-TWO YEARS AGO-
When the bell rang, I all but ran out of class, just like every other day. But, I wasn't quick enough. I was never quick enough. "Going somewhere, Ileana?" I stopped in my tracks. Gina Reyes and her two best friends, stood right in front of me. I looked around for a way out, but the hall was crowded. I wasn't going to get away.
"You never want to hangout with us anymore, chica," Maya Ramos said, with mock hurt. "Is it because you think you're better than us?"
"You know that isn't it," I protested. I tried to move around them, but they moved with me.
"We don't blame you for what happened," Gina told me. "But your father is the reason Joana's parents lost their jobs. We can't just let that go."
"My dad stood up for all of us! The Cantrell Company underpaid, overworked, and neglected their workers. You know it's true, Joana." I looked at her, but she looked away quickly. "If my brother hadn't-"
Gina rolled her eyes. "Oh, boohoo, poor little Ileana and her poor little sob story. Newsflash, no one cares about your brother. The Cantrell Company practically built this town, and your family went and ruined that."
"When we win our case, you'll see," I promised. "My dad is helping people." I pushed past her, before she could say anything else. "Puta."
I pushed through the door to my family's apartment. It was small, and usually a mess, but it was home. Normally when I came back from school, my mom was sitting in the living room watching telenovelas. Today, however, she was nowhere to be found. "Mamá!" I called. "Are you making dinner?"
I walked into the kitchen, and found both my parents sitting at the table. My dad was holding a piece of paper. I couldn't read their faces. For a minute I had to think about when my report card was supposed to be mailed out, not until next week, so it couldn't be my grades. "What's wrong?"
My mother finally looked up. "You know how much your brother loved you, mija?" I narrowed my eyes, not sure where this was going, but nodded. "Luis would have done anything for you. He wanted to you to have a bright future, to get out of the city and follow your dreams."
"What's wrong?" I repeated, deciding this must have something to do with the lawsuit.
"I know it was hard on you after his accident," my dad chimed in. "You two were close. I didn't make it any better by pressing charges against the Cantrell Company. But, I think you understood why I did it."
"To help other people."
"Carlos, maybe we should-" My mother started, but my father held up a hand to cut her off.
"She deserves to know, Melinda." He looked back at me. "A few days ago we received a letter from our lawyer. The Cantrell Company offered a settlement, off the books." I looked between my parents, not quite comprehending what they were telling me. "They want to offer me a job in their San Francisco office. It comes with a huge bonus.
I shook my head. "They must be crazy to think you'd ever work for them! After what they did to Luis, they have to pay."
Melinda and Carlos shared a look. "Your father took the job, Ileana."
"I know it's going to take some getting used to," my father said. "But, we've been at this lawsuit for two years. Nothing has changed, in fact things have only gotten worse. When the Cantrell Company withdrew their projects from East LA, I knew they were scared. And maybe, just maybe, we could win this thing. But, it wouldn't change the past. This way, I'll be able to work with them to change things from the inside."
"Luis would hate your for this," I said quietly.
"I prefer to think Luis would understand. I'm doing this for you, Ileana. For your future. I hope you'll understand that one day."