This is a short companion ficlet to Piece By Piece. You should read that work first.
Luciana hangs up the phone, tears in her eyes. She shouldn't be surprised by the news -- her husband had barely been clinging to life when she'd stepped out for a much needed stop at home and a quick shower -- but she still wishes more than anything she could have been there. She hates herself for picking that time, that hour, to leave his side. The nurses had said it would be fine. She never should have trusted them.
She needs to tell Antonio and Jorge, she thinks, trying to dry her eyes as she picks up the phone again, and her fingers hover over the numbers.
She's suddenly hit with a thought, unbidden, of Carlos. And she isn't sure why she's suddenly sobbing at that. Carlos had made his choices, and she couldn't handle the thought of her oldest son burning in hell. That she had done something wrong raising him. That she couldn't save him from himself.
Still, she fumbles around the desk for the sheet of paper that she'd long since buried at the back of a drawer. She wasn't sure then why she hadn't immediately shredded it when she received it, but now she feels a sense of relief when she finds it. It's crumpled, and she smooths it out like it's the most precious thing in the world.
In some ways, it was. It was the only lifeline she had to her son, sent by Adam's parents so many years before, apologizing that they hadn't been able to make it to graduation to see Adam and Carlos graduate, and including some pictures along with Adam and Carlos' phone numbers.
She had read it and thrown out the pictures and stuffed the letter into the desk, the memory of Carlos as he told her, his eyes full of hope, still fresh in her mind then. She remembers too how he had crumpled, destroyed -- much like the paper she holds now -- when she had turned around and never looked back. At the time she thought it was only what he had deserved for this. But as she stares at the paper now and wishes she had kept the photos, and a tear falls onto the page, she wonders if she should have reconsidered.
She needs her oldest, especially right now. Especially when she had just lost the greatest love of her life, and was hoping she hadn't lost him, too.
Her hands shake as she dials, carefully, making sure not to screw up any of the digits, not sure if it's even his number anymore. Then she holds the phone to her ear, not daring to breathe as it rings. She's just about to give up hope when the call connects.
She feels faint at the sound of his voice again, after so many years. He sounds breathless, distracted, and she hopes he's doing well. She shakes the tears away, telling herself to focus. They can catch up later.
"Carlos?" There's no response from the other end. "Carlito, mi hijo..." She's desperate, and her voice breaks, but then the line goes dead. She sits there for what feels like hours, staring off into space, her heart suddenly empty as she listens to the dial tone.
No. The call just disconnected, she tells herself. She hangs up and tries again, dialing each digit with even more determination. She didn't care anymore about his sexuality, or whatever sins he might have committed that she didn't know about. She just needed her son.
The phone rings, and then it connects, and her heart leaps at it and as she hears his voice. "Carlos! Por favor, necesito..." she starts before realizing it's his voicemail.
That would have to be good enough, for now.
She hears the beep, and swallows, determined to make things right, as much as she can. She pours her heart out into the message, saying everything that a part of her had wanted to say ever since that day that she now regrets more than anything else in her life. She tells him she doesn't care, and that she's proud that he's made it on his own for so long. She tells him that his father just died, and that she needs him now. She begs him to come home. She tells him that she doesn't know how she's lived without him for the past twelve years. She talks until the message cuts off, having reached the limit for the recording.
Then she hangs up, and waits. She waits for a call that never comes.
The funeral is smaller, thanks to the pandemia.
She cries as she says goodbye to her husband, reaching instinctively to her side for comfort. Antonio is there, and he takes her hand. But even as he does, she can't help but think that it's not right. The four of them should be here together, paying their last respects to this man. Carlos should be at her side, his hand in hers as they reassure each other. As she reassures him, because he had always been the emotional one. The one who needed her the most.
As she watches the casket being lowered into the ground, she can't help but check her phone. There's no call back, and no message, and as she feels the last of her hope fading, it hits her that she's actually burying two people today.
So she lets go of Carlos, too, her tears a flood now, full of regret for everything she's lost, knowing that the fact that she couldn't say goodbye to his face here, too, was her fault.
Not even her sons' hands on her own can make things right, and she thinks that nothing in her life will ever feel right again.