” Felipe shrugs. “It’s just… you know, lately, it’s been like it used to be, hasn’t it?”
“Even though it was such a long time ago,” Óscar says quietly.
Héctor’s grin fades entirely, shoulders slumping as he glances away from them.
“Oh. That. Y-yes, I….” He gives a small, half-hearted shrug, reaching up to rub nervously at the back of his head. “I… listen, I’m sorry. I know that I… I shouldn’t have….”
He trails off, fidgeting miserably, looking as if he might well cave in on himself, and Felipe and Óscar exchange a swift dismayed look before setting their work aside again and getting to their feet.
“Héctor, that… isn’t what we mean,” Felipe says, a plea in his tone that has Héctor looking back at him with a tense, pained frown.
“I mean, obviously we would have preferred you stay,” Óscar adds. Héctor looks away again and Felipe nudges his twin sharply with an elbow. “Ow! I mean… we’re not concerned about that. You tried to come back, but we… didn’t really try to question anything, did we….”
“Or look for you after we died, not after Imelda said she’d already, ah, sent you away.”
Héctor blinks, looking at them again.
“What? I… no… that’s not… it was never your problem to solve, if anything the responsibility was….” He pauses, frowning; the twins are the ones fidgeting now, and Héctor shakes his head slightly. “You’re really… how long have you two been worrying about this?”
“Ever since we really let ourselves think about it,” Felipe admits.
“Hm.” Héctor nods slowly. “Long enough then. So! Listen. You remember what I said, when I left?”
“You said, support Imelda,” Óscar says quietly. “You said, ‘she doesn’t need looking after, but she does need that’.”
“Yes - and I know you did. So that’s all the responsibility to me, I think.” Héctor sighs, tone thoughtful. “I’m… not saying I don’t regret all that time, don’t misunderstand. But I don’t actually blame you, or Imelda, you know? So - I’m not going to worry about it. And you two? Felipe, Óscar… I don’t want that worry on you either. So no dwelling on it. Do that for me?”
They study him a moment before glancing at each other again; when they look back at Héctor it’s with small but genuine smiles.
“We can try, Héctor,” Óscar says. “And… we really do mean it when we say we’re glad you’re back, you know?”
“And - you know, not just for us. Imelda… she’s singing again, lately.” Felipe spreads his hands in a sort of half-shrug. “Of course, no one’s dared point it out just yet, but she is.”
“I’ve heard her.” Héctor is smiling again too, voice soft. “Of course, she always acts like I’m harassing her into it - but then, she doesn’t tell me to stop either.”
“At this point,” Óscar says, “I don’t think she will.”
“Hey, you know,” Héctor says after a moment, “I was meaning to say something too… I mean, I guess maybe this is… kind of an awkward moment for it, but… you know….” He pauses, giving them a small smile. “I mean, of course you know - I’ve never thought of the two of you as being just Imelda’s brothers. That is to say - not mis cuñados, but mis hermanos.”
He shuffles his hat in his hands, fingers gently crinkling the straw as they blink at him.
“Héctor,” Óscar says after a moment, very gently, “surely you know that goes without saying?”
“And surely you know,” Felipe adds, “it was always the same for us?”
“It’s one reason we feel like… well….”
Héctor holds a hand up to stop Óscar, shaking his head.
“Hey - like I said. No dwelling. No point in all that, you know?” He gives them a wan smile, shrugging. “I mean - I can’t tell you what to do, but… I’ve spent enough time thinking about what I should have done different. I’m going to worry about what I’m going to do now . Little bit more useful, don’t you think?”
The twins glance at each other; when they look back at Héctor they’re echoing his faint smile as they each lay a hand on his shoulder, one to each side.
“You might actually be on to something there,” Felipe says.
“We always did think you were a smart one, hermano,” Óscar adds. Héctor’s smile brightens as he lays his hands on the twins’ shoulders, nodding.
“Thank you,” he says softly. They remain like that a long, quiet moment before Héctor pulls free, replacing his hat as he heads toward Imelda’s closed door.
“By the way, if you think I’m so smart you should stop questioning my measuring skills.”
He’s in the office before they can reply; Felipe and Óscar look at each other thoughtfully, each gauging the other’s height.
“Absolutely not,” Óscar says at last. “We are not going down that path again. We know better.”
“Yes,” Felipe agrees, chuckling fondly as they head back to the workshop. “He never does give up though, does he?”
“Oh, you know - I think that’s probably a good thing. Come on, let’s get that order finished before Imelda asks again.”
“Do you think,” Héctor asks Imelda just before leaving, “that they’ll ever realize it’s Óscar who’s a hair taller, and I’ve been messing with them since we were fourteen years old?”
Imelda snorts, snatching his hat to swat him with it.
“You are a child , Héctor.”
“Maybe - but you think it’s funny too.” He grins at her as he takes his hat back; Imelda sighs and grumbles and doesn’t disagree, and Héctor’s grin widens as her quiet huff of laughter follows him out.