“No,” he said, and gripped her arms. “No, you promised. You have to take me with you. We talked about South America. First thing we do when we get to Brazil is you’re going to buy me a suit and we are going to have a dinner in Rio. You can’t leave me!”
“Who do you think you are to demand anything of me?” she sputtered. “Let go of me or I’ll break your arm.”
“Then break it,” he replied, holding on tighter to her.
She pushed him away and he lost his balance, falling down. He lay sprawled in the middle of the road, watching her. A cricket chirped nearby. The night seemed terribly vast, like the inked panel in a comic book, threatening to swallow him whole.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked her. His mouth had gone dry.
“You’d slow me down.”
“I don’t need you anymore.”
Her words cut into him, through muscle and bone. Domingo felt his eyes stinging with tears but he didn’t cry. He pulled himself up, scanning her face feverishly.
Atl promptly looked away and closed her eyes.
“Look at me,” he said, and his voice sounded harsh and alien. “Don’t be such a coward and look at me.”
Atl opened her eyes and stared at Domingo. He stared back. He wanted to touch her. He wanted to kiss her and kiss away any doubts, but when he moved toward her she took three steps back.
“You’re a liability. I’ve made mistakes because of you and I can’t afford them anymore. You’ll get me killed or I’ll get you killed. I’m doing you a favor. You’re too young to die, especially for me.”
“Maybe I don’t care if I die. You said you’d take me with you,” he told her again, caught in a loop.
She turned her head, looking at the path they had followed, and then she looked in the opposite direction at the car waiting for her.
“I’ll tell you one vampire fact, Domingo. One final one for your scrapbook,” she said, her voice languid. “We always lie.”
She kicked the backpack in his direction and straightened her jacket. Her face was impassive.
“I love you,” he whispered. Like the fool he was, the fool he’d been from the get-go, madly dashing after this girl.
A long silence stretched between them. She cupped his face with one hand and kissed him, so briefly Domingo hardly felt her lips upon his, the ghost of a kiss. He leaned down, pressed his forehead against hers.
Atl stepped back. He desperately wanted to follow her, yet managed to remain rooted to his spot as she walked in the direction of the car, hands in her pockets.
She turned her head a fraction of an inch, her eyes very dark, pools of ink, silencing him. She did not say a word. In her eyes he read the answer to the question she had not allowed him to ask.
No one had ever looked at him like that. Like he was every star shining down on them that night and the ground beneath her feet, and every other ridiculous phrase found in books that he’d never believed could possibly be true. And he knew she hated herself in that moment and he knew she loved him precisely because she did not speak a single word.
The car sped away and her gaze stayed with him as he slowly walked back through the landfill.
When he passed by the shed he heard a soft whine. Domingo paused at the doorway of the building and went inside.
The dog was alive. It lay behind a bunch of plastic bags. Domingo kicked the bags away and Cualli stared at him. Domingo walked back toward the entrance, pulled at one of the shopping carts until it came free from the others, and rolled it back next to the dog. He placed the dog inside the cart.
It looked confused. Domingo patted its head.
“It’s all right,” he said gently. “You’re in luck today.”
His player still worked, so he switched it on and dug out his headphones.
He began rolling his cart away.
Domingo dreamt of her a few days later, in the long, long hours before the dawn. He dreamt she’d stepped out of a car, at the end of a dusty road. She took out a compass from her pocket and held a machete in her other hand. Her hand. It was fine and whole. She was fine.
Atl stepped forward, into the jungle, the trees rising very high above her head. There were many noises: the faint chirping of birds, the roars of howling monkeys, the buzzing of insects, the patter of rain as it slid down the leaves and trunks of the trees. The rain reverberated, resembling the steady sound of drums.
“Atl,” he said.
She hacked through the jungle, her machete swinging back and forth, opening a path. She paused for a moment, raising her head, as if someone had called her name. She smiled. Almost immediately she pressed forward, sinking into the endless greenery of the jungle.
The chatter of birds spread, as if they were welcoming the girl.
In dreams, he smiled too.