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Anchored Hearts
Author: Priscilla Oliveras

 


Chapter 1

“Mami, you’re kidding me, right?” Anamaría Navarro slowed her Honda Pilot for the red light at the intersection of White Street and Glynn Archer Drive and gaped at the dashboard screen as if her mom could see her shock.

“Nena, why would I joke about someone’s health and a mamá’s worry for her child? How could you think that of me?”

Anamaría bit back a frustrated sigh. Ay Dios mío, talk about exaggeration. The Cuban mami guilt coming through the line was thicker than the humidity enveloping Key West outside. And even late-April heat in the Keys was no-joke hot.

“We’re not talking about a generic ‘someone,’ Mami, and you know it,” Anamaría pressed. “This is—”

“Exactamente. This is familia. So, you will go and help. Because it is what familia does,” her mami insisted.

¡Coño! Anamaría smacked the butt of her palm on her steering wheel as she mumbled another damn! She didn’t have to be video chatting with her mami to see the reprimand on her softly lined face. The parental disappointment and expectation were evident in the firm tone.

The light turned green, and Anamaría checked her rearview mirror for traffic moving into the left lane next to hers. When she glanced forward again, her gaze caught on Key West Fire Department Station 3 nestled on the far corner. For a hot second she considered pulling into the station’s parking lot. Whining to her brother Luis about their mami’s unreasonable request.

But thirty years of living with and loving a Cuban mami told her that while whining to her brother might make Anamaría feel better, nothing would change their mother’s mind.

Frustration bubbling, Anamaría flicked her blinker down to signal her intent, then executed a smooth U-turn.

“Mami, I already told you, I only have an hour and a half before I go into back-to-back-to-back workout sessions with clients. I was running home to make a protein shake and update something on my website. I don’t have time to go play nursemaid.”

Especially not to him.

Her gut clenched. Her heart fluttered the tiniest bit. Anamaría gritted her teeth, ignoring the reactions to the man she’d sworn to forget.

On the other end of the line, the maternal guilt factor upped the ante in the form of a heavy, downtrodden sigh. “That is plenty of time, nena. Elena is worried Alejandro’s wounds may have become infected on his long trip home. You will put her fears to rest by checking his injury. This is nothing different than getting a call when you are at the station. Do you not want to help her?”

Anamaría bit down on the not really that sprang to her tongue. It would be a partial lie anyway. “Normally, I’d do anything for Señora Miranda. Pero esto—”

“But this, nothing. I know you and your good heart. You will go because she asked for you. Porque she needs you. Now tell me, how close are you to the Mirandas’ home now? ¿Ya casi llegas?”

A surprised puff of air rushed from Anamaría. How the heck did her mami know to ask if she was almost there?

Annoyed, if somewhat bemused, Anamaría glanced at the dashboard display again where La Reina scrolled across the screen. Not for the first time in her life she wondered if her mami, aka “The Queen,” had managed to implant a tracking device in her children at birth. Somehow, Lydia Quintana de Navarro had this uncanny ability of keeping close tabs on her four kids, even though they were all now adults.

“Sí, I’m about five minutes away,” Anamaría muttered as she continued heading south on Flagler. Ahead on her left, the red-and-white electronic marquee for Key West High School flashed with end-of-the-school-year announcements.

“Muy bien. I knew I could count on you to do the right thing,” her mom said, not even trying to hide her smugness. “Please be nice to Alejandro. Pobrecito must be in so much pain.”

Anamaría rolled her eyes. Poor thing? The idiot should have been more careful if he planned to hike the Puerto Rican rainforest alone.

“I’ll be polite. That’s the best I can promise.”

The odds of her being nice to the man who had broken her heart were about as good as a snowball’s chance of surviving a Key West summer day. There was damn good reason why she hadn’t spoken to Alejandro Miranda for over ten years.

“Por favor, dile que sigo rezando por él,” her mom insisted.

“Mami, I’m sure he already knows that you’re praying for him.”

In fact, prayer chains had been activated throughout their comunidad the second news had reached them of Alejandro’s scary hiking accident a couple weeks ago. Despite his asshole behavior before and in the months after their breakup all those years ago, even Anamaría had murmured a few Our Fathers for his recovery. That Catholic school guilt could be a real revenge squasher sometimes.

Still, she had no desire to play messenger pigeon for the man to whom she had nothing left to say.

Fingers gripping her steering wheel, she made the left onto Bertha Street, then shortly after turned right onto Laird. Her breaths quickened the closer she drew to the house that had been her second home since eighth grade at Horace O’Bryant Middle School.

Well . . .

Except for those first few months after their breakup. When it’d been too painful for her to visit. To even drive down this quiet neighborhood street.

The same way it had been with so many other places around Key West. Memories attacking her in quick succession. Sharp cross-hook-uppercut jabs delivering blows as if she were a punching bag.

Gravel crunched underneath her car tires as she parked in front of the Mirandas’ place. Her gaze cut to the cinder-block and peach-painted stucco privacy wall edging the single-story home’s perimeter. Through the white-painted wood peep-through border at the wall’s top she stared at the front door.

It had taken her a while, but she’d learned to deal with the sad expressions on many of the faces of the loved ones inside. The ones who, like her, had been left behind, forgotten, by the same hardheaded man whose presence, almost twelve years later, forced her visit today.

Annoyed by her current predicament, Anamaría jerked the gearshift to park, then wiped her sweaty palms on her leggings. She sucked in a deep breath, slowly releasing it like she would instruct a victim in danger of hyperventilating. When that did nothing to slow her mid-cardio workout pulse, she reached for her water bottle and took a hefty swig.

“¿Llegaste?” her mom’s voice cut through the hazy memories trying to push their insidious way to the surface in Anamaría’s mind.

“Yes, I’m here. I gotta go, Mami. Te llamo más tarde.”

She chugged another gulp, certain that her promise to call later wouldn’t stop her mom from bugging her before then. When it came to overstepping the boundaries of propriety and privacy with her children, her mom didn’t baby-step over it. She freaking leapt.

All with good intentions of course. Lydia Quintana de Navarro lived and breathed for her husband and children, their extended familia, and their entire comunidad. That also meant when she felt she knew what was best for someone, there was no shying away from letting them know it. Or from using her wily passive-aggressive skills to get her way, particularly with her kids and grandkids.

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