Lizet barely recognizes her mother’s new building—Lizet spent only three days in the new place at the end of the summer before heading off to Rawlings. Lizet approaches what she hopes is the right apartment and knocks—when no one comes to the door despite sounds of the television leaking through the door, Lizet announces her arrival, ruining the surprise she’d planned. Lizet’s sister, Leidy, opens the door and rudely asks what Lizet is doing home.
Lizet’s homecoming is anticlimactic and tinged with anxiety, reflecting the uneasy way she left things with her family and the ways in which she has changed in the short time she’s been away at school.
Lizet ignores her sister’s brusque tone, spotting Leidy’s baby, Dante, crawling around on the floor inside. Lizet fawns over the baby, and then, at the sound of her mother Lourdes’s voice inside, pushes her way into the apartment. Her mother, though, is not particularly excited to see her, either—she tells Lizet she’s supposed to be up at school, but then wraps her in an embrace and immediately begins asking what she can fix Lizet to eat. On the news there is coverage of a dirty, tanned little boy—it is Lizet’s first glimpse of Ariel Hernandez, who has beaten her to Miami by just a few hours.
From the moment Lizet arrives home, she finds herself competing with Ariel Hernandez for her mother’s attention. This thread will continue throughout the entirety of the book, highlighting the growing estrangement between Lizet and her mother, as well as Lourdes’s need to throw her focus into something new in the wake of Lizet’s heartbreaking departure for college.
As Lizet settles in, she realizes that her mother is in fact angry with her—Lourdes says that Lizet has “stolen” from her the chance to meet her daughter with flowers at the airport on her first trip home from college, and accuses Lizet of “lying” to her about her plans for weeks. Lizet tries to explain, but her mother is more focused on the breaking news about Ariel than anything her own daughter has to say. Leidy paces the room, bouncing Dante and trying to get him to fall asleep; she is skeptical about the news, and asks what makes Ariel so special—her mother explains that Ariel’s mother died on the journey from Cuba, and that he is alone in America save for a few paternal relatives.
Lizet thought she was doing a nice thing by using her own money to surprise her family with a Thanksgiving visit, but as she realizes that her mother is not delighted or charmed by the idea of a surprise, she sees the ways in which things are already getting lost in translation between them.
Lizet, Leidy, and baby Dante go into Leidy’s room. Lizet begins unpacking while Leidy folds laundry and explains that their mother was too preoccupied with the Ariel Hernandez news to focus on having a “real” Thanksgiving, even though it was Dante’s first. Lizet doesn’t ask about Dante’s dad—Leidy is a single mother, and her high school sweetheart, Roly, is not involved in their child’s life. Lizet also doesn’t ask about her and Leidy’s own father, who is living elsewhere in Miami after separating from their mother just a few months earlier. They, too, had children just out of high school, and Lizet feels their relationship was forever frozen in their teenage years.
Leidy already begins feeling the effects of her mother’s fixation with Ariel in this passage. Lourdes is more interested in watching the news about Ariel, a boy she doesn’t know, than celebrating her own grandson’s first Thanksgiving. Even though the holiday is not that important to their family, this indifference stings Leidy, who has been disappointed severely in the past and is looking to secure stability for her son.
Leidy chides Lizet for not telling anyone she was coming home—it’s dangerous, she says, to not let anyone know where she is. Leidy and Lizet squabble for a moment, but Leidy admits she’s happy to have Lizet home. Leidy tells Lizet she has the day off work tomorrow; when Lizet replies, “Awesome,” Leidy laughs, and asks “what other stupid words” Lizet has picked up at school.
There is tension between Leidy and Lizet, too; already, the sisters are beginning to have different values and paths, and Leidy here attempts to shame Lizet for having changed while away.