Back to Home Page  Synopsis



At half past three in the afternoon, September 10th, 2013, Andrew left behind the ground hall of Hospital del Mar and took a deep breath of fresh air. Walking down the seafront along Passeig Marítim, he found himself wondering why after three years in the city, the salty tang of the Mediterranean pleased him so intensely. Just like everything about Barcelona, it somehow remained a timeless, endless reminder of Andrew's belonging here. The city of his dreams felt just as magic and wonderful as it had back in April, 2004. More than nine years had passed, Andrew thought, but that pivotal point of his life still felt as close as if it had been yesterday.

A light breeze had picked up, hinting at the crispness of coming fall, even though temperatures remained hot during the day. Looking over at the broad sandy beach that stretched beneath the elevated seafront avenue, Andrew noticed that people out there were few. He knew he was going to come back to the beach a few of hours later and enjoy the sea. Normally, after an exhausting day of five consecutive surgeries like this one, he would spend the evening at home. But this day was special. He knew he wasn't going to come to the beach alone. He had anticipated this day, and the very thought of the upcoming event swept away his fatigue.

Andrew was now a second-year facial surgery resident at Hospital del Mar. Just as he had once dreamed, he was employed at one of Barcelona's largest hospitals, located square in front of the sea, as its name eloquently suggested. More than two years ago, after having passed exams to Spanish medical residency with the score 95 out of 100, he got plenty of employment options, including several public hospitals within the city and a dozen in closest suburbia. He had a vast choice of surgical subspecialties, too, and instead of general surgery that he'd practiced back in Russia, he opted for facial surgery, one of the most sophisticated and innovative branches. He wasn't much interested in making piles of money from cosmetic operations, but he felt like this specialty was a perfect opportunity to develop his natural manual abilities. He knew full well this was going to take years of practice and learning, and a huge responsibility after getting the license and starting to work without supervision. After two years in the field, though, he'd never regretted his choice. Oftentimes, he found himself thinking that over these two years as a resident he'd had more surgical practice than after a decade of full-time work in Russia. He had expected that organizational and education culture in Spanish healthcare would be different from what he'd experienced in his native country, but until he actually entered clinical practice, he couldn't imagine the difference would be this striking. Ubiquitous corruption, normalized nepotism, under-the-table cash flows, embezzlement of funds and institutionalized malpractice — those things now appeared as unthinkable to Andrew as they should be, even though he couldn't forget they were everyday realities of clinical practice in Russia. Heaps of meaningless paperwork and staunch denial of access of surgical practice were now replaced by the rigorous training in clinical knowledge and technical skills. Andrew couldn't stop thinking how normal it was that senior doctors willingly passed their skills and expertise on to younger colleagues like him, unlike most medical professors in Russia, keeping other workers out of access to the skills and practice that granted them the privilege of making under-the-table money. No matter people's degrees and positions, in Spain Andrew never felt the division of medical staff into 'masters and slaves' — organizational culture in the industry, just like the larger social culture in the country, had no tolerance for obsolete, toxic hierarchies. The logistics of treatment, from admission to surgery to discharge, were properly managed, with no worker wasting time in their workplace. No doubt, his work as a resident now was mentally and physically trying — at times very exhausting — but he was all in and loved it because he finally got the chance to actualize his lifelong passion and what he'd always known to be his calling. Just like any learner, he did make some mistakes in the process, but he and his fellow residents always had the support and expertise of senior colleagues to back them up. There was no shaming, but accountability and growth for everybody, and, most importantly, no patient suffered damage to their health. Andrew was happy to see how fast he was learning. The seeds he'd been sowing for years with his efforts were finally yielding fruits — because Spain was a truly fertile soil.

Despite the fears he'd once had, he never experienced alienation among his fellows or condescending treatment from his superiors, although he was obviously different. He was ten years older than the majority of residents; he was an immigrant, whose surname gave away his origin despite Spanish now spoken fluently with barely audible accent. However, from day one, he never found himself feeling unbelonging or marginalized. Andrew had hoped that just like the Spanish society in general, his colleagues wouldn't exercise discrimination, and his experience proved him right. Whether it was because Barcelona was one of the most multiethnic and multicultural cities in Europe or because, like Irina had once told him, Spanish and Catalan people had a radically different mentality compared to Russians, but Andrew never stopped feeling like he belonged there just being who he was — unlike the thirty-five years of his past life in Russia.

He walked about half a mile along the beach from the hospital to where Passeig Marítim bent off to the right, away from the seafront into the ancient quarter of La Barceloneta. He'd made a habit of parking his motorcycle there, instead of using parking lots closer to the hospital. It was anything but practical — Andrew had a personal motive to do so. Every morning, before starting his day and every evening, after finishing it, he needed to walk by the place where he and Pablo had met nine years ago. He would relive the memory of that day, and the intensity of his feelings somehow didn't fade. It gave him force and inspiration to move ahead in his life. His memories of Pablo never took on a blurry, hazy quality with the passage of time; instead they remained bright and vivid. Like anything real in this world, his love didn't seem to disappear with time, and Andrew stayed happy with the enduring memories of having been once blessed with it.

Remarkably, since the day he'd moved to Barcelona, he'd never had any symptom of clinical depression. For all his fears, four months after Pablo's death, he got off the antidepressant drug without developing the withdrawal syndrome, and never had a relapse since. He sent a thankful prayer to God every day opening his eyes and realizing he was mentally okay. Maybe, he had been cured from the bipolar disorder. But with the benefit of hindsight, he'd increasingly believed that he'd never had the bipolar disorder in the first place, and his major depression had resulted from the accumulation long-lived, multisided, unaddressed and unprocessed psychological traumas. In the current context of his life, depression never emerged.

Just like on the first day of his improvement, he kept believing that he just had no more time for sorrow in his life. He had a strong will to grow and belong and enjoy his life. He had a family here in Spain. He was single, and he was certain he would stay single for life, but he had three people he deeply loved, even though none of them was biologically related to him.

Now, he smiled at the thought that he was going to see his loved ones shortly. He was coming to Pablo's parents to celebrate the third birthday of Isabel, his daughter. Their daughter, more exactly, as he'd always called the girl in his mind. Before going there, he had to drop by his apartment at Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes and grab the present for his little princess. One month after Pablo's death, he'd moved away from his parents' house. It was still his home, he remembered, and both Don Alberto and Doña Juana encouraged him to stay with them, but his decision was made. He told them that he needed to live closer to the University of Barcelona where the prep course for his exams was taking place, but in truth he had a different reason. It wasn't about distance. Given the freedom of transportation by the bike, Andrew could get anywhere in his beloved city within half an hour. In truth, he choose to move away from Pablo's family to keep them safe from intrusions of privacy and gossip. He didn't want their neighbors or friends to see him in the house. He didn't want Pablo's parents to have to come up with an explanation of who he was and why he was living with them. He didn't want to see gossip outlets making clickbaits with speculation about how Pablo's daughter was born. No one on the face of the earth, including Pablo's parents, was aware the truth about his and Pablo's connection, and with Pablo being gone, he didn't feel the right to change this.

He rented a studio apartment at Gran Via, right halfway between Plaça d'Espanya and Plaça de la Universitat. His place was small yet cosy, well-kept and modernly furnished. Within a ten minutes' walk Andrew reached the University of Barcelona, where he spent the majority of his days during the prep course year. The historical center of Barcelona was also within an arm's reach. Some days, in late evenings, he used to stroll through the buzzing downtown and reflect. More exactly, he didn't reflect — he recollected. During those few blissful months in the beginning of 2010, he and Pablo combed practically every street and lane in the Old City, and now he couldn't discover anything new. But walking through another lane, he'd remember the day they were here, the weather on that day, and what they were talking about. He wondered how his brain still stored all those details in HD, and he found the only explanation — those months were the happiest time of his life, and every day was seared into his memory, which, like all his senses and abilities, was functioning at its best at the time.

Of course, his free time wasn't solely spent reliving the past. He lived separate from Don Alberto, Doña Juana, and Isabel, but he remained part of the family. Every next weekday, the parents had him over for a dinner, and it goes without saying that he spent nearly all weekends at their place or going out with Isabel. He believed he'd elicit less suspicion as a regular visitor of the Velázquez family than he would have if he continued to live with them. Doña Juana mentioned many times that, after the official announcement of Pablo's death, the eulogy written by his fans was published by FC Barcelona via Twitter and remained the most retweeted post in Spanish Twitter. Shortly after, she was bombarded with interview offers from the media. The last months of Pablo's life after his sickness and retirement were a sheer mystery to the public, because he decided to not make a show out of his death, and Andrew insisted that his parents follow the same principle. Despite the invitations coming in for months, they refused to publicly speak about their son's decline. Most of all, they protected the safety and privacy of Isabel, a new life and a heaven-sent gift they unexpectedly received after the loss of Pablo. Neither they nor Andrew could let the ever-prying paparazzi dig into how the girl was born and why, although living with them, her legal father was an unrelated foreign resident.

Pablo's will would likely have been another sensational news for the public, and so he wisely chose to keep it confidential. He willed a half of his monetary estate to UNICEF and a number of national charity organizations. He directed that the other half of his assets be equally divided between his mother, his father, and Andrew. When Andrew learned the sole bank amount he was supposed to receive, he thought that one zero at the end was added by mistake. But it was correct. The money he and each of Pablo's parents was, in fact, capital. Yes, it was enough to live till the end of their lives and not experience any need. He had known Pablo accumulated lots of wealth and, except for the short time of his marriage, was smart around money, but he couldn't imagine Pablo had been that rich. But it's not his loved one's wealth that caused Andrew's awe — it was Pablo's generosity. Bequeathing a half of his money to the disadvantaged children in his country and Latin America was unbelievable — especially with that big of money. Real estate, on the other hand, was also distributed between his loved ones. Don Alberto got the townhouse in Barcelona and a large apartment in Alicante which Pablo had bought three years before death and been leasing since. Doña Juana got the ownership of a newly bought villa in Marbella — Andrew and the parents had no slightest idea about this purchase, which had been made after Pablo learned his diagnosis. Pablo indicated in the will that he gave it "to his family as a summertime and holiday residence, at the ownership of his beloved mother." Andrew took over Pablo's Mercedes-Benz, the motorbike and another huge apartment in Madrid. Overall, Pablo left all three family members not only with a considerable amount of money, but also with real estate to provide passive income.

Andrew considered moving away from the parents and renting an apartment before he became aware of his monetary share. His funds were almost completely drained after the surrogacy enterprise, and he knew he'd have to work in order to pay rent. He found a waiter's job in a restaurant close to the Gran Via, and the abundance of restaurants in the district was another important reason for choosing the place. Studying during the day and waiting tables in night shifts was how he planned to spend one year before passing the residency exams. After Pablo's will had been revealed, Andrew got the privilege of receiving a substantial rent from the high-end Madrid apartment. The rent was three times bigger than his lodging cost combined with the budget for daily needs. Luckily, Andrew now didn't have to work, and after the daytime classes he had enough time to do study medical text books without pulling all-nighters — which he knew could disrupt his sleep rhythm and trigger a depression relapse. Instead of night shifts at the restaurant, he could come to Pablo's parents in the evening and spend time with Isabel, watching her grow during here first, most beautiful years of life.

Two days before Isabel's birthday, Doña Juana shared a peculiar gift idea with Andrew.

"During the last two months, Isabel's yearning to go to the sea," she said. "Many times during our strolls along the beach she saw the sea and pleaded me to go here."

"Really?" Andrew said. "She never told me."

Suddenly Andrew realized he had went out with Isabel so many times, to a circus, a park, or a zoo, or just to take her to another place in the city he believed was spectacular, but by some mysterious reason he'd never actually happened to get to the beach with her.

"The rub is," Pablo's mother continued, "with my arthritis, I can't go out in the direct sun. You of all people know how it can make things worse. Tico can't swim, and he worries that he won't be able to grab her out of water if she goes further than she should. You can swim, Andrew, can't you?"

"Sure. So do you want me to take her to the beach?" Andrew suggested.

"That would be awesome, dear," Doña Juana said. "I think she'll be so happy. You know, when Pablo turned three years old, we also brought him to the beach for the first time, and he must have had so much joy and delight that he remembered it forever. From time to time, when he spoke about having kids, he always mentioned that he'd give the same present on the third birthday of his little one — take him or her to the sea."

Andrew realized that Pablo had never spoken to him about that. He knew how much value Pablo placed on having kids as a life goal, but after Pablo's got clear on continuing their relationship, it looked like he carefully avoided this topic. Even in the nine months as he withered away with Andrew by his side nearly all the time, after all the vulnerability and intimacy, he never uttered one word about having kids. Maybe, he believed that their relationship ruled out the possibility of having biological children. Maybe, he'd never seriously considered surrogacy, or rejected it because of his Catholic beliefs. Maybe, he still wanted it but couldn't bear the pain of never seeing his child grow. Andrew didn't know for sure. But now, as many times before, he felt guilty for not having the courage to talk to Pablo about that — and keeping the pregnancy in secret until the last day.

"I'll be excited to take her to the sea," Andrew said. "People out there on the beach are now much fewer than in summer. I guess the water's still gonna be warm enough for her to feel comfortable."

As Andrew rode up Via Laietana, he sensed the intense heat coming from the sun. The summer had been incredibly hot, and the sea warmed up so much that, according to his estimates, the temperature wouldn't go below the point of comfort till October. Today, he was finally going to introduce Isabel to the sea. If she liked it, he planned to take her on a beach trip again on the weekend -- and spend half a day there. Deep down, he reckoned there was no way the girl wouldn't like the feeling of the sea. Just like Pablo, she'd probably fall in love with it -- or so Andrew wanted to believe.

The birthday gift ideas came up accordingly. An orange swimsuit, a white swim ring and set of sand tools were supposed to gave Isabel a hint at the upcoming surprise.

Dropping by the apartment to take the gift bags, Andrew lingered in front of the mirror for a couple seconds. He ran a hand through his hair, matted because of the helmet, and now he really liked the way he looked. He wished he could wear a suit or another festive outfit, but well, he was going to his child's birthday on the motorcycle that, in a way, became a symbol of his and Pablo's love. A leather jacket thrown over a T-shirt and denim looked just fine. Although aging, Andrew liked his appearance now more than he ever did in his past life in Russia. Streaks of grey emerged in his hair, but the hair somehow no longer fell off and appeared considerably thicker. Whether it was because of much better ecology or food in Spain, or finally getting from under chronic stress and breaking free of powerlessness and trauma, but the change was clearly reflected in his appearance. Now, he also stopped shaving clean and instead wore a short stubble, like most men in Spain. With his good sense of aesthetics and fashion, he was now indistinguishable from locals. His body also changed. He gained quite a bit of muscle lost during the years of depression. Letting go of internalized homophobia, he no longer hustled for a hypermasculine physique. He was totally fine with the way he looked. Oftentimes, he remembered what Irina told him back in 2008 -- true love and parenthood transfigure a human being from the inside, but the changed reflect on the outside as well. His loved one passed away, and he wasn't Isabel's biological father, but his love and parenthood remained his most meaningful experiences.

For the self-same reason, No matter how much Andrew liked his looks, he wasn't looking for hook-ups or dates. Openly gay men were visible in this city, and unlike for the majority of his life in Russia, now Andrew lived in the land where he could enjoy freedom, transparency, and dignity. But Pablo kept living in his heart. He just couldn't help it. He remembered the promise he'd made to Pablo about not closing his heart against new love. But now he wasn't looking for it, either. What he and Pablo had somehow never died. That love was still intense, roaring, and raging in his heart. Today, it made itself manifest by his commitment to raising Pablo's daughter and caring about his elders.

He didn't forget about the people he had left behind in Russia, either. During the first year, from time to time he called and exchanged emails with Nathalie, and, just as he promised, he had videochats with Ann over Skype. By the end of 2010, he learned that Nathalie had married Ann's biological father. As his ex-wife said, the girl quickly develop a bond with him, and with time she called Andrew increasingly rarely. Andrew also kept in touch with Andrew the Resident and made sure that Ilya's father was doing well.

Riding to the parents' house, Andrew found himself recalling the third birthday of Ann. That traumatic day, when her mother didn't show for the celebration. He remembered feeling betrayed and ashamed, and abandoned along with the kid. But the intensity of that pain led him to the long-overdue reckoning with the bankruptcy of his marriage, his love for Pablo, and his sexuality. Was it all meant to be? If that day had never happened, how much longer could he have lived in denial? If he had never met Pablo, would he ever experienced a love so strong that it could overturn decades of shame? If he didn't meet that love in Spain, would he ever realize his excruciating unbelonging in Russia and his existential imperative to move and start from scratch? If he hadn't had the courage to reach back to Pablo after years of silence, would there ever be a chance Pablo could have a kid without falsely commiting himself to a relationship with a woman?

It was all unfathomable, he realized. There was no way he couldn't know if there was God Above who planned their story to turn out the way it did. What he knew for sure, though, was that the sacred connection he and Pablo shared was how God Within them manifested. God Within called them to courage. God Within didn't have all the answers and didn't foresee all the outcomes. But following that God was the best choice they ever made. Whether or now it takes experiencing a life-shattering trauma to finally hear that God, still remained a mystery.

"Hi, Uncle Andrew!" tweeted Isabel, racing towards him at the door. She'd always called him Uncle: he and Pablo's parents agreed to tell her he was her Dad's brother.

"Hey dear," Andrew replied, grabbing her little body within his arms. "Happy birthday, cielito. I've got a gift for you."

She kissed him gently on the cheek and stared at him for a while. The color of her olive-green eyes was different from Pablo's, but they had the same sort of sparkle to them. Andrew never stopped noticing that. Her smile and features were obviously similar to her father, but molded in a more delicate, feminine manner. To Andrew, she now looked beyond cute in her white frock, contrasting beautifully with her brown, curly hair. She'd just turned three years old, but she'd already mentioned many times that her favorite color was white. To Andrew, she was in many ways a special child. Not just because she knew how she'd been born. She started to pronounce words at six months and talk in meaningful sentences when she was one-and-a-half. She was out of diapers when she turned one. She grabbed color pencils and started drawing complex pictures when she was two. To much delight of her grandmother, drawing became Isabel's favorite activity and consumed the most of her time. Both her grandparents and Andrew saw that her sketches looked precociously realistic at her age. There was an extraordinary talent budding from within her.

"Hi Andrew!" Don Alberto greeted him as Isabel ran back into the living room and sat down to unwrap Andrew's gift.

"Hey Dad! How are y'all doing?" Andrew replied, giving him a slight hug. Whenever Isabel was around, Andrew was supposed to call Pablo's parents Mom and Dad, in line with the story of he and Pablo being brothers.

"Hi, sonny!" Doña Juana called out from the kitchen. "Look at our little treasure. Even on her birthday, she refuses to wear slippers, no matter how much I beg her!"

Andrew hummed before giving a slight smile.

"She's stubborn, you know. Just like Pablo was," he commented.

Of course, he'd known that Isabel hated to wear slippers, or any footwear, for that matter. She started to toddle precociously, at seven months, and at one year she walked steadily, but as soon as her movements became coordinate enough, she learned how to take off her shoes and went whining if the grandparents or Andrew put them on her again. It was another foible of hers, and unlike Doña Juana and Don Alberto, Andrew regarded it understandingly. Each child is unique in their own way, Andrew believed. Inside the house, Isabel was reluctant to wear even socks, and routinely ran around barefoot. Barefoot. Unlike her grandma and grandpa, Andrew was nothing surprised that she liked to walk barefoot. Because he remembered it.

He remembered every detail about the white-dressed ghost of a little girt he'd seen in August, 2009, amidst the culmination of his psychotic desperation. About that mysterious kid who stopped his car in the deserted backwoods of Catalonia and led him to the spot of Pablo's almost successful suicide attempt. In his surrogacy procedure, he couldn't opt for the sex of the transferred embryo, but when the gestational mother confirmed successful pregnancy, Andrew had no slightest doubt it was going to be a girl. He recognized her features as she grew up — her big eyes with their magical sparkle, her smile, her hair, her preference for the white color... Yes, it was a miracle come alive. But so what? In the story of his and Pablo's love, crowned by the birth of this child, there'd been many unlikely occurences. Whether to count them as miracles or coincidence, remained between him and his God Within. He never told anyone about them.

They were enjoying a hearty holiday meal and a fluent, lively conversation. Seeing the wholehearted joy of the kid being celebrated, and Andrew found himself thinking that life, after all, was beautiful. Just nine years ago, could he imagine that he would end up with something like this? Could he imagine that he would actually be living and making a successful career in Spain? That he would speak fluent Spanish, think in this language, and feel belonging of a Spanish family? That his sexuality, after years of shame and denial, would materialize itself into loving and being loved by another man, and into the reclaiming of his love for himself?

Of course, he couldn't. But eventually, justice is not withheld from those who keep seeking for it — or Andrew found himself among the lucky few whose search wasn't in vain.

After Isabel gloriously blew out three candles on the holiday cake, it was the time for the biggest suprise of the day. They were going to the sea! She squealed with delight and finished her cake hastily. With the sun going down in a couple of hours, they didn't have much time to sit around. Doña Juana got the girl in the swimming suit and a flowery dress and slipped brand-new, light sandals on her tiny feet. Andrew went upstairs to change into his beach clothes. The guest room where he used to stay had been remade into Isabel's bedroom, and when he was moving out, he left in the house some of his belongings. Doña Juana put them into Pablo's bedroom, which otherwise remained unchanged after Pablo had been gone.

Every time Andrew approached the door of that room, he felt his heart in his mouth. Every time, he always fancied that Pablo would be inside. He fancied that Pablo had never actually died. He imagined that Pablo was just taking a nap, so he walked slowly and gently in the hallway, avoiding to wake him up. After a noiseless knock on the door — so noiseless that the parents wouldn't hear it and think Andrew had gone nuts — he slowly turned the handle with one hand and gently pushed the door with the other, holding his breath in vulnerability. He repeated this ritual every time. Of course, his scanning glance only met the neatly made bed and all the things lying in Pablo's habitual, perfect order. Today, he turned on the light and walked to the closet. After taking out his white beach robe, a pair of denim shorts and sandals, he closed the door and locked it up silently. For a minute of two, he looked at a few of Pablo's clothes still hanging in the large wardrobe. They were all like good, old friends he never forgot. He remembered the day when he first saw Pablo wearing each shirt and jacket. He remembered how his heart as though skipped a bit seeing how beautiful Pablo's was, and questioning if he was really so blessed to love and be loved by a man as gorgeous on the outside as he was on the inside. A wave of longing, lust, love, fury, and denial, all mixed into one, swept over him. As he undressed, he grabbed out the hanger holding a beige summer shirt, made of a light, fluffy cotton. He knew it was one of Pablo's favorites. He sported it every other day on their vacation in Greece. Its fabric was thin, almost translucent, soft and gentle to the touch, making it ideal for scorchers. Andrew buried his face in the shirt, breathing in through it, trying to feel Pablo's smell, now he could swear he still sensed it in this shirt. Yes, in the one that hadn't been worn for three years.

He sagged on Pablo's bed and slipped on his shorts and his robe. He hung the beige shirt back into the closet, kissing it a goodbye. Smoothing the bed cover with his hand, he recalled the only time they had sex right there. The fruit of it, both spiritually and biologically, was now waiting for Andrew downstairs. Isabel couldn't wait to get the promised present.

Andrew started the engine of the white Mercedes E-Class and, as always, he couldn't help enjoying the noble, low-pitched roar of the turbocharged diesel. The car was almost nine years old now, and the mileage approached sixty thousand, but to Andrew it felt just as shiny, smooth, and powerful as it he'd seen it been back in 2004, when Pablo picked him up at the airport. So far, the Mercedes hadn't required any repair beyond regular maintenance. It still stood out amidst the majority of economy cars in the city streets. He now legally owned the car, and he wasn't going to sell or trade it in for another. He was emotionally attached to it. It was a witness to his and Pablo's secret honeymoon and their morning trips to the beach. Now, the Mercedes lived in Pablo's parents' garage, and Andrew rarely drove it — the bike was much more efficient for everyday commutes in the heavy city traffic. He would occasionally drive it for grocery shopping and taking Pablo's parents to their doctors. In his perception, going together in a car, rather than having them take cabs, reinforced the feeling of family they shared. Underlying it, there was a sense of Pablo's invisible presence. For the same reason, he was now using it to go to the sea.

Of course, Andrew would now drive her to the Barceloneta beach, the place where he and Pablo had met. Once buckled up in the booster seat, the girl didn't forget to immediately kick her sandals off. Crossing the entire city through dense evening traffic, the ride still took just about half an hour and Andrew only smiled remembering many hours he used to waste every day in the horrible traffic of Moscow.

They pulled into the parking lot, and in order to not make the defiant kid put on the shoes, Andrew just grabbed Isabel into his arms and carried her walking through the sand. The working day was now over in the majority of workplaces, but people seemed to be just as few as they had been a few hours before. Andrew knew that in September the sea was already too cold for most Spaniards, even though the sun still felt quite hot. Now, it was setting down, and there was no need to even put on the sunscreen. At the first sight of the sea, Isabel squealed in delight and tried to break free from Andrew's arms. She could barely wait as he spread the towel and took her dress off. As the girl ran frolicking into the surf, Andrew kept an eye on her, infating the swim ring at the same time. A minute later, he took off his robe and chased her into the blue salty water. Isabel was obviously in her element, and watching how easily and smoothly way she moved in the water, Andrew questioned if she actually needed a swim ring. Watching his daughter, he couldn't afford enjoying a habitual freestyle workout, but being present with the kid in her wholehearted joy of discovery was why this entire venture was so meaningful. She would remember this day forever.

He found himself thinking that despite the absence of biological connection, Isabel still shared some traits with him. For example, she adored pineapples. Yes, at the age of three, not only was she decided about her favorite color, but also about her favorite fruit. Much like Andrew, the girl could feast on pineapples all day long and never get sick. Pineapples thus became an all-season staple in Pablo's parents' fridge. The dessert at her birthday celebration was, of course, a pineapple-and-mango mousse cheesecake. Now, after twenty minutes of romping in the salty water, they came ashore and shared a snack of sliced pineapples and walnuts dipped in yogurt and orange jam. In moments like this one, drifting back to the memories of Greece, Andrew felt as though Pablo was still around. As though he only needed to close his eyes for an instant and opening them he'd find Pablo sitting beside see him swimming in the sea. Holding the girl in his lap, he realized again that she carried Pablo's spirit much like she carried his DNA.

After the snack, Isabel got down to materializing her creative energy. She grabbed the sand tools and started building a sand castle. Andrew sprawled on the towel, enjoying the gentle heat of setting sun on his skin. He couldn't stop watching the kid being completely absorbed in the process, soggy sand dripping from her tiny hands as she sculpted the details with the tools. Architecture, just like painting, could be her future career, he thought.

They plunged into the sea once again before leaving the beach. It was seven p.m. and the sun had almost sunk below the horizon, glowing deep orange behind the sail-shaped silhouette of the W hotel and cast tall shadows onto the sand. The air was getting crisp, and it was time to go. Again, Andrew carried Isabel in his arms back to the car. After hours of vigorous activity, she was tired and drowsy, dozing off instantly once he had secured her in the seat.

As he drove home, he eased the gas gently and cruised slowly in the right lane. No matter how silent and smooth the Mercedes engine and transmission were, he avoided any noise and jerky acceleration or braking, protecting the sweet slumber of his daughter. He now chose the same long route that he and Pablo had followed on the day of buying the motorcycle. It lay along the seafront through Passeig de Colom, and then turned right onto La Rambla. Andrew had an overwhelming sense of fulfillment thinking that he'd lived a day where everything had been exactly the way it should be. Yes, he still missed Pablo terribly and he still was in love with him, but just like Pablo had encouraged him, he learned to be happy without Pablo beside, but with Pablo in his heart.

"Uncle Andrew!" Isabel tweeted from the rear seat, breaking the silence and interrupting the course of his thoughts. "May we go to the sea tomorrow again?"

Andrew peeked in the rear-view mirror, meeting her eyes. He didn't notice she'd woken up.

"Of course, sweetie," he said. "Did you like the beach?"

"I loved it. And the day after tomorrow, would you take me there again?" she asked.

"If I'm back from work before late, we can go there almost every day," Andrew reassured. "But you know, honey, the sea and the beach are even better in the morning. I can take you here in the morning only on Saturdays and Sundays, when I'm free from work. This Sunday, for example, I can come pick you up after breakfast. How does that sound?"


"And then, we can visit the aquarium. We were there two months ago with Grandpa, and you liked it a lot, remember?"

"Uh-huh," she nodded. "And I also remember that after the aquarium we ate pizza, and you scared me so much, Uncle Andrew," Isabel stated.

"Did I scare you? Why?" he gaped.

"Yes. You said you were dying for a pizza, and I thought you were actually dying in exchange for a pizza. Grandpa said you should never saying things like that, because words can materilize."

"Oh, honey, it's just an expression", Andrew grunted. "It means I just wanted that pizza very badly."

"You shouldn't say so, anyway."

Hearing the word dying, Andrew realized that exactly three years ago Pablo had passed away. But neither Andrew nor his parents wanted to commemorate that day now. As the date of his death and Isabel's birthday were the same, the family decided to celebrate the kid's holiday, and instead always honor Pablo's memory on his birthday, November 10th.

"You've done a great job today," Andrew admitted, shaking off the sadness. "Your sand castle, I mean."

"Do you really think it was good?" the girl asked with her eyes lighting up.

"It was wonderful, no doubt. Not any worse than your plasticine models."

"Thank you," she smiled. "It would be great if I could have sand at home."

"That's why the beach is worth coming to," Andrew responded. "Your Daddy also loved building sand castles on the beach."

"Wow! He'd never told me about that."

Andrew winced at her words, as if a shot of electricity ran through his body. He shifted his gaze, fixed on the road, to the rear-view mirror and saw Isabel immediately look away, her cheeks flushing.

"What?" he said, thinking that his ears failed him. "What have you just said?"

"I'm sorry, Uncle Andrew," she murmured. "I shouldn't have told you that."

"Told me what?" Andrew repeated, keeping his stare at her, almost unaware that he was approaching a red light.

The girl shook her head, unwilling to talk. He braked at the last moment, realizing that his heart was racing.

"Did you ever talk to your Dad, sweetheart?" he urged, dropping his voice to a gentle whisper.

After a few seconds, Isabel gave a slight nod.

"Oh my God. When?".

"Many times, Uncle Andrew," she mumbled, still staring away. "He comes to me every Sunday night. After Grandma puts me to bed and puts out the lights, I don't fall asleep because I know Daddy is going to come."

Andrew swallowed through his tightened throat.

"A few minutes after, when everything stills, he knocks gently on the door and comes in. The door closes noiselessly behind him, and his steps are noiseless as well. He smiles at me and walks over to my bed."

"How does he look?" Andrew hissed, feeling his heart thump against his chest.

"Daddy is so handsome. You know, he looks so much lighter than Grandma shows me in the pictures. His face is kind and loving. His eyes are big and beaming. He's always dressed in all white, that's why white is my favorite color.

Andrew could now sense blood drumming in his ears. Was it also in God's plans that such news got broken to him during driving?

"Then he sits down on my bed," she continued, "says hi and kisses me on the forehead. When he came for the first time, I was scared and felt like screaming, but he hushed me saying that nobody — neither Granny, nor Grandpa, nor you — should ever know he comes to see me. It's a secret. I shouldn't have told you that."

"Oh, baby... That's hard," Andrew murmured, in full vulnerability. "But I won't tell anyone about it. I know how to keep secrets."

Andrew drew a long sigh, feeling beads of sweat run down his forehead. In the ensuing silence, he didn't know whether to interrogate her further.

"Do you believe me, Uncle Andrew?" she asked. "Do you really believe that Dad comes to talk to me?"

He hesitated before answering. Maybe the kid was having delusions?

"I believe you," he said finally. "I believe you absolutely, just like I always believed your Dad."

"Would you like to know what we talk about?" she continued, anticipating his question.

"Unless your Dad asks you to keep it secret..."

"I've already revealed my secret to you, so I've nothing to lose."

Andrew couldn't believe that it was a three-year-old girl speaking. Idling before another red traffic light, he pinched his cheek to make sure he wasn't dreaming.

"First, Daddy asks how I am doing and kisses me again when I say I'm fine. Then, he wonders how you, Grandma and Grandpa are, and he says he misses y'all badly. He says he wishes he could come talk to y'all but he can't. He also says that y'all love me dearly, and I shouldn't make ane of you upset. He says he's sorry that he can't be with me all the time, and then I say that I'm glad to see him even once a week. Then, I tell him about what's been going on and he listens attentively. When I finish, he tells a story from his life. Like, once he told me how he saw the sea for the first time. He told me it was so much fun, and he'd always dreamed to take me to the sea too. He is so sorry he can't do it now. He wishes he could be as kind to me as Grandma and Grandpa had been to him."

"That's awesome." Andrew said, the most vulnerable question hanging in his mind. Before finally asking it, his voice cracked. "Does he tell you anything about me?".

For the first time over recent minutes Isabel met his eyes in the mirror mirror, her gaze piercing.

"Daddy says you were the best brother in the world. He says he is truly proud of everything you did for him."

Andrew's vision grew blurry, and he thought he'd better come to a halt. But he drove in the middle lane of Avinguda Diagonal and the traffic was dense. There was no way.

"Is this all he says about me?" Andrew squeezed from his throat, struggling to focus his sight on the road.

"He also says he misses you very much," Isabel said.

"Nothing else?"


Andrew drew a deep breath, regaining his composure.

"Okay. How long does he stay with you?" he murmured after a while.

"I don't know, Uncle Andrew. Every time, I beg him to tell me a short story. He's silent for a few moments, then his eyes light up; he puts his arm around me and starts to narrate. His voice is so soft, and his stories are so interesting. I listen to him carefully, but then I fall asleep. When I awake in the morning, Dad is gone and I can't even remember what the story was about."

"Your Dad always was a great storyteller, you know," Andrew said. This was a total vulnerability overdose. He wanted to wrap up this crazy conversation. He wanted Isabel to fall asleep again, and then just believe he never heard what he'd heard.

"There's one thing Daddy never tells me," Isabel continued. "When I ask him why he had left us, he falls silent and just stares at me with a smile. This looks like a secret he's keeping from me. Do you know why?"

"It's no secret, sweetheart," Andrew responded, figuring how to explain dilative cardiomyopathy to a three-year-old. "The thing is, your Dad's had a kind, big heart. With time, it just grew bigger..."

"And why does a heart grow big?" the girl wondered.

Andrew flashed a sad smile.

"They say a heart grows big because of big love and big courage. You know, it's difficult to live with a brave and big heart, 'cause its size doesn't only mean big power. It also means big vulnerability. Your Dad's heart grew bigger and bigger, and one day it just... failed. It broke."

"Broke?" Isabel asked, her voice mistrustful.

Andrew nodded.

"When I break something, like a doll or a pencil, Grandma always gives me a new one instead," she stated. "Could anyone give Daddy a new heart?"

"Unfortunately no, my dear. With a heart, it's not as simple as it is with a toy," Andrew explained. "When you grow up, you'll see."

She didn't seem satisfied with the answer. But instead of insisting, she just turned away and closed her eyes. Both were silent for the rest of the trip.


After four days of fierce storm and torrential downpours, strange for this time of the year, in the morning of November 10th, 2013, the sun finally came out to Barcelona. The day was breaking gorgeous, Andrew thought as he rode to the parents' house at a quarter past nine. Because of the weather, his motorcycle stayed in a parking lot over recent days, and now he could finally enjoy riding it again as he raced through the light weekend traffic. He had a slight pulsating headache after a night shift, but he didn't think he needed a pill. He knew the headache would soon go away as he breathed the crisp, fresh air on his way to get a coffee made by Doña Juana — the most delicious and energizing coffee Andrew had ever tasted.

Family breakfasts on weekends were a normal thing, commonly followed by Andrew and Isabel going out in the city, but this day was one of the rare occasions when they all would go somewhere else. Andrew behind the wheel, Don Alberto riding shotgun and Isabel with her grandmother in the rear, they would drive to the cemetery for an annual memorial they always held on Pablo's birthday. Pablo willed to be buried rather than cremated, and his wish was honored, even though the club offered a dedicated place for his ashes at Les Corts urban cemetery. Instead, his grave at a newly built cemetry outside the city looked like a spacious place to rest in peace. Andrew held Isabel in his arms as they stood before the black marble monument for a few minutes in silence, each of the adults remembering Pablo in their own way, Isabel now looking strangely wistful. The grass and most of the trees at the cemetery remained green despite the autumn, and Andrew found himself thinking that after nearly four years of living in Catalonia, not in the least did he cease to marvel at the ever-flourishing Mediterranean nature. Likewise, with years of coming to Pablo's tombstone, he could feel all the more clearly that his feelings didn't fade a bit. Today, he smiled at the realization that some things in life can indeed be timeless.

At the memorial dinner, the parents remembered and relived important events of Pablo's short yet meteoric life. They viewed his photo cards and reread congratulation letters he once wrote for their birthdays and anniversaries. It was the third time the family celebrated Pablo's birthday without him, and every year on this special day, Andrew learned something new from the parents as they recalled moments captured in the images. A few black-and-white pictures showed Pablo as a toddler. Then, Andrew watched the course of his boyhood and adolescence in color. Six-year-old Pablo diving in the surf. Nine-year-old Pablo in the driver seat of Don Alberto's old car, clinging to the wheel. The first photo taken on the soccer ground, when Pablo was eleven. The first picture at Camp Nou, Pablo's being sixteen, wearing the scarlet-and-blue uniform, was where Andrew could already recognize Pablo's charisma and sparkling eyes, anticipating the future of opportunity. After his high school graduation pictures, there was a timeline of his athletic triumphs, shot by professional photographers. A separate album contained his selfies taken in trips all over the world. He waved and smiled against the background of Manhattan skyscrapers in the New York City, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Duomo Cathedral in Milan, the Colosseum in Rome, the Tower Bridge in London, and Christ The Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. On his iPad, Andrew played a video he had recently composed from numerous recordings of FC Barcelona and La Lliga games, zooming on Pablo's glorious scoring moments.

"He would have been thirty-one now," Don Alberto muttered watching the video. "Three years have passed. I could've sworn it was yesterday."

Doña Juana squeezed his wrinkled hand.

"Uncle Andrew," Isabel said, "why don't I see you and Dad together in the photos?"

Andrew's mouth set into a straight line. The grandparents exchanged anxious looks, realizing the girl was growing too smart to believe the story they once told her.

But really, why? Right now, Andrew wasn't thinking about another lie to tell Isabel. Instead, he was thinking if the same question has ever occurred to Pablo's parents, and if so, what answer they had for it. Why, over years of pretending to be good friends, he and Pablo never happened to take a casual picture together?

Andrew knew the answer he hoped they didn't know. Because of fear and shame. Because Pablo was a public person and a celebrity athete. For all the joyful moments they shared and naturally wanted to make a picture memory of, the thought about them being leaked was devastating. They never talked about it in a straightforward way, but Andrew realized that even without any explicit displays of affection, their feelings for one another could have been visible.

Andrew avoided Doña Juana's and Don Alberto's eyes, struggling to regain his composure.

"I just... you know, honey..." he stuttered finally, "I studied and lived in another city for a long time. And your Dad preferred to be shot alone. Someone famous like him has to be alone in the picture."

"Famous? What does that mean?" she said.

Andrew was happy she got curious about this word, instead of going further to investigate into his false story. The word famous, indeed, defined Pablo's life in so many ways.

"It means," Don Alberto responded instead, "that not only three of us knew him and loved him. A lot of people your Dad even didn't know — hundreds and thousands of people — also appreciated and loved him."

Andrew paused the video as the camera zoomed in on Camp Nou tribunes.

"All these people, darling," he crooned to Isabel, "watched your Dad play and loved him."

Isabel hummed, processing the words. Andrew tapped the Play button, resuming the video and hoping he managed to steer the conversation away from the uncomfortable subject.

"How does it feel when so many people love you?" the girl asked. "Is it good?"

"It's also overwhelming, you know," Andrew replied, watching Pablo's team mates triumph and hug one another after another goal he'd scored. "When so many people watch your life and support you, you have to be very careful to not disappoint them. The more people there are, the harder it becomes."

Granted, the family weren't the only people who remembered Pablo on his birthday. By this day, UNICEF had finished building a junior soccer school in Tarragona and a new foster care facility in Palma de Mallorca, both projects financed from the huge fund Pablo had bequeathed to the organization. The news had been announced via UNICEF's social media pages in the early morning and got thousands of shares and likes. Pablo was gone, but he wasn't forgotten. His memory was immortalized by these projects. A few months before, when the construction begun, UNICEF posthumously awarded Pablo the title of Good Will Ambassador. He learned about it on Facebook, and reading through hundreds of supportive comments from Pablo's fans, he wondered if their loyalty and respect could have been swayed by Pablo's coming out. There was no way to know it now.

"Uncle Andrew, you have to take me to the sea today," Isabel suddenly said.

Andrew and the parents exchanged perplexed looks, thinking they'd misheard the girl.

"What?" Andrew asked.

"I absolutely need you to take me to the sea," the girl stated again. "Today."

She pierced Andrew with an intent gaze, and he saw in her eyes the same resolve and perseverance that he'd so often seen in Pablo's.

"But what for, darling?" Doña Juana asked. "The sea is already too cold, and yesterday there was a storm. You won't be able to bathe."

"Grandma, I don't want to bathe in the sea. I just need Uncle Andrew to take me to the sea today."

"What does that mean, honey?" Don Alberto butted in.

"Uncle Andrew, please tell them you're fine going here with me today," Isabel begged on.

Andrew flushed, embarrassed for some reason he couldn't pinpoint. His mind was spinning, his throat growing dry and tightened. He remembered that the last time they were at the beach was early October, more than a month ago, and back then the water was already so cold that he could barely swim a couple minutes. He quickly wrapped himself in a towel, but his muscles still quavered in the cold autumn wind. Needless to say, he didn't allow Isabel into the sea back then.

"Please, Uncle Andrew! Let's go, just for half an hour!" the girl pleaded. "Please, I need this so much!"

"Isabel, this doesn't sound like a good idea," Don Alberto urged. "Next summer, when the weather gets warm again, you're gonna go there with Uncle and enjoy the sea for as long as you want. Now, it's not the right time."

"But I need it now!" the girl insisted. "I don't want to swim, I just..." she paused, gasping, "I just need to be on the beach with Uncle Andrew and watch the sea!"

She was about to start crying, but Andrew remained wordless.

She leapt down from her chair and ran up to him. Climbing to his lap, she stood up and threw her tiny arms around his neck. Pressing her lips to his ear, she whispered something that Doña Juana and Don Alberto couldn't make out. They only watched that Andrew flinched at her words and just clasped her tight to his chest with one hand,stroking her back with the other.

"It's fine," he said in a momemt. "We're going to the beach now."

Don Alberto raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Really?"

Andrew nodded, although no excitement was visible on his face.

"Well then," Don Alberto said. "Take good care. She may catch cold."

"Don't worry, Dad," Andrew replied, still looking away. "She'll be okay. We're gonna be back in a couple of hours."

Andrew's heart raced as they sped towards Barceloneta. In the middle of a Sunday afternoon, the traffic was fluent. With Isabel buckled in the rear, he was driving in a manner that wasn't completely unsafe, but more jerky than usual. Instead of cruising and feasting his eyes on the scenery of the city, he now kept his focus on the road, floored the gas when approaching yellow lights, changed lanes frequently and accelerated beyond speed limits. He couldn't calm down and drive normally. He was too unnerved by Isabel's words, even though he knew they could be just a child's fancy. These words were still echoing in his mind.

"I must make a birthday gift to Dad. It'll be on the beach. You really need to see it."

Andrew guessed there would be very few people by the sea. Last Sunday, he'd taken a stroll along the Barcelona seafront. It was cold now, but he loved the sea in autumn. With his iPod — former Pablo's iPod — playing the music, he slowly paced along the elevated embankment, watching the broad sandy beach extending beneath. Save for small clusters of school kids, a few joggers, and scarce tourists making pictures on the background of the Mediterranean, the beach looked deserted. Andrew loved it that way. It seemed unbelievable that just three months before, in August, it had been so jammed that one could barely find a spot to spread a towel.

This Sunday, however, people on the beach were not that few. The sun was shining brightly since early morning, as if trying to make amends for the previous days of storm and encouraging both citizens and visitors to go out of confinement. The air was completely still, the temperature had risen to seventy degrees. When Andrew stepped out of the car, he felt that the rays of the sun felt oddly burning, almost like they were in the summer. He put off his jacket and dropped it onto the rear seat before unfastening Isabel and taking her into his arms.

"He's never visited me since," the girl said as he carried her through the sand.

"Who?" Andrew asked, although he obviously knew the answer.

"Daddy," Isabel said. "He hadn't come to talk to me, never once since my birthday. Every Sunday night, when I was in bed, I waited for him to come and I couldn't fall asleep without him for hours, but he just wasn't there. I cried and called him silently, hoping that Dad would hear me, but he just never came. I think he's mad at me."

"Mad at you? But why? Have you done anything wrong?"

"Yes," she sniffed. "He asked me to never tell anyone that he comes to talk to me. And I told you abou that."

"No way," Andrew mumbled, trying but obviously failing to sound certain. "Your Dad can barely be mad at you for this. He always trusted me, and he kept no secrets from me."

Isabel stared at him, her glance as if trying to test whether or not it was the truth. Andrew knew it wasn't. By the end of Pablo's life, both of them had kept secrets from each other.

"So why doesn't he come, then?" the girl wondered.

"Maybe he thinks that you're already a grown-up and can manage without him," Andrew said, hating himself for trying to bullshit the kid amidst his vulnerability.

"But I miss him so much! I can't manage without him. Why doesn't he see that?"

"He does see that," Andrew reassured. "He sees you and watches you all the time, wherever you are, and he loves you as deeply as no one else can."

"Is it possible to love someone and not want to spend time with them?" Isabel asked.

"It is possible," Andrew responded, and now he was telling the truth. "It is exactly what your Dad did when he was dying. He didn't want to spend time with Grandma, with Grandpa and with me. Not because he didn't love us or he was mad at us. He just didn't want us to watch him in pain. Because when you truly love someone, you don't want them to get hurt. Does that make sense?

He paused for a moment, seeing if Isabel was getting it. She shrugged, obviously not convinced. The word hurt didn't make much sense to her yet, for all her precociousness.

"Anyway, I need to tell him I'm sorry," she said, "for giving our secret away. Maybe, if I make him a birthday gift, he will forgive me."

Wondering what gift she was talking about, Andrew stayed silent. As he stepped into the sand, he noticed that it was surprisingly dry. The air felt strangely warm for November, and some people even lay sunbathing on the towels, taking advantage of the moment. In distance, a dozen surfers were riding the foamy waves that rolled over the azure surface of the Mediterranean.

Andrew put Isabel down and started spreading the towel in the middle of the beach, but the girl pulled him closer to the waterline.

"No way, sweetheart. You cannot bathe," he said. "The sea is blistering cold."

"I'm not gonna bathe, Uncle Andrew. Don't worry."

"Then why do we have to come closer to the water?"

"So that I could show you the gift," she explained. It didn't make much sense to Andrew, though.

"Do you trust I'm telling the truth, don't you?" she asked.

She was beginning to sound exactly like Pablo, he thought to himself, and her mysteriousness really scared him. He steeled himself and just followed her regardless. About fifteen feet away from the surf, he put down the towel and dropped onto it, taking a deep breath of the salty air. Years passed by, but he didn't cease to love it. He put off the shirt and Isabel grabbed his hand, sitting beside. For a couple of minutes, both were silent, watching the sea.

"It's now the time for me to show you the gift," Isabel said finally. She stood up in front of him, her eyes beaming, her smile angelic.

"So where is it?" Andrew asked.

"Uncle Andrew, please close your eyes, and I'll start making it, okay? And you shouldn't open your eyes until I tell you I'm done."

Andrew looked confused. "Close my eyes? Are you sure?"

She nodded.

"Won't you run away, honey? Maybe you wanna play hide-and-seek, uh?"

"No, Uncle. I will be here, just around you."

"Aren't you going to go into the sea?"

"No way. The sea is too cold, I remember. I'll wait till the next summer," Isabel said, sounding confident.

"Do you promise me you won't do anything silly?"

"I promise, trust me," she admitted. "And you gotta promise you'll keep your eyes shut until I tell you to open them. If you peep before I'm ready, you'll ruin the gift, and Dad will be disappointed."

"Okay, I promise," Andrew said and kissed her on the cheek before squeezing his eyes shut. He could trust her, he knew after all. Nothing bad would happen to her. Not only because there were other people out there on the beach. He believed Pablo was watching her from somewhere above, wherever and whenever she was. Even if he no more came to talk to her, he would still keep his eye on her.

Andrew waited for a while, shuffling on the towel with impatience. The sound of waves drowned out the indistinct murmur of the beach.

"Are you here, sweetie?" he called out, keeping his eyes shut.

"I'm around, Uncle Andrew, everything's alright," he heard Isabel scream. From the sound of her voice, he reckoned that she was about a dozen feet away. "Wait a little more, I'll soon be done with the gift!"


He didn't know how many minutes passed as he sat anticipating her surprise. He imagined that Pablo had come to them right now and sat down beside him on the towel. He couldn't hear Pablo's breath, he couldn't touch his hand, but somehow he sensed his presence. When Andrew finally heard Isabel's approaching light steps, he almost expected her to say, "Hi, Daddy". But she didn't say that.

"Uncle Andrew! I'm finished," she said instead, "but please keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them," she tweeted. "Just take my hand and follow me."

Andrew stood up, hardly keeping his balance with no sight, and caught the tiny hand Isabel stretched out to him. She led him towards the waterline, as he could guess from the increasing sound of of the surf, he felt her hand was wet and cold.

"Did you go into the water, honey? Why is your hand wet?" he asked worriedly.

"No, Uncle. I just needed to wash my hands after working."

He made about ten steps before Isabel stopped him. "We're here. Now open your eyes. This is my gift for Daddy," she announced.

A few feet away from the waterline, Andrew saw a heart-shaped sculpture, made from soggy sand. It was twice as big as her last birthday cake, and broader than Andrew's chest. She smoothed the surface and decorated it with the seashells she must have found around. Her dress was wet and daubed with sand in the bottom, but her eyes beamed exactly like Pablo's once did.

"Daddy once told me he lives in the skies," Isabel said. "Do you think the heart is big enough so he could see it from there?"

"Oh, yeah, it's perfect," Andrew murmured, his throat growing tight.

"Do you think he'll like it?"

"He'll love it. Of that I'm sure."

Andrew squatted down and kissed her on the velvet skin of her cheek. She kissed him back and for a few moments, both stared at the heart silently.

"Today is Sunday," Isabel said. "I hope Daddy's gonna come to me tonight and I'll wish him happy birthday."

"He's gonna come tonight, sweetheart, just believe that," Andrew said in cracking. He took the girl into his arms, and looked up to the cloudless sky. Staring into its infinite depth, for the first time in more than three years since Pablo's funeral, he felt unbidden, searing tears in his eyes. And now, those were not the tears of pain.

Those were the tears of happiness.

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