"I, I'm gonna hang up and call you right back, okay?" Rosario heard herself say over the pounding in her ears. She tapped the phone and her mom's ashen face vanished from the screen, but the memory of it hung like a dark shadow over her mind. What had Archer's dad done to shake her mom that bad? A couple more taps. A dial tone; one ring, two— her heart was thudding in her chest, sweat breaking out in her palms.
"Mami—" she leapt in the instant the call picked up, at the same time as Carla said, "Charo—"
"What just happened?" she couldn't stop herself from ploughing forward. "Are you okay?" Did he hurt you? she pressed her lips tight against the question. It sat heavy in her chest, a burning pressure between her lungs.
"God. Okay. I—" A long hesitation; a soft sound like a breath hitching. Rosario curled her free hand into a fist, nails digging into the meat of her palm. She wished she could still see her mom's face. Even though she wasn't sure she wanted to.
Some rustling, another quiet noise. This one sounded unsettlingly close to a sniffle. "Yes, I'm okay. That's the first thing, m'ija, everything's okay. I know I wigged out and I'm sorry. I didn't— it was just that I wasn't— it got me by surprise."
"Seeing Archer," Rosario said. Her voice felt like it was coming from a long way off.
"I didn't know— He looks exactly like his dad."
What did that mean? What the hell did that mean? "Mami, how do you even know him?"
That brought another silence, longer than the first, a silence in which every muffled background rustle made Rosario's chest clench tighter. Why wasn't she saying anything? What about it was such a hard question? Oh god, did he hurt you??
Carla sucked in a breath. "Okay, here's... here's what's gonna— I'm gonna come home." There was a definite quaver to her voice, but it steadied as she continued on. "I'll tell 'Buela someone else'll have to do cards night. Camino and Chicky won't be home till later, so it'll be just us."
Rosario had scarcely been conscious of Lyra returning to the table, didn't even know when she'd started gripping her friend's hand, but now she was clutching it tight.
"Charo?" Her mom was still speaking. "You remember I said everything's okay, right? Nothing bad happened."
But that couldn't be true. If nothing bad had happened, her mom wouldn't be rushing home from work halfway through a shift when she needed every hour of overtime. If nothing bad had happened, she would've been able to say whatever it was over the phone. Every single thing about this was flashing red warning lights, and the dread coiled tight and acidic in Rosario's throat.