He doesn’t really need the ritual to have a vision. It’s a lot less overwhelming that way, though.
And the ritual is very overwhelming.
“Bruno!” Mirabel says as she runs up to him in the courtyard, and Bruno blinks rapidly and hopes she didn’t catch the glint of glowing green in his eyes, and hopes she won’t ask if she did.
“Mirabel?” he says. “What’s wrong?”
“Happy birthday!” she says, and holds out a brightly wrapped box tied shut with colorful yarn. Bruno . . . blinks, and forgets about the vision entirely.
“It’s somebody’s birthday?” he says.
“It’s your birthday, Tío,” Mirabel says with a wry smile, still holding out the box. “I wanted to get to you before the party tonight.”
“I didn’t get anything for Pepa and Julieta,” Bruno realizes immediately. He’d gotten out of the habit of keeping track of the date, and he still hasn’t gotten back into it. Also, well . . . he has literally no money and his most useful skill is one that still unsettles people more often than it makes them want to barter with him.
“I’m pretty sure they’re not expecting anything,” Mirabel says, glancing down at the box and then back at his face. “You know, what with everything.”
“There’s a party tonight,” Bruno says with some dread, seriously considering crawling back into a wall.
“Yeah?” Mirabel tilts her head. “Did you not notice all the decorations? And Mom’s been in the kitchen since yesterday.”
“She’s always in the kitchen,” Bruno says, glancing around the courtyard nervously. Now that he’s looking, there are, in fact, decorations. He’d just kind of assumed Isabela had been growing strange new flowers again.
Even if he hadn’t, he really doesn’t think he would’ve made the connection with their birthday, of all things.
“Believe me, she’s even more in the kitchen than usual,” Mirabel says. “She’s excited.”
“For . . . the party?” Bruno checks uncertainly, awkwardly tugging at his sleeves.
“Yeah! You haven’t been to one of your birthday parties in years!” Mirabel says.
“Well, no,” Bruno says, twisting his hands together awkwardly. “The whole . . . the living in the walls thing interfered with that, a bit. Um. I mean . . . I watched, I didn’t—oh, that sounds creepy, that’s definitely creepy-sounding.”
“Nobody thinks you’re creepy, Tío,” Mirabel says. “Except Camilo, maybe.”
“I think maybe I shouldn’t come,” Bruno says, since for one thing he’s pretty sure more people than just Camilo still think he’s creepy. It’s . . . there’s been a lot of people thinking he was creepy in his life, and not a lot of other opinions. That’s all.
“Why?” Mirabel blinks at him.
“Well, I’m . . . I’m not . . .” Bruno starts, and stops, and trails off. He’s not sure how to explain it, exactly. “I don’t have anything for Pepa and Julieta.”
“Still pretty sure they’re not expecting anything,” Mirabel says. “But we’ve got time, if you want to dig something up?”
“Um,” Bruno says. “I don’t . . .”
“We can go shopping in town!” Mirabel says cheerfully. “I’ll go with you, it’ll be fun!”
“I don’t have any money, Mirabel,” Bruno reminds her.
“I’m sure somebody will trade you for something,” Mirabel says.
“I don’t have anything to trade, either,” Bruno says, shaking his head. Unless the rats count, which he really doesn’t think they do. And he wouldn’t trade any of them anyway, even for Pepa and Julieta’s birthday.
It’s been such a long time since he thought about anything like their birthday.
“Well . . . we can figure something out,” Mirabel says. “Maybe you can do somebody a favor?”
“People don’t like my favors,” Bruno says.
“I meant, like, a non-magical favor?” she says. “Like . . . helping them with something. Non-magically.”
Bruno stares at her blankly.
Mirabel says the strangest things sometimes.
“Maybe,” he says, mostly because he doesn’t want to keep shooting down everything she says. He feels bad about it, because he’s worried about making her feel bad about it. But he really can't do much besides see the future and take care of a few rats. He doesn't really see how anyone's going to want to trade for anything like that.
"Let's go, then!" Mirabel says brightly, tucking her box under her arm, and somehow Bruno utterly fails to talk her out of it and they end up in town. He barely resists the urge to flip his hood up and hide from everyone, but Mirabel goes straight for the shops and drags him along in her wake. He feels incredibly awkward about it.
And . . . everything, basically. Incredibly awkward about everything.
"What do you want to get them?" Mirabel says.
"I don't know," Bruno says. It's been ten years; he hasn't been doing the best job of keeping up with Pepa and Julieta's interests. And even with all the time they all spent rebuilding together, he still feels weird and wrongfooted outside of the walls more often than not.
Even if he didn't, birthday presents still feel like a lot of pressure.
"Well, what were the last things you got them?" Mirabel asks.
"Mirabel, I barely remember what we had for breakfast," Bruno says. And at the time, he hadn't known they were the last presents he'd be getting them for over a decade. He might’ve made a note or something, otherwise. "This is a bad idea. I should just skip the party."
"You can't skip the party!" Mirabel exclaims.
"Why not?" Bruno says.
"It's your birthday, Tío!" Mirabel says. "You have to come!"
"Do I?" Bruno says with the vague sense of impending doom that frequently accompanies the kids wanting something from him. He's not all that good at saying "no", maybe. Or definitely.
"Yes," Mirabel says firmly. "Mom and Pepa are looking forward to it."
"Oh," Bruno says with increasing dread. He doesn't want to disappoint them, but that just feels like more pressure. He knows they wouldn't want it to feel that way, but it absolutely does.
"Do you want help picking something out?" Mirabel says.
"Desperately," Bruno says, immediately latching onto the lifeline.
"Okay," Mirabel says. "I can help you."
"Thank you," Bruno says, a little stiffly. Mirabel smiles encouragingly at him, then grabs his hand and pulls him into the nearest shop. It's full of pottery and ceramic and glass and all kinds of breakable things, and Bruno winces.
He doesn't shop much.
Also, the last time he had an unexpected vision around a lot of pottery, it . . . didn't really go well. At all.
A woman comes out from behind the counter. She's young; vaguely familiar-looking, but not someone Bruno recognizes at first glance. Probably he hasn't seen her since she was a preteen, if that. He smooths his ruana nervously, not sure what to say.
The woman smiles at them. Bruno is even less sure what to say.
"Shouldn't you be getting ready for the party?" the woman asks.
"We are," Mirabel says. "Tío Bruno still needs presents for my mom and Tía Pepa."
"I really don't think something breakable is a good idea," Bruno says awkwardly. "Um. No offense. Just breakable things I tend to . . . break."
"Break?" Mirabel says.
"You do remember what that vision was like, right?" Bruno says.
“Oh, right,” she says with a little frown. “Hm. Sorry, I guess I picked the wrong shop.”
“Sorry,” Bruno says. The woman smiles at them again.
“It’s alright,” she says. “Sorry we don’t have anything less fragile.”
“Er . . . it’s okay?” Bruno tries, and Mirabel leads the way to the next shop. This one is all fabrics and thread, which Mirabel seems fascinated by but Bruno has no opinions about. Well, he does know she sews, so that makes sense. He needs presents for Pepa and Julieta, though, not Mirabel, so they don’t stay long. They don’t stay long in any shop, though, and nothing in any of them jumps out at him as suitable for either Pepa or Julieta.
He just doesn’t know what they need, much less want.
It’s . . . strange, not knowing that about his own sisters. He used to always know that kind of thing.
He doesn’t know how he feels about that.
Well, he knows, just . . .
He doesn’t know.
“Maybe something for the kitchen, for Mom?” Mirabel suggests between shops. “Dad got her a new kettle and some other tools. And I embroidered some hand towels. They match the curtains.”
“I don’t want to get her something that has to do with her gift,” Bruno says with a shake of his head, because he knows that, at least. It’s been a long time, but he always tried not to do that, and he doesn’t really want to stop now.
“Hm,” Mirabel says, folding her arms with a thoughtful frown and tapping a foot against the street. “I’m . . . not sure what else she’d use.”
“She doesn’t have to use it,” Bruno says. “She just has to like it.”
“Good point.” Mirabel’s frown deepens. “I guess we should be thinking about that kind of thing more, shouldn’t we.”
“I guess,” Bruno says, glancing back towards the house. He can still see it from here. There’s more flowers on it now, he’s pretty sure. Isabela might be getting a little bit carried away.
“Do you think I should’ve gotten her something different?” Mirabel says.
“I mean . . . yes, that’s why I am,” Bruno says. Which is maybe too blunt, he realizes belatedly, and winces. Mirabel just frowns again. “I’m sure she’ll like the . . . towels? You said towels? You made them yourself, right?”
“I did,” Mirabel says with a nod. “Isabela got her a little herb garden for the windowsill. And Luisa got her a new pestle and mortar. Maybe we should’ve been thinking a little harder, though.”
“She probably needs kitchen things, really,” Bruno says, gesturing vaguely. “What with the whole . . . the kitchen getting crushed and everything.”
“I guess.” Mirabel bites her lip. “Maybe I should’ve made her an apron. No, that’s still kitchen-y, ugh.”
“I’m sure she’ll like it,” Bruno says.
“Sure, or sure?” Mirabel asks.
“Just normal sure,” Bruno says. “Not a vision.”
“Oh!” Mirabel brightens, throwing her free hand up in the air. “A vision! That’s perfect! You can have a vision of what they’d like!”
“That’s cheating,” Bruno says, though it’s tempting. “And also, um, creepy. When I give people things I had a vision about them wanting they get nervous, usually.”
“Mom and Pepa wouldn’t, they know how your gift works,” Mirabel says.
“It’s still cheating,” Bruno says. He doesn’t mind cheating about little things like birthday presents, really, except for something like this he feels like he shouldn’t. Their first birthday together in how long, and he’s just going to use his gift to pick something out for them instead of figuring it out himself?
. . . well, it’d be a time-saver, admittedly.
“Well, how did you pick out presents for them before?” Mirabel says.
“We used to do it together,” Bruno says, picking at a loose thread on his sleeve. “I mean—Pepa and I would get your mamá something, and your mamá and I would get Pepa something, and they’d get . . . me something.” Neither of them approached him this year, though, so he guesses they don’t do that anymore. He wishes they had. At least he’d have been a bit more forewarned about the party thing.
He really doesn’t like parties very much. The whole village always shows up and stares at him, and it’s very stressful.
“That probably would’ve been easier, huh,” Mirabel says. “Um . . . you could get Tía an umbrella? She’s still always getting rained on when she gets upset.”
“When we were kids one of her rainclouds turned into a thundercloud and zapped her umbrella,” Bruno says. “So, uh, I don’t think she likes using them when she’s feeling . . . you know, volatile.”
“Oh, I guess not,” Mirabel says. “Er. It’s kind of late to get anything made, or . . .”
“I can’t really make things,” Bruno says, shaking his head.
“You know how to build things, don’t you?” Mirabel says. “You made that little stage for your rats. And you were spackling the cracks in Casita before we rebuilt.”
“I know how to fix things,” Bruno corrects. He’s broken enough things with unexpected visions to learn how to spackle a wall. “And not very well.”
“I guess there’s not really anything that needs fixed right now anyway, is there,” Mirabel says with a sigh. “Well, what else?”
“. . . does someone have a kitchen we could borrow, maybe?” Bruno says.
“A kitchen?” Mirabel tilts her head. “I mean, probably Mariano’s family would let us use theirs, but why?”
“Oh, well . . . Julieta always does the cooking,” Bruno says awkwardly. “I thought maybe . . . I used to know how to bake a little. She showed me when we were kids.”
“Oh, that’s a great idea!” Mirabel says delightedly.
“Maybe it’s a little too close to her gift,” Bruno says.
“No, no, it’s great!” Mirabel insists. “What do you know how to bake?”
“Uh . . . cake?” Bruno says. “She’s probably already making torta negra, right?”
“Yeah,” Mirabel says. “She always does, for birthdays.”
“I could make tres leches cake, then,” Bruno says. There’s already going to be cake, of course, but . . .
“Why tres leches?” Mirabel says, looking puzzled.
“It, uh. It was your mamá’s favorite, when we were kids,” Bruno says, glancing around the street awkwardly. “Nobody else really liked it as much, though, so she never really had a reason to make it. So . . . is that stupid, do you think? Maybe that’s stupid.”
“Tío, that’s perfect,” Mirabel says, beaming at him. Bruno rubs at his arms nervously.
“It’s been a while,” he says. “It might not be that good a cake.”
“Mom won’t care,” Mirabel says firmly, practically bouncing in place and beaming even brighter. “Come on, let’s go get the ingredients! We can figure out what you can get for Pepa while the cake’s baking.”
“Um . . . okay,” Bruno says, smiling back tentatively. That’s . . . an idea, then. He thinks Julieta will like that. He has no idea what to get Pepa, still, but it’s a start.
They get the necessary ingredients—Mirabel pays, so he’s going to have to pay her back somehow—and Mariano’s family does in fact let them use their kitchen. Bruno’s embarrassed to ask, but Mirabel isn’t, and Mariano welcomes them in cheerfully and then talks their ears off about how pretty Dolores’s new party dress is. Bruno’s not sure if he’s actually seen her in it yet or not, but apparently he’s at least seen it.
He makes the cake. It even comes out . . . pretty decent, he thinks. Or it looks right and it smells good, and it’s only a little bit lopsided. Compared to some cakes he’s made and how out of practice he is, it’s about the best results he could’ve expected.
He thinks about what to get Pepa while Mirabel and Mariano talk, but no good ideas come to mind. Julieta was always easier to get presents for, though, so he’s not really surprised by that. He just wants to give Pepa something with some thought behind it, is all.
And something minimally breakable, preferably. Pepa’s powers always damaged things even more often than his visions did. She seems to have better control now, especially lately, but he still figures better safe than sorry. It just seems smarter.
"Maybe something for her hair," he mumbles to himself, not really meaning to say it out loud.
"What, Tío?" Mirabel says, and Bruno startles, nearly dropping the mixing bowl in his hands. Mirabel and Mariano are both looking at him.
"Uh," he says, feeling hunted under the unexpected attention. "I thought . . . she's spending less time on her hair than she used to. I thought maybe . . . something for that. But she might think I think it looks bad so maybe not."
"What kind of something?" Mirabel says.
“I don’t know,” Bruno says, putting the bowl aside. “A comb? A hairpin?”
“We could find something like that,” Mirabel says.
“I really don’t want her to think I think it looks bad,” Bruno says, chewing his lip, and Mirabel gives him a sympathetic look.
“She isn’t going to just assume the worst, you know,” she says. “And if she does, you can just tell her.”
“I guess,” Bruno says uncomfortably, because that has literally never happened in his life.
“We can go look for something while the cake cools,” Mirabel says, and she’s Mirabel, so that’s what they do. Bruno still isn’t sure about the hair idea, but at least it’s an idea. It’s just not as good as the tres leches cake, he feels like.
He’s only known Pepa their entire lives. This shouldn’t be hard.
“Maybe jewelry,” he says, turning over the shining golden comb in his hands and trying to pretend the shopkeeper isn’t three feet away and trying to help them. Pepa likes jewelry. Well, it’s a normal thing to like, so why wouldn’t she?
“She’d like that, I bet,” Mirabel says.
“Maybe,” Bruno says, still looking at the comb. He really feels like there should be something better, but he really doesn’t have any clue what “better” would be.
“She likes earrings,” Mirabel volunteers.
“She always wears the same pair, though,” Bruno says.
“I don’t think she has a bracelet she likes?” Mirabel says. “And she never wears a necklace either.”
“She doesn’t like necklaces,” Bruno says, setting the comb back where it came from. “They make her feel like she’s choking.”
“Then the bracelet?” Mirabel says, tilting her head. “I bet we could find a nice one.”
“I guess we could look,” Bruno says. A nice bracelet is going to be more expensive than a cake, though, and he still doesn’t have any money.
They look, because he doesn’t have a better idea. None of the options really jump out at him, unfortunately, and Mirabel doesn’t seem to like any of them either. There’s a few things that are pretty enough, and even a few he thinks Pepa might like, but nothing he thinks she’ll really like.
He just wants to find her something good. It’s been so long, he feels like he should.
“Tía Pepa doesn’t like tres leches cake, does she?” Mirabel asks.
“Not really,” Bruno says. “I mean, she thinks it’s fine, I guess.”
“Mm,” Mirabel says. “Do you know how to make anything else she likes?”
“No.” He shakes his head. “Nothing Julieta wouldn’t already be making, anyway.”
“Oh, good point,” Mirabel says. “She always makes everyone’s favorites for birthdays.”
“I remember,” Bruno says. He wonders if she made his favorite this year, and feels stupid about it. She probably did, just . . .
He doesn’t know. He still feels stupid for wondering, somehow.
“We should go finish the cake,” he says. “And, um, clean up Mariano’s kitchen.”
“Okay,” Mirabel says, and they do. Bruno keeps trying to think of something Pepa might like as he’s wiping down the counters, but nothing helpful comes to mind. Mirabel does most of the cleaning; she’s faster at it. He tries to keep up, at least.
He doesn’t know why this is all still so hard, even after everything that’s happened. It should be easier now, shouldn’t it?
Well, some things are.
Just . . . not everything.
Mirabel thanks Mariano, then they cover the cake and head back to the house with it. Bruno keeps thinking about present ideas. He hopes Julieta will like the cake, at least. Maybe she doesn’t eat tres leches cake anymore.
“Do you want your present now?” Mirabel says.
“What?” Bruno blinks at her, and then remembers the wrapped box she’s been carrying around through all of this. He’d honestly forgotten it was supposed to be for him, even though it’s the thing that started everything to begin with. “Oh. Um . . .”
“It’s okay if you want to wait,” Mirabel says. “I just wanted to get to you before the party, like I said.”
“I think I should find something for Pepa first,” Bruno says. That seems like the thing to worry about right now. Also, he has no idea how to accept a present anymore, so . . . well, he could use a little more time to figure it out, maybe.
“Okay,” Mirabel says. “Any other ideas?”
“Not really,” Bruno says. “Everything I can think of that she likes is too . . . ephemeral?”
“Ephemeral?” Mirabel tilts her head.
“Like, temporary,” Bruno says, gesturing a bit with the cake. “Like . . . rainbows and sunshine and things like that. And, you know, she can make those on her own.”
“I guess so,” Mirabel says. “I just got her a hat. Well, I mean, I made her a hat. I don’t know if she’ll like it. She’s just always getting rained on, and then her hair gets all frizzy, and she gets upset, and . . . well, you know.”
“I know,” Bruno agrees. “She’ll like it. Probably. What color is it?”
“Yellow,” Mirabel says. “And I embroidered some sunflowers on it.”
“You’re fine,” Bruno says. “She’ll wear anything yellow. And she likes sunflowers.”
“I thought so,” Mirabel says. “I think Isabela grew her some, too.”
“Yeah, she’ll like that,” Bruno says. Which is nice and all, but unfortunately not helpful for him thinking up a present. “Maybe I should’ve just gotten her the bracelet.”
“We could still go back,” Mirabel says, stopping in front of the house.
“Do we have time before the party?” Bruno says.
“. . . maybe not, actually,” she admits with a wince. “Sorry. I wish I had another idea for a good present.”
“It’s okay,” Bruno says. “I’m the one who’s supposed to be thinking it up, anyway.”
“It’s not too late to have a vision,” Mirabel says. “There’s plenty of space in the courtyard.”
“Pepa and Julieta would absolutely notice that, and absolutely want to know why I was doing it,” Bruno says. “Also it’d probably wreck the decorations.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, we could do it in Antonio’s room again?” Mirabel suggests. “If he doesn’t mind. Which I don’t think he would.”
“Maybe—” Bruno starts, and then a clap of thunder echoes from the sky. Mirabel looks up; he opens the front door and looks inside. There’s no sign of Pepa, but Agustin hurries past in a rush, looking slightly harried, then jerks to a stop.
“Bruno!” he says over the next roll of thunder. It’s starting to rain, it looks like.
“Is something wrong?” Mirabel asks.
“We’ve been looking for your uncle,” Agustin says. “I think Pepa’s worried.”
“About what?” Bruno asks in bemusement.
“. . . you?” Agustin says, giving him an equally bemused look. Bruno tilts his head. It doesn’t start making sense.
“Uh,” he says. “Okay.”
“He’s fine,” Mirabel says. “We went to town and made Mom a birthday present.”
“You did?” Agustin looks surprised. “I thought you already made her something.”
“I did, but Tío didn’t,” Mirabel says. “He, uh, didn’t know about the party.”
“. . . Bruno, you can see the future,” Agustin says. “How did you miss your own birthday?”
Bruno looks at Mirabel, then shrugs helplessly.
“It just . . . didn’t matter, for a while,” he says. “I didn’t think about it.”
“I should’ve gotten you a calendar,” Agustin says. “Also I guess we should’ve reminded you. Sorry.”
“Uh . . . okay,” Bruno says again, really not sure how to take that. “Um . . . where’s Pepa?”
“Upstairs, I think,” Agustin says, tipping his head towards the stairs. “Probably in her room.”
“I’ll go . . . tell her I’m here, I guess,” Bruno says, edging past him. Mirabel follows, and they head upstairs into a steady drizzle. He’s glad they covered the cake. It’d be unfortunate if it got rained on.
He heads to Pepa’s room and hesitates, then knocks on the door. It’s been a while since he’s been . . . well, anywhere near her room. Or really anyone’s room, aside from that brief foray into Antonio’s for the vision.
“Leave me alone!” Pepa shouts from inside. Thunder crashes again.
“Um,” Bruno says awkwardly, and the door whips open. Pepa stares at him from the doorway. He doesn’t even notice if her room’s any different or not. His is, he knows, but . . . “Sorry. Agustin said you were . . . looking for me?”
“No one’s seen you all day!” Pepa fumes, lightning crackling in her hair. Probably Mirabel’s hat idea was a good one, Bruno thinks.
“Sorry,” he repeats. “I didn’t, uh, I didn’t think anybody would be . . . you know, worried.”
“You idiot!” Pepa says, then throws her arms around him with a shock of static. He barely manages not to drop the cake.
“Um,” he says. The drizzle gets heavier. Mirabel covers her wrapped box with the edge of her skirt.
“You need to tell us when you go somewhere,” Pepa says. “Nobody could find you!”
“Okay?” Bruno says. “I mean . . . Mirabel found me. Technically.”
“I didn’t know you guys were looking for him,” Mirabel says apologetically. “We would’ve told somebody we were leaving otherwise.”
“You’re the worst!” Pepa says, pulling back to grab Bruno by his shoulders and shake him. Again, he narrowly avoids dropping the cake. Pepa’s as . . . enthusiastic as usual.
“Sorry,” he says yet again, and her face crumples. The rain gets heavier still, soaking into his clothes and hair. “Did you think . . . I’m not going anywhere. Again. I mean. I never actually did, I guess, just . . . yeah. Uh.”
“You’d better not,” Pepa says, and embraces him again as the clouds, mercifully, start to clear. “Did you tell Mamá that you’re home?”
“Is she mad?” Bruno asks.
“I don’t think so,” Pepa says. “We were just all looking for you. Oh, you’re all wet now, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Bruno says uncomfortably. “We’ll, um, go tell her. I mean. I will. Obviously.”
“Good,” Pepa says. "Now get going, I have to fix the weather."
They leave. Bruno still feels incredibly awkward, but when doesn’t he? He felt awkward even living all alone in the walls except for the rats; being back out in the house properly again is not doing anything to alleviate that.
“Where do you think Abuela is?” Mirabel says, looking both ways down the hall. Bruno checks to make sure Pepa’s door is closed again.
“I thought of something to give Pepa,” he says.
“You did?” Mirabel gives him a surprised look.
“Yeah,” he says. “Uh. It might be stupid, kind of.”
“What is it?” she says.
“. . . I'll show you,” he says. "In my room."
"Okay," Mirabel says, and they make a temporary detour. His room is more . . . room-like again, at least. Well, there's not a huge curtain of sand blocking the doorway, anyway. They both duck inside and slide down the small hill, and Bruno looks around with a faint frown, trying to remember . . .
"Here," he says, thrusting the cake at Mirabel. "So it, uh, doesn't get sandy."
"Okay," she says, and Bruno makes his way to one of the low hills of sand and, well . . . starts digging. His room was never exactly a normal room, but really, none of them are.
"I know I've got one," he mutters, sifting through the heavy sands. His room usually finds things for him when he wants them, or at least it always did before, so . . .
"One what?" Mirabel asks just as he finds what he’s looking for buried in the sand and straightens up with it in hand. It's bigger than he remembered. That's probably good. Bigger is better, right?
"This," he says, and holds it out for her to see.
"A crystal?" Mirabel says curiously.
"Um. Sort of," Bruno says, and turns it to catch the light. A rainbow shines in the reflection on the sand. "It's . . . a prism."
"Oh!" Mirabel says. "It's pretty!"
"They, well. They make rainbows," Bruno says. "Obviously, I guess. So she, uh, wouldn't always have to make them herself. And could have them just . . . whenever."
Including when she's terribly, desperately sad, or angry, or upset, or . . . or just whenever.
"I don't know," he says, looking at the prism again. "Maybe it's stupid."
"No, it's awesome!" Mirabel says eagerly. "That's such a cool idea, Tío!"
"Um," Bruno says. "Thanks?"
"Do you have something to wrap it in?" she asks.
"I mean . . . maybe a bag or something," he says with a shrug, and goes searching through the sand again. A leather pouch turns up, eventually, and he tips the sand out of it and puts the prism inside. It barely fits, but it fits.
"We should probably find Abuela now," Mirabel says.
"Yeah, that's . . . that's probably the thing to do," Bruno agrees, tucking away the pouch and then taking the cake back. "Before Pepa starts, you know. Storming."
They leave the room, trailing sand, and go looking for Mamá. She doesn't immediately turn up, and she's not in her room, so . . . there goes all of Bruno’s ideas, really.
"The kitchen, maybe?" Mirabel guesses.
"Good a place to try as any," Bruno says with a shrug. They head downstairs to check the kitchen and find Julieta in the middle of it, surrounded by a mess of dishes and food and looking frazzled.
"Mirabel!" she says. "Bruno! What are you doing here?"
"We're looking for Abuela," Mirabel says. "Pepa said she wanted to see Bruno?"
"Where have you been?" Julieta says, putting her hands on his shoulders and squeezing them. "I almost burned dinner while we were looking for you!"
"Sorry," Bruno says. "Uh. We were . . . doing something."
"Did you have another vision?" Julieta says, immediately looking worried.
"No, uh, nothing like that," he says. Technically he did, just that's not what they were doing. It wasn’t an important vision, anyway, just a depressing one. "Um. Do you need . . . help?"
"No, I've got it," Julieta says, shaking her head and dusting off the flour she got on him. "Everything's almost ready. But thank you."
"Um. Sure," Bruno says.
"Do you know where Abuela is?" Mirabel says.
"Did you try her room?" Julieta asks.
"Yes," Mirabel says. "We looked all over the upstairs."
"Hm." Julieta frowns. "Did you ask Casita?"
"Oh!" Mirabel smacks her head with her free hand. "I didn't even think to! Casita?"
The flagstones ripple in a path towards the door, and Mirabel hurries after them.
"Thanks, Mom!" she calls back over her shoulder, and Bruno nods nervously at Julieta and then hurries after her. Maybe he should've given Julieta the cake, he thinks belatedly, but Mirabel’s already outpacing him and he really needs to keep up.
She's really fast. Technically he's outrun her before, but he had the advantage of knowing the terrain then and that had kind of helped. Definitely helped, actually.
Mirabel turns a corner following the rippling flagstones and Bruno nearly trips trying to match her pace. They come out into the courtyard and he glimpses Mamá on the other side of it, looking the other direction.
"Thanks, Casita!" Mirabel says, then dashes across the courtyard towards her. "Abuela! Are you still looking for Bruno?!"
"Mirabel!" Mamá says, turning towards them and looking relieved. Bruno catches up belatedly, and she reaches over to him and touches his face. It's . . . painful, a little.
He means that in a good way.
"Where were you?" Mamá says, looking concerned.
"In town with Mirabel," Bruno says. "Sorry. I didn't mean to, uh. Worry anyone. I just . . . needed presents."
"Presents?" Mamá says.
"For Pepa and Julieta," he says, embarrassed. "I kinda . . . forgot. About our birthday."
"Oh, Bruno, they weren't expecting anything," Mamá says. Bruno feels increasingly embarrassed. He knows he's a bit of a mess, still, but he can at least do this much. And he should do this much.
"I guess, just . . ." He trails off. "I don't know. I thought I should. So. Yeah. I did. I don't know if they'll like them, though."
"I'm sure they will," Mamá says.
"I'm not," Bruno says with a grimace.
"They will," Mirabel says firmly. "You had great ideas."
"You see?" Mamá says, patting his shoulder. It feels . . . very weird. Nice, but weird. "They will. Now go get ready for the party, it's starting soon. You want to look your best."
"Yeah, uh, okay," Bruno says. He doesn't actually know what else he could do to get ready for the party, since he already got the presents for Pepa and Julieta, but . . . well, he guesses he'll figure something out.
He thinks he looks fine, probably, but Mamá still says things like that sometimes. It's just a thing. Habits only change so fast.
He definitely still has some habits to unlearn, so he's not going to hold it against her.
Bruno heads back towards his room, for lack of a better idea, and Mirabel follows him. He's . . . not sure why. He doesn't mind, just . . .
"Um," he says, hesitating at the door.
"Are you ready for your present?" Mirabel asks hopefully, and oh, right.
"Not really, to be honest," Bruno admits. "But, uh, I might never be, so . . ."
Mirabel thrusts the wrapped box at him excitedly, nearly bouncing in place. Bruno takes it. It's not an especially big box, but it's heavier than he would’ve expected.
"Uh. Hold this, please?" he asks, and she takes the cake from him. He looks down at the present, not sure what to do with it besides the obvious. Which . . . he should do now, definitely.
"I promise it won't bite," Mirabel says.
"Um," Bruno says. She beams up at him with that same hopeful expression.
He has no idea what to do, so . . .
Well. The obvious, he guesses.
Bruno unties the yarn gingerly, then takes the top off the box and peers inside. It's . . . cloth? Or something made of cloth, more likely. It's a nice shade of green. His favorite shade, actually.
It's weird, remembering what it's like to have people know things about him.
He pulls the cloth out of the box and it unfolds until it's nearly as long as he is tall, and he realizes what it is: a new ruana, one with no ragged seams or fading from age and accented with a bright yellow pattern. He blinks in confusion, tilting his head, and Mirabel grins nervously.
"Do you like it?" she asks. "You don't have to wear it, just I noticed your other one was getting a little old. I mean, there's nothing wrong with it, it looks fine, just, you know, um, for the party and everything I thought maybe—"
The pattern is butterflies, not hourglasses.
"I love it," Bruno says, and Mirabel lights up with delight.
"You do?" she says.
"Yeah," he says with a nod. "I'm gonna wear it to the party."
"I'm so glad!" she says. "I really hoped you'd like it!"
"I do. It's great, Mirabel," Bruno says, smiling softly at her.
He missed them all so much while he was gone. He didn't even really go anywhere and he missed them.
He's so glad to be . . . to be home.
Mirabel goes to get ready for the party, and Bruno does the same. He goes into his room and puts on the new ruana and looks down at himself. It fits perfectly. It hadn't even occurred to him that he could replace his old one, after all these years. He was just . . . used to it, he guesses.
He likes the new one.
The party is starting soon, Bruno assumes, and yes, when he leaves his room he finds the courtyard below crowded with family members flurrying through last-minute preparations. He resolves to stay out of the way. It's been a long time since he was involved in those, so he doesn't want to trip anything up. Anyway, he needs to go figure out where they're keeping the other presents. He's not sure they'll be where they used to. He watched the parties, usually, just . . . sometimes he didn't.
Sometimes it was just too much.
And birthdays are strange days anyway, sometimes. Birthdays are when they all got their gifts, after all.
He remembers that, on birthdays.
"Bruno!" Pepa says as he comes down the stairs, and Bruno immediately feels awkward again. "Come here!"
Well, that's easy enough, at least.
Bruno goes over to her. She grabs his face and kisses his cheek.
"You look good," she says approvingly. "Where'd you get the new ruana?"
"Mirabel," Bruno says.
"It’s lovely," Julieta says as she comes up beside them. "She did a good job."
"Yeah," Bruno agrees.
"What's this?" Pepa asks, poking at the covered cake.
"Uh . . ." Bruno shrugs helplessly, then pushes it at Julieta. Probably they'll eat before they open the other presents, so he should give it to her now. "It's for Julieta."
"For me?" Julieta looks surprised, but takes it.
"It's your present," Bruno says. "You can, uh. You can wait, if you don't want it yet." It'll be fine to eat later, he guesses.
"Open it!" Pepa insists immediately. She's never been the patient one.
"Alright, alright," Julieta says, and takes the cover off. She looks surprised again, and stares at the cake. "Oh!"
"It's, uh, tres leches," Bruno says awkwardly, even though of course she knows. He is very, very aware of the lopsidedness, but hopefully it'll still taste good. "Mirabel got Mariano's family to let me use their kitchen."
"You made this?" Julieta says. "I didn't know you remembered how."
"I mean . . . you taught me," Bruno says. She stares at the cake for another moment, then smiles at him. Her eyes are a little wet, which is alarming.
"Oh, Bruno," she says warmly, and gives him a one-armed hug. "Thank you. You didn't have to."
"I wanted to," Bruno says, then glances awkwardly at Pepa. "I, uh. I got you something too. If you want it."
"Obviously!" Pepa says.
"Okay." Bruno pulls the leather pouch out of his new ruana and offers it to her. She takes it and opens it without preamble, then looks surprised too.
"It's a prism?" she says.
"For, you know. Rainbows. For when you don't feel like making them yourself," Bruno says with an uncomfortable shrug. Pepa blinks rapidly, then promptly starts to rain. Julieta covers the cake again.
"You're ridiculous," Pepa says fondly, sniffling, and hugs him too. "I love it."
"Um," Bruno says, patting her back a little helplessly. "Good."
"You really didn't have to," Julieta says. "Hold on, let us get your present too."
"Mine?" Bruno says, reflexively bemused.
"We picked it out together," Pepa says as Julieta hurries off. Bruno tilts his head.
"Uh," he says. "Thank you?"
"Well, hold on, wait 'til you know if you like it!" Pepa says, and Julieta comes back with a wrapped package. It's bigger than Mirabel's and not as brightly decorated. He really wasn't expecting it.
Not that he was expecting Mirabel’s either, of course.
"Here you go," Julieta says, holding out the package. Bruno takes it. It's heavy. He opens it. It's . . .
"Huh," he says.
"What do you think?" Pepa asks.
"You don't have to use it," Julieta says. "We just thought maybe you'd like to."
It's a toolbox. There's tools in it. Bruno . . .
"Why?" he asks.
"You spent so long trying to fix things," Julieta says. "And it seemed like you liked it when we were rebuilding, so . . ."
"I did," Bruno says. He likes fixing things. It's . . . important. Useful.
He likes how it feels, he guesses.
And at least now it won’t be because the house is falling to pieces.
"Thank you," he says. "I'll use it."
Pepa and Julieta smile. Bruno remembers this morning and the depressing little vision that it started off with, and Mirabel's bright smile, and Mamá’s hand on his face. He remembers ruining Pepa’s wedding, and making Julieta laugh, and the hidden cracks in Casita’s walls. He remembers . . .
A lot of things, really. He remembers . . . a lot of things.
There’s so much here to remember.
So much here to remember, and apologize for, and forgive, and . . .
“Good,” Julieta says, and she and Pepa both step in and hug him. He can’t really hug back properly—they’re pinning his arms, and there’s the toolbox in his hands anyway—but it still feels good. It’d been a long time since they’d hugged him, even before he’d left. Now it’s just something that they do.
He likes it. That they do it, he means.
It’s . . . it’s nice, that they do it.
He missed them so much.
Sometimes on their birthday Bruno thinks about what it felt like, getting their gifts. Sometimes he thinks about what it would be like if they never had.
Sometimes he just thinks about things as they are, and how good it feels to have them.
“Happy birthday,” Bruno says, thinking about so, so many things, and Pepa and Julieta smile at him again. The others are still getting ready for the party he’s still not really prepared for, and Mirabel’s probably still getting ready herself, and Mamá’s busy doing who knows what, and everyone’s here, one way or the other, and . . .
“Happy birthday, Bruno,” Pepa and Julieta say, and he’s never been so happy to be home.