“FUCKING A! I CAN WALK ON WATER!” CJ’s feet skimmed over the canal’s surface while he shouted; his toes barely touched the water. His outburst went unheard over the boat engine’s roar and the whoosh of water flowing through the Jetlev-Flyer attached to his back.
Weaving his way right and left in front of the boat, he caught a glimpse of his brother. Ritchie had been the first one to strap on the device with the long, thick black hose connected to the vessel. Water pumping into it flew out through the two nozzles on the backpack with enough force to lift the rider into the air. CJ mugged for the camera his brother aimed at him—the GoPro was a Christmas present from the dads.
As if the adrenaline rush was insufficient to get his heart pumping and his teeth showing, the glance at Ritchie helped elevate his mood further. The kid was thrilled with the gift from their fathers, but CJ suspected the one he really liked was the watch strapped to his left wrist he looked at constantly. Breitling, a Swiss luxury watchmaker, was known for precision-made chronometers designed for aviators. The Breitling Chronomat 44 Blacksteel was the ultimate gift—short of a plane—for a budding pilot.
The two brothers and Owen flew to Miami the day after Christmas for a visit. The Abelló grandparents were in Washington for Thanksgiving but the guys had not seen the other set of grandparents in quite a while. They spent the first two days with the older relatives and today was a chance for the three of them to have some fun.
The trip to the Jetlev rental facility was CJ’s present to his brother and boyfriend in addition to the watches. While Ritchie got a Breitling, Owen sported a shiny steel TAG Heur Aquaracer. CJ thought about buying him a Rolex, but since he already had the one his fathers had given him years before, he wanted something different for his boyfriend. The two tried to avoid wearing the same thing; they did not want to fall into the habit some couples did of looking like clones. With the watch, the added incentive was since they shared everything, they could wear each other’s.
Owen and Ritchie were the first to experience the breathtaking flight on the watercraft-meets-aircraft contraption; it was now CJ’s turn. Ritchie may have learned how to fly an airplane over the summer, but the three men became their own pilots within minutes of leaving the dock. Even though he was tethered to the boat, CJ’s exhilaration came from the feeling of lightness as he soared above the placid water surface. When he maneuvered under water for a few moments and then rose dripping, he was certain everyone could hear his shouts of joy.
“That was sick, CJ! Thank you!” Ritchie hugged his brother as soon as he was back on the boat. “Can we buy one of these things?”
“Are you crazy, mate? These babies cost thousands each. Plus, then we’d need a power boat too.” Owen ruffled his future brother-in-law’s hair while chuckling.
“Bah! The two of you just spent over two million dollars on a house and you’re complaining about spending a little more?”
CJ gave Owen a quick wink before staring at his brother. “Sure thing, bro. I’ll talk to the dads as soon as we get back home. Of course, if we spend all that money you may not get to finish your flying lessons next summer. We’ll use the money for a jet pack instead of airplane rentals.”
“Hey! Wait a minute…”
CJ turned his back on his brother and took a few steps towards the bow and the man running the boat. “Hey, Noah, we paid for one flight for each of us. How about we give my little brother one more run? I’ll pay the regular fee and I’ll make it worth your while.”
“You’re the boss, sir. We don’t have anyone scheduled until late this afternoon. One more run won’t be a problem. I won’t charge you for it. Just take care of my assistant after we dock.”
CJ was generous when he tipped Noah and the first mate. What was the purpose of having money if you never used it? His brother’s delight was priceless.
A fortnight after the Christmastime trip, CJ, Owen, and Ritchie were back in Miami; César and Brett accompanied them. There was no excursion to the beach, no Water Jet Pak rides, and no visit to Sebastián Abelló’s jeweler friend to check on the wedding bands CJ and Owen commissioned. Juan Santos had died and they were in town for the funeral. Abo was in rough shape in December during their previous visit; Olga’s call to let them know he had passed away in his sleep did not come as much of a surprise.
“What are we going to do with Aba?” CJ was in the passenger seat with Owen behind the rental’s wheel while Ritchie sat in back between César and Brett.
“What do you mean?” César had an arm around Ritchie’s shoulders and pulled him in tighter into his body as soon as the kid started sobbing again.
“They moved into that place because of Abo.” CJ adjusted his position so he could have a clearer view of his fathers and brother. “Because there were people to help take care of him. But Aba’s fine. She doesn’t need all that extra attention.”
CJ noticed Brett glance at César for a moment before he spoke. “The Palace’s not just for the infirm, CJ. It is a retirement community first. Olga may want to stay there. She gets to socialize with people her age. And they do provide activities and services to make her life easier.”
“I want her to move to Washington and come live with us.” Ritchie had not said much during the flight or since landing at Miami International Airport; his suggestion took CJ by surprise.
“I don’t know, bro. You think Aba would want to leave Miami? She already said no when we suggested it once before. Not sure she could handle DC anyway. She wouldn’t have her circle of friends around. And there aren’t a lot of Latins where we live. She’d prolly miss that too.”
“I’m guessing she won’t enjoy the weather either, mate.” Owen glanced at Ritchie in the rearview mirror. “Remember how much you hated the cold after you moved? Think how bad that’d be for someone her age.”
“I don’t care. I don’t want her to be alone. Please, Mr. A? Captain?”
“Tell you what, buddy, Brett and I will talk with her. Just not today, okay?” César’s benign smile and soft tone seemed to calm Ritchie’s agitation. “She has enough on her mind right now. Let’s get through tonight’s viewing and tomorrow’s mass. Maybe we’ll invite her to come up for a visit and see how she copes with the living situation and the weather.”
CJ posted on his social media now and then. His comfort zone expanded over time and he felt secure sharing certain things with the world. Before arriving in Miami, he shared a picture of his deceased grandfather sitting in a wheelchair, flanked by his two grandsons. Owen had taken it during their visit the previous month.
CJ remembered holding his grandfather’s hands, thinking how cold they felt, and how gnarled the fingers had become thanks to arthritis and little use. The man in the picture looked rail thin and older than someone in their early seventies. But he was smiling as his grandsons huddled around him and posed for the photo. The response to CJ’s post was overwhelming. Hundreds of messages came across all platforms offering their condolences.
He was reading some of them aloud when Owen pulled in front of the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. Since the two fathers were with them, CJ did not even suggest staying on South Beach. This was not a pleasure trip.
As much as everyone was saddened by Juan’s life ending, CJ was honest with himself; the death of his grandfather was something of a relief. The man was barely able to speak when they saw him in December and his body’s frailty matched that of his mind. The latest issue was failing kidneys and the need for dialysis. Olga had been somber but clear about her feelings. The suffering her husband experienced was heartbreaking, but his death was expected and even welcome.
The following day, his other grandmother called. Rosario and Sebastián Abelló had taken control of the situation in Miami and were handling all the funeral arrangements. Olga was moving in with them temporarily and they would gather at their house for a light meal on Friday night before heading over to the funeral parlor. Rosario confirmed Olga was being strong even if she at times retreated into silence and appeared adrift in her memories.
Lost in thought, CJ followed the other men as they registered and took the elevator to their floor. He was a bit surprised when he found himself in front of a door Owen held open for him. He looked down the hall to see Ritchie walking into the room next to theirs with his fathers behind him.
Later that night at the funeral home, CJ read cards attached to flower arrangements and pocketed selected ones until his grandparents’ long-time neighbor approached him. Octavio Pérez had lived next to Olga and Juan Santos for as long as he could remember. “Hola, CJ. Are you saving those for Olga? I think you missed a couple of them.”
CJ smiled at the widower who was always friendly towards him and Ritchie whenever they visited with their grandparents. “Hi, Mr. Pérez. Thank you for coming tonight. I know it means a lot to my grandmother.”
“Of course I’d be here. I’ve known your grandparents for too long. Juan’s illness was a shame. At least now he’ll be at peace and Olga can find some herself. Do you want me to collect the cards you missed?”
“Thanks but the funeral home will get those later tonight. The ones I pocketed are from people Aba doesn’t know. Some from family friends in Washington, some from people we’ve never met. I posted on the internet about Abo dying and a few of my online friends were clever enough to find the funeral home’s name and send flowers. I’ll reply to those people myself.” Although he would save the ones from the Clintons and the Obamas to show his grandmother later.
The elderly priest CJ met during Friday night’s viewing was the same one celebrating the funeral mass on Saturday morning. There was no interment planned; Juan was to be cremated and Olga planned on one day spreading his ashes in their hometown of Baracoa, Cuba.
“This sucks, you know?” CJ rested his head on Owen’s shoulder and sighed. The Sunday afternoon return flight to Washington was hard to board. Leaving their grandmother behind tore at his heart. Ritchie was even more wrung out; exhausted, he crashed before the plane left the ground. He slept, his head propped against the window across the aisle from where CJ and Owen sat.
Ritchie clutched the teddy bear he and CJ gave their grandfather as a Christmas present. Olga insisted he take it home with him—something tangible to remember Abo. The kid wanted to stay longer, but their grandmother was firm about him getting back to school. She claimed the best way they could honor the memory of Juan Santos was to succeed.
“What sucks?” Owen had remained quiet after taking the window seat and declining the cocktail offered by the flight attendant.
“Death. I mean, everyone dies sooner or later. So that’s not an issue for me. I’m fine with people dying most of the time. But first Liz and now Abo is a bit much, a little too close.”
“Yeah? Well, think about Ritchie. Throw his parents in the mix and no wonder he was a basket case this weekend. We’re going to be extra nice to him for the foreseeable future. I know you and your dads believe in tough love but he needs a little healing time.”
“Yeah… I guess. It’s a fine line to walk between mourning and moving on. It’s like with your sister. I don’t want to remember Liz the way we saw her at the end. I’d rather think of the bubbly girl I met my first trip to Australia. Or the one who visited us after her first bout with cancer.
“I’m glad Aba told the priest she didn’t want any long sermons during the funeral mass. And that she asked me and Ritchie to say a few words. She told me to talk about the good times with Abo when I was a little kid instead of about how he was the last couple of years. Hope I pulled it off. I was happy when I got people to chuckle a few times.
“You know something? He started getting worse after my mom died. I think his weakened mind couldn’t deal with losing his only child. Aba handled it much better and I hope she can do the same now.
“Oh well, not to get religious but ashes to ashes and dust to dust. With both Liz and Abo, I choose to recall the happy times. And to realize my life’s better because they were part of it.”
Thank you, Mann Ramblings, Kitt, and Reader 1810 for your hard work.
This story would not be possible without your assistance.