The Return

by Darlene P Campos

Pine Ridge is a big rez, about the size of Rhode Island and Delaware put together. Big as it is, things get around fast. You can't fart without 50 other people knowing. When a rumor spread that Ignacio Puente was coming back to Pine Ridge, I was the only one who believed it. John David Gutierrez, my best buddy, said it was nothing but bunk.

"He's in college in California, why would he come back to this dump?" he said.

"Maybe he misses you," I said but John David told me to shut up. Ignacio had been gone for almost four years. Neither of us had heard from him since then.

"If he comes back," John David said as we rode our bikes down Crazy Horse Circle. "I'll punch him in the face and call him an asshole."

Ignacio and John David met during our junior year at Red Cloud High School. They dated in secret, but most people had suspicions anyway. One night, a few weeks before graduation, John David went to Ignacio's house to 'study' for a test. Mr. and Mrs. Puente walked in on them making out and told John David to never come over again. The day before we started class at Sitting Bull College on the rez, Ignacio disappeared. After not seeing him for a month, we found out his parents flew him to college in San Francisco. John David didn't take it too well. He couldn't stop crying for weeks and his appetite went away too. He lost about 25 pounds during his grieving.

"What if he said he was sorry for leaving?" I asked.

"Doesn't matter, I'm still kicking his ass," John David said and knowing him, he probably would. We stopped by the Puente house, looking for clues. All the lights were out and the car was gone, which only said they weren't home.

"Maybe they're picking him up from the airport," I shrugged. "I thought I saw Mr. Puente heading towards Rapid City earlier."

"I thought I saw Mr. Puente earlier too, but it was just a pile of dog shit," John David answered and I almost fell off my bike from laughing. The Puentes were Pentecostal missionaries from Orange County, California. They came to Pine Ridge a couple times a year, but one time they stayed put and opened a church called "Temple of God's Love" over on Sundance Road. Ignacio was the receptionist there in high school and once he told me that every time he got off work, he'd drive home in tears.

* * *

"Some church members tell me they want to kill homosexuals and they don't know I'm one and I love one," Ignacio said. Within the next week, he was gone.

I was pumping gas into my car at Big Bat's when I thought I saw Ignacio in front of me. It was past 11 at night and I was falling asleep after a long day at work, so I thought Ignacio was a mirage. He was more muscular and his hair was shorter. He was barely recognizable but his little scar near his right eye gave him away. Mr. Puente gave him that scar when he found out about him and John David.

"Nimo!" he said and ran towards me. "I just got home about an hour ago and I wanted to keep it low-key and then I run into you!" Ignacio hugged me so tight that he lifted me off the ground.

"So whatcha doing back here after so long? You didn't like San Francisco?" I asked when he put me down.

"No, it was great," he said. "I went to San Francisco State and got a degree in Kinesiology. It's a nice city, gay friendly, but it was missing something."

"Indians?" I asked which made him smile. Ignacio is Puerto Rican and John David is half-Lakota, half-Costa Rican. They both got a lot of smack talk for not being 'full-blooded' and more talk for being gay.

"Has JD been with anyone else since I left?" Ignacio asked.

"I don't think so," I said. "He would've told me about it."

"He probably thinks I left him for someone else, but I didn't," he said. "I still love him, Nimo. I hope he doesn't hate me after everything that happened." Knowing the way John David was, I doubted he hated Ignacio. He always said he did, but sometimes I'd catch him staring at his mini Costa Rican flag in his truck. Ignacio gave him that flag for their first Valentine's Day together.

"When do you think I should talk to him again?" he asked.

"Uh, I'd give it a couple of days," I said. "Last week, he said if saw you here, he'd punch you in the face."

* * *

"I deserve that," Ignacio sighed. He hugged me again and told me he'd be keeping in touch with me, but I didn't believe him.

At work the next week, I was replacing light bulbs in the student lounge of Sitting Bull College and John David was there, studying for his summer class. If he passed, he'd graduate with a degree in Business Management.

"Need help?" he asked from his table.

"No, I got it," I said, even though I did need help. My injured leg was acting up on me again, so I almost fell off my ladder.

"Hey, John David, can I ask you something?" I said as I screwed a new light bulb in. John David nodded, so I asked him what he would do if Ignacio really came back to Pine Ridge. I don't remember exactly what he said, but it was pretty violent.

"That sounds terrible," I said and stepped down from my ladder.

"What the hell did you expect? Run into his open arms and kiss his face off?"

"Yeah, you see-" I said, but John David cut me off. He said he did love Ignacio for a long time, but he didn't anymore.

"John David, he came back," I said before he could keep on yelling. He stood up from his chair, walked over to the window, and pressed his cheek against the hot glass.

"That burned like hell, I guess I must be awake," he said. "Are you messing with me, Nimo? 'Cause if you are, I'll kill you." I told him I wasn't and if he wanted to see Ignacio, he could find him at the Temple of God's Love.

"If he wants to talk, he knows where I live! He's known where I've been for the last four years!" John David shouted. He took his textbook and threw it across the lounge.

"Sorry Nimo, I'm not mad at you," he wheezed. "I'm just, ah, I can't even talk." He picked up his textbook and walked out, covering his sniffles with his hand.

A little before my shift was over, me and Ate took all the trash to the dumpster. I told him about Ignacio being back and he said he already knew about it.

"This is Pine Ridge, son, people knew Ina was pregnant with you before I did," he said. "So what's JD gonna do? Take him back?"

"Doesn't seem like it," I said. "John David is too angry."

"Ignacio could've found a way to keep in touch if he really loved JD," Ate said as he tossed the last trash bag into the dumpster. "Your grandparents didn't want me dating Ina, but I married her anyway. She's my world, Nimo." He took off his rubber wedding ring and replaced it with his golden wedding ring, rubbing his fingers on the surface.

After I clocked out from work the next Tuesday, I drove straight to the Temple of God's Love. They were getting ready to have a service about the Book of Corinthians. Ignacio was at the front desk, greeting everyone who walked in. I squeezed in through the crowd and asked him if he and John David had talked yet. He shook his head and told me he figured it was over for good, but he didn't want it to be.

"Then tell him that," I said.

"He hates me, Nimo," he said. "What's the use? Hey, if you wanna stay for the service, we're having dinner after."

Since there would be food, I did go to the service. My parents aren't Christians, even though a lot of people on the rez are. They raised me on the traditional Lakota religion. Miss Running Bear, John David's mom, is a traditionalist too. Ignacio has been Pentecostal his whole life because of his parents. When Ignacio came out, his parents beat him up, so he stayed at John David's house for a few days until they calmed down. So when Ignacio left, John David felt betrayed and I didn't blame him.

"Did you like the service?" Ignacio asked as we ate grilled chicken and corn.

"Eh, it was okay," I said. "Your dad gets kinda boring after an hour."

"Yeah, I know," Ignacio said with a laugh. "I've heard that sermon about five hundred times and he still hasn't changed it. It's one of my favorites though."

"Why? Your dad said gays are going to hell at the end of it," I reminded him.

"He always says that, Nimo," Ignacio sighed. "Anyway, the first book of Corinthians has a couple verses about love in chapter 13. I used to read those verses in San Francisco, whenever I missed JD, which was actually every single day."

While dessert was being passed around, I asked Ignacio why he vanished. He avoided the question at first by changing the subject to his college life. When I asked him again, he told me he felt scared. He said his parents told him that if he kept being with John David, they would disown him forever.

"They wanted me to be straight and they sent me to college in San Francisco," he said. "I guess it's tough for you to understand, Nimo. Your parents really love you."

"Maybe you should be having this conversation with John David instead of me," I said. Ignacio stared at the floor for a moment and then he said at this point, it was all up to John David. He didn't want to force anything on him.

"I left him without telling him why," Ignacio said. "I broke his heart into pieces."

As I drove home after the dinner, I thought about the story of how my parents met. Ate met Ina at the annual Sioux Plains Pow Wow in '82. She was a fancy shawl dancer and he was a janitor, cleaning the tables at the food section. Ina sprained her ankle during a dance and went to rest at a table Ate was wiping down. Ate said when he saw Ina, he froze. The first time John David saw Ignacio during lunch in our junior year, he watched him walk from the vending machine to a table across from us. John David sat next to me, frozen in place, for the rest of the lunch period.

"Dammit, Nimo, I told you I'm not talking to him," John David said when I brought up Ignacio during a game of pool at his house.

"At least hear him out for a couple of minutes," I said.

"Would you be quiet? You're messing up my shot," John David said and then he struck the eight ball into a pocket.

"Loser!" I said and he asked for a rematch. So I let him have the first shot of the next game. The eight ball spun right into a pocket on the left side of the pool table.

"This is pissing me off, let's go get something to eat at Big Bat's," John David said. We got into his truck and I noticed his mini Costa Rican flag was missing. I asked him about it and he said he didn't have to hang it up anymore since everyone knew he was half Costa Rican.

"Everyone knew you were half Costa Rican when Ignacio first gave it to you and you still hung it up," I reminded him.

"Look, it's my truck, I'll do what I want," he said and turned up the radio.

"Nimo, JD, my favorite customers," Mr. Graywolf said when we got to Big Bat's. "Your parents came by about an hour ago, Nimo. They bought a mega pack of condoms and ten tubes of lube."

"Gross," I groaned. No matter how many times Mr. Graywolf tells me that joke, it always makes me want to throw up. While me and John David waited for our usual hot dog combos, I asked him if he really hated Ignacio because I wasn't sure.

"Is the sky blue?" he answered. "Can we just drop it, please? It's over between me and him, Nimo. I don't want him back."

When our hot dog combos arrived, so did Ignacio. He stopped at our table and then John David got up and went outside.

"Does that mean he doesn't want his hot dog?" Ignacio asked.

"I'll get to-go boxes, you go talk to him," I said. I stepped outside a few minutes later, not seeing John David. Ignacio was standing by John David's truck, whistling.

"Where did he go?" I asked.

"He said he had to pee and went back inside, which I'm gonna take as a no. I'm going home," Ignacio said. I told Ignacio to sit tight while I went to get John David. I found him by the water fountain next to the restrooms.

"You are not making me go out there," John David said. So I made a deal with him—if he and Ignacio didn't make up, he could punch me. If they did, I'd punch him. With that, John David agreed to talk to Ignacio for a couple of minutes.

"Honey," Ignacio said to him when we were outside again.

"Don't honey me," John David said. "What do you want?"

"I want you," Ignacio answered.

"How do I know you're not gonna leave me again?" John David said and to be honest, he had a good point. Ignacio reached into his pocket for his wallet. He took out a picture of himself and John David together in our senior year. On the back, he had written "Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:8."

"I kept this picture with me the whole time," Ignacio said. "When I missed you, I'd look at it and I would read Corinthians to remind myself what love was because there were times when I'd forget. You showed me what love was."

"I did not," John David said. "Did I?"

"JD, you are the perfect description of what love is according to Corinthians," Ignacio said. "But if you wanna find someone else, that's okay. I still love you, JD."

John David stared at the ground. He told Ignacio he'd get back to him. I climbed into his truck and he took me home without saying a word until we got to my driveway.

"What do you think I should do?" he asked me. I told him it was his choice. Then he asked me what I would do if Cindy Blackbird, my ex-girlfriend and my first love, wanted me back.

"I'd jump off the Black Hills," I said. "She didn't love me the way Ignacio loves you. I loved her but truth be told, all we really did was have sex a lot." John David unlocked the truck's doors and I slid out. I watched him reverse and take off towards the stop sign at the end of my street.

* * *

The Temple of God's Love has an annual pow wow to raise money for the church. I showed up early, before everyone else took all the free food. Ate and Ina arrived a little later. Ina was going to be selling her famous jewelry. Ate was going to be at the drum circle, even though his throat had been bothering him.

"How are you gonna chant loud enough if you can't talk?" I asked him.

"There's an ancient Lakota secret to that, Nimo," Ate said with strains in his voice. "Think about the ugliest person you know completely naked."

"You need your head examined, Jay Eagle," Ina said to Ate. They shared a kiss on the lips and went to opposite ends of the pow wow.

I found Ignacio at the drink booth, serving lemonade to a line of sweaty people. He gave me a large cup of lemonade with extra ice.

"No John David?" I asked.

"Nope," Ignacio said as he served himself a cup of water. "But there's still time." He sat down on a cooler and wiped sweat from his forehead with his hands.

"Need a towel?" John David asked. When me and Ignacio played football in high school, John David was the towel manager and always had a clean towel for us.

"I do," I said.

"Not you, Nimo, you're not sweating that much," John David said. "How about you, Ignacio? You're soaked."

"I could use one," Ignacio said. John David admitted he actually didn't have a towel with him, but he did have something else just as good.

"Uh," John David said. "I'm still in love with you, Ignacio, and you know I'm serious 'cause I hate almost everyone. There, I said it. I'm so lame." Ignacio got up from the cooler and asked him to say it again.

"I love you," John David said. "And I wanna be with you, but I swear to the Creator, if you leave me again, I'm gonna kick your ass from here to the moon."

"Don't worry, JD," Ignacio said. "I'm not going anywhere. Hey, Nimo, can you give out the lemonade for a few minutes?" I nodded and got behind the stand. I watched them head towards the parking lot, talking to each other. When they were away from the crowd, I saw them hold hands for the first time in over four years.

BIO: Darlene P. Campos is an MFA candidate at UT-El Paso's Creative Writing Program. In 2013, she won the Glass Mountain magazine contest for prose and was awarded the Sylvan N. Karchmer Fiction Prize. Her work appears or is forthcoming in A Celebration of Young Poets, Glass Mountain, Prism Review, Crunchable, Cleaver, The Aletheia, Bay Laurel, Red Fez, Elohi Gadugi, The Writing Disorder, Houston and Nomadic Voices, Alfie Dog, Connotation Press, Word Riot, RiverBabble, and many others. She is a writer for Kesta Happening DC newspaper and a fiction judge for Yeah Write Review. She is from Guayaquil, Ecuador but has lived in Houston all her life. Her website is now available at www.darlenepcampos.com