Read Andreo's Race Online

Authors: Pam Withers

Andreo's Race (12 page)

“Sounds like Mother and Dad,” I say. “Ignore it, suck it up, carry on like it's not there.”
Especially if it involves acknowledging birth parents or adoption

David spins around and puts his arm back on my shoulder. “I can't believe you said that. It's so true. Andreo, can I tell you a secret?”

There's a temptation to brush his arm off and run. I'm not sure which is worse, my hand on a door I'm scared to open, or David's arm on me. But I say, “Go for it,” a new helping of guilt weighing on me.

“When this race is over, I'm going to stop adventure racing. I don't want to compete anymore.”

“No?” Chickening out, I back away from the clinic door. At the same time, I catch a glimpse of the doctor's small house near its rear door, like Maria's grandma said.

“I don't even want to do track at school. I just want to concentrate on grades. But Dad's going to freak. Maybe … maybe you can back me up? Argue for me? I didn't think I'd have the nerve to ask you, but, but … You do get how
they are. I'm just not athletic like you. To be honest, Andreo, I've always been jealous …”

“Let's go in and deal with your foot,” I say brusquely.

His face falls. My insides twist with shame, but my nerves are totally jangled by the possibility of meeting my birth father. And David—or some weird version of him—is seriously increasing my anxiety level.

“Okay,” David says. “We'll talk about it some other time. But while I have you alone, I have to ask you something else.”

“What?” Hopefully I don't sound impatient.

“Are you and Raul up to something? I mean, the way you guys whisper and sneak off and keep checking the Internet. And the way you got Mom upset about something this afternoon. Are you in trouble?”

“We're not up to anything that concerns you.” It comes out through gritted teeth.

He nods slowly but doesn't look convinced. “And it's nothing that will hurt Mom or Dad?”

“Nothing that should hurt Mother or Dad.”
I'm making sure they won't find out, and anyway they have no right to feel hurt by our gathering information they should have given me ages ago!

Pushing the door open, I step into the clinic, David on my heels. He hangs back, maybe because my Spanish is better.

“Can I help you?” asks a tall, broad receptionist with an unfriendly face. The room is small and plain, with stiff curtains on the windows and green walls. A lineup
of metal chairs is occupied by patients who pretend not to stare at me.

I feel a drop of sweat trickle down my back. “
, my brother here needs to see a doctor about some blisters that may be infected.” At least, that's what I hope my limited Spanish has said.

“Dr. A is on lunch break.”

“You mean, in his house behind the clinic?” I can't believe I say that.

She stiffens. “Does Dr. A know you? What's your name?”

I lean in so close that she pulls back, but I have to make sure that David, who has taken a seat near the door, doesn't hear.

“I'm Andreo Gutierrez. Son of Vanessa Gutierrez. I'm sixteen.”

She stares at me coldly. The name obviously means nothing to her, and for a moment, I think she's going to throw us out. Then she turns on her heel and goes out the back door. The bell on it jingles as she disappears.

I take a deep, steadying breath and glance behind me. David is calmly turning the pages of a magazine. I look down to see my own hands shaking. I count slowly to ten. The jingle sounds again and I look up. The receptionist enters, then I'm staring at Dr. A, who is staring back at me. He's black. Behind the desk, I notice a photo calendar of Rwanda.

“Dr. Zacharie Akumuntu,” he says, all businesslike. “You have some kind of emergency?”

Seeing me struggling for words, David leaps up, shakes hands with the doctor and says. “
—to have a
—tener una, um, cita
? An appointment?” Before I can pull myself together, the door clicks as the two disappear into an examination room.

Not my birth father
is echoing through my head as I lower myself into a waiting room chair. I'm so humiliated that I don't notice when a woman clutching a baby enters the clinic and slides into the seat beside me.

“Andreo,” Ardillita is whispering, even though no one else in the room but the icy receptionist pays attention. “Your mother is in Torotoro. Andreo? Are you okay? I saw Vanessa an hour ago.”

I sit bolt upright and look at her.

“Mrs. de los Angeles said she'd given you the clinic's address, so I hoped I'd find you here. I saw Vanessa in the marketplace. She was buying food. I recognized her even though she had a scarf pulled partway around her face. But when I headed over to say hi, she disappeared. I don't know if she actually saw me.”

I glance at the receptionist, now busy taking a phone call. I look at the examination room door, still closed.

“Ardillita,” I say with urgency, “do you have a cell phone on you?”

She hands it to me with a smile; I rush outside and phone Detective Colque.

“You're certain?” he says, his voice rising with excitement. “This Ardillita is sure it was her?”

“She's sure.”

“Okay, Andreo. This is our big break. Tell me, what time do you leave the hotel for the caving event tomorrow? Nine o'clock? Good. Do you still want to meet your birth mother, son?”

I choke up. “Yes.”

“Of course you do. So, go back to your hotel. Check with the receptionist there for a message from me before you go to bed. I'm on my way to Torotoro. I will track her down, and I will set up an early-morning meeting that won't interfere with your race.”

“My parents can't know anything about this.”

“Don't worry,” he says and clicks off.

I step back into the clinic, glance at the receptionist and the closed examination-room door and whisper to Ardillita, “I'm meeting her tomorrow.”

Her eyes light up. She gives me a quick hug and takes back her phone. “E-mail me about it,” she begs, her eyes glistening. As she slips out the door, I look up to see David frozen in front of me. There's no sign of Dr. A.

“Just a blister,” he says slowly, eyes boring into me. “Who was that?”

“Friend of Maria's.”

“Sure,” he says coldly.

Okay, so we're back to being brenemies.


Running joyously over the uneven cobblestones, running like I'm flying, running to her open arms.

“Mom!” I mumble into her peasant blouse as she embraces me.

“Andreo!” she replies, the warmth of her voice enveloping and lifting me like the pinkish dawn of the day.

“Ask me anything; tell me all about you,” she says as we step back, still holding hands, looking into one another's faces. “But before you start, I have a question: Will you come live with your birth father and me?”

The cobblestones under my feet tremble, or is it my knees? I look down to see the stones shake more violently, then push upward and shatter.
This is a dream

I'm running over the heaving cobblestones. My birth mother is several steps ahead of me, her sandaled feet moving like they know every inch of the way. The distance between us is growing. Is she trying to run away?

“Mom!” I cry. “I have so many questions for you!”

She turns just long enough for me to see the distress in her dark eyes. “I got rid of you once!” she shouts. “Why have you come back?” And then she's gone.

I'm dreaming. My dreams don't mean anything

The ground stops quaking, a thin fog descends and she halts. I stand there, uncertain. I yearn for an embrace, and my heartbeat rises as she opens her arms, but this time she walks right past me, eyes on someone behind me. I turn and watch her clasp Raul's hands.

“Raul?” I demand. “What are you doing here?”

But he acts like I'm not there. He allows my birth mother to guide him to a bar that materializes as the fog rolls away. I follow them in. The stench of stale beer assaults my nostrils; shrieks, laughter and music half-deafen me.

! It's Vanessa!” a couple shouts to my birth mother, raising their hands and staggering toward her from the bar.

“Raul,” my birth mother murmurs, “meet your birth parents.”

The couple laughs and clinks their glasses together, sending liquid sloshing to the sticky floor. They giggle as they eye Raul. “Who'd you say this is?” they slur.

“It's okay,” I promise Raul as his face falls. “We're just dreaming.”

I wake in a sweat minutes before my watch alarm is due to beep and shake the dreams from my head. It's 6:00 a.m.
Dressing quickly in running gear, I scribble a note to leave on my bed: “Gone for a run.”

Then I steal out, hoping that the click of the door doesn't wake Raul, who knows what I'm up to, or David, who has hardly said a word to me since our clinic visit. Try as I might to banish thoughts about dinner last night, it all comes back in a rush:

“Okay, Team Family Dynamics, time to discuss caving strategy,” Dad says after we order our food.

From where she and Raul are huddled and speaking softly at the end of the table, Mother raises her head. “Not now, honey. Give Raul and me a moment, please.”

Raul, pale-faced and head hung low, the cola he'd ordered untouched, doesn't look like he's even listening to Mother's attempts to comfort him.

So David filled Mother and Dad in on Raul's family problems,
I reflect. Busybody.

“Mother?” I say, trying to pass her the basket of bread.

Her hand rises to push it away gently; as her distant eyes meet mine, I feel it's not the bread that she's rejecting. Is it because she saw me at the dinosaur square?

“So right from the start, we need to establish the order of our lineup, before any part of the cave narrows,” Dad says. “David, are you even listening? You keep staring at the doorway like you're expecting the queen.”

“More like Maria and her family,” I say.

“Shut up, Andreo,” David volleys back, his face reddening.

“Give it up, more like,” I reply.

“Boys! Can you please give me your attention! The caving, remember? And Pearl, Raul, enough already with the secret conversation down there. Especially you, Raul. You're our caving leader.… ”

“Andreo!” Detective Colque greets me at the hotel desk, pulling me back to the present.

Whew, he's here just as he promised he'd be, even if he does smell of too much cologne.

I shake his hand and we head across town, me sweating like I really am on a training run.

“Thanks for driving all the way from Cochabamba last night,” I say.

“No thanks needed, Andreo. This is the best part of my job.”

The first orange-pink rays of light are shimmering on the horizon as we near the doctor's clinic.

“How'd you find her?” I ask, hoping conversation will steady my nerves.

“I have contacts all over, as any good detective should,” he replies with a wink. “Dr. A is one of them.”

Through the drawn curtains of the clinic, a light glows weakly. The sign on the door reads
in Spanish. Detective Colque's hand is on the small of my back, pressing me forward gently. “It's unlocked. She's waiting inside. She's fluent in English, by the way. Works as a secretary for an international firm that requires it. I'll be
here when you're finished.” Before I can protest, he melts away into the dawn.

My sweaty palm barely manages to twist the doorknob. I gaze at the far side of the room, where a slim woman is knitting furiously under a pool of light from a floor lamp. The needles freeze. She lifts her face.

“Andreo?” says a voice that sounds much younger than her years. She sets her knitting aside and rises, her steps hesitant, her forehead moist.

She looks barely older than the beauty queen printout I have. Dark braids, almond eyes, high cheekbones and a long, graceful neck. She's wearing a simple blouse and gathered skirt, the kind all the indigenous women around here seem to wear, but the pink sweater is fancy and she has heels on. Tiny diamond earrings sparkle in the limited light. I move closer. There's something between longing and fear in her eyes. In all my dreams, I never imagined I would have to be the one to put her at ease.

“Yes, I'm Andreo,” I say, my chest so tight I'm amazed the words squeeze out. I lift my trembling hands to hers. She smiles, almost like she's forcing it, and then she suddenly throws herself forward and wraps her arms around me, pulling me in so tight that I'm half-smothered by the soft wool of her sweater—the same softness as the wool of my baby cap.

“I've waited for this a very long time,” she mouths into my shoulder, which is as far as her head reaches. I bury
my face in her silken hair as I have a thousand times before, but this time it's no dream. She smells of rose perfume.

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